The Doctor Who Never Showed Up for Work

A quick piece I wrote while working as a junior physician, on a particularly bad day.


It was early morning and he sat about a table of strangers. He was aware, of course, that he himself was the only stranger in the room. The rest all knew each other. They had sat at this table together every morning for two years, like now, with the same jokes and the same gestures, a familiar army of gatekeepers running the psychiatric unit. This world belonged to them, and only them.

Doctor Sam was a fine man. Today he wore his Sunday best. But money was limited and the clothes he wore had loose strings and a hole on the right sleeve. He rolled up both sleeves as high as they would go to conceal the hole. That morning he’d cut away as many loose strings as he could find. He was a doctor, you see, but a resident doctor, and resident doctors don’t earn all that much money. But today was his first day on the psychiatric unit. He had to make a good impression. The strangers had to accept him. They were the gatekeepers, and if they didn’t accept their new resident physician, it didn’t matter what anyone else thought.

So yes, the gatekeepers observed Doctor Sam’s every move. They studied the way he wore his tie, scuffed his shoes, and they even looked to make sure his ears were clean. They watched him so closely that he grew nervous and stepped out to the bathroom halfway through the meeting, just to make sure he’d cut away ALL loose strings and covered the sleeve hole adequately. Ears clean and shoes freshly wiped clean, he returned to the meeting room. Four disinterested faces watched Doctor Sam sit down at the table again.

The new patient was escorted into the room. The attending physician started the introductions: “Hello, Patient. This is your so-called treatment team, the gatekeepers on our psychiatric unit: your two social workers, the nurse, and me. We control everything that happens here. I am the doctor on the unit.

Doctor on the unit? Only one doctor? Sam nodded, thoughtfully. So it was over. He could check for more loose threads and holes, even straighten his tie again, but it was too late. In his absence the gatekeepers had reached a decision. No, he would not be a stranger among strangers. They would just ignore him until he went away.

Two months later he received his evaluation: “This doctor never showed up for work.”

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