At 2am, in the middle of my night shift, I am not the most sympathetic of doctors.
I have to keep my emotions lean.
There is no inexhaustable supply of feeling at this time of the morning and I must preserve the little bit that's left for those times that patients and their families need extra special care.
I have to keep my mind keen.
I cannot waste brain power on repeating three times and in three different languages that your pathetic mosquito bites will not be treated at the emergency centre tonight. Go away. Stop sapping my brain power like a dementor out of Harry Potter.
I have to be mean.
I need my mean face to make sure the drunken assholes don't get out of control, and my triage skills have to be objective and ruthless enough to turf the patients whose issues can wait until the next morning.
However, all my patients will get one solid chance to prove to me that they deserve emergency treatment at this time of the evening.
Those that fail this test, do so because they are wasting my precious goddamn time.
You are WASTING my time and you are WASTING time that could be better spent on someone with real issues.
And those that make it past this initial test, well they get my everything.
Some of them even get my neatly packed food and drink if they're hungry.
I can't tell you the number of times my patients have asked me for food because they haven't eaten in two days.
For fucking FOOD.
How can I blame you for defaulting on your TB meds and arriving at casualty with respiratory distress because you didn't have food to take your tablets with?
I don't feel particularly good when I go out of my way for patients in this manner.
One would expect to feel like a saint, or a good samaritan.
But I don't.
In fact I just feel livid.
It makes me want to stand in the middle of the front room and scream at whoever is responsible for this sick situation of poverty.
Yet sometimes, offering a non-medical type of comfort to a needy patient is actually the best kind of treatment I can offer at that moment.
For example, my 45 year old delirious patient from two nights ago.
I fell in love with him.
He was very well behaved, very trusting of the staff, but simultaneously slightly confused with alternating periods of lucidity.
This is a very rare occurrence in our casualty, confused patients who are well-behaved.
After being told to fuck off in numerous languages, how can one not love that?
Part of my work-up for his delirium included sending him for a chest x-ray.
I wheeled him to the X-ray department while listening to him talk gibberish and then deposited his confused self in front of the radiographer's desk.
As I turned to leave, he suddenly grabbed my hand, pulled me towards him and hugged my torso fiercely.
"Don't leave me alone here, Doctor!" He pleaded, "There's nobody else here. I must have people around me at all times or bad things happen!"
I thought of all the other patients waiting to be seen.
Then I looked at his eyes, wide open in terror like a child frightened of the bogeyman under the bed, and promptly forgot about the rest.
I sat quietly, with him hugging me for fifteen minutes as we waited for the radiographer. All the while casualty filled up behind me.
After a some time, suddenly unsure as to my commitment to his request, he pulled me closer to him and whispered frantically in my ear, "If you stay with me I will give you eight thousand rand. You are a good doctor. You can have my eight thousand rand if you stay with me."
Clearly this guy was not delirious, he was a freaking genius!
Eight thousand bucks for one of my hugs?
Now that's what I'm talking about!
The department of health barely gives me eight thousand bucks for my back-breaking overtime for the whole month!
This confused man, who probably had to scrape together the ten bucks to make it to hospital, highlighted his appreciation for the one thing we all crave so desperately, and which the poor get denied constantly; affirmation that one is worthy of love.
That said, I do give AMAZINGLY SUPER-AWESOME hugs.
It's no suprise that he was willing to pay thousands for some more of them.
My hugs are so awesome they will rock your world!
My hugs are so awesome they are like chicken soup.
My hugs are so awesome they motivate world peace, eradicate suffering and cure cancer...
Oh how I wish...