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Discussing Burr Holes Over Pizza

Colinson72x722Colin Son -- It is easy to get consumed in the world of medicine while in medical school. Back home, the boys and girls I study with, go out for drinks with, sit and watch the football game with are all fellow medical students. That may be especially true, such as in my case, if your family is composed of healthcare professionals as well. Even a phone conversation with my mother is likely to devolve into talk of patients in her intensive care unit or on my current service.

It becomes second nature.

I am currently, however, out in Los Angeles, hanging out with old college friends who have become investment bankers or construction managers or sports reporters. Old college friends who, for good reason, don’t know a meningioma from someone’s spleen. And I’ve found that I’m lapsing into an age-old healthcare professional sin of talking about bodily functions and diseases and other things I take for granted everyday in the hospital and which, I easily forget apparently, are not so polite out in the real world.

It is interesting how acclimated medical students, nurses, physicians and other healthcare workers get to the human body. Yet even something as non-graphic as describing a Burr hole, drilling into a patient’s head, draws squeamish responses from many outside the healthcare sector. Especially over a deep dish pizza.

It is a tough corner to be put in. Often times my adventures, and I use the term loosely, in the hospital become the center of conversation; especially when I’m with a group of friends who are not involved in healthcare. There is something still mythical and fascinating about the practice of medicine. Especially surgery. Especially neurosurgery. And yet you tip-toe a line of maintaining interest and being polite.

So, I’ve gotten better over the past month at choosing my words, even when what I want to say is the most fascinating and interesting thing I’ve ever seen in the operating room.

Something a little odd has happened as well, though. The observation of the above has, in a small way, renewed my respect for the practice of medicine. It has been my stated goal to never cease to be fascinated by whatever specialty I choose. While I admit that a little acclimatization is inevitable, I hope I never lose at least some wonderment staring at someone’s brain, the seat of their soul -- no matter how many cranis I am a part of performing. And watching the interest, even in the form of a little disgust, from my friends who are not neck deep in the study of medicine has reminded me of what a gift it is to see and be a part of what I am, even if it sometimes from the periphery as a medical student.

Sometimes it is just difficult to capture that for people who are not there to see it in person, without making them think twice about what they’re eating. I’m working on it, though… at least as long as I’m out here in Los Angeles.

September 26, 2008 in Colin Son | Permalink


MY God! whatever you wrote, every word.... even the choice of neurosurgery seems to have come straight out of my mind..really!

I agree with you completly but one thing that use to plague my mind is, What we see and experience is divine.Why is it that people outside are sickened at best or bored from the medical details? and now I have come to a realisation (of sorts) that we, the medical students are different.

How I would be satisfied to stay home and read up a topic of medicine instead of going out and still have fun is out of my question for my sister.

And another thing that I experience when I go out is... as soon as I say Im a medical student people tend to go wide eyed and thats when i feel Im going to be dealt with differently

All in all once again Im glad for being who Iam, where Iam and hoping to go a long way in medicine

Posted by: HIna | Sep 26, 2008 3:09:04 PM

I second that emotion! Also, as I've said many times, the best day of my life is when I realized that as a medical student, I could finally talk about feces with other people. Poop. What a great connection!

Posted by: Kendra | Sep 26, 2008 3:19:31 PM

Tell me about it, my parents are not doctors and I got so consumed in anatomy that I just started talking about it to them one day. I was so sad to find them bored with anatomy because they didn't understand what I was talking about. All I could think was: 'why didn't they just look it up in google?'
The feces talk, that happened to me before starting medical school, there are a lot of digestion problems in my family. I think the truth is, once you start to deal with all the "gross" things, they're not so gross anymore. I think it's the same with looking at dead bodies, surgery, etc.
I will always be consumed by information about new diseases and treatment methods. I think that's the real reason why I'm becoming a doctor. That way I will always have an excuse to spend hours just learning about diseases, how they originate, etc.
I don't want to say I'm different because I'm a medical student. I want to say, better yet, that I have different interests than my friends that are not medical students.

Posted by: Simonne | Sep 30, 2008 2:07:49 PM

No way man! Ditto! I remember coming back from a trip with the neurosurgery team from Global Neuro rescue were I got to observe many cranial facial surgeries, were they peel off your face, make holes on your scull and split your head open for brain surgery! It is the most amazing thing in the world!!!At least to those who share that passion for neuro surgery
:) peace my fellow med students

Posted by: Araceli from Los Angeles | Sep 30, 2008 2:27:30 PM

HEY MAN, WHAT ARE YOU DOING? Are you supposed to be discussing patient's diseases and problems with your friends and family? Are those bankers and construction managers part of your health care team? Unbelievable!

