This is the fourth week back at uni, I am in third year, and I am supposed to know stuff. Sadly for the last week or so I have found myself completely thrown by the simplest of questions.
Read an ECG? Blank. Describe the sounds inside that lung? Blank. Save the life of Sim-Man? Blank.
Where I get really frustrated is when I know that I once knew something and I can’t recall it. I know I used to understand how ECG worked and how to read it; I’ve left it for too long and I can only get halfway there.
These frustrations have been adding up. I’ve been getting increasingly stressed, grumpy and despondent. I’ve been feeling like the biggest dummy known to medical school, ever.
Yesterday I had a reassuring talk with a registrar who I followed a couple of weeks ago. He reminded me of the endless sea of medical knowledge, and that we can’t hold it all no matter how much we swallow.
Still, I hate not being able to spit stuff out when it counts.
– apologised to the rabbit for bumping him.
– made an omelette and eaten lunch.
– done the washing up.
– had a cup of tea, while reading Kumar & Clarke on chemotherapy.
[Common side effects: nausea and vomiting, hair loss, myelosuppression, mucositis, fatigue]
– patted the dog and let him wipe his goopy eye on my shorts.
– wished the dog a happy birthday; my sacrifical shorts can be his gift.
– fetched some textbooks and my laptop from upstairs.
– practiced my hooping skills.
[Common side effects: abdominal bruising, muscle soreness, broken pot plants]
– eaten an orange and wiped the bench.
– read through the list of 120 drugs i should know inside out by June.
– swept up some very impressive bunny detritus.
– bitten into a homegrown, round-ish, red chili i mistook for a cherry tomato.
[Common side effects: oral nuclear warfare, perilabial erythema, lacrimation, angry hopping]
– drunk some milk and decided against whisky.
– thoroughly cleaned my laptop screen and case.
– now updated my blog.
– no more excuses.
[Common side effects: sighing, decreased resistance to learning, IQ mass effect]
That’s how I feel. This week I am in Palliative Care, and maybe it’s some sort of reactive stress, but I’ve temporarily lost my tolerance for naïvete in medical students.
Not that I wish to kill the cute fluffy things, I just get that they are mortal like the rest of us. We are all going to die: it is just a question of how and when.
And fine, be sad. It is sad. But the guy you just watched while he was told his cancer can’t be cured? He’s not your father or your husband, he’s not your son, he’s not even your neighbour, or the guy who drives the bus you take to school. It is not your story.
It is not your story. You are nothing more than a bystander, maybe not even that. One day it will be your job to influence the when and how, but even then, it won’t be your story.
We need to learn to move between the stories without becoming a part of them. Our role is to give each patient appropriate care while maintaining our own wellbeing.
My loss of tolerance is temporary, and I won’t be popping any kids’ balloons. I’m grumpy today, but I haven’t lost my empathy, and I know that we are all learning about these things at our own pace.
However, it remains the case that if I had a giant rainbow lollipop it would be difficult to stop me from bopping people over the head with it.
I had another birthday recently, which is always better than the alternative, but as it coincides with the start of semester I tend to get a bit sensitive about how much older I am than the majority of my fellow students.
Yesterday it was a friend’s birthday and – welcome to Medicine -the talk turned to constipation.
This made me think of one of my favourite M-rated jokes, which goes like this:
Q: Did you hear about the constipated butcher?
A: He worked it out with a pencil.
My friend looked at me completely blankly. It was then that I realised my joke had inadvertently highlighted a fairly obvious generation gap. ‘Young folk these days’ get their meat at the supermarket, and if they do go to a butcher, chances are the maths is done by the register or a calculator. Plastic bags have replaced butcher’s paper. Sigh.
This is unfortunate on multiple levels, one of which is the consequent loss of my follow-up joke, which may or may not have been invented by me or a close member of my family (I really don’t know, I don’t remember).
Q. Yeah well, did you hear about the constipated mathematician?
A. He worked it out with logs.
My father is a mathematician and my father-in-law is a butcher.
Vale, ultimate-double-dad-joke. I regret your passing. So to speak.