The Storyteller and the Stethoscope: I Want My Baby Back

She means business. As soon as the young man in the white coat calls her name (”Stacy R.?”), she jumps out of her seat and instinctively leads the way back to the clinic. She suddenly realizes that she’s walking ahead and turns back to make sure she’s walking in the right direction. “This way, right?” “Yes, Ma’am!”

The young man introduces himself and a young woman in a white coat as medical students: he explains their roles, and assures her that the attending physician will be arriving soon. As soon as the first student pulls out his pen, Stacy launches into a rapid-fire recall of her chief complaints and history: she’s a young, recovering heroin addict with an annoyingly itchy (fungal) infection on both feet, among a laundry list other complaints. She’s a mother of one but divorced. She’s also a war veteran: honorably discharged for medical reasons. As the first student is frantically jotting down the details, she continues on with the real kicker: an accident during the war left her unconscious, and when she woke up, she was amnesiac and couldn’t recognize her own family. Her husband promptly divorced her and took their five-year-old daughter with him, and when she finally regained her memory some time later, she plunged from her straight-shooter life into despair and drugs. Now, a year later, she’s trying to get back on her feet again, with a promise from the courts that if she cleans up her act, she can have her daughter back.

Having told her story and seemingly inspired some empathy and eagerness to help, she’s happy enough to put up with the students’ double-examination. “Do her radial pulses feel weak to you?” the male student asks. “Heh, they’re fine,” his more experienced partner replies. “The four heart sounds sound good, but what’s the one that sounds like ‘Kentucky’ again? S3, right? I thought I heard one.” “Nope, her heart sounds good to me,” she says.

Eventually, the students finish their examination and present the case to the attending physician. “Do you believe this story? What sort of husband leaves his wife like that? Don’t get me wrong, she might be telling the truth. Maybe I’ve just been in this business too long,” she says. The first student replies, “Eh. I haven’t been in this business long enough.” They go in to see Stacy again, and the attending interviews her: her story checks out exactly as the students described it. The physician counsels her to address the issues one at a time: she’s still early in the detoxification and rehabilitation process, and there will be plenty of time to address the less immediate issues during subsequent appointments. Stacy is eager to have everything sorted out at once: she doesn’t want to waste time getting her life back on track. Nonetheless, she defers to the doctor’s recommendations and goes home with topical cream for the fungal infection. On the bus ride, she repeatedly thinks to herself to keep her eyes on her goal: I want my baby back.

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