I lost my pager a few weeks ago. For most, the pager is a vestigial apparatus from the days before mobile phones, wireless, and permanent connectivity. But there was a dark time, not so long ago, when pagers were the only handheld device that worked in hospitals. Those black blocks managed to transmit signals, traveling, like Buzz Lightyear, to infinity and beyond. In some basement corridors, they still outperform iPhones, Blackberries, and possibly landlines.
Imagine a flamingo without the pink, an elephant without its trunk, or a toilet without toilet paper. That’s a medical student without its pager.
At first, I was resigned. I informed all and sundry, “dude, I lost my pager.” At first, it was refreshing. But soon, I became persona non grata on my team… the annoying person who had to be contacted through email or patchy 4G. I felt like a puppy without a leash.
A few weeks in, it was becoming evident that I could not continue like this. In fact, it was blatant that I had neglected to replace my pager.
The place where my pager used to be mocked me. It haunted my right pocket like a mournful ghost. I constantly reached for the phantom and made contact with air. Air and a hollow plastic case, clipped to my white coat, empty and silent. My phone dropped texts when I wandered the subterranean hospital halls. I was off the map, off the radar, off the paging system.
My pager saga had become a pressing life concern — a truly stressful problem that occupied between 10-15% of my mind on any given day. I was simultaneously liberated and wildly irresponsible. I needed a new pager, but I feared the consequences: the hassle of schlepping to the obscure department where they are issued, the extortionary replacement fee, the crushing shame of losing this crucial appendage, the humiliation of admitting that I was flying free. That I had gone Motorogue.
This put me in mind of other things I worry about as a medical student, and things that other people worry about for me. Look, it’s great. We have the unique privilege of working with patients, the enormous responsibility of learning to be a doctor, and the untethered freedom of not yet being one. Also 80-hour weeks, encyclopedic volumes of material to digest, and the constant delirium of sleep deprivation. And because we are at the bottom of the hospital totem pole, no one really pays attention to us. We are the flies on the hospital walls. This means that we do absurd things, think absurd things, and have a surprisingly trivial inner monologue.
Things that medical students worry about, in no particular order of triviality:
- Will I be unemployed?
- Am I ever going to pay off my loans?
- When will I eat next?
- Is my phone on silent?
- Would it be better to sleep for six hours tonight and not study, or for three hours and study, or for seven hours and not study or shower?
- Is Romney still running?
- Wonder how I look in these scrubs?
- I can’t get out of the way.
- That’s a cool pen — can I steal it?
- Is there free lunch today?
- What is lupus?
- What’s for dinner?
- Could I have (insert X vanishingly rare disease)?
- My watch is fast.
- These are the wrong size scrubs.
- Am I late?
- I’m too old to have kids.
- My feet hurt.
- How old am I?
- What is that smell?
- What happened to my 20s?
- Do I have varicose veins?
- Is that resident wearing a wedding ring?
- Dude, where’s my pager?
One of the Fat Man’s Laws in The House of God is, “SHOW ME A MEDICAL STUDENT WHO ONLY TRIPLES MY WORK AND I WILL KISS HIS FEET.” With an inner life this rich, we should aim to quadruple!