Wednesday, March 29, 2006

I laughed cruelly...

at this.

It is, in fact, quite funny.

And then I remembered a shockingly similar incident from my own past. So I stopped laughing.

And now I feel the need for a penitential confession of my own stupidity. Here goes.

In a far away land, long ago, or, once upon a time, or, whilom, I got myself an internship through a friend's connection and my surprisingly gutsy willingness to walk into a stranger's office and offer to work for free for the experience. Just as surprisingly, the stranger accepted my offer, no doubt because of the connection, because I can't have inspired any confidence whatsoever.

I was totally out of my league. Let's be clear. Completely, and totally out of my league. I was the softball player on a tennis court or something, yes, that far out of my league.

The first day was an absolute whirl of confusion. The bossguy, let's call him Bossguy One (there was also a Bossguy Two), was an incredibly brilliant guy who spoke so softly I could barely hear him.

He gave me a book to read, which would provide background for the research project I'd be helping on, and which was WAY more appropriate to someone doing a post-doc in the field than to my first year in college stupidity, which I'd like to call innocence, except it was stupidity.
Then he handed me the computer manual to read. It was clear that he expected me to read them both, and to be pretty much up to speed and quickly.

He showed me the computer, which took up most of a wall, and taught me how to boot it up by using toggle switches to enter a series of numbers in base 7. He had to remind me of base 7, but at least I'd heard of it.

The second day, the real work would begin.

The next day, the real work began indeed. I'd spent the night reading, pretty much, and got there bright and early in the morning.

A very basic part of my work involved taking the rectal temperature of a cat. I'd never had a cat in my life, and hadn't spent much time looking at the backside of a cat. And did I mention my stupidity?

I lifted the cat's tail. And there were two holes. I stopped. And then because I was more willing to let my stupidity be known than to mess up a cat (or other people's important work), I asked...

With WAY more kindness and gentleness than I deserved, Bossguy One explained which hole was the rectum, and that the other was the vagina. Because, really, I was that stupid.

So I shouldn't have been laughing so hard at the poor intern guy in the linked post, except, well, I'm a cruel, heartless, horrid person. I only wish I had half Bossguy One's brilliance, patience, and gentleness with students.

I learned a LOT from that internship. The most important thing I learned, though, was what I didn't want to do with the rest of my life. That's a damned important lesson. Even more important, I think, than how to take a cat's rectal temperature.


  1. Your story sounds neither fun nor comfortable. At least you got the experience out of the way before deciding you wanted to major in it...

  2. Oh, goodness, yes -- it was a good learning experience on a grand level but, oh!, the discomfort on your part and on the cat's in the short term. . . .

  3. and how did you meander into the Australian conversation?!

  4. I don't mean to give the wrong impression: that moment wasn't fun or whatever, BUT, it was over quickly, and my boss was an incredible teacher, especially one on one.

    It's not that I learned things there that I use everyday, but broadly, I did.

    And even though I learned that I didn't want to go into lab research, I stayed a science geek til I went back to school after being in the Peace Corps, loved studying science. Even now, my science geek background adds to my life all the time.

    Really, my only regrets about my undergrad years are that I didn't really learn to study early on, and that I didn't take full advantage of the faculty who would probably have been happy to answer questions in office hours and such (because when I was a senior and actually asked questions, they were always generous with their help).

    I found that blog by clicking around, ages ago, and just get a real kick out of it. It's a great read all the time.

  5. ps. To differentiate myself from the guy in BB's post: It probably also matters that I was just done with my first year in college (and not a graduate veterinarian or something parallel to a doctor out of med school), asked for help fast (rather than putting it off for 5 hours or reading the newspaper instead of doing what needed to be done), and was noticably nervous on my first day.

  6. As you say, Bardiac, your situation was very different to that involving my intern.

    There's a common saying around the hospitals: if you don't know, ask.

    If my interns don't know and they ask, I am extremely helpful. I always finish my ward round by asking "Any questions or concerns?", and if my interns come into the OR during an operation I always greet them and ask how things are on the wards. That way if they need to ask an urgent question they don't have to feel as if they are interrupting or being a nuisance.

    My interns are all aware that if they don't know and they don't ask, I will not be happy. Interns who are scared, lazy, unsupported or ignorant are dangerous for patients.

    I tend to be quite protective of my interns. I sometimes tell them that if anyone gives them a hard time I want them to tell me, as "I don't want anyone else abusing you - that's my job". I try to ensure that they don't have too many stressors at the one time. I try to ensure that they never feel close to breaking point.

    My last intern (not the one featured in this post) thanked me at the end of his rotation for being a great teacher. I was really touched. He was a great intern. He had a very limited idea of how to insert a urinary catheter when he started the term. I was happy to teach him and he was happy to learn. Incredibly grateful, actually. I never threatened to neuter him. Not even close.

  7. Yeah, but the similarity was that I was utterly stupid, too! So I shouldn't have been laughing quite so cruelly. Still, it WAS darned funny!

    Boy, I'd like to threaten to neuter a couple of my students... anything to keep them from breeding. Want to come around and do a few snip jobs here and there?

  8. We've all been utterly stupid at some point... I shall make a note to post about my stupidity at some point.

    And yes, there really are some people who shouldn't breed. There have been a few occasions when my consultants have cruelly suggested that we should do a vasectomy on a patient while they're under general anaesthetic "in the interests of the gene pool". Unfortunately the scrub nurse always reminds us that it's illegal to snip them without consent.