At the Still Point of the Turning World
Residency is over, NOW what? (While I'm waiting for the answer, I'll get some spinning done....)

Thursday, October 02, 2003


Another weekend of call is over, thank goodness. No blow-by-blow account--this one introduced a new flavor of horror. M, the intern whose work was featured in the last call report, was on call with me and did the following Almost Unforgiveable Things:

1) She went to bed while I was still awake and doing her work for her;

2) While asleep, she slept through FOUR important pages: Two from me in the ER, and two from the L&D nurses, telling her to report IMMEDIATELY to a delivery. The woman was a grand multip with a history of a bad shoulder dystocia and a fourth-degree laceration (which I won't describe in gory detail, but is B-A-D). When I walked into the room, the attending had the head delivered but was struggling to deliver the shoulders. The baby's face was turning purple. I flung my things aside (later, the NICU nurse found my stethescope under the infant warmer) and got into the fray, and about 75 seconds later the attending and I managed to deliver a 9-pound baby with broad shoulders and a broken collarbone--pretty mild trauma for such a difficult delivery. There was no laceration--amazing. The baby needed some resuscitation, but after we were all safe again, I asked, "Where's Dr. M?" We called her. She didn't come.

I found M in the hallway. She immediately launched into a long explanation--just wanted to lie down for 20 minutes, set her alarm but didn't hear it, was lying down on her pager and couldn't hear it, etc. etc. I listened to her quietly, but when she was done, I chewed her out. The most important thing about our work, I told her, is that we have to be able to count on each other. This means that when someone calls you for help, you show up. Period. End of discussion. I don't care if she doesn't know a lot about medicine, the doses of drugs or the physiology of disease--that's a lifetime of learning. I do care about her professional reliability, however, and I warned her that, once a resident gets a reputation for unreliability, they almost never overcome it. No one really trusts them ever again.

M took it pretty well, even thanked me for being straightforward with her (I think I sounded much calmer than I felt), but I was completely demoralized by the experience. Took the wind right out my sails. I've never felt dispirited on call before. Usually I feel tired, anxious, annoyed--but never bored, never indifferent. After chewing M out, however, I wondered what's the point?

So what did I do? Made a mistake! I overlooked something potentially important in a baby's care, and got chewed out myself by the attending on the case when call was finally over. Completely my fault, for trying to manage everything myself when I was feeling distracted. Fortunately, the baby did fine, but I felt terrible. I don't usually overlook important things, and I haven't made a big mistake in a long time, so I felt guilty. Horribly guilty, in fact, until one of the NICU nurses said "Theresa, you're still learning."

A good reminder. Mistakes are great teachers, because we pay attention to them. They sit with us for a long time, like a heavy meal in the stomach that takes a long time to digest. If you hold yourself up as someone who can't make mistakes--one of my great failings as a senior resident--then you're not permitting yourself to be a learner. Wrong in medicine, and wrong in life, I think.

So what does this have to do with swatching?

Thankfully, I'm not as uptight about knitting and spinning as I am about medicine. I leave my Type A-ism behind and just figure things out as I go along. I make a lot of mistakes in my knitting and leave most of them in, because I think they're interesting. My mother says a visible mistake in a knitting project reminds you of all the things that distracted you from the work at hand. Happy things, like laughing at a video you had on while you were working, or some minor, funny crisis that made you drop everything so you could get your home life back on track again. Sad things, like a tragedy that interrupts a project for months and shows itself forever as a big ditzel at the point where you resumed the work but hadn't yet gotten back into the rhythm of the pattern. And yet, that ditzel shows the world that you picked up your knitting again after the tragedy, and even though it reveals the imperfection of the knitting, it also reveals the determination and endurance of its maker. Mistakes in knitting are really signs of life.

Swatching is often viewed as a warm-up to real knitting, a necessary step to avoid making mistakes. Most discussion of swatching revolves around establishing the correct gauge for a knitting pattern, which is important (here I speak as someone who got 'way out of gauge on a sweater for my father, resulting in an extra-wide garment with unsightly, bat-wing sleeves). But there's more to be learned from the act of swatching. What kind of needles feel most comfortable for the yarn you're using in a project, or whether you will enjoy working a given stitch pattern for an entire sweater. More importantly, swatching is license to make mistakes; better they should appear in the practice knitting than in the finished garment, right?

Working with handspun has changed my perspective on swatching, because the emphasis is not on establishing a pre-determined gauge, but to decide what kind of fabric I want to create with the yarn. Instead of beginning with the needle size recommended by a pattern, I play with different size needles until I get a knitted swatch that feels good to me--not too dense, not too "holey," with just the right drape and stretchiness for the project I have in mind. I like to experiment with different combinations of stitch patterns, trying out different edgings as I go along:

The upper swatch in this photo was an extra-long wonder of experimentation in knit/purl combinations that kept me entertained during a day-long BAM a couple of weeks ago. (I should have kept knitting for a few more inches; I would have gotten a casual scarf out of my efforts!) The lower swatch shows an experiment in color progression, using the five different variegated yarns I spun from naturally-dyed Corriedale batts. It's extremely difficult to photograph the color swatch in artificial light, but here's a close-up in better light. From this swatch, I decided to keep a gradual color gradation, instead of making strong color/value contrasts between the different yarns.

Finally, in what I'm calling the Ultimate Sweater Swatch, I made this:

This is a mini-sweater, knit sleeve to sleeve using the simple knit/purl combinations I plan to use for the SOAR 2003 project. I used some handspun yarn from my stash. It took me several hours to knit this little sweater, but it was worth the exercise just for the information it gave me about sleeve/body proportions and for the chance to get the geometry of a sleeve-to-sleeve sweater etched into my mind. If it weren't for the fact that I seriously miscalculated the width of the sleeve cap, it might have made a nice teddy bear sweater :-P.

After all of this set-up work--both the swatching, and the reflection upon mistakes--I finally cast on the SOAR sweater. I've got one sleeve done, and am working on the right front and back. Despite the swatching, I discovered my gauge had changed and have had to make some corrections to the pattern, but I'm soldiering on nonetheless. I'm anticipating some things I won't like about this sweater, some mistakes that will show in the final garment, but I'm leaving them in. Why? Because I'm still learning, and because they'll serve as an indelible reminder of the recent stumbles I've made, in the autumn of my last year of residency.