Room for More

QeeQee Gao, M3, Class of 2022

“Maurice Johnson is a forty-one-year-old male who presents to the clinic with a chief complaint of chronic left leg swelling. His leg swelling originally started two years ago….”

As the medical student’s voice droned on, all the attending could hear was her stomach rumbling from the missed breakfast that was overtaken by her toddler’s stubborn choice of apparel. She was in a purple phase and insisted on only wearing purple. But the prior day’s laundry load sat forgotten in the washer and had set off a morning of unnecessary tears and uneaten breakfast. 

“What’s your plan for him?”  The attending broke the student’s rambling presentation.

“Get an ultrasound of his left leg to rule out a blood clot and maybe an initial set of lab work since he hasn’t seen a physician in two decades.”

“Let’s start with an arterial and venous ultrasound and then go from there. What room is he in?”

“He’s in Room 9.”

***

“Miguel Ricardo Garcia is a thirty-five-year-old male who presents to the clinic for a follow-up evaluation of dysphonia….”

She hadn’t always wanted to become a doctor. Her dream had been to pursue a career in the fine arts, to become a director to tell and capture stories in the ways she wanted to. But familial pressure had coerced her into pursuing a career in medicine—a far more financially lucrative and socially respectable career, or so her parents insisted. The road to claiming the two coveted letters behind her name had been tumultuous. She had contemplated leaving medical school and even residency multiple times, but she had always been persuaded to give medicine a chance, to stay a little bit longer. She didn’t know why she stayed, but she did. Perhaps she stayed because she hung on the hope that medicine would become more than what it was, or because she was too afraid to admit that what she so desperately searched for cannot be sought.

She knocks on Room 10.

***

“Angelisa Bates is a seventy-six-year-old female who presents to the clinic for….”

On clinic days, she arrived an hour before her first patient appointment with a sixteen-ounce Americano in her hand and earbuds in her ears blaring the morning news. Her days were predictable. New patient. Return patient. Procedure. Repeat. Each assigned into twenty- or forty-minute time slots. They were there for a diabetes check-up. And if it wasn’t diabetes, it was hypertension or substance misuse or depression—the classic American pathologies, as she thought of them. Notes after patients, clacks after clicks, her days were filled with the sounds of chatter and keyboard taps. She drowned in the cacophony of motions.

She stood outside Room 11.

***

“Mary Louise is a twenty-six-year-old female who….”

For a split second, as she caught her breath in between the flurry of routine and regimented appointments, she saw beyond the superficiality that underscored her day, that each room holds more than just two uncomfortable chairs, a fancy moveable table, and a dust-laden Dell in the corner, that each room—for twenty minutes—holds worlds and histories that, by happenchance and fate, intersected with the room. Twenty minutes where two strangers converge on the life of one. Without prerequisite, patients share intimate details and yield their body while she, the physician, listens, touches, and, sometimes not always, heals. For those twenty minutes, the world of her patient collided with hers. She had unforgettable moments, like the time when the patient who sustained a near-total transection of her spinal cord—someone she had taken care of as an intern while on the surgical ICU and thought would never move her lower body again—miraculously walked into her office as a new patient. Or, delivering the newborn of a patient who had undergone twelve years of fertility treatments and in the process given up on both science and faith. These moments, collisions of fate, are the pieces of her that she refuses to part with, maybe even why she stayed to do what she does.

Perhaps she had it wrong this whole time. Maybe what she was looking for, the humaneness, the depth of living and dying, the soul of connection, was always present. It was merely a matter of taking the time to look, to peer beneath the superficiality and listen beyond the cacophony.

A few seconds later, she entered Room 12.

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