Friday, August 29, 2008

on holiday

There was a post about New York being the loneliest place I know of. A bit about returning to Brooklyn, walking past my old hospital, past the Pakistani fruit vendor on the corner, past the old women in orange bright Saris, ornery boys in baggy jeans, young women in wigs and dark pleated skirts, their small sons with fresh haircuts and curled peyos, Ecuadorian men on the corners in thread bare suits who drive dented, dusty black sedans for hire. A bit about the noise and rush and empty open ugliness that is to me New York. A bit about the tragedy of summering in the Hamptons and the salvation of having lived in Brooklyn. There was a bit about the colorful quiet of coming home at sunset, of road trips and dogs and summer peaches. 

But it got lost to crowded up days and slow internet, to packed bags and misplaced passports, to international airports and lost luggage. 

And now I am sitting on a metal rail in a corner with old chewing gum wrappers and crumbling granite, in the Athens airport, on a prepaid internet card with minutes quickly ticking, waiting to depart to a small town on a small island off the west coast of Greece, to spend a week floating at sea. Our luggage is probably lost, perhaps forever, hopefully not; I've bought a terribly ugly teal blue bikini and some certainly cringe-worthy yoga-ish pants at a kiosk in the airport to bide a week on a boat in the ocean---ever and always mindfully aware breathlessly grateful that I can do that, that the time in my life when such an unpredicted set back would empty me of my precious little completely has come, and gone. Ever and always keeping attention of the collection of moments that make up the feast of my life. 

Unknown what the internet allowance will be, out there at sea. Likely absent, as one would expect. I will, however, be taking scads of pictures and some kind of log. I will post a link once it exists here. I have one favor, one vital, crucial, critical favor and that is this: please click the link, please visit, please look and come back here to say hi but please do not comment on the actual [whatever I might fashion]. Precious few in my life know of this blog and that provides me authenticity and safety and candor. I just don't want to even have to explain the existence of this and/or the content and I know I don't have to explain their existence to you.  

So that's all for now, stay tuned, come back again soon....

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

It takes little. A field of ferns and wildflowers. A dirt path, good running shoes, a dog with bear bells. Tall trees and fast streams. A body of water. Sun burned skin and uninterrupted sky. A surf board to paddle to the middle of a lake. Strawberries with peaches. Fiction in hardcover. A full day in the sun.

As always, a small and quiet resident ache hums hard and hallow somewhere back in the middle of me, the white noise of my faulty wiring. At times I wonder what I miss most. The soggy earmarks of my youngerness or the youngerness itself. It is the particulars--sleeping on the bow of a sailboat, diving up deep from the ocean, walking with bare feet down sand alleys in Thailand, the sound of snow, the fog in redwoods, seals sounding off morning, steep cliffs and rocks and seaweed, boys on cruisers, golden --that run me aground.

At the lake women surround me. Organizing their children, gathering their supplies, greeting one another, eyeing my only-ness with suspicion. On the rocky beach with a big towel and a surfboard, a hardback book and flip flops, I am a strange anomaly. I try to smile, wave. They smile back half-hearted, turning away, looking back, moving forward. 

But I am an easy creature of solitude. Content to find a spot in the sun, soak up what's left of it, shore up for winter.     


Wednesday, August 13, 2008

merci, mercy

Thank you, everyone. Thank you for your emails, your comments, your gentle reminders. There was more than I put down. There was how he talked about his erections in the room with a patient, volunteered that he, too, had had a vasectomy. There was how he mixed up "coat" with "clothes" when telling me he liked me better without either. There was how, in order to illustrate that he's not a complete jack ass, he reminded me that, though he wanted to say to the patient with jock itch "aren't you glad you get to have a hot chick check out your stuff!", he hadn't said it to the patient. Because that's what you call restraint. 

I feel edgy, defensive. I spoke up for all the reasons, any of the reasons. I spoke up for me, I spoke up because I couldn't not speak. I spoke up because, given the privilege, the privacy, the intimacy, the vulnerability and the delicacy of helping people in their own body habitus, in their own fleshy lives, we cannot loose sight of the extraordinary power that affords us, and that we must be careful custodians of the position we keep. We see people naked. We poke and prod and slice them open. We ask them to undress, unarm themselves, speak truthfully, admit their weaknesses, admit their failings. We solemnly vow to do no harm. 

