Patient: What is the risk of infection with this surgery?
Me: About 1%.
Patient: Why isn’t it zero?
Me: 1% is a lot better than it used to be.
Patient, in accusative tone: By why is it still 1%? Where does the infection come from?
Me: Look, I’m the one who gives you antibiotics before the surgery. The surgeons are the ones who cut you open and put their hands inside. You can ask them.
Okay, I wasn’t quite that brusque. But it feels good to write the story that way. Turns out she did ask the neurosurgery resident, and his response was, “Why do planes crash?”
Perhaps not the most appropriate rhetorical question to ask a patient immediately before surgery.