poured out before bed
If my intern is Santa, then I have been a goodly mix of Blitzen and Rudolph, starting off as a tag-a-long no-name doe (I mean, really – who’s favorite reindeer is Blitzen? Is Blitzen ever the first reindeer named as people run through those excellent eight?) and slowly gaining confidence, learning the ropes at this particular hospital to that point where I feel bright, useful to the team in carrying our patient load. And Dr. Santa has been an efficient, but gentle driver, teaching and encouraging, the crack of her whip muted by the tinkling of rousing sleigh bells and good-natured laughter. In fact, because of my jolly intern and the equally mirthful senior resident and house staff, my Pediatrics inpatient month has been blessed. Not quite ‘Christmas’ – although it has involved both naughty and nice children with long wish lists and lots of work and deadlines – but downright enjoyable.
And Santa and Blitzen-Rudolph work well together. They know their rolls. They pick up the slack for each other. They trust each other. They enjoy each other’s company. Neither has any reason to doubt the respect or professional affections of the other.
But then comes evaluation day.
A hospitalist herds together the students; a pediatric oncologist ushers out the residents. Each group meets to formally evaluate the other.
As I give Dr. Santa a brilliant eval and listen to other students talk about their interactions with assigned interns, I begin to wonder what Dr. Santa is saying of me. Could I have done more to help her this month? What could I have done better? Certainly I have asked her these same questions throughout our time together, and she gave frequent feedback, always seemed pleased with my performance…but what if I misinterpreted our interactions?
Suddenly, I have angst.
What if she was too nice to say what she truly thought of me all those times I solicited honest feedback? What if she gave me subtle negative feedback I never perceived or acted upon? What if she was being sarcastically fake when she verbalized approval of my notes, my presentations, my patient exams and interactions? What if the smiles she freely gave were pity smiles? Or worse yet, exasperated smiles?
I suffer a mild tachycardia, perhaps some palmar hyperhidrosis as I think of little things I’ve forgotten this month. I forgot to order little Jonny’s eye drops last week. I forgot to ask if Emma had been exposed tobacco. I gave the fax number for a different floor to an outside hospital PMD and we waited nearly an hour for the requested medical records before thinking to check downstairs. Oh my gosh. Maybe I’m more Blitzy than Rudy for Dr. Santa…
Lost in my whirling thoughts I am oblivious to the eval sessions end. The other junior student on my team taps my arm to bring me around, and together we head back to the team room
“You think we did OK?” she asks as we walk. “Our team was so nice I feel like I could have really sucked and they would have told me I was awesome!”
I nod enthusiastically and am about to agree when our respective interns burst from just around the corner, all smiles. On our team room arrival we immediately receive word of a rash of new admits and set to work. We work through lunch and into the evening.
As Dr. Santa and I ride the elevator down to the main level, our patients, old and new, tucked in for the night, Dr. Santa suddenly looks sheepish. There is an strange silence we’ve never experienced together before. I’m about to fill it when she blurts out, “Could I have done more to help you this month? I mean, to me, everything went really, really well. We worked together just great. But I’m worried you were too nice to let me know if there were any problems. What could I have done better?”
I’m shocked. But as it often does, shock gives way to laughter, and between breathless giggles I tell her how wonderful she has been, explain to her my similarly minded panic attack during evals. Her giggle is not quite a “ho-ho-ho,” but it is without a doubt enough to drive away my pesky angst.