Tuesday, August 30, 2011

My stethoscope

I will start second year this week. I am ready to go back. I am excited to learn about bacteria, viruses, toxins, and all the other abnormal stuff that this year will introduce. And yet, lately I have been contemplating my stethoscope.

My stethoscope is a Littmann Cardio III with the double bells, in color navy. Fairly standard for a vet student to buy during his or her first year. So standard, in fact, that I have a little name tag attached to distinguish it from the other navy Littmann Cardio III stethoscopes that various of my classmates own. The reason this piece of medical equipment has been in my thoughts, I imagine, is that when I hold it, I re-experience the excitement of starting first year.

Our stethoscopes arrived during the first week of school. Along with my classmates, I opened the boxes like I was opening the Ark of the Covenant. Inside, nestled into its foam padding, was the physical metaphor for the profession I was undertaking. I took it home with me that night because I wanted to explore it, and did not want to seem too excited in front of classmates who were still strangers to me. I bicycled to the library that sunny late-summer afternoon, feeling the corner of the box digging into my back through my bookbag, and feeling the more important for it. "I have a stethoscope!" I texted to one of my friends. What I meant was, "I am really going to become a doctor!"

Other sensations can evoke in me, to a lesser extent, the fresh excitement that my stethoscope conjures. Going to the library in the medical school on Friday afternoons, secretly loving that I was studying instead of hanging out or napping. The smell of the teaching hospital, which morphs from antiseptic, to hay, and back again as you walk through the wards. Two rounds of finals have worn some of the polish off my memories of sunny afternoons by the windows in the library, and a summer of working on-call shifts in the teaching hospital has tinged that smell with top notes of exhaustion and annoyance. But my stethoscope remains pure.

So when I go back to school this week, I will tune out the complaints of my classmates. I don't want to hear about how not ready they are to be back at school, or how they wish it was still summer. Because, a year in, I am still lucky to be there. What's more, I am excited to start something new. When the readings pile up, and the on-call schedule becomes ridiculous, and the days seem too short to accommodate the work I need to accomplish, I will think about my stethoscope, and I will be excited.

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