Posted by: Angelou | Sep 30, 2008 4:20:24 PM

Hey Mr. Son,
What great comments! Do not forget, though, that steering a conversation with friends towards a description of what sorts of work you are doing in the hospital is not just 'an age-old healthcare professional sin'; it is the age-old practice of self-absorbed, entitled egomaniacs. That is why I would bet you infrequently find yourself listening to descriptions of your acquaintances' days at work. It is not that neurosurgery is automatically as interesting and prestigious as you think it is and investment banking, sports journalism and law are not; it is that talking about one's self all the time is lame, rude, and makes people dislike you even more than they do when they first meet you. Also, does your medical school's university have a writing center? You should run your work by them before you post something on the internet riddled with mistakes. Have a good one!

Posted by: U.R. Aclown | Sep 30, 2008 4:48:05 PM

How do I delete the comment I made above about discussing patients with relatives and friends. sorry abou that, Im still young and are probably over protective and over reactive.

Posted by: Angelou | Sep 30, 2008 5:43:33 PM

hey angelou, you are allowed to discuss patients in whatever way shape or form, to whomever whenever, as long as you do not specify their name.

Posted by: bzzzzzz | Sep 30, 2008 6:14:47 PM

Oh how funny. As an RN I notice I do this all the time. My kids got used to it, however my brother got after me once when I happened to mention a sore one of our favorite cats had to have fixed.
I guess one hasn't lived until you've made the folks next to you toss their dinner because they insist on listening in on your conversations.. (chuckle)

Posted by: LB | Oct 1, 2008 1:25:30 AM

It's far from rude to share your career or studies with dear friends whom you are meeting after a long time apart. This blog hardly implied that he did not, in return, listen to or find interest in his friends' careers. It implied that he felt isolated outside the world of his medical-field focused school, work, social, and family environments. I can completely see where he's coming from. I'm an undergraduate working on going to Physician Assistant school and come from a family background of nurses, doctors, and pharmacists. We had a Merck's on the coffee table for light reading. My friends here at college are from different backgrounds--comparative literature, Japanese language and literature, art, business, Physics ... It's hard sometimes to discuss difficulties in class or a particular research article I've read or even something I would think is as everyday as healthcare policy. It seems as if people are not studying medicine to pursue as a career that very few make personal attempts to understand their own bodies. Medical professionals usually have very little time to think of anything else. The demands of schooling to clinicals to internships to real-world careers, ect. are extremely time-consuming. And when you yourself are aware of how human you are and how attainable the things you've accomplished have been with honest, hard work, it's surprising to come into the world and realize that many visualize you as a role model, a leader, and sometimes even lift you up to the status of Demi-God when all you've really done is explored an interest in the human body with passion and attained the skills to understand and sometimes manipulate that body. People respect you, but have no real interest in what you're saying because they think they won't understand it (and often enough, they don't). It's a strange situation sometimes.

Posted by: CNM | Oct 1, 2008 7:56:25 AM

I had an incident in a restaurant when my partner and I were talking about breast cancer statistics(nothing gory or personal!) and the rather drunk 'gentleman' at the next table objected in very strong terms to our topic of conversation. As I tried to point out to him, it was rude of him to eavesdrop, however it ruined a very nice night off!
So aside from issues of confidentiality and good taste, I guess we need to consider that we can easily be overhead in public areas and what we consider as second nature may be upsetting to those around us.

Posted by: P | Oct 1, 2008 12:23:56 PM

My class mates and I always fall into the same trap! I have come to the conclusion that it's our way of dealing and coping with what we do and see every day, it's the world we live in. That's why I have non-medical friends and love them to bits!

Posted by: Ilke | Oct 1, 2008 1:06:12 PM

thats great. this means that u love this job to a degree that u cant separated from your own life.but i think this occur for a short period and desapear because you admire what you r studing.hope the best for u.

Posted by: tamara | Oct 1, 2008 2:49:38 PM

CNM, you hit the nail on the head. I found the article interesting and a reflection of myself. Getting into the med field we realize how human we really are. And in terms become very comfortable in our own skin. But everybody is entitled to thier own opinion.

Posted by: Ulu | Oct 1, 2008 2:56:47 PM

one might not be fascinate with law or banking, but those people are always fascinated with medicine. its quite simple bc medicine/anatomy/physiology pertains to ALL OF US and not just those who study medicine. everyone has certain diseases/gross things occur in their lives so they want to know from a friend. this happens to me often when i return home on vacations from med school. i always get asked "what's the grossest thing you've seen?" or "i have this and this, what should i do?" but we medicine-minded folks only ask about banking and law when we have a necessity. good article colin son. and uraclown, well, your name speaks for itself.

