Tag Archives: Classmates

The Hardest Day

Second year has started off with a bang. If you are paying attention, you’ll see some crazy stuff in any medical school. Whether it’s an official lesson, or people watching, or patient encounters, or something you learn on accident while researching something else, there will surely be something to learn. Recently we had a deep lesson that I wanted to share, but first I need to set the stage.

All of the MS2 students are packed into our lecture hall. This isn’t the nice, new lecture with comfortable chairs that we used last year. This is the older lecture hall that doesn’t have enough seats for the whole class, the one with the terrible chairs, and the one with not enough room for your laptop and anything else on the desk. There are students standing in the back, and everyone looks sharp because we all are wearing our white coats and professional clothes.

On stage are six people. Standing at the podium is a Pediatric Hematologist who is running the event. She has a very serene demeanor, but seems to radiate strength from her small stature. Sitting at the table on stage are 5 others. There is a couple in their 40’s. He is lean and tan, with the muscle tone and hands of a construction worker. She sits next to him, well dressed and confident, if somewhat anxious. Another lady sits next to them. She is African American, somewhat heavyset, with a joyful face, floral blouse, and somewhat excessive afro. Next to her is an elderly little lady with thin gray hair and a stooped posture, and she is in deep conversation with the woman beside her, who is wearing scrubs and has two phones and a pager.

This is a lecture panel on handling the death of patients, specifically children. The couple on the end lost twin boys, their 5th and 6th children. The first died before being born. The second lived for 10 months, but had a debilitating matrix of health problems and lacked any ability to develop. The lady next to them had a daughter who developed bone cancer at age 11, which metastasized to her brain and took her life when she was 13. The older was a chaplain, and the last lady was a NICU nurse. Everyone was there to talk to us about handling death.

Most learning in medical school is very clinical and sterile. We learn about our bodies from distinguished looking old professors who wear white coats and use technical language to describe anatomy and physiology of organs and diseases, of which they are experts. That approach is obviously not practical when talking about handling death, so we learned from “experts” in their own way, people who had gone through this and were willing to talk to us about their experience.

I don’t like thinking about death, and I don’t think many of my fellow students do either. We are all young and vigorous, filled with the energy and optimism of youth. In my mind, death is something far off. It’s not that I’m scared of it, I just prefer not to think about it. I have been very fortunate to have made it this far in my life with living parents and grandparents.

This forum was not the first time that I had focused my heart and mind on this idea of death, and current events will tell you why. On Saturday evening the violence in Ferguson, MO erupted after a young man was shot and killed by police. Even as I write this tensions remain high, with protests and heavy police presence keeping the conflict in the national spotlight. It was only a few days ago that the world was shocked to discover that Robin Williams had ended his own life. Violence in Iraq and the Middle East have created a summer that will go down in history as a violent, restless summer.

I don’t want to talk specifically about any of those subjects listed above, at least not in this post. Instead, I want to talk about dying. The way someone reacts to death will tell me a lot about the way they view the world.

Death is a part of life, just like birth. Everyone is born, and everyone will die. What we do in between is what makes the difference. Death is also a great equalizer. I learned this lesson at a young age helping my dad clean our boat after a day on the lake. He always said that the boat ramp was the great equalizer. At the end of the day, everyone comes back to the ramp and goes home after a fun day of boating. It doesn’t matter how big your boat was, how big the truck you used to tow it, or how many fun inflatable things you could pull behind your boat. At the end of the day everyone comes back to the ramp sunburned and tired, and everybody had fun.

So when we die, as we know we will, we are all equalized again. Your influence, your money, and your responsibilities are all lost and left behind. What happens to you after you die? What or where do you think you will be after you die? Some believe that death causes you to cease to exist, but I find that hard to accept and impossible to believe.

The hardest part of the last few weeks has been actually organizing my thoughts on this matter. It’s not easy to do, when my cell phone keeps ringing, emails keep arriving, and the world flies by on my laptop screen. It’s easy to ride the wave of now, caught up in an endless progression of thinking about what happens next. Thankfully, I found the time to take my dog to a local state park and hike. So it was there that I hiked miles from any road, on trails not commonly traveled, and sat down for a water break. The sun was high in the sky, coming through the trees to turn the world green. Except for my trampling feet, the world was perfectly still. So I sat there for a long while, and I’m glad I did, because that’s how I was finally able to write this.

