The Doctor is Out

by Nicole Ramenda '21

          What angle presented the most authentic images through the thick, tempered glass? Although the morning haze started to lift like a heavy theater curtain, light from behind crept in, revealing only a few unobstructed views. As Dr. Ingham glided slowly from pane to pane, she contemplated if the trees and hedges outside were precisely-pruned and well-defined. Perhaps, instead, they were neglected, growing into each other, creating a warped, Daliesque landscape, where everything could twist and stretch in impossible ways. Briefly startled from the sound of steel striking steel, she stopped suddenly, then resumed as the grand double doors opened, then slammed behind her.

          “Good morning, Edna. Good morning, Bruce.”

          “Good morning, Doctor,” they replied cheerfully, almost in unison.

          “It must have been a good night,” she offered with a hint of hope in her voice.

          “Nothing unusual.”

          “Well, then, I guess I’ll get started.” She moved toward the patients sitting patiently, none paying particular attention to each other. The room, painted in a lovely shade of sunshine yellow, pathetically attempted to provide vibes of perpetual optimism. First, she met with Roger, a high-school drop-out.

          “How are you today, Roger?”

          “Worried,” he replied, sinking deeper into the couch cushion.

          “Are you still having second thoughts?” she asked in a low voice.

          “Yeah, how can you not? Say I want to be a doctor, like you... And then I study and get there, and I don’t like it. What if I wasted all that time, and people say, ‘Oh, he wasn’t cut out for it,’ after all, like I didn’t know what I was doing, or was too stupid, or—”

          “Roger,” she gently interrupted, “there are many areas that doctors can work in, so you can always try another. If you don’t want to practice, you can train for a different specialty, teach, or do research.”

          She felt a twinge in her voice after delivering this advice to a twenty-year-old without a diploma. It was time to add a bit of reality. “Of course, the lesson isn’t just about doctors; it’s that each person makes their own decisions and can change their mind. Plus, you shouldn’t worry about what other people think.”

          Easing up from her chair, she flashed a plastered smile at him. Whew, she thought. Each day, I have to tell him, well kind of, he can still be a doctor. Then I attempt to coax him to accept that he really can’t; being twenty years old and still a sophomore in high school should convince anyone.

          Dr. Ingham turned toward Cecilia, braced herself, and asked how her day was. As expected, the patient looked exasperated and launched into her overly-used responses.

          “If I had missed just one question, good-bye GPA, good-bye graduate school, good-bye accounting certificate, and good-bye career.”

          “But you got through all that, just fine, because you’re capable, and you’ll continue to be capable,” she offered.

          “Maybe I was just lucky the whole time, but what if my luck runs out? It has to run out at some point. If I’d missed a test, I wouldn’t have graduated. I’ll sign on to something wrong; then it’s all over. Maybe they’ll say it was fraudulent. I’ll go to jail. It only takes one mistake!”

          “No, no, come on,” choosing a more logical, doctorly, reply. “You don’t need an ‘A’ in every class to get a 4.0,” Dr. Ingham offered. “I mean, you don’t need a 4.0 to get into a top graduate school. Well, no one ever got fired for one mistake.”

          “Yes, it happens all the time.”

          Correcting herself once again, “What I’m saying is no one expects humans to be perfect; it’s impossible,” she responded.

          Shaking her head while replying, Cecilia croaked, “Dr. Ingham, things have changed."

          Maybe it is good that Hal is next. Yes, time to move on to Hal. Her attempt at a genuine smile failed to comfort Cecilia, who did not look up when she left.

          “Hi, Hal. How are you?” she asked, positioning herself along the short path he was carving into the rug.

          His only response was shaking his head vigorously.

          “Still worried about technology replacing you? Hal, there’re lots of machines now, and people still have jobs,” she said as her head moved back and forth with his movement. She exhaled, thankful that a machine could not replace her job. As he continued pacing, she thought about the other patients and how little progress they had made. Maybe A.I. could do just as well at her job.

          Thankfully, the nurses were approaching. It must be time to make rounds.

          Ignoring her, another doctor joined the small group, then asked Nurse Edna and Nurse Bruce, “How’d she do today? Any change?”

          “No, the same. Ms. Ingham didn’t say a word to anyone, not even a good morning. Her CT scan came back negative, and the radiologists could not find any sign of cerebrum damage on the MRI. Another radiologist is looking at it now.” Mr. Ingham anxiously explained that his daughter’s Aphasia symptoms had appeared suddenly, after he heard her yelling odd statements about fear and failure to herself, statements “that made no sense.” Mr. Ingham looked distraught as he rubbed his puffy eyes to push back his tears.

          Edna and Bruce looked away, then wheeled Ms. Ingham toward the steel doors and pushed the large metal button on the wall. Once both nurses heard the latch lock into place behind them, they guided their patient through the long, greenhouse-like passageway. Avoiding the sun’s fierce glare, they turned their eyes downward, focusing on the repeating reflection of the spinning spokes, circling around and around, until they reached the other side.