Another day, another dollar—so they say.
Beginning work as an OB-GYN, you quickly realize how soon everything becomes the same. All the idiosyncrasies of all the hundreds of thousands of deliveries you oversee blend together into a blinding gray landscape of nothingness. At the end of the day, there are only two real possibilities with each birth: success or failure. Things soon become claustrophobic; it only takes a couple years before you begin to see yourself not as an individual altruistically offering up their time for the common good but rather more of a cog, forcing lives out into a self-feeding hellhole, creating families and memories you’ll never see or on which you’ll have no further input. You never feel the sense of finality and purpose you imagine people in other careers to feel.
But today was different.
January 10, 2020: a Friday. Coming back from the craziest work day of my life. I ease my Saab 9-3 into our garage and made my way into the kitchen. I note my every move; my wife waves to me as I come in. She’s standing at the counter on the phone. Probably droning on about The Bachelor.
“Did you see The Bachelor this week?” she says into the phone.
My daughter is on her iPad, probably playing one of her Fort-Night games or something like that.
“Floss nae nae LOL!” she says to nobody in particular.
Sometimes, truth is stranger than fiction.
Carleton College came in today. As in, the college itself was one of my patients. I thought it was a joke when the receptionist told me who the next patient was. But it was I who was the fool, I soon realized, once I saw her stomach bulging out like that.
“Here, sit down, Ms. College.” I motioned for her to lie down. She sat down in the reclining chair and held my hand in hers.
“Thank you very kindly, sweet young gentleman, you,” she said in a warm southern accent, stopping me dead in my tracks with her piercing blue eyes and wan smile. “You’re a dashing doctor yet; yeehaw.”
I cut the conversation off and motioned for her to lie back. I wouldn’t let Ms. College’s advances get to me; she was a tall glass of water and a flirt, but I was smarter than this. I was committed to my wife, even though she wouldn’t stop talking about The Bachelor. I’m sure Ms. College doesn’t watch The Bachelor. She probably watches A24 films—like Good Time and The Lobster—and drinks boxed wine.
I wasn’t too hungry and, seeing everybody sufficiently busy, I am now back in the Saab, idling in the driveway. I light a cigarette and crack the window.
I always smoke after my shifts because people in the office think that smoking before I come into the office can leave residue on my body that could be harmful for the babies. All the doctors know it doesn’t really make a difference but the patients feel more comfortable if they can’t smell cigarettes on you.
I can now drive anywhere. I have a few hours free. I could drive past Northfield High School, from where I graduated in 1987; I could drive to the Dairy Queen on Water Street, where my middle school pals and I would play kick the can back in the Reagan Days. I’ll probably just stay idling, though, as my excitement driving by those places more or less disappeared many years ago.
I could’ve gotten pretty good scholarships to either St. Olaf or Carleton after I graduated high school, but I wanted to try something different. I ended up going to school in Waltham, Mass. and I like to think I brought a little bit of my small-town-Midwestern mindset to it. I ended up coming back to Northfield in 1991, right after I graduated school, so I could look after my parents as they grew older. And what’s more, at first, I liked personally knowing almost all my patients.
I finish my cigarette, put it in the car’s ashtray, and park back in the garage.
Ms. College’s eyes lit up. “You don’t mean… what… really?” She jumped up and down in her seat. Pre-med can’t prepare you for this shit. Nor can the Brandeis University Pre-Med Society, Northeastern University Medical School, or a Northfield Hospital residency program.
Carleton College was having a baby. What we saw on the ultrasound that day would take an entire second article to enumerate.[Part II coming soon.]