Lastly, I wanted to leave with the words to a poem. It was written in the 1600’s, but people then died at the same rate as they do now, and the words speak to people today just like they did 400 years ago.

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul’s delivery.
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.
Thanks for reading!

Winning The Lottery

A few weeks ago, my wife and I were at a trivia night, a fundraiser for a local church. Our group lost the overall competition pretty handily, but we managed to score a 4-way tie for first in one of the other mini games. It was decided that each group would send a representative to the front of the room and draw a card from a deck, highest card wins. I was chosen from my group, walked up to the front, and promptly drew the ace of spades, winning gift cards for everyone in my team.

The best part of this is that I never win anything. When it comes to raffles, drawings, or anything that has an element of luck to it, I generally don’t win. That’s also why I hate playing Yahtzee and poker. Full disclosure: I should point out some amazing luck I’ve had lately:

– I passed my first neurology exam by 1.3% I’m happy with that ūüôā

– While running last week, my phone fell out of my pocket and landed on the only six inches of grass in a park that was otherwise mud puddles or soggy gravel (it’s been raining a lot).

None of this compares to the luckiest moment of my life: when I was born. The moment I was born I effectively won the lottery. By being born in a middle class family, I became statistically more likely to achieve higher levels of education and income. By being born in America, I became a citizen of a country that values freedom and expression. By being born in the 20th century, I am able to enjoy modern luxuries like air conditioning, automobiles, indoor plumbing, and the internet. My life at this instant is more comfortable than the lives of kings and rulers from history.

No AC, way too many clothes.

Several weeks ago we had a required lecture, which I diligently attended. It wasn’t so much of a lecture as it was a “in-class exercise” where we played a game called Oppression Monopoly, invented by someone at Harvard. It’s Monopoly with four players, each with the following rules

Player 1: Plays normal monopoly

Player 2: Starts with half the normal money. Moves half the distance rolled. Starts with a railroad, but can’t buy any property valued at more than $100. Must pay double any time he lands on another players property. If he rolls more than a seven, he must go to jail.

Player 3: Starts with the cheap properties (the brown ones) and half the normal amount of money. Most of the rules above applied to him as well.

Player 4: Starts with double the normal amount of money and all of the green properties. Moves double the roll, collects double when passing go. Must pay double taxes, and has 4 get out jail free cards at the start.

To further emphasize the direction this game was going, our instructor asked to make sure any people of ethnicity or women didn’t end up as players 2 or 3. Awkward.

I was Player 2. Because I had no money and the board was a dangerous place, I played along with the game and purposefully spent the first 30 minutes mostly in jail. After 30 minutes the rules above were lifted and normal rules applied for everyone. Since it was now significantly harder to stay in jail, I promptly landed on park place and went bankrupt.

We then had a “group discussion” to talk about what we learned. Because my class is full of medical students, when she asked for any impressions from the group, she got an immediate “I felt crushed and marginalized by the combined weight of society attempting to repress me” from the back row.

The obvious point here is to demonstrate a simple fact. There is disparity in this country and in our city. I live in one of the most racially polarized cities in the country, and it’s a problem. A serious gap in income, healthcare, and quality of life exists, and I appreciate the effort they have taken to make us aware of it (although we are getting tired of hearing it).

I don’t appreciate the victimization that occurs in this process. Many are often quick to point out that men make more than women, or that whites tend to make more than blacks, and that somehow that is something to be ashamed of. Years from now I will be a practicing physician, hopefully making a comfortable salary and taking care of my family and community. Maybe my birth or family’s status gave me opportunities others wouldn’t have had, but I put in the work to make those opportunities a reality, in an attempt to create a better life for my family and those in my community that weren’t born with that opportunity available. That’s the way it should be.

There will always be income gaps. That’s the way our country is built. People who work hard and have great ideas will go make a gazillion dollars. My favorite headline is “the rich get richer”, as if this is bad. I like to add to it. “The rich get richer….and good for them.” As long as rich people can get richer, that opportunity still exists for everyone else, including me.

