The surgical resident reminds me of the pre-meds who used to sit in the front row of Maitland Jones’s orgo class in Frick Hall. I bet she was the quiet girl who took more notes than everybody else.
“Hi. My name is Dr. Wei.”
I am sitting with my right knee propped up, La-Z-Boy style. Dr. Wei is standing five feet away from me but it feels like a mile.
“So how is the fracture?” she asks. “You can walk on it okay?”
“Yeah, it’s all right. Sometimes it kinda locks up on me though.”
She cocks her head to the left to take a closer look at my knee cap.
Please don’t wince. You’re making me worried...
“How long have you been using the silver sulfadiazine?”
She is holding my chart, which contains the answer, and which I know she has read. It’s like orgo class; she knows the answers because she’s already read the book. But in here you need more than just answers — you need a good routine. The people-skills stuff. We both kind of suck at it.
“About two weeks,” I say.
“And how did you get the burn?” (Also answered in the chart.)
“A friend of mine ran off to get ice after I hurt my knee. But he got it from an ice cream vendor in the park and didn’t realize it was dry ice.”
“Why did the ice cream vendor have dry ice?”
Did you place out of general chem? Yeah, you probably did…
“It’s an efficiency thing,” I say. “If you use dry ice, you can keep the cart cold without weighing it down. The lighter the cart, the more ice cream you can carry, the more you can sell.”
“Um…I see. And you saw your friend get this ice?”
“No. I was down on the ground, I thought I tore my ACL or something. I didn’t know where he got the ice from. He wrapped it, and it got numb. Fifteen minutes later, my knee turned into a popsicle.”
Again, Doc — wincing is bad. B-A-D. I need you to work on that one for me.
She writes down some notes in the margin of the chart. P-o-p-s-i-c-l-e…
The door to the exam room opens, and the attending walks in — a thin man in a bow tie. He shakes my hand and sits down across from me. Dr. Wei remains standing.
The attending looks at the wound, pokes at it a few times with his index finger, and then turns to his apprentice. “So Dr. Wei…whaddaya think?”
She looks down at the chart (I, too, would need a prop), then at me, then at the attending.
“Well, I think the silver sulfadiazine might not have been very effective since it was applied over the—”
“No, no. I wanna know what you think. How’s it look to you?”
She pauses. “I mean, it’s not bad—”
“I think it looks pretty good,” the attending says. Then he looks directly at me and says, “You’re gonna be fine.”
He spends the next five minutes telling us a story about a woman who was flying from London to New York many years ago. She had a sore back, so she asked the flight attendant for some ice. The woman sandwiched the bag of ice between her lower back and the seat, and then she took a nap. But a funny thing happened — the ice never melted. She arrived in New York with a dry ice burn that was a lot worse than mine.
“That was one of my first patients here,” the attending says. “The thing with ice burns is that the cold just numbs you, so you have no idea what’s happening. It can be very dangerous.”
I nod. Dr. Wei nods.
I think ahead to fifteen, twenty years out, when Dr. Wei will be pulling the same line on one of her residents: “I wanna know what you think…How’s it look to you?” She’ll then wrap up the diagnosis with an anecdote about an unfortunate Chinaman who went to Prospect Park on a Sunday afternoon in May and left with a broken leg — and frostbite.