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A Taste of My Own Medicine

Kendracampbell572x722Kendra Campbell -- I’m sitting in my bed in my apartment in Brooklyn, New York. I am wearing comfy sweatpants and have my blanket pulled up as high as it will go while still allowing me to type. I have two pieces of toilet paper, crumpled up, stuffed in each nostril, soaking up copious amounts of mucus. The heat in my apartment is turned up to the max. My bedside table is littered with cough syrup, nose spray, ibuprofen, tissues, water, orange juice, chapstick, day time cold meds, vitamins, and honey. Every few moments, I have to stop typing to cough up some mucus into a tissue, or to change the “snot plugs” in my nose.

You might have guessed by now...I am sick.

What started out as a minor cold eventually turned into bronchitis, and I somehow then developed pneumonia. Life definitely sucks right now.

Yesterday was quite an interesting day. I came into the hospital at 8:00 a.m. for morning rounds. My attending physician took one look at me and told me to go home and to get checked out by a doctor. Since I have no primary care physician in New York, and since I didn’t feel like calling around to various doctors, only to be told that they weren’t accepting new patients, and since my health insurance is so crappy that I knew I’d be paying out of pocket anyway, I decided to take the elevator down to the Emergency Department of the hospital.

Now, at this point, I was still wearing my white coat and stethoscope, and when I approached the ED check-in counter, the friendly nurse immediately said, “how can I help you doctor?” When I told him that I needed to see a doctor, he promptly recorded my details and alerted the triage nurse to come take my vitals. Since I had to take off my white coat to have my blood pressure taken, I went ahead and left it off the rest of the time. Now, I was no longer a med student/fake doctor, but had joined the ranks of the patients.

After getting my vitals, the triage nurse handed me a cup and told me to get a urine sample and bring it back. All of the ED bathrooms were occupied, so I walked down the hallway to find an available bathroom. The only one I could find had a broken lock, but I decided to use it anyway. Halfway into giving my “sample” an elderly hispanic man opened the door, was surprised to see me hovering over the toilet with a plastic cup between my legs, mumbled something in Spanish, and then promptly closed the door. Yes, I was definitely now a patient.

I returned to the nurse, gave her my urine sample, and sat back down in the ED waiting area. Many hours went by, and many of my fellow med student friends came by to check on me, and upon realizing how long I’d been waiting, suggested that I use my med student status to get bumped up in line. They had apparently done this many times before. I thought about it, and decided that I didn’t want to. My visit really wasn’t an emergency, and I didn’t think it was fair to go ahead of all the other people who had been waiting just as long. It eventually became obvious to me that had I kept my white coat on, I would have received different and mostly likely faster service.

If I had to do it all over again, I would do it the same way. I kind of liked the anonymity of being just another patient, and not a medical student wearing a stethoscope. In fact, I think the only way anyone could tell that I was not an average patient was by the color of my skin (most of our patients are latino/hispanic or black) and by how I described my symptoms.

In fact, I think the doctor who eventually saw me thought it was a bit entertaining that instead of listing my symptoms as a runny nose, watery eyes and coughing up blood, I complained of rhinorrhea, excessive lacrimation, and hemoptysis.

Ahhh, the joys of being a patient! Now please excuse me while I change my snot plugs.

November 29, 2008 in Kendra Campbell | Permalink


Not that I want to minimize your patient experience, but I think the best way to experience both perspectives is through chronic illness. After seeing a number of physicians in different specialties, and sitting in too many waiting rooms, I have a really good idea of what patients want and don't want from a doctor. It engenders a real empathy (not clinical empathy) for all of the things that patients have to go through-- insurance, paying for meds, scheduling appointments, etc. Sometimes I wish that all med students were assigned illnesses and spent one year "living" with it. That would really change a lot of the behaviors in my peers. They mean well, but sometimes they just don't get it.

Posted by: cg | Dec 2, 2008 4:04:57 PM

For a second, I thought you meant Phenergan, Fentanyl, and PEG solution for an all night freak fest.

Posted by: Ryan | Dec 2, 2008 5:58:27 PM

A clever & sound finding that may initiate young medical practitioners to go through it!!

If i forward faulty suggestion please feel free to criticize me at my e-mail mhdseidmhd@gmail.com
// 2nd year medical student // AAU//ETHIOPIA//

Posted by: Mohamed Seid | Dec 3, 2008 11:45:17 AM

Wow,truley a taste of ones own medicine huh??i think we shd feel wat it is like 2b a patient for one day..entertaining article,especially the last paragraph!!hopeur feeling better now!!

Posted by: Maryam | Dec 3, 2008 8:28:02 PM

Lovely article name. Can i steal it for mine? :P

hey similar article name applies to our lives where we harm others without thinking that how our "own" medicine would taste. think on that too :)


Posted by: Dr. Fatima | Dec 4, 2008 12:30:41 AM

haha...well, u surely will be able to detect if a patient is in the medical world...he will always use the medical terms... murmur,rhinorrea,dysuria etc to their symptoms... :-)... do u have to pay for professional fee even if ur a med student?... here in my country, it's part of our ethics not to let our fellow doctors pay even med students... though we have to pay or the labs though :P

Posted by: ninette_umpa | Dec 4, 2008 3:44:09 AM

Get well. Inspiring article :)

Posted by: monica | Dec 4, 2008 8:18:26 AM

yeah..intresting parapgraph!i think this is a cool story because doctors usually don't see the other side of the story.. which is the patient's side.

Posted by: Kiamei Iwamoto | Dec 5, 2008 4:54:50 PM

Great article! I personally try to avoid doctors as much as possible, I hate waiting in lines for hours while my OB/Gyn is drinking morning coffee and chatting with nurses, listening to patients complaining on their docs and exchanging "brilliant" ideas of new methods of alternative medicine treatment, rude secretaries and nurses...I'm scared of going to the doctors even though in 7 months I'll be one myself! However when my grandparents get sick I very often experience the very bad side of medical health service and unfortunately bad doctors' attitude. They don't talk to patients, make them wait for hours in ED (my granfather with a stroke spent 6 hours waiting for the description of CT scan in ED left completely by himself). In most of the hospital the only time the family can talk to the doctor is 1 hour a day usually around noon! I never wanted to use my white coat but since I had really bad experiences now I always explain I am a med student in the very beginning of my conversation with nurse or doc. and unfortunately it makes a big change in their attitude!

Posted by: Anita | Dec 5, 2008 5:03:37 PM

I have been fascinated to discover that I can have micro illnesses. Having been full-on sick twice in 6 weeks, I figure my lymph is now recognizant of the common bugs du jour. And so it seems to be, because every5 or 6 days I'll have what is definitely the first stirrings of a response: tender inflammation, mucus, fever, and then it subsides by the afternoon. I even had a sore throat last week, that, though severe, disappeared entirely by the evening, with no other trace of illness.

Fascinating to see the memory cells in full swing!

Posted by: atom_box | Dec 9, 2008 3:42:50 PM

I loved the way you described your symptoms to your ED Doctor. I do the same thing to my Doctors, even before I was remotely interested in going to Med School! If you are in the ED of any hospital that you work/do placement in, you may as well try to get somewhere using it. You know that the Residents/Attendings do it - they do it to me in the Radiology Department and expect to not pay for their treatment as well....

Get dosed up Pseudoephidrine and sleep it off! You poor thing! I hope you feel better soon! :)

Posted by: Amy | Dec 17, 2008 3:10:03 AM

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