Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Kind Of Doctor Who Takes Care Of Colds

It was my favorite kind of gathering. The room was filled with young attractive non medical people. Most carried a cocktail effortlessly as they stood in their best Friday night apparel. The tempo of the conversations rose and fell.

I caught a glimpse of my wife standing across the room with a small group of friends. I watched her hand gestures and the shift in her posture. I had just enough alcohol to amuse myself by conjuring up mock details of their conversation. Boy Sally I love that purse but those shoes are just dreadful!

I cradled a Corona in my right hand as a distant acquaintance wandered forward in my direction. He was well dressed. A business type if I remembered correctly. He was a friend of a friend.

We chatted amiably for a few moments. Quickly running through our list of polite conversational topics before a look of excitement flashed across his face. Hey...your a doctor right? What do you practice?

I felt a twinge of disappointment and embarrassment. I really didn't like talking about my profession in public. I paused for a moment and then explained that I am an Internist.

An Internist? Like a primary care doctor? The kind of doctor who takes care of colds right?

I probably would have taken offense to his comment if his words hadn't transported me back to the struggles of the last week. My eyes glazed over.

I signed four death certificates last week. Each patient was in hospice. One in the hospital. One at home, and two in a hospice unit. Three I had known for years. The fourth was a young man who I just met. I spent hours counseling each one of them.

I admitted ten people to the hospital. Some got better. Some got worse. A few ended up in the ICU.

I was on call half the week and hadn't slept most of those nights. I returned each morning dutifully to see patients in clinic. I struggled as always to sort out the bio-psycho-social causes of illness. I diagnosed a case or two of gout. Saw a patient with erythema chronica migrans whose Lyme titers were markedly positive. I told a young woman she has cancer.

I worried. I paced. I stressed. I ignored my children nagging at my feet as I returned the deluge of phone calls from the nursing home.

I held hands. I teared up several times. And I the hospital, in the exam room, at home. I laughed even when sometimes I felt like I wanted to cry.

I woke up from my haze to see that my companion was now waving his hand in front of my face. For a moment I focused on him before I purposefully walked in the direction of my wife.

Yes. The kind of doctor who takes care of colds.

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