Thursday, December 29, 2005

Christmas Day

Well, something went very right today.

I got up feeling reasonably substandard, my body already rejoicing at the prospect of shiftwork.

It is, of course, a few days after Christmas (and a few days before the Nestorian celebration of the same event), and today a virgin was with child in the Florey Emergency Department.

Well, not precisely. The virgin-with-child did not exist. She was a palimpsest, a mirage, a superposition of two very separate creatures. The result of seeing the same object from two different points of view.

Standing in the doorway of the cubicle, the father (Eastern European, skin the colour of strong tea, broad shoulders in a black jacket, white hair in an almost tonsure), saw the virgin daughter.

Stadnign off at a ninety degree angle, the ultrasonographer, and the girl (skinny, big eyed, sweating and pale), and the nurses and me saw the woman with child. Eight weeks and one day old, curled like a comma in her womb.

Balancing all this was not going to be easy.

The girl, Bahini (I feel a certain discomfort saying 'girl', because this was someone who could vote and drive a car and had only that year been her college's media studies apprentice of the year, but that was how she struck me at first), the girl was there with her father and her sister and her almost incapacitating nausea.

She came in crying, sweaty and vomiting, and unfortunately she came in at seven in the morning, which is close to handover at Florey ED, and Drs Bubo, Canker, Noma and Ileus had had enough overnight, what with the Incredible Shrieking Woman and the Medical Registrar, one Dr Horatio, BM, BS, CFU (Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery, Completely Fucking Useless). So Dr Bubo got a line in and took one of every kind of blood test and got some fluids in and started anti-emetics, and all possibly without emerging from alpha-wave sleep.

Dr Bubo, by the way, is going to be a damn good doctor. Smiling, congenitally courteous, smart. Good for Florey.

Anyway: the whole thing was a complex ballet. Her whispered entreaty the moment her father stepped out of the room, the fact that he didn't know yet, the suggestion that the shock would literally kill him. Me saying it was against the law for us to tell him anything she didn't want him to know, the reassurance that this happened all the time (and things like this do), the carefully choreographed switching between conversations as he and the sister wandered in and out of the cubicle.

The whole thing was like an allegory. While he was in the room we discussed nausea and vomiting in general - how its cause was often obscure, the physical examination, the ultrasound, the few blood tests serving more to rule out any sinister cause of her five days of vomiting than to establish any definitive cause.

When he stepped out of the room (lured away by the sister on some pretext, much of the conversation between the two was in Arabic), it was all folate and dating ultrasounds and looking after yourself and "how do you feel about all this, anyway?". And did you know morning sickness killed Charlotte Bronte?

Of course, Charlotte Bronte wasn't treated in the Florey ED.

A lot came out. Mum and Dad didn't know. Sister knew, and the boyfriend, but he wasn't being that good about it. He had said he would be, but he wasn't. And she wasn't sure about all of this, about the baby and everything. Not that she'd ever have an abortion or anything, but this wasn't what she had planned. She was apprentice of the year at her college, she told me three times, apprentice of the year only two months ago. And now this. Twenty one, pregnant, single, alone.

And her doctor - very old style. The family doctor, an old man. Hadn't even laid a hand on her belly, just looked at her over his glasses and said "huh" when she said she was pregnant. Didn't know when she should get an ultrasound or anything, she looked it all up on the internet. She didn't really have a doctor. And she hadn't even heard from her boyfriend for a week. Eight days, actually.

And it was quiet that morning, bright clear day outside, and I had time to sit and talk, and I told her how bad my wife's morning sickness had been (across the Nullarbor by car, stopping every fifteen minutes) and how she'd got over it, and we talked about small meals often, ginger, sips of water, coming into hospital sooner rather than later.

All lies, of course - it was my girlfriend at the time, not my wife, and the trip was by bus, not car, and several other little things, changing the details to protect the innocent, making stuff up to fill in the gaps as I go along, rearranging it to form a more dramatic or aesthetic picture in my head, so that even when I set out to tell the whole, unvarnished, truth something else emerges ... something like now.

