A medical student asks: Are we just cartoon heroes?


The one thing about the coronavirus I keep coming back to is how much SketchyMicro let me down.

Out of all the mnemonic cartoons SketchyMicro has produced, their entry for coronavirus is among the most simple: a kingly figure is blowing his nose into tissue paper beneath a blazing sun, his towering castle perched atop a hill in the distance. His regalia include a golden crown (to remind us of corona) and a flowing purple robe (representing that this virus is encapsulated). Emblazoned on his tunic is the royal insignia, a striking red bronchial tree, to remind us of bronchitis.

And that is all I had to work with when my grandma called me. “Oh, Jakey, we’re so worried. What do you know about the coronavirus?”

I closed my eyes and tried to conjure up the image of the coughing king.

His robe was purple. Why purple? Did that mean something? There was a Dr. Seuss-like pathway that spiraled tediously up the hill to the castle entrance. It’s a spiral-shaped virus. Does that help? “Everything is going to be fine, Maka. Just stay inside and don’t watch the news too much.”

“What about that hydro-chloro stuff? Does it work?”

I closed my eyes again, harder this time. A fuzzy image comes into view — a snapshot from the Sketchy Micro lecture on malaria. We are in the African wilderness.

Rival queens in vibrant costumes vie for dominion over the land. A warrior queen wearing leopard skins and has leaped into the air, her spear-arm cocked back and ready to thrust. Across the battleground, a queen in lime-green robes is sitting on a stool and painting the landscape onto a canvas. With her non-painting hand, she holds a scythe defiantly into the air. I have no idea what any of this means, but I know chloroquine is in here somewhere.

Other features come into view. A vampire queen sits cross-legged in the shade with a fat green iguana clinging to her clothing. Beside her sits a queen covered in blue feathers, her face the picture of serenity. A man in a fierce bronze mask leers at them from across the scene. His mask is also covered in feathers, except his feathers are red. I see a treasure chest full of rubies. A stinky hypnotist. A milk cow with black and white spots that depict the Plasmodium falciparum life cycle…

“Uh, I don’t think anyone knows quite yet, Maka. We will just have to wait for more data to come in.”

Data. Like I’m a goddamn scientist. I make myself sick.

“Oh, Jakey, bless your heart. You’re a real hero.”

It’s true. I am a real hero. Third-year medical student, bumped off my clinical rotations, honing my bedside manner through video conferences with my microphone and camera turned off. Please, hold your applause.

I wonder if this is a taste of how intern year will feel. I imagine a desperate hospital staff crowded around me, asking questions, and demanding action. COVID-19 has decimated the physician population, and I’m the only hope they’ve got. I’m standing there eyes shut, brow furrowed, lips silently muttering as I forcefully recall a litany of memorized cartoons.

“Dr. Eggett! The patient is destabilizing! We need to act now!”

The cat dressed as Gandhi is wearing three pairs of glasses, but the cat dressed as Benjamin Franklin is only wearing one. Obviously, the cat dressed as Ludwig van Beethoven and the cat dressed as the Statue of Liberty aren’t wearing any glasses at all.

“The patient needs antibiotics, but what kind? Help us, Dr. Eggett!”

The chubby-cheeked mummy wearing the neck brace is holding a potted flower over his crotch and serving the sushi, but the white weasel in the red gown has the maculopapular rash and is eating the sushi. Meanwhile, the ghosts are hand-delivering their letters above the Punch and Judy Show, and the seal is outside the church and barking at the moon.

Maybe they will see my face straining with concentration and think I’m doing long division, or trying to rotate a 3D model of the chemical structure of penicillin in my head, or whatever it is doctors do. More likely, they will see right through the facade.

Still, as the last doctor standing, they will let me hold part of the sign that says: “We came to work for you, stay at home for us” for the social media picture.

The citizenry will be at home watching Tiger King 2: Carole Strikes Back on Netflix and scrolling through their phones. Our picture will be sandwiched between Kylie Jenner showing off the latest in N95 fashion and a clip of an ancient Dr. Fauci begging people to please just stay inside.

They will see me, the young doctor, holding the word “work” near the middle of the group.

“Look at this guy,” they’ll say. “What a hero.”

Jake Eggett is a medical student and can be reached on Twitter @jakeegghead.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com


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