The ironic part of this is we get this talk every other week at medical school. Despite my schools best attempts at creating a diverse student body, many of us come from “privileged” backgrounds, and not all of us are white males. Most of us are at this junction of opportunity, privilege, and attempting to do our part to make those opportunities reality. That’s exactly what you do with opportunity.

The differences in these lectures comes down to motivation. If the theme of the book/lecture is informative and neutral, then we are engaged in the kind of productive conversation I would like to have. If there is intent to victimize, slander, or make accusation against some specific group, you’re just wasting everyone’s time. This isn’t a zero sum world.

I need to wrap this up and study now.

Thanks for reading.

sortadrwordpress@gmail.com

 

 

Test Taking and Last Summer Ever

As usual, I find myself in the mood to write on Sunday afternoon. I suspect that my weekly doughnut at church on Sunday morning has something to do with my inspiration to publish posts on WordPress. Maybe my muse is a maple doughnut. Anyways, this week I was asked the following question: “When was the last time you felt mediocre?” Since I’m in medical school, the answer is “every single day”. I’ve written before about how much stress is caused by combining a bunch of smart people into one class and suddenly having smart become “average”, and it’s something our deans have mentioned about twice a month since August.

Our tests reinforce this every week. Consider our last pathology quiz/exam. Fifty multiple choice questions taken using secure software installed on our laptops. It covered hundreds of pages from Robbins (the holy grail of pathology, it’s a huge book the size of a watermelon) and was a fairly difficult exam. When we got our results, the median came out to be 80%, which is actually pretty good. Some inconsiderate soul actually got a 98%, and one person barely¬†passed with a 50% (because of the way our quizzes are graded, you can still pass with a 50%, even though it’s normally an F). The median was 80%, and by definition half of our class has to fall underneath that score. That’s just the way math works. For those that are under it, there is a perception of inadequacy. For those above it, life must be awesome. I hop frequently between being just above and just below the median score, so I’m doing okay.

So obviously our 98% guy was an outlier, because the next best score was a 90. So the 98% guy needs to let himself out of the library. The 50% guy was also an outlier, and he needs to find the library. A full 55% of our class got between a 76%-84% on the exam. I know what that means in real life….we all did just fine. Yet I am annoyed when I score a few points below the average on a particular exam, even though I know that means I’m tracking just fine along with everyone else. I’m sure the guy that got a 98% is upset as well (not 100%? No sleep for me next week!!).

On to my next subject…summer time. I need it to be summer ASAP. I grew up in California, enjoying nearly endless summer weather, and after I moved to the Midwest I discovered that I am solar powered. When we have cloudy, gloomy, grey weather for weeks on end I lose any motivation to keep up with life (exercise, study hard, clean the house, wear pants, etc). This summer has a special feature…it will be my LAST SUMMER EVER. Yes indeed. After (hopefully) passing Hematology on June 6th, I get 8 full weeks off of school. Next summer I will have time off. Instead, I will start my third year (clinical rotations), which is simultaneously exciting and terrifying.

So what do MS1’s tend to do with their LAST SUMMER EVER? Some people do career enhancing activities like research fellowships, internships, volunteer activities, etc. Other people travel for fun. Some people get part time jobs, others do nothing for the summer. Because I felt the pressure to do important things, I currently have applied for a number of summer fellowships that would be good for my CV and pay me a small amount of money for six weeks. Then I talked with a professor who changed my mind a little. He said that if I only wanted to do research to have it on my CV, then I shouldn’t do it. Instead, I should do whatever sounded enjoyable to me. As the director of a residency program at our hospital, he said it really doesn’t matter what they did over their M1 summer (unless they singlehandedly saved an African village from an exotic virus). He’s far more interested in their board scores and letters of recommendation from rotations. So while I have hopes for landing a fellowship this summer, much of the stress in the competition of getting that spot is reduced, if not gone. I can’t do nothing all summer, because historically I get cabin fever after 4 days of break from school. If nothing works out, I will probably get involved with ministries at my church, study for boards, and run a lot. We’ll see how it works out. What are your summer plans?

Thanks for reading!

