Education Lessons Nonfiction Observations

The Oral Exam (IV).

I couldn’t find Bus Number Six.

Buses Eleven and Fifteen were parked around the corner. The driver for Bus Three was smoking a cigarette outside of his vehicle. A Peter Pan bus—unnumbered and unassociated with the exam—was parked across the street.

Bus Number Six eventually pulled up to the curb. I threw my travel bag over my shoulder—I wouldn’t return in time before check out from the hotel—and watched a line of people approach the bus.

“You’re going to Worcester, right?” one of the men asked. The bus driver nodded. The line advanced and I soon stepped into the vehicle. The morning sun had warmed the upholstered seats and that travel bus smell brought back memories from my days in marching band.

There were only twelve or fourteen of us on the bus. And none of us said a word during the hour long ride to the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester.

Really, what could any of us say? None of us wanted to be there. All of us were anxious.

After the bus left Boston, I pulled out the book I had purposely brought for leisure reading: Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. (Excellent and engaging book, I should add—funny, heartbreaking, and the narration is elegantly simple. I purchased it from the book sale at the local branch of the New York Public Library, along with Kostova’s The Historian, which is not funny, is heartbreaking, and the various narrations are numbingly uniform and not simple. Go support your library today.)

I heard the rustling of papers behind and in front of me. Against my better judgment, I glanced around the seat and saw the beams of sunlight fall upon the open book on the lap of the woman sitting in front of me. One of her hands held that textbook open while the other clutched a stack of index cards.

“It’s too late!” I wanted to exclaim. “You already know all of this! Stop studying!” This was, of course, merely a reflection of my own anxiety: Why should I care if someone else wants to look over her notes prior to an exam?

The bus rumbled past a river—The Beau was running a leisurely eleven miles along that river; never before had I felt such envy over running eleven miles—and empty fields overgrown with weeds. We passed through suburbia and soon pulled into the medical school campus. Its wide open spaces and glassy buildings reminded me of the medical school I had attended, which also rises out of agricultural fields.

Everyone in the bus stirred.

“This is it,” the bus driver announced as he pulled up to the curb. Only a few cars dotted the expanse of the parking lot and there was no one to be seen. We began to file out of the bus—still silent, still anxious—and wandered towards a non-descript building.

“It’s over there,” the bus driver called out from the bus. He was pointing in the opposite direction. “Do you guys know where you’re going?”

Clearly, we didn’t.

“No,” someone offered. “Thanks for telling us.”

On the building was a sheet of bright orange paper that directed us to go inside, up the elevators, and down the hallway. We piled into an elevator. Only one of us in the elevator was not wearing a suit.

“So you guys are here for the test, huh?” she asked, looking around at us. “You guys look nervous.”

She was a patient who had agreed to participate in the exam. A few people laughed nervously.

“Good luck,” she said as she exited the elevator.

“Yeah,” someone replied. “Thanks.”

While walking through a maze of hallways, we passed a room with a large table in the center. On the table were platters of sandwiches, chips, and other lunch foods. Rows of beverages stood at attention nearby. A sign on the open door announced in no uncertain terms, “LUNCH FOR EXAMINERS ONLY”.

“Food!” someone exclaimed.

“But it’s not for us,” I dryly remarked. “It’s for the examiners.”

“Man! You would think that they’d give us lunch after we’ve paid over a thousand dollars for this stupid test!” he replied.

“Heh,” I said.

The signs eventually directed us to what appeared to be the psychiatry library. Stacks of books lined the walls and a projector that was probably close to my age sat on the center table. Bottles of water and juices were also on the table. As we all began to sit down, someone poked her head through the doorway and said, “Hello. We’re going to meet in about ten minutes. Now is your chance to use the facilities before we begin.”

The small gaggle of women weaved back through the hallways and small talk began to percolate amongst us. That’s a nice suit. Lovely necklace. You’re from where? That was a patient in the elevator, huh. Yes, it will be nice to get this over with.

Soon, we all returned to the library and glanced at the clock located high up on the wall. The Time was approaching. As the second hand swept past the blemish of 12 on the blanched forehead of the time piece, that same someone who had advised us to empty our bladders reappeared.

“Welcome to the second part of your board exam,” she greeted. She smiled—warmly, genuinely, it seemed. “Let me go over the rules with you. If you have questions, please ask.”

It wasn’t anything none of us hadn’t heard before. After she checked our government-issued IDs to prevent fraudulent behavior, she launched into her patter that lasted less than five minutes.

“Now we will go outside and I will introduce you to your examiners,” she continued. “Come with me.”

We trailed out and saw a group of older psychiatrists, also all in suits, standing at opposite end of the hallway.

She called my name first.

“This is Dr. Grey Hair. This is Dr. Eyeliner. You will be going to the room at the end of the hall. Drs. Grey Hair and Eyeliner will take you there.”

“Thank you,” I said, giving myself a last-minute pep talk. You’ve done these before, patients generally take to you easily, you just need to pass, you don’t need to shine, forget about the examiners, just attend to the patient and make him or her comfortable….

“Hi,” Dr. Grey Hair said as we walked down the hallway. “Your patient is already in the room. You can get started after you get settled in.”

I took a deep breath and pushed the door open.