Tuesday, October 14, 2008

When The Rabbit Screams

The Asheville teenager who made Yahoo yesterday for changing her legal name to "CutOutDissection.com" made CNN today.

After jumping through hoop after hoop . . . after three years of blogging . . . after writing gadzillions of words and composing both short versions and long versions of my story-of-woe . . . this "health-care hero" (yes, that was sarcasm) has lost track of the people who've told her she needs a "hook" or "angle" or "gimmick" in order to get a reporter's attention (that, of course, would be a REAL reporter - outside of Asheboro or Greensboro).

I've never bought it. I'm one of those old-fashioned types who still believes investigative journalism has a place in protecting us from corruption - and that we citizens need to get in journalists' faces until they actually get back to it (there's a reason the newspapers are dying). But at this point, I also am at a loss as to what it takes to get my story on 60 Minutes - where it belongs. For you need look no further than the sad saga of Dr. Mary Johnson, to see what is wrong with medicine - and especially Pediatrics.

So maybe I should legally change my name to "ProsecuteTheDamnedLiarsAtRandolphHospital.Com"?

I digress. As I said in the original post on "no-dissection-girl", I've come a very long way from the naive young lady who went to medical school in order to change her little corner of the world for the better.

Sometimes I don't recognize me in the mirror.

When I entered medical school, I was your typical post-college bleeding-heart . . . not to mention a vegetarian . . . sympathetic to animal rights organizations like PETA (as I said in a post a while back, when one goes off to university, one's social and political notions tend to drift left-of-center . . . then when real life smacks you upside the head, you turn into your parents). In fact, one of the reasons I got into medical school has to do with the fact that during the interview process, my bleeding/animal-loving heart stood out amongst the crowd of young-and-naive-do-gooders-wanting-to-do-good.

It was my second time applying to medical school, and I did not have my hopes up. It was not happy time in my life. At the time, I was living with my parents (trying to save money) and working as a pseudo-chemist/administrative lab assistant in High Point. And I HATED my job. The first time around (applying to med school) had been pretty demoralizing. So prior to re-applying two years later, I lost about 80 pounds (with regards to my first attempt to get in medical school, don't tell me that discrimination against people-of-size does not exist) and worked on putting together a spiffier package. I looked good - and I had a fabulous college record/application. On the other hand, I lessened my chances considerably because (not wanting to go far away) I only applied to North Carolina schools, UVA in Charlottesville, - and the (I-thought-now-defunct-but-not) military medical school in Bethesda.

I decided that if I did not get into medical school on the second try, I was going to apply to graduate school and chase whales or something.

Heavy sigh. Road not travelled.

I did not even bother to apply to Duke as I knew I was not moneyed or pedigreed enough - and I did not fit one of their quotas for diversity. The interview at Chapel Hill was like a cattle call - I did not like the way applicants were treated and I clearly did not fit in as a fish in the sea of that particular shade of blue. Charlottesville was nice, but it too was a cattle-call. I liked East Carolina very much and had high hopes to get in there. Likewise, I thought the interview at Bethesda went well. I was impressed with the military pomp and circumstance.

[I look back now at the military option and thank God for small favors - not because I would not have been honored to serve in the military - but because I would likely be in Leavenworth by now for mouthing off to some nimrod CO.]

During the interview process at Bowman Gray in Winston-Salem (now the Wake Forest University School of Medicine), I actually got into a semi-heated argument with one of the big-gun doctors interviewing me (I think, but am not sure, it was Tim Pennell . . . then a God-like surgeon at the medical center) about the pros and cons of animal research. I acquitted myself well during the discussion (which seemed to surprise the doctor doing the grilling), but I left the "glass palace" that day being fairly certain I had torpedoed any chance I ever had of getting into Bowman Gray.

As I expected, Chapel Hill did not offer me a nod. Ditto for Charlottesville. East Carolina took forever, but finally said no. My hopes for a medical career rested on being plucked from the waiting lists at Bethesda and (surprisingly enough) Bowman Gray.

Two days before classes began, I got a call at work from the admissions office at Bowman Gray. A slot had opened up - did I really want to be a doctor?

I remember dropping the glass vial of somethingtoxic I had in my hand and bursting into tears as I screamed, "Yes!" into the phone. I quit my job on the spot.

Two days later, I was a medical student. I really don't recommend the rapid-sequence induction (plays hell with the grades in the first few weeks - as you scramble to find housing and uproot your entire life). But my course was set.

Later, when I made inquiries with the admissions office, I was told that it was my impassioned defense of the rights of animals - knowing that the argument might kill my hopes for a medical degree - that tipped the scales in my favor. I was new blood - and BGSM needed new blood. I stood out amongst the crowd.

Flash forward two years . . . to the labs associated with the then-traditional curriculum's introduction to surgery. It was where you "learned" to suture . . . on live rabbits . . . anesthetized by your peers (we worked in groups of four . . . you worked with the same three people you dissected humans with in first-year anatomy lab).

Once everyone had a turn at cutting a living, breathing, bleeding thing, the peacefully sleeping animal was sacrificed with an overdose of anesthesia.

It was all very clean.

Now, I already knew how to suture/sew. I had practiced my technique on wet leather - on pillows and coats and towels - and (even back then) on manikins especially designed to teach suturing. I got very good at the knots and ties (and to this day, despite not suturing on a regular basis, I am quite good at it). I did not want to kill an animal in order to further knowledge I already had.

You see, the real art of surgery is learned on humans. You start by holding retractors and suturing lacerations as a medical student ("See one, do one, teach one", does not work for or apply to everybody, but there's a lot of truth in it). Then, if you want to be a surgeon (I didn't), you do an internship and residency and (oftentimes) fellowship.

