Wednesday, January 27, 2010

ThePeach writes things; kills self


I haven't slept since Saturday, I spent the last 3 days straight in the radio room making a documentary, I'm out of printer toner, all I eat is crap cafeteria $8 salads, and I want to kill myself.

That said, I haven't updated in a while. So here's some shit I wrote. A profile. Names changed.

Oh hey I just ran out of time to shower. This is not a life, people.



The woman’s wrist is swollen, red and bent to the side. A small bump of bone pushes under the tight skin like a hill.

Dr. B.W. gently holds her elbow and tells his junior resident, Dr. M.H., to grab her fingers.

“Your only job is to tell us if you’re in any pain,” W. says to the grey-haired woman lying on the gurney.

And then he nods at H. and the two of them start to pull hard in opposite directions. W. lunges to the side, putting all of his weight into pulling this woman’s elbow. At the same time he runs one hand up and down her arm, feeling the bones move, guiding them back together. Finally he tells H. to grab the gauze and the strips of plaster.

She’s ready for her cast.

It’s 7 p.m., 12 hours since W.’ shift started.

W., 34, is an orthopedic surgery resident at the CapitalCity Hospital’s Civic Campus. He’s in his third year of residence, seven years into medicine, and two years away from a permanent staff position. At this stage in his career W. is a work-horse, pulling overnight shifts on top of day shifts, barely eating, rarely sleeping, and learning from his seniors while teaching his juniors.

He’s a middle-man, a resident but not an attending physician, a doctor but not a certified specialist, both a student and a teacher.

And as of tonight W. has worked 15 days back-to-back.

Long hours and juggling multiple roles can subject hospital staff to “unsustainable” levels of stress and burnout, researchers at CapitalCity University say. In a study released earlier this month, they warned that health care workers can suffer poor physical and mental health, conflict between family and work lives, and declining personal relationships. The study confirms that health-care workers are among the most stressed, overwhelmed and burned-out workers in the country.

But W. smiles and cracks jokes as he tenderly wraps the woman’s wrist with wet strips of plaster. The woman smiles back as W. runs his hands up and down the wet cast. He dips his hands in warm water and shapes the plaster like he’s molding a vase on a pottery wheel.

“I just accept this is how my life is going to be for the next few years,” W. says as he examines the woman’s X-rays half an hour later. His hands are caked in plaster and his shoes are stained with blood.

“It’s part of the price we pay for this short period of training.”

He runs his index finger over the white bones on the lit screen, the wrist now firmly encased in a plaster cast.

“See how the radius curves into the scaphoid?” he says to H..

“It looks good. We can send her home.”

His pager beeps. Someone else has broken a bone.

W.’ life is bones – realigning them, splinting them, sometimes removing them. He pores over their images, looking for cracks and bends in what should be smooth and straight. He snaps photos of some of the more traumatic X-rays and takes them home to examine them again and again – over dinner, while he studies, before he goes to sleep.

Tonight in the resident library he takes a photo of a spine snapped in two, the top piece overlapping with the bottom thanks to a skiing accident this afternoon.

The patient is only 34 years old. The same age as W..

“He’s paralyzed,” W. says as he frames the X-ray in the screen of his iPhone. He clicks the capture button.

“Poor bastard.”

W. admits he doesn’t have much of a life outside of work. He usually wakes up at 5:30 in the morning, skips breakfast and is in the hospital an hour later. He might eat a peanut butter sandwich for lunch if he has time. If he doesn’t have to work overnight then he cooks himself a light dinner in his bachelor apartment on Preston Street. He lives alone despite the nurses’ best intentions to set him up with eligible women.

“Relationships have come and gone and not all of them have understood,” W. says.

“It’s difficult when people aren’t used to the lifestyle we have or haven’t really seen it before other than on TV. They find it a bit of a shock.”

But his family and friends are supportive, W. says. He grins and says sometimes he has time to meet his friends at a pub to watch football, but only on his rare days off.

His mother and three younger siblings live in the city and they get together for dinner whenever they can. He says he’s always been close with his family – closer since his father died this summer after a long illness.

His pager beeps and W. strides out the door, back towards the emergency room.

H., W.’ junior resident, says W. doesn’t seem to let the stress of the job get to him.

“B. is consistently calm, cool and relaxed,” H. says of his mentor.

He adds that W.’ patients warm up to him very easily.

A few minutes later W. wraps a shoulder sling around a woman in her seventies whose tissue-paper skin hardly covers her bones. W. jokes that she gets a special sling because she’s a special patient. She bats her eyelashes.

At 9 p.m. W. has a few minutes between cases. He hurries down the carpeted hallway of the main floor in search of dinner and, more importantly, coffee. He walks briskly in his blue scrubs, eyes focused on the turn that will lead him to the Second Cup stand. He rounds the corner.


“One thing I would change about the hospitals in Ottawa,” W. says as he turns around and hurries back toward the cafeteria, “is that there are no all night coffee shops.”

“But at least I can get a crappy cafeteria coffee. Maybe some food.”

He rounds the corner.


W. chuckles and pulls a protein bar out of his shoulder bag. He tears the wrapper and pops one chocolaty end into his mouth.

“I guess tonight this is my dinner.”

Before he was a bone man, W. was a muscle man. He worked as a personal trainer for three years. He says he still goes to the gym as often as he can, but not as much as he’d like. The health of his own body is important to him. He knows he needs to eat more, get out more and rest more.

“If I saw myself as a patient I would certainly tell myself to get more sleep,” W. says as he chews.

“But it’s just not possible right now.”

His pager beeps. W. quickly swallows another bite and hurries toward the emergency room.

There are more bones to be set.


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Anonymous said...

FYI, there is one spot where you left the name of the city in, where W. criticizes the one thing he doesn't like about the hospitals in Capital City.