Author Archives: Alexander Burch

Med Student’s First Coat

Main Description:

RA: “One of the most exciting, I remember, things in medical school, other than graduation, is getting the white coat and stethoscope before beginning clinical rotations, the first time we’re allowed, as med students, to start practicing basic techniques on living people. These weren’t the long coats that go down to your feet, but shorter ones that only went down to your waist. They were embroidered, of course. They came with the schools embroidered, but we would also get our names if we could afford it. I don’t remember if I got mine embroidered or not, but I probably did. We would wear them everywhere, so everyone knew you were a med student. We wore them on our clinical rotations, obviously, but we also would sometimes wear them out to bars and pubs so everyone would know we’re real med students. They got dirt super quickly of course, because their white, and I remember washing mine all the time so I could wear it. Eventually when we got our scrubs, once we’ve made more progress with our rotation, we didn’t wear the white coats as much. White is a really bad color for doctors, really, because it shows stains, especially blood, really well. It’s funny, we get another white coat (the foot length one) when we graduate, also embroidered, but we rarely wear it because it’s white. That coat’s much less exciting to get. We also got tools with our first coat. We would get the basic tools used at checkups, like the reflex hammer, the thing you use to look in people’s eyes and ears and throat (can’t remember what it’s called), tongue thermometers, and really whatever else we could afford. We didn’t need them, because tools are usually provided to you during the rotation, but they were fun to practice with on ourselves and each other. They were also fun to show off to our friends and family. I definitely don’t have my tools any more, they all broke or I lost them or gave them away. I still have my first coat, though of course I don’t wear it anymore because it’s kind of ratty looking, but I used in a Halloween costume as a mad scientist once.

Informant’s opinion:

AB: “Why were the initial white coats and tools so exciting? Why did you wear them so often?

RA: “We wore them everywhere because they were the first things we had that really showed we were med students. I don’t know why they were white, but there was something so exciting about having something to show to my parents that I’m really becoming a doctor.”

Personal interpretation:

The white coat seems to mark an important rite of passage for medical students. Being able to work with live patients, usually about two years in, is wear students first begin to practice being doctors. For the first time, the students’ actions will have consequences on living people instead of anatomical dummies, so the coat allows students to celebrate the greater degree of responsibility they’ve taken as growing physicians. Tellingly, the coats are primarily for social performance, and not intended for use during actual work with patients due to their color.

The Baby that lives in the Operating Room

RA: “Lots of hospitals have ghost stories about the people who have passed away in the operating rooms. When I worked at Ben Taub hospital in Houston, there were so many because it was such a big trauma hospital. I can’t remember them now, partially because there were so many, but there were lots of stories of dead patients lingering in the rooms where they died, especially if it was an especially difficult case. One that I remember from my time at Children’s… well, it’s a little creepy. I don’t know if you want to hear it.”

AB: “Creepy is good!”

RA: “Well, there was a baby that passed away in one the cardiac operating rooms, which is rare because we usually don’t have babies in there. One of my colleagues was in charge of that case and was really broken up about it. Ever since then you could hear a faint baby’s crying or laughter in that operating room. We knew it was the baby, and that she had stayed in the operating rooms as her final resting place. We could hear her from some of the nearby rooms, and the crying usually seemed to come from within the walls. Me and my friends, especially Erika, and some of the nurses would sometimes go to the room just to talk to the baby. We would usually just read stories, sing lullabies, and talk about our cases with it. She seemed to listen, and the crying always seemed to disappear after we talked to her. Sometimes, when I had little kids as my patients, I would take them to that room if it wasn’t being used so they could talk to the baby. They all got a kick out of it, and the kids that knew about the baby would even ask if they could play with her. Looking back, I’m sure it was something weird happening with the vents. There were lots of weird noises all over that hospital, and it usually had to do with fans and vents and wind blowing around in an old building, but everyone could tell that it was a baby laughing in that room.”

Informant’s interpretation:

AB: “Do you think the ghost of the baby really lived in that room?”

