It's time. For the update of the century. Because I drank a cappuccino earlier and can't properly focus on these Histology slides. And it's Saturday night!
I hereby invite you to click this cut and learn of the wonders and terrors of life living as a medical student thousands of miles from home.
Reader, hello. I'm currently typing in the midst of the longest "vacation" we're allotted during this term, a 4/5 day stretch for Easter/Passover and the like. I say "4/5" because while we didn't have class Thursday, I still had four hours of Anatomy Lab in the morning.
Medical school. Where do I begin? So far, I love it. I'm actually alarmed at how much I love it, or rather taken aback at how I was expecting to dislike it, or had such low expectations. I reluctantly admit that a part of me expected only misery, stress, and drudgery. Those things rear their ugly heads, but they're secondary to the satisfaction and joy I get from being here. After all the trouble of deciding on whether to apply to/attend medical school and wondering if it was what I wanted to do, the actual doing of the thing is turning out to be relatively painless. Let me try to formulate why I like it:
- No more bullshit. Though the merits of my undergraduate classes were many, there were certainly elements of superfluousness that wore me down - ESPECIALLY the pre-med requirements. Not any more. The fat's been cut. It all matters. It's all clinical, and it's all relevant to being an effective and informed professional.
- What I'm learning is beautiful. Anatomy is life-changing. I didn't exactly love it at first - let's be real, medical school is hard - but there was a point a few weeks back, when I had to learn the mechanics of the arm/forearm, when I really had a breakthrough in perception. Suddenly it became a game, a language, a door to something strange and true that I never realized I was a part of. I expect the more I learn, the more I'll affirm this statement, but learning the ins and outs of the body is like opening up a portal into a new dimension. You literally see another element to people. What is causing that person to walk that way? What're the muscles he's using to make that face? Questions pop up in your head. Simple observations aren't so simple any more. Elements of elegance in the human body are also particularly enlightening. You realize how easy it is for things to go wrong with people before they even leave the womb. You consider yourself lucky to have gotten this far without some grievous harm affecting your person.
- I finally have a clear-cut, singular job. Let me say that I don't think that having several things going on at once is a bad thing, and I quite look forward to that kind of lifestyle again, but I've never in my life had one thing to do and one thing to do only to the extent that I have here. Anyone in school understands the magnitude of importance involved in studying to some degree, whether it's for the SAT's or the MCATs. But I'm here now, in the place that those tests were supposed to get me, and I finally have the attitude I should have had in order to study for those tests! I finally feel like studying is doing me good/getting me somewhere. Funny, that. The clarity of purpose involved in being in only three classes, all interrelated, is overwhelmingly new and refreshing. In the weeks before starting, I thought I'd be distraught at not having time to read books or write or take photographs or sit in on classes randomly. I'm not. Mostly because summer's soon and I will have at least a month to do all of those things. (And it's not like I don't take breaks here.)
It's not always some halcyon dreamland here, despite the beautiful Caribbean scenery. Midterm week was a decidedly hellish affair. The Biochemistry midterm! Oh, that little bastard, it kicked my ass because it was the hardest exam, and the first. But I passed it, and have to work super hard to ace the final, but luckily it's my last test this time so it won't demoralize me while I study for the other ones. Also, the "system" St. G's employs for testing can backfire on a person - unlike US schools, which have multiple examinations per term, there are only one set of midterms and one set of finals, so you can't afford to fail a single test. If you do, you have to decelerate, and spend an extra term re-taking that class. Our class lost 100+ students because of this way of evaluating student performance - and that was just in Anatomy. One way of looking at it is that yes, the school can take on 5-6x the normal class size of a US school, but the grading system and examinations are brutal and unforgiving most of the time, and they expect a sizable chunk of the class to have to get pushed back a term (or take a leave of absence or whatnot down the line). The fear of failure here can be pervasive. It was my biggest hurdle here in the first few weeks, and I have had to learn to use it positively, as an enemy to strive to keep at bay through consistent hard work.
What of life other than medical studies?
