Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Medicine Giveth and Taketh Away

My relationship with medicine has been a complicated affair. Depending on the day I can feel anything from anger and resentment to gratitude and love for it. It's been this big, ambling, shuffling entity in the background and foreground of my life for as long as I can remember. At times it is all encompassing, at times it disappears to a pin hole in the distance. Some days I find medicine grounds me, makes me feel like I have a better understanding of the world and what is truly important. Other days I feel that it warps my perceptions so much that I have no idea which direction is north.

I took two days off this week, leading up to an emergency medicine conference that I am attending (in Whistler - if any of you are also going to be there, come and say "hi!")

Having a couple of days to breathe (and by 'breathe' I mean 'finally catch up on paperwork, presentations, research assignments, leave requests, and emails') has given me some time to think about the last few months and my initiation into being a physician.

The weeks fan out behind me, some moments are vividly etched, the others already faded and gone.

Like finally being able to eat at the end of a 15 hour shift, with my only option being the last bowl of chile in Subway. I mean why did the guy have to tell me that it was the last bowl of chile? He could have just said, "Here is a delightful bowl of piping hot chile!" not "you got the very LAST bowl".

Or having to appear interested and awake during post-call re-enactments of Duck Dynasty episodes by an attending. Informing a patient that there is no such thing as a "butt cast" for her pain following a hard landing on her derrière. Holding a fibrillating heart between my fingers and squeezing, squeezing, squeezing until there was nothing left to do but wash off the blood that had managed to seep under my sterile gloves. There were unexpected flowers at the hospital on my birthday from Duncan. There were babies that came into the world, chubby and screaming while yellow-gowned, O.R capped men proudly stroked their wife's hair. And also the grey dishwater colored ooze and rotting flesh stench of necrotizing fasciitis, and countless miles spent walking the rotary trail with my puppy, Monty, while I tried to make sense of it all.

So many moments. Tumbling. Flashing before my eyes while I try to fall asleep. Those nights when the sweetest feeling ever is having your feet at the same level as your heart. That bone-tired exhaustion surpassed only by the relief that the day is over. On the especially bad days Monty is allowed up on the couch with me. His scruffy face and propensity to lick my socked feet are enough to make me laugh and take my mind off whatever transpired at the hospital that day.

Which is why I am never sure of how to answer the question, "How is residency going?" My mind floods with all of the images of these moments. Some hilarious, some disturbing, touching, rewarding, enlightening...humbling. So I suppose the best answer to that question is, "it's complicated".


Justin said...

Thanks so much for writing. I know it might be difficult to hash everything out like this, but I also hope that it's at least as therapeutic for you to write as it is for me to read. I'm only a second year medical student, and while some of my classmates take tales like these as discouragement about how hard everything is going to be, I find it refreshing and encouraging to know that other people - PEOPLE, mere mortal humans like me - are out there doing this right now. Even if you're having a hard time with it, you're doing it. It's possible. Even at your lowest moment, you're doing it, and that's encouraging to me.

Albinoblackbear said...

Thanks, Justin. I always found reading med-blogs to be a good reminder of the reality of what was ahead. And, like you, they encouraged me and excited me enough to carry on (when I was memorizing what seemed to be the 10000th clinically irrelevant piece of information!)

I hope what I write about isn't discouraging. It is tough but there are a lot of days when I love the challenges and new experiences I am getting. As a nurse I always wanted to be the one putting in the central lines and running the codes...and now I get to!! For that I am grateful. When I can sit back and remember to be. :)

Liana said...

I had cats in residency. Kitty or puppy snuggles are the best post call.

Residency is tough. But hang in there, you're almost 25% done.

You should come to the GP surgery conference in Banff. January 24.

Megan said...

it's so good to see you post! i save your posts on feedly till exactly the right moment because i want to savor every word. also, i never commented, but when you wrote about purchasing 'a propane tank, a co-op membership, and maple syrup,' it was a huge catalyst for me to get the wheels turning to leave the big city and find a life i love. so thanks. : )

Albinoblackbear said...

@Liana -- AHHH that would be super-bon! I would love to but not sure how I could swing the extra holiday and funds to make it happen... I'm already taking time off in that rotation for ATLS...

@Megan--well your comment pretty much made my week. :)