5:30 am

It’s dark. The air is hot and heavy with moisture. The nine of us are pressed against each other in that small space in silence, resigned to sharing the torpid air conditioning. All of us sleepily wish we weren’t trapped there at such a bizarre time of day.

Yes, it’s the 5:30 am shuttle that takes medical students from Cornell to the NYP Queens hospital a 10-mile drive away. Just starting my surgery clerkship, I’ve only taken it on three mornings, but it really strikes me as a… surreal kind of commute.

On the Queensboro Bridge, I look left through the window, past the traffic trudging into the city, in between the maze of New York buildings, and at the sun. A deep orange orb floating low in the sky, painting the clouds, turning the sky into a vivid gradient of hues. The day’s sweltering heat has yet to arrive, but even at dawn the air has that sluggish summer look to it. Glancing back at the Manhattan skyline, I see the red rising light glance of the glass skyscrapers and diffuse in the industrial haze. The others riding the van note the curiously appearing sun for a moment, but resume their other lethargic tasks: napping, listening to music with eyes closed, chowing down on breakfasts, or doing a few QBank questions.

What in the world would necessitate such an early shuttle? Well, the first surgeries are scheduled for when the ORs open at 7:30. To prepare for surgeries, the surgical teams must round, discussing and checking in on their patients on the floors, starting at 6:15. To be oriented for rounding, the we need to hear from the night team at morning report, which starts at 6:00. Ideally, we’d pre-round and talk to patients and read charts before morning report, so at this rate, it’s probably good that the scheduled commute prevents us from arriving any earlier.

It’s strange awakening to a 4:10 am alarm, peering blindly out my window upon a dark Midtown cityscape and even darker sky. It’s even stranger to go to bed at 9:30 pm, mere minutes after the sky darkens. I realize that it’s probably more naturally physiologic to rise and set with the sun, but humankind’s modern timekeeping makes most of us start the workday like it’s winter year-round. The last time I slept this early was middle school…

An even more troubling realization about seeing the rising sun during the commute: it’s early July, and thus days are almost at their longest. Day by day, the sun will be lower on the horizon when we cross the Queensboro. Soon, we’ll only see the sun peek over the horizon as we ride east northeast on the 495. By the end of my month in Queens, the sun will only rise as we pull into the hospital lot. Were I rotating in the winter, I’d never see the sun at all!

At least I get to take the 5:00 pm shuttle back to Manhattan. It’s also a joyless commute back over the chronically clogged Queensboro Bridge in the muggy fumes of traffic, but the poor interns are expected to stay until 7:00 pm. If they didn’t finish all their day’s notes, they are expected to finish them by the next morning. They also work 6 days/week. Poor interns.



[photographic note]: weather and time permitting, next weekend I may run my DSLR to the Queensboro to stage a shuttle ride shot. However, because I have no secure spot to stash a bag in the hospital, an unfocused iPhone shot will suffice for now.