The Mighty Pen

Posted by on Jun 26, 2011 in Inside my cerebrum | 3 comments

I have this thing for pens. I often refer to myself as “pen particular” as I enjoy a nice wide point, retractable gel pen. The benefits of smooth, non smudging ink that glides onto the paper with greatest of ease and somehow manages to make my handwriting look great. The retractability that enables me to put the pen in my scrub or coat pocket with ease and without marking myself or re-capping is superb. You could say this particularity came from my mother. She is pen particular, but not pen specific. She just likes pens, lots of pens: gels, rolling ball, marker pens, different ergonomic shapes, color varieties, marketing pens. You name it, she likes them.
My pen particular-ness is costly. Well, costly for the medical student on a budget. I have to travel several miles to go to my local discount warehouse to buy my favorite pen in bulk. I generally use my pens until they run out and if by chance someone wants to borrow my pen, I am on them like a hawk. I will kindly lend a pen out to virtually anyone, as long as they give it back. To ensure this, I stand and wait for it. If it’s the instance of “I need to borrow your pen and transport it to this other location” kind of borrowing, I generally decline. This behavior may be considered neurotic by some, but there is a purpose to this pen stalking. I get my not so cheap pen back.
This leads me to the latest lending. I am on trauma call on my surgery rotation. We get called to the emergency department for a woman that was involved in an biking accident. She has a possible abdominal injury and external bleeding that warrants a trip to the operating room. Me, being the good medical student, gets the consent form for my resident and hands it to him on a clipboard. I watch in earnest as he details out the plan and why she needs surgery. She begins to cry and asks where her mom is and says that she wants to see her before she goes back. While the resident was partially irritated at her distress, he convincingly tells her that her mom has been contacted and is on the way. He asks if she has any questions about the pending surgery and she says that she does not. It is at this point that he runs his fingers through his hair and tosses his dark Johnny Depp length locks to the side and gives what appears to be the Zoolander Blue Steel look and asks to borrow my pen.
I have mixed feelings about this from the get go. Here is this poor young woman, in obvious emotional distress that needs surgery and my resident is asking for my pen to consent for the surgery that will save her life. My pen is obvious in my pocket. Sitting there glistening, waiting to be picked, clicked, and used. However, if I lend him my pen, I know what’s going to happen. The young lady will pick it up in her obviously bloody hand and contaminate it with blood. The problem with the whole situation is the moral and ethical issues that arise as a medical student. How do you tell your resident that you are “pen particular” and this action of lending him a pen in this situation goes against your moral code for lending pens? You don’t say anything, because it’ll make you sound crazy. You also can’t say no because your resident is asking for your pen and as a good medical student trying to achieve a browner shade nose color, you have to say yes.
The part that makes this lending particularly painful was that fact that while the resident was administering his Blue Steel, I saw him look at his own coat pocket. Which by chance happened to contain not just one, but two pens, nestled together. This means that he say he had a pen that could be used and decided to use his powers as resident, to ask for mine. Did he think that I didn’t notice that he had two pens in his pocket? Did he think I didn’t notice her bloody hand that continued flail around to wipe tears with? Was he just a jerk? Or was he just trying to keep his pens clean as he too is “pen particular?”
As I ran through all the options in seconds in my head, my decision was made. I would lend him my pen. I had no choice. I was bound by my medical student subserviency to act. I was not however, going to let the act go unnoticed. While he handed the patient my pen and the form to sign, I quickly grabbed two gloves from the wall and proceeded to fill my cupped gloved hands with hand sanitizer. I managed to get a substantial pool of cleaning solution in the nick of time. As he was retrieving my pen holding it with between pinched fingers at arms length obviously aware of the contamination, I extended my newly created sanitizing pool in front of him to receive my pen. He looked at me, and I at him, as he dropped my pen into the alcohol solution. As I broke eye contact, I looked at his pocket where his pens were resting, clean and dry, to indicate that, “Yes, I did see your pens, and yes I see that you borrowed mine for the sole purpose of sparing yours.” I proceeded to clean and dry my pen and replace it in its place in my pocket.
The event was quite profound and I had a couple of realizations that evening. The first was that residents will abuse their power of superiority and use it to their advantage, even at the expense of the medical student. The the second and perhaps greatest take home message was, I need to buy a pack of cheap, horrible non ergonomic, capping, rolling ball pens to keep in my pocket in case of emergency lend outs.


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