ndab Ah Yes, Medical School: Two Years Later

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Two Years Later

Two years ago I wrote a post on this blog detailing my triumphant final rise and fall as a medical student before closing that chapter in my life. In the interim, I sporadically updated a residency blog and just started a blog to address health care reform with only the incompetence and lack of grace that I could provide. (As an aside, I strongly encourage anyone even remotely interested to take a look at the health policy blog and contribute your thoughts, because I am genuinely clueless about this but know it will affect the next 30 years of my career and am strangely intrigued by pretending like I am a real citizen of this country.)

During this time, I received occasional comments and emails from you, mostly filled with name-calling, taunts, and put-downs that I have come to cherish. Some tamer selections included “You should be strapped down and have you dick cut off, you fucking asshole” (if only Roberto Leone from Rome knew how much that meant to me) and “Face it big butts are very sexy and the garment industry has made millions off padded butts.” Indeed.

But the most consistent note I received would be from a starry-eyed pre-med, asking me whether taking the medical school plunge was really worth it, or whether another career path, like any of those pursued by the Entourage gang, was more worthwhile (in a season that is turning increasingly lame and incredulous, impressive even by Entourage standards). The answer, it seemed to me at the time, should have been obvious, and that answer was a resounding “ARE YOU FUCKING INSANE? DON’T DO THIS.” But two years down the road, I think I have a little more perspective on the matter and would like to chime in with some additional insight.

First, some aspects of this job do not change. Pre-meds become medical students become residents become attendings, but personalities generally don’t change. Thus, the crazy gunner medical student hypertalker freakshow persists in residency as the obnoxious pediatrics resident. The toolish beefcake medical student becomes the toolish beefcake surgery attending. And the freakishly handsome quiet thoughtful Jewish medical student transforms into the freakishly handsome quiet thoughtful internal medicine resident. In a similar vein, the human body remains filthy, covered in scabies and lice, and persistently pouring out oddly colored bodily fluids from many an inspired orifice. I know this because my finger has made its way into many of these orifices. Additionally, the hours spent in the hospital only serve to accelerate the transition from normal human being to blood-eating zombie, but perhaps I have belabored this point.

What changes, however, is ones sense of normalcy. This came up yesterday when I was trying to explain to the cleaning service why I could not give them an exact time when I would be free to let them into my apartment. This is a result of me being the “fill-in” resident this month, necessitating that I jump in at a moments notice to cover for sick residents or to help with overflow patients. The conversation went as follows:

Cleaning service lady (CSL) – So we will come tomorrow at 10 AM to clean your apartment.
Me – OK, but I’m not entirely sure I’ll be there.
CSL – What do you mean?
Me – Well, I might get paged at any time and have to go to the hospital.
CSL – So we come at 11 AM.
Me – No, I just can’t give a fixed time.
CSL – So we come the next day.
Me – See the thing is I might even get called in the next day, I just don’t know.
CSL – So when would you like us to come?
Me – Hopefully tomorrow, but I might get pag-
CSL – So we come tomorrow at 11 AM. Have a nice day bye bye.

Whereas during medical school I had a hard time reconciling what I was learning, filled to the brim with freaks and genitalia, with real life, residency has so immersed me in the life of medicine that it has now become my real life and I have a hard time reconciling my previous notion of normalcy with this new reality. Why can’t the cleaning lady understand that I might cancel twenty minutes before she is scheduled to come because I have to run to the hospital and admit five patients from the emergency room? Why does my mom think it is really strange that I haven’t had time to establish a local doctor to call my own in over two years? Why do my non-medicine friends, imaginary or otherwise, frown as I try to explain (yet again) why I am busy all weekend in the hospital and can’t hang out? Why have I been unable to keep up with Jon’s latest tramp or Kate’s newest meltdown?

Yet, as medicine has subsumed my former life, I find it harder and harder to criticize the profession as a whole because deep down I am only insulting myself, something I’m generally glad to do so long as I limit it to my odd physical appearance, mental ineptitude, or emasculating fragility…but not my big life choice. So now when I honestly want to tell you that this isn’t nearly as bad as it used to be and is occasionally even heartwarming, humbling, and hilarious, I must check these thoughts with the notion that it is awful to admit that my career choice was a truly bad choice to begin with.

In all, I no longer have a fuming hatred for the experience and, in retrospect, it really isn’t that bad and is occasionally even good; perhaps not a stunning endorsement but hardly the words I would be writing two years ago. And it's not like the business school route has turned out so well.

But in retrospect, Entourage hasn't been that bad either. Right?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just read through some parts of your blog in the past three weeks, As someone who is starting medical school in a few days (don't worry I spent most of those three weeks at the beach not reading this and went there more often partly because of your warnings) I can honestly say I am glad that you changed your opinion a little bit. Makes me feel a little better and school a little less foreboding.

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Anonymous Canuck Med Student said...

Wow, I haven't visited your blog in about 6 months and for some reason, tonight I just felt that there was something worthwhile to read here. Although it sadly doesn't sound like you're back to blogging full time again, it's great to hear there's some light at the end of the tunnel. Wish me luck starting MS3 in two weeks. I'll be consulting your specialty selection spiral of doom regularly. Now, off to get drunk while I still have the chance.

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Blogger Le colleague said...

Wow it was really good reading this post. It has been so long since you last wrote anything on here.
I'm a med III student and I have been feeling this way since the beginning. Every single time I talk to someone a year or two ahead in the curriculum it's always "screw this, screw that, don't do it!" and when I get there I always realize "hey it's not as bad as they say it is!"
So I was happy to read that somewhere the gratification and humility, among many others, that one gets acquainted with in the world of medicine have a chance in balancing out with or outweighing the sacrifices that must be made to succeed. This has been a pleasure, I hope you post some more interesting stuff.

Cheers, all the best from Beirut.

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Anonymous docwhisperer said...

Glad to see you have some free time to write again and that you're feeling better about medicine as a career. Things will never be perfect, but as long as we can laugh, it makes the journey a little easier.
I haven't read your newer posts yet, but would be interested in your impressions during your rotations (ICU, ER, etc.) Would you be interested in doing a medical "blog carnival" with some other medical related blogs?

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