Sunday, November 25, 2012

Walking the Corridors Late at Night

     I found myself walking up and down the long hallways of my office in the dark last evening.  Although I live in the country and don't budge on the weekends, today I had reason to drive to Gainesville, so I stopped off at the clinic on my way home to pick up a few items I'd forgotten in the rush to get home before Thanksgiving--a bag of shredded paper for my chickens, my empty lunch containers, a piece of pH paper to check the acidity of the pond.
     But those things could have waited.  Really, I think, I wanted to feel the place where I spend so much of my life, with the magical ghosts of medicine on the sidelines, taking a break, recharging for Monday, and my own spirit hovering in the shadows of a clinic that bears my name--my father's name--and carries our shared decades of immersion in the lives of others, and our insistent belief that we could save the lives of others.
     I ran my hands over the EKG machine, and the smooth, clean surfaces of the ultrasound units, studying the keyboards, marveling at the power beneath them.  They are precious, well-used watchdogs, identifying exactly what's wrong with patients when my brain is supposing many possibilities.  I held one of the transducers in my palm--such stupendous technology, given to me to read its code, and translate for my patients.  These pieces of equipment have served me like dutiful beasts of burden, day after day for years, and it is hard not to anthropomorphize them, hard not to imagine they have personalities of their own, and a relationship to me.
     Then I made my way in the strange pink glow cast by the red emergency lights to the x-ray room, where digital machinery can peer straight through the human form to its framework.  This apparatus has made my job easy, unveiling, via subtle densities, a telltale hairline fracture of the radius, or the fat pad that accompanies an ankle sprain, or the ominous shadow masquerading as lung parenchyma--a shadow that never fails to send a wave of terror up my spine:  cancer, do something, do something fast!
     How will I get along without all these implements, my arms and legs, which have been given meaning and purpose by my medical training and will, helping me to make diagnoses and outsmart disease, allowing me to make mortgage payments, plant trees, and pay for my sons' college educations?  
How does a hunter hunt without his pack of dogs?  How does a hunter stop hunting, when the season is over?  What will I do with my time?  I should have a plan, I know.  But I don't.
     I stood in the billing office, a jungle of paper--boxes and boxes of it--and file cabinets, and sticky notes, and manila folders with labels:  Enter Charges, Rebill, Appeal, Send Records...and the biggest piles, which might as well say, Give Up--These Claims Will Never Get Paid, and You'll Never Win.  
     I sat in an exam room on one of the blue swivel stool that affords a 360-degree view of my patient, lively children, concerned spouses, cabinets, bulletin boards, the ophthalmoscope-otoscope wall set.  I pressed the buzzer which I use to summon a nurse, and the sound cracked the heavy silence like a small plane taking off.  After that, it was quiet as a morgue, the noise having made the stillness in the clinic even keener, so that it stung.
     Two bank representatives toured the clinic last week, preparing to lease the building to someone else after February.  The bank had foreclosed on the previous owner and took over my lease shortly after I moved in.  I would have bought this building, now fully equipped, but my prospects didn't feel secure.  Then the raid happened, and I knew they weren't secure.  I began to give up on the whole idea of medicine, at least as a way of life for me.  I never thought of myself as the type to give up.
     Don't be sentimental, I told myself.  There's nothing to gain from that.  Move on, something else will show up.
     This week at home I planted more flower bulbs--tulips, this time.  Now there are hundreds of daffodils and tulips in potentia, sitting in the cold, dark earth, waiting.  
     Something will emerge from this mass of possibility.  It has to. 

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