Chapter 1: Intersession I

Chapter 1: Intersession I

Chapter 1: Intersession 1

June 24: Monday

8:24 am: “Welcome to third year!” a smiling Dean of Something Educational boomed across the medical school’s packed auditorium. I didn’t hear many remarks past those beginning words of the requisite welcome speech because I became distracted in catching up with my friends. I’d recently returned from vacation with my longtime boyfriend, R. Casey Jones, and had not yet seen anyone. Aside from all my friends looking expectantly at me to share news that I do not have to share, while not so subtly glancing at my left ring finger, it is wonderful to see everyone.

9:17 am: All medical students are warned that the third year of medical school is the most stressful, exhausting, and confusing year in the whole process of becoming a doctor. I first learned this a few months ago when reading a 2009 study published in Academic Medicine entitled “The devil is in the third year: a longitudinal study of erosion of empathy in medical school.” Some disturbing phenomenon happens during this year where medical students morph from cheerful, motivated, optimistic future doctors into bitter, cynical individuals. Since reading that article, I’ve come across multiple other studies and reports highlighting the horror that is the third year of medical school. Even just last week I came across an article in Slate magazine ominously titled “The Darkest Year of Medical School,” which discusses how third-year medical students experience a dangerous rise in depression, suicide, and substance abuse.[ii]

I’m curious about how this happens and to what extent it will happen to my classmates and me. I intend to record this entire year on my iPad mini, which happens to fit comfortably in the pocket of my short white doctor’s coat. My goal is to subtly jot down notes throughout the day using the app “Notability.” I’ll be recording events not only as they unfold in real time, but also capturing how I interpret these events and how I react to them. Medical student secretly turned gonzo journalist!

At most schools, mine included, medical students spend the first two years hunkered down in hiding, memorizing textbooks. We learn basics such as chemistry, immunology, pathology, physiology, anatomy, etc. In stark contrast, years three and four of medical school are spent rotating through the different medical specialties, letting us try out each one for a month or two. Every medical student in the country completes the same core rotations: surgery, internal medicine, family medicine, neurology, psychiatry, pediatrics, and obstetrics and gynecology. The goal is to expose us to each of the major specialties, helping us determine which medical field we will enter.

10:30 am: Oh, I should probably listen now, the speaker is explaining how third year will work for us. There are three blocks of rotations this year; each block is 16 weeks long. At my school, the students are split into three large groups, and each group rotates through each of the blocks. Kicking off each block is an intersession week, where I am right now, designed to prep the students for their upcoming rotations. As my first block consists of internal medicine and surgery, my lectures this intersession will review common medical conditions (heart disease, diabetes, etc.), basic surgery skills (such as suturing and tying knots), and anatomy. There will be two other intersession weeks this year. Intersession two will precede my block of family medicine, neurology, and psychiatry. The third intersession week will be before my final block of pediatrics, and obstetrics and gynecology.

11:45 am: Immediately following the welcome lecture, we were treated to a talk about not letting residents and attending physicians physically, emotionally, mentally, and/or sexually torture you. Apparently, many med schools have poor track records when it comes to abuse of third year med students. At least my school is aware of this issue and is preparing us for potential exploitations? The speaker also casually mentioned that we’re not supposed to work more than 80 hours in a week or more than 28 continuous hours.

June 25: Tuesday

12:35 pm: In general, doctors all wear white coats. However, there is a well-established hierarchy in medicine and not all white coats are the same. Atop the totem pole is the attending physician. The attending has completed their entire medical training and is in charge. Next down are the fellows. Fellows have finished residency and are completing optional specialized training (one to three years) before becoming an attending. Fellowship is not required, and most residents go straight into being an attending.

The residents are next down on the ladder; residents are licensed physicians. The first year of residency is called intern year. Interns and residents see and examine patients, write orders for lab tests and prescriptions, and make decisions regarding patient care. The resident has more power than the intern, though the attending has the final say on all matters. Interns are more heavily supervised than other residents and tend to do the most scut work. Throughout residency (which is three to seven years, depending on the specialty), a newbie intern develops into a senior resident. Supervision gradually becomes less and less, with the senior residents having the most freedom.

Medical students are doctors-in-training. We have not yet graduated medical school, and we do not yet have our medical licenses. We can see patients and perform procedures under the supervision or direction of an intern, resident, fellow, or attending. First and second year medical students aren’t even on the totem pole since they’re locked away studying.

Visually, the totem pole looks like this:

Attending physician


Senior resident

Junior resident


Fourth year medical student

Third year medical student (my current location)

Teams are led by a single attending, but may include any combination of residents and students. Hospitals with residents and medical students are referred to as teaching hospitals.

2:15 pm: FYI, all medical students and residents move up the medical totem pole by one rung on July 1. Always. If you’re a patient, you may want to avoid teaching hospitals in July. We’re all new to our respective roles.

3:23 pm: Learning how to gown and glove for surgery is surprisingly more complicated than it appears.

7:22 pm: Ouch. Rough afternoon. I spent the afternoon hours in anatomy lab being pimped by surgery residents and attending surgeons. “PIMP” stands for “Put In My Place;” it is a technique used throughout medical training whereby it is established that the superior has more knowledge and expertise than anyone below them on the totem pole. Pimping stems from the Socratic method of questioning a student, with the goal of leading them towards a correct answer. If the teacher poses questions in a logical and progressive manner then the student should ideally be able to work through the problem and come to a conclusion on their own, even if they did not initially think they knew the answer. The College of Medicine endorses the use of the Socratic method. Pimping differs from the Socratic method in that the goal of pimping is to point out that the student does not know as much as anyone senior to them. A student is asked questions repeatedly until they answer one incorrectly, at which point the teacher (be it a resident, or attending, or even a fourth-year medical student, if they’re being a total dick) can point out how little they know, deride them for not studying enough, or otherwise embarrass them. Ultimately, the student is reminded of their lowly stature on the totem pole. So yes, today I was pimped during anatomy lab.

June 26: Wednesday

11:15 am: Cancer, obesity, and genetics. A thoroughly depressing day of lectures. 

2:10 pm: During lunch I received my schedule for the next eight weeks. I start with four weeks of inpatient internal medicine, followed by four weeks of outpatient medicine. Inpatient means the patient is admitted to the hospital and stays there overnight. Within the hospital, the sickest patients go to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU). Slightly less sick patients are in the Step-down unit; which is one tier less intense than ICU-level care. The most stable inpatients are on the floor, and are called floor patients. On the other hand, outpatient typically means a clinic, where a patient goes for doctors’ appointments or checkups. This may seem obvious to some people, but my mother, who has no medical background, has informed me that I need to explain these distinctions.

5:25 pm: Afternoon lectures on wound care provided us with some nasty images of pus-ridden infections and made me excited for my surgery rotation. I’ve never fainted at the sight of blood and guts, but we were just warned that third years happen to faint with alarming regularity. The professor informed us that it usually happens on days when we’re feeling really sleep deprived and haven’t eaten, drank, or sat down all day. Which apparently are most days of third year.

June 27: Thursday

11:53 am: Morning lectures were chock full of review about viruses, bacteria, and other infectious diseases.

5:43 pm: I decided to go to medical school at age 24. After studying art history and studio art in undergrad, I earned a master’s degree in counseling psychology and art therapy. I then worked at a top-notch hospital in Chicago. My mornings were spent on the inpatient psychiatry ward and in the afternoons I did bedside counseling and art therapy with children and young adults. Most of my patients on the various medicine wards were severely ill, often staying in the hospital for weeks at a time. I developed wonderful relationships with my patients and would inevitably bond with them. I mourned them when they died, attended their memorials, and cried with their family members; it felt as if my friends were routinely dying. I hated my job but loved being at the hospital, so, the abridged story is that I decided to go to medical school.

I left my job and forged ahead into the world of medicine, completing my pre-medical school requirements at Northwestern University. Casey matched to a teaching hospital called The General Hospital for his surgery residency. We packed up our lives in Chicago and relocated to this random Midwest City. I applied to medical school and was accepted to The College of Medicine, which is the medical school affiliated with The General Hospital. So now here I am. I’m a 29-year-old artist-former-counselor-turned-medical student from Long Island, NY, living in a random little Midwest City, about to start my third year of medical school.

June 28: Friday

7:30 am: I’ve kept journals since I was five years old. I have over 20 journals lined up on my bookcase, all penned in my terrible handwriting. I’ve never shared them with anyone. The idea of writing for a potential audience to read is terrifying.

However, writing a book has also been a lifelong dream of mine. Capturing the events of third year by journaling electronically seemed like the perfect set-up. To provide some distance, I’ve decided to refer to myself by a pseudonym, almost as if I am recording someone else’s story and not my own. After spending much of the week deliberating, I chose the name Silvia for myself in homage to my favorite song by the band Miike Snow.

12:15 pm: An all-morning review of the pharmacology of immunology is precisely as boring as it sounds. But no matter how boring, I have to know this stuff. At each rotation’s end is a multi-hour, nationwide, standardized flogging, politely known as a final exam. Our grades are used to compare us not only to each other, but also to all the other third-year medical students across the nation.

We also get graded on our clinical skills. This includes how well we interact with our patients, our competency doing procedures, and if we go above and beyond the requirements of the rotation. Our overall grade combines our exam score and our clinical grade for a final mark of fail, pass, high pass, or honors. Our grades influence our class rank, and where we will be able to match for residency. In order to get a residency spot, or ‘to match’ into a specialty, one must be a competitive candidate. As there are now more medical students graduating each year than there are residency positions, medical students tend to get über-competitive when it comes to grades and class rank.

2:15 pm: We’re back in the auditorium, sitting through a ceremony officially welcoming all the third-year students to our clinical years. Everyone looks prim, proper, and eager in freshly laundered white coats. We’re reciting the oath we took at our induction into the field of medicine at the start of medical school. Instead of reciting the Hippocratic Oath, a few students wrote an oath to represent our class and what entering medicine means to us at this time and place in our lives. The Dean of Something Important is back at the podium, spewing more warnings about third year. Right now she is reminding us to rely on each other and help each other through the year. She is telling us to reach out if we are drowning and need help. “Suicide is not the answer,” she informs us. I look at my closest friends, Piper, Sophia, Jane, and Maggie, and get the feeling I have no idea what I’m in for but I’m glad these women are sitting on either side of me. The Dean of Whatever concludes her speech with, “Congratulations on making it to third year. Thank you for listening, and good luck.”

Ipad in hand, down I go into the rabbit hole of third year.

Chapter 5: General Surgery

Love, Sanity, or Medical School

Available here on Amazon!

Chapter 5: General Surgery

September 23: Monday

5:15 am: Due to unfortunate scheduling, Casey is the senior resident on my team this week. Whoops. When I originally requested my schedule, it looked as if I would be at The General Hospital while Casey rotated at The Private Hospital, then we would switch locations. I didn’t realize there would be a week overlap, where he would be my senior here at The Private Hospital. Since it’s only for the first week he won’t have any influence on my grade, for better or worse, anyway. He’s an excellent teacher and we’re completely professional at work so I don’t mind working with him.

6:20 am: Casey just pawned me off on the vascular surgery team instead of keeping me on the general surgery team. Am I supposed to be insulted? Maybe he knows something I don’t about the general surgeons. As I understand it, general surgeons mainly do surgeries on organs within the abdomen such as the gallbladder, the appendix, and the colon.

6:20 pm: Waiting for Magnus to drive me home from The Private Hospital. This is my first time sitting in nearly 13 hours. Spent the entire day in the OR. Being way busier with longer hours here, I’m glad Magnus is at this site too or else I don’t think I would see any of my friends this month.

The attending vascular surgeon Dr. Vascular performed the first case, a complicated and intricate procedure called an aortobifemoral bypass. He made sure I could see the operating field and would point out various anatomical landmarks, though he didn’t seem particularly interested as to whether or not I was present. Towards the end of the case he casually asked if I could tie knots, to which I replied, “Yes.”

Dr. Vascular’s face betrayed a fleeting skepticism. “Ok good, come here and tie this knot.”

I tie some knots. He nods approvingly and then offers the suture and needle driver as a follow up test. I take the tools without hesitation and begin suturing. As I continued to close and adjust my handiwork at his suggestions, some of his comments included, “Good technique,” “Excellent,” and “You seem to really be enjoying this, aren’t you?” This culminated in the statement, “Ok, you should be a surgeon.” Followed immediately by, “What are you doing right now? You should come into my next case...”

Vascular surgery is so cool. All those tiny little vessels, coursing through the body under high pressure. Maybe I’ll be a vascular surgeon.

September 24: Tuesday

7:35 am: This rotation is so different than my previous ones. Barely any notes or direct patient care for me to do (at least while the patient is awake). I’m expected to be in the operating room all day long. I pre-round from 5 am to 6 am, round with the team from 6 am to 7 am, then I’m in the OR from 7 am until about 6 pm, which is when the night team arrives.

Casey warned me about Dr. Gump. She is a chief surgery resident, which is a senior resident in their last year of surgery residency. Her reputation of having poor technical skills, medical knowledge, and leadership ability are well known amongst the surgery folk. I’ll try and stay on her good side and learn what I can from her.

7:45 am: There are only size small scrubs available here (men’s small, mind you), and they are comically big on my petite five-foot-two-inch frame. The residents and nurses were, rightfully so, laughing at me tripping over my pants. Sigh.

8:01 am: I didn’t notice yesterday, but the views overlooking my little city from some of the patients’ rooms are really beautiful.

11:45 pm: Well that was simultaneously terrifying and exhausting: three straight hours of hardcore pimping by a militant surgery attending. Time to run back to The General Hospital for afternoon lectures.

5:05 pm: The über-impressive Dr. Mastermind gave me props today for being well prepped for his lectures and knowing my shit. Time to run back to The Private Hospital for my overnight call.

7:10 pm: Nighttime rounds. Two patients already stated to me variations of “This all happened so quick, I became sick and then I was in surgery, what happened to me?” Patients arrive in pain, scared, and overwhelmed. They are whisked off to surgery and wake up in a hospital sedated and confused. I spent a lot of time providing basic education and support tonight.

9:01 pm: This is my first night on call… and it’s with Casey. Now, I could have scheduled this differently, but my goal is that I can help him (finally!) GTFO of my apartment tomorrow.

12:45 am (now September 25): Saw some consults, wrote notes, and helped out with various patient care tasks. Time for a couple of hours of sleep.

4:02 am: I’m not saying I want to be in the hospital as a patient, but some of them look so cozy in their beds.

6:30 am: I miss talking to patients. Like today, I saw a patient on rounds that happened to be missing most of the fingers on one of his hands. His hand is completely unrelated to his current admission, but out of curiosity I wanted to hear his story. There have been other patients with whom I’ve wanted to chat, but no, surgery is all business and prizes efficiency. Patients are parts that need to be repaired, replaced, or removed, not individuals.

After much thought and scrubbing into some pretty cool operations, I realized that I don’t want to be a surgeon. I miss spending time chatting with my patients. Surgery is not for me. Just like internal medicine is not for me. There is a saying in medicine that when you find the right specialty you ‘have found your people.’ I love the efficiency, the pace, and the procedures, but surgeons are not my people. I will keep looking for my people.

6:55 am: Is it time for me to leave yet?

7:30 am: Twenty-six hours since arrival and almost no sleep. Time to go home!

8:20 am: Rocking out to LMFAO’s “Party Rock Anthem” kept me wide-awake on my drive home. Goodnight my friends.

September 25: Wednesday

3:25 pm: Woke up from my post-call nap. Studying and cleaning my apartment are on the agenda for today, then another date with Dr. Spengler tonight. Starting to meet and date new people while Casey is still living in my apartment has been an interesting navigational challenge. Him continuing to live here feels like a strange sort of standoff. As if he’s waiting for me to cave and ask him to take me back. Well, it’s not going to happen. Though admittedly, it is hard to move on when you’re spending the day working with your ex and then sharing a bed with him at night. Why is this the slowest breakup ever?

September 26: Thursday

4:40 am: Even at 4:40 am the elevators are slow as shit here. My second date with Dr. Spengler ended terribly. We chatted, laughed, enjoyed a delicious meal, and then decided to check out a nearby wine bar because we were having such a fun time. But then disaster struck. In the midst of the flowing conversation he casually mentioned doing something fun on my birthday, which is in January, and I began to get antsy and flustered. Like, semi-panic attack. Well, actually, full on panic attack. I don’t want a boyfriend – I just want to start dating again. Clearly, I’m not ready to reenter the relationship scene.

This whole dating thing was a terrible idea. Spengler is out having a fun night but I’m still processing the fact that the guy with whom I’m having dinner is not Casey. I came home from my date to find that Casey still has not yet moved out. The annoying and frustrating aspect of the evening is that the date went really well. By the time we finished our glasses of wine, all I wanted was to be hiding in my apartment. Sorry Spengler, I can’t right now.

5:24 am: I will never again take sleep for granted.

10:39 am: I scrubbed in with Dr. Mastermind and chief resident Gump this morning. Dr. Mastermind is wonderful; he teaches throughout the whole case, pointing out anatomy and other interesting findings, yet still works efficiently. As the lowly med student, my job today alternated between holding the laparoscopic camera and the retractors. The laparoscopic camera is a small, flexible camera used to see inside the body during surgeries. Retractors hold tissue and body parts back so that the surgeons have a better view of what they’re operating on. While holding the camera, Gump repeatedly leaned her hefty body against my arm, causing my arm to move. She would then sternly remind me not to move the camera unless she instructed me to do so. Uh, I’m trying but I can’t hold up your ginormous body weight! It’s as if she has no proprioception. Her general tone is condescending. In a patronizing voice she’d bark stuff like, “Good job holding that retractor, don’t let go now.” As much as I would like some coffee, I’m not about to let go and go grab a latte, but thanks for the advice. Her acid tone of voice is grating my psyche.

10:24 am: The residents seem unhappy and stressed all the time. Perhaps because the two chiefs rotating here right now are idiots. Maybe surgery residents in general are just miserable. Dr. Gump is my chief and Magnus is stuck with Dr. Arse. Dr. Arse is notorious for screaming at and humiliating medical students. Some of the junior surgery residents confided in us that the more condescending, short tempered, and berating a chief is, the greater the likelihood that they are overcompensating for being poor surgeons both in terms of knowledge and technical skill. The junior residents then added that Dr. Gump and Dr. Arse are prime examples of this type of behavior. Magnus and I exchanged looks of dismay; we’ve got several more weeks with these so-called chiefs.

1:20 pm: Dr. Vascular is bringing me back to his OR this afternoon! No offense to general surgery but vascular surgery is so freaking cool. Besides, Gump has yet to teach me anything, or really to speak to me at all. I am certainly not her primary concern, nor should I be, but all the other residents manage to make teaching points, ask me questions, or at least engage me in some sort of medically relevant conversation.

One of the nurses noticed me shivering in the OR and brought me a scrub coat to wear. Both here and back at The General Hospital almost all of the nurses I’ve worked with have been enormously helpful to me. Starting a rotation at a new hospital is extremely disorientating and as med studs, we really don’t know anything so their guidance is so appreciated. Thank you nurses for being kind to us!

8 pm: At 5 pm I was about to walk out the door... then the team got a consult. Instead of being given to the student on call, Gump gave it to me. Nearly three hours later I am now finally heading home. If I were Gump, I would give 5 pm consults to the student on call (because they have to be there anyway) and send the other student home. My feet are throbbing with every step I take as I walk out. I’m really enjoying a lot of aspects of surgery, but the hours are physically painful and, from my lowly med student perspective, Gump seems to be managing the team astonishingly poorly.

September 27: Friday

No energy left for typing. Must sleep now.

September 28: Saturday

Sitting outside, enjoying the cloudless sky and fresh fall air at the coffee shop next to my apartment. I didn’t have time to write on Friday because I scrubbed into two long cases that spanned a total of 15 hours. Not only did I not have time to write, I didn’t even see the sun yesterday. Being in darkness both going to and leaving the hospital is depressing. In my grand total of 20 free minutes I ate lunch while getting feedback from a resident, did paperwork, went to the bathroom, then went straight back to the OR. But here was my day:

Case 1: femoral popliteal (“fem-pop” in surgeon-shorthand) bypass surgery with Dr. Vascular.

