When residents ask each other how they’re doing, a common answer is “Living the dream.” Which sounds innocent enough, but usually it’s said in a tone of voice that implies: We both know that we all spent eight years studying incredibly hard and getting deep into debt in order to earn the privilege of working 80 hours a week for minimal pay with minimal sleep; we both know “how it’s going.”

I bite my tongue at this point, because I could quite honestly say, “Living the dream,” and mean it. I did spend seven years working towards this goal. I dreamed about it, literally and figuratively, for years. I read every book I could find on the subject, and tried to imagine what it would be like to be a resident myself. When I stop to think, I still can’t believe I’m here.

I’m reminded of this by the occasional frank-tongued senior citizen:
After I finish taking a complete history, doing the physical exam, explaining what tests need to be done, and what we’re looking for, the wife asks sweetly, “So are you actually a doctor?” Yes ma’am, I am. “Your coat says surgery; are you a surgeon?” I’m seized with an attack of honesty: I graduated in May, and I’m studying to be a surgeon. “How wonderful! Good luck! You only look about twelve years old, you know. Honey, she’s going to be a surgeon!”
See what happens when I leave my hair down. . .

My patients can’t believe it, and neither can I: they actually let me into a surgery residency, and I’m going to be a real doctor sometime soon. (If only I survive the ABSITE – yearly test in January; I’m not sure whether retaining my job is as good a motivation as besting the other students used to be.)

(Speaking of work hours: kudos to John Lescroart for including a resident in one of his novels, and using call schedules and exhaustion to move his plot forward in a credible and realistic way. We’ll excuse the fact that the resident thought he was participating in assisted suicide without any protection from his attendings – totally untenable.)

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