Saturday, September 4, 2010

Fire Drill

I heard the following story on the radio recently.

In brief, a high school math teacher who motivates inner city students by teaching them chess was being interviewed. He himself learned chess as a kid in the Ukraine, before he moved to America at age six.

So, the six-year-old future math teacher moves to America and his parents enroll him in first grade. The school year has already started, so he tries to fit in as best he can. Problem is, he does not speak English. At all. No English.

School is hard -- not the material, but the not-understanding-what's-going-on-because-I-don't-understand-the-language part.

Then, the school hosts a fire drill. Apparently, there are no fire drills in Ukraine, and the kid doesn't really know what's going on. Plus, he's in the bathroom--alone--so he can't see everyone filing out to the school yard. It turns out, while they don't have fire drills, the Ukrainians do have faulty equipment, so the kid just assumes that something has broken in the school building's wiring and is making a strange noise.

So, he washes up and traipses back to his classroom. He finds it empty. 'Strange,' he thinks. He wanders to the next-door classroom, and finds, curiously, that it is empty as well.
In a moment of true problem-solving, the kid decides, 'it's almost lunch time, I guess everyone just went to lunch early.' He wanders to the cafeteria. No one is there, but there are plenty of lunches lined up on the counter. He reaches to take one, and, at that exact moment, a hairnetted lunch-lady runs out from the kitchen, shouting, "THIS IS A FIRE DRILL. YOU MUST GO OUTSIDE. WHY ARE YOU IN HERE???? PUT DOWN THAT LUNCH AND LEAVE RIGHT NOW."

As the math teacher/chess play is relating all this, the radio host interrupts him and says, "That must have been so confusing. It must have been exhausting never knowing what was happening and being so disoriented all the time. I bet you went home that afternoon and thought to yourself 'I can't take this anymore. I never want to go back.'"

At that moment, I couldn't help but think that the kid's experience was a lot like being an intern. Things happen in the hospital, and you don't know why. Patients have bad outcomes, and you don't know why. Tests get ordered, but not completed. Patients refuse blood-draws. Medical students fail to learn simple concepts. Physical Therapy doesn't come. Surgeries are done in the OR, and you don't know what they are. And at the end of the day, some metaphorical-lunch-lady is always yelling at you, for reasons you can't really make out.

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