When I was 17, I went to the gynecologist for a Pap smear because my mom said, “Once you have sex you have to get one.” It felt like punishment, but it was also the only way I had a chance of getting birth control. I went to three different doctors and exam after exam, they kept saying I could have cancer. I did a ‘colpo’ — whatever that is. After that, they did three different procedures on me, THREE, all to take pieces of my cervix. I don’t remember what they were called or what even happened. All I remember is the pain.
There are many reasons a medical student may struggle on their obstetrics and gynecology (OBGYN) rotation. There is an obvious lack of medical knowledge or procedural skills common in all clinical rotations. But, on OBGYN, it can be especially challenging for male medical students to gain the confidence to feel comfortable talking about sensitive topics and being present for sensitive exams. (The same goes for female students in Urology.)
In a hospital room lit blue / By the rays entering in from the clouded sun
I entered the office of the Community Health Council of Wyandotte County, Kansas City, on a muggy, late-summer day during my family medicine rotation. The air-conditioned building boasted a large front room with sporadically placed desks, children’s books and toys, and what looked like a large food pantry. I flexed my elbows and wagged my arms to fan out the sweat from my Black body enshrouded in my white coat.
I’m not the first to think / under my breath, even out loud: / To test positive for Covid. / Even after this morning.
Remember why you’re here. Remember what you value. Decide what your ‘meaningful suffering’ is and don’t waver. For if we do, we too may one day find ourselves running down the hall, away from the very reason we decided to become doctors.
In April of 2020, I began to use the word “adjusting” on a daily basis. I was administering rapid COVID-19 tests at the Detroit Health Department and while their tests were processing, I had fifteen minutes to talk with patients about how they were adjusting to social distancing and adjusting to the media storm that occupied our screens all day.
As soon as I let the door close quietly behind me, I turned to face the glaring, rude fluorescent lights of the operating room foyer. I felt my pupils constrict against their offensive shine as I ripped down my mask to suck in as much oxygen as my deflated lungs possibly could.
My first day in the morgue was a shock to the system — the smell of death, the sight of rigor mortis and the comfort of everyone around me with the task at hand. I thought my prior health care experience prepared me for this, but it clearly did not.
If there is one thing I have learned, it is that what we, the medical providers, think is important may not necessarily be the priority of the patient. We want to know: why are your sugars uncontrolled? How is your diet? Have you been able to take your metformin? However, for the patient, these things are often trivial. The patient wants to know: how will I be able to afford these medications with my part-time job? How am I expected to see a specialist without insurance? Should I be going outside to exercise, or will I contract coronavirus?
5:00 am, the first day on the night shift, / six deliveries completed and only one hour remains. / A call from the nurse says the patient in 14 is five centimeters dilated, / and so we enter the room to rupture her membranes.
The clock strikes midnight and just like that, / she’s been laboring for 10 hours as expected, / time flies when you can’t feel contraction pain.