The Moment

telephone-1240655-640x480In retrospect, the moment that I decided to go to medical school happened in our kitchen.  My mother answered the phone back when phones hung on walls.  Back when one phone belonged to everyone in the house.  Back when I was going to be an English teacher.

My dad had been moved to a Rehab facility.  He needed to recover from the spine surgery that he endured after the accident.  That stupid accident, the one where he was volunteering for his church.  Fixing their roof.  And he fell.

My boyfriend at the time would tell me years later that he kept having a recurring dream of that day.  You see, he was there, too, helping my dad.  In the dream, he heard him call his name, saw his hands outstretched, falling, but he couldn’t grab him, his fingers just out of reach, and then he was gone, over the edge of the world.

The moments after the accident are a blur.  ER.  My father on a stretcher.  His face contorted into a Picasso painting of horror from the pain.  And he couldn’t move his legs.  The nurses, the doctor.  Everyone talking, but no one speaking our language.  What is happening?  Lumbar fracture.  Bone fragments.  Spinal cord injury.  Emergency surgery.  Paralysis.  May never walk again.

And then it was over.  Only thing left was to wait.  Wait for healing.  Wait for the swelling to go down.  Wait for the remaining muscles, nerves to reveal themselves.  Wait to discover what was left.  Like the aftermath of an atomic bomb.

So we went home.  And then the phone rang.  My mom grabbed the phone first.

Hello?  This is she.  Silence.  Her face changed.  She looked confused.  Then shocked.  Then angry.  But we have insurance.  Quiet.  Now she is pacing.  Her left hand on her hip.  How dare you call us at our home.  You will get your money when you get it.  My husband just had that surgery and you are calling us for money now?  You should be ashamed of yourself!

And she hung up the phone.  Abruptly.

I have questioned for 20 years, who was on the other end of that phone?  At the time and for many years afterward, I believed it to be the surgeon.  Now that I am a doctor, it doesn’t seem likely.  It was likely the surgeon’s office manager, which happened to be his wife.  I recently asked my mom, do you remember that phone call?  And she didn’t.  She never remembers such things.  The phone call that changed everything for me.

The phone call was the pivotal moment for me because we had never been exposed to the business side of medicine before.  The side that looks for profit.  The side that affords Mercedes and beach houses.  The side that calls a shell-shocked family and demands to be paid for services rendered.  The man that spoke at us more than to us.  The man whose hands meticulously removed bone from my father’s spinal cord, with each delicate movement either saving or severing vital nerve connections.  Nerves that served a bladder, the bowels, the tiny little muscle fibers that collectively provide motion.  The motion in a body that physically labored for his family and without such movement they may lose everything.

He needed to be paid.  And I knew what I needed to do.  I needed to know.  Everything.  I would never be in a position of such fear again.  The not knowing.  And I needed to do it differently.  I would never treat a family with such indifference.  I would never do it for the money.  Maybe I wouldn’t be a Neurosurgeon, but I would be a doctor.  And I would do it better than him.

I wish I could say that wanting to help people, that seeing my father suffer and recover by the great medical care that he received motivated me to want to be a doctor.  In many ways it did.  But it was that asshole surgeon that really lit my fuse.  Doctors should be better than that.  My dad deserved better than that.  I would be better than that.  Wouldn’t I?


Photo credit:  soopahtoe



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14 Responses to The Moment

  1. Kyla says:

    I can totally relate! I’m doing my med school interviews at the moment and I’ve been thinking a lot more about what it was that made me want to do med. And a big part of it is having been on the receiving end of substandard care. And being offended by it because that’s not how a doctor is supposed to act. So it made me want to do better.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It will make you a better more caring doctor. Your patients will love you for it. That you have been where they are and you work you damnedest to help them though it😊 good luck with your interviews!!!!


  2. montaymd says:

    And you are better… Much better!!!.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Wonderful post. Nail biting. I’m sure that you have no regrets about becoming a physician.. And there is a bonus. Your followers get to read your stories.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. 2ndhalfolife says:

    You are, you are, you are…………………………!!!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Wonderful!!!! I hope you write an article all about it in the AMA journal. Perhaps other doctors will read it and learn from it. Kudos to you…..

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Good on you! Even if that phone call planted a seed of awareness in your younger and impressionable mind, I’d say it was worth it. As for a-hole surgeons and doctors, (and let’s not forget insurance companies that harass and spew vile words over the phone), I’ve had my share of run-ins with them. So you might want to consider that this insensitive doc was your blessing-in-disguise 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  7. This post sounded like a very determined young woman. My question is; did you????

    Liked by 1 person

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