October in Review

October in review, for all of the things that I’ve wanted to say this month but haven’t had the time or energy to channel them out into the world wide web.

Maybe it’s better this way. I’m not sure. I’m still trying to figure out how to keep this blog going while in medical school.

October was a challenging month. It started with the end of the neuro block, 8-weeks of grueling coursework in the nervous system. With all of our exams on Monday mornings, it makes it really challenging to take a guilt-free weekend off from studying. By the time we got to the end of neuro I was tired and beaten down, but we picked ourselves back up to start the GI tract the next day. The rest of October passed in a blur of brown-tinged jokes and complaints of abdominal pain. What causes diarrhea you ask? It feels like a million things.

My patience was tested. My focus was tested. My ability to find that elusive balance was tested.

On October 1st, I saw a beating heart. In a human body.

On October 1st, I got the opportunity to shadow a cardiothoracic surgeon while he did an open repair of someone’s ascending aorta. Those are basically all fancy words for the tube that comes off of your heart and sends blood to all of the different organs in your body. It’s pretty important that it is strong and sturdy, but sometimes they become stretched too thin and that’s when we worry about them breaking. So, this surgeon went in and replaced a piece of this man’s aorta with a manufactured tube. It was incredible and exhilarating and humbling, all at the same time. I was also terrified of the possibility of tripping and falling onto the patient the whole surgery. My mantra for the day, “do not fall, do not fall”.

On October 8th, we finished neuro and promptly ate our weight in Denver Biscuit Company.

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On October 10th, it snowed.

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On October 12th, my friends and I went to the ballet, Sleeping Beauty. We put on our fancy dresses, I put on some new lipstick and we pretended to not be medical students for one night. Which was actually pretty difficult because we went to the ballet with the CU School of Medicine Alumni Association… Also, I may or may not have rested my eyes during the first act.

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On October 27th, my 2011 MacBook Pro was considered to be a “vintage machine”. I don’t think they understand what the word “vintage” means, but I bought a new computer anyways.

I had been thinking this month about some of the things I was thankful for because my cousin Katie was running a series on her blog about resistance and gratitude. I sent her 5 things, but I left out one. I’m really thankful for student loans because without them I wouldn’t be able to get through medical school. So, while I have to pay them back eventually, at this moment in time I am able to focus on becoming the best doctor I can be, while not having to worry about where my next meal, rent check or gas money will come from. Because of student loans, I can purchase a new computer. This is a privilege.

All through October, we studied a lot, making tables and graphs of the diseases of the GI tract, and having a little bit of fun along the way. Now here we are, on the edge of November.

This month I was challenged to be faithful; to trust in what is coming and what I cannot yet see. To trust that this hard work will pay off and that the season will change. I am encouraged.

How has October been for you?

 

 

Keep Going

We’ve been on a road of neurons and the connections their axons make. A road filled with the cranial nerves, stroke consequences, brain tumors, and psychiatric disorders.

Everything brain.

A rhythmic pulse of a beating heart.

A rise and fall of expanding lungs.

Tears of joy, ecstasy, sorrow.

A decision to choose. To say yes or no.

These are all things brain. The axons are highways and side roads that traverse through our bodies. They cross in predictable places and they carry predictable information. They are critically important, yet fragile all the same. Learning the mystery of the brain has been both rich and exhausting, and if you’ll have me, then I’d like to tell you a story.

It starts with a man and is a story of resilience in the face of hopelessness.

Resilience is the ability to spring back, to adapt to change, to grow out of the dust of defeat and to keep going when everything else around you is yelling for you to get down. 


This man came to us as part of our psychiatry course. This is how it works:

  • The school puts out a call for volunteers to be interviewed by students.
  • A volunteer shows up on the prescribed day and enters a room full of 8 medical students and two facilitators, 1 psychiatrist, and 1 psychologist.
  • The volunteer is asked questions about their experiences with Depression, Anxiety, Psychosis, Autism Spectrum Disorder, PTSD, Substance Use to name a few examples.
  • After the volunteer leaves, we discuss their stories as a group with our facilitators.

This man, he entered the room, carrying a cup of coffee and wearing a hat with the words “Resist”. His wide eyes sagged like he hadn’t been sleeping well and he told us a story of assault, depression, and anxiety. This story had twists and turns, frustrations and sorrow. He told us that he attempted suicide, twice. Sleeping two hours a night gave him the dark circles under his eyes and panic grabs hold when he thinks about what his life will be like when his loved ones are gone.

As I listened to him share his story I felt sadness and despair. I thought to myself that this man knows what it’s like to be pushed down and told not to get back up.

