My father is a cardiac anesthesiologist, which means two things:
1- I grew up hearing about ECHOs, intubation, and heart failure during dinner.
2- I can spell cardiac anesthesiologist right on the first try. SUCK IT, AUTOCORRECT.
I’ve been telling people for years that I’m “conversational in doctor.” Meeting my The Wife only increased my opportunities to nod understandingly about hypertension, febrile seizures, and immunodeficiency. And then there were all the fun phrases I learned from the other three doctors on her side of the family.
So here I am, conversational in doctor. The old lingua physica, if you will. Very proud of it, too. Because it was the only thing that allowed me to keep up with the on-call neonatologist* at 5:30 in the morning, on no sleep, while my four-hour old son lay nearby with tubes coming out of his nose.
I understood the tests she was naming. I understood the procedures they had performed already. I understood that they thought there might be something on his lungs, but in fact there wasn’t, and this was a good thing. And I understood that their next course of action would be to push a particular drug that was often useful in such cases.
And in that moment I also understood something else: the importance of context.
Because while I know what all those words mean, I didn’t know what a single one of them meant.
If the current diagnoses turned out to be wrong, what was the next thing to look for? If the drug she was suggesting didn’t work, what was plan B? Exactly how terrified, on a scale of one to shit-my-pants-where-I-stand, should I be right now?
I got the answer to the two last questions simultaneously, when she began explaining the drug almost always worked, but “…in autopsies you’ll see if it didn’t it’s because of a mutation in the lung we couldn’t have known was there.”
Autopsies? Who said anything about autopsies? I didn’t say anything about autopsies. Why are you talking about autopsies? Stop. Talking. About autopsies. Rightthefucknow. Thank you.
I tried to ask questions, but I couldn’t seem to make my brain work. I felt many things at this moment. Absolute fatigue, for starters. A sort of dull fear that I didn’t have time for right then but would examine at my leisure later. A strong desire for my The Wife, lying in a hospital bed two floors above in the CICU**, where she couldn’t help me to understand any of this.
And above all a sharp, shocking clarity of just how little I knew about a language and world I thought I understood.
“I’m not a doctor, I just talk to them at my spouse’s office parties.”
*I did have to look up how to spell that one. I’m not a wizard.
**Cardiovascular Intensive Care Unit. I soloed that one, too.