Med School Memoirs: Hola Señorita, Hable No Spanish

Most medical students are defined and characterized by type A personalities – the people who sat in the front of the classroom in college and pestered the teacher with useless questions (and God knows how many annoying emails).

They, and I suppose by association, we, continuously strive for perfection. The application had to be perfect. Medical students went through college with relatively pristine GPAs, took a Kaplan course to get a high MCAT score, participated in various research projects on shit they weren’t interested in, volunteered handing out water bottles, saving kittens from trees, and other shit like that. All so that they could one day adopt the idealized prestige of the title, doctor. Perfection is the goal of all medical students.

I am no such person. Calling me imperfect would be an understatement – while I display academic success, I am prone to doing some incredibly stupid things. You win some, you lose some.

This past weekend, I stared out the windows of my apartment to see gorgeous sunshine with trees in bloom, as the spring energy swept its way through my screens and made me wish I were at bar surrounded by my buddies with a cold pint of beer at my fingertips, enjoying the euphoric buzz of life. Nothing but good times, sun shine, and drinking permeated throughout the Snapchat stories, making me envy every person who didn’t have to spend such a beautiful weekend trapped behind dozens of lectures and a Pathoma book.

Easter weekend meant that everyone outside of medical school was catching up with friends and family at home, while my holiday revolved around studying for an 8 a.m. exam Monday morning. But this feeling of missing out is fleeting, because I would not trade places with anyone I know. After these brief moments of jealousy, I sip more coffee and pour through more material, trying to memorize every last detail so that I could finally attain close to a perfect score on a final exam.

Morning until night, study study study. I woke up Monday morning at 6 a.m., ran over some more details and a few muddy points before the exam, and strolled into the lecture hall with Darskide’s “Heart” to soundtrack the cerebral focus I felt.

I zoomed through the first 80 or so questions in record pace, seemingly knowing every answer before the even reading the options. At the two hour point in the exam, my brain started to slow. Two and half hours deep, I had about 20 questions left, but I was reading the questions three times over to even comprehend what was being asked. Typical exam fatigue. Nevertheless, I walked out of the exam as confident as ever, sure that I’d scored above a 90%.

I went home, took a deep sigh, but like any neurotic loser, I started looking up answers to questions I wasnt entirely sure on – and what do you know, I had mostly gotten them all right. A victory, without a doubt. Because it was a Monday, I was in school-mode, and we were starting the next block the very next morning, I decided to preview the next day’s lectures. Jumping into the next block immediately after an exam is reprehensible, I know.

Later on a friend texted me asking if I was looking to do some drinking. This is when the real me kicked in. After the denying myself the pleasures of my old life for the weekend and studying nonstop, hell yeah I deserve a beer. Suns out. Killed the test. Lets do it. I picked him up in the early afternoon and we went to get some beers. We sat on the bar patio enjoying the sun, quickly discussing the exam, talking about summer plans, the usual. Then another friend joined. We got more beers. Tipsy in the early afternoon, I decided it’d be a good idea to get home around nine-ish to sleep it off and wake up fresh in the morning to begin the block on a good note. My friends had other plans in mind.

We walked down the main street to meet another group of classmates at a different bar. Passed a guy barfing in the street. I was tipsy, but at least I wasn’t on that level. While walking the guys talked about some sort of foreign language translation thing we had to do this week, but I was pretty zoned out.

We arrived at the next bar, and the drinks kept flowing. My phone died. I told my friend that I needed a ride home, so he was going to have to take me when the time came. The day turned to dusk. Dusk turned to darkness. My 20/20 vision became something like 20/200.

Around eleven p.m., I was looking around for my friend to see if he was ready to cab home. Couldn’t find him. Talked to more people, drank more beers. Half hour later, I realized unless he was having a fit of irritable bowl syndrome from the reuben egg rolls he got at the first bar, he had certainly gone home without me. Great.

I was reaching that point where it was certainly time to take my ass to bed, but no one else had the intention of leaving before two, and I didn’t have my phone to call a cab, so I was along for the ride until the bars closed and I could jump in someone’s car to take me home.

