Wednesday, July 29, 2009


Today is your birthday. 23. And you are stuck in the hospital. On a clear liquid diet. Waiting to have your colon taken out because this fucking ulcerative colitis just won't stop ulcerating. Food leaves you doubled over in pain, bleeding.

You are supposed to be out, celebrating with friends. And in five days, you are supposed to move up the coast to start medical school. The best laid plans of mice and men...

At midnight, I crept into your room to leave balloons and a card from me and Blake, the other intern, on your bedside table. I snuck back out quickly. If I had lingered a second longer, I'm afraid I would have cried.

I truly believe all those things that I've told you. The moment you step foot onto that med school's campus, it will not matter how long it took you to get there. You will come through this terrible experience a stronger woman and a better doctor than can ever be made in the classroom.

When I wrote you that prescription for Walt Whitman--From this hour I ordain myself loos'd of limits and imaginary lines--I meant for you to fill it.

But still, I imagine how incredibly disheartening this must be. To be five days away from moving to medical school. Five days. And to have to postpone it all for a year.

I know how scared you are, too. No matter how I reassure you that you'll still be a gorgeous woman who will live a normal life, you're the one who has to face going into that OR whole and coming out with a bag on her stomach. Nothing Walt Whitman or I say can really make that okay.

It's times like this, people like you, that make me understand the pull of primary care medicine--the doctor who knows you through the years, who will get to see what I'm confident will be this story's happy ending.

When Blake and I give you our contact info and tell you to keep in touch, to let us know how it all goes, we are both really hoping you do just that. This time next year, call one of us to bitch about how you can't get that nasty cadaver smell out of your nose after anatomy lab.

We'll ask how you spent your 24th birthday. Tell us you went out with your friends, that you had one too many drinks...and that you ate cake.


Eric said...

That was really, really nice of you two, leaving her balloons and a card.
In less than five minutes I've gone from not knowing that Alex even lived to genuinely caring about her well being.
Wow, great post.

Susanlee said...

You made me cry, but I bet your balloons made Alex smile, and that's what counts.

Maria said...

I had a small bout with colitis one summer and I remember laying in that bed and just wishing that someone would shoot me. The pain was incredible. And that wasn't even the big guns of ulcerative colitis, but just your plain old ordinary colitis.

Your friend WILL get through this and she WILL be a better doctor. I know this sounds a little evil, but after being so sick for the last year, I have come to believe that all doctors need to wrestle with a serious illness just once to understand that you really cannot GET it until you have been there.

But, have it all happen FIVE days before? That has got to sting something awful. I am feeling for this woman.

Anna said...

Oh man, now you made me cry.
I have two friends who have this illness and who have had the operation and now live with a bag stuck to their stomach. One thinks he's doing his best to survive but he secretly resents the illness and goes through life with a lot of rage. The other is a beautiful (no, seriously, we are talking model - the good kin) woman in her late thirties who has the spirit of a 20 year-old. She didn't always. Two years ago, when the UC came back once more with a vengeance, it was so bad that she has said to me "This was the only time in my life I ever considered killing myself." She had already made plans for assisted suicide with her mum and some friends and then... the UC subsided somewhat and the treatment had an effect. Now she says: "It's simple. You either kill yourself or you fight. I didn't kill myself." Not knowing her intimately, you would never guess what she's been through. She's smart, savvy and sexy as hell and she manages to keep dating millionaires.
I'm sure Alex will pull through and it's good she had a doctor like you be there and reassure her about the light at the end of the tunnel. You sound like an amazing doctor, you have so much heart.

secret agent woman said...

If Alex does contact you to say how things are going, let us know.

kate g said...

You are a good doctor.
And a great friend.
Thank you for sharing this with us.

MmeBenaut said...

Terroni. Little one. This is precisely why I always knew that you would not only finish med school but be a fantastic doctor. Alex is suffering now but she will be ok and you are amazing to leave her balloons.
I wish her the very best and I thank you for sharing her story with us. This is what I always hoped to be reading from you. Hugs.