I remember Mommy taking me to the Donaldson Air Force Base Clinic in Greenville, South Carolina. Must have been 1960 or so. Remember walking down those long wooden hallways of those clapboard military buildings, connected end-to-end. The walk was like an eternity. The “Green Mile.” Last steps before the gallows. Remember that clinical smell of rubbing alcohol. Remember the dread.
Would I get a shot today? Would they take blood? A needle in the arm?
“Please, Mommy, don’t let them do that.”
I thought it…. but I don’t think I said it.
I remember my family doctor’s office. Same smell. Sounds of people crying out sometimes in other rooms. “What was happening to them?… Was he going to hurt me?”
He was actually very kind. His voice was soft. His hands were warm… but he poked on me. Touched me in places that were a little embarrassing.
Remember that day in kindergarten when, being chased by a girl, I tripped on a tree root, fell, landed on my chin on the front wheel of the locomotive playhouse and cut it deep. Didn’t cry until Mommy came to get me and told me I was on my way to get stitches.
Remember being put to sleep with ether for my tonsillectomy. I wasn’t scared until they covered my eyes. It terrified me, because I was thinking that they thought that I was reaching up because the ether sprinkled on the sieve over my face was irritating. I was really just trying to point to something and ask a question. Which, of course leads to:
What were those tubes in the cabinet? What were those instruments hanging on the wall? And why wouldn’t anyone tell me what those funny stirrups were at the end of the exam table?
Not that I’m a fan of Freud and secular psychology/psychiatry… but I do think he originated the concept (the actual term was coined by another) that sums up one of the primeval reasons I went into medicine…. “Reaction Formation”.
That’s a so-called “defense mechanism” consisting of going straight at that thing that scares or offends you the most.
I guess that’s why I want to make medicine a little less scary for my folks. And explain a few things about what made this doctor along the way.