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The next morning I woke up at nine o’clock. It was later than what I was used to, but the trip was really tiring and last night I fell on bed like a rock. I had not unpacked anything, so I took the first thing I found in my suitcase to get dressed. I made my bed and left the room to search where to take a shower. There was no sign of the doctor so I managed to find the bathroom. The clinic wasn’t very big, it had two rooms for patients, a room for the doctor and one for me, besides the reception, a consulting room, a small kitchen and two bathrooms, one for patients and one full bathroom. Leaving my room there was a corridor leading to the reception with one room on each side. Arriving there, there was a door to the consulting room, another to the patient’s bathroom and one more corridor where there was the doctor’s room, the kitchen and the bathroom I was looking for. I thought it was weird that the kitchen where so close to the bathroom but mostly the whole place seemed poorly distributed. After locating the water heater and make sure I had water, I took off my clothes and I took a shower with the small stream of water coming out of the shower. I felt much better after the bath; at the end I put on my jeans, a red shirt and my white coat. Just going out of the bathroom I saw Dr. Trejo entering in the clinic.
-“Doctor Sotero, it’s good to see you awake”, the doctor told me with a serious tone.
- “Good morning Doctor, excuse me, I lost track of the time”. I hastened to apologize before he continued. It seemed he was about to say something else, perhaps an accusation, but he stopped after I apologized.
- “I need you to go to visit Mrs. Consuelo” – he said then, – She lives in a yellow house three doors down from here, she is an elderly woman and because of the diabetes she lost a leg, so we have to constantly visit her to check her glucose levels and deliver her medicine. – After explaining all the medicines the patient had tried and all the side effects she had, he finally gave me a box of Acarbose, a medicine to inhibit the ingested glucose from being absorbed. This medicine seemed to have worked well for her. Dr. Trejo gave me instructions as if I were the patient. Three times a day after the first bite of each meal. I did nothing but say yes to everything and once he finished the instructions I prepared my briefcase. As I was leaving, Dr. Trejo gave me a copy of the clinic’s key, I thanked him and left the clinic.
Officially she was my first patient in the community and I felt a mixture of nerves and excitement. I thought I could finally apply everything I had studied so hard.
It was a clear, sunny day that invited me to take a walk and rest in the shadow of a tree to read a book, but obviously that was not possible. I had work to do so I removed that idea from my head and I moved on.
I could finally observe the town, or at least part of it. The houses in front of me were very small and faded. The roofs, fences and even some doors were made of all sorts of makeshift materials. In one of the houses on my right there was a dog tied up at the entrance. He was very skinny and had a scar on his back. Perhaps he had been beaten by his owner for some reason. Then I remembered the time when I saw a young man kicking a dog in the street. That day I felt so angry that without thinking I approached him while yelling all kinds of threats. Fortunately he ran away because I don’t know what would have happened if he had waited for me to get closer. I could not bear to see an animal mistreated and I thought if something like that happen again I would react in the same way I had before.
Despite of the gloomy look of the houses, they weren’t perceived as having a sad atmosphere. I do not know why, but because of the sound of the animals and the voices of the people indoors I felt a quiet and familiar atmosphere I can’t explain.
I kept walking towards the third house on the road. At the entrance there was a woman resting in a chair. She was about seventy years old and had long, gray hair with a red ribbon carefully intertwined along a braid that reached halfway down her back. She wore a white dress with blue and yellow trim that looked old but very clean. From the length of the dress and the position in which she was sitting, I could not confirm if she was missing a leg.
- “I’m looking for Mrs. Consuelo” I told the old woman raising my voice a little as I approached.
- “Yes, it’s me, you’re the new doctor aren’t you? , aren’t you too young to be a doctor?” She asked, eyeing me from head to toe.
- “I’m Dr. Sotero “, I said, ignoring her last question. “ I came to give you your medicine and check your blood sugar levels”.