When I asked him, “What motivates you to choose to continue living?”, he said my family, my grandchildren. He said, today my depression doesn’t feel that bad. Today is not as dark as yesterday. This man picks himself up and he chooses to brush the dirt out of his scrapes to try again. As I was reflecting on his story and our interview with him I thought to myself, if he can keep going then so should I.

Sometimes I forget how lucky I am to be given the opportunity to be in medical school. Lately, when I feel defeated and beaten down by the number of things there are to learn and the amount of time I have to learn them, I try to remind myself of all the people that are anxiously waiting to hear about an interview. I try to remind myself of the privilege that I am given because, one day, I am going to be a doctor. In moments of doubt and uncertainty, I try to remind myself if he can keep going then so should I.

So, we build resilience. Every time we fall, stand up, rub the dirt out of our scrapes and try again.

“The phoenix must burn to emerge” – Janet Fitch

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.

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.

Denver Bicycle Party

I LOVE puns. Or nerdy jokes/pickup lines. These are very important facts about myself.

In college, I met one of my closest friends and she just gets this about me. For example, we always send each other those memes with cats on them making chemistry jokes, like this one here and more here

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My sisters also get the pun obsession. We are always trying to come up with creative ways to say something and usually crack ourselves up in the process. [I am a strong believer in the necessity of laughing at your own jokes]

A few weeks ago my older sister Anna was texting me and trying to come up with a name for her birthday bike ride. A quick google search of bicycle puns didn’t help much with the title but gave us an excellent start for the description. The idea of this party was to have a “wheely good time” while biking around Denver, CO to various local breweries*. We would ride until we were “two-tired” to keep going. Get it?

Saturday morning we met up with our squad of riders and kicked off the festivities with champagne shot skis and mimosas. Shot ski technique is simple – try to be the same height as your team, don’t spill.


After pumping up our tires and eating a well-rounded meal of waffles and waffles, we buckled our helmets and headed to the first stop – Cerebral Brewing. Located east of downtown Denver, Cerebral has a neat vibe. They play on the intellectual side of brewing beer and display Petri dishes growing yeast on the inside tables! I’m pretty sure I got the beer – “Muscle Memory” – and I’m pretty sure it was delicious!

The next stop, Black Shirt Brewing! We biked there via City Park and Race Street where our group freely took up the whole street, grooving to good music and laughing because:

bikes + beer + sunshine = fun.

Black Shirt Brewing is located in RiNO with an awesome back patio where barrel sitting is a must. While the kitchen wasn’t open when we were hanging out, they had a GRAND OPENING for their pizza kitchen this week, April 19th. What could be better than a slice of pizza to wash down their beer?

The third and final stop on our beer tour was Ratio Beerworks. Alright, this place is cool. They have a fun vibe and the beer is fantastic. This was also the only stop that I ordered IPA which is my favorite type of beer so that may have influenced that statement….

Anyhow, out back is corn hole, lots of space to gather, and on the curb was a grilled cheese food truck for all of our hunger needs. All in all, a 10/10 day.


Where would you go on a bike tour of your town? Coffee shops, restaurants, breweries, ice cream stands – the possibilities are endless!

*obviously, if you choose to drink and ride your bike – ride responsibly!


 

 

Lists

If I don’t post my Atlanta bucket list, do I still leave Atlanta?
This is the struggle and lately it’s been a constant battle of emotions in my head and heart. I am beyond thrilled to be going home. I am thrilled to breath the mountain air and to be in a place, knowing I am taking the next steps towards my dream. Yet, I am sad to be leaving. It seems like it’s too soon. I’m just beginning to feel known and moving back to Colorado feels a little bit like starting over. I’ll be in the same city, but a different me [also, my new roommates are the rents, but they will probably have more fun than me with all my studying. I’ll be asking them when they’ll be home…]

I would be lying if I said that I haven’t changed at all since I arrived in Georgia. I’m thankful for these changes because each and every one of them have made me stronger. They have taught me how to better love one another. They have taught me to have my own opinion and worry less about what other people say. This adventure has taught me about risk, but most importantly about trust. Trust that He will provide and equip us with the necessary things to go out and honor Him.

If you are laying in bed wondering if you should move to another state, run the marathon, start the blog, change your job, travel to another country or whatever else is challenging you right now the answer is yes. Do it. Take that leap of faith.


