I used not to drink coffee at all. I got all the way through college and medical school, and six or seven months into internship, without drinking coffee. I didn’t like the idea of depending on any chemical to be awake, and I knew that a coffee habit could become quite expensive.

I gave up, of course. The hospital has a very nice coffee shop, and our meal tickets work there. That means trading a real meal later on for coffee in the morning, but if you have time for coffee, and no guarantee of having time for a meal, that doesn’t matter so much.

I think it was the second month of night float when I really stopped even trying not to drink coffee. If you put enough milk and sugar in, it doesn’t taste bad. It feels like a grown-up thing to do, and it actually does help you stay awake. (Yes, I know I’m the last person on the planet to figure that one out.)

Then there was vascular surgery, lasting fifteen hours a day routinely, and I started plotting opportunities to slip downstairs for coffee. And now trauma. It’s somehow acceptable to sip at coffee endlessly on rounds, but not acceptable to actually eat anything in the ICU halls. Reasonable infection-control measure, I suppose. And when rounds go so slowly that my attention span runs out before I’ve even finished presenting my patient, coffee starts to be quite valuable, both as a substitute for breakfast, and as a means of breaking up the boredom.

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I had to revise my opinion of one of the attendings. I put him down for an complete bore (and one who could benefit from some coffee himself; falling asleep during your own lecture is a little extreme). The other day he found me struggling with some complicated vent settings, and instead of yelling at me for mismanaging the patient, he drew me a diagram and wrote equations until the whole thing was quite clear and simple. I resolve not to complain about his interminable rounds anymore – just the other attendings’.

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