Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Getting the Vibe

Last September, it was with great fanfare and ceremony that every entering member of my med school class was given his/her own white coat. I realize now in retrospect how appropriate it was that each student was helped into the newly assigned coat by one of the deans, although we are each obviously capable of putting coats on ourselves.

Despite not knowing the first thing about cirrhosis or psoriasis or the difference between the two, let alone how to talk to a patient or do a physical exam, I distinctly remember the broad smile that spread involuntarily across my face as I walked across the stage and back down to my seat newly knighted as a medical student. That smile faded somewhat the day we first interviewed real patients in the hospital--my guy had pretty bad COPD, which he told me all about in great detail, until I finally, sheepishly, confessed to him that I had no idea what COPD was, and asked him to please use less medical terminology in his answers to my questions. Or the second time around, when I chatted with a 24-year-old Ivy League grad who was suffering from acute pancreatitis due to what seemed to me to be abuse of alcohol; but I felt that to talk to him openly about his alcohol usage seemed totally overstepping some sort of bounds of propriety, and it felt very strange and wrong for me to be wearing a white coat.

Tonight, with somewhat equivalent pomp, we received our second most important accessory. Like the white coat, this is something that makes a doctor a doctor, both ostensibly and functionally. Like the white coat, it is something that can help us forge more intimate bonds with our patients or act as a barrier to distance us from them. And inevitably, like the white coat it is something that will undoubtedly make guys hotter and more attractive to women, while making us women no sexier and perhaps even less inviting to the typical man. That's right, tonight I received my very own beeper.

I may not get the MD degree or long white coat for another two years, but as of tonight, I am functionally (or ostensibly, or something like that) a doctor. We all dressed up and went to the Lawn Club for cocktails and dinner with our clinical tutors of the past two years. After our H & P tutors were given certificates of completion for successfully teaching us how to do the rudiments of clinical medicine, we grabbed the beepers off the table on our way back to our seats. This time, no dean helped us figure out how to set the date or alarm; in fact, the only advice we got was to immediately put the beeper on "vibe" and hope that we don't go crazy when it starts ruling our lives. I can now be reached 24/7. Right now I'm thrilled to have a new little toy with buttons (it's very sleek and stylish), but I know in the pit of my gut that in a few short months this little black box will become my most hated possession. From white coat to stethescope to beeper. Maybe next year they'll give us each an MRI machine!


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