If you’re quiet, for a while, it’s possible to learn even from the most frustrating circumstances. I definitely took a lot home with me from this weekend’s experience.
1. NO ONE IS LOOKING OUT FOR YOU. This is something I had long expected, but had not vividly experienced, until last night. No one was making sure that we were doing anything appropriate for our skill level, or interesting, or even safe. There was no grand master plan. And just because I work / attend / am part of an educational institution with a benevolent institution, that’s no indication that anyone is making sure I was in an appropriate setting. Several of my friends who came to the hospital in response to the hospital’s senior leadership sending an email urgently requesting student volunteers were rudely and summarily sent home by attendings on the floors that they had been “assigned to” within MINUTES of setting foot in the building. Others slept in the student lounge waiting for someone to tell them what to do, only to be sent to sit on 1:1’s after sleeping for several hours. Look, I’m all for helping out, which is why I went to the hospital, but if you’d told me that it was medically necessary for me to sit next to a restrained, demented man while he slept for 7 hours, I would have said thanks but no thanks and stayed home with the dogs. L&D was a different story – actually seeing patients and helping with care – I would have loved to stay there for 18h.
Something that I haven’t mentioned before and that is probably coloring my feelings about yesterday is that University Hospital looks like a Jenga puzzle riiiiiiiight before it falls down. It’s not exactly the place that I would want to be in a major seismic or meteorologic event. Sure, they say it’s perfectly safe and well designed but …
2. ITS OKAY TO SAY NO. In retrospect, I should have refused to stay for the entire 7 hours, and should have just stayed for a 2-3 hour shift like they asked many of the other students to do. Then I would have had time to cruise down to the ER, hop back up to L&D, see whether I could actually be useful on other floors. The corollary to #1 (No one is looking out for you) is that you have to look out for yourself and set your own limits. Just because you are volunteering doesn’t mean you have to do whatever they tell you to do.
3. ALWAYS BRING A BOOK. Seriously. We completely overpacked for this (bringing water, food, changes of clothes, laptops, toiletries, extra shoes, flashlights, etc.) but one of the pleasant consequences of overpacking was having plenty to read. I got through three chapters of Blueprints during my seven hours with Mr. Quincy. So at least now I know something about OB/GYN, and my 1:1 time wasn’t totally wasted. I also had a bunch of books loaded on the iPad so I was good to go for several days in case I magically mastered all of OB (yeah … right …).
4. DESPITE ALL OF THE BULLSHIT, VOLUNTEERING WAS WORTH IT. Truly the bottom line: I would do it again. I would do it differently, if I knew how to set boundaries better, but I would do it again. I got to see L&D, got to draw some blood, work on some skills and get to know my way around the hospital a little better. I got experience in what felt like an uncontrolled and unplanned environment that fortunately ended up much more benign than expected. All in all, it was a heck of a way to spend a Saturday.