Wednesday, May 23, 2012


It was a laughably small amount-something like ten or fifteen dollars.  But when the customer service agent for the local phone company told me that she wouldn't refund my money, something snapped.  My heart started to race like a turbine engine, and I could feel the warmth rising up through my face and landing square into my temples.  My hands curled around the pager strapped to my belt loop, and the sweat began to drip down my forehead.

As I jumped off the bed and began to pace, my wife stared up at me from the other side of the room.  A rumble started in the bowels of my chest and regurgitated through my mouth.  At first the words sputtered out in in a measured but gruff tone.  Although the operator was trying to back down, the eruption, once begun, was becoming uncontrollable.  I was a pit bull.

My voice shook with anger as I delivered a series of high pitched verbal barks.  The sentences became paragraphs, the paragraphs pages, and the pages congealed into a verbally abusive story.  My body split in half.  The calm side watching the explosion and picturing some poor operator sitting with the phone purposefully turned away from her ear.  The other side, fire and brimstone, was too busy blathering at the mouth to recognize the absurdity of the situation.

This might have gone on for hours if I hadn't paused to take a breath.  My bloated face, sweaty brow, and bulging eyes did nothing to diminish the acuity of my hearing.  In the brief moment of silence between curses, I heard the most small and inconsequential sound.  A sniffle.  A gasp. The delicate weeping of a stranger.

Six months into residency, I had become a radically different person.  Many would blame the transformation on the brutality of our training programs.  But I think we are missing the point.  The uncontrollable rage comes from somewhere more primal.  It's more endemic to the professional as a whole.  we bang our heads against the wall to knock on the door because our hands can be so useless.

I lost a little part of my soul that day.  And the price?

A ten dollar refund from the telephone company.

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