Tag Archives: medical school

In Closing: No End In Site

It’s been almost a year since my first day of medical school, and this first year, “MS1”, is finally coming to a close. Writing as a form of procrastination, I’m staring in the face of my last final and will fly to India the following day, where I will spend three weeks working with the widows and women of rural Andhra Pradesh on feminine hygiene. I promise, dear readers, that you will hear more about this project later, as time allows.

It’s been a wild year, so wild in fact that I can hardly differentiate or recall many of its details, as days tend to blend together while staring at my computer screen… That said, this year has had many highlights, many memorable moments, and more than a few “learning opportunities”…

All in a day's (24 hrs) work

All in a day’s (24 hrs) work

Going into medical school, I was convinced that I would take care of myself, maintain friendships both in and out of medical school, continue to write, and somehow get enough sleep. However, with an all too often empty refrigerator, free pizza several times a week, and an ever crushing workload, it’s been difficult to take the time to luxuriate in past enjoyments or even finish conversations (much less the copious amounts of “me time” to which I had grown accustomed). Instead, I languish away in medical school, watching others live their twenties through the lens of facebook, while I torture my brain and preserve my skin, enjoying the great indoors of lecture halls, libraries, and my cluttered office. This past year and for the foreseeable future, time off is not really time off (it is a time to sleep, or, better yet, watch the several weeks of classes that I have yet to stream…).

Almost one year in. How do I feel? Tired. I don’t have the same energy or enthusiasm for my studies that I had during my first semester. However, for the most part, I still enjoy what I am doing and am happy with my decision to go to medical school. As my reader can tell from my tone, I’ve had my fair share of frustrations, but mostly I’m just tired. (And a little bit stressed.) I also wish that I had more time to devote to intellectual and personal pursuits outside of medicine, as demonstrated by the forty or so tabs currently open on my browser (to “read later” of course…). But for now, I am learning. More than ever, I know what I am working towards and I know that the sacrifices I am making will be justified.

One thing that this past year has reminded me of is that the active pursuit of knowledge must be part of my life (these past few weeks, distracted from my course work, I’ve missed the stimulating environment and intellectual freedom of Reed College). Whichever specialty I choose, I feel that I will fit best into an academic setting, one where I can have side pursuits (public health, global health) and where others share similar ideals and desires to expand knowledge.

Until then, I will work.

More on India soon.

A&D

On Purpose

Instead of learning about this week’s viruses and the bacteria that I should have mastered two or three weeks ago (but who’s counting when I am this behind?), I offer my dear reader a glimpse of my happily overflowing life as a first year medical student. In these past few months, my identity has been both lost and strengthened, as I am stretched beyond capacity in nearly every direction, almost daily. It’s rather wonderful. Having so little time only enhances each moment, and I drink in knowledge, friendship, purpose.

"A still life"

“A still life”

Bad days are like today: I set no alarm to let myself sleep, and wake up unintentionally at 3:30 am. After a half hour of tossing and turning, I give up on sleep and drag myself out of bed for an impromptu 4 am yoga session (the last few months of near-inactivity have me lying awake in stiffness and pain, as I prematurely empathize with my future geriatric patients…), and begin my work in peaceful, dark, silence. Perhaps sipping a cup of single-origin coffee, the sun rises and the day begins, as I rush off to somewhere to furiously absorb or regurgitate newly procured knowledge.

Good days are also like today, except I may have acquired more sleep, eaten a less mushy banana, spent more time with friends, finished the day’s lectures, and pushed myself into a deeper backbend…

Frustrations, yes. Questions, sometimes (like the differential diagnoses that float to my mind when I question: what toxins will I likely ingest from this soup of questionable age?). Sacrifice, so much (but I am constantly reminded of how much this struggle is worth. What else would I be doing with my mid-to-late twenties?). Passion, always. Passion moves me. Yes, this word is overused and I am known to indulge in its use, but passion bubbles up so unexpectedly (and with such frequency!), that I can’t help but be overwhelmed with intrigue and delight. And these little bouts of passion, if you will, reaffirm my purpose and drive me forward.

I am blessed to be living with such fullness.

(No wonder I can’t help but smile)

On “Naming My Cadaver”

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De Humani Corporis Fabrica, Andreas Vesalius (1543)

The other day, I met my cadaver. I had seen cadavers before and had even held parts of the human body in my hands, but “meeting” mine, which involved turning the body over in a vat of formalin, as to prepare for the dissection of the back, brought the situation to life (no pun intended). Lying in front of me, naked and exposed, was the body of someone who had once been alive. And I was about to cut into this body, using it as a tool to expand my knowledge and understanding of medicine.

