I’ve been listening to a Christmas CD from the Boston Camerata – An American Christmas, which contains few familiar carols, but many beautiful early American hymns, which demonstrate an understanding of [I cringe to use the cliche] the true meaning of Christmas far beyond that which pervades pop culture today. This song is called Bozrah, from the Biblical reference given further down; you can hear a rendition of it by the Rose Ensemble here, very similar to the Camerata version, but with different verses at the end.

Who is this that comes from far,
With his garments dipped in blood?
Strong triumphant traveller
Is he’Emmanuel, is he God?

I that reign in righteousness,
Son of God and Man I am.
Mighty to redeem your race –
               Jesus is your Savior’s name.

Hark the trumpet’s awful voice
Sounds abroad through sea and land.
Let his people now rejoice –
Their redemption is at hand.

I that reign in righteousness,
Son of God and Man I am.
Mighty to redeem your race –
                Jesus is your Savior’s name.

See, the Lord appears in view;
Heav’n and earth before him fly.
Rise ye saints, he comes for you;
Rise to meet him in the sky.

I that reign in righteousness,
Son of God and Man I am;
Mighty to redeem your race –
               Jesus is your Savior’s name.

The first half of the song is a paraphrase of  Isaiah 63:1. The  prophet asks,  “Who is this that cometh from Edom, with dyed garments from Bozrah? this that is glorious in his apparel, travelling in the greatness of his strength?” And Christ answers, “I that speak in righteousness, mighty to save.”

Messianic prophecies often refer to blood-red garments: either the Lamb’s blood, shed to cover his people’s sins, or the blood of the Lion’s enemies, spilled as he comes in judgment.

A lot of people have been known to remark at Christmas-time that they “relate best to baby Jesus,” or some similar nonsense; as though it is possible to believe only in Jesus as a helpless infant, and to ignore the rest of his life. Jesus’ birth was a real moment in time and space, when one Person of the Triune God took a human body. But he existed before that, indeed from all eternity, as the Son of God, the Word, the Wisdom of God who breathed life into creation (Proverbs 8, John 1). He existed after that, as a sinless man, the perfect sacrifice who died, and then rose from the dead. He exists now, reigning at the Father’s right hand, while all enemies are put under his feet.

And now, when we remember his birth, we also remember and long for his second coming, which will be from the heavens, awesome and full of glory; when those who have denied and mocked him will see the One who was pierced for our transgressions, and weep at their fatal error; when those who have believed in him will realize in full the truth of his promise, “He who believes in me, though he be dead, yet shall he live; and he who lives and believes in me shall never die.”

As the historic church recognized in the observance of Advent, Christmas is a joyful time, not only because our Savior was born, but because he is coming again.

Belatedly, Merry Christmas.


The children’s hospital is not as bad as rumor painted it (although their computer system is strictly for the birds). There’s something to be said for having so many senior residents and fellows around that I am only responsible for floor patients – and I am by now very efficient at handling a large floor service.

It’s also fun to see entities which were previously the stuff of [textbook] legend showing up as large as life: gastroschisis, malrotation, intussusception, Meckel’s diverticulum – and lots of classic appendicitis. (Which is especially fun, because in pediatrics you try to avoid radiation as much as possible, so almost none of these kids get CT scans. Diagnosis and management are based on history and physical exam, with the occasional ultrasound. For a rarity, I got to book a patient for the OR simply on the basis of, “His abdomen is nearly rigid, and certainly requires urgent exploration.” No labs, no imagaing, just what my hands could tell me.)

