Thursday, March 3, 2005

My heel and my wife, the doctor

I cut my heel a few days ago. The underside of it. It didn't bleed that much, while I was examining it. But when I started walking around, the wound functioned like a puncture on the bottom of a barrel. Blood seeped through it persistently.

And it actually hurt. I mean, up to a certain level, I am ok with pain. Physical pain, that is. And that level is comfortably high. That is, I would consider myself to have a relatively high threshold for pain. I can work with pain. Talk it into submission. Slow-dance with it. Gently move it out of focus. As long as it is not overwhelming. Now, when I tore the ligaments in my right ancle, that pain was out of my control. Ditto when I broke my left one. Cuts and stabs, sprains, bruises and even the odd fracture, plus broken ribs have all been manageble, if persistent. Also the time I severed my pinky almost clean off, but I'm told that really was just because I numbed up so quickly that pain didn't get to be an issue.


I had a bandage on my heel, which I had planned on changing once my wife came home today. I wanted to hear what she thought of the wound, and what I should do with it. So she came home. We ate. Did the dishes. And then I took off the bandages. Lo and behold, it actually did not look that bad anymore. Quite a bit longer and deeper than I thought, but looked pretty good all the same. So the doctor, who had suddenly supplanted my wife, quickly, routinely and calmly told my I should wash the wound in warm soap water, pat it dry and wrap it into fresh bandages. Then she stood up and went to do something else.

I went to the bathroom, sat on the bathtub, turned on the water, found the right temperature, and stuck my feet under the faucet. It felt like a big jolt of electricity shooting through my foot. I uncontrollably yelped with pain, but shut my mouth as not to alarm my wife and daughter too much. I held my breath and heard feet running to the bathroom. I thought I'd hear something like "What happened? Are you ok?!" But it was my daughter. With a worried look on her face. I smiled and told her, as calmly as I could manage, that daddy was ok.

After I had dried my foot, I hobbled into the living room. My foot was distinctly uncooperative, hot and throbbing. I sat down next to my wife and started telling her what had happened, thinking she might have missed that pathetic cry of mine. But she hadn't missed it. And generally wasn't moved by any of this. At all. She asked me a few more clinical questions, and then, when it was apparent that no medical attention was needed, she gently lost interest again.

And then two things dawned on me:

- One, my wife was not being cold or uncaring, she just defaulted to her attitute towards how she deals with traumas, real traumas, day in and day out. She tri-oshed me, examined, evaluated, prescribed treatment and did a quick follow-up. Or something. All done calmly and effortlessly. But distantly. Somehow professionably. I have lived with this woman for more than a decade, and if this had happened in our first years of living together, she would have had very little of her current composure, calm and skills to effectively deal with something even as small as this cut. She would have jumped to my side, patting me on the shoulder, holding my hand, asking me irrelevant questions, and generally been of no concrete clinical use.

But she would have empathised with my little trauma. It would have registered.

- Which brings me to two: I really did not need her there as a doctor. Sure, I probably would have done something silly without her help, like making it hurt even more by pouring disinfectant into the wound. Or scrubbing it with a sterile cloth. Or something. But what I actually needed, was my wife. Someone as startled by this as I was. Somebody sharing that aspect of it.

The thing is, my wife is getting to a place where my favorite line from Blade Runner applies: "If only you could see what I have seen with your eyes". In her work, she has seen such horrors, with her eyes. Horrors which I only hope I will never see. And every day she is surrounded with truly traumatised people. Bleeding. Praying. Dying. This gives her a whole different perspective. I mean, she has kids dying in her arms. What possible right do I have to even whince at this miserably insignificant little bruise, let alone expect her to join me in that wallowing. To boot, she spends almost all her waking hours in that environment. And she does it so well. I am so proud of her. Have always been, and always will. For example, this is the most recent evaluation she got from a surgeon who was training her:
She is one of the outstanding residents in her training year. At all times, she was professional, knowledgeable, trainable, and pleasant. A woman of few words, she is concise and accurate in her evaluations and presentations whether oral or written. She is an exceptionally talented surgical resident and will do exceedingly well in surgery both because of her outstanding surgical skills, but also because of her extreme honesty and trustworthiness.
Isn't that great? Isn't that magnificent? I think so. Her dream is finally coming true. And she is so deserving.

But sometimes, just sometimes, I miss that insecure little medical student, who once upon a time was still marvelling at how big the world looked back then.