The late Henny Youngman claimed he first told this joke in 1927. Since then, about every comic in the world has done a variation of it. It goes something like this:
A patient is at his doctor’s office. The doctor stares down at the man’s chart, and tells him, “I’ve got bad news. You’ve got six weeks to live.”
The patient flips out and says, “I want a second opinion.”
The doctor says, “O.K., you’re ugly too.”
Not all second opinions are knee slappers like that. But like in the joke, it’s that first opinion that can be the killer. Here’s an example, as told to me by a close friend, a writer.
To respect his privacy, let’s call him Nebuer. Nebuer was a guy who used to enjoy long walks with his dog. A number of years ago, after about fifteen blocks on one such walk, he experienced a sudden pain in his left hip, which completely shut him down. After standing still for about ten minutes, Nebuer was able to limp home. Soon, the fifteen blocks became ten, then five, then about the distance to his mailbox. The poor guy needed a cane to walk up steps. (Meanwhile, the frustrated dog placed an ad on Rex’s List for a dog walker.)
After stubbornly refusing to go see a doctor, as he had more important things to do—like completing the Great American Novel while at the same time undergoing a complete cervical fusion: five levels of screws and plates and titanium mortared into his neck—Nebuer finally bit the bullet and saw a hip doctor. He did his homework; this doc was a medical superstar whose website oozed celebrity endorsements, who was so popular his consults were booked four months in advance. (Which was a good thing as Nebuer used the time to fill a plot hole in the Great American Novel.)
The doctor ordered X-rays and an MRI. Those tests culminated with four minutes of “face time” with the great surgeon who told Nebuer he needed to have his hip replaced. Now, Nebuer was no dummy; he’d been on the medical hamster wheel so many times, he was not unfamiliar with reading MRI “slices” and interpreting the scan summaries which are written in a secret language only understood by a clandestine society of radiologists and orthopedists.
That’s how Nebuer noticed the torn tendons at the top of the hamstring.
Where the hip is.
Nebuer asked the celebrity surgeon if a hip replacement would obviate the need to deal with the torn tendons? The guy stared at Nebuer as if he just took a dump on the exam table, said “Yes” and left the room, only to be replaced by his surgical scheduler who told Nebuer when to show up for his hip replacement.
Did it bother Nebuer that the famous orthopedist only said “Yes” but didn’t explain why? I don’t know; I can’t read the guy’s mind. But obviously, and I’m guessing here, if the acclaimed surgeon said with such strong and simple conviction that the hip replacement would take care of the torn tendons, who was Nebuer to make a federal case out of it?
A year later, Nebuer would say he was a freaking idiot not to. He should have run (if he could have) out of that office and never looked back.
Instead, he showed up at the hospital, and had his hip replaced. The famous surgeon said it went great, and Nebuer transitioned to recovery, and after that physical therapy.
Three rounds of PT. Why three rounds? That’s way more than is normally needed.
That’s because Nebuer’s hip hurt just as much as before it was replaced. Worse, even. So he went back to the celebrity surgeon, who was not overjoyed to see him. The surgeon told Nebuer he needed a new MRI.
Before it could be scheduled, however, Covid arrived and the MRI was shelved. And so was Nebuer.
A year and a half later, twice vaccinated but still in excruciating pain and now walking with a cane, Nebuer returned to the celebrity surgeon who was even less overjoyed to see him, and ordered a new MRI plus a CT scan. Nebuer waited for the results. But his phone didn’t ring. Two weeks later, he called the surgeon, who didn’t apologize for not getting back to Nebuer, and instead told him the hip replacement looked fine. The surgeon speculated that the hip must be infected and ordered a painful procedure called a Joint Aspiration. Nebuer, although not a doctor, wondered how someone could have an infected hip for over two years and not be dead? But being a dutiful patient, he endured the aspiration. The aspiration involved a long hollow needle injected into the hip, (point of entry being scrotum adjacent), which sucks out the fluid. The fluid then goes to a lab to be tested.
As Nebuer thought, there was no infection. Just a mailbox full of bills for all those unnecessary tests and procedures. Once again, he asked the celebrity surgeon if the torn tendons had anything to do with his inability to walk freely? Without pain? The surgeon once again simply said, “No.”
Finally, like the patient in the Henny Youngman joke, Nebuer wised up and went to another hip doctor for a second opinion. This hip doctor looked at the latest MRI and the first thing he said was, “You see those torn tendons…?”
Turns out Nebuer didn’t need a hip replacement at all; he needed a much simpler operation that dealt with the torn tendons which are connected to some other stuff which isn’t important for the reader to know.
The important thing for the reader to know is that the second opinion was the correct one. It confirmed Nebuer’s suspicions about the torn tendons which the celebrity surgeon ignored. A simple operation would repair the tendon damage and Nebuer would once again walk without a cane.
The lesson here is any patient should always get a third opinion—their own.
The other happy ending to this joke was that the second surgeon didn’t even tell Nebuer he was ugly.