May 31 2006
Dear Dr. Shem,
I read your book, The House of God, years ago when I was still in college majoring in my health care field. Hmmm, make that years and years ago. Anyway, I laughed my ass off then and I just did it again while rereading the (probably only slightly) fictionalized account your internship year in medicine. I gave a copy to a friend of mine when she started her internship year at the University of Florida. She slowly read it during the 3-4 free minutes she had each day that year. When she finally finished it, all she said was, “Yeah, that’s about it.” She survived her right of passage and has been practicing in internal medicine for over 10 years now.
People who don’t work in teaching hospitals will probably gasp and goggle in disbelief and horror at how you describe that first year of medical teaching as a doctor but I’ve trained and worked in teaching facilities and I’m here to tell them that it’s (mostly) all true. Every horrible, hilarious, “black as the angel of death” humorous moment of it. I’ve seen medical students and interns crack under the strain, learn more with one terribly sick patient in the middle of the night than in 10 lectures and fight to remain human through it all. Some of the medicine has changed over the years (we no longer give aspirin to children, keep most patients in the hospital for weeks at a time or hand out valium like candy) and the basic training has improved a little but medical training still has a long way to go. God bless all of the young doctors out in the trenches of modern health care and remember, when you hear hoof beats, look for horses and not zebras.