Through the central square of the hospital, three walked, in clean, short, white coats. Their newness was a beacon; the shining, spotless coats, clean-shaven faces (just so happened they were all guys).
The only people who have spotless white coats in the hospital are the new medical students and the attendings. The attendings have spotless coats because someone washes and irons them for them in some mysterious way I'm sure I won't find out until the day after the end of residency. But you can tell, given the creases in the sleeves that every attending has, they don't all get up themselves and iron their coats at four in the morning. If that were the case, some of them would be bound to skip it.
And the new medical students, their coat is probably still fresh from the ceremony that starts medical school. They don't have the ripped pockets from stuffing them full of extra books in a vain attempt to ward off ignorance. Or, for that matter, stuffing lunch into them, or even a drink. I saw one experienced resident fit a full cup of water with no lid on it into his pocket to pass through the ICU, then take it out again on the other side. Only one of the reasons he was a mentor.
No coffee spilled from late nights, no staining chlorhexadine scrub from washing hands after going to see a patient with C. diff (actually, soap and water is probably good enough, but tell me that my first week of medicine). No gunk from the chest tube removed a bit too briskly.
What's amazing is how close I still am to those spotless students. We acclimate quickly, and after only a semester I and all my colleagues have strong, strong opinions on diagnosis, treatment, current issues. We aren't always right, but increasingly, we are. And to think, six short months ago, I felt as though I hadn't a clue. Don't get me wrong, I'm still not competent, but getting there.
The coat must also be some metaphor for training. It's no coincidence that it's spotless only at beginning and end. The training drags you through the mud of humanity and your own self for years to re-forge you on the other side. And we ask for it.
So those new students inspire feelings of relief that I'm finally learning the 'real' stuff of medicine, 'living the dream', and not just watching it on PowerPoint. But their spotlessness reminds me how far I have to go, how I'm still deep in it. And, truth be told, the clean coat of the attending is a different clean; a clean of someone who has learned to live in the midst of medicine. A clean I'm not ready for yet. For now, I'll stick to the proud, battered coat I have, with the ripped sleeve, torn pockets from overstuffing and running into corners rushing to finish my scutwork before rounds, and stains from Lord knows what. Until I earn the longer coat.