I had just started learning English. It was my second year in the United States. I needed a job, and did what any other High School student did at the time — went to SFUSD student-work job fair. Most jobs I saw there, were in Restaurant or Retail sectors. I knew I could always get a job working for Mickey Ds, however, my interest laid in finding unusual opportunities.
I went to the empty line counter hosted by SFGH. As one of the few people to apply to a position hosted by a hospital, I had no clue whatsoever, about what daily responsibility I might have in the future. All I knew, was that it would be much cooler to work for a hospital than almost any other job offered at the job fair site.
Representative was excited about the interest I’ve shown. She was almost disappointed that the event would be a bust, as she would have spent the entire afternoon without recruiting anyone. She didn’t even mind that I couldn’t put two sentences together, let alone have any remote background in Medicine. After all, the compensation for the job, would not be coming out of her organization’s budget, and it seemed like a better compensation for me ($4.75/hour), than just old-fashion volunteering.
Three weeks later, after several medical checkups, X-Rays, TB screening, and other medical check-ups I had to clear, I started my orientation day. I was assigned to Neurosurgery department, I didn’t even know what it meant. All I saw were neat candles of brain in the hallway, so I figured it has to be brain-related.
“Can I help you?” Asked the lady at the front-door.
“Here for z Job” I said.
“Oh, Hello! What is your name?”
“Umm, my name is Vlad”
“Welcome! Jennifer will be right there with you”
“Welcome Wad! I’m Jennifer, we’re glad to have you helping us out.”
“Did I Pronounce your name correctly?”
“Hello — it’s Vlad” I said.
“I’m about to start my morning rounds with Dr. Goldberg. Do you want to come with?”
”Umm, Okay.” I muttered.
She grabbed a recording device, and started shadowing Dr Goldberg as he was visiting patient’s rooms. In return, I was following Jennifer, unsure of what I was supposed to do. Observing everything I could lay my eyes on without understanding the purpose of my presence. Sometimes holding a chart, at other times, taking some pages out of binder, and putting others in.
I didn’t know it, at the time, but the pages I pulled out and reinserted, were updated patients’ notes (typed beforehand). As we moved from one patient’s room door to the next, I found myself waiting by the doors. The patients had to give permission for my entrance, even Jennifer wasn’t allowed to visit many of them.
In other instances, I was allowed to stand in a corner next to patient’s rooms, being very quiet and observant. Patients looked frailed, fresh out of surgery, and barely spoke a word. The doctor was mostly doing all the talking. The patients that could speak, responded with “Yes”, “No”, “Pain is here”. Recorder was passed along the Doctor and Jennifer, after each patient visit.
I barely understood separate words and mostly spent time studying interaction gestures. I had no clue, what the conversation entailed, but it was likely related to Neurology and Neurosurgery, as well as some medical discussions that Jennifer was reading to the Doctor from patients charts. I must have looked like a child in “bring your son-to-work day”, due to my lack of ability to communicate.
After about an hour and half of rounds, Jennifer and I went back to the office room, and I was patiently awaiting for a task to be assigned.
“Vlad, grab a chair and have a seat next to me.” She said.
I grabbed a chair, and sat next to a printer, label maker, recording device, file cabinet, and PC. She started to play a recording device while rapidly typing notes. She probably uttered a few instructional sentence, which I didn’t understand and can’t recall from memory, in which I politely nodded.
“Wow, I thought to myself, you’re a really fast typer.” Not realizing at the time, that she was typing real medical notes and patients’ progress reports. Utilizing and filtering medical jargons of patients notes, deciphering medical abbreviations that only staff working in the medical field would or should know.
She did about 20 minutes of the recording length, and was giving me instructions on how to proceed further. I nodded again, without contemplating of what I was actually asked to do. My prior job qualifications? I had pretty good knowledge of playing PC video games.
The conversation probably went along these script. “I have to do something important, do you want to help me write notes?” asked Jennifer.
“Okay” I said. Thinking typing sounds like a lot of fun, and sure beats flipping burgers.
“I’ll be right over there; if you need any help, don’t hesitate to ask any questions.” She said as we switched seats, and she went to adjacent room.
I spent the next 20 minutes trying to figure out how to work the recorder, printer, and label maker (I later observed that typed copies needed to be labeled and filed afterwards). I was completely lost, not knowing, what I have to do first, in what order, and why.
She came 20 minutes later, and showed me how to operate foreign-to-me recording device, typing software to take medical notes. Even, with extra instructions, I still wasn’t any closer in completing an assigned task.
I had headphones in my ears, and was listing to a weird spoken language by Dr. Goldberg, trying to make sense of individual words, I was familiar with. Sometimes, I would get excited if I could understand two words in conjunction.
Shortly thereafter, Jennifer would come by several times and check up on me, to see what progress have I made since our last conversation. Her helpful look, started to appear slightly stressed, as she was rushing to complete this tasks and all the other tasks the department has burden her. This is when I realized that I better do anything remotely worthy to be called “a progress”, rather than asking too many questions without delivering results.
I started typing, one finger a key at the time. I typed what I heard, without understanding a word I had typed. But at least I was making a “Ken Lee” progress.
An hour later, Jennifer looked at my work, and I was stuck alphabetizing printed patients notes for the remainder of my student-work tenure. Whereas, Jennifer was finishing her Bachelor degree, and working on her MCAT test to get to into Medical schools. Not bad for my first day of work and orientation at San Francisco General Hospital, even though the typing did get trashed.