As a senior, I’ve finally started to feel like the big man on campus. I wave to my junior friends as I nonchalantly flash my Senior Privilege Card allowing me to glide out the door for my 30-minute lunch off campus. Being able to picture myself in college makes the high school seem oppressively small and myself irrationally important. I am happy to bask in the clear light atop the high school totem pole, but outside those four walls, it’s a different ranking altogether.
In the emergency department, EMTs are at the bottom of the pole. Interactions with nurses and doctors tend to be brief, simple, and occasionally condescending, especially if you’re 90 pounds soaking wet and look like a middle-schooler. As I have gained experience, I essentially learned to become very good at staying out of the way upon entering the ER. But one day, while reporting to a nurse on the history of a fall victim we had just delivered, a flock of med school ducklings in white coats filed into the room. Their necks craned over their spiral notebooks, violently scribbling notes about the very stable patient I had just wheeled in. I continued to explain the mundane nature of the patient’s fall, purposefully speaking without any enthusiasm so as not to appear too eager to the higher-ups in the room. The nurse who I was speaking to hardly looked up from the stretcher, but the bright-eyed students whispered to each other with unbridled excitement and continued to scribble away as if the fate of the now sleeping old woman was entirely dependent on the clarity of their notes. I slipped out of the room and was quietly searching for a nurse to sign the release form when the patter of med student feet followed me into the hallway. A girl approached and asked loudly if the wound on the back of the woman’s head was a contusion or an abrasion. At first, I looked around to see who else was in the hallway, since surely anyone else was more qualified to answer complicated medical school questions, but then I stopped.
“Did you just ask me whether it was a cut or bruise?” I asked, genuinely wondering whether I had heard her correctly. I could tell she was a little embarrassed, so quickly I invited her to come see for herself and led the girl and the other ducklings back into the room. Suddenly they all flocked around me in a perfect semicircle and squawked questions as if they had been bottled up all day and finally found someone willing and qualified to answer them. I could feel my spine lengthen as I adjusted my stethoscope around my neck like a professor straightening a tie. I used irrelevantly complicated language, only answered the very common sense questions that anybody who’s taken freshman biology could answer, and for the most part was just faking it. There I was, a lowly 17-year-old EMT teaching almost-doctors about the ins and outs of a hospital, when I wondered whether, to some degree, everyone there was faking it.
But in fact, I wasn’t really faking it. I was doing my job. It struck me that the perception-versus-reality paradox cuts both ways. At school, I’m not really more important than the underclassman still paying attention in class, but in this case, my self-imposed totem pole insecurity was not enough to obscure the fact that these med school students could genuinely learn something from me and my quite healthy patient. They saw the reality better than I could through my veil of self-doubt.
It’s not about pretending to be something you’re not — it’s about letting yourself be something you’ve become.
Alex Myers is a senior at Wilton High School. She shares this column with five classmates.