Everything Wrong With College

It’s been another busy week of medical school for me. We are preparing for our comprehensive pharmacology exam, along with finishing up final exams in toxicology and microbes. There is plenty of studying to be doing, and I have also been busy working on a final presentation for my clinical elective. Yesterday, in fact, I spent my last day at the dermatology clinic. It just isn’t a Wednesday until I help the resident freeze genital warts. Too much info? That’s medical school for you ūüôā Thankfully, I gave an “superb” presentation (on a subject that isn’t even a tiny bit interesting, so I’ll leave that part out) so it’s safe to assume I earned at least a¬†letter of recommendation from her. Sweet. I take the time tonight to write about education, specifically college, so that I can piece together a short narrative¬†describing not only the problems with college education today, but also what it means to Americans as a whole.

Like most twenty somethings, I grew up with a pretty clear picture of what success in life looked like. It came from teachers, parents, school counselors, and other adults, but the message was the same: successful people went to college, got a degree, and then earned more money and were happier because they did. The not-so-subtle indication was that I, too,¬†should¬†go to college if I wanted to be happy in life. Smart people went to college, I was told, or at least college made people smart. I don’t know when this idea was perpetuated on Americans, but I suspect it was around my parents generation. My dad didn’t go to college, although the pressure to get a degree certainly existed when he graduated high school.

I played the game very successfully. After graduating top of my high school class, I took a full ride scholarship to a good state school. According to the “rules” I was taught when I was younger, I had won the game. I was virtually guaranteed four years of education and a degree of my choice (with no debt upon graduation). Of course, I started college in 2009. This was not a good time for the economy, and college graduates suffered for it. I spent my college years reading news stories about how hard it was for grads to find a job, and feeling secretly glad that I had a few years for the economy to turn around before I graduated. Despite this, my university set enrollment records for all eight semesters I attended. Of course, now I am in medical school and have nearly a decade of school still ahead of me, so take that with a grain of salt.

So now I wonder why people still rush to take out loans and attend school for degrees they may never use. I watched many friends amass huge debts and drop out after 3 years. I saw people waste huge amounts of time, money, and energy, and now they have nothing to show for it. I saw friends take a semester off and 4 years later wish they had stuck with it. So here are some of the things I wish people would really know about college.

1) Colleges Are Businesses

dollar for dollar

We are coming up on the time of year when high school seniors everywhere begin posting acceptance letters on Facebook, listing the college/university they plan to attend. That’s great for them, but it perpetuates a myth that sucks people in every year: that colleges are somehow exclusive. To put it another way, University of _______¬†actually wants you to attend their school.¬†There are a small handful of uber elite schools that are competitive to gain admittance (MIT, Harvard, etc). The other 99% of schools want you to attend because they need your tuition to make money. It doesn’t stop there, either. They need your fees, parking passes, textbook purchases, and other expenses as well. I’m not saying that these schools aren’t trying to give you a stellar education. Just know that they want to give you a great education¬†and also make money. But mostly the money.

2) College Is Not About You

This will be shocking to anyone who has seen any marketing materials for any school anywhere, been to college, or even heard anything about college, but I think it’s crazy that it goes unrecognized. Think about any university advertisement, and it’s usually some combination of the following ideas:

“Follow YOUR passion, pursue YOUR dreams”

“Create YOUR OWN major”

“Classes that fit YOUR schedule”

This was the third result after Googling “University Brochures”.

It’s like the whole school is expressly designed to help you along in life. False. The school wants you to pay money to them, or at least do something awesome later so they can get the publicity. Of course they’ll let you take a semester off. Of course they’ll let you do your degree in six years instead of four. Of course they offer online classes. They are a business and they’ll do what it takes to earn your tuition dollars.

