(A lost tale from over ten years ago during residency)
Senior consultant Dr. Angelito Caro, with his authoritative heft and characteristic scowl, towered mightily over me at the nurse’s station. It was the morning after my 24-hour duty in the pay floors, and as soon as I was summoned I knew I was in for a very public lashing. I haven’t brushed my teeth yet, so my fetid breath must have further aggravated him, making him turn redder by the minute. He was, at that point, ready to bite my head off and spit it out the window straight into a medical waste disposal unit. I didn’t know exactly what I did wrong—as lowly first year residents at the bottom of the totem pole we have been inured to getting the third degree for just about anything.
Behind the furious Dr. Caro stood Nurse Chrizly, who was trying her best—and miserably failing—not to snicker. To make it seem like she was not eavesdropping she pretended dusting off imaginary pandesal crumbs on her shirt and stacking together patient charts on the table. And then it dawned on me—at around 4 am she referred to me the lab test results of Dr. Caro’s patient. In the middle of explaining the results to the relative I got another call for something emergent. I immediately left and ran to the other wing, screaming that I would be back. This, supposedly, had offended her so.
Dr. Caro’s booming voice caught the attention of everyone in the hallway, and soon people were flocking around, pretending that they were texting or doing chart rounds. I felt like the reprimands were disproportionate to my crime, but Dr. Caro went on to accuse me of being arrogant, insubordinate, and a total diva who couldn’t be bothered to attend to his patients. He started dredging up totally unrelated issues: Would you want to be like my colleagues who barely have any patient in their clinics because they are so arrogant? Why are you dressed like that? You don’t look like a doctor, have you tried applying for a non-medical job? And my favorite: What was your class ranking in med school?
I silently shook my head.
“You don’t know?!”
I shook my head again, wishing I could answer back: I know my rank, but I refuse to say it as an arrogant, insubordinate diva!
“You’re an abortionist, aren’t you? Aren’t you?!”—I imagined him saying.
A few more synonyms of arrogant, insubordinate, and pure evil later, Dr. Caro ordered me to get out of his face. I hurriedly walked away feeling like my self-esteem couldn’t get any smaller, but he immediately called me back—he wasn’t done yet with his castigations. He listed ten diseases on a prescription pad and told me to report on them, in that exact nurse station, the very next day.
Seeing me getting totally crestfallen, and quite puzzled at that unfortunate incident, my supportive batchmates went on full investigative journalism/chika mode: Nurse Chrizly had informed Dr. Caro that it took me an hour to see the patient, and that the relative cried because I ran away screaming. Which was easily verifiable—so whether or not there was a Temporary Restraining Order I sneaked back into the patient’s room and asked the relative if I had offended her that morning. She had no idea what I was talking about. Pure Nanette!
One of the witnesses to my very public humiliation, senior fellow Dr. Fromme, caught me in the elevator and gave me nicest, kindest, most inspirational words of commiseration: “She is a two-faced monster, avoid her at all cost!” Apparently Nurse Chrizly has always been infamous for chronically inflating or completely making-up stories that got many trainees into trouble.
Still, from that day on, I would always be looking across hallways and peering through peepholes just to make sure that I wouldn’t cross paths with Dr. Caro. I would subtly make a U-turn every time I see him approaching, or more efficiently, quickly hide behind a water cooler. Upon the advice of Smoketh I started donning, as a disguise, an N-95 mask and decorative eyeglasses if there was the slightest chance that I wouldn’t be able to avoid him. I thought I was being sneaky and smart, but a month later what I have been dreading finally happened: Dr. Caro was assigned as our charity service consultant, meaning we had to report directly to him twice a week.
“Hi Dr. Caro, these are the members of our team, Will and Burkholderia,” our service senior Dr. Sharma said.
“Oh hi Will! Hi, Burkholderia!” Dr. Caro said.
Throughout our first service rounds Dr. Caro was smiling, laughing, joking, and telling us that we were doing great. Still trying to keep up appearances of being nice and jolly, eh, I thought miserably. At the prodding of Dr. Sharma I once had to approach him to personally endorse a difficult case—and he was still smiling, laughing, joking and telling me I was doing a fantastic job. Strangely I did not sense any veiled hostility, or any recognition for that matter. Or maybe he was planning a long con, trying to make me writhe in morbid anticipation, or luring me into complacency so he could spring a surprise act of retribution. At the end of the rotation he gave us his evaluation forms. He gave me a score of 100%.
“Your worsening acne must have been enough of a disguise,” Burkholderia later told me.