I still remember vividly the day I brought you home. My heart was set on purple, but the woman at the store told me bluntly, “Honey, doctors only buy black. Purple is for the nurses.” (Little did she know I would be mistaken for a nurse for the next 7 years despite my color choice, my badge and the length of my coat.) I also remember the first time I placed your buds in my ears. It felt awkward, uncomfortable, clumsy. During those first few weeks of medical school I put your diaphragm against anything I could – friends, family, my roommate’s cat. I didn’t know enough to interpret any of it of course. At that time it was simply for the acoustic pleasure, like listening to music in a foreign tongue.
By the time third year was over everything had changed between us. You became a permanent fixture in my life. I carried you around the majority of the day and kept you in my bag at all times. My ears calloused in all the right places, so you felt like a comfortable old pair of shoes. I laid you against thousands of sick hearts and lungs and bellies. In moments I wanted peace I would lay you against my own chest and remember that I was human – no more and no less.
As a resident, I felt naked on days I forgot you. The entire dance of the exam would be disrupted. That delicate bridge that existed between my patient’s body and my own would disappear. We became two islands again, naked in our own ways.
More than a tool, you were a symbol. On days I felt good about my work I wore you proudly around my neck. On days I failed my patients I would sheepishly fold you up and tuck you in my pocket. You felt like a badge of honor I was awarded long before I deserved it.
As I approach the end of my formal training, I’m still not sure I deserve you, but what I can say is this: you have taught me volumes over the past 7 years, you have served me well (until you developed a large hole in your tubing and I documented “distant heart sounds” on 6 patients in a row in the VA Emergency Room), you have aided me in the service of others day in and day out, you have been my constant companion through the rigors and joys of medical school and residency, and the ups and downs of my own humble life. And although you may soon be replaced by a much cheaper version of yourself, which I have just purchased for $66.79 via Amazon Prime, you will always be my first and you will never be forgotten.