While in the anatomy lab, I heard the question, “What should we name our cadaver?” voiced several times by various “tank groups”. I guess naming cadavers is something that medical students do, as earlier in the day, I heard an excerpt from a book written by a doctor who looked back and remembered naming her cadaver “Cherry.” A quick google search on “naming cadavers” brings up discussions by medical students attaching names to cadavers to remind themselves that they are dissecting a human, someone who was once alive. I guess some might need this extra step to “person-ize” their cadaver. Or maybe some need to soften the strangeness of the situation by attaching a name, maybe even something slightly humorous or ironic. However, the idea of naming a cadaver immediately unsettled me and, before lab, I mulled over this idea and wondered whether I would name mine (as I had named the bodies of frogs I dissected in middle school), or whether I would even have a choice in the christening process amongst my tank mates.

But back to my cadaver. Judging by his body, I can tell that he lived a long life. I hope it was one filled with love, happiness, meaning, and minimal suffering. This man lying before me had a family, friends, an occupation, favorite places and things, various likes and dislikes, a life, a name. He was a person. He had created his own life and identity.

Who am I to give him a name?

One could get philosophical here and go into the deeper and perhaps existential questions about mind-body duality, the origins of personhood, what makes us human, the existence of the soul, its origin and location, where the soul goes when the body dies, and the body (is it just a shell?). I won’t go into these questions here, as that conversation would go on for days and I doubt that I would ever arrive at any meaningful conclusions. But, I will ask, is this body lying before me, naked and exposed, still a person? Yes, I believe so. But it is also an important learning tool and I will respect both aspects of this cadaver. I am deeply grateful for this incredible gift.

However, no matter the answers to these questions posed, giving my cadaver a name seems to somehow cheapen the experience.

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De Humani Corporis Fabrica, Andreas Vesalius (1543)

(An Introduction to) Life in Texas

On my drive to Texas...

On my drive to Texas…

New Starts. I love them. In my life, for better or worse, I have had many (more than I can even think of counting). I had seven high schools appear on my college application (I was only physically at five…) and attended three different colleges fulltime (not counting the other three or so where I have taken courses…). I have also traveled extensively, where every day essentially becomes a new beginning. And now I have started the next phase… Oh how I have loved the tabula rasa!

Cottage

(Hopefully) my little cottage!

I’ve been here, in San Antonio, for almost three and a half weeks. My time here has been busy, filled with my master’s courses, nearly completing my biochemistry prerequisite, working on SHELTER International’s Sanitary Napkin project, and an attempt to explore my new city. I also spent my first few weeks here scrambling to find housing, which I finally (hopefully) have. After visiting several over priced and mostly mediocre rental properties, I decided to buy an adorable little house in a historic district, mid-way between campus, Whole Foods, and my new hangouts. The house closes just a few days before classes start and I cannot wait to move in! I have been essentially living out of a suitcase since April and am anxious to settle. After a transitional few years (but isn’t all of life traditional?), I know I will have the motivation (of both relaxation and resale) to make the space beautifully my own. The decision to buy essentially happened overnight and I joke that I went from twenty-five (or whatever I am, some claim ninety…) to thirty in a period of just hours, as my free time suddenly became filled with thoughts of interior wall colors, countertops, how to tastefully match exterior paint with the new (green) roof which I will not replace, what to do with my front lawn, and my planting calendar…

A real first…

Other than buying a house and living around my homework schedule, I have had the chance to explore the city and meet a few people. The classmates that I have met so far are wonderful and I am excited to be around similarly motivated individuals. Also, actually very surprising to me, I actually really like San Antonio! Yes I have had “conversations” with conservatives who corner me with monologues of disbelief that I actually want to go into medicine in this day and age (can you believe it?!) and I will be driving past pro-lifers protesting Planned Parenthood (an organization to which I have proudly donated the last several years) on my daily commute. But I like it here. If anything, these oppositions will remind me why I have chosen the path that I have and will only serve to make life more interesting…

The road

The road

Other positives about San Antonio: I love the heat. I doubt that I will have to use my “happy lamp” often and will not need to make daily or even weekly trips to the sauna. I’ve found little corners of the city where I feel at home and have even found a few restaurants where I can eat!  More positives. I was asked out more times in my first two weeks here than I was in my six years in Oregon. Very few men here wear skinny jeans (they traded them in for cowboy hats and boots, a different story entirely…). It is a diverse city with a lot of culture to explore. Hill country is lovely. Most importantly, people are nice and I have encountered very little pretension. In short, Texas has welcomed me and I am doing my best to embrace a culture very different from my own. I am really looking forward to the next four years here and think that I am going to love it.

So, far away friends… come visit me once I partially reemerge from the stressful first semester of medical school!

A great fresh start!

A great fresh start!