Let me start by saying I have heard everything, really. And by everything, I mean well…everything. I have treated most every sexually transmitted disease, retrieved foreign bodies from various orifices, and even diagnosed pregnancy in virginal women. I know what you are thinking. While it sounds like I might be a fun addition to your next dinner party.
“Speaking of hollandaise sauce, you should have seen the abscess I drained from this guy’s armpit…”
What is most remarkable about my extraordinary job, is how unremarkable it is to me. Seriously, something strange takes place on the journey home each day that makes me forget who and what I saw, and what they told me. It’s like my patients morph into this single, faceless, genderless, avatar-like human being with a vague complaint like the “sniffles” in my memory. When I am asked at the end of the day if I saw anything interesting by my well-meaning spouse, I usually respond with something like, “Hmmm, I’m not sure…. but the left-over curry I had for lunch, wasn’t near as spicy as it was last night.”
The things that do stand out very clearly in my memory, are not the specific complaints, but the interactions that I have had with my patients over the years. I remember the angry lady with the chip on her shoulder who asked me what it would be like when she died from her metastatic cancer. She wanted me to explain the process of dying. So, as best I could, I told her what it was like, from my perspective, when people begin the process of dying. I did nothing for her cancer, but the chip was loosened and the anger was softened a bit. Most recently, I think about the guy who was so ashamed about the sexual indiscretion that led to a sexually transmitted infection. His blood pressure was through the roof and his heart was racing away when I checked his vital signs. I asked him if he had ever had high blood pressure before and he said that he thought it was simply high because he was embarrassed. In that moment, I did my best to make him feel comfortable. I told him I try not to make judgements about people’s behavior, I just try to help them get better.
I am reminded through these interactions, and many others like them over the years, what a privilege it is to be with my patients in their most vulnerable times. I have seen births and deaths, and sickness and recovery. I have taken care of the homeless, the imprisoned, gay, straight, transgendered and even soldiers serving in battle. I love what I do and if I had a chance to do it again, I would absolutely chose the same path. So while I don’t remember your face or your body part, I do remember your pain. Actually… I share your pain. It reminds me that we are all exposed, naked, ashamed and, even dying at some point in this terribly wonderful journey called life.