Ups and Downs of My Intern Year in Emergency Medicine

Everyone warns you that Intern year is hard. It’s a year of little sleep; a rollercoaster of emotions both good and bad. Frustration and guilt in wanting to know everything NOW, because everything you don’t know might be what matters for this patient, this time. And trememndous successes. Some of the things I did this year, I really can’t believe I was able to do. And survive. Mostly, I’ve learned a lot about myself, and have been reminded yet again, that I work with an amazing group of people.


UP – Running a trauma when I thought I could never do it

I have a distinct memory of standing in the Trauma Bay at Norfolk General Hospital, watching the Trauma Team work its perfectly organized chaotic magic. I paid particular attention to the young female physician leading the whole thing – inserting an airway, calling out physical exam findings, doing an eFAST ultrasound to look for bleeding. I remember hoping, wishing I could ever have her confidence and calm demeanor. That thought was followed quickly by being thankful I wasn’t yet in that spotlight myself. I could never do that, right? In September I ran my first Delta Trauma at a Level I Trauma Center, and I survived to do it again.

VCU Medical Center Resuscitation Bay, Richmond, VA
VCU Medical Center Resuscitation Bay, Richmond, VA

DOWN – Those 2-week stretches not seeing my husband

I had no idea how much I need my husband to help me feel like a normal, healthy, centered human being. Amir and I had about four 2-week stretches this year where he was on nights and I was on days, or vice versa. One day we were so desperate for a date we coordinated a 20 minute coffee meet-up at the au bon pain in the hospital. Let’s not talk about what the house or laundry pile looked like during those stretches.  This is the video we play each other if we ever need a pick-me-up:


UP – Procedures, procedures, procedures

Open Thoracotomy

Paracentesis

Lumbar Puncture

intubations, central lines, suturing, joint reductions, even a c-section… you get the idea. I get to work with my hands a lot.


DOWN – Crying in the ICU

So I’m a crier. Always have been. I have distinct memories of my dad trying to help me with math homework as a kid, me getting frustrated and crying (my stress response), and my dad getting frustrated because I was crying. “What’s crying going to solve?” he used to ask me, which of course, made me cry more.

To be honest, I was expecting to cry multiple times the first few months of residency. tumblr_inline_mhsu6v3NBF1qz4rgpI actually made it to late February before it happened. Combine working 12-14 hours a day, 11 days in a row, with little sleep, food, potty break or non-medical human interaction (one of those 2-week stretches) – and now add to that a dozen of the sickest patients in the hospital. I broke down – red face, tears, snot, the whole nine yards. The nice thing about Intern year though is that everyone around you has been there, so I had about 4 senior residents plus 3 PAs sharing their crying stories right along with me to help pick me up. And that’s what you learn to do – pick yourself up, learn and keep going.


UP – Finally learning my way around the hospital (which is actually 4 hospitals)

Anyone who works in an old hospital knows how the building just gets added onto over the years, creating a behemoth maze of windowless hallways and floors that don’t match up. “Take the elevator to the 5th floor of North Hospital, turn left and you’ll be on the 1st floor of Main Hospital.” As if there weren’t enough to learn as an Intern.


DOWN – Cancer. I diagnose a lot of cancer.

I didn’t go into Oncology for a reason. It takes the smartest, strongest, most energized people to be cancer doctors. As an Emergency Physician, I expected to treat people with cancer, but I hadn’t thought of cancer as something I would diagnose. I guess I assumed that people would present to their PCP with concerning symptoms, get an outpatient workup and diagnosis by a specialist. But people do come to the ED for hematuria (blood in the urine), anorexia (lack of appetitie), back pain and weakness. And sometimes at the end of the workup, it’s cancer.


UP – Baby Mint Mochachino for a dying patient

Baby Mint Mochachino made with honor
Baby Mint Mochachino made with honor

I’ve seen a lot of amazing, caring people do a lot of touching things in the medical setting, but one moment stands out from this year. I had a patient who had chosen to pursue hospice care. He couldn’t stop telling me how beautiful his wife was and how he looked forward to seeing her soon. He had stopped eating and drinking days ago, so when he asked me for a “real coffee,” I was intrigued. He’d requested a cup of coffee from the medical student who poured him a cup of the hospital grade mud available to all employees. His dying wish was to have a real cup of coffee. How reasonable. I went to the ABP counter, told the story to the barista, and she whipped up the only coffee worthy of such a role – a baby mint mochachino, which she made with honor and pride in her work, even adjusting the temperature down to avoid any burned tongues.


So that’s it – Intern year is coming to a close, and July 1 I’ll be a “Senior Resident,” fraught with its own challenges and lessons to be learned.

One thought on “Ups and Downs of My Intern Year in Emergency Medicine”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s