“Working here makes you never want to drink again,” commented a nurse on my second day of the job. While all patients in the Medical Intensive Care Unit are not admitted for alcohol-related diseases, witnessing the physical state of some sick individuals results in a lot of reflection on how your everyday choices will affect you down the road.

The MICU is not a wing of the hospital you want to be admitted to. An environment that typically has a nurse to patient ratio of 2:1, this sector houses patients who need hourly and sometimes by-the-minute care and observation. When you learn of the causes and past social histories of these people —alcohol, drugs, or genetic bad luck — it teaches you of the horrific consequences a flippant attitude towards health in your early life can have.

Your health is no joke. Many of us have had this drilled into their mind, but since the onset of the effects from poor habits are so far down the road and often internal we do not visualize repercussions such as arteries slowly narrowing in due to cholesterol build-up from Big Macs and other unhealthy foods.

But the MICU is not solely a source of depressing reminders that one day our health will catch up to us. It also provides inspiration when patients are able to persevere through their adversity and get discharged back into the real world. The optimistic attitude visitors tote along with them in and out of such a morbid place is very impressive too and makes your burdens seem trivial.

As a pre-med student, you embrace every opportunity available to gain insight into the world of medicine that you so desperately desire to join. Volunteering in the Medical Intensive Care Unit has provided such an opportunity and though it does not entail clinical experience such as observing surgeries and other operations that we students usually pursue, the MICU has many other redeeming qualities.

I have become a part of the car that drives the hospital. I am no transmission or steering wheel. I’m not navigating through triple bypasses. I am not the emergency brake or On-Star button that will immediately provide crisis support when hostile patients threaten their life or others. I may be as insignificant as a Hokie bumper sticker or as unappreciated as a consent form that (as I learned last week) may not be so insignificant after all. It is not as much as what I physically do or witness in those three hours each week that keeps me coming back; it is what I learn.

You learn basic workplace etiquette that can be applied to any office scenario, but when it involves others’ health – the antes are raised. When a nurse attempted to approach a superior last week with an urgent problem, she was met with an antagonistic attitude that only compounded the issue. Both soon became upset and inherently there productivity was lowered. Such simple amenities like treating co-workers with respect and without frustration is what greases the system to function smoothly.

And then you see situations that contrast the latter, such as when the University Hospital’s second-in-command made an appearance to aid with a surgery. Arriving with glowing enthusiasm, he epitomized the co-worker who you always wanted to work alongside. Even venturing out of his (very important) agenda to introduce himself to me, he illustrated the vast difference common courtesies can have.

Collect some of the smartest people in the world, put them in a room with a variety of sick people and unless they get along, you may find more problems than solutions. Hospitals don’t have enough rooms for patients, much less egos. You learn to leave the attitude and personal problems at home, so we can all enjoy the ride.

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