Once upon a time a lady doctor had to have her privates rifled about with by a gowned and masked male doctor.
He was grey and bearded, not at all her type. She shivered naked under the thin cotton gown, though it really wasn’t cold.
She apologised profusely for the shaking and her silly nerves.
She felt the cold rush of the flush through the cannula; saw the nod of one anaesthetist to the next – and understood their meaning. She was grateful for their generous dosing. On this morning’s work lay much hope. Hope for different future. Hope for sealing a longed-for dream.
It wasn’t to be this time.
Or the next two, three or four times.
I will never forget the vulnerability I felt that day. The powerlessness of my will over those shivers. The nausea rising, the fear of vomiting while sedated. The dissonance – feeling so familiar in that place and yet so wrong to be on that side of the gown.
When I walked away from it all, finally empty of tears, I crossed a line drawn by my own body. How many gowns thrown in the laundry? The mocking sharps bin that sat full in the drawer for more than a year until I could bear to dispose of it.
Marching on through the baby checks, the antenatal visits, and TOP referrals.
Swallowing my longing, crashing through the waves of grief, getting back into my boat each time they capsized me.
Last week I sat with someone else as her own tears fell, and whispered that there’s nothing else she needs to do. I didn’t know if I might cry or hug her as she explained how awful those drugs make you feel. Just whispered: ‘I know.’
And in a moment something passed between us, her tears fully flowing, my eyes not daring to blink in case.
Something sounded from different ends of this road. Something from her calling me back to remember my pain and honour it. And from me calling her on, to feel it fully now, and then to come beyond it.
Dr Carrie Ross is a GP in south-east London
This was the second-placed entry in Pulse’s 2018 writing competition ‘Turning Tables’. Click here to read a selection of the entries