After four weeks in Philadelphia I returned to my home in the New York suburbs, where every house looks similar, if not in some spans completely identical, where the streets are wide and the sidewalks narrow, and where green is the prominent color in an unwavering day-to-day routine of keeping my mind stimulated amid the lack of fresh scenery to explore. At least, this is what the New York suburbs have become after my recent time spent in Philadelphia. Before I dive into the “scrubs-withdrawal,” that hit me soon after my final day in the hospital, I’d like to address my “Philadelphia withdrawal,” which I only recently uncovered, hidden in the mask of suburban boredom. As much as I’d like to say I became a true “city girl,” that was never who I was, nor who I believe I was destined to transform into. The environment of Philadelphia was unmarked territory for me, it was different and scary, and though I had come to know Boston and New York City fairly well from my time visiting, Philadelphia was never the city I saw myself conquering. My brother, the UPenn student, is a three-going-on-four-year Philadelphia resident. Philadelphia was his city, and a place I never dared visit long enough to explore. Now, however, I find myself missing the trek back to 40th from Thomas Jefferson University Hospital at 10th. I’d walk through the residential areas with the imperfect alleyways and winding cobblestone streets that use to seem like such uncertain paths, such dangerous places to walk when extensively researched on Google Maps. I found coffee shops, I found restaurants, I found parks and benches and people so different when compared to the town I come from. Although I was well-educated in the expansive areas that the topic “diversity” included–my high school made sure we all were–I suddenly was a part of that diversity. I wasn’t looking at it through glass, who I was and the ideas I had were suddenly part of a greater community in which not two people, not two parks, not two houses were similar, let alone identical. Returning home I was greeted by family, friends, and a full fridge, but once I was here, I found myself missing being a part of Philadelphia’s world. There I found a certain confidence in myself and in the world around me that I hadn’t noticed before.
This confidence grew not only from being part of the city itself, but from shadowing Dr. Isenberg in the operating room and the office. In the operating room, I knew the least out of everyone around me. I was the only person who could have walked out and nothing would have changed. Due to this, not everyone was keen on filling me in. During the first week I would find my corner in the OR, some place where I wouldn’t be in anyone’s way and I could still (sort of) see what was going on. Most of the surgeries were laparoscopic, so I was able to watch on a screen, but that did not mean I knew at all what the objective of the surgery was. If I asked, I might be told that they were performing a “Laparoscopic Low Anterior Resection with a Colostomy.” Now I understand what that means, but in my starting week, I was clueless. Asking someone to explain what all that meant seems simple enough, but I had to muster up all my courage, shuffle–my scrubs were a size too big–over to a nurse, or resident, and say “I’m sorry to interrupt, but I have a quick question, would you be able answer it?” If they were called by the doctor, it was a failed mission, if they said “no” or were too busy, I would quickly abort and apologise. If they said, yes, however, I would need to proceed with: “What is going on?” Not exactly the “quick question” they had in mind, but making it this far, they would kindly explain to me what it all meant. In my head it seemed so slim a chance they would have time to explain, but in reality I just needed to learn 1) who would best be able to answer my question, 2) the right time to ask, and 3) how to best phrase my questions. Quickly I caught on, and soon, without hesitation, I would ask questions, and hold conversation with the nurses, the anesthesiologists, the medical students, and even the doctors in the OR. Once I was even able to explain what a “Colectomy with a J-Pouch and a temporary Ileostomy” entailed to another visiting college student. As I learned more, my questions became more complex and specific. By the end I was confident enough to guess a patient’s diagnosis. When two different surgeries were going on, I understood enough of each to choose which one I wanted to observe.
Now it seems I’ve come to the topic of “scrubs withdrawal.” “Scrubs” in this case stands for “the feeling of wearing scrubs inside and outside of the hospital where many others are also wearing scrubs, and of knowing that you are, in fact, part of a medical community.” I miss that feeling tremendously. I don’t think that I could explain how incredible my experience was. People ask me if I liked it, and I respond with “I loved it,” but they hardly ask for more. Even if they did, how would I explain to them that this experience changed my outlook on medicine, that this experience showed me what being a doctor was like, what it was about, that I was able to observe something so remarkable, something that saved people’s lives, that I was, for a brief moment, part of these doctors and nurses lives just as they are so briefly part of their patients lives. I had never been witness to something as important as this. As human beings, I believe that we all feel confined to insignificant activities and actions. In the OR, however, I was part of something so impactful, so simply biological, yet so impactful on that patient’s life. In the midst of blue scrubs and white coats and masks with “fog guards” that only lasted a minute, I didn’t realize how much I wanted this to be my future. I didn’t realize that someday I might play an active role in what I could only watch and be in awe of now.
-Rachel Saunders, Thomas Jefferson University Hospital