By SANDEEP JAUHAR
Published: January 11, 2008
New York Times
I had been an intern less than an hour, and already I was running late. The sloping footpath leading up to the hospital was paved with gray cobblestones. My feet ached as my oversize leather sandals slipped on the rounded irregular rocks. The hospital was an old building browned by the passage of two centuries, with spidery cracks in its façade. Founded in 1771, New York Hospital is the second-oldest hospital in the United States, a mecca for doctors and patients from all over the world. I had been in the building once before, six months ago, for a residency interview. I spun through a revolving brass door, nearly running into the burly security guard reading the New York Post. He looked up from the tabloid just long enough to point me in the direction of the elevator.
The tiled corridors were dark and dull, mixing shadow and light.
I darted past the chapel, past the café, around the information desk, which sat in the middle of the huge atrium like a fort, and entered a bank of elevators. Hanging on a wall was a portrait of a gray-haired lady in a blue dress sitting in dignified repose before an open book. She was a graduate of the medical school, class of 1899, ninety-nine years ago, who built a medical college for women in Northern India, on the banks of the Ganges, near where my father had his early college education. Nearby was a metal tablet in bas-relief: “She cared for all in need. For each, she made time to guide, to teach, and to heal.”
When I arrived on the fourth floor, other interns were still filing into the auditorium. A woman handed me a manila folder, and I went inside and sat down. The orientation packet contained several essential documents: a house-staff phone card, directions for obtaining autopsies, instructions on how to use the hospital dictation system, and the residency contract. I leafed through it quickly. My salary was going to be $37,000 a year, about eight dollars an hour, I calculated, given the number of hours I was going to be working, but I didn’t mind. Though I was a year shy of thirty, it was more than double what I had ever made.
My classmates, though younger than I, appeared older than I expected, casually dressed, all thirty-five of them, in khakis and polo shirts, faded jeans and sequined tops. Some of them evidently knew each other, because they were already chatting in small, insulated groups. They were from some of the best medical schools in the country: Harvard, Yale, Cornell, Columbia. Though I too had gone to a top school-Washington University in St. Louis-I had been feeling insecure about the prospect of working with them. For months I had feverishly been reading Harrison’s tome on internal medicine and review articles in The New England Journal of Medicine to prepare for this day.
Someone in the front row stood up and turned to face us. It was Shelby Wood, the hospital’s residency director. He was a serious-looking man of medium build, with straight brown hair and a long, aquiline nose. He was wearing a white coat and a fat blue tie that might have been in fashion twenty years earlier. My elder brother, Rajiv, a cardiology fellow at the hospital, six years ahead of me in his medical training (though only two and a half years older), had warned me that Dr. Wood was a bit of a grouch, but had added that he was also fair and decent and a strong advocate for his house staff. Wood, I was to learn, hailed from the old school, where you were expected to live and breathe medicine, stay late in the hospital, neglect your family for the sake of your patients, and emerge on the other side a seasoned physician.
He cleared his throat and began to speak. His voice was deep but incongruously soft, and because I was sitting in the back of the sixty-seat auditorium, I only managed to catch snippets of his remarks. It was going to be a busy year, he said, as thirty-five heads stared motionlessly back at him. We were expected to devote ourselves fully to medicine. “You don’t learn French by taking classes at Hunter College. You learn it by going to Paris, sitting in the cafés, talking to people.” Likewise medicine: we would learn it by living it. “You are now ambassadors for the profession,” he said gravely. “So don’t let the students hear you complain. It sets a bad example.” If everything went as planned, he added, by next June we’d be ready to supervise the next batch of interns.
I glanced over at the pretty brunette sitting next to me. She looked back at me, rolled her eyes, and opened her mouth in mock panic.
Continued at New York Times.com
‘Intern’ by Sandeep Jauhar