Another Day at Clinical School

All identifying information about patients has been altered for the purpose of this blog. In some cases, a 'typical patient' is represented rather than describing an actual individual in order to keep patient-student confidentiality.

Hospital is my safe space. Hospital is where anger floats away and is replaced with compassion and concern. Within these walls, I feel like I am home.

Once a week, I walk through the corridors of my hospital. I hold my head high, my heels going clickedy-clack straight for the staff elevators and up to whichever level is bound to have patients relevant to the current clinical block. Once a week, I go to a place where my life choices all seem to unite in perfect harmony. You chose the right path. 

It's strange to be reminded, each and every time that I'm there, just how little warmth many feel within the walls of our hospitals. The stark off-white walls, the grey-blue linoleum that has seen thousands of anti-bacterial mops run over its busy surface, the pine-wood skirting, the corridors filled with rushing nurses, COWs (Computers On Wheels) and infection control gowns, gloves and antiseptic.  This is a machine. There is a protocol. Everyone has their number. Yet, somewhere in this cold and uninviting environment where everyone wears the same gowns between the same bedsheets on the same beds, a smile can light up someone's day. A concerned physician, an attentive surgeon, a patient nurse, a team of professionals trying to get a patient back home can be the difference between a good day and a bad one.

Today, I met two patients who reminded me of life's fragility. A man who post-poned his shower just to help us with our education, a competent and capable man whose age showed in the thick strands of white hair falling primly around his face, staggered to his chair slowly. I watched the ataxic gait and had in a split second jumped to at least one differential diagnosis. At the same time, we were all trying to make sure he didn't fall over but offers of assistance were resolutely declined. "I'm practicing," he said. A once-physically-strong person still mentally persevering. Mind over matter. Step after wobbly step.

I met a woman today who was constantly frustrated with our history taking, referring us to her notes that we had yet to read. She spoke to us as if we were testing her. She drew tangents from our questions, constantly diverting our ability to understand what had caused her presentation to hospital. To our practice mini Mental State Examination, she illegibly (to all but our trusty tutor) wrote "I'm over this." When the script was translated, I wanted to rush back to the wards to give her a hug. She was once a physician and can no longer remember her medications. Instead of teaching students how to take histories, she is the subject of our questions. She waits in these same halls that fill me with a sense of belonging. For her, this is no longer home.

Before I left the comforting halls of my hospital, I saw a frame with a message for all to pass it in the wards. Innovation: those who don't know what the future holds create it. The challenges may be tough, the mountain may seem insurmountable. I'm practicing the future.

Today, I take my own wobbly steps forward.


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