August 30, 2013

Eulogy for a gentle man

In memoriam for Walter Leo Harrison, III.  June 15, 1957 -- August 22, 2013.  Delivered at his funeral on August 26, 2013.

Our family is a game-playing family.  Holidays are marked not only by excessive pie intake but also by highly competitive board games.  Particular favorites for us are Scrabble and Trivial Pursuit.

When we kids were little, we would play Scrabble with Gammy, who taught us the rules and schooled us with obscure words from her crossword habit.  But when we grew up enough to have a decent vocabulary, we graduated to the blood sport that took place between Gammy, Uncle Leo, and the other adults.  I never knew Scrabble could be so strategic until I played on Uncle Leo's team a few times.  We would turn away from the table and he would confide his plan, six moves ahead of the board, just like a chess grand master.

Trivial Pursuit was another favorite, and no one could beat Uncle Leo.  His encyclopedic knowledge of American and European military history was formidable, and was only rivaled by his equally great knowledge of literature, sports, and geography.  He might have had an age advantage, since we played with the version that still used USSR as a correct answer, but overall it was his huge stores of diverse trivia that gave him a win game after game.

Despite a bloodthirsty approach to his honor on the family board game circuit, I don't think I have ever known a man who was so gentle-hearted toward everyone.  You only had to see him cradle one of his puppies or his granddaughters in his arms to see how much he cared for them.  You only had to be on the receiving end of his hospitality once to see how much he enjoyed gathering people together for celebrations.

He had a razor-sharp wit but he was always playful with it, never malicious.  He would come out of nowhere with a quick jab and temper it with a grin that made you laugh in spite of yourself.

The last time I spoke to Uncle Leo, he was in the car with his friend Rachel on their way to a shoot.  We were talking about having a family party for GrandDad's birthday this coming weekend.  I mentioned to him that I had stopped being a vegetarian and he wouldn't have to worry about cooking anything weird for me.  He countered by asking if I was eating big animals, or only the small ones?  I laughed and told him I was eating all sizes of animals.  Rachel tells me that after he hung up the phone, he couldn't stop laughing about giving me a hard time.

When I remember Uncle Leo, this is what I will remember.  He was kind and generous.  He was smart and witty and always good for a game, whether it was cards or board games or wordplay.  And he never let anyone he loved want for anything if it was in his power to give it.

He has left a giant hole in our family, and he will be dearly missed.

August 19, 2013

A Girl in Urology Clinic

"I can't believe I'm doing this in front of a lady!" said the patient, looking away as he shrugged his shorts halfway down his thighs. He was here for a vasectomy consult, and the attending grasped his testes, feeling for masses but more importantly finding the vas deferens on each side. The easier they are to feel, the easier the procedure would be when the day came.

For the first time, I felt a twinge of sympathy for my male classmates. Surely, on OB/GYN, they must have been made to feel the same way. The male gaze in the gynecology exam room is often an uncomfortable one; the discussions are private, and when the doctor and patient are both female, there is a shared kindred experience that underlies the history-taking and examination.

Likewise, I felt distinctly out of my element here. My experience with male body parts is limited to the bedroom and these few clinic visits, rather than a knowledge of my personal anatomy. There seemed to be unspoken understanding between the physician and his patient; rapport here seems to be a consistently uphill battle for me, rather than the natural thing it is with female patients.

If this had been a medicine clinic, I doubt I would feel this way; I have had male patients before, but the genitourinary exam is a whole other ballgame (ugh, pun not intended). If you consider the exam objectively, it makes sense that opposite-sex exams are generally more uncomfortable. However heteronormative it might be to say so, the specter of desire--however remote, unlikely, or unrequited--makes my examinations in the urology clinic uncomfortable.

Clearly, not all women feel this way. Several of the attendings here are female, as are most of the mid-level practitioners. Interestingly, one of them said to me, "Ugh, I would hate to look at vaginas all day!" Perhaps it is only unusual or uncomfortable if the subject itself makes you uncomfortable. I find myself at ease discussing my own body; maybe this is why I have no problem examining others or asking them personal questions about their bodies. In the end, part of what has always been interesting to me about women's health is the desire to teach other women to honor their bodies, a la The Color Purple. So many people have no idea how their bodies work; if I can shed just a little light on the matter, they become more empowered to use their body in the fulfillment of their needs.

All this is to say: I am glad to be going into OB/GYN. The male exam makes me uncomfortable, and I think many male patients seem to be a little uncomfortable with a female student in the room. I guess this is payback for my oblivious enjoyment of my OB/GYN rotation. Either way, there's only two weeks left!