I really, really love my suite mates. They're glorious. They are both one term ahead of me; they used to live in a double last term and got singles this term, but the apartment houses three and that's where I landed. Geetha is from California and Valery is from New Jersey. We are three musketeers, three sisters (Valery is the oldest and the most sensible - she's married - Geetha is the wildcard middle child, and I'm the baby!), etc etc. It's excellent having these girls who've just completed the classes I'm in now giving me direction and helping me along. Geetha's really good at Biochemistry, and Valery is lending me this amazing Anatomy textbook that some of our test diagrams come from. Personality wise, Geetha is really motivated, and Valery is really passionate. Great qualities, great girls. The only downside to having such a beautiful relationship with them is that there's a high chance I won't be living with them come next term - they don't get guaranteed housing, and I do. So unless I break my housing contract, I might get a single with some other random people and be pining for them. The only reason I'd do it is if we got a great place together, which may be hard. One possibility is living in one of the hotels that my distant relations own, but that's still quite up in the air.
Speaking of my "Island Family" as I've dubbed them: I finally met them all, and they're nothing but sweet and welcoming and we've had dinner several times. I was wrong about how exactly we're related - it's closer than what I originally understood (I blame my grasp of Persian familial vocabulary) - the woman who owns the hotels was first cousins with my maternal grandmother. I find their perspective on living in Grenada to be a wonderful resource because they live outside the comfortable bubble of campus and have seen the changes that the campus has undergone to get to the point it's reached now. They also tell it how it is about certain stories campus administration would rather gloss over. It's also hilarious to run into them at the supermarket when I do my grocery shopping. I barely ran into my family back home doing the same thing. One hotel is right on the beach (it's where my beach photos usually come from) and has a pool (seen below). The other one is in walking distance but not on the water, and is the one I have yet to see (but the one that rents places to students).
The above is the backyard of the hotel my relatives own. There's a Middle Eastern restaurant connected to a pool.
Let's backtrack just a little bit - back to the life I left in New York. Greg, one of my best friends, started working for my Dad as a Junior Designer at Godiva a week before I left. This is immensely reassuring to me because I know Greg will make sure my workaholic father does things like Eat and Leave for Home At a Vaguely Reasonable Hour. While I've been gone, my parents have started spring cleaning - with the goal of selling the house. We want to move to Manhattan, or at least out of our unruly and ginormous home. It will be good for Dad's commute, and when I get back to the states in a few years for rotations, I'll be even closer to them if I live in Brooklyn. The whole idea of moving was a distant dream for a long time, and while Greg and I did our best to clean out the basement to make it presentable for buyers, Dad (also a hoarder) switched offices midway through our attempts and had to bring back another load of books/prototypes/paraphernalia and undid all our hard work. But now the folks have purchased a storage space, and while I haven't really seen the full results, have already moved many things there, including my mother's canvases (I don't know if you knew this, but she's a painter). They've also redone the garage doors and are touching up the bathrooms and will be opening the pool to show buyers this summer. The month and a half I'm home will most likely involve both packing up my own life into boxes to store away somewhere and throwing out the things I've probably forgotten I've owned at this point. It's interesting what living away from most of your possessions reminds you about how little any of it matters. (I mostly just miss my books.)
The diversity I've encountered here is...staggering. And astounding. Besides my roomies/family, I get the impression that medical school is a lot more like how I expected undergrad to be, in the sense that people come from bloody everywhere. But now that we're older than average undergraduate age, I notice that these folks have also done bloody everything. Random sample: tonight I had dinner with Aaron (from Colorado, has served in the National Guard for years and has been to Iraq), Ivett from LA (who has a Masters in Public Health), Laura, a Biomedical Engineer from Philly [who is the only other Loreena McKennitt fan I have ever met in person], and Jasmine from Tennessee (a girl Chemistry major! who lived in Boston before coming here!). Geetha is actually a UK Citizen and Valery grew up in Peru (I think her dad's even a diplomat). The girl I sit next to in class every day, Mel, is from Ottowa and she's brilliant (she's in the process of publishing more than one paper - and she's still finding the time to study and ace things on scholarship adgjkhfd). In the beginning of school I just remember hearing all these things about my newfound classmates and when I replied with "I worked at Apple for a year" in my head it sounded like I was saying "Derp Derp Derp Derp Derp". I'm not in any way shamed by it of course, and I'm proud of my unconventional skills and interests, but it's still amazing to encounter and learn about the accomplishments and backgrounds of others.
