Resident On Call – Rivkees recounts some tragic cases that he was involved with as a resident
I have been at Yale for fourteen years, a professor of pediatrics at the Yale School of Medicine. I am sitting at my fake wood–top desk on a gray fall Saturday as Hurricane Irene is about to hit New Haven. I am looking out my window at an ugly tan brick research building as the rain begins. I am just about to ink a letter of offer that will make me the chairman of pediatrics at a major university.
As I grip a blue pen, I look up from my desk at a picture that has always hung in front of where I sit. It is a faded color photograph taken at a special symposium held in honor of the retiring chief of pediatric endocrinology at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.
I look at that picture and see good friends, some dead, some retired, some still in Boston and at Harvard, but mostly I see friends who have moved on to other universities. I close my eyes and hear the voices and laughter. I hear their admonitions and encouragement. I look at these individuals—the souls who shaped me as a physician and person.
As I am about to sign this letter of offer with joy, I know it is not I who should be holding the pen but rather they. I am their surrogate, their trainee, who over eleven years—three as a resident, three as a fellow, and five as a young faculty member—soaked in decades of their collective wisdom, brilliance, kind nature, discovery, good humor, and friendship.
It is their soul in my hand more than mine. It is their song to me that says, “We have met our obligation to you. You now meet your obligation to the next generation.”
While I think of the venerable individuals who trained me to become a physician, I think of my Boston soul mates, my fellow interns and residents in training who, like me, entered the demanding, electric, driving world of Boston and Harvard Medicine, where we struggled in earnest to become doctors. There we also struggled to cast our lives beyond the clean hospital walls. We fought the emotional exhaustion of providing complex care while brutally sleep deprived. We fought the despair following the death of our charges and encounters with child abuse. We struggled to set our identity and autonomy in a nondemocratic system of a medical apprenticeship.