Love, love, love. Vascular cases with Dr. Vascular are awesome. I’m not saying that holding retractors isn’t important, but it’s way cooler to also be allowed to make the initial incisions, open the body, place clamps, remove diseased tissue, and do all the stuff that residents get to. For this case, we removed the saphenous (leg) vein and cleaned it so it could be used to make a new connection between the femoral and popliteal arteries. By making a new connection, we can restore blood flow (and oxygen flow) to an oxygen-starved leg. A good blood supply is crucial and means a happy healthy leg. Little to no blood supply means a painful dead leg and amputation. I’m not even supposed to be in his cases because it’s not general surgery, but he’s so awesome.

In this patient, her (or his?) native artery became damaged by years of high blood pressure and high cholesterol, resulting in compromised blood flow to her leg. I say ‘her’ with a question mark because I was fairly certain of the patient’s gender, but really, not 100%. As much as I’m enjoying vascular surgery, I’m not getting enough face time with my patients. Pretty much the only thing I know definitively about my patients is whether they’ve recently been on blood thinners or if they have heart disease.

One of the many critical points in the operation is creating the anastomosis, i.e.: suturing together the femoral artery and harvested saphenous vein. The two ends must be connected perfectly in order to successfully transform the vein into a makeshift artery. I watched intently as a senior resident began connecting the two vessels. Dr. Vascular, watching me gawk at the senior resident, offers “Silvia, would you like to put a couple stitches in?” A stunned and excited “yes” escapes my mouth. The scrub nurse handed me the micro tools so I could get a feel for them and practice a bit. I then stepped in where the senior resident had been working a moment earlier. With all my concentration and steady hands, I begin stitching the vessels together. In one smooth movement, a small bite through both the femoral artery and saphenous vein brings the vessels together. I did three stitches and if asked, I don’t think I’d be able to pick my favorite one.

After the anastomosis is completed it is, of course, thoroughly tested to make sure there are no leaks. During testing, Dr. Vascular and the senior resident add additional stitches until there is a watertight (literally, blood tight) seal. As soon as the clamps are removed, two little squirts of blood pop up like miniature red water fountains, identifying where the anastomosis needs reinforcement. Once the holes are patched, Dr. Vascular informs me that my area held strong, and both leaks were on the opposite side of where I worked. Success! It may sound silly but I don’t care, I beamed with pride at my three little throws.

While chatting with Dr. Vascular at the end of the case my favorite comment from him was, “I don’t want to ruin your life, but you really should consider vascular surgery.” Oh Dr. Vascular, if ever I were to be a surgeon, I would totally follow your footsteps!

At the end of the case, I closed almost the entire incision by myself. Before I threw a single stitch though, he put me on a surgical stool and had me perfectly set up with proper body position, view, and lighting. I started on the deep layer first, and then moved to the skin, which was friable from both age and poor blood flow. I worked slowly and methodically to bring the edges of her paper-thin dermis together smoothly. After completion and inspection, the resident told me it was the best closure he has ever seen by a third-year medical student. I might have had a visible skip in my step when leaving the OR.

Twenty minutes for lunch and feedback then back to the OR for case two.

Case 2: sigmoid colon resection with Dr. Gump.

My arms are aching from steadily holding the laparoscopic camera the entire case. I stood as still, silent scenery for nearly five hours. They might as well have just put the camera on a pole. My real job during the case involved ignoring Gump as she teased me about wearing makeup to work and about my purple frames. Yes, I am 29 years old and another adult made fun of me about my glasses.

At the end of the case, Gump asked me to close the laparotomy incisions. These are tiny and require only one simple stitch at the skin. The bed was at my waist, so I couldn’t see well. I started to lean down. “No, stand up, back straight now,” she barked.

Ok… But I can’t see. I put the stitch in, but it doesn’t close well so I cut it out. She explains to me in detail how to suture the skin and then tells me to try again. I still can’t see so I do another poor stitch that needs to be cut out.

At this point, I thought of three logical things that could happen: 1) we could raise the bed, 2) I could sit down (similar to how Dr. Vascular had me sitting in the morning case) or 3) I could bend down a bit. The fourth option, which was the one Gump went with, involved me trying again.

Gump could ask me to put in a hundred stitches, but if I can’t see the surgical field, then none of them are going to go in right. I throw a third stitch that does not close the skin well. Gump sighs, cuts it out, leans over (!), and then puts the stitch in herself. She then goes on to explain to me in excruciating detail about the importance of suturing and on and on about how I really need to work on my technical skill. “Fuck you, Gump!” I screamed (in my head). Frustration seethed through me and my skin crawled at the sound of her voice, but I merely smiled subserviently and focused on all my earlier accomplishments with Dr. Vascular. My heart is starting to race and I am getting twitchy as I sit here thinking about yesterday. I can’t talk about this anymore.

September 29: Sunday

5:45 am: I’ve been here since 5 am and haven’t seen a resident yet. I’m kind of dreading today. Turns out one of the junior surgery residents saw photos of Casey and me on Facebook and decided to tell all the other residents and the chiefs at The Private Hospital that we dated. As gossip in and of itself I don’t care, but “Chief” Arse is on call today and I don’t want him to have any reason to start shit with me.

My fem-pop patient is doing well. I’m keeping an extra close eye on her.

I’m listening in on a conversation between Dr. Arse and an attending surgeon dubbed Dr. Angry Little Hobbit (a name surreptitiously given to her by the junior surgery residents). I’m a little nauseous hearing them speak. In over three months of rotations, this is the first time I have heard physicians speak rudely about patients. I don’t want to write what they are saying because they’re being so horrifically offensive. The overwhelming majority of surgeons that my friends and I have met are much kinder than we had anticipated. The old school mentality – work, work, work and torture your underlings – is fading. Looking at The Arse and Dr. Angry Little Hobbit, they seem like misfit holdovers in this setting.

The other residents laugh at them and brush it off by saying, “Oh, they’re always like that, we don’t take it personally.” I don’t get that type of behavior. I wonder if they knew I was writing about them if they would still speak so... what’s the word... so freely? 

9:00 am-ish: Every time I look out the window I long to be outside. Not sure why I am so antsy today, usually I am pretty content to be at the hospital. On rounds, Casey and I noticed that Gump would not talk to either of us. Gump even made a point to greet the medical student standing next to me, loudly stating, “Good morning med student Jade, how are you today?” Casey and I stayed at the back of the team during rounds and laughed about it because we dislike Gump so much anyway. But I have a new nagging concern. The chiefs are in charge of grading the med students. Gump will determine my grade. I’m so screwed.

10:13 am: It took nearly a week of searching, but I finally found a stash of extra-small scrubs. They’re still too big for me, but at least I’m not as ridiculous looking now.

2: 20 pm: A nurse kindly offered me a stool to stand on while in the OR so that I could see the operating field more easily. Everyone started laughing when I replied that I was already standing on one.

5:15 pm: I survived rounds, laid low, and am now chilling with the junior resident on call and listening to Hendrix. So far, so good. Still feeling antsy though. On Magnus’s way out for the evening we traded horror stories of working with our respective chiefs. As bad as Gump is, The Arse appears to be living up to his reputation, too. He has been word-vomiting an endless barrage of belittling remarks and screaming condescending statements at Magnus.

5:55 pm: It’s too quiet here. It’s busy, and there is a ton of work to do, but all of the surgeries are scheduled, predictable. The atmosphere is lacking the chaos that I enjoyed at The General Hospital.

8:15 pm: It’s always mildly concerning taking down a wound dressing; you never know what you’re going to discover underneath. Imagine watching a scary movie. With each layer of dressings removed the suspenseful music playing in the background creeps louder. Bloody and sticky gauze piles up on the bed, and the patient begins to shift uncomfortably as you get closer to their surgical wound. You’re possibly going to find something gruesome, but you can never predict the extent of the visual assault your eyes are in for. A suspenseful pause in the orchestra just before removing the innermost layer of dressing that directly covers the wound... then, the music booms and reaches a fever pitch as the oozing surprise underneath is revealed! Full exposure! Shield your eyes! Blood, pus, ulcers, raw skin, bone, muscle, a smelly hot mess! Umm... Not really. Usually it’s a “clean, dry and intact wound” (written “c/d/i” in the charts) held together by some combination of stitches and staples. So much for the buildup.

10:15 pm: Casey ordered me to unpack a patient’s wound so the team could inspect it and put fresh packing in. Packing involves putting strips of sterile gauze inside a wound so that the wound closes slowly over time from the inside out. If you close a wound too soon you can trap bacteria inside which may lead to an infection, or abscess. Unpacking is the corollary process of removing packing that has been previously placed. I removed the soft and dry outer dressings to find an unremarkable oval shaped wound below the patient’s left rib cage.

A tail of packing was visible, and the wound did not appear particularly deep or angry looking. I pulled at the end of the strip of gauze, starting to unpack the wound. As I kept pulling, I felt like a clown tugging an endless string of scarves out of a mysterious abyss. It kept going and going and the pile of gauze on the bed grew larger and larger. Fascinating. Where will it end? I had to focus on keeping a pleasant neutral face so that the patient would not get concerned. Foot after foot of bloody, purulent gauze kept coming out. Occasionally I’d come across a knot where two strips of packing had been tied together. Hand-over-hand, on and on it went. Twenty-four feet of packing later, I finally reached the other end. Twenty-four!

The surgeons inspected the wound and my next job as the lowly medical student involved repacking the chasm. In order to properly pack the wound, I needed to place fresh gauze inside, starting from the deepest crevices. To reach the furthest depths, I ended up having my fist and a third of my forearm inside the patient.

I immediately went and ate my dinner afterwards. I think I have reached full desensitization.

September 30: Monday

10:00 am: I got a solid night of sleep and woke up feeling great, which was quickly overshadowed by Casey telling me that Gump and The Arse took it upon themselves to inform Casey’s boss and my surgery rotation supervisor that we used to date. WTF. Not sure what their goal was in doing that. Getting us in trouble? Gump and The Arse are ridiculous. Either way, the residents all rotate tomorrow and Casey will be heading back to The General Hospital. Unfortunately, the chiefs do not switch so Magnus and I still have nearly three more Gump-and-Arse-filled weeks.

2:00 pm: Of course, once my med school discovered that I was ‘involved’ with a senior resident they had to follow up. An email popped up from my supervisor asking me to come to her office immediately. I had to assure her multiple times that our relationship both started and ended before my surgery rotation and that I had no qualms about seeing him at work. I left out the part that we’re still living together and occasionally having sex. Whatever.

October 1: Tuesday

2:49 pm: “You had it right, but then you backtracked because I tricked you. I made you question yourself,” Dr. Mastermind laughed while addressing a stumbling medical student attempting to answer a question. His goal is to get us to stick to our guns and be confident when we answer questions, even if we may be wrong.

8:32 pm: Back home. Zooey has been a fabulously cheery addition to my apartment and the few hours I’ve been away from work have been great. We spent most of the evening talking about New Orleans and cooking dinner together.

October 2: Wednesday

7:05 am: My newest patient, Lady CRC, exudes an aura of calm, peace, and hope. She has colorectal cancer. Yesterday, I scrubbed into her OR case and we removed the diseased part of her colon. Unfortunately, due to time constraints typical of being on surgery, I can’t spend nearly as much time with her as I would like. I want to hang out in her room and discuss her life and adventures and learn her story. Not today.

3:15 pm: I’m hiding and eating lunch. Well, hiding makes it sound bad… Rather, I’m eating lunch in a place that is not readily visible. By not readily visible, I mean the hospital’s roof. It’s not like I can’t be reached between my cell phone and my pager.

I used to think it pretty rude when Casey would put his feet up on chairs when out in public. A moment ago, right as I sat down to quickly eat my lunch and type out a few words, I put my feet up on the bench next to me and contentedly sighed because of the blissful relief. No more judging surgery residents who immediately put their feet up while sitting down.

A classmate of mine is finally getting to see her fiancé tonight. He has spent the last seven months deployed to Afghanistan. She is not allowed to leave the hospital early to be there to greet him when he arrives.

October 3: Thursday

The surgery team walks into a patient’s room during rounds and I immediately start to take down the patient’s dressing so the team can assess the stump of his recent amputation. Having seen one recent amputation, I was not especially concerned about what I would find under the many layers of gauze and Ace Wraps. However, seconds after I pulled back the first layers of gauze the patient began moaning in pain. An uneasy feeling about what would be found beneath the dressings quickly took hold.

Blood and fluid had soaked through many of the deeper layers of gauze, making the dressing sticky and difficult to unwrap. Pulling at the adherent layers caused my patient to cry out, begging for me to stop and let him take a few breaths before continuing. I worked as gently as I could, getting increasingly concerned and curious about what sort of mangled mess existed under there. The smell worsened as I worked. Suddenly, the remaining clump of soaked, sticky gauze fell to the bed, and I stood staring at the cut-off end of the man’s tibia and fibula, macerated and infected muscle, and a bit of loose, ragged skin attempting to contain everything. It looked like a piece of meat that had been left to rot.

I collected the pile of used dressings from his bed and tried to look nonplussed as I turned to throw them away. At that moment, the senior resident received a call that one of the vascular surgery patients needed to be seen ASAP. I felt a mixture of gross fascination and disappointment yet sweet relief when the resident chose me to go off and see the vascular patient. I turned and quickly left the man and his stump behind to be re-wrapped by the resident and another student. I guess I’m not fully desensitized yet?

The week is almost done.

Man, do surgeons love to gossip! The med studs are generally ignored to the point where residents do not think we are even still in the room. I’m randomly eavesdropping on multiple conversations around me. The attendings are talking about residents and nurses. The residents and nurses are talking about the chiefs. They’re griping about how horrible Gump is, how inefficient she is, and how she is a terrible chief. Amen to that.

I’m now listening to the scrub nurses talk about Dr. Angry Little Hobbit. OMG. The nurses have a technique they use in the OR to try and protect the residents from her. They repeatedly question her, distracting her from screaming at the residents. Wow. I had no idea the extent of the selflessness of the nurses here.

9:00 am: An attending was lightly pimping me today about my weakness: liver anatomy. As I hemmed and hawed about the name of a particular ligament, a nearby resident leaned in behind the attending and mouthed the answer to me. It was a sweet gesture. Unfortunately, he was wearing a surgical mask so mouthing the answer did little to help me out.

5:15 pm: My initial excitement about leaving work at 4:45 pm instead of the usual seven or eight pm was hampered by the realization that I still worked a 12-hour day.

While watching Glee I started laughing at some funny nonsense scene. Zooey ran out of her bedroom with a look of shock and amusement on her face and exclaimed, “It’s nice to hear you laughing!” I didn’t realize how rarely I must seem outwardly happy between working all the time and the breakup. I’m not unhappy, I’ve just been feeling a little numb recently. A little affective anesthesia.

October 4: Friday

11:20 am: Six cases back-to-back-to-back-to… You get it. I even first-assisted in two cases. Usually the correct type and size of surgical gloves are only ready and waiting for the resident and attending surgeon. Today, I was thrilled to discover that my gloves and gown were laid out in the OR, ready and waiting for me!

3:32 pm: Sitting and waiting for my next case, hanging out with Magnus. While chilling in the surgeon’s lounge we began discussing his name in this book. For reasons still unknown to me, his knee-jerk response when asked what he wanted his name to be was to enthusiastically exclaim, “Magnus!” I offered many other less absurd options, but none of them was as random, or made him as happy. So, inexplicably, my closest friend was christened Magnus for the pages of this book.

4:44 pm: An hour later, I’m still waiting for my next case. Fortunately, Magnus is on call tonight and offered to cover the case so, I’m going home. I may be imagining this, but I think Magnus was hitting on me today. Whatever. Home I go for margaritas and tacos with Zooey.

October 5: Saturday

My first full weekend off in a month. I plan to sleep for most of it. Today, in theory, is the day that Casey finally moves the remaining 1% of his stuff out! Golf clubs, a painting I made for him, his medical school diploma, and the remainder of his kitchenware. I bet 50-50 odds he actually shows up today to complete the transition out of MY apartment.

11:15 am: Thank you surgery rotation for teaching me about efficiency. Instead of studying at home, while holed up in my bedroom, I planted myself at a nearby Starbucks. I chose this particular locale because it is a veritable meat market of young professionals forced to spend their weekends prepping for an array of qualifying exams, comps, and board exams. Efficiency = picking up men while studying.

October 6: Sunday

Casey finally moved the last of his possessions out of my apartment. We looked at photos, went through old vacation scrapbooks, had breakup sex (again), talked for a long time, and still couldn’t figure out exactly what about our relationship wasn’t right for him. But if it isn’t right, then there is nothing to be done. Moments after his car pulled away, I dialed my mom and bawled to her over the phone. I wish she lived closer so I could get a hug. Momma encourages me to keep looking forward, not back. She’s happy he is gone. And way deep down, so am I.

I put out word to my friends that I could use a little love and support right now. Zooey gave me a great hug that also helped.

“Confidence, passion, and emotion.” Words to live by. Ok so that phrase may have just been uttered by Drew Brees in the pregame huddle before my Saints took the field against the Bears, but I think it can be applicable to life outside of football. Magnus and I spent the rest of the evening rooting against each other, as he’s from Chicago and I’m a Tulane graduate.

October 7: Monday

5:02 am: On call again.

It is freezing in the ORs at The Private Hospital. I now wear a full base layer, usually consisting of leggings and heavy shirt, every day under my scrubs. Still shivering today, even wearing multiple layers.

I’m oddly psyched about scrubbing into my first limb amputation. You know it’s gonna be a bloody surgery when (after you’ve already scrubbed in and can’t alter your attire) you notice that the surgeons and nurses are all wearing large face shields. My nerdy little oval glasses will provide minimal coverage against massive splatter. Oops.

I’m jealous that nurses get to take breaks during surgeries; surgeons, residents, and med students do not.

12:23 am: The call rooms for the students and residents are on the tenth floor of The Private Hospital. Only one of the 15 elevator banks goes up to the tenth floor. I’m so tired and bleary eyed that it took me three tries to find the right bank of elevators.

4:30 am: My alarm is blaring. Where am I? Oh right. At work. I slept at work.

9:20 am: People do all sorts of ridiculous things to avoid going to the doctor.

9:23 am: When can I go home? I really want to sleep.

11:14 am: I picked up my thoracic surgery evaluation. It was far better than any internal medicine evaluation. I had near perfect clinical grades coupled with an excellent assessment. The closing comment from Dr. Thorax summarized, “I would love for her to consider a career in surgery.”

1:15 pm: Tuesday lectures. I’m sitting in class (even though I’m post-call and should be sleeping), getting the feeling that I need a hug. Sleep deprivation is not good for my mental well-being.

2:30 pm: The lecture I’m in right now is dragging on painfully. Thing is, it’s not her, it’s us. She is engaging and going at a good pace, but when she asks questions, there is nothing but crickets. I don’t know if it’s burnout from constant fatigue, the mental and physical exhaustion, or purely not caring, but seriously, she must feel like she’s pulling teeth with us. I am certainly not helping the situation as I sit here, in my own head typing about my life.

2:43 pm: There are studies showing that when people spend too much time together they tend to find each other more attractive. Is that some sort of cabin fever? I wonder if any of my classmates are hot. I’ve never really looked at any of them that way. Would I hook up with any of them? There is a slew of good-looking guys but mostly they’re young, and things could be super messy if I dabbled in my class. Either way, more fun to think about than focusing on the surgery lecture.

5:05 pm: Finally home! I’m too tired to do the math, but I think I stayed at the hospital for 36 straight hours.

October 9: Wednesday

5:42 am: Ungrateful patient. Ugh… Sorry that my post-op check is disturbing your slumber. He’s lying in bed whining and bitching. “You guys aren’t doing anything. If this is what surgery is always like, I am never getting another one.” The team saved his life last night. And we’re monitoring him constantly in case he crashes and dies.

3:20 pm: Excellent feedback from Dr. Mastermind.

