Sunday, July 8, 2012

The Moments That Test Us

In the process of becoming a physician, I've seen unspeakable horrors.  I watched as the ER trauma bays filled with mangled bodies fresh from a multiple car pile up on the expressway.  I felt the splatter of blood on my surgical gown as an abdomen was opened to expose a bleeder.  I have been vomited on, urinated on, and spit on.  We in the medical profession expect such things.

The physical trauma can only be matched by mental anguish.  After countless hours of uninterrupted work, I have looked into the eyes of a family member and delivered bad news.  Each evening of my career has been punctuated with a series of "what ifs".  Sleep becomes a temporary respite, a relief from the repetitive stressful moments of every day.

So it is safe to say that after a decade in the business, there really is very little that shakes me.  I find it laughable when a patient apologizes for unshaven legs or bad breath.  Most of the time I don't even notice.  Certainly it doesn't have a lasting effect.  

But I will never forget the day that almost broke me.  I shudder, shudder as I put these words on the page.

Her name was Alice and she was a slightly spacey, if not a harmless middle aged woman. She worked as a secretary in a business a mile away from my building.  Although she had a car, she often liked to walk to my office as a form of exercise.  A somewhat harmless, if not healthy life choice, it was almost the cause of my very real demise.

It was a scorching hot day in the middle of July.  Alice, who had gotten delayed in her office, slipped off her high heals and quickly laced up a pair of gym shoes for the trip  to our appointment.  She paused briefly when she realized that she forgot a pair of socks, she would have to do without them.

It only took a few minutes of walking briskly under the unfaltering sun for the sweat to pour from her slightly rotund body.  It wended its way down her legs and settled into the cheap canvas that held in her bulging feet.  She reflexively wiped at her forehead with a tissue as she made her way into my building.

A few minutes later, my medical assistant knocked on the door and let me know that Alice was ready.  She chuckled and her mouth twisted into a smirk.

Good luck.

Upon entering the room, I felt my nostrils start to twitch.  I inhaled briefly and then the air caught in my nose.  I began to choke.  The fetid smell of sweaty feet wrapped in musty cloth hit me and knocked me over.  I grabbed at my face and stepped quickly out of the room.  By this time, my medical assistant was standing down the hall.  She giggled and pointed at me with the secretary.  I took two deep breaths and then walked back into the room.  I sat at the desk and spoke carefully trying not to inhale.

Hello Alice, what can I do for you today?

My mind raced as I waited for her response.  Please be a sore throat!  Please be a runny nose!  She looked at me coyly.

I have an itch. Down there!

I almost fell off the chair.  Any physician out there will know that doing a pelvic exam is one thing, but putting her on the exam table and placing her bare feet in stirrups right on the level of my nose...

Let's just say I can't talk about what happened next.  It's locked and buried deeply in that place in my psyche that I don't allow myself to go.   I tried to escape to my happy place, but now I can't go there ever again.

She had a yeast infection.

The moral of my story is a simple one.  Your doctor doesn't care what you look like, whether you are groomed, or what kind of clothes you are wearing.

But if your feet evoke more fear than your privates,

please wash them before coming into the office!

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