He shuffled towards me, hands cupped protectively in front of him. Clearly he was guarding something. He walked with tiny, tentative steps, hunched like an old man in pain. It was agony to watch him as I sat at my desk, the anticipation mounting with each long second that it took to cover the short distance between us. What could he want? What could be so important that he would struggle so to make his way towards me, a lowly temporary secretary? This was a doctor's office, after all, and he was the doctor.
He made it to my desk, finally. With splayed fingers inches from my face, he stood before me and said, "I like you."
Beneath his slacks, I could see the outline of his erection clearly, despite his attempt to cover it.
"That's nice," I gulped. What was he after?
His deep, rich baritone had an odd gravelly texture, which I later found out was caused by medication.
"You've worked here for three days now. I like you; we all like you. Why don't you join the department and work for me full time?"
You could have knocked me over with a feather. A job offer? With his hotdog wagging at me within biting distance? I looked up at him and, before I could help it, back to his hands.
"Uhh... I need to think about it. Can I get back to you on Monday?" I asked, desperate to avoid looking at those digits and that other, bigger digit lurking behind.
I needed the weekend to mull it over. He seemed like a nice man, but his extemporaneous erections were getting on my nerves. I knew he couldn't help it. My office mates said the surgery for his rectal cancer made him impotent, and back in '81 they hadn't perfected Viagra. His medication worked, all right, but not exactly when needed. He also used Tucks. I knew because he'd leave them in the Out Box, along with the sweaty socks he wore running to work. Although how he could jog several miles from the Upper West Side to the Lower East Side so soon after surgery was beyond me. Maybe that's why he alternately staggered and minced his way around the office. He was exhausted and inadvertently aroused at the same time.
The doctor turned slowly, and, inch by inch, made his way back to his office, oblivious of the fact that we knew what he was hiding. I wonder what his psychotherapy patients thought as they sat with him? And the kicker was he'd just begun to videotape his sessions.
Imagine you're a psychiatry resident in class, viewing the tape as a method of instruction. And then, from below, unmistakable beneath his clothing, the tool of your training director rises slowly, prodded awake by a drug that shouldn't have been working at that moment but was. How long did it take before the doctor realized what was happening? Did he respond? Did he move his hands ever so cautiously over his now prodigious member, casually trying not to attract attention?
I went home that weekend and spoke with my husband about the doctor's offer. We were penurious newlyweds, and it was pretty clear that a job offer on the table (perhaps along with a slab of salami if the good doctor was standing nearby) was worth taking.
Salamis aside, I was interested in working in a medical center. My liberal arts degree appeared to be useless. Since it looked as though I would be making my living as a secretary, working in the department of psychiatry of a major teaching hospital was, to me, a more fascinating environment than the corporate world could ever be. Possibly I'd learn a lot and maybe even contribute to the greater good in some fashion. Not-for-profit seemed much more high-minded, somehow, than the ordinary workplace. Little did I know. So the following Monday I made it official. I would be secretary to the director of the residency training program in psychiatry.
In time, the doctor's medical condition improved and we saw less of him, so to speak, in the office. This was the early '80's, the era preceding the heady days of pubic hairs on soda cans and sexual harassment seminars. So it was not strange that those of us who worked closely with the doctor became inured to his predicament; we took it in stride. In truth, it was more upsetting for him than for us.
Of course, working for the residency director meant that I also worked for the residents, approximately 30 young (and one or two not-so-young) medical school graduates who had decided to make their careers in psychiatry. I wondered why they made that choice.
The weeks rolled on. An astute observer, I learned quickly. My curiosity was peaked, though, as to why a graduate of medical school, obviously someone with a penchant for science, would choose to work in psychiatry, the least scientifically based of the specialties. Much later I would learn, as the field grew along with my outsider's knowledge of it, that psychiatry did, indeed, have serious scientific underpinnings. But at that time, and at that teaching hospital, the clinical world of psychoanalysis and psychotherapy ruled. It seemed an esoteric field of study, almost whimsical compared with the rigors of, say, gastroenterology.
Most of the young residents were honestly devoted to the care and well being of their patients. They truly wanted to help the mentally ill. But over time I came to see that there were many in the field with a hidden agenda. They chose psychiatry to determine what was wrong with themselves. Sometimes they found the answer, but more often than not, it seemed they stopped looking after "the doctor thing" settled in so deeply that they came to believe their M.D.'s stood for Master of the Divine. It was an interesting process to witness. And I saw it time and again.