55 words

 

The act of recording and reflecting on one’s experiences is a powerful thing. When things go well and the patient survives and everyone lives happily ever after, it’s easy. But, when the patient bleeds out or his aorta dissects or she succumbs to the breast cancer she’s been fighting for a decade, it’s anything but.

For all of you who haven’t heard of the “55 word” story movement, read Colleen Fogarty’s piece, “Fifty-five Word Stories: ‘Small Jewels’ for Personal Reflection and Teaching.” Give it a try. Honestly, I was pretty skeptical when I first sat down to write. I procrastinated and scrolled through Facebook for about ten minutes before I finally put my fingers to the keys. As future doctors, I think that sometimes we forget that we’ve ever done anything but memorize the cranial nerves and nonsensical drug names, that we used to enjoy studying things like poetry and music and Shakespeare. Once I started writing, though, I couldn’t stop.

Here are the first three that I wrote.

 

Stories from the SICU

I walked in as he was being extubated.

He was the only one left of three: his friends were declared dead at the scene of a moonlit car accident that they would never leave. But he didn’t know that. I wondered who would tell him.

I walked out to the sounds of his lonely sobs.

 

 

Started from the Bottom

Remember how hard it was

To remember trapezius.

 

Remember how tentative our fingers were, how unsure, scalpels poised over flesh for the first time. Look at how far we’ve come. Through viscera and vein, skin and sclera: anatomy dancing before us, at the tips of our tongues.

 

Remember how hard it was

To remember trapezius.

 

 

Hello my name is

Hello, my name is Jane Smith, and I’m a medical student at Baylor.

 

I’m sorry, I’ve only been in medical school for two months.

I’m sorry that my hands are cold; I’m nervous.

I’m sorry, you’re my first patient.

 

Hello, my name is Jane Smith, and I’m scared that I don’t know what I’m doing.

 

I’ll post more of these as I write them, but the experience of putting pen to paper was worth it in and of itself. Enjoy.

 

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174 weeks

Never hurt anything with a name.

One of the most distinguished members of my medical school’s faculty gave her last lecture this week. She started by congratulating us for making it this far (6 months), cautioning us as we head into our third set of exams to keep “upholding the highest standards of academic excellence,” etc, etc. You could almost feel people around the room tuning out, powering down, opening Facebook as they tried to ignore the fact that the next set of exams was indeed approaching. Then she stopped, and said something that I’m still trying to wrap my arms around.

In 174 weeks, Doctor becomes your first name. For the rest of your life.

 

As we tried to digest the reality of what she had just said – doing back-of-the-envelope calculations out of a strange combination of awe and terror – she laid out her Rules of Surgery, which include:

  1. Do what’s right for the patient, no matter what
  2. Look cool doing it

and

3. Never hurt anything with a name.

I naturally assumed, like most, that she meant our patients. “Obviously,” I thought to myself, “that’s kind of the point.” But as she explained what she meant, I realized that there are so many more things with names in the world of medicine than the people we’re training to treat. The schools we go to and the hospitals we work for have names: we are responsible for their reputations as much as we are for our own. But we have names too. So do our partners and our parents and our friends.

Sometimes being in medical school feels like trying to juggle ten batons without even knowing how to juggle three. And then other times it feels like someone’s added five more and set them all on fire. But that’s life sometimes, too. This blog is for anyone struggling through this with me, anyone who has struggled through it, or anyone passionate enough to want to struggle through it once you’ve read my thoughts. All I can say is that I think every single day about how tired I am, how much I have to, and how unbelievably lucky I am to be here, training to do what I’ve wanted to do since I was in second grade.

 

174 weeks can’t come fast enough.