I leaned toward the physician I was shadowing and apologized. I had a class to get to. She nodded and said, “No problem. Hopefully today was a good experience.” She didn’t shake my hand, as her finger was the only thing blocking a hole in her patient’s common iliac artery. I wished I could stay longer, but class called. Med school puts you in odd situations.

I thought about changing out of my scrubs. It had been essential to wear them while observing the surgery, because surgeries can be messy. And scrubs are easy to clean, reversible, and comfortable. I decided to keep mine on and headed outside.

I walked out of the hospital, blinking in the bright sun that hadn’t been up yet when I’d arrived hours earlier. Patients, family members, and health-care workers were clustered around the entrance. Around me, I heard the chirping of birds, the whirring of a food truck generator, and snippets of conversation.

“… you think she’s cheating on me? I was thinking about hiring a …”

“… was great to talk to you too, Abuela. I’ll let you know when I hear back about …”

“… I’m so proud of you. You are a fighter and I know you can …”

As I walked away from the crowd, I heard one more.

“… it was supposed to be done by now. Do you think everything’s all right?”

I thought about the room I’d just left. Someone out here might be waiting for word about that patient. It had been a risky surgery, but a strong sense of hope makes it easier to ignore the odds. Plus, if the lottery is any indication, we humans aren’t great at fully internalizing probabilities.

If someone out here was waiting for word about that patient, as they listened to the chirping birds and whirring truck, would they notice the medical student who just walked out of the hospital looking shell-shocked? Would they wonder if the student knows something they don’t?

I found it hard to focus in my class. I hadn’t expected what I overheard on my short walk from the hospital to affect me so much, to sap my concentration and optimism.

I decided I was glad I’d kept my scrubs on. It was pretty messy outside, too.

Later that day, the doctor texted me. Her patient had survived. I told her I’d been worried.

She said she’d been worried, too.

Brian R. Smith
Stanford, California


1 thought on “Overheard”

  1. Thank you, Brian, for this story which captures the collision between two worlds. Sometimes the hospital or the OR or even a clinic exam room can be like a cocoon, and we forget the world outside. This is a good reminder to remeber the bigger context.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Scroll to Top