The day before I was asked to give this speech, sometime mid-May, I was speaking with a first year student. At the time, I was two weeks shy of completing my third year of medical school — the year of school that you spend the most time in the hospital.
To physicians, hospice frequently symbolizes defeat. Referring a patient to hospice care can feel like admitting that disease has defeated years of training. In medical school, we are trained that the role of the doctor is to fight the disease and find the cure.
At 7:21 p.m., I arrive at the hospital for the first overnight shift of my medical career. It’s not a great start — the bus was late, and I didn’t sleep nearly enough this afternoon in preparation for the night ahead.
Yellow does not mean sunshine, nor lemons. / Definitely not daffodils, nor sharp, new Number 2’s. / Yellow means sick. Dirty. Dangerous.
Tears hold onto the ledges of her eyes. As the physician and I approach, a quivering begins. It emerges at the jaw, a flutter running across her lips, only to drop onto her shoulders and envelop her hands.
During the team huddle I was assigned to Room 403, Bed 1. “There is a lot you can learn from this patient. You should see him.” I got the one liner and was off.
“Dan the magic man,” Q replied. Q rummaged through his jacket pocket and pulled out a quarter. A childish smile brought the color back to his face as he attempted to make the coin disappear into thin air and then pull it out from behind my ear.
I slide through the door swung open by the janitor. It closes with a metallic shudder.
Everyone says that medical school gets better, especially during third year. The traditional four-year curriculum covers the basic sciences in the classroom for the first two years. Then suddenly, third year plunges us into clinical rotations in the hospital, where we’ve all dreamed of working for so long.
On the first day of my neonatology elective I met Aaron, a one-day-old infant born to a mother with a history of intravenous drug abuse. The mother was reportedly attending a methadone clinic during her pregnancy to address her opioid addiction, but her urine drug screen was positive for fentanyl.
A pair of Navy socks on pale, scrawny legs — that’s what I remember about him. 0300 hours in the ED and the umpteenth “What brings you in tonight, sir?” and suddenly all the patients start to meld together.
On inpatient pediatrics, I helped care for a young boy admitted following urological complications after surgery. I first heard about him during morning sign-out: he was in severe pain, and his Foley catheter kept getting clogged and needed to be flushed repeatedly.