Do you remember President Clinton’s infamous quote during his 1998 grand jury testimony on the Monica Lewinsky affair? When asked about his relationship with Lewinsky, Clinton started out his response by saying, “It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.” His response is a classic, and that type of deceptive response is alive and well within the world of healthcare.

I spoke to a psychiatric social worker this weekend that would have made Bill Clinton proud. She had a psych patient in her emergency room that she wanted to unload—I mean place—at our hospital, and she called me to see if I had an empty bed on my unit. The conversation went something like this:

Social worker: Hi Mother Jones, I have a delightful 45 year old gentleman that I’d like to place at your hospital. He tried overdosing on pills and alcohol, but he’s medically stable now.

Me: What do you mean by stable? Does he have an IV? What about his medical history?

Social worker: Well….um, about that IV, his nail beds are still a little dusky, but we can take the IV out before we send him to your hospital. And his medical history…..he’s diabetic, but surely his COPD and pacemaker wouldn’t disqualify him from getting a bed on your unit would it? And then, there is that other thing….you know, besides this long history of drug and alcohol abuse.

Me: What other THING?

Social worker: He’s on oxygen therapy, and he’s on a liver transplant list. He’s kind of a funny color, but he’s medically stable.

Me: Nice try. Have a nice day.

This screening was too easy, and it was obvious that the social worker was a rookie. It usually takes me a few more questions before I can figure out who is trying to send me a dump. She’ll learn how to be more deceptive, and I’ll be waiting for her. I have a very long memory.

What’s your definition of medically stable?