When I was growing up, there were two things that I wanted to be more than anything: a doctor and a writer. Before I pursued medical training, my very first dream was to be a novelist. My childhood journals and old home computer were always littered with story ideas and the beginnings of novels. Even as I prepared for a career in medicine, I also maintained my love of storytelling and writing. I majored in American History & Literature while doing my pre-med classes, I pursued a journalism degree prior to going on to medical school and I started working as a freelance writer. When I began residency in Emergency Medicine in 2015, I knew that writing would have to take a backseat as I completed my clinical training, but it's also something I've missed a great deal over these past few years.
That is why I’m so excited to share my new essay, "Exposed," which appears in the latest issue of Annals of Emergency Medicine. I’m grateful for the opportunity to join these two passions, to take an experience in medical training that was challenging and formative and share it with others in my specialty through creative writing.
This essay centers on an experience that I hope will resonate with other healthcare providers: the dreaded needlestick injury. The piece examines the constant threat of the unknown that all clinicians come to know well, a fear that also helps keep us sharp and ready for anything that comes through the door. I attempt to capture how this anxiety and uncertainty mix with the thrill of discovery and capability during medical training. The lesson for me was that such an experience reveals an inherent truth of our field: the risks and rewards of medical practice are inextricably linked.
You can read my essay, “Exposed” for free until September 7, 2018 here:
Thanks for reading!
Thanks so much to all my friends and colleagues for voting for my submission to the 2018 Essentials of EM - Academic Life in EM Visual Design Competition. Congratulations to the winners, Dr. Liz Fierro and Dr. Natasha Li from Loma Linda University Health! While my entry was not selected for the grand prize, I was happy to see that it garnered the most views of all the submissions (over 6,000 as of this post). I'm very grateful for the exposure and all the supportive feedback from my EM colleagues.
In the emergency department, we deal with a large volume of sick patients. Not only are many acutely ill, but they are often undifferentiated. Our daily lives include encounters with sepsis, STEMI, and shock and no shortage of other surprises. As a result, we develop a certain level of comfort with these high-stress situations.
Yet there are some encounters that move beyond even the daily ebb and flow of high acuity. These are the scenarios that make us break out in a cold sweat as the CMED call comes in. The ones that can form a knot in our stomachs even days or years later. Every clinician has cases like these that are seared into their memory, cases that help us grow as doctors.
We sometimes refer to such patients as 'sick as stink' (SAS) - or even use a slightly more colorful version of the phrase. Though couched in the typical irreverence of the ED, this reference is not used in a derogatory manner. In fact, the expression is one of humility for the ways in which medicine can always continue to surprise and challenge us. It communicates a necessity for vigilance to our colleagues. It is an admission of how much a case affects us. These are the patients whose faces we can conjure effortlessly, who will become a symbol of what we learned, the unforgettable cases.
SAS will be a recurring column on this site, a collection of my most memorable cases (de-identified as always). They will be mainly educational (rather than esoteric), meant to consolidate and share what I learned from these high stress encounters. I hope you enjoy the first installment!
SAS - Episode 1
As I near the halfway point of my third year as an emergency medicine resident, I've been inspired to shake the cobwebs and dust out of the right side of my brain and start writing again. In a previous life, I was a journalist and research writer, but after four long years of medical school and about two-thirds of my residency, that person started to feel a little foreign to me. After finally completing a long-term research project and experiencing the pride of seeing it in print, I began to long for the different but just as powerful feeling of crafting writing born of creativity and imagination rather than spreadsheets and statistics. Starting with the clinical training of my third year of medical school, I've had less and less time for these activities. But I promised myself when I started out at medical school that this part of me would not disappear, that even if it went into a period of hibernation, I would bring it back to light. Now I finally feel that a cloud has started to lift. As the scaffolding of emergency medicine becomes sturdier (though certainly not yet complete), there seems to be space for this other, equally important side of myself.
The goals of this site will be severalfold and I'll attempt to outline them now to give myself a framework moving forward.
And with that, I'd like to re-inaugerate joshuacolin.com. For all of us, clinical practice is just one facet of our lives. I hope that this site will serve as a new outlet for me, to inspire creativity, learning and excellence in clinical practice in both myself and others. Thanks for visiting and enjoy!
Joshua Feblowitz, MD, MS, is currently a PGY4 resident in the BWH/MGH Harvard-Affiliated Emergency Medicine Residency (HAEMR) Program and a freelance science writer.