It is the end of the day. I know this not because I can see the color of the sky, but because the hands of the clock tell me so. My shins ache. My eyelids droop. From an unknown place above, I watch myself join a whirlpool of patients circling the nurses’ desk. I watch as my last my last drop of energy slips out of my body and down the drain. I wonder, “Is this real life?”
My ears reluctantly pick up the sound of faint laughter. The laugh grows louder, closer, and unrestrained. From my place above, I snap back into my body and realize that the laughter comes from a young female psych patient among the whirlpool. She laughs at the drunken man wearing a hospital gown and diaper who is shouting at the top of his lungs, “Get me outta’ here!”
It is the end of my first day of work in the emergency room.
Rewind to 8 a.m. I arrive in my freshly laundered scrubs and white coat. I swing my fancy new stethoscope around my neck. I push my glasses up the bridge of my nose. I take a deep breath. Today is the first day that I arrive in this attire not as a veterinary technician, not as a medical assistant, but as a student doctor. My brain stalls at the thought, but I smile. I make my way to the front desk and introduce myself to the doctor with the long white coat, black scrubs and silvery hair.
“What are you here for, young lady?” he asks.
“I’m a medical student. Today is my first day in the ER.”
“Well get to work, young lady.”
I look around frantically for another student. There is one standing at a computer. I must look frightened and lost because he greets me with a smile that says, “Don’t worry, little one. I’ll help you find your mother.” Suddenly, the ER looks different than when I arrived. The beeping machines no longer sound like a well-rehearsed orchestra. The light that seemed heavenly when I first walked in now reflects harshly off the floor.
“You can follow me today,” the student says.
I sigh. “Thank you. Is there any way I will leave here today not feeling like a total idiot?”
“No. Unfortunately not.”
And thus began the next chapter of medical school.