I saw a patient of mine yesterday for her annual exam; she is a divorced mom of two teenaged kids. She works full-time and barely ever comes in. My impression has always been that she’s one very strong and practical lady.  She said she didn’t have any real concerns, but something about the way she said it, I asked, Are you sure?

“Well,” she said, “I feel so bad for my daughter. She’s a senior in high school, she’s a real good student, and she got into [a top private college]. She really wants to go, but I’m not sure I can afford it. The school even has a good financial package, but it’s still tough. What’s the worst is her father doesn’t want to contribute much, he keeps saying she can go to [the local branch of the state university]. She has her heart set on this private college, and it’s just got such a better reputation, and will help her out so much, for the rest of her life…”

She described that her ex husband has done well with investments, drives a convertible luxury car, and takes a lot of vacations. But he has told her and their daughter that he isn’t willing to contribute more than a paltry amount towards college because he says, the State University is good enough. He has extra cash, and wants to buy investment properties instead of paying for college.

To me, education is such an obvious priority. The idea that this hardworking daughter of a hardworking mom may have to decline an opportunity to attend a top school, because her own father would rather spend his excess thousands of dollars on  real estate, just made me sick. And I couldn’t help it, the words slipped out before I could check myself.

“What an asshole!” I declared.

As soon as I said it, I regretted it. How unprofessional!

“Oh, I am so sorry, that was a very bad word,” I immediately apologized, lamely.

She laughed. “No, he IS an asshole, that’s why I divorced him,” she said. “My daughter is crushed, which makes me so sad, but on the other hand, the kids are finally seeing what kind of a person their father really is.”

“I am so sorry for your daughter to be in this position,” I offered.

“Me too,” she said.

The rest of the visit was uneventful. But the exchange stuck with me. I had felt so strongly, and just declared what I felt.

Was that wrong? Unprofessional, definitely… but perhaps not wrong?