I have never been particularly successful in attracting members of the opposite sex. There is some kind of sign on me – God knows I’ve tried to find it – that firmly states “shoulder to cry on”, “safe friend” or “harmless comedian”. I can make women laugh but for some reason I have rarely been seen as boyfriend material. Consequently, while many of my fellow doctors – some of whom sport a face like a half-sucked aspirin – would parade around with gorgeous women hanging off them and relay stories of the latest nurse they had enticed, I remained a defiantly single junior doctor in search of the perfect woman.
Take Calvin for example – a fellow intern I worked with. Known throughout the hospital as the “Asian James Bond”, he frequently reiterated that he was not able to sign up to Facebook, lest the various women he was going out with at any one time found out about each other. Calvin had spent almost his entire intern salary buying an ostentatious car and it was now really paying dividends. I was present in the hospital cafeteria day after day when various nurses, pharmacists, physiotherapists and quite a few female doctors sidled up to Calvin and discretely handed him their phone numbers. After a hard day’s work, I would frequently leave the hospital in the evening and notice Calvin’s car still parked in the staff car park, discovering later that he had again been “studying late” with another member of the allied health staff. He was unstoppable. Unstoppable until one Friday morning when he had arrived at the hospital early to update the pathology and radiology results prior to starting a Consultant ward round. As he diligently updated his patients’ files, a very attractive speech pathologist that Calvin had fancied for some time entered the ward. Taking his opportunity, Calvin stood up and warmly greeted the “lucky girl”, swooning her with his witty repartee before finally asking: “So… are you single at the moment?”
The loud grunt and incredulous laughter than erupted behind Calvin startled him, and he turned quickly to see Professor Martin – head of Medicine for the entire hospital – who had discretely entered the doctor’s office unnoticed. As Calvin turned a bright shade of red and began stammering explanations, Professor Martin exclaimed: “My dear boy, you’re doing a fine job! Don’t let me stop you – in fact let me get out of your way so you can seal the deal!” He ran over to the corner of the small room, opened the storage cupboard door and jumped inside, still laughing and yelling “Ignore me, I’m not here” as he shut the door.
It was one of Calvin’s few failures.
I was no match for the Asian James Bond. Throughout the course of my first hospital year though, I began to notice that I did seem to strike a chord with two distinct groups of patients. The first had been known to me for quite some time and indeed I am renowned amongst staff at many hospitals for possessing the unwavering ability to charm any lady over the age of 65 – particularly if she has a body mass index to match! This is not a new phenomenon. In second year university as part of our medical training, each student was required to spend one day per week completing a community service project. I was lucky enough to be placed at a Brotherhood of St. Laurence opportunity shop where I served customers for eight hours every Tuesday. While the immediate benefits of this experience to my career as a doctor remain to be seen, I did as a fringe benefit receive a 33% discount off the exorbitant opp shop prices, and thus managed to outfit myself in pants and shirts – the compulsory hospital attire – at a fraction of the cost I had envisaged. In the process of working at this store, I also managed to unintentionally woo some of my spritely pensioner colleagues. At one stage, approximately four weeks into my term at the store, I was almost at the point of filing a sexual harassment case against a couple of the ladies, who refused to walk past me without insisting on a hug and planting a giant kiss on my cheek. My parents used to wonder what went on at that Opp shop, as every night I came home I was covered in lipstick. One lady – 77-year-old Edna – was not backward in touching my backside whenever she walked past and I was romanced with daily offerings of scones, muffins, slices and home-made jam! I was also invited to a glittering array of pokies trips, bingo nights and boot-scooting classes by a variety of these predatory widows. I was the only volunteer in that store under the age of 70 and they were making the most of it!
My intern year provided me with unparalleled exposure to women over the age of 65 and I soon realised that my reputation as “pensioner eye-candy” or “Casanova of the geriatrics” was bounding from strength to strength. I unexpectedly hit peak form one evening in July, when instead of braving the gale-force winds, freezing temperatures and torrential rain of the glorious Melbourne winter and travelling home, I volunteered to stay and assist in the Emergency Department of the small suburban hospital I was working in at the time for a few extra hours, as another doctor had called in sick.
The first patient I was asked to see was an 81 year old Polish lady by the name of Elsa, who had presented to the Emergency Department with cellulitis of her right leg. Febrile and systemically unwell, it was obvious that Elsa would require admission for intravenous antibiotics and I decided to get things moving by inserting a cannula. As I applied the tourniquet to Elsa’s arm and took a seat by the bed with the needle poised in my hand, Elsa looked across and placed her hand on my knee.
“My dear” she said in a thick European accent, “Are you married?”
“No, no, not yet” I replied.
“Ahh” she cried, “Still fishing…” as her hand slid higher up my thigh towards my groin.
“Not for a pensioner” I thought, as I waved the needle menacingly.