Around midnight, we walked into another bar, and I along with a friend of mine ordered a couple rounds of shots. It was at this moment that I turned around and saw my classmates dancing – medical students after a final exam are as graceful and balanced as a drunk person with vertigo walking a tight rope over the grand canyon. I gathered myself for a moment. Suddenly, I had the awareness to know that I was a drink or two away from not remembering anything. Without hesitation, I slurped the rest of my beer and walked straight through the door to begin my voyage home. While not terribly far, trekking two miles with hills, alone and wasted was not exactly something I’d choose to do for fun.

After trudging home, I stumbled into my apartment, kicked my shoes off, realized I hadn’t eaten dinner, and googled “food” on my phone. I called the first option that came up in my search. The pizza shop on the other end of the phone told me my delivery would take 45 minutes. Sleep deprived and drunk, I fought the urge to pass out and kept my exhausted eyes open long enough to scarf down some hot food before racking out for the night.

I woke up at 11 a.m. still wearing my jeans, realizing I had completely obliterated any chance of starting the block off on a positive note. I had a team-based learning session at three, so I figured I could passively watch a lecture or two before I had to head out. Because the chances of me getting anything accomplished today were about the same as the Cleveland Browns winning the Super Bowl next year, I pulled up my schedule to see if I had a substantial amount of free time on Wednesday to get caught up. While looking at my schedule, I saw a slot of time at 1 p.m. this day entitled, “medical interpreter lab”.

These sorts of clinical activities are striated throughout the class into groups, and each group would have the lab on a certain day. So over the next two weeks, I was scheduled only one of the days. Still, I decided to check what my group number was. It was 1. I looked at the schedule it see which group number was scheduled for today. It was group 1. I looked back down to see what group I was in. It was 1. I glanced back up at my computer to see which group was scheduled today, and it was still 1. After doing this several times to confirm my worst fear, I had concluded that I was in fact in group 1, which was scheduled for today at 1 p.m. I checked the time – 12:35.

Fuck me, right. It’s 12:35. I am unshowered. I reek of booze. I haven’t eaten. Also, it was at this moment that I remembered I had left my car at the bar. I sat there for roughly three minutes in a state of… “well, shit”. At first I decided that I wasn’t going. I had a pounding headache. I had no time to shower, get to campus, and above all… look “professional”. Keep in mind that in this hungover state my brain was functioning at the level of a sixth grader with a learning disability. Then I glanced at who the instructor was, and it was none other than Doctor Dick, the drill-seargant of a physician who became involved in medical training to ensure that us hopeful up and comers were as miserable as he is, even if it only lasted for a few hours. Seriously, the first time I met the guy, I extended my hand to give him and handshake to which he replied, “Um, what are you doing? This is the clinic. We don’t shake hands in the clinic. Now go wash your hands”. Nice to meet you too sir.

So, the possibility of getting chewed out by this dude and receiving an invitation from the school’s judicial department to discuss professionalism outweighed my urge to say screw it.

12:38. 22 minutes to shower, put on professional attire, and arrive in the clinic. Since I didn’t have a car, among all of the things that were going wrong on this haphazard morning, I quickly called a friend who had a group meeting at 1 on campus for a ride. He said, “yeah, can you be ready in 5?” I replied, “I guess I’ll have to be”.

I rinsed off and scrubbed my body to hopefully rid myself of the smell of the ethanol permeating through my pores, dried myself off, jumped into wrinkled dress pants, buttoned my shirt, tied my tie in five minutes. I got the message: “here”. I stumbled out of  my apartment with my shoes untied, my belt through two loops, and my white coat slung over my shoulder and hopped into his car. During the ride, my heart sunk to my testicles as I realized I had forgotten my ID badge at home. You can’t forget your ID badge. That’s a big no-no. You don’t do that. You need your ID badge. They check every time.

Now, halfway to the clinic, I couldn’t make my friend turn around and make him late too.  I had to deal with my consequences. I had two options – confess that I didn’t have my ID and at best be verbally humiliated in front of my classmates, or try to sneak past the authorities without the ID, which carried the risk of a professionalism complaint in my record. When we arrived, I walked into the clinic massively hungover. My brain felt like a big tumbleweed being uneventfully blown by the wind in the desert. I sat down at a table and prepared for our debriefing from the drill sergeant doctor, who spoke like we were planning a covert military operation. I still had no idea what the fuck “medical interpreter lab” even meant.

