“It’s a bit like platform 9 3/4” a friend of mine said last semester, about the entrance gate at Rikshospitalet. Although not at King’s Cross, London but in the outskirts of Oslo, Norway, the narrow brick-stone passage for students and staff going into the university hospital bears a resemblance to the entrance into the magical universe of Harry Potter. But here, when you enter, you enter the world of medicine.
You don’t run into it, but you do rush through it in the morning, sometimes flicking a magnetic card. Once inside, you change into white cloaks. In your pocket you don’t place a wand, but a stethoscope and then you’re all set. We go to lectures where the professors have developed their own character and reputation over the years. Instead of Potions we have Pharmacology, where the ingredients quite frankly are as mysterious as anything JK Rowling could provide, and no need to mention what is kept in the cellars. We don’t learn about magical creatures, but we learn anatomy and come to consider the human body and its organs as something of a miracle. Instead of Defence against the dark arts, we have cancerology and trauma medicine where words like tracheotomy, rituximab‚ dobutamine, glucokorticoids sometimes work as a spell. We also have the much less dramatic but extremely important “Prevention in primary health care”, where the spells to minimize the risk of bad health goes “be active, stop smoking, eat healthy, drink moderatly, gain control, think alternatively, take care of social networks”. (That is unfortunately not done by the flick of a wand, but the results could be magical). We bury ourselfs in books at the library and reading halls and walk around in the hallways – where I could swear that the staircases move and it’s a complete maze – in search of patients we can learn from, in order to solve medical riddles and fight disease and death.
But when we do meet patients, we are painfully aware that this world is not a fairy tale. The brutality of disease and the heavy burdens so many people carry, are strong evidence that our world is not divided neatly into good and evil, but rather into bad luck and good luck, where the main challenge is all the small things we cannot really see, like cells, viruses, expectations, fears, our daily habits and prejudice for that matter. Sometimes patients, doctors and nurses together fight death and win. Sometimes the same team fight to make the days that remain as good as possible. All the time we know that life can change in a matter of seconds, and that each good moment is worth savouring. But it is important to know that most of the time, the body takes care of itself. The body is magical in that way.
When night falls and we are once again outside the hospital, our white cloaks are left behind and we step into the ordinary world. And if we start talking about medicine – please forgive us – we forget that the majority of people are muggles.
Medical school at the University of Oslo lasts 6 years, divided into 12 semesters. This week was my first as a 12th semester student, based at Rikshospitalet. The final exam is 3-4 months away.