Friday, November 13, 2009

My Estrogen Lifeboat

This is a picture of my partner Michelle at her wedding last summer. She is amazingly beautiful, isn't she? Her husband's quite a looker too, and he has a wonderful singing voice that brings down a house every Sunday. I've been invited, and am plotting a time to take Sicily.

She's my estrogen lifeboat - that's how I think of her when we bump into each other in the doctor's lounge once in a blue moon. She's usually picking out the best looking apple while I'm over in the corner drudging oil from the coffee machine, contemplating whether or not I could just hook up an IV bag to get my much needed caffeine in quicker. That's why she looks like that, and I look like me.

She is probably one of the people I laugh with the most on this planet. I grabbed this photo from the publication Weddings In Arkansas a while ago - I think of blogs all the time about her, but they pile up so much in my head that I get overwhelmed and blocked. When I read her piece in the magazine, I thought it was funny and mentioned it to her.

"Michelle, this looks great, but it's kind of odd, don't you think?"

"What do you mean?"

"Well, y'all are the only black couple featured. You're sandwiched in by all of these boring, traditional white yuppie couples."

She laughed. I love her laugh. "I am so glad you are comfortable enough to say that to me, and not worry that I would take it wrong."

One day she brought me a case, for consultation.

"I need to send this to Dr. Styles, but I'm embarrassed to. Could you just look at it? It's a rectal polyp. I know it is benign, and I should be able to put a name to it, but I just can't." She walked out of my office.

I put the slide under my scope and looked. My mind was blown away. Rectal polyp? What the heck was this? Yes, it did look benign, but those glands are so fluffy! And the stroma is so jazzy! I got more bogged down and started to pull out a book, but Michelle reappeared at my door.

"Um, never mind about the consult. Can I have that slide back?"

I looked up, confused. "Are you sure? I still haven't figured it out."

"It's OK, please, just give it back to me. Don't worry about it."

As she started walking down the hall, my mind snapped into place and it all made sense. The requisitions must have been mixed up. It happens all the time. Paperwork gets shuffled into the wrong order in histology, and we get confused. I yelled down the hall, "Michelle!"


"Was that endometrium?"

We laughed so hard we cried.

On another day, I brought her a case. It was a breast. I told her, "I know this is benign, but I can't put a name to it. It doesn't quite look like a fibroadenoma (common benign female breast tumor), but it's not one of those other weird ones either. I'm going to lunch. Help."

When I came back, the case was on my desk, and she had circled the gender. Male. DUH! Of course. It was just gynecomastia. We so rarely get male breasts, compared to female, that I had forgotten to look and assumed the wrong gender, wreaking havoc with the diagnostic reference atlas in my brain. I sheepishly went to her office to thank her, and she waved me off and laughed. "Not something I haven't done before!"

Anyway, I was thinking about her, because she came back from D.C. today, and came into my office. She complimented me, on my outfit, and I became horribly flustered. Physiologically unglued. The compliment was sweet and friendly and heartfelt. I called myself out, because I didn't want her to leave, I wanted to catch up. "I'm flustered. I'm not sure why. Stay here. It will go away in a minute." She said, "I hope you don't think I'm a lesbian. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but I'm as straight as 6:00." I laughed, "No no, of course not, it's just me. I have a problem with compliments. Especially when they catch me unawares."

"Oh yeah, I remember that time I whistled about your legs in front of the office staff and you got so embarrassed."

"Yeah, and the time Brian complimented me on my article in front of everyone and I had to run into my office and close the door for a while. I don't know why I do that. But trust me. It's me. I'm weird. Not you. Promise me you will only ever say bad things about me. If you have something good to say, do it over the phone. I promise I won't think you're a lesbian. I'm not either. Not that there's anything wrong with that." So funny, the how we always couch our words to be politically correct. One of us would probably have to be a lesbian, in order for us to feel comfortable enough not to say that.

Now that I've introduced her, I can start slowly leaking out stories. Some of them are really funny.

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