Starting Intern Year: A Summer Like Never Before

Liana Meffert, MD


August 18, 2022

What is summer, really, but a collection of memories, sounds, sights, and feelings that we bottle up when young and return to on the first warm day to sniff like an emptied perfume bottle.

Last week my friend, late to respond to an email, wrote that summer always seems like there will be more time, and somehow there is always less. The longing returns in crushing waves: to be let out from school, from our bodies, from these full and suffocating lives.

It comes in flashes, like flipping from one slide to the next on a carousel projector. I liked the sound of the projector machine, the auditory cue that we were moving on. Summer slips into the spaces between signing up for health benefits, wandering the new corridors of my hospital, and struggling through my first central line while the mannequin gaps at me, wide-mouthed.

My intern class practices putting a chest tube through a row of ribs bought from the grocery store down the block. You make an incision and then blunt-force your way through, diving above one rib and below another until you reach the cavity, and you can hook your fingers back around to feel the other side of the rib. I think of how terrifying this would be — my finger plugging the hole in a human chest like the hull of a sinking ship — and of grilling in the backyard, the ribs with their charred scales.

I like walking by those window AC units. They remind me of coming home from camp, walking up the front steps to my house, hearing the promise of respite in the hum of the fans, and seeing my mom in her floral summer dress. How do memories attach themselves? How do they choose where to land and when?

I hear summer in the flip-flops of patients who are in the waiting room for hours, hours. Impatient from waiting, they get up to pace, call home ("Yes, we're still here," "No, she hasn't been seen by anyone"), or find the bathroom. You can hear the slappity slap slap of their flimsy sandals.

Because I am new to the city, new to this career, and new to this life, really, this summer makes no promises to be carefree or easy. I do new-city things like getting flat tires on curbs that I've never seen before and clearly still haven't seen. I lose a key, I get a replacement that doesn't work, leave before checking because why not, and wait for a locksmith to jam twin blood pressure cuffs between my door to pry it open, which is both fascinating and infuriating when I pay $200 for his 20 minutes.

While I am locked out on no particular Tuesday, I sit on a curb, and a man walks by me, and takes one look: "Whatever it is, it's going to be alright."

While I am locked out on no particular Friday, I sit on the marbled front steps of a derelict church, and a parade of preschoolers walk by, reaching out their hands to touch me like I'm a fence whose stakes you would run your fingers against. One of them wishes me a happy Wednesday with such conviction that I believe.

Statistically, there are higher rates of crime in the summertime. It's hard not to metaphorize the human condition as blood boiling over. It's so palpable in the emergency department, where emotions are already stretched to their extremes. The waiting room is a sea of angry patients, still angry when we see them. There is no patience left in the building. I want to say it's like oxygen all breathed up, or money spent, some commodity so necessary and valuable that we pry it from another's hands. It's so much easier to take than give.

I work on the 4th of July. I see a woman with a small-bowel obstruction, her stomach bloated and taut against the twisted air expanding like a firehose inside it, a man with gallstones in his bile duct and still some tumbling around in his gallbladder. We don't talk about what plans they had for today, and when I finally get home that night and hear fireworks, I don't assume they're not gunshots.

I miss the ennui of summer, the childish impatience for anything to happen, trapped as you are between the slow paces of time.

One night, there's a thunderstorm, with flash flood warnings late into the early hours. The patients arrive in triage with their hair still dripping. This isn't the summer I grew up with, but then again, neither is the one in California, now, where the ground cracks its brittle face and the golden hillsides burn bright then black.

On another day back at the hospital, a man is brought in. Sometimes paramedics have a story for us, and sometimes it's just a few lines, like the weakest plotline you've ever heard — the man at the convenience store saw the attack and called, they picked him up from an alley — delivered with a rueful shake of the head. A bruise is already cresting his cheekbone, and when we open the man's mouth to intubate, several teeth fall out. His belly heaves, the wings of his ribs rising fast like a dog laboring in the sun.

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About Liana Meffert
Liana Meffert recently graduated from the University of Iowa College of Medicine and is an emergency medicine resident physician at MedStar Georgetown/Washington Hospital Center. She has previously been awarded an Academy of American Poets Poetry Prize, Stanford's Irvin David Yalom Literary Award, University of Iowa's Carol A. Bowman Creative Writing Award, and the F. Sean Hodge Prize for Poetry in Medicine. Her writing has been featured in JAMA, The Examined Life Journal, and The Healing Muse , among other publications. You can find more of her work at


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