Medical school is an emotional time; we have to deal with the stress of exam preparation and the elation of passing, the joy of seeing patients recover and the pain of watching a dying persons last moments. It can really help for us to reflect on what we can learn from our behaviour in difficult situations. But in amongst these important revelations that change us as a person, there are those ridiculous moments where you just think “What on earth happened there?” Here are my funniest, awkwardest and down-right most embarrassing moments from the last few years.
First impressions count. As every medical student knows, it's important to make a good impression on the senior doctor who you will work with and learn from for the next two months. You want to appear knowledgeable, calm, capable and composed. What your do not want to do is get stuck in a toilet, as happened to me on the first day of my GP rotation. I was feeling very pleased with myself at arriving 10 minutes early at the rural practice it had taken me an hour to get to, and decided to pop into the toilet to regain composure, only to find that I couldn't get out again. After five minutes of trying hundreds of combinations of tugging at the handle, twisting the lock and pulling and pushing the door, I had to call for help. It took three receptionists, a practice nurse and one of the doctors who I was to work with for the next few weeks to rescue my by literally breaking the door down. Thankfully, they all found it hilarious and one of the receptionists informed me of the staff toilet upstairs that I could use next time! Cringe factor: 4/5 (very stressful at the time, but looking back, very funny).
So, what's wrong with this baby then? As medics we break many of society's taboos: asking people about their sexual habits and alcohol consumption in excruciating detail, seeing people naked etc. One taboo I found particularly hard to watch being broken was on my paediatrics rotation when the doctors had to explain to parents there was something wrong with their precious baby. I mean, parents are hard-wired to think that their offspring is perfect, right? So, needless to say I felt a bit overwhelmed when in clinic the registrar turns to me as the patient and mother enter the room, “What's wrong with this baby then?” I walked up to the examination couch as my stomach tightened. As I undressed the healthy, adorable little boy, racking my brains for what could be wrong with him, he smiled up at the lady who was prodding and poking him and about to make his mum very angry if she didn't get this one right. Ok- face not dysmorphic, all fingers and toes present, heart sounds normal, abdomen soft, palmar creases normal... Everything seemed present and correct. I gave it a shot; “Are his ears a little low set?” Mother glared at me and began checking the little-one's perfectly normal ears. “No, his ears are perfectly fine, he has micrognathia, a small chin. Probably a good idea for you to read up on that” says the reg nonchalantly as he ushers the family out to get the next lot in. Cringe-factor: 3/5 (why didn't I just say I don't know?)
Please, make yourself at home. Third year, my first night shift on the Medical Admissions Unit. Things were going well until my fourth patient at 2am, a 55 year old man with acute neurological symptoms who wasn't thrilled to be woken up to repeat the history he'd told the paramedics and A and E hours before. After a general exam, cranial nerves and upper limb, I commenced the lower limb neurological exam. I whipped off the bed sheet to take a look at this legs, only to discover he did not have any trousers or underwear on. “Umm, would you like to put these on?” I said, grabbing his clothes from the bedside chair. “No” was the firm, surprising reply. This stumped me a bit. “Umm, I'll be back in a minute” I said, running off to find the friendly junior doctor. “My patient wont put any underwear on, what can I do?” She said with a smile that suggested this wasn't her first experience of a stubbornly naked patient “Your best”. So, I covered him up with a sheet and did my best. The walking part of the exam was embarrassing, but what can you do, you just have to stay professional, and the patient didn't mind at all. Cringe factor- 4/5 (At least I made him feel comfortable with my manner. Perhaps too comfortable... )
So those are my most embarrassing incidences at medical school. Hope they didn't make you cringe too much! Thankfully I can now look back on the toilet and night-shift incidents and laugh, and regarding the little boy, have learnt that its a much better idea to say “I don't know” if I genuinely don't, rather than making up a problem to prevent myself sounding ignorant, which can cause lots of anxiety for patients. And please share your embarrassing medical incidences and what (if anything!) you have learnt from them below.
Thanks for reading,