I visited my gastroenterologist a few months ago after returning from my trip to Shanghai. The familiar pattern where I’ve always encountered stomach problems after visiting China hadn’t changed, but my outer appearance while at Dr. Weinstock’s waiting room certainly had a new twist.
All through my 20s, I saw Dr. Weinstock repeatedly each time I came back from Brazil, Egypt, and other foreign escapades of soul searching with an irritable stomach. Despite me getting no closer to any answer for my identity crisis, he was always able to find the bacterial culprit to my bowel problems.
I entered the office and saw the same lady working at the front desk. She casually asked for my insurance , name, and if I was a new patient.
“I’m a returning patient,” I said.
“Strange,” she said. “I don’t see you in our filing system.”
“That’s because I had a name change,” I said as I pulled out my court order and handed it to her.
“Oh, congratulations,” she said, assuming I got married. She then inevitably followed with further confusion, paused, and then said: “But I still don’t see you in our system, Natalie.”
“Look here,” I said, pointing to my old name and gender marker on the court order.
“Oh….” She said gingerly. Then another long pause.
“Ohh!” she said again, after a short double take and a clear indication she finally got it: that I had changed my name not due to marriage, but because I changed my gender presentation and legal marker too.
“Have a seat,” she said with an affirmed smile. “The doctor will be right with you.”
After a few moments, she opened the door and led me into one of the back rooms. The door closed and I waited impatiently, playing out a few possible outcomes of Dr. Weinstock’s reactions in my head.
My gut, despite feeling ravaged, told me he was going to react maturely and compassionately.
I heard a knock and he came inside, all the while looking at the clipboard with all my medical history.
I assumed I was out to him, no turning back.
“Natalie!” he said. “Long time! It’s been what…6 years or so?” he said without missing a beat.
“I see you’ve been updated on my situation,” I said with a smile.
“Yes, and let me first say ‘congratulations’ to you,” he said as he stuck his hand out and shook mines gently.
“It’s not easy what you’ve done,” he said. “I admire your courage. And you look incredible, very nice. Very beautiful. Hot I might add!”
I was flattered and shocked he was so direct, but all done with gentlemanly conduct and grace. This man really “got it,” I thought, and he understood and seemed to empathize without any presumption or confusion. I began blushing.
“Let’s get on with business shall we?” he said as he examined me.
We went over my medical situation and afterwards, caught up a bit, and he asked me about Shanghai and I asked him about his family
“Well, I better stop talking with you before my wife gets upset,” he said jokingly. I giggled. “Call me if you don’t feel better in 2 weeks,” he said.
All of a sudden, I felt like I was in such good hands and so relaxed and lucky to be with such a good doctor, that I didn’t want him to retire anytime in the near future. I recalled when I saw him over 15 years ago he had already been practicing for a long time. It suddenly saddened me to think that he was probably at the tail end of his career.
I wanted more patients to be blessed with his care, his charisma, and his compassionate conduct.
“How much longer do you plan to do this?” I asked.
“As long as I can without dropping my quality of care,” he said.
“That’s good,” I said. “It’s amazing how you look through people’s colons and bowels all day and you’re still at it after 30+ years.”
“I always find something interesting,” he said with a chuckle. “I really love what I do,” he said with a professional gaze.
“Well, thanks,” I said with some nostalgia, although it as the first time he saw the real me. “It was great seeing you, thanks for the encouragement and kinds words.”
“Anytime. You take care,” he said warmly.
I left his office feeling cared for, in good hands, and in great spirits.
After all these years of wading his camera scope through colons filled with shit and bowels of excrement, he was still able to stay cheerful, upbeat, and passionate about his work.
Through all that shit and muck, he was still able to really see me for me, not just as a patient, but as the human being behind the illnesses I presented to him.
What a sweet man.