Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Consider My Enthusiasm Curbed

Apparently, I have a problem. Well, that’s not exactly a shocking revelation, because I have lots of problems: being awkward, lacking in social graces, excessive attractiveness. But I knew about those problems. It wasn’t until today that another problem dawned upon me while walking the halls of the hospital. See, I have a completely irrational fascination with people’s names and the jobs people perform in the hospital.

That’s not the problem.

The problem is that this key information is almost universally carried on little ID badges that the vast majority of people wear on one particular part of their clothing, the chest pocket.
This, it turns out, is a problem.

It’s a problem because there’s something else that is commonly found in that exact same region on about half of the people who work in the hospital: boobs. And when word gets out that some jackass resident is blatantly staring at all the doctors and nurses chests with blatant disregard for decency (and, apparently, common sense), then that jackass resident is about to get his (or her) ass handed to him. This leaves me with a dilemma: Do I continue to stare and satisfy my insatiable curiosity, or do I conform to social norms and constantly feel like I am missing out on something interesting?

In other words, I would have to risk living out my career as the physician embodiment of Larry David, a horrible fate despite the awesome music that would be playing in the background of every moronic thing I did. Or I could live out my fate as any of the Real Housewives of any city: in complete and utter ignorance. Neither option seemed particularly appealing. What about making the conscious effort to only examine the names and professions of the male and poorly chested individuals? Doing that would then force me to consciously judge the attractiveness of females (rather than the subconscious norm that most men achieve), which would be exhausting and in some weird way maybe even more disturbing than the innocent inquiries I’m doing now. Perhaps a hospital-wide mandate that all IDs be displayed via a holder that hangs from the neck? Good luck enforcing that.

In sum, I have absolutely no idea how to resolve this, as I don’t know if I can consciously control my subconscious yearning to discover the names and vocations of passers by. Am I alone with this problem? And does someone else have a better solution?

Any and all ideas would be greatly appreciated.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

My Anti-Buddy And Me

Walking to the gym today to tone my perfect body, I noticed I was missing something. Not my confident swagger, nor my boyish charm. Somehow, my right hip felt lighter than it had in some time. Did I forget my gun and holster, as I planned to attend a town hall after pumping some iron so I could pump some bullets into liberals hippie bastards and their "keeping people healthy" crap? Or maybe my crackberry, yearning to review all the spam emails that normally would be waiting for me to review at a set time before I succumbed to an instant gratification culture that we find ourselves in curr-oh, nevermind.

Instead, what I found was that I was missing the clunky black pager I had been sporting 24/7 for the month of August while on “jeopardy”. As explained earlier, this rotation afforded me the opportunity to be forever on-call, filling in for sick, absent, or otherwise miserable residents in any capacity at a moment’s notice (or at least within an hour). Practically, this meant that no matter where I went, no matter what I did, no matter how I was humiliating myself at any moment in time, I had to have my pager and cell phone with me at all times just in case my services were needed. To say that this was awful would be somewhat of an understatement, akin to stating that the current Southern California wildfires are just a little burn, or that propofol as a treatment for insomnia might be a tiny bit of a bad idea.

When I went to the gym, I had my pager on me. When I went to the market, I had my pager on me. When I went to bed at night, I put my pager, at its loudest beeping cacophonous craptitude, on my nightstand, waiting for that moment at 3 AM when I would be awoken from a blissful dream involving Baja Fresh and Natalie Portman (so disturbing that I will spare the details, but let’s just say it involves the green sauce, a Padme costume, and a lot of melted cheese) to deal with the overflow crackheads, drunks, and demented people needing a home at my delightful county hospital.

The irony of this experience was that, now that it is all over, I can say that I only allotted a total of 29.5 hours of time as a jeopardy resident. I was only called in twice the whole month, serving 18 hours one time and 11.5 hours the second time. This is in comparison to the poor saps on jeopardy in July, who were logging roughly 50-60 hours a week for the month (in addition to their regular Monday to Friday 9-5 rotation). The rest of the month was, in some sense, completely free (save a radiology rotation that required sparse attendance). And by free I mean I could not travel any farther than an hour from any of the major hospitals in my city that we rotate through, I could not even inhale the fumes of alcohol, and I could not sit through the most recent vapid wasteland that is Entourage without thinking halfway through that I was going to be paged away before finding out which random girl was going to show her boobs in that episode.

