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

‘Making the Rounds’ examines love and life

By Patricia Grayhall November 7, 2022

Patricia Grayhall, pictured in Boston in 1983, recently released a memoir, which she says was a half century in the making.

This article originally appeared in the November/December 2022 issue of Seattle Magazine.

Patricia Grayhall’s memoir was a half-century in the making.

Grayhall, a retired Seattle medical doctor, just released Making the Rounds: Defying Norms in Love and Medicine, a story of her coming-of-age in the 1970s as a young woman striving for love and a career as a doctor when neither was approved by society at the time. Grayhall, who writes under a pen name to protect the privacy of her characters as well as her own, has written many medical articles and book chapters but took classes at Hugo House in Seattle and hired a writing coach to define her voice. The book was published by She Writes Press in October.

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

Here is an excerpt:

In March, David and I nervously waited for the results of the internship match. Sitting in Classroom A with ninety-eight of our other classmates, we held our breath, and in unison tore open our envelopes and showed our results to each other. 

I gasped and shouted my delight. “We matched together at Boston University Hospitals!” I turned to hug David.

Rather than elation, his face showed disappointment.

“I’m happy we’ll be at the same hospital,” he said as he hugged me back, perhaps more for comfort. “I’d just hoped to match in San Francisco.” 

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

Regardless of our pending move to Boston, we still had specialty rotations to finish up in Salt Lake City. In April, the medical school assigned me to Holy Cross Hospital for my pulmonary elective. 

Slouching in pulmonologist Ted Nelson’s office, jiggling my foot up and down, and enduring a boring monologue on pulmonary sounds, I tried my best to stay awake. After all, I had committed to the internal medicine honors program track, and this was my last rotation before graduation. 

As I was about to nod off, the office door opened abruptly and in walked Dee, head of the Respiratory Therapy Department — without even knocking. She was a short, slim, sharply dressed woman. She appeared to be in her early thirties, every hair in place, makeup perfect, with an imperious bearing, and intelligent brown eyes. Despite her feminine appearance, she bristled with confident butch energy. I snapped to attention; that alluring combination of butch and femme piqued my interest.

“Mr. Jordan’s blood gases are back, and his tidal volumes are inadequate. You need to change your order to wean him off his respirator today,” she instructed her boss, thrusting the patient’s chart toward him on the desk. 

Wow, that’s gutsy, I thought. 

Dr. Nelson, however, seemed unperturbed; he nodded and signed the order she’d written for him. Then, he introduced me.

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

Dee looked me over quickly, and I felt self-conscious in my corduroy jeans, a shirt that had never seen an iron, hiking boots, and wrinkled white coat. If I’d known I was going to meet this interesting woman, I’d have taken more care dressing that morning. 

“Hi,” I greeted her, heat rising to my face.

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

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

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

Dee was teaching me an enormous amount about pulmonary physiology. In those days, even some of the cardiopulmonary surgeons didn’t understand how to monitor their patients on a ventilator or to interpret blood gases and other measurements of pulmonary function. Dee intervened, made suggestions, and stood up to them, including Dr. Nelson, when she thought they were jeopardizing patient care. I was in awe of her.

One April morning, Dr. Maize, a cardiovascular surgeon, entered his post-op patient’s room, turned various dials on the ventilator, and walked out. The alarm sounded, alerting Dee and me to return to the room. We found the patient thrashing around in his bed. Dr. Maize had already left the Intensive Care Unit (ICU).

Dee frowned. “No wonder he’s agitated. Maize upped the flow rate to 90!” She readjusted the dials to the proper setting.

The cover of Patricia Grayhall’s “Making the Rounds.”

Book cover photo: Cecilia Lim

I followed her around like a puppy, absorbing her knowledge and admiring her chutzpah in standing up to her superiors in the medical hierarchy.

Sometimes we had lunch together. I was dying to find out about her personal life. Two weeks into the elective, I decided to probe. 

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

“Run up and down the hills on our snowmobiles, travel in our RV, play with the dogs,” she said.

“Are you married?” I noticed she’d used the plural.

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

I mulled this over as we rounded on patients. I still had no straightforward answers. She lived with a woman — what did that mean? Was she interested in me? Or could she ever be? 

That Friday, when I was leaving for the weekend, I ran into Dee going the opposite direction in the stairwell. 

“I’m off,” I said. 

She paused, looking up at me. “Are you doing anything interesting this weekend?” 

“I thought I’d try to find someone to ravish,” I ventured—and at once cringed and shoved my hands in my pockets. That was not true. What am I thinking?

Dee grinned and without missing a beat said, “I’m sure you won’t have any trouble.” 

My stomach flipped as she passed me on her way up the stairs, and when I got to the parking lot, I bounced into my ’68 Ford Mustang, popped it into gear, and drove way too fast up the hill to my Medical Towers apartment, radio blaring Joni Mitchell’s, “Help Me.”

For further information visit, www.patriciagrayhall.com.

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