He glided through the hospital hallway as if he was walking on air. Brimming with enthusiasm and confidence, it was the first day of his fellowship. Ronny Livingston had accumulated awards and accolades everywhere he went. Through college, medical school, internship and residency, he had shone. It was his destiny to excel, be the best. His parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts told him so. You could tell just looking at him that he was something special. He was tall, had a high forehead, a Roman nose, upturned mouth and those penetrating dark eyes. You felt that he could see into your soul. It was intimidating. Yet there was a magnetism about him you could not resist. His laugh was contagious and there was joy in everything he did. Despite his successes and obvious talents, it was hard not to like him. He was humble, generous and kind. His personality and talents won over the most hardcore teachers and professors over the years. He had a golden pathway to success and seemed to be destined for greatness in his chosen field of rheumatology. Nothing or no one could stand in his way. That is, until he met Dr. Christina Patzakis.
Christina was a wunderkind of sorts herself. She was the youngest woman to graduate from Medical school in Greece and completed her medical residency and fellowship in rheumatology at UCLA with top honors. She was recruited widely for faculty positions internationally but chose to remain at UCLA. Christina was the oldest of five girls in the Patzakis family. Her parents, Spiro and Rodanthi were considered Greek royalty. They both were well educated diplomats who travelled extensively and were rumored to be cousins remotely related to the last Greek king. Christina was precocious and pampered. She was academically gifted but unlike Ronny she was haughty and condescending from an early age. She knew she was good. Her saving grace was her heart. It melted easily and she could be kind and generous. Friends adored and admired her while others were repelled by her imperious attitude and ambitious nature. She had one glaring weakness as she reached puberty- a voracious sexual appetite.
Christina was tall and developed early. She had a full figure and thick shoulder length jet black hair. Her face was long, lips thick and nose a little too big. Although she was not attractive in the conventional sense, many men were attracted to her intensity, intelligence and earthiness. Her sexual conquests were legendary in Athens and often the source of scandal. It was rumored that she left for America to escape the stain of an affair with a married professor. During her training at UCLA, she managed to keep her affairs under the radar. She developed a reputation as a brilliant researcher, clinician and hard task master as a teacher.
Ronny had yet to meet Christina or as he called her Dr. Patzakis but was sure they would collaborate well. He knew her reputation as a teacher and clinician and was excited about their potential as a team. He welcomed the many pearls of wisdom she would offer. Each stage of his training and each mentor had added to his knowledge base and confidence and been joyful. Why would this stage or this mentor be any different?
As he approached the meeting point on the rheumatology ward, he saw a cluster of white coats. In the middle stood a tall woman with jet black hair and long dangly earrings, wearing a colorful low-cut dress under her lab coat. As he came closer, he could see that she was frowning. He picked up his pace and looked at his watch. Surely his two-minute tardiness could not be the source of this woman’s frown.
“Dr. Livingston, I presume!” Christina said with a sarcastic smile. It wasn’t the first time Ronny had heard this line but never with such sarcasm.
Ronny approached Christina with a smile and offered his hand before saying: “I’m sorry for my slight tardiness. It’s my first time in this hospital. It’s great to meet you, Dr. Patzakis. I’ve heard great things about you and look forward to working with you.”
Christina looked Ronny up and down and ignored his offer of a handshake before saying: “Dok-tor Livingston, we don’t tolerate tardiness here. We expect our doctors to be early not three minutes late. Good habits are important. Now follow me and we can finally get started.”
Ronny’s face reddened as he stepped in line with the rest of the group of students and residents. He was flustered and felt chastened. He had never had such a rude introduction to a professor or mentor. He was uncharacteristically quiet as they went through rounds, offering clinical observations only when called upon. Next to Dr. Patzakis, he was second in seniority. Yet, he felt Dr. Patzkis treated him like a medical student. She sneered at some of his observations even though he thought they were spot on. For the first time in years, he began to doubt himself.
When rounds ended, Christina turned to Ronny and with the whole group still in attendance, said:” Dok-tor Livington, I want you to stay behind and review all the cases on the ward. Treat them like they are members of your family. Let’s see if you can come up with some fresh ideas. Then meet me in my office.”
“Yes ma’am.” Ronny answered with humility.
“My name is Dr. Patzakis not ma’am. Carry on.” Christina responded with a raised eyebrow.
If Ronny had a tail, it would have been between his legs. He retreated to the ward to review the charts and reexamine the patients. He was determined to familiarize himself with each case and come up with fresh ideas regarding diagnoses and treatments. While examining each patient individually, he would establish a healthy therapeutic relationship. Even though it seemed that he and Dr. Patzakis had had a bumpy start, he knew he could gain her confidence.
