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by Dr. Margaret Aranda
It was 4 days before medical school graduation, and I asked my son once again, "Is it okay with you if I go to medical school?" He said, "Well, since you only have 4 days left, it's okay. I guess." I had tried to engage him in my escapades, but clearly he was too young. I was getting ready to do the impossible, to finish what no one thought could be done, to complete that which seemed to be just out of my grasp.
I had repeated not only my first year of medical school completely, but there was a little 'catch' of sorts when I transferred from Oral Roberts' University Medical School to USC School of Medicine. All my core rotations had to be done at USC. So in my third year of medical school, I had to repeat all my core rotations. So I ended up doing everything twice: Surgery, Internal Medicine, Pediatrics, Ob/Gyn, Cardiology, etc. Hey, I was a better doctor for it.
So I graduated. On graduation morning, I awoke to a dozen red rozes from Frank, a friend. I sat in the blistering heat and at the end of the Ceremony, we all threw our graduation hats up in the air. Wooo~Hoo! It was done. It was 1990, I was 30 years old, and I was on top of the world. I was accepted into Anesthesiology Residency at USC, and was to start my Internship at USC, also. I was to do a year of Transitional Medicine through the Internal Medicine program. It would get me used to being an anesthesiologist, because I would rotate through the Intensive Care Unit, Cardiology, Diabetes, and other major rotations that were relevant. I looked forward to it all. How could internship possible be THAT hard, I thought. It was one year long. 365 days. I could do it. So I graduated, I took a week off, and then I was on the bottom of the ladder again, as an Intern.
I knew I would be up early in the morning, and up late at night. I would be working weekends and Holidays. If I missed Thanksgiving with my family, I would 'get' Christmas. If I was off on Christmas, I had to work both Christmas Eve and New Year's Day. I was at the bottom of the lowest rung on the ladder.
Well it was my first day of Internship on a memorable hot, July morning in 1990. I was on the 13th Floor of the big County Hospital, in a heat wave, with no air conditioning. We had our Orientation lecture at 0700 sharp. An elderly and stout women with gray hair, Dr. Osborne, told us about the "Locked In" Policy. She said, "You have all drawn straws to be here. This is LACounty Jail Ward. Welcome to The Beast." Then she proceeded to instruct us not to leave a pen in the wrong place. A jail ward patient could try to stab us in the face with it. If any of the jail patients took one of us Hostage, there was a full Lock-Down policy. The huge, 6 inch steel door entry to the Ward would close, the key would turn, no one was getting in, and no one was getting out. We would stay. So, we looked at one another turning green in the face, and we vowed to watch out for one another. Gulp.
My first patient was a 18-year old African American male who had tried to shoot his girlfriend. The LAPD shot him 14 times, and he was paralyzed from the waist down. He cried every morning when I saw him. He hated getting his blood drawn, and of course that was the first thing that I had to do. So, I did it as fast as I could. I figured that was the least I could do. And I wondered.
Did I go to medical school for this? To have an attempted murderer as my patient? I had no idea how he survived all those bullets, but this was only the first time that I witnessed miraculous escapes from certain death. I struggled with it. I struggled with it again. And finally, on the third day, I accepted it. I had to make him better, I had to make him well because I took the Hippocratic Oath and I had to 'do not harm'.
So every morning for a month, that great heavy steel door closed me and Lisa Hayworth, MD in as we Interned on the Jail Ward as our first rotation in medical school. We also left that place at 7 pm, watching as we turned our heads in unison to listen and watch as that huge door shut itself behind us at the end of another day. And we counted the days 31, 30, 29... 3,2,1. We counted each day of Jail Ward and each day was another story, another blog, another indelible memory.
And later in my Internship year, I went back to the Jail Ward again as a medical student. Yes, I got to rotate there twice in my Internship year. I wouldn't go back and change it for the world.
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Dr. Margaret Aranda's Books:
No More Tears en Espanol
Little Missy Two-Shoes Likes to go to School
From Menarche to Menopause: A Journey through Time
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Age 31: The Color Blue
Additional Articles by Dr. Margaret Aranda
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