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Mates, Susan Onthank

Medicine and the Arts

Anne Farmakidis, staff editor of Academic Medicine, is the editor of “Medicine and the Arts.” (Unsolicited submissions are welcome.)

Reprinted from The Good Doctor by the University of Iowa Press.


You asked me what should I do and I couldn't speak. I'm not god. You said well? And you looked out in the hall to make sure your wife wasn't coming in and we were running out of time and I stroked my nine months’ pregnant belly and the baby kicked and I said studies show that sometimes if you have this biopsy and we treat you with antibiotics, antifungals, antivirals, you might live longer and you said don't tell me about studies tell me what you would do. And I said studies are important, this is the way doctors know what to do, it's scientific and more systematic than just one doctor's experience, I was good at that stuff even though women aren't supposed to be I knew studies and talked fast clear and incisive and honor society until then I was good at being a doctor. And you said please. I felt my breath clot up somewhere in my throat and looked at your eyes your ferocious eyes and I said Mr. Dantio, Salvadore I would not do it, don't do it don't let them me do it to you no.

And I couldn't stop the tears, I kissed you and waddled out of the room and stood around the corner so your wife couldn't see me and cried there right in the middle of the hall with my white coat split down the middle and my belly sticking out, the baby writhing like a snake making ripples in my navy-blue maternity dress with the little red bow on top. The surgeon came up to me, a young man, younger than me, so energetic and clean shaven and he said did you talk him into it? And he ignored the tears and the belly and the baby kicking so unprofessional and I said no.

No! he shouted at me and I said I know as a doctor I should have said do it but as a person I felt no no no and he looked at me and stared at me and finally said there is no difference between how I feel as a doctor and as a person and I saw him with his clean white coat buttoned down his flat front and his neat black hair actually he was a friend of mine I was looking up because he is taller and I said yes I can see that…. I don't know what to do because they never really helped me Plato Aristotle Kant Proust James all I know is this man Salvadore Dantio is dying and I can't do a thing.

© 2004 Association of American Medical Colleges