Playing Doctor

Initial Visit?

Tuesday, August 30

Immortality, encroached

Having come to appreciate the nature of my mortality, I was delighted that, now a physician, I would be immune from the ravages of death and disease. A sort of professional courtesy, if you will.

As physicians, we walk among the infirm and dying. We joke while bringing a stopped heart back to its regularly scheduled beating. We gossip while draining the fluid from around a lung, allowing it to reinflate. The accoutrements of our profession are pathogens, toxins, and cancers. If we were not immune, we’d surely parish.

Like Vampires, we watch legions of men die before us and around us and we go on, untouched.

We tease one other when we test positive for tuberculosis and laugh while refusing treatment. Our youth and immune system allow us that luxury, and we tolerate the yearly chest x-ray follow-ups as a token of our humility to infection control.

But in our hearts, we know we’re immune to the things that kill mortal men.

So you cannot imagine my confusion when my colleague and friend was diagnosed with endometrial carcinoma. A straight forward enough cancer, a simple surgery to remove the offending organ, but still—one of our own had been stricken.

Whenever anyone takes ill, people are struck with a certain confusion. There is the default searching for a criminality in those that fall ill: an attempt to explain their disease because of a vice or—at minimum—a payback for some Karmic insult.

When it’s a group of doctors, we make our attempt valiantly and with a great deal of authority. Unfortunately, we also have to admit when the offended (offending?) party just had a bad roll of the dice. When the person is an especially good person, noble and kind, well, it just turns your stomach a little.

It turns your stomach, mostly, because it makes it difficult for you to castigate them; to exile them for bringing the stench of death into the sanctity of the doctors’ lounge; of removing the necessary illusion between us and them.

We visit them at bedside and joke, pretending everything is normal, because at the bedside, everything almost is. For us anyway. The proper order is restored: We are standing by the bed, looking down at the patient lying there. The patient used to be one of us, but is now an object to us. An object to treat and—hopefully—to save.

When the object tries to become too familiar, we laugh uncomfortably and make our exit—making subtly certain that we have made new distinctions, remapped the lines that separate them from us.

And we regain our immunity.


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