Regardless, I feel guilty. He probably lost his job. In a community of limited career opportunity. 

And yet, rounding the corner to get coffee this morning, coming from the other side of the hospital, my heart quickened as I drew closer to that part of the hospital, scanning the people, ready to duck or hide at the first sight of him. I did not set out to ruin his life. I have no vicious, righteous anger. I wish I did. What I have instead is a dense and messy complicated guilt.

The Department Chair of Medicine is tall, tan and kind. The Internal Affairs specialist is patient, quiet, and thorough. The Internist PA has dropped her patient load, sits with me at the table. We gather in a bright office in the rain. They take notes, I tell the story. They shake their heads. I shake a little, lips trembling, every bit of my skin a little twitchy.

I know what happened. I know that it happened. I know it could have been worse, am glad that it wasn't. I know that I know intellectually, it's not my fault. I wonder, unintellectually, if anyone everyone sizes me up, measures the likelihood against my face my hair my body. I wonder if, somewhere, unwittingly, they agree or disagree, that this really happened. That it really happened. I know that it happened and I know it could have been worse, am grateful that it wasn't. What I do not know, cannot understand, hard to intellectualize are the doubts. Did it really happen? Did it? Yes my frontal lobe screams. Was it as bad as I'm telling it? The words are harsh. To expose them to true light hangs heavy, a thick rope. I am aware of the consequences.

 I am retelling the story, answering the questions, yes he said that, yes he closed the door almost completely, yes there were accidental bumps, no they weren't in private, no only on my hands or arms, yes he used those words, yes that's what happened, yes he said that, yes he did that, yes there was a patient in the room, yes that's what happened. I feel the knife in my hand and I don't know quite what I'm doing with it. 

They are reassuring. Professional. Kind. Supportive. I ask about protection, fall out, indemnity. I want to know, plainly, will he be able to come back into the office and tell everyone, anyone, that friggen (insert expletive of choice) said I sexually harassed her. They reassure me. They allude to the unlikely possibility that he will be back in the clinic, ever, without being escorted. I feel the rope in my hands. I don't know what I'm doing with it.

Sexual. Harassment. The words feel over used over powered underwhelming. I want something else to call it. I want another word. I want another word for creepyinappropriateimmaturestupidity. I want another word that says I got into my car and bit my lip until it bled because I felt powerless to tell him to fuck off because I want need want need want need a job here because I was afraid he'd get to whoever would hire before I would because was afraid he'd tell everyone I did it, because I was afraid of confronting him. I want another word that explains what it is to be someone who thinks she can handle it but actually couldn't. I want a word that says that without using the words sexual. Harassment.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The day is over. He's called his wife, gathered his things, straightened his desk. I am writing the final note on my last patient, sitting on a chair in the corner, back against wall against plastic, pinning the distance wide. He waits. I keep writing. He waits, shifts his weight, waits some more, looks at me, staring. I am writing. 

"Where's your evaluation form?"

I stop. I don't want it. Don't want an evaluation from him. I want to go home and bathe in hydrochloric acid, could give a yellow fuck about an evaluation from him. But I give it to him. Because everything is okay and everything is normal and I'm okay and I'm in control and if I ignore it then perhaps it will be over, because if I say fucking give it a rest already then confrontation intimidation alienation. And I need a job. And this is what crosses my mind, as I sit in his office alone with him, back against the wall, pushing myself into the corner, just keep your mouth shut, don't screw it up, you need a job, if you tell him to fuck off, he could ruin interfere jeopardize slander. If you make him angry you might not be working here.

"Lets see here, what does this have to say about you?" he asks. 
I fast quick a fake smile, "you don't have to fill it out, really. _______ (preceptor formerly known as pervy, clearly I had no idea) can fill it out for me, really". 

"No, I want to fill it out" he says, taking it with relish and reading it out loud for me.

"Relationships with clinical teams," he begins. "Willing to establish excellent relationships with team members, check, however she's unwilling to establish relationships with me". 

I stare at the computer. I stare at the screen. I stare at the computer. I stare at the screen. I hate myself for not saying anything. I will myself to not say anything.