“Elsa, I have a needle here. Behave yourself!”
“Hmphf, such a waste” she mumbled, as I plunged the cannula into her vein.
Drip in, I escaped Elsa for the safety of the staff area, still not quite believing that I had just been violated by an octogenarian. After a cup of tea to calm my nerves, I collected the triage information sheet for my next patient. The sheet described Maureen, an 86 year old lady who had presented with some cuts and bruises and a possible fracture of the hip after falling at the nursing home where she resided. Attempting to read her file as I prepared to meet the patient, I cursed aloud as I saw the pages of completely illegible scribble sent in with the patient by the nursing home.
“Haven’t these people heard of a computer?” I muttered, “I’m sick of trying to interpret hieroglyphics!” Scanning page after page of the photocopied jargon, I thought I could interpret the word dementia, and my heart sank as I noted the dreaded word unco-operative written several times throughout the pages.
“Fan-blooming-tastic” I thought to myself, “This should be an absolute joy! A violent lady who won’t even remember punching me; why couldn’t I get someone easy? “
Silently grumbling about the unfairness of life, I opened the curtain to find a sweet little old lady lying on the bed in the standard hospital gown. I introduced myself as Dr. Kirkland and attempted to elicit the details of the fall along with a full medical history. Maureen welcomed me sweetly and relayed in depth the events leading up to the fall. She denied being in pain: “I’m perfectly alright Doctor” she assured me, “My mind wandered for a minute and I just missed the step”. I was most surprised at her memory of the recent fall – from the small amount of legible writing provided by the nursing home, Maureen was meant to have significant cognitive impairment and be reliant upon nursing staff for almost everything.
As I concluded the interview, I informed Maureen that I needed to examine her back, hips and legs to make sure there was no sites of pain, trauma or restricted movement and also to gain an X-ray of the hips and pelvis to exclude the presence of any fractures. At that point, Maureen beckoned me closer and quietly whispered for me to close the curtain fully as she wanted to show me something. Slightly bewildered, as the cubicle was very private, I complied. Turning around, I discovered that Maureen had pulled her gown up and spread her legs and was now lying, stark naked, on the bed.
“I want you to f*^# me!” she whispered, contorting herself into as seductive position as her arthritic 80 year old frame would allow, before she drew her knees up to her chest and blew me a kiss, “Go on, you can be my boyfriend!”
I’m not sure which I found most distressing: the sight before me, or the language – which I couldn’t quite imagine my Grandmother (who is no Saint but has not been heard to utter an expletive more colourful than “bugger” in the last thirty years) – ever resorting to. Avoiding the impulse to run screaming out the door and trying to look anywhere except at the pensioner voyeur making seductive gestures at me while trying to reach for my groin, I mumbled something about doctor-patient relationships and left the cubicle, desperately searching for some support.
I quickly found Maggie, an Irish nurse I had befriended in the Emergency Department and explained the unusual situation.
“Oooh, you are a tease aren’t you!” she yelled, tears rolling down her face as she cried with laughter, “There’s just no stopping you – you always get the old one’s juices flowing! Have you got her phone number? It’s not every day you get a private strip tease in ED!”
“Very funny” I retorted, “Laugh all you want – I’ve already been groped by an 80 year old tonight; now I’m in danger of being raped by one!”
The look of distress in my face sent Maggie into hysterics once again, and it was quite some time before she was in a state fit to chaperone me.
Eventually Maggie composed herself enough to follow me into Maureen’s cubicle and she redressed the patient while I quickly completed a very cursory examination. “I might rely more on the Xray than the examination” I thought, wondering if the radiographer too would be propositioned. Maureen remained silent as I looked for shortening of one leg that might indicate a broken hip and then palpated her knees and lower back for signs of pain. Slowly she looked Maggie up and down then turned to me. The sweet old lady I had introduced myself to and the passionate vixen I had apparently unleashed gave me a look of utter disgust, and a dangerous glint appeared in her eyes.
“So you’re cheating on me with this tart are you?” my admirer hissed, and Maggie let out a hoot of laughter.
“Now now sweetheart, settle down. I know he’s a bit of a peach but you’ve got to restrain yourself,” she cooed.
With that, Maureen went absolutely ballistic, spitting at Maggie while simultaneously unleashing a violent kick aimed at her face. Maggie leapt back; narrowing missing a wrinkly foot that rocketed passed her nose.
“I’ll kill you! How dare you cheat on me? He’s mine!”
To this day, I have never seen an 86-year-old lady dish out such vicious and well-aimed kicks. I knew then and there that there was absolutely nothing wrong with her hip as no-one with a fracture could possible execute a leg raise like that. I attempted to restrain her, enabling a shaken Maggie to leave the room, as Maureen swore and ranted at me, eventually declaring:
“I’ll kill you. No one cheats on me. I’ll see you in hell!”
