Playing Doctor

Initial Visit?

Monday, January 16

No More Drama

This man is my age. He’s taller than me, thinner than me, and sick.

He has a nest of black curly hair and if you examine his hairline you’ll see his temporal muscles have atrophied. His eyes dart around, both tired and anxious. He’s wearing a nasal cannula—giving him two liters of oxygen per minute—below it his lips are dried and cracked. His hospital gown is ill-fitting and hangs half-off his left shoulder. Half-normal saline runs through an intravenous line into his thin left arm below a nondescript bluish tattoo. The Foley tubing emerges from the sheets and there’s a small amount of sweet-tea colored urine in the bag.

The ladies that surround him are, in their own way, dressed nicely: clean slacks and pull-over shirts, a bracelet here, a necklace there, make-up appropriate for a family picnic. Their hair is frizzy and gelled or moussed. Not fancy, just a bit overdone. They vary in age by—I would guess—ten years older than me to ten years younger than me.

They are all eyeing me. This is the moment they have all been waiting for.

Before I can introduce myself, the women attack me—not like women attack George Paul and Ringo in A Hard Day’s Night—but like magpies, crowing out a barrage of questions and forceful supplications.

I say nothing, tighten my lips and wait for them to quiet.

When they do, I introduce myself and ask, ‘What brought you to the emergency room today?’

This, admittedly, is an odd question. I ask it because what seems obvious is often wrong. Sick people find different things intolerable, and there’s no guessing how many things are wrong with this gentleman. Diarrhea? Foot pain or double vision? Not able to pee? Vomiting? I try to start with what is bothering them most and this question usually reveals it.

‘Sheri’s car,’ he says, gesturing to, I assume, Sheri. It takes me a second to figure out why he has said this.

‘What I’m asking is,’ I say, smiling, ‘why did you decide to come to the hospital today?’

‘He didn’t want to come,’ Sheri offers. ‘We’ve been after him for weeks, but he refused. He was coughing so bad today that he started vomiting. When we saw blood in it, we drove him here.’

I looked in the emesis basin by the bed: A lot of spittle, a few streaks of blood. Nothing of import.

‘How long have you been sick?’ I ask.

‘About six weeks. I went to Boston and ate at a Burger King. I think the chicken was bad and got diarrhea from it. I’ve been sick ever since then. When the diarrhea got better, I got a head cold. Then the diarrhea came back.’

‘Have you been vomiting before today?’

‘Doctor, he hasn’t been able to hold down any fluids in over three weeks,’ one of the older ladies, not Sheri, says.

I nod, knowing that he would have died a week ago if this were true, but understanding that vomiting daily-or even every other daily-can seem overwhelming.

I continue getting the history and then ask the ladies to wait outside so I can examine him.

‘Doctor, can I talk to you for a minute?’ one of the younger ladies, also not Sheri, asks.

‘When I’m finished examining him,’ I say, looking at her. She is not satisfied with my answer. I tighten my lips and raise my eyebrows, one hand on the shabby curtain, ready to pull it closed between us, and hold her stare.

We stand like this for a few seconds.

‘Okay’ she relents, and I pull the curtain closed.


Post a Comment


Medical Records

Season Three

Season Two

Season One