I’m still learning from Brad, the senior resident I worked with on night float last fall.

I am a very shy person. When I was 13, nearly as tall as my mother, and still hiding behind her whenever we went out in public, she decided that was enough, and took us children to a homeschool speech and debate league. I got very good at it, and had great fun. But what I learned was how to be comfortable speaking – in public, to a set audience, for a limited amount of time, and with a great deal of previous preparation (although I did impromptu well, too).

But how to speak to people on average – on the street, in the hall, in the cafeteria, at the store – I still don’t like that. Ask my med school classmates. I think there were some of them, in a relatively small class, that I never spoke to for four years, and only about ten that I talked to on a regular basis. I hate going to fast-food places, or restaurants in general, because you have to talk to people there. (At least that saves money.)

For the first few months this year, I was still trying not to talk to people at the hospital. At least, I had to address them, but I tried to keep them at arms-length, to use my white coat as a shield, or a substitute for actually getting to know people.

Brad changed that, not by anything he said to me, but by the way he interacted with everyone else in the hospital. I think he knows the name of every single janitor, every transport tech, every medic in the ER, and certainly every nurse on the floors or in the ICU. He also chats with the phone operators and the CT and x-ray techs. We used to be walking through the halls at night, and random people we met would stop to discuss – their marriage, their mother’s health, their children’s education, their career ambitions, anything – with Brad. He doesn’t just know names, he knows individuals, in detail. So when he needs anything done, he doesn’t have to stand on authority to get it. He talks to his friends, tells them what he needs, makes them feel important by explaining how sick the patient is and how important it is that this get done – and then they do it for him.

So I try to use his style. I’ll never be as flamboyant and cocky as he is; but I introduce myself by my first name to every new nurse I meet whom I need something from. I try to ask about people’s children, their hours, what they do when they go home, what their favorite TV shows are. I’ve learned the secret phone numbers for the CT scanners and the radiologists, and the names of the ER techs and secretaries. I know that writing a stat order is not nearly as effective as writing it, and then immediately calling the person who needs to do it, to explain why I want it, and that I really mean now.

Hopefully after a few more years like this, it’ll be ok to be shy, because there won’t be any more strangers in the hospital.