Enough of Heart of Darkness. Damn fine book, by the way.

Anyway. We got her better and we got her out of there, a referral letter to Dr Minge* at the Women's Health Unit and a little, post-card sized printout of "the tadpole" as she called it, five centimetres from head to tail, heart already beating.

And everything was managed to everyone's satisfaction, no lies were actually told (although some of the truth was left unsaid), and the virgin soon to be great with child and her father left happily.

Presumably at some time in the near future to have a serious sit-down talk.

See, every time I think about quitting (and I was thinking about it pretty damn hard for a good while then), something like that happens. Something you can feel good about. Something that lets me utilise those special skills I have - listening, looking, lying.

Sigh.

Anyway. I think Emergency has got its hooks in me. I don't know if it's because I am drawn to distress and spectacle, like some blundering insect circling a flame, but in the end it doesn't matter. Even if you do it for that special weird thrill you get, that momentary release when you help someone... even as you see that feeling and extinguish it, it's good. For a moment forgetting who you are, forgetting the debt that's owed, smiling because you made someone smile.

Getting a bit too weird here. The study of moths, by the by, is called mothing, and people who moth are called mothers.

Anyhow, I might take a break, a sixmonth or a year off, I might never even finish the programme, I might never even go back. But days like those - they do the heart good. Days like these, I love them, and I love the job.

Thanks for listening,

John

*this is actually her real name. There was also an Elvis Semen (or Seman, or Seamen, I'm not sure) who worked in Obstetrics at the university where I learnt medicine.

6 Comments:

Anonymous Camilla said...

Thank you for those glorious pictures! I especially loved the "serious sit down talk" one, and the "feel good" one (they reminded me of the pictures you used to draw for the yearbook and stuff).

Heeeeeee.

2:15 AM  
Blogger Foilwoman said...

Okay, I'm overwhelmed with a furious envy. Camilla, Chade, Sarah, the Pope: they all get to know you in real life and all I get to know are these (admittedly wonderful) pixels in cyberspace. The internet is wonderful (how else would this form of communication be available?), but sometimes shows you exactly how distant we all are.

5:27 AM  
Anonymous Camilla said...

Foilwoman, if you can ever get the chance to meet BJ in real life, snaffle it with both hands! He is even better in living, breathing colour ;)

Funnily enough, while we were talking on the phone today we were marvelling at the fact that though we are about 15,000km(?) apart, we sounded to each other no further away than the next room.

7:45 AM  
Anonymous Camilla said...

One of these days I might actually get my act (and thoughts) together enough to make all my comments in one post. What I wanted to say was that thought this bit was beautifully described:

The virgin-with-child did not exist. She was a palimpsest, a mirage, a superposition of two very separate creatures. The result of seeing the same object from two different points of view.

Loved it.

(I think this verification thing has a sense of humour. "xwbqxwxq". WTF? If I needed left hand typing exercises I'd go to a typing school!)

7:50 AM  
Blogger Benedict 16th said...

1) Elvis has not left the building, he also specialises in reproductive medicine at the Mordor General Hospital.
2) Happy with the world, expansive, transeloquent... have you stopped taking your meds again?
3) Foilest, whenever you want to set off, (well is a 16 yo US citizen can get to Baghdad you should be able to make it downunder)
4) Camilla, yeah come on over, then we can swap BJ stories....
5) BJ can I send some of your stories to FW?

Benny

10:29 PM  
Blogger Bronze John said...

Hail,
Camilla is being very nice, I'm not that exciting or pleasant in real life. Especially "in real life on shifts".

And as for concerns I'm off my medications... why would I need any? I'm perfectly fine. Really fine. Damn fine, in fact. I'm damn fine, life's damn fine, Everything's so damn fine and exciting and wonderful it's amazing... only joking. Ish.

John

11:46 AM  

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