I’ve never had much trouble sleeping. In fact I could always fall asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow. Literally.
That is, until I started medical school.
When I tell people I’m in medical school, they are quick to acknowledge how legendarily difficult it is. Long hours, a competitive community, and a lifetime ahead of hard work. That is what I signed up for and what I was prepared for when I decided to go to medical school.
These things, though, are not what have made medical school difficult for me. When I started school over a year ago, the last thing on my mind was how the knowledge I gain would affect me. Not just because I would be gaining the knowledge I need to treat patients, but also because I would gain an understanding of what happens to sick people.
This brings me back to sleep.
Just a month ago I heard from my mom that my grandmother was in the hospital with complaints that, honestly, did not seem too serious to me. Still, I continued to check in and keep track of how she was doing.
Within 48 hours of first hearing she was in the hospital, she was taken in for emergent surgery, and all of a sudden the knowledge that I have gained in medical school came rushing in.
When my head hit the pillow that night, I did not fall asleep. Instead, I was reviewing anatomy in my head. How would the surgeon start? What would they be looking for? What were the risks? What kind of anesthesia was my grandmother getting? How long would it take? What would the repercussions of surgery be for her?
Still, I was hopeful.
The next morning my mom let me know that after a long surgery, my grandmother was in the ICU on a ventilator. She couldn’t maintain her heart rate and blood pressure.
I didn’t sleep the next night either. Was she going to get an infection? Was the surgery even successful? What medications were they using to keep her stable? What were doctors finding on physical exam? Was her mind still there?
For each of these questions, I had follow up questions that cannot be captured in a blog post. They were endless, continuously popping into my head. Like a fly that wouldn’t stop buzzing in my ear no matter how many times I swatted at it. My questions were questions I imagine any concerned family or friends would ask, but I also had the ability to answer many of the questions without asking.
I was thankful when one of my classmates eloquently called this our “burden of knowledge.” When I say “our,” I mean every medical student and medical professional.
When you think of doctors and how tough their career may be because of the long hours and high stakes, know that when our heads hit the pillow at night we are still thinking. Understanding the human body becomes very real in our own lives, not only with patients.
My story is not unique. In fact, we hope to use this blog to share a number of stories from my classmates as we begin living the lives of health care professionals and all that comes with it.
My grandmother passed away 36 hours after surgery. I spent that whole time trying to force out the understanding I had of how a healthy woman could so quickly deteriorate. I abandoned everything I had learned for hope that she would be the exception. While she wasn’t the exception, she helped me learn, as she always had. It’s a lesson I will carry with me forever.
Copyright 2014 USC School of Medicine Greenville