“And that brings us to the end of our class for today, Good day!.” This was Dr Njom’s usual way of ending his class. He had just finished a 2-hour lecture with our class in which he talked about Peripheral Artery Disease which has the acrostic PAD. Little did I know I would develop Medical Students Syndrome.
Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD)
Dr Njom discussed PAD as a complication of diabetes. He stated that PAD causes the blood vessels to narrow and reduces blood flow mostly to the legs and feet.
“It may also cause nerve damage,known as peripheral neuropathy.”, he added.
He also said that diabetics are more likely to have sores and ulcers at their feet region and the inability to feel pain (peripheral neuropathy) could make them apply pressure on the affected area till it grows and becomes infected.
Furthermore, He stated that since the blood flow to the area was reduced , the wound was likely not to heal, rather tissue damage or death (gangrene) and spreading of infection to the bone could happen. Finally, he added that once the foot became unsalvageable due to ravaging infection, amputation would become the only viable option.
The thought of amputation was horrifying, “so that’s how they’d use saw to chop off someone’s leg”. There and then, I prayed that such condition never befall my loved ones. After the class, I retired to my room in the hostel, totally exhausted.
Being a medical student is laborious
Being a medical student is laborious. Everyday is basically an almost endless cycle of learning- theoretically and practically, so the exhaustion had become a feeling of normalcy for me. After having a bath and resting a bit, I laid down on my bed reminiscing about the day’s event most especially the lecture on PAD. I spent sometime trying to recollect vital information that could be needed in our examination, then i slept off.
” Rrrrrringgg!,Rrrrrrringgg!”, that was the sound of my alarm clock trying to wake me up. As is common with almost half of the world’s population, I woke up sluggishly with very dim eyes, it was almost as if I could hear the voice of sleep begging and pleading that I go back to bed. Soon enough I was done with the orthodox early morning prep and was ready for school.
Oh my God!, this might be a sign of PAD
As I was about putting on my footwear, I had a hard long stare at my foot. It looked a bit discoloured to me.
“Do my eyes deceive me?”, I asked myself.
I had a good look again and it still looked to me as if the skin colour on my legs had changed.
” Could this be early signs of PAD?”
I remembered that Dr Njom said that changing skin colour on the feet was one of the signs of PAD. I remembered that there was a time my sugar intake was really high.
” Could it be my blood sugar level is high?”
“Is that why it seems like I have PAD?”, I questioned myself.
Before I knew what was going on, I had already plunged into a cycle of other dreadful thoughts- ” would this lead to amputation?”, “how would I cope with the stress of med school on one foot?”, ” would I even still be able to be a medical doctor?”.
You’re next!”, a nurse called out to me
In few minutes, I had a sudden epiphany that this could be catastrophic for me. I managed to attend lectures that day, albeit I wasn’t my self at all. I couldn’t concentrate neither could I understand anything. My mind was clouded with fear and anxiety. I managed to get through the day.
By the time I got home, my legs felt as though they were numb. ” Oh my God!, this might be the second sign of PAD.”, I cried within me. Albeit I was famished, I couldn’t eat anything. I slept off wishing my life could go back to normal. The next day, I hurried off to my varsity’s teaching hospital. I intended to get myself checked out by a doctor. When I got there, I sat in the reception area waiting patiently for my turn to see the doctor. While waiting I felt a severe spike of nervousness, one that I had never felt before. I prayed silently, begging God to deliver me from impending doom.
“You’re next!”, a nurse called out to me, hearing that, I stood up quickly and went into the doctor’s office. When I got in, I explained my dilemma to the doctor. ” It seems I have the disease I am studying.”, I told him.
He poked and prodded me six ways from Sunday. Indeed, He was really thorough.
Afterwards, he sent me to the lab to run some blood work. I had to go back to the reception area to wait for the result.
Have you ever heard of Medical Students Syndrome?
As soon as the doctor got the results back, he called me back into his office.
“This is it!, the moment of truth.” I muttered within me.
By this time I was tachycardiac and sweating despite the fact that the air conditioner in the doctor’s office was switched on and the place was chilly.
He stared at me for a while, laughed a little and said “You’re okay, there is nothing wrong with you.” I was really elated after hearing that statement.
“But doctor, I felt I was sick” I said to him.
“Have you ever heard of Medical Students Syndrome?” he asked.
I answered in the negative, planning to research about it when I got back. On my way back, I was overwhelmed with a sense of relief, joy and happiness. I knew that I could now focus on my studies properly without fear or anxiety lurking at the back of my mind. I knew I could still be the MEDICAL DOCTOR I have always wanted to be.
What is Medical Students Syndrome?
Many of us medical students must have had this experience, hence the need to enlighten ourselves.
Medical Students Syndrome (also referred to as ‘Medical School Syndrome’, ‘Third Year Syndrome’, ‘ Second Year Syndrome’, ‘Intern’s Syndrome’) is a condition frequently reported in medical students, who perceive themselves to be experiencing the symptoms of a disease that they are studying.
During our medical education, we must learn syndromes or symptom lists of various rare and malevolent diseases. As we read about these diseases , there is a tendency to start believing that we exhibit a symptom or sign associated with the disease. For example, a medical student reads about brain tumour which is associated with headache. If by coincidence, the individual suffers from a headache, he or she may presume they have a brain tumour.
This phenomenon is not limited to medical students; anyone who reads medical material is susceptible. However, it is most frequently observed in medical students.
While medical school can turn us students into hypochondriacs from time to time and give us “Medical Students Syndrome”, sadly not every medical student who thinks they are suffering from some malady is wrong. So endeavour to consult a medical doctor to be on the safe side but if the anxiety persists after reassurance from a medical doctor, it would be best to see a psychological expert because the syndrome can obstruct our daily activities.
Have you ever experienced Medical Students Syndrome?
The importance of sound mental health as a medical student cannot be overemphasized. It’s only when you’re sound mentally that you can be efficient as a MEDICAL STUDENT.
Kindly share in the comment box, if you’ve had this experience and how you scaled through.
Writer: Agbo Joseph .C.
Enugu State University Of Science and Technology, Enugu, Nigeria