The patient is here in the emergency room with headaches, yet another patient not having an emergency, but its after hours, and we’re the only show open, medically speaking, here in Nome, Alaska.
He asks where I go to school, and I tell him Ben Gurion University, in Israel.
“I’ve wanted to visit Israel,” he tells me, “but I don’t think I can. I got some tattoos when I was younger, that I regret.”
There’s only one sort of tattoo that would make someone afraid to visit a Jewish state. I’m guessing he’s got a swastika, but it could be SS, or maybe the HH.
He won’t specify what tattoo he has, and I have no need to ask him to undress, so I never find out.
He’s a big guy, and not that old, but seems shrunken in the hospital bed. He has a mild, almost gentle manner, and sounds sheepish when he talks about the tattoos. It’s hard to imagine him part of a neo-nazi gang, but I’m gonna assume the tattoos signify more than a casual interest. I wonder how he got from there to here.
I tell him I couldn’t recommend walking around Israel with that sort of tattoo visible, but if he kept covered up he’d probably be fine, and there are enough religious groups where the men wear long sleeves even in the summer that it wouldn’t stand out.
The nurse gives him a shot of toridol and the doctor writes a prescription to fill the next day, and we suggest he stay on top of his med refills so he doesn’t have to come back here to the ER at night.
I didn’t imagine I’d be treating former neo-Nazis in Alaska. I suspect my former neo-Nazi patient did not expect to be treated by a Jewish medical student in Alaska either.
I’ve heard of Jewish doctors refusing to treat patients with Nazi tattoos before. To be honest, it never occurred to me in that situation, but I wonder if I would have felt differently if he seemed less contrite and sheepish, if I had discovered the tattoos incidentally.
I hope not. Their rules are not my rules, and I play on my terms, not theirs, and tonight that means a shot and a prescription.
[Nb. old draft that I’m finally getting up]