Sleep Under the Stars

At least once in your life.

A few weeks ago I was up in Winter Park and we decided it would be the perfect weekend to hang up the hammock. With the gentle sway I fell asleep between the trees and under the stars.

There is a short list of places that I have felt vulnerable, but also at peace. There’s something about opening yourself up to the things that scare you, but will leave you wanting more.

As I’m typing this I’m sitting in the airport. Not that abnormal, but I’m grateful for the opportunity to fly places because there are a lot of people in the world who only dream of this.

I’m going to London. By myself.

I’m scared, excited and desperately trying to soak everything in. I’ve wanted to solo travel for the longest time, but I’ve always been to chicken. This summer the chance presented itself and I jumped. Or, cautiously dipped my toe in the water and then jumped.

I feel vulnerable. I feel at peace. See you when I get back.

Bellingham, WA

The breeze coming off the bay was cool, especially in the shade. The tall trees shielding the bright sun from my pale skin. It had been hot and dry in Denver leading up to this trip, with the temperatures approaching 100 every day; wildfires raging in southern Colorado, national forests closed to humans.

It was a bad winter. It’s going to be a bad summer.

But, our Leah was graduating from college and so the Huey’s [Wirths, Petersen’s, Gordon’s and Kallin’s] trekked to the Pacific-Northwest. Apparently, if you live in Bellingham, Washington you become a “Bellinghamster”. Like if you live in Colorado long enough you become a “Coloradan”. I laughed so hard that tears rolled down my cheeks and my stomach burned when Leah told me that’s what they call themselves. Yet, the name couldn’t be more perfect for the small town, tucked into north-western Washington, two hours north of Seattle and one hour south of Canada. The bay to the west with the Pacific Ocean just a bit further, the North Cascades to the east.

Bellingham is beautiful.


I’ve been to visit Leah at school once before. A few years ago, when she was still living in the dorms, Anna and I took a sister trip out to see her. We flew to Seattle and rode the Amtrak up the coast, stayed in a hotel and walked everywhere with Leah. She carefully showed us her new school, where she was taking classes and studying, introduced us to her friends and brought us down to the boardwalk.

A long weekend full of exploring.

I missed my flight back to Denver. I thought I booked my ticket for Monday, but to my dismay at 5 am I learned my plane had left 24 hours earlier.

It was okay. There’s always a plan B. We rolled with the punches.


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This time we chased the sunset from Denver to Seattle, spent too short of time catching up with good friends in Seattle and drove up to Bellingham. This time I watched fields and hills flying by the window of the car.

On Friday, Leah presented her Honors Thesis. The research she’s been a part of for the last few years – building a product that would help people that need large quantities of blood transfusions not have to depend on donors for a supply. Some smart stuff going on in that girl’s head.

Next, we grabbed lunch at Aslan Brewing (YUM – I highly recommend the Hawaiian Pork Tacos) and headed to the house we were staying in at Lake Whatcom for naps. The front deck had these glass banisters so you could sit and watch the deer coming through the yard for a snack and feel the breeze blow across the lake. Peace and rest came over me for the first time in the last few months, as I sat and simply listened to the wind rustle the leaves on the trees and reveling in the beauty.

Graduation and a Thai dinner were in store for us on Saturday, and kayaking [we rented from here — Community Boating Center] in the Bellingham Bay and a salmon dinner was on the menu for Sunday. It was good eatin’ this weekend.

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At times, things seemed a little crazy. I guess it sort of comes with the territory when you bring together 11 adults. Some things didn’t always go as planned, and if there wasn’t already a plan B, we quickly came up with one. That’s called, “thinking on your feet”.

It wasn’t a perfect trip, because everything went flawlessly, it was a perfect trip because of the people who joined in. There was grace in the ways we handled each other’s imperfections and beauty in the way we celebrated.

One of the first lines of Bob Goff’s new book, Everybody, Always says, “It’s given me a lot of comfort knowing that we’re all rough drafts of the people we’re still becoming”. Maybe instead of a red pen of judgment, we should read through our friends’ rough drafts with a softer color like purple, or aqua – grace and truth.

