A sea of pimples and drooling yawns. That’s what was staring, glassy-eyed back at me.
More realistically they were staring through me—through space, actually—to 50 minutes into the future. The look inhabited the hinterlands between boredom and loathing. A less-trained eye would mistake their tranquil countenances as anticipatory rapture. However, years of educating medical students and residents taught me that this was the look of those residing serenely in their own world, eons away from the classroom.
Then the ring of the first-period bell jolted me from my thoughts.
It was 7:45 a.m., and I found myself back at my hometown high school—jettisoned 20 years back in time. Months earlier I had agreed to teach a health and biology class as a visiting teacher as part of a career-planning program. I was instructed to teach them about what I do in my professional life. At the time I foolishly imagined a cohort of eagerly engrossed students hanging on my every word. What I found was more in line with a pack of sedated sloths sleepily hanging from the tedium tree.
My folly became even more obvious when I introduced my title slide: “The Epidemic of Medical Error.”
What was I thinking trying to teach 14-year-old kids about patient safety and medical error? Months before the talk I had agreed to this topic only after the principal assured me this would be of great interest to high school freshman and sophomores. It wasn’t until the week before the talk that the unease set in.
Could I really interest hormone-raged pubescent teenagers in the intricacies of hospital patient safety? My wife, ever helpful, was instrumental in triggering this epiphany. She noted that 14-year-olds are really only interested in … well, nothing. The prospect of engaging them in the complexities of hospital healthcare seemed about as likely as getting a trout excited over a fish fry.
Engaged they were not; in fact, some narcoleptic kid in the back had already engaged REM sleep. I was only four minutes into this and I was already foundering miserably. I had become that teacher. You know the one. He is so exceptionally mind-numbing that you wonder if he was brought in as some sort of social experiment testing the currently known limits of boredom.
Then someone had an, er, gastric accident.
The ensuing hilarity made it difficult to pinpoint the exact source or even if this was a true gastroenterological event or its ever-comical cousin, the armpit version. Now, I’m young enough to remember the comic genius of well-timed and executed classroom flatus. As such I understood that this was clearly intended as a territorial marking. The natives had spoken; there was an enemy among them.
As the clock metamorphosed into one of those melting Dali timepieces, we commenced discussion of three cases. The first involved a man who had the wrong leg amputated. The second reviewed the case of young women who suffered devastating consequences after an ICU medication was dropped off her medication list upon transfer to a medical ward team. The final case involved a patient with a myocardial infarction who did not receive aspirin upon admission to the hospital.