March 19, 2018 | Rome, Italy | °C

The rime of the tired medical student

The sight of an empty bed in a deserted hospital corner is enough to tempt any tired medical student.
By Lorien Menhennett
Published: 2018-02-23

recently finished the internal medicine rotation at medical school. Exhausting isn't the word. How many hours of sleep you get hardly matters. Not when you consider all the listening, watching, walking, talking, typing, reading, and learning, all of it intense.

Most of my team's patients were on the same floor, but a few were scattered elsewhere in the hospital. Our newly admitted patients, waiting to be brought to their rooms, were downstairs in the emergency department. Hospital elevators aren't exactly known for their speed, leaving me all too much time to ponder life and death (literally) in the elevator banks.

It was then that I started to notice something: beds. Empty hospital beds that is, sometimes with sheets on them, pushed into corners, or against the walls. They seemed to me everywhere. Not in the way, not obstructing anything, but a constant presence, tucked away here and there.

In my weary state, I began looking at them with envy especially the ones with a set of folded sheets lying on top.

"If only I could hop up and take a quick nap," I thought to myself, and again, and again.

As the thought cycled through my mind, a line of poetry was born, inspired directly by Samuel Taylor Coleridge's 19th-century "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner." Coleridge was writing about deprivation of another sort thirst. Here the most famous stanza from his poem:

Water, water, every where,

And all the boards did shrink;

Water, water, every where,

Nor any drop to drink.

That's exactly how I felt: frustrated by the forbidden ubiquity of beds, and sleep. So as I stood waiting next to the latest set of tempting sheets, in a state of desperate fatigue, I took to whispering the following words under my breath, my modernized incarnation of Coleridge's legendary verse:

Beds, beds, every where,

And not a place to sleep.

As I did this, I both laughed and sighed inside. I'd then hear the "ding" of the arriving elevator, step into the crowded car, and head to my next destination, thoughts of beds and sleep trailing behind me.

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Lorien Menhennett

A journalism graduate, Lorien is in her third year at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City.

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