These last three weeks have been a whole lot, to put it lightly. I’ve been working as a doctor for roughly 21 days now. I’m a house officer; that’s the term doctors are called when they’re in their intern year. It’s been quite an eye-opener. I mean, who knew I would be able to function on two hours of sleep? I would have sworn to you previously that such was impossible, but I’ve had to make very tasty lemonade from the lemons life has thrown at me.
It was Day 3 of housejob. I was asked if I could take a blood sample from a patient for a test. “Sure, I can do it” was my response. I mean, I guessed I could, I’d seen it done multiple times and did a couple as a medical student. So I got all the necessary equipment, put on the tray, and walked towards the patient whose blood I was to withdraw into a syringe. I got there, and as I started setting up, and the uncertainty began to set in. Somewhere between being asked to take that sample and the moment the needle pierced smoothly through the patient’s skin, I had lost almost all confidence in myself. The worse part? It showed in my demeanor, and my patient could sense it. He began to develop an unfriendly growl, and I became even more unsure of what I was doing. Two failed attempts later, I called in another house officer to take the sample. Guess who had to site a line for another patient that same day and failed? Yep, you guessed right.
At a quarter to 11am, I couldn’t take it anymore. I took a detour to one of the restrooms, locked the door, and cried silently for a little bit. Yes, my inability to site a line or take a sample was a part-explanation of those tears, but that wasn’t all of it. Behind all that were feelings of inadequacy; of not being enough for what this new and first job needed, of not assimilating all this new information on the hospital’s modus operandi at the pace I was expected to, of failing.
In a new phase of life and an entirely new environment, these feelings are normal. It makes sense that I felt the way I felt, because I’m a human beings who feels things. It, however, becomes pathogic when those fears are able to conquer and cower you. Yes, feel afraid, but don’t let fear win.
I have had to think beyond my fear, and in doing so I realised a couple of things. For starters, the point I’m at in my career? At some point I prayed to be here. The momentary doubt was trying to cloud that fact,but thankfully the Holy Spirit reminded me.
Second, confidence is also built on experience. Experience. Experience was why the house officer I called in took the sample on the first try. She has performed that procedure way more times than I did, and has become more confident in her ability to put that skill to use, so she is more skilled in doing it. To think I would be great at everything in less than 72 hours would be putting the most unrealistic expectation on myself. I can either beat myself up for not getting it right, or focus on learning from those more skilled than myself in order to build my proficiency. The choice is mine to make.
I’m still adjusting to this phase, so failing at tasks is almost inevitable. The beauty in failing is that we know one way not to do a thing, and in that, we learn. I prefer now to see failing as part of my learning process. Maybe I didn’t get a patient’s documentation totally right, or forgot the presciption for a drug, but that doesn’t mean I won’t get it right forever. I am surrounded by more experienced doctors who I can run things by before making any medical decisions (because patient safety is paramount) which makes learning easier. I do what they always tell you to do during housejob: if you don’t know, ask. Being the butt of a joke is better than making an awful medical decision.
You know what I did after my tear release in the restroom? I got right out and continued my day. I didn’t magically get perfect at doing everything, obviously. I still had a couple of hitches, but as the days went by, I had a couple less. I cannot even describe the relief and self-pride I felt when was able to site a line and take a blood sample on first try during my last call (‘call’ implies a night or weekend duty, not phonecall, in case you were wondering) and do it with an increased level of confidence. It always makes me feel better when it happens, I want to cause as little discomfort and pain to my patients as is possible. I’m easing more into the system, I can tell you that.
My God has taken me this far. He will take me through, no doubt about that.
Plus, mama didn’t raise no quitter.