Colton in Dallas

Colton is a junior Hunt Scholar majoring in biology, with minors in chemistry and Spanish, in Dedman College. For summer 2010, he has been selected to participate as a Collegiate Fellow in the summer internship program at Dallas’ Parkland Hospital.

So many specialties

As the days turned to weeks, I continued to grow more and more familiar with Parkland Hospital. I had survived my so-called “tours of duty” in countless sub-specialties within the cardiology department. The similarities between the sub-specialties were obviously there, as all of the areas involved problems with the heart. However, the vast amount of technology and refined techniques designed to diagnose varying problems in the heart couldn’t even be compared. This seemingly simple observation explains why the medical profession continues to expand and demand more professionals.

There was the catheterization laboratory in the basement. This process is specifically designed to enter through arteries in the leg and insert stents in the heart to help prevent blockages, thereby also decreasing the risk of heart attack.

There was the EKG clinic where outpatients made appointments similar to a doctor’s visit in order to check their heart. Oftentimes these patients were suffering from congestive heart failure, or their primary care (family medicine) physician had sent their patient to the clinic in order to check the strength of the patient’s heart before a potential organ transplant.

Down the hallway, in the basement, was my favorite area to work – what I liked to call my “home base,” the EKG department. In this department, EKG technicians travel throughout the hospital to bed stricken/confined patients, in order to perform portable EKGs.

On the 10th floor, there was perfusion. In the lab, patients are injected with a radioactive dye that allows for extensive scans of the heart.

Just down the hall, there was the Echo and portable Echo department, in which sonograms are taken of the heart.

At the end of the hallway, there were treadmills galore. In this room, patients would be attached to heart monitors and asked to do the BRUCE fitness test, which increases the heart rate by increasing the speed of the treadmill every 3 minutes. At the maximum heart rate, patients would be swept off their feet and laid onto a bed, and the echo technician would then perform the echo sonogram to see how the heart operates at elevated levels of stress and exercise.

These were just a few of the departments where I was able to work. There were so many different departments running similar tests, that at times it was hard to separate them. There were different technicians, nurses, nurse’s assistants, and doctors in each department.

This just goes to show just how far medicine has come and how advanced it is. It was reassuring to see that the health care field is a safe field to enter, as far as future job security. However, I had to admit, the levels of training and specialties required to work in each department were all different, and it was scary. Rotating through all of the different departments, I had heard from employees wishing that they had chosen the department down the hall in which to specialize.

I want to be eager and excited to go to work each day. As one of my favorite quotes goes, “If you can find the profession that truly makes you happy, then you will never have to work a day in your life. …

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When a life is on the line

As I began to fall into a routine, my days at Parkland were quickly beginning to run together. Employees throughout the hospital were now beginning to speak to me each time they saw me. They acted like I’d been working there with them for years, and to be honest, I was starting to feel like I had worked there for years!

In the past two weeks, I had passed my supervisor’s EKG technician test and had been performing portable EKGs throughout the hospital for well over a week. This experience was priceless, as I had the opportunity to move freely by myself throughout the hospital, answering only to the loud and somewhat annoying beep of my EKG pager.

Recently, I had just been called to respond to a code blue, which is only called when a patient has flat-lined. The room was absolutely swarming with doctors and nurses holding needles and pill baskets with every drug imaginable. The room was so full that doctors and nurses were lined up anxiously in the hallways waiting for their specific specialty and skill-set to be called upon.

I timidly rolled my EKG machine toward the sounds of the yelling doctors and nurses. I did as I was instructed to do in these types of situations. I yelled “EKG” to see if I was needed yet, and no one responded. I wheeled my cart to the side of the hallway and then tried to stick my head in the door to see what was going on.

What I saw truly was an inspiration. The room was full of doctors, nurses, nurse assistants and countless other professionals, all working as one to try to save a life. It easily surpassed any Hollywood version on television.

Suddenly, one of the doctors looked up and saw my name badge. “EKG,” he yelled. I felt the adrenaline flow through my body as I rushed to get my machine. It was hard to see anything. The patient was drenched in sweat, and there were doctors all over him performing CPR, searching for a pulse and injecting shots. There was no room for me to get my machine next to the bed.

So, I yelled the only thing I could think of at that moment. “EKG!!!! Move out of the way!” I didn’t know what to expect, but the doctors all jumped around to the other side of the bed to provide room for my machine. A young doctor looked at me and calmly said, “Tell us what you need.”

The patient’s body was shaking under all of the stress of CPR. In order for an EKG reading to be successful, the patient has to remain unmoved for at least a good 5-10 seconds. I pulled the shirt up and put on the electrodes as fast as I ever had. Again I yelled the first thing that came to my mind. “I need his body to be still!” The doctors immediately stopped CPR and I froze just for an instant. Here I was, the summer intern, yelling at a doctor to move out of the way! Then I printed off the results, and they instantly began CPR once again.

