How I Got the Nickname “Sponge”

It was a pretty harrowing experience. I have shadowed several fields in medicine… NICU, PICU, ICU, Med/Surg, Adult and Pediatric Surgery, Radiology, OB/GYN, Mom/Baby, Pediatrics, Physical Therapy, Respiratory Therapy, Ambulatory Care, and others… but never Urology. (I mean come on, it just makes you go “Ick!”, right?)

Dr. S is amazing. I love him. He definitely does not have the attitude that most surgical physicians have. He is very approachable, genuine, and funny. He never once made me feel stupid or lowly–granted, I wasn’t a medical student or an intern, so maybe that’s why. I had a blast shadowing him. When a doctor says he’ll do whatever he can to get you into medical school, and his door is wide open if you ever want to shadow… you do not pass up the opportunity. I am so glad I had that morning “off” and could be in his office.

Before we ever saw the first patient, I was already learning. Dr. S gave me a book to look up acronyms and diseases in if I had time. The first thing that caught my eye when I opened the book to a random page: circumcision of newborns has been shown to effectively reduce the incidence of penile squamous cell carcinoma (SCC). So the next time I came in to shadow, I mentioned the book he gave me and rattled off what I had learned from it. His new nickname for me was Sponge, because apparently I suck up info.

I saw so much. In some instances, I saw a lot more than I wanted to see. But it was amazing! I saw everything from bladder cancer to prostate cancer to kidney cancer… and malignant melanoma that had gone into a testis that had to be removed. I was able to see X-rays while Dr. S read them, and I even got a crash course in reading CT scans–not that any of it actually sank in, I had no idea what I was looking at. We had 30-ish patients in a mere four hours.

Two cases were especially important and have stuck with me. One was a couple that received good news. The wife had open her Bible when we walked into the room, and upon hearing the news exclaimed “Praise God for answered prayers!” Tears of joy flowed for both the wife and her husband. It has been such a long time since I have witnessed the true love between two people shine in that way. It was absolutely and utterly beautiful.

One of the last patients was the one that hit me the hardest. Before going into each examination room, Dr. S would go over the case with me so that I would have some background information and understand the conversation better. This case was one of severe bladder cancer, and the entire bladder needed to be removed. I was under the impression that the patient already knew the diagnosis. I was wrong.

I have never been present in an exam room when the first diagnosis of cancer has been shared with the patient. I was not fully prepared for this. I have seen so much in my short life; I’ve seen babies with severe birth defects and other impairments, severe burn victims, pediatric cancer, and the like. In all of these circumstances, I’ve been able to keep my composure and look at the cases objectively and professionally, but not without compassion. When Dr. S was explaining the diagnosis and treatment options, and I saw the patient sink into shock, tears welled up in my eyes. The patient was alone in the room today. I wanted to offer a hug, or a hand, or something… but simultaneously, everything seemed like it was in slow motion, like I couldn’t comprehend what I was seeing and hearing. I do not know how I kept my composure this time. I will definitely never forget this experience.

At the end of the day, I asked Dr. S if I could come back to shadow the next week; he looked at me with an expression I could not read, and said, “Seriously? Surely you don’t want to do that.” I assured him that I learned a lot, and I was planning on going back–he was shocked when I showed up the next week. I learned so much, and that was in only four measly little hours.

This journey that I am on is not just for me; everything I do is for the benefit of someone else. I feel that God needs me to experience these things so that I can better serve others. I need to be better, because patients deserve the best care possible, and that is what I hope to provide. I have so, so much more to learn.

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