Working with Gump is pure torture ever since she found out that Casey and I dated. She is constantly condescending. She never addresses me by my name and keeps me out of the loop on any updates about our patients. On the other team, The Arse is routinely screaming at Magnus. Magnus told me that he has a baseline level of anxiety and fear when at work. Earlier this morning I heard The Arse shriek, “Magnus, if you ever fucking present a patient like that again I will fucking kill you.” Yep. Death threats at work. You know. The usual. At least Gump doesn’t yell at me. I think I prefer being ignored. On the bright side, as Gump now actively ignores me, I have a little bit of freedom to choose which cases I attend each day. Obviously, I try to work with Dr. Mastermind and Dr. Vascular as much as possible.

8:40 pm: Carrying my iPad and journaling throughout the day has been extremely therapeutic. I can rant and rave on paper (well, not real paper – digital paper), so it doesn’t inadvertently get turned on my patients, friends, family, classmates, or any other innocent bystander. I wonder how my classmates are dealing with the stress.

October 10: Thursday

1:30 pm: Last call day. At 7:28 am I had to make a tough call, 2 minutes to go pee before a long OR case vs. 2 minutes to buy and inhale a muffin. No, I couldn’t do both. I opted for peeing. I went into the all-morning case running on empty – no food, no water, and no coffee. I could feel the ache in my head about halfway through the case and it kept building.

To beat down the worsening headache and stave off a migraine I downed a cup of coffee, a bottle of water, a sandwich, and a handful of ibuprofen a minute ago. A guy tried hitting on me while I was at the cafeteria desperately seeking antidotes to my headache. Flattering? Yes. Good timing? No. I hope I didn’t come across as rude. This is not the healthiest of specialties. I am chronically sleep deprived and suffer from an aching back and feet. To avoid having to pee during long cases, I often fluid restrict myself all day, resulting in a constant state of dehydration.

6:14 pm: Dr. Mastermind cheerfully pimped me for nearly three straight hours during a colorectal case this afternoon, all in Gump’s presence. Being well prepared for the case, I missed almost no questions. When I am intimidated by an attending or resident, I tend to freeze up. But there is no paralyzing fear when working with him. He is brilliant and brings out the best in the people with whom he works. The nurses even joked that he could ask me any random fact and I’d come up with the right answer.

I was on a roll. At one point, he asked me about tumor markers for different cancers around the body. I responded correctly to questions about CA-19-9, CEA, Alpha-fetoprotein, and on and on. He then went way off course and randomly asked me to name the bacteria responsible for causing the plague. I look up at him from behind my mask and protective eyewear and without hesitation responded, “Yersinia.” Even Gump had to be impressed. I have no idea from where that little bit of information popped into my head. I love working with Dr. Mastermind as much as I hate working with grumpy frumpy dumpy Gump.

When it was time to close, Dr. Mastermind positioned me to help Gump, who appeared taken aback by my newfound surgical skill. She stated that I had clearly been practicing at home, a lot. In reality, I hadn’t practiced a single stitch at home. Nearly 100% of my free time has been spent studying surgical texts to improve my knowledge so that I can rock cases like the one we just finished with Dr. Mastermind.

As miserable as I am working with Gump, she is still my chief and tasked with grading me. I’ve gone with the tactic of killing with kindness. I still mostly get ignored but I figured it is the safest route and gives me the best chance of getting a decent evaluation. I wish Dr. Mastermind could grade me. It’s becoming clear that my issues with Gump are not entirely mine; apparently it has been noticed that she favors male students and residents.

Unlike internal medicine, I’ve done everything I could possibly do to make the most of this rotation. I arrived at the hospital by 4:30 am every day to pre-round on my patients, prepped for every case, studied every night, and in general worked my ass off every single day. I’m trying not to get too down and frustrated about the fact that I probably won’t get recognition for all the work I put in because my grade is at Gump’s mercy. It also hasn’t escaped my notice that working and studying nonstop every day is a great way to stay distracted from my personal life.

5:48 pm: I received a sketchy text from my mom, “so are you on call...?” This cannot be good. After many texts back and forth she finally admitted that my dad is going to the emergency department with weird chest pain.

8:19 pm: After a negative EKG and several rounds of normal labs, it is determined that my dad is ok. It seems most likely that he has costochondritis (sore chest muscles) from being out of shape and repeatedly lifting his chubby grandsons, rather than a heart attack.

12:01 am: The view of downtown from the roof of The Private Hospital is stunning. I love the efficiency and pace of surgery. I suspect I will miss that on my next couple of rotations.

8:00 am: I fell into my own cozy bed as the church bells across the street started ringing in eight o’clock. Last surgery call is over. Goodnight.

October 11: Friday

Remember K Canoe from the cabrewing trip two month ago? The one with the blue eyes? I texted him.

“Hi, sorry I went MIA, I’ve been on surgery the past 2 months and practically living at the hospital. I’m around now if you’re still interested in chatting.”

I heard back six hours later. We started texting back and forth and planned a date. Should be fun. Hopefully better than my last few dates that were all so awkward/bad that I don’t even think I mentioned them. I have a feeling he’s not a relationship type of guy, which is pretty much what I want right now… no relationships. Just fun.

Other than Saturday night, most of the next six days will be consumed with studying for my surgery final exam. Three hours after the test ends, I’m hopping a plane to NY for my cousin’s wedding.

October 12: Saturday

Study, study, study.

Date tonight with K Canoe.

October 13: Sunday

My date last night started off great though ended kind of blah as we each went home to our own separate beds. I have a sneaking suspicion that he is a relationship seeker like the others.

I am so close to being done with surgery I can taste it. I’ll finally be done with Gump and no more hearing The Arse ream Magnus all day. No more painful exhaustion, aching feet, throbbing back, shooting neck pains, being pimped all day, listening to shallow gossip, 30-hour call shifts, being surrounded by Casey’s friends, no more. So close!

Have I mentioned yet how much I love my new roommate? Even with working all the time we’re still becoming good friends.

Tonight will be a Mexican fiesta at my apartment with Piper, Maggie, and Sophia. Beer and guacamole all around.

October 14: Monday

9:15 am: The rooftops at The Private Hospital are so peaceful. With the fall weather approaching, it’s crisp and cool outside (and also deserted). I’m only going to one case today, so I’m able to sneak in a real breakfast and collect my scattered thoughts.

10:15 pm: I’m so excited to finish surgery tomorrow that I can’t sleep. Which is bad, because I still have to be awake at 4 am. I don’t have any patients to say goodbye to because I didn’t have the time to connect with any of them, and I don’t foresee a tearful farewell when parting with Gump. Basically, I’m going to make it through rounds then escape The Private Hospital as soon as humanly possible.

October 15: Tuesday

4:01 am: My last day waking up at 4 am. Wahoo.

9:07 am: I bailed as soon as rounds were over and my notes were finished. I had to refrain from running across the lobby and out the door. The moment I passed back through the door to my apartment I threw off my scrubs. It felt like ripping off a layer of unhappiness.

10:25 am: So content right now. Studying while relaxed and cozy at my favorite Midwest bagel shop, savoring lox and cream cheese on a toasty warm everything bagel and a pumpkin coffee before heading off to Tuesday lectures. Even while rapidly approaching a notoriously challenging surgery exam, I feel my body relaxing.

1:05 pm: At Tuesday lectures, sitting next to Magnus as usual. We’re so happy surgery is over.

My sweet, hardworking classmate Jade approached me during our lectures and asked me to share the following story. Jade’s lifelong best friend is getting married on a Friday night during our upcoming family medicine rotation. On that rotation we have lectures all day on Fridays instead of Tuesdays. Jade requested to be excused early from Friday lectures and offered to make up the coursework. The family medicine supervisor replied, “Why did you decide to go to medical school if you just want to be in weddings?” Jade repeated the quote several times to make sure I had it written down correctly. She looked shell-shocked while she talked to me, about to either cry or laugh at the absurdity of the response she received.

I’m stunned that the knee-jerk response by the department was to question her dedication to the medical profession. We give everything to be here. After all we’ve been through. How are we supposed to be caring and empathic towards our patients when we’re not allowed to be that way in our own lives? Talk about a recipe for bitterness. Funerals are considered valid excuses for missing work, but I believe weddings should be too. Living people matter in this world; it’s too late for the dead ones.

On another note, I’m touched that she thought of my writing as a venue for her to get her story out into the world.

2:35 pm: A student tried answering a question but did not use the proper medical terminology so the surgeon snarkily remarked, “You need to answer my questions using grown-up doctor words.” Oh fuck off. Two more hours and then no more surgeons in my life for a long while.

11:36 pm: The best thing about getting into bed tonight involved changing my alarm from four am to half past seven. Even after two straight months of waking up at four am, I never became a morning person. Every painful morning I would swear that I’d start going to bed early, but I never did. Speaking of going to bed, I should probably try to sleep, but I’m lost in my thoughts at the moment.

October 16: Wednesday

Spending an uneventful day at the med school studying with Magnus for the surgery exam. We vented about our respective chiefs for a bit then got to work.

Um… I was emailed an urgent request to go talk to my surgery supervisor. I’ll be back.

30 minutes later.

During the surprise meeting with the supervisor, I was pointedly asked if Gump worked primarily with the male students. I didn’t verbalize anything but cautiously nodded my head. She cocked her head to the side and replied, “Ok, that’s what I thought.” I’m not sure of the details, but I was then informed that Gump will NOT be completing my surgery evaluation! How did this happen? Even better, my review is now going to be left in the capable hands of Dr. Mastermind and one of the other senior residents. I feel a weight has been lifted!

I thanked her and merrily went on my way. If I do well enough on the exam, I’ll be eligible for high pass or honors, which provides renewed motivation to study.

October 17: Thursday

7:30 am: Dreams of Casey all night. There were different scenes but all revolved around seeing Casey either with another woman or him alone, refusing to talk to me or even look at me. The scenes played over and over, once at a beach, once at his apartment, once at a restaurant, incessantly. I no longer existed to him. I woke up dejected, lonely, and defeated. I wonder why my brain likes to torture me.

There are many things about the rotation that I valued and that I will miss. I really enjoyed the pace, expertise, and technical skill of the surgeons. I have a new appreciation for efficiency. In terms of independence, from now on I will try to figure out two or three solutions to a problem before asking for help. On the contrary, there were many aspects of the rotation that I can’t wait to leave behind. The main issue though is I didn’t get enough face time with my patients. I barely knew who any of them were.

Final bout of studying.

October 18: Friday

Oh, sweet relief. Back at the airport, sitting at the little wine shop, sipping on the wine bar’s current flight of white wines. I feel the tension melting away. The exam was rough, don’t get me wrong, but it’s over. I hope I did well enough to get honors, but there is nothing I can do about it now.

As I sit here sipping on my wine

Something interrupted me while writing the sentence above. I have zero recollection of what I was about to type. Surgery has clearly fried my brain.

Time to board for NY. Time to see my family. Farewell surgery, farewell Casey, farewell shitty little Midwest City. I’m on my way to New York for the wedding of my cousin Violet and her fiancé David.

Love, Sanity, or Medical School: A Memoir, will be available soon on Amazon and other eBook platforms!

Chapter 4: Thoracic Surgery

Love, Sanity, or Medical School

Available here on Amazon!

Chapter 4: Thoracic Surgery

August 26: Monday

5:45 am: No other cars were on the road as I drove in. I meet my team at 6 am. It’s weird being at the hospital before Starbucks opens. I’m nervous.

It’s so disorienting to start on a new rotation.

Four weeks of thoracic surgery here at The General Hospital. Thoracic surgery involves operations on the lungs and esophagus, typically to remove all or part of those organs due to the presence of cancer.

7:30 am: We had a two-minute orientation informing us that we’re not supposed to work more than 28 hours in a row or more than 80 hours in a week. We were told to never make evening plans, because we may end up working late and then we’ll be pissed. Plan on working until nine o’clock every night and that way if we get off at six o’clock, we’ll be happy. Ok…

7:39 pm: I survived my first day, a solid 12 hours. Quite the change from outpatient medicine. As the medical student, my role is pretty straightforward. I’m to read ahead about the surgeries I will be attending, and know the relevant anatomy, reasons for the procedure, complications, and related whatnot. While in the OR, I watch the operation, and if it’s appropriate, I close part or all of the incision or do other small tasks, while the attending supervises and points out anatomy or diseased tissue. The attending is in charge and the resident is “first assist,” aka the main helper. I would love to first assist because just watching an operation gets a little boring, but, unfortunately for me, the surgery residents always get priority.

Today I learned the elaborate ritual of cleansing one’s body and soul in preparation for performing an operation. Surgeons work within a sterile field in the OR. The field includes the patient, and anyone or anything that may come into contact with the patient. In order to be allowed within the bubble of the sterile field, one must go through a series of sequential steps. The procedure, nearly religious in its solemnity and precision, starts with putting on a surgical cap, facemask, and eye shield. This is followed by washing your hands and nails thoroughly for three minutes, drying your hands with a sterile towel (starting at the fingertips and working towards the elbows), then donning an OR gown and two layers of sterile gloves, all without touching anything in the surrounding area. Once sterile, you cannot touch ANYTHING that is not sterile, or you will break the field and piss everyone off. Your hands have to remain between your shoulders and your waist; you literally can’t put them down at your sides. Once sterile, you may approach the ceremonial operating room table.

The first case I scrubbed into involved repairing part of someone’s esophagus (the tube running from the mouth to the stomach). Almost immediately after scrubbing in and stepping up to the table, I developed an itch on my nose. Trapped in my sterile attire, I spent nearly two hours next to the OR table trying to rub the tip of my nose against my surgical mask in order to relieve the annoying sensation. No luck.

Another case involved placing a trach, or breathing tube, into someone’s neck. I learned that bleeding tissue is not always bad, because at least that means there is good blood flow to the area. Unlike zombie movies, dead tissue cannot come back to life. Simple. Logical. I like this surgery thing.

The nurses are really helpful here. In addition to being kind, they thoughtfully taught me about the magic of swabbing a bit of peppermint oil on your surgical mask before beginning a smelly surgery. Oh, and I like when they play music in the OR.

9:15 pm: I’m in bed. My alarm is set for 4:45 am. I’m forcing myself to stop writing and go to sleep early.

August 27: Tuesday

7: 25 am: It’s remarkable how differently the surgery team wants their patients presented during morning rounds. The entire presentation takes about one minute and notes are written ASAP. We see every single patient from 6-7 am, have a quick breakfast if there is time, and then we’re off to OR at 7:30 am.

My surgery team is as small as my medicine team but we have just as many patients. We round so much faster than when I was on medicine, yet the same amount of work gets accomplished. Everything seems so much more efficient. Maybe I should be a surgeon.

A patient in the surgical ICU keeps yelling, “Ice cream! Ice cream! Ice cream!” Well sir, I would like some ice cream too, but you don’t hear me making a fuss.

10:35 am: Every physician has one body part that they can’t stand. I have yet to meet a doc without an aversion to at least one type of injury or illness. Popular dreaded subjects include eyeballs, feet, poor dentition, and hand injuries. Mine is mucus, or in laymen terms: boogers. I gag and nearly vomit whenever I see snot. I already knew this but I did not know the extent of my disgust. Today, I learned that my new least favorite thing to do in the entire world is remove nasogastric (NG) tubes. NG tubes run through a patient’s nostril to their belly, and can be used for either feeding or for suctioning stomach contents. I will not go into detail about removing them because I will get nauseated again.

11:15 am: The surgery intern hates eyeballs.

2:05 pm: Today is our first day of surgery lectures. One of the surgeons, Dr. Mastermind, someone we have never met before, immediately starts posing questions after we sit down. He then looks at us, and starts calling on us by name to answer! Apparently, he memorized all of our names and faces from the medical school directory so that he could look us in the eye and call on us the first day. Oh my.

A student is fumbling to answer one of Dr. Mastermind’s questions. After a moment Dr. Mastermind deadpans, “It’s ok to make up answers, just say them with confidence.”

Dr. Mastermind is teaching us surgery secrets. He just quipped, “When in doubt, take it out.” I’m already a big fan of this surgeon. Turns out he works at The Private Hospital, where I’ll be rotating next for general surgery.

5:45 pm: I’ve been awake 13 hours already and my day is nowhere close to being done.

The walls of the operating rooms are tiled a light blue, with the carefully arranged surgical equipment lying on sterile blue towels. The surgical lights reflecting off of the tiles and the array of metal tools gives the room a blue tint. I feel as if I’m underwater when in the OR. Swimming or drowning though? All the surgeons and nurses are gowned and gloved so that only their eyes are visible, making them appear to be in SCUBA gear.

The speed and efficiency of surgeons is daunting and impressive. The threat, no, not threat… the… the concern of seeing Casey throughout the day is annoying though. I feel like I’m on his turf.

9:23 pm and off to bed. Alarm set for 4:15 am.

August 28: Wednesday

4:55 am: The only awake people at the hospital are the overnight teams and third year medical students.

In just over two days I have already done more than I did all month on internal medicine. I’ve scrubbed into several surgeries, made calls, returned pages, given orders, removed chest tubes, done procedures, written progress notes, and completed other random tasks. My intern walks me through procedures or tells me what he wants done and then trusts that I will do it. I am actually being helpful to him and to the team (I think). Very refreshing.

6:03 am: A pale, frail, older female patient is wandering the halls of her floor. Her ethereal, floor-length white dress with flowing sleeves makes her look like a ghost. I wonder if anyone else can see her.

8:56 am: Post rounding. I’m at the thoracic surgery clinic today with the impressive Dr. Thorax. Most of the patients are here because they have new or suspected cancers. The physicians who are able to work in oncology amaze me.

10:58 am: One of my patients is a not-old-enough guy who has two separate cancers. Neither is curable without major surgery but to resect both would likely leave him without the ability to ever speak or eat again. His family asked Dr. Thorax what she would do if it were her. An interesting discussion ensued about the complexity of the operations, the likelihood of complications, and the chance that he would have an acceptable quality of life at the end of it all. He hasn’t made a final decision, but his initial thought was to take the pain medications we offered, not have either surgery, and live out the rest of his days enjoying time with his family. I think I’d do the same if it were me.

August 29: Thursday

4:55 am: It feels like I’ve been on this rotation for way more than three days because so much happens each 11- to 15-hour day.

I never noticed before, but the staff elevators announce each floor in English and Spanish. The patient elevators are only in English. Strange, no?

Today I learned that an entire bagel fits comfortably inside my white coat pocket. Score!

Yesterday evening marked Casey’s last night here before he leaves on vacation. By the time I return home tonight he will be gone and he won’t return until September 10. After his trip, it will finally be time for him to pack up and move out of my apartment. I’m gearing up for a rough couple of weeks. At least I’ll have my new roommate Zooey to distract me. She arrives on the 15th.

There is all of one patient in the clinic today. His lung collapsed a couple of days ago so he is here for a checkup. It’s not common for a lung to spontaneously collapse in a young person, but when it happens the patient is typically a really tall skinny male.

Twenty minutes later: Wow, he is a walking example of my textbook description of spontaneous pneumothorax (lung collapse) in young males. In addition to being tall and skinny, he came across as sweet and shy, too.

August 30: Friday

What a relief not to have to worry about seeing Casey throughout the day. All the surgery teams changed today. My new team consists of a senior resident, a surgery intern, and a surgery physician assistant (PA). The senior resident is a friend of Casey’s. He is tall, friendly, and donned in classic green surgical scrubs, so his name will be the Jolly Green Giant, or JGG. Everyone seems happy to teach and let me be involved. I already know JGG well because of Casey. I don’t know the intern yet, but he is rumored to be kind, smart, and helpful. On a similar note, I have heard that the surgery PAs are excellent. All in all, I seem to have lucked out with my team.

Allegedly there is a ‘mystery bug’ at a nearby hospital that has closed their operating rooms until next Wednesday. Creepy. Every single operation had to be rescheduled. I can’t imagine how bad of a bug it must be to cause the cancellation of five days’ worth of operations.

After finishing up at the surgery clinic this afternoon I got lost walking back to the main hospital. In the midst of my confusion I stumbled upon Dr. Neuro, sitting on a bench, eating a red Jolly Rancher. We chatted a bit, discussing my surgery rotation and surgeons in general. Casey was brought up, followed by how poorly I may have done on my internal medicine final exam because I was so scattered in the aftermath of our breakup.

