The exam room post-election

It’s Wednesday, the day after the election. I spent the previous night clicking from one website to another, trying to find someone who was refuting what the others said was true. And when it became inevitable, I held my infant twin boys and cried.

Now I’m in front of my exam room, walking in to see Mr. Bundy. I open the door to find him wearing a red hat embroidered with the words “Make America Great Again.”

“Hey, Doc!” He says with a warm smile. It takes me a few moments to respond.

“Hi … Mr. Bundy.”

He’s a white man in his late 50’s, thin with salt and pepper hair. He was laid off from his factory job about eight years ago, and has been getting by with odd jobs since then. I know that he buys his heavily-subsidized insurance on the health exchange.

I find myself wondering for the first time what he thinks of me. A woman. His doctor. Does he think I’m capable? Does he think I’m equal to the male physician he saw before me? The patient who sits before me is proud to support a man who gloats about the perverse control he holds over women and their genitalia. He supports a man who convinced the country that a woman can’t be as powerful as he is. But, Mr. Bundy is here to see me, his female primary care physician.

Earlier this morning, I saw a patient who is Muslim, originally from Pakistan. He was there to talk about his diabetes, but I felt the acute need to apologize to him — to somehow let him know that even though our leader-elect doesn’t think he belongs here, I do. The exam room is not the place for that conversation to happen, of course. So, I instead asked him to schedule both a six month and one-year follow-up appointment with me. I wished for him to interpret my secret message: “I want you to be here for a long, long time.”

I find myself worrying about my patients a lot today. What will happen to my patients from foreign countries? Will they feel unwelcomed and leave to uncertain medical care back home? What will happen to my patients with asthma when he reverses our environmental progress? How often will I treat their labored breathing in the coming four years? What about my patients who are poor, dependent on government services to eat and survive? To those who are barely making it, vulnerable, sick? How will their lives change?

I worry about Mr. Bundy. He has emphysema and high blood pressure. Without the protections of the Affordable Care Act and the health exchange, he will be uninsured. How will he afford his expensive inhalers?

Of course, I won’t argue with Mr. Bundy today. I won’t ask him how he can support a man who preaches hate and intolerance. I won’t ask him if he thinks it’s appropriate to call the former Secretary of State a “nasty woman” on live television. I won’t tell him how hurt I am that a man who blatantly objectifies and sexualizes women will hold the highest office in the country. No, I will be his doctor today. For any part of him, that feels a woman is lesser, weak, unworthy, I will be great. I will work harder for him, guide him, and lead him to good health. To be a valuable, powerful, deserving physician and woman will be my best defense.

I gather my thoughts.

“Mr. Bundy! How am I supposed to examine you with that hat on?” I ask with a smile.

He laughs and takes the hat off. Finally, I can focus.

Megan S. Lemay is an internal medicine physician. 

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