The sweat coalesced on my forehead. I leaned forward to push the weight of my body to propel the wheelchair forward. I was terrified. Behind me followed the baffled parents with their arms full of coats and scarves. The young boy shrunk into the chair and balanced his arm on the rest, trying not to disrupt the IV tubing that had been so painfully inserted.
I was lost.
A week into my rotation as a volunteer in the pediatric emergency department, and I was practically a child myself. I spent the first few days running lab specimens and sitting with the desk clerk, filing forms. But now a little one was being admitted. And I, fumbling between the IV pole and wheelchair, was asked to transport the precious cargo to the medical floor.
I hadn’t yet ventured into the hospital. Now, not only was I horrified to be responsible for a living, breathing child, but I also had no idea how to wend my way through the confusing maze of elevators and corridors to the appropriate dropping-off location.
It was the beginning of a lifetime. I could feel the breeze from the scrubbed technicians as they raced by and whisked away down the hall. I took in the sights and sounds: the faded linoleum, the antiseptic breath of alcohol, and the murky lighting hiding the sacred altar of patient care. People lived and died here. It was a place of mercy and despair, faith and disappointment; a place for bodies to heal.
I’m not sure if I can track the evolution from fear of the volunteer becoming the anticipation of the student to the wonder of the resident. Things happened to me in hospitals. Whether the dreary VA or the high-tech, multilighted academic Mecca, I grew and changed.
A nonreligious man, I prayed there. I cried there. I questioned everything I knew about myself and came out on the other side different. Alive, scarred, and half the empathy pulled out of my bosom, but I stomped on.
Yet I was competent and able. I had a new understanding of life. For better or worse, I had become a doctor.
I can’t explain the affinity I have for hospitals. Like an old friend, I always feel something when walking through the electronic glass doors. Even the first time I enter a facility, I’m home.
The idea of practicing internal medicine and not seeing my own patients in the hospital is like agreeing to sever my own limb. It’s not compatible with my view of the profession.
So why does it feel like the winds of change are blowing us out of the hospital?
If you don’t like it, just use the hospitalists!
It’s like being evicted from my childhood home.