A Virtual Reality Devotional

Stained glass window

The body lies prostrate

On the confessional floor

A weakened avatar

Your closed door

Heartbeat slowed

From afar

Fading finally

Into empty code

Mere tokens

Conquests

Meaningless and broken

Nothing of value

Can be taken

Only the memories of love

Gained and lost

And gained again

Virtual virtue

Virtually gone

And truth now clear

Life

Turned into fear

Death 

A final frontier

Hold your breath

It is not so painless 

As they wanted us

To believe

Uncovered

Mission ruins, San Antonio

“Mommy!” my daughter gasped urgently. “Look, she’s a mermaid…” There was reverence and surprise in her voice. 

Imagine meeting a mermaid here!

“Yes, she is…. now, shhhhhh,” I responded.

I held my breath waiting for my little girl with no filter to say something about the woman’s size. She was probably close to 400 pounds and she was wearing a two piece bright purple and turquoise mermaid swim suit like it was the most natural thing in the world.

Mercifully my daughter said nothing more. Instead she snuggled up against me wrapped in her towels and fell asleep, smiling. I am grateful that she and the towels completely cover up my thighs.

I found myself very jealous of that woman. If I could have even half of that confidence, I could… 

But then, I remembered, what I saw was probably only just the tip of the iceberg so to speak. What kind of ugly things had been uttered by people under their breath as she walked by? Was she really, truly confident or was her swim suit an act of defiance, a f**k you to the world wrapped up in flashy purple and turquoise lame fabric? I would never know the reality of what lies beneath.

In contrast to the mermaid, there was a woman who must have been a size 4 standing in the wave pool with a voluminous hot pink coverup who looked so incredibly self conscious and miserable. I felt and understood her pain. She hid her body but did not succeed in hiding her discomfort. 

“Nothing makes a woman more beautiful than the belief she is beautiful.” —Sophia Loren

I looked around me at the hundreds of other men and women, bodies of all shapes and sizes and the swimsuits of all sorts, each one an act of courage. Bacne, surgical scars, stretch marks, cellulite, fat rolls, belly bulges, love handles, etc. all exposed. 

My body is a blessing.

“You are the best looking woman out here,” he whispers in my ear as I take off my cover up. I’m not. The mermaid is, but I love that he can make me feel like he believes it is the truth. 

So I decide to walk around like I am, like I really do believe I am beautiful in my deep cobalt blue velvet one piece swimsuit. I don’t like my body but that is OK. I am not this body. I am not this swimsuit. 

I am beautiful.

Doctor’s Day

Cute butterfly on a blossom

Doctor’s Day was yesterday. Did you know that?

Caught me completely by surprise.

It used to be a big thing ten years ago. The hospital hung banners up and handed out logo emblazoned umbrellas, bags, pens, and whatnot. My staff signed a big card the office manager picked up and a new potted plant would now sit on my desk. Drug reps dropped off cards and swag. There would be emails celebrating doctors sent from the suits. Well not really from the suits. From their secretaries. The point was, though, you just could not escape what day it was. 

To be honest, all of the hoopla back then made me feel very uncomfortable. 

This is not why I am doing this. I am not here for the accolades or the potted plants and I resent the insinuation that these things matter to me. Please leave me alone.

Each year it is less and less of a big deal. This year? Silence. Not a single frickin word from anyone. In fact, my only clue was a post from someone else on WordPress. 

Yesterday I told a woman she has metastatic ovarian cancer. I told a man that he now has diabetes and we developed a treatment plan together. I did a newborn visit on a precious two week old baby. I cried with a woman over her divorce and saw a man whose mother just died from the same disease he now has. Then I watched the last few minutes of my son’s karate class and picked up cupcakes for my daughter’s class party. 

This is life. My life. Every day. 

And you know what? Despite any bitching and complaining that I do here, I really, really love my job. It is such an honor and a privilege to care for people, to be there when they need help. THAT is what keeps us going… keeps me going.

In truth, I’d do this job for free. Just don’t tell the suits that I said that. 😉

A touch of tenderness

This is a wonderful post about the importance of touch in life and death. Please pop over and read it if you have not done so already.

Sue Vincent's Daily Echo

The Cathedral by Rodin.

My son gleefully squeezed harder at the knotted muscle in my shoulder, with a ‘Now I’ve got you’ as I groaned in agony. We have established and agreed that he has a slightly sadistic tendency where I am concerned. It may have something to do with my knack of getting just the right spot on the painful muscles as we got his body working again. Day after painful day, for months on end. So now it is payback… and he appears to enjoy it. He still manages to lay the blame squarely on my aching shoulders, muttering something that sounds vaguely like ‘hereditary’.

He is a little more squeamish than I. His face screws up in horror as my wrist bones crunch back into place when he applies traction. It is, however, nice to regain freedom of movement occasionally. So I make him do it…

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What Is Left

Submarine hatch
“What are you doing to me?” he asked sharply. 

I shoved a pair of new pajamas into the drawer and closed it, turning around to face him.

