Heart to Heart

Janani Krishnaswami

I first met you in pre-op. It was my first week as a third-year medical student; my white coat was still white, the hidden interior pockets empty and the ten gel pens neatly tucked in my front pocket still leak-free. Stationed on a surgery rotation, I had officially spent twelve hours in the operating room–a frantic, exhausting blur of standing on tiptoe, gripping surgical retractors and struggling to avoid contaminating the sterile operating field where the surgeons neatly clipped and cut. You were the next case. From your chart I knew the barest facts: your name was Marie; you were forty-five years old, diagnosed with invasive breast cancer and scheduled for surgical removal of both cancer-ridden breasts

As I made my way to meet you, my supervising resident tapped me on the shoulder. “Just to let you know,” he said, “you probably won’t get much of a history. She only speaks French.”

Somewhere among my overworked brain cells lurked a few years’ worth of grade-school French, so I shook your hand and launched into what I hoped was a confident introduction. “Bonjour, Marie! Je suis étudiant en medicine.” Your eyes lit up, perhaps in recognition of a familiar …

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