“Travels” by Michael Crichton notes: his time as a resident

Before he was the author of Jurrasic Park, Crichton was a doctor. The first few chapters include (often humorous) stories about his residency.  In his first rotation, he is in the neurology department, which they refer to as a museum since it is mostly patients with neuroses who can never be cured and seem mostly on display for medical students to observe.  The chief resident seems like a prick, a well-dressed sadist with a pressed neck tie who takes glee in pricking patients with a needle he carries.  Crichton is responsible for drawing blood each morning, a task he must get used to and takes time to do on time.  One patient insists on taking his own blood (he is an addict), and takes the blood from an unconscious man as well.

He spends several weeks in psychiatry and is assigned to a young seductress who he tries heroically to feel comfortable with. There is a humorous exchange with his mentor in the ward, who tries to get Crichton comfortable with the fact that he can admit on a secret level he wants to “fuck” the girl, but that he must not.  Crichton, who is young but married to his high school sweetheart and believes very strongly that doctors should not exploit their authority by sleeping with patients, resists the woman.  But she seduces him in another way: he is convinced she will be okay, when in fact she is manipulative and uses her high IQ to her advantage.  She will need more therapy, and when he tells her this on his last day with her she storms off and he never sees her again.

He spends time in the maternity ward, where in the 1960s it is the rage to give to-do women an amnesiac drug (one where it doesn’t reduce the pain, but they’ll not remember it later).  He is disturbed by all the women laying on rubber sheets who are writing and screaming in pain, referring to it as Dante’s Hell.  Another area has the unwed mothers, who aren’t treated well by the nurses (in judgement), but he is moved by them and feels like it is more natural than the other section where the women writhe in drug-induced states. He hates this ward, and is glad that it is now closed.

He had a woman approach him and greet him once, and it took him a few moments to recognize her.  He pointed out to the reader that as a doctor you see soooo many patients it is difficult to remember or recognize them out of context. 

He mentions the story of a patient who came in with spot on his lungs.  They recommended surgery and the patient agreed, but then backed out last minute saying he need time to review the paperwork.  The same thing happened the next day. For a week this continued.  Finally, a visiting somewhat famous and blustery doctor more or less forced the patient to have the surgery.  The spot turned out to be benign, but the patient didn’t trust or believe them and killed himself two days later, convinced he had terminal cancer.

Finally, he brings up the story that there was a statistical fluke where they got a lot of heart attack patients at once.  He spent time talking to them, and asked why they had a heart attack, and almost to a person they blamed something they’d done or something in their life, such as cheating on their wife or stressing about an upcoming event.  It made him reflect on how much of diseases are related to the mental state, and in some ways by telling patients to leave it to doctors they are doing damage by essentially telling the patient they have no control.  Over the years, he has come to believe that all diseases are caused by something we do (i.e. we are to blame as an individual), primarily because he wants to believe that he has control and therefore will take responsibility for his heatlh. 

Link To Book

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“Travels” by Michael Crichton notes: his time as a resident

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