Sunday, December 10, 2006


I've just had the last, one year later, make sure we didn't miss anything, blood test drawn to follow up my needle stick injuries from last year. And I'm actually fairly worried it will be positive for HIV. About six weeks after the one stick that concerned me, I got a febrile illness with night sweats and lymphadenopathy, and though the next test was negative, I've remained unconvinced. The next test was too soon after the illness, I think. And it is odd, maybe specific to medical students, that they worry about the diseases they study so much. It is harder here because with something so serious, your best friends and family aren't willing to entertain the idea, and no one knows what to say. Being met with either awkwardness or hearty, but not heartfelt, denial.

We are separated from one another by an unbridgeable gulf of otherness and strangeness which resists all our attempts to overcome it by means of natural association or emotional or spiritual unions. There is no way from one person to another.

Worry is a tricky thing. Though I philosophize a great deal, I'm not very philosophical, and though I know worrying about something I can't change and will know in a week anyway won't do anything positive, I worry anyway. "These are the times that try men's souls" Thomas Paine wrote, and though he was dicussing the acid test of patriotism, I think a similar case could be made for the slightly justifible hypochondriasis of the typical medical student. "The summer student, and the springtime physician..." or something, "will in this crisis" find if they are truly capable of handling the stress. So I will see. I will see if I can take a week of concern, thinking about the family I'll never have, the life which will revolve around the treatment for an incurable, fatal disease. Something my patients deal with every day. Certainly, even hypochondriasis gives perspective.


Anonymous said...

Remember this when your patient has a test that takes a week to come back, when organizing your time to include a call to them. I'm glad you are taking this to heart. Your patients will feel better understood, and may well give you more and better information therby.

Anonymous said...

True, this friend won't really entertain the idea. But I will mention, as a follow up to a story I told you a year ago, that my colleague has just had her tests from a very similar mishap a year ago, and has been declared healthy. Her patient had HIV and two kinds of hepatitis.

Anonymous said...

I'm just studying psychiatry and I'm getting worried about my worrying :) I worry about my family getting illnesses I read about and leaving me, I worry about getting illnesses I read about and leaving them, I think I've developed adult separation anxiety because goshdarnit someone I love could get herpes encephalitis and die and this could be the last time I see them. If I learn anymore diseases I might cease to function.

Sorry to hear about the needle stick test crisis. A friend of mine got a needle stick this summer and she felt the same way - she only told me and her supervising doc because she knew her family wouldn't understand and/or would worry excessively. It's a lonely road sometimes.

Anonymous said...

Did they give you anti-retroviral treatment after the injury?

Was the patient HIV posistive?

Ma Hoyt said...

I've lived with a worrier for 25 years. Often there is nothing one can say to ease another's fears, but I will pray that God will grant you grace and peace, all the same.

TMU said...

i have had two dirty needlesticks, and took anti-retrovirals for a period. So i can really empathize with the hovering worry until your tests return again. I will be praying for you.

I'm VERY thankful that i'm clean, some years later.

i also very much agree with what zhoen is saying.

Nathan said...

zhoen - I most certainly will

thainamu - that's excellent news

medstudentitis - I completely understand the motivation not to tell anyone. It is indeed a lonely road, which is fact #2,546 on the list of "Important things no-one will tell you before coming to medical school." Too late to turn back now though...(insert borderline sardonic laughter)

Steve - No, they didn't. I'm not really sure why, but I was uniformly dismayed by the lack of urgency in dealing with this accident and the poor reaction overal. And as for the patient, they left AMA, I believe, because we didn't know then if he was positive, and we never found out. He was the right age group though, with a bunch of risk factors.

Ma Hoyt - thanks. And you're probably right. The real message I should probably read in Bonhoeffer's words (the italics in my post) is that we should not hold the inability of others to connect against them. It is a function of our falllen nature.

TMU - Thanks. I'm certain your acronym-fond daughter is also very thankful.

Thank you for the response, dear readers. The test results are not back yet, but I'm certain, whatever they are, I will be granted the strength to deal with them.

tinea said...

I am glad that you finally get an answer. This has been on your mind and making you anxious for too many months now. No matter the results, you have many people - friends, family, and even random bloggers - who are wishing you well and praying for you. If you need something to ponder (instead of dwelling on the maybes) think about that - about the network of people, across continents, who listen to what you write and feel that they connect with you in some way, and about the friends and family whose lives you've so impacted already. That's worth more consideration than the small chance of facing disease, isn't it?

Nathan said...

Thanks to all who voiced concern. The tests were negative. I am most pleased.

Zwerver said...

I can't believe I had to read all the comments to this post to see that the test was positive! Maybe you should mention that on your front page? Anyway, I'm glad the results negative.

Zwerver said...

Um, sorry about that last comment -- I see you DID mention this in your most recent post and I was being careless.