Hi friends. I wrote this awhile ago and then totally forgot about it. But better late than never! Here you go:
So far, my life on the wards has been extremely chill. No one has been super sick, no one has gotten really behind on patients, no one has had a crisis. Things have been calm.
Today was the day of catastrophe.
My pager was going off nonstop.
I finally figured out where the ER is because I had to find it today…twice.
Boluses of drugs were being pushed and people were running in every direction and I was reciting the alphabet backwards to avoid getting woozy from hearing patients cry out in pain and I was reciting the alphabet backwards to stop myself from crying and I was reciting the alphabet backwards to give my brain a chance to catch up to the chaos that was happening right in front of me.
Try that trick. It works.
I saw patients go from talking, walking, laughing to something the exact opposite of all of that. I watched families be shooed out of rooms, taken down the hall, away from the noise, the blood, the Very Bad Things happening. I watched families stay in the room as their loved one decompensated right in front of them. I watched more drugs be pushed, more supplies be ran for, more people running into the rooms.
I’m a med student. Which means my entire life (not an exaggeration) up to this point has been with my nose stuck into the middle of a book. Very academic, very intellectual.
Today was challenging, intellectually. But today was so much more challenging, emotionally. I learned what it means to hold your own tears back so you can be the anchor and let the mom cry. I learned how it feels to watch a patient do a total 180 right in front of you. I learned how to walk out of that patient’s room and go see another patient, a smile on my face like I didn’t just see what I saw 5 minutes ago.
I’m sure my days in medicine will have days infinitely more emotionally challenging than this one. But today was as hard as it’s ever been for me. Not only because there was a lot of tragedy today, a lot of tough new diagnoses and sad families and unstable patients, but because I, the med student – who, I might add, is literally at the very bottom of the totem pole of the hospital hierarchy – didn’t ever know what I could do to be helpful. Most of us go into medicine in part because we are good at helping people and we enjoy helping people.
Today, so early into my clinical years, I didn’t know how to push drugs or start an IV or deliver bad news to a family. I didn’t know where to find extra syringes or how to put in orders or how to get back to the floor from the ER.
But today I learned that, while I may massively slow down my team 99% of the time, while I am still learning how to do literally everything, while I have more questions than I ever do answers (much to the chagrin of said team), medicine is really less about all the drugs and IVs and labs and running around not knowing how to get your pager to stop making that weird sound.
Medicine is handing the Kleenex box to the parent watching their child in distress. Medicine is squeezing their hands and kneeling down next to them as their whole world falls apart in front of them. Medicine is sneaking away after the dust has settled into a empty stairwell to pull myself together where no one can see me cry. Medicine is sitting with them as they ask scared, scared questions that no one should ever have to ask. Medicine is going to be with the patients and their families when you’re on call and things are slow, just so they can see a familiar face and be reminded that – even when we’re all running around like madmen, even when we’re putting out 17 fires at once, even when the bags under our eyes are larger than they’ve ever been – we are still here for you.
Medicine, at the end of it all, is one of the most beautiful pictures of humanity, in all its messiness, that I have ever seen.
Today, I was reminded how far I still have to go in learning clinical medicine. Today, I was reminded that what I read in the textbooks is not always the same as the patient that sits in front of me. Today, I was reminded that this is a lot less glamorous and a lot more difficult than we like to make it seem sometimes.
So today, I held hands. Today, I found Kleenex boxes. Today, I made eye contact. Today, I got cups of water. Today, I sat in sacred silence. Today, I cried.
But today, I didn’t want to leave the hospital. Today, I loved my job. Today, I couldn’t wait to come back tomorrow.
This is it, you guys. This is where it’s at. Today I was right in the middle of catastrophe, of bad news, of the most vulnerable moments, of emergencies, and I may not have had any idea what I was doing or how to be useful or how to just get out of the way.
But today I held the hands of strangers, and we became something other than strangers. These are faces that I will remember forever, names that I will never forget. And I learned a lot from my team today about how to approach these sorts of emergency situations, how to treat these patients. But I’m really glad that there were individuals running around with me today who have put out this exact same fire 80 million times, people for whom this is routine, just another day on the job, people who knew exactly what to do.
That meant that I learned a lot about managing these patients today.
But it also meant that the most important thing for me to do today was hold the hands of strangers.