You can rest a little, tiny bit easier America.
Your latest batch of wide-eyed medical interns just completed their first month in the real world…and we now know at least some things. If you’ve been holding off from getting sick through the month of July fear no further — August First has just passed and there’s at least a little bit of swagger in our baby steps.
Personally, I’m proud to say that I’ve succeeded in identifying multiple sources of coffee within the hospital; of varying attributes: free to wallet-crushing, iced to tongue-melting, and deliciously heaven-sent to mud-water that is totally acceptable due to its inherent caffeine content alone (if it’s “coffee” I’m not even mad bro).
Important question — why does decaf even exist?
But that’s beside the point…..Maybe. I brought it up though because I was making my ritualistic excursion to the Starbucks in the lobby recently and, perhaps in the spirit of completing my first month’s rotation, I began thinking about all the patient’s I had met and treated and discharged.
What were they up to?
Are they feeling better?
Did they notice the coffee stain on my white coat that one time?
It was through this pre-caffeinated haze that I realized how much Medicine is like dating….a professional Tinder if you will, but at least not as shallow (or filled with shame and guilty pleasure). Accepting a consult from the ER is like swiping right (yeah, sure I’m ok with taking this one). I feel as if I’ve been on dozens of small-talk-laden, slightly uncomfortable first dates in the past month….where every discharge from the hospital was a mutual ‘for the best’ goodbye.
I don’t think anyone can deny how intimate the patient-doctor relationship is. To provide the best care we find out everything about our patients: their medical history, their family history, their drinking habits, their creatinine levels, the amount and consistency of their poop — we strive to discover almost everything. Nothing is too personal. You’d think we were trying to move in together.
Like a jealous, insecure boyfriend I’ll admit that I’ve looked up some of my patients even after transferring them to different services to see how they’re doing. Go ahead, call it Facebook stalking. Even though they have a shiny new service/doctor I meant something to them at least, right? I mean I was their doctor first. Hmmphh.
But like the ex-boyfriend/girlfriend that finally matures and gets over it (and all creeper jokes aside) I know that all doctors simply wish all their patients the best when they are released back into the wild. The feeling is something like: we had our time together, and we learned a lot, but I hope we never run into each other again….because that would just be awkward.
And as I mused over these thoughts, wondering if I’ve really reached a new level of weird for drawing similarities between professional medicine and the dating world, I felt vindicated after discovering the underlying sentiment….one that is actually salient.
I can’t think of many other situations where I’ve felt as powerless as immediately after a breakup. The hospital discharge is pretty close, however, and maybe in someways more disabling and soul-crushing. I have been on the Stroke Service this past month and with every discharge I’ve hoped with all my being that my patients would stop bad habits, and take their medications, and attend their follow up appointments….because one stroke is devastating but any more would be nothing short of catastrophic.
Ultimately — as I sipped my lukewarm coffee and chuckled at how good of a comparison Tinder was to accepting ER consults — it became blatant that the helplessness felt when discharging patients is a potential source of burnout and jadedness within this profession (why would I even try hard if they’re just gonna start smoking again when they leave here?). I guess becoming a really good doctor is like trying to find true love. If you go into every relationship with skepticism and low expectations then of course it won’t flourish. Doctors have to enter every patient relationship like a high-school, hopeless romantic — with the naive belief that this is gonna be The One. This patient is going to be compliant and will get better and everyone lives happily ever after. There’s really no other way to practice good Medicine.
Nice try real world, but challenge accepted. You have me jaded on Love but you shall not pass when it comes to Medicine.
(two nerd refs? I outdo myself.)
Welp — it’s probably time to get more coffee. But wait a page from the ER?
I got a new match!