From the Wards
comment 1

Anecdotes from the Wards

Scene I: 7:30 a.m. in the OR at the VA

[Elderly gentleman with too many comorbidities to be induced into sleep. He is given local anesthesia and lies draped on the operating table. General surgery is suctioning a fluctuant mass from his upper left thorax. Case has been opened.]

Patient behind curtain: Oh, God. Oh, God! Errrgggggh!

Anesthesiologist: We’re just gonna give you some more medicine.

Chief Resident: It’s right around your broken rib. There are some nerves there. [Takes forceps and widens wound. Medical student stares at the wound.]

Patient: What do you want me to do?! [whimpers and voice begins to fade] I’m in pain! I’m in pain.

Patient: Oh, Lord! It hurts! It just hurts! Orrrggghhh!

Chief Resident [to the curtain]: You have a bad infection. It’ll only be a little longer.

Patient: Ahhhhh! Make it stop! When is it going to end?! Aggghhhhh!

Chief Resident [looks at the medical student, and speaks to him for the first time in three days as yellow pus and blood pour through the tube]: Mmmmmmm … Satisfying. [Patient howls in background.]

Scene II: Morning in the OR

[Male patient anesthetized and lying on operating table for open inguinal hernia repair. Bearded Chief is finishing opening the case. Tom Petty’s “Free-Fallin'” begins to play on the radio].

Bearded Chief [running the scalpel over skin]: This is an appropriate song.

Attending: What do you mean?

[Medical student blinks.]

Bearded Chief: “Free-Fallin’.” [Glances up and starts to cauterize.]

Attending [hands resting on the patient’s right side]: “Um … I don’t see it. But I hope not.”

Bearded Chief [buzzing some fascia]: More like “free-ballin’.”

Attending: That’s not a song.

Bearded Chief [chuckles]: “It is in my heart.”


Attending: Okay.

Patrick McCabe Patrick McCabe (4 Posts)

Contributing Writer Emeritus

University of Alabama School of Medicine

Patrick is a Class of 2014 medical student at the University of Alabama School of Medicine in Birmingham. Born and raised in California, he attended the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana and then spent two years applying his English major by teaching sixth, seventh, and eighth graders literature, grammar, and writing for the university's ACE program in Mobile, Alabama. Current extracurricular interests include trying to resume reading and writing as hobbies, watching films, listening to music and collecting film soundtracks, relaxing with friends, and waiting, with diminishing patience, for the Cal Golden Bears football team to have an undefeated season. He remains undecided about a potential field of practice.

  • Jocelyn Mary-Estelle Wilson


    What’s intriguing about these anecdotes are the lack of discussion. Are we shocked? Are we disappointed? Are we wearing a short white coat and thus inured? The prurient humor of some OB/Gyn physicians, the loquacious rounds in Internal Medicine… and this macabre remix of Tom Petty, so humorous to certain surgery residents, may be a well developed defense mechanism. And do these defenses: lewdness, OCPD, and sangfroid, make them better able to deliver babies, manage meningitis, and cut out gallbladders? I’d like to think that we should rage against it but I have not had 5 clinical years and 1-2 research years in surgery.