Behind The Scenes

Gnomes in Switzerland

WordPress reminded me yesterday that I have been blogging for three years. Three whole frickin’ years. 

How the HELL did that happen, anyway?

I thought it might be fun to talk about the reality of what three years actually means here at Behind the White Coat:

5,060-ish people “follow” this blog as of this writing. When I wake up tomorrow it might be a few more or a few less. This number is meaningless, though, trust me. 

I average about 300 hits on my blog per day. That’s right. Sometimes less, like when I don’t post for a few days, and sometimes more. WordPress has changed how it calculates hits so many times that I don’t really know what that means anymore. I might get more traffic if I were on Facebook or Twitter or other social media platforms but honestly, I just don’t have that kind of energy. 

This post will be #865. That is a whole helluva lot of hot air. Some of it I am proud of. Some is painfully, woefully laughable. Some just flat out sucks. I have bared much of my soul here. Bless all of you who have taken the time to read anything I post. I appreciate all of you more than you could know.

Each day I spend between 2-3 hours reading other blogs and answering comments. Over three years that is an awful lot of time. Fortunately I don’t have any other serious hobbies right now. Anyone who tells you blogging is easy is either lying to you or selling something like SEO whatama-ever-thingamajigs (I have no idea what that really means, anyway, do you?).

I was Freshly Pressed in 2015 and featured on Discover WordPress in 2016. Those were huge honors but I found that they made me nervous. I don’t really want to become famous after all. That surprised me. When I started blogging I had delusions of grandeur. I was gonna be the biggest thing since KevinMD. Ha! Not my goal anymore. What is my goal? Having fun, making connections, and learning something new.

For 2016 I had a total of 112,879 page views and 27,416 visitors. The most viewed post was Black and White and Blurry All Over but not because it was some amazing piece of writing. It just happened to go up the day I was featured on Discover WordPress purely by accident. I got lots of hateful comments left by plenty of scary people on that one. 

Which brings me to the fact that I have had my fair share of trolls. The really psycho ones can be pretty scary until you figure them out…. They all have the same agenda, though, no matter who they are. It is best to just ignore that they even exist. 

In truth, I follow 1, 957 blogs. Only a small fraction of those still actually do any posting. This makes me sad. We have lost some fantastic bloggers over the years. Some left due to time constraints, intimidation, boredom… death. I hate to unfollow anyone, afraid I’ll miss their comeback post someday. 

Me, though? 

I’m not going anywhere anytime soon….

Impact: Chapter Seven

Chicago in lights

“Next.” 

I stepped forward to the granite counter top and managed a weak smile. The woman in the bank’s uniform half-smiled back at me. Her striped blue and red scarf was tied jauntily at her neck.

Like a flight attendant.

“How can I help you?” She sounded bored. In her mid fifties, the woman had amazing hair with just the right amount of wave and body. 

I felt the familiar envy. I stared at that hair, wishing my own head was not covered with the flat, lifeless, straight as a board hair I had been cursed with. It was a dull mousy brown until I started to dye it blonde. At least the blonde helped. Speaking of which, my roots were showing. I needed to make a hair appointment if I was going to have to start interviewing for jobs now.

Times of stress always left me to dwell on each of my own flaws. My thighs were probably going to come up next. Maybe the crows feet. I was getting old. I looked closely at the woman’s eyes. She had great skin, too. I focused on her chin looking for hairs. 

Please let there be whiskers. Please let there be whiskers.

Nope. Not a single one. 

Damn it.

“Ma’am?” Irritation was in her voice and any trace of smile had now left her face.

“Oh. Sorry.” I felt my cheeks flush. “I need to make a deposit.” 

I pulled the paper paycheck, my last paycheck, out of the envelope. “Wait. I forgot to sign it.” 

The woman raised an eyebrow and passed a ballpoint pen to me. It was attached to the counter by a chain that made a slapping noise with each stroke. Banks were always disconcerting… unearthly quiet despite the hard surfaces and volumes of people. I felt I was disturbing the peace just by scribbling my name.

I passed the signed check to the woman. Her name tag read Elyse.

She waited, expectantly. “Where’s your deposit slip?” She looked at me, incredulous.

It had been too long since I had manually deposited anything into my bank account. My checks had always been deposited electronically. 

“Um, I don’t have one.”

“What’s your account number?” I could tell she was holding back the disdain with great effort.

“You know what? I don’t know that either. I have my bank card, though. Can you pull it up from that?”

I pulled the card out of my keychain wallet and handed it over.

