An Intern Gives Thanks

Last Updated on June 27, 2022 by Laura Turner

On Thanksgiving, while many my friends and family gather around the table with roasted turkey and a second helping of pumpkin pie, I, along with many of my fellow interns, residents and even a significant number of attendings, will be in the hospital. We have traded in the gravy and football for whatever happens to be on offer in the cafeteria or, if the day is one of those typical frantic ones, for hospital graham crackers with a smear of peanut butter and a Dixie cup size serving of applesauce. While I may be feeling a bit left out on our national day set aside for thanks, I have many things to be grateful about during my first few months of intern year.
This year, I am grateful for. . .
. . . The humor and good nature of my fellow interns. We share each others’ triumphs – a successful paracentesis, finishing a string of night float – and share in our tragedies, both real – the death of a patient – and not so real – being assigned call on a night we had a chance to attend a Beyoncé concert. Regardless of specialty, there is a common down-in-the-trenches humor that helps us all navigate the ups and downs.
. . . The patience and genuine helpfulness of nurses. In my month in the ED, there was more than once when a nurse would come up to me and say, “So, for Mr. Smith in bed 8, were you going to give him pain meds?” Or fluids, or antiemetics. In becoming bogged down in the details of what was wrong with the patient and what was the correct antibiotic to give or service to consult or test to run, sometimes, the basics of what it meant to care for the patient, to alleviate their symptoms, would fall momentarily by the wayside. But, on the front lines, the nurse would focus me again on that component of my mission. Also, they always knew where to find everything.
. . . Two days off in a row. I used to think a decent vacation had to be about 2 weeks in length. Now, two days in a row is a luxury, giving a day to catch up on sleep and another full day to catch up on life.
. . . The tactfulness of pharmacists: “Did you really mean to start 3.375g of Zosyn, rather than 4.5g?” It is the pharmacist, calling after seeing my 1am order I just placed. My response of, well, that’s what the app on my phone said, is not met with a laugh but rather a helpful conversation about hospital guidelines.
. . . The brilliance of social workers. Never underestimate the power of a skilled social worker. They are often the grease that keeps the hospital gears running. Many of our patients come in with complex social issues, issues that can impede if not healing at least discharge, and take hours of our time if it were not for social work. So often we put a line in the patient’s note under the plan that goes something like “Dispo: Appreciate SW assistance.” Well, yes, appreciate them.
. . . The tolerance of attendings. I can only imagine the degree of trepidation attendings must experience each July as the new bevy of interns flood the hospitals. Intern year is a steep learning curve, and I appreciate the time attendings take to ask for my plan for a patient, discuss it, and gently (usually) guide me down the right path with a “Have you considered . . ?” or “Let’s also add. . .”
. . . Conversations with non-medical people. Whether spending time with friends or family, taking a break from medicine can supply the mental reboot required. Sometimes, I find myself slipping into medical-ese or regaling them with HIPAA-approved tales of the ED, I see their eyes glaze over, and I catch myself. We shift instead to books or the news or the latest antics of our dogs – and I relax out of the doctor role for a needed break.
. . . The trust of patients. On a few occasions, I have encountered the patient who asks, “How long have you been doing this?” I am always tempted to sidestep the question, to give an answer that I think will calm their nerves, and mine. But instead I have tended to opt for honesty. “Since the end of June,” I say and brace for them to throw me out of the room as they demand someone who is no longer wet behind the ears. Instead, to a person, they have smiled, asked where I went to school or how I like living in Seattle. Without their trust I could not learn how to be a doctor.
Thus even though I will be working on Thanksgiving, I realize I have many reasons for gratitude. Not least of which are the leftovers I know my family will be saving for me.