The gentle breeze in Bellingham reminded me of this practice of patience.

A Week in the Life

The last few months have been BUSY, but we just finished up and I am officially a second-year medical student! I’ve recently had several people ask me what it’s like in med school – how do we spend our time and whatnot.

Sometimes it’s hard for me to imagine [remember] what life was like before school started. I know I had most weekends off, that even though I worked a lot, I still had time for writing and reading and cooking meals for myself. I know that these last few months, I studied most weekends, had no time for writing, struggled to finish one book and I hardly ever cooked for myself. When we started our block on the heart, lungs, and kidneys I got into a rhythm. I set the speed to high and settled into cruise control.

To give some perspective on what medical school is like I decided to keep track of everything I did for the last three weeks of class. Are you ready for it?

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One week – Purple is lecture, green is clinic time, blue is problem-based learning, pink is my personal calendar

My day usually starts with my alarm going off at 5:30 am, but I have a healthy relationship with the snooze button so I don’t typically get out of bed until closer to 6:15-6:30. I am a huge fan of slow mornings and my favorite ones are when I have time to make scrambled eggs with coffee.

I’m a lecture go-er and that runs from 8-noon, [Monday-Friday]. We have 10-minute breaks between lectures and often we use this time to grab a cup of coffee, go for a walk, or stand in the sunshine right outside the auditorium door. Not everyone in my class attends and as one of our professors calls it, these students are part of “Panopto Nation”. There’s nothing wrong with choosing to watch the lecture online, people are still engaging with and learning the material, it’s just a different way of approaching school.

Some days we have small groups instead of lecture. These are required sessions that we get questions and clinical cases for beforehand. The expectation is that we read through and come prepared for class. It’s more of a hands-on method that allows you an opportunity to see and struggle with the material in a clinical scenario.

Once a week, I go see my preceptor. She is a family medicine doc and she graciously teaches me the skills I’ll need to succeed as a real doctor. We are learning to interview, to perform a physical exam, to presenting, documenting and come up with an assessment and plan. While I’m there I usually go into the room first and talk with the patient. Then I present my findings to my preceptor and we go back into the room together. It’s awkward, I often feel unqualified and I definitely don’t know the answers. But, I’m learning and as the year has progressed it feels more natural for me to be asking the questions. I even knew some answers one day as we conveniently learned about acute mountain sickness a few hours earlier!

A bulk of the rest of my “free” time is spent studying – reading for lecture, flipping through flashcards, answering practice questions, making graphs, tables and drawing pictures in an effort to understand and learn the human body and diseases that we experience. *Spoiler alert – there’s A LOT*

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The “pretty page” for congenital heart disorders. I definitely am NOT an artist, but drawing helps give a visual of complex topics and ideas

However, I also try to find time for other things that make me happy like –

  • Exercise: I go to my Crossfit gym and I recently trained for a half-marathon so I was attempting to run several days a week.
  • Friends and Family: The good news is that I study with friends and then I usually eat dinner with my family. The friends that don’t live in Denver I talk on the phone with or we use this app called Marco Polo. You can record and send videos and the person can play them back whenever they want and as many times as they want. It has certainly made long-distance friendships easier!
  • Fun: In this particular week, we hopped on our bikes on Sunday and rode to some new Denver breweries, I went to a birthday party, met some friends at a restaurant and toured my sister’s new home.

My day typically ends around 10:30-11 PM and I’m out before I get finished with one page in my book.


Med school is a strange combination of exhaustion and fun. Our limits are tested, but I don’t even presume to imagine that it won’t be more challenging [and time-consuming] when we get to residency. It’s possible to do things outside of school, but I’ve definitely had to make some tough choices. For instance, when I had an exam coming up that I wasn’t prepared for and I ended up canceling on skiing to study.

Finding the harmony between when to say “yes”, and when to say “no” is never easy, but it’s a battle worth fighting in order to preserve the bits of yourself that aren’t a doctor or student.