“Do you have some ID?”

I cringed self consciously as I showed her my awful driver’s license picture. It was from before the blonde. She nodded, handing it back, and I tucked it quickly into the safety of my billfold.

Curt typing ensued. Then a scowl at the screen. More typing. Finally, she looked up at me suspiciously. 

“It says here that you closed out that account yesterday.”

A wave of nausea came over me.

“What do you mean?”

“I mean that it says you were here yesterday and closed out the account.”

There was $20,000 in that account.

“Does it say if I took that money in check or cash?”

She manipulated her computer mouse and clicked twice.

“Cash.”

There was no way to trace it.

“What about my savings account?”

“Also closed out.” 

I had scrimped and saved, trying to accumulate enough to eventually retire, hopefully sooner rather than later. I didn’t know how long I could keep up working as an ER physician. They had a high burnout rate after all.

It was gone. Every bit of it.

What was happening to me? Should I say something? Report it to the police? 

“That wasn’t me,” I said softly.

“Customers are not allowed to cash out accounts, particularly NOT accounts that large, without notice and without proper ID. I can assure you that you did indeed close out that account.”

“It was not me.”

A “Hmmmf…” of disbelief was all she uttered. The woman offered no other explanation, no further assistance. 

“Can I just cash this check, then?

“Fine,” she said sharply.

“In tens and twenties, please.”

I weighed my options as I watched her count out the bills, one by one. Four thousand dollars was not going to last me very long. Not in Chicago. 

Not anywhere, really.

At least I had paid the month’s rent last week. I was good there. 

The wad of bills was thick. I registered that my work computer was still there as I stashed them at the bottom of my bag. That could be helpful. I wondered how long it would take for them to realize I still had the thing.

I walked the few blocks back to my apartment mulling things over. Who could I call for help? I needed advice. Six months ago I would have called my boyfriend. Well. I would have if my phone had been working, but now, even if we were still on speaking terms I realized I did not know his phone number. I had never had to know it despite texting and calling him thousands of times over the years we had been together. My phone made communication with him a no-brainer. 

There had to be someone else I could call. Surely. As I rode the elevator up to my floor, I wracked my brain but there was no one. I had no friends. Only work acquaintances. There was no one I was close enough to that I could call them up and confess that my world was falling apart. No one except for him. Having regular sex with someone allowed you certain lifelong privileges didn’t it?

Probably not, but I still had to try. 

Maybe I could look him up on the work computer if my password hadn’t been shut down already. Not his cell number, of course, but I could Google his office number. He’d be in clinic right now if it was not a hospital week. If wifi was not working in my apartment, and something in the pit of my stomach told me it would not be, I could find a Starbucks somewhere… 

I turned my key in the lock. It stuck a bit and I panicked as I jiggled the key and retried it. Finally the lock clicked and I pushed open the door, relief flooding through me. 

My relief was short lived, however. It evaporated when I saw what was waiting for me inside. Or rather, what was not waiting for me.

Nothing

There was nothing at all inside. Every scrap of furniture was gone. Every last one of my possessions, gone. All that remained were the indentations in the carpet where my couch and chairs and other furniture had once been.

I was exposed. Bare. Naked. Nothing was left of me. At least nothing of the me that I once was.

My life was being dismantled before my very eyes.

It was time to fight back.

———————————-

Want to know how we got to this point? Check out the other chapters of Impact:

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

The Troll Under My Bridge

Bridge partially obscured by rays of sunlight

“Hey, Doc?”

“Ummmhmmm?” I was trying to figure out what button to push to get his tetanus booster to propagate into the right field of his health maintenance screen. I had a cuss word on the tip of my tongue that really wanted to get said…

“Are you happy?”

That made me stop what I was doing and look up at him. 

People don’t often ask me that question. Most people just assume that I am super happy. I mean, I do have that nice looking fake wedding ring, right? Plus, there is the fact that I work hard to project joy and happiness for my patients. They don’t need me dragging all of my baggage into their office visit. 

But now that the question had been asked I took a momentary inventory of my happiness quotient. Am I stressed? Sure am.

But, am I happy?

Then it hit me. Yes, yes I am happy. Very happy. You know how I know? Generally, I dislike the holidays but this year I find myself looking forward to them. The sound of Jingle Bells does not make me want to strangle some innocent, unwitting fluffy creature. 

I do my best writing from dark places but right now, I don’t want to go there.

