The only thing worse than breaking out with private laughter in the middle of a group is breaking down crying. That’s why it’s dangerous to read the climactic scenes of books by Charlotte Yonge while sitting in the conference room at clinic. Today I had gotten to the point in The Three Brides where, with her usual flair, Miss Yonge had got all twelve protagonists hopelessly entangled and misunderstood, and was proceeding, with her usual emotion, to have the plague (or something similar: I’m at the point in my education where the nonspecific statement that the whole town was taken ill with a fever, due to noxious fumes in the air over a well, and the doctors were debating whether it were infectious, or only epidemic (!!) makes me impatient) – she had the plague take over the entire cast and their environs. Obviously a couple of the key characters die, a couple others have deathbed conversions, and then recover, and a couple of lovers get things straightened out under the misapprehension that one of them is about to die – but just barely doesn’t.

When you sit in a corner of the conference table and have tears streaming down your cheeks, people tend to ask what’s wrong.

I still find Yonge’s books a more edifying use of spare time (of which I have a quantity while waiting for attendings) than either Wodehouse, or Epocrates. I ought to download Sabiston’s Surgery, and read that. But first I have The Trial: Further Links in the Daisy Chain, which is a couple hundred paper pages, and a couple thousand e-pages.

(Anyone looking for a good place to start in Miss Yonge’s list might try The Heir of Redclyffe – one of her best, and one which had a tremendous impact on the life of Abraham Kuyper, Holland’s pastor-cum-denominational leader-cum-journalist/publisher-cum-prime minister in the late 1800s.)

It’s a little bit of a shock to step from the world of the Christian Jane Austen into an inner-city HIV clinic. But I don’t know who was more disturbed, us or the patients, when I (with long hair and long skirt) and a Muslim fellow, wearing hijab, went in to interview two gay men, one of whom had just been diagnosed with HIV.

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