Capitol Reef National Park, Utah

Home to dust, cacti, and rocks. Capitol Reef National Park is a little know plot of land stuck between Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and Canyonlands National Park. Southern Utah is filled with a collection of canyons and desert and starry night skies. This was our destination as we hit I-70 early one Saturday morning to kick-start our #springbreak2018.

The plan was to car-camp the first night, followed by two nights out on the Lower Muley Twist Canyon. After checking in at the Visitors Center to register and get a permit for backpacking we decided to change our plans. [You need a permit to backpack at Capitol Reef, but they are free and as far as I could tell, there’s no limit on the number of permits that they give out]. The ranger told us that Capitol Reef was at 25% of their normal rainfall for the year. In a place that’s already strapped for water, this means there is even less to go around. She shared with us that Lower Muley Twist had no water – aka probably a bad idea to go there, unless you want to carry three days worth of water! That sounds heavy. The ranger did have reports that the Halls Creek Narrows trail had water, so it was there we set our sights on.

That first night we camped at a small, limited resource campground – Cedar Mesa – where our friends were able to find us after dark. We woke up the next morning, split up our food among packs and drove to the trailhead. The first part of the hike brought us down from the rim of the canyon to the wash at the bottom. From there, the hike twists and turns as it followed the dry river bed. It was so very sandy! Try carrying a pack with your next two days’ supplies along the beach. Despite the extra challenge, it sure was beautiful. That first day, we broke for lunch at this red rock and then kept trekking down the trail until we got to the mouth of the Halls Creek Narrows where the first drinkable water appeared.

With the sun rising on the canyon walls overhead, we cooked up some oatmeal and selected what would come with us on our day hike through the narrows section. The day before we ran into another person who told us that he encountered some deeper water that he had to wade through. So, we left our campsite preparing to get a little wet. Shortly after entering the narrows we ran into another person who said he found water that we all the way up to his neck! This was a very tall man. You bet we were a little nervous because we didn’t know who to believe about how deep the water would actually get, but we pressed on anyway.

In the narrows, the canyon walls loom directly overhead. They make you feel small, your problems insignificant. The quiet echo as your voice bounces off the smooth rock and the trickle of water at your feet. These are the sounds of the narrows.

I’m not sure where one of our travelers found water up to his neck because we never waded past our hips.

The last night of the trip, we camped out beside the dried wash. Stars overhead and sand underneath.

A break from school, a break from the real world, an escape into nature.

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Perspective//

In a brief moment above the water, I thought I would take a breath of air before plunging back under.

We started back at school on January 2nd. Winter break was the most relaxing, yet busy, two weeks. I managed to go yo-yo skiing, backcountry skiing, watch an absurd amount of the Crown and get everyone to do my bidding for a few days as I recovered from wisdom teeth surgery.

Since January 2nd, I’ve had two exams. I have two more exams next week.

It’s zero-to-100.

I signed up for this. Some days, I see pictures of my friend backpacking through Southeast Asia and I think to myself, “What am I doing????” But then I slap myself around because I’m walking through my dream right now. It’s easy to let the hours sitting in the lecture hall get to you as you’re trying to comprehend the endless waves of material crashing on your head.

Last semester we got our preceptors – doctors working in our community who have offered to take us under their wings and help form us, mentor us, lead us in this profession. My doc lets me go into the rooms before her. I’m practicing the basics, like taking vitals (blood pressure, heart rate, respiratory rate) and talking to patients. Then, I go and present to her what I’ve learned. There’s the handoff, the H&P, the oral presentation, a SOAP note.

Last week, I saw a patient and the next day there was a reference to her disorder in my lecture notes. Last semester, I learned about some diseases I never thought I would see. I thought it would be a disease unicorn, something that only existed in the textbooks or would show up on Step [I guess even a unicorn is less real than that, but you get the idea]. Then I stepped into a patient’s room and what do you think they were living with every day? These moments bring the lecture hall into perspective.

Two years ago, I started this blog. To bring perspective. Since then I hiked under a shower of ice, bought a crock pot, traveled to Minneapolis, Thailand, Utah, and San Diego to name a few. We explored what it meant to love people with everything we have, reminded ourselves that comparison is a thief, and adjusted to life as a medical student.

