Monday, July 30, 2007

The Writer Will See You Now

I transcribe Cardiology reports for a living. It is mostly a repetitious cycle of tests and jargon involving such terms as “hypertension, congestive heart failure, diabetes, obesity, and hyperlipidemia.” You would think that having these words drummed into my consciousness on a daily basis would make me change my ways, but on the contrary, I find myself consuming more caffeine, spending longer sedentary hours typing, consuming more salty snacks, and sometimes experiencing dizzying blood pressure spikes. It is not a glamorous job.

It occurs to me that the physician dictating is probably wealthy. Sometimes I picture his opulently appointed living room with its ruby walls and flat screen HD t.v. I see him brushing the cracker crumbs off the couch and shooing away his shitzu before sitting down with his files. And I wonder, does he do it because he wants to save lives or because he loves his extravagant lifestyle or has some other motivation? It surely must be the former, for judging from the amount of reports I transcribe, he has no life outside his profession, despite the background noise of “Dora the Explorer” and a toddler vying for his attention.

In some ways, he and I are the same. We deal in words. The words he speaks are life to someone else. To me, they are a measure of productivity and a means of payment. To him they are a means of evaluation and treatment, a plan for care. To the patient they are life and death—a measure of how many days they might or might not have. When I work, not only do I hear his words in my headphones, but I hear my inner voice. I see the patients sitting there in their paper gowns-anxious, listless and waiting. Waiting to be clothed with my words, my descriptions, my thoughts. Waiting for words to say from my pen and expressions to form in my mind. I give them the life I want them to have in my world, in my writing, in my stories.

Sometimes I see a wiry little man with glasses and suspenders and a coffee stain on his shirt—anxious, stubborn, and irritable. He is an immigrant with broken English and calloused hands. Other times, it is a jolly fat lady with flame-colored hair and a mole on her nose, relentlessly droning on about various myalgias and complaints—extending her heavy arm to be cuffed and squeezed, her blood pressure measured in millimeters of mercury. Her husband committed suicide last fall. Their entire medical history is encapsulated in the words this doctor says. They are reduced to a patient number, a date of service, and a medical format. But they are so much more.

As I type out their various diagnoses and treatment plans, their physical exams, their medical regimens, I map out in my mind their extensive family histories, which to the doctor may be a single statement: Family history of sudden cardiac death. I fill in these blanks in my mind, the story that the patient leaves unsaid, that he carries back to his home, a home I have decorated and painted, in the neighborhood I have constructed and landscaped. I write the reports that he gives to his family members, people my mind has given names and ages and quirks, personality traits, histories of their own.

My writing instinct kicks in as I birth colorful lives for them, some of unspeakable horror, others of bland domestic tranquility. Their stories are the stuff of my novels that I weave in the early morning hours. This report that I type is but a springboard for an entire profile to be filed away for future reference.

For although it is of great satisfaction to know I am doing the health professional a service, my motivations aren’t always altruistic, as you can tell. Sure, I wish the best for his patients. In the real world, I grieve with him as he dictates a letter of sympathy, regretting that nothing more can be done. And I am grateful that I am only the one to type the words, and not the one who has to say them.

But please do not crucify me if in my fictional world, some of them struggle to survive. Some of them face poverty and heartache and loss. Some of them are murderers, rapists, lawyers, bankers, housewives and cheating husbands with secrets. Sometimes, after all we put them through, “our” patients are just grateful to get out with their lives. And so, I must return to them, dear friends. There is an entire waiting room waiting to be seen and many, many pages to be filled about them. In both our worlds.


Diane said...


What a great post....yes, our lives are interconnected...and this is a stunning illustration of how, if we simply dig deep, we can find the heart strings. I love this post!

I am so glad that our heartstings found a connection that is very real in spite of distance and 'knowing.' Thanks for your continued prayers for us as we walk through this answer to prayer! We are on Day Two of the assessment--I wonder, in fact, who is transcribing the notes that are being taken for our son!!!!! Tomorrow is Day Three and then, on Thursday, we will meet with the Staff and hear the Treatment recommendation. I wonder if the transcriber is a praying woman???? Interesting thoughts!


C. H. Green said...

I do believe the Lord can work through prayers the person does not even know has been prayed for him. I often pray for patients I am transcribing. I am praying that these assessments will bring to light a path of treatment that will be the answer your family needs. Love ya girl!

C. H. Green said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
BabyGirl said...

Very interesting and insightful post! I often wonder when visiting the doctors office if ANYONE really listens and your post has proven that indeed a few do.

in case no one has told you:
thank you for listening and praying for the ones that otherwise might not be heard.