Some Medical Memories: It's Been Quite A Ride

This week I got the excellent news that I passed my oral boards for anesthesiology! Yes, now I will finally quit whining about studying and being nervous… And eventually I will stop telling everyone that I passed, as well. Not only that, but I will never really talk about exams ever again because I am finally done. Really done. I’m done with all medical training and exams and now I am entering the nebulous era that will be my career in medicine. I can’t believe this period of my life has finally arrived. It has made me rather nostalgic, and I’ve been reflecting on my 9 years in medical school and residency training. So today I have some memories to share. This is just a smattering of memories, there is so much more… More that probably isn’t appropriate to tell. It’s going to be quasi stream of consciousness, so bear with me…

1. Medical school hyperchondria.

There is a well known phase wherein medical students, blasted with new knowledge of the human body and the infinite number of pathological processes, begin to fear and diagnose any and every process in their selves (and innocent people on the street). I remember coming home to find my roommate sobbing, convinced she had lymphoma.

2. Anatomy class.

AKA “Are you cool with cutting people?” class. This was a trip, and the one class that is done some justice by movies and television. We were in groups, 4 or 5 people per body, and we would come in every day and do dissections according to our course book. There were also tanks of isolated parts (i.e. a tank of heads). People ran out crying on the day we did face dissection. I had a headlamp and real surgical tools that my Dad had given me from his office, just a slight hint that he was excited for me to become a surgeon. Yes, my tank mates made me do everything. Yes, I have sawed a body in half. Please still like me. One thing that isn’t always shown on TV and movies: Everyone was extremely respectful and reverent. No, we did not name anyone. There was a service for the families of the donors.  Doing cadaver dissection actually felt like one of the biggest honors I have ever had and one of the hugest gifts I have ever received.

3. The Autopsy

In medical school, we had to “take call” to see an autopsy. When the morgue got a body, your group would be called when it was your turn. Your group then had to go down to the hospital morgue and watch a full autopsy. My group got called on Halloween and I’m not even kidding when I tell you that the assistant in the morgue who showed us the body and gave us an orientation WAS IN COSTUME. AS A SLUTTY COWGIRL.

4. My First Incision

I had tunnel vision for becoming a surgeon from day one. My first day on my surgical rotation, I was with this awesome endocrine surgeon who let me make the incision. I have never wanted to be better at anything in my life. It was so cool. As I put the knife to skin, The White Stripes ‘Seven Nation Army’ was playing. I felt awesome.

5. Living with My Bestie Awesome Roommate

My fondest memories of living with her during medical school were our nights drinking cheap champagne, ordering Thai food, watching movies, and knitting. The best of these nights? Watching The Notebook and sobbing our faces off, trying to convince each other that the old woman just had temporary memory loss from dehydration or a urinary tract infection.

6. Driving to San Francisco with My Dad

Crossing the Bay Bridge after the drive from Wisconsin into my new city? Amazing. I had never lived further than 3 miles from my parents.

7. My First Weeks as an Intern

I can hardly remember, I was so traumatized. It was so hard. I had nightmares all the time about patients. I remember getting calls about patients spiking temperatures and just freaking out about what to do. I was called to the ICU on my third day as an intern to draw blood from a patient… as if I could get it when the extremely experienced nurses couldn’t! I would round at 4 am to make sure I got all of the information I needed for rounds. It was so overwhelming. I couldn’t believe how many times a pager could go off – on Vascular surgery, about 98 times in one day! I don’t know how we did it. This isn’t even scratching the surface of the experience… But like I said, it’s hard for me even to remember.

8. My Rotation in Oral Surgery

The County Hospital. Patients everywhere screaming in pain with tooth infections. Three interns set loose to just inject numbing medicine and pull teeth with barely any instruction. I don’t know how I made it through that month. I was so terrified of getting bit, hit or inoculated with hepatitis. Don’t even get me started on going up to the mental ward to examine a tooth… No one should ever hear that story.

9. My Saddest Birthday

When I turned 28, I was scrubbing for a case with the Chief Resident. It felt weird just keeping my birthday to myself, no one knew. So to make conversation I awkwardly said “Um, so it’s my birthday,” while we scrubbed. He basically just said “Huh, oh.” Later on he brought a plastic surgery journal to my call room, and said, “Hey, I got two this month. So happy birthday”.

10. The County ER

This could be an entire book. I have so much love for San Francisco General Hospital, I might have to learn how to sing and write music so I can make a love ballad about it. The ER there was pretty wild. One time I put a staple in someone’s stabbed heart as we rushed them up to the OR. My heroes work at that hospital.