As he descended in the elevator to the third floor and Dr. Patzakis’ office, Ronny rehearsed his summaries of his findings. He had gone to the library and researched some of his theories and knew he had valid fresh ideas for each patient. His treatment plans were new variations on established ones but might add something. In one mystery case, he was sure had discovered the diagnosis. It was a disease due to this newly found renegade antibody called IGG4. It was a new and exciting diagnosis in the literature. He had called down to pathology to make sure they did special staining for it on the lymph node biopsy they had obtained days ago. Ronny was excited and thought Dr. P would share his excitement. So he bounded into her office without knocking. His exuberance and smile quickly dissipated when he noticed that she was on the phone and dismissed him with a wave and a frown. He backed away and stood at the entrance of her office until she hung up the phone and gestured him in.
“Are you always so rude and intrusive, dok-tor?” Christina sat at a big oak desk which was covered by stacks of papers and files. Her office was painted off white and had rows of bookshelves filled with medical texts and journals on either side of her desk.
Ronny’s usual calm and self-confidence wavered as he answered: “I’m sorry Dr. Patzakis. I should have knocked but I have some exciting news.”
“What could be so exciting that you forget your manners? Dok-tor, in this program, we expect you to be a good caring clinician and a considerate human being. Now let’s start over. Take a seat and tell me what you found.”
Ronny took a deep breath, sat on the wooden chair in front of her desk and shared with Christina all his findings and recommendations. He left his exciting new diagnosis until the end. Christina sat quietly, pursed her lips and nodded intermittently. When Ronny came to his new possible diagnosis, she raised her eyebrows and frowned. Ronny was puzzled.
“Dok-tor, your research and hard work are appreciated and expected. The theory you have is interesting. Of course, I have considered it. I wish you had asked me before calling pathology. You are new and don’t know which pathologist specializes in this kind of staining. I do. Please dok-tor familiarize yourself with the proper protocols in this program. I am your mentor and direk-tor. Consult me before any decisions or actions.”
Ronny paused and knitted his eyebrows. “I thought that as a fellow we have some autonomy. I’m sorry if I overstepped any boundaries.”
Christina smiled slightly and nodded. “Eventually, you will but you are new and need training. I need to know I can trust you.”
Ronny had gained trust and autonomy quickly at each stage of his training but somehow, he thought this time might be different. He nodded and was about to rise when Christina motioned him to keep seated. Her demeanor suddenly changed. He noticed that she seemed to be sizing him up. It made him uneasy. She was leaning over her desk, partially exposing her breasts. The atmosphere in the office suddenly became heavy. Christina smile changed. It felt lascivious to Ronny. He squirmed in his seat.
Christina seemed to relish his discomfort but in a new heavily accented sweet voice tried to make him relax. “Sorry Ronny if I have been harsh to you. It’s okay if I call you Ronny?” Ronny nodded and Christina continued. “You are new to the program, and I have to set boundaries and rules, you understand? I want to invite you to my house for a party for all new Fellows this Saturday. I hope you can come. Bring a bathing suit. Do you have a girlfriend?” Ronny shook his head. He had broken up with Rhonds six months ago. His head was whirling but he thought he heard Christina say “Good.”
Ronny drove to Christina’s house in Brentwood. It was only five miles from his apartment in Santa Monica, but the quality of the houses changed dramatically. Her house was gated ranch style and two story. The lawn was manicured with two large palm trees in the front yard and Birds of Paradise and Bougainvillea lining the walkway to the front door. The gate, Spanish style windows and red tile roof gave the house a Mediterranean feel. Ronny wondered how Christine could afford such a house on a professor’s salary. Rumors were that she had been through a messy divorce a few years prior. Was this part of the settlement? As he reached the ornate wooden front door, he noticed a paper sign instructing guests to go around the back to the pool area. Middle Eastern music filled the air. He followed the walkway to a side iron gate, pulled up the latch and entered the backyard. Immediately, he was struck by the smell of chlorine. A large patio led to a large Jacuzzi attached to an oval pool. Two of the new female Fellows were sitting fully clothed on lawn chairs by the pool. The only other male Fellow was sitting in the Jacuzzi with Christina. Everyone had a wine glass in their hand and looked up when Ronny arrived. It was three pm. But Ronny noticed a few empty bottles on a table by the pool. Ronny felt strangely uncomfortable. He approached the Jacuzzi and waved at Christina. She smiled and raised her glass.
“Ronny, welcome! Go inside, change and join us. There’s wine glasses in the kitchen. The Jacuzzi is very hot and the pool is warm. Jeremy and I just got in.”
Ronny smiled. He really was not in the mood for a Jacuzzi. Dr. Patzakis made him very uncomfortable. She was wearing a string bikini top, and he wasn’t sure she was wearing bottoms. What kind of program had he entered? He knew Rheumatology was going to be fun but this… Maybe it was cultural. He had been to some nude beaches in Greece. He was not a prude, but he had always separated his professional and academic life from his private one. Dr P was a renowned teacher and clinician. He looked forward to learning from her but what hoops would he have to jump through? Only time would tell. He entered the house, found the bathroom and changed into his speedo. Considering all his options, he decided to join Jeremy and Dr. P in the jacuzzi. She toasted him as he slowly lowered himself into the steaming water. He wasn’t sure but he sensed that she slid closer to him. He smiled and looked down. It would be an interesting three years.