“I think it’s that squiggly line.” We stood huddled around a laptop in one of the library group study rooms, puzzling over one of the lecture slides, unable to tell which pink blob in the sea of pinkish-red lines in the microscopic slide was the red neuron. While racking our brains over the image, someone jokingly said, “I can imagine us looking back at this moment and laughing about it.” And he was right, somewhere in the whirlwind of our third year, a pink blob of cells had transformed from a meaningless jumble of shades of pink on a page to a meaningful decision on treatment choices.
This transition has been bumpy at times – from struggling to navigate through an electronic health record on my first rotation only to scramble to learn a new system at a different facility, to deciphering medical acronyms, nervously presenting during clinical rounds, to trying to avoid contaminating sterile fields during surgical rotations. Nonetheless, at the end of my third year, the way I think about medical problems has fundamentally changed.
Yet I have to say, the more medical knowledge I learn, the more distant the memory of what it is like to be on the other side of the doctor-patient relationship – the side in which clinical outcomes and pretest probabilities do not automatically pre-populate and everything is a terrifying unknown.
“Joy, come over here for a minute,” my mom anxiously calls from downstairs. Her face had rapidly become swollen and increasingly itchy over the course of half an hour. It was a textbook case of hives (likely due to consuming some shrimp). “Take some Benadryl,” I unconcernedly counseled. The swelling eventually went down. Seeing my mom’s worried expression, it belatedly occurs to me that only a few years ago even the most benign conditions appeared threatening to me too.
Starting med school, I was overwhelmed by the colossal amount of terminology I didn’t understand. At that time, I remember our doctoring faculty smilingly telling us to treasure the moment. We would eventually become so accustomed to using medical jargon that we would forget what it was like to be a layman. He was right – we’ve come so far that it is hard to recall exactly what it was like to be us a year ago! Within a course of a year, once indecipherable squiggly lines have unscrambled into a message.