It doesn’t escape me that compared to other jobs, mine is relatively free from any type of gore or graphic images. As an educator, the most squeamish incidents I’ve come across are a bloody nose or a child urinating themselves. I taught in very challenging areas, where students wore wearing ankle monitors, had babies, were arrested. I’ve dealt with excessive absences, gang violence, a loss of a parent or close family member. There are some other teachers who have personally experienced loss of a student. In all my 14 years in education, I haven’t lost students. In many ways, I am thankful for this. And I count my blessings that the most gore I’ve witnessed involved a nose and a trip to the bathroom, not the emergency room.
Today, while I was at the hospital getting a sigmoidoscopy, I thought about the decision one makes about their job. When I first thought about being a teacher, I was motivated by the heart warming images of me in my classroom. I thought about me delivering an inspirational lecture, a student thanking me for teaching them a new skill, a shiny apple on my desk, a potluck of international food as the students talked about literature from all around the world. The traumatizing implications associated with my job came much much later; I was too preoccupied with relishing in the pleasant and charming aspects of my future job. I suppose this is the same for most people. A budding lawyer thinks about the innocent lives she’ll represent, a gardener imagines a lawn filled with vibrant plants and flowers she’ll curate, a chef fantasizes the different dishes and flavor profiles she’ll conjure. I’m sure these professionals later considered the gruesome parts of their job- bloody crime scenes, wet slimy mud, decayed and molded fruits and vegetables.
As my doctor entered my rectum with a probe (sorry for the graphic image and TMI), I thought about his decision for this occupation. All day he inserts his finger and squeezes a camera in a stranger’s hole that is meant for exit, not enter. He inspects colons filled with stool and waste, probably altering his sense of smell vision. As a patient, I laid on my left side of the bed and for about 15 minutes watched a monitor as a video of inside my colon appeared and will probably burn in my mind for a very, very, very long time. I know fecal matter is normal and everyone is literally filled with shit, but seeing it on a screen and having a doctor navigate his way so casually in me left me to wonder his motivation for starting this very unique occupation.
I am not making any judgements or ridiculing him for his chosen profession. I actually find it admirable. Although I can’t equate it to teaching or gardening- jobs usually associated with beautiful moments, I can say that being a physician who specializes in performing sigmoidoscopes requires not only highly trained skill sets but also requires patience and humanity. Obviously he thought about the gore before taking on the job and he could have easily reconsidered. Yet despite the uncomfortable procedure, I did feel safe and somewhat relaxed. He talked me through the entire procedure, explaining what to expect and how much time he needed. His assistant asked me several times how I was doing while she patted my leg for comfort. They encouraged me to breath in and out at they inspected a part of my body no one has ever seen. In the end, he was able to find what was giving me discomfort, why my general doctor requested the procedure, why I needed to be seen in the first place. He took a biopsy and swiftly normalized the situation trying to alleviate any worry, even though it’s always concerning when you hear words like abnormal, cells, and possibly a more aggressive procedure- colonoscopy. The room was sterile, the florescent lights were burning, the cold air was unrelenting. But the doctor provided comfort in the most unusual circumstance. He was kind, thorough and sympathetic. Perhaps that’s the image Doctor Tsang considered before taking on this profession: he wanted to make the absolute best of a very shitty situation.