This led to me almost breaking down crying on this random little bench somewhere on the hospital grounds. Our conversation basically turned into an impromptu therapy session. Dr. Neuro has such a calming presence. His polite but gently probing questions about my daily life caught me completely off guard. Out of necessity, I’ve been keeping fairly solid walls around me at work, but he drifted right through them. It’s slowly dawning on me that I’ve been so busy I haven’t really been processing all the change going on in my life. I’m really looking forward to having this weekend off to recoup.

I worked from about 5 am to 5 pm each day this week and totaled about 60 hours for my first week on surgery.

Wahoo! I just found out I don’t have to come in on Monday because it’s Labor Day and there are no surgeries scheduled. A three-day weekend!

August 31: Saturday

I think it is time to start changing out the photos in the apartment.

September 1: Sunday

11:05 am: Welcome to September.

I had a list of things to do yesterday. Clean my apartment, go food shopping, print out new photos, etc. Instead, I met up with my friend Callie at her apartment’s pool. We ran into a group of girls from our class and our quiet day catching up turned into an impromptu pool party.

The fun continued as we went bar hopping downtown. One of the many fun things about hanging out with Callie is that she knows everybody, and she is an excellent wingman. My evening ended with a handsome blond ortho resident getting my number and texting me goodnight. Woke up today in a super messy apartment with no food in the fridge but hungover, tanned, and happy.

4:59 pm: With newly printed photos of friends and family, I began the task of changing out all the happy photos of Casey and me. The first photo I took down had captured an adorable moment from when we saw Arcade Fire in Chicago a couple of years ago. The rush of tears came on so suddenly and forcefully that my hands were shaking and I nearly dropped the frame as I pulled the photo out. I pushed on. One at a time I removed all the photos from our travels throughout the world over the past six years and 11 months. Memories from dozens of cities and events spread over three continents were placed gently in a neat little pile. The oldest photo I came across was a strip of black-and-white photo booth pictures from when we first met in Chicago. In the sequence we’re smiling, then kissing, then looking at each other and laughing. We looked so happy. I was all of 22 and he was 25.

Next, down came the stuff on the fridge. It had been covered with save-the-date cards, wedding invites, and baby announcements from all of our friends that met, fell in love, got married, and started having babies. Because that is the normal way things happen. Most people don’t just date forever.

Lastly, I replaced a piece of artwork I had painted for him last Christmas called Fenomeno by Remedios Varo, with another of my own recently completed paintings. It’s a full-scale replica of Picasso’s Las Meninas that I fell in love with when I saw it in Barcelona. Now I’m done. I can’t handle anything else today.

Fenomeno Replica, Acrylic on Canvas

Las Meninas Replica, Acrylic on Canvas

8:37 pm: To cheer myself up I signed up for an online dating service. Why not? I don’t think I’m ready to start dating but it would be a nice ego boost to get some attention online.

September 2: Monday

Labor Day. Upon moving into the apartment three years ago Casey painted the master bedroom green. Twenty minutes ago, I finished repainting it a smoky blue.

September 3: Tuesday

5:15 am: Love wearing scrubs to work. Hate not seeing my friends because I work all the time. And today starts my first 24-hour call day.

5:30 am: Unfortunately, the new patient on the census is the young man from clinic last week. His lung collapsed again over the weekend, and this time the surgeons ended up resecting (removing) part of his lung. Now he’s got all sorts of intravenous lines and tubes in him, including a chest tube, which is preventing the remaining part of his lung from collapsing again.

7:30 am: Wow the music in the OR today is screaming heavy metal. Of all the possible tunes to be blasting out of the iPod of my super-efficient soft-spoken attending Dr. Thorax, heavy metal is definitely a surprise. In my humble third year medical student opinion, it’s waaaaaaaaay too early in the morning for all this yelling!

Normally, I would not be chilling in the OR typing away on my iPad but the current OR patient is undergoing a lung lavage. The patient has a lung disorder called Protein Alveolar Proteinosis, where their lungs essentially collect a lot of crap, making it difficult to breathe. For the procedure the docs repeatedly fill one of the lungs with water and then drain it, over and over again, to help clear out all the material that has accumulated. The process is then repeated on the other side. The result is an almost immediate relief of the majority of symptoms once the patient awakens. Fifty liters of fluid will be used today and the process takes about six hours. It’s pretty strange to think about the treatment objectively, though. The docs are essentially drowning the patient repeatedly. So here I am, sitting and studying (and occasionally typing) for a couple of hours. I wish I had a fleece, though; it’s freezing in the OR in just scrubs.

Several hours later: I’m an ice cube now.

Just passed Maverick in the hallway outside the surgery department and had a three second conversation. Awkward. Not him, me. He’s an emergency medicine resident, a stereotypical outdoorsy climbing type who always looks mildly mischievous underneath his curly brown hair. We met nearly two years ago while volunteering for a medical school event, and I always get stupidly flustered around him. Our conversation back then was nothing Earth shattering, but something about his personality appealed to me. I remember vividly thinking, “If I were single, I would totally go for this guy.” The thought immediately struck me as odd because I never had any interest in cheating on Casey. Maybe in the back of my mind I already knew that Casey and I were in a dead end relationship? I wonder if Maverick is single now? Maybe Callie will know as she always has the best resident gossip. The Boss would probably know too, but I bet she’d kill me if I dated one of her residents. There’s no point in finding out though, I’m not ready to date yet anyway.

Terrifying Tuesday lecture. The surgeon is telling us about a shooting trend that happened a couple of years ago. A guy would call 911 and report that a man had been shot. The thing is, no one had actually been shot yet. The caller would then wait, with a victim bound at his feet, until he heard the sirens of the approaching ambulance. Upon hearing the sirens, the caller would then shoot his victim in the back of their neck, thus severing their spinal cord, and then run. The purpose of waiting to shoot was so that the EMTs would arrive soon enough to save the victim’s life. Instead of dying, the victim would forever be paralyzed from the neck down. My stomach is churning.

10:50 pm: A senior surgery resident came over to me and reports, “There is a patient with burns covering over 90% of his body. He is getting his dressings changed at 11 o’clock. You should go and watch.”

11:45 pm: I don’t even know how to describe what I just saw. I had never seen a burn patient before. I walked into the uncomfortably warm room and surveyed the unconscious and heavily medicated patient as the nursing team organized the materials for his dressing change. His arms and legs were covered in white bandages, thoroughly soaked with blood and seepage. The toes on his left foot poked out of the bandage, unscathed and healthy pink. His right foot did not exist anymore, having been obliterated in the fire. A white sheet covered his belly, held taut and stapled directly to his abdomen. Layers of white gauze covered his face.

A severe burn causes the skin to contract, which constricts the blood vessels and compromises blood flow. Body parts die without blood. To ensure adequate blood flow it’s sometimes necessary to make incisions in the skin to relieve the pressure. Big, long strokes are needed wherever these contractures (skin contractions) take place. Escharotomy is the word. At this patient’s hips, shoulders, and peeking out from the bandages on his extremities, you can see where the surgeons have intentionally split his flesh. Along the escharotomy incisions, shiny yellow fat and blood vessels strained to escape the confines of his dead grey-brown skin. The sheet over his belly covered a bag containing his intestines, which spilled out after the escharotomy on his torso.

I put myself in a position where I could be called upon to help if the nursing team needed an extra hand with the dressings. As horrific as this appeared to me, I wanted to help. It was the least I could do. I looked behind me to locate the nearest chair in case I felt faint. As the final preparations with his new set of dressings were finished being laid out, I asked the simple question, “What happened?”

The nurses began unwrapping his many layers of gauze while sharing that he ran into a burning house to look for trapped occupants. Upon stepping into the house, a flashover engulfed him in flames. According to Wikipedia (my source for all things in med school), a flashover can reach over 930°F. His buddy was able to force the door open and pull him out mere seconds later. In those few moments, he sustained burns to essentially his entire body. And now here he lies in the burn unit. A moment after the story concluded, I was asked to help hold his leg while the nurses repositioned him onto his side. It felt heavy and warm in my hands. As I held up his leg, I couldn’t help but think that his body already resembled the skin of the cadavers we dissected in previous years in medical school.

I don’t have a lot of experience with nurses, but the care they took in changing his dressings amazed me. I don’t think I could ever do that on a daily basis. They are the kind of people I would want caring for my own family members.

When I asked about his prognosis, a nurse whispered to me that she hoped his family would choose to revoke life support.

12:16 am: So now here I am, in my bitty little call room that looks like an ancient college dormitory (or a prison cell, depending on the angle). My roommate for the evening, one of my classmates, got right into bed and seemed to fall asleep easily. Not me. I had to process what I just saw. My hope for the burn patient is that he is well sedated and feeling no pain and feels loved and is honored for having his last conscious moments on this earth spent trying to save the lives of others.

4:30 am: I hate my alarm clock. And waking up in a call room is weird.

5:38 am: I already pre-rounded on my patient so just rounds and then home hopefully by 8 am. I’m excited to go home and sleep in my own bed for a bit; away from the cancers, the traumas, and the burns at the hospital.

September 4: Wednesday

Slept in and then spent the rest of the day working on my apartment, purging the rooms of Casey’s presence. I didn’t move to a different apartment, but I want it to feel and look as if I did.

September 5: Thursday

How is it Thursday already? I’m so confused with these days. So much gets accomplished every day that it feels as if I’ve been on surgery for weeks already, not eight days.

The tall thin young man may be discharged today. Hopefully no more collapsed lungs for him.

September 6: Friday

5:02 am: Woke up in a weird mood; I think I dreamt about Casey last night. Happily, I will be in the OR all day. Like literally ALL day, as there are big surgeries today. Need to get my game face on and not look mopey!

4:18 pm: I scrubbed into an esophagectomy today on an older gentleman named Professor Z. Basically, the operation is exactly what it sounds like: they take out the esophagus and connect part of the pharynx directly to the stomach. It’s fascinating to watch surgeons open people up, rearrange their insides, then put the person back together.

4:45 pm: JGG is planning to go out of town tonight and is practically jumping out of his skin to leave. To his dismay, a patient unexpectedly developed a pneumothorax while at the same time a new ED consult arrived. Just as our clerkship director warned us; don’t make plans for 6 pm.

The surgery intern and I bonded today. He skipped lunch because he was too busy, so I shared the peanut butter crackers that are always stashed in one of my 50 white coat pockets. While munching away he confided in me that he doesn’t like the days when JGG is trying to run out the door, because he doesn’t feel confident enough yet to be left solo. I could see his frustration and underlying concern about being here alone if something bad happens to a patient. I wonder if seven years as a surgery resident will morph him from being a super nice guy into someone cynical and bitter. I hope not.

September 7: Saturday

I love sleeping in and waking up feeling refreshed. I’ve been getting emails from the online dating site and one caught my eye. A tall, fair, blue-eyed resident name Dr. Spengler struck up a conversation. Seems great on paper. I emailed him back.

September 8: Sunday

10:45 pm: First night in my new bed. When Casey moves out he’ll be taking our bed with him, so I had to order a new bed for the master bedroom. My room. I’m sitting with my iPad right now, but it’s not the same as writing on paper. I miss my journal. Writing with the knowledge that someone someday may read my words changes how I put them down. I am trying to be clearer and more deliberate with what I write as opposed to my usual stream of consciousness ramblings. Time for sleep.

11:15 pm: Sigh. I’m still struggling and having trouble sleeping. I can’t think about Casey yet because I still get angry, sad, and lonely, often all at the same time. Other than working, studying, and redoing the apartment, I am attempting to meet new people. There was the one from the canoe trip and the ortho resident, neither of which I followed up with even though both have been texting. Either could be a fun rebound but I don’t know. I’m not ready. I really have to go to sleep. My alarm is set for 4:30 am. Ugh.

September 9: Monday

7:12 am: Professor Z seems to be doing well post esophagectomy. His kind nature and good spirits are already well known and appreciated amongst the surgery team. Walking into his room today I was greeted by an array of stunning, brightly colored bouquets. One bouquet contained a variety of bright orange flowers (my favorite color), another featured red roses, and a trough-shaped vase near the window overflowed with blue and purple flowers accented by a couple of peacock feathers. Clearly, I’m not the only one who enjoys his company. He seems to have quite a few admirers.

3:10 pm: During a free moment, I slipped into a daydream about the random summer I worked at a beach in California. Memories of the warm weather, the sunshine, the sand between my toes, and the cold surf vividly filled my mind. My pager began wailing and jolted me from my reverie. I have to figure out how to obtain a wound vac. Wound vacs (short for vacuum) are suction devices that are placed over wounds and literally suck out fluids like blood and pus. Gross. One of my difficult patients developed a purulent, malodorous, nasty, boomerang-sized infection on her back and now needs a wound vac. Surgery is really good at ruining nice daydreams. Back to work.

I’m sitting awkwardly close to a fourth-year medical student who asked for feedback from a senior resident. The resident coldly replied, “You are very smart, you have a lot of book knowledge, but you need to work on your common sense. You need to learn to think and organize your brain before words come out of your mouth.” Oh wow. There was more to that conversation, but not much. Surgeons certainly don’t mince words.

September 10: Tuesday

4:49 am: Casey returns today. He will be back in my apartment by the time I get home from work.

I walked down the surgery hallway a minute or so after a gunshot wound victim was wheeled from the ED to the OR. The patient bled so profusely that the hallway the patient rolled through had a vibrant trail of blood traveling down it and a metallic smell clung in the air.

My internal medicine exam grade is in. I’m freaking out. We can ask for our grade through email but I’m going to go check in person because if I failed, I don’t want to start crying in the middle of the surgical ICU.

30 minutes later...

Ok so not only did I pass but I scored high enough to qualify for high pass or honors. The secretary at the internal medicine office, Ms. CV, must have sensed my relief and shock because she looked at me quizzically and then asked me if I was ok. My incredibly logical response to her query was to start crying. What is wrong with me? I swear I’m not a crier. She gave me a hug and we chatted while I calmed down. We sat for nearly 20 minutes and discussed life and love while I ate a pack of Smarties from the stash that is always at her desk.

Ms. CV told me about when she was young and naive and dating the wrong guy. She realized he was the wrong man for her, but carrying out the decision to leave him was a terrible experience. But, she added with a grin, she then met the right man. She and her husband are about to celebrate 34 years of happy matrimony. It’s remarkable how someone taking a couple of minutes out of their busy day to sit and chat with you can cheer you up.

1:43 pm: Tuesday lectures. A trauma surgeon is lecturing to us about firearm injuries. He added, “I don’t know how to take away weapons in our country, but I know how to help trauma victims.”

3:28 pm: My favorite quote so far today came from a pediatric surgeon who implored, “You should be passionately connected to the care of your patient.”

3:45 pm: Magnus must be bored because he keeps texting me random memes.

September 11: Wednesday

6:11 am: At what point does it transition from being called breakup sex to just having sex with someone you used to date?

8:20 am: I have a rare peaceful hour and a half before I have to be anywhere, so I’m relaxing on the front steps to the medical school, enjoying the sunshine. I immensely dislike being indoors in windowless underwater operating rooms all day. At least I get to do my surgery rotation in the fall. The winter students rotating will arrive before the sun is up and leave after it is down every single day. Can you imagine only seeing sunlight on weekends?

There are a lot of people hurting today and I feel their pain. Most of the day I will avoid watching television, because 9/11 coverage still makes my heart ache. I was 17 years old, sitting in third period math class when an announcement came over the loudspeaker that a plane had struck the World Trade Center. I had a moment of panic, knowing that my father worked mere steps from the Twin Towers. My teacher rambled on about numbers to a progressively uninterested room of students until the bell signaled the end of class.

My fourth period American History teacher brought my class to the library, where a steadily increasing number of students were convening to watch the coverage live. I sat in a daze on the open winding staircase between the first and second floors of the library, unsure what was going on. We silently watched the news unfold, with a collective gasp and cry when the first tower fell, sick with knowing that some of our family members were inside. I couldn’t reach my dad but was able to get in touch with my mom. She informed me that my dad was okay but then revealed how his phone had gone dead mid-sentence as the first tower collapsed, her overly calm and measured voice betraying an underlying strain and rising anxiety.

The school tried to corral all the students on school grounds but my friends and I snuck out a side door and drove home. I paced my bedroom, journaled, and called every family member I could think of to see if they had heard anything else from my dad. I felt rage for the first time that day, the event inciting anger and hatred towards those responsible. I also felt fear, but mostly I experienced an overriding sense of helplessness. I had no skills, no ability to help, and no power to do anything useful. After pacing tracks into my carpet for nearly eight hours, my father finally turned up safe and sound at our house on Long Island.

These days on 9/11 I cry not only out of sadness but also out of fear. My parents, my sister and her husband, and now my newborn baby nephews, all live blocks from each other in midtown Manhattan. The rest of my family, including all of my aunts, uncles, and cousins, live in Washington, D.C. and Boston.

Terrorist attacks and other catastrophes are out of my control, so I try not to dwell on them. I’m usually pretty good but sometimes it’s hard. I’ve had nightmares about being inside a collapsing building, seeing the walls shake and debris start falling. I wake up crying and won’t be able to shake the post-nightmare haze until I hear my momma’s voice. So yes, today will be spent avoiding television. I’ve been a bit fragile when it comes to triggering the waterworks these days and breaking down about 9/11 while I’m at work sounds awful and embarrassing. I will do a quiet, private reflection and remembrance when I get home later tonight.

8:45 am: The unmistakable sound of bagpipes playing Amazing Grace filled the air. Looking around, I spot a 9/11 memorial going on atop the building across the street. There are people lined up on the roof, removing their hats and placing their hands over their hearts. Just lost it. I’m outside the medical school building crying. So much for waiting until later for a private moment.

9:26 am: Back inside the College of Medicine I went to the bookstore to get a snack after washing my face in the bathroom. One of the internal medicine residents with whom I’d become friendly saw me and without a pause commented, “Hi, oh, you look tired.”

I simply replied, “Oh yes, I’m on surgery.”

No other explanation needed. In reply I got an encouraging, “Hang in there, it gets better!”

Yes, I am tired and my beautiful green eyes are not looking their best at this moment. My eyes have bags under them from staying up too late having sex with my ex-boyfriend, and that fine tint of red and swelling is due to sitting outside crying about 9/11 less than an hour ago. Little-white-lying that I looked tired just because I’m on surgery seemed easier and unquestionable.

It really has been a quiet morning, I’m not used to this on surgery. I’ve already written so much today and it’s only 9:48 am. For having not done much other than go on rounds and make phone calls, this day already feels too long.

In a surprising turn of events, there were more residents than patients at Dr. Thorax’s clinic. This means my only job is to take out about a billion staples from an esophagectomy patient, whom I had followed during my first week on surgery. It’s nice to chat with him and his wife and to see that he is doing so well after such an intense surgery.

September 12: Thursday

7:01 am: I enjoy starting off my days visiting… um…. I mean pre-rounding, with Professor Z. He is always in good spirits. Each day his voice gets stronger and he gets chattier.

After rounds each morning we visit pre-op patients who are scheduled to go to the OR that day. There is only one patient today. She is an elderly lady named Primadonna, who is having a suspicious-looking lung nodule removed. This may turn out to be cancer, unfortunately. Here she is, lying in her pre-op bed, gowned and ready to go for surgery, awaiting a possible diagnosis of lung cancer, and she is sitting and puffing away on an e-cigarette. Talk about addiction. I wanted to take a photo of this woman. She held onto that e-cigarette until the nurses started wheeling her out of the room to go to the OR, at which time she reluctantly handed it off to her daughter.

I told a resident how much I envied the surgeon’s efficiency. He replied, “They don’t pay us more to work harder.” In terms of being paid, considering how many hours surgery residents work, he told me that they make less than minimum wage if you do the math.

I’m about to leave Dr. Thorax’s clinic. There was another third-year medical student at clinic today too. I examined, presented, and wrote notes on six patients this morning. The other medical student saw one patient. One! What was he doing all morning?

Still been emailing back and forth with the online guy, Dr. Spengler. I think we may actually go out on a date soon.

September 13: Friday

While pre-rounding on Professor Z today, I learned that he has recently retired after being a professor for over 40 years. Now that he is retired, he has decided to focus on his writing. We talked about his former job, life in the hospital, and recovery after illness. He does not like being out of control of what is happening to him. Completely understandable. He is most looking forward to a shower and the Starbucks coffee that his friend is bringing him later this afternoon. He joked about his hair being messy from not showering but he supposes that this new look is apropos to his burgeoning career as a writer. I’m thrilled he is doing so well but will miss our morning chats when he leaves the hospital.

