Sorry I'm Not From Here
September 10, 2019
By Geoff Frost, UBC Physiatry Resident
I spend a lot of my time these days doing electromyography, more commonly known as EMG. For those lucky enough to have never been zapped, it’s a diagnostic test that some physicians can do to sort out how well your nerves are working. It’s a bit archaic and very complicated. To suss out exactly how well someone’s nerves are working, you literally shock someone with electricity. Not a lot of electricity, but enough for the whole procedure to be a bit uncomfortable.
I’m still learning how to EMG, so my days involve the nitty-gritty of sitting down and actually setting up the nerve shocks, then administering the nerve shocks. It can be painful, it can be tedious, and it is always time-consuming. So, I have gotten into the habit of chatting with my patients. I’d like to say it’s so that they are pleasantly distracted as I zap away at their nerves. But more honestly, it just helps pass the time.
Recently, I’ve been spending time in Calgary, the theory is that it is helpful to do some of your training outside of your home province. I buy into the theory, so when Calgary offered me two months of intensive EMG training, I jumped at the opportunity. The other day I was zapping away at my patient’s nerves while we chatted. He mentioned he had driven in from Vulcan, Alberta for the test. Without thinking I asked where that is. To my surprise, he was a bit offended. He replied in an incredulous tone, asking if I really didn’t know where Vulcan was. I was honest when I admitted I had no idea. And to be frank, I still don’t know where Vulcan is.
And that’s kind of been the theme lately. I don’t really know much about where I am, or what’s around me. I show up to learn some EMG, stay for 4 weeks or 8, and then pack my bags and head off again into the sunset. It didn’t seem to matter where Vulcan or Taber or Pincher Creek were. They were just patients referred to Calgary and I got on with it and did the EMG. Nerves are nerves, regardless of where they were referred from.
It’s a strange life. I have my beat-up SUV that needs more TLC than most of my patients. I haven’t seen my house in three months. I’ve missed an entire season, summer, in the city that I nominally live in. And when I come to think of it, I really haven’t had a stable address for the better part of the last decade. I came close at the start of residency when I stayed in one place for two and a half straight years. But then I decided I wanted to subspecialize. Since then, it’s been on the road again. Month after month, trying out a new city, learning a new healthcare system. I’ve learnt how to use the same electronic medical record three different times in three different clinics in the last three months. I still struggle with the basics, but I blame that entirely on how boring the training is.
I’m certainly not complaining, just reflecting on the path I find myself on. I never realized the glamorous life of a resident physician would involve racking up 10,000 km on the odometer in three months. I never realized it would involve overpriced AirBnbs in iffy areas of medium-sized cities I never really expected to see. I never realized it would involve celebrating my birthday alone in said iffy AirBnb with a bottle of my favourite drink and a Netflix binge.
Let’s be honest, there are easier ways to do Residency. I could have tried to stay in one city and complete the legendary Triple Crown of medical education (Undergrad, Medical School, and Residency all in one city), but I guess that seemed a bit boring to me. I realized residency could be a little adventure, and I signed up for that adventure. And now here I sit, alone on a Friday night in a medium-sized town I read about in fourth-grade Geography class, never thinking I might one day be here deeply contemplating the path that took me to this very iffy Airbnb.
When I read about 'great adventurers' as a child it always seemed so glamorous. So exciting. I never realized that in actuality, the transient resident is distinctly none of these things. There is nothing exciting about packing up my InstaPot for the next 1,000 km drive. I have yet to see the glamour in going through IT training and getting yet another hospital ID. All I see are the missed birthdays and the days away from my partner. And while that may not sound like an adventure, I’ve come to accept that this is my grand tour. This is my trek to the Himalayas. And despite all the tedium of those awful training sessions, for all the missed family functions, for all the apologies to my partner for the missed anniversaries, I still smile. Not because I enjoy what I missed, but because I enjoy the journey that I’m on. It’s my great medical adventure. I may never know where Vulcan, Alberta is, but at least I met someone from there.
Geoff is a fourth-year Physiatry resident at UBC. He currently serves as the Director of Communications at the Resident Doctors of BC and is the host of the Pulse Podcast. Geoff is a professional engineer in Ontario, and prior to entering medicine, he worked as a biomedical engineering entrepreneur.