Not All The Questions Are Medical


It was a community clinic where everyone was poor and most seemed spiritless, but this woman was 55 and had fire in her eyes.

“I want the same damn medicines for three months.  Write the prescription.  I won’t kill myself or anybody else, and I don’t have any side effects or problems.”

She knew the routine; so I did what she said.

“I got a half an hour with you. I want to talk.”

I usually asked patients what they wanted to talk about after we had transacted the business of medication management.  Sometimes I got some surprises.  So I told her she could talk.

“I want my granddaughter in your chair.  In this room there are two chairs.  I am in the chair for all the problems.  For my daughter, it is too late.  She has too many children. She is not stupid, but she could not go to school enough, and she has a family that needs things. Her husband is long gone, and was no help. But my granddaughter, she is only 9 and she does good in school, always the best.  Maybe she can be in your chair.  I want her to have a good job; people like you, you always have a job.  You are probably married to a good man.  Your family was rich, but they say poor people can do it in school.  I want her to love school and go to college a lot, and have lots of diplomas and a good job so she always has a job.  So tell me, what did your mother do?  Tell me as much as you can.”

I took a deep breath and tried to think fast.  I wanted to help her. My mother would have applauded someone like her, and might even have asked the same question.  I told her it was a good question, and I could not promise results.  A human, a girl, had to choose her own life.

“I know this,” she said.

“First, you have to know my family was not rich, and nobody in my family was a doctor before me.  But starting when I was very little, littler than your granddaughter, they told me I was very smart and I could do anything I wanted. They made me read little bits of the Bible, most about Queen Esther, because I was named after her.”  I reminded her this was ‘Old Testament,’ and part of her Bible, too; she nodded.  I threw in that earlier generations in my family, like my grandmother, were immigrants from Russian-speaking Europe, so even though they had come over by boat instead of whatever means she had used, they had the same struggles as her parents.

“Yes, but tell me more of what to do.”

They had certain things that they told me all the time.  They told me that when I went to school it was a job.  They never let me earn money on the side.  I had to get good grades, the best grades, and every time I did there was something I liked.  Maybe just a dish of ice cream, maybe a present, maybe a drive to look at the people at the beach. Everything was a way of telling me and rewarding me for being smart.  If I asked them to get me books, to take me to a museum, anything about “knowing,” they made it fun.  I kept being happy to learn things.  When they thought I was buying a lot of books, they got out the books my father had saved from college and let me read them. My mother walked me to the library and taught me I could borrow books. I was so excited and read them so fast, I started wearing her out.

“How old were you?” she asked.

“Maybe third grade.”  I was precocious, and labeled high-IQ, and called a genius, but I did not want to tell her any of that.  I wanted to tell her the things that were like anybody and everybody; not the things that were different.

“What about when you got old enough to like boys?  Didn’t you want to put on makeup and things?”

“Before I got to be that old, my parents told me, maybe when I was three or four, that I would have lots of time for that, and that the girls who did it were stupid girls who good not do anything else. They told me I was smarter and could do other things.  I especially remember one day, when my parents took me to a big museum in Boston where we lived, and there was a big ladies’ room.  All of these beautiful, really beautiful young women were applying make-up in the mirror and I was jealous of them.  I had no make-up of course, but simply stopped to look at them in the mirror.” “My mother told me that my father and men like him did not like women who were like that.  He did not like my mother to be like that and he certainly would not like me to be like that, so we should wash our hands and hurry up to join him. She gave me some kind of Bible quote, sloppily and I do not know from where and knew even then not to ask her the details of from where exactly, but it was about beauty being vain and meaningless and virtue being a better thing to work on,  and knowledge being a good virtue, so I should get back out to the Museum and learn things. I remember nodding my head meekly, and taking her washed hand in my washed hand and going out to see more things.”

“This is good,” she nodded.

“Yes,” I added, but not just what she said.  The taking me to see things, the spending time with me, the rewarding me for knowing things.  These are all things parents should do a lot of, I think.”

She nodded.  “This is good information.  But when you got older, you did not give all this up for boys?”

“No.  As a matter of fact, I remember wondering if there was something wrong with me, because I did not like boys very much.  They were handsome enough.  Thanks to an early love of science and books my parents got me, I knew there was nothing wrong with me.  It is just that every time I met a boy, at a dance, and he opened his mouth, I thought he was stupid.  I could not find boys who thought it was important to do well at school and know things.  I went to every dance, every chance to meet boys, and I kept thinking they were all stupid, and I did not want to waste time with them.”

“But you are married; you have rings,”  she pointed out quite accurately.

“I did not meet the man I married until I was 37.  There were lots of rejects.  I married the right man and we have been together 19 years. We have no children.  We have a lot of fun, and he is smart, too, and we do good things together.”

“It is the half hour.  Thank you.  I did not know if you would talk to me.”  She was on the edge of tears, visibly moved.

“Of course I would.  You said it yourself, we are only two humans, two women, in different chairs.”

Her eyes cast downward.  “But most doctors are too stuck up to talk like this.”

“I never have and still can’t explain what other people do, even other doctors.  But you remind me a little of my own mother.  She would have asked these questions, if she had thought of them.  My parents made mistakes, like all parents do.  But I told you about what my mother did right.  She has passed away, long ago.  Tell your grandchildren they are lucky to have a grandmother like you.”

“Can I ask more questions in three months?” she asked.  I reminded her I was a county temp, not available for the keeping, and unlikely to be present in three months.  She asked for a hug, and kissed me through tears she could no longer repress.  So I spoke.  “With your questions, you made me think of my mother of blessed memory, and how good she was.  I thank you, for asking such honest and touching questions.  I do not know if my answers will help you with what you want.  Read books yourself.  Look on the internet. There is a lot of information out there.”

She nodded and left silently.

Filed under medicine by on #

Leave a Comment

Fields marked by an asterisk (*) are required.