My mother likes to tell the story of how, as a small child, I referred to the superficial wounds sustained in my first head-over-handlebars accident as an “abrasion.” I remember staring at my knee, fascinated by my body’s ability to heal itself. The sacred anatomy of wounds, atoms as spacious as galaxies, coalescing and woven with no instruction of my own to renew what had been lost.
During the last week of my clinical rotation in Family Medicine, my attending advised me and the accompanying medical student that going forward, the health providers of the clinic must limit their scope of care for patients who present for annual examinations.
Last year, I walked into a big hospital room towards the tiny NICU bed with a tiny baby in his space helmet. The moment he came out of that helmet, which was pumping in 100% oxygen, he would start deteriorating.
It is morning outside, the sun barely kissing the horizon. The curtains have been drawn in an attempt to force any lick of light from the room. But one slim shard cuts through the drapes, illuminating John’s face.
After our first week on clinical rotations, my third-year medical student colleagues laughed about the silly and awkward things that made their first days hard. Someone was shunned for bumping into the sterile field during their first operation. Someone else couldn’t figure out the scrub machines and was stuck mismatching for the day.
It was my third day on my home dermatology elective, and I boldly volunteered to see a patient by myself. As a third-year medical student strongly considering dermatology for my future career, I had studied for weeks for this rotation, hoping to make an impression as a confident, knowledgeable and reliable doctor-in-training. Usually, medical students shadow for two weeks before seeing patients on their own, but I was eager to be more independent. This was my chance to demonstrate everything I was working toward.
Third-year rotations forced me to reckon with my emotional capacity as a human and future physician. With each patient encounter, I had to decide whether my skin was too thick or too thin.
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 third patient was a new admit from overnight.
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.
This drawing depicts the stark contrast of a woman who is both strong, yet visibly vulnerable as her tears pour off the page. This piece was inspired by a patient who was admitted after an incidental finding of a lab abnormality, which forced her to stay in the hospital for four weeks. When she initially learned of her lab results, she was overwhelmed.
When we approached his room, Craig was wedged in the doorway, sitting on his walker angled towards the nurse’s station. It was the first time I had set foot in a hospital as a medical student; the task was to simply chat with a patient for about forty minutes. “Craig?” one of the nurses called out. “Yep! I am Craig, at least I was before I got in here!” he replied. Something about the enthusiasm in his voice appealed to me, so I sat down next to him and struck up a conversation.
One of the most impactful influences on my decision to become a doctor was meeting a patient with multiple sclerosis (MS). I was 19 years old and a hospital volunteer in Michigan. As I was replacing gloves, gowns and towels in my department, I entered the room of an elderly Eastern-European woman.