Friday, March 4, 2011

Lessons from Fred Astaire

I feel a bit like Jessie Livingstone of Pink Hats and a Mack Truck, when she likened Dr. Bob Z to George Harrison on the cover of Abbey Road (chapter 10). You know how it goes when you meet a person who strongly resembles someone famous and it's hard to get the connection out of your head. Well, it's that way with my current preceptor. He not only looks and sounds like actor/dancer Fred Astaire, the two have similar mannerisms. Not that I'm anywhere near old enough to speak about Fred from personal experience, but if you check out some of his films on Turner Classic Movies, you'll see what I mean.

I'm nearly through this rotation, sadly but also gladly, and pediatrics is looming on the horizon in the Berkshire Mountains of Western Massachusetts. Sadly because I've thoroughly enjoyed every moment in north central Maine as I've said in numerous posts, and gladly because it means I'm moving on to something new. I've gotten to work with a few younger patients on my current rotation, mostly school age and teenagers, and they've been a lot of fun. I'm looking forward to seeing more like them as well as babies and itsy-bitsy kids.

I'm especially grateful to my preceptor for his willingness to "throw me in the briar patch" of patient care. Having to call upon things I've tried out on campus and do so now, in real-life situations, has been a challenge that's forced me to address my weaknesses. You can dodge some of that in the lab, relying on your student status and the fact that your patient is a paid actor, the presumption being, you'll get it eventually. But when your patient is truly short of breath, looks like death warmed over, and tells you they feel sick as a dog, you've really got to stand and deliver. I love that. It means I have a chance to do something that can genuinely make a difference.

Now, how much can a medical student actually do? That depends. Naturally, I can't pull out the old prescription pad, scribble something down, and hand over faith and hope on a 3 x 5 piece of paper. Still in all, I can do a careful history and physical exam, try to cover as many bases as I can, and then decide on the best course of action in collaboration with my attending's greater experience. It's more practice and practice creates confidence. I can't begin to tell you how good it feels, walking into the examination room and seeing someone for the first time, knowing the tools in my kit are ones I can meaningfully use.

There was a time, not all that long ago, when my black canvas doctor's bag with all its esoterica within, seemed like an appealing stranger. Now, I carry it with me every day, and feel a little naked without it. One morning its contents were as cold as the wind blowing off the Kennebec River and the next, as warm as my dog's greeting when I come home at the end of the week. I don't know when the change occurred, but it has and I'm glad I was there to experience it for myself. I guess you could say it's what happens when you have a chance to take lessons from "Fred Astaire."

(Creative Commons image of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers on the cover of Life Magazine, 1938, by Zooomabooma via Flickr)

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