My most embarrassing encounter

As a child, my family doctor was an elegant man attired in a tailored shirt, classic tie, and crisp lab coat. Every hair in place, every word a cornucopia of wisdom, his presence exuded sophistication and grace. He was a tough act to follow, and even more so after the birth of my first child. Brainwashed during my Pediatrics rotation that breast milk was the superior nutritional choice for my newborn son, I was adamant I would provide breast milk until my son was at least a year old. Lofty goals but problematic on those hectic clinic days when every patient seen yanked out a list of eight medical problems to dissect and solve (and then insist I code the visit as their yearly "well-woman" exam!)

On this particular day, I was nearly an hour behind schedule but my breasts, feeling like bloated cow udders, were not running late and began to leak. Soon, my bra and blouse were wet. (Thank God lab coats cover a multitude of sins!) Knowing I could no longer delay pumping my breasts with my handy electric breast pump (unless I wanted to win a wet T-shirt competition,) I told my medical assistant to obtain a urinanalysis, EKG, and blood work on my last morning patient while I dashed into my office and relieved my aching breasts from their misery. (I now have great compassion for cows when milking is delayed.)

Since Mr. Johnson was a wizenly man with the slow, shuffling gait of a ninety-year old, I figured I'd have a good ten minutes to relieve my misery and collect the nutritional gold my son needed.

I dashed into my office, shut the door, sat at my desk and assembled my pump. I tugged up my bra and connected my now engorged coconuts into the suction cups, and flicked on the power switch. Ah, sweet relief as my misery drip, drip, dripped into the bottle.

After ten minutes, I had just pulled the suction cups off my breasts when suddenly, Mr. Johnson opened my office door and barged in by mistake, obviously "lost" after providing a urine sample.

There I sat, topless, breasts exposed like some floozy in a strip club. I yanked down my top, but not before noticing his eyes wider than moon pies, bulging with shock and embarrassment. I don't know which of us was more mortified. I said, "I was pumping." His eyes dilated even further. It occurred to me he probably had no idea what I meant by "pumping" and no doubt thought it was some exercise women performed like weight lifting to try to increase their bust size. He muttered a hasty apology and scurried to his exam room. Now I had to go face him and attempt to act like a professional after he'd seen me topless. Great!

We avoided eye contact and focused on the importance of maintaining excellent blood sugar control. We feigned that the topless incident had never occurred. Unable to stand the awkwardness a second longer, I explained about having a new baby and pumping breast milk for my baby. He looked even more uncomfortable. Men of his generation didn't use words like "breasts" and "nursing" in mixed company, let alone with their woman doctor!

I never will be the debonair Marcus Welby, M.D. of my youth. My best advice to lady colleagues who want to combine practicing medicine with motherhood? Lock your office door!

Sally Burbank M.D.