-- Personality Disorder Test - Take It! --
And as I answered the questions, I found in each the diagnosis they were searching for. And I reiterate what I have been told, so many times, is true: We all, each of us, display traits of many different personality disorders. What changes them from personality traits to disorders is whether or not those traits are fixed and maladaptive. For example, I have worked hard to emphasize my obsessive-compulsive traits; they are the method of compensating for my attention-deficit traits and the absolute hallmark of a good medical student. These are adaptive traits. My histrionic qualities...those, on the other hand, have occasionally caused me trouble. They border on maladaptive at times. But they are not fixed. You see.
Obsessive-compulsive traits are what earned me the biggest surprise yet of my third year. After lunch, after my entry was posted, Megan looked up at me. "You, uh, don't need to check your mailbox, do you?" This was said in a tone so blatantly suggestive that I half-expected a "wink-wink, nudge-nudge, know-what-I-mean?" to follow it. The proper answer to that question is, of course, "Of course." And so we checked mailboxes.
Riding high on that event, we returned to the CIU, where I made the mistake of answering the phone. (It's an unwritten rule: if you didn't page someone, don't answer the phone.) A was on the other end. "Nykki! Can you come over here and do a physical exam on an admit?" They have us do physical exams on admits.
But this, O Best Beloved, was a very special admit.
Her name is B. B was in holding on a misdemeanor charge, having been picked up by the police after getting drunk and trying to drown herself in a retaining pond. She was a pleasant enough woman, all things considered, and getting drunk and trying to commit suicide are hardly rare occurences in this particular line of work. There was, however, a very special thing that demarcated B from our usual drunken pond-diver.
B is a practising anaesthesiologist. A doctor.
Today, O Best Beloved, I looked into the face of a woman who had survived medical school, passed through residency. She asked us to page her little sister, a fourth-year that Megan knew vaguely, and tell her where she was. We had her sign a release form for the information; we have to follow the rules to the letter with a doctor. She told us, tearfully, that she'd been depressed for years.
"Look at me," she said, eyes a wide-pupilled shade of desperation, and sat up, leaning forward. "This doesn't happen to us. Doctors don't get sick."
O yes, Best Beloved, they do.
I looked into her eyes, and we patted her shoulders, told her we'd see how soon she could get to the wing and use the phone. I have an operating room schedule that's full tomorrow. I have to cancel. What, I wonder, did she plan on the OR to do if she had died? Doctors, after all, are only human. "It's hard," she said, plaintive, her voice a you-understand-me whirl of syllables, "it's hard to ask for help...in our position."
And it is, I will not deny that. It is hard to admit that we are human, after all.
Permission gained, we paged her sister. We told her the basics - that B was admitted, her room location (any medical student knows those numbers are the locked psychiatry inpatient wing). Disbelief became understanding without any coaxing. She knew what had happened.
I called her Doctor, the whole time I spoke with her. I use my patients' last names and their titles; I am young and I look younger. A police officer in Holding the other day asked me if I had turned 18 yet. I called her Dr. B, and there was gratitude in her eyes for it.
On the way back, Megan and I talked about her, and about the strange and wrenching reality that had gripped us as we heard her speak. And we talked about her future, wondered whether she would lose hospital privileges for her conviction. Wondered how the repercussions of her actions would affect her career. She was, after all, not really all that old. And she believed, as so very many do, in the invulnerability of the physician's coat.
Chemical dependency lecture, hour one: He stands in front of us, young, eager, the best of the best, the brightest minds and the most diligently applied young doctors-to-be that we can imagine ourselves being. We joke with each other about being "slackers" if we don't study of an evening. Parties are carefully scheduled for after exams. He looks around at the room. "There are about twenty of you in here," he says, words measured. "That means two of you, sometime in the course of your lives, will be alcoholics."
Twenty pairs of bright and attentive eyes pivoted at his words, my own included, scanning the faces of the other nineteen students in the room, weighing what we each knew about the others, judging the likelihood of each person being one of those two.
Because, after all, it could never be me.