There’s a quote from 13th century Persian poet, Rumi, that says “respond to every call that excites your spirit”.
Once I was 18 years old. And I was with my friends on a beach off the Gulf of Mexico. The water was calm so we decided to swim out to sand bar a few hundred feet out. Seemed like a fun thing to do and we were able-bodied, athletic kids. We waded through the waves until we could no longer touch the ocean floor then we picked up our feet and started swimming. We swam and we swam. The shore grew further and further. I started to tire. We surmised that we must be close, we just had to swim a little further. I was exhausted. I was struggling. But we were so close. Once we reached that sand bar we could stop treading water and sink our feet into the sand below and stand and have fun and laugh until we were reenergized enough to swim back. But there came a point when we realized we’d gone too far. It was high tide. There was no sandbar. We were so deep into the ocean that the people laying on towels and sitting on beach chairs looked so small. You couldn’t hear them speak or yell or hear their music. I was gasping for air, panting, treading water. There was no moment of rest. All I felt was electric fear. You have to push and swim all the way back. You don’t have a choice. So I stopped thinking about how out of breath I was. About how exhausted I was. Rhythmically with each arm I tore into the water kicking my legs with as much force as they could generate. I saw the shore and kept rowing my arms until it got closer.
You need to budget better. Stop eating out. You need to cook for yourself more. Have you ever tried meal prepping.
Listen, I’m a fantastic cook. And I’m not talking your run-of-mill ‘dude who knows how to cook chicken and rice and boil noodles’. I can cook. This winter on separate occasions I made a seafood and chorizo paella (absolutely splurged on the saffron) and I also cooked a batch of my Italian grandmother’s sauce from scratch. Took me an entire Sunday. I was really proud of that. And I deserved to be — they were damn good. They were both fantastic. I can cook.
And I love cooking. But. Try waking up in complete darkness and being the first car to leave the apartment parking garage in the morning. Getting home from the hospital anywhere between 6 and 9 pm. And only in my wildest fantasy do I get home at 6 pm every day. When I do get home, I am mentally and physically exhausted. Brain feels like applesauce. Hips feel like a twelve year old Labrador. I want to sit and involute on my couch. I don’t want to speak to anyone. I don’t want to text anyone. I want to do something mindless because I spent the entire day thinking and stressing and pacing around under bright fluorescent lights. I want to dissolve. I do not want another task. Another chore. I don’t want to spend any effort preparing a halfway decent meal, cooking it, eating, cleaning the dishes, and so on. Can you imagine. Twelve plus hour day, you cook a good meal, then, my lord – the dishes. Hang me.
The number was typed into my phone, thumb hovering over iPhone call button icon. For at least a minute I was frozen. It was my patient’s daughter. Three in the morning. This is a total DSP, I thought. Parlance for “day shift problem”. Calling families is a total DSP but if someone dies or is actively trying to die you have to do it. Hell. But there was little optimism he’d make it through the night, so. I inhaled deeply and exhaled slowly. Pressed the button. I hoped she wouldn’t answer. Rang a few times and I had that thank god feeling until someone said hello. Shit. I told her I was doctor so and so, a resident at the hospital, working in the intensive care unit. She asked about her father. I had to tell her with muted emotion that he wasn’t going to make it much longer. Do you want us to continue complete resuscitation measures, i asked.
I just, I just need a minute, she said.
She came back. Explained to me how they thought he was doing better, his kidneys were improving and the numbers indicated his infection was clearing up. He was doing better, she said, voice choked up from the burst of emotion one feels when they hear that someone they’ve known their whole life, someone who made them who they are, is for all measures, gone. And will never come back.
I got angry. How the hell did anyone paint a picture that he was doing better. Why give this woman and her family that hope. I professionally sucked all of that hope of out them. All I could think to say was I’m sorry. What can you say: I’m sorry.
I don’t know. I mean, a switch doesn’t flip one day. When someone you love dies you don’t hear a eulogy and think to yourself, gosh, it all makes sense now. You don’t say a prayer and find some sort of divine comfort. Nothing helps. It sucks. Nothing is going to happen for you. Life isn’t a Disney movie. Shitty things happen. And nothing will ever convince you it doesn’t suck. You are doomed. Doomed to carry it with you until other things and people start occupying your heart. A tree dies and a new one doesn’t spring up from the ashes in the morning.
Still, you can be sad and angry all you want. You deserve to be. You should be. This whole thing sucks. So. Obsessively ruminate over why and what you could have done differently until your brain breaks. Mentally rehearse conversations you’ll never have with people who don’t care you exist. Scream into the void. Drive yourself insane. Go crazy. For as long as you want. For as long as you need.
But you have realize. You’ll get off work one day mad about something innate to residency while someone in your dream program is feeling the exact same. You’ll despair over some program that didn’t want you. After two years you’d be counting down the days until you could leave anyways. No matter what you’ll be physically exhausted from long hours in a gloomy hospital.
You can shake your fist at the sky but it’s still blue and there isn’t a damn thing you can do about it. You can scream and curse but beautiful songs and melodies will forever drown you out. One day you decide to go for a walk with good music in your ears and the sun is shining and a wide-eyed puppy scampers at your feet and jumps on your knee, its tail wagging all joyous and such. I promise you, that dog doesn’t give a damn about the match or your residency. The sun sets and it looks like bob ross himself painted the sky and it’s still picturesque, despite you. Go ahead and try. But you can’t escape the small pleasures. The beauty of it all. The watermelon on a summer day; it’s still sweet. Your mom is still excited to hear your voice on the phone. A baby smiles at you in line at the grocery store. You laugh with new friends. Life is still happening.
