I slipped my arms into my new, short white coat, looked at myself in the hospital bathroom mirror, and felt absolutely ridiculous. That coat implied that I knew something, that I was supposed to be there, that I could be trusted with the great responsibility of being a physician. Didn’t that white coat know I was just me? That I just graduated college a few months ago and still get lost in the winding halls of the medical school? Apparently not. It was thrusting upon me all of its starchy white weight.
I stepped out of the bathroom, feigning ten times more confidence than I actually felt, and asked the charge nurse if there was a talkative patient that I could interview for my social history project. She replied that I might want to talk to Ms. B. Ms. B, great, let’s do this. I mentally rehearsed my script in my head, like I do every time I’m about to make a phone call: “Hello, I’m a first year med student. I’m doing this project, mind if I ask you some questions….” I walked into Ms. B’s room and stood against the wall while her surgeon, resident, and a third-year med student changed the dressing on her incision. I felt like my short white coat was proclaiming my naiveté among these seasoned healthcare professionals.
When the people who knew what they were doing left the room, it was just me and Ms. B. She was talkative and very friendly and immediately put me at ease. I heard all about her husband, her children, her grandchildren, her work, her friends, and her sisters. She asked me how school was going and if I had a boyfriend. She asked me where I went to church. As the conversation meandered along, Ms. B told me how she moved in with her mother to care for her before she died. She told me that her favorite memory of her mother was watching her drink her morning cup of coffee at the dining room table, one hand holding a newspaper and one hand petting her cat. Ms. B’s eyes welled with tears and her voice trailed off. I reached out my hand and took hers in mine. We sat in melancholy silence for a moment. I asked Ms. B if she would like for me to pray with her. She smiled and nodded. Right there, amid the rumpled hospital sheets, my starchy, short white coat, and the droning television in the background, we prayed together.
When it was time for me to leave, I asked Ms. B if she had any advice for me. She looked me in the eyes and said “Talk to every one of your patients like you talked to me today. Never lose your sweet spirit.” She gave me a hug and held me tightly then told me that my coming to see her meant the world to her and that she would never forget me. She told me I could visit her any time I was free, day or night.
If this is what being a doctor is all about, then maybe I’m not so out of my league as I thought. The white coat still feels awkward hanging from my shoulders, but caring for people and loving them? That fits me just right.
Oh, and I had red beans and rice for supper tonight. Med students gotta eat.
Red Beans and Rice
1 lb Camellia Brand Red (Kidney) Beans
1/2 lb ham or seasoning meat
8-10 cups water
1 onion, chopped
1 toe garlic, chopped
2 Tbs celery, chopped (add this if you’re not a poor med student and actually have celery hanging around in your fridge)
2 Tbs parsley, chopped (see above)
1 large bay leaf (see above)
Salt to taste
Rinse and sort beans. Cover beans with water and start to cook over low fire. Render meat in skillet, remove and set aside. In skillet, sauté onion, garlic, parsley and celery in meat drippings. Add meat, bay leaf, salt and pepper to beans. Boil gently, stirring occasionally for about 1-1/2 hours, or until tender. Add water while cooking if necessary. Serve with long grain rice.
The above method is the ideal way, but I just threw all of my ingredients into the crock-pot before I left for class this morning (turned it on low) and it still tasted great. Do whatever works for you. That’s one of my mottos.