This was when small towns had small hospitals. This was when I wanted to be a doctor. It seemed logical at the age of fourteen to go to work in our small hospital as a male candy striper. Change the water jugs. Answer lights. Take in the evening meal trays. They all liked me. The old ladies smiled their admiration when I said I wanted to become a doctor. Male patients liked me, too, because I was starting to learn to do more than change water pitchers and they preferred having me give them their enemas rather than a female.
I liked helping with procedures and doing some of the simple things myself. It was great being the person who discontinued an IV, pulling out the needle, when someone else had to be the one who inflicted the pain of inserting it.
I watched the doctors closely. Their attitudes of confidence seemed as important as theirknowledge. Dr. Campbell lacked confidence. Other doctors were sure of their diagnoses, secure in their abilities in surgery, excited about the healing prospects of a new drug. Not Dr. Campbell. It almost seemed like he didn’t know what he was doing. I didn’t want to be a doctor like him.
Then a simple appendectomy of his had a disturbing array of complications. Sure he had come in late and Dr. Campbell had just got the bloated thing out before it burst, but that had happened before. Yet his patient stayed weak, and then Dr. Campbell had to go back in and get his gallbladder. Maybe the guy was just unlucky. His roommate died on him and that made him nervous being in Room 205 looking at the other bed. He asked to be moved, so we did it.
After the move, when I was alone with him tidying up all his things, he told me his calf hurt.
“Where?” I asked and pulled the bedspread over to see his leg.
“Right there.” He pointed to the bulge of his calf muscle. “Must be a sore muscle. Can you rub it?”
I was becoming famous for my back rubs and was proud of my new found talent. I took both my hands and wrapped them around his calf, gently massaging and rubbing.
“Not too hard,” he warned.
“You tell me.” I massaged for several moments.
“Yeah, that’s a lot better. Thanks.”
I went to tell the RN about his new pain.
“Shit,” Shirley said before I could tell her I had rubbed it. “It could be a blood clot.”
“It happens sometimes after surgery. Blood coagulates in the vein. If it moves to his heart it could kill him.”
“What do you do?”
“Put heat on it, try to dissolve it. Keep him quiet and don’t let him rub it. If he rubs it, that could make it move to his heart.”
I moved around into the hall and put my hand against the wall to keep from falling.