Tuesday, July 31, 2012
I slid into the exam room for one of the procedures and plastered myself against the wall behind the doctor and the medical assistant, who was needed to prepare sterile instrument trays and specimen cups. The patient was from the local prison--not only was she wearing the typical uniform, but there was also a female prison officer in the room, facing the wall.
Almost as soon as the physician looked at the lesion she decided she needed an additional piece of equipment, so she and the medical assistant left the room, in order to find the suitable piece. I was left alone with the patient and her escort.
Patients from the prison are generally indistinguishable from others except by their uniforms, escorts, and a vague atmosphere of army-like obedience and frankness. This patient's face was weathered, her affect strangely smoothed as if by constant tumble with roughness. I couldn't tell what she really like, the prison-aura was so pervasive.
But she was slighly nervous about the procedure, so it was important that (in the awkward time during which the doctor fetched the right biopsy punch, or whatever) I make her feel at ease. I struck up a conversation. (This is much easier to do with a patient than with other people, for some reason.)
"Where are you from, originally?"
"Nacadoches," she answered. I had to admit that, although I'd heard the name, I didn't know exactly where that was. She tried to explain, but my mental map of Texas is sadly underdeveloped. I told her I'd only been in town for about a year, and she said that it seemed like a nice place, although she hadn't seen much of it.
"How much longer do you stay?" I asked openly.
"Seven months," was her quick answer. "And I've been in for seven and a half years, so that's something."
This surprised me; often, Dr D. asks inmate-patients how long they have been incarcerated, but the answer is always on a scale of months. Now I was full of wonder at this woman--what a life she must have had. I was surprised to see that, beneath the smooth exterior, there was a very complex structure.
"Seven months," I mused aloud. "That puts you out in..."
"What's the weather like in Nacadoches in January?"
Pleased, the patient launched into a description of the well-loved home she probably had not seen in seven years. With each word, she allowed me to see more of the sculpture of herself.
The doctor came in then, and it was back to business. But I appreciated the space of time I was permitted to glimpse a person in stark relief. For five minutes, I was glad I was not two-dimensional.
UPDATE: Sorry for all the typos. I typed and corrected this on my phone....