The first time I performed CPR — that is, literally kept a human alive by the very force of my hands — I was a third-year medical student. In other words, I was a book-smart twenty-something with two years of multiple-choice medical knowledge and a single four-hour course on ACLS under my belt. Now, I was in the emergency room, and a man had come in with no pulse. As the various physicians milled around, one of them barked out, “No pulse! Medical student on chest compressions!”
I scurried up. This was the moment years of book learning was leading up to — I was going to make a difference in someone’s life! As I shoved with downward pressure into my hands, compressing the chest wall to push on the heart and drive blood flow into the rest of this man’s body, I felt beads of sweat collect at my hairline. They were the physical manifestation of my feeling of importance. Compressions needed to happen without interruption for two minutes at a time, at a fairly fast rate of 100 beats per minute. I was barely at the halfway mark and starting to tire, but this man’s life was literally in my hands. I was resolved: nothing could stop me.
And then … my scrub pants fell down.
So much for self-importance.
Apparently amidst the emphatic resuscitation, wrists straining, hips hinging, pushing all of my 115 pounds into the patient, the flimsy drawstrings of my stock hospital scrubs had loosened and added my purple underpants to the mosaic of red blood and blue scrubs.
For anyone in medicine (especially females), we know that scrubs are by no means a fashion statement. At best they are glorified pajamas, and at worst they are potato sacks with arm and leg holes. They exist to be functional — amenable to the physical demands of sprinting to codes, lifting 400-pound patients and executing procedures. They exist to be low maintenance — easily washable or discarded for inevitable blood stains, coffee spills or projectile vomit.
At the very least, we expect them to remain true to the fundamental purpose of clothing: coverage. To that aim, stock hospital scrubs are not on a sizing profile that range from small to XL like the labels advertise, but from blob to full amoeba.
After the traumatic embarrassment of mooning a room full of a dozen physicians, fate would have it that I ended up becoming an emergency medicine physician, a specialty where wardrobe is almost exclusively scrubs.
However, my purple underpants had not been exposed in vain. If life was the best lesson, consider me schooled. My first day as an emergency physician, I walked into the hospital, triumphantly into the chaos of the emergency department. My personalized scrub pants were tailored, drawstrings double knotted for good luck.
Image credit: Sewing by Nancy Belle licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.