Friday, June 23, 2006

Love will find a way

Love, they say, hurts. I, and all of us reading this, know this to be true. But I don't know that many of us know it as definitely as Mr Pearce does.

(By the way, you know those Renaissance paintings where Cupid is blindfolded and carrying a bow and arrows? To us it's some simpering fat kid, saccharinised and sentimentalised so it is no longer any kind of threat. But I reckon the people who painted it were using the best visual analogy they could. Love, they knew, is a blind and childish figure, and it's airborne and carries the most effective long-range killing weapon available at the time.

Nowadays, love would have stealth technology and be armed with a streetsweeper*. And it would wear some kind of leather jacket with a romantic couplet in gothic letters, scattered with umlauts).

Anyway: Mr Pearce, my "patient least likely to..." from a few days back. Mr Pearce had recently, and I suspect temporarily, been released from prison. I say this because throughout his interview he slumped in his seat, desperately trying to keep his eyes open, falling asleep mid-sentence, pupils the size of pinpricks, while denying to the three of us that he had had heroin.

And all this with a forensic urine test pending the next day, and the absolute certainty of return to prison if his urine contained even a smidgin of anything recreational.

But in the interim he was here with me, long, pale hair, gaunt featured, hatchet-faced, dressed in coarse, well-worn black, a lower socio-economic status Elric of Melnibone. I asked about amphetamines.

"Hate the shit" he said. "Never touched them."

I sighed inwardly. "This is different to the drug court stuff" I said. "We want to know what you're on so we know how much medication you need. No-one can get these notes without a subpoena. We're not interested in punishing people."

Untrue after my last post, but still.

"Speed's for fucking junkies" he said, in between micronaps. "Filth".

"I only mention this, sir, because your last.... fourteen urine tests have had amphetamine metabolites in them, and because a year ago you told the prison doctor that you'd been using a gram of speed a day, every single day you weren't in prison, since you were nineteen, and you're forty one now. See, it's all in this letter here with your signature and photo on it."

There was a long pause, which I think he may have found a bit discomfiting if he'd been awake through it.

Anyway, after we worked out that side of things I asked about his general health.

"No probs" he said. "Never been sick a day in my life."

"Those scars..." I said. He had about thirty scars over his forearms, with a few on his forehead and one on his neck. "What happened there?"

The prison notes had said "sustained in ATM robbery", but I doubted this.

"Ah, that was my missus" he said. "Went mental at me in the pharmacy back in Christmas 2004. Reckoned I was seeing another woman."

"With a knife?" I said. The mark in his neck was two centimetres lateral to his trachea, had missed the common carotid artery by what looked like... no distance at all. I only knew it had missed it because Mr Pearce was still here talking to me.

"Mate, you're bloody lucky to be alive. That was someone who was trying to kill you"

He shrugged. I went on.

"And supports in the community? Any family here?"

He shook his head. "Nah, but there's me and my missus and my kid."

I nodded, then gazed at him as an idea struck me, so crazy it just might be true. I paused, and tried to think of it in a way that would not give offence.

"If you don't mind me asking, sir, is this the same woman who tried to stab you to death in the pharmacist in Christmas 2004?"

He waved his hand dismissively. "Oh, she's over all that now. She says she's always been short tempered. Reckons she doesn't know what went through her head when she did that."

Amongst his other scars this guy had a deepish one over his right eyebrow, where only the supraorbital process of his frontal bone had stopped a non-Medicare funded frontal lobotomy. I was thinking it was more a question of what almost went through his head that was the worry.

I said absolutely nothing. He leaned forward, looking as troubled as a man can who's just had two hundred dollars worth of smack up his arm, and confessed his guilty secret. "But you know something, Doc? Sometimes I reckon it's affected the relationship.... There just... I don't know.... There just doesn't seem to be as much trust as there was."

I nodded. For a moment we understood each other. "Not that it's any of my business" I said, "but I reckon that's not always a bad thing."

Love and other bruises.. and incisions, and stab wounds, and blood pressure of ninety on nothing...

See, perhaps that man was one of the Lamed Wufnicks, the thirty six truly righteous people upon whom the fate of the universe rests. I think he was a man capable of acts of forgiveness and charity of which people like me can only dream. He was definitely a much more forgiving man than me.

I'd know I'd be the kind of petty, legalistic person who'd take being stabbed almost to death badly.

I wouldn't move on.

I wouldn't let bygones be bygones.

I'm serious. The least little flurry of lacerations to the arms, knife-blow to the skull and deep stab wound to the throat and I'd be be holding a grudge (and possibly any item of clothing I could find, pressed against the arterial blood spurting five feet across the room) for the rest of my life.

All thirty or so seconds of it.


Today was much less remarkable, although I did have one "couple" who explained that although they came in to see me together and although she, who did not use heroin, answered several of the questions for him, who used, that they were not "together".

"No worries" I said. I glanced at Paul, my client, who nodded.

"Have you changed your address out the front desk?"

"Oh, he still lives with me, in my house. Always has. And we sleep in the same bed, because there's only one. But we're not together."

"Okay" I said.

"I've got a new boyfriend and everything" she said.


"But he's not allowed to come over" she said. I looked at Paul, who shook his head with the air of a man who knew when liberties were being taken.

"And why - ?"

"Paul won't let him" she said.

People different to us.

Thanks for listening

*And why do I know about this ghastly thing (an automatic shotgun, by the way - for those times when normal shotgun just won't kill masses of people fast enough)? Because a fellow medical student of mine, a Republican from Arizona, used to own one.

When Steve (pretty much the only guy I know who would insist on onymity** in a blog like this) mentioned his "gun collection" to Sarah and me, we both imagined a collection of elegant eighteenth century fowling pieces, breech-loading muskets, perhaps a flintlock pistol. It turned out that Steve's collection instead featured what looked like cannons on tripods, handguns the size of Volkswagon engines and devices designed to flense sizeable crowds of your enemies while you wait.

Despite this frankly terrifying admission, Steve turned out to be a relatively gentle and tolerant soul. As far as I know he never showed any hard signs of understanding primum non nocere in a different way to the rest of us. And anyway, most of the charges were later withdrawn, and none of the witnesses could be persuaded to testify.

Steve is now an ED doctor in a large American city, and in many ways a better one than me.

** Opposite to anonymity. Send onymous love letters, it's less romantic but saves needless confusion.


Blogger cupcakegrrl said...

I can't wait for your book to come out.

You inspire me.

12:23 AM  
Anonymous Camilla said...

Hear hear. What cupcakegrrl said.

2:18 AM  
Blogger Bronze John said...

Well, thanks kindly. I am blushing electronically.


10:26 PM  

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