If the version of success I learned in school is to be believed, your degree should show that you are qualified, diligent, hardworking, ambitious, or some mixture of those. If your degree is four years long and you are going to “normal” college (not night school or a non-trad), get it done in four years. Chances are that a marketing degree is not your passion, so don’t pretend like it is. Work hard, get your degree, and spend your extra time pursuing your other hobbies and interests. Those are also qualities that define your character, and while they may not be on your CV they will certainly impact your chances at landing your job/achieving your goals after school. This leads me to…

3)  College Can Be a Huge Waste of Time

College is not hard. You may hate me for saying that, but I’m telling the truth here. My degree was in Molecular Biology and a little bit of Chemistry, and I know that my four years of college were significantly more difficult than any of my peers. How do I know that? Well, I lived with them, and I know I spent way more time in class and studying than they did. So how hard did I work during school? Not that hard. Each semester I attended class for 20 hours a week and studied about 10 hours, sometimes 15 hours. That adds up to less than a normal work week. Also take into account that I lived on campus, so I had no commute. I also ate dorm food from a cafeteria that was 30 seconds from my room. We also went to school for 32 weeks of the year. I spent lots of time exercising, playing video games, and doing lots of whatever I wanted. It was great.

Fact is, college classes should not keep you busy. My class schedule was about as bad as undergraduate schedules can get, and I still managed to work all eight semesters, get married, earn my EMT certification, and complete an Ironman triathlon. My most memorable moments from college have nothing to do with school.

In this sense, I think college is actually bad for many young adults. As a country and a society, we are taking our most energetic young people and forcing them into a 4-year holding pattern. The 18-24 age group is full of young, talented, motivated, technologically competent, people who are the future of our nation. We are bright enough to have terrific ideas, and naive enough to not know when something can’t be done. But we¬†have to attend classes for just long enough each week to not actually get a real job, but not enough class that it’s truly “full time”. Those classes can range from being interesting (wine tasting) to being totally useless (most of my humanities courses), and after 4 (or more) years of sitting through classes, they will finally graduate into the real world, often with crippling debt.

This is the hardest part for me. I am (or at least I was) a perfect candidate for college. I’m naturally curious, enjoy learning, and am prone to obsessively mastering new hobbies and subjects. Yet after four years I had only one or two good professors who actually made the class worth attending, and honestly I was a little burned out. I have thought long and hard about what I could have done with those four years if I could have them back.

4) You won’t learn much during college

This might seem like a continuation of my last point, but it’s not. College classes are still largely taught in a lecture format, often in huge lecture halls. One of the few things I remember from Abnormal Psychology was that students typically remember only 5% of the material presented in lecture format (10% if multimedia graphics are used). This is a bad situation, even if you assume that the professor is awesome and the students care. Small wonder that employers are struggling to find qualified applicants among graduates that they interview. What happened? I thought that undergrad degree was the key to landing a good job? Now that everyone seems to get a degree, I guess not.

College has become like bonus high school. More and more people seem to be going to college, and it hasn’t been working out like we thought it would. Maybe this trend will reverse itself in the next few decades. I will certainly think long and hard before I help my future son finance a $80k degree. I get that college will always be required for some professions (hello medicine, law, etc), and that makes sense (sort of, I will someday write about that too).

It’s not that I’m too good for college, or that our generation is too good for college. It’s just that college isn’t good enough for what it costs. It’s not just the huge debt, it’s the years and time being lost as well.

If a college degree is the vehicle for success, it’s a taxi. It works great for getting you directly from one place to another, but if you just jump in and ride around for four years you’ll be broke and lost.

I need to stop writing now, and this seems like a good place to do it.

Thanks for reading!

As always, feel free to comment below or directly to my face at sortadrwordpress@gmail.com

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Floating Along

Welcome back to my blog! In reality, I was the one who took a brief hiatus over the holidays, and I don’t regret it at all. I would love to say that I spent my two weeks off deep in thought, drafting blog posts, and learning all of the things I forgot immediately after taking my final exam on December 20th, but that would be a lie. Instead, I spent most of my break at home with family and friends, and the rest of it being as lazy as humanly possible. On the plus side, I am refreshed and ready to tackle another semester of medical school.

