Every medical student has felt apprehensive about facing death at some point, right? Maybe you have experienced someone dying before, or maybe it is something you have never seen and only rarely contemplated. Regardless, there is a subtle tension lurking during your first two years of pre-clinical studies, during which disease and death are intellectualized and abstract. Then clerkships start.
It was a Friday morning at 4:30 a.m. and I was rushing to the hospital for pre-rounds. I was on my neurology rotation, and my pockets were heavy and stuffed with tools. My preceptor had texted me the room numbers of the patients I was to visit that morning. I had three patients to see in the hour before rounds — the first two patients I had been following every day this week and a …
Big procedures can be tense, but today’s felt a little different. The atmosphere was relaxed. Then, unexpectedly, a few issues arose. Two of them, to be precise.
In early spring, amid the earlier quarantines, I watched dandelions grow outside my window. At first, subtly and hidden among the blades of grass. Then budding, bursting yellow amid green galaxies. These tiny suns danced in April’s wind and their scent carried morning’s dew and earth-like warmth into midday, until the smells of grills and barbecues took stage.
Soon after I began my clinical rotations in medical school, I started to see it. It was subtle. At first, I didn’t even notice it. It usually happens during hand-over, when the night team fills in the day team on overnight events, including any new admissions.
There I was, face to face with a middle-aged Korean man, blood still dripping from a gash in his forehead. Disoriented, erratic, agitated … and rightfully so.
At the start of my psychiatry rotation, I was most apprehensive about performing the “bread and butter” exam of the specialty: the psychiatric interview. I was not afraid of forgetting which questions to ask, but rather how to ask said questions.
She sat on her bed in a bright magenta shirt covered in glittery animals, with her arms folded tightly across her chest. Her green eyes were trained on the muted television broadcasting Disney cartoons, and her bed was strewn with coloring books and crayons. This scene looked quite different from the other overdoses we had been consulted on. Still, our attending calmly walked up to her bedside, introduced our bustling team and asked the universal question,
Nineteen. Oh the joy of being 19 years old. Can you remember back that far? Reminisce on the butterflies you felt as you waited for your date to pick you up for your very first college party.
There is a fine line between medicine and mortality: give too much and it can kill someone; give too little and even that could kill someone. We show up to the hospital with the intent to save lives, and anything that deviates from that goal is seen as a failure of the system, or, at times, of ourselves. However, over time, we come to learn that there is an in-between where we are at once trying to preserve life, all the while embracing the idea of human mortality.
During my OB/GYN rotation, one of my primary roles as a medical student was to observe and assist during labor and delivery. On one particularly memorable Friday afternoon, after we welcomed a healthy baby boy into our world, I delivered the placenta wholly intact on my own. However, while I felt satisfied with a job well done, something was dripping down my leg…
“This one is a handful. She brought a long list, too, so good luck with that,” the nurse said as she handed me the patient prep sheet. This was a new patient to the family medicine practice. I was seeing her near the end of a long day, so I took a deep breath to reset my mind as I entered the exam room, prepared to listen.