A commotion from the waiting room. Raised voices, female voices, one shrieking, another, less frantic, also raised.
The frantic voice cries: Get him something for the pain. He’s in terrible pain. Get a doctor, he’s in pain.
Please don’t scream. Try to be calm. I’ll go and call the doctor… Here’s the doctor now.
The man who is in terrible pain lifts his hands,which are bleeding. Tall, in his mid-twenties, he has a scar that runs obliquely upward from his lower lip to the left hand corner of his upper lip. His eyes look yellowish. He bleeds from transverse lacerations on the backs of his hands. Both hands.
In the treatment room the wounds are swiftly cleansed and anaesthetized. The man’s companion leans over the doctor’s shoulders squawking, He’s in terrible pain. Give him something for the pain!
By this stage the doctor is busily suturing the numbed skin. The lacerations are jagged, roughly parallel, two on each hand.
The young man’s companion is tall and thin, younger than he, agitated and relentlessly noisy.
The doctor looks up from his suturing, engages his patient’s gaze, asks confidentially, What happened?
Punched the windows. Both hands.
The doctor looks over his shoulder towards the injured man’s companion, still highly audible. He raises an eyebrow, asks: Was there a disagreement?
Bloody oath! It was her or the windows. I punched the windows.
The doctor thinks – wrong choice.
The young man’s skin is tough. It resists the doctor’s pressing needle. The doctor pushes harder, the skin abruptly gives way and the needle penetrates the doctor’s left index tip.
He pulls off his glove, washes the finger vigorously, asks over his shoulder – You’re not using any drugs are you?
Nah… hardly anything. Not now.
Are you injecting?
Nah. Not since I was inside.
The doctor scrubs harder.
The man adds: Look, you don’t need to worry. I haven’t got HIV. They test you before you leave.
The doctor looks unconvinced.
Look Doc, I’m clean. The only thing I’ve got is Hep C.
The doctor surveys the man’s hands: three lacerations down, one to go.
He asks the nurse for a syringe and a test tube, he draws blood from the wound, fills out a pathology slip, and sends the man’s blood for serological testing for a range of blood-borne infections.
In defiance of the law he does not seek consent from the patient. He scrubs again, re-gloves and resumes his suturing. He speaks: I’m testing your blood. I’ll give you the results when you come back to get the stitches out.
The wounds look tidy now, four curving rows of small black bows sit pretty as a flower bed against the thin red lines of closed lacerations.
The man and his lady friend leave without paying.
Only now does the doctor read the patient’s surname on the chart. He recognizes the name: he used to treat the man when he was a small child. His battling single mum did her best with the children. The sister turned out alright. Until today the doctor had lost track of the son.
The doctor sends off his own blood and learns that he has no antibodies against HIV, Hepatitis B, Hep C or syphilis. His patient does indeed have Hepatitis C. Now the doctor must wait three months to discover whether he has caught the incurable – and at this time, largely untreatable – liver virus.
The man who had cut hands never returns.
In the course of those months the doctor spends a lot of time in meditation.
The man who had cut hands was born in July 1972. Same month as my daughter.
He wonders about the birth of the young man. Who delivered him? He asks his friend and celebrated senior partner, Dr. Donald Cordner: I met Rodney Blank the other day. I knew him as a kid. Did you deliver him?
Yes, I did… his sister too. What became of them?
The younger doctor fills him in. Then asks, You do believe in preventative medicine, don’t you Donald?
You know I do. What are you getting at, Howard?
Well I was just thinking – you could have saved lot of people a lot of trouble if you’d drowned him at birth.