As of this Sunday I will have officially finished my Intern year which also marks the end of my first year as a Doctor. To put it bluntly… it’s been a freaking crazy year! I really don’t know where to start or end. It’s really been a roller coaster of a year, stretching my emotions, beliefs, confidence, doubts, skills and imagination.
I’ve laughed with my fellow Interns; been stressed out to the brink of being burnt out; cried over patients; stayed back an extra 4 hours every night to do paper work without pay!; arrived to work an hour early to check on my patients; fight back the urge to yell at other health staff who think that they can take advantage of you because you’re an intern; consoled mourning families; celebrated with patients; slept at the hospital and the list goes on …
I don’t really know how to construct this post or posts, so I’m just going to type whatever goes to mind about my Internship experience: the good, the bad, the terrifying and the memorable.
1. The constant fight with “not being good enough”
When you ask any Intern on their first day what they fear most it’s usually along the lines of: “I’m scared of killing a patient,” and “I’m scared of not knowing enough.” To be honest this is the least of your worries, as an intern you are expected to not know everything anyway; you’re expected to ask and get confirmation. If in doubt, always ask! Really there’s no such thing as a stupid question if a patient’s health is on the line.
The true battle this year was within myself. The constant feeling of not being good enough and the feeling of not being a “good doctor” was and is a constant presence in my psyche. But I soon realised I wasn’t alone. I was surprised how Interns, Residents and Registrars I admired and thought were “Amazing Superhuman Doctors” also felt like this on a daily basis. Maybe it’s part of the personality that Medicine attracts — that strive for perfection. It’s a destructive feeling which can burn you out- believe me! I still struggle with it… but I guess the important thing is 1. You’re not alone. 2. Ask questions. 3. There’s no such thing as “perfect.” 4. As long as you care for your patients and try to do your best- you’re not a “bad” doctor!
2. Mr A
Mr A will be a patient I’ll always remember. Someone who really touched the heart of my team. He was a lovely man in his nineties who came in with sepsis (infection in the blood). We gave him the strongest antibiotics we had, however everyday his blood results kept telling us that the bug was still there. I visited him many times a day- checking on his heart, his lungs, how he was feeling…
He had a gentle demeanor and he became one of my favourite patients. I guess looking back it was an obvious end but I guess I was secretly hoping for the opposite. When he said “I think I’m a little better today” or when his blood tests improved by a few digits (even though I know there’s a margin for error), I honestly felt he was getting better too but there was a sense of doubt and I used to dread it when he asked me “Doc, am I getting better?” I made many phone calls to the other specialist registrars daily seeking their help and all of them would see him within the day often with their consultant too. The final solution reached by all units had high risk but we never got to take it.
On my last weekend shift for that rotation I was paged to see him because his oxygen saturations were dropping and he was struggling to breath. I did everything I could and called the Medical Registrar for help. After 15 days, his kidneys couldn’t take it anymore and his other organs were giving way too. We moved him to a special ward which can provide him oxygen through a special machine and I called his family, “You should come in… I don’t know how long… you should come in…”
I’m glad I made those phone calls, because his family got to at least see him alert and talking that night. I remember the last words he said to me before I left that night , “Doc, am I going to make it?” as he struggled to breath. I remember trying to fight back tears as his family watched me… “You’re going to be okay… we’re going to look after you…” I choked as I held his hand.
He passed away the following morning. My fellow interns told me that my Registrar held his hand as he slipped away. Me and the other 2 interns walked in to see him and said our good-byes. We were all crying.
I think it was many things. He was a wonderful patient, person, man. I spent a lot of my time with him. I spent a lot of my energy trying everything to make him better and so did my colleagues. At least he didn’t have to suffer anymore and that didn’t go in pain, and that his family got to see him. Sometimes being a doctor is not about cure, but about caring and comfort… and this is one of the most important lessons I’ve learnt as an Intern.
Part 2 coming soon…