11. People Actually Play That Hand/Knife Game From Aliens

I spent Christmas Eve sewing up 5 drunk guys hands in the ER my second year of residency. They had been drinking and playing this game where you stab a knife really quickly between the spaces of your fingers with your hand flat on the table. I remembered it from Aliens. One guy was throwing up in a bucket the whole time I washed out his hand and closed it up. I guess that was a sad Christmas… But I thought it was pretty fun!

12. Getting Yelled At

I remember holding the phone away from my ear as the Vascular Surgery fellow screamed at me with multiple expletives NSFHG because I hadn’t gotten consent from a Russian-speaking patient for surgery. I was waiting for a Russian interpreter, because that is the right thing to do, but he was pissed I didn’t just make the patient sign the consent. Or maybe he was mad that I didn’t speak Russian. Anyway.

13. That One Patient

We all love caring for our patients, but every once in a while there is one that really gets to you. I had a lovely patient as a surgical resident. Her smile lit up the room and she had the most positive outlook. She died suddenly on the ward after a successful surgery. We tried to resuscitate her for what felt like hours, I was left crying in her room alone. The autopsy was not conclusive. I still think about her all the time, I still miss her.

14. Carrying a Finger

We were going to do a replant of a patients amputated finger and as an eager surgical intern, I was given the honored duty of getting the finger to the OR while the more senior resident took care of the patient. It’s sort of like being a ring bearer.

15. Switching to Anesthesia!!!

I made lots of friends who were anesthesia residents and I talked to a lot of anesthesia attendings. They were so cool and their job so amazing. Never had I thought of it… I was gung ho surgery, but then I started thinking. After much investigation and soul searching, I decided to make the switch. I loved the OR and the ICU and with anesthesia, those were the only places I ever had to be. I love it and I have never looked back. Well, laparoscopic surgery and doing nice wound closures is really fun, but no. I love anesthesia.

16. Cutting the Cord

As an anesthesia resident in labor and delivery, there was a woman having an emergency C Section who was entirely alone. No one was there with her, no husband/boyfriend/family member. We all found ourselves at a loss when it was time to cut the newborns umbilical cord, so I stepped up.

17. The Last Day

I had a neurosurgery lineup for my last day as an anesthesia resident. I was excited, emotional, all that. I did one craniotomy case, took the patient up to the ICU, and went back down to set up my OR. Lo and behold, my last case was cancelled. I. Was. Done. With. Residency.

There are so many more memories – this has really opened a floodgate for me! I am just so thankful for all of the amazing training, teaching and mentorship that I have had over the years. I am thankful for all the support of my incredible family and friends through the blood (literally), sweat and tears. I am thankful for the amazing and brilliant people I have worked with, and the friendships that remain strong. I am also thankful and indebted to the patients who helped me learn to be a good doctor.

Thank you for listening! It’s been quite a ride! No matter where you are in working toward a goal, remember that you will eventually get there. As painful as it is at times, the years of hard work are some of the best and most interesting years of your life. When it’s all done, it really does seem like it flew by…

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  • Madison Zraick

    I love your writing.

    • Alexandra

      Thank you so much!

  • Daniel Schafer

    Thanks for sharing this! You’re such a great storyteller.

    • Alexandra

      I love getting the chance to share some stories! Thank you!

  • Laura Quinn


    • Alexandra

      <3 to you!

  • Christiane Fairhart

    I truly love and appreciate your articles, dude! I’m a pre-med student and it’s really helpful and awesome to see someone sharing what they’ve learned from the med school experience (that I am both excited and terrified about). Thanks for your honesty, doc :)

    • Alexandra

      You are in for a long and awesome road! Let me know if you have any questions!

  • Julie Gullatt

    😀 you go, girl!!!

    • Alexandra


  • Laura Blesse Hampton

    Thanks for sharing this. It’s funny how many of the items on your list have applied to me at some point (I’m a PA), but #13 really echoes with me – I had a young guy with an amazing outlook who died suddenly with an inconclusive autopsy. Three years later, I still think about him, his wife and his three young kids.

    • Alexandra

      It’s the most haunting thing in the world! I think we all go through it at some point, and it only becomes more likely the longer we are in our field. Ugh. It hurts. It also makes you appreciate how fragile and precious life is though… I tell everyone I love them, all the time. Obsessively.

  • Anonymous

    Girl, I don’t know how this keeps happening. But every time I am ready to give up on premed entirely, you post something that gives me perspective again. Like the ways to stay awake, and now this.

