June 27, 2021

As promised in the last post, here’s the rest of the story…

Him being a new patient, my first step was to ask him about the nature of his injury. When I asked what had brought him to us, his response was the single word “Harley.” He then launched into what would be a seemingly endless stream of information about his motorcycle wound, the salve his ex-girlfiend had made for him, the nature of the sleep he’d gotten since the accident, and the pain medication he was hoping to acquire from today’s visit. I was able to get his vitals while he talked, interrupting him long enough to put a thermometer in his mouth, to prick his finger for a blood sugar check, and to note his oxygen levels. All was looking good, and he successfully predicted for me what each reading would be (a “perfect” blood pressure, for instance—a bit rare, as most of the time it’s a challenge to hear the faint, elevated heart rates of our patients). With the vitals done, I asked whether he was in pain or not. “Yes!” Startled at the level of enthusiasm he displayed, I followed up with a query as to what level, on a scale of 1 to 10. “15!” he shouted. I clarified, “10 being you are writhing on the floor and screaming.” “10!” he shouted again. “All the time or intermittent?” I asked. “All the time!” I did not attempt to question the logic of his reply. Nodding and turning to my chart to note his response, I heard,  “So are you the doctor who’s going to look at my leg?” I informed him that no, I was not the doctor, but that yes, I would be looking at his leg before the doctor came in. “Oh-I guess I better take my pants off, then . . . ” he began to say.

I turned back around to assure him that he would be able to do so in privacy, and I pulled out a drape for him to cover up with. But I was too late: he had already unbuckled his belt and slid his jeans down. I realized, gratefully, that he was wearing shorts underneath, but couldn’t help but notice the awkward result of one shoe and pant leg off, the other bare and extended out on the table. I tried to maintain a nonchalant normalcy, though, and began the process of washing his wounds and prepping him for the doctor. While I was working on the leg, he said, “Here—let me help you. You can see it better if I hold it up,” and, again, before I could protest he had contorted himself, with unexpected agility, into a full ballet-dance-worthy stretch, holding his leg so that it was practically perpendicular to the exam bed.

At this moment, while he was lying on the exam table in front of me, his bare leg lifted up to the ceiling while his other leg hung over the side, one leg of his blue jeans trailing to the side, the head nurse knocked and walked in to check on me. I took in the scene in front of me. I looked at her raised eyebrows. And my career flashed before my eyes.

Instead of my imagined reaction, however, she took in the scene, shook her head, then announced that she was just going to get some supplies she needed from the room. Still shaking her head, she walked past us, opened the cabinet, then walked back out the door. As she opened the door to leave, I thought I saw a hint of a smile on her face.

I finished up with my part of the wound cleansing and prep, and, with some difficulty, excused myself and told him the doctor would be in to see him soon.

As it turned out, the day being what it was, the doctor was in a bit of a “Lord help me” mood herself, so I couldn’t resist a bit of a “warning” of sorts, tacked on to my official report for her. Whether or not this was appropriate, I don’t know. What I do know is that sometimes, when life is just too much, it helps to lighten the mood a bit. What was that about laughter being the best medicine?

Incidentally, when Harley came in for his follow-up visit, I was sent in to take care of him, along with a new trainee. She was trying to show her proficiency with what she had learned thus far. And I couldn’t help but smile when I saw her open the drawer to get the modesty drape out for him while he shimmied out of his blue jeans and began his acrobatic contortions while lamenting his level of pain. We must have done something right last time. On a scale of 1 to 10, his pain is now a “13.”


June 22, 2021

With it being a full schedule in the clinic, I was able to work more independently last week. One patient I was caring for came in with a wound on her abdomen. I began the usual routine, uncovering the bandages already covering the spot. Once it was cleared, I turned my back to her in order to change gloves, Turning back around, I saw that she had pulled her shirt back down over the spot, so I lifted the shirt up again in order to wash and disinfect the area. Once I had finished, I told her the doctor would be in soon, and asked her to leave the freshly sanitized skin uncovered. Before leaving the room, however, I paused, thinking I would apologize for the discomfort of laying bare in a cold clinic; instead, what popped out of my mouth was an instruction to “just pretend that you’re laying on the beach right now, wearing a cute bikini.” She laughed. Up to this point, we had been pretty much business-oriented, so far as our conversation went. But now she shot back, “Oh honey, you don’t want to see me in a bikini.” 
This interaction, though smashed in the middle of a flurry of others, marked me. A bit later, it occurred to me that what I felt was similar to the first time I successfully told a joke in another language; the same thrill of crossing a bit of a threshold in the process of learning a new skill. I guess this “skill” of medical training is a learning curve just like any other. So successfully lightening the mood and, hopefully, easing the nerves of a patient, was a step forward; rather than worrying about whether or not I was following all the procedures correctly, or remembering all the techniques, I was able to do the work itself automatically enough in order to have space in my brain for creative conversation—for plain old human interaction.
Speaking of plain old human interaction, my next patient was decidedly more, shall we say, challenging. I may write about “Harley” soon … 😉

Oh, and incidentally, though I do spend a fair bit of time with photos in clinic, they are not terribly enjoyable to look at. But everyone seems to like cute farm animals so instead I’ll share a moment from our last young homestead visitors

June 6, 2021

One of the writers I admire, in all her formats (books, blog, newsletters, and podcast), writes a quarterly post about the things she has learned in that season of life. It is supposed to be that literal season of the year; but it always seems to me that life’s seasons are often as easy to pinpoint as weather-related seasons. For that matter, the two are linked: I have noticed that my moods, feelings, and decisions, can very easily coincide with shifts in weather patterns.

