How a fun little book dredged up buried memories of my intern year….

I started this blog in… 2010? And I realize that over time, I’ve been writing less about clinical matters, and more about family matters.

I hypothesize that this is because I’ve become more comfortable as a doctor, and less conflicted in my work, and thus I’m less moved to spout off about clinic.

This became more apparent to me over the past few days, when I read a colleague’s book that’s based on her clinical experience. I had offered to review it (and review it I will, properly, on Mothers in Medicine, don’t you worry, Fizzy!) It’s a little treat of a book, lampooning her first month of her intern year in an internal medicine residency. It brought back vivid (and horrifying, and humiliating, and pathetic) memories from my own intern year.

I remembered that I, too, had once planned to write a book about my medical training experience. Mine wasn’t going to be as funny or as fair as hers; the pieces of it I wrote in my head were injured, angry, vengeful, sarcastic snippets from a young doctor very much in need of healing.

I’m still a young doctor, but eight years after graduating from residency, I really don’t think about those four years too much… Except when I’m seeing a patient who IS a resident ( I have a few) and then we usually do spend some time sharing experiences, with my main objective being to validate for them what an awful time it really is, and offer emotional support.

It’s amazing how isolating residency can be. During my four years, I felt like I was the most miserable person there. I felt like I was the most miserable person in ANY residency. No one could be suffering as much as I am, I thought. I sweat blood to get where I am and do what I do, why am I so tortured? I felt inadequate, ungrateful, incompetent, and not only because that’s what I was told on a regular basis. I felt guilty for hating every second of my time in what was supposed to be a top-notch program.

Uck, it’s making me feel sick just thinking about it. To this day, even though I work in a hospital, and I’ve been a patient in a hospital, I cannot eat hospital food. I can’t even enter a hospital cafeteria. I have never once stepped foot into my own hospital’s cafeteria, and I’ve worked there for five years. When people get on the same elevator with me and they have trays of cafeteria food, I have to hold my breath, and even have gotten off so as not to smell that smell, the universal smell of hospital hot food.

It’s a visceral reaction, like from A Clockwork Orange: the smell triggers the nausea of countless delirious call nights; the unpleasant adrenaline surge of hundreds of codes; the fear of not knowing what to do; the helplessness of feeling unsupported; anger; conflict; exhaustion; humiliation.

So I bring a lunch to work.

What was so bad about residency, specifically? Well…

Actually, rather than go into it any more than I can stomach, I might as well tell you what this book is that brought the experience back to me, so interested parties can read her experience, which, though fictionalized, humorous, and simplified, really reflects mine, and the basic experience of most interns: miserable. So miserable as to be funny.

She wrote under a second pen name, I don’t know why yet, but plan to ask (and hey, it worked for Sam Shem). She is Freida McFadden and the book is The Devil Wears Scrubs, and I bought it on Amazon. When I first read the jacket, I worried that it WAS going to be like the book I had imagined writing about residency- as in, mean and nasty. It’s not. She sketches out a chunk of the inpatient intern experience in a quick, enjoyable read.

And yes, there are several scenes that take place in her hospital cafeteria, and yes, I felt queasy just reading about it.

And though it is a light read, and clearly intended to be entertaining, some of the poor intern’s situations brought me back in time, helping me to remember and reflect on my own intern year, 2001… I wonder how best I could share those experiences, in what form or vehicle: A drama with dark humor? A beach read with loads of gory details? Total lighthearted humor? Or as a House of God-style epic literary romp? Then I wonder if I can, or ever could, since the experience just about killed me, and to bring it all back may…. just make me feel like I’m walking into a hospital cafeteria.

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