Today was the last day of residency. It was dark and rainy when I woke up, to match my mood I suppose. I wasn’t sure how I was supposed to feel. I had been waiting for this day for the last three years – no scratch that – my whole life. I spent the morning in a daze, running from clinic to medical records to the library to check off that I had no unfinished business left. It felt less like unfinished business and more like an erasure of my presence at this hospital. But it wasn’t until after I handed in my badge to my coordinator that something broke inside me. She perused the form and then put her hand out. I gave her the battered badge with the attached ‘Resident Physician’ card and suddenly felt naked. It felt like something momentous should have happened but no, time didn’t slow to a millisecond and I didn’t suddenly have an epiphany. It wasn’t until after many hugs and best wishes and me walking away, did anything change. I reached inside my pocket reflexively only to grasp air – how could I have forgotten? I had just given the badge away. But I kept my hand inside my pocket as I walked out of the hospital for the last time, remembering the hard edges of a wallet-sized piece of plastic that gave me a sense of purpose, the fading print of a card that gave me a sense of identity. The piece of plastic that my life had revolved around was gone. That part of my life was done, and a new chapter was going to begin.
It’s funny how we change as we grow. Fears that you had as a child suddenly evolve into the activities you enjoy the most. Or the qualities you thought were your most likeable growing up become the traits you teach your children not to emulate. In my case, I was the poster child for succeeding in school without lifting a finger. Until college. Grades always came easy to me but when it came time to grow up and start to critically think, things became a lot tougher and I found knowledge didn’t just come to me by osmosis anymore. Applying to medical school had always been competitive and it was even more so in a culture where nothing less than the best was expected. The first time was definitely NOT the charm so I took a year off and earned a Masters. The second go-around wasn’t any better (it’s simple logic: when there are less spots and 100x more people, there is going to be a LOT of disappointment.)
So I decided to bite the bullet and not waste any more time and go to medical school in the dreaded Caribbean. Why dreaded? Not so much these days but when I was in the thick of things, going to a Caribbean medical school was still considered taboo. With hands over their mouths, in whispered tones, every middle-aged gossip with nothing better to do claimed I would either come back with a husband or waste my parents’ money and never become a doctor, or their name wasn’t Pammi Aunty! I decided Pammi Aunty and her cronies were going to eat crow.
With the unwavering support of my family, I worked my tush off. I saw the walls of the library more than I did the beach. I would hear other students discuss weekend plans and believe me, there were so many times I just wanted to get up and follow them out to those sparkling blue waters. But I wanted off that island. I wanted my residency. I wanted to become a doctor. So I worked probably harder than I had thought was possible and before I knew it, found myself awaiting Match results. I had only had 7 interviews and while everyone always said 5-7 interviews should be enough, I knew the truth. Intelligence and dedication meant nothing when it came to where your medical degree was from. Add that worry to the lack of confidence after years of pushing against the grain and I was – there’s really no other word for it – a wreck. I was such a wreck that when the email came saying I had matched, I refreshed it to make sure I wasn’t seeing things. And then I refreshed it again. And again. I refreshed that email every day until I got the next email showing where I matched. And I kept refreshing that email. Because I couldn’t possibly believe that someone decided to take a chance on me. Someone decided I was the right fit for their program, I was who they wanted. Yes, when you graduate medical school, you are technically a physician. But it doesn’t really mean anything unless you are accepted into a residency program because you won’t be able to practice until you’ve completed your training. So the very fact that someone said ‘I want Priyanka to be a part of this residency training program’ meant I got to be a part of that exclusive world I had been waiting to join all my life. It meant that my dreams were coming true.
Home is where the heart is and for the last three years, my home, heart and my dreams have been here at St. V’s. I have so many memories from my time here – mostly good, a few bad – but then it wouldn’t really be residency without a few snafus, right?
I remember having lunch with my co-interns at the Dirty Bird, a local pub downtown. We all had sparkles in our eyes and went around the table, rattling off all the plans we had once we finished residency. Things have changed since then for everyone, for some people small changes and for others, life-altering events. But I like to think that while we’re not where we thought we would be three years ago, we are all where we’re supposed to be.
I remember our welcome picnic and how scared we were to mingle with our seniors, watching them from our periphery and wondering and wishing when we would be like them, nary a care in the world.
