Call nights

Overnight call survival kit

Remember when you were a kid and a bunch of you would get together at a friend’s house for a slumber party? Going on overnight call is kind of like going to a slumber party… except that you don’t get much sleep, your “friends” consist mostly of drunk and belligerent ER patients, and pillow fights are replaced by midnight pages. But other than that… you pack a bag full of soda, junk food, and miscellaneous toiletries, lay sleeping claims to some piece of furniture that may or may not actually resemble a bed, and wear pajamas (scrubs… close enough) the entire time. Admittedly, I haven’t been on call since several months ago, back before I developed my now-crippling case of senioritis. This comic is just something that I’ve been wanting to draw and never found the time until now. But I remember the experience well enough.

A few stray observations:

  • The night before is actually the worst. That’s when I always found myself tossing and turning in bed, stressing about how I needed to get a good night’s sleep because it was the last sleep I would get for more than 24 hours. (Even though interns are no longer allowed to work for more than 16 hours at a time, medical students aren’t actually responsible for any real patient care and are thus exempt for this rule.) As a result, I would invariably wake up feeling like I didn’t get enough sleep.
  • Sleeping 1-2 hours is usually much, much worse than not sleeping at all… more specifically, being woken up after sleeping for those 1-2 hours.
  • I’ve never been a big coffee drinker, but I’ve found Mountain Dew to be the perfect mix of caffeine and sugar to keep me awake when my body would otherwise prefer not to be. I also usually dislike carbonation, but it’s nice in the middle of the night for some reason.
  • Apprently if I don’t manage to eat dinner by about 1:00am, none of the cafeterias will open again until about 6:00am. This has proved problematic on more than one occasion.
  • Being on call with a good resident makes all the difference in the world.
  • My bed at home is AWESOME.

Internet paranoia

When I first started out on the web as a teenager, I never really gave much thought to how much I was sharing about myself online. Even as college student and during my first few years of medical school, I continued to be relatively open about my offline identity– to the point that I once felt comfortable listing the names of my college and medical school on my “About Me” pages and include pictures of myself in my blog posts. In the last few years, though, and especially this year with residency applications hanging over my head, I’ve become increasingly paranoid that every word I write will somehow have an effect on my offline life and career. Not that I’ve ever posted anything that was particularly incriminating, but I can’t help having the lingering fear that someone will identify me, and that being identified will have… consequences.

What those consequences might be… I couldn’t really say. In actuality, the chances that I’ll lose my job or get written up or be reprimanded in any real way are probably minuscule. But I think I reveal parts of myself on the internet that I don’t in person (and vice versa), and that maybe I’m uncomfortable with the idea of having those parts of myself revealed to my IRL friends and colleagues (yes… apparently I’ve somehow become enough of an adult to have “colleagues”). I find myself wondering how my future residency program director or my future attending, or even a future patient might react to my medicine-related comics, and whether I need to try harder to remain as anonymous as possible. I find myself referring to my specialty as “a competitive subsurgical specialty,” or to my medical school as “a midwestern medical school.” Anyone else feel like this? How do you cope?

Match Day

Match Day ceremony

Apologies for my long absence– I’m sure most of you are used to them by now though. Last Friday was Match Day. For the uninitiated, the process of securing a residency training spot after medical school is a bit of a convoluted process. It all started last August, when I submitted about 60 some odd applications into the nether and anxiously waited for interview invitations. December and January were spent in a frenzy of flying all over the country, trotting around in a suit and heels, smiling until my cheeks hurt, and generally trying to woo and win favor. I had the misfortune of applying in a competitive surgical subspecialty, so all of this was more than a little stressful. At the end of the interview season, rather than getting acceptances or rejections, I simply had to construct a rank list of all of the programs that I had interviewed at. Meanwhile, the programs were doing the same with all the applicants that they interviewed. The rank lists are plugged into a magical matching algorithm, and in the end, we’re told whether or not we matched, and 4 days later, the school holds a Match Day ceremony for us to find out, on stage and in front of all our classmates, where we matched.

The Match Day ceremony is a bit of a controversial tradition. While some regard it as a celebration of one another’s accomplishments, others liken it to forcing everyone to get up and announce their test grades in public. In general, though, I think those that enjoy attending the ceremony the most are those most happy with their matches. I have to admit that I was one of “The Missing.” I attended my school’s ceremony, but decided not to get up on stage to make my announcement. I didn’t get my #1 choice, but I’m overall fairly happy with what I got. Especially considering how competitive my specialty is, I’m happy to have matched at all.

Medical jargon and understandability

Not long ago, my (non-medical) fiance Luke pointed out, over the years since I’ve been in medical school, that my conversations with my med school friends have become more and more incoherent from his perspective. This isn’t really surprising, considering the huge amount of vocabulary that gets taught, especially within the first 2 years. Like many technical fields, a big part of medicine is learning to speak the language. What sets medicine apart from other jargon-heavy professions, however, is that doctors spend the majority of their time speaking with laypeople who are unfamiliar with that vast vocabulary that we’ve spent years building. The beginning of 3rd year was a bit of culture shock for me, after spending the first 2 years locked away in a lecture hall, when I realized that I had to learn how to communicate effectively with my patients (few of whom had any great measure of health literacy or any sort of higher education). When I first started med school, I thought that learning all the vocabulary in the first place would be the challenge. Now, I’m finding that explaining what I know in simple terms is much harder. Some words and phrases have become so natural to me that I’ve lost sight of whether or not they’re considered “normal” words that most people are familiar with.

For those of you that are working in/studying in similarly technical fields, have you found jargon creeping into your everyday speech? If so, do you struggle to communicate with those outside your field?

How to have an Atheist wedding

It’s been more than 2 years since Luke proposed to me and, after what may be the longest engagement in all of history, we finally have a wedding date scheduled and venue picked out. It seems that this getting married thing is actually going to happen! The details, though, of exactly how it’s going to happen are a bit more nebulous, for a few reasons. The first and most obvious is that neither of us has any religious affiliation (and are actually both strongly Atheist); the idea of a “traditional” church wedding is not only inappropriate, but on many levels, downright offensive to our sensibilities. More than that, though, is that we come from vastly different backgrounds: I, an immigrant from mainland China, and him, a Jew by ethnicity. Add in the fact that our parents have set out very few expectations, and “simple” questions like “What will the ceremony be like?” or “Who will officiate the marriage?” or even “What will our vows sound like?” suddenly seem not so simple anymore.

I like to joke that all I really want in a wedding is to get dressed up and look pretty, eat good food, and get presents. That’s probably not too far from the mark. Call me cynical, but the idea of listening to hours of cheesy readings (be they religious or not) and making unrealistic declarations of eternal love and commitment doesn’t appeal to me in the least, and I would probably be happy to minimize the ceremony in favor of the reception.

As I mentioned before, so far, we’ve managed to book and venue and set a date. We had actually strongly considered the possibility of getting married at the Science Museum (and I must admit that the idea of doing this appealed to me quite a bit, as an analogy to the church in a Christian wedding), but ultimately settled on a small nature reserve with a beautiful garden and just enough room. It will be small wedding, largely because I don’t have a great deal of family here in the States (and, having immigrated when I was 7, would probably not recognize most of the extended family that I have in China).