That’s a lot of perspective.

I don’t have all of the answers, but I’m still gonna go searching for some truth in this world. For some beauty and some grace. Thank you for reading along.

 

I’ve Lost My Wisdom

 

Hey, I know it’s been a while. These last two months have been humbling and exhausting and I haven’t had much energy to write. During this first semester of medical school, I’ve learned the entire human body, a multitude of rare genetic disorders and the molecular basis of disease. It was a little bit like a workout that you look at and don’t think will be that bad. Yet, after slugging your way through the workout you are left gasping for air, wondering how you were tricked. I made it through anatomy and slugged my way through molecules to medicine then found myself reaching for the surface.

I put a lot of pressure on myself to do well in school. I put a lot of pressure on myself to succeed in general. I identify as a 3 on the Enneagram personality tests, “The Achiever”. I’ve always been this person, striving for success and the acceptance of others. Thriving on straight A’s and comments like “good job”. This semester challenged me in ways that I didn’t expect.

Even this blog. I feel a certain amount of pressure to make it a success. Will people read it? Will the grammar be correct? Is this a good picture to share? I haven’t posted in a while, I really should write something. I don’t have anything interesting to share.

I’m constantly reminding myself of the reasons for starting a Glimpse of Grace. To find value and beauty and grace in our everyday lives. To share my life and the lessons I’m learning with those that choose to listen. Yet, somehow, the perfectionist in me wants this page to be perfect. Honestly, that is just plain exhausting and I’m sorry, but it won’t ever be flawless.

Looking through my photos I realize that there have been many things worth sharing. Here are just a few of the things I’ve done that I neglected to think were meaningful —-

  • I realized a dream and got a fiddle leaf fig [I haven’t killed it yet either]

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  • I visited my dear friends in Atlanta for a wedding. Every day I wish I could transport them to Denver.
  • I tried out new coffee shops and study spots. My favorites include – Union Station, The Stanley Marketplace, Steep, and the 3rd-floor study room at the library.
  • We went to a story slam and heard people share their personal stories about “control”.
  • I celebrated Friendsgiving and Thanksgiving with some of my favorite people in some of my favorite places.
  •  We helped serve a meal at the Denver Rescue Mission.

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  • We got dressed up and spent the evening at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. We didn’t take any pictures once we got there, so it must have been fun.
  • Yesterday, I got my wisdom teeth removed. I don’t remember anything, from the moment when they placed the IV to when I woke up with gauze filling my mouth, fighting my heavy eyelids. We drove home in the snow and I laid on the couch, changing ice packs, taking pain medication and watching The Crown.

Here’s hoping I haven’t lost all of my wisdom, just the teeth. Here’s to getting back up again when life tries to knock you down. Here’s to celebrating and embracing our imperfections. I’m gonna go make some Christmas cookies now.

Merry Christmas, ya filthy animals.

I Am Thankful

How often do we utter those three words? How often do we say out loud, or write down, “I am thankful because of…”?

I would argue, not enough. Mostly because I’m guilty of it. Our days are busy, they might feel hard and overwhelming. We might not feel like we have anything to be thankful for on a daily basis that we weren’t thankful for yesterday. When we get together for Thanksgiving the common theme of thankfulness is friends, family, health BUT there’s so much more to life than that. If I’m being honest then it’s really the mundane things that we should be grateful for.

Today, wasn’t all that special. My family dog woke me up around 3:30 barking about something [he probably wanted breakfast], I then had class from 8 am – lunch, followed by meetings, some “studying” [aka email answering], medical student council and now I’m writing from my bed with my genetics book close by for some light reading after I post this. I’ll probably fall asleep with the lights on because that’s what I tend to do best.

It wasn’t a glamorous November 1st filled with saving lives and taking names. Yet, mixed throughout the day are things I feel incredibly thankful for. Today, I am thankful because of friends that send me emails of dogs they think I should adopt, friends that let me know they miss me, and friends that ask how I’m doing and then listen when I decide to actually tell them the truth.

