There were lots of chances to mentor kids, or host exchange students, but I have two kids of my own that I am currently trying to mentor, so I am reluctant at this point to take any others on. It seemed serendipitous that a big event was happening on Saturday, called Take Steps for Crohn's and colitis. They were looking for 50 volunteers to help set up. My brother has Crohn's disease - he is in Boston. I decided to go for it. I e-mailed the coordinator, explaining that I was a physician and touting my personal interest in helping out. She e-mailed me back.
"We had a nurse running the First Aid tent, but she had to back out due to family obligations. Could you man the tent between three and seven o'clock?"
I cursed the fact that I told her I was a physician. I am a pathologist, for crying out loud. I could do someone's autopsy, if they died? I was counting on setting up tents, or maybe hanging up balloons, but running the First Aid tent? Yikes.
I decided well, maybe I'm a pathologist, but I'm also a mom. I don't keep up with my ACLS certification, but I am pretty good at bandaging boo-boos. I told her yes, and hurriedly and desperately recruited my friend Ramona Bates, a surgeon, to help.
Ramona and I arrived promptly at 3:00, and despite our attempts to help in whatever capacity, we were relegated to the First Aid tent. There was a plethora of Central High School students doing chalk art and any manual labor that was necessary. I was worried (Ramona was not), but my worries were to no avail. In four hours, we passed out two band-aids - to the same person - one who was trying to protect a blister during the walk. MEMS was present - it seemed a little silly considering the short walk required after the provision of massive amounts of Bar-B-Q, freebies, and pizza, but I was still comforted that if anyone needed a "real doctor," I had back-up in Ramona and MEMS.
As a pathologist, I worry about my little exposure to the "real world" of medicine. Here I am, a bona fide M.D., and what do I have to show for it? Sure, I make a decent living, and am proud of what I do, but why do I have heart palpitations when I am on an airplane and I worry about hearing an overhead announcement, "We have an emergency and we need a doctor - are there any on board?" Will I be able to perform? I was recently discussing this with an OB - she voiced the same concerns. She was on a plane recently where they asked for a doctor, and after realizing she was one of two on board - her and an ENT - they both reluctantly volunteered to help, wondering if they could do anything for a geriatric stroke victim.
I was talking with one of my partners Monday about my weekend volunteer experience. She empathized. She said, "I think we should have a yearly workshop. Call it, "Is There a Doctor in the House?" And we should be updated on how to respond, as M.D.'s, in emergency situations. We were trained to help, and we should keep up the training, so we can perform in these situations.
One Friday night a couple of years ago, I was triaging bone marrows and lymph nodes that were rolling in mercilessly while I was on weekend call. I had just finished a platelet apheresis on a patient with Essential Thrombocytosis. She had been done for a couple of hours, and for all I knew, she was on her way home. I got a call from the dialysis nurse. "She is on the floor, seizing." Shit. I told her to call the heme/onc. He was climbing a local mountain for exercise. I told her to call the on call hospitalist. He told her to call me. As I was rushing upstairs to get labs and try to stabilize her, with my limited microscope medicine, I got a call from an internal medicine doctor. "Her electrolytes are out of whack. We are fixing it. It is all under control."
We are so subspecialized, in medicine, that the very thing we start off trying to be good at (dealing with these emergency situations) we end up being abysmally afraid of. Maybe it is just pathology. I am a general pathologist. I presented three disseminated fungal infections at a hospital-wide Chest Conference today. I did three fine needle aspirations in fast-track ED. I handled two inpatient needles in radiology - making spur of the moment decisions with limited tissue to benefit the patient in the CT scan, under the needle. I feel like I am so much, but also not enough. Does anyone else feel this way, as a doctor?