You all remember my Stories from the War(ds) series I was writing about my internal medicine clerkship?? (No, go read it!) But I’ve been meaning to start a new one about my family medicine clerkship forever (in fact most of the notes for his piece were journaled about more than three weeks ago!!). I just haven’t had the chance to get to it!
BUT the wait is over!! Soooo I’d like to introduce you to the continuing series of “LadyKay writes about medicine” posts!
Essays from the Exam Room
We all talk about small-towns the same way in America: a haven for diners with blue-plate specials and a church on every street corner. We fill our writing and our conversations about small town life with well-worn clichés, as though small town life was somehow simpler, quainter than the rest of the world. We, as writers, have by some unspoken agreement, decided to populate all literature about small towns with what was best summed up by Lou Reed of the Velvet Underground: “There’s only one good thing about a small town—you know that you want to get out”.
I’ll do my best to not fall into any of the traps of talking about small-town America in this piece.
Forgive me if I fail.
The one thing I will say about small towns is they are an incredible place for stories. Have you ever noticed how many novels are set in small towns? Mark Twain, Carson McCullers, James Herriot and even some of William Faulkner (Absalom, Absalom! anyone?). Perhaps it’s the small size of the stage that makes these stories seem so large.
The drama of a small story seemingly larger without the backdrop of a million other stories.
After the strange uncharted land of internal medicine, switching to family medicine is…familiar. Family medicine is the type of medicine most of us have the greatest experience with in our own lives. For healthy people, a family med doc is your PCP, the jack-of-all-trades who did a little of all the kinds of medicine you needed. They’re the ones who did your injections for school at age 5, the ones who diagnosed you with strep throat or mono. FM practitioners are the doctors who manage your father’s hypertension or your grandmother’s diabetes. Sometimes they’re the ones who do your prenatal visit, talk you through how to quit smoking, or are the first ones to say to you “it might be depression”.
This family medicine clinic is fairly generic. We’ve all seen a hundred like it—young women in butterfly scrubs at the front desk checking in patients, the same beads on a wire toys on the floor, and a stack of magazines many months out of date in the waiting room. The clinic rooms are nondescript, with walls covered in posters on smoking cessation and vaccination schedules. Cabinets with child safety locks sit in the corners, crammed with alcohol swabs and one-use speculums. Every surface is piled with informational flyers about diabetes, arthritis, hypertension.
The people, on the other hand, are far from generic.