Appreciation

Leanna, Third Year Medical Student

There is little glamour in medicine. At least for a third year medical student like myself. One of the things I’ve noticed about these long hours on call and being an incessant busybody is that it makes you appreciate small things in life that you just don’t really appreciate otherwise. Such as, in no order of importance:

1) Chairs

There is hierarchy in every branch of medicine called the Chair Usage Index. Now, as an experienced third year student, I’m more and more aware of the acute deficit of chairs in every room. So the CUI is an unspoken measurement of who gets to sit in the chairs that truly do exist in the room. It is based on the following criteria:

1. Age
Greater than 60: +2
Less than 27: -1

2. Sex
Female: +1
Male: 0

3. Characteristics of hair
Gray: +2
Receding/balding: +1
Full, lush head of hair: 0

4. Status upon presentation (MOST IMPORTANT DETERMINANT)
Attending physician: +5
Senior resident: +4
Junior resident: +3
Intern or dog/pet therapy animal: +1
4th year medical student: 0
High school shadow student: -1
Patient charts, attending physician’s snacks/designer water bottle: -2
3rd year medical student: -3

Using the CUI criteria, my total Chair Usage Index score is -3. Thus, in rounds and sign-out I am often found leaning against and at best scooting half my butt onto random sinks and counters. Sometimes I make the mistake against leaning against something particular unstable and finding an entire rack of carts or important papers being scattered throughout the room. It is at this point that someone takes pity on me and offers me a chair, or a stool, or an upside-down plastic bin.

 

2) The bathroom

Obviously it is used for its obvious purposes. But lately I’ve discovered that there is a deeper meaning to the bathroom. In the bathroom you find peace and quiet, as well as a place to sit (see my issues with point #1). You can nearly hear the tranquil sounds of the tropics and gentle waves on the shore (such is the illusion of the air vent after three hours of sleep). Please, just 30 more seconds, my tired body says to my mind. Just 30 more seconds of serenity and rejuvenation. Alright now, I hope I’m not sounding too weird here. Within me are slight tendencies towards introversion, and I find being alone for a minute or two is recharging – and it’d be far too odd to sit in a supply closet. So bathroom it is, and a new appreciation for it as well.

 

3) Femininity

The shoddy makeup I put on in the morning is a feeble attempt to look more awake and alert and like a normal 20-something girl. At times it doesn’t even work in that regard, and of course at times I don’t even bother to put any on. Also, scrubs on my frame look like frumpled blue sheets randomly vomited onto me from the dryer – static-y, clingy, and simultaneously making me look both emaciated and oddly plump. Seriously, I would like to meet the person after whom the basic scrubs pattern was modeled, because that would mean meeting the most oddly disproportioned man in the universe. And yeah, it’d definitely be a man. However, I’m okay with the whole situation, because whenever I’m not wearing scrubs now, I consider myself “dressed up”. The other day I put on a t-shirt I got at a high school soccer tournament , blue jeans, actually brushed my hair, and thought, Dude, I look amazing right now. Absolutely stunning. I took a trip to Petco to show off my looks.

 

4) My name

Usually there is one and only one student per team, i.e. attending, physician, senior or junior resident, intern, and myself. You would think that with such a small team, people would come to know me by name. Yet, it has been nearly the opposite. I am affectionately known as “A Student Physician.” Or, better yet, when with coed classmates, “The Female Medical Student” (see point #3! This is a good thing, that I am recognized as being female!). A conversation goes something like this:

Attending/Dr. X: Where is the emesis basin [layman’s terms: barf bucket]?
Senior resident: This patient does not have one in here.
Attending/Dr. X: Tell The Medical Student to get one for this patient and help the patient use the basin.
Me, a lowly student: Oh Dr. X! How I desire to do whatever menial task you set me to do!
Senior resident: Er, what?
Attending/Dr. X: The Female Student. Have her do something useful.
Me, a lowly student: Yes Doctor! Emesis basin-ho!

So, you may understand that when one of my authorities addresses me as “Leanna”, I nearly wallow over starry-eyed and die, struck to core by this gracious acknowledgment of my individuality, uniqueness, heritage, special place in the universe. Had this same person dropped to one knee and proposed in the next sentence, it’d definitely seal the deal.

 

5) Life

Okay, a serious note, but I don’t have to explain this one. Obviously, while working in the hospital, you are surrounded by death. People dying alone, dying estranged from their wives, elders neglected or even abused by their children, dying from the side effects of 30+ years of IV drug use or alcohol. At times this really gets to my head and if I may say, is very depressing and seems to affect me more than I would’ve guessed. There was a little part in me that assumed I could compartmentalize better than I actually can, that I could easily find a balance of separating the disease from the patient. Even in the first year or so of school, I found myself figuring out how to numb down emotions or at least suppress them to a healthy measure. But now, well, I can’t, and I learned this year that I really don’t like seeing people die.

However, there are two sides to even the flattest pancake (odd but true words of wisdom from my dad). The constant exposure to dying and suffering also has the potential to remind me of the subliminal greatness of the everyday things in my life. I’m not talking along the lines of appreciating all the fun things like warm socks and shopping and baby animals though; I mean the parts of your life that, were they gone, you’d experience more sorrow than you thought possible. People mean more to me than they used to – even the most precious people in my life, who I believed I valued to the most of my ability, I see them in a different, almost more sacred light.

This week finishes up four out of six psychiatry weeks for me, and of course there are extremes of humor and isolation and sadness and peculiarity in psych. My boyfriend also gave me a special piece of jewelry about a week or so ago; looks like my future diploma will have a different name on it than when I started – and I’m completely fine with that!

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