RA: “Well, in this case, that baby was just born. The only rooms it ever knew were in that hospital, and it probably spent most of its life in the operating room. She passed away peacefully, so I think she stayed in that room because it felt like her home. There was no sense that the ghost was evil or scary or anything, so I really think, the baby just chose to stay in space where it felt comfortable.”

Personal interpretation:

Ghosts often inhabit liminal spaces, and indeed, the operating room is a quintessential liminal space. Patients only enter this room during an operation, thus this room stands between sickness, pre-operation, and recovery, post-operation. When a newborn that has spent no time outside of a hospital dies in this space, doctors may perpetuate the life of the baby as a ghost that watches over a space that stands between life and death. The informant emphasized that the spirit was not malicious, and that she and her colleagues would often discuss difficult cases with the baby, so the ghost may even act as a kind of guardian of the operating room, protecting future patients and doctors.

Nowruz Celebrations in Lebanon

RA: “Nowruz is the Iranian New Year, and it’s a different time every spring. I was young when we left Iran, so I don’t really remember celebrating Nowruz there. We also never went back there during the spring, so the timing never worked out after we moved. When we lived in the UK, we couldn’t really celebrate Nowruz there either because we were so separated from our extended family, and there weren’t many Iranians living in London at the time. Most of my memories of Nowruz come from Lebanon. There were a lot of Iranians living in Lebanon then, and there still are, so it was a big holiday that lots of people there celebrated, even people who weren’t Iranians. There were lots of Nowruz parties and celebrations in the parks so you would sometimes see bonfires and lots of music just while walking around. What made Lebanon interesting is that there were lots of Arabs who celebrated with us, in addition to a lot of British and American ex-pats who worked with my dad at the oil company. So our Nowruz celebrations always had lots of people who had no clue what was going on but who were having lots of fun. My favorite part of Nowruz—because there were, you know, lots of parts like in most Iranian holidays—Anyways, my favorite part was Chahar Shanbeh Soori, where you’re jump over fireworks or a bonfire. You make wishes for the new year, and you leave behind the bad things you don’t want to take into the new year. I think its celebrated it on the last Wednesday before the new year because shanbeh means first in Farsi, but it might be the first Wednesday of the new year, I don’t really remember. There’s lots of partying and food, because there always is at Iranian holidays, and afterward we would build bonfires to jump over. This feels super dangerous in hindsight… there were bonfires all over this park we went to, and there was also a big bonfire in the center of the park that we would all sing and dance around. My brothers and I would race each other and jump over as many bonfires in the park as we could…which I can’t believe they let us do, but I think parents just liked to let their kids loose then. I just remember it being really beautiful at night, because you could see bonfires glowing everywhere across the park, and also in people’s backyards and front yards—wherever you could build a bonfire. That must have been so dangerous, but I don’t remember anyone ever burning themselves, just having lots of fun.  “

Informant’s interpretation:

AB: “Why was this your favorite part of Nowruz? What did Chahar Shanbeh Soori (did I say that right?) mean to you?”

RA: “I only ever celebrated Nowruz when I was young, because I left Lebanon in Middle School, so I don’t remember much now. I just remember how beautiful the fires were and how much fun I had with my family running around the park. It’s a beautiful part of beginning the new year, and I think it really helps energize and excite you for the new year.”

Personal interpretation:

Fire is important in many Iranian practices due to its spiritual significance in Zoroastrianism. Fire is often associated with cleansing and with divinity, so the role of fire in Chahar Shanbeh Soori may be seen as a way of cleansing yourself of impurities before the year to come, as well as entreating the divine to bless the coming year.

