Louisville Medicine Volume 66, Issue 2 | Page 16

SPEAR ESSAY CONTEST PRACTICING & LIFE MEMBER CATEGORY Winner BACK SCRATCHES, CORNBREAD, AND UNSPENT LOVE: Sacrifices I Made to Become a Good Doctor Suzanne McGee, MD “I just love her. She’s a wildcat!” mused a nurse who was caring for one of my more rambunc- tious patients. This adorable firecracker of a lady, whom I shall call “Eloise,” was admitted to my inpa- tient medicine service for a host of medical complications related to being 90-years-old. Despite our best efforts to prevent it, Eloise became delirious during her admission and was practically bounc- ing off the walls at times due to her hyperactive delirium. She kept pulling off her oxygen cannula and turning blueberry blue, nimbly kept trying to wiggle out of bed, and her heart raced when she’d get agitated—none of which was ideal for an elderly lady with decom- pensated heart failure and chronic lung disease. On the second day of Eloise’s admission, hardly anything she said made sense other than one very specific request. Just before Eloise made this entreaty, it was as if someone pressed the pause button on Eloise’s delirium (wouldn’t it be amazing if such a thing existed!) and suddenly made her intentions clear: “I want you to scratch my back!” I’d never had a patient request a back scratch, but it didn’t seem unreasonable, so in hopes of calming her, I scratched her back. Eloise visibly relaxed and the medical students/residents in the room grinned as this fierce elderly lady reveled in her back scratch, transforming from a “wildcat” to a calmer feline species. I’m not sure this back scratch had long-term benefits, but for those couple minutes, I think I relieved Eloise of the incredible stress she was experiencing in her delirious state. There were many times in my pre-medical studies, medical school, residency, and early attending career in which I felt like poor discombobulated Eloise. Medical school and residency were not easy for me, as I’ve always been someone who had to work very hard to do well. When I think about all I have sacrificed to become a physician, I range from feeling amused to embarrassed to really sad and regretful. Before I changed trajectory in college from being a nursing major to pursuing pre-medical studies, I carefully con- sidered the many sacrifices I knew would be necessary in order to 14 LOUISVILLE MEDICINE realize my dream of becoming a physician. Ultimately, I concluded that I could not imagine myself working in any other profession, and the personal and financial sacrifices I’d need to make would just be part of the deal. I can detail some of the sacrifices that I think are most relatable. On a superficial level, I look back at old photos of myself in col- lege and marvel at how skinny and fit I was before medical training promoted a bit of extra cushioning on my habitus. It’s no wonder, because my body pretty much always felt like a cortisol-secreting tumor in medical school and early residency. I developed some pretty unhealthy habits and coping mechanisms, particularly in the department of diet, exercise, stress management and sleep. When I was anxious about an upcoming exam in medical school, I morphed into an unflattering combination of Oscar the Grouch and Cookie Monster. I munched away at stupid amounts of junk food to relieve my stress and then guzzled absurd amounts of coffee to stay awake, alert and oriented times three. Once residency started, I would go long periods of time without much sleep or food, and when I did eat, I ate heartily and often unhealthfully. Before I did my internal medicine residency, I did an OB/GYN internship, which was an important piece of my journey to becoming the doctor I am today. There were many memorable things about that year in OB/GYN residency, including the especially tasty food in the doctors’ lounge. Specifically, I had an on-again, off-again relationship with the scrumptious cornbread (it possessed the perfect mix of sweet, buttery, and salty flavors) which left an enduring impression on, naturally, my thighs! Truly, my set of thunder thighs was a constant reminder of the unhealthy habits I had acquired in school and internship. Once I started my internal medicine residency, I realized that when I’m the sleep-deprived, stressed out, fueled only on coffee and chocolate version of myself, there’s no way I can function at my fullest potential. I realized I could not continue to abuse my health, while simultaneously counseling my patients on healthy lifestyle choices. I decided it wasn’t worth sacrificing my health for my job, and so I’ve made many positive lifestyle efforts to be in my best form for all my patients, no matter how challenging their cases may be.