Tuesday, February 12, 2008


I had forgotten what they're like - the young interns, striding importantly along the disinfectant-scented corridors. I had forgotten until today, when I went to visit my grandfather in hospital.

Grandpa's had a fall, and at almost 94, he takes time to get over these things. He's healing well, though, and lapping up all the attention. He and I sat together and talked, looking out to the misty grey skies. Grandpa told me a tale from his days in the police force, a dramatic story of cornering and capturing a 'bad guy'. As we chatted, various health professionals came and went.

I hadn't recalled, or perhaps I hadn't ever noticed, just how self-satisfied interns look. I found it disconcerting and embarrassing to watch. They stalked along the corridors, almost bursting with pride, chins thrust forwards as they looked my way. Their unwavering gaze seemed to me to say, "Yes. You suppose correctly. I am indeed a doctor." With one or two of them, I felt their gaze flick over me, taking in my jeans and T-shirt, and I felt them dismiss me as of being of no importance. I was taken aback, to say the least.

Maybe I was reading their body language incorrectly. I don't think so, though. I doubt my instincts were wrong, because I have insider information. I remember when I, too, was new to doctoring, and I know I was hugely, incredibly, swollen-headedly proud.

For me, it wasn't ever that I thought I was the keeper of any sort of vital knowledge. I knew damn well that I was hopelessly ill-equipped for my new role; relying every day on kind nurses and older doctors to prevent me from harming or killing my patients. I wasn't arrogant or cocky. I was proud, though. I felt like I'd taken a leap up the social scale. No longer was I a shabbily-dressed student who no-one bothered to glance at, much less look up to - suddenly I was a respected member of society. I'll admit that I enjoyed feeling important. I liked to stride the corridors in my new tailored pants and blouses, knowing that people walking by could tell I was a doctor. Gad! I was such a jerk! And so are these hallway-stalking interns I witnessed today.

The longer you work as a doctor, the less proud you feel, or at least that's how it's been for me. You realise that you'll never know everything about anything. You realise that being a doctor is nothing magical - it's just a job like any other job. You meet patients from all walks of life; you admire people most of all for their goodness, or their humour, or their bravery. You experience some of life's joys and life's sadnesses yourself. You grow up because you finally have a job like everyone else. You realise that some clever people are incredibly stupid, and that many 'non-academics' are extremely smart. You begin to understand that a person's inherent worth is nothing to do with their place on the social scale, or their education level, or their occupation.

You also learn to respect people, and that's different altogether from simply 'being nice'. I winced as a ponytailed female intern came bobbing up to the woman opposite my grandfather.

"Hi, Gwendolyn!", she squealed in her girlish voice, as she touched the arm of the grey-haired octogenarian. (Gwendolyn??? Not Mrs So-And-So? C'mon, she's not your pal, she's your patient. Show some respect, Ponygirl!) Ponygirl asked the woman to bend her arm up.

"Good girl!", enthused Ponygirl. "You're doing so well!" Ponygirl bounced away, looking mightily pleased with herself. I had to fight my overwhelming desire to go to her and to pull her into a quiet corner. I wanted to tell her that her positivity was admirable, and that I'm sure her intentions were nothing but kind, but that she must never, ever call a grown woman 'girl' again.

Mrs So-And-So looked across to me from her recliner chair and rolled her eyes, smiling.

I sat with Grandpa as the rain came across in blustery sheets, gusting over rooftops. As we looked out, Grandpa spoke of his wish to reach 100 years old. He says he's never done anything 'remarkable' in his life, and that reaching a century old would be a real achievement. I held his calloused hand - calloused still, after a lifetime of hard work - and told him that his legacy would be not his age at death, but his shining example of honesty, honour and unconditional love.

I forgot the strutting interns; their pride seemed silly, yet understandable and forgivable. They are only young.

I sat beside a man devoid of pride; a humble man who is frail and old, but who is nothing short of remarkable.


TUFFENUF said...

I guess it is true in every profession, the pride I mean. Had they recognized you as a fellow physican, they would have treated you differently. I enjoyed my job when I went to plainclothes because other officers might not know who I was, treated me with upturned noses until they realized who I was - then attitudes changed. It is kind of interesting how people are. As for me, I always tried to treat everyone with respect - bums & captains got the same attitude from me! I know your grandpa is proud of you I bet he has some GREAT police stories! I am old enough now that sometimes sales clerks with talk loud to me and call me "dear" - it drives me crazy!

mackeydoodle said...

