Wednesday, October 26, 2011


I'm not sure when I lost my humanity-at least for the most part. Maybe it was the hazing in medical school or the unending nights of residency. I prefer to speculate it was the dull thud of yet another pile of papers dropped on my desk.

Whatever the excuse, it happened. The soft, compassionate, eager student who started this journey is morphing. My skin withers and thickens into sheets of heavy chain mail. My eyes turn a colder shade of grey. My hands become dry and leathery in the midst of the frosty Chicago weather.

My body and soul adapt to form a protective shell. My heart battered and bruised beats in it's restless cage.

But sometimes, for just a moment, I remember the former strength of my innards. How my heart stood front and center. Occasionally knocked by the harshest of realities but never backing down.

Those days seem so far away now.


I gently rock back and forth as I stand at the nursing station. Three racks of charts rest beside me. Every few minutes I close one chart, place it back in it's holder, and pull another. I am acutely aware of the ticking clock on the adjacent wall.

My billing sheets collect dust in a pile next to me. I'm tired. For two hours I roamed the hall of the nursing home, interviewing its inhabitants. I put out fires. I calmed angry family members. And I am about to finish documenting, when a young woman walks up to the desk and waits quietly for my attention.

Are you Doctor G? I was wondering if you could come talk to my father.

I glance at the chart the nurse placed on the counter next me and feel an odd sense of relief.

Your father is not my patient. You should call his doctor.

She taps her feet impatiently and looks slightly annoyed.

Well the nurses told me you're covering for Dr. K who is out of town.

I vaguely remember that I offered to manage Dr. K's patients while he is gone. My heart falls. I'm already late and the last thing I want to do is walk into the care of a train wreck.

The woman watches my response closely. She senses hesitation. She's angry

Look! If you don't want to help...

She turns away and stalks down the hallway.


I walk into the room with my tail tucked between my legs. A kind elderly man lies in the bed in the center of the room. He is surrounded by his wife and daughters who fawn over him to adjust his bedding. None of the fangs that I witnessed earlier are now apparent.

Their needs are minimal. A simple explanation. Some interpretation of tests. Mostly they are looking for attention. They search for a sign that someone is commanding the ship through the relentless tempest of illness that they bravely face.

And I remember back to a time before my mind was clouded by all this "education". When I would give myself freely to sit with an ailing patient and provide the sort of "doctoring" that now has been squeezed out of me.

I started on this path to provide service to my fellow man.

How have I wandered so far off course?

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