Reaching the pinnacle of medical education

Suzie remembers what it felt like to be fifteen. She can still hear the creek of the steps leading to the third floor and the quaint finished bedroom that housed her grandmother that fateful summer.

Originally, Grandma was set to move into the small room next to Suzie’s parents. But after his first night in the attic, Billy refused to set foot up there again. So Dad lovingly wrapped Grandma in his muscular arms and carried her to her final resting place. It’s not like it really mattered. Grandma was bed bound and didn’t know the difference.

It was a lonely summer. Unable to afford camp, Suzie’s parents asked that she stick around the house and take care of her grandmother. Although she originally protested, Suzie learned to enjoy the quiet moments in the sun drenched room that became her second home.

One evening late in August, Suzie awoke to find the whispering fingers of sleep wrapped around her neck tightly. She gently tiptoed up the steps to find her grandmother staring out the window. She sat quietly in the chair next to the bed, and reached out to hold her hand. As her grandma spoke, her ancient eyes remained fixed on the moon.

Deep inside each one of us is a superhero, have courage.

Suzie laid her head on the bed and quickly fell asleep. She awoke to find her grandmother’s body had grown cold. She passed during the night.

***

Suzie could find no better way to honor her grandmother’s memory than to become a physician. And she held tightly to those last words as she struggled with the academic hurdles that only seem to multiply over time.

After two years of continuous studying, she was content to begin her clinical rotations in the hospital. But her joy was short lived. She found the pace on the wards exhausting, and her time was more compartmentalized the ever.

Her internal medicine rotation was particularly vexing. She labored alongside a group of residents and attendings that seemed more interested in patient disposition and discharge than health and well being.

Suzie was criticized repeatedly for spending too much time with her patients. After interviewing Mr. Smith for over an hour, she walked out of the room to find her attending rolling his eyes in the direction of the other medical students. His voice dripped with sarcasm.

Oh yeah, spend all day with a homeless alcoholic dying of cirrhosis, you’ll learn a lot there.

But Suzie saw the world though a different lens then the rest of her colleagues. She knew Mr. Smith as a lonely man who medicated himself with the only means available. So in her mind, the hour was time well spent.

***

Days later, Suzie followed her attending and residents into Mr. Smith’s room for morning rounds. He was unconscious and each breath struggled past his lips as if it might be his last. The attending shook his head.

The DNR is already signed.

He turned abruptly and walked into the hallway with the residents chasing behind. Suzie’s voice cracked as she spoke from the back of the crowd.

He has no family or friends, can I sit with him?

Suzie’s resident became white as a sheet. The attending stopped mid step and turned back. He looked at his watch and then his eyes narrowed. He spoke in Suzie’s direction without looking directly at her.

We don’t have time.

As the group continued down the hallway, Suzie pealed off from the edge and hurried back to Mr. Smith’s room. She walked through the door and leaned over his body and placed her lips close to his ear.

You’re not alone anymore.

Suzie held his hand and waited. His chest became less labored and his body visibly relaxed. For a moment, she felt her grandmother’s presence in the room as Mr. Smith drew his last breath.

Suzie had reached the pinnacle of her medical education.

The knowledge and experience would come with time.

Jordan Grumet is an internal medicine physician who blogs at In My Humble Opinion.

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