So I say all of that to say that while you may read dark things, like yesterday’s mediocre medical poetry, I am not writing them because I am some shell of a person paralyzed by grief who spends the day curled up in a corner thumbing through a lifetime of regrets. Hardly. I have better things to do. And when I do go to dark places it is not because they are my places. Often I borrow them. And I don’t live there. Not for long, at least! Not anymore.

Today, I am happy. 

Today I am thankful. 

Embellished

img_3987

I used to be an author.

Every day I wrote two dozen or more short stories. 

Some were comedies:

“The pain in the right knee started after a snowboarding accident in Aspen two months ago during a spring break trip with friends. He swears that a tree suddenly jumped into his path and evasive maneuvers failed.”

Some were tragedies:

“The patient states that she learned last night that her husband has had a two year long affair with a coworker. She would like STD testing and something to help her sleep for a few days.”

Now I am supposed to point and click predetermined text to generate my note. It comes out something like this:

“The episode started two months ago. Pain is in the right knee. It is worse with movement. It is better with nothing.”

Where is the patient in that? Gone.

Then it is followed by a long list of smart text that generates an office note so full of crap that it is impossible to get to the meat of things quickly. I routinely get 4 page notes from specialists. I read the first paragraph and then the last page to hopefully figure out what is going on. The rest is meaningless drivel that is tacked on for billing purposes. I scan through hundreds of pages of documents every day. You know how I can read so many blog posts so quickly? Years of practice…

We are losing our humanity. 

Change the human body from a person to a machine.

Change the healthcare providers into automatons.

It is inevitable, isn’t it? Dehumanize the patient. Dehumanize the doctor. Dehumanize the nurses and medical assistants and other providers. Do it little bit by little bit. If you do it in one fell swoop, there will be rebellion. Whittle away at it in small bites so it is easy to swallow and then one day we will all look up in horror at what we have become but by then it will be too late.

Once you have done it to healthcare, do it to every other aspect of our lives. 

Little bit by little bit. 

I think, perhaps, it is already too late.

Homework assignment! Ask to read what your doctor writes about you next time you go in…. 

Impact: Chapter Three


I glared at the group of men until the laughter died down. 

Finally, the one who had led me to the van spoke up. “Happy Halloween!”

“What?” Now I was really confused. Halloween was Monday. Last Monday. Seemed a bit late for a Halloween prank.

“The whole thing was fake.” He gestured down the street. The ambulances and police cars were gone. No more flashing lights. “It was part of a TV show pilot…”  He shrugged. “You weren’t supposed to be there.”

“Bullshit. His injuries were real.”

Another man spoke up. “They can do amazing things with make up and special effects nowadays.”

I wasn’t stupid. I nodded slowly and smiled. “Sure.” I chuckled a bit for good measure. “Wow. Completely had me fooled.” 

“Here.” I was handed a damp towel. The rust color of dried blood stained the white fabric as I cleaned up. It sure smelled like real blood. 

My hands appeared clean but I still felt contaminated. I would for a long while…

I handed back the towel and was passed my bag.

“Thanks.” I slung the strap over my shoulder. “Am I free to go?”

“Absolutely.”

I started walking quickly, back the way I had come. I wanted to put as much distance as possible between us. As I neared the place where the body had been, I turned back. The van was gone. There should have been blood on the ground, but it had been cleaned up, somehow, as if the man had never existed. The whole thing had been so surreal…

Then I remembered the business card I had shoved into my pocket.

I fingered the corners to make sure it was still there. No way was I going to pull it out in case someone was watching.

Work!

I picked up my pace. They said I wasn’t supposed to go to work. Like they could be trusted. I reached for my phone but realized it was still in their possession. I spun around, then remembered they were gone. 

Damn it!

Fine. Maybe I could use the “find my phone” function to locate the bastards. I walked even faster toward the hospital.

Then, again, did I really want to know? 

I wondered if it would be a HIPAA violation to look up his name in the electronic health record at the hospital. Probably. But still, I had “treated” him. We had established a physician/patient relationship, right?

Wait. How did they know MY name?

An idea struck me. I watched for traffic as I carefully crossed the street, using a hand to pat just above my left breast. 

Bingo.

My fingers connected with a cold piece of plastic. My ID was clipped to my shirt collar. I kept it on a retractable clip so I could pull it out to unlock doors. It would zip back up when I let go.

Well there you go…

———————————

Chapter Two

Chapter One

Impact: Chapter Two

Chicago looking down from the Sears Tower

I followed the mysterious man to an unmarked black van a block and a half away. I noticed the van had no windows in the back, the type they used for kidnapping in all of those movies. 

