On the Wards – I Apologized To A Patient

I apologized to a patient — for not being a woman. As I walked into the room, and the nervous laughter erupted from both her and her mother, I knew something was up.

“What brings you in today,” I asked after we exchanged the customary introductions.

“She’s shy,” her mother answered as the two of them laughed again. “She was hoping she would get a girl doctor.”

And with that, I drew some conclusions as to why they were in the clinic. The chief complaint, as listed in the chart, was a simple one liner: “abdominal pain.”

The girl — no, the young woman sitting on the exam table in front of me was probably as uncomfortable talking to me as I was talking to her. Because when you’re a brand new 3rd year, you learn pretty quickly that you will have to “fake it” more often than you’d like. You come into situations you have only ever read about. You have to talk to a patient about the most private parts of their lives. Then you have to offer counsel and, hopefully, a plan to fix whatever they came in to have fixed all without sounding like a clueless idiot fumbling with words and eye contact and all that social jazz.

At one point I was asked if the sporadic pain and the irregularity between menses is normal. I laughed and said I obviously didn’t have any firsthand knowledge about it, but I knew it was normal.

She said she had no other symptoms. But I asked if she had back pain and the answer was yes. I had her move around and palpated her stomach. There were no masses; it caused no pain. I reassured her that it was not appendicitis. It was just normal, young-woman, growing-up pains. She’s growing up.

And I think I am too.