Following, the doctor revealed the details of our mission – obtain a past medical history of someone who doesn’t speak any english. Wonderful. Outstanding. This is exactly what I want to do while I’m hungover. We were to walk up to the patient room, call the number of a translator on the door and communicate with the non-english-speaking patient through a translator on speaker phone. Not wanting to risk a “Soze has professionalism concerns” note in my file while applying for residency, I went up to the instructor when he stepped outside so I could confess my sins in solitude and privacy.

“Well, where is it?” I, uh, don’t know. “What do you mean you don’t know? You lost it? Are you going to lose your stethoscope in the hospital too?” No sir. “You know I should send you home for this and mark you as absent”. I’ll never forget it again. “Fine, take this, and don’t let this ever happen again”. He handed me a temporary ID from his office, a simple resolution for a simple mistake that only required a simple exchange. Regardless, I got the ID without being chastised in front of my peers, so that was a small win.

Soon, we were instructed to deploy in our operation. I walked up to the door, dialed the number, and requested a Spanish translator. At least it was only Spanish and not Hebrew or some shit like other patients. I spoke with the translator, told him what was going on, walked into the room and didn’t really know what to do so I just blurted “Hola!” in the most American tone possible. The 30-some-year-old Spanish speaking woman greeted me as well and we got down to business. To the translator on my phone, I said, “can you ask the patient what she is here for”. The translator and Spanish woman murmured some ish back and forth for a solid two minutes. Simple question but a seemingly not so simple answer. After their foreign conversation, the translator says in English to me, “she has a headache”. Oh. So were you two just making fun of me in Spanish for two minutes? Real mature bro. Cute.

Through the translator, I awkwardly communicated such questions as “when did this start, are you taking any medication, etc etc” and received nothing more than one word answers in return. We were being timed and watched on camera and had to talk to the patient for 15 minutes through the translator. At about five minutes in, the awkward pauses starting arriving like hiccups at the bar. My brain was mush. I had suddenly forgotten how to take a patient history. I completely forgot how to do a Review of Systems. I didn’t remember what the hell doctors are supposed to ask patients, so instead of sitting there in complete silence I just started asking about her life, her work, if she was married. She looked a little confused, but I had to ask the first question that popped into my mind, because my brain synapses had ceased firing.

To make things better, all the sudden the translator had stopped talking. “Hello? Hello? Are you there? Can you hear me?”

The call had dropped. I looked at the time. Seven minutes remaining. Seven minutes. Seems like a breeze. You can run a mile in seven minutes. You can take a shower in seven minutes. You can even have sex in seven minutes with time to spare if you’re efficient. Usually seven minutes is no time at all. When someone who cannot or refuses to speak English is sitting in front of you, awkwardly staring at you waiting for you to converse with them, all while being watched on a stupid camera by your professors, seven minutes might as well be seven hours.

I tried. “So, do you have….” “Como?” I couldn’t even finish my sentence before realizing that the woman had no clue what I was saying. I couldn’t even ask questions. I tried. “Como?” I tried to rephrase each question in the most universally understandable way.


You don’t really realize how difficult it is to communicate with or get information from someone who is not speaking english until you have to do it.


I started pointing at various body parts or making little hand gestures to attempt to explain myself.


I just looked at her with a blank stare. I didn’t know what the hell to do. My brain was hardly functional. I drank all day and stammered home wasted the night before. I found out I had to be here 35 minutes before the scheduled starting time. And I had no way to ask the patient anything medically relevant since my handy translator decided to crap out on me. I looked at the patient. I was out of options. I looked down at the ground. I looked up at the camera. I looked back at the patient and did the only conceivable thing I could think of – I burst out into a fit a laughter. She started laughing too, and for the first time we had made a connection and understood each other through the universal notion of humor. While I was hungover, completely blowing my assignment for my instructors to see, I simply couldn’t help but laugh.

You win some, you lose some.



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