Common Ground

By Ofri, Danielle | Tikkun, January/February 2002 | Go to article overview

Common Ground


Ofri, Danielle, Tikkun


Common Ground

Danielle Ofri, MD, PhD, is a faculty member of NYU School of Medicine and Bellevue Hospital. She is editor-in-chief of the Bellevue Literary Review, and recipient of the 2001 Missouri Review Editor's Prize in nonfiction.

"We are a Catholic medical center, Dr. Ofri." The medical director leaned back in his chair across from my desk. "Do you have any issues with that?"

His gray hair was severely parted on the right and I could trace the individual strands that were tethered down on the side by hair grease. A stethoscope peeked out of the pocket of his tailored blue suit. He had just finished his long introductory speech with me, enumerating the vast array of services and the selling points of his medical group. He was clearly trying to impress me with his institution. After all, the reason I was doing a temp assignment here was because they were short-handed and looking to hire.

I was caught off balance by the question. What could he be driving at? Was my Jewish background an issue here? Was my last name too `ethnic?' I paused and then slowly asked back, "Should I have issues?"

"Well," he replied, in his careful New England lilt, "we do not promote birth control. If a patient requests it, we will provide it. But we do not offer it, promote it, or condone it."

Before my super-ego could grab control, my New York sassiness spilled out. "So, I don't suppose you perform abortions, do you?"

I could not believe I had just said that.

The older physician did not appear fazed. "No, we do not terminate pregnancies. Nor do we permit referrals to physicians who do. If a patient requests that service, we have them call their own insurance company. Their insurance companies make the referral."

He stood up and put out his hand. "We are glad to have you aboard, Dr. Ofri. We hope you enjoy your six weeks with us. And," he paused with a smile, "we hope you consider staying longer."

I remained in my office after he left, a little confused about what I had just heard and very embarrassed about the sauciness of my retort. I finally brushed it off, attributing it to high-level politics that I was not a part of.

I had never spent much time in New England before. The town looked just as I had imagined. Regal Victorian mansions with wrap-around wooden porches lined the main street. Well-tended rose bushes graced the picket fences. Manicured shrubbery lined the driveways. A river meandered though the town and I often saw kayakers as I drove over the small bridges each morning in my beige rental car. This was a different planet from my native New York City.

I had been assigned to a small private practice that was short-handed after two doctors had moved away. The staff members welcomed me warmly. They gave me a large office with three exam rooms in a separate wing of the suite, and a nurse, Karen, to work exclusively with me. At the beginning of each appointment Karen would take a brief history from the patient, check their vital signs and jot down their medications. When I entered into the room afterward to see the patient, I would find all the supplies that I might need for that particular patient neatly laid out. I learned that the walls of the examining rooms were fairly thin because when I was finished with the patient, Karen would be waiting outside with whatever vaccines or medications I had discussed with the patient.

This was nothing like Bellevue Hospital--the city hospital where I did my residency. Practicing medicine had never been so easy! I noticed that the medicine cabinet was stocked with free samples of birth control pills along with the anti-hypertensives and cholesterol medications. Apparently, no one took the contraception rule too seriously.

Nobody ever bothered Karen and I in our little corner. It was as though we had our own practice. Between patients we would share stories of her life in New England and my experiences at Bellevue. …

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