The Aggie Bonfire

Main description:

RA: “The biggest tradition I remember from going to A&M is the Aggie bonfire. I’m pretty sure I went every year. That was… such an event. A&M was always known for being a very spirited school, but the bonfire was the biggest sort of school spirit celebration we had, and it’s the only one I can really remember going to. We had the bonfire the night before a football game usually, not one our of rivals but one we knew that we would win against. It’s a really old tradition, by now they’ve probably done it for at least a hundred years. I think the bonfire started out small, and I don’t think anyone knows why, other than as a way to support the football team. But by the time I was at A&M it had grown a lot, and there were even multiple bonfires. There was one main one that students would plan, but there were also lots of smaller ones that people would have with their friends. There was also usually an alumni fire. At the bonfires we cheer and drink and burn effigies of the other team’s mascot. There also, um, more exciting things that happen, that I can’t talk with my son about. (I had my first hook-up there). But the fires got even bigger after I left, and I think it became an official school tradition. There was a board that organized it and you had apply to be an organizer on it. When I was there anyone could volunteer. Makes sense, because at that point the fires were so big you needed to think about architecture and physics of the whole thing to make sure it lights up and stays standing. Eventually in the ‘90s there was a tragedy and the bonfire collapsed. I don’t remember how many people died, but the school had to ban the bonfires for a long time. People would try to throw little, secret ones sometimes, but there weren’t any big bonfires for a long time. At some point an Alumnus group got together and started throwing the bonfires again, but they’re kept a lot smaller and I think they have actual engineers help to design the bonfires.”

Informant’s interpretation:

AB: “Why were the bonfires so important to you and to the school?”

RA: “I was never a very spirited person, but my friends and I always went to the bonfires. It was fun to be together with everyone yelling and dancing around a fire. Going to the bonfire was apart of being an Aggie.”

Personal interpretation:

School spirit traditions are important at many schools, not just as a way of building excitement and attention for sporting events, usually football, but they also serve as an important community building tool. The informant primarily attended for social reasons, and indeed it appears that the bonfire is an important part of school social life.

Senior ditch day

Main description:

AB: “Can you tell me about any traditions from your high school that stick out or seem special?”

DB: “Um, the only thing I can think of is senior ditch day. I don’t know if you wanna hear about that though, it’s kinda dumb.

AB: “Ditch day sounds great! Tell me about it.”

DB: “I mean. It’s what it sounds like. All the seniors ditch school, usually in one of the last weeks in second semester. It used to be that student council would decide when during secret meetings, but now we just have votes in secret Facebook groups. That’s what my year did anyway. Anyway. The teachers and school know about it of course, and it’s really funny seeing who’s cool with it and who’s not. Sometimes, teachers will be like, ‘Oh, I’m showing a movie that day, so I may forget to skip attendance, so hypothetically, I wouldn’t notice if say, half the class was gone, for some reason. Wink wink nudge nudge.’ But other teachers aren’t cool with it at all. They’ll like rant for several hours about how were seniors and should be responsible enough to go to school. Anyway, on ditch day, we all go to Tuna beach. You can only get there by taking this, like, super steep hike down, and we usually spend the night there, which means you’re hiking down on loose dirt on a steep hill with who knows how many pounds of food and stuff strapped to your back. That part isn’t fun, but the beach is super secluded and there’s places to make bonfires, which is why we go there. Anyway, you know what it’s like, lots of drinking, lots of drugs, a few hook-ups that usually cause drama. Oh I just remembered, there was this one girl my year who tried acid I think, but she was allergic to it and started having a reaction so the paramedics had to come get her, but they can’t carry her up the hike in a gurney so they have to take this, like, really long and windy private road down to the beach, and we were super scared because it took them a really long-ass time. Anyway. She survived. But it was super scary. Oh, I can’t believe I forgot… there was also another kid who couldn’t spend the night on the beach, so he drank as much as he could before hand and got alcohol poisoning and was really sick. That was happening at the same time as the acid-allergy girl, so. It was a really chaotic night. I guess they’re always like that.”

Informant interpretation:

AB: “Why is senior ditch day special to you?”

DB: “I mean, it’s the only time I ever did something rebellious in high school. Like actually rebellious, not just staying in my room all day watching TV rebellious.  I was also really proud of me and my friends for… for, ya know, not being a disaster. I mean, I threw up, but it was also my first night drinking, and it felt good to feel like I was becoming a college student.”

Personal interpretation:

Senior ditch day seems to be an important rite of passage for seniors at this high school, who may not have experimented with many substances before. While ideally this can be a safe place to experiment with alcohol and other substances likely to be encountered in college, it can also be quite dangerous because few people present have experience with substance-use and over-use.