About this time last year I was wondering about the way medicine changes you. I’ve spent the whole year fighting the idea. We’ve learned how medical students are actively socialised into the profession (medical schools isolated from the rest of the university, long working hours, separation from other students, specialised jargon that renders us incapable of communicating with normal people etc) and it just backed up my instinct (read: fear) that after a while of studying medicine I would never be quite the same again.
Of course we all change throughout the courses of our lives. Sometimes we can’t see what’s coming at all until a bend in the road reveals an exciting new path taking us somewhere new, never to return. Any profession might do that. But I can’t help feeling that medicine is exceptional. Once we’ve deliberately pierced a person’s skin or put a hand inside their bowels or seen them die, surely that gives a new view on life and humanity that’s difficult to unlearn.
That’s why, every now and then, I feel the need to say STOP! Hang on just a sec… wait there! This’ll all become old pretty soon and unremarkable, but right now I’m in my very first week of clinical medicine and I want to remember it while it’s still strange and new. While the old me is still here. After all, this is apparently the rest of my life.
After a day in the hospital I emerge as if from a long immersion into deep water. That’s how it feels. From within, everything outside is muffled, blurry, forgotten. I’m in some sea so deep and wide I can’t see the bottom. It’s murky and full of things I can’t see properly and don’t quite understand: acronyms and measurements and anatomy and vital signs, all linked by mysterious threads. I’m trying to find my way about through the gloom and I haven’t learned how to use my gills and fins yet. I have no idea how far the unknown goes. Pretty damn far I think.
That really is it right now; a vastness of unknowns. I’ve been pushed in and am only just about swimming. The mysterious threads are a tangled mess. It seems all-enveloping: to grasp it I’ll need to immerse myself completely, let go of the side and dive, and just trust that the oxygen holds. This is nothing like any university that came before. I’m studying with new people in a new place in a totally new way. Rather than learning the biology of the body I’m suddenly dealing with histories and clinical signs and examinations. And meeting patients, imagining they could be my dad or my grandmother but also recognising that perspective that a doctor has to have. The idea that I might untangle things enough to make a diagnosis one day seems absurd.
And all those medic-y things are starting to come true: I’ve already had some very early mornings, been put on the spot by scary consultants and found the short-cut to Costa. I almost can’t believe it’s me but at the same time it’s brilliant and fascinating and it makes me want to learn and be really, really good at it. God knows if I can, but every time something makes sense it’s as if I’ve just dived into blackness and brought up a pearl. I’m so surprised to hear myself say it but if you asked me if I’m happy and inspired, if I really can imagine doing the job, I’d say yes.
PS Needle update:
Hours spent in lectures on venepuncture theory: 2.
Sessions practicing venepuncture on fake arm: 1.
Disgusting videos about chest drains watched: 1.
Actual chest drains seen: 1.
Anecdotes about amputations endured: 1.
Fainting episodes: 0. But the worst is definitely still to come.