Sex, Drugs, and Public Health

August 19, 2012

Med School Culture Shock V

Filed under: Uncategorized — cbmosher @ 5:02 am

V. Bio – Chem

Sun, escaping the New York jungle of Central Park, shafted through the lab window and glinted off a Rube Goldberg cacophony of glass, test tubes, safety goggles, and Bunsen burners on my section of the bench. Valves protruded from the backsplash of the counter, all aimed at me like enemy machine guns. They were labeled:

“Gas; Water; Oxygen; Nitrogen; Unknown.”

From this, I despaired, I’m supposed to recreate the Krebs Cycle? Our livers had thirty thousand years to figure out how to do it and I get one week?

“How’s it going over there?” the small guy to my left asked, kind of friendly.

Some people are so quiet and innocuous, you don’t know they exist: wire rim glasses that made me unsure if he actually wore glasses, white shirt buttoned down, grey tie, tweed jacket beneath his lab coat. All pretty boring. Except his hair. Full, thick, and way past his ears, almost as far down as his sideburns.

“Oh, great,” I lilted. “Just fine. And you?”

“Yeah,” he smiled. “I’m lost, too.”

You know how back in High School you go for the obligatory photo for the yearbook and the photographer says, “Smile! No, I mean, Smile. Don’t grin. Don’t grimace. Try to smile.”
And we struggle as hard as we can to smile, but the photo still stinks? Then, some other people, they just do it, naturally even before they sit down so all the photographer has to say is, “That’s great.” And they’re done?
That’s how his smile was. So natural, it relaxed me just to look at it.

“I think we’re supposed to put this stuff in the Erlenmeyer flask, and retort it into there, aren’t we?”

He pointed at my Rube Goldberg and, I realized, he was right.

Huh? Why was he helping me?

“Ralph,” he introduced himself.

I introduced myself back and, naturally, comfortably, we became side-by-side lab partners in Biochemistry while everyone else sneered and cussed and faked their way through the afternoon, isolated from their neighbors by two distances: the physical one created from the limit of their elbow’s reach, and the emotional effect of saying, “Do your own experiment. I’m busy here.”

As I cook-booked my way thru each step in our chemical mimickery of the human body’s processes, the tune and words of “Love Potion Number Nine” came out of nowhere and cycled around my brain. I couldn’t dislodge it, so I commandeered it:

I got a big old fear of Physiology
The nasty old professor makes me shake and pee
I need something good to sneak into his wine
I’m gonna mix a flask of – – Love Potion Number Nine

When the lab was over, Ralph smiled, and dissolved back into the swirling background of Med School.

That night, in the cafeteria, I asked my roommate if he knew Ralph.

“Oh, the short kid with long hair,” he said as he straightened his tie in the glass of the cafeteria’s dispensing machine. “The one who wears tweed jackets?”

“Yeah. You got something against tweed jackets?”

“So… out of fashion.”

“So, what’s in? I asked, still struggling to become a New Yorker.

He turned to look at me, incredulous. “Polyester, of course.”

“Oh.” I made a mental note for my next shopping trip.

“But that Ralph,” he continued, “is weird. And not from here.”

“Not from here?” I sought clarification.

He dropped coins into the machine, “He’s from out west somewhere.”

“How far west?” I asked, self conscious that I, myself, had gone to school in Indiana.

“You know, somewhere,” he waved his hand as if chasing a fly, “the other side of the Hudson River. West.”

“Oh, yeah,” I mused, “out there with the Indians and cannibals, right?”

I expected either a guffaw or outrage at my sarcasm, but instead, he just took his coffee from the Horn and Hardart dispensing machine and said, “Yep. Out there.”

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