Sara H. Rahman
"Mr. Douglas?" I call out into the waiting room. A short, grey-haired man in his sixties staggers towards me, bracing his back with his hands. Despite his pain, he gives me a warm smile, which I return.
As I help him onto the exam-room table, he winces, squeezing my hand.
"I'm a medical student," I begin. "If you wouldn't mind, I'd like to examine you before Dr. Smith sees you."
He nods. "Go ahead, you can learn on me--just don't break my leg!"
The patient, age forty-nine, complained of abdominal pain. She was taking both slow- and fast-acting oxycodone to manage the pain, and she also took antidepressants and a sleeping aid. She'd come to the hospital several times in the past year, always with the same complaint. This time, not feeling well enough to drive, she'd come by taxi. The veins in her arms were small, threadlike and collapsed, like those of a ninety-year-old or a recreational drug user.
Her medical file was huge, with reports from her primary-care physician, from local hospitals and from the gastroenterology department of a highly regarded teaching hospital across the state.
Since a doctor gave me poison pills that left
my heart a swollen slug, killed off my bone marrow,
set my lungs to clamoring, I can get brain-freeze
without eating a snow cone. When I walk
my neighborhood's knotted streets, lost drivers
stop to ask directions. After thirty years, I know
the pretzel-turns, but when they motor off, I wonder,
Did I say left when I meant right? My husband
gets that look when words change lanes
without bothering to signal. Like soap bubbles
they pop from my mouth--"bird" for "tree," "cat" for "dog."