I love how you describe things & people Jelly. I can really feel the moment when I read your words.

The pride of youth & the humility of a life well lived. Another part of the circle of life.

Hope you Grampa is out of the hsopital soon!

Heidi said...

Aww... your grandfather sounds wonderful, Jelly. And your outlook is wonderful, too. I wish more people would turn from their pride, become humble, and enjoy what there can be to enjoy about everyone. I mess up, I know, from time to time... but life is so grand when one can stay the path.

I hope your grandfather is home soon... and that he accomplishes whatever it is that he wants. 94 and such a vision... that is cool! My own "Grammer" turned 93 this year.

thisisme said...

Jelly, I love your stories about your grandfather, and this is no different. I hope he continues to heal well, and you can hear more from his treasure trove of stories. You have a real gift for observation, and I can see those interns striding around the hospital, so puffed up with pride that they might explode.

Sandy said...

I love your insight and I love reading your thoughts. You have a remarkable way of expressing yourself that I wish I had. You can put almost anything into words and I almost feel like I'm right there with you seeing what you see and feeling what you feel.
I hope that your grandpa gets his dream and lives to be a healthy 100 so that he can celebrate his 100th birthday with you.
Being a doctor is a noble profession and one to be proud of, but I know how you must have felt observing the cockiness from a different perspective...as just a visitor (with insider knowledge).

Mimi said...

Great post Jelly. I am not a doctor but the longer I work as a *human* the less proud I feel. I know what you mean. I would have probably told Ponygirl off, she needs to show her patients especially the elder ones some respect.


fifi said...

Ha, that's funny.
I would have been jumping out of my skin to prowl the corridors wearing my new stethoscope....

funny about the summing up of you with your granddad. I have learnt never to assume things. The taxi driver might have three degrees for all you'd know. And probably does, all in the arts-ha!

What a nice granddad. He must be proud of YOU!
hope he makes 100.

meggie said...

What a lovely post Jelly! I love reading your perspecitive on everything, & realise this is what I have loved over the years about my best loved GPs. They have all had the human, humble touch, & that is why they have been loved. I am thinking on a post about our small-town GP, who was a village legend, when I was a child.

Remiman said...

We all need examples to show us the way in life. You have described an example of the best , in your grand-dad.
Those interns will get to the place you're at soon enough.

I had a humbling xperience a few months back; I was on the elevator with a visitor and she looked at my name tag (CRNA) and said, "you're a nurse's aide?" I thought about it for a second and then said: "sometimes I am."

Stomper Girl said...

Well, although I totally agree with your words about his legacy, I do hope he gets his wish! He sounds great.

Kerri said...

Ah yes, maturity is a learned characteristic to be sure. Thank heavens we gracefully attain it (if we're lucky...or paying attention!) as we age.
Well written Jelly. Your grandpa sounds like a very gentle and humble man. I think you've inherited some of his best traits :)

shellyC said...

I hope your Grandfather gets his wish too and will welcome 100 years. You are so very lucky to have a Grandparent still alive - I wish I did however they all died while I was a teenager/early 20 something. This was before I realised what such special people old ones are!

There are so many jobs that a bit of life experience would really help in the dealings with people - of all walks of life!

AraratDailyPhoto said...

Beautifully, beautifully written.
You have a talent there!
I never know what to say when I read your posts.
I read this one initially last week and I just didn't know what to say!
I've just read it again and I still don't!
(I'll give it a go though)
It's thought-provoking, gentle, balanced, uncliched, a little raw in places and incredibly, beautifully human.

Susan said...

I bet grandpa wished pony-tail girl would come over and squeeze his arm and call him by his first name, but you know how easy guys are.

What is it about doctors, some seem so self-satisfied as you say, do they teach that along with poor penmanship in medical school?

I am glad you have outgrown that attitude, you have become such a mature young lady, all of us old biddies are so proud of you.

Sharon said...

You write such beautiful posts.

Puss-in-Boots said...

Ah yes, being with your wonderful grandfather put it in perspective for you.

But I'll tell you something...some of those interns never lose their pride. A few go on to become insufferably arrogant professionals whose word is law. They believe they never make mistakes, that they couldn't possibly be wrong. They treat their patients like fools and treat their staff even worse. Then, one day their pride trips them and they can never get up again...such is karma.