What happens in the hospital stays in the hospital. Mostly because these healthcare providers were too tired to remember any of it.
Day-old coffee, Cheetos, Sour Punch Straws… it sounds like the diet of a gamer who hasn’t stepped away from their console for days, but it turns out junk food is practically a dietary staple for many medical residents—yes, the future MDs who will someday tell you to eat healthy.
When you’re trying to stay on your feet through a 30-hour shift while handling literal matters of life and death, candy and caffeine go a long way. It’s not the only way students stay awake, of course—you need an arsenal of coping mechanisms when you’re regularly working for an entire day (or more). We asked a handful of residents (and one surgeon who lived to reminisce) to tell us how they keep from passing out mid-procedure.
Megan Shaner*, Seattle, Washington
I think when you’re new, you’re nervous, and the adrenaline of the situation keeps you awake. You show up with a grocery bag full of snacks and always end up eating. That’s why people gain weight during residency. It’s like… Cheetos. Nobody is eating anything that’s good for you at 3 am. I would drink caffeine—probably like three Americanos a day. If you pushed through, it got a little easier in the morning because there are people coming on and they’re fresh and they smell like they’ve showered and their energy can kind of carry you through. Plus, in the morning, the attending would usually bring us breakfast: bagels, donuts, that kind of thing.
Tamara M. Johnson, Newark, New Jersey
The longest shifts I’ve worked have been 27 to 28 hours. As long as there was work to be done or patients to see, I didn’t have an issue staying awake. Once things calmed down and the hospital was quiet, I just kept moving and consumed a lot of candy. Sometimes I’d even run up and down the staircase. Go outside and let the crisp air awaken you. When all else had failed, I had a playlist of my favorite songs and I’d listen to music and dance in the call room.
Daniel Becker, Voorhees, New Jersey
During my internship year, we were on call every other night. Approximately 120 to 125 hours out of the 168 hours in a week were spent in the hospital. Essentially we were living in the hospital. Our entire life—work, friends, meals—took place in the hospital. If you accept the concept, then it is fun—that is, if you are single and have no responsibilities outside of the hospital. If not, for instance if you are married, then it would be a miserable experience.
There was a saying: “Eat when you can, sit when you can, sleep when you can.” Everyone did it, and we all got through. You develop survival skills.