Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Bear Claws and Veterans Who Never Die

Every morning we awaited ravenously for the bear claws.  The director of The VA would saunter by the residents room and refresh the cardboard box with various pastries, Danishes, and bear claws.  Like zombies, our sleep deprived bodies would communally aggregate in the corner and devour our prey.  Stacks and stacks of sugary pastries.

The VA was located conveniently in the middle of a food desert.  The neighborhood was so crime ridden that no delivery person would agree to drive up.  There was no cafeteria.  So we ate bear claws.  Sometimes, during a thirty six hour shift, for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  Or a late night snack.  The only abundance greater than sugar, of course, was fear

As second year residents, we ran the show.  Supervising a few interns and medical students, we covered the entire hospital.  Hundreds of sick veterans with every imaginable disease.  More often five or six of them at once.  We had no backup.  No support.  The patients got sick and coded.  They suffered almost every complication.  But they never died.  Veterans never died.  They just got more sick.

It was one month out of a three year residency.  The month that made me into a doctor. Upon it's completion, I had learned to stick a needle into most any human crevice.  I pounded on chest after chest during endless nights of CPR.  I brought blood pressures up and took them down.  I admitted twenty new patients over night, covered the ICU, and still somehow had time to show up the next morning and get in line for the only breakfast that was going to present itself to me.

I still wake up in a cold sweat reliving those days.  It's my most dreaded stress dream next to being late for college finals.  A months experiences compressed and splayed out over a lifetime.

I will never be the same.

Since that rotation, there is nothing medicine has been able to hurl in my direction that I can't handle.

And the sight of bear claws makes me ill.        

1 comment:

EB said...

Vivid and powerful.

The flip side, a great training ground .

Thank you for posting.