Only one episode in this two-week hospital stay really stands out as unpleasant and eminently avoidable. It involves a resident by the name of Birknes. Blond, with a buzz cut to disguise incipient baldness, and supremely self-confident concerning his properly preeminent place in the world.
So I’m up on the Neuro ICU, where there are no showers or loos, only commodes. I am At Stool, having a pee, feeling fairly decorous (except for the fact that the damn thing is set so high my feet dangle inches from the ground, and I feel like a three year old on a tube train again.)
Peeing away, I hear footsteps, and then my nurse calling out “She’s on the commode!” The footsteps don’t falter one second. Instead, the door opens a crack, and a great big used-car salesman’s grin appears, followed by an outstretched hand for me to shake. “Hi there!” he booms heartily. I feel like I’ve just met the reincarnation of Dick Nixon.
I demur. “I’m on the commode”, I say. “Please wait until I’ve finished”. His great big empty grin widens. “Oh this’ll only take a couple minutes”, he says without pausing a beat. And moves further into the room and then proceeds to administer a neurological functioning exam.
I am stunned into submission, and dumbly acquiesce to his ignoring my request to wait. I sit there, my feet still dangling, obediently following his finger with my eyes as he waves it from side to side. (I should, of course, have said “Follow this” and flipped him the bird.)
By the time he jollily exits the room, I’m beside myself with fury. I think of the past eighteen days since I got my diagnosis and all the things that have been eaten away by the cancer: not just my bone marrow and lymph nodes, but my professional sense of myself as a clinician, (having said goodbye to my patients as soon as I was diagnosed), my sense of independence (others are looking after me and my pets, and I’m considering putting the cats and the dog out to foster homes), my sense of a safe future. And with the actions of this self-absorbed jerk, what got eaten away at was my right to privacy. I’m no longer even seen as someone with the right to piss in private.
There’s a sorry postscript to this regrettable encounter. Birknes comes down to do a clinical followup with me on the oncology unit. I proceed to tell him how pissed off at him I am. He looks completely amazed – I get the distinct impression that it’s the first time in *years* that anyone has taken him to task about anything. I say to him that despite my request to wait, he came into the room and proceeded with the exam. He interrupts, “Wait a minute. I didn’t come into the room. I just looked around the door. I distinctly remember that.” (How he thinks he conducted a neuro exam from outside the room is beyond me.) Whatever, I tell him. The fact is he conducted his exam while I was on the commode. He boggles at me, and says, very loudly, “Why on *earth* would you object to that?” , sounding quite stunned at my eccentricity. I tell him that, with all that is happening to me, I still have a right to my dignity, and that includes the right to piss in private. “Well,” he says, in a let’s-hurry-this-along voice, “I can respect that. Now, about your recovery….” He gives me a quick exam, clearly put out that I took issue with him, clearly unwilling to apologise and -- bizarrely enough -- obviously unable to see what the issue is.
This strikes me as the quintessential person who should not become a doctor. Though if he had to, perhaps it’s best he became a surgeon so he usually only deals with other people when they’re unconscious. Fact remains, he’s the first genuine, dyed-in-the-wool thorough-going jerk I’ve encountered in this hospital, and I’m very sorry to have met him.
(His boss, Dr, Sharan, who did my surgery is, incidentally, a peach. Polite, considerate, gentle and thoughtful. Pity he hasn’t passed any of those qualities on to his remarkably arrogant subordinate.)