She made me get come into her house and I started with a routine check. She had slightly elevated levels of glucose so I gave him an advice on her diet, gave her medication and told her how to take it. I was about to leave when Mrs. Consuelo started telling me about her life. She started giving me a list of ailments she had in recent years so I thought I should listen her to better understand her condition but she continued to talk about her deceased husband, her son living abroad, the neighbor who brought her food every day and the desire she had to go on a cruise. I listened carefully to her story for the first hour but after the second I was desperate and I didn’t know when she would stop talking. I began to feel hungry because I had left the clinic without eating anything. I didn’t know how to get out of there. Then, Dr. Trejo came, he seemed annoyed. He said he had been waiting for me to return, and that there where many patients in the clinic. I was relieved to finally escape. Before leaving, Mrs. Consuelo gave me a couple of traditional nutty pies that somebody had brought her from the municipality. I thanked her and carefully put them in my briefcase. Then I started walking with Dr. Trejo to the clinic.
- “I knew Mrs. Consuelo would keep you a while but I didn’t think it would be that long”, said Dr. Trejo, a little annoyed as we were walking.
- “She told me about her life and I didn’t want to be rude by saying I had to leave”
- “I thought you already knew this but if not, then it’s time that you go learn it. A doctor should not empathize with patients; one cannot sympathize with every single old woman who wants to talk and we should not take on the suffering of our patients. Dealing with all the problems and diseases of people would be very hard. We are here to heal people and nothing more”.
The doctor’s words were like frozen ice in my head. How could he be so cold regarding human suffering?. The main reason why I had decided to study medicine was to help people and to offer hope and support in hard times. I didn’t know what to say then. I decided to refrain from making any comments until we reached the clinic.
As doctor Trejo said there were several patients waiting, I stayed in one of the rooms, attending to some of the patients while the doctor attended to more patients in the consulting room. I tried to do it as fast as I could, without engaging in any unnecessary conversation but in some cases it was difficult. I couldn’t help spend more time with a woman who had brought her son had a severe case of malnutrition. After hearing his story and suggesting a diet for her child, I finally ended up giving the child the nutty pies I had just received.
By three o’clock in the afternoon I hadn’t eaten anything. That was when a young woman of about twenty years came to the clinic. She was a fair brunette with straight, dark hair to her shoulders and very delicate features. She was dressed in a long white dress with red and yellow flowers. She was carrying a tray with four dishes, two of them with soup and two with chicken stew in a green sauce. I later found out that the girl’s name was Sofia and her mother was responsible for preparing the food for Dr. Trejo and now for me as well. Since I was busy with a patient, Sofia left the tray on a table and went away.
I was busy all afternoon with an old man who had fallen and had several scratches and wounds. He didn’t seem to have any broken bones, but treating him was hard because he didn’t let me wash his wounds, let alone to put on a bandage. Finally at seven in the evening I could rest and have something to eat. I reheated the food and devoured it immediately. With my current state of hunger I ate everything as if it were an exquisite delicacy. When I finished, I washed the dishes and set them down to dry. At nine o’clock at night Sofia returned with bread and hot chocolate and left immediately. She seemed to be a very shy girl. Although I had just eaten I thought it still had room to eat a little more, and I had to accompany Dr. Trejo so that he didn’t have to eat alone. So I sat at the table in front of him and started snacking.
- “It’s been a long day, hasn’t it?” Said Dr. Trejo as he soaked a piece of bread in his hot chocolate.
- “Yes, a little” I was not sure if he was asking to test whether I would be able to bear the full weight of the service, so I decided not to confess that it had been a very tiring day.
- “The truth is that we don’t have days like this very often. It seems as if they wanted to welcome you” .He said with a hint of a mocking smile. I simply answered with my own smile.
We talked for the rest of the night about the patients who come to the clinic that day and he asked about the medication I had been prescribed. He gave me his opinion and occasionally moved his head as an approval signal. When the clock struck Eleven we went to our rooms to bed and he told me I should be up at seven in the morning because that is the time when breakfast is served; I wondered what had happened with today breakfast but I decided not to say anything. Before going to bed I unpacked some things from my suitcase and prepared my clothes for the next day. I remembered that I hadn’t been able to reach my parents or Susana on the phone. I decided I would ask doctor Trejo in the morning where could I make a phone call. This time I put on my pyjamas, turned off the light and lay on my bed listening to the night’s noises.
- “I wonder if I could ever try those nutty pies”. I said softly and almost immediately I was immersed into a deep sleep.