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The Girl in the Green Shirt

By Elise Rasmussen

The smell of canned green beans rushed into my nostrils as the luminescent green juice ran all over my tray. So much for the little sections that were supposed to contain each food item in its separate compartment. The transgression seemingly vanished as the liquid quickly disappeared, soaked up by the bread roll as if it were a starving sponge. Peering around at the long line of strangers dressed in tank tops and flip flops, I felt like I was a 12 year old kid at Glen Lake Summer Camp instead of an orientation before starting medical school. I took in the room in its entirety: mouths opening and closing as morsels of food were shoveled in, hands trying to gain an advantage through wild gesticulation, heads nodding and shaking excitedly, feet tapping the floor (was it the caffeine or nervousness?), chairs being pushed around in all directions to make space for the hands, heads, feet. The voices all rolled into one wave of sound that slammed into me and filled me with the overwhelming urge to vomit.

I didn't. I told myself that the quest for friendship might perhaps be hindered or even prolonged indefinitely with the acrid smell of my gastric contents. Duly reminded, I managed to swallow it down and began looking for a seat. My eyes roved around the room and begged the occupants at each table to glance their way and give the tacit invitation to join. Just as acknowledgement and acceptance neared, each potential pair of eyes darted away to examine something, anything, else just in the nick of time.  

How peculiar it is to feel so alone in a room full of people. It does say something about the nature of loneliness. It isn't the physical proximity to others but rather, the emotional connectedness that gives us a sense of belonging. Otherwise, we'd feel most comfortable in a hospital surrounded by rooms on all sides or a dorm room or even a concert venue with people jostling for position.  But we know that isn't right because isolation can be overpowering in the largest of cities. And how do you even begin to connect with one person when there are a multitude? While a greater number of people may statistically increase the chances of finding one other being with whom to bond, the sheer number of potential options is paralyzing for many of us. Where to start how to begin what to say what if I say something stupid what if I look like an idiot what if I don't say anything what if no one says hello do I have food on my face do my clothes match do they think I don't belong here do I belong here? To be rejected in front of so many others...oh the humiliation. And that's how I felt at that particular moment. MS1's they called us, but let's be honest, I felt like an MSnothing. I certainly didn't feel like I belonged to the MS family.

What a funny thing to be so scared to initiate a simple conversation. I would have traded my right hemisphere to have been more like the scarecrow and less like the cowardly lion. Who needs a brain anyway when you don't have the guts to use it to converse with those around you? I'd like to say that I marched right up to a table and initiated a verbal exchange, but I would be lying to you. I also could say that I melted into the floor with only a pile of green beans to show for my prior existence, but that wouldn't be true either.

I was saved by the girl in the green shirt. "Do you want to sit here?" It was a simple question, but the relief on my face must have been palpable. Her words seemed to loosen my tongue as I found myself replying, "Yeah, thanks."  With that invitation, I suddenly found myself joining a table full of my fellow classmates, and the act of connecting with the unique individuals of that group allowed me to take a small step towards incorporating myself into the MS1 class. I bit into that soggy roll and felt content as I started to form relationships with my classmates who have continuously enriched my time in medical school.    

Elise Rasmussen, M.D., Class of 2016, is a third-year medical student who continues to hate canned green beans and is looking forward to the day when she can afford fresh green beans. She is currently trying to decide what to do with her life but is excited for the free time in fourth year to spend time with her amazing classmates before residency.