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Young Doctor In The Elevator

July 15, 2011

An unfinished piece, written mainly for practice.  A couple of themes could be developed.   

We are standing, waiting for the elevator in the hospital. I am going upstairs to pick up a juvenile cancer patient, so I have my wheelchair, folded so I can drive it with one hand. Though much of the second floor has been renovated, the area surrounding the C-wing elevators remains an island of decay, holding out stubbornly against the small army of fit dusky men the hospital employs to perform constant surgery upon itself. Plywood barriers and construction signs serve to separate this area of peeling green paint and worn linoleum from the newly-renovated sections of the hospital: stainless steel with matched blonde and brunette wood veneer panelling.

She is blonde and a little bit chubby and time has not yet scratched the polish of youthful cheer on her face, but then, I am almost forty. She carries a backpack slung over one shoulder like a student and a stethoscope around neck. She is dressed with care: a black stretch scoop neck under an unbuttoned paisley shirt, expensive jeans just a little too tight around the waist.

“You must be a doctor,” I say with a smugness intended to disarm. It is a calculated risk, and today it works.

“Why do you say that?” She is young, but is probably already accustomed to being addressed as nurse.

“Because you have a stethoscope, but you are in civvies and aren’t wearing a name tag.” It’s a ten-dollar fine for employees to come to work without one, but a dedicated subset of doctors just don’t give a fuck.

“Oh, I’ve got one,” she says, fumbling to free it from behind her backpack strap. It is a small one, cut plastic, gold over black. It is not one of the hospital’s official ones for regular employees, then.

“Sherlock Holmes I am not.” I glare at the elevators melodramatically: the light had lit up but the doors will not open. I am performing now, for my audience of one. “Seriously, the way these things are treating me today, I think they have a grudge. Maybe I pissed an elevator off in a past life, I don’t know.” She laughed, genuine and spontaneous. The joke is one of several I use, the delivery practiced and honed . Primarily I use it to put patients at ease, but it works both ways.

“So are you an intern?” Now the doors open and we push the buttons to our respective floors.

“Yeah.” She is still smiling. The door closes.

“Any speciality in mind, or general medicine?” The question of why doctors choose their respective specialities interests me. What qualities about nephrology, for example, are attractive in contrast to, say, radiology? Does one have more prestige, or allow one to work more closely with people?

“General.” Not ‘just general’, thankfully.

There is a mild jolt as the elevator comes to a stop. The door opens. Unlike the second floor, the third is bright and kinetic: nearby windows let in sunlight, people move more briskly. The lobby and exits are near and the visitors know where they are going. So much of a hospital is devoted to waiting: waiting for test results, waiting for the nurse to finish, waiting for surgery, waiting to see visitors – all forms of waiting are ultimately tethered to the real delay, the glacial pace of human healing.

“Mmm, good luck then,” I said, looking past her at the hallway.

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