Welcome to Kalamna, the student blog of the Hagop Kevorkian Center for Near Eastern Studies at NYU.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Tea with Dr. G

Last spring during breaks from my internship with an organization in Haifa I would spend time in Jerusalem. I wrote this during one of such trips.

The last few days I've been in Jerusalem, staying with "the doctors" as I call them - Dr. G, a family physician, and his wife, Dr. F, a professor, writer and activist. They live in the Old City in the Armenian quarter, and they both have no shortage of stories to tell.

Dr. G in particular is quite the character - he is always bursting to tell stories and share his random thoughts on life, and I am more than happy to listen. For example, here is a sampling of some of the things he said just while I was writing this post:

"I always thought I was 64; Today I realized I am 63."
"What are you doing? Are you writing an article? Are you chatting with your friends? I cannot use laptops!"
"Do you eat as a duty or because you enjoy it?"
"In India, I lived like a KING!"

An Armenian, he studied medicine in the former Soviet Union, and as a young resident in the 1970s he was based in Amman, Jordan. In Jordan, most doctors study in Britain or the States, and therefore use English medical terms, even when speaking in Arabic with patients. One doctor was delivering a baby that was in breech presentation. In Arabic he told the woman that the baby was delivered breech, but used the English medical term. The woman practically freaked - "WHAT?!  BREECH?!" The doctor failed to recall that in Arabic the word "breesh" means feathers - so he told he woman that her baby was being delivered with feathers.

Some of his other stories from Jordan aren't so light-hearted. In 1975, when he was just starting out as a young med school graduate, a woman brought her granddaughter to the emergency room claiming that she had eaten a tomato that had been sprayed with pesticide. The ER physician had stepped out for a bit, and Dr. G was left to treat the patient on his own.

Dr. G knew that if she had only eaten a tomato, the amount of poison she would have ingested would have been small, and therefore easy to treat. So, he began administering the antidote, not thinking that much would be needed. You could tell if it was working if the patient's pupils dilated. Well, Dr. G had administered several doses and nothing was happening - no dilated pupils. The ER physician returned and right away knew what was going on - "This girl's grandmother wasn't telling the truth - this is a suicide attempt."

Dr. G began administering dose after dose after dose of the antidote - the medication's packaging falling to the floor "like bullet casings," as he described it. The physician called the grandmother and got the truth out of her - the girl had intentionally drank a glass of pesticide. She had ingested too much, it didn't matter how much medicine they gave her - she died.

Her body was transported to the morgue at King Hussein hospital, and the final autopsy and police reports revealed the rest of the story. The girl was to be married the following day, but she was not a virgin - so, the story goes, she poisoned herself. This case had a profound impact on young Dr. G, and I can't help but wonder more about the conditions surrounding the young woman's death. Many studies have been done analyzing cases such as this on a broader scale, but I'm fixated on this specific girl. I guess all I can do is wonder.

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