The First Shift

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I walked into the hospital that morning wearing my red polo and khakis, which I feared made me look far more like a glorified Target employee than a capable intern. As I stepped out of the elevator, I realized that four hours of basic training could never come close to preparing me to enter the busy world of 7 East, the orthopedic floor. Worries echoed through my head: What if I get lost, or the nurses get mad at me, or the patients don’t like me? Putting these anxieties out of my mind, I ventured into the staff lounge, where the more senior intern scheduled to guide me along was supposed to be waiting. However, that day he had called in sick. I couldn’t believe it. My first shift, and I wouldn’t even have someone to teach me the ropes.

I tentatively knocked on the door of my first patient’s room and entered. Forcing my face into a bright smile, I introduced myself and inquired if there was anything I needed to help with. The only request was a fresh pitcher of ice water. Okay, here was a task I definitively knew how to do. But I should have known that the whole shift wouldn’t be so simple.

I was nearing the end, convinced that I had learned all I could possibly know about working in a hospital, when I entered my last room. I was greeted by a sprightly 97 year-old woman — just recovering from a hip replacement. She asked if it would be too much trouble to help her to the toilet, so I obliged, carefully walking her over to the bathroom in the corner. I was about to lower her onto the toilet, but as misfortune would have it, we were just seconds too late: a woman old enough to be my great grandmother had soiled herself. Luckily, none hit me: in any case, my first reaction was to take care of her. I cleaned her and helped her change into a fresh, albeit too large, hospital gown. I carefully settled her back into her bed and went to mop up the bathroom. Before I left, she gave me a heartwarming “Thank you, dear,” the best reward I could have asked for.

After finishing my shift a short while later, I related the events of the day to a friend. It wasn’t until she reacted with disgust to that end-of-the-day mishap that I realized what I had really accomplished: I did not mind doing what others might find revolting. That elderly woman was in need of help, and I didn’t consider showing her anything but compassion. For me, it was just an instinct. She had nobody else to rely on and it meant so much for me to be that person for her. Now, I always look forward to my shifts with anticipation for what the day will hold. Being at the hospital gives me a purpose in my life: I am making a difference in other people’s lives, no matter how small it might be, and that gives me more happiness and satisfaction than anything else ever could. I can’t imagine making a career out of anything other than caring for others. My internship has helped me realize that.

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