Does throwing up prove I wasn't meant to be a doctor?
Once, as an intern, I pronounced four people dead in twenty-four hours; by four o’clock in the morning, I was ready to go home to my husband of six months, but I had to stay until the morning report. The sparrows were rioting outside my call room window that June morning.
Three years later, as a senior pediatric resident, I had to finger extract stone-hard feces from the rectum of a screaming five-year-old boy. The stool clanged as it hit the metal bedpan.
Before that, as a junior, on an afternoon after being up all night, barely in control of my senses, I bent a spinaltap needle inside a four-year-old boy
who squirmed the wrong way during the lumbar puncture. Afterward, I shook the warped needle in front of his nose and said: “See what you have done?!” The nurses reported me and I was almost expelled from my coveted pediatric residency.
Back in the mid-eighties, as a hospital volunteer, I lost my lunch while watching a percutaneous needle biopsy of a coin lesion of the lung through a window in the fluoroscopy suite. I did not know what a biopsy was. I did not know about the lethal prognosis of a coin lesion, and if I did, I wouldn’t have cared. I only worried whether throwing up in the hallway proved I wasn’t meant to be a doctor.
About the same time, I stood on the curb of a busy downtown street outside a teaching hospital and watched as doctors—i was sure they were doctors, they must have been doctors, who else could have done this—talked a white-haired woman in a hospital gown down from the ledge of an eighth-floor window of what I later learned was the hospital library. I was soon to spend nights and days studying there.
One day in the operating room, finally a medical student, I stared in awe at the pink-petalled flowers of human tissue blossoming in the mass of a collapsed grey-brown lung as it was reinflated during a thoracotomy.