I realize this all may sound a bit petty and whiny, which I admit it is (especially since, again, I barely got called in). But what this month taught me is a) clearly I am neurotic because I can’t stop thinking about my pager potentially going off and b) I never, ever want a job where I am perpetually on-call. I can’t imagine living my life this way, and I can think of nothing more liberating than being able to put my pager down, turn it off, and enjoy some quality time away from the real ball-and-chains in life: work.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Gift That Keeps On Taking

Medicine has ruined many things in my life. My sleep, my social life, my pleasant and sunny demeanor. Hell, even my ability to be disgusted by all orifices of the human body. But there’s one thing I thought medicine could never ruin, something so sacred to my upbringing and heart that it has gone with me unscathed for 28 years. That is, until tonight. While on this heinous “jeopardy” rotation (see below), I am technically signed up for a radiology elective when I’m not covering for a sick or overwhelmed colleague, but in actuality, I am taking this time to catch up with the basic things in life. These include sculpting and toning my already perfect body to new heights, sleeping dangerous amounts, and my favorite pastime: watching movies.

(As an aside, I am a huge (HUGE) movie nut, and were my testicles larger I might have forgone the stability and predictability that a career in medicine provides to become a third-rate writer-director-producer and finally bring to life a full-screen adaptation of Tiny Toons and ThunderCats.)

Since my local video store went out of business a few months ago (thanks, Netflix!), I have resorted to perusing the cable movie options frequently and watching whatever interesting comes my way. Why not go to the theater, you ask? Well, because of this jeopardy rotation I can get paged away at any moment, and as such I wouldn’t be able to truly enjoy every minute of G.I. Joe and really feel like I spent $14 wisely.

Tonight, in another episode of my attempt to watch all the “good” old movies, I decided to view “Double Indemnity”:
This is a classic Billy Wilder film noir movie about a crooked insurance salesman, a psycho-bitch, and their attempt to commit some good old-fashioned murder/insurance fraud. I am sure there was great acting, brilliant repartee, and master film craftsmanship…but honestly I couldn’t say for sure whether there was or not. Why? Because I spent the whole movie having thoughts like these:
  1. Do these people realize that with the amount of smoking that they do on a daily basis (as depicted frequently in the film), they are going to come down with some pretty serious lung cancer in ten years?
  2. Why aren’t the people in the market who are around the people smoking having any problem with all the second-hand smoke?
  3. Do the guys in this film know that if they wear their pants up so high they’re probably decreasing their fertility by crushing their testicles and bringing them too close to the rest of their bodies?
  4. Why does the psycho-bitch not bleed profusely when she is shot twice in the chest at point blank range?
  5. I wonder if the short insurance salesman guy knows about the long-term risks of excessive alcohol abuse.

So, thank you, Medicine, for ruining yet another part of my life. Fortunately for you, almost every movie made these days sucks anyways, so I don’t think you can do too much harm. That is, unless you manage to distract me from the brilliance of Up by reminding me of the old dude’s Framingham risk score. Damn it.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Final Jeopardy

(Please note that any identifying information about the case described here has been changed to respect the privacy of all involved)

Let me just get this out in the beginning, because as much as it hurts to write this, it will hurt more the longer I wait: a patient I admitted broke a window in her hospital room and jumped out, plummeting five stories to her death.

I’m going to let that sit there for a moment while I digest it.

Now, suicide is unfortunately a relatively common problem, but what is likely much rarer is suicide done within the confines of a hospital. And it hurts. Real bad. But what hurts more is that, in retrospect, I cannot think of anything in that individual’s hospital course that could have changed what happened. Let me explain:

I was actually at a Costco, bargaining with the cell-phone people about switching to a new phone at around 2 PM, when I was paged by my boss, informing me that my services were needed at our county hospital. As one of four “jeopardy” residents, I am spending this month perpetually on-call, required to fill in at a moment’s notice for sick or absent residents, or when there are an overflow of admissions that require a warm body to assess them. On this day I was being called in because the primary team was full at an early hour and there were patients waiting to be admitted in the emergency room.

When I arrived at the hospital, I was immediately handed the admission pager and the names of two patients who needed admission. While catching up with those, I was called about a young woman in her 30s who needed to come in after being diagnosed with alcohol-related liver disease. Upon meeting her one hour later, she quickly explained the circumstances of his current state. A chronic alcoholic, she descended further into abuse after losing her job months ago – we’re talking pints and pints of the hard stuff daily. She was a classic “medical student” case, ripe with physical exam findings to demonstrate the characteristics of liver disease. This, however, was hardly interesting to any seasoned medicine resident.

What was so fascinating about this patient was that, in talking with her about her disease and alcohol abuse, she seemed so genuinely interested in quitting. For herself, for her health, for her family. For life. In fact, upon signing this patient out to the resident who would inherit her the following morning, I vividly recall saying “You know, among the hundreds of alcoholics I’ve admitted over the last two years, this lady may actually be the one person who might listen to us and quit.”