For added fun, I stumbled across in the library (amazing how the books I like just pop up in front of me) an audio edition of Alison Weir’s Queen Isabella. Alison Weir is an English historian who writes detailed accounts of obscure medieval events, and manages to make them interesting. I first appreciated her for her defense of Richard III as innocent of the death of the Princes in the Tower (a private bias of my own; I always enjoy finding reputable evidence to support my romantic belief in Richard as hero). This book, while occupying 18 cds, and therefore valuable as promising to last for two months’s driving, seems a little biased. Admittedly, the story of Isabella (French princess, betrothed at 7, married at 12 to a homosexual 12 years older than her, she eventually ran away, took a lover, led an invasion of England, deposed (and allegedly murdered) her husband (Edward II), and ruled in her son’s name (Edward III) for years, till he came of age, killed her lover, and put her under house arrest till her death) lends itself to some feminist revision. However, the argument that we ought to regard Isabella in a better light, now that we can look back from the standpoint of modern sexual mores, seems a little weak. After all, Isabella did what she did in a society which certainly condemned adultery (especially by women, and regardless of excuses) and treason. The fact that 700 years later her behavior seems almost normal/rational/excusable doesn’t change the fact that it was wildly countercultural and dangerous at the time. Her choices were made in that setting, not under modern “enlightenment.” Nevertheless, I’m always up for a good story about international intrigue and the primal conflict between France and England (two nations that seem born to hate each other), and if Ms. Weir can stop mentioning male oppression in every other sentence (once a paragraph, perhaps?), this should be a fascinating book.

Can I remark again how absolutely infuriating I find it, that the surgeons’ lounge here is inside of the men’s locker room? Infuriating, and humiliating by how completely everyone overlooks the fact. This is why you -me, actually; the guys don’t have this problem – can never find most of the attendings, or senior residents, between cases: but the two women attendings, and the female residents, will always be found standing by the OR desk (or wandering the ICUs), because we have nowhere else particular to go.

(And please, now is not the time to discuss my theoretical inconsistencies. I might throw something. . .)

For someone who spends as much time communicating as I do, I’m obviously still not very good at it.

Since between work and Pascha services this week I don’t have much time, let me, as the fastest way of saying what I really think about Mormonism, refer you to a post I made this spring, back when Romney was a viable contender. You can find it right here. Basically, I conclude that Mormonism is a false religion, just as much originated by Satan as Islam is, in that he probably inspired two men (Mohammed and Joseph Smith) to write blasphemous lies against Jesus. Mormonism, unlike true Christianity, does not regard Jesus as divine, the only-begotten, unique Son of God. Mormonism teaches that God was once a human, and that all humans (or at least all males) can become gods in their own private universes, peopled by the offspring of their subservient wives (so yes, Mormonism, like other false religions, tramples on women, and, unlike Christianity, regards them as lower in kind than men).

Regarding polygamy, I agree that it’s illegal in America, and that even the biblical patriarchs limited themselves to two wives, and those of an age to consent.

What I was trying to say about the FLDS branch of Mormonism is that 1) I think most Americans’ visceral reaction to them is based on lifestyle choices that have nothing to do with polygamy, but which do present a glaring challenge to the culture of hedonism and free sex that prevails in America today; and 2) I respect groups which hold to the original tradition when it’s not politically correct to do so. The mainstream LDS church threw out Joseph Smith’s original teaching on polygamy because it made their life easier to do so. The FLDS hold onto it; even though that may involve brainwashing women, it’s at least the original form of Mormonism. Similarly, I respect “radical” Muslims more than “moderate” Muslims, because I think the radical Muslims understand and obey the original commands of Mohammed (kill the unbelievers until they submit to you, make no friends with Jews or Christians) better than the watered-down, secularized, moderate Muslims. That doesn’t mean that I approve of suicide bombers; I simply think they’re acting on the logical conclusions of their beliefs.

Does that help at all? Maybe I should also mention that in my personal beliefs, I try to stick to the Bible exactly as God gave it, without making alterations for modern sensibilities. God created the world out of nothing, in the space of six days, and all very good, until it was marred by man’s sin and the entry of death. God condemns sinners to hell in the next life because of their infinite crimes against him, and he is righteous and loving to do so (we can take this up in a later post). God offers free forgiveness and eternal life to all who confess that they have broken his laws, and accept his merciful gift in Christ, who died for us and rose from the dead on the third day, and sits in heaven until his kingdom is established through the whole world, and all nations kneel down and worship him. And along the way, women should submit to their husbands, men should have one wife and be faithful to her, and Christians ought to love their neighbors as much as they love themselves. This is absolutely true, and I make no apology for any of it, except to say that I wrote it as forcefully and bluntly as possible in order to parallel my wild statements about Islam and Mormonism.

