Written Words – Useful

I haven’t been feeling very useful lately. I mean, I’m finally starting to get it together when it comes to studying for exam and classes (thank goodness for the Pass/Fail system up til now), so the actual coursework is going better. I actually came in with an average score on my past few exams, which was a step up from last block.

But when it comes to the “real” stuff, the part with interacting with patients, I feel as if I’m floundering. I’ve inexplicably become more hesitant when entering a room. I dread trying to get a medical history in front of one of my mentors, and I find myself apologizing all the time. During my last hospital visit, so many family members tried to add to the history I was taking that I ended up standing helplessly, asking occasional disjointed questions about pain and mobility until my mentor took pity on me and took over.

It doesn’t help that I just read Atul Gawande’s latest book, “Better,” all about what makes certain doctors really great, how the medical profession is improving or can improve patient outcome, and where we still have a long way to go. It was a fascinating book that looked at advancements in medicine from hand-washing in hospitals to standards of care in the military to treatment of patients with cystic fibrosis, and throughout the book, people came into focus who were not satisfied with the way things were, who believed that medicine could do better, and who worked insatiably until they proved they were right. And I find myself thinking, where’s my hunger? What if I’m never going to be a great doctor?

What if I’m just going to be an okay one? Is that enough?

So I keep working and try to find a focus, a hunger. So far, the closest I’ve come is when I’m working on my proposal for working overseas next summer, but that’s not exactly a here-and-now application of passion. Oh, and I’m getting really good at knitting small toys that make my friends smile, but I have yet to figure out what specialty that fits…

Then came today. My roommate announced that our apartment was in a state of serious neglect, and each of us needed to take action. She was right, as judged by the chore chart on which no boxes had been checked for the month other than “take out trash” and “empty dishwasher,” and I took on the living room, starting with vacuuming. Except that almost as soon as I’d started, I accidentally sucked up a large piece of yarn that my kitten had strung around the legs of the piano. The vacuum cleaner started screeching like an angry owl, so I turned it off and pulled the red yarn out from the rotor, hardly noticing that the line was actually feeding out of the side of the vacuum cleaner. I turned it back on. Angry owl still hadn’t left. I looked at the rotor, puzzled. No yarn in sight. Then I realized that the angry owl was, in fact, an angry motor, and the odd smell in the air was something burning. Dang it.

An angry motor is un-useable, so I figured I had nothing to lose by taking the whole thing apart.

First I popped off the lid over the rotor. A tell-tale bit of red led through a small hole into the locked-down casing of the motor itself. Circumstantial evidence, yes, but not a good sign. Once the whole apparatus had cooled down, I pulled out the screwdriver and started taking out screws until, twenty or so screws later, I managed to pry open the motor casing enough to poke around on the inside. At first, all I saw were bits of red fluff, enough to be annoying, but probably not enough to gum everything up.

Perhaps I should mention at this point that my mechanical experience up until now has been limited to plugging pieces into a computer motherboard (is that even what they’re called?) with my dad watching closely, and handing tools to my dad while he replaced my car battery. Still, I figured I would know badness. Then I saw it. A disc-shaped cavity in the side of the motor. Or at least, what should have been a cavity. Instead it was chock-full of tangled red yarn. Bingo.

I pried the traitorous tangle of yarn out, tossing it to the side where it was immediately requisitioned by the kitten, and busied myself trying to snap the whole thing back together. It wouldn’t go. One side would fit in, but then the other would stubbornly make popping noises when I try to put pressure on it, so I struggled with it for a frustrating fifteen minutes, gradually taking out screws higher and higher on the body of the vacuum in an attempt to get better leverage, until I finally recognized my need for backup. It took my roommate’s boyfriend and me five more minutes before the casing snapped into place. He wandered off and I started fishing around on the floor for all of the screws I’d left lying loose along with small bits of vacuum cleaner that I figured would make sense once I started reassembling. Fast-forward another twenty minutes, and I screwed the holder for the extra brush in place, then put the machine upright.

Moment of Truth. I plugged it in and tentatively hit the power button. A loud purr filled the room, freaking out the kitten, who abandoned trying to steal pieces and biting my hands for hiding on my roommate’s bed. I tried an experimental pass over the carpet. Bits of lint and fuzz I’d knocked loose during my mechanical exploration vanished. Perfect.

I have yet to come up with anything to reassure myself about real life, about my ability to actually practice medicine in a few short years, and as I write I know I’m putting off an essay, studying for a test, and reviewing the clinical skills we’re learning in class tomorrow. But at least I have a back up plan now.

Anyone need a Hoover Repair Girl?

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