Sunday, February 15, 2015

Aspects of Medical School: Overview of What I Hope will be a Series If Real Life Doesn't Interfere Too Much

I've  devoted considerable blog space to what I've experienced as a first- and second- quarter medical school student. I've shared some of the utter terror I felt when I had studied more than I thought a person could study but still didn't know if what studying I had done was enough. I've written about a particular professor who felt that the main purpose of his course was to let us know, in the event that we had made it into medical school actually believing that we were intelligent beings, that such couldn't have been further from the truth and that possibly, and only remotely possibly, the only individuals on the planet who might have been stupider than we were were the individuals who had been declared brain dead but whose machines connecting them to life in a technical sense had not yet been disconnected.  I've  told of peers who struggled to keep up with course work. I've shared stories of those who have gone out of their way to make me question everything about my own worthiness to occupy space on the planet, much less to take a spot in one of our nation's more prestigious medical schools. I've shared how, in my opinion, Karma frequently rears its head in such situations.

Still, there's a lot I haven't shared, and much of what I have shared could only be described as superficial.  Some of what I do on a daily basis will never make it on paper because I cannot walk around all day typing every single action as i complete it.  Or I suppose I could, but not without annoying everyone in my immediate proximity. Some things are too mundane to capture anyone's interest, including mine. Unluckily for me, however, interested or not, it's my life and my course of study until the practice of medicine becomes both my vocation and my avocation, and I'm stuck with it. 

Other things I deliberately have not  discussed, or at least have not done so with much detail,  because it's too difficult to discuss -- either too personal, too painful, or so cumbersome to explain that I scarcely know where to begin.

Still, if I hope one day to be not just a physician but also a writer, I cannot gloss over the parts of my story that are agonizing,  embarrassing, or simply tough to find the words to describe. In this series, which I really hope will be a series though I will not even pretend that its chapters will be contiguous, I will give my every effort to delve into those dark areas I've previously avoided. I've devoted reasonable space to my "Practice of Medicine" course, during a portion of which we medical students work with actors pretending to have ailments and injuries. The scary thing about that is that in less than two years, we will not merely see but provide initial service to some of these very same patients in the actual clinics and emergency rooms  for real pretending to have these same injuries and ailments. They've been trained to realistically portray patients who may need narcotics, and some of them will put that training to good use.  

For the most part, though,  "Practice of Medicine"  is the "fun" part of our education. No one will really live or die or lose a limb or section of gut based on an exam we did or didn't perform, or on a test  we did or didn't order, or, very soon, based on the treatment we chose or failed to choose on the basis of the results of those tests or exams. While a professor will come down hard on any or all of us for screwing up  -- usually he or she comes down hard on all of us when just one of us messes up -- and act as though it was an actual matter of life or death  when the "patient" lying on the gurney pretending to be dead is just a member of the Berkeley Repertory Theatre, the professors here are merely doing their jobs. Some do their jobs a little too well, in my opinion. I'm not sure that it's absolutely necessary that virtually every female student and half the male students be reduced to tears each time a "patient" is lost. Despite being one of the youngest student [my brother is technically younger by seconds] and despite being 100% female, I've grown surprisingly good at holding in my tears and staring professors down when they scream at me because one of my colleagues allowed a patient to "bleed out" on the fake E. R. floor. The physicians/professors don't want us behaving in such a manner when we're on an actual hospital floor, so I'm not sure why they're eliciting such responses now. 

Yes, we need to take the scenarios seriously even though they're now just practice situations.  It may not be life or death at this point, but all too soon it will be, and if we don't take our studies seriously now, we will not be able to perform our duties when  the real thing presents itself, nor will we be able to maintain composure when not everything goes as our textbooks say it should.

I've written in a facetious matter about the sheer futility of time in the in the actual E.R. and in the clinic.  I'll try to describe it in greater depth and, without violating anyone's confidentiality, recount what I've actually seen and experienced in my time there.

Early in my med school education,  I very briefly alluded to tossing my cookies in my initial encounter in human anatomy lab. I've otherwise avoided the subject at all costs other than describing  being into the place during my dream about Mitt Romney chasing me with the ebola-tainted syringe. As sensitive a subject as it will be for me, I will try to walk the reader through the very real process of cutting into human flesh for the first time  -- both the sheer terror of actually doing it and all the other emotions it brought to the surface.

Meanwhile, I'll need to intersperse these entries with my usual light-minded drivel, as doing so is what allows me to maintain what little sanity I have.


