Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Hallway to Hell

Before I got into medical school, while I was still in my first year of graduate school, I learned what hell was like. 

The hospital was a rabbit warren. Walking down the long empty beige halls fueled my hatred for hospitals…and of the color beige.

When I had volunteered at UCDMC during college I would press myself up against the wall whenever a gaggle of doctors passed by. They ruled the hospital. Powerful, scary, all knowing. I cowered in their shadows the way Edwardian servants used to hide themselves if their masters passed them in the halls. Hospitals were built for them. Reserved spaces for medical school graduates to stomp around in.

But then I became chained to the hospital. Unable to leave at the end of a shift. Having a family member in the hospital is a weird limbo to be in. On the one hand, you yourself are not sick, not enduring the pain and suffering of invasive procedures like your loved one is, so sympathy and support from others isn’t as readily given. On the other hand, you cannot leave the hospital—at least not for long. You are compelled to stay by the side of your family member, but unable to help them. We bare witness. Witness to the workings of the hospital. The comings and going of nurses, residents, lunch.

Even when we’re not physically in the building, our minds are bound to it. When I did step outside for a quick Starbucks I was in a fog. I have always been a relatively patient person, at least never one to lose my cool over my coffee order. But when handed a decaf drip instead of a macchiato, I lost my shit. Sleeping in a chair all night while monitors beep incessantly, changes you. My old passive, easy going self had died and I was reborn a stubborn bitch, with a taste for the blood of incompetent interns and bags under my eyes.

Sometimes, when I could no longer look at the unrecognizable stranger that was my mother in her hospital bed, I would walk to the parking garage, sit my car and sob. The men who worked the garage started to notice, and then I became a fixture, a daily occurrence.

When I returned to the hospital, I strutted down the hall. Unafraid. To my surprise, groups of doctors did move out of my way. Perhaps they scattered because I hadn’t showered in days or perhaps they recognized the deep set worry lines across my forehead. It felt good to walk unencumbered. I became filled with a strength and a purpose that seemed to come from outside myself.

Hard times change us. That’s the truest thing I know. And while I don’t wish my hospital experience on my worst enemy, if you find yourself in a similar situation, remember that growth can come from struggle, confidence from feeling small, and hope from fear.

Hospitals are not built for doctors. Hospitals are for patients and their families, for the people whose heads and hearts are full of worry and hope and love, swirled together into a sleepy confounded state of being. Move out of their way. Out of the way of people not in pressed white coats or surgical greens. Out of the way of people wearing worn tennis shoes instead of 200 dollar clogs, the ragged, the weary, the ones trailing a half deflated get well balloon behind them.  

Learn to recognize these silent heroes. They look a lot like we do. When we take off our stethoscopes and put down our pen lights and return to being sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews. They are your family, and mine. Let the hallway be the place we honor them. Show them we know how hard it can be. Show them that we recognize how very lucky we are to be able to leave the hospital at day’s end, to be able to rinse off its tragedies and return to our normally scheduled lives. For their strength and their sacrifice, be moved.


Thursday, May 14, 2015

You do You

Greetings you second year medical student you!

I hope the first week of summer has been all you hoped. While we still have 5 weeks left I wanted to extol the importance of making yourself a priority. Our lives will be devoted to the needs of other people; patients, family, friends. Where do we fit into that? Are we destined to be at the bottom of our to do list? Make these weeks about you. Do the things you want. Your agenda matters just as much as anyone else's.

"The days are long but the years are short." I was recently reminded of this saying by Dr. Paul Kalanithi, a neurosurgeon who passed away from cancer at the age of 37. In his original article, which can be read here he echoes my worries. He writes about filling your life with the important things and about time. Precious time.

The thing is, is that we don't know if we're going live long enough to slow down, relax, enjoy our successes if we keep putting it off. Not everyone is destined to live a long life. We may not have 60 more years on this earth. I don't want to live my life when I'm old. I want it now, and I want all of it. Joy, sadness, fear, hope, faith, doubt, love, struggle, failure, success-- lay it on me. These five weeks of "summer" represent more than time to add to your resume, or cross shit off your to do list. This time represents renewing a commitment to loving yourself and filling your life with the important stuff, (what constitutes important stuff is for you to figure out).

