Just an oil change

Yesterday, with much dreaded anticipation, I took my car in for a routine oil change.

Being the daughter of a mechanical engineer, of course I know that general car maintenance requires typical things like oil changes, air filter replacements, brakes checked, tire rotations, etc.  But I really really hate going in for any of these routine appointments because no matter how “up-to-date” I think I am on the routine stuff, it seems like I always leave feeling as if I’ve been lectured by the mechanic for not taking care of my car properly and having 3 or 4 things added onto my bill.

Yesterday was no exception.  I dropped off the car for just an oil change and tire rotation and felt pretty good about it, patting myself on the back for even remembering to bring my $30 off coupon!  1.5 hours later, I got a phone call from the service center from Mr. Automotive Guy asking me if I had time to just stop by so that he could show me a “couple of things  face-to-face since it might be too complicated to try to explain over the phone”  (his exact words).

So the guy rambles on something about the tires being out of round, due to some blah-blah issues with the alignment, makes me put my hands over the tire to see if I could feel the irregular bumps on the treads leading to classic symptoms of abnormal vibrations in the steering wheel (Have I notice that?  No?).  Then he gives me arbitrary numbers about the the low voltage of the battery and the multiple factors which may lead to additional stress on the battery life.  What I thought was just a routine oil change was going to end up costing me almost $1000!

I knew that he was trying to simplify things as much as he could without being condescending but there seemed to be a lot of extra words that just kind of went over my head. As he talked and talked, I tried my best to nod intelligently and not look at him with a blank stare.  I couldn’t help but think to myself, I have 10+ years of higher education and yet I had very little clue of what he was talking about, nor did I really feel like I had a good grasp on what was important/top priority for my car.  In the end, I just wanted to know if I absolutely needed to get everything done at that moment?  Is my car still driveable or is the car battery going to die on me tomorrow?  Could I wait another 2-3 weeks before replacing the tires?  Do I need to replace all 4 tires at the same time?   Did he really need to emphasize multiple times that some of this stuff was recommended to me at the last visit?  (Tsk, tsk)   Could I get a second opinion/shop around for a better price?

I wonder if this is the way that some patients feel when they come to see me in the office.  I wonder how many of my patients who are lawyers or business executives feel like I am talking to them like preschoolers when I say things like, “The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland that sits right here at the front of your neck.  Sometimes it can feel kind of bumpy.  See?  feel it?”  Or how many managers or college professors look at me with blank stares when I start talking about beta-cell dysfunction, glucose toxicity, and gluconeogenesis.   I wonder how many busy working-parents feel guilty when I lecture them on how they’ve missed their last appointment or forgotten to get their fasting lipid panel drawn, again.

I never would’ve guessed that I would learn so much about being a physician from a routine visit for just an oil change.

EDIT:I had some interesting responses to this post (on facebook)…just to let everyone know, I ultimately did not get the $1000 package and instead we are going to take the car to a different (more trusted) mechanic. I guess the original point of this blog post was not necessarily asking if Mr. Automotive Guy is trust-worthy, but rather questioning whether patients ever feel like physicians are trying to blame them for not adhering to routine health maintenance or upsell unnecessary services?  Sometimes I hear people make off-hand comments about how doctors make too much money or order unnecessary tests.  I hope that my patients don’t think that about me!


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