Here is my Atlanta Bucket List – places to go and food to eat before I leave the City in the Forest. There is room for improvement so write any other ideas you have in the comments! I will update this post as I cross things off the list —-

Places to Eat:

  • Home Grown
  • Ria’s Bluebird
  • Buford HWY
  • Heirloom BBQ
  • Flying Biscuit

Places to Hike:

  • Max Patch, NC ✔️
  • Cumberland Island
  • Providence Canyon
  • AT Approach Trail ✔️
  • Lulu Lake Land Trust
  • Springer Mountain ✔️
  • Brass Town Bald
  • Yonah Mountain ✔️
  • Tallulah Gorge Floor

Other Places to Go and Things to Do:

  • BAPS Shri swaminarayan mandir Atlanta
  • North Georgia vineyard ✔️
  • Braves Baseball Game
  • Savannah
  • Find rooftop views of downtown
  • PCM farmers market
  • Picnic @ Piedmont Park
  • See pandas in Atlanta

Photos are from my latest excursion – the AT Approach Trail from Amicalola Falls to Springer Mountain, and back. This was a challenging – long – hike that had decent elevation variability and is possibly my favorite hike in Georgia to date. We had fantastic weather and completed the hike in ~6 hours! As I prepare for the Ultimate Hike at the end of April this was definitely good training.

Escapades at the Polar Star Inn


We started off strong at the trailhead; packs strapped to our backs, skins on our skis, boots locked in. With one foot in front of the other we glided along the road, slowly climbed up into the trees and away from the car. The weather was prime, not too cold-not too hot, with the sun barely peaking out from the clouds. It looked like snow was on the way.

About 1 mile in on this 6 mile ski we started to have boot problems. I guess that’s the price you pay for only doing a big backcountry trip 1x per year. The skin on our feet was fresh – asking to be rubbed raw. To try to prevent and further blistering we stopped to apply moleskin/electrical tape to the affected areas [Side note – in a trial between electrical tape versus athletic tape for bandaging needs athletic tape wins].

Fast forward down the road to the turnoff @ Nolan Creek. We stopped for a few drinks of water, to ditch a layer of clothing, and refresh ourselves for the final 2 mile stretch. Based on the trail information we were about to climb steeply through an Aspen glade, turn onto an old jeep road, and then finally around the bend would be the hut – the Polar Star Inn. It was here at the turn in the trail that I decided to eat an orange. Such an innocent little cutie that tasted refreshing on my tongue, however less than 5 minutes later I was not feeling so hot. 1 minute later and my orange painted the snow. Poor Leah, she also yakked, and so began the #yakpak. We would try to recruit members for the rest of the trip.

Aside from up-chucking the entire contents of my stomach on the side of the trail I felt fantastic afterwards. We tightened our straps and set off for the last remaining miles. Through the Aspen glades and Pine forest switchbacks ran up the mountain. Always a manageable slope but always hard. I could hear my heart beating in my chest and my breathing become labored as my muscles worked to bring me closer to warmth – one slide at a time. At some point [I’m not really sure where] my legs became so very tired. I remember counting to 100 steps in my head. To me this seemed manageable. I thought, “I know I can take 100 steps. After I do that I can rest, or keep going”. 100+ steps later and we rounded the bend with this beauty in our sights – I have hardly seen anything more wonderful.

We spent the next few days exploring the area [ahem, skiing fresh POWda], playing hearts, eating tasty stew, sauna-ing, and staying incredibly warm due to a wood-burning stove.

What I came to realize on this trip is that there is immense power in pushing ourselves outside of our comfort zones. When I was first learning to ski again [after a brief hiatus on the snowboard] someone told me that in order to learn control you need to experience the feeling of being out-of-control. Now, I urge you to practice this safely…but he was right! You don’t definitively know your one-rep max in weight lifting until you attempt the damn-thing and totally fail. This is where your limit lies and signifies where we can grow.

As we approach the new year, I want to remind myself of what it means to step out and enter the ring. I can expect some of what 2017 will bring [moving back to Colorado, starting medical school, traveling to Thailand], but I know there will be lots of surprises in between. Bring it on 2017!

Breath In

2016 is winding down rapidly and like the whirlwind this year has been we will soon find ourselves in 2017. I cherish the changing of the seasons and the new year both as time to reflect. Time to look back, think deeply, then celebrate extravagantly how far we’ve come. There’s hardly anything I love more than raising a glass to the wonderful experiences and people in my life.

Cheers to the moments this year that brought you closer with your loved ones.

Cheers to the new experiences you tried and failed at, but then tried again.

Cheers to being strong, to working hard, to connecting.

Cheers to following your dreams and realizing that sometimes  all the time, timing is everything.

Cheers to laughter.


In the final weeks of 2016 I’m heading back home to CO. My suitcase holds more yoga pants, snow gear, and ski socks than it does regular clothes. I can’t wait for the adventures and laughs to come. I’ll probably write about them here later – until then, have a very merry christmas and maybe try your hand at the following recipe! My friend Haley made this for me and now I’m hooked —

Golden Milk [serves 1]:

Heat on the stove ~1 cup almond milk.

Sprinkle in a dash of cinnamon, ginger, and tumeric.

Mix until combined and simmering.

Top with marshmallows and serve with a cinnamon stick.

Happy Holidays!