The day I found myself in a stool stare-down, armed with a ridiculous amount of paper towels for the bowel movement my two-year-old dispensed once again just outside of the bathroom, I realized that maybe a part-time job wasn't such a bad idea.
I knew that as a double-humanities major I was qualified to perform a limited number of things, one being thinking a thing to death. Therefore, I needed a job that would appreciate me for my brain. I'd most recently used my glorious degrees to tickle tummies at night time, "love and logic" my child into thinking that her choices were truly her own, and sing along to Sesame Street's greatest hits. In essence, I needed a job that wouldn't care too much about what I'd been doing the last two and a half years.
A friend hipped me (did I just say hipped?) to a number of part-time possibilities. One day over my email I saw: Do you remember that one Seinfeld episode when Kramer was playing a fake patient for medical students? A woman at SLU needs women age twenty-something to thirty-something to play various, mysterious illness, guess-my-disease patients. Interested? Here's her info...
Being immediately intrigued, I contacted the woman at SLU. She asked me one tough question: Have you ever had a bad/unfortunate incident with a doctor or the medical field in general? Falling quickly into interview mode, I lied through my teeth sort of. Of course not, I said, rationalizing that the doctor who misdiagnosed me with having gallstones and then scheduled an appointment for me to see the surgeon who would remove my gallbladder wasn't necessarily a bad experience. It would have been a bad experience had I actually never received a second or third opinion and had my gallbladder been extracted. So, technically, I told the truth. (Did you see how that double-humanities brain worked that magic?) Next thing I knew, my script arrived in the mail.
If "immediately intrigued" were a shredded wheat square, "anxiety-ridden fear" would be its backside. I'm no actress, though I'm routinely given the Drama Queen of the Year award from family and friends. Doubts lounged back in lawn chairs and settled comfortably at home in my head. What if I am no good at this? What if I am not believable? But more importantly, what if during these one-on-one sessions I fart and cannot blame it on anyone else? (Fear makes me a little d-e-s-p-e-r-a-t-e.)
With loving, you-can-do-it support from my husband, I learned my assigned patient's medical and life history and avoided all gaseous foods.
To my surprise, another Natalie Newcomer* (my fake patient's name, but not my real fake patient's name) was there also. It was a tag team deal. We would take turns as each medical student came in. My shredded wheat was turning back to the immediately intrigued side.
This was not the other Natalie Newcomer's first time. She was a professional and I enjoyed studying her technique. Her skills were overwhelming until one student asked her what years her children were born. The pro Natalie Newcomer stumbled. This information was not included in the script. Natalie Newcomer knew the ages of her children, but not the years in which they were born. Doing the math in her head (slower than I thought a professional would), the pro Natalie Newcomer was obviously shaken, but continued on in a true veteran's fashion. Witnessing the stumble, it was now my turn to avenge all Natalie Newcomers, past and present. Bring it on, med school punk, I shouted out. (In my head, of course.)
The next student came in: Ms. Newcomer? he said. Hello, I said. We shook hands. What brings you here today? he asked. Lo and behold, I as they say in the drama community fell into character. I became Natalie Newcomer. I was Natalie Newcomer. I am Natalie Newcomer.
The feeling of being Natalie faded when the next student came in. I had to lower my head to muffle the longest giggle in the galaxy. I couldn't stop giggling. I ain't no Natalie Newcomer, I thought. I'm not 30 years old. (No offense to those who are.) I'm not crazy enough to smoke half of a pack of cigarettes a day. (Offense to those who do.) Although I soon regained my composure, this would not be the last time I lost it.
Once, I was so hungry that my stomach's growl sounded like an injured whale using its voice to Morse code a cry of distress. (Yes, in my stories, whales can Morse code.) Another time a student asked me if I had any problems "going number two." I play a 30-year-old, not a 3-year-old!
There are other times I wished I'd had more fun with my character. Sometimes students asked questions that were not in the script, so I had to improvise my answers. How many sexual partners have you had, Ms. Newcomer? one student asked. This was the prime time to make Natalie Newcomer the loosy goosey I dreamt of being in college but was too STD-phobic to embrace. But even when in fake patient world, the good girl in me won't play possum. I usually say two or three; once I said five or six. One day I hope to live it up for all the good girls in the world and say, "Umm, maybe, let me think... one, two, three...28 or 29. Fewer than 30, for sure. Okay, maybe 31, but definitely no more than 32."
I've had the pleasure of playing Natalie for six months now. I can tell which students will go into a family practice. (They focus on other things besides the health reason why I came.) I can also tell which students will become surgeons. (They say: So you have some cramps with your menstrual cycle, huh? Are you opposed to a hysterectomy?)
I only get to play Ms. Newcomer every six weeks. There's always something that I don't look forward to male students who start sweating and trembling at the sheer mention of a woman's "monthly friend." But there's always something I look forward to the baked potato bar and brownies all fakers have for lunch. I also look forward to helping these young doctors-in-training become more at ease with their patients. I feel proud to be the person who helps these students learn what the important questions truly are.
I've recently been asked to play an additional patient, someone who's decided to stop taking her lithium. FUN! Maybe I've fooled them at SLU into thinking that I do a good job. Maybe they couldn't find anyone else. Maybe the drama queen in me has finally found her true calling. Maybe, just maybe, this year I'll win Faker of the Year for all standardized patients around the world.
Reine Bayoc (her real name) is a writer living her real life in the Shaw neighborhood; she is always up for intellectually stimulating part-time gigs.