By anyone’s standards, from a medical perspective, we did everything right. But all I could think about is how much we hurt this boy by saving his life. How we saved his life just enough, not to kill him, just to take away every meaningful part of human existence.
On my first day of intern year, my attending corrected me in the hallway after I introduced myself to a patient by my first name. Following this, I sheepishly adopted a habit of saying “I’m Dr. Last Name” when sticking out my hand to greet a patient. In clinic, the nurses call me “Dr. Last Name,” even when saying a casual hello. When you refer to yourself as a doctor enough times, you start to believe it.
The grass grows tall outside my uncle’s home — he only cuts it when we play croquet. He blazes a crisscrossing trail through the sea of weeds to form a maze-like playing field. We push the white wickets into the earth, grab the mallets, and drop the balls to the ground.
Early in intern year, I reached out to residents in other departments who were part of my patients’ care in the hospital. In an effort to redirect my thought patterns, I asked them how and what drives their interaction styles and their medical decisions.
I distinctly remember my drive to the hospital for the first shift of my residency five years ago. It was a night shift, a fact that only added to my trepidation. My brain bounced frantically back and forth among a random assortment of topics of which I lacked, I felt, sufficient knowledge, but which knowledge I felt sure I would imminently be called upon to use in a critical situation.
On Match Day, you are assigned to a new family for the next three to seven years. This will be the city where you might buy your first home, the city where you may meet the people who will speak at your wedding. An algorithm shuffles you into your assigned place in a new family tree.
“What part of what I just said did you not understand?” The fellow patronizingly chastised me in front of the entire medical team. Her tone and body language felt demeaning, almost as if she was more intent on embarrassing me than caring for the patient.
The waves beat; / a cold, relentless torrent. / You stand against them / taking the impact
“Goddamn doctors,” says a voice down the hall, slightly muffled through the curtain of the exam room where I lay. “What now?” comes another voice and they both grow louder, batting back and forth gripes. “They make the worst damn patients, know exactly what’s wrong with them and exactly what to do and you’re not doing it quick enough.”
How do you enjoy that / Which will be gone — sooner than someday?
Come one, come all, to the emergency room / It’s one a.m., and the rashes are in bloom
Tommy became my patient about halfway through my PICU rotation. He arrived as a transfer from an outside hospital due to concern for liver failure, and on a morning when we already had four admissions, he became another checkbox on my to-do list.