To my utter disappointment, the manager began to defend not the customer, but his own employee, stating (actually it was almost like yelling) that his employee would not do such a thing. Not only would I not recommend this shoe store to anyone (but for the sake of the store, I won't name it here), but I would also say that the first rule of customer service is and should always be: don't blame the customer! Perhaps it was the customer's fault, or maybe it was actually the fault of the employee, or maybe of the warehouse that shipped the shoe...there are so many variables. But when it comes down to it, the buck stops with the store, not with the customer relying on the store for efficient, competent, and most importantly courteous service.
Now, I can assure you that as I stood in the store pretending to mind my own business, I was not only infuriated on the inside, but also had an instant light bulb for this blog post. The connection may seem weak at best, so let me clarify. Consider the patient as the customer and the doctor/nurses/hospital as the store.
A handful of the patients I saw this summer were small cell lung cancer (SCLC) patients. Small cell is perhaps the most aggressive form of lung cancer, and almost always occurs in smokers. It responds very well to initial treatment--almost cruelly tricking the patient and his/her family--because unfortunately, it usually recurs a short period of time later.
A logical question of SCLC patients is, "If I hadn't smoked, or if I had quit earlier, could I have prevented my disease?" While the conventional wisdom of a medical oncologist specializing in lung cancer may say yes, the honest answer is: who really knows? Nothing says that a nonsmoker can't have SCLC, as proven by a 2006 article in Nature.
No one deserves to have cancer, and just because the patient is a smoker, doesn't mean it's his/her fault that they got such a terrible disease. One may argue that sources such as Harvard Medical School cite that 85-90% of patients who die from cancer are smokers. But the article goes on to say that 15,000 nonsmokers die from the lung cancer annually. Scientists (including the ones I worked with) are eager to continue to learn more about the differences in cancer biology between smokers and nonsmokers. But even so, no doctor has a crystal ball. As the Nature article points out, you can still have SCLC if you don't smoke.
The bottom line is, smoker or not, the patient cannot be blamed for his/her disease. The best option is to let go of past regrets that could hinder the patient's attitude (and we've seen that attitude is important), and to treat the patient as best as possible. Maybe a lung cancer specialist should give that shoe store a lesson on customer service.