Monday, July 25, 2011


I don’t like new highlighters. I rely on good highlighters to carry me through medical school’s wordy and often cryptic prose. In a literal and beautiful way, highlighters add color. Add balance. But new can be frustrating. Yes, new embodies the anticipation of unraveling long-awaited treasures on the eve of change. New is progress, growth, flourish and potential, all waiting to be uncapped. But new is also awkward.
It’s a green excitement that bleeds through your pages with good intentions—where subtleties are underscored with thick lumbering strokes yearning for a more seasoned grace. But that grace is not today. No, today my newness remains emerald in approach yet spinach in execution. Bold in enthusiasm, but slim in experience. With patience, with work, I have faith that green can one day soften into sage. But today, green is still green. It bleeds, it stains, it awaits tomorrow. This is the experience of learning—learning to provide, to perform, to care, and to comfort. Learning to highlight. Green is the journey of medicine as a third-year student.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Statistically Speaking

I reclaimed my life a few weeks ago. After three months in academic quarantine, I finally took my medical board exam. The boards are a Faustian rite of passage crafted by some black angel of medicine—an 8-hour standardized test designed to crush your soul in preparation for clinical rotations. Or in the words of the masseuse I visited afterwards, “Holy cow. Why do they do that to you guys?” But I forded the river, kept my oxen alive, and lived to see Oregon without too many of my kids dying from dysentery (see below). So for this, I am grateful.
To be sure, there are plenty of things I’d rather do than reminisce about 3 months in preparation for multiple-choice hell. But in the same way a masseuse might untwist the knots you’ve accumulated in your back, I thought reflecting on some of the highlights and lowlights (they are the same thing) of studying could purge myself of some pent-up demons. So I present to you my stats:
Money spent on coffee in 3 months: $95.58
Plants that died because I forgot to water them: 2 small plants, 1 tree
Plants I am going to buy in the near future: 0 (lesson learned)
Hours spent listening to Jay Z’s “Dream” on repeat: 18.65
Practice questions/cases seen: 4073
Practice patients that I killed: 861 (disproportionate numbers died from misdiagnosed infections or drug-related mismanagement. It was devastating losing the little ones.)
Most consecutive hours spent in the library: 16 (This was an accident. And a tragedy. Tiffany dropped me off on this fateful morning, got held up late at work, and as a result, I was stranded without a ride home. A resident who was studying for Step 3 shared a desk with me for 12 of those hours. As he left he wished me luck, eyes glowing with pity.)
Books I read outside of board-review texts: 0
Time it took me to finish my first book after taking the boards: 2 days
The feeling of picking up that first book in 3 months without having a highlighter in the other hand: priceless
Highlighters that gave all their juice to my cause: 4
My favorite color highlighter: trusty neon yellow (this guy is a warrior)
My favorite pen: blue ballpoint at first, red later on (the color of rage)
Recently, I’ve been fighting to reclaim those parts of my life that I’ve forfeited for many months. Because by mid-June before my test, I had gracefully spiraled into a deep, dark place where the light of perspective no longer shined. I found this the best place to study. At one point, I even confided jokingly to a friend that I would sacrifice my firstborn for a respectable 3-digit score. We laughed even though we both knew I was mental. I’m trying not to be mental. I tried frantically after my test to pack in enough time in the sun, the waves, and the company of friends and family before the start of my third year. Naturally, third year started without regard to time spent doing happy things. So for now, it’s back to the coffee, the highlighters, and yes, the library. Back to chasing heftier stats and higher scores. It seems like all I can do is clutch whatever brief moments of sanity I am afforded and grasp on tight to perspective even as I slip from one relapse to another. I guess I'm okay with that. In fact, I'm grateful for it. Maybe I'm mental.

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