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How old am I?: Being both ancient and youthful in medicine

January 14, 2010
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When you find yourself getting out an otoscope (that fancy light thing for looking in ears), preparing a child mentally for having the device stuck in their orifices by a stranger is an essential task. It’s nice to warm the kid up a little because it will also make the job easier. Today, I showed a very articulate 4 year boy old “my magic light” and pretended to look inside his shoe, at his knee, and finally at his fingers. I remembered that you can make fingers glow if you put the light directly against them. Greatly satisfied at recalling this, I said:

“Now we are going to make your finger like E.T.’s!”
*putting light against kid’s finger*
You know E.T., don’t you?” I begged
and the poor little creature said “yes!

But he said “yes” to everything I asked.

So, just FYI, 4 year olds don’t know about E.T., and you are at least marginally ancient if you know that ugly brown alien.

People ALWAYS ask me how old I am. In some ways, I am old. Very old. I am a doctor, so in my social circle, which (like anyone else’s) includes some people who haven’t yet decided on a career path or who make a living doing awesome fun stuff that no one can believe is a real job (eg. video game testing!), being in a profession sometimes makes me seem a lot older than I am. So I’ve been told.

My face also betrays my fatigue, and I’m sure one can guess the extent to which brow-furrowing and eyebrow-raising are a part of the profession from the history these actions have etched on my face. I also have had the privilege to travel a lot and try to undertake as many adventures possible, so I might seem a little more ‘worldly’ than I really am. I think my parents did a good job, so (no thanks to my efforts) I am an oddly well-adjusted human which is often mistaken as maturity. I can even be crotchety at times – I’m already jaded and sarcastic, hoping to secure a place on the balcony next to Statler and Waldorf well before I retire from practice.

My youth has been lost to textbooks and answering pagers, stewing over what dose of dilaudid to order rather than where to party for Spring Break.

I cling to the fact that sometimes I am young! It’s usually at work that I am seen this way. “You look 19!” is a common expression from patients and nurses. Well, I like loud music and counter-culture; I am a Resident Physician, not a fully certified doctor, so of course I’m younger than some of the doctors they are used to working with. I don’t need glasses, don’t have distinguishing grey hair, and sometimes dress a bit cheeky with a three-piece women’s suit (and tie) or brightly coloured shoes. My eyebrow piercing is telling of my youth; people often ask me if it is a problem, but usually if I get to the point with a patient where I can open my mouth, they see that I am competent, approachable, and have their best interests at heart. At least, I think that’s what happens!

I’m the first to admit to my lack of experience and not afraid to ask for help from preceptors if I’m out on a limb, and this fluctuating confidence means I’m never the authority on a subject. Childishly, I seek naps in the on-call room whenever possible and can sometimes be caught eating the same thing day after day after day. Being young and looking young means it is easier for me to talk to suicidal teenagers feigning mutism (yep, it’s happened) and to get away with acting pretty goofy with pediatric patients. I haven’t done a lot of medical student teaching, but the fact that I can easily recall exactly what it’s like to be in those shoes will help make my efforts relevant and more gentle than they would otherwise be.

Overall, I hope I strike a balance between youthful curiousity and calm maturity, but that’s probably just my naive and demented perspective.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Bram permalink
    January 14, 2010 11:03 am

    Great post!

  2. February 5, 2010 1:48 pm

    It’s a great post.

    I’ve always gone by “act young except when you need to be an adult”. Admittedly people who act “old” all the time don’t appreciate this, but that’s really their problem.

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