Saturday, 27 November 2010

Maybe I'm Wrong And I've Always Been That Way

The last couple days for me have been a lot like an episode of Scrubs, except with less Zach Braff and more exposed shin bone.

I spent Thursday and Friday shadowing a surgical team at a hospital in London, where my sister's lovely generous doctor friend had so kindly volunteered to let me get in her way while she tried to save people's lives. Getting work experience is of course an essential part of the process of trying to get into medical school, but for me it was particularly important. I needed to make sure I was doing the right thing.

You see, I've been so intent on becoming a physician I was worried that maybe I'd been swept up in the romance of it all, with the idea that every day starts with a fresh set of scrubs and ends with a patient making a miraculous recovery after thirty seconds of CPR and a young handsome doctor saying, Dammit, I am not losing this one!

I was worried that despite the mile long queue of weary medical residents and SHOs who have warned me to get out while I still can, despite the $120k+ education fees I can expect to spend a good chunk of my life paying off, despite not being able to even think about making a salary for the next six years, despite having to leave all my friends in the UK and start all over again in a country I haven't properly lived in since I was 11, despite all this, I am still as enthusiastic about becoming a physician as I was on that sunny July day back in 2009 when I realised there was nothing else in the world I could imagine myself doing.

In reality, I've wanted to be a doctor since I was little (though the career path did have healthy competition with 'astronaut' between around 1997 to 1999) but poor science grades gradually chipped away at that dream until it seemed like nothing more than a silly idea. When my GCSE results came back sometime before my 17th birthday and I realised I was not the mediocre student I had always suspected I'd been, that little doctor seed that had been frosted over by a blizzard of Bs and Cs for so many years suddenly broke through. Despite this, I was so keen to get to university and so reluctant to spend another year getting the science prerequisites required to get me to medical school, I ended up settling for a Politics and Sociology degree in the UK.

The past three years have been fantastic, but only because the last two have them have been spent knowing the pure unstoppable fact that when I graduate I will be pursuing an MD in the United States. Okay, sure, so I have to do a post-baccalaureate premedical degree first, and that will take up to two years and around 30k to finish, but the important thing is, I'm getting there.

So when I got to the hospital on Thursday morning (I was so nervous I arrived an hour early and had to sit in the staff room awkwardly watching SkyNews with a bunch of exhausted doctors who did not want to have to make small chat with a clueless pre-med student after a 12-hour night shift) I knew that everything was on the line. My little medical dream seed had matured into a sturdy sapling, but I was waiting for the gale forces of reality to come and blow me off my feet again.

So I waited.

I waited through my first round on the ITU ward, dealing with patients who everyone knew were most likely headed for the morgue.

I waited through my first surgery, a knee replacement that involved a lot more chiseling, grinding and power tools than I had ever expected in a hospital.

I waited through my first cardiac arrest, when the resuscitation team fought and won against an elderly heart that stubbornly refused to keep beating.

I waited and I waited, peeking through my fingers and holding my breath for the moment when I would say, Oh, right, yeah, that's why I would make a terrible doctor, that's why everyone says it's not nearly as a good career as it used to be, that's why I should just give up right now.

It was only when I dumped my blood-stained scrubs on Friday evening and left through the revolving doors of the hospital that I suddenly realised nothing at all in the past 48 hours had made me any less determined to be a doctor. Finally I could relax my shoulders, untense my worried mind and think, Right then, let's get on with it. I came away unburdened by my fears of failure and instead weighted down with a hundred-and-one more reasons why I have to succeed.

Okay, sure, I've only seen the clean, daytime tip of an otherwise frightening, exhausting and mind-numbing iceberg, sure I've only seen one hospital, and not even one in the country in which I intend to practise. But I've seen enough to know that the roots of my dream to one day (still a long, long way away) become a doctor have gripped me so tightly that if I don't drop everything I am doing right now and pursue this time-consuming, money-draining, life-changing goal, I will have let down the six-year old self that envisaged it in the first place.

When I got back to Bristol at 10 o'clock at night, I walked through the frosty streets to an empty house and sat in our basement living room, drinking beer and eating pasta. One of my housemates texted me and asked if I wanted to come round to a little party a few doors down the street. It was 2 degrees outside and I'd just picked up on three clinical inaccuracies in an episode of Scrubs I was watching.

I told him I'd see him in the morning.

In other news, I've been zeroing in on a lot of amazing folk lately, and can't even quite remember where I found this week's track. I wish I could tell you more about Nathaniel Raitliff, but I'm thinking all you really need to know is that he must have been reading the part of my secret diary where I wrote how much I love vocal harmonies. He must also have read the footnotes on including wonderful lyrics and the margin where I'd scribbled how much I like powerful chest-baring choruses. Either that or he's just one of the amazing new artists that contemporary folk has been churning out lately.

I'm going to start locking up my secret diary.


  1. Anonymous27.11.10

    I love reading your blog; your writing always makes me smile. (Oh, the cheese...)

    Keep pursuing the medical dream. I know you'll be a great doctor one day.

  2. Holly's baby brother has a blog? And he's a darn good writer, and he wants to become a doctor, and he loves cool music? Now *this* is a blog I want to still be reading six years from now!

    Luke, I'm a never-met-her-in-person-even-though-we-only-live-about-40-miles-away Bonfires reader from way back. Delighted to discover from her post today that you too are blogging. Consider yourself bookmarked!

  3. I'm keeping my fingers crossed, although it seems strange as we've never met.

    Although I'm not pursuing the medical career, I do know a bit about what you're going through - I'm the only female in my family who will not be wearing a lab coat (or scrubs) to work, I know a lot of med-students and my best friend is currently in her second year of med-school (where I'm from we go to study medicine right after our equivalent of the British A-levels). I've been her shoulder to cry on for some time. It's not easy pursuing such a dream - but I guess it's worth it.
    And my physician-mother claims that "Scrubs" is the most close-to-life TV depiction of hospital life.

    PS. Great song;)