We Know We Don’t Know

We just took our first exam, a two-day test on six weeks of biochemistry, basic anatomy, and a few in-depth cases. On the first day of the exam, Thursday, we spent four hours writing essay answers to questions about metabolic disease, diabetes, cancers, and (weirdly) Tylenol poisoning. Friday’s part was half multiple choice and half short-answer identification of histology and anatomy slides. It was, in a word, hard. I probably failed, but whatever.

My main takeaway was that despite studying almost every day and for most of the daylight hours for six weeks, the amount of information we don’t know is stunning in scope. I literally don’t know anything.

I’m told that never changes.

One thing that does change, quickly, is the perception of your friends and family. They think you know stuff. They’re wrong, but that won’t stop some of them from asking you about their ailments. Last week while I was studying, I got a phone call from a friend.

Friend: “Hey! I know you have a test soon but I have a question. So I have this rash…”

Uh oh. I tried to slam the door. “You do know that I have been in medical school like six weeks, right?”

“Yeah, but you mentioned you were doing a skin unit so I thought I’d ask.”

I told him that the odds I knew what was going on with his rash were less than one percent. This was truth. I also had zero desire to hear about anything involving the word “pustules” or “weeping.”

Apparently I had no choice.  My friend proceeded to describe a disgusting-sounding erythematous, swollen, and ulcerated rash on the back of his leg. (I actually don’t know what “erythematous” means, but I’ve never heard a rash described without that word, so I threw it in there.)

“So do you have any idea what it is?” my friend asked. “I can send you a picture…”


Of course, I had no clue what it was. But I do know a couple things now about pretending to be a doctor, and one of them is asking questions.

“Hmm. Do you have high blood sugar?”  I asked.

“What? No. Why would you ask that?”

“What about low blood sugar?”

“NATE I DO NOT HAVE BLOOD SUGAR PROBLEMS. What is wrong with you?”

I thought for a second.

“You have colon cancer.”

Silence on the other end of the line. I wished I could see his face. He eventually croaked out an “uh, what?”

I obviously wasn’t being serious, but it took him a second.

I told him that I only know of two diseases that exist – diabetes and colon cancer. He had just ruled out diabetes. As far as I know, there are no other diseases you can get, because we haven’t learned them yet.

My friend swore and hung up on me. Nice catching up, bro.

Full disclosure: I didn’t come up with the joke myself – I maybe stole the idea from a YouTube video (obviously) about first-year medical students taking a patient history.

Moral of the story: ask me for medical advice at your peril. Also, after an exhausting two-day test, we don’t know anything. But hey, we know we don’t know.

3 thoughts on “We Know We Don’t Know

  1. Pingback: Helpful Posts | Laughter is the Best Medicine

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