Just kidding…I actually laughed after typing that last sentence. Let me do a little catching up on what medical school has done to me recently. In late November we started Pharmacology and Microbiology. I prefer to call it “Bugs and Drugs”. The courses are taught simultaneously, which is actually helpful because we get to learn the organisms that cause disease around the time that we learn the drugs that can treat said disease. I use the word “learn” very loosely here, because really they just throw hundreds of drugs at us and we get to sort out what they do for a few days before the exam. In the week before Christmas we covered around 220 antibiotics, antifungals, cancer therapies, and other drugs in about 4 days before taking an exam on Friday before break. That was my hardest week of medical school yet. While attempting to learn all of those drugs, we also had to learn information on bacteria, viruses, their associated structures and pathology, some information about other organisms (mycobacteria), and take an exam on that the same day as pharmacology. Have you seen Christmas with the Kranks? Remember the scene where Luther is leaving the shop in the beginning and the water canopy breaks, drenching him in water even as he stands in the pouring rain? That was a pretty accurate description of me during this course.

This is not an area of strength for me, either. I had great undergrad anatomy experience to support me during med school anatomy. I did take immunology and pharmacology as well, but both courses were incredibly easy. Most of what I remember from immunology was “viruses are scary”, and I don’t think I remember anything at all from pharmacology. So learning information at the insane pace set by the course directors required long, long days of studying at home. In the winter. In the cold. By myself. Very depressing. But hey, I have passed everything so far, and am 1/8 of the way toward completing my MD.

While talking to an actual doctor, I learned the dirty secret of pharmacology. None of us will remember all of these drugs after this year (I already knew that part). We will really learn them again during third year and beyond, when we begin to prescribe and work with drugs in a practical setting. The goal of this class is to make sure we have heard of these drugs at least once.

In other news, I have now interviewed and presented my own patients. The dermatologist I have been shadowing is letting me see patients (with a resident keeping a close watch). This allows me to demonstrate my complete ignorance of dermatology for both the patients and the residents, but has helped me start to develop my all important “bedside manner”. I have a feeling I will be much better at interviewing and taking histories when I know roughly what I am hoping to find.

Of course, this is kind of what I expected from medical school. I’m busy and I’m challenged, and I like it. At this point in undergrad I was already bored (and still on winter break). The pace is grinding, but is also what keeps school interesting. It’s like sightseeing from a bullet train. While it’s impossible to see everything that flashes by, there are so many interesting things to see that the view is still captivating. Some semesters of undergrad felt like sightseeing from a snowplow.

I have been sending Facebook messages back and forth with a friend who is considering medical school. Most of his questions centered around the difficulty of the classes and exams, the pace, the hours, etc. I understand the worry from potential students, but I don’t understand the doubt. I have never once, even for a second, thought I would fail/drop out/give up during medical school. I would say that trend is strong among my friends as well. Despite the deluge of information and massive investments of time and money, I don’t think anyone is legitimately worried about dropping out. It’s fine to ask “how”, but counterproductive to ask “what if”. ¬†To be honest, most of my classmates are generally happy people. Maybe this is because of our pass/fail system. Maybe our class is different. This is just an honest opinion from what I see on the days I go to class (instead of watching lectures online from home). If you think you can do it, you probably can. Just my opinion. Of course, it wouldn’t hurt to read up on this before you go applying, just in case ūüôā

I have other topics I want to write about (vaccinations, antibiotic resistance, books and movies, and a stunning realization I had ordering dinner over break), but I really need to wrap up this little update of a post and call it day.

Thanks for reading!

sortadrwordpress@gmail.com

Tales from Anatomy – The Long Post

I just finished anatomy. The last eight weeks have been a complete blur, but last Friday I took the final exam and most likely identified enough body parts to pass the class. I needed to get 38% on this final test in order to pass anatomy. Because of how hard the test was, I am not completely sure I got 38%, just reasonably sure. The test was hard. My score will likely be the lowest score I have every received in my life. Ever. On anything. To sum up my experience this final week of anatomy, I have to share this screencap someone posted on our Facebook page before the test. This should go on our class T-shirts.

I spent this last week studying hard, spending extra time in the lab, and cramming “high-yield” study tips. I studied with my dissection group, with random people, with lab TA’s, and anyone else who would help me. My wife quizzed me on insertions and innervations of muscles, and my little puppy was intent on helping however she could. Admittedly, she has a tiny brain and no thumbs, so she wasn’t much use. She’s mostly a ten inch tall Roomba (with a slightly lower chance of tumbling down the stairs to her death), trotting around the house and eating anything she finds on the floor. Even after all that studying, I still felt really dumb at the exam. Anatomy has a way of doing that to me. I would study all week on assigned materials, then drive in to take the practice exam on Sunday. Number 1 would say “What is this thing?” and I would have absolutely no idea. Was that even assigned to us?