  1. Do you know you're being discussed on RfM? You have impressed quite a few people! I just got back from Bavaria and am updating my travel blog. Will be back to read and comment on this post in a little while. BTW... if you haven't seen my most recent post on my main blog, I suggest you have a look. I know you have an affinity for the truly bizarre and religious.

    1. Thanks for the heads up. I addressed the issue in a response on your blog.

  2. Alexis, sanity is highly overrated and medical school is not a place where you will find any. If you have never seen Dr. Fizzy's Cartoon Guide to Medical School you might want to check it out.

    1. Thanks, Jono, and I WILL check it out. Having done a little time in a for-real loony bin, I'm compelled to find sanity even it places where it's not normally found. Perhaps Dr. Fizzy's guide will help me to make sense of or to make light of things that disturb me.

  3. Hi Alexis

    Haven't commented on your blog for a while as I have been busy, but still enjoy the updates.

    Your training sounds so different to mine of last century. You actually get to talk to patients? Albeit actors? Took us nearly 4 years before we saw a live one.

    How do your blonde ditzes get accepted into a medical school? The academic prerequisites alone should have precluded Ms Malaprop. Of course, in the years earlier,even(- as the Mormons would say! ) prior to my generation- Latin was essential.I'm very glad I had 4 years of high school Latin. It is so good for your grammar, facility with other Romance languages and for being able to translate root words. Medical lingo is just like Lego .Click a known suffix to a known prefix and Hey Presto! there's a word you can easily translate. " Mania" and "philia" would never be confused.Love that story.

    You sure are exciting interest on RFM. Is Uncle Scott your literary agent?

    Keep us entertained with more please.

    Lots of love from DownUnder.

  4. I'm not sure if Uncle Scott is my literary agent or not, but he's sort of like the best older friend thaat a younger person could have. he's ten years older than I, and once he married into the family and got used to the idea that i would be around just about every summer, he has done nothing but look out for my best interests. He and uncle steve on my dad's side are the two most wonderful uncles any niece could ever have. Because i was (and still am) physically immature, there was never any thought of jealousy on the part of Scott's wife, who is the most wonderful aunt in the world, and for whom i would do absolutely anything, This summer, in addition to teaching high school summer school calculus on an emergency credential, I'm going to be their part-time nanny, as their second baby, though not due until Augist 1, will probably be born somewhere around the first of July. For me, tking care of babies is about as much fin as it gets. my parents are very lucky that A) i physically matured late, and B) i hadn't discovered the joy of babies when I was in high school as i otherwise might have been tempted to produce one of my own a little too early. i think I would have figured out it would have been a stupid idea, but the stupidity of a teenager knows no bounds.

    Regarding the bimbo, i can't figure it out. someone suggested she's a plant, but I can't see my medical school wasting a desk on a plant just to make the rest of us feel better about ourselves. she could be a spy, i suppose. i'm a bit of a conspiracy theorist,

    My shool is a private school, so they cAN let in anyone they want, though they want to maintain their relatively prestigious status, so it's hard to imagine them doing a lot of that sort of thing. seriously, I suspect the best guess is that she's a close relative of someone who is extremely wealthy who has offered to build a new wing or something of that sort, though I'd like to think my school had more integrity than to agree to such a thing.

    I understand how she may have cheated her way into all the right scores in terms of tests and grade point averages. she may have found someone who looks much ike her and has a brain to take the mCAT. She may have perfected the art of cheating in classes, or may have had someone who resembled her enough to pass for her on an iD photo attend her classes from day one so no one expected anything. i can't for the life of me figure out how she got through the interview portion, though. She would have done something like bring up Grey's Anatomy and its realism right in the middle of the interview. She once raised her hand in neurobiology class and compared something that was being discussed with something that one of the grey's anatomy surgeon characters had done.

    i don't think the professors are in on why she's in school, either. I suppose she really could be a spy if admin thnks something improper is going on. If so, she;s a good actress - better than the berkeley Rep actors we treat as patients. she acts so stupid that if anyine were doing anything improper, he, she, or they might very well let down their guard(s) around her. That's the only reason I can come up with for her acting so stupid. Otherwise it would be better for a narc or a spy to blend in with the crowd a bit better.

  5. I visited a gross anatomy lab once when I was in high school. I didn't throw up or faint, but one of my classmates did. One of the cadavers looked like her grandmother.