When I first began clinical rotations at medical school, I often overheard interns and residents briefing senior physicians on a patient's condition adding that "he denies pain." They didn't say the patient wasn't having any pain; just that he denied having pain. It sounded like they were trying to avoid any legal repercussions should it turn out that the patient in question actually was in pain. It made me think of Peter denying Jesus three times before the cock crows, or a suspect in an old black and white crime film denying a murder rap. The first time I heard that expression, I scoffed inwardly but later I decided they were right. That phrase came back to me yesterday. I tried to deny a whole lot of pain, but the pain was not denying me.
As I took a shortcut through the Casualty Unit on my way home, I couldn't help but notice the commotion going on around a DOA (Dead on Arrival). The victim was an 8-year-old boy propped up on a gurney with tubes sticking out and an airway device in place. He had bled to death after massive internal hemorrhaging following a hit and run. Next to his lifeless body sat his grandmother, a once full of life, small and shrunken elderly woman clutching her oxygen tank. It was heart-breaking. I was quite shaken, not just by the tragedy but how those two seem to be our choices in this life: go before your time or slowly fall apart.
I decided to drive down to the beach and take a walk. The day was beautiful, unseasonably warm, as they say; reminding everyone that winter was indeed coming to an end. After a short stroll, I started my march back toward my car. I looked out on the water and saw a huge ocean liner, all lit up and sparkling like a fabulous jewel, heading out for open sea.
I never thought much of cruises. The idea of being unable to leave a group of people who turn out to be boneheads never appealed to me, add to that all those stories of ship-board plagues, accidents, assaults, and other tales of woe, I pretty much scrapped the whole experience off my list.
But last night was different. I've spent so much time studying, working and dreaming about being a great doctor or writer, I sometimes fear that my ship might sail without me. I wanted to be onboard that ocean liner so badly I could taste it. I pictured myself standing on the deck eyeing the shore as the city lights and my pain with it grew smaller and smaller until they disappeared. Wait for me, I whispered at the shrinking vessel, wait for me.
I would create a new identity and give out a fake name, I thought. Maybe put on a quasi-European accent, just to keep my fellow passengers guessing. I would hit the dance floor every night and sleep until noon the next morning. I'd meet lords and ladies, counts and countesses, industrialists, and stock market wizards. I'd begin a whole new life as somebody else. Selfish? Of course. But then I will be the one bearing the brunt of patients and their families once I return to the hospital. Still, just this once it felt nice to sail away and into obscurity.
But then I decided to go back to work, my meek existence in tow, do the right thing no matter how hard and unnerving it got. I went back to the ER, spoke with the family and comforted them the best way I knew how. My Arabic amused them and briefly filled the room with muffled nasal laughter. Something gained, I decided; however trivial.
Meanwhile, I'll work on my accent and keep an eye out for passing ocean liners. For whenever I need to jump ship.