Monday, July 11, 2005

Ringing in the ears, and other medical experiences

This morning I went to the doctor to have my ears tested. I have been having episodes of tinnitus, and it has seemed like sometimes it interferes with my hearing.

My previous physician had quit his practice to go to work for Doctors without Borders, for which I admired him, but it left me without a doctor, so I picked a guy at random out of the insurance list. I saw him today for the first time. Friendly. Busy. Probably competent. I looked up his record, insofar as that's possible, and he didn't have any credentialing or lawsuit problems I could discover. Like more and more doctors, I guess, he works in a large medical warren consisting of two buildings each with two pods of 4 or 5 doctors per pod. I went to the wrong pod and had to be directed down the hall to the right place.

My new guy is busy but listens without interrupting, which is good, and after examining my ears, sends me off with a technician to have my hearing tested on a machine. Upshot is, I seem to have some slight hearing loss in upper registers in both ears, and in lower registers in my left ear. More or less as I had begun to suspect. Now I have an appointment with a specialist.

A normal medical experience, I suppose, if there is such a thing. But as I was sitting in this buzzing hive of doctors and nurses and other medical personnel, I found myself remembering a career path not taken.

This was during was my last year in college, and I had been thinking of applying to medical school. I liked science and had been at the top of my class in a couple of the biology courses I had taken. Medicine seemed like an option.

I feel slightly apologetic about this story, by the way, and have to mention that it was before I ever heard the word feminism. So, anyway, I got a job as an orderly in a hospital. My duties were to change sheets, usually with the person still in the bed, take temperatures, count pulse rates, serve meals, clean up, empty bedpans, take pills to patients, and bathe male patients.

One guy had a tube coming out of his chest. He had histoplasmosis, if I remember right, and was being sloshed internally in fungicide. He seemed depressed. He had been in the hospital a month before I started work, and he was still there when I left.
"I don't know how I ever got this" he said. "They say you get it in caves. I never been in a cave in my life."
He worked downtown in the Capitol.
"But the damn Capitol's like a cave. Has bats in it. Always smells musty in the damn Capitol. I work next to the Governor's office."

I don't know if this is still a hazard of Texas politics.

Another guy had his testicles all swollen up and sore. He was a friend of Lyndon Johnson's. I had to be real careful changing the sheets, with him. His scrotum was red and tender, with the sheen, size, and tautness, of an eggplant. I helped him to his car after the swelling had gone down, and he gave me a ten dollar tip. I accepted, reluctantly. He was a banker. He had tried to give me a hundred dollars. The dollar then was worth maybe eight times what it is now, so that was a lot of money, for someone like me. I refused that much money, being suspicious.

One day a little pint-sized bouncy urologist who had been friendly with me beckoned me into his examining room. This was before medical ethics, obviously. Inside there was a guy unconscious and his legs spread apart, his feet in some kind of stirrups, I think.

The urologist told me a proctologist joke while unpacking his tools, lots of tapered smooth steel rods of various sizes. He zipped one up the guy's dick, inserted it about a foot, it seemed like, quick as you please. Then he pulled it out, and inserted a larger one.

"Good thing he's out cold" I remarked, since some statement seemed expected of me, and the urologist giggled. He was pleased at the opportunity to show me his dexterity with the rods. The rods got bigger.

"Got to enlarge it gradually" he said. Then he inserted some kind of optical tubing device and got down between the guy's legs like he was giving him a blow job, to look up his penis.

Well, I thought, I don't know about this. I don't have to be a doctor. I had had some reservations already, mainly about the doctors I had met.

There was a pretty French nurse working there. I liked her. One day she said to me seriously, "What are you doing here? Zees is weemon's work."

I thought about that, and I said to myself, "well, gee..." I _was_ working as a nurse, sort of. As I was realizing that I didn't wish to be a doctor, it occurred to me that I wanted to be a nurse even less.

A couple of days later I told the head nurse that I was quitting. She squinted at me over her glasses and said, shaking her head, "I'm very disappointed in you. Very disappointed."

I felt bad about that.

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