How to Break Up with Your Doctor

Learn from me and save yourself the angst.

It’s been a very long time since I’ve broken up with anyone, and I had forgotten the sturm und drang that comes the decision to end a relationship. I suspect I’m not alone in the feeling that any situation in which there’s a possibility of hurt and/or bitterness is trying territory. And so when, after five years of visiting the same very good doctor, I decided to sever the relationship and switch to someone else, I was kind of freaked out about it.

It was of little comfort to me that my reason for the break-up was not about the doctor herself, nor about her staff—it was based almost entirely on logistics, and what worked best for my life and my situation. That almost made it worse, actually: It wasn’t them, really. It was me. And I’d forgotten that terrible game one plays with oneself in a break-up, the stages one goes through: The Guilt Stage (They’ve been so good to me, so sweet and so reliable!); The Defensive Stage (What, am I supposed to ignore what’s really best for me because I’m nice?); The Procrastination Stage (I’ll call over there for my files tomorrow. Or next week.)

And so I fretted. And fretted some more. And then, after worrying for weeks over making one quick break-up phone call, I reached the Let’s Just Get On With It, Already Stage. I had finally convinced myself that I was being ridiculous and egotistical to think that my own little departure would make a bit of difference to anyone there: What do they care if one measly patient leaves? Gearing up to make the call, I shared this comforting thought with a co-worker, who scoffed: “Of course they’re going to be offended. You’re telling them they aren’t good enough for you. Sure, they’re going to be pissed.” He set me back a stage; I resumed the procrastination for another few days.

When I did finally call, they were not, in fact, pissed. They were not bitter. They were totally cool, and as nice as ever, filling me in on the logistics of transferring paperwork. (Generally, a patient will have to sign a release form, which allows the doctor to send your files either to the new doctor, or hand them straight over to you. I chose to have them handed to me; personally, I like having my own files in my possession.) Not a single question was asked: It was totally of my own accord that I offered up an explanation for the switch—the simple truth. I am so glad I did that. The administrator I spoke to about it was reassuring and understanding, and added that if I didn’t like the new doctor, I could always easily come back. No hard feelings.

I will now forever advocate for the straightforward request of files and the short and sweet disclosure of the truth when one is leaving one’s doctor. That sensible combination worked out so well for me—soothing all fretting and guilt—that I actually started to wonder if I was making a mistake leaving this obliging office.

But that’s okay—it wouldn’t be a real break-up if I didn’t experience the post-relationship Second-Guessing Stage.

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