The First Shift

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I walked into the hospital that morning wearing my red polo and khakis, which I feared made me look far more like a glorified Target employee than a capable intern. As I stepped out of the elevator, I realized that four hours of basic training could never come close to preparing me to enter the busy world of 7 East, the orthopedic floor. Worries echoed through my head: What if I get lost, or the nurses get mad at me, or the patients don't like me? Putting these anxieties out of my mind, I ventured into the staff lounge, where the more senior intern scheduled to guide me along was supposed to be waiting. However, that day he had called in sick. I couldn't believe it. My first shift, and I wouldn't even have someone to teach me the ropes.

I tentatively knocked on the door of my first patient's room and entered. Forcing my face into a bright smile, I introduced myself and inquired if there was anything I needed to help with. The only request was a fresh pitcher of ice water. Okay, here was a task I definitively knew how to do. But I should have known that the whole shift wouldn't be so simple.

I was nearing the end, convinced that I had learned all I could possibly know about working in a hospital, when I entered my last room. I...

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