September 14: Saturday

Mental asystole.

September 15: Sunday

5:13 am: The hospital is creepily quiet at 5 am on Sunday mornings.

Zooey moved in yesterday, but I’m yet again on call so I won’t have a chance to help her get settled.

6:02 am: There is a pleasantly demented man in the surgical ICU that constantly calls for his nurse. I keep hearing, “Nurse! Nurse! Nurse!” Pause and repeat. He isn’t exactly yelling; his voice has an operatic quality and he bellows the words as if he’s performing an aria at the Metropolitan Opera House. He is closely tended to in the ICU and is not in any distress or pain, he just keeps singing whenever his nurse leaves the room. The overnight team informed us he was like that all last night too. In the most complementary and respectful way possible, I will call him Operaman.

I pre-rounded on e-cigarette-smoking Primadonna and let me tell you, she is the most miserable and nasty patient I have met so far this year. She let me know how bothersome it is to have nurses and physicians checking in on her. Lots of F bombs and degrading comments that always start with, “You people…” I’m pretty sure she believes we are trying to torture her. She is mad that she is coughing shit up, but after chain smoking for 45 years it’s really not that surprising, yet somehow it’s our fault. Her lack of insight and empathy is profoundly shocking.

12:00 pm: I’ve been here six and a half hours, and Operaman is still going at it.

2:45 pm: Still yelling. It’s been busy today but not too busy, and the ICU is calm at the moment. I’m gonna go chat with Operaman.

3:45 pm: What a pleasant man. First, I asked Operaman about his pain. He informed me that no, he wasn’t in any pain and that his nurse is wonderful. He told me about where he was from and what he did for a living. He smiled while telling me that he has a lot of children and has lost track of how many grandchildren and great grandchildren he’s got at this point. He kept looking at me and repeating, “Thank you for coming in, it gets awful lonesome in here.”

6:00 pm: Thirteen hours down, 13 hours to go...

7:50 pm: Operaman started up again so I sat with him for a bit and we discussed football and watched the Broncos-Giants game. I told him I needed to go study but I promised to come back and visit later. He promised not to yell in the interim. Five minutes later he started singing again. As part of his dementia I’m guessing he probably has a pretty poor concept of time.

9:20 pm: I sat with Operaman a bit longer. He wanted to hold my hand while we chatted and appeared sad that no family visited him today. He kindly asked me if I could stay and be his doctor.

September 16: Monday


September 17: Tuesday

1:36 pm: Tuesday lectures. I spent four hours in the OR this morning. Surrounding the operating table – the intern, the senior resident, the attending, the scrub nurse, and a pulmonology fellow. That is a lot of people doing intricate work in a limited amount of space. Dr. Thorax was nice enough to let me scrub in, but I could not get anywhere near the OR table. I stood nowhere near the operating table for four hours. I basically stared at the back of JGG’s scrubs, trying to not break the sterile field. Of those four hours, I spent about two and a half of them thinking about what I will wear on my date with Spengler tomorrow night. It’s my first first date in forever. I’m guessing it’s like riding a bike. From an academic standpoint, I learned that I am capable of falling asleep standing up.

1:43 pm: Trauma lectures have the best images. Evidently not every student in the room is looking at the gory images from the PowerPoint because the surgeon is currently screaming at my classmates, “Make sure you look at that picture. Look! Look at it!” These surgeons are way too intense for me. Relax man. Take a deep breath.

2:15 pm: A calmer surgeon is now lecturing. He is stressing the importance of asking the right questions in order to reach a diagnosis. He claims that 80% of diagnoses can be made by history alone. Interesting.

3:01 pm: The third out of four lectures just started. I am so painfully tired today. I slept all day yesterday because I was post-call and then couldn’t sleep last night.

4:05 pm: My favorite surgeon, Dr. Mastermind, is lecturing again today and offering some gems of advice. “Whenever there are two ways to do things, that means neither one is perfect.” Plus, “Sometimes surgery doesn’t work out perfectly, but as long as you do the right thing, it’s ok.”

September 18: Wednesday

7:28 am: I can’t help but feel mildly insulted when the JGG is surprised that an exam finding I report to him is actually present. Today he remarked, “Oh look, there really is a small air leak with cough on Ms. Primadonna’s chest tube.” I swear I don’t make things up. I really do arrive at five in the fucking morning every single day to pre-round on my patients.

Hand hygiene is super important. Number one in terms of preventing the spread of disease. That being said, it is excruciatingly painful to use alcohol-based hand sanitizer upon entering and leaving every single patient room on rounds when you have a paper cut. Ouch.

The highlight of rounding today involved being pimped and randomly knowing about Takotsubo cardiomyopathy (aka Broken Heart Syndrome), which led to Dr. Thorax announcing that I am “one of the smart ones.” I didn’t reveal that I learned about it from watching Scrubs.

My new roommate Zooey texted me, “I haven’t seen you in a couple of days, everything ok?” I responded, “Yep, just been practically living at the hospital.” Zooey seems so sweet; I wish I had time to get to know her better.

On the flip side, I can’t believe Casey hasn’t moved out yet. Ostensibly, there are some delays in finishing the new apartment into which he is moving. I still like having him around, so I haven’t really been forcing him out the door either. I know I can’t move on until he leaves though. What’s worse is now that Zooey moved in, Casey and I are both sleeping in the master bedroom. Great planning, right?

4:43 pm: I’m exhausted. Been falling asleep on rounds and in lectures all day. I’ll be rushing home soon to change for my date with Dr. Spengler. Fortunately, Casey is on call tonight, so I don’t have to awkwardly leave my own apartment wearing a skirt and heels on a Wednesday night.

11 pm: Great date, must sleep now.

September 19: Thursday

5:15 am: How is it already September 19? Last time I checked it was the end of August. I caved and went to work today for the first time ever with zero makeup on. I needed five extra minutes of sleep. I feel like a true third year now.

7:20 am: At some point I’ll write about my date last night with Dr. Spengler, but I have to focus on prepping my presentation on Barrett’s Esophagus that I am giving tomorrow night.

8:25 am: I’m back at Dr. Thorax’s clinic for the last time.

Today marks the first time I’ve cried with a patient. I requested to see this particular patient because I had worked with him in clinic two weeks earlier. On entering the room, I found an anxious looking patient with watery red eyes sitting on the exam table. I hesitantly ask if he is ok, (which by now you know is the easiest way to make someone cry), and the patient immediately bursts out sobbing.

I sat with the patient for a while and once he calmed enough to talk, he told me that his child died yesterday. The patient sobbed and cried out for his lost child. Stunned and shocked, I regretted that I had nothing to offer my patient, no words of solace or comfort. What could I possibly say to a parent who lost a child not a day earlier? I simply sat there, held his hand, and cried too. The patient was so distraught that he didn’t think to cancel or reschedule his appointment. After I informed Dr. Thorax of the situation, she too went and sat with him for a bit.

1:08 pm: As I packed up my bag and got ready to leave, Dr. Thorax thanked me for my help, told me I have solid surgery skills, offered that her door is always open, and suggested that I come speak with her before the end of the rotation. Success.

7:30 pm: Home from work, ate a quick dinner, and now it’s time to put together my presentation for tomorrow. My goal is to be done by midnight. That gives me four hours of sleep... again. Can people die from exhaustion?

September 20: Friday

5:30 am: Today should be my last day on surgery, but since I’m on call, technically my last day will be tomorrow. I can’t believe I’ve survived half of my surgery rotation already. I’m absolutely wiped.

I stayed up all night writing and editing my Barrett’s Esophagus presentation. I haven’t gotten much sleep any night this week. Once again, I’m too tired to put on makeup. I’m not talking about a lot here, a little under eye concealer, a swipe of Urban Decay Sin eye shadow primer potion, a thin line of bright eyeliner and some mascara, totaling about three minutes of my morning. It’s not much but I enjoy spending three out of the 1440 minutes in my day focusing on myself.

7:00 am: My presentation got pushed back because Dr. Thorax isn’t here today. I don’t mind, though I wish I had known last night because I’m going into a 28-hour call day running on fumes.

1:05 pm: I now have a random free hour (because I no longer have to practice my presentation), so I’m sitting with my pumpkin spice latte, catching up on emails and paperwork. An email arrived from Ms. CV, the secretary from internal medicine, letting me know that she was thinking about me and asking how I was doing. Another email featured a ton of adorable photos of my chubby baby nephews. This afternoon turned out so lovely! Too bad I can’t leave the hospital for at least another 17 hours.

A couple of minutes to talk about my date with Dr. Spengler. I experienced instant relief upon seeing him, as he actually resembled his photo. Overall, he is tall, cute, super sweet, nerdy, and quite chatty. Throughout the date, I sat there obsessively thinking, “Oh wow, I can’t believe I’m on a first date with someone” and wondering if people would look at us and think, “I bet they’re on a first date.” Weird, weird, weird to be on a first date! We totally hit it off and had a great time. He didn’t kiss me goodnight. Wuss.

I ran into another medical student and he immediately commented, “You look tired, you must be on surgery.” I give up. I will wake up three minutes earlier in the morning and resume wearing makeup. I made it a whole two days without makeup. As an aside, please don’t ever see someone and tell them they look tired. Seriously. Just stop.

4:00 pm: My day is getting better and better. Since the patients are all calm and stable I can take a nap. It is blissfully quiet and cool in the call room... Zzzz.

5:15 pm: Hands down the best nap I have EVER taken. I feel mildly human again.

I can’t believe this part of the rotation is almost over. Way more my speed than my internal medicine rotation. I did a ton of suturing and stapling, improved my surgical skills, and took the chance to get my hands dirty as much as possible. I love doing procedures, though I do miss having time to sit and chat with my patients. The surgeons were welcoming and encouraging, if not a little high-strung at times.

September 21: Saturday

4:10 pm: The rest of call wasn’t particularly busy or exciting. I scrubbed into an appendectomy and passed out in my call room bed by 1 am. Unfortunately, I awoke at 5 am to pre-round, and couldn’t leave until after rounds concluded, sometime around 9:30 am. So that made for a 31-hour shift, clocking in at a grand total of 96 hours this week. Wait, I thought I’m not allowed to work over 80 hours a week? Don’t worry, as long as my weekly totals average less than 80 hours then the occasional 96’er is kosher. Fucking loopholes.

Next up, off to The Private Hospital for general surgery. All I’ve heard about rotating there is that the hours are worse.

Chapter 3: Outpatient Internal Medicine

Love, Sanity, or Medical School

Available here on Amazon!

Chapter 3: Outpatient Internal Medicine

July 29: Monday

7:10 am: I will not cry today. I will not think about my breakup with Casey. I am sitting at the Starbucks at The General Hospital and I will not cry. So far so good but it’s only 7:15 am. Off to my first morning at the internal medicine outpatient clinic. Remember, no crying.

7:50 am: There are two other medical students present when I arrive at my first assigned clinic site. A nurse shows us our schedule for the day. Looks like our first patients will be arriving in ten minutes. Ok. Turns out this is the student clinic where we are expected to see our own patients, take a history (the patient’s recitation of their illness), and do a physical exam (aka the H&P), then develop an assessment and plan. Just like grown-up doctors. This is all well and good, I just had no idea I would be having my own patients right now this second.

9:15 am: I took my worst history ever. Probably a combination of being caught off guard with this situation of walking into a student-run clinic, having my own patients, it’s Monday morning, and I’m still distracted from everything that happened this weekend with Casey. Sad. No, no, no, not going to cry. Not here, not now. This patient’s history was made particularly difficult because the patient recently had a stroke and has memory impairment.

Me: “Sir, how long have you had diabetes?”

Patient: “I have no idea.”

Me: “Ok, what happened when you had your stroke?”

Patient: “I don’t remember.”

Me: “Do you take all of your medications every day?”

Patient: “Yes.”

Me: “You take every one of your medications every single day?”

Patient: “Well...”

Suffice it to say that the visit did not improve from there.

4:30 pm: I used to live in Chicago and I loved it there. I moved there on a whim after graduating from college. If not for Casey, I never would have left Chicago. I’m aching to go back there at the moment.

6:15 pm: I’m about to leave for dinner with The Boss, my trusted advisor and confidante. When I first moved to my little Midwest city, I desperately wanted a job at The General Hospital to increase my chances of being accepted to their affiliated medical school. Casey searched around the hospital and found out that The Boss, one of the senior attending physicians in the emergency department at The General Hospital, was thinking about taking on a premed student to help her with a new research project.

I emailed her out of the blue and basically wrote, “Hi, my name is Silvia, you don’t know me, but you want me to work for you.” She wrote back the next day with something like, “I have no idea who you are, but I’m intrigued.” Shortly thereafter I began working for her.

We quickly developed a productive and trusting working relationship. She became my premed advisor, helping me navigate the application process, prepping me for my interviews, and even writing one of my recommendation letters. Once accepted into medical school, she became my academic advisor. Years later, our working relationship has grown into a friendship as well. Upon hearing of the breakup with Casey, she immediately offered to take me out for dinner and drinks (aka get me drunk). So, off I go to dine and drink with The Boss.

Midnight: I’m a couple of beers and martinis deep right now. The Boss and I talked for hours and she informed me that when I am ready to date again I will have no problem meeting new men. Her explanation went something like, “It will be just like Zappos, you will have an array of options, and you will pick the one you want.” I told her that mostly I am unhappy but a part of me is a little angry, a little disappointed, and oddly, a little relieved. I offered that if she wanted to, she could be a little mean to Casey when she runs into him at the hospital. She immediately declined my suggestion, of course.

July 30: Tuesday

10:30 am: I have no clinical responsibilities today, just afternoon lectures, so I spent the morning moving my stuff into the guest bedroom. My outpatient medicine schedule is noticeably lighter compared to inpatient medicine. I work two half-days at the student clinic, three half-days at Far Away Clinic, and one half-day in a cardiology clinic.

3:02 pm: I’m ok until someone asks me if I’m ok. I feel like a life I had been planning for years just died.

July 31: Wednesday

7:30 am: Back at the student clinic, then this afternoon I’m working at Far Away Clinic, a fair distance away from my little Midwest city. I’m not sure what my responsibilities will be this afternoon.

9:43 am: It turns out that patients frequently do not show up to their appointments at the student clinic. I have yet to see any patients today.

10:15 am: When I’m upset, I lose my appetite. Everything tastes like cardboard. When I went through Hurricane Katrina during my senior year in college I lost almost 20 pounds in just a few weeks. Fortunately, it was right after my junior year studying art abroad, and most of those 20 pounds were souvenirs from my months spent in Rome and Paris. Stories from college are for another time, perhaps another book.

6:15 pm: I didn’t sit down the entire afternoon at the Far Away Clinic and I barely had time to write my notes. I really enjoyed the pace as well as the wise Dr. Pearl, the physician with whom I worked.

Dr. Pearl would send me into the patient’s room to do an H&P, after which I would present the patient to her and then offer my ideas for what we should do. She would then step into the room for a few moments to greet the patient and clarify anything that was unclear. I was immediately trusted to see patients and give my opinion on their care. This is a first on this rotation. Dr. Pearl apologized for all of the running around, but I loved it. She doesn’t know I spent a lot of my days on inpatient internal medicine sitting and studying. Between seeing patients, she offered pearls of wisdom about medicine and life as a female physician.

One of my patients this afternoon was a tall, dark, and handsome man, who arrived in his manly uniform. He was sprawled out on the exam table, nearly naked in just red and blue striped briefs, too tall for the table, his legs dangling off quite a way. He was lying on his side, head propped up on his hand as if posing for the annual Midwest uniformed man calendar. Do you have a nice visual yet?

Unfortunately, his whole body was colonized with the bacteria called MRSA, which left him covered in painful abscesses. Being so big and tough, he didn’t come in until the lesions were huge and he could barely get dressed. Some medical terms I used in my note on him include: indurated (hard/firm), fluctuant (squishy), erythematous (red), purulent (pus-filled), and malodorous (smelly). He was lying on his side because that was the only comfortable position for him. Why naked? So that we could drain the larger abscesses on his hips and thighs. Not so sexy. Sorry. At least I’m learning proper medical terminology.

August 1: Thursday

8:45 am: I’m waiting to see the human resources folks at the Cardiology Clinic to get my ID badge. Tonight will be my first time seeing Casey since our breakup last Saturday evening. We… wait, no… now it’s “I”, I need to take myself off the shared cell phone family plan we’re on. The car and renter’s insurance need to be separated. He’ll be moving out soon and I’m going to need to move on with my life. Not easy. Not fun. I thought he was going to be my husband and the father of my children. Time to delete the Pinterest wedding I had planned.

10:34 am: Finally done with obtaining a Cardiology Clinic badge.

12:45 pm: Back up in Far Away Clinic.

It’s noticeably different working for a physician who does not trust you. The doc I’m working with today is a young attending named Dr. Newbie. Just like yesterday, I would go into the room, report back to him, and then he would go in. However, unlike Dr. Pearl, Dr. Newbie would then proceed to re-ask every question I had already covered. Patients must get annoyed answering the same questions repeatedly. It certainly annoys me because it means he either wasn’t listening to me, didn’t care what I said, or didn’t trust the information I reported. Every single patient. Not every physician will operate in the way that I, the third-year med student, wants them to. Oh well.

Dr. Newbie lacks a bit in the interpersonal skills arena. For example, a new patient arrives at the office to establish care, she has ripped shoulders and arms, is dressed in workout gear and running shoes, and I’m guessing she will leave the office and head straight to the gym. While getting a history from her Dr. Newbie queries, “Do you ever work out?” Um… really? He couldn’t be like, “Oh, I’m guessing you’re a runner?” Or something equally appropriate?

The patient and I exchanged glances and then she politely responded, “Yes, I do work out.” There were several moments like that with other patients throughout the afternoon.

August 2: Friday

7 am: I miss my family. I need a hug from my momma. My sister Olivia – pregnant with twins – is due to go into labor at any minute. I’ve been secretly painting a Winnie the Pooh themed piece for the twins’ future bedroom. I wish I could be in NY right now.

11:15 am: Interesting patients today at Far Away Clinic.

Noon: I have a new appreciation of the word hypochondriac. Into clinic this morning walked a healthy-appearing young woman with a multitude of concerns. Her vital signs (meaning her heart rate, blood pressure, respiratory rate, and temperature) were normal, and even though she frequently visited the office, she did not have any actual medical conditions listed in her chart. She ended up getting four referrals to various specialists, all at her insistence, and we addressed several other concerns unrelated to the referrals as well. Several of the docs informed me that with some patients, it’s easier to give in and let them have whatever referrals they want. Not sure how I feel about that.

2:13 pm: I’m getting antsy, I can’t take it anymore; I have to get out of this city.

5:10 pm: I’m trying my best to not sit around wishing that I had never left Chicago. I loved it there so much. Professionally, I’m in a great place. I love my school and my friends, I’m going to be a doctor, and I know that I can leave this shitty little city in less than two years. That’s gonna have to be enough for right now.

August 3: Saturday

4:24 pm: Almost finished the Winnie the Pooh painting for my sister.

August 4: Sunday

10:43 am: I really need to be studying, but I’m still so distracted. It is weird to think of myself as single after all these years. One of my friends asked me if I would be willing to date a guy who has kids. Huh? I don’t know, I hadn’t really thought about it. Yes? No? I have no idea.

Noon: I will be an auntie exactly 24 hours from right now! Olivia’s soon-to-arrive twins have no idea how much they have already helped brighten my life this past week. Every time I have felt sad this week, I imagine her and my little nephews. I can’t help but smile and think that one day, with the right guy, I will know that happiness too. Is it possible to have tears of pure joy and abject sorrow at the same exact moment? Let’s not find out right this moment, though, as I’m sitting at my neighborhood Starbucks, and it would be really awkward if I started crying right now. I have to stop writing for a moment.

5:44 pm: Interesting article for those so inclined: there’s a NY Times opinion piece from August 3, 2013 entitled “The Trauma of Being Alive” by Dr. Mark Epstein, in which he mentions the Kubler-Ross stages of grief. The stages include denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. In thinking about my breakup, I can see how the stages apply. I think I spent the last year in denial about my relationship being over. I am starting to feel a little angry, but mostly I am still just sad. I don’t know how bargaining will play into this, and I certainly am not at acceptance yet.

