The summer after your first year, you may find yourself with some time on your hands. Maybe even enough time to pick up a new hobby, join a city kickball team, find a new happy hour, or even go on a few dates (yes, it is possible while in med school). While making plans for the later, I was asked “You got plans Friday night?” and before I jumped on board to what any twenty-something would consider a typical night of dinner and drinks, I remembered that I had been scheduled to be working with the trauma department from 7 pm to 7 am. No dinner, no drinks, just trauma. I guess medical school doesn’t completely leave you during summer break.
This was my first weekend night shift at a major Level 1 trauma center, and so I couldn’t miss the opportunity. I steadfastly heeded all the advice: sleep the day before (I “slept” until 4 pm), bring snacks (3 cliff bars), don’t wear contacts, bring a book you can drop at a moment’s notice (House of God). But most importantly, expect everything and hope for nothing.
So the shift came and for some time the night was dead quiet. Hours passed and my mind would wander. Even with 15 hours of sleep before, I started to get tired. Hoping for something to distract me. My mind wandered. There’s no routine in trauma. By 12:02 am, the first page went off. I guess the saying is true: nothing good comes after midnight. My heart skipped a beat as the research team and I grabbed our white coats and raced down to the ER, joining the team of residents, nurses, social workers and the like waiting for the ambulance to stop in.
And for the next three hours, time simultaneously stopped and sped. Page after page, the goal was to bring patients into the resuscitation room, perform your role, and identify what the patient needed–surgery, ICU observation, a step-down bed–all within five minutes. The patients blurred in my mind; I could hardly keep their stories straight. Yet the professionals were able to jump between patients with full attention at a moment’s notice. It was incredible to see that in a room of what could be described as chaos, everyone gave their undivided attention to the patient.
After 2:30 am, patients trickled in sporadically, and my ability to stay focused dwindled. Every time I thought and hoped for a new trauma, the patients’ faces coursed through my head. Each trauma that I could learn from was a patient first, someone who experienced a terrible accident and required immediate action. It’s a conflict you find yourself negotiating in this field: the more experience I have means that more people are suffering.
3 am rolled around. I knew that training for night shifts was like training for a marathon: start small, build up your stamina, and wear comfortable shoes. The last few hours were slow–no patients–and I escaped the ER to watch the sunrise over the mountain and onto the hill where the hospital stands. I had made it, exhausted yet fulfilled, appreciative of everything I’ve learned from the patients who also didn’t have a typical Friday night.
In a few weeks, I head back to the classroom, and my hospital experience will be limited. In fact, I likely won’t have a similar experience until my 3rd year, when we rotate through the various specialties. So until then, I hold onto the patients’ stories and experiences as long as possible.