02 May 2014

The siesta method

On the trauma surgery rotation, rounds start early. At 6:00 AM, to be exact (and medical students had best be exact, lest they show up late and incur the attending physician's scorn).

But when I was on the rotation, the workday also ended mercifully early. Often, we finished before noon. Some of the medical students would go home straight away. Others would hang around, studying for the upcoming surgery exam and waiting for trauma cases to roll in. But by the time evening fell, all of the students would have already filtered out of the hospital.

That is, except for me. Almost by accident, I was on a different schedule from my classmates. I have named it "the siesta method," and it is a true winner.

To make sure I had time to see my patients before rounds and prepare my presentations to the wards team, some days I would set my alarm for 3:50 AM. By the end of the workday, I was knackered. Too spent to study or hang around, I would grab lunch and then head straight to the medical student call room to nap. Several hours later, I would wake up to find that nightfall had descended. I would groggily grab dinner and shuffle to a classroom where I could study for my upcoming surgery exam.

Sometimes, though, the wail of an ambulance or the distant chop of a helicopter would shatter the nighttime silence. A trauma case! Trauma cases excited me much more than studying. I would sprint to the emergency room to see what new case had been brought in. Indeed, most trauma cases come in at night, in large part because night is when people most commonly consume alcohol.

During the day, as many as six medical students would arrive at a trauma case. But at night, I was the only medical student there. I got to stand near the patient and even participate in the resuscitation efforts. The residents took notice. They were impressed that a medical student had decided to stay so late, when they could be at home. I got a reputation as "that med student who's always here." The attendings noticed as well. They encouraged me to "scrub in" to (i.e. participate in) their surgeries. "We've never seen a medical student here this late," one explained. "We really appreciate it, because it gives us more opportunities to teach."

Some nights were quiet. On these nights, I would go home and catch up on sleep until my 3:50 AM alarm. Other nights, when the trauma bay was buzzing, I would stay up all night, enjoying a ring-side view of the fascinating cases that came in.

By sleeping twice a day, I ensured I was getting sufficient sleep. If I pulled an all-nighter, I would simply sleep for longer the following afternoon.

Eventually I finished the trauma rotation, and went back to sleeping only once a day, at night. But I miss the excitement of the trauma cases, and look back fondly on my siesta system. It ended up being a fantastic way to learn surgery.