Living Among the Dead

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“I’m not afraid of death; but dying scares the hell out of me.” – Jack Cleary

I love photographing cemeteries. Kinda creepy, I know.

I find it comforting to think that someone someday, maybe a hundred years after I die, may stumble upon my grave and spend a few minutes wondering who I was.

The Debt Whore

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I had my first pelvic exam at MEPS (Military Entrance Processing). I was applying to the US Navy so I could get them to pay for med school. Aquiring a $120,000 debt was a terribly frightening proposition for a girl… as opposed to missile launchers and hand grenades.

Just before, I had stripped down to my underwear in a room with a dozen other women and performed the “duck walk” and other maneuvers as a woman barked orders and scowled at us.

I had always loathed how I looked naked and I worked hard to make sure NO ONE saw me fully unclothed. EVER. Now I had to parade around in front of a room full of other people while only in my skivvies? Hell, I hadn’t even dressed in my good panties! Had I known…

For the pelvic exam I was taken to another room and told I had to strip down completely naked then lie down on a cold, bare metal table.

I had a tiny paper “gown” that was open to the front but it must have been made for a twelve year old because it gaped widely.

Really, what was the point?

My vitals were taken.

“Never done this before, huh?” the female tech said as she raised a single eyebrow.

No. No I have not.

I shrugged, trying my best to appear unruffled.

Then, the physician walked in. He was a stooped over elderly fellow who, I kid you not, was walking with the assistance of a quad cane. He appeared to be in his 80’s. I had not prepared for this.

The exam HURT like hell. When he was done, he had me sit up so he could listen to my heart and lungs.

Who the hell does it in that order?!?!?

As I sat up, all I could think about was the lingering pain from the prior violation and the squilchy feeling of the lubrication between my legs.

“I need for you to take off the gown completely now.”

“What?” I hoped I had not heard him correctly.

“Gown. Off.” He was irritated.

I complied.

His resting hand shook a bit with a pill rolling tremor as the other moved the stethoscope around on my now naked torso. At the time I did not realize that it must have been Parkinson’s disease.

“Nervous?” He raised a single eyebrow.

“Yes,” I whispered.

“Alright. You may dress now.”

And then he was gone, shuffling gait, quad cane, and all.

Two weeks later, I received a call from the recruiter:

Rejected.

Why?

Tachycardia. My heart rate had been running over 100.

That was the end of the Navy…

The Professional Patient

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“Alright, Mr. Smith. I am going to need to have you drop your drawers and bend over with your elbows on the table.” I was using my perky voice.

I placed a box of Kleenex down apologetically on the exam table in front of him.

“You are going to do what?” He stared incredulously at me. He was an older man with a receding hairline and an uncanny resemblance to my father.

“I am here to check your prostate.” I tried to maintain the perky tone even though my hands shook and my palms sweated as I pulled on the latex gloves.

“Like hell you are.” His voice was raised and I could detect a hint of distress. He stepped menacingly toward the door.

Taken aback, I stood up quickly getting out of his way.

The shadow lurking in the corner stepped forward.

“Mr. Smith, if you do not allow this exam, you will not get paid the $25…”

He looked at the shadow.

Then at me.

Then back to the shadow.

“Fine,” he growled. In no time, his pants were down around his ankles.

It was then that I felt my first prostate…

Hindsight is Humiliating

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“We gain strength, and courage, and confidence by each experience in which we really stop to look fear in the face… we must do that which we think we cannot.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

Over the past several weeks I have made some interesting observations:

As Americans, our arrogance prevented us from being prepared for an inevitability. We deserved to look like fools. It is just terribly sad that pride has resulted in pain, suffering, and death.

As humans, fear overtakes our rational minds no matter which country or race we claim as our own.

And that, ladies and gents, is all she wrote.

At least for tonight.

Mommyhood

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This morning Deborah The Closet Monster (great blogger, check her out) referred me to an article she wrote as a guest on Dr. Greene entitled “Mommy vs. Mother”.

It, along with other posts I have seen over the past few months, got me thinking about how we react to the words mother vs. mom vs. mommy and what influences those very visceral feelings.

Growing up, my mother did not hug or kiss or say she loved me very often. When she ever DID say anything it was more, “I do love you…” as if she were trying to convince herself of this fact. She was not abusive per se, but because of her I have to make a concerted effort every day to physically love on my kids. I have to remember to tell them how much I love them. The words don’t come easy even though I feel the love.

The physician role is easy. I am in control because I have distance. As a parent, however, those kids have my heart wrapped up into such a knot that it hurts (in a good way) every time I look at them. I desperately want them to not feel as uncomfortable as I do about getting close to someone emotionally. So I work very hard to be a good role model for them.

As such, I don’t feel close to my mother. We have a complicated relationship and so to maintain a certain emotional distance, I only refer to her as “Mother.” I never call her mom, mamma, mommy…. only mother.

When I use the word “mommy” for someone, it is a complement of the highest degree. Anyone can be born into motherhood, but it takes a special someone to be a mommy, someone who can do more than just rear…. they nurture.

In posts that I have read, some women are offended by being called mommy. Some are offended when called mother. This is similar to the Ms. vs Mrs. debates. Each and every person has very valid reasons for feeling whichever way.

But you know what? No one can read minds. Herein lies the problem. It is inevitable that I and others will offend someone at some point.

Today, as I pondered this post, it made me think about my own mother quite a bit. I decided that I probably don’t give her enough credit. She struggled with the same emotional distance from her mother. In fact, she had a fairly miserable childhood so the fact that she was able to show love of any sort is somewhat of a miracle.

I love you, Mom.

My kids are starting to grow out of using the term “mommy” now and it makes me terribly sad. I think I will be fine eventually, though, so long as they just don’t start calling me “mother”!

