July: Danger! Danger!

Few patients—but every doctor—knows you should never, ever, under any circumstances get sick and go to the emergency room during the month of July. Why, you ask?

The answer is simple: Interns! Medical students! Every July 1st, a new crop of green students is released onto the unsuspecting public to practice their fumbling skills for the first time.

Aren’t they trained, you ask? Well…I suppose if you call watching someone else performing a procedure as training, they are technically trained. But do you want your spinal tap to be the first attempt of an inexperienced medical student?

Trust me, you don’t!

How do I know? Because I once was that terrified newbie! With shaking hands and perspiring brow, I stuck a needle into the back of a man with possible meningitis. Unsuccessful on my first attempt, I had to jab the needle into his spine three times before I finally saw spinal fluid drip into the plastic tube. Thank God, I hadn’t hit his spinal cord!

I don’t know who was more elated—me, or the patient! The whole time I performed the spinal tap, I prayed fervently to God, Jesus, St. Frances of Assisi, St. Augustine, St. Raphael, and Mother Mary—and I’m not even Catholic! Had I known about Saint Anthony, the Patron Saint of Miracles, I would have added him to the mix.

Unfortunately, what goes around comes around!

My fourth year of medical school, in the month of July, I developed viral meningitis. I was so terrified an incompetent student would perform my spinal tap, I refused to go to the ER! My neck stiffened to the point where I couldn’t turn my head. My temperature hovered at 105 degrees. And talk about a killer headache! I knew I had meningitis, but I didn’t tell my husband, or he might drag me to the ER.

My efforts to fool Nathan failed miserably when I put away a sink full of filthy plates and pans—unwashed! I vaguely remember seeing the dishes in the sink smeared with spaghetti sauce and French dressing and wishing someone would deal with them…I have no recollection of stacking the sauce-smeared plates into the cupboard unwashed!

I learned of my minor mishap when I heard banging around in the kitchen, then my husband’s pronouncement of, “Gross!” He stormed into our bedroom and informed me of the dirty dish disaster. Hands on his hips he snapped, “That’s it! You’re clearly delirious. I’m taking you to the ER!”

“No!” I screamed, as though he had threatened to sell me into slavery. I refused to crawl out of bed. “It’s July! If I go to the ER, some incompetent medical student will do my lumbar puncture, and I’ll end up paralyzed for life.”

Okay, I was exaggerating, but it got his attention!

Unfortunately, Nathan was not as easily bamboozled as I'd hoped. “Sally, this is serious! If you have bacterial meningitis, you could die. We need to go to the ER and rule it out.”

“Forget it!” I snapped, rolling over in bed and pulling the covers over my head. I knew it was most likely viral meningitis because ten days earlier, a child with viral meningitis sneezed all over me. (I was on my pediatrics rotation.) Since there's no effective treatment for viral meningitis, I saw no reason to subject my spinal column to the fumbling attempts of a greenhorn. Of course, if I’d been wrong and it really was bacterial meningitis.... I wouldn't be alive to write this blog!

With grave reservations, Nathan tossed up his hands in defeat. “You’re the one with the medical training, so I’ll defer to your judgment.”

One might question how reliable the judgment of a delirious medical student could be, but I didn’t point this out to him!

Thankfully, even delirious, my judgment was correct--either that or Saint Anthony was looking out for me! Within two weeks, my headache, fever, and stiff neck were gone. But the lesson I learned that day remained—never get sick in the month of July!!!