Journal entry: October 15, 2007 (age 38) — Playing Doctor
“Did you ever see that episode of Seinfeld where Kramer and Mickey get hired to pretend they have various ailments so that medical students can practice their skills?” That’s how I usually describe a part-time job I’ve had for the past couple of years. Officially, I am an assistant instructor for SUNY Upstate Medical University’s Clinical Campus. Unofficially, I fake sick like a procrastinator on book report day.
Tonight, I attended a training session with my fellow “standardized patients.” They’re a fun group, and many of them are fellow actors. In fact, I was hired after co-starring in stage production with the program’s coordinator, Denise Smith. Denise is the nicest boss on the planet, and she showed it tonight by putting out the usual great spread of casseroles, salads, and desserts for all of us.
The sometimes dry training material was enlivened by tonight’s presenter, Camille Muscatello, who can only be described as a hoot-and-a-half. After her talk, we filled our plates and started talking shop (musing medical?). My friend, Jennifer Smith (no relation to Denise), laughed about having to portray a “seductive patient” who progresses from subtly hitting on the doctor to over-the-head-baton-hitting on the doctor. A few of the medical students haven’t understood that she’s just playing a role, and have given her the old fish-eye afterwards. One even accepted Jennifer’s fictional offer to “go rollerblading sometime.” On the other end of the spectrum, one bashful young man literally ran from the room when she playfully straightened his necktie.
In a less enjoyable twist on Jennifer’s experience, I have had medical students remember ailments that I portrayed months ago, and bring them up when I am playing a completely different character with completely different symptoms. This forces me to say something awkward like, “Is a complete sexual history really relevant, Doctor? I just have a stomach ache.” Some are unable to let go of the idea that I am the pansexual, migrant pencil salesman with a mysterious rash who I portrayed last spring. They move on only after exhausting their list of questions to determine whether I have been using pencil-sharpener shavings as inhalants. Their apparent mental blending of me and my roles makes me worry that one of them will see me on the street and say to their friends, “Hey, there’s that guy I told you about – the one with a goiter shaped like the Crab Nebula!”
Then there’s the winner by far in the “Most Awkward Medical Encounter with a Student Physician” category. That goes to a female colleague who wishes to remain anonymous. The story she related tonight was extremely funny, but also hugely creepy. During a practice physical, a male student was about to listen to her heart with a stethoscope. As he walked toward her, he muttered, not quite under his breath, “This is my favorite part…”