Tales from the front lines: Leland Stillman

Posted by chat@firecracker.me on Aug 21, 2012 9:33:21 PM

One of the respiratory therapists (RTs) is holding the Doppler over the patient's femoral vein. I can hear the patient's blood pumping, in time with my hands pumping up and down on his chest. He had coded in the ICU, after we had stabilized him from his motor-vehicle-accident. He was in recovery. His family had expected to see him soon.

“That med student's compressions aren't doing anything,” said one of the RTs. He spoke with the nonchalance of a professional critiquing an amateur.

How's that for motivation?

I didn't take it personally. I didn't even feel guilty. I was doing what I was trained to do, as well as I knew how.

There wasn't much left to do at that point, after pushing the third dose of adrenaline, when everyone is looking around at one another.They know what comes next. As an M3, all you can do is keep compressing. I do not remember time of death, only the look on the doctor's face when he called it. He looked discouraged, more so than anyone else in the room. He had been running the code – he had been in charge.

There's a story behind every doctor. Some of them are downright inspiring, stories you could turn into Oscar-winning movies. Most of our stories would seem mundane, though they are meaningful for us. But none of our stories can push us forever. They may push us far, but not forever.

We don't expect ourselves to go forever, of course. You just have to keep going 80 hours a week, week after week, with one day off in every seven (on average), and when you get home you'll want to read up on your patients or study for your next exam.

So, you have to stick close to the things that keep you going.

What keeps you going? What slows you down? What gets you out of bed on day 10 since your last day off? What keeps you from running away to Costa Rica and defaulting on your student debt to be a surf bum?

Leland Stillman is a third year medical student and a senior editor at Firecracker

Topics: USMLE, Tales from the front line, Medical Education

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