Don’t Touch Anything

To say that I was not ready to move on to my third year may have been an understatement, but my first two years were up. I relinquished my seat in the next-to-the-back row of a dark auditorium where I’d watched innumerable PowerPoint presentations, listened to lectures for days, and taken notes, then returned to my room and memorized all of it. I spent hours looking through the microscope, trying to differentiate the characteristics of the purple cells invading tissues, and at organ recitals examining damaged livers and spleens and hearts. I dissected a whole body, graciously donated to the school, to see and touch and marvel at the precision of our construction.

However, somewhere along the way my idealistic heart began to harden. Was it the sheer volume of information? Or was it the very human failing of falling in love and suffering the sadness that comes with its end?

I packed cardboard boxes with books and notebooks and my new stethoscope and clothes and memories, and three days later was in Boston for my last two years of medical school.

The first morning, before dawn, I found myself standing by a trough of sinks outside the operating room of a city hospital where I knew no one. The comfort and camaraderie of my friends and colleagues were gone. I looked with apprehension at this journey. General surgery was the first assignment of my third year. A nurse showed me how to scrub to my elbows with a stiff brush, water, and soap. I scrubbed each fingernail and even between my fingers. I continued this ritual for five minutes; this was easily the cleanest my hands and arms had ever been. She handed me a sterile towel to dry off and told me not to touch anything. Backing through swinging doors, I emerged under the bright overhead lights of the operating room. The hushed murmurs accentuated my anxiety. I felt like I might throw up and couldn’t wait for things to get rolling, to distract me from myself.

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