This front line thing is heavy. If I could do it again, I’d enlist a therapist from day one. It’s like a front row seat to a slow motion fall.
We all start as relatively normal people with initially very normal reactions to decidedly abnormal stuff. Here, I try to map those changes through a series of snapshots to try make sense of it all.
It was actually quite therapeutic. They’re not in order and often muddle together but these are the things I remember. They don’t always make sense but c’est la vie:
My very first RHT (refusal of hospital treatment) was a) about a lady being tired of having her blood taken on my second day and b) filled me with so much existential dread. I thought I’d have to get the head of unit involved and debate ethics with the superintendent. Now… Lol: “sign here and here please”.
I remember fainting on a medicine round in front of my favourite (and most gorgeous, see: dermatosclerosis ) patient who had selective mutism and feigned sleep for everyone but me. The first thing that told me something was wrong (other than finding myself on the floor and the general commotion) was that not only was she was up and out of bed (unprecedented) she was also cry-yelling at me not to die. To be fair, I had food poisoning and had been retching violently all night, preventing any and all sustenance from sticking. Morning vomiting highlights included my shower, a plastic bag I took in the car in case it happened on the freeway (side note: one cannot vomit and drive, I still haven’t figured out what I was thinking at the time of that plan) and in the bushes in front of ward 23.
All of the intimate partner violence victims in trauma that insisted that they’ll leave next time. All the ones who don’t get their next time and never left the resus area.
Towards the end of our 1st month of internship (General Surgery) when Zama and I had just had our daily We Made it Through Today hug, I overheard another pair of interns from another ward. One was saying: “you’re a good person” dejectedly while having their own version our hug. It was awful, sweet and incredibly moving.
I learned that I had a twin who apparently had been under my nose all along! Marcia and I at this point had already been friends for 3 years (and my clinical partner for one of them) but not once in those 3 years had anyone mistaken us for the other. All of a sudden patients, security personnel, nurses and other colleagues were doing double-takes or asking why I’d changed my clothes/was still around, registrars who I had never so much as spoken to, were greeting me warmly then walking away awkwardly realising they’d made a mistake. Sisters in theatre were asking us if we were sure our fathers weren’t the same (also sisters concerned I was repeating a block are the sweetest) and clinic patients insisting they were being seen again. We even have a picture we present at times such as these:
we barely utilised this opportunity for Parent Trapping (Patient tra- oh you get it).
The first (and only) time I lost it with a student was in my second year. He sprayed tuberculin in my face. You had to be there.
It was an unsettling moment when in my 2nd year, exactly a year later, I realised that the sky doesn’t darken in Winter in Johannesburg. I distinctly remember the sky being dark grey every single day all day in June/July 2018. My heart broke.
July 2018 (post leave) marked the return of Ntoetse. Much like a canary in a coal mine, I had gone silent, so naturally my return was signaled by the fact that I was singing at work again. I got through the first two months of internship having the Moana and LalaLand soundtracks on repeat. Unrelated, a good litmus test for my post call psychosis was how intricate a Hamilton (the musical) rap I attempt: Guns & Ships (check it out) is pre-terminal. Was pre-terminal ? I don’t know because I’M DONE WITH 24 HOUR CALLS FOR 2019! This was usually the point at which I descended into useless giggles much to Jess’ enjoyment.
Sitting in Chiko’s boot, exhausted and bewildered by the current state of our lives and somehow, magically, I was laughing for the first time in a long time. They took a video. Mxm.
This is definitely part one of a couple!