A striking statement, if only for its baseless irony. Looking back, I wonder whether the realization of her damaging addiction was too much to handle. Or whether the sudden cessation of alcohol, combined with the shocking settings of a poorly-funded county hospital, was too much for this brain to handle. Or any number of other issues below the surface that we just were unable to uncover before the end. Then I think of more practical things: why was the window break-able, why was there no gate, and why didn’t the other person in the room scream for attention while there was still time? Why didn’t I pick up on this earlier?

Why didn’t I pick up on this at all?

Excuses, but there is no blame here.

I know that none of that would have affected the outcome. I can only hope that I can learn from this experience, never discounting the torture that may be occurring inside a patient’s mind.

It is truly a cruel lesson.

Double Vision

Just an FYI for the fascinated masses (all three of you!) - since I suspect there is a fair amount of confusion is posting to three separate blogs at the same time, I will be posting the same daily medicine-related stuff on both this and the Ah Yes, Medical School site...just so I capture that fourth reader. Once I figure out a better way to do this, I'll let you know. Don't worry, the health care bill stuff will remain on Ah Yes, Health Policy. Thanks for reading!

Monday, August 03, 2009

To My Glorious Fan Base...

First, I want to apologize for my stunning year-long unannounced leave of absence. You see, I have this disease called “residency” and it sucks up the vast majority of my “time”. If that was not enough, I also did this thing last year called “fellowship applications” that sucked up the most of my remaining time. The sliver left over was devoted to (in no particular order): watching the Lakers journey towards another championship while trying not to urinate all over myself every time something bad happened along the way, sleeping, gorging myself on a bean-and-cheese-black-bean-extra-pico-de-gallo-extra-crispy burrito from Baja Fresh (I have no ties to Baja Fresh, I just am strangely addicted to those burritos), engaging in meaningful intoxicated conversation with random people on the street, or on the pooper. As you can tell, this left (and still leaves) little or no time to do what I truly enjoy doing: making idiotic observations about my life and career as a physician-in-training on this blog.

Sadly, this is not the first time I’ve had to explain inability to entertain the masses, and it is not the first time I’ve attributed this inability to being completely overwhelmed in every other aspect of my life. However, it is not just that because something really strange happened over the last year: I started to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Granted, this tunnel has another four years to it when you count fellowship and all, but I finally feel like I have waded through enough crap to see the goal on the other side of that hypothetical mountain of poop (that’s three poop references so far in case you’re counting). And because of this feeling, I no longer have the same yearning to rehash my repeated frustrations with this field by finding increasingly awkward (and occasionally forced) ways of making fun of it. After all, there’s only so many ways to depict a drunk homeless dude pissing on your scrubs in the middle of a crowded emergency room at 2:00 AM before you stop thinking that that is a strange experience in the first place and it stops becoming as original.

As such, while I can’t say that I’ve lost my desire to write about my experiences – in fact, I’ve been able to publish here and there and broaden my technique in other venues under other names – I don’t know how much more irony-induced maniacal fury I have to direct towards my field…

…Or so I thought. Fortunately, providence has once again reared her beautiful, poop-smeared face and provided me with inspiration from a rather odd corner of life that I generally find extremely tedious and wholly uninteresting. So, as a pause from my usual (or every nine months) medical school and residency commentary, I invite you to join me in a social experiment, and I hope that you find it entertaining and maybe a little enlightening – dissecting the proposed health care reform from the perspective of a neurotic young physician who will spend his entire career in the depths of this reform. I’ll be at Ah Yes, Health Policy (getting a little old, eh?) for the foreseeable future, but will try to write here…when I have some time. Poop poop poop.


The Fake Doctor

Saturday, June 21, 2008


Overheard in the hallway of one large academic medical center this week:

Me: "Hey Intern Year."
Intern Year: "Ya?"
Me: "Suck it!"

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Dancing With The Morons

The hospital, when flowing smoothly, is beautiful to watch. The elegance with which teams of doctors, nurses, pharmacists, techs, and other staff work together is something so remarkable, so coordinated, so intricate, that is so closely resembles…a dance. Yes, just as B and C list celebrities have proven time and time again, a well-orchestrated dance is simply magical, especially when you are paired with a half-naked dancing goddess in heels. And just like in those dances, the hospital carries with it a unique array of dances, some dazzling, some romatic, all strangely metro. So please, learn these moves, dazzle your family, friends, and lovers, and just be careful. After all, wouldn’t want you breaking anything, because before you know it you’ll have me dancing around you…and as anyone who was at my bar-mitzvah can attest to, it ain’t pretty.

