you’re making things worse / rubbing wounds with the salt / from their own sweat
I was the student on the pediatric surgery service consulted to monitor her during her hospital stay — making sure we were ready to intervene if her esophagus ruptured and all that. After admitting her to the floor, we attempted to contact her parents. Mom was somewhere in Illinois, Dad doing I-still-don’t-know-what in Canada, both completely unaware that the life they each helped create was potentially in jeopardy at a Southeast Michigan hospital.
The power and beauty of writing rest in a process of active narrative formation. The act of expression helps us make sense of what happened, integrate this into our sense of self, and clarify our values that will influence our next steps. Conveniently, our expression serves as a record of both identity and narrative formation, giving us a glimpse of ourselves more intimately than we typically take time for.
Instead, I was worried that medicine would consume me only to regurgitate me as a mere collection of cells and systems — just like those I would be expected to regurgitate on the test. I was worried that the demands of knowing it all would make me believe that I could know it all, that there is nothing in the spaces between what we know. I was worried that bathing in science would make me stop believing in art.
I’m 19, I was caught trespassing. / They said I was acting “unusual.” / No reason really.
A classmate of mine committed suicide a few weeks ago. Though I’ve heard the harrowing statistics about physician and trainee suicide rates, to be honest, I never expected to personally encounter such a tragedy. The small classes at my medical school allow for a strong sense of community in which we all know each other, celebrate important life milestones, and happily reconnect when we’re together after clinical rotations scatter us throughout the hospital.
I’m not the first to think / under my breath, even out loud: / To test positive for Covid. / Even after this morning.
This phenomenon of imposter syndrome is prevalent in many of us pursuing medicine. Especially for those of us who are first-generation physicians, we are left to fend through uncharted territories. While we try to do our best to navigate this difficult path, we are left feeling that there is someone else better suited for our spot in medicine. We feel that we are not deserving of this privilege. As we pass through these high obstacles — basic sciences, board exams, core rotations, even electives — we stew in self-doubt after each success.
As I reviewed the notes, it occurred to me that many of my peers and I have displayed some of the signs and symptoms of mental illness. Our professor’s lectures emphasized the importance of recognizing these features in patients, but what about identifying them in ourselves? Should it also be our duty to recognize the signs and symptoms in our colleagues?
In a profession where we are trained to fight death around any corner, any day, students need to not only understand how to handle death in a medical setting but also how to cope with the weight we bring upon ourselves in end-of-life situations. No matter our past experiences, no matter our clinical training or how academically prepared we think we may be, it can be traumatic to feel the burden of responsibility for the loss of a life.
A few years ago, I found CrossFit. Since then, I have spent a large share of my free time training and improving my health and fitness. As with any sport, there was a large learning curve. However, as I trained, my mind and body adapted. I made strides both athletically and mentally that I never thought were possible. I never imagined that this preparation and development would translate to a seemingly opposing task: medical school.
Anxiety defined me more when I denied its existence than it does now that I’ve faced it head-on. Maybe the anxiety helped me get to where I was, but it was a burden I didn’t have to bear — especially not alone. Even knowing how important mental health is as a future physician, it embarrassed me to admit that I might need a prescription to help me cope with my fears and anxieties.