Weighty Matters

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I had a patient come in with his wife for a physical a couple of weeks ago. I have been taking care of him and three generations of his family for the past ten years.

That day, however, I could barely recognize him.

Why?

He had lost almost 70 pounds with diet and exercise alone. No meds. No surgery.

Good job!

I gave him, and his wife, a high five and lots of praise.

But there was something else there, too, something in his eye that I have seen before elsewhere. A hunger.

Inside I knew, even if he didn’t say it out loud, and it made me terribly sad.

The Boob Tube

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So, a few years back I did an interview on depression for a local television news station.

Now, “Big whoop,” you might be thinking. In fact you might even shrug and act like you weren’t even just a tiny bit jealous.

But, I would know the truth…

I grew up watching the news on this particular station. It was a big news outlet and honestly, ever since Willy Wonka sent chocolate by television I just knew it was for me.

I was star struck!

I was finally going to play a doctor on TV. Maybe this would be my big break! Maybe now my patients would listen to me like they listened to the evil Dr. Oz?

In the days leading up to my debut, I waited anxiously for the talking points I had been promised. They never came. The night before I found myself cramming the diagnostic criteria (SIGECAPS for anyone who has not gone through med school) into my brain and scouring old scholarly journals for interesting tidbits.

On the day of interview taping, the intense traffic to the downtown studio caused me to arrive 20 minutes late. Then I waited in the studio lobby for another 30 minutes before someone came to collect me.

Fortunately, it was not a live spot.

At long last, I was sitting in a comfortable chair across from a blonde, plastic Barbie type. The hair and makeup people did a quick touch up on her as I looked on, then scurried off. I nervously wondered if maybe I should take the time to powder my own nose.

But then I realized my purse was across the studio…

Fine beads of perspiration began forming across my brow. I like to think that was due to the intense heat radiating from the stage lights, but I could have been mistaken.

She, on the other hand, was not perspiring. Not one bit.

How did she do that?

My blouse soon stuck to the skin under my suit jacket as drops of sweat coalesced and ran down my back, tickling until they reached my butt crack.

If you have ever tried to concentrate while sweat has run down to tickle your butt crack, you know it is damn near impossible.

The camera started rolling and it was time to talk about the diagnostic criteria for depression. I found myself stumbling over the acronym, stuck on the “G” of SIGECAPS.

Curses!

After I explained that women suffer from depression more than men, the interviewer asked me, “Why?”

Why, indeed?

This was not on the talking points. In fact, there were no talking points!

It was then that the words came sliding out of my mouth… what I would say to a patient if we were in an exam room. Only this was not a patient, we were not in an exam room, and I was supposed to be behaving like a “professional”.

“Well, Jane (not her real name), if you give a man a uterus and a period, hormone fluctuations, pregnancy, and then forced him to breast feed, I expect the depression numbers would end up pretty much equal.”

Awkward silence.

A blink.

No emotion.

How did she do that?!?!?

“Ok. That’s all the time we have! Tune in next time when…”

Wearing Out

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My daughter has a new mermaid costume.

She has left a trail of purple glitter all over this house…upstairs, downstairs, the driveway, the yard, her bed, in the potty, on my face and in my hair.

At first, when she discovered the bag, I was reluctant to let her play with it. I wanted to save it in pristine condition for the Halloween festivities. Reluctantly, I finally gave in but I followed her around telling her that mermaids didn’t climb on things in their pretty dresses or slide around on the floor.

Brace yourself for a flashback:

My mother and father had purchased a beautiful cedar picnic table. My mother envisioned family picnics in the yard under the trees. She was giddy with excitement. When my father finally put it together, he told her that it would have to remain under the covered porch so it would not get ruined by the weather. Never mind that it had been stained and sealed with a weatherproof finish. My mother cried and cried. She begged and pleaded. What was the use of buying this beautiful table if she couldn’t actually use it? My father, however, would not be swayed. In short order the table was buried under two kayaks that never touched water and other detritus and was never, ever used. Not even once in the ensuing 25 years.

The other day, my son began wailing in the car on the way to school. “The paint is coming off my Transformer thermos, mommy!!!!!”

“It’s ok, sweetie. It means that it has been loved. Things wear out but it just means you had fun with them!”

Sniff!

Then a smile.

“Mommy, you are right! I love this thermos!!!”

I don’t want my kids to fear living, wearing out, saying goodbye. I want them to play their hearts out and experience joy even if it means a mess of glitter everywhere.

So go ahead, honey-bunny…. play as hard as you like in that mermaid costume. Mommy doesn’t mind after all…

Missing Something

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“That sure is a good looking son you have there, Doc.”

He had been staring intently at the pictures of my baby boy as I had run to grab a ton of sample drugs for him. We had several posted on the wall at the nurses’ station.

The man was without health insurance. I had been treating him and his family for years and I knew he needed the help as they were struggling financially. I genuinely liked him.

“Thank you!” I replied, puffing up a bit with a mother’s pride. He was incredibly handsome. I had certainly won the lottery.

“How old is he now?”

“Two.”

He nodded thoughtfully, taking his sack of meds, and left.

Three weeks later he was arrested for molesting his grandkids and his mentally handicapped step child. He had been doing it for years… the years I had been seeing them all in my clinic.

How did I miss that?

I took down the photos of my son. The wall has remained empty ever since.

Nodding Off…

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My brain is mush.

I saw 31 patients, dealt with about 70 documents, and made countless phone calls. I even had to cuss out an insurance company. Again.

So today you get a pretty picture taken by yours truly in Lucerne, Switzerland while I try to feed my kids and get the dishes done and hopefully get some sleep.

I promise something poignant, pithy, or creepy tomorrow!