Coming Up, Coming Out: One Seattle Doctor’s Tale

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Patricia Grayhall’s memoirs had been in the works for half a century.

Grayhall, a retired Seattle doctor, has just been fired Making the rounds: defying norms in love and medicine, a story of her coming of age in the 1970s as a young woman aspiring to love and a career as a doctor, when neither was society sanctioned at the time. Grayhall, who writes under a pseudonym to protect the privacy of her characters and her own, has written many medical articles and book chapters but took classes at Seattle’s Hugo House and hired a writing coach to help define her voice. The book was published by She Writes Press in October.

Grayhall lives outside of Seattle with “the love of her life” and says she enjoys hiking and enjoying wine with friends.

Here is an excerpt:

In March, David and I nervously awaited the results of the internship match. We sat in Classroom A with ninety-eight of our other classmates, holding our breath, tearing open our envelopes together, and showing each other our results.

I gasped and cried out my joy. “We were a match at Boston University Hospitals!” I turned to hug David.

Instead of elation, his face showed disappointment.

“I’m glad we’ll be in the same hospital,” he said as he hugged me back, perhaps more for comfort. “I was just hoping to compete in San Francisco.”

His disappointment was understandable. It had only been a few months since David finally came out, and San Francisco was the mecca for gay men.

Notwithstanding our impending move to Boston, we still had special rotations to finish in Salt Lake City. In April, medical school referred me to Holy Cross Hospital for my pulmonary specialty.

As I hung around in the office of pulmonologist Ted Nelson, wiggling my foot and enduring a boring monologue about lung sounds, I tried my best to stay awake. After all, I was committed to the Internal Medicine honors program, and this was my last rotation before graduation.

Just as I was about to nod off, the office door opened abruptly and Dee, Head of Respiratory Therapy, walked in without even knocking. She was a small, slim, elegantly dressed woman. She appeared to be in her early thirties, every hair in its place, makeup perfect, with an imperious demeanor and intelligent brown eyes. Despite her feminine appearance, she oozed confident butch energy. I stood at attention; This seductive combination of butch and femme caught my interest.

“Mr. Jordan’s blood gases are back and his tidal volume is inadequate. You must change your order to wean him off his ventilator today,” she instructed her boss, pushing the medical chart onto his desk.

Wow, that’s braveI thought.

dr Nelson, however, seemed unimpressed; He nodded and signed the order she had written for him. Then he introduced me.

“Dee, this is Patricia Grayhall, a fourth-year medical student who will be working with us for the next six weeks.”

Dee eyed me quickly, and I felt self-conscious in my corduroy jeans, a shirt that had never seen an iron, hiking boots, and a rumpled white coat. If I had known I was going to meet this interesting woman, I would have dressed better that morning.

“Hi,” I greeted her, and the heat rose to my face.

dr Nelson waved his hand in my direction. “Dee, why don’t you show Patricia the lung lab and spend the rest of the afternoon going over its functions.”

And spend the night with me, I thought and then checked myself. Suddenly, full of energy, I jumped out of the chair to follow her as she stepped out the door.

Over the next few weeks, I found every possible excuse to visit the pulmonary function lab or accompany Dee on her rounds of patients on ventilators. dr Nelson was more than happy to hand me over to her.

Dee taught me a tremendous amount about lung physiology. Even some of the cardiopulmonary surgeons back then didn’t understand how to monitor their patients on ventilators or how to interpret blood gases and other readings of lung function. Dee intervened, made suggestions and opposed them, including Dr. Nelson when she thought they were jeopardizing patient care. I was in awe of her.

One morning in April, Dr. Maize, a cardiovascular surgeon, entered his postoperative patient’s room, turned various controls on the ventilator, and walked out. The alarm sounded, warning Dee and I to return to the room. We found the patient fidgeting in his bed. dr Maize had already left the intensive care unit (ICU).

Dee frowned. “No wonder he’s excited. Corn increased the flow rate to 90!” She adjusted the dials back to the correct setting.

The cover of Patricia Grayhall’s Making the Rounds.

Book cover photo: Cecilia Lim

I followed her like a puppy, absorbing her knowledge and admiring her chutzpah with her superiors in the medical hierarchy.

Sometimes we ate lunch together. I really wanted to know something about her private life. Two weeks into the elective, I decided to do some research.

“What do you like to do on your days off?” I asked, turning the salt shaker on the table between us.

“Running up and down the hills on our snowmobiles, traveling in our RV, playing with the dogs,” she said.

“Are you married?” I noticed that she had used the plural.

“No, but I share a house with Brenda,” she told me pointedly. She got up and took her tray. “Shall we go upstairs and see how Mrs. Levin is?”

I thought about that as we got to the patients. I still didn’t have clear answers. She was living with a woman – what did that mean? Was she interested in me? Or could she ever be?

That Friday, as I was leaving for the weekend, I met Dee in the stairwell walking in the opposite direction.

“I’m going,” I said.

She stopped and looked up at me. “Are you doing anything interesting this weekend?”

“I thought I’d try to find someone to rape,” I ventured – and immediately winced and shoved my hands in my pockets. That wasn’t true. What am I thinking about right now??

Dee grinned and said without hesitation, “I’m sure you won’t have any problems.”

My stomach churned as she passed me on the way upstairs, and when I got to the parking lot, I jumped into my ’68 Ford Mustang, put it in gear and drove way too fast up the hill to my apartment in the Medical Towers, radio belting out Joni Mitchell’s “Help Me.”

For more information, see www.patriciagrayhall.com.

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