I walk inside the hallways of my hospital as if it were any other day. I have three big bags with me, one containing piles of documents with patient information that I need to shred, one with years of used scrubs that I decided I should return to the hospital, and the last containing small handwritten cards that I will give to the people I want to personally say goodbye to.
At 8:30 a.m., I am headed toward the cafeteria to get my daily coffee fix. I start feeling a little emotional. Something must be wrong with me. Why is walking through eons of food wreaking emotional havoc in my heart? I think about the countless times I have sought refuge in this place — to give myself a break, to calm my dying hunger, sometimes just to take a timeout from an exhausting day or a tough conversation with a patient. I decide to leave quickly, giving my best smile to the beautiful lady at the checkout. This will probably be the last time I see her; I thank her internally in my heart, too shy to say out loud: “Thank you for always smiling back at me on those tough days.”
At 9 a.m., it’s time to rush to the clinic to see my last few pediatric patients. It is a busy day, so things are buzzing as usual. I walk inside to see a young child and am instantly stumped by a clinical dilemma. I am internally struggling with myself. Today I have the option to walk outside and precept to the attending. Today, I can pretend that I will not be the attending tomorrow. Because today, I am still in training. I can ignore the part of my brain that is shaming me for not figuring this out on my own. My attending is super kind and happy to help and we figure it out together. But what am I going to do tomorrow — when I am not in the comfortable, sheltered environment of residency? I feel queasy.
At noon, I am seeing a newborn baby for the first time. The parents are beautiful and scared. I congratulate them, ask them about their sleep and feel a bond building right away. I chuckle as I remember seeing a newborn on my first day as a resident in the pediatric clinic. The parents had asked me a very basic question — something on the level of: “Should we feed the baby milk?” — and I had looked back at them with a nervous frown and sweaty palms. I replied, “Let me talk to another doctor and get back to you.”
Today, by contrast, I feel proud of my confidence as I talk to the parents, answering their simple questions. I feel grateful to the three years of struggle and the wonderful mentors who have prepared me to walk out and face the real world. I feel the uneasiness from the cafeteria slowly washing away.
After my visit with the newborn, the parents ask me, “Can we see you again next time?” A wave of sadness washes over me because this time I have to say no. I remember all of the patients that I have interacted with over the past three years who I will never see again. I feel sad but thankful for the lessons they have taught me.
I head over to the resident lounge to grab a quick bite with my co-residents. It feels very bittersweet. We talk about our days and our non-existent lives outside of work. We laugh and exchange hugs. Goodbyes are so hard; I wonder if we will ever see each other again?
By 4:00 p.m. we are almost done seeing patients and it’s time to say the final goodbye. Do I feel sad? Hell, yes, I do! As I wait for the end of the day, I wonder if I am ready to say goodbye to my comfort zone and head out for the last time. And then, it’s time to do it. I exchange hugs with the medical assistants, clinic staff, and faculty. I tell them about where I am moving next and receive good wishes in return. One of my faculty mentors stands in the hallway to wish me luck and says a few last magical words: “Go be a real person for once and enjoy your life.”
I reflect on my three years. Can I say that I enjoyed them? I think I did. Was residency easy? I won’t lie — these were probably the toughest three years of my life. Did I cry? Several times, but never in public. I always wanted to show a tough exterior. I always wanted to pretend that I was stronger than I actually was. Did I feel like I would sink? More times than you can imagine. Was it all worth it? Every single minute.
The amount of sadness I feel today speaks volumes about beautiful the journey was. And even though I sometimes forgot to live like a real person because I was so busy at work, the relationships I made and the experiences that I earned added to the realness of my personality. Today I feel so much stronger than I was three years ago. And I owe it all to residency, for making me resilient.
At 5 p.m., I hand over my badge. Time to head out and live outside my comfort zone. I feel a warm tear trickle down my cheek. I feel my heart turn into a mush of jelly. I take the final step out, inhale the fresh air, and give myself a pat on the back. Residency was wonderful. Would I do it again in a heartbeat? Yes. But only after a vacation!
Illustration by April Brust