THE ANTIBODY: A super short story series. Teeny-tiny anti-anxiety laughs for tough times.
2 minute read:
“So, Dr. Seale, what do you think we should do for Mr. Wheeler?” asked the attending surgeon as he looked at Lauren expectantly.
She took a deep breath before responding, “I think we’ll need to amputate his toe.”
“Yes, I agree!” the attending responded. “Let the patient know, and we’ll get him into surgery tomorrow.”
Lauren was a first year resident on a Plastic Surgery rotation when she met Mr. Wheeler: a 63 year old dark-skinned male with a bald head that reflected the light above his hospital bed. He wore glasses over his kind eyes and had a wide, easy smile that filled the room. Lauren was pleasantly surprised to meet him, as she had a rather poor history with patients and feet issues. *Insert mental flashback to medical school when a very difficult diabetic patient demanded foot massages from her every day on rounds.* *Insert cringe.*
Mr. Wheeler was overweight with diabetes, which had caused him to lose sensation in his feet over the years. Unfortunately, the lack of sensation in his feet had led to an injury of his right big toe and a resultant bone infection that wasn’t resolving with antibiotics. When Lauren informed him that he would need his toe cut off to prevent the spread of infection, he nodded and said he understood. He was clearly sad, but said he was ready to do whatever needed to be done.
The morning after the operation, the surgical team stopped by Mr. Wheeler’s room during rounds. Lauren began by updating the team about the pain medications the patient needed overnight, and how he was feeling. When she pulled back the bedsheets and removed the bandages so the team could examine the wound, the patient made a short snorting noise.
“Everything OK, Mr. Wheeler?” she asked before continuing to examine him.
Turning towards Lauren, he slid his rimless glasses down towards the tip of his nose and looked over them into her eyes. “I got Hebrew Israelite feet,” he said with a straight face.
“Sir… excuse me? What did you say?”
“You know,” he said, gesturing towards his right foot for emphasis. “Like the way them folks feet be lookin’ in them Bible movies? Like when they wear the sandals and play like Israelites?? THAT’s how my feet lookin’.”
Don’t laugh girl, keep it inside… KEEP IT INSIDE… Lauren couldn’t help herself. She burst into laughter as the rest of the medical team struggled to keep theirs’ in. Once the patient’s serious face broke into a grin, the rest of the team followed suit, and every one in the room began to cackle. It was the type of group laughter that initially started because of the joke but continued as everyone became increasingly tickled by the sounds of each others’ laughter until… it finally devolved into a gut-wrenching, knee-slapping, gotta-hold-back-tears laughing session.
As they walked out of the room to see the next patient, Lauren had Mr. Wheeler on her mind. He had lost a body part…and certainly deserved a fair dose of self-pity right now. However, instead of simply feeling sad, he had decided to use humor as his coping mechanism. That fact gave her hope that maybe, he would be OK.
Written by Dr. Oye based on a chat with Lauren Seale, MD, a Dermatology resident at Henry Ford. Follow her on Instagram at @1laurenrenee !