Ad In­fini­tum

Geist - - Geist - Mał­gorzata Nowaczyk

Does throw­ing up prove I wasn't meant to be a doc­tor?

Once, as an in­tern, I pro­nounced four peo­ple dead in twenty-four hours; by four o’clock in the morn­ing, I was ready to go home to my hus­band of six months, but I had to stay un­til the morn­ing re­port. The spar­rows were ri­ot­ing out­side my call room win­dow that June morn­ing.

Three years later, as a se­nior pe­di­atric res­i­dent, I had to fin­ger ex­tract stone-hard fe­ces from the rec­tum of a scream­ing five-year-old boy. The stool clanged as it hit the me­tal bed­pan.

Be­fore that, as a ju­nior, on an af­ter­noon after be­ing up all night, barely in con­trol of my senses, I bent a spinal­tap nee­dle in­side a four-year-old boy

who squirmed the wrong way dur­ing the lum­bar punc­ture. Af­ter­ward, I shook the warped nee­dle in front of his nose and said: “See what you have done?!” The nurses re­ported me and I was al­most ex­pelled from my cov­eted pe­di­atric res­i­dency.

Back in the mid-eight­ies, as a hos­pi­tal vol­un­teer, I lost my lunch while watch­ing a per­cu­ta­neous nee­dle biopsy of a coin le­sion of the lung through a win­dow in the flu­o­roscopy suite. I did not know what a biopsy was. I did not know about the lethal prog­no­sis of a coin le­sion, and if I did, I wouldn’t have cared. I only wor­ried whether throw­ing up in the hall­way proved I wasn’t meant to be a doc­tor.

About the same time, I stood on the curb of a busy down­town street out­side a teach­ing hos­pi­tal and watched as doc­tors—i was sure they were doc­tors, they must have been doc­tors, who else could have done this—talked a white-haired woman in a hos­pi­tal gown down from the ledge of an eighth-floor win­dow of what I later learned was the hos­pi­tal li­brary. I was soon to spend nights and days study­ing there.

One day in the op­er­at­ing room, fi­nally a med­i­cal stu­dent, I stared in awe at the pink-petalled flow­ers of hu­man tis­sue blos­som­ing in the mass of a col­lapsed grey-brown lung as it was re­in­flated dur­ing a tho­ra­co­tomy.

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