For my second week of my outpatient surgery clerkship, this week being ophthalmology, I was paired with another medical student and had to report early this morning to the county hospital to work all day. She was a very frail Asian woman, already married and someone so exceedingly benign I honestly didn't know she was around for most of the first two years of medical school. Very quiet, very bland, very...umm...just not noticeable. Needless to say, we weren't exactly close friends. Instead, we were on a very comfortable "How are you today?" conversational relationship, and that's how I presumed this relationship would remain during this week. I was to discover that, as in many things in my life, I was completely and utterly wrong.
Our resident gathered us into a small room that morning and explained that we should practice looking into each other's eyes with the ophthalmoscope (the thing we use to shine a light the eye to look at the retina) for a while before we tried it on real patients, because this is actually a pretty tricky skill that takes a lot of practice. If you've ever been to the doctor, you know what this is - the doctor takes a light and shines it directly into your eye, coming very very very close to your face as he approaches your eye and leaves the light there for a few seconds before repeating the same test with the other eye:
Anyways, the resident leaves, and it's just me and her in the room. I offer to volunteer my eyes first, and she attempts the exam on my eyes. And fails pretty badly at it. I try on her and fail as well. We go back and forth a few times, failing miserably at trying to see the optic disc, which is the goal of this exam. Since I had been up since 5 AM, I was pretty oblivious to the fact that this failure might actually be a bad thing, and simply chalked it up to inexperience, which in actuality is all it was. After all, one of the residents stated that it takes potentially hundreds of practice attempts before this skill becomes second nature.
Yet, after a few more rounds of failure, my collegue begins to do the exam on me but stops abruptly. She starts talking really fast about how disappointed in herself she is that she cannot get this, how she doesn't understand why she is failing at this, and so on. I try to calm her down by a) just using my naturally sexy and soothing voice and b) reminding her what the resident just told us 20 minutes ago about how this was a difficult skill and many people with years of experience are still poor at it. She then begins freaking out about how she is right eye dominant and doesn't know how she will ever use her left eye to visualize the other eye. Her talking gets more and more rapid as she begins this mini-panic attack. Then, I notice that the hand that is holding the ophthalmoscope is shaking violently. Just to remind you, it's literally just me and her in a room. No one is evaluating us. No patients are getting upset. We had just been lectured to about how we aren't expected to get the hang of this for a while, and how this is all just for practice. Despite all this, she was completely freaking out. (You may be thinking to yourself, "Well duh, she's just nervous because for this exam she gets right to within kissing distance of your sensuous lips, you devilishly handsome young man you"...and you'd be right. But that still doesn't explain the hand shaking.) She continues to freak out, lamenting that her friend who had this rotation last week was amazing at this skill by the end of the week. My attempts to remind her that today was, in fact, Tuesday and not Friday, meaning that she had three more days to practice, were subsequently ignored, and she continued to melt away in a pool of panic and despair.
However, if having a panic attack in a non-threatening situation that has no bearing on grades, one's future career, someone's life, etc. were the sole criteria for being a hall of fame medical school freakshow, then I'd say about half the class would qualify. My jittery medical school friend, who's hand was again shaking furiously at this point, would take it one step further. First, she tried to control herself and stop tears from rolling down her face (I am not joking). She managed to get her hand to stop shaking and then decided that she needed a latex glove to help stabilize things. (You may be thinking, "What the fuck would a glove do? Someone give this girl an enema or something to remove the rod firmly entrenched in her ass"...and, again, you'd be right. But urology was last week and I'd had my fill of the rectum for the time being.) She finds a glove, puts it on, controls the shaking, and proceeds, for about the 10th time now, to approach my face with her ophthalmoscope. She then begins talking extremely rapidly. What follows was quickly uttered to me while her face was almost pressed right up against mine, about a half an inch away, her latex-laden hand pressed against my check, and her hand shakily shining a light right in my eye. Keep in mind that I a) just learned her name two weeks ago, b) have spoken to her about three times for a cumulative total of about ten minutes over the last two years, c) am pretty sure she is of the Bible Thumper persuasion (i.e. no sex until marriage...and even probably none for a while after that), and, d) already just had a nervous breakdown right in front of me over something exceedingly retarded:
"So ya it's good that I put on this glove I think it will help steady my hand OH! so my friend wanted to have sex with this guy and she really wanted him bad like REALLY bad but she has this latex allergy but she got the guy to her apartment and she put the condom on him anyways and then they had a lot a lot of pretty intense sex but then she had this allergic response to the latex condom that she put on him and she got a rash all over and I had to take her to the ER and I told her not to have sex with that guy but she just had to so you know it's good to know if you have a latex allergy so if you're having sex with someone you should know to have sex with other condoms."
In the dictionary, somewhere buried in one of the definitions for the word "restraint", there should be a picture of me, sitting in that chair, a half an inch away from this girl's face, not exploding in a fit of thunderous laughter. I literally almost died holding it all in. I'm sure you could draw any number of lessons from this story, such as understanding priorities, when something is actually worth stressing over, and what kinds of conversations are just not socially acceptable in certain situations, but instead I'm going to leave you with perhaps the most important thing you should take away from this: if you or your partner are allergic to latex condoms, please find some other form of contraception.
The more you know...