"Student is trustworthy. I doooooon't know. Are you trustworthy? Can I trust you? Hmmm, I wonder". He stops and looks long at me.

I state at the computer. I stare at the screen. .

"Student is respectful and honest in professional situations...yeah, I'd say. A little too professional if you ask me!" he guffaws.

I stare at the computer. I stare at the screen. 


He gives me highest marks, with a half-baked anecdote about a my being good with little old lady and a complicated case. I take the evaluation from him, shove it in my bag. I will go home later and rip it to pieces, because it feels like a pay off, like an exchange, like I am complicit, like I said, for the price of an A and a job I'll keep my mouth shut and stare at the floor while you push your unwanted advances, your leering, glaring, strong arming closed door comments on to me and you'll go home to your wife, and the olympics, and everything everything will still be okay.

Monday, August 11, 2008

power, less                                                                                             
"I heard a rumor, is it true?" he's leaning over, towards me, elbows resting on his knees, looking at me, willing me, challenging me, taunting me to look at him.
"What's that?" I say, feigning distraction, heart pounding, looking down at my laptop, not looking up, not looking at him, pretending to be reading up on our first morning patient, instead I am writing a desperate email to Andy that says jesus fucking christ, it's not even 8:00am in the morning on Monday and I'm already getting sexually harassed
"I heard a rumor and I want to know if it's true, is it? Is it true?"
I sigh. Give in. Look up.
"What's the rumor?" forcing a natural tone, forcing normalcy. I'm not intimidated. I'm not uncomfortable. I'm not intimidated. I'm not uncomfortable. I'm not powerless. I'm not intimidated. I'm not uncomfortable. 
"That you like me. Is it true? Do you like me?" He leans in, folds his hands together, his gold wedding band catches a bright, brief flash of light off the lampshade. His mottled sky blue tie hangs limp between us. I cringe, then smile, weakly, worriedly, forcing a hard harsh laugh. I hold up both my hands, my wedding band on my left, my engagement ring on my right, a physical gesture meant to underscore my legal lack of singleness. It occurs me to later, only after the fact, that is a gesture that looks a lot like surrender. 
"I'm married". My tone is flat, quickly dismissive, defensive. What. The. Fuck. In a rush I feel at once ashamed and shameful, as if I am the one crossing the line, as if I am the one who made this.
"And no, I don't like you. Sorry. I mean, I think you're a nice guy" I rush to quick to interject bullshit my brain hisses, you fucking idiot, stop apologizing "but I do not" I am stammering now "I don't like you. Sorry". 


"Did I make you feel uncomfortable?" he says, closing the door to his office. I am eating his food. Shamed and ashamed to have accepted his offer, starving and shaking, hypoglycemic and hyperventilating, I wonder briefly, what does it say about me that I'm eating his crackers? That I accepted them? Will anyone understand that it was because I just wanted to pretend, needed to pretend, have to pretend that nothing is wrong, it's okay it's okay it's okay it's okay, I'm not powerless, I'm not intimidated, I'm not uncomfortable, this isn't happening, I am okay. It's okay.
"No, no, no. It's fine. I'm fine. So what do you want to do with this guy? Should we send his urine out for cytology? Does it need a urology referral? I think he should have a cystoscopy. Let's order him a cystoscopy, how do I do that? Show me how to do that, is there a form or something?"
"Because it's okay, you know, if you like me. I wouldn't mind. I like you. I wouldn't mind if you like me". He leans in, pushes his chair away from his desk towards mine, my back against the wall, trapped, not powerless, not intimidated, okay okay okay.
"Jesus" I push out of the chair, "get over it" I'm trying to make it a joke, trying to make it okay, trying to make it stop, trying to make it go away "I don't like you. Really" I feel like I'm defending myself  I feel like I made this I feel like I'm wrong.


The day goes by like a small eternity. I force professionalism. I am okay. I am not intimidated. It's fine. Everything is fine. I'm fine. He behaves like a sixteen year old boy, writing notes behind my back, showing them to patients.

She's sooooooooo serious one of them says. I find it while leafing through the papers in the exam room, looking for the list of medications.
"What?" I say, genuinely confused. 
"Oh," he laughs, "I was telling them how you don't know how to take a joke. That you don't know that I'm just joking with you. That you take me too seriously when I'm only joking around, you know."
"Oh," I say. And then, to my patient, on the table, half dressed and worried about his prostate, "are you still taking the Verapamil?" because I have to force normalcy, because it has to be okay.


