Friday was my last day of school. Ever. Preschool: 2 years. Kindergarten: 1 year. Primary school: 5 years. Middle school: 4 years. High school: 3 years. College: 4.5 years. Grad school: 4 years. Medical school: 4 years.
Friday I dressed in my nicest skirt, crispest white shirt, and did my hair properly using one of those “fake it cuz you don’t have it” mesh bun maker thingie. As I was getting ready, the familiar rumble of a brewing thunderstorm echoed through the house. I was grateful for the few drops getting into the car, a blessing from above. By the time I got out of the car, it was raining buckets and I got properly soaked by the time I reached the hospital. Frizzy hair is never a blessing. It wasn’t a particularly special day and it went like any other day: sign-out, notes, pre-rounding, morning report, rounds, noon conference, and discharge orders. Except it was my last day.
Last day as a medical student also means that my next day at work will be as an intern, as a real physician responsible for the care of patients with no one looking over my shoulder – well, not directly anyway. Spending the last month as an acting intern has been a timely rehearsal to what comes next. It has also reminded me of how much I love working – playing – with children. And how much love there is in pediatrics. In the end it’s all about the love. It’s the mother who comes to me and apologizes for bothering me (after realizing I’m not a nurse or a PCA) but wonders if by any chance we have grits for her son who rejected a transplanted kidney and had to go back on dialysis. It’s the frail cancer patient who gets out of her room every day and pushes her baby sibling in the stroller around the hospital and her mother who every day drags the IV pole behind them. Or the grandmother who knows she is unraveling by the hour because she has been sitting in a hospital room with her granddaughter for days waiting for a battery of tests to deliver the dreaded news that yes, it is cancer. It’s the child who gives you a “high ten” (high five with both hands) after days of fighting you every time you examine him. It’s also the nurse who swaddles a newborn baby at three in the morning because she knows her mother needs the rest. It’s the hospital auxiliaries who push the free book cart into every patient’s room or the UVA undergraduate student and Olympic medalist who comes for a visit and drops off NEGU bags full of goodies with every child. I watched him that afternoon, smiling, offering a hand, and tousling a child’s hair, fully absorbed in the moment. And it’s also me, taking time on a quiet night to read a bedtime story to a tot who had been on our service for a long time and whose parents had to be home with the other children. I propped him on my lap and we read about a baby bird that was searching for his mother. He helped turn every single page. That moment had nothing to do with medications and tests and differential diagnoses. It was purely about love.
There is a lot of love in my chosen profession. And that’s a very, very good thing.