They and I are at least in agreement about the existence of absolute truth and the extreme importance of finding it out; just as I had more in common, regarding modest clothes, and avoidance of wild parties, and chastity, and taking time out from studying for religious observances, with the Muslim girls in medical school, than with the nominal Christians.

I look forward to reading your comments.  🙂  And I guess I had better also put out an apology in case any of the above is needlessly offensive, as I may not have time to answer comments till late in the day. I don’t mean to be insulting, but to state the truth as I know it, forcefully. The lateness of the hour may make some phrases ill-judged.

You know the reason everyone is really so rabid about the polygamists? It’s not just the matter of teenage mothers (who, after all, are a common enough phenomenon in this society; here, at least, they’re respected as legitimate, and the fathers are involved with their children).

No, it’s the women’s clothes. Modern Americans take one look at their appearance – which I would describe as graceful, elegant, sweeping, modest dresses and beautiful swept-up hair – and react viscerally, I believe because they’re convicted by this total contravention of modern society’s flagrant embrace of everything vulgar and obscene. It’s almost as though men think they have a right to see barely-clothed women, and are affronted by these women denying them that privilege; as though women think that they earn respect by flaunting their beauty in the eyes of all, and are defied by these women’s refusal to do that.

That, and the large families. In a society where a single child is pondered before years before being accepted, and where two children are an imposition, three unheard of (in the professional circles I seem to be in these days), the idea of having many children is shocking – the 400 kidnapped children (since I don’t see where the government gets the right to take all of them without specific evidence against everyone’s fathers) are described as a crowd of toddlers and 4-5 year olds running around under foot.

Plus, their rejection of the modern world. My friends talk as though it’s evil not to have TV and internet and cell phones. Who am I to talk, of course; but I think I can at least recognize the beauty and possible desirability of such a lifestyle (the Amish, for instance), while still choosing to use some of modern technology myself. So far, I’ve refrained from pointing out to my colleagues that I was raised without TV (although they may have figured that out from my profound pop culture illiteracy), and regard my cell phone as a necessary evil.

(I have previously described Mormonism as a heresy. But I respect the FLDS people for being consistent and true to the original spirit of Mormonism in spite of intense persecution.)

I made molokheya the other day, finally. I had bought a frozen package (I’ve never seen it otherwise, except sitting in piles on the streets of Cairo, which even the organic purists would have to admit is less appetizing than sanitized in a frozen plastic bag) much earlier in the year, but somehow never got around to making it.

Molokheya is the ultimate Egyptian comfort food (actually, I guess it has to compete with kushari and besboussa (another one I made recently) and kunafa). One of our cookbooks reports that this is what the Egyptian peasants came home to eat after working on the pyramids, or what the women took out to the fieldworkers since pharaonic times.

I couldn’t tell you what it’s made of, since no one I’ve ever met has been able to give an English, or even a Latin, name to the vegetable involved.  I’ve never seen anyone offer to cook or eat it in a solid form. It is always prepared as a collection of finely chopped green leaves, boiled in water with fried garlic and salt. The result is a gooey green soup, and when you add it to rice, you get a sticky mixture with a fascinating texture, and it tastes perfect – green and a little salty.

[Somehow I doubt that my American readers will grasp the deliciousness of this prospect. Most American guests, when confronted with a bowl of it, are too overwhelmed by the appearance to appreciate the taste. Like I said, gooey soup; and I have no idea what protein makes it gooey and slimey like that.]

Or, what I think of Congress’ trying to change the position of the sun in the sky. They’re not Joshua, you know, although apparently most members of our esteemed representative body would benefit from a head examination on that account.

Let me see here: from November to February we have “standard” time, and from March to October we have “daylight savings time.” That makes five months on “standard.” We now spend less than half the year in the real time zone.