I also realize I was fortunate during this class. First of all, I took a tough anatomy course in undergrad, so I was roughly familiar with most subjects. Second, I have a quick memory and uncanny ability to remember pointless details from lectures several weeks ago. We seem to get tested on pointless details¬†all of the time,¬†so I get those questions during the exam (most of the time). I also learned anatomy the hard way. I did the dissections, pored through atlases, and did the leg work required to learn relationships and functions. Compare that to a certain member of my lab group, who we will call Leo. Leo doesn’t dissect. Leo doesn’t even help his group during dissection. Instead, he drifts around the lab like a knowledge mosquito, stopping briefly at each groups table and learning a few factoids from each group. Then, during exam week, he becomes the king of mnemonics (more on those below). He has mnemonics for¬†everything.¬†He has primary, secondary, and tertiary mnemonics to remember his mnemonics. He confuses his mnemonics with others, and ultimately forget it all and have to relearn it. Also, he probably can’t problem solve as well when he mostly knows mnemonics.

There are two kinds of anatomy geniuses. The first kind was my dissection partner. He could study a picture and a cadaver, then somehow reconstruct everything into a mental, 3-dimensional structure that he could then picture anytime, from any angle. He was always oriented, and always knew where structures came from and where they were going. It must have been awesome to be him. The second kind of anatomy genius (and the kind I actually understand) are the ones who understand relationships. There is no intricate mental picture stored in their super-brains. Instead, they know where a structure is based on the structures that surround it. They can use the context to identify what a specific structure is, much like confirming the location of your house by locating your hoarder neighbors house. Yes I used to live next to a hoarder.

I also used mnemonics, which are tools to help you remember something. For example, there are 13 cranial nerves that every medical student must memorize. Here they are, in order: Olfactory, Optic, Oculomotor, Trochlear, Trigeminal, Abducens, Facial, Vestibulocochlear (auditory), Glossopharyngeal, Vagus, (Spinal) Accessory, and Hypoglossal.

Here they are demonstrated on a cartoon brain.

That’s quite a list to remember. Instead, we first memorized “On Old Olympus’ Towering Top, A Finn and German Viewed Some Hops”. We then knew the first letter for each nerve in order (OOOTTAFAGVSH). Any sentence works, really, as long as the letters fit that pattern. There are incredibly dirty mnemonics I won’t post here, and some creative ones involving Harry Potter, the Hunger Games, and certain faculty members at the school. Everyone uses these to some extent, but I think students like Leo (not his actual name) ended up getting buried in mnemonics, so they are only somewhat helpful.

So what were my “takeaway lessons” from anatomy? I definitely liked it, enough that my interest in surgery has been validated. I enjoyed working with my hands and learning how knowledge of anatomy is applied to procedures and therapies. I also gained an appreciation for all of the material I still don’t know. We learned a vast amount of information in just eight weeks, and no one learned everything that was assigned to us. That amount of material isn’t necessarily unknowable, but it is probably unlearnable over the course of two months. I know that I will need to go back and re-learn critical areas during rotations, and should I decide to become a shoulder surgeon I will learn that anatomy at an even more detailed level. Lastly, I am even more amazed at the intricate design and daily function of our bodies. Even studying a single organ, like the kidney, is absolutely fascinating, totally reinforcing my decision to attend medical school.

Of course the good news of anatomy being done is that I can spend more time on my favorite activities, one of which is blogging! I have this entire week of Thanksgiving off, which will be completely glorious. There is¬†nothing for me to study. Nothing at all. I will likely pick up the pace at which I post here, because I have a lot I want to discuss. I read some blogs that are easily categorized. There are “mommy blogs”, “medical school blogs”, “tech blogs”, “political blogs”, etc. While the general theme here will always be medical school, I can and will branch out write about whatever is on my mind. I’ve gotten a lot of support lately, despite my complete lack of regular posting, and I really appreciate it.

