Year in review - Courtney Tiller (Phase 2)
I write this as the year comes to a close, concluding with it my first six months of phase two. They’ve been big months, with lots of radically new experiences and environments. The learning curve was a summation of contending not only with course content, but also etiquettes, the rhythms of the hospital, and communicating with your team. When the professors, those personalities that oversee phase two, say that this phase is about time management, it’s because we have very little. But there are plenty of enjoyable and memorable moments gained in this clinical year and I hope to mention some of them.
There are moments of hilarity, such as when a certain diminutive but daunting professor looked nothing so much like as a leprechaun. Clad in fluorescent green knee-high socks and matching polo shirt, this figure sauntered down the corridor just as assured as ever. While I was just as intimidated as eve. Or the moment when you prove that medical students are interchangeable, by successfully impersonating your counterpart based only on gender and colouring (I concede that theatre attire may have contributed).
There are the absurd moments, full of obscurities, such as the etymology of any anatomical structure, or the historical figure behind the eponym (in orthopaedic surgery, odds are a 19th century Scotsman). Worse yet, the protracted quizzing about classic Aussie rock by those that lived through them as fresh hits, as you’re held captive retracting a patella (a sesamoid bone; sesamoid, named for the Latin sesame seed). The pantomime didn’t really help.
The inarticulate and incomprehensible moments: certainly don’t think that because you know a subject from top to bottom that you’re able to recite it in front of your taciturn specialist, much less answer questions. There have been many frustrating, confidence-rattling moments in hospital. Of course the supraclavicular nerve overlies the clavicle!
The macabre moments, such as a late evening surgery with an incision small enough that blood travels in tiny rivulets, taking many sinuous paths from clavicle to epicondyle, forming one tributary before dripping to the floor. With an incision small enough for coagulation to do its work, each droplet accumulating and accreting to form a stalactite of blood. A ragged gelatinous stalactite, that tracks in a trembling oscillation with each tremor transmitted from the surgeon’s work. Or another surgery, midmorning, when with the privilege of scrubbing-in you can watch as fat globules float in a blood-filled cavity, spiralling in eddies made by the bone-drill that has liberated them from the marrow, like smug adipocytes holidaying, tubing down a red river.
And there’s the moments of exhilarated satisfaction, when things that previously existed as only academic esoterica becomes actualized in real patients: a heliotrope rash, herpes zoster rash (T10), Bell’s palsy, subcutaneous emphysema and face-presentations in labour (those were lips, and not, as first suspected, a really fucked up skull).
Before I conclude, I want to give a final ode to friendships in phase two. One of the best things about The Wollongong Hospital is that it’s Wollongong hospital for a cohort of students from Wollongong. This means it’s a hospital populated by friends. Rarely you’ll go through a day without enjoying a chat or chance of commiseration with one of your colleagues, and even less likely to go without the chance to give greeting to many more. Nods, smiles and waves have been exchanged during ward rounds, as you observe the interplay between the mob formed by a consultant, registrar, intern, and two other students more senior than you; they’ve been exchanged while cannulating, about to tell the perennial fib, “just a scratch”; and they’ve been traded through the windowed portal between an aesthetic bay and the theatre where you’re sat low on a stool between the twin bluffs of a woman’s draped and stirruped legs. These encounters on a good day at hospital make you glad to be among friends; on a bad day it gives a sense of fellow-feeling and belonging that makes it alright when you feel overwhelmed by enormity of all there is to learn.
Phase two sees us from students to apprentices. It is a time that’s as fulfilling as it is tiring, but the move to the hospital for the beginning of our clinical year makes the goal of coming a doctor more tangible. I’m glad to be here.