Making a hasty exit from the cubicle, I took some deep breaths as Maggie came to comfort me.
“You certainly have a way with people”, she laughed. “I’ve never seen a patient proposition and then threaten to kill an intern within the space of five minutes”.
“Ah well, that’s the usual course of most of my relationships”, I replied. “Now what on earth are we going to do with her?”
In consultation with the senior Doctor, who also had a good laugh at my expense, we decided to give Maureen some quiet time to mellow and maybe even forget her new fatal attraction and arranged an X-ray just to be on the safe side.
“Where’s her file?” the doctor asked. Perusing through the illegible pages of information, he suddenly gave a chuckle.
“Ahh, there’s your first mistake. That’s not just dementia written here” he exclaimed, “That’s dementia with psychotic features! You’ve scored yourself quite a handful here.”
“Fantastic” I exclaimed, “I just knew I should have just gone home with everyone else”.
Half an hour later, when Maggie popped her head through the curtain to check Maureen’s pulse and blood pressure, she bore the brunt of a similar physical attack from the grey haired kick boxer. Fifteen minutes after that I had a cup of hot tea launched at me by the jilted patient, accompanied by a barrage of obscenities and abuse. I had cheated on her, Maggie was a tramp, and Maureen wasn’t in a forgiving mood. This pattern continued for most of the night and when the senior doctor told me I should put in a drip to ensure she didn’t become dehydrated, I felt about ready to scream.
“And just how am I supposed to do that?” I pleaded, “Would it even matter if she did get a little dehydrated? It might slow her down a bit and lessen the intensity of her attacks”.
He laughed. “Oh come now Ben, it couldn’t possibly be as bad as that. You’ve been here for six months now; you are competent enough to do this. Just explain what you are doing and I’m sure it won’t be a problem.”
“Explain what I’m doing? This is an 86-year-old lady who asked me to sleep with her, and ever since I declined has threatened to kill me! Do you really think she is going to be persuaded by a rational train of thought?” I countered, the desperation welling in me.
“Look, give it your best shot. Maggie is assigned to that patient, I’m sure she will be able to help”, he enthused as he strolled off to see another patient.
“I don’t care how senior you are” I seethed under my breath when he was definitely out of ear shot, “You have absolutely no idea who we are dealing with here. This patient is Chopper Reid with a perm!”
Ten minutes later, Maggie and I slowly inched our way towards the cubicle like soldiers about to go over the trench into battle. Armed with a needle, I thought wryly that at least I had a weapon if things did get too out of hand.
“Don’t be ridiculous”, I thought to myself suddenly, “This is an old lady we are talking about. How difficult could it possibly be to restrain her?”
With that, we drew back the curtain and stepped into the cubicle, our entrance heralding a wave of kicks, punches and obscenities from my grey-haired nemesis.
“Now settle down Maureen, the senior doctor has asked me to put a little drip in your arm to help you feel better. Is that ok?”
I ducked as a leg shot out towards my face at high-speed… this was obviously going to be an absolute joy!
Fifteen minutes later, Maggie and I admitted defeat and fled once again, battered bruised and licking our wounds. “I’m NOT being paid enough to put up with this shit” Maggie yelled, mimicking my thoughts exactly, “We are not going in there again”.
From that time, Maureen remained in the emergency department without a drip, and despite copious attempts at rationalisation and numerous sedative injections she maintained right until the ambulance took her back to her nursing home that I had, and always would be, the love of her life.
By this time it was approaching midnight and I had been working for nearly 14 hours straight. I had been groped, kicked, spat on, propositioned and abused – largely within the space of two hours – and I was exhausted. As the emergency department was still bursting at the seams with patients, I decided to have a look at the triage sheets for all the patients currently awaiting medical care and cherry-pick an easy, quick case to finish the night on.
I picked Sandra, a 73year old lady with a straightforward broken wrist. Calling her in from the waiting room, I noticed Sandra and her accompanying two friends all looking decidedly worse-for-wear as they made their way into the examination room. Sandra, however, turned out to be a delightful and obviously well-to-do lady who explained that she had been having an afternoon of drinks and general frivolity with her two female neighbours, before being called back to her house to answer a phone call. Upon finishing the call, she heard raucous laughter coming from the neighbour’s yard, and had climbed on to her adjoining fence to eavesdrop in an attempt to hear what her friends were laughing about.
“After at least a bottle of wine Doctor” she laughed. “Can you believe it? I’m about as dextrous as an elephant on Mogadon at the best of times, and I stupidly tried to climb a fence while tipsy! Of course I fell off. I went arse-over-tit! And just look at my wrist – it’s buggered… absolutely buggered. I won’t be able to play bridge for weeks”.
