Can you feel it?

Med school, on call in the ER.

My job consists roughly in seeing patients, asking them what they’re doing here and for how long they’ve had whatever brought them (“Oh, well, some time…”), and shadowing real doctors in white coats who make diagnoses and ask for exams.

A woman in her 60’s. Stomach ache.

History of  cancer a few years ago, the nasty sort, never-fully-recovered-of.

Pain started several days ago, then it only got worse. She kept away from the hospital as long as she could but now it’s hurting too much. I sort of remember her writhing on the bed, her skin a vague yellow-greyish, but I might be making things up after all these years.

Since she’s really not that well, a real doctor comes with me right away to see her, so that we do not waste too much time.

And not any doctor if you please, the surgeon. So that even less time is wasted. Pronounced Suuur-geeeooon, with a capital S. Surgery resident actually, but that’s all the same.

Good morning Madam, I’m the Suuuur-geeeooon.

Chief complain, where does it hurt, since when, since when her BM stopped, since when she’s been losing weight, and he nods.

He puts both his hands on her stomach, he waves his fingers, methodically, quadrant after quadrant, eyes raised to the ceiling as if to look in it for inspiration.

All of a sudden, his face lights up. He hesitates, he checks, he ends up keeping on the same spot and you can tell something’s happening here, under his fingers, and he’s really happy about it. Right now he’s even smiling.

With a triomphal look on his face, he says « Here you go, touch right here… »
So I lay my hands too. Because he asked me to. Because I didn’t give it a second thought. Because it’s so surrealist that I’m lost, far far away, somewhere between stupor and disbelief. Because I don’t want to think that what I think is going to happen is really going to happen, and of course, happens:  

« So ? (smiling) What do you feel ? »

You. Sick. Bastard. You mean besides my wanting to disappear? You mean, besides the overwhelming urge to scream your hideous wickedness right back into your face? You’re asking me, you creepy piece of shit, if I’m feeling anything else than my itching fists trying to keep from smashing your pretty white teethy smile?
Yes, I can feel the tumor, you fucking son of a bitch, right under the skin of the stomach to which is attached, with a closer look, a torso, and oh, a neck and a head. Of a lady. Who’s got ears.

I said « Nothing ».

Because it was about the only thing I could think of.

And when we left the room, struggling half with my stupid sense of hierarchy, half with my own pride and half with my own cowardice – which makes way too many halves – I said:

“Well, actually, I could feel it, but well, you know….”


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Hospital by night

Haaaaaa, night shifts in the ER…

Clock, waiting room, patients, patients. Pager. Telephone, x-ray, stethoscope, clock, scalpel, patients, stitches, patients, clock, again, and again.

Serious stuff, dirty stuff, benign, mosquito-bite-like stuff, moving, emotional, funny stuff.

Anxiety, too much of, or not enough. Nervous mothers, sons falling apart, nice hysterical girls, aggressive folks.

They’re all different. They’re all alike.

So when it’s 3AM, when you begin your seventeenth hour in a row, when the patience and indulgence you’re usually so proud of have an unfortunate tendency to slowly fade away, you try nonetheless to keep some words for yourself. And you hope very hard that they won’t slip out some night.

To this guy who wants a knee x-ray, tonight at 10PM, for a pain he’s had for two weeks. And for which he has, in his pocket, an x-ray prescription from his doctor, for the next day. When he looks down on you and says « But tomorrow, I got to go to work ». (Really? Well, tomorrow I got to go run naked in a clover field, asshole.)

To this other guy, with a svastika tattooed on his shoulder, when you are doing your best to stitch up his eyebrow arch, while he’s conscientiously throwing up on you. And that’s before he starts yelling that you’d better leave him alone now, cause there’s no way he’s gonna be screwed like that, and we’re in a fuckin’ democracy and he can choose whoever he wants as a doc, and that sure won’t be some fuckin’ chick… (Aaaaaah, you see we finally have an agreement there, Sir, cause I don’t usually treat complete jerks.)

To the very nice old lady who doesn’t know anything about her medical history because her daughter usually takes care of everything, but she’s pretty sure that every morning she takes « a tablet, you know, doctor, it’s white and the blister is green and white ». (Oh, I see! It’s the tablet for the disease, you know, with those signs?)

To this girl who comes for a « lump under her arm » that she’s had for a month and a half. When you ask why she decided to show up, precisely now, at 3AM, she answers « A friend of mine this afternoon told me it could be cancer, so of course you see now I’m worried, could you just do a quick ultra-sound for me ? And while you’re at it do you think it’s gonna take long? Cause I’ve been waiting for 45 minutes already… ». (Oh yeah, it’s going to take some time… Plus we have to consider a CT Scan for your brain cancer…)

To those who are outraged to have to wait for one, two, or sometimes three hours in the waiting room, when they all cry out « But this is supposed to be an emergency department, for God’s sake! ». (Yup, but it doesn’t mean « emergency » in that way, sweet honey bee, so just shut up now.)

To those who answer « Oh, for a while » when you ask for how long it’s been that way. (Okay, now I have a diagnosis. It’s almost certain you have a disease.)

To this guy who flatly refused to get a CT Scan, because he wanted an MRI, and who ended up saying to me « After all, Madam, the customer is always right! ». (I have no words.)

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Just after bear tamer – Juste après dresseuse d’ours

Just before being a doctor, I wanted to be a bear tamer.

That’s how long ago.

That’s funny, I can accurately remember the exact day I decided on my future career.

I was somewhere between 6 and 8, and I had an epiphany one morning in the bathroom.

Hard wake-up. Completely blinded by the light, I realized that by closing one eye, and only one eye, I was not blinded any more.

And that was it, the epiphany.

It was not my eye, my eye as an organ which was blinded, it was, somewhere behind it, the sum of my two eyes. I was not blinded in my eye, I was blinded in the sum of my eyes. My eyes summed up, they crossed over somewhere behind, inside my head, and there was the blinded point.


Realizing one morning at 7 years old that your eyes cross over inside your head is rather a shock. I had to sort this out, I had to be a neurosurgeon.

Screw my yet ever so promising bear tamer career.

Then I learnt that you could learn what’s going on inside someone’s head without doing surgery, so I decided I wanted to be a neurologist.

Then I learnt that no one exactly knows how everything works inside someone’s head, and I decided I wanted to be a doctor.

Then, after a long time, after some not so good hospital experiences, I had the chance to meet two family physicians, who did an incredible job, and who had an incredible passion for it. And, new revelation, I decided I wanted to be a family physician.

No regrets so far.

In french here