“My knowledge, my feelings don’t count” came to mind recently when our teacher in the class I took this summer at Iowa told us to write a short essay from the prompt: Write about an event where you felt small. She also said to practice writing 750 words. The following is a true story, still alive in my memory, that I miraculously fashioned into exactly 750 words. A fun catharsis and a fun exercise–both good things that happen in a writing class!
He wears a smirk and a white coat. A framed diploma hangs behind him on the wall. He stares across his island-wide, dark wooden desk. “I don’t deal with anything above the waist.”
I sit on the other side of the cloud-threatened island. Then what do you deal with sticks on my palate.
My internist has referred me to this gastroenterologist for squeezing pain under, and around, my ribcage. I’m here for answers. I’ve been chasing answers for five years. The orthopedic surgeon who did my hip pinning says my hip is not the cause. A pain anesthesiologist says the osteophytes, the nasty bone spurs, sprouting on my aging thoracic vertebrae, pressing on nerve endings, are not the cause. A neurologist says multiple sclerosis, with a diagnostic symptom of a squeezing hug sensation, is not the cause. But, he adds, “Do monitor those white patches on your brain MRI. They may turn out to be MS.”
Each of these specialists wears a look of concern.
This gastroenterologist wears a smirk. “I know you don’t think you have it, but more than fifty-percent of my fibromyalgia patients have irritable bowel syndrome, so I’m sure that’s what you have.” I have just told him I do not have hard stools, no stools, or runny stools. Aren’t constipation and diarrhea the symptoms of IBS?
I sit, fingers tensed, white patches morphing into menacing billows in my brain.
Not so long ago, I wore a smile and a white coat. A framed diploma hung on the wall to my left. Windows to the college quad formed my background. My desk was light oak wood, and my nursing student chair sat alongside. We could have touched knees when we talked.
He wears a smirk and a white coat. A framed diploma hangs behind him on the wall. He stares across his island-wide, dark wooden desk. “I’ll give you a prescription.” He scribbles, lunges to hand it over, rises.
I stare at the jagged script. A smooth-muscle relaxant with a strong sedating component. Really?
He looms over me. “Take it three times a day.” He motions me out.
I wear a blank. “Thank you,” I say.
Why do I say Thank you? Is it my habit, like in Raymond Carver’s poem, What the Doctor Said, when his doctor tells him he has lung cancer that “looks bad in fact real bad,” where he concludes, “I may have even thanked him habit being so strong”?
Is my habit to say Thank you so strong because I was brought up in the parsonage to have good manners and never offend?
Why don’t I tell him I don’t appreciate his condescending manner, his haste at dismissing me, his classification of me as a disease and not a person, his emulation of everything I’ve taught as the antithesis of empathic communication in health care? Why don’t I blow my stack, throttle him, or simply walk out?
I know why I don’t respond. And it’s not the parsonage’s fault. It’s my early socialization as a nurse. My instructors telling me that I must give up my seat in the nurses’ station for doctors. I must stand aside at elevators for doctors to get on and off first. I must take whatever the doctor deals; they are the revenue generators for the hospital, they bring in the patients.
My knowledge, my feelings don’t count.
It’s when a surgeon yells at the operating room, after I’ve gloved his right hand with a left glove, rubber fingers flopping in the air, “Damn this student. Didn’t anyone teach her how to put on gloves?”
My knowledge, my feelings don’t count.
It’s when a surgeon yells at me over the phone, when I call as a young head nurse and question his illegal order, “I’m going to come in and clean your clock.” And he does.
It’s when these experiences, deeply situated in my cells, jump forth, fifty years later, and I remember: My knowledge, my feelings don’t count.
It’s when I note now that our diplomas are from the same university, the same year. His MD, my PhD.
It’s when he wears a smirk and a white coat. And looms over me. “Take it three times a day.” And motions me out.
I dash down a long, darkened hallway into an elevator, my cheeks damp from not being able to respond. My cheeks damp from not having the courage to respond.
I hit the street. Never again, I tell myself. Next time, I will respond.