Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Mmmm, sweet black nectar of bean.

My loftiest goal at the start of medical school was to not get addicted to coffee.

Yeah, that went real well.

I decided this after going to breakfast with a friend in residency, who, after her 3rd cup of coffee, declared "Now my caffeine headache is gone!" I could stand to do without headaches, I concluded, and set my noble goal which probably made you shake your head at my naive foolishness.

After seeing Alice admit she gave in to the aromatic stranglehold of the percolator, I can now come out and admit that my determination lasted only until about the start of 2nd year. I am clearly much weaker than Alice (but I already knew that).

I started to drink my coffee, and now I tell myself it's because I love the flavour. Once a day, then twice a day, sometimes more. I would never say that I'm addicted...just that I love the taste of a Tim Horton's (and a Starbucks if needs be). My dad only fed this wonderful addiction by supplying me with a bountiful Tim Horton's gift card...perhaps the best gift I have ever received. And, it always made a convenient excuse to rally the study buddies for a study break - "I've had enough of studying these neurology / gastrointestinal / hematopathology / whatever notes. Let's go grab a coffee."

For a time, I'll even admit I tried caffeine pills on the advice of a friend. A few people I know had resorted to this in undergrad, and I was able to abstain then, but my curiosity overcame me when I was approached in a back alley at night by a fellow medical student and was offered one of a variety of caffeine pills hidden in the inside of his overcoat. Why pay $2 for coffee when you can pay $0.15 or whatever for one of these magic pills, I thought?

Actually, the drug reference has a bit more credence to it than you might think - during our first week of orientation way back in first year, the physician support hotline sponsored a session in which a doctor and a dentist warned against the dangers of drug use, and that as professionals we weren't immune to it - and of course, one of them was adamant that his progression to cocaine and heroin had began way back in medical school, when he started trying to augment his studying using caffeine pills (and then ephedrine...and so on down the slippery slope). Never underestimate the pressure that medical students feel.

After hearing that, and admitting to myself that the pills didn't really give me that much of an extra kick (unless I took 5 or 6 at a time, which I wasn't interested in doing), I decided that paying $2.00 for the pleasure of a brew wasn't that bad.

When second-year finals were all over, though, and my coffee intake plummeted, I started getting headaches by mid-morning. At first, I chose to believe I had an aneurysm, or a massive brain tumor. No way my sacred brew of black nectar is responsible for causing me this cranial throb, I told myself. I refused to admit, until finally, after demanding numerous CT scans and MRIs (and having to fake a large number of seizures in order to get those scans...ok now I'm really exaggerating), I admitted... it was the caffeine. I was addicted.

I've already scouted out the nearest coffee sources by the hospital I'll be working at in third year, and can't wait to get back to the grind.


none said...

My coffee addiction (come on; call it what it is) began in college. It only intensified when I started med school. But just before Step 1, I realized that a day without coffee meant horrid headaches, and when I drank it, I felt jittery and occasionally had heart palpitations. I decided that caffeine-induced arrhythmias were bad, so I slowly cut back. I got through my month of boards prep mostly on decaf (I can't seem to break the psychological cravings and I like the taste). I can go days now and not have coffee, and everything is really okay! ;) But to be fair, I'm an MSTP student, and I only did one M3 clerkship this summer before starting my PhD; I'm sure that if I had to finish third year right now, I'd be a total caffeine fiend once again.

Have you ever tried mate tea? It's got a nice kick similar to caffeine. The best drink at my local tea shop is a "dirty" mate latte. It's got an espresso shot in addition to the mate. Awesome. But, ummm... like I said, I've totally broken my addiction. *ahem*

Anonymous said...

The best part of this addiction is that it comes with built in "study breaks." Everyone needs a trip to the loo now and then.

CountyRat said...

Pick up a pound from Peet's Coffee and Tea ( and you will become hooked for life.

You're welcome.

Surrender, Vitum, to the dark side! We have cookies!