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Perspectives

Close Encounters of a Different Kind: the Physician Parking Lot

By Leon Morgenstern, M.D.

There was a time when doctors encountered each other in a doctors' dining room or in a doctors' lounge, both standard features in any large hospital. But those encounters are now part of a lamented past, a fading memory of the halcyon days when time was measured in more meaningful terms and the pressures of practice were less demanding. Doctors' dining rooms are defunct for lack of use, and doctors' lounges are frequented by aging emeriti seeking solace and companionship in a dwindling world of contemporaries.

One venue has remained, for the present at least, as an inviolable substitute for the past haunts where doctors met, talked, exchange grievances, described experiences, boasted triumphs and bemoaned failures. That new venue is the doctors' parking lot.

It is a site par excellence for curbstone consultations. It bypasses the telephone, voicemail, press one for A and two for B, and the "doctor is with a patient now." It is a place where eyes meet, nuances find expression and privacy reigns. One is always on the way to or from somewhere and the time constraints are taken for granted. Exchanges are short, pithy and focused. There is only enough time for a clever repartee or a memorable quote. Afterwards, in the automobile, the conversation reverberates in the silence and privacy of the driver's seat, sinking in, acquiring depth and even more meaning.

It is a site for renewing old acquaintances, reminiscing over bygone experiences, exercising the memory of faces, places, patients, diseases, complications, successes and defeats.

It is a favorite site for complaints about the admirations, the late pathology reports, the economy, the pains and pressure of practice "now," as compared to what it was "then."

This venue also could be an adventure in medical history. The parking stalls are now identified by easily forgotten numbers. Dr. Leo Gordon has suggested that each stall bear the name of an illustrious figure in medical history. Each space would bear not only a number but also a name, like 1-Hippocrates, 2-Galen, 3-Billroth or 4-Vesalius. Such designation would not only make the spot more memorable but also lend romance and color to the whole procedure. At the same time, homage would be paid where it is due and perhaps the curiosity of the seeker would be piqued enough to know more about the name so honored. For example, how about 28-Koplik? Who was he to have those spots bear his name and how did he find them when they eluded so many others over all those centuries? And so in for all 200 stalls. What a marvelous tribute to the makers of our medical world and what a stimulus to our own intellectual growth! Alas, it is an idea that has gone nowhere.

So all hail the parking lot, where all who come must go and where there still persists a chance of meetings that would otherwise not take place. It is a site to be savored rather than painfully endured.

Leon Morgenstern, M.D., is Emeritus Chair of the Department of Surgery at Cedars-Sinai.