It didn’t succeed.
There are breakthroughs in medical care and there are promising programs that do not work as hoped. I will share a genuine example of the latter. It takes the form of a mea culpa which I share after being urged on by a colleague who heard the story years ago and has been regularly reminding me about it and wondering why I have not yet shared it in the weekly. I am doing it now; perhaps when you finish this, you will see why I have waited.
Internship, as experienced 60 years ago, was a rite of passage, a boot camp that relegated a person who had reached a pinnacle in one arena to the bottom of another. Graduating from medical school with an MD after your name and people calling you doctor is a heady experience. The internship beginning a few weeks later is an opportunity to start over at the bottom. An intern’s role then was to be on time, follow instructions the first time they were spoken, and do the job right the next time while acting on your own—see one, do one, teach one.
We were the first in line to do anything that our level of prior training and newly acquired skills allowed. Our job was to be as close to competent as possible at whatever we were asked to do. This meant switching from specialty to specialty and even, at times, acting like a family doctor. I was assuming the role of the latter when I met my Waterloo.
It was about six months into my year of internship, and I was feeling my oats. I had survived the biggest pitfalls while taking advantage of opportunities that would offer valuable experience. Trying to be a better doctor and put some meaning behind that title was what we interns were striving for.
One day, in the emergency room, a young mother brought four children for their DPT shots (diphtheria, pertussis or whooping cough, and tetanus). They would each require an injection. The children looked about the same age. They were not quadruplets, but they were certainly not far apart and probably the age span was somewhere between 4 and 8 years at the most. The mother was attentive, and the children were well-behaved.
I had an idea. I ushered the mother and the four children into an examining room and placed each child sideways on the table with their head and arms on one side and feet on the other. Their bottoms were lined up at mid table. When they were all positioned, and four syringes filled with the vaccine on a tray at my side, starting at one end, I gently pulled their britches down exposing four bare bottoms. Next, with an alcohol swab, I wiped the injection site of each. This produced only a slight murmur. So far so good.
After this preparation, I started from the left and made the first injection. Immediately the child emitted a loud shriek as he slid headfirst off the table and fled with his trousers around his ankles. He was followed by three equally loud siblings waddling like hobbled horses as fast as they could while pulling up their pants. The hallway, and soon the adjacent waiting area, was in an uproar while the mother and I corralled the children, pulled up their pants, and returned them to the “scene of the crime”—my crime.
Over the next half hour, the mother calmed the children and I administered a vaccination to each, alone, in a separate room. I do not remember much else about this incident except I learned a lesson: treat patients one at a time. And I expect this mother felt a combination of pity for a hapless intern while amazed that a person could finish medical school and still do such a dumb thing.
By Savvy Senior
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