Friday, December 10, 2010

Pink Hats, 11: Medical School Hop-Scotch

A long overdue passing score on boards, he considered, was only the beginning of his troubles. Third year rotations -- the medical school version of hop-scotch from one specialty to another -- were beginning and about all he had in his kit was the equivalent of two years of academics -- just enough to get myself into trouble. Well, there was also the Red Cross Advanced Life Saving card in his wallet. As if anyone is going to entrust me with saving anything at this point. He likened it to being sent into battle with an unloaded weapon and orders not to shoot anybody.

The closest he'd come to the actual practice of pediatrics, the starting square for his particular game, was a close call in late August with a pair of twins he and his dog discovered in a trash bag flung from a speeding car. His ACLS training definitely came in handy then, and that will probably be the last time for a long time, he thought, but anything can happen. When his intern asked about previous knowledge or experience, he was sorely tempted to say, "I know that little girls are made of sugar, spice, and everything nice, and little boys of snakes, snails, and puppy dog tails," but somehow he didn't think that would go over very well.

Earlier the same morning he'd met his attending, Dr. Bob Z., who informed him, tongue in cheek, that the only requirement for obtaining an honors grade in any rotation he was supervising, was the successful pronunciation of his last name. Bob even went so far as to write it out for him in printed block letters. He decided it couldn't hurt to try, so he thought long and hard and said, "Smith." He was wrong, but got points for daring to make a joke about it on the first day. Then Bob asked about his experience.

"I wondered if you and I would ever meet," he said, cryptically, after hearing his student's story.

"I'm not sure I follow you."

"I was the attending on duty in the ER when your twins came in and I've been following their case, mostly as an interested bystander. You probably haven't had a chance to see them yet -- why don't we go together? I think that would be appropriate, given our mutual connection."

They left his office on the second floor of the Mediplex building and walked across the skyway into the maze of the massive Maine Med campus, eventually finding their way to the Barbara Bush Children's Hospital, near the east-facing side. Since its inception in the mid-nineteenth century, Maine Med had grown organically, which is to say, as much as by necessity as by design, recent additions excepted. Getting the lay of the land usually took some doing.

Jessie was waiting for an elevator when a pair of doors slid open. Bob was in mid-sentence, something to the effect, "You'll be spending quite of bit of time over here, so be sure to --." she was concentrating on her iphone, neither watching where they were going. In a collision between two bodies of unequal mass, physics tells us the lesser one will usually go flying.

He barely caught her on the way down.

Startled, his concern more obvious than he might have liked under the circumstances, he said, "Jessie! I'm so sorry, I -- are you okay? I was preoccupied -- "

"I'm fine, I don't break easily, I should have been paying attention," she said, more amused than anything, her eyes sparkling at his attention, "Fortunately, you saved my 'dignity' any harm, and for that I'm grateful."

She brushed a wave of hair away from her face, then noticed someone she didn't recognize smiling at their exchange and shot a quizzical look at Bob. "God, I'm an idiot," he said, "This is my new student, Chuck Collins. Chuck, Dr. Jessie Livingstone. She's a neonatal fellow and worked with the twins while they were in the NICU."

As the two shook hands, he went on to explain, "Chuck is the student who found them in the first place. We were on our way for a visit. Why don't you join us?"

"I'm headed to a family meeting" -- she looked at her watch -- "I'm late for a family meeting. Nice meeting you, Chuck," she said, nodding in his direction. "Before I go, can I get a quickie consult?"

"Sure -- would you excuse me a moment?" he asked of his student and stepped away. "What's up?"

Maintaining the facade of discussing patient confidentiality in public, she whispered, "I went to New Hampshire yesterday. To talk with my father -- he's wonderful and you're going to love him. I want to tell you about our conversation, only not now, obviously."

"Funny you should mention it, I had one with Halley yesterday I'd like to tell you about," he said, also in a low whisper.

"Mine needs more than lunch or dinner. I mean, we could start there, but I'd really like some serious time."

"How about the weekend? I've been thinking a drive up the mid-coast would be a nice get-a-way, not too far, we can do it in a day, and it's pretty up there."

"Sounds perfect, but I'm on-call Friday night through Saturday and you're working Sundays..."

"Not anymore and I'll tell you about that, too. So --"

"-- Sunday's a date, as long as I can take you to the Sweetgrass Farm winery. Their Maple Smash is to die for," she said, trying hard to contain her growing anticipation. Somewhat louder, she added, as two nurses walked past, "Thanks for the consult, Bob, I appreciate it."

"My pleasure, anytime. Okay, Chuck, now where were we?"

(Creative Commons image of Hop Scotch by marc0047 via Flickr)
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