Boredom and Brain Tumors
Just give her an Advil and send her home, I thought. It was becoming all too clear that what was meant to be a quick day of clinic was going to take much longer than I thought. How many reflexes can this girl have. Dr. Huffman seemed determine to test then all and, as he poked and prodded, I became more and more restless. Great, she can follow your finger with her eye, so can my parakeet and you don’t see it wasting the doctor’s time. I shifted and waited.
To those readers horrified by the thought that a medical student might be this uninformed and downright uncaring, let me allay your fears. This didn’t happen today (or yesterday for that matter). Although I must truthfully claim these thoughts as my own, they occurred two years ago when I was shadowing a doctor in Kentucky as part of my pre-med acceptance checklist. As a second year student, I now look back at those feelings with a mixture of embarrassment and amazement. Didn’t I care about the patient? (Let's file that question under “rhetorical” so I can avoid an honest answer.) If I had done my homework I would have realized that a headache can be one sign of a life threatening lesion in the brain and that the “finger test” is very important in the assessment of nerve function. The doctor was not wasting my time, he was simply being an excellent physician.
I went into the office hoping to learn something about medicine. As I look back on the experience, however, I realize that I learned almost nothing about medical practice. Instead, I have retrospectively learned volumes about my personal biases and motivations. Did I care more about the patient or my time? Although it is easy to blame inexperience as the source of my frustration, aggravation is an ever-present emotion on the wards. Maybe next year when I am dealing with a patient who is really being a pain in the neck, I’ll remember that girl with the headache and how my impatience could have cost her everything.