Thursday, March 15, 2007

Everything had been routine...until Judith's phone rang.

Judith* made a living out of being even-keeled. As a counsellor, she was used to being in control, and not acting surprised when even the most shocking things were said. Nothing ever fazed her.

She took care of herself, too. She was always prim and proper, well dressed, and looked great – she was turning sixty in a month, and looked ten years younger. Looks mattered to her, and to her clients. She always looked in control, and she always was in control.

But right now, she was losing control.

Everything about last week’s appointment had been routine. The doctor’s visit before, the casual mention that ‘you know, we might as well get a mammogram,’ not putting on deodorant that morning, the trip to the cancer centre, the damned squeezing of her breasts as if the technician was making some sort of compressed breast sandwich using plastic bread, and the expectation of a letter about a week later saying that everything was fine. Judith had been through it a dozen times.

Everything had been routine, except the letter never came. She got a phone call, instead. Confusion, instead.

“You need to schedule an appointment with your family doctor.”

She pushed away the feeling of fear that began coming out of nowhere. “It’s nothing,” she said out loud to herself. But she was having trouble convincing herself.

After three days of a million thoughts, all ending in ‘Cancer?’ here she was in the doctor’s office, listening to him describing the results in medicalese.

“Calcifications… anomaly… zone one…. abnormal…” More confusion.

Her heartbeat was pounding in her head. She realized that she had started fidgeting with her watch, her fingertips were getting sweaty, and now she was swinging her legs over the end of the bed.

She looked like a scared little girl.

She never showed any sign of losing composure, and yet now, she was losing it. Even worse, she was showing it.

The doctor stopped talking for a moment. Then, he placed a hand on her knee.

“Judith, you always have a heart for everybody.

“But right now, you need to have a heart for yourself.”

He was right, and she knew it. She had suppressed her emotions for years, out of necessity. In her work, she had distanced herself from her feelings for the benefit of her clients. Now she couldn’t even tell what her own feelings were.

When he said that, though, she started to feel again, just a little bit.

She began to cry. She cried for the first time in years, right there in the doctor’s office, right in front of the doctor.

As the doctor finished his paperwork, she tried to understand what would happen next. There was nothing conclusive from the results, so she would have to go for more tests. Something about a focused scan, higher resolution, more radiographs.

As she wiped her tears away, the question marks in her mind didn’t go away. She still didn’t know if things would be okay. She wouldn’t know for a while if she even had anything to feel worried about.

But she was feeling again.


The Angry Medic said...

Whoa. I presume this story isn't finished? It's...moving, but seems unfinished. (And I'm not just talking about the asterisk you put after Judith but never referred to again in your post.)

Give us more! MORE... *scrabbling hungry zombie crowd noises*

Vitum Medicinus said...

This story does have an ending, but I don't know it.

On so many occasions I've been thrown into a dramatic, moving experience, and then my practicum session or my shadowing experience is over and I go back home to my life, never to know what happens to the patient.

As every medical student has likely experienced, for all the patient dramas I've seen already, every single one is an unfinished story.

Welcome to one of the frustrations of being a first-year medical student.

It's making family practice seem very attractive...providing continuity of care to patients for 20, 30, or 40 years.

The asterisk refers to the Finus
Printicus at the bottom of every page.

Mastabattas said...

'never knowing what happens to the patient' as I embark on my new career into EMS I am starting to understand. Weeks away from actually caring for my first patients...up till now only knowing ride alongs...always wondering 'what happened to that one...' and never being afforded answers. But it's that same fact which makes EMS more appealing then any other part of medicine. If they're good patients...then it's too bad I don't get to know...but sometimes...I'd rather not. Neat blog...thanks for sharing your perspective.