Being a resident makes you cranky. There are the 14 hour days that begin before sunrise. There is the constant reminder that you are on the bottom of the hospital totem pole. There are the attending physicians that only acknowledge your existence when you screw up – but never make the effort to ask your name. There is the incessant feeling that no matter what, you just don’t know enough… that self-deprecation that comes along with having to say “I don’t know” another time. There is the anxiety that comes with trying to manage a floor full of patients and the incredibly long to-do list that comes with it. And inevitably forgetting something important off the list. Intern year is just a humbling and ego-swallowing experience.
Being a resident also makes you thankful. In the past three weeks, I have met a 35 year old female with cervical cancer so widespread, she had to have her uterus, ovaries, vagina, bladder, and rectum removed. I’ve cared for a 55 year old woman with ovarian cancer who went to the operating room only to have the surgeons discover that her disease was so extensive, they could do nothing but close her back up. I’ve cared for a 19 year old who was told in her home country that her ovarian mass was benign – only to present to us with a 20cm malignant germ cell tumor that was eating away her abdominal wall. I wiped the tears off the face of a 56 year old woman with end stage liver disease, chronic lung disease, and degenerative joint disease – who stayed with us for 15 days without a single visitor, get well card, or flower.
All of these women had problems much bigger than my own. Yet, each of these women, in their own ways, had hope. I watched them take joy in simple victories. Being able to eat and hold down solid food. Visits from loved ones. Freshly washed hair. Being able to get out of bed and walk to the hall. What I didn’t see, not once, was bitterness. Sure, there were sad moments, anxious moments. But there was never that “why me?” attitude I expected to find on the Oncology service. Instead I found women who face their realities with such grace, it leaves me humbled. It fills me with a resolve to quit my complaining and be thankful for the many, many blessings I have in my life.