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To be taken with a cauldron of salt

After Health Systems class one day, Harry staggered into a small classroom occupied by disgruntled medical students. He could not bear to think of the heaps of dermatology notes and photographs awaiting him in his backpack. Listening to other human voices could be reassuring, even when those humans were more stressed than he was.

In this particular room, Ron and Hermione were sharing a hushed conversation over lunch. Hermione glanced out the window every fifteen seconds before returning to twiddling her thumbs.

“I know I’ve failed everything,” whispered Hermione as Harry took his seat. “The anatomy lab practical was no good at all. I definitely mixed up flexor hallucis longus and flexor pollicis longus. And I thought that Radiology went all right at the time, but looking back – “

At that moment, the door burst open. Two fellow medical students entered the room: Igor, one of Ron’s new friends, and Daphne, one of Hermione’s new study partners. Like most of the first-year class, both Igor and Daphne were East Coast witches and wizards, people Harry had never met before in his life. Harry had thought them strange at first, with their East Coast variations of Rock-Paper-Scissors and deep-rooted dislike of snow. But now, six months later, they were all united in their exam-related anxiety.

This is fine

The key to surviving medical school.

“I don’t understand why we have three exams in two days,” Daphne said, dropping into her seat next to Hermione. “I mean, how could you possibly study for dermatology and orthopedics and rheumatology without a single devoted Study Day before the exam?”

“I don’t know,” Igor said. “I don’t think anyone in their right mind could memorize this much in such a short period of time. Or expect us to, for that matter.”

“How are all of you studying for Health Systems?” Harry asked. Thinking of Health Systems’ impending exam gave Harry a sore throat. He had been spending so much time with Scientific Principles of Medicine, The Voldemort Lab, and Ortho/Derm/Rheum that he had neglected to complete any Systems homework for the past two-and-a-half months.

Ron, Igor, Hermione, and Daphne shrugged in unison.

“I’ll worry about Systems at 11 pm the night before the exam,” Ron said.

Four weeks after the end of their first module in The Voldemort Lab, Ron Weasley was a changed man. His repertoire of ill-fated puns had diminished to a mere trickle, and Harry could see him studying in a carrel at the library from time to time.

“But what about anatomy? The practical exam?” Hermione moaned. “It’s been weeks and we still haven’t gotten our grades back.”

“Well, if it makes you feel better,” Ron said, beaming, “the scores for The Voldemort Lab were historically low this year.”

How is that good news, Ronald?” Hermione snapped.

“If we fail, we need to all fail together,” Ron said.

“I’m even a little worried about Humanities,” Hermione said. “I mean, what if I wasn’t writing enough?”

“Hermione, you would have to be sleeping in class to fail Humanities.” Daphne slapped Hermione on the back. “I would have sworn that some people in my class wrote their responses with their phones propped up against the handlebars of their bikes on the way to school.”

Ron and Igor exchanged uneasy looks.

As their binders and dermatology textbooks lay abandoned on the table, The Commiseration Conference continued into the afternoon. There was no dearth of grievances to complain about, after all:

  • Harry had only been sleeping five hours a night for the past three weeks.
  • Ron and Igor had learned more about Kawasaki disease from their favorite TV show than from the rheumatology lecture on vasculitis. (Upon further questioning, they admitted to sleeping in the lecture hall that morning.)
  • Hermione had no idea how many short-answer questions would be on the orthopedics portion of their upcoming exam.
  • Daphne was worried about whether or not they were expected to memorize all four of Kanavel’s signs for flexor tenosynovitis.

At long last, Harry cleared his throat.

“I don’t think we should be worrying about any of this,” Harry said quietly. “If there’s one thing we learned from the past six months, it’s that we stress out for no reason. Things are never as bad as they seem.”

Harry was surprised when the entire room fell silent. Swallowing the last bit of moisture from inside his cheek, he opened his mouth again.

“We pass through the hospital every day on our way to class. We walk past kids with no hair, and teenagers unconscious on gurneys. And what about the people we know? Two of our own professors have lived through bone marrow transplants. One of them was in his early twenties – our age – when he found out he had cancer.

“What are we even complaining about? This is silly. Even if we fail a class or two they won’t kick us out of medical school. We might need to repeat a year, maybe, if we do poorly enough. But the people we know so well spent years of their life in and out of treatments, with no guarantee they would ever return to a normal life.

“Have you ever walked past the Interfaith Chapel, with its Prayer Requests form displayed in the antechamber? I stopped to read through the requests one day, in the midst of our rheumatology week. I wish I could wave my stethoscope-wand and solve all of their problems, but I’m at Hogwarts College of Medicine, not Hogwarts School of Prayer and Miracles. There I was, agonizing over all the different subtypes of psoriatic arthritis that I hadn’t memorized, and a family was praying for their loved one to wake up from a stroke. I felt ridiculous. I should have known better.

“Have any of you read our professor’s cancer memoir? After his bone marrow transplant, he wanted to worry about something trivial. Like bad grades. Not something like overwhelming his infantile immune system with the least bit of a fresh garden breeze. Don’t you see? Our greatest worries… would be a cancer patient’s greatest dreams.

“We are in medical school now. We are all going to be doctors. We have absolutely nothing to complain about.”

As Harry completed his speech, he realized that Daphne, Hermione, and Igor were staring at him. Ron excused himself to “go to the bathroom.” The awkward silence stretched on. Minutes dragged by. Harry was just about to leave and get some real work done when Ron reentered the classroom with his tablet in hand.

A chill ran down Harry’s spine. Ron’s ears had turned a bright shade of red.

Erythematous macules? The nugget of knowledge burst forth without any voluntary summons from Harry’s brain. First sign of measles. The preliminary form of the morbilliform rash, to be exact. He might be contagious.

“Ron, are you sick?” Harry asked.

Ron glanced through the windows. After a lone pedestrian had crossed to the other side of the road, he beamed widely at his audience.

“I just made medical school history,” Ron said, posing in the doorway with his hands on his hips. “I’m going to be famous.”

“That’s great, Ron,” Hermione said. “What did you do?”

“I failed Medical Humanities.”



If you liked this Harry Potter-themed short story about medical school, you may also enjoy its predecessor, The Voldemort Lab.

This short story draws upon a scene from Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. For the excerpt, see this link.

Medical Humanities and its successor, Science of Mind and Body, were some of the highlights of my first semester at medical school. I would like to thank all of our humanities instructors for encouraging us to express ourselves through writing.

After a successful orthopedics/rheumatology/dermatology exam, I am looking forward to another week of relaxation before delving into the realms of hematology and cardiology. In the meantime, have a wonderful holiday and Happy 2015!