The Monolith


Jane Chun knows this, knows it fiercely: whatever good opinion William Mangan has of her, the new girl can put it into flames. The girl is a former Fulbright scholar who studied modernist poetry at Trinity. She’s pretty too, an appealing pinkish-lightish brown. She has a name you can’t pronounce, hardly worth pronouncing. Arrogant, as one might expect from the CV, though the girl seems earnest, in her way, and quite down to earth. A poet getting ready to read her work at a small venue. A modest schoolteacher, readying a lecture she’s been researching carefully. But maybe that’s her shtick. Her armor against the punishment that comes, in medical school, for being perceived as arrogant. She’s a girl, twenty-five, while Jane’s a woman of the world.

The problem with such people, Jane thinks, is that their earnestness becomes a blundering ignorance of how the world works. But, still, she makes Jane both angry and nervous, this brown girl. And in turn, Jane makes her nervous back, daring to ask, in the hearing of nurses, techs, other med students, “Hey, sorry I can’t pronounce your name, you, girl, med student, whatever, hey, do you think you might have dyslexia? Or something. You seem to have a problem writing scripts. You keep getting some details slightly wrong. Like, you reverse the PO and the frequency. All the information’s there, fine, but it’s off somehow.”

What this girl—fine, Re-nuke-a, at least phonetically, reminding Jane of the expression “to nuke”—what this girl doesn’t know: second-year medical students like her aren’t even required to write scripts. There’s little that they have to do, in point of fact, but soak up knowledge from attendings like Jane, and above all, defer to that knowledge. The student must acknowledge not having knowledge. But Jane has got this girl Renuka tied up in knots, convincing her that because of her typos on scripts, her slowness in answering a question or two about the selection of antibiotics for flesh wounds in cancer patients, and worst of all, her habit of occasionally crying by the bedside, actual tears, something Jane hasn’t had to worry about since she can’t remember—because of all that, Jane’s made it clear, this Renuka might not even become a doctor. At least, Jane can stop her from being an internist. Jane may well be able, by telling William what to write, to make sure something terrible is written about Renuka, in as demeaning and damning a tone as possible, in the critical memo, rotation assessment, that goes from William’s desk to Renuka’s medical school advising dean, and then in turn is read by every residency program in every hospital that would decide whether to train her. They could all bar Renuka from the gates.

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