On the cultural flip side, there are a LOT of Persian students here. Unlike at Stony Brook, the Persian Cultural Association is one of the most active cultural clubs on campus. We all spent Persian New Year away from our parents this year, but I have to say I don't think I had spent it with as many Persians in years. The club arranged a party at the University's private dining club and it was very sweet. For a while I had my own little trio - I call them the Persian Three Stooges - of guy friends that I've become fairly close with. Saeid is my age and (this is going to sound absolutely absurd, but you'll just have to believe me) is distantly related to me (and is related to my Island Family - he actually has their last name). He's definitely got his eye on the prize so it's nice to have a friend who's so goal-oriented. It inspires me to work harder. Amir comes from Houston; he's a few years older than me, but he's got a decidedly youthful air - as jaunty and personable as can be. He can also cook! Right after midterms we all got together and he directed the making of a quite splendid Persian stew. Andrew is from LA and I think he and I get along the best, but I can't really put my finger on why. Maybe it's cause we're both only-children? or that he appreciates my bizarro observations about the world? One thing is certain: he has excellent taste in movies and music. There's something very comforting about a friend who is on the same wavelength as you - when he suggested we watch The Sword in the Stone on a study break I nearly squealed with joy. Actually I probably did. Whatever.
Now that I've written a little bit about my closer friends, I want to mention something that happened yesterday (and essentially overnight). Amir developed acute appendicitis. Or at least, we think that's what it is. He woke up Friday with horrible pain and went to the hospital, which is kind of run down and ineffectual (the hospital here doesn't even have an ICU, from what I've been told). The pain got no better and he decided to just get himself back to the States ASAP. This is where things got frustrating: he had to (a) arrange a way back to the US, (b) make sure that his inflamed appendix didn't rupture (appendicitis is considered a medical emergency - you do not want that thing to burst) and (c) figure out what he's doing about all the school he's about to miss. Which he can't rightly do if he doesn't know the extent of the appendicitis or the surgery/recovery involved. Sigh, just thinking about it again is frustrating. Last night I went to his room, made sure he didn't leave his bed, and finished his packing for him. Andrew would have helped me if he were here (he went back to LA for the break) and I don't know where Saeid was. But I was more than adequately up for the task. This morning he sent me a text from the airport, but I haven't heard from him since. While I hope to hear from him soon, I'm taking it to be a good sign, seeing as if I were in surgery and recovering from appendicitis, I wouldn't give two hoots about texting people. The weirdest part about all this is that we had just been discussing what we would do in this exact situation (a medical emergency in a country that may not provide adequate care) the night before. Another boy in our class had to go home this week because he developed Dengue fever with some terrible effects, like pneumonia and pleural effusion. That kid was in the hospital for a week, with prospects pretty grim most of the time. It's very alarming that I wouldn't have known at all if I didn't see him seated outside on my way to class this week. I thought he just stopped coming to class and was watching lecture recordings (naive of me, I suppose). Life can be so fragile, and I suppose this is a lesson I'll keep revisiting.
Speaking of health. I've become a runner? I think. The backstory: We had this incredible yoga class that took place on the grassy field on the edge of the cliff behind our library, but the instructor had to go home with her boyfriend, so they stopped. I'd also started the terrible habit of sleeping until noon (classes are from 1-5), which was an utter waste of my already limited time, but I couldn't bring myself to study in the morning like I really should/wanted to. To get me to stop being a schlub, I started forcing myself to do something else which, though it wasn't studying, utilized my time in ways other than spending it having dreams about auscultating someone using an ethernet cable as a stethoscope (that really happened). So I got my ass out of bed and to the gym. (Seriously, it was about god damned time. I can see the freaking place from my window.) Once upon a time, I couldn't run a mile in one go. I'm really happy to say that I now can. I can run for the majority of a half an hour time frame. It's something other than medicine and art that I can work to improve, and it keeps me more awake and focused in the morning. I dig it.
It's almost 3 am and I've been trying to write this entry since I won't even tell you when. The last important development I really didn't talk about anywhere at all is this: I'm going to spend 3 weeks in Prague this summer for a 2 credit selective class. I still have to make flight and room arrangements, but I'm using the goal of getting there to help motivate me to be the best student I can be. Obviously foreign travel isn't my only goal and motivation, but it sure does help. With that said, goodnight. Or good morning.
Current Mood: peaceful