Several minutes later it was all over … the patient had survived. I watched the doctors walk out of the room in what seemed like slow motion. They were all smiling and shaking hands in celebration. Beads of sweat ran down their foreheads, and I knew 100 percent in that moment … I had chosen the right career path for my future.

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Moment of truth

This was it! The moment of truth. I had survived an entire week of Parkland New Employee Orientation, and I was about to discover which department I would be working in for the rest of the summer.

“NIELSON,” the nice lady at the front shouted out.

As I approached the podium, I was excited. It was game time. This is what I had signed up for! I was ready for the challenge. I accepted my manila envelope and calmly headed back to my seat, where I quickly began to scan for my assignment.
“Oh no!!!!”

A dagger to the heart! Literally! Cardiology! For some reason, though, I felt excitement rather than butterflies.

Later that morning, I met both of my bosses, and they both were incredibly laid back and very friendly. Both had the calm look of seasoned veterans. It was obvious they had seen it all and had performed the job to perfection long before I was around. It was that calm look, which patients love to see, that also let me know whatever job I was about to have was going to be an eye-opener.

Just as I was starting to feel comfortable, they told me they were going to send me off to the “Cath Lab” to see surgery before I started my actual job. As I walked toward the Cath Lab, I quickly discovered just what kind of surgery I would be watching. Heart Surgery, on day one. The nice lady was an honest woman.

One thing was for sure, I was going to see it all, and it started now …

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What it takes to become a doctor

As I sat there trying to stay awake on this early summer morning, thoughts of doubt slowly began to creep into my mind. The table I was sitting at suddenly groaned under the weight of yet another victim, who had just unwittingly drifted off to sleep on the table with his mouth open. As the speaker glared at him, I weakly nodded my head toward the speaker in a false sign of support. With newfound confidence, the speaker looked back down, at what seemed like an endless pile of notes, and began to speak with even more determination.

Today was my first day at Parkland Hospital, and before I could begin my job, I had to find a way to sit through a week of Parkland’s new employee orientation. I had to admit, I was already beginning to have my doubts about how I had chosen to spend my summer.

As another speaker stepped to the podium to talk about retirement plans, I quickly envisioned myself retiring at the ripe old age of 20. “Eh, not bad,” I thought. I visualized myself in a warm Caribbean destination, sipping a cool drink by the ocean. “Ahh,” I thought, “Now that’s retirement!”

As I sat in the auditorium trying to at least act like I was interested in the new topic of insurance policies, my thoughts continued to build like a summer thunderstorm in the Midwest. If I was already questioning how to spend a summer, the next big question I had to ask involved how I had chosen to spend my life!

Against my will, my mind suddenly flashed back through the previous two years of college. Shuffling through each flashback, I tried to remember the last time I had “gone out” or had a good time at school. I came up with a couple of memories, but the overwhelming majority of memories involved sitting late into the night in the dimly lit Fondren Library at SMU.

I quickly came upon the realization that the most exciting adventures I had experienced in the last two years of college had been reliving the crazy and wild stories of my – let’s just say, “not pre-medicine” – friends.

Suddenly, I knew what I had come to Parkland to do. My summer at Parkland was going to determine my future. I had two major questions that needed to be answered, and I knew that Parkland was going to be able to answer both of them within the first week.

One, could I handle the “blood and guts” that accompany the prestige of being a doctor? I had shadowed countless orthopedic surgeons and watched them perform surgery over the past couple of years. None of the surgeries had been a problem for me. In fact, I was so interested in them, I was pretty sure that was the direction I would be taking in the medical field.

But, I was kind of worried that I wouldn’t be able to handle seeing a human being lying on a table with organs spread all around the body on the table. The thought of the heart or liver being operated on just didn’t sound appealing in my mind. I couldn’t imagine actually wanting to partake in a surgery that involved major organs.

Two, did I actually want to commit myself to the life of a doctor? Everyone always sees the nice cars a doctor drives as well as the nice house a doctor may choose to live in. However, the time and dedication that are required to get to that point in life are astronomical. Oftentimes the cost is a doctor’s youth and family. By the time they are out on their own and have established themselves, they are well into middle age. Many doctors have also reported that their family time was so limited that it cost them their marriage and family.

All of these questions were unknowns at the moment. The only certain fact that I could be sure of was that I was at Parkland Hospital. Parkland Hospital is a teaching hospital for UT Southwestern Medical School and is also considered one of the nation’s top public hospitals. With this in mind, I was certain I would see things that I never could’ve imagined at Parkland. I knew all of my questions concerning my future would be answered soon enough.

To be continued ….

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