But that’s a bit tangential to the point. The point being that this writer/podcaster shares her learnings, and invites others to join her in the reflective exercise.

I always find it interesting to think about this topic; yet I also struggle, when life feels full/overwhelming/stressful/complicated (hmmm—am I simply defining the word “life,” here?), to put words to the passing of the days. I hate this. I hate it when I think back to moments of my own life and realize that I had nearly forgotten those parts altogether, due to the rapid transition on to the next thing. It prompts a fear of “wasting” my own life—an angsty feeling I get if I have too many impactful experiences without making them “real” by documenting them. I envy those who can live fully present in the moments of life, rather than obsessively writing them down. 

That said, I hereby commence said obsessive writing-down of a season in which life has whirled and swirled so much that I don’t know where to begin in a list of things learned. Rather than follow Julie Andrew’s lead in this case (though I am shamelessly unabashed when it comes to random belting out of her songs—combined with dance, of course), I will start at the end, as it were . . . start with my most recent “learning.”

  1. I can handle wound care, even in its most gruesome forms. This week I washed a leg that was so far gone it had maggots crawling in the open sores. Yes, I know—too much information. But it was real life. We would like to imagine that such gruesome cases are a thing of the past—or at least not to be found here in the modernized and “progressive” world we are in. So I am here to bear witness to the fact that people all around are warring against physical and emotional horrors. May we remember to watch out for each other, to check in with those close to us and with those who come to mind, for you never know when you might happen upon someone who needs you, no matter how unprepared, ill-equipped, or inadequate you may feel. 
  2. I seem to be better suited to working with people not in my own age bracket. Every once in a while we have a young (i.e. my age) patient in the clinic. More often than not, I find I’m thrown off kilter when this happens. I’m generally a bit uncomfortable around people my age—insecure? self-conscious? But somehow, put me with people a fair bit younger or older than I am, and I end up feeling more comfortable in my own skin, and more confident in whatever it is I’m doing. 
  3. I love Aldi. Today’s triumph was discovering that Aldi has yet another item that we purchase regularly, and that is gradually eliminating our need to shop at any other grocery or large-and-unnamed-chain-store. It is a beautifully streamlined and fluff-free (I don’t know, either—but that’s the term my strange brain came up with) shopping experience. Chit-chatting with the cashier as I checked out, I was thrilled to learn what distinguishes Southern Germany from Northern Germany Aldis. I am Jeopardy-ready at the moment, thanks to my new knowledge. If any reader out there would like to be in on my little learning secret, feel free to ask ;-)
  4. As age creeps in, I have an increasingly narrow window of temperature tolerance. This past Memorial Day, I had a holiday from work. My intent was to enjoy an outdoor swim, with many pools opening on that day. I have historically loved the simultaneous joy of Vitamin D plus lap swimming. I also know I am a cold water wimp. I do not even swim in indoor “lap pools,” opting instead for pools intended for swim lessons or water aerobics classes . . . (hmmm. Is there a parallel here with learning #2?). All that to say, with the extra cold weekend we had, I knew better than to look for anything other than a heated outdoor pool. The heater was broken. I jumped in. I started to swim. And I gave up, waving my white flag of surrender and rushing for a warm shower instead. Later that day, I watched my nieces gleefully splashing around during our family get together. Their lips were blue and their teeth chattering, but they were beyond oblivious to the cold. I sat with a drink in hand, chatting with family members, watching their gleeful faces and not, for one brief moment, being tempted to jump in. On the opposite end of the thermometer spectrum, me + commute + little Camry = match made in H-E-double-hockey-sticks  (see previous, two posts ago, blog post for an explanation of this statement).
  5. I am ridiculously predictable. Take any given Saturday night when hubby and I are home. Me: “Let’s watch a movie tonight!” Husband: “Sure” Me: *looks up all the recent new recommendations from blogs, podcasts, and news sources. Finds something that looks fun, and is available for free. “Ooh—here’s one. Let’s watch this one!” Husband: “Sure” *sets up his computer for us, asks me about volume level, and gets the show going. Me: *sitting with my laptop or book, 5 minutes into the show . . . “I don’t know. Maybe we should just watch another episode of [current favorite cheesy series on cheesy channel that we apparently have an unlimited free trial of] . . . what do you think?” Husband: “Sure”