    Your story is great and def. inspiring! Thanks so much for sharing! Its been totally encouraging to me today, especially after bombing a chem exam. ha!

  • April McLean

    Girl, I don’t know how this keeps happening. But every time I am ready to give up on premed entirely, you post something that gives me perspective again. Like the ways to stay awake, and now this.
    Your story is great and def. inspiring! Thanks so much for sharing! Its been totally encouraging to me today, especially after bombing a chem exam. ha!

    • Alexandra

      You can do whatever you want to do, Miss! I dropped out of college for a minute… There are ups and downs, but you will get wherever you want to be. Email me any time!

  • Alexandra Rae

    Congratulations, girl!

    • Alexandra

      Well thank you, name twin!

  • Miranda Partridge

    Wow! I loved this story! And I totally relate to the diagnosing. I’m a nutrition student and I always find my self mentally diagnosing friends with nutrient deficiencies and laugh at all the students who can’t help themselves in classes, like clinical examination, when we are told to “switch our naturopathic brains off” a case study comes up and someone can’t help but yell out “B12 deficiency!”. But really, I just love hearing how passionate you still are, after 9 years of study. It’s very motivating. So well done, and good luck! :)

    • Alexandra

      Haha! So funny. I have pica… Just kidding. Nutrition is so cool!

  • Samie Covington

    This is one of the best posts I have ever read on HelloGiggles! Seriously, spectacular!

    • Alexandra

      Um, this is like the biggest compliment EVER. We have some amazing posts on this site!!! Thank you!!!! So glad you enjoyed it!

  • Caroline Lopez-Diaz

    “As painful as it is at times, the years of hard work are some of the best and most interesting years of your life” couldn’t be more true….I too, love being a med-student despite all the sacrifices and the obstacles that present each day.

    • Alexandra

      What year are you? So exciting! Enjoy it! And don’t be afraid to get in there and help out when you do your clinical rotations. Especially in the OR :)

    • Caroline Lopez-Diaz

      I’ve just started my first rotation :-)..when I say obstacles, Boy is the one me and my classmates going through is a big one…but every night I just pray that everything will resolve and each one of us will be able to cross the finish line …this post certainly makes me smile

  • Jill Kushner

    This is awesome! We need to be best friends immediately. This seems possible since I write for HG, too. And this seems necessary as I am a huge Hypochondriac. :)

    • Alexandra

      Let’s do this! Are you kidding me? I love your articles. I am always looking for hilarious friends who are terrified of disease! My two favorite things are laughing and talking medical stuff. And brunch. So we can do that at brunch. Done.

  • Ariana Beck

    Congratulations! You must be so relieved and excited! I just had my first residency interview today… time flies.

    • Alexandra

      For what?!!? Oh my goodness! Good luck! Interview season is nutso, but so exciting!

    • Ariana Beck

      Thanks! Pathology!

    • Alexandra

      So cool! I would love it! I have a fantasy of going back and doing path so I can be a forensic pathologist (too much SVU for me).

  • Lauren Vaughan

    congrats darling!!

    • Alexandra

      Thank you my dear!!!

  • Miranda Robertson

    Big ups on passing your exams!! That’s awesome. Tell everyone, everywhere, for as long as you like because you quite rightly should be massively proud of yourself!!

    • Alexandra

      Well I did get “BOARD CERTIFIED” tattooed on my face… Haha. Thanks!

  • Connie Tang

    Congrats many times! I imagine you treated yourself super well. :)

    “Yes, I have sawed a body in half. Please still like me”

    This should be a club. I was the tankmate that sawed the face in half, and some people don’t see me the same way anymore.

    • Alexandra

      This made me laugh out loud. Seriously. Unfortunately I am too afraid to type the other horrible things that we have to do… But um, tank o heads anyone???

      And yes. I had an online shopping tornado to celebrate a little…

  • Alexandra

    Whooops. Just had my typo brought to my attention. It’s hypOchondria. But whatever. You know what I mean. That is just how over it I am. No more self diagnosing here!

    (Plus, hyper- is indicative of excessive activity, so it makes more sense to me anyway. Maybe they will just change the spelling for me someday).

  • Paola Santiago

    Your writing makes me happy then sad then happy again. thanks for sharing :)

    • Alexandra

      Thanks for reading! I’m glad it ended on happy :)

  • Stephanie Walker

    Your #13 made me cry. I know we are new friends, but man am I proud of you girlie! What a ride!

    • Alexandra

      And you are saving our youth… So I am proud of you new friend! Let’s hang out soon!

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