One day you pick up the phone. It’s the dean of a medical school. He congratulates you on your acceptance into their medical school. You are so overwhelmed with joy that one lonesome tear crawls down your cheek. You let it roll. And you wipe it away quickly because you’re bartending and absolutely no one wants to see their bartender cry. For god sakes, no emotions. But you’re so happy you want to cry. You call your mom and your dad. You try to contain it but every cell in your body is bursting with euphoria. Your life changes. You have a future. You are going to be a doctor. This is one of the best moments of your entire life. Congrats.
Then one day you wake up on the floor, alone in your apartment. It’s the emptiest of feelings. You hate who you’ve become. The morning light spills through the blinds to the patio. It burns your eyes. Empty bottle of nine dollar Merlot on your coffee table. Your old MacBook is in front of you, last open to text message threads from friends and people you loved who only exist in these archives. You read them to relive old memories that no one aside from you even gives a shit about. The texts you sent in 2017 read like they were sent from someone else. An entirely different human being.
Across the high-top table, she was leaning forward, hands clutching a glass of Hendrick’s and soda with lime. Staring into my soul with eyes black like the summer date-night dress she was wearing. Her eyes vindictive yet soft. Honest. It was candid and surreal. Like a random scene out of a David Lynch film.
My eyes were tired and defeated. I explained to her. My story didn’t have a triumphant ending. My journey was not a hero’s journey. No lessons learned. No happily ever after. No victory and no joy and no pride. I just exist. Every question I ask myself just leads to more. More what ifs. I was once such a happy and hopeful kid and then, I don’t know, it’s hard to explain.
We found out the world was being shut down due to the virus after Sunday brunch. Everything we were looking forward to — match day celebrations with warm hugs and happy tears, adventurous fourth year travel plans before residency, that we made it feeling of graduation with all the pictures with the people who were so proud of us — all canceled. So naturally we gathered together at my friend’s apartment for a final social gathering before retreating to our homes to bunker down for the ensuing social isolation. No one knew what was coming, but.
Zesty Mortdon is a recent medical school graduate who will start his emergency medicine training in July. In part two of this series, he addresses the competitiveness of EM, gives insight into the application process, touches on SLOEs, and gives advice on how to stand out on audition rotations. If you haven’t checked out part one yet, click here: The Med Student’s Guide to Emergency Medicine (Part 1)
Jordan Soze here. Today we’re featuring a guest post from a good friend of mine who will be contributing more in the future. Zesty Mordton is a fourth year medical student who recently matched into a top emergency medicine program (congrats again my dude). Furthermore, I’ve known him since high school where we bonded over music (and even saw Radiohead together). Dude is brilliant and one of the nicest guys you’d ever meet. By some struck of luck, he happened to be in the class above me in my medical school where he’s been an invaluable mentor during my journey. Naturally, in the twilight of his medical school career, I asked him if he’d like to contribute some of that sage wisdom to Soze Media and he delivered this absolute gem of a post.
If you’re considering applying to emergency medicine or simply want to know what it’s all about, read this post. Bookmark it. Save it. And read it again. It’s an in depth exploration into choosing emergency medicine as a career and the application process, so I’ve split the post into two parts. In part one, he discusses why he chose emergency medicine, what type of students should consider EM, and gives insight into the specialty. In part two, he gives priceless advice on applying to emergency medicine, including competitiveness, audition rotations, SLOEs, how to impress, and so on. Enjoy!
Another entry into the Med School Memoirs series. Wrote this yesterday. Haven’t edited it and don’t know if it’ll make the book I’m feeling good right now so I’m posting it. Enjoy.
Smell the Roses.
I skimmed my book with a blue sharpie pen in hand while he muttered notes from the morning’s final operation into the Dragon speech recognition microphone. Occasionally he’d pause and say something and I’d perk up and look at him as if he were speaking to me only to realize he’d just resumed dictating his post-op notes. After multiple rounds of this “is he speaking to me or the computer” game, his head turned towards me. I closed my book and looked up at him. This was the real deal. He asked, haven’t you finished that book yet?
Yes, I said. I’m just going through it again. I want to make sure I learn as much as possible before my audition rotations.
Put it away, he said. Let’s get some lunch. He stood up from his computer and I followed him down the hospital corridor. He pulled his surgical mask from his neck and threw it in the trash. I did the same. You’re smart and you work hard, he continued. You’re going to make it.
Thanks doc, I replied. I just… it’s stressful, you know? I feel like time’s flying.
He nodded and continued walking without a reply. His lack of response made me wonder if what I said had sounded stupid to him. I cared what he thought about me, which led me to overthink many of the things I said to him. He was an intelligent and accomplished surgeon, which is what I hope to be. Some day.
We walked side by side; I was on the left and he was on the right. He turned left into me towards the stairwell door and we did that awkward thing where you’re in someone’s way and you have a western gun draw about which way you should move to actually get out of the way. That’s the thing about being a med student; you’re either in the way or invisible. Today I was in the way.