After a productive but exhausting two weeks, I wrapped things up by making dinner for my team of medical students, internal medicine residents, and hematology-oncology fellows. Most of them are continuing on for the remainder of the month, before switching to another rotation in the hospital. That’s one of the quirks – and necessities – of an academic (i.e., teaching) hospital – no one is on the same hospital floor, on the same service, for more than a month or so.
We did good work during those two weeks that I served as the attending. We held hands with our patients. We listened to their stories. We did all we could to relieve our patients’ pain, their suffering. We gave people cancer diagnoses, and we treated their cancer. We helped people die comfortably, in peace and with dignity.
My team did all of this, while I mostly just had to supervise.
I thanked them with dinner.
When I was an internal medicine intern, my very first rotation in the hospital was on the gastroenterology service. I worked much longer hours back then, hours that make me cringe when I think about them now. That first month flew by, mostly in a sleep-deprived and adrenaline-fueled blur, but I came away from it with a couple of vivid memories.
On that first July morning, a nurse came up to me and asked if I would write an order for Tylenol for a patient under my care, a patient I’d not yet met. The nurse called me Doctor, and when she did, I looked around to see who she was referring to. When I realized that it was me, that I was the doctor, I looked at her blankly. Inside, I felt panicked, anxious, and stupid. Was I allowed to write for Tylenol for him? Did he have some reason not to be allowed Tylenol? Would it make his liver disease worse? What would my attending think if I wrote the order…or if I didn’t? Would I kill him with the two 325 mg Tylenol?
That was usually my fear, that I would kill my patient accidentally. On that morning, I was nearly paralyzed by that fear.
Finally, after what seemed like an hour, but was probably only a minute or so, I did what any smart new doctor would do. I asked the nurse what she would recommend.
“Write the Tylenol,” she said, patiently. “It’s fine.”
I nearly hugged her, but I restrained myself. And somehow I got through the rest of that day and the days after that.
My other memory from that month of July was being invited to dinner at my attending’s house. My attending physician that month was a woman, and she was brilliant. Her patients would drive for hours to see her in clinic, to let her take care of them. She valued efficiency and speed on rounds, and she seemed to work as hard – or harder – than the rest of us. I respected her, but I also feared her a little. She was tough, and I never wanted to be on her shit list.
My husband and I showed up at her house for dinner that night, and I remember being so very amazed that she had an actual home outside of the hospital. I knew she did, of course. But, it was still surprising. She prepared an amazing meal for us, dishes that were part of her Spanish heritage, flavors that I didn’t realize could come out of a home kitchen. I peeked in her kitchen at some point – it was behind closed doors – and was shocked and delighted to see that she’d made a complete disaster in there. Pots and pans were stacked everywhere, dirty dishes piled high in the sink. It was well-used, that kitchen.
She was immediately real to me. A real person. And I loved her for that dinner. I still do.
I’ve taken to cooking dinner for my team, whenever I complete a block of time on the inpatient oncology floor. We spend a pretty intense period of time together, watching our patients go through life and death experiences – helping them when we can, comforting them when we can’t. And those young doctors work hard, very hard. I figure it’s the least I can do to thank them for what they’ve done for our patients.
Plus, I like that they can tell I’m real. Just a woman with a messy kitchen.
Pound Cake For a Crowd
Yield: 10-12 servings
This pound cake is perfect for a crowd of hungry people. I served it with a side of homemade whipped cream, but that was entirely unnecessary. The glaze alone is enough of a topping.
I used a 10-inch bundt pan for this recipe, but you can also use a tube pan.
For Pound Cake:
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, room temperature
3 cups (10.5 ounces) cake flour
3/4 teaspoon coarse salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
3 cups (21 ounces) granulated sugar
7 large eggs, room temperature
3 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup heavy cream
For Cream Cheese Glaze:
1 cup (4 ounces) confectioners sugar
2 tablespoons (1 ounce) cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons milk
Prepare Pound Cake
Place oven rack in middle of oven but do not preheat oven. Butter and flour the bundt pan, knocking out any excess flour.
In a medium bowl, whisk together thoroughly the flour, salt, and cinnamon.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat on medium-high speed the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each egg. Beat in vanilla. Reduce mixer speed to low and add half of the flour, then all of the cream, then the rest of the flour (beating well after each addition). Scrape down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Beat at medium-high speed for 5 minutes.
Pour batter into the prepared pan. Rap the pan on the counter once or twice to get rid of any bubbles in the batter. Place pan in the cold oven and turn oven temperature to 350 degrees. Bake until golden and a wooden toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 60 to 75 minutes. Cool cake in the pan for 30 minute. Run a thin knife around the edges of the cake and invert onto rack to cool completely. When cool, drizzle cream cheese glaze over cake.
Cream Cheese Glaze
Whisk together the confectioners sugar, cream cheese, lemon juice, and milk until thoroughly combined. Let sit at room temperature for 20 to 30 minutes to thicken. Drizzle over completely cooled pound cake.
Cake only slightly adapted from this recipe from Gourmet, 2005.