Back when I went to grade school, which is admittedly getting to be a ways back, and was not in a government-funded setting, either (that could be the problem), I was given to understand that “noon” was a definable moment when the sun was directly overhead. Or, to quote the dictionary, when “the sun is on the local meridian.” But our government seems to have arranged that, for the greater part of the year, the time that we arbitrarily define as 12pm is an hour before true noon.

What I don’t understand is why they don’t just redefine the time zones, if it bugs them all that much. If by act of Congress 12pm is now an hour before the sun is on the local meridian, why don’t they just say so? Why do we have to do this seven months on, five months off deal?

You can tell me I’m getting carried away about a simple act of government idiocy. But it seems to me that this behavior by Congress truly is an act of idolatry on their part, setting themselves up as gods, to tell the sun and moon what the times and seasons shall be. Added to condoning mass murder on a daily basis, and redefining the nature of gender, and arrogating to themselves a larger tax than God ever took for himself, it’s just one more sign that our society is irredeemably on the skids. (Ok, those signs were enough by themselves.)

When my state secedes, my first motion (ok, second, after repealing all income taxes and estate taxes) will be to put the clock back where God intended it to be. Down with Daylight Savings Time! (Which is an oxymoron: the day hasn’t gotten any longer since these laws were passed, as far as I’ve noticed.)

I would like to draw your attention to recent events in Egypt, where there have been some more riots and violence against the minority Coptic Christians. I pray for God’s protection for my people, but it’s hard to be too indignant, considering that in spite of frequent and unprovoked waves of violence, the Copts are still much better off than in Christians in almost all other Muslim-controlled countries (Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Indonesia, etc). Just don’t believe the “peaceful religion” propaganda; the Copts are second-class citizens, like all non-Muslims living in a Muslim country, and these riots are the mullahs’ attempts to remind us that the modern era of openness with the West doesn’t change our centuries-old status, imposed since the Muslim conquest of the Christian Middle East. This is what they want to make of Europe and the US, too; they won’t be satisfied till we’re all dhimmis, paying the jizya.

I’ve been noticing that political conservatives, in their enthusiasm for Mitt Romney (who is honestly the most believably conservative of the apparently viable candidates – McCain, Giuliani, Romney), are embracing Mormons as Christians, and the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day Saints (hereinafter LDS for short) as a normal church. This is such a false idea. After interacting with several Mormon fellow-students and residents, earlier this year I got several books on the subject and read up about the origins and teachings of the LDS. I came to the conclusion that Joseph Smith was manipulated by Satan, just like Mohammed and other false prophets, that there are serious demonic powers in the temple rituals, that Mormons do not worship the true God of the Bible, but a figment of their imagination, and that they have no claim to be Christians at all, any more than Muslims do. I will try to support these conclusions by going through key sections from the Nicene Creed (in my estimation, the foundational truths necessary for agreement between true Christians) and showing how the LDS deviates from these.

1. “We believe in God the Father Almighty. . .”
LDS doctrine, as originated by Joseph Smith, and developed by Brigham Young and the subsequent prophets and “revelators” of the Mormon church, teaches that God himself was once a man (perhaps even Adam; there is contradiction on this point), who through doing good works eventually became perfect, and the father-god of this universe. Humans are his spirit-children, who through following the example of Jesus’ perfect life can eventually attain to the same divine status. This is why marriage and family are so important to Mormons; the men are taught that the size and glory of their future celestial kingdom depends on the number of children they have in this life. Women are taught that their salvation depends on their husband achieving divine status, and their value consists in bearing children to populate his future kingdom.

2. “. . . And in Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of his Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made . . .
Mormon doctrine is contradictory on this point; but the early prophets taught that Jesus and Lucifer were the two sons of the father-god; Lucifer rebelled and became evil, but Jesus continued to obey his father perfectly, thus becoming divine, and receiving his own universe/kingdom, as all Mormons may also do if they follow his example. To this day, the LDS church teaches clearly that we are all children of God in the same sense that Jesus was, and can all become divine, like him. This is entirely contrary to the Christian doctrine that Jesus is coequal and coeternal with God, completely divine, that he did not become divine, and that humans can never become divine, either. This evil and demonic doctrine about Jesus and Lucifer is taught in the induction ceremonies of the LDS temples, where new entrants are drawn into a drama which represents Lucifer speaking to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, mocking the “false” Christian doctrine about Jesus. (This ritual has been slightly modified in the past few decades, as disillusioned Mormons have made public secrets which in fact they swore on their lives to guard; the entrance ritual also includes a ghastly oath which calls for the convert’s brutal death if he relates any of the temple secrets to outsiders.)

