Residency Horror Stories – Why Stories?

Lessons from RookieDoc's Residency Horror Stories

I’ve started a Residency Horror Stories series. The point is not to get you nervous about your training or being on-call or anything like that… In fact, it’s quite the opposite.

Most people think they learn best through experience. That’s true, for the most part… but there’s another piece of “experience” that is even more important than the experience itself… and that’s “the story”. We remember things as stories. We further ingrain the memory by retelling that story. And each time we retell it, there’s an opportunity to extract new insights from it and an opportunity for the listener to benefit from your story.

==> Tell Us Your Residency Horror Story <==

Now some of the medical establishment (the Old Boys Network) may be a little upset with me for saying this, but… the dry, factual version we often present on rounds is not always optimal.

Which one are you going to remember?:


49 year-old obese female with a history of type 2 diabetes and smoking who presented to the ER with severe chest pain, hypotension, and diaphoresis. Her EKG demonstrated 3mm ST segment elevation inferiorly. Cardiology was consulted and she was emergently taken to the cath lab. After a brief Vtach arrest requiring 260 Joules for return to sinus rhythm, her right coronary artery was successfully stented with two Taxus stents with good angiographic results. She was transferred to the CCU in stable condition with an intra-aortic balloon pump, IV heparin, Plavix, and aspirin.



It was my first week as a second-year resident and I was on-call in the CCU. I was called stat to the ER for a CCU admission that was described as a “49 year-old obese female with a history of type 2 diabetes and smoking who presented to the ER with severe chest pain, shortness of breath, and diaphoresis.” I was told that cardiology was consulted via phone & they recommended transfer to CCU after a VQ scan.

I went to see the patient & there’s a morbily obese lady lying in Trendelenberg, IV fluids wide open, heart rate in the 40s, and huge “tomb stone” STs on the monitor. I introduced myself and told her that we would take good care of her. She looked up at me and said, “Son, I’m gonna die tonight if you don’t do somethin’.”

I went to the ER doc and said, “This lady’s clearly having a huge RCA MI! She’s bradycardic, hypotensive, complaining of chest pain, & her EKG… well, look at it! We can’t send her to the unit with a VQ scan.”

He responded, “Well, I talked to the cardiologist on-call.” And I asked, “Well, are sure he understood what we’re looking at here? I mean, no offense, but sometimes it’s all in how we say it. I think you should call him back.”

Well, he did… the ER doc called back the cardiologist on-call and got screamed at… loud enough for me to hear it through the phone from about 4 feet away. “I said!… Admit to CCU and get a VQ scan!”.

He hung up. There I am, a new second year, one of my first nights with any kind of real responsibility and I’m disagreeing with the ER attending and the subspecialist. What should I do?

Well, there was no question… that lady said to me, “Son, I’m gonna die tonight if you don’t do somethin’.” So I did… I firmly asked the ER doc, “I’m not comfortable with this! Are you comfortable with this?!” He said, “No… No, I’m not.” So, I asked, “Well, how about TPA?” He paused… so I snatched the EKG out of his hands and ran 3 floors up to the telemetry floor. There was a cardiologist (from a competing group) and I shoved the EKG in front of him and said, “49 year old lady in Room 8 in the ER, tons of risk factors, heart rate in the 40’s, telling me she’s going to die… no labs back yet.”

He said nothing to me. He picked up the phone and called the cath lab. Together he and I wheeled her into the lab. While we were lifting her to the table, she arrested….

So which one are you going to remember? Which one will give you strength to do the right thing when the time comes. Both of those versions are true. I lived through it. More importantly, so did the patient, but not before her night got much, much worse. I’ll tell you the full story and the lessons learned in the second video for “Residency Horror Stories”… the first video will be in the next few days.

Do you have a story we can all benefit from? Tell us. Here’s the link again:

==> Tell Us Your Residency Horror Story <==