Joey’s Checkup

April 13th, 2006 by john

Over My Med Body is the blog of a third-year medical student, whose posts give an unsettling sense of what it’s like to work as a doctor these days.

Joey is twelve. No, wait, fifteen. His face is twelve. His neck, scarred from pepper spray, is a bitter eighteen. His abdomen, with a line from a stab wound, is a harsh twenty-five. I guess it averages out. Okay then, fifteen it is.

Joey is the third minor I see by myself today at a well-child checkup in Fremont; his parents are working. I’m starting to get the hang of it—medical history is quick, social history is long and involved. Tells me his grandmother had just passed away and his one-year old daughter—yes, daughter—was sick in the hospital with pneumonia. (I double-check his age, yes, he’s 15.)

Up until this point, most of the other teens I’ve seen have tried to play it cool, or curse a lot, or are in good moods. They like to think they’re adults, but I still talk to them like they’re teenagers. Not condescending, but just not… adult. But Joey’s just lost a family member. “I’m so sorry to hear that” is my automated response. Not that I don’t care enough for spontaneity. That’s just what I’ve found as the easiest, non-judgmental, non-assuming thing to say whenever someone says someone is dead or has died. That, and some silence. Respect for the dead.

I find out Joey’s sister has diabetes, and Joey has a cough. He smokes cigarettes. We discuss coughing and cigarettes, and the irony. I smile, he smiles. He uses marijuana infrequently. He doesn’t drink alcohol.

Joey is sexually active, with his “lady.” He doesn’t use condoms. He doesn’t like they way they feel. His lady uses birth control. His “ex-lady” and him had a daughter.

Joey gets quiet. He tells me his daughter, the one with pneumonia, died yesterday.

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