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.

img_4907

On October 10th, it snowed.

img_4917

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.

img_0639

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?

 

 

Welcome to Phase 2

Last Monday morning, Carley drove up to my house and handed me a pink T-shirt. The back read, “Camp CU SOM” and featured an image of a fire amongst the trees. We were headed for Estes Park, Colorado where we would help welcome 184 new students to the first phase of their medical education.

Contrast orientation from this year to last year and you get a different impression. Nervous, anxious, doubting and self-conscious are all words that you could use to describe me 365 days ago. This year, I was excited, relaxed and carefree. It was refreshing to catch up with classmates after 9 weeks, knowing that we had made it this far; we are MS2’s [medical student, year 2].

As time passes and we reach these arbitrary milestones, it’s comforting to know that we’ve successfully made it over some of the hurdles. I’m not saying that we’ve done it all cleanly. There have been a few times when I’ve crashed hard into the ground, stood up and brushed it off. There will be a few scars by the time medical school is over. Maybe a few extra lines in the furrow of my brow from the late nights in the library and early mornings in lecture, but you know,  we made it past anatomy.

At orientation, I looked around at all of the new faces, knowing that people were nervous, anxious, doubting and self-conscious. I felt for them, but I also felt relieved that I wasn’t in their shoes anymore.

Today, on my first day of the second year, I spilled coffee on myself in the car. Then I walked into the full lecture hall and was immediately overwhelmed by all of the people. I felt alone and short of breath. What happened to the confidence from only one week ago?

Today, on my first day of the second year, I spilled coffee on myself not once, but three times. Is that a sign for the year to come?

Phase 2 is a doozy of a year. We start off with the Nervous System, before moving on to Digestive, Endocrine, Metabolism. Finishing with Life Cycle, Infectious Disease and a 7-week dedicated study period.

This morning I was humbly reminded of the hurdles still out there on the course. Turns out, being a year further in medical school doesn’t mean I’m any less nervous, anxious, or self-conscious.


I’ve decided to write myself a mantra to meditate on this year. A simple reminder of where I have come from and where I want to be in 9 months.

This year will be marked by fearlessness and perseverance. This year will continue to be about showing up and leaning into the challenge of being present. This year we will dare to dream a little bigger and set our sights a little higher.

I challenge you to take a look at your life – Where have you been? Where are you going? Who will you be in 9 months?

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?

Screen Shot 2018-06-05 at 5.25.57 PM

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*

img_3533

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.

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]

IMG_2231.jpg

  • 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.

IMG_2690.jpg

  • 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.

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.