3. “. . . who for us men and for our salvation became man, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, and became man. . .
As mentioned above, Mormon doctrine teaches that Jesus started off as a human, and became divine, rather than being God before the beginning of time, and taking on human nature for us. Also, this is the phrase in the Nicene Creed which most clearly refers to Christ’s death as a substitution, receiving the punishment due for men’s sins. Mormon missionaries will tell you that they believe in salvation and justification through faith in Christ. However, if you read their own internal writings, or quiz the missionaries carefully, you will find that what they actually believe is salvation by works: Humans must do good works in order to earn the grace which enables them to believe on Jesus. This is completely contrary to Paul’s famous statement in Ephesians 2: “For by grace are ye saved through faith, and that [the grace] not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast. . .”

The practical daily life of devout Mormons also demonstrates this. They are taught by their elders that in order to qualify for admission into the temple, and thus into heaven, they must keep a strict set of rules: No alcohol, tobacco, or caffeine; no lustful thoughts whatsoever; always wearing the special Mormon undergarments; always obeying the directions of the church leadership; etc. The testimony of many ex-Mormons shows that, although this leads to a beautiful picture of a strong, happy family on the outside, inside there is oppression and fear, because their salvation depends on fulfilling these many onerous, manmade laws.

4. “. . . And we believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life. . . who spoke by the prophets. . .
The Christian Church, ever since the early years, has accepted a particular canon, which was closed with the book of Revelation (even allowing for the Apocrypha; whether you accept it or not, it was written before Revelation). The Church has always united in rejecting false prophets who come with new messages which suggest that something was left out of the original revelation. Joseph Smith, however, claimed to have received a message from the angel Gabriel, revealing some golden tablets, hidden near Palmyra, NY, written in ancient Egyptian, which revealed a new gospel, one with major changes from that originally received. As Paul warns in Galatians 1, “But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.”

There are many objections to the Book of Mormon (supposedly translated from the golden tablets) and the Doctrines and Commandments (the compilation of Joseph Smith’s “inspired” teachings and prophecies, as well as statements by the later “prophets,” who are supposed to have divine authority and revelation, just as Smith did). Firstly, Smith told different stories about his “discovery” at different times in his career, which contradict each other, and are contrary to facts known about him and his family from contemporary records (letters, civic record, and newspapers). I cannot in this space go into these issues in detail, but I highly recommend reading the books No Man Knows My History, by Fawn M. Brodie (a biography of Joseph Smith, with many original sources quoted; this historian was a descendant of one of the prophets, and was excommunicated for this book), and One Nation Under Gods, by Richard Abanes (documents both early and modern history of the LDS, as well as their political ambitions), as well as the website of Utah Lighthouse Ministries, which has a wealth of historic documents relating to Joseph Smith and the Mormons, as well as other resources.

Secondly, the text of these books has been changed. Both Abanes and the Lighthouse Ministries have extensive documentation of how LDS leaders have revised these books – editing Joseph Smith’s bad grammar and awkward faux-KJV-English to make it look more perfect, as well as removing doctrines that are offensive to modern ears. Which leads to the racist nature of Mormonism. Originally, the book of Mormon purported to explain about a white, godly race which lived in North America and was exterminated by the evil colored Native Americans. In one famous phrase, Indians and blacks who convert to Mormonism are promised that they will become “white and delightsome.” In other words, non-white coloring is a sign of evil, and will be supernaturally removed from any of these unfortunates who convert to Mormonism. Because of this racist background, the LDS did not accept black as converts until several decades into the 1900s, and only accepted them as priests and elders after heavy pressure on the church during the civil rights movement.

