Monday, October 29, 2007

New Block Resolutions

Well, exams were fair-to-middling. I passed (at least the ones whose grades have been put up), but only marginally in anatomy.

We started a new block today -- essentially, starting afresh. So here are my Block 3 Resolutions.

I will:
  • Spend 1 hour per lecture prereading the night before.
  • Spend 1 hour per lecture reviewing, the same afternoon.
  • Spend 2 hours in anatomy lab every Sunday, reviewing the structures for the previous week.

I will not:
  • Fritter away my study time on YouTube. (Diagnosis Wenckebach can conceivably be a "study aid", but the temptation to watch SEVERAL HOURS of French and Saunders is just too great.)
  • Study only in the hellhole that we call a library.
This is what I did first block, and it worked. It also kind of sucked, balance-wise. Second block, I swung too far the other way -- making free time at the expense of my studies. Maybe this time I'll find the happy medium.

(That sounds like a Lifetime Original show, doesn't it? "The Happy Medium." Seances and crystal meth.)

Now playing: Yo-Yo Ma, Mark O'Connor & Edgar Meyer - Caprice For Three
via FoxyTunes

Tuesday, October 23, 2007


For the first time, I feel reasonably prepared for a test in med school. Of course, they haven't provided us with any practice questions for this class, so that might have something to do with it. Heh. Syllabi are incredibly high-yield, though. My school doesn't officially provide syllabi anymore, but there are old ones floating around; they cover exactly what the lecturer emphasized and are much easier to understand than the Powerpoints. I heartily approve.

(For non-med students out there: med school syllabi aren't just a list of topics to be covered. Rather, they are extensive, multi-page lecture notes. The anatomy syllabus, for instance, is 650 pages long, excluding the index, errata, and learning objectives appendices.)

I've been a lot better about balance this exam block. For instance, I take about half an hour every evening before bed to read White Teeth, a novel of Awesome by one Zadie Smith. It helps to pull myself out of STRESS mode and remember the power of literature.

Speaking of which, I got the teaching job I applied for and have been teaching 7th graders every other Saturday for the past few weeks. It's a lot of fun, and coming up with lesson plans is not as terrifying as I thought it would be. (There are two other advisors, who are full-time, so that helps.) I'll be teaching solo in December when I do my elective; I know what I want to teach but am holding off on the actual planning until post-exams.

It's going to be so relaxing to have a real weekend this time. I wonder what I'll do.

Now playing: Mozart - Elvira Madigan Piano C
via FoxyTunes

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

365 Days Ago

A year ago today, I got a fat envelope from the med school associated with my undergrad university. I pretty much jumped up and down, right there in the mailroom, called my mom, and went around for the rest of the week grinning like the Cheshire Cat.

The rest of the application cycle brought luck but also heartache. Around November, I had a serious crisis (precipitated by love for my thesis) wherein I was just an email away from withdrawing my applications everywhere and applying to English MA programs.

Crazy, I know.

What was I afraid of? Partly the work (and there's no denying that it's rough; I study about 4 hours a day and more during the week before exams). Mostly the culture of medicine. You know, those people who insist that medicine is supreme, more important than family or sanity or outside interests. It may be heresy, but I applied to medical school because I like stories. And medicine is pretty much the only profession (besides Starving Writer) in which narrative is supreme. I was afraid that "they" would find out that I secretly love stories more than duodenums (duodena?) and that "they" would summarily kick me out of med school, leaving me disgraced and jobless.

In my mind, "they" were pretty much Nazis.

In the end, I decided to stick with medicine because I met a physician who showed me that I was not strange or somehow demented for seeing disease in the framework of a story. That there would be opportunities in medical school to pursue stories. That becoming a physician might actually improve my own stories. I honestly think that that woman is the reason why I am where I am today.

And how do I like it here? Bloody awesome. School is very school-like -- lectures from 10-12 daily, anatomy lab twice a week from 1-5, nightly studying until 9:30 or 10. I'm working much harder than I ever did in undergrad, and failure is a very real possibility (albeit with shadowy, ill-defined consequences).

But I still find time to cook, to read; I even get up an hour early every morning to write. There are many other writers and artists here as well -- we have book clubs and musical performances and writers' workshops -- and I think that's contributed a lot to my rapid adjustment and general joy. It's almost a frightening sort of happiness, as though some Greek god were about to strike me with the plague, just to even things out.

So that's why when Dr. B. asked this morning if med school was all we imagined it to be, I thought, "No ... it's much better."

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Lather, rinse, repeat

Although it seems like just yesterday that we got our exam scores for block 1, our second exam block is coming up faster than you can say "Off to the library!" This time, rather than 2 three-hour exams on a day, we have 3 three-hour exams spread out over the week, with study days in between. A little like college final week, if you will.

