The White Coat Revisited

Cadesky, Eric

Like an infatuated old lover, she has returned to me. There was no mention of how I left her; no talk of how we didn't see each other for several years. She came back to me, and now we are together. Inseparable: a family doctor and his white coat.

Ours is a long history. As a first-year medical student I had yearned to be with her, jealous of those upper-year students who had already settled down. As the spring blossomed in my second year of medical studies, we took part in Canada's first white coat ceremony; we were pronounced étudiant-médecin et sarau, one of 136 monogamous unions between clean coats and even cleaner young optimists. Both would become sullied during the hardships of clerkship, but, as we had vowed, we would take each other to have and to hold, through sickness and health, for good times and bad.

Certainly, there were difficulties. Seams frayed at the end of 30-hour shifts. We were collateral damage from random cafeteria slips and surgical suite assaults. I am ashamed to admit that occasionally my eye wandered and that I spent one evening's call in the throws of a hospital loaner while my own coat lay lonely and forlorn in my apartment's washing machine. The loaner looked clean and inviting at first sight, but it was starchy and cold, and on closer inspection had more imperfections than I first thought. Guiltily, I returned to my mate, filled with secrets and new-found appreciation.

Then something happened. As I began my outpatient rotations, the white coat no longer seemed practical. The threat of bodily stains was lessened exponentially, and some of those offices were just too dam hot. Moreover, many of my preceptors went sans sarau; as an acolyte I soon followed suit. I rationalized that because my casual attire was closer to that of my patients, perhaps we could more easily enter into the therapeutic partnership that is a pillar of Family Medicine.

Years lapsed. I sometimes thought of her, but I was so immersed in my family medicine training that her absence was rarely felt. We got back together for a two-month fling during my maternity rotation, but we both knew that it was a relationship of convenience to keep us warm during the long Montreal winter and amniotic fluid-filled nights.

I moved on, literally. After finishing my residency and passing my licensing exams, I relocated to the west coast. I was a fresh face, a single family doctor with a licence, and I was ready for the swinging lifestyle of family practice. But something happened. Considering its laid-back, Pacific reputation, I thought that Vancouver would be a town of medical bachelors, a place where doctors bared their collared dress shirts. I was wrong. In between skiing and hiking and yoga-ing, doctors worked hard ... and they worked hard in their white coats. Walk-in and full-service clinics alike presented a homogenous army of uniformed physicians. I was suddenly an outsider, a single guy at a dance for couples.

The patients noticed as well. I have looked 25 years-old for the past 15 years; it was now catching up to me. "I've never had a doctor who could be my grandson before" remarked one patient. (I replied, "Mrs. Goldstein, you're only 38.") I thanked others for complementing me on my youthful appearance and stated that I hoped it would inspire them to adopt similarly healthy lifestyles.

However, people wanted to know that their doctor was capable of a long-term relationship. Perhaps they wanted some space, perhaps in partnership we were unequal but together: me with the expertise, they with the final decision.

So now we are once again inseparable, my white coat and I, sharing experiences and meeting people together, as a couple. Patients look at us approvingly and see how happy we are ... at least until the next fight over who does the laundry.

Theme: Physicians | Médecins

Stories in Family Medicine | Récits en médecine familiale [Internet] Mississauga ON: College of Family Physicians of Canada. 2008 --.




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