Wait. What? His words came in response to my teasing about his complaint that he was going to have to go see one of his patients. It was my very first day of medical school. Well, kind of. It was my very first day of freshman wards, before any of my classes had even begun.
I giggled a little nervously, thinking he would join in my laughter at any moment and assure me that his words had been in jest.
Silence. He continued to stare at the patient information on the computer screen. He’d forgotten I was there.
He was a first year general surgery intern, and I’d been assigned to follow him on the vascular surgery service for the next two weeks. Most of my other classmates had been assigned to follow much more accommodating, friendly third year medical school students who could sympathize with the ignorance of us first-years (newbs, if you will), but not me. I was just hanging out with the residents, who didn’t know why I was there or seem to understand that I hadn’t had a lick of medical school education.
I watched him continue perusing his patient charts on the computer, and I felt the blood start to pound in my ears.
What have I signed myself up for? Am I going to become a jaded, hard, unsympathetic doctor who groans at the thought of actually going to see a patient? Am I going to become a monster?
I was getting really nervous. This wasn’t at all how I thought it would be. Only a short while later, the attending showed up to begin our morning rounds. To the disgust and nervousness that had already settled in my stomach for the morning, I added fear. This man was dangerously soft-spoken, you know, the quiet, seething, angry type that blows up without warning. If my intern was a monster, this man was a fire-breathing dragon. Once I dared to look him in the eyes, and I swear I saw flames.
I felt my stubbornness kick-in only a few hours later, as I watched monster and fire-breathing dragon interact with patients throughout the day. I refused to accept that what I was seeing was the way it had to be in medicine. I refused to cede to the idea that I, too, must become rude, hardened and distanced from my patients.
That was August, 2009. Now, as a third-year student on my surgery rotation, I’ve got two brand-new first year students working with me. Seeing them start their own journeys has made me reflect back to two years ago, when I wasn’t sure that I should have signed off on all those students loans. Two years later, through a multitude of positive interactions with excellent surgeons, I’ve finally been convinced that all surgeons, contrary to my personal belief for the past two years, are NOT monsters. I’ve even been persuaded that surgery can be a deeply satisfying career for somebody who plans on having meaningful patient interactions.
Two years later, I’m ironically a little bit thankful to have experienced the adventures of monster and fire-breathing dragon. Without them, I might not have so stubbornly decided to always respect and listen to my patients, even when at the height of exhaustion, hunger, etc. Oddly enough, I suppose they made me a better (future) doctor.