Another, slightly older man stood nearby, waiting expectantly. He was dressed similarly in a suit and tie and held my bag under an arm.

“I need to call the hospital.” 

Neither man acknowledged my statement.

Damn it. I reached into a pants pocket for my cell phone and started to dial, bloody hands and all. At least the blood was dried now. Maybe I could clean the phone sufficiently later with some alcohol wipes…

The first man snatched the phone out of my hands just as I was hearing the ringing on the other end. He shut it off and put it into his own pocket.

“You will not be working today, Dr. Benton.”

My heart was racing. Simply not showing up to a shift in the ER was an egregious act, not easily forgiven. In fact, it could cost me this job and many future jobs. There is nothing more pathetic than an out of work doctor, fired for not showing up to work. That one event would haunt me for the rest of my career. A good Samaritan could be forgiven for late but not for failing to show up at all.

A door opened on the van and two more suits got out. One was tall, the other short. Both had dark brown hair. Clean shaven. I caught a whiff of after shave.

“Who are you people?” I reached for my bag but the fellow holding it pulled it away. I needed that bag. Not having my work computer could also get me fired. HIPAA laws and all of that. 

“Come with us,” he responded, motioning to the van.

“Are you fucking crazy? I’m not going anywhere in an unmarked black van with a bunch of strange men even if they are dressed in suits.”

They were nice suits, though. Well made. They showed off all of those bulky arm and chest muscles…. 

I stopped and tried to clear my head. What was wrong with me? I was possibly in mortal danger and here I was lusting. 

“We can do this the easy way, where you get into the van, or we can do this the hard way, where you still end up in the van…”

“Who are you?” 

All four eyes glowered at me.

The older one spoke up first. “We could tell you but then we’d have to kill you.” There was silence as we all regarded each other. 

I looked around. Should I scream for help? The street was strangely deserted. Where were all the people? This was downtown Chicago for crying out loud. There were always people about.

Screw the computer, I decided, I was going to run.

Then they all laughed. Not a sinister laugh. No. Full on mirth-filled belly laughs. The guy with my bag slapped the taller man standing next to him on the back, smiling.

What the fuck?

———————————

Impact: Chapter One

Caught 

Black and white fishing poles

So, I am postponing the posting of the next installment in Impact, my new Friday Fiction serial, until tomorrow. This new EHR (electronic health record) is kicking my butt. Please accept my abject apologies! Patients and family come first and my hobbies, no matter how much joy I derive from them, must come second. 

Until tomorrow…

Impact: Chapter One

Chicago skyline from Sears Tower
A sudden squealing of brakes and a dull thud caused me to glance up. Nothing…. at least so far as I could see through the two dozen heads waiting to cross the intersection with me.

Engrossed in my phone again, I checked a news app, scrolling through the stories. More election drivel. I gave up and slipped the phone into a pocket. There were a few seconds of dysphoria after I looked up as my eyes took in the surroundings again and my brain processed where I stood.

The corner of Harrison and State Street.

The light changed.

I started to walk. People parted ways ahead of me, some going right and some going left. Some stopped and stared. I kept walking until I finally registered that something blocked my way. A dark figure lay sprawled in the intersection, his right leg bent weirdly. 

Someone behind me screamed.

The man lay so terribly still on the asphalt. There was a bright pool of crimson growing around his mangled leg, a gory halo of sorts, offset further by the sliver of morning sunlight that crept between the skyscrapers to fall across the road exactly where he rested.

Damn it.

This was going to make me late for my shift. Again.

A man stood nearby with a 911 operator on speaker phone.

I could just keep walking. No one would know who I was…

Like I could do that.

I stepped forward and knelt by the body, checking for a pulse. It was thready. Instinct took over as I dropped my leather bag and worked to stabilize him. He was barely breathing. I ripped his gashed pants leg and found the artery in his leg that was severed, holding it tight with my fingers. He had a large gash over his left cheek that exposed the bone. His belly was rapidly distending, no doubt bleeding internally.

His eyes looked through me, unseeing. 

A groan.

Within minutes I could hear the sirens, though they were still far away. I looked down at my blood covered hands and then glanced up at the crowd of faces staring down at me. I saw shock, concern, hope…

But there was nothing more to be done. Not here in the middle of the street at least.

His eyes focused on me for a moment of lucidity, knowledge flickered across his face as he understood he was dying.