I remember my first week on floors, putting in at two dollars in quarters into the vending machine in 4D, the resident lounge, and having it all come back to me but no pop, until a student much smarter than myself told me no money was needed.
I remember learning how to interact with opposing personalities and why that conflict resolution training you’re made to go through in orientation is actually important.
I remember the patience of the nurses and ancillary staff as they seamlessly adjusted to us while we, as newly minted interns, felt everyone should adjust to us. We would not have survived if it weren’t for them and their support has always been appreciated.
I remember my first month of night float where I was terrified to give an extra Percocet to a patient because I would cause respiratory depression and then the patient would code and then well, that would just be a huge mess, now wouldn’t it?
I remember thinking I would have time to study on night float.
I remember feeling panicked overnight with all the pages and after having received admonishment from the senior, I broke down and cried for the first and last time ever in residency. Any questions I had later that night I ended up asking a senior ED resident because I was too afraid to ask my own senior. From that night on, I resolved, no matter how tired I was or how obvious the question was, I would never make another intern – or any person for that matter – ever feel the way I did.
I remember the faculty and attendings we worked with. I have yet to meet a more dedicated and supportive group of people. From supervising procedures to team dinners to offering to write letters of recommendation, I have been fortunate to fill my world with simply put – good people.
I remember spending time with my ‘intern girls’ and getting to know my colleagues, reminding ourselves that residency did not define us. It was difficult with Epic and Perfect Serve but we made it work.
I remember being selected by National ACP for a poster presentation and seeing firsthand what a national conference was really like. Pro tip: go to the lectures AND have fun – there’s a reason why there’s built-in free time.
I remember going to clinic once a week and realizing I wasn’t just a physician to my patients. I was a resource. I was a helping hand, a soft shoulder, an open mind. When my own life became busy and the dredge of burnout would start, it helped to hear my patients say they didn’t want to see anyone else at the clinic, they only wanted to see me. Never in a million years would I have thought of my patients as a helping hand for me.
I remember being utterly confused at clinic and having to be saved multiple times by the staff. It was their world and we just lived in it. (Thank God for them!)
I remember graduating from an intern to a resident and walking across the stage to get my diploma, expecting to feel different now that I had the coveted title of ‘senior’ but noticing any change.
I remember my first call as a senior where I had two interns asking the very questions I had asked someone else not even a few days ago. Things suddenly felt VERY different.
I remember my time in the ICU and knowing, somewhere deep in my soul, this was what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.
I remember my first code in the ICU. The 35 minutes spent trying to resuscitate the patient that felt like only 5. The phone call to family and then having to face them in person. Holding it together because there were still 15 other patients that needed me to make sure they got better. And crying that morning when I was laying in bed, reliving over and over again what I could have done to bring them back.
I remember the families in the ICU. The daughters who would wait everyday for me to update them about their mother and the meat and cheese platter they brought us in thanks for her recovery. Broken screams of the little sister whose brother was being taken off life support, asking ‘Mommy why won’t he come back?’. The mother whose son had overdosed on heroin for the fourth time asking me what to do. The son who, despite everyone’s recommendations, remained hopeful and watched, along with the rest of us, his father open his eyes for the first time and say he was hungry.
I remember participating in an elective rotation at an outside hospital. While I was given the chance to expand my knowledge at a large academic center, when I returned home, I realized where my happiness lay.
I remember ushering in a new class of interns and as I looked at their uncertain faces, thinking I was just there.
I remember the exact moment I found out I had been pre-matched into a pulmonary/critical care fellowship. In the cafeteria on Halloween, counting down the days until the fellowship match resulted. When my program director said to me on the phone, ‘You might want to sit down’, his voice began to fade away and blood rushed to my ears as I was convinced that this was it – the road ended here. And when he said ‘We would love to have you join our program’, I let out the breath I didn’t even realize I was holding.
I remember, just one week ago, again walking across that stage. But this time, as a physician.
Home is where the heart is. And I have been home for the last three years. I have given a piece of my heart to this hospital and its people and in return, I have been given so much more. I didn’t just learn how to become a physician at St. V’s; I grew as a person.
I learned compassion.
I witnessed selflessness.
I became confident.
The journey doesn’t end for any of us here.
It has only begun.