Fear and Loathing in French Camp

Hello My Beautiful Reader,

I hope you are well. I feel like we should just hug each other next time I see you. As you probably heard from my incessant whining and complaining- Steven and I are doing part of our surgery rotation in Stockton. We live in a shitty building with no hot water and there are spiders. Spiders. Ugh.

But it is important for me to tell you more about what this county hospital--built on an alpaca farm--on the outskirts of one of California’s most dangerous cities, is like.

Recently I bonded with Dean Henderson over the use of paper charts—something this hospital still uses. In the mornings, before rounds, the med students have to get there several hours early to run around and write down all of the vitals from the paper charts overnight for the residents—something Henderson himself remembers doing when he was in med school—like 30 years ago. I’m not bitter…not bitter at all. But paper charts are dangerous and they waste everyone’s time. I know EMR has its problems but its 2017 people. Get with the times. You cannot check medication interactions on paper and I can’t read your god damn handwriting.

Another absurdity that takes place here is the design of the hospital building itself. Let’s just say it puts the east wing of UCD to shame. There are two buildings, the newer part and then an older building called the towers- a medieval looking building made of stone bricks. Interestingly enough if you are standing on the third floor of the new building and then walk across the completely flat breezeway to the towers—you would find yourself on the 4th floor—without actually going up a floor. It’s a relic of how the floors were numbered and its super weird. Steven likes to tell me where to go in the hospital by using words like, “north”  and “south.” These words mean nothing to me Steven. Nothing.

Amidst this rather shitty building, with its shit system of patient record keeping and stupid layout, there are some really sick folks.

This morning when I was walking through the ER waiting room, the inscription of the Statue of Liberty came into my mind.

"Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

I know it sounds a little saccharine, but the people sitting in the ER waiting room, in Stockton at 4am—well they look pretty tempest tossed to me. The hospital is full of people whom society has forsaken and forgotten about. One of the features that was advertised to us at the start of our time in Stockton was that the pathologies of patients were “really good.” And of course by really good, they mean really bad. Disease so advanced we might only expect to see it in other, underdeveloped nations. And yet here they are, right in our own backyard. We see patients so in the grips of poverty or mental illness or drug use or victims of violence and tragedy of tremendous proportions.

We often visit the room of a recent trauma patient we saw. We peak our heads in and see family and friends visiting, leaving pictures and notes and whispering words of love and encouragement. We look up recent labs and imaging and physician notes—anything that might give us a glimmer of hope that things won’t end terribly for this family. Sometimes we glance in the direction of the room and shake our heads or ring our hands.

Stockton is a place of paradoxes. In spite of limping along with paper charts and poor design, this hospital catches our most vulnerable and for the many victims of violence in Stockton has often been the only thing between those people and death. Our trauma patient is getting good care. People who come to this hospital get help—although its often not nearly as much as we hoped. I think the woman who delivered her baby on the floor of the ER waiting room might attest to this. It’s a miracle-- but its messy and not anything like we thought it would be.

We only have a week left in French Camp, and while I can’t wait to get back to Davis, I am reluctantly grateful for my time here. While I will continue to fly into a rage about the copious amount of carpeting in the hospital (who does that?) and the fact that I spend my day tracking down charts, I have nothing but respect for the men and women who show up everyday to an imperfect building, with an imperfect system, in city rife with problems, to help people with no where else to go.


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