Posted by: eddyjoe | Oct 1, 2008 3:16:53 PM

that is so true...
Many a times I've gotten a kick under the table or a very stern.."thats enough young lady" from my mum during meal times...I'm told over and over again that its not a medical conversation I'm having but a family discussion...
Amazing what medicl school has done to us aye...first of all it robbed us of our sleep(remember all those sleepless nights??),then it deformed our handwriting(ever wondered what happened to the neat handwriting u used to have??) and now its even taking away our society inhibitions lol... truly it is amazing indeed the transformation we undergo in medical school!!!!

Posted by: mire | Oct 1, 2008 4:42:10 PM

nice article ,,

I loved hina's comment =D

what amazes people is the fact that afer being in the O.R you go out and eat haha

Posted by: Basmah | Oct 1, 2008 5:36:31 PM

It's true, it's kinda liberating to be able to talk about anatomy and bodily functions the way only a med student can ....

In other sort of thing, I think it's a little sad that you rather talk about medicine with your family.. I've never understood why so many med students rather do that than talk about other real life stuff and go out and do some "normal" things...it's not like you're career will diminish its quality or that you won't be able to perform your job as good if you're not 100% of the times talking, breathing, living medicine... we're people too and the first ones that should remember that is ourselves.

Posted by: Haruhi | Oct 1, 2008 5:44:04 PM

I think it's great that you're so passionate about medicine. Why are other people so disgusted??...well lets just remember that as fascinating as burr holes and craniotomies might be, this is all someone else's suffering.

Posted by: Flora | Oct 1, 2008 6:29:59 PM

Why do we talk about medicine with our family? Perhaps because our families ASK about it. My mother, for instance, is absolutely FASCINATED by the weird and wonderful stuff I encounter in my travels. I know which of my family and friends are interested, and the ones who turn green easily, so I know when it is and isn't appropriate to bring up the gory details.
Oh yeah, and my stories don't take that long, so there is plenty of time for 'real life' and 'normal stuff.'
Good article, Colin.

Posted by: Akroc | Oct 1, 2008 9:18:30 PM

Medicine kinda consumes our lives. It's hard to relate to non-med people especially during the semester when you're studying 24/7. All my jokes are now medical!

Posted by: Srv | Oct 1, 2008 11:25:50 PM

Hi, I'm a physician. Just a word of advice, don't be too full of yourself.. I do recount medical anecdotes to my non-medical relatives and friends but I make sure I have my fair time of attention. And remember, the best doctors are humble doctors.. Take care.

Posted by: nat | Oct 2, 2008 1:09:28 AM

haha this reminds me of when my flatmates(4 girls) and i were all doing urology at the same time and my flatmate's cousin(a boy of 21) was staying over for the night. we were all having breakfast together and somehow the topic of circumcision arose which ended up in a lengthy discussion of post-operative bleeding with different versions from each of us. the boy hasn't visited us ever since!

Posted by: moush, uni of auckland | Oct 2, 2008 3:08:01 AM

You are right!
Every little detail of medicine, from physiology to neurosurgery (or any other specialty) is fascinating. Being a medical student, resident, physician grants you a special gift, which is knowing the human body (the most fascinating species). We can go on and on citing examples of medical experience, but the truth is: Is there anything better than MEDICINE? I don't think so.

Posted by: Fernando | Oct 2, 2008 6:42:36 AM

quiet rare or at least its being long since I read something and feel I wrote that when i actually didnt. You just made me feel so Son!

It often makes a fool of me for in when someone in a serious conversation/talk in public keeps referring to the abdomen as the "stomach". And I happen to laugh alone.

I happen to be in the medical field alone in my family. So, one day me, my family and two friends were watching a comedy then at one scene two doctors were chatting;
1st one: This morning I was doing a sigmoidoscopy.
2nd one: Dont you do that just about every morning?
1st one: Then as I was going in I suddenly I saw the gall bladder and the liver.

Son, point is that you hit the nail on the head. I found the article my own thots and a reflection of myself. Getting into the med field I have realised how human I really am. And in terms become very comfortable in my own skin. But everybody is entitled to their own opinion. Some brothers/sisters up here want to be rude.

It gets worse, me and my family only meet as a family basically during meals and this is when somebody usually asks how I am finding Med school. Or atleast this is when I feel like talking about that soccer ball sized ovarian cyst we took out of that poor lady who thot she was pregnant for over a year, only to notice that the whole dinning table is quiet with there folks/spoons suspended between their plate and their mouth.

Posted by: Dien | Oct 2, 2008 12:14:12 PM

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