I have a lot of experience with grief and trauma, but I am already emotionally wrecked about Casey, so I won’t torture myself or depress my audience any further right now with thoughts of those other haunting experiences… Stop! Redirect. Babies. Think about my sister’s babies and how I will have a photo of them tomorrow. Focus on the happy stuff. See, I’m already smiling.

August 5: Monday

12:30 pm: I’m struggling with how much to include here because I set out to record my experiences as a third-year medical student, not to share the details of my love life. Well, here goes nothing. Casey and I had sex last night. Our evening started off innocently enough but, as tends to happen whenever we are left alone, we can’t stay away from each other. He hasn’t moved out yet, so I knew I was in a high-risk situation. I couldn’t remember the last time he had seemed so interested or passionate. It was incredible. I cried afterwards.

I keep trying to blame myself for our relationship falling apart. I think if I weren’t so stressed with school the past two years and so focused on us getting engaged, then maybe we would’ve kept the fun lightheartedness in our relationship that had always been present. But I remind myself, if he had proposed a year and a half ago then maybe I wouldn’t have gotten so down and serious in the first place.

I don’t understand what went wrong, or what wasn’t right enough for him. We had a fun and happy relationship. He treated me so wonderfully; he was affectionate, cooked for me almost nightly, and routinely helped me study in med school. The sex was always incredible. But, after seven years he still wasn’t 100% certain that I was “the one.” I couldn’t give him any more years of my life. I had to end it. I need to stop. Dwelling on this will only make me mopey and weepy again. I just wish I knew what it was about me that wasn’t good enough for him.

1:00 pm: As I sit here, depressed, eating my Greek salad, I am also obsessively checking my phone every two minutes, awaiting updates from New York on the progress of Olivia’s delivery. At this precise moment she is in a hospital in Manhattan getting an epidural. Babies will appear soon. Within an hour, perhaps?

2:34 pm: I am creating tracks in my carpet from all my pacing. Olivia went down to pre-op about 20 minutes ago, and her hubby Alejandro was called down to meet her in the OR a minute ago. Here we go!

3:04 pm: Olivia’s cesarean should be almost done, right? The babies should be out by now and her ob-gyn should be stitching her up. I want to see their bitty faces and give them kisses and thank them for helping me through the week.

3:08 pm: Two healthy, beautiful baby boys have arrived! Welcome to the world my little nephews Jackson and Henry. They are, in a word, perfect. My momma, now known as grandma, sent me adorable photos. Olivia, now known as mommy, and her babies are doing well.

PS: Yes, I saw patients today at the student clinic. No, I don’t really remember what happened.

August 6: Tuesday

8:00 am: Another day with no patient care. Outpatient internal medicine is not what I expected. At least we have a clinical skills lab today.

My friends and family seemed surprised and impressed when I tell them that I broke up with Casey and that I told him to move out. Everyone guessed that I would be the one to move out. As I explained to Casey, I was the one who already did everything. I left my beloved Chicago for him, I worked my ass off to get into the only medical school in this little Midwest City, and I spent every day of the past year and a half trying to figure out how to make our relationship work. I’m done being the one to do things.

So, Casey is the one moving out. He didn’t argue; he agreed. His move out date is about three weeks from now. Maybe once he moves out we’ll stop having sex? Oh, and for the first time in seven years, he left a hickey on my neck. I feel like such a teenager.

11:18 am: The cow eyeballs squished a bit when cutting into them. Slimy little buggers are slippery. A few almost went shooting off the exam table at our clinical skills lab. While learning about performing eye exams, we were treated to some pretty horrific images of human eyeballs in various stages of injury and infection. I like procedures. As I now have a break until afternoon lectures, I should probably go study.

1 hour later: I did not go study. I talked to my sister and to my mom. Somehow Casey and I are going out tonight for dinner. A non-date, if you will. I guess it’s better than ending our relationship with fighting? We’re just really bad at not being together. I wonder who will pay the check.

After Casey and I broke up, I tried reaching out to my girls first but everyone was out of town because we all had the weekend off. I then called Magnus, who picked me up within 15 minutes of me telling him that Casey and I had split. He brought me to his apartment, invited over a bunch of friends, and we spent the day drinking beer and watching classic dumb comedies such as Dogma.

At some point he apologized for not being good with “girl stuff,” but he added that he has plenty of beer for me, and beer is almost as good as girlfriends in these situations. I agreed. The following day I spent with Piper, Sophia, Jane, Maggie and Daria, who were also incredible. My friends showered me with love, hugs, and support. It’s not that I’m surprised by how supportive and kind my friends are, but they have gone above and beyond to take care of me. Truly incredible.

I love my friends.

August 7: Wednesday

6:53 am: My heart is still pounding from the nightmare that just woke me. There were blasts and bombs going off all over. I was with my cousin Violet. It was the day of her October 19 wedding and her hair was already done. We needed to get out of the area because we were in danger. Firefighters directed us towards safety. There were blocks and blocks of debris piled high for as far as you could see. We had to climb over the piles because there were no longer any clear roads to walk on.

The piles were made of blasted building bits and body parts. Bleeding and horrifically injured people cried out for us to help them, but we couldn’t help anyone because it wasn’t safe to stop. The smell of burning flesh and smoke hung in the air.

Four missiles zoomed overhead so we ran into a building for cover. We could feel the heat of the blast. I thought the building was on fire and that we would burn to death. The fear choked me. Back outside, we again began climbing over the piles of bodies. A woman reached out her hand for us to help her, but the firefighters yelled at us to keep moving. I tried to apologize to her for not helping but I was rushed along too quickly. We reached a staircase and started climbing. Violet yells to me “No, I can’t do it anymore.” I support her back and push her forward as we climb. She faints backwards onto me. I woke up screaming.

Noon: There was only one patient for me to see in the student clinic. I was hoping for a busy day to pull me out of my post-nightmare haze.

I spent my afternoon at Far Away Clinic with Dr. Pearl. Her patients absolutely love her. It’s inspiring to see a physician happy and relaxed yet working efficiently.

As much as I love my two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment, I cannot afford to live here by myself. I’m starting my roommate search by posting my apartment on a website called Rotating Room. It’s designed for students in healthcare fields who travel to work at different hospitals and need a place to stay for only a month or two at a time. This seems like the easiest and fastest way to get a new roommate.

August 8: Thursday

I shipped the Winnie the Pooh painting I made for my nephews Jackson and Henry. A relaxing morning so far, then off to Far Away Clinic for an afternoon with Dr. Newbie.

Some days every patient seems to have the same complaint; everyone will have a cold, or back pain, or asthma, or whatever. Not today. I saw a spider bite that resulted in a full body rash, a rare bleeding condition complicated by a blood clot in the patient’s leg, and a post-op visit.

In response to the patient with the spider bite, one of the nurses spent a solid hour googling various spiders on her giant flat screen computer monitor. I have horrific arachnophobia and fear paralyzes me whenever I see a spider, no matter how miniscule. Unfortunately, her computer screen faces my workstation so I had to crouch down behind my own screen to avoid seeing the myriad of tarantulas, wolf spiders, brown recluses, and other little horrors. Occasionally she would exclaim, “Oh that’s so gross! Look how hairy! It’s so big! All those eyes!” My heart is racing and my skin is crawling. I keep telling myself to take deep breaths and not look so visibly freaked out. It’s unprofessional.

I walk into the room of another patient and notice that his face and ears are speckled with large blood vessels called telangiectasias. He has a rare bleeding disorder called HHT. I forgot what it stands for... Hereditary hema... Something. Basically, it’s a disease of the blood vessels which causes both bleeding and clotting issues. He came in with leg pain that is highly suspicious for a blood clot. We sent him for an emergency ultrasound and several hours later got bad news: blood clots filled his leg from his ankle to his mid-thigh. Blood clots in the thigh are dangerous; some can break off and go to the lungs, causing blood clots in the lungs, called pulmonary emboli. Typically, you can give blood thinners to people with clots. But, giving blood thinners to someone like him would likely cause potentially fatal bleeding. Definitely a catch-22; treat the blood clots and risk him bleeding to death or don’t treat the blood clot and he will likely get a fatal pulmonary embolism. What to do?

HHT is hereditary. One side of his entire family is affected. While HHT is not fatal in and of itself, it puts you at major risk for bleeding to death from minor trauma. The disease is variable, so some family members will have worse symptoms than others, and there is no way to guess how bad it will be for a particular person. The first sign tends to be recurrent epistaxis... aka lots of nosebleeds. His children have recently begun having nosebleeds. His story makes me wonder if he, someone with a potentially deadly genetic disease, ever thought about not having children. If it were me, I don’t know if I’d willingly have children. I say that as someone who may be a carrier of a 100% fatal hereditary disease.

August 9: Friday

Countdown to the weekend.

8:40 am: Two nurses are working today. Let’s call them GN and BN for Good Nurse and Bad Nurse. BN sat at her desk picking her nose. GN called patients with test results, while BN made a personal call. Not that I’m against personal calls, I couldn’t care less, but BN came across as lazy while GN was working.

8:55 am: GN asks, “BN, why haven’t you gone through your pile of papers yet?” GN points to a stack of papers next to BN, a pile of lab results and other things that need follow up.

“Wait, what? Why didn’t you tell me earlier that I had work to do?” BN rolls her eyes and sighs dramatically before she stops picking her nose and starts to go through her paperwork.

Another morning with the young Dr. Newbie. He still repeats every question I ask. Today one patient replied to a question with, “I already told your med student…”

To which he countered, “Yes I know, she told me.” Awkward.

11:30 am: BN is sitting at her station assaulting my ears with her singing. I can’t.

12:38 pm: Off to the Cardiology Clinic.

Today started off with Dr. Heart, a world-renowned cardiologist, offering the opportunity to work with her for the afternoon. Simultaneously thrilling and intimidating.

One of her patients today was a spry 100-year-old man, named 100, who had come in for a checkup. Although he had no complaints, Dr. Heart completed a thorough physical exam. This is going to sound so nerdy, but her exam skills are mad impressive. Using the tips of her fingers and her palm, she felt a subtle murmur, determined not only that the heart was enlarged but specifically which chamber of the heart was enlarged, and she figured out that 100 was in the early stages of heart failure.

Dr. Heart explained her exam findings to me as she went. She tried to have me copy her maneuvers so that I, too, could reach the same conclusions. I don’t think I have ever felt more inadequate as a medical student. To confirm her suspicions, she decided that 100 needed a few lab tests and an electrocardiogram (EKG). Of course, all of her suspicions were spot on. Damn, she’s good.

August 10: Saturday

I spent the day “cabrewing” with a bunch of classmates and other random people. For those unacquainted with cabrewing, it is basically canoeing while drinking a lot of beer. I am mostly sober now and need to get some sleep. It was great to get out of the little Midwest City and do something different. I also met a lot of people. A super cute blue-eyed guy named K Canoe got my number. I’m not interested in him, or anyone at the moment, but I thoroughly enjoyed that a tall and handsome stranger flirted with me. Flirting and all that is still novel to me at this point in my breakup recovery. Too bad I didn’t meet him a month or two from now when I’ll hopefully be ready to start dating.

August 11: Sunday

10:30 am: The Winnie the Pooh painting arrived while I Skype’d with Olivia and the twins. She loved it and is going to hang it in their room.

1:24 pm: Blehh… studying. If I studied as much as I painted and journaled, I think I would be a phenomenal student. Every move I make hurts as I am sore and covered in bruises from all the times my canoe flipped over onto me yesterday.

Casey and I ended up going to a super fancy dinner together last night. At least we didn’t sleep together afterwards. Progress?

Off to get my hair done. I need a new look. It’s time to go from being a bland brunette to a fiery redhead!

August 12: Monday

11:15 am: We had eight patients scheduled for the student clinic today, three showed up. Each student got to see one of them. At least I was done by 11 am. My one patient had stitches on the back of her head, left behind by the trauma team. No, I did not call a trauma consult to ask their permission before I removed them.

It’s weird to give nurses orders. Even weirder when they do what I request without question. I’ve read that some women tend to have a harder time commanding others to do things. Turns out I’m one of those women. Maybe it’s because I don’t feel like I know enough yet, coupled with the fact that I’m giving orders to people much older and more experienced than me. I guess I’ll just have to get comfortable doing it.

Off to go study. For real this time as I am running out of time to procrastinate. At the end of each rotation we must take a final exam. These exams are nationwide, and the scores end up in our residency application, so they are high stakes. The exam is in less than two weeks!

August 13: Tuesday

Studied all morning. Go me. Off to Super Tuesday afternoon lectures.

2:34 pm: My first lecture covered a ton of interesting material in an engaging way. Now, we’re halfway through the second lecture and the new lecturer is monotonously reading her slides of black text on a plain white background. My mind is starting to wander, not to anywhere specific though.

I’m thinking about my upcoming test, my gorgeous new auburn hair color, dinner with Casey, my classmates, starting my surgery rotation, and wondering how badly I’ll be suffering from lack of sleep. Basically, I’m thinking about everything except my current lecture. I wonder if and how I’ll manage to write during my surgery rotation. I guess I’ll try to at least jot down a few thoughts each day and go back and expand on them as I have time.

Glancing around the room, everyone seems pretty spacey. A lot of students are typing on their iPads and laptops. I’m guessing they’re ‘taking notes’ just like I am right now. Magnus is sitting next to me, on his iPad, alternating between Facebook and researching players for his fantasy football team. Ok, her lecture should be ending soon. My classmates are squirming in their seats.

Our lecture has already run a couple minutes over. Oblivious to our lack of interest, the professor announced, “You guys seem to get it, I could probably leave right now, but I’ll go ahead and go through the next two cases anyway.” The crew is getting restless. There may be a mutiny soon. I am trying to keep a neutral, pleasant looking face. Magnus is sitting next to me practically jumping out of his seat. I appreciate informative and engaging lectures. I don’t like lectures without any new information, without pictures, and that run long. Oh, the next lecturer just poked his head into the classroom and gave the current lecturer ‘a look.’ Message received, she just wrapped up. Finally.

3:11 pm: Now this is a lecture: clinical decision making tailored for new third year medical students, using a common disease as an example but easily applicable to other medical conditions. Words of wisdom from this lecture: use evidence-based medicine but never betray your gut.

I have no cell phone service in the lecture hall. As soon as I walked out of the classroom my phone beeped with a text from K Canoe, the guy I met cabrewing on Saturday. I was kind of hoping he wouldn’t contact me because I feel bad ignoring him, but I’m definitely not ready to date yet as I’ve only been single for two weeks.

August 14: Wednesday

At the student clinic once again. My patient is a soft spoken and kind young man who has a genetic condition causing high blood pressure, diabetes, and severe heart failure. Clearly embarrassed, he revealed to me that he couldn’t afford all of his prescriptions. We sat with the attending and went through every single prescription, picking out the most important ones. The whole time, I felt incredulous that there was not more we could do for him. The attending noted that this is not an uncommon situation for many of society’s poorest.

Another patient I saw today also has multiple medical problems. This patient cannot afford his medications either, but it’s because he keeps spending his money on cigarettes, alcohol, and cocaine. Sometimes I wonder how to impress upon people that they must take care of their bodies.

6:30 pm: Casey told me he found an apartment. I guess that’s a good thing. Back to studying.

August 15: Thursday

1:56 pm: Studied all morning and now I’m back up at Far Away Clinic. I examined a soldier in army fatigues with a mysterious rash. We have no idea what it is or where it came from. Seriously. I have yet to figure out which rashes and skin conditions can be examined without wearing gloves. Dr. Newbie ran his hands over the little bumps covering the soldier’s body. I guess he figured it wasn’t contagious. I’m going to stick with gloves for now… always. Just to be safe. Apparently, dermatology is not for me.

2:05 pm: I’m between patients, waiting for my 2:15 to arrive. When I look at the patient census for the day, all I see is a chief complaint. For my 2:15, the chief complaint is “butt pain.” I have all sorts of ideas as to what could be causing that particular chief complaint. Of course, my mind immediately imagines a guy limping in, looking incredibly embarrassed and refusing to sit down while a faint buzzing sound hums in the distance. I don’t really imagine that being a Thursday afternoon kind of chief complaint though. That is probably something more likely to show up in the emergency department on a weekend. I’m guessing it will be something way less entertaining.

2:16 pm: He’s still not here so I began thinking about the rise in emergency department visits related to women getting Ben Wa balls stuck in them and needing removal. This problem really skyrocketed after 50 Shades of Grey was released.

The 2:15 walked in limping but it is most likely sciatica, not a true “butt pain.” Oh well. I think Dr. Newbie is also secretly a little disappointed at the anticlimactic visit. Our patient, however, found the situation entertaining as he kept repeating, “I have a pain in my butt, haha.” No sir, you have hip pain that shoots down your leg. Let’s not exaggerate and get the medical staff really interested for nothing.

6:01 pm: My brain is a bit fried from studying. I’m in a bad mood about Casey finding an apartment. I’m not doing well today.

August 16: Friday

An email popped up a moment ago that someone from New Orleans is interested in my apartment. I’m about to call her. Hopefully it works out.

An hour later: After a phone call, some emails, and a price negotiation, it looks like Zooey will be my new roomie. She is a speech therapy student doing a three-month rotation at The General Hospital, from September 13 to December 10. The timing will be interesting. She will basically be moving into my guest bedroom as Casey is moving out of the master bedroom and while I’m moving my stuff from the guest room back into the master bedroom. I’ll be on surgery until November, so I don’t even know if I’ll see her that much. Who knows? This year is already quite different than I thought it would be.

August 17: Saturday

This time next week I’ll be in NY visiting my baby nephews. I am so beyond excited.

August 18: Sunday

10:00 am: Woke up in Casey’s bed. Oops, how’d that happen?

7:18 pm: Another one of Casey’s married friends is pregnant. I am happy for them but so jealous. My life has been pushed so far away from being at that point. I don’t want to be married and having children with someone just for the sake of doing so, but I thought I had found the person with whom I would share my life. Starting over sucks so bad.

August 19: Monday

Every morning at the student clinic I have to walk past the pediatric exam rooms to reach the medical student office. In the pediatrics hallway is a Winnie the Pooh height chart, and every time I see it I smile and think of my baby nephews.

One of my patients gave my attending a completely different history than the one she had given me. Now I look like an ass. Thanks.

3:15 pm: Zooey and I have a Skype appointment at 4:00 pm. She sounds fun and bubbly and I’m excited to meet her. Maybe she’ll be my new BFF.

5:01 pm: I don’t think Casey realizes that he still calls me ‘honey’ when he’s trying to get my attention.

August 20: Tuesday

Studied outside on my deck all morning. Sunshine felt wonderful and brightened my mood.

Not sure how prepared I am for this final exam. Best go back to studying.

12:24 am: After I finished studying around 10 pm, I sat down with a suture kit and practiced tying knots for two hours. I am getting really psyched for surgery.

August 21: Wednesday

6:44 am: Last day of outpatient medicine. Last day of my internal medicine rotation. Finally.

8:05 am: The heat is suffocating in the student clinic today. Neither myself nor the two other med students are interested in internal medicine and we’re all thrilled that the rotation is nearly over. Before the fellow arrived, we started the morning wishing that none of the patients would show up.

11:36 am: Done with the student clinic. I can leave here forever once I get my final feedback. Then off to Far Away Clinic for my last afternoon with Dr. Pearl.

Fun afternoon at Far Away Clinic:

My first patient was a big, badass, heavily tattooed biker here for his annual physical exam. He sat in an itty-bitty paper gown, with a black skull-patterned bandana atop his shaved head. Even the toughest among us need medical care. My favorite part of the encounter was when Dr. Pearl and I informed him that he was due for a vaccine. He gaped at her wide-eyed and whined, “But Dr. Pearl, you know I hate needles!” It was adorable to see this big beast of a man showing trepidation about getting an injection. Especially as I’m pretty sure that tattooing involves needles…

A healthy and fit lady in her early seventies came in for an annual physical. She had been traveling for the past two weeks with her hubby and some friends. During their adventures, she informed us how they all went hiking, biking, and did other outdoorsy activities. In the next week or so she will be off to Europe for a couple of weeks.