He sat on the edge of the bed. A once tall and proud man, he was now withered and shrunken. His eyes accused me. Of what, he was no longer certain, but he was absolutely sure I was guilty.

He was right.

“This isn’t a cruise ship is it?” I shook my head. “I lost my wallet and haven’t got any money.” The anger in his voice was replaced by fear.

I patted his hand reassuringly. “It’s rehab, hon. You’ll be back home before you know it.” The lie burned my throat as I said it but it mollified him for the moment.

The roommate sat across the room watching our exchange silently from his wheelchair, wrapped in a plaid robe with white socks pulled up to his knees. His grizzly, stubbled face showed no sign of recognition or understanding but his eyes followed me suspiciously about the room. 

“I’ll see you tomorrow.” I bent low, kissing the wrinkled forehead, and squeezing his hand. He smiled weakly. 

I’d loved him. Once. 

Now someone else was living in this body of his. There was distance between us that stretched much father than the few inches apparent to the casual observer. I felt nothing for this interloper, but still there were social expectations that had to be met, guilt that must be assuaged.

How often must I visit him to keep from being ostracized by friends and family?

Somehow I deserved this, I had no doubt, but he did not.

I understood now, I realized, as I walked down the corridor for the hundredth time. This must have been how Prometheus felt.

Chimera

Small white flower bloom

I read the chromosomal analysis.

Partial trisomy of sex chromosome… mosaicism…

Well. What was that going to mean? I needed an answer before I called this baby’s mom. She had been waiting anxiously throughout her pregnancy after the initial testing had showed a probable genetic anomaly. Mosaics are tricky. Some cells are normal. Some are not. The end result can vary. I searched everywhere at my disposal professionally. 

Nothing. 

So then I turned to Google. 

“Likely no developmental delays. No fertility issues. Phenotypically normal appearance.”

I breathed a sigh of relief. I was still sending them to genetics but I wanted to be able to reassure the family if I could. It had been a very emotional pregnancy.

And since then I have been thinking about this more and more.

Now that OB/Gyns are offering, and sometimes pushing, these more advanced genetic tests during pregnancy I wonder what it is going to mean for the babies as they grow up. We would have never known there was an issue genetically for this child 10 years ago. We just would not care. They would have grown up as a “normal” child. Now this kiddo will have “sex chromosome anomaly” hanging around their neck for the rest of their life. 

Is more information really better? Just because we can do something… should we?

Maybe not.

A Discourse on Intercourse

Philadelphia building

“Doc, I just want her to have sex with me. I come home after working hard and I want to make love to my wife but she’s not interested.”

I went into my usual discussion about wooing and foreplay and questions about their relationship but I was getting nowhere fast. It always feels incredibly silly for me to be giving anyone marriage advice, as if I have everything figured out, but here I was. Again. 

“Wait. Don’t you work out of town all week?”

He shrugged. “Yeah. So?”

“Look, you and she have four kids under the age of eight and five out of seven days out of any given week she is a single parent also working a full time job. You come home Friday night and want to get busy when she is exhausted and really just wants to finally get some good sleep? That is not math that is going to add up.”

“Can’t you just give her a pill?”

“Uh, no.”

“Then can you tell her she needs to lose some weight? Start exercising?”

I looked over at her, sitting silently in the corner. She was not obese. She sure did tired. She rolled her eyes.

“Tell you what, here is the name and contact info for a good marriage counselor…”

‘Tis the Season

Dried flower

There was a time I believed that the longer I was practicing medicine the easier the dying would get. Practice or callous formation, call it what you will. I just thought it would be easier.

That is not the case, though. 

These long standing relationships, the people I see for years and years, are the hardest to part with even when you are expecting it. It still hurts. And with each passing it brings me closer and closer to my own end.

This is the dying season, it seems, those couple of months after the holidays when everyone who was holding on is now ready to let go. 

Everyone but me. 

Not yet, anyway…

Checking Out

Thorns of a Mesquite tree

“How is your day?” the cashier asked as he scanned the items one by one in slow motion. He looked to be in his late 20’s. The middle aged woman ahead of me wore a dark pants suit and looked to be in a hurry. It appeared there would be pasta for dinner in her house tonight.

My kids would love spaghetti and meatballs…

“Just fine. You?” She murmured politely as she pulled out her wallet.

“Terrible! It has been a terrible day. I woke up this morning to a text from my parents saying they are raising my rent. How can they do that? Raising the rent?!?!!!?! I live in their house! How DARE they?”

He went on to rant for several minutes about how he was just going to have to find somewhere else else to live and it was not fair. What, were they trying to get him to leave?

The woman stood awkwardly waiting on the receipt. He waved it around for emphasis as he told his story, effectively holding her hostage. Eventually she cleared her throat and held out her hand, offering no sympathy. Finally he handed the paper over. She grabbed the plastic sack and practically ran out of the store.

“How’s your day going?” he asked me as the scanner bleeped my few items.

“Just fine,” I said, stopping there.

Shaving cream.

Toothpaste.

Socks.

Awkward silence.

“I guess they do want me to move out, huh?” He looked crestfallen.

“Yeah. Probably.”