Don't get me wrong-- med school is important. But you are not your grades, you are not your resume. And as hard for me as this is to admit-- your self worth is not reflected in a diploma-- no matter how many of them you may happen to have.

I know we feel the pressure to be doing "stuff." Research, clinic, trips abroad. Its good to have things to do, and by all means if you feel like you want to bust your ass over this break then do it. But make sure you are using this time the way you want to, the way you would if you were running out of time. Personally, I have a pile of trashy chick lit books on my nightstand collecting dust-- I would like to read them before I die (or before they all get made into movies).

We are pushed a great deal of the time. Pushed to study more, pushed to work at clinic more, pushed to sign up for just one more thing. We just finished the first year of medical school. Refuse to be shamed by anyone (including yourself) telling you what to do with your break. Take some time. Slow down if you can...better yet lie down.

And while life is certainly uncertain, if you want to stack the deck in your favor we could all try to do just a little better about sleeping, cooking/ eating healthy things and getting to the gym more often. Just saying.

I wish you the best 5 weeks ever. Make sure that there is life in your life. And sunscreen. Lots of sunscreen.


Sunday, May 3, 2015

Grades Hit Ya Hallelujah

Hello Gentle Reader,

I mean that in the truest sense of the word. I hope you are being gentle with yourself as we head into the last week of finals for the year. Jesus. The year. How did it get to be May 3rd already? It seems like yesterday that we were just a group of strangers sitting nervously in 2222 trying to figure out our lockers, our scrubs, what the hell we were doing. Now we are among friends family. I know this to be true, because without question I stuff a whole burrito in my face during lecture without evening thinking. Now that's only something you do with people you really love.

At the beginning of the year I wasn't sure we'd make it here. The stress seemed too great to bear at times. Anatomy lab left me unable to do anything else but fall into my bed exhausted....sometimes showered, sometimes not. We survived some brutal lectures (insert fructose joke here) and some lessons from the school of hard knocks (yes all the computers are broken, take this final on paper).

But we did make it and well, here we are. I'm trying hard to savor these last days. Medical school is happy years. I just know it and then I just forget it. I forget how lucky we are to be here, chosen out of thousands for this. And while our careers will include making people better, we are the ones who are made better for our time here. As much as we'd like to be released from our overly caffeinated study prison (hmmm...I wonder if prison would be a good place to study), savor these last days. Drink them in like cool wine diet coke water. We won't be back here again, and at our reunion I'm betting we will most certainly wish to be.

Don't get me wrong- ENRG scares the crap out of me. Study. Help each other. Breathe. Lather, rinse, repeat. Enjoy the swirling together of chaos and confusion, excitement and achievement. But know this...research has shown that people actually do better when the pressure isn't as great--ironic as that is. Give yourself a break. Literally get up from the chair to which your ass has left a permanent indent and go eat/shower/sleep/workout. I'm looking at you, and you look tired.

We have wonderful adventures that lie ahead. I'm giddy with the prospect of how the next three years will unfold. How many stories and fond memories have we yet to live? The feeling of just having to get through the next few days will never go away. I often find myself making deals with the universe. "Just get me through these quizzes, these finals, just this one test and then just this other one too. I promise I'll start going to the gym after its done. I'll call my mom back, I'll be better next time, just this one time, do me a solid cosmic miracle." But the challenges in front of us won't stop and I guess if we're really honest, that's a good thing. Its okay to feel stressed, its okay to be worried, its okay to be exhausted. But I implore you gentle reader, don't rob yourself of savoring these last moments.

Remember, you are a human being of infinite and immeasurable worth. No grade defines you.

Can I get an amen?


(I stole this video from a classmate's facebook page. It speaks to my heart)

(and this) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eBpYgpF1bqQ