Immediately following her was another lady of the same age. However, this patient could barely walk after years of metabolic disease and various other illnesses. It was so striking to see them back-to-back. It made me realize that I need to start working out again. I know I usually eat healthy, but I’m really scrawny right now. I could use some muscle. These women really have me thinking about health maintenance.

A young woman came into the office for an annual physical and I am really jealous of her. She recently returned from a several week around-the-world trip. Next week she is moving to an awesome city to start a new job, and she looks like a Barbie doll. Seriously. Not fair. I hope she realizes how lucky she is. I know absolutely nothing else about her, but I am judging her entire life on those three things because I am jealous of all of them at this moment.

My last patient is a chatty and jovial woman who is a couple of years older than me. Her blood pressure normalized after being high for some time, and she no longer needs any blood pressure medication. Turns out her blood pressure dropped once she finally divorced her husband and stopped dealing with the stress and anxiety of being in a bad relationship. She told me about the years of angst that came with trying to make a relationship work that wasn’t right. Now she is finally relaxed.

She talked about starting over in her early thirties with a hopefulness and positivity that I have yet to find. I wanted to thank her, to tell her that she gave me hope for happiness in my own future, but I just listened and congratulated her on her improving health. I find it entertaining when patients share their stories with me, but I have yet to figure out when or even if it’s ever ok to share any snippets of my life with them.

I’ve really enjoyed the wide variety of patients I’ve gotten to see at the Far Away Clinic. Young, old, black, white, healthy, sick, rich, poor, and from all walks of life. I’ll have to keep that in mind when choosing where I want to do residency.

August 22: Thursday

7:30 am: Study, study, study.

The library is blissfully quiet right now but freezing. I’m completely incapable of studying at coffee shops or anywhere there are people walking by or when there is any noise. I have major difficulty sitting still and studying for extended periods of time. On the opposite end of the spectrum, I could paint for hours without realizing any time has passed. And of course, I can sit and journal pretty much anywhere without noticing any chaos going on around me.

7:30 pm: Back in the privacy of my apartment. In the past, my home was more of a clothing-optional type of place. Being proactive, I instituted a clothing-mandatory rule about a week ago to decrease the likelihood that Casey and I have sex again. It seemed logical to me that the more clothes we are wearing the less likely they are to come off. However, Casey is ignoring my rule. Right now, he is strolling around the kitchen without a shirt on and with scrub pants barely covering anything. How can I be expected to concentrate on studying with him strolling around all tanned and half naked? It’s asking too much from me. Oh well. I tried.

9:39 pm: Final push. I have one more section to review and then I quit. If I haven’t learned it by now it’s not happening.

August 23: Friday

6:30 am: Walking out of my apartment this morning the sky was dusky blue and a few stars were still twinkling. It had been raining all night and the humidity in the air was drenching, creating a foggy aura. The crickets and bugs sounded like a large chorus. It was like being in the blue lagoon at the Pirates of the Caribbean ride in Disneyland. I headed off to my exam this morning humming, “Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate’s life for me.”

Post exam: That exam was terrible. Everyone walking out looks completely shell shocked. Three weeks until I get my score. One of my hardworking and studious friends just came up to me and told me she thinks she failed. At least I’m not alone?

2:34 pm: At the moment I am sitting at the new wine bar at the airport. My flight to NY leaves in about an hour. I’m sipping on a glass of Pinot Grigio hoping it will lessen the pounding stress headache I got from thinking about this morning. I would have been at the airport earlier, but I got stuck behind some slow-moving farm equipment on the highway. Welcome to the Midwest.

My feedback from Far Away Clinic was uniformly positive and I earned excellent clinical grades. The doctors collectively thought I did a solid job presenting my patients and creating differential diagnoses for them. Dr. Pearl told me I should consider internal medicine as a career, which I take as an incredible compliment coming from her.

My feedback from the student clinic was not so great. The fellow informed me that I started out a little scattered, didn’t seem enthusiastic, and did not go above and beyond, though I improved a lot over the course of the month. It might be more accurate to say that I was barely functioning during my first day at the student clinic, which was not even 48 hours after Casey and I broke up.

Overall, she gave me average marks and I could not disagree. At the same time, she cut me zero slack for not being on top of my game in my post-seven-year-relationship breakup state because medical students are expected to perform at our highest potential all the time, no matter what. I’m still learning how to turn my emotions off when I walk through the doors of the hospital. I’m not sure if I’ll ever be able to do it.

Two months of third year down, ten months to go. Off to surgery.

Chapter 2: Inpatient Internal Medicine

Love, Sanity, or Medical School

Chapter 2: Inpatient Internal Medicine

July 1: Monday

1:00 pm: They just handed me a pager. Now what?

I’m sitting in a barren, windowless classroom tucked away on a top floor within The General Hospital, surrounded by a small group of newly-minted third-year medical students. It’s our first day on the wards. We are waiting for the senior residents to collect us and distribute us to the various medicine teams.

2:15 pm: Still waiting…

3:30 pm: Turns out that the senior residents didn’t know that we, every medical student in the entire College of Medicine, were starting today so we sat there until three pm. We tried calling them. We tried paging them. Finally, an attending physician randomly passing by came to our rescue and located the seniors. They seemed pleasantly surprised to see that we’d been patiently sitting there for hours.

3:55 pm: I met my team, comprised of a fourth-year medical student, an intern, and a senior resident, and then was dismissed. Everyone seemed welcoming.

July 2: Tuesday

7:01 am: I have no idea what I’m supposed to be doing.

8:15 am: My attending, the young Dr. Osler, immediately comes across as friendly and enthusiastic. We discussed my goals for the rotation. His focus is on improving my patient presentation skills and teaching me to come up with broad differential diagnoses (aka medical explanations) for my patients’ problems. Sounds good. My ‘personal’ goals: 1. Avoid personal embarrassment. 2. No crying if I get yelled at. My first impression is that Osler doesn’t seem like the type of attending who torments third years, though I guess I’ll find out soon enough.

The crux of “having a patient” is rounding. Each medical student and resident takes turns presenting their patients to the rest of the team during rounds. We hop around the hospital, traveling room-to-room, until we have checked in on every patient on our list. Rounds are nerve wracking because it is imperative to know every single detail about your patient’s work up. The ‘work up’ is a generic term referring to all the data collected on a patient, including physical exam findings, daily blood tests (aka lab values, or, labs), and imaging results (such as x-rays and MRI scans). Knowing how a patient is responding to their treatments is essential, too. All of your decisions regarding their care are debated and nitpicked. If the attending finds your management of a patient to be unsatisfactory, the consequences may range from an eye roll, to an audible sigh, to a verbal berating, to being locked in a dungeon without food or water until such a time when your attending believes you can once again be let loose on the wards.

I officially have my own patient! He is in the hospital for a ginormous (proper medical terminology right there) foot ulcer. I could call him Mr. FU for foot ulcer, but let’s go with Mr. UFO instead. Having my own patient means I now have someone to present on rounds. Each morning, before the team arrives, I’ll get to The General Hospital super early to read up on any new lab studies or overnight developments in his care. This is called pre-rounding. After presenting him on rounds, I’ll write a note on his progress and goals for the day, while helping plan for his discharge. Waaaay better than being in the classroom.

12:59 pm: Every Tuesday afternoon all students on the internal medicine rotation have class together from 1-5 pm. In an effort to make these four hours of lecture more exciting the internal medicine people have coined these afternoons “Super Tuesdays.” Sure. Whatever. There are a lot of stereotypes in medicine. Internal medicine folks are known to be super nerdy. So far, so true. And unfortunately, I can’t go home afterwards because I’m on call tonight. Being “on call” on the medicine service basically means an extra-long day, so instead of leaving at 5:00 pm I’ll be here until about 10:00 pm.

July 3: Wednesday

8:43 am: People take bad news quite differently. A patient on our service was told his fiancé gave him Hepatitis C and he nonchalantly commented, “Oh well, I’m marrying her anyway so I guess that’s that.” When the fiancé found out that she may have contracted Hepatitis B from him in return, she was NOT happy. I thought she was going to punch him or break the engagement right then and there.

10:15 am: While on morning rounds we met an elderly new patient named Mr. BH, who was admitted by the overnight team. He is suffering and in excruciating pain from multiple medical problems and a broken hip. As the overnight intern started presenting Mr. BH to our team, Mr. BH began reaching out past the intern and signaling for me to come closer. I was at the end of the bed and Mr. BH persistently motioned for me to move nearer to him. The whole time he was moaning in agonizing pain and it was confusing because we couldn’t figure out what he wanted. When I finally got close enough, he grabbed my hand and held it tightly. Turns out he needed some comfort and just wanted to hold my hand. He gripped my hand tightly the entire time we were in his room. It was very sweet and very sad. Pulling my hand away so I could grab my stethoscope and perform a physical exam felt more than a little heartless.

Happy Fourth of July: Thursday

8:20 am: It’s hard to watch people in pain. A professor taught us last year that patients should never be in pain, should never be short of breath, and should not die alone. These are deceptively difficult goals. Give too many meds and they stop breathing, give too few and their pain is intolerable. My team is trying to balance controlling Mr. BH’s pain without causing a deadly respiratory depression.

Noon: My day was brightened when I ran into my Sig O, Casey. We met nearly seven years ago on a random Tuesday at a dive bar in Chicago. It wasn’t exactly love at first sight but there was definitely some spark, some attraction, so we began dating. Dating casually grew into a relationship, falling in love, and moving in together.

1:12 pm: My team is constantly busy, and I feel like I’m in the way or at least just not on their radar this afternoon. Patients are sick as shit, and I don’t know my role yet. I’m keeping myself busy by reading and studying.

2:29 pm: I tried to learn to draw blood but was informed by the intern, “Don’t waste your time, you’ll never do that, nurses will do that for you.” Only thing is, I want to learn and I’m bored because I don’t know what else I could be doing right now aside from studying.

July 5: Friday

3:32 pm: I updated Mr. UFO and his family. I answered his questions and then discussed his progress and discharge plans. It feels better than simply being out of the classroom, it feels like I am finally learning to be a doctor. Wonderful!

10:18 pm: I managed to sneak in a dinner with Casey tonight. It’s been forever since I’ve seen his red hair and blue eyes, which is impressive considering we live together and work at the same hospital. As he is a general surgery resident, his schedule is even worse than mine. His muscular former-football-player frame is still tan from our recent trip to Central America. Even with the unseasonable amount of rain we still managed to sneak in some scuba diving and visit the breathtaking Tikal Mayan ruins. Most importantly, I was able to check another box off my bucket list - I swam with sharks. It was a phenomenal experience. My love of the ocean and my most recent bucket list is not relevant at the moment though; I need to get some sleep because I’m on call again tomorrow.

July 6: Saturday

11:00 am: Four and a half hours down, ten hours to go. The problem with Saturday call is that you have to come in post-call on Sunday. This means that my first day off since starting third year will be next Saturday.

Turns out, drawing blood is a clinical skill requirement for this rotation.

Mr. UFO is doing well and is going home tonight so hopefully I’ll get another patient, maybe even two. It’s hard knowing that I am the weakest link and that I slow the team down, but there’s really nothing I can do other than keep learning and try to improve as quickly as possible. In these couple of days my presentation skills, with the help of my attending Dr. Osler, have improved a lot. However, I still suck at describing wounds using proper medical terminology.

Dr. Osler: “Silvia, how would you describe this man’s ulcer?”

Me: “Um...” And I’m thinking to myself, well it smells really foul and looks super gnarly, as if someone took an ice cream scoop and scooped out a portion of the man’s heel, leaving behind a bloody, smelly, pus-filled hole. Hmm… need to learn how to translate that into words a grown-up doctor would utilize.

I was right about Dr. Osler though; he is not one to torture medical students. He gives detailed feedback and frequently checks in with me. Even better, he has not once threatened to throw me in the brig! So far, so good.

Noon: The family of Mr. BH, the one who held my hand, updated his advanced directives to solely comfort care. Everything will be done to manage his pain but nothing else - no other medical interventions, no CPR, no life support, nothing. His family believes that his quality of life will never again be at a point that he will find acceptable or enjoyable. In order to effectively manage his pain, we need to increase his meds. Any time we did that in the past few days he would get drowsy and hard to awaken so we’d back off on the dosage. However, alleviating pain is the only goal now. We increased his pain meds once again, which means he’ll likely go into respiratory depression again, which means he will die.

3:30 pm: I was assigned my second patient. She’s admitted for an intentional drug overdose that caused her liver to fail. I know quite little about liver physiology, but I’ll be able to put my master’s degree in psychology to use so she’ll be a good patient for me.

July 7: Sunday

8:58 am: Nope, no I take that back, she is no longer my patient. Turns out her psychoses and medical management are too far beyond my meager third year skills. It sucks to realize that my master’s degree in psych is not useful at all; I had envisioned being successful with psych patients but no, just like everything else, I have to learn from scratch. Instead, now under my care is a sweet young girl named Barbie with a nasty eye problem.

It’s weird waiting for someone to die. A resident from another team casually inquired, “So, has your guy Mr. BH died yet?” It wasn’t asked in a disrespectful way either, merely run-of-the-mill resident lounge conversation.

For the first time, and this may not happen again for a while, the senior resident on my team conceded, “You were right about your patient.” I’d asked if Barbie could have some anti-anxiety medication. He’d firmly replied “no”, that she doesn’t need any. She is young and healthy and shouldn’t be given anxiety medications because they’re addictive and potentially dangerous and blah, blah, blah. He then went and saw her in person and decided yep, Barbie is indeed super anxious and would benefit from a little Ativan. A small victory for the med student!

Barbie has a horrific eye infection and must have eye drops placed every 30 minutes for 48 hours. A nurse will go in her room and literally pry open her sleeping eyes every 30 minutes for two full days. Wow. The alternative is she risks vision loss from not treating her infection properly. OMG she is going to be a zombie from lack of sleep!

Speaking of zombies, there is another patient on my team with a leg infection that reminds me of a zombie wound every time I see it. You know those decaying zombies where it looks like strips of skin got peeled off and it’s all beefy red underneath? That is exactly what this woman’s leg looks like. Creepy.

July 8: Monday

11:48 am: There are three, nationwide standardized exams that have to be passed throughout medical school in order to get one’s medical license. They are referred to as the boards, and are composed of Step 1, Step 2, and Step 3. Step 1 is taken just prior to starting the third year of medical school. It’s a beast of a test and our scores are coming out soon. If you fail Step 1, you are immediately pulled off rotations and are not allowed to continue with third year until you have a passing score. Yikes! While I don’t think I failed, I know I will be incredibly relieved to see a passing score…

I picked up another patient today, a young woman named Ms. AI, with a difficult to control autoimmune disease. I didn’t actually offer to pick her up; she was assigned to me. No one on the team wanted her because she is known to be super bitchy and argumentative. Amazing how quickly patients develop reputations. Ms. AI is emaciated from a string of recent illnesses. My goals are to help her gain weight, get her strength back, and get her labs under control. I wonder if she sensed my distraction while we spoke. No offense to her but my brain is entirely consumed with thoughts of my Step 1 score posting soon.

3:12 pm: I keep offering to my team to let me do things but they keep saying, “It’s ok, we’ve got this,” or, “Thanks but no thanks.”

July 9: Tuesday

6:30 am: Uh-oh. Apparently, Ms. AI has been moved to Step-down, a more acute care wing of the hospital. That’s bad. She became unresponsive overnight and a “rapid response” was called (not quite a code blue like when your heart stops and you’re actively dying but still really bad, and people are concerned that you might die). Scary. She seemed fine when I left last night…

11:00 am: Surprisingly, Mr. BH is doing well. Sure, we amped up his pain meds and risked killing him (at his family’s request, of course) but he pulled through. He has even been moved from Step-down to the floor. I’m too new to know whether or not this is an unusual occurrence. All I know is my team felt fairly certain that this guy was going to die a couple of nights ago.

11:55 am: Barbie’s eyes are doing well; it looks like she may be able to go home tomorrow. It’s too soon to know for sure, but it doesn’t seem that there will be any long-term vision problems.

3:50 pm: Very interesting Super Tuesday lecture today. Really, not sarcastic. Our discussion today is on death and dying. Upon walking into the classroom, we were promptly asked, “How do you want to die?” We all responded with ideas such as: at home, without pain, quickly, surrounded by family. Then we discussed the brutality and futility of CPR. We were told that only about 10%-20% of patients who get CPR will live to be discharged from the hospital. Additionally, we were informed that about 75% of people on TV shows survive such ordeals. Yes, I am typing while sitting in lecture. Shh… don’t tell; it looks like I’m taking notes. Anyway, talk about false hope and unrealistic expectations!

People with terminal diagnoses, who have time to plan their deaths, have a higher likelihood of dying at home, surrounded by family, compared to those who die suddenly. I wonder whether or not physicians also have a higher likelihood of dying at home because they know the poor outcomes that result from aggressive life-prolonging treatment. Hand is going up…

My professor really liked the question and suggested that I do a research project on the topic. I nodded noncommittally. I do find it interesting, so maybe I’ll get to it one day, like when I’m done with my book and my bucket list and my current painting and the ten other things I always have going on at once. First month of third year is not the time to start tacking additional tasks onto my to-do list.

July 10: Wednesday

I experienced my first two rapid responses today. When you’re the “on call” team you carry the code pager. When the shrill rapid beeping starts blaring, you immediately stop what you’re doing and race toward whichever room is listed. Both turned out to be nothing but it was thrilling to head toward an unknown emergency. When people see you running, with your white coat flapping behind you and your stethoscope bouncing on your neck, they jump out of the way, flattening their backs up against the wall to let you pass while craning their necks to see what medical crisis you’re off to fix.

To clarify, neither time did my own pager go off, I just obediently followed behind my team when they started running. There is a fundamental difference between people who get excited when they hear a code pager and those who cringe. Turns out I fall in the camp of people who get super excited. The rapid responses were great distractions from worrying about my Step 1 score and also broke up the monotony of rounding. Turns out that rounding lasts for hours and is pretty darn boring.

10:45 am: Passed my boards! Barely.

While of course I wish I had scored higher, I can’t help but be so, so, so relieved that it’s over and I am moving on with my classmates. My insightful mentor, The Boss, firmly stated in her email to me earlier today: “Do not be worried. You will excel in the clinical environment.” I trust her advice and input implicitly, so I will not worry. We’ve previously agreed that my strength is working with people and has never been, nor likely ever will be, taking multiple-choice tests.

2:30 pm aka 1430: I removed an internal jugular central line from a patient, which is a large IV that is placed in a patient’s neck. This marks the first time this rotation I have touched a patient other than during a physical exam on morning rounds. While the internal med folks are all really friendly (bordering on non-confrontational), I don’t see myself being in a specialty with so few procedures. I like getting my hands dirty.

Ms. AI was moved out of Step-down back to the floor. Good.

Turns out many end-of-life studies have been done and a greater percentage of terminally ill physicians die at home with no aggressive interventions compared to the average layperson. I direct interested parties to the article, “How doctors choose to die,” published in The Guardian by Dr. Ken Murray. Intriguing. I think I will fill out a living will someday soon.

My intern and senior resident both let me draw blood from them. Bloody good fun. We were doing this in the break room and received many odd looks from people passing by in the hallway.

En route to see a new patient, my senior resident shares advice that was given to him upon receiving his own Step 1 score: “Do not let your score influence your level of confidence.” I really appreciate hearing that, thanks. It was like he could read my mind and knew I needed a boost.

A patient disappeared today. Kind of impressive considering he is paraplegic and has minimal upper body strength. The patient is well known for screaming, weakly flailing his arms, and spitting at any staff member who enters his room. Additionally, he also refuses to put on a hospital gown, so he has been lying in his hospital bed covered in strategically placed washcloths. To sum up, not just a paraplegic but a naked paraplegic managed to escape off of the floor this morning. Strong work floor staff.

July 11: Thursday

10:11 am: I have so much to learn.

11:42 am: I often ask patients what they understand about their medical conditions. Many of them have never had anything explained to them in terms they can understand and they have no idea what is going on.