“Tell her….” The sounds came out barely audible as he formed the words around the blood bubbling over his lips. “Tell her it was the pearls in Paris.”

Wife? Girlfriend? Who?

“Sure, I’ll tell her,” I soothed. No further sounds came. His chest moved rapidly as his breathing quickened, getting more and more shallow as the belly expansion pressed against his diaphragm. 

I hope they hurry. He needs a hospital STAT…

I checked his pockets with my free hand after wiping it on what remained of his suit coat and found a wallet and phone. 

Why don’t I carry gloves?!?!!? 

No photographs in the wallet. No one ever carried real pictures anymore, did they? His driver’s license. Joseph Spellman. A stack of business cards. Mr. Spellman was a computer consultant. I slid a business card into my pocket.

There was the hushed whisper of a voice behind me, “Did she just steal his money?!?!” I turned my head to make eye contact and glared at the elderly man who had spoken. He hung his head guiltily.

All of a sudden the area was crawling with police and EMTs. I stood and stepped back as they took over, stretching. My knees hurt from kneeling on the asphalt. I looked around for something to wipe my hands on, then noticed that my bag was gone.

A man in a black suit touched my arm and pulled me back. “Ma’am. Could you come with me please?” His voice demanded compliance, his face stern. 

I needed to call the hospital to let them know I was going to be late. 

Very late.

“Wait. My bag…”

“I already have it.” He pulled on my arm again. 

“Where are they taking him?” The man shrugged. I turned to an EMT standing at the background. “Where are you taking him?”

“Northwestern.”

I nodded. My hospital. I could find out what happened to him later.

“Ma’am. You must come with me.” 

“Do you have something I can use for my hands?”

Imitation

paor of dead flowers leaning on each other
His guilt always took the form of diamonds.

This was how she knew when he had been with another woman. The next morning there would be a sparkling apology waiting next to her coffee cup. 

I prefer words.

There was a vast collection now, a fortune in fact, lining the velvet boxes stacked in her custom designed closet next to the designer purses and dresses.

She never, ever wore the jewelry. To do so would be to acknowledge, to give permission to, his infidelity… something she swore she would never do.

So day after day, week after week, year after year, she waited while her hatred grew. She had no family, no children, no skills, no education… no independent finances. Thus, she endured his touch, biding her time. The trophy wife who was no longer a trophy.

Finally, the day came. 

Heart pounding, she loaded all of his guilt up into two large suitcases and took them downtown to a jeweler for appraisal.

It made her nervous carrying that much “money” in public. She glanced around furtively as she lifted the suitcases out of the trunk of her sports car and during the short trek across the parking lot, sighing in relief as she stepped through the door.

The young woman at the counter stared at her suspiciously when she explained what she needed. 

You are still pretty. Just wait. The 40’s will come for you, too, and then you will understand…

Anticipating a life of luxury from the proceeds, she fidgeted anxiously as she waited.

The gray haired man in the back had deep creases in his face. He sat hunched over a workbench, examining each piece carefully in turn while squinting through his jeweler’s loupe. Sometimes he would glance up at her before picking up another item. 

When he had examined each one, he bundled everything back into the suitcases almost carelessly and brought them back out to her.

She felt a horror and dread rise up from within, even before he spoke. He held pity in his eyes, as if he understood why she was really there but knew some other terrible secret.

He waited a moment, then spoke.

“Those are not real diamonds at all….”

Building Up 

Chicago skyscrapers downtown

He watched intently as she took a sip of the wine, dark red liquid flowing past her lips. All she wore now was the diamond necklace he had given her at dinner.

She smiled at him over the rim of the glass, making him ache.

Her presence pulsed through his veins. 

The only thing he ever wanted was her. He had spent most of his life persuing her, even going so far as to ask her to marry him… more than once. She never said no but she never said yes, either.

They had made love countless times and each time was charged with a need that would not be sated. She was a drug and he could not get enough of her. He was willing to compromise who he was a thousand times over for just another taste.

Still, she was so far away, so distant. No matter what he gave, what he did, she remained shrouded and opaque. A wall, impenetrable, surrounded her. 

He was at a loss. What was she hiding? Why wasn’t he enough?

What she wanted to tell him was that she needed someone else to have control, someone to make her do things she did not know she wanted to do. She needed him to control her crescendos and decrescendos. She wanted him to want her enough to tie her up and make her stay. 

If she had to ask for it, though, she knew it would not be real. So instead she lay there silently under his touch, willing him to possess her, knowing that he never would.