I’m layering my life over theirs, the bits and pieces that I carry with me draping the room like a thin scrim. I can see another life here, someone’s memories and dreams and passions, but I can’t understand it; I just unpack my bag and pretend to have a home for a few days: toothbrush beside the sink, glasses on the nightstand, and knitting on the floor.
“This the place, sweetheart?” the cabdriver asked, pointing out the window at a flickering neon sign across the street that declared the establishment to be Mulligan’s. I didn’t need to look at the card in my clutch to know; I’d worn the edges of the plain business card – just the name and a street address – down to a soft roll in the months since it had shown up in my post box. Sam always let me know where he was in his own way.
I overpaid the cabbie with a crisp five-dollar note and told him to keep the change. He smiled greasily.
“Anything else, darling?”
“Forget I came,” I said, and slammed the door behind me. He saluted from behind the wheel and pulled out in a spray of water.
Under a flickering streetlight, I paused to turn up the collar of my trench coat against the cold wind then set off across the deserted street. A wave of cigarette smoke and liquor fumes rolled over me as I opened the door and raucous laughter blended unharmoniously with the sound of a jazz pianist. Definitely Sam’s kind of place.
A hulking bouncer loomed by the door, his square face oddly squashed, as if he’d been in too many fights and his nose had never recovered.
“Looking for someone?” he asked, stepping quickly to block my entrance. There were few women in the place and those that were, weren’t exactly ladies. He looked me up and down, taking in my dark trench coat and fedora with a curl of his lip. I stared him back in the eyes without a smile.
“I’m on the list. Kate Donaghue.”
It was a bit of gamble. I’d never been here before; I had no idea if I was on any list, or if they even kept one here. But me and Sam went way back. Just like the cards in my box, he’d never stopped throwing my name on the list when he was in town. I never came by.
(An update/continuation of “On Superstition”)
Almost as soon as I finish typing the previous reflection, and before I can decide what to do with it – send it as an email, as originally intended, or post it – my pager goes off. At 3:35pm, a page from my resident assigns me a patient down in the ED with psychosis and a history of violence toward hospital staff. The patient denies everything I ask her and kicks me out of the room several times before I finally get her to let me stay and talk so I can at least get a mental status exam. After I’ve been in the room for over an hour with her, she looks me square in the eye and says levelly, “I don’t like you.” My pager goes off. I have a suicidal patient to see a few rooms down.
An hour and change later, that patient has been brought up to the floor – just before I was able to finish my exam, of course – but my resident is too busy seeing two other patients who’ve hit the floor while I was down in the ED. One of them is complaining about our facilities to anyone and everyone; the other is in the midst of opiate withdrawal.
While I busy myself writing up my patients and wait to present to the resident, my first lady makes it to the ward and starts hanging around the nurses’ station, glaring at me over the wall. I try to smile without any effect and quickly settle for avoiding eye contact. Within minutes, she’s progressed from glaring to declaring that I am turning red, shouting loudly that I am Satan, and trying to point out the “tail coming from [my] a**.” “Yes, you,” she yells when I glance up. “You are Satan!”
I escape as soon thereafter as I can with the instructions to email my write-ups to my resident and the knowledge that I’m being saved by a holiday weekend, meaning I don’t have to come in for the next two days.
I’m hoping I’m no longer Satan by then. Otherwise, I’m going to have an awkward daily progress interview Tuesday morning.
And my superstitions?
I’ll let you decide.
Somewhat unsurprisingly, physicians have odd profession-specific superstitions that seem to transcend institutions. For instance, a particular resident or attending may be referred to as a “black cloud,” meaning someone for whom call days/nights or times on the floor are always busy, full of crises, have lots of admissions, etc. Alternately, someone can be a “white cloud,” for whom call days are quiet, nothing much happens, and everyone can relax. I was on overnight call with a “black cloud” for special care nursery, and that night we delivered something like five or six babies, including a preterm baby with respiratory distress, an emergency c-section, and a pair of twins, one of whom ended up going to the neonatal ICU after he developed breathing problems after reaching the nursery. We didn’t sleep at all for the entire night.
That somewhat unnecessarily long lead-in brings us to the present, if indirectly. I’m currently sitting in a resident work-room where I’ve been hanging out for the past five hours thanks to the magic of a Saturday call day; we finished all of our active work early in the morning and are now just waiting for patients to be admitted so we can go start working with them. My fellow med student and I would not be at all distressed if we did not, in fact, get any patients prior to 5pm, as our new resident told us this morning that when things are really quiet he’s been known to send people home around then instead of making them wait around until 9pm. However, I’ve been resisting the urge to comment on the lack of patients as the hours creep by, and we’ve just quietly sat and studied for our upcoming test.
The reason? If I mention aloud that we’ve made it to 3:30 without any admits, I’m bound to not only get an admission immediately but also one at 7pm, necessitating that I stay until 9:30 or 10pm when I’ll present the patient to the resident coming on to cover the night. It’s just the way things work around here, and I don’t want to curse myself. I’ve had a 7pm admit every single call night during this rotation and am beginning to suspect I’m gaining black cloud status a few years early.
Thanks, med school. You’ve not only killed my social life, massively sleep-deprived me, and made me neurotic about getting feedback, you’ve now given me delusions.
There’s something undeniably intimate about having that perfect dance. The moment when you realize you no longer have to worry about footwork or styling or reading his signals because it’s all there. Every shift, every lean, every breath is exactly where you knew, deep down, it would be. Had to be. The two of you are moving together, feeling the music course through your veins and out through every point where you touch. The brush of a leg or finger or breath against skin. The roll of a head or back or hips. Connections flow into connections and still the music pumps with your heart, strong and sure and forever. Until the song ends, the final notes settling into your skin and lungs with a finality that you only begin to feel when you release the end pose. The tension between you fades, hands drop away, and breath comes at its own pace. No one in the room knows him in the way you do at this moment, yet it is slipping away even as you slow your breaths to hold on to it for a little while longer. Thanks, you manage, and although it’s hopelessly inadequate, you know he understands.
Every evening I sit in my room,
Trapped in a cycle of sleep-work-study-sleep
And I dream of exploration,
Of fatigue of the body instead of the mind,
And of seeing the world unfold beneath my feet
Instead of watching it walk by my window.