Friday, August 24, 2012

I have changed

Last semester, my class learned the physical exam, head to toe. We practiced everything on each other, except what we euphemistically call "the male and female exams." Practicing these were left until the beginning of this semester, when paid laypeople ("standardized patients") help us to learn proper technique.

Surprisingly, this was easy for me. I was surprised because I am a private person, and I take a long time to adjust to changes in my role. The female exam was not a problem because the summer prepared me very gradually; I expected the male exam to give me trouble, but I simply introduced myself to the patient, examined him, thanked him, and it was over.

My desensitization meter has, apparently, skyrocketed since gross anatomy last year. (In fact, since high school, when I did not used to look at the reproductive diagrams in my biology textbook.) Today, I feel like I can do or ask almost anything I need to to help a patient. 

I wonder how much more healthy desensitization I will undergo.

Recently, we had a professionalism class and shared professional and unprofessional behavior we've experienced while shadowing, working with, or being a patient to physicians. There were a lot of stories about ER physicians that became so desensitized that they turned into rude, mean, and irresponsible doctors.

The friend sitting next to me, whose father is an ER PA, began to whisper to me over the voices of the storytellers. "These people [our classmates] don't understand. ER physicians are exhausted by the worst of humanity over and over again. It's like med school," she went on, and asked me whether I thought I could explain to pre-meds what it's like to go through med school. "No," she said, answering herself. "It's like the army; they put you through something kinda awful, to prepare you for something awful. And you change. ER physicians change, it's the only way they can cope." She was growing defensive, but not losing her calm. "Do you think you could maintain any purity if you were constantly stressed out to the maximum of your capacity like that?"

I listened and made no answer. I know that too much stress and too much desensitization makes for ugly behavior. Medicine, as it is taught and practiced by some, changes the loving into the callous and the sensitive into the abusive. 

But it need not be so, or at least I hope not. I hope that medicine can be practiced by a physician who lives in the peace of Christ's heart; I hope that it can be practiced by people comfortable with intimate subjects, but who still perceive the dignity of others; I hope that it can be practiced as an act of self-donation.

If not, I hope I can find another career.


  1. At the CMA conference last year, I met a middle-age ER doc (probably the age of our dads). Of course it wasn't a terribly long conversation -- but he definitely seemed to have Christ's peace in his heart, seeing the Lord in every patient and even every resident (as he said). He made no mistakes about it being difficult, but... it's definitely possible.

    A great Catholic 4th year I know from Denver is also going into EM... hopefully he can follow the same peaceful path.

    1. Me, too! I am so glad you met an ER doc like that; that's really encouraging. I am hopefully going to the CMA conference this year (if I can get an excused absence from Cardio block)!

      Thanks for reading. I am very excited for your blog, btw.