Five Stages of Distress When You Find Out Your PHYSICIAN is Ill

Five Stages of Distress When You Find Out Your PHYSICIAN is Ill
by Monica Swanson


Flus, colds…this is the time of the year that it seems everyone is fighting something.

If you haven’t been sick recently, then someone you know probably has been.  This is a phenomenon that occurs every winter, everywhere, and no one is really surprised when the viruses make their rounds.

However, when doctors cannot make their rounds because the viruses are busy making theirs, people seem to get confused.  Frustrated.  Even angry.

I’ve always gotten a kick out of how people react when my husband, a hospital physician, or one of our family members is sick.  Whether it is friends or family, people seem to have trouble accepting that doctors are actually not immune to illness.


When a patient cannot see their doctor due to the doctor’s illness, it is especially confusing.

Recently a friend of mine needed to get a medical procedure done the week before she left town for a few months.  The day of her appointment the doctor’s office called to tell her that her doctor was sick and they would have to reschedule.  My poor friend was in shock.  She had counted on this appointment.  There was no backup plan, no substitutes, and no way to change things.  She would have to reschedule for when the doctor was better…which would have to be after her travels.

As I listened to my friend’s reaction, and pondered this whole scenario, it struck me that our human reactions to a sick doctor or a bit parallel to another series of responses that doctors are very familiar with…the Elisabeth Kübler-Ross model for the Five Stages of Grief.

So, with all due respect to the reality of much more serious grief, this is my more light-hearted, version based on those five stages:

Five Stages of Distress When You Find Out Your PHYSICIAN is Ill

DENIAL:  No!!  This is not possible.  My doctor cannot be sick.   My doctor heals people.   Someone is lying to me.   Doctors wash their hands eight million times a day, they wear white jackets for heaven’s sake.  White.  That represents clean and healthy.   I’ll wait:  Please go get my doctor.


ANGER:  This is just all wrong.  How dare they do this to me?  Doctors should not get sick.  What:  did they forget to wash their hands?!  Are they really so inconsiderate as to pick up a virus right now when I need to see them!??  Me.  I’m the sick one, not the doctor!   I’d like to talk to the supervisor.

BARGAINING:  Well if they have to be sick, at least they can prescribe themselves some medicine.  There must be an antibiotic for the cold or flu.  Isn’t there something that will make it go away by today?  All that medicine they have available to them…they really should just grab something and get better.


DEPRESSION:  This is awful.  A flu?  A head cold?  Antibiotics won’t help?  My doctor has to rest and get better like everyone else?  This is terrible news.   WHO CAN I depend on to NOT BE SICK?  This is a very harsh world and I am so very sad.

ACCEPTANCE:  Fine then. So…doctors are actually human.  Who knew?  Maybe I had misunderstood everything after all.  I guess I’ll go home and get some rest as well.


So to all of the physicians and physician families reading this:  Here’s to a strong finish of this winter season.  May you wash your hands diligently, get plenty of rest, and may you never dash the imaginations of your adoring patients.




Monica Swanson lives with her very active family on two acres in the country on Oahu, Hawaii. You can read more about Monica and her discussions on parenting, healthy marriage and recipes at her blog:




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