I've never met a rabbit in the Emergency department - not even on Easter. Santa, on the other hand, he gets around.

Let me insert something before I continue with the story. In college, I think I completed every advanced-biology class that UNC-Greensboro offered in its biology curriculum - and dissected everything under the sun - from frogs to fetal pigs to cats. But I reasoned that those animals were already dead - and I was making their death meaningful by learning something. I learned a lot of basic anatomy from those smelly hours in the lab - basic anatomy that translated easily to humans.

I actually brought a pickled cat home one summer - to dissect on Mama's back porch. The live cat I had at the time was not amused and kept his distance. And to this day, when I give TJ or Sabine my "you're-going-to-be-a dead-cat-if-you-don't-stop-that" look, they paid heed.

I think they sense the universal cat karma. Their mistress has a dark past.

On with the story. I objected to the surgery lab - and wrote a long, impassioned letter to the Deans asking to be exempted on ethical grounds.

At the time, it was a very big deal. I don't think any student (especially a girl student - Bowman Gray was one of the last great bastions of white male supremacy) had ever petitioned for such a thing . . . especially from the bloodthirsty surgeons.

No one ever said, "NO!" to these people.

My memory of the petitioning process is fuzzy. I seem to recall that I pleaded my case to several surgeons . . . a chief resident . . . an attending or two. I was pretty much treated like a disease, and my request was ultimately denied.

In fact, I was told that if I did not participate in the lab, I would FAIL the surgery class and risk being booted out of medical school.

Needless to say, I went on with the lab. My three lab partners (I think all of them ultimately went into surgical sub-specialties), sympathetic to my angst and discomfort, were very careful and conscientious that day - taking great pains to do everything right.

You see, in the good old days, future doctors cared about one another.

But something went horribly wrong. And when it came my time to sew (you're not supposed to say "sew", you're supposed to say "suture") . . . in the middle of the sewing . . . the rabbit woke up from anesthesia and began screaming. It was a high-pitched, piercing squeal of a scream . . . that of an animal in the worst kind of pain. The sound went straight to the base of your skull and down your spine/to your soul like fingernails on a chalkboard.

The classmate handling the "anesthesia" was horrified - she had no idea what to do. I stopped the procedure and held pressure on the open wound in the rabbit's abdomen. Tears were silently streaming down my face. Classmates at other tables in the massive room gaped at what was going on - speechless and mortified - for everyone knew that I had fought not to do this awful thing.

The lab's "supervisors", mostly residents, rushed over to the table - but short of overdosing the suffering, screaming animal on anesthetic (the plan all along), they could not stop its cries.

The rabbit died.

And as soon as it died, my heart bleeding, I left the room - the murderous look on my face and in my eyes daring any of the arrogant pricks (not holding back today) who had forced me to play their bloody game to do anything about it. In the absence of the animal's screams, you could've heard a pin drop.

There was no "make-up". I passed the surgery lab and went on to third year.

But something in me died that day too - and continued to die in increments - as some of the best parts of me were beaten out of me during my medical training. For instance, I'm not a vegetarian anymore. It's too bad too. I've no doubt I'd be healthier & thinner if I were.

I never got any sort of statement of regret from the school/deans - or any kind of apology from the surgery department. I know some people thought it was funny - a real "scream".

And, of course, it was clear to all that the higher-ups had taught the new blood . . . the "upstart bitch" . . . a lesson. A message was sent.

(Are you seeing any parallels to what happened in Asheboro here?)

But what happened to me planted a seed. Within just a few years, other students made similar stands, and eventually the surgical lab was made optional in the curriculum . . . because (as I had pointed out), there were other ways to learn how to sew.

In fact, I'm not sure the rabbit lab exists anymore. An old professor once grudgingly admitted I was WAY ahead of my time.

The murdered rabbit is why today there is a massive thicket in my front yard that I refuse to let the yard man take out (no matter how much he complains about the wasps and the snakes) - because it is also "home" to many, many bunnies. It is my own version of "Watership Down".

I am doing penance.

Now, I am not Clarice. I don't have the awful dreams anymore (ala the lambs screaming) . . . although I did for a short while. But I do carry a grudge. To this day, although I stayed at Brenner's to do my Pediatric residency and I'm mighty fond of "the Mecca" . . . and in the distant past, I sent Baptist a lot of business . . . I have yet to give one dime to my alma mater.

There is a moral to the story - actually two morals. First, some folks in the blogosphere have ridiculed "CutOutDissection" (I prefer to call her Jennifer), and say she has no business pursuing a career in medicine. I say BULLSHIT! She can be whatever she wants to be. She's new blood and medicine needs new blood. Second, this long-ago incident is one of the reasons . . . now that I'm out in the real world and in charge of my own life . . . that I've never taken very well to arrogant, ignorant pricks - in suits or lab coats (again, not holding back) - issuing threats & ultimatums - especially when those ultimatums put a tiny HUMAN in harm's way.

I have my priorities more than straight, and this "upstart bitch" fights back.

There's a lot of fight left in me. So maybe I will change my name to Dr. "ProsecuteTheDamnedLiarsAtRandolphHospital.Com".

Yeah. That works.

2 comments:

dale said...

DR-ProsecuteTheDAMNEDLIARSAt RandolphHospital.Com.

I've always admired your tenacity. Now I'll add spunk to thyat list.

DR. MARY JOHNSON said...

It has a nice ring to it . . . rolls right off my tongue.