I love this quote so I’ll share it again – a million times if I have to —

“For it is not joy that makes us grateful; it is gratitude that makes us joyful”

– Brother David Steindl-Rast

So, for this month of November, I encourage you to write down a daily gratitude. A simple thing that happened during your day that you were grateful for. Write it down on a slip of paper and put it in a jar, a box, a shoe. You don’t have to tell anyone, do it for yourself. Do it for your joyfulness.

Monday Night Update

People say that time flies when they’re having fun, but I know [without a doubt], that whoever first spoke those words has never tried to learn a semester’s worth of material in 2 weeks.

Time seems to pass these days according to my exam schedule – and yes – we recently learned my entire fall 2012 biochemistry class in 2 weeks. I’ve heard many of my friends utter these same words, “This time I’m gonna stay on top of it. I’m going to start studying tonight”. Inevitably though, the thought creeps in that we have 2 weeks until the next one, so one night off can’t hurt — work-life balance right? Wrong.

These are merely excuses, but this is why I have not posted in what feels like ages – 2 tests to be exact.

Now, I know you’re going to ask – “How is school going?”

It’s going well, actually. I love learning. Like for real, love learning. Every day there is something to be excited about, something to marvel at, and also feel completely overwhelmed by. It’s a game of give-and-take.

To be honest though, finding this balance is probably the most challenging part. I want to continue living my life and not let school become the end-all, be-all. Even though medical school is a huge goal I’m undertaking right now, I still ambitiously try to make it to CrossFit 3x per week, read a couple pages of a book before I fall asleep at night and have a non-med school conversation occasionally [it’s tough]. These are things that make me, Madeline and I’m refusing to let them go just yet.

Yesterday, as I was walking our family dog – Bodie – I listened to a podcast produced by 99% Invisible. If you haven’t heard of it, I totally recommend that you check the channel out – my personal favorite is Episode #127, The Sound of Sports.

Anyways, I listened to a podcast on the invention of the stethoscope and it stopped me in my tracks. Before the stethoscope, whatever was happening inside the patient was a mystery and doctors relied on asking questions, and then they actually listened to their stories. These days, we rarely use our stethoscopes and rely on tests, CT scans, ultrasounds, you name it, to give us a diagnosis.

“Before the stethoscope, you had to feel sick to be sick. After the stethoscope, to be sick, the doctor had to find something”. – Dr. Jacalyn Duffin

As I listened to this podcast, I began asking myself – how do we make sure our patients feel heard, and not like they are just a list of data points and symptoms? I’m asking myself – how can I do this better? How can I ensure that I first listen to my patient’s story before listening to their tests?

From the perspective of the patient – have you ever had an interaction with a doctor that made you feel seen? What did he/she do differently?

A New Rhythm

Human Body Block [aka Gross Anatomy] lasts 9 weeks. At the beginning it seemed like the block would take forever. I remember thinking to myself, “how will I ever make it through this?”

Somehow, I’m making it through this. We are two tests down, with roughly 3 weeks left and one more exam. The days pass quickly with this new rhythm of school, and the weeks consist mainly of —

Anatomy lab, lecture, physical exam sessions, ultrasound sessions, problem-based learning sessions, med school recess [lunch], study sessions, more study sessions, Crossfit, church, escape to the mountains. Rinse and Repeat.

Every day is a new day to learn something new, a new day to be amazed.

In my program we are introduced to ultrasound early on. We have machines that we can use to practice the skill on each other. When I say ultrasound is a skill, I mean that it is a skill. I thought it would be easy, I thought “how hard can it be to put a little gel on a probe and bada-bing-bada-boom you have a clear picture on the screen”. I was so wrong. Somehow we will get the hang of this though. Peel back the layers that cloud our vision.

In the meantime, we get to see some pretty awesome stuff.

Last week, with some help, we did ultrasound on our own hearts. Laying on the table, I saw on the screen my heart beating. The compartments working together to pump blood throughout my living, breathing body. This week, I worked with a group of 7 other classmates through a patient case and successfully diagnosed him with acute appendicitis. I’m learning to perform a physical exam, to listen to heart sounds and test for ACL tears. The reminder that I know nothing is constant, and humbling, but also thrilling at the same time. I have the opportunity to ask questions, to seek clarity, to think deeply. All things that I cherish and hold dear.