Which leads to the third problem with these new “inspired” books of the Mormons: Their doctrines change. One prophet can receive a new revelation which contradicts a previous one, and that’s just fine. For instance, consider polygamy. Joseph Smith (again like Mohammed) developed this doctrine pretty early in his career, but kept it secret for many years, until after he had accumulated some dozen polygamous wives. Its publication was one reason for the Mormons being driven out of Illinois (that, and their political aspiratons and influence in that state). In the 1880s, when Utah was becoming a state, the LDS leaders, under pressure from the US government, finally declared that polygamy was wrong – but many of the men who made this ruling kept taking extra wives secretly, and in fact sent secret colonies of what are now called “fundamentalist Mormons” into southern Utah and Idaho and southern Canada to keep alive what they still regarded as the truth. These are just two instances of how Mormon doctrine bends to fit the times. Their temple ritual has also been altered because of public scandal about the brutal oath of secrecy.

This is in total distinction to the true word of God, about which Peter, quoting Isaiah, declares, “For all flesh is as grass; and the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower thereof falls away: But the word of the Lord endures forever; and this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you.” Jesus also said in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), “Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law till all be fulfilled.”

5. “. . . And in one holy, catholic, and apostolic church. . .”
The Mormons’ current claim to be just another variety of Christians is in amazing contradiction to the original claims of Joseph Smith, who taught that every single church in his day had fallen away from the truth, which was what necessitated his new revelation. He decried all ministers as servants of Satan, denied that any member of a traditional church could be saved, and called on his followers to separate themselves from the false churches. Up until the past few decades, LDS leaders continued to teach that they alone were the true church, and that all others were false and apostate. This makes it particularly astonishing that they have been so successful in turning on their propaganda machine, and tricking most Americans into thinking that they are nothing more than another denominational flavor, like Baptist, Methodist, and Pentecostal.

Again, their marked deviations from accepted orthodox Christian teaching, shared across history and across all denominations, shows that, even if they truly wanted to be considered Christians, they have no such right, since they deny the true divinity of Jesus, and salvation through faith rather than works.

There are other astonishing secrets in Mormon theology, for which I again recommend to you the books of Fawn Brodie and Richard Abanes, and the Utah Lighthouse Ministries website. But these should be enough to support my original statement.

So how does this relate to politics? As Richard Abanes shows in his book, one of Joseph Smith’s most famous prophecies, known as the “White Horse prophecy,” states that at some point in the future, “the government of the United States will hang by a thread,” and the LDS will save the constitution of the United States. They hoped to accomplish this during the Civil War, but were not in position for it. Since Utah became a state, the LDS has been maneuvering to get themselves into control of the US government. They have had many influential cabinet ministers, and recently some very influential senators: Orrin Hatch and Harry Reid. Orrin Hatch indeed on a radio interview once specifically referred to the White Horse prophecy as influencing his mission in politics.

Given the very centralized, dictatorial nature of the LDS, where the members’ salvation depends on their unquestioning obedience to the mandates of the current Prophet, there is every reason to expect that a Mormon president would be significantly influenced by Mormon beliefs, and by the wishes of the church leadership. I do not want a demonic organization controlling the US government. Even Hillary might be better.

(To those who would argue that George W. is also controlled by a religious organization: 1) The conservative Christians are much less tightly organized than the Mormons are. 2) They do not exercise as tight a hold over their members, since they are not centralized, and often disagree on policy and theology. 3) Evangelicals do not teach that obedience to every one of their political desires is required for salvation. 4) In any case, George W. has done a lot of things we don’t like. 🙂  Romney and the Mormons would be different.)

I look forward to comments and discussion on this dissertation. My family is now confiscating the computer. . .

Truly it is written, “Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together. . .
He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh; the Lord shall have them in derision.” (Psalm 2)

I’ve been reading Elizabeth Elliot’s Keep A Quiet Heart, and thinking, “How much she trusts God, and how calm she always is. I wish I had more opportunities to practice this.” And then, “Boy, I really shouldn’t wish for things like that. . .” That is one prayer God always answers immediately and unmistakably.