The Icky Shuffle

With apologies to the original Ickey Shuffle, a fond form of entertainment from my youth, this one is starkly different and, in my opinion, vastly more challenging. Your partner in this case is an ED exam room covered in blood, vomit and feces, all deposited by the charming young alcoholic in the center of the room. You must briskly hop, skip, and jump across these assorted piles of excrement, urine, and lord knows what else, for if you slip that is not only a ten point deduction, but also a memory no amount of showers will wash away.

By the way, those extra blue dots in the corner aren’t just for a hopping sequence involving your left foot – those are just tears. Lots and lots of tears. Lets move on.

The Intern Code Special

For this dance, you (in blue) are the intern on the ICU Code Blue team, paired with a high-powered group of medical professionals. At any moment an overhead page will holler “Code Blue [location]”, repeating over and over again. One second you’re trying to stay awake during noon conference, the next second that voice emerges from the monotony – you, along with the other members of the code team, bolt from your chairs and charge towards the crashing patient at full speed. Hilarity ensues, at your clueless, dumb-ass expense. This may or may not be based on a true story…I’ll let you decide.

The There Is No Way In Hell I’m Getting Anywhere Near That Guy

There is something about drug seeking behavior and body odor that makes for a very intimate, albeit distant tango of passion. And by passion I mean a foulness that would burn the inside of your nose much like the cocaine burning the nose of this guy right now!

The Shadow

Paired with a ballroom trainee (in green), otherwise known as a medical student, watch as she follows your every move. Literally. The only thing more annoying is that Hello Kitty pen she carries with her as she scribbles down every worthless thing you say.

Hey, you. Ya, you. Med student. How about instead of following me into the bathroom you do a literature search on staying away from my balls? Thanks a bunch.

The Eye Pass

The most seductive of dances, this one involves the lowly intern, downtrodden but still yearning for the higher echelons of care, catching the glimpse of the Hot Nurse, she who bestows upon the lucky housestaff an image of perfection behind her oddly form-fitting scrubs. He makes a pass, then walks away, then another pass, and another. He knows she dances for him, that their connection is true. She, on the other hand, knows he’s a douchebag. And one who makes less than she does.

Higher Power

As a medical student during your clinical years, you are generally expected to take a lot of time to get to you’re your patients intimately, to spend long amounts of time with them, to truly know them. After all, on most rotations you are generally only assigned one to three patients at a time, so there is often ample time to give them the attention they, in most cases, deserve. So much of healing seems to revolve around the simple act of sitting down next to a patient at the bedside and listening (although a squirt of antibiotics or a snip of an appendix can help from time to time as well).

Which makes it all the more ironic that perhaps the greatest challenge in the transition from medical student to intern (or resident, or attending for that matter), is that the precious element of time is taken away from you and you have to deal with it without compromising patient care. What started as a 30 minute to one hour encounter progressively shrinks, to the point that at peak efficiency any self-respecting intern can probably limit actual face-time encounters with a patient to less than one minute and still extract enough information (along with the time you spend getting labs, vitals, etc.) to guide the course of therapy and interventions for the day.

I bring this up because over the course of intern year, one thing has become alarmingly clear: namely, that an increasingly large number of patients are distrustful, antagonistic, doubtful, and angry with health care providers. I can rattle off a lengthy list of patient encounters that involved stacks of (often false) information patients printed out from the Internet, the patient angrily shaking the papers in the doctor’s hands when what the doctor says does not agree with whatever crap some quack on the Internet typed up. Then there are patients that repeatedly insist on seeing only specialists and/or attendings even though they know they are at a teaching hospital and have absolutely no choice about whether the putz intern or medical student rounds on them every day (unless the patient happens to be a prince from any number of middle-eastern countries needing a transplant of one organ or another…but that’s for another day). And I think a lot of these encounters can be easily fixed, but the system no longer allows us to spend the time necessary to do so, and as a result this contributes to the declining respect for physicians in our society.

I have not thought much about this until today, because until today I really had nothing to compare it to. However, this afternoon I met a very pleasant and exceedingly tragic young man who is dying from cancer. Stoic and occasionally tearful, he ended up in our hospital after vomiting blood at the airport shortly after arriving from his home country of India on a business trip. My encounter with him was somewhat standard; yet, it was my encounter with his mother, who hopped on the first plane to America upon hearing her son was in the intensive care unit (likely at some obscene financial cost, no less), that was so remarkably unusual. After discussing the case with the patient and his mom, the mother started talking about her concerns regarding his health, repeatedly invoking the notion that God will help her son, that God will cure his cancer, that God will ease his pain. After a few minutes of this monologue, she turned to me and said, “And honestly, we both know that God is too busy to meddle in the day to day health of all the souls on this Earth. That is why you are here…you are the hand of God, to do his bidding…you are God.” She grabbed my hand and repeated, “You are God.”