Two weeks ago I made the unfortunate decision to start reading Game of Thrones when my friend (so he calls himself) lent me the first book, which I promptly read in one week. Now I’m hooked, on book 2, and have thousands of pages left to read (and probably hundreds on main characters yet to die, if the next books are like the first). I am also doing a lot of outside reading on religion, so expect posts as I finish reading other religious texts. I realized that despite my college education and multiple classes on world religion, I had done little firsthand reading of any religious text besides the Bible, which I have read cover to cover multiple times. I am now working my way through the Qur’an, the Bhagavad Gita, and the Pearl of Great Price, with more to come afterwards. That was a good decision, since even my early readings were very interesting.

Of course I will also spend time playing Call of Duty, training my puppy, and eating at the new Chick-fil-a that opened RIGHT BY MY HOUSE. I may or may not have camped out and received 52 combo meals, which I am eager to claim for delicious free chicken. Finally, as I get ready to publish this post, I can see that all of the recommended posts from WordPress are posts that I wrote myself. Weird. I’ll leave you with another picture of my cute puppy.

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Thanks for reading! sortadrwordpress@gmail.com

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Habits

I have a Sunday afternoon ritual, one that has lasted for at least six years. After spending the morning at church and with the family, we get to the (potentially) best time of the week: Sunday afternoon. This wonderful time of the week can be spent doing whatever you want. Some of my favorites include napping, reading, cycling, watching football, and writing. This is why I can go an entire week without a post, but have a remarkable consistency on Sunday blogs. Unfortunately, none of these other activities are a habit for me on Sundays.

On most Sunday afternoons I come to terms with the assignments or exams due on Monday. I crack down and get started, only to be sidetracked by a blog or a funny YouTube video. During anatomy, we have a quiz or exam every Monday morning on the material from last week. That’s what I’m supposed to be studying for right now. During college I usually had lab reports due on Monday morning, and during Organic Chemistry the reports would regularly exceed 15 pages a week. One semester I completed a half-Ironman triathlon on Sunday morning, drove home during the afternoon, and then spent 3 hours that night finishing my lab report for the next day.

So I make a habit out of putting things off until Sunday afternoon, then trying to get them done quickly. It’s worked for me in the past, since I am usually pretty efficient and can pull a good grade out of last minute studying. I may have done myself in this last week, however. My birthday was last week, as well as the release of Call of Duty Ghosts, as well as some other extracurricular activities and generally gloomy weather that all combined to make me not very productive on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. Now I have to dig myself out of this mess, which means time in the lab all weekend long and extra studying next week to catch up and stay caught up with new material. Yikes.

Thankfully, I have an awesome teacher to help me get caught up. In fact, she is probably the best teacher I have ever had, and I don’t even know her name. I’m talking about the cadaver I have been dissecting for the last month or so. Learning anatomy from textbooks and pictures is terrible. Learning anatomy in the lab doing dissection is awesome. We can learn with our hands, learn from our mistakes, and learn the critical relationships that could never be grasped by looking at a book. Whoever this lady was, she gave a great gift to our group of students.

A few days ago we held a memorial service for all of the 200 or cadavers donated to the medical school. All of the families came and packed into a Catholic church (which is super old, but beautiful). The medical students then honored those that gave their bodies through music, reflections, and a prayer from each of the religions represented in the class. It was really moving, and a great way to thank the families whose relatives donated their bodies. I volunteered as well, but didn’t do anything too special. I drove a golf cart from the parking garage to the memorial service for those who couldn’t walk. True story.

If you are driving one of these and wearing a suit with a nametag, you can go anywhere you want.

I have no idea who this lady was. How many kids did she have? What was she like? Was she a night owl or a morning person? Who were her friends? She is a complete mystery to me. The only things I know about her are that she made a generous decision to help students she would never meet, and she was selfless in her gift. That’s pretty special. What we received from her was the capsule of what was a person. We get the chance to look inside and see the structures that made her human. Ultimately, that’s the reason I am going into the lab on Sunday afternoon to study. I know that this chance I have is special, and I want to honor the people whose gifts gave me this chance.

Thanks for reading.

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