Wednesday, December 1, 2010


According to the referral letter, she’s 27. She has vague (but strong) abdominal pain, has been on painkillers but hasn’t had many investigations. The gastroenterologist isn’t really sure why she’s coming to see him. She looks about 50 as she trudges in wheeling a pram. Another lady who is not introduced (sister, maybe?) wheels in a second pram.

The two children have open, bleeding sores on their skin. One has fistfuls of Vegemite crusts which she greedily pushes into her mouth. As I watch she picks at a scab on her hand until it too is bleeding.

The gastroenterologist asks the patient for her weight. She hands me her coffee, “hold this for a minute” and jumps on the scales. I can feel my skin crawl, and I know it is beginning to blister and break out into sores. Gulping, I try not to look down, I just imagine the sores spreading from the coffee mug all the way up my arm.

I am infected and I know it, it’s probably the plague, but I ignore my deepest instincts and do not amputate my own arm. In fact, it’s not until the patient stands up to leave that I slather my hands and arms in alcohol handwash. It might be too late.

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