There was much laughter and general mirth from all three clearly inebriated ladies as I carefully examined Sandra’s arm and showed my patient the obvious fracture on the Xray. “It’s called a Colles fracture” I explained to Sandra. “You’ve broken the distal part of your radius and ulna – the two bones of the lower arm – and the bones are quite displaced. I need to consult the Orthopaedic specialist, but I’m fairly certain you will need an operation to correct the alignment. I’ll place the wrist in a half-cast or backslab for now, which should help with the pain”.
I spoke to the Orthopaedic Registrar who reviewed the Xrays and confirmed my suspicion that Sandra would indeed require an operation to realign her broken bones. The Registrar booked theatre for the next day, and asked me to inform Sandra to fast from midnight in preparation for surgery.
I relayed this information to Sandra and her two friends and asked her to return to the hospital at 7am the next morning to be admitted for surgery. As I was about to offer Sandra some pain relief and end the consultation, my patient suddenly interjected:
“That’s all well and good young man” she said. “You’ve done a fine job with my arm – even though you don’t look nearly old enough to be a doctor – and I thank you for that. In fact, while you’ve been away, my friends and I have been chatting and we’re not entirely convinced you are a doctor. But whether you are or not, I can tell you one thing young man… I am not leaving this room tonight without you touching me again”.
“I beg your pard…”
“That’s right, you heard me”, Sandra interrupted. “I am categorically not leaving this hospital until you touch me again. I think it’s the least you can do after the day I’ve had”.
“You must be joking” I laughed uncertainly, unable to believe my ears.
“I’ve never been more serious about anything in my life” she replied firmly.
“For God’s sake, just take her blood pressure so we can all get home and get some sleep”, Sandra’s two friends chipped in.
Shaking my head in bewilderment, I relented and agreed to take Sandra’s blood pressure. To be honest, after the night I had been through, I was ready to do just about anything to get out of this wretched emergency department and get home as quickly as possible.
“Alright then, roll up your jumper sleeve and I’ll take your blood pressure” I relented.
“The sleeve’s too tight to roll up, I’ll just take the top off” I heard Sandra say as I turned to reach my stethoscope and the blood pressure cuff from the cubicle wall.
Turning back, I knew immediately that Sandra had taken her top off as she was now sitting, naked from the waist up, her left arm extended and waiting for the blood pressure cuff to be applied.
“This shift is quite honestly going to be the death of me” I thought, as Sandra declined a blanket or any form of cover and asked me to get on with it. I quickly applied the blood pressure cuff while Sandra friend’s giggled relentlessly and whispered furiously to each other. As I finished the blood pressure reading, assured Sandra that her readings were fine and encouraged her to get dressed, the two friends suddenly piped up.
“Doctor Ben, we’ve been talking. If Sandra’s having her blood pressure measured for no reason then so are we – we’re not giving her boasting rights for the next few months!” With that, and before I had the slightest chance to resist, both ladies took their tops off as well and held out their arms.
At that exact moment, there was a knock on the door and the Emergency Consultant opened it and stuck his head through the door.
“Sorry to interrupt Ben, I just had a quick qu…”. His voice tailed off as he took in the scene in the cubicle. Picture three elderly ladies, all sitting topless in front of me – none of them in the zenith of their physical or aesthetic peak – two of them extending their arms towards me provocatively and all now laughing uncontrollably, their saggy bosoms shaking wildly.
The Consultant gave me a look of utter bewilderment that itself spoke volumes. Feeling my face burn and turn a bright shade of red, I could only shake my head and shrug my shoulders as he shut the door, shouting “It can wait” behind him.
As one of Sandra’s friends, still obviously drunk, fell on to the floor (such was the vigour of her laughing) there was another knock on the cubicle door, before Maggie popped her head through.
“Sorry to bother you Ben, have you got Mrs. Smith’s file with you… Oh. My. God! You are unstoppable! We need to issue a warning before you see female patients”.
It was quite a night.
The events described above occurred extremely early in my medical career.
I am pleased to report, however, that six years later, my reputation as “every Grandmother’s dream” and my ability to charm elderly female patients remains intact.
Only last week I was locuming in a small hospital in country New South Wales, when a 78year old lady was brought in by ambulance in status asthmaticus – an acute, sudden-onset exacerbation of fulminant asthma symptoms that is usually not relieved by typical asthma treatments. Unable to speak at all on presentation, I worked on the patient and did not leave the bedside for over two hours, until finally she was stable enough for transfer to a nearby intensive care department.
As the lady slowly manoeuvred herself from the emergency trolley to the MICA ambulance bed that would transport her to ICU – that small exertion triggering a fit of uncontrollable coughing and wheezing – she grasped my hand and shook it, gave me a radiant smile, and summoning all her strength, word-by-word she slowly exhaled:
You’re absolutely gorgeous.
I feel like I’m on All Saints!”