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.