"I hope I don't make you uncomfortable. Do I make you uncomfortable? You can tell me. You can trust me. I won't tell anyone if you like me. I like you too". He has just hung up the phone with his wife, asked about his children, the Olympics, the dog.
"I'm fine, it's fine. Do I need to call cardiology about scheduling this patient's echo? Should I email her doctor?"
"You did a great job with her you know," he moves in, staring, glaring, searing, "you're really good with patients. They really like you. I like you too, but you don't like me". He screws up his face in, a mock pout. If I had eaten more of them I would have thrown up his crackers.
I sigh. I've tried making jokes and making light of it. I've tried willing it to be gone, ignoring it, avoiding it, refusing to acknowledge it. I've tried asking the nurses which one of you turkeys told him I like him, I don't care who started it because I'm here to end it. 
None of us told him that, they say. And I believe them. 

Wednesday, August 6, 2008


I am afraid that I do not want children. Or that I will be terrible with them. Or that they will be terrible with me. Or that I will ruin their lives, eternally, mortgaging them to a life of therapy. I am afraid that I will fail, that they will hate me, recoil, retaliate, rebel, rebuke. I am afraid that I will discipline them too strongly, too little, too late.

There was the time I scruffed one of my cats (forcefully) and pinned him to the ground, staring hard into his eyes and commanding him (loudly) to STOP FUCKING ATTACKING the other cat goddamnit and he looked up at me, shocked, alarmed, mewed one tiny, plaintive meow and I sunk into the bathroom tiles, heart pounding, clutching my hair, thinking to myself, oh my god, I am going to beat my children.

In Brooklyn I ran with Fidel, pounding the solid cement from one neighborhood to the next. We stopped at all the stop lights. I snap my fingers, he immediately sits, waits for my signal. On the green light I step forward, he follows, an inch or two behind. We run past owners being pulled down the streets, frothy mouths, pinched necks, powerless people. A woman runs up from behind me, her dog pulling mightly ahead. We stop at the light, I look at Fi, he sits. Your dog is so good, she tells me. I smile, I rule him with an iron fist. She smiles half-heartedly, backs away. Oh, she says, and runs off, being pulled being her own orange dog, before the traffic clears or the light is green.

I watch defeated moms in restaurants cower at the anarchy created around them by their children. I have to push down hard against the swell of judgement and urge to go over to her and physically intervene, enforce. I have no idea what it is like to be a mother. I can only imagine the stress, the exhaustion, the confusion, the absence of instructions. I know I verge on horrifically judgemental. It humbles and terrifies me. What kind of person am I if, were I allowed to, I would walk over to the table, smile, put my hand on her shoulder and then, instead of pleading with them for one more second to sit please sit please please please please please please sit please stop screaming please please please don't scream please for mommy, I would push them (gently) down into their little seats, physically enforce. What kind of person does that make me? What kind of arrogant asshole am I exactly, because I am certain I am one.

The honest truth is this: I (not so) secretly assume that I will end up trying to raise my children under the same tenets that I have my animals--to sit when they are told, to wait patiently for what they are asking for, to not bite or bark or scratch, to play nicely with others, to come when I call them, to eat what I feed them, to understand that I am in charge. But there is a tidal swell of anxious doubt in me every time I am witness to a parent-child interaction and I end up thinking, I'm never going to do that. Because I know that hubris is the fall of my humanity.

I have turned out calm, safe, reliable horses. I've trained sweet, well-behaved, obedient dogs. I have managed, even, to instill a semblance of law and order into cats, creatures that live lawlessly if you let them. I know how to correct badly behaved dogs, cats, horses. I know how to intuit, to anticipate, reward, reprimand. What I do not know is how I will be, how I will react, how I will respond, how will I intuit when it is no longer my dog, cat, horse but rather my flesh my heart my children. What I do not know is what makes me so certain that it won't be me, that I am never going to do that, that I won't be sitting, one day, in a restaurant, surrounded and subjugated, by the flood and anarchy of my own screaming children?