Monthly Archives: November 2014

The Crash

I have been riding my bike to campus since the beginning of MS1 year. According to the pedometer affixed to my bike handles, I’ve covered almost 800 miles. Some days it feels exhilarating to start my morning by listening to Pandora and cruising along a scenic bike path. Other days I am groggy and tired, but I do it anyway. The path itself is nestled along a ravine, with sightings of snow white egrets and other beautiful birds I can hardly identify. It winds up and down, finally dropping me off just a few hundred yards from campus. I take this path every day. It gets my heart rate up, my blood moving and clears my head before every exam.

Yesterday, just as I had asked it to do 100 times, the path did just that, cleared my head before our NBME Medical Microbiology Shelf (a cumulative final exam taken by all medical students across the country). I walked into that exam feeling like I could not be better prepared. Having completed 3 question banks of microbiology questions, my favorite topic of all things learned so far, I didn’t expect to find anything THAT surprising. I was certain some rendition of the questions would surely have been covered in one of the 700 practice questions I went over. Well, the answer to that was a resounding–WRONG. The exam had a level of minutiae I was not expecting. Although I knew the majority of questions, the curveballs killed my confidence and threw me off. Feeling defeated, I grabbed my bike and pedaled home.

My day continued to deteriorate from there. As I pedaled against  a strong gust of Santa Ana wind my foot slipped and the next thing I know I am crashing off my bike head first. My helmet hit the ground, followed by my hip shoulder and wrist, all of which dragged across the bike path with just enough force to give me major road rash and tear a hole in my favorite jeans. What just happened? I couldn’t move my arm with ease so I called my husband to pick me up. The perfect humiliating ending to my already dreadful day.

My first crash. I got it out of the way. I also got my first Step 1 test run out of the way, and things need a lot of improving. Most of which are my nerves. My first exam question was something I was not expecting, it was so specific my brain started the exam in a panic. My thoughts raced. I know everything about this disease, but I forgot to memorize a minute detail and now I can’t believe they are asking about it! I began to get nervous that the whole exam would be like this. Before I knew it, my palms started sweating ( I am sitting there thinking, my god I am sweating on a mouse! Why am I sweating on this mouse?!). It took me a good 15 minutes to recover. I feel that all the questions I saw in the meantime suffered. The funny thing is, in the end when I went home and looked up the answer, I actually got that first question right. I was my own worst enemy. Herein lies my downfall. All of the hard work I put into studying and knowing the answers can be abruptly wasted if I let my nerves get the best of me. Luckily, seeing my weakness and realizing it is the first step to conquering it– I hope. I only get one shot at Step 1 and I cannot afford to waste it. My biggest fear as I approach my first licensing exam and ticket to the residency of my dreams (ie. staying in California) is that I freeze and that the two years of dutiful studying will all be wasted, never to be represented in that one little number that matters.

Also, please wear a helmet. If I wasn’t wearing mine, I would be writing this from a hospital bed or worse. Just wear one.

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The Thrill and other things to strive for

I recently had the exciting privilege of having one of my blog posts published on a popular website. Although I have written many things over the years, the idea of mass consumption of my thoughts was predictably nerve-racking. Perhaps all writers feel that certain excitement admixed with the nervousness of impending judgement. The unexpected thrill I felt to see my name on the computer screen brought back a flood of memories, taking me back to my first semester in journalism school.

I still remember the first time I saw my name in print. My first big story, which appeared on the cover of The Diamondback. It was 2004 and I was an inexperienced, naive, fresh-out-of-high school, yet incredibly eager journalism student. For reasons I no longer recollect, I landed the job of interviewing Morgan Spurlock, famed Super Size Me guy. In my best Dianne Sawyer impersonation, I cut right to the chase and asked Mr. Spurlock the type of question that was on the minds of all our college readers: how has his sex life improved since he stopped eating McDonald’s ever day? I think he mentioned something about his wife being much happier. The details of the evening are a bit foggy. I will however, never forget the feeling of a deadline. I hurriedly typed my portion of the co-written story, and in movie-like fashion sent it off to the editor just minutes before our midnight deadline. I went to bed that night feeling alive. Up until that point, there had been nothing more thrilling than waking up in the morning and walking down the college mall to see hundreds of students reading the Diamondback. They were reading my words. Perhaps most never bothered to look at the small italic line with my name on it, but the feeling of accomplishment and contribution, however trivial, stayed with me to this day.

Although in the end, I was not cut out to be a journalist, I learned what it was that makes me feel alive. It is the pressure of a timely response. The necessity of a quick decision. Being up when most people are comfortably at home sleeping. Not being afraid to put myself out there. And most important of all, making a contribution to someone’s day. Whether it is relieving their pain, giving them peace of mind or actually saving their life. The best way I can describe how I feel when I step foot inside the hospital is-alive. Most people work to live, but I can honestly say that being in medical school has been the happiest experience of my life. I live for it. Especially this year, as we finally commit to memory the endless differential diagnoses that exist, the limitless things that can go wrong with us. Medicine is the perfect combination of challenge and reward. I feel humbled to have the privilege of ensuring someone’s well-being.

I challenge all of you to find that something that makes you feel alive, that evokes the perfect mixture of nervous excitement. For many it is nothing nearly as all encompassing as a medical career, whatever it is, let us never stop striving for more.

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