Still waiting for the adrenaline to kick in, so I can get studying hardcore. I've been keeping up with 2-4 hours a day, so I'm pretty comfortable with broad concepts, but now's the time to go back and find the niggling details. For instance, two of the genes that influence neural crest derivation are Phox2 and Sox10. I can't help thinking of Green Eggs and Ham.

There's some surprise on SDN that I'm able to live quite comfortably in New York City on 1k/month. Mostly that's thanks to my subsidized dorm room, but here's a breakdown of September's expenses, in case you're curious:

$660 -- Dorm
$150 -- Textbooks
$65 -- Transportation (including a $55 trip home)
$50 -- Food (both groceries and eating out)
$55 -- Entertainment

I guess my food category seems incredibly low, but you have to remember that this is med school. They practically throw free food at us. Most weeks, I can get 5 or 6 meals by going to various lunch and dinner meetings.

So there you have it. How to live in New York City on a student's budget.

Now playing: Elton John - Honky Cat
via FoxyTunes

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Today, I came across this line in a patient's chart, dated from the early hours of the morning:

Family remains at bedside.

That resonated with me. The image of a son and daughter sitting by their father's hospital bed, waiting to hear what the physician has to say.

Cliché? Perhaps. But then we went into the room, and the cliché came true.

Though I didn't know about clerkship when I decided to come here, it has rapidly become the best part of my week. I see patients under the supervision of either a social worker or a resident, help gather a history, and generally am a witness to the unique experience that is the Clinical Encounter. In just three sessions, I've seen fear, worry, joy, denial, assertion -- in short, all those pieces of humanity that made me want to become a doctor in the first place.

I don't know pharmacology yet, and I can't differentially diagnose your lower back pain, but I feel so privileged just to be allowed to be with people who are experiencing some of the most intense emotions of the human condition.

It more than makes up for confusing lectures on deciphering an EKG.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

P = MD

I passed my exams!

We're on a P/F schedule, which is God's gift to medical students. You simply can't imagine how fantastic it is to not worry about GPA anymore.

To celebrate, my college roommate (who is visiting this weekend) and I picnicked in Union Square Park with Greenmarket produce -- bread and cheese and the strangest-shaped plums you ever did see -- and went to the Strand, an amazing bookstore. I think this will have to be my post-exam relaxation every block.

This is the weekend of no studying. One needs it from time to time. Hobbies are good.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007


Why's the blog so pink? Well, October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. My family's had a scare with breast cancer some years ago -- everything turned out fine for us, but so many men and women are not so lucky. So even though I detest the color pink as a rule, I decided to go Pink for October to try to raise awareness.

Ladies, self-exams are good. I admit that I don't always remember, myself, but we had a lecture a few weeks ago about breast cancer and mastectomies, and the post-op pictures were so frighteningly raw and bloody. If I can get a link to one of those "click and we'll donate a mammogram" things, I'll put it up here as well. Breast cancer may not be preventable, but it is certainly treatable if detected early.

*descends from soapbox*

My exams were not so hot. I am notoriously bad at predicting my own performance, though, so perhaps I did better than I thought. And many of my classmates felt the same way, so perhaps there will be a curve. Or something.

Honestly, I was just thrown by the level of complexity of many of the questions. I've taken tough exams in undergrad, but they were almost all short answer or essay. The few multiple choice exams were mainly focused on recognition of the right answer, rather than a logical thinking process of connecting Random Fact A to Seemingly Trivial Minutia B. This is good to know, because we have 6 more exam blocks to get through by the end of the year.

It does help, though, to know that our exams are Pass/Fail only in first year. That is, I think I passed. Removes a lot of the stress. As for competition/cooperation, I have to say that I haven't seen much of that going around. We get a ton of help from the second-years here (they run special workshops the week before the exam to review all the major concepts). But intraclass cooperation seems to be mainly based on study groups; I don't think anyone sent out study guides they'd made. (I did want to upload mine to the class website, but I couldn't figure out how to get the silly thing to work.) I think, though, that we are all still in premed mode, and that will change as the year goes on.

I took some much needed time post-exam to chill, buy groceries, go to the library -- it was delightful. My friend A invited a bunch of people to have dinner at her apartment on the UWS, and it was so wonderful to sit around talking with friends for the first time in weeks. L brought champagne, so we toasted to "finding balance." The past week has been very rough, academically and personally (I kept having to hang up on my mom so that I could study, and I hated that). Hopefully, we'll all find a way to pass but still retain some semblance of a normal social life.

Sucked that we had a full day of classes today. I skipped out on the second lecture to go to an interview for a Saturday school enrichment program I'd like to get involved in. Hopefully that will come through, because I truly want to get more involved in the community here than I was in my undergrad. I should be hearing back from the program director sometime tomorrow. As a good friend from elementary school used to say, "Cross your fingers and hold your nose!"