Sex, Drugs, and Public Health

July 18, 2012

Med School Culture Shock III

Filed under: Uncategorized — cbmosher @ 1:15 pm

III. The Lion’s Den

“Here we go,” John said, taking an audibly deep breath. “Physiology lab.”

The specter of failing, as had the eight from last year, now known throughout the school, unimaginatively, as ‘The Eight’, hovered over all of us like a plastic shroud that someone could drop on us at will.

Groups of four were assigned to tables with anesthetized dogs who’d been unlucky enough to be strays, and we were ordered – ‘instructed’ was the term the Physiology Prof used, but with his history so well known, ‘ordered’ was how we took it – to do a dozen things we’d never done before, just to start the experiments.

“Who’s gonna insert the catheter?” I asked my group, figuring if I asked first, someone else would volunteer.

“You,” barked a kid named Marshall, his face stubbly with three days’ growth, his hair curly and disorganized, his tie stained and askew. He made me think of that Frank Zappa guy.

“Why me? I’ve never done this.”

“I’m attaching electrodes to this transducer. You think I know what I’m doing? Look confident. The Prof’s watching.”

The room descended into murmurs and busy looking clueless elbows moving decisively within white coats. There were, I later learned, three people in the room who had done this before and the lucky tables where they worked actually got real results to record.

“This is awful!” suddenly rang out.

All eyes shot, not to the source of the outburst, but to the Physiology Prof. He stood, clipboard in hand, white-coated, at a table near us, and didn’t flinch. Didn’t even look up. Just continued his instruction, getting ever nearer to finishing with that table and then arriving at ours.

As the murmuring took over again, I looked over at the student who had erupted. It was easy to find her. She was the tallest one in the room, and blonde – an irrelevant detail that all the guys had noted since day one.

“This poor animal!” she followed up, disrupting the murmuring again.

“Now that,” whispered Murphy to the other three of us, “is why women don’t belong in Med School.”

Something moved in our peripheral vision and all four of us dropped our eyes and hands to our sleeping dog, entangled in its net of wire and catheters.

“What is the arterial pressure?” the Professor asked us.

“Uh-h-h,” was the way I started.

“Ninety millimeters,” Zappa shot back, in a voice implying his annoyance at the professor’s intrusion.

“Hurry up with the venous catheter,” the Professor ordered. “We have to begin the infusion.”

He was about to move to the next table when Murphy opened up. “Did you hear that girl, Professor?” he chuckled. “Pretty annoying, huh?”

“Happens every year,” the Prof droned. “Women are different, which you should know Mr. Murphy since you’re married.”

“How did you know that?” he reared back.

Shut up, Murph, I said to myself.

“Shut up, Murph,” Zappa shushed from the corner of his mouth.

“You think I don’t read your files?” the Prof raised his eyebrows. “All of them?” He fixed Murphy’s eyes. “Loyola College,” he turned to Zappa, “N.Y.U.,” he looked at me, “Notre Dame,” he finished with John, “Columbia. I expect good work from this table.”

Finally he swiveled to move on, and the three of us began to turn on Murphy. But the Prof stopped and turned his head back to us. “Oh, and Holly over there? She who annoyed you with her outburst?”

We all hung in the silent moment.


When the Prof was out of earshot, John beat Zappa to the punch.

“Nice work, Murphy. What were you trying to do? Kiss a little professorial butt?”

“Are we almost done?” Murphy slumped. “I need a drink.”

And I suddenly had a bad vision of the future for our red-headed, freckled faced, sad-eyed Irishman.

“So Marshall,” I asked, my pen poised over our lab notes. “What was the arterial pressure again?”

“I don’t know,” he snapped. “Make something up. Like I did.”

And a sense of dread, like some onrushing cloud of radiation, began to engulf me. If I don’t get drafted out of Med School, the Physiology Prof will flunk me out. My whole life will be fried to a useless crisp because here, I have no Fallout Shelter to run to.

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