Friday, January 27, 2006

A real pain

(My first submission to First Drafts and posted in January 2006. The prompt was "imagination")

Nursing 101

In nursing school, a large number of my classmates, myself included, became closet-hypochondriacs. It's almost a prerequisite to graduating.

As a nursing student, you're immersed in learning about the body and how it works. You're required to learn signs and symptoms; develop an inquiring, analytical mind; and most of all for a nurse, learn to be observant.

Now, the body is a wonderful and complex thing. It's amazing how it goes about looking after itself - most of the time, with little thought on our part. The digestive system keeps digesting, the heart keeps beating, blood flows, the brain synapses keep firing (well, usually), and all is well. Except when things go WRONG.

I went to nursing school quite a while ago, but certain things remain the same. You go through various rotations in different areas: medical, surgical, paediatrics, etc., and the instructors try to give you a good cross-section of experiences that you can apply to future patients. Each patient you get tends to be analyzed to death (figuratively speaking). You look up signs and symptoms and all the complications that could possibly occur; you hear case presentations from your classmates; you analyze and discuss those; you do a lot of reading about what's normal and abnormal. All of this is a good and necessary part of your training.

The problem arises when your imagination gets the better of you. You start thinking maybe the indigestion and twinge you felt in the right upper quadrant is a sign of cholecystitis. You suspect that the headaches you get aren't tension headaches – but a BRAIN Tumour! Every mole looks like SKIN Cancer; every chest and shoulder pain is an impending HEART Attack. But of course, you don't tell anybody of these suspicions because what if they're PSYCHOsomatic - everyone will think you're a nut case ready for the psych ward!

The weird thing is that the symptoms you think you have, coincide with whatever rotation and cases you're learning about. It's amazing how fast those symptoms disappear and change when you move from a medical rotation to obstetrics and gynecology.

In most cases, I'd say imagination is a good thing. It's necessary for problem-solving and creativity. Great inventions are borne of imaginative and creative minds. Where would we be without imagination? But in the case of hypochondriacal nursing students, imagination can be a real pain!

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