4:05 pm: The naked paraplegic was found and returned safely to the floor. Apparently, he wheeled himself to the hospital courtyard where he was eventually found and brought back up to his room. I’m not entirely sure if the goal was leaving permanently or just temporarily so that he could have a cigarette.

My poppa (my dad’s dad), the singing NY cab driver extraordinaire, escaped from a hospital once. After one of his many heart attacks, he left the hospital without telling anyone, got into a cab dressed solely in his hospital gown with his ass hanging out, and then had his girlfriend pay for the cab when he arrived at home.

I just realized I never described the patient on whom I removed the central line. Through a series of unfortunate events the patient had both hands amputated, and in their place they now have intricate hooks. The dexterity and speed with which the patient maneuvers their hooks is pretty incredible. You try tearing open a sugar packet, pouring out just half into your coffee, deftly using a stirrer, then picking up the cup and drinking without spilling! I don’t know if it’s inappropriate to be so impressed. Maybe that is the typical level of functioning for someone with those types of prosthetics?

July 12: Friday

11:43 am: Tried going on rounds today without a stethoscope. Such a rookie.

Mr. BH has been discharged. Alive. Not a celestial discharge. Still in pain, still with a broken hip, but alive nonetheless.

3:12 pm: Ms. AI started throwing up blood. She is in constant pain. I don’t know how to help her.

July 13: Saturday

Fifteen days in and my first day off since starting third year.

July 14: Sunday

6:43 am: Back at work. On call again. The internal medicine residents always seem nervous and hesitant to do things. We talk and talk and talk about patients and when we’re done talking, we call a consult or two and then talk some more. A consult is when you ask another medical specialty for their opinion about your patient. For example: if a patient has a seizure, you might call for a neurology consult; if a patient develops chest pain, you might call for a cardiology consult; or if a patient feels depressed, you may call for a psychiatry consult. I know these patients are complicated but commit to a choice and do something! I’m guessing their hesitancy is compounded by the fact that it is July, and they are all probably scared to do something that could kill someone. I guess that’s understandable.

It’s hard to give patients awful news. Every time we do I think I see a dark look cross the patient’s face. It’s as though they’re rethinking all the poor decisions they have made throughout their life that led them to this point in time.

4:30 pm: The intern is too trusting. A patient came in with a pus-filled infection on the dorsum (top) of her hand, which ostensibly developed after she fell off a bike one week ago. She has no other injuries, not a scratch on her. She swore up and down to the intern, and myself, that she does not do drugs. After leaving her room I commented to the intern that I thought she was probably lying about her drug use. Her injury looks suspiciously as if she was injecting heroin into her hand. He replied, “No, there is no reason not to trust her.” Sure. We’ll see about this one. The intern and I present the patient to our senior resident and our senior agrees with me that yes, she is probably an IV drug user. The intern sticks to his guns. Again, since one else wants her, she has been assigned to me. Let’s call this new patient of mine Ms. BA for bike accident.

5:45 pm: The urine drug screen on Ms. BA came back positive for all sorts of good stuff including opioids, cocaine, and marijuana, and that’s not even the fancy drug screen that picks up designer drugs. Called it. Another win for the medical student.

July 15: Monday

It’s shocking how many people have nasty foot problems from diabetes. The prevalence of diabetes makes me concerned for my dad - the disease is nearly ubiquitous among overweight Americans. My dad is out of shape, a former smoker, and has already had one heart attack. He is the poster child for a future diabetic, and I worry about him constantly.

I just found out Ms. AI is being presented at M&M today. Why? M&M, or, Morbidity and Mortality, is a conference where a patient who had a complication or who died, allegedly due to a preventable medical error, gets presented to all of the medicine teams. The teams then pick apart the case. The goal is to identify the cause of the problem so that it won’t be repeated by anyone else.

In theory it’s a non-accusatory forum to address life and death errors, but I’ve heard it can get pretty heated. Not quite like the TV show coming out called Monday Mornings, but something to that effect.

Noon: Morbidity and mortality conference. Here we go.

12:55 pm: Sitting in M&M while your patient is being presented is the worst thing ever, and I’m not even responsible for making decisions regarding her care. (I mean, I like to think I am, but really the residents make all the decisions and I just write her daily progress notes). The roomful of docs was provided with a barebones overview of her case, missing many of the details regarding the complexity of her condition. Then they start talking condescendingly about how they would’ve handled her case differently and perfectly. I wanted to yell out, “No, you don’t get it, she is crazy unstable!” but I sat there quietly and watched my team face the firing squad while I hid in a corner.

July 16: Tuesday

7:53 am: Feet smell powerfully bad. Especially right after morning coffee.

9:14 am: Ms. BA is still swearing up and down that she does not use drugs. We keep going along with her story about the bike. No one will confront her. I don’t think she should get more narcotic pain meds because she is drug seeking. Her abscess isn’t even that big, and it’s healing really well. Hopefully she doesn’t go home and inject more heroin into it.

2:20 pm: Super Tuesday lectures are made infinitely more bearable by the presence of my closest guy friend, Magnus. We share a dry sarcastic humor and hold similar views on many issues ranging from patient care to football to the importance of bacon.

Magnus and I became close because he dated my bestie Piper all throughout first year. The three of us would sit next to each other every day during lectures and hang out whenever not in class. Piper broke up with him right after first year ended and fortunately, they never once tried to put me in the middle of any of their drama. It was a messy breakup and they did not speak to each other for the entirety of second year. Piper and Magnus are still two of my closest friends; I just have to hang out with them individually now. They’ve had shared custody of my friendship since their separation.

July 17: Wednesday

This morning I walked into Ms. BA’s room to find her lounging in bed, quietly watching TV. She waits until a commercial starts, then looks at me and deadpans that her hand is killing her and she is in 10/10 pain. Not to be insensitive, but if you can calmly and clearly tell me about your pain while watching soaps then it’s probably not 10/10. Actually, it’s definitely not 10/10; 10/10 is more like childbirth to an extra-large baby without an epidural, or having a broken bone sticking out of your body at some weird angle, or having your leg bitten off by a shark with dull teeth. Those are examples of 10/10 pain in my book. I’m sure it hurts but really, I think she’s drug seeking again and I have no interest in giving her more meds.

Ms. BA is getting under my skin because lying is a pet peeve of mine. While growing up, my parents told my sister Olivia and me that they would never lie to us because once you catch someone in a lie, their word can never be trusted again. To this day, I still trust my parents; they’re awesome. Ms. BA sucks.

1:00 pm: We have a patient on our service with a three-week-old wound in the back of his head. There were stitches and staples put in initially, staples all down the middle with one stitch at the top and two stitches at the bottom. His staples were removed a week ago, but the stitches were forgotten about for reasons unknown. I offered to remove the stitches because they had been in too long (scalp stitches are usually kept in for 10 to 14 days). My team agreed this was a good idea, but my intern wanted me to consult the trauma surgery team first. Umm, no. Bad idea.

Calling the trauma team for their permission to remove THREE stitches on a well-healed wound would result in me either getting laughed at or yelled at by the trauma team. I explained that I wouldn’t call. The intern retorted, “Yes, you have to.” The intern then left to go do something else. I normally do not defy my superiors but this was ridiculous. To appease my intern, I called Sophia (my dear friend and fellow medical student), who is currently rotating with the trauma surgery team. That way I could aver that, yes, technically I did call the trauma team. She didn’t answer (because the trauma team is always busy, which is why I didn’t want to call in the first place) and then I went and removed the stitches anyway.

3:00 pm: My intern is not happy with me. Fortunately, the senior resident jumped in and defended me by explaining, “No, no, no, we do not consult trauma surgery for little things like that.” Phew. Yet another example of internal medicine people being terrified to do anything without the explicit permission of as many people as possible. Or another example of July interns being terrified to kill someone. Either way. But really, if you have three three-week-old stitches holding the back of your head together then you have way bigger problems in your life than a rogue med student.

July 18: Thursday

One of the patients got me sick. It hurts to swallow. My throat is on fire. My tonsils are disgustingly swollen. It feels like strep, but it’s likely something viral floating around. Ugh.

Night team gave Ms. BA more narcotics. Will people please stop increasing the pain meds on my drug-seeking patient? The senior resident reluctantly admitted to me that he had increased her dose. He explained that it was to make the night nurses lives easier. Fine, I get that, but isn’t there any other option?

I would like to have an honest conversation with Ms. BA about her behavior before she leaves. I want to tell her that she really needs to stop using needles, especially dirty ones, because she will get more abscesses. My team informed me that the nature of medicine is to treat and not bother addressing problems for which there can’t be follow-up. Ok, but what I don’t understand is this: I have the time, I have the training, and I’m still naively optimistic enough to think that I can make a difference in her life. What is the harm if I go over options for treatment programs? Either way she is going home today.

This whole time she thinks she’s pulled one over on us. She thinks she is so clever and has successfully tricked the medical team into believing that her abscess is from a bike accident. In addition to paralyzing hesitation to do things, there is also a large amount of confrontation avoidance among the internal medicine people. Beyond frustrating. I’m too action-oriented and straightforward for this specialty.

A couple of weeks prior to coming to The General Hospital, my other patient, Ms. AI, had a nasty infection that almost killed her. She had to be intubated. This involved placing a breathing tube in her throat and connecting it (and her) to a ventilator, a machine that breathed for her. This is akin to being placed on life support. She has extreme anxiety and nightmares about that hospital visit and she is terrified about the prospect of going to sleep, decompensating, and waking up intubated again. Her solution to this is to not sleep. She looks painfully tired and is fighting falling asleep.

Her previous hospital experiences have been pretty traumatic. Another horrific experience was during one of her pregnancies, which resulted in her requiring an emergent cesarean delivery. She shared with me about being whisked away into a bright room, being surrounding by people in yellow gowns and having a mask put over her face. When she awoke, she learned her baby had not survived the delivery. Poor Ms. AI. I want to give her a hug. If you know her, you probably don’t want to give her a hug because she’s pretty bitchy with the rest of the staff, but she’s chill with me for reasons unknown.

July 19: Friday

About an hour ago I received a text from my intern to go check in with Ms. AI because she is in a lot of pain. My mission was to figure out what was wrong and comfort her but offer no pain medication. After about two minutes of chatting she told me that on top of everything else going on, she is having really bad belly cramps and muscles aches from starting her period. She is also suffering from severe anxiety and depression. I talked with her a bit and regretted that I had nothing to offer her. As I was leaving, an idea popped in my head. I randomly asked her if she would like to speak with our chaplain about her anxiety and for some spiritual comfort. She loved the idea. Found a way to support her and no meds required. Take that, intern.

I am feeling more and more ill as the day goes on and my energy is gone. I just want to bury myself in my bed, under layers of warm blankets. How sick do I have to be before I can leave? We were jokingly (?) informed during orientation that we would have to require IV fluids and IV antibiotics in order to be considered sick enough to not be at work.

July 20: Saturday

10:31 am: I kind of have the urge to check Ms. AI’s medical records from my home to see how she’s doing but I am off for the weekend, so I will resist. It’s only my second day off from work in 20 days and my first full weekend off since I started third year.

My head is achy, I barely have the energy to sit up, and my ever-running nose is red and irritated from constantly being rubbed by tissues. I am not moving off my couch today. I wish I felt better so that I can enjoy my days off. Casey is on call, so I have the apartment to myself. I don’t think we’ve spent any real quality time together in days. Or months. It’s getting hard to tell whether this can be blamed on our schedules or if something else is the cause.

July 21: Sunday

11:43 am: After sleeping most of the past 24 hours I feel infinitely better and ready to leave the confines of my apartment.

It was so gorgeously bright out today that I decided I needed to spend the day outside. I was in luck. Once a month the LGBT group at my medical school hosts a potluck dinner and as a mostly-straight ally, I try to attend each month. The hosts for this month are the brilliant Dr. Neuro (who I adore) and his partner. Upon arriving to the party, Dr. Neuro took my best friend Jane and I upstairs to the balcony overlooking his pool and backyard. From this vantage point he pointed out each of the physicians and their specialty, so we would know whom to best target for networking. After about ten minutes of playing who’s who, two more people entered the backyard. Our professor confided to us, “Oh, look, that’s the medicine attending, Dr. Osler. He’s started coming out to family and friends last week, but he hasn’t come out at work yet. It’s been really difficult for him. This is his first time ever attending the potluck. I’ve assured him it’s a safe place where he can be comfortable and open.” Well, I guess there’s no safer place to run into your own med student than at an LGBT potluck/pool party?

I’m fairly certain Dr. Osler almost ran from the pool deck upon making eye contact with me. We chatted briefly and then each went about our own business of drinking and relaxing.

July 22: Monday

11:35 am: There was a mandatory CPR recertification class this morning resulting in me missing morning rounds again. It feels weird to be away from my patients three days in a row.

11:46 am: Ugh… the chaplain never checked in with Ms. AI on Friday! So much for that idea. On top of that, it turns out Ms. AI had a fall and developed a new infection. Why is she getting worse and not better?

2:35 pm: Ms. BA has been discharged. I wonder how long before she returns with her arm infected and requiring an amputation à la Requiem for a Dream.

July 23: Tuesday

6:50 am: We have a new attending today so farewell to Dr. Osler. He was easy-going and laidback, making my transition to third year smooth. I’ve heard rumors that our new attending is borderline neurotic in how she likes things done and can be a real stickler about pretty much everything.

9:26 am: Many patients seem distrustful when we talk to them. They and their families often query: “Do you know what you’re doing?” “Why am I not better yet?” “How old are you?” “Are you sure about that?” “I checked Google and I think I have xyz…” I keep thinking, “We’re doing the best we can and don’t worry; our attending keeps a close eye on us.”

11:46 am: Ms. AI has diarrhea so prolific right now that she has taken to wearing diapers. She tearfully admitted to me how embarrassing this whole situation is for her. We’re not that far apart in age. I really, truly can’t imagine being in her position; it must be so, so terrible.

2:23 pm: Super Tuesday! Hold the super.

3:12 pm: My personal life is falling apart. Can I keep ignoring that right now?

July 24: Wednesday

11:49 am: We have a patient in his 90s who is likely not making it out of The General Hospital alive. His name is 95. His daughter, who is my parent’s age, made this realization while we were rounding yesterday. She broke down crying. Not just crying, but really sobbing. We witnessed the moment where she came to understand that her father is not only mortal but is dying. My team left me with her during rounds to comfort her and I am so glad they did. I let her cry it out for a bit, then encouraged her to talk about 95 and her family. After a while, we discussed coping, strength, and surviving events we believe are insurmountable. After spending so many hours of so many days wishing I could be of service to my patients and my team this felt wonderful. This will certainly be a most memorable patient encounter.

On another note, 95 is one of the healthiest patients on our service: no diabetes, no cardiovascular disease, and no obesity. The senior resident informed me that if someone makes it to their 90s, it’s because their life leading up until that point was likely healthy. Evidently his health status is not surprising to anyone else on the team.

1:15 pm: My intern is off today, my senior is at clinic, and my attending is not here. I’m going to be a bad/lazy med student and go home. I really need to go food shopping and take a shower. It’s been awhile.

July 25: Thursday

6:52 am: As I pre-rounded today, Ms. AI told me to not be so nervous when presenting in front of the new attending. I was touched to realize that this patient, someone so sick and brittle, had noticed how my bedside presentations changed with the new attending. She is absolutely right. This new attending definitely makes me jittery. I just wish my team could do more for Ms. AI. She appears to be fading before my eyes, every day more pallid and frail than the day before.

11:52 am: My team went into 95’s room during rounds. While discussing the plan for 95, his daughter walked into the room. When she saw me, she walked right over and gave me a big hug, then looked me in the eye, thanked me, and told me she’d never forget me. Great way to start the day! It would have been just as wonderful if my team wasn’t present to witness her gratitude, but having the team there was a bonus.

7:35 pm: As part of my end-of-rotation evaluation I was scrutinized while taking a patient history and doing a full physical exam. In general, the feedback was positive. My attending taught me how to properly palpate the spleen during the physical exam. From now on I won’t have to awkwardly pretend as if I know what I’m doing during that part of an abdominal exam. My attending remarked that I am skilled at quickly developing relationships with my patients. It’s nice to feel that I’m good at something since most of the time I am fairly lost. Patients do not act the way we were taught they would.

There’s a NY Times article about patients developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after ICU stays. Patients at higher risk tend to be young females. I wonder if PTSD is plaguing Ms. AI during her hospital stay.

8:36 pm: I am actively ignoring the fact that Casey told me on Monday night that he doesn’t know if he ever sees us getting married.

July 26: Friday

11:30 am: Turns out that 95 is a trooper. He’s doing great and will be going home tomorrow. Yet another patient this rotation that my team had written off for dead but will be going home very much alive.

2:15 pm: I had a final feedback session with my senior resident today. He said he was pleased with my progress and went on to explain, “I don’t want to use the word aggressive… No, your assertiveness in offering to do and watch procedures was great.” I told him I tried to keep an open mind during the rotation, but we agreed that internal medicine probably isn’t for me. Like in any way. At all. Ever.

I’m happy it’s my last night of call with inpatient internal medicine and tomorrow is my last day at the hospital. The next four weeks will be outpatient internal medicine.

Since tomorrow is my last day, I really need to go say goodbye to Ms. AI.

3:35 pm: Timing. Not a minute after typing the previous sentence the code pagers went off. I took off running and was halfway down the hallway to the patient’s room before it clicked that I was heading towards Ms. AI room. She was unresponsive, so a rapid response was called. Then she started posturing, with her arms and legs extended stiffly at her side. The doctor pinched her skin and tried other painful methods to rouse her. I wanted to yell at him to stop. I stood frozen near the doorway of her room and watched her get intubated while the residents discussed whether or not she may have developed a bleed in her head.

The scene played out exactly the way she described to me that she was afraid it would happen. Masked, yellow-gowned docs swarming around her bed and shoving a tube down her throat. She was sent for an emergent head CT, so I went with her, and then I followed her to her new room in the ICU. I kept vigil at her bedside for some time, unable to imagine how I would feel if one of my nightmares came true. One of the attending docs stopped by and asked me if I was ok. He kindly updated me that her CT scan was normal. I’m usually good at hiding my emotions but this was too much to witness. She can’t die. She can’t. Of all the patients… not her. Please not her.

5:45 pm: Time does not stop and our team is busy. There is a new patient for me and I almost vomited in his room because of the stench emanating from him.

6:50 pm: Lots of new patients are rolling in, including two who are psychotic. Psychotic patients are fascinating to me, and today they are also distracting me from thinking about Ms. AI. One new patient kept yelling at me and calling me Bessy. The other one is intensely paranoid and believes she is part of an FBI conspiracy and film project. She seemed relieved (though I think slightly disappointed) when I told her firmly “no” we are not making a movie about her. Though, she will get a part in my book. I didn’t tell her this.

July 27: Saturday

6:45 am: Today is my last day on inpatient medicine. I would’ve said goodbye to Ms. AI but she is still intubated in the ICU. I will, however, go and say goodbye to 95 and his wonderful family once we’re done with rounds.

1:30 pm: Wow, what a great note to end on. I spent nearly 40 minutes sitting with 95 and his wife of forever. They have many children and even more grandchildren and great grandchildren. 95’s wife revealed to me in a conspiratorial tone, “Every time he thought I wasn’t busy enough he got me pregnant again.” My favorite exchange went something like this:

Wife: “I couldn’t have found a better man, I am so blessed.”

95: “You could’ve found a richer man.”

Wife: “I guess so.”

95: “Eh, but he probably wouldn’t have you let you spend all his money the way I let you spend all of mine!”

The two of them busted out laughing.

95’s wife asked me if I had a boyfriend. I replied “yes,” and she told me that he better be treating me right. She added that he must be worried all the time about other doctors hitting on me. I’m not so sure about that, but I just nodded and smiled and left it at that. There were lots of hugs and well-wishing when I left the room. I am in awe of their relationship. You could see the love between them, radiating from them. My grandparents, my mom’s parents, were like that. Hugging and kissing and holding hands up until the day my poppa died. My relationship with Casey isn’t like that; it hasn’t been like that in a long time. Maybe in the past, but not recently. I’m dreading going home today and discussing the state of our relationship, but I can’t put it off any longer.

Before I leave the hospital and officially finish inpatient medicine, I go turn in my pager that never went off.