This new rhythm is stressful some days, but refreshing and inspiring on others. I don’t always feel on top of the world, but like I’m slugging through the mud on the way up the trail. The pastor at my old church in Atlanta once talked about how we naturally seek out the mountain top moments. We reach for the highs and dread the lows. However, as he so eloquently pointed out, “Have you ever noticed that people don’t live on the mountain tops? They live in the valley”. We do life in the valley. We love people, we work hard and every now and then we climb to the top of the mountain.

Living these, sometimes dreary, days to the fullest is what it’s about. This is the mundane and hard part of becoming who we are, but also who we are meant to be.


Last weekend, some classmates and I headed up to Breckenridge for the annual Colorado Medical Society Retreat. We laughed those deep belly laughs that seem to last forever, but also got to chat with some pretty big-wig docs in the world of medical policy. It was sweet.

Be You.

I’m officially a 4-week old medical student. Not a doctor yet, but people continue to insist that “there’s a doctor in the room if I trip and fall”.

It’s a strange feeling being here. For many of us this has been our dream for a long time. We’ve gone through the whole process of taking the required undergraduate courses, sitting for the MCAT, volunteering, shadowing physicians, holding leadership positions, writing our primary and secondary essays, interviewing, and then finally, waiting to hear the good news. [I wrote about my experience with the application process a while back – you can read it here].

After getting in and receiving the gift to defer I thought I would spend my next year calmly waiting for the moment to arrive. The moment when I would quit my job and move back to Colorado to start school. Instead, I experienced spells of panic after not hearing from CU for a while. I would wake up in a sweat, fearful that I dreamed the whole thing.

That I would show up to orientation on the first day and they wouldn’t be able to find my name on the list.

That it was all a mistake.

There’s a very real name for this feeling – imposter syndrome – and we’ve already talked about it a lot. They are constantly reminding us that we are here for a reason. It’s almost annoying having someone tell you every day that you are good enough, but I can also see why they would want to drill it in our heads that they chose us.

One piece of advice all of the “older” students have shared is to avoid comparison like the black plague. Comparing ourselves to classmates only perpetuates the imposter syndrome. It’s not productive to becoming a doctor, it’s not productive in every day life.

In medical school we are no longer graded on the bell curve [weird, right?], but rather we either pass or we fail. No in-between and no “only 10% of the class gets an A”. Now, I suppose this is created to foster collaboration among a highly competitive group of individuals. The idea being that if we aren’t pitted against each other, then we will be more likely to share our ideas, study tips and success stories. Yet, immediately following my first anatomy exam, all I could think about was how I did and what other people scored.

Comparison doesn’t just stop at the lecture hall door. For instance, some other things I’ve caught myself thinking of in the last few weeks are —

  • How it is that people seem to have solid friend groups established and I’m just trying to remember the names of the people next to me in lecture, plus the 2000 other anatomy terms.
  • How the heck people already know what they want to specialize in and I’m sitting here, interested in pretty much everything.
  • Should I be studying more like everyone else, or am I spending too much time outside of the library.

If comparison is a creature of habit then I’m not writing all of this down to reinforce the habit. I’m writing it down so I can turn around and crush those feelings to bits. My classmates are incredible and they have done things I only dream of accomplishing one day. I am honored to have been chosen to journey through medical school together and it would be a shame to see the adventure marred by self-doubt. What can we accomplish when we truly stop the comparison and work together?

So, I challenge you, today, tomorrow, and the day after that, take a moment and think about how you might be comparing yourself to others. Write these things down, acknowledge them, then crush those feelings to bits.

You are awesome. You’ve been hand selected for the journey that you’re on. Your contribution is important, valued and necessary. You can sit at my table.


On a completely unrelated note – have y’all ever thought of all the things in your bodies? It is absolutely incredibly how many important structures are jam-packed in your armpit. My mind is blown.