Around 12:40 I was sitting in the cafeteria, chatting with one of the chaplain nuns (not that I approve of women chaplains, or nuns who don’t wear habits, but she was nice), on the policy that the chaplains show up at the trauma bay and in the ICU frequently, and it would be good to be friends with them. My beeper went off. When I called him, the attending said, “So, Alice, are you going to come give that talk at 12:30 today?” I looked at the clock (still 12:40), and shook my head to make sure my ears were working. “Um, talk? I’m not sure I know what you’re talking about.” I didn’t have this attending pegged as a joker, but if he did joke, this just might be the kind of joke he would go in for. “I told you last week that you’re supposed to give a talk today.”

Images float through my mind. The problem is, in the loud cafeteria, with my heart in my throat, holding the phone and trying to hang on to the conversation, I can’t straighten out whether the picture of me sitting in his office and being instructed about a speech comes just from my nightmare on this exact topic last night, or from an actual event two weeks ago which subconsciously triggered that nightmare. “I don’t remember that at all, sir. I guess I just completely forgot.” “So you don’t have a talk ready?” “Um, no, I completely forgot. What was it supposed to be about?” Thinking, I could go print something off UpToDate, and have a talk in half an hour. . . “You were supposed to pick a topic.” Thanks a lot, doctor – no lifeline there, huh? “Well, I will definitely have a talk ready by Monday.” “Ok, I’ll talk to you about the topic this afternoon. Don’t work on it till you talk to me.” And he hung up.

He’ll talk to me this afternoon? It is afternoon. Why is he hanging up on me? I am going to be in so much trouble. I ran out of the cafeteria, up to the quiet students’ lounge in a corner of the top floor. All the way up I was trying to think, Did he actually tell me? Am I so insanely incompetent that I can’t remember something as major as a presentation assignment from the attending? I must be losing my mind. There’s no hope for me to be a competent surgery resident, if I can’t even remember a point-blank assignment. I thought I was the kind of person to research this and have it ready a week and a half ahead of time. I must be so totally out of my mind. . . And if he didn’t tell me, there’s no way I can think of to tell an attending that his memory, not mine, is playing games, and it’s his fault, not mine, that I didn’t have the talk ready.

In the lounge, there’s another student, so I have to calm down and chit-chat. We discuss residency plans, while I’m thinking, this is no way for a surgery resident to behave. After a while, I semi-calm down, figuring, he can’t flunk me from medical school for this, and it’s actually pretty easy to prepare a speech by Monday. An hour later, he paged me again. “You know what, Alice, I was thinking, I must have been talking to the resident about her presentation today, and thought that I had talked to you, too. So, have you thought of a topic?” “Um, surgical wound infections?” I could hear his eyebrows go up. “That’s a pretty broad topic. How about, the use of hyperbaric oxygen intraoperatively to prevent post-op infections?” “Intra-operatively?” I didn’t know you could manage that inside an OR, and I saw on ER that it gives everyone panic attacks, not sure you could do that to the scrub tech and circulator. “Yes, intra-operatively. There’s a good article on it.” Ookay, so this obviously won’t be covered on UpToDate, but, it is nice of him to have a topic picked, and a surgical one at that.

Then he sent me to see a consult, which was wildly complicated. Half the important information (like the result of the in-house EGD two days ago) doesn’t show up on our new computer system (after I begged yet another nurse to let me in); nor does the positive blood culture which was the whole reason for us being consulted. The patient is very hard of hearing, and tangential. After spending a long time with him, it turned out that I had failed to elicit the really important pieces of history. (I thought it was only on tests that patients traveled to New Mexico and then presented with a mysterious chronic illness – coccidoidomycosis, which this guy probably does not have, but he was in NM.) As we left the consult, he mentioned the oxygen again, and the resident pointed out that he really meant, supplemental intra-operative oxygen. Which is much easier than hyperbaric. I found three articles easily.

I bet God thinks that’s funny. I ‘spect I’ll think so too in a couple more days.

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