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Sparrow's Point

'I Know You'll Take Good Care of Them.'

Internship holds weighty responsibilities, warm camaraderie and unusual sleeping relationships.

With this issue,"Sparrowís Point" becomes a regular Hopkins Medical News column.† Melissa Sparrow, a resident at the Johns Hopkins Childrenís Center, will provide us with ruminations on life as a beginning M.D. She graduated in June from the School of Medicine.

By Melissa Sparrow

Melissa SparrowWe spark up conversations with one another about where weíve come from: Iowa, South India, the San Francisco Bay, and our particular medical interests: primary care, hospitalism, intensive care. In our internship newness, weíre tentative about self-revelation, shy, tucked-in. Weíre nervous and anxious to begin the narrative whose preface weíve heard once and then again. As the senior residents flow into the reception room, their bodies take up space in a ripe and confident way; they are at home both in the hospital and with themselves. They jingle and clink with pagers, keys, calculators hung on chains. Theyíve shed their white coats with overstuffed pockets.

Between bites of pizza I chat with another new intern, Laurie, recently married and interested in neurology. She is petite, with a trim face, eyes with riddles in them. We nod often, hum in agreement. As we speak, a young woman approaches us, a departing senior resident. I can tell by her glow, wistful and excited at once. She has slightly upturning eyes, a freckled, tan face, and a smile of striking angles. She puts out her hand and firmly shakes mine as she introduces herself. "Iím Adrianna," she says. "Youíre going to inherit my clinic patients."

"Oh! Do you give me your beeper too?" I ask.

"No, youíll get someone elseís. Thatís probably good. All my patients had my beeper number. I wanted to let you know that I put together a sign-out, a summary of each patient, his or her family and social situation, you know, important things you should know about. I also wrote them each a letter telling them I was leaving, and giving them your name. Dr. Sparrow, I told them, easy to remember, like the bird. I know youíll take good care of them."

I nod, holding the gaze of her eyes. She is beautiful to me, everything I want to become. I want to reassure her, to tell her I will care for these patients with the same dedication she has, that they are in good hands, the way I might tell a mother not to worry, her children are safe. But in truth, overwhelmed by the responsibility mounting at my feet, I can hardly speak.

"Youíll love this program," she says. "It can get crazy sometimes. But the camaraderie and support is amazing."

We shake hands again. I watch her walk away, meet up with another senior resident on her way out the door. I am thankful that she has spoken to me in this way, shaken my hand. In this single act, a world, generation upon generation, passed from her body, not completely, but enough to connect me with its legacy.

I havenít stepped into a bedroom with another man in at least ten years. I know by the end of this month, or by next call night even, it will be old hat, nothing in me will even remark about the oddity. But tonight, or, should I say, this morning, at four oíclock, after midnight rounds, an admission for new onset seizures and another for neonatal hyperbilirubinemia, it feels strange to be going to sleep with my senior resident.

Brianís in the bathroom; heís shared with me this intimate secret: he canít sleep unless his teeth are brushed. Iím embarrassed; I donít even have a toothbrush with me. Will he concern himself with the fact that Iím going to bed swimming in tooth slime? I canít even believe Iím thinking these thoughts. The scrub machine isnít working. Iím wearing a dress. Iím in a small, dark, characterless room, listening to a man brushing his teeth in the next door bathroom, and wondering what to wear to bed. I take off my white coat and hang it on the door. I lay my three pagers, along with my chain of IDís and keys, on the box-for-a-bedside-table.

I climb into the lower bunk and pull the blanket over me. Now Iím wondering: is it against some tacit rule of residency to crawl into bed before my senior? Wouldnít it be absurd, though, to sit on the chair and wait for him? I lie there, exhausted and wide awake. He comes back from the bathroom, brushed, washed, handsome. He has scrubs on, of course. He takes off his accouterments and lays them on a barren metal shelf. "You go on the top, right?" I say from underneath the sheet and am suddenly mortified.


He spends what seems like an inordinate amount of time standing, reaching above him, fixing the covers on his top bunk. I see only the shadow of his lower torso hovering above me. "There are some scrubs on the chair, you know," he says.

"Yeah, but theyíre only pants," Iím quick to return.

He climbs above me. I lie below him, my body perfectly rigid, wide awake, speechless with exhaustion, abuzz with adrenaline. In my year away from clinical work, I talked with my husband every night before going to sleep. It was a moment of letting down our guard, of momentous intimacy and silence, a giving up of pretense, an act of trust. I can hear my senior breathing.

"Goodnight," I say.

He pauses. "Nite." I hear him shift above me. The bunk bed jiggles. He begins to snore, loudly, almost immediately. At some point, I, too, fall asleep.