Perhaps the single most awkward conversation that a third-year medical student can have with an attending physician is the one that begins with the attending asking, “So, what medical specialty are you interested in going into?”
To keep breathing does not mean to go at it alone or to put up a brave front even when it feels as if the world is collapsing. To keep breathing is to always push towards the goal even when it’s hard and even when it doesn’t feel worth because it will be in the end.
I used to daydream that my first patient as a medical student would be a happy, reasonably healthy elderly woman.
Soon, we were jolted to attention by an overhead announcement, “Attention, code blue. Six south. Attention. Code blue. Six south.”
I always thought the goal of medicine was to cure an illness. But, the memory of this little boy continues to remind me what it is like to see the eyes of someone without a future or hope.
There are patients who leave lasting impressions on us in one way or another throughout our training. I had never expected an angry, alcoholic patient who left against medical advice to be one of those patients for me.
His right leg jittered beneath his orange, prison-issued jumpsuit. The manacles across his wrists rattled with the chain connecting them to the cuffs around his ankles.
I had just started my third year, and I had already witnessed six patients die. I had never been called a black cloud before this, but it immediately stuck and seemed fitting.
Through my patient’s same wants and needs, I saw my own thoughts, feelings, hopes, dreams, fears and my own desire to be liked, to be wanted, to be needed. I felt, for the first time in a very long time, a genuine human connection.
My mind kept returning to the patient I had encountered earlier that day. I experienced this subtle feeling that something important had happened. I became curious about the man and his story, but above all, I wondered what the most important part of that appointment had been.
“We have a drug seeker in two,” the nurse declared. My preceptors responded with a long sigh, and they rolled their eyes in unison. My pulse quickened.
“Are you okay, sweetie?” asks the intern as we start to ascend. She is completely unconscious, looking into nothingness. I start to feel the adrenaline. “I don’t think she’s okay,” remarks the intern.