I smiled, held her hand for a few moments, and after a brief discourse walked outside of the room and took a deep breath. I instantly remember thinking that that had to be one of the most, if not the most, awkward patient encounter I experienced in my budding career, more frustrating than drug addict who called me a “pain medicine Nazi” (just a note to all you pain seekers out there: most things probably don’t rile doctors up, but before you call someone a Nazi, make sure they aren’t Jewish and descendants of Holocaust survivors, because when you say things like that you don’t get your pain medicine…just a tip), more embarrassing than the prostitute that screamed through the halls of the emergency room, “You can’t handle my pussy with your peppercorn dick!” (seriously, how did she know?).

I’ve spent most of the year being reminded by patients of how idiotic I am, how incompetent the hospital staff has become, and how incomprehensible the system shall ever be, and here I am being proclaimed a God so matter-of-factly, so nonchalantly, by someone who held her oncologist from India in the same regard and also does not appear to understand that neither one of us was going to be able to cure anything her unfortunate son had anyways.

At first, after walking back to the resident room, I recall thinking, “Well it’s about damn time someone appreciated what I do all day!” It was so refreshing to be put on that pedestal, because, obviously, there is no other pedestal that quite matches up to the one God is on. But it was only a few moments later that I started feeling extremely uncomfortable. Would a physician prefer the current state of medicine in our society, one rife with distrust, conflict, and frustrations, or would a physician prefer to return to the extremely paternalistic state, one in which the physician was king, immediately trust-worthy, the ultimate arbiter of life and death?

At first the answer may seem obvious to those of us currently operating under the current mode of existence. Frankly, the next time a patient comes in with a stack of information printed out from some quack website, questioning my every move and shoving those pieces of paper in my face, I may simply say, “Fine, if you want to take the Internet’s advice over mine, that’s OK; just never come to see a doctor or go to a hospital ever again.” (Right before I take their stack of papers and throw them down the hall.) Fortunately we don’t have to imagine what that might be like, we have the vast majority of modern medicine to guide us. After all, the Tuskegee Experiment and the Nazi medical crimes were both done under the guise of the all-knowing, all-powerful physician. Yet, those are admittedly extreme examples that are perhaps more a reflection of the stunning depths of humanity and not a particular aspect of paternalistic medicine itself. At a much smaller but more practical level, it is important for me to express the intense discomfort that soon swept over me shortly after that patient and family encounter. Yes, I was initially feeling pretty proud of myself, but I shortly started feeling rather uncomfortable. Because before I became a doctor, I went through an incredible series of silly hoops, whether they were exams, activities, or hours upon hours with incredibly obnoxious interactions with awful people. In fact, I think I’ve made it pretty clear that my education over the last four years does not exactly prepare one for…well…much of anything, as it turns out. And I feel very confident in saying that nothing I went through actually amounts to any true higher stature, and surely no true higher power.

Most importantly, however, I learned that it is far better to be humiliated, scorned, and untrustworthy in the current medical system than to be falsely idolized in the older model. So much of this past year has been accepting failure, whether it manifests in the cancer-ridden body of a previously healthy 40 year old with a wife and two young kids, or in the glazed eyes of the same crack addict with a habit I will never break. In the wake of these perpetual failures, the notion that physicians are somehow elevated in society holds no ground, and I think it is silly for any physician to attempt to embrace this role. This is something medical students are now taught to varying degrees, but my hunch is these lessons last as long as it takes for most newly minted doctors to find themselves in a similar position to that I just experienced, weighed down by a year’s worth of sometimes literally being shit on only to be elevated to God-like status by some kind (if misguided) patients, and enjoying the latter role far more than the former. The attitude starts there, and only grows.

Where to go from here? As with most things, moderation seems like the key. I think most doctors would willingly give up a fair amount of the hero-worship they currently enjoy from the minority in exchange for a little more appreciation and respect, along with a large disposal of the unwarranted distrust that is currently sweeping through this country, from the majority. It doesn’t seem like much to ask to me.

And what of the family I spoke about? Sadly, the patient quickly succumbed to his disease two days after I met him, no miracle cure to save him from the terminal cancer he was suffering from. Yet, I was told he died in peace, without pain and with family at his side. Something God would be proud of, no doubt.