Bear with me. This will be a long post.
First semester of med school done. 1/8 of a doctor! One-eighth of the path done. Several versions of this exploded across my Facebook that Friday as my classmates and friends from my med school and other med schools finished their last exams.
It was a gloomy and cold day. The clouds were pregnant with rain and the grayness loomed over the hospital buildings. Despite the weather though, there were face-splitting grins and bone-breaking hugs being exchanged. Talks and whispers of winter plans and how we’re going to celebrate tonight were the only things you could hear in the hallways and outside the lecture halls. It was going to be the first night in a very long time when we would not have one reading, one lecture, one flashcard on our minds.
For the past two weeks, all we’ve done is sat in front of our computers, our cadavers, our notes, and our flashcards and memorized, memorized, memorized. My roommate and I would break into hysterical giggles by the end of the night when we’ve realized that all we’ve done was wake up, crawl out of bed, into our chairs, open our laptops, and then continue assaulting our brain with info. I’m sure we looked fantastic that week!
Memorizing was such a habit to us by now. The night we were done, my friends and I found ourselves trying to memorize each other’s phone numbers in the car as we drove to the restaurant. After one of my friends pointed it out, we all stopped and then burst out into laughter.
It’s amazing to think about how much we’ve crammed into our brains. Incredible to realize how much information our minds could store. But besides anatomy, Kreb Cycle, medical ethics, T cells, B cells, bacteria, viruses, and parasites, what else have I learned?
1] I’ve learned to deeply respect those who donate their bodies to science.
Almost three years ago, I visited a Plastinarium in Guben, Germany and had the opportunity to walk through and see so many different sculptures. Bodies and models depicting blood vessels, muscles, bones, ligaments, and multiple cross-sections. All, of course, from bodies donated. But even after seeing that, my appreciation to those donors never bloomed until I was elbows deep into the bodies dissecting around and revealing the different structures. It really has been such an honor to be able to experience and partake in human dissection.
2] I’ve learned how complex but beautiful our bodies are.
There were so many times in anatomy lab where my partners and I would get so tired of just standing there and cutting off fat layer after fat layer. Our eyes would stray to my partner’s watch and our backs and fingers would ache. But then we would reveal a beautiful artery or a fascial layer and suddenly the fire was reignited again and we were back it with renewed vigor (my favorites remain the splenic artery and arcuate line of the rectus sheath – don’t ask me why).
3] I’ve learned how important it is to hold onto your hobbies. Sometimes you need to choose life over work to hold onto who you are.
The work keeps coming. The lectures never stop and the handouts just keep getting longer. Thus, there were many times where my roommate and I just threw our hands up in the air and decided to call the day off (especially after anatomy labs). Merely to rest our brains and come back at it fresh the next day. It’s healthy. It’s good. Frankly, it’s necessary. And that is also why I continue to blog. Writing was a huge part of me before medical school, and I plan on it being a huge part of my med school/career.
4] I’ve learned how crucial a support system is.
I cannot even began to explain my gratitude to my parents, my brother, my cousins, and all of my friends. Every encouraging e-mail, call, and text have meant the world to me. And I really don’t know where I would be without my med school family. In a matter of months, we’ve all managed to become super close and keep each other sane throughout the process, and I really could not ask for a better group of friends.
5] I’ve learned that one day we WILL be putting this information to use on real-life patients.
The clinical cases we read are interesting. But that’s it when we read it on paper – just interesting. A foreign concept we need to put into our brains. But then we meet face to face patients that actually suffer those conditions, and suddenly interesting becomes real and a little terrifying. In our heads we go from a student pouring over books to a doctor standing in front of a patient – a person who is relying on you to get their diagnosis right and to know their treatment options. The patient interviews, the preceptorships, and volunteering at student clinics – these have all made medicine real for us this semester.
6] And above all, I’ve learned that even when you tell yourself you can’t, you can.
What more can I ramble on about that? Simple fact.
But what other fun things have I learned? Well, I’ve learned that formaldehyde is almost impossible to wash out of your scrubs completely, the concept of dressing up seems very foreign after spending a week in hibernation inside in sweats studying, the best part of the day is food, you have to celebrate every exam with drinks, choosing where to eat is quite a dilemma, associating food with body parts is completely normal and acceptable dinner conversation, little things like grocery shopping becomes annoying, when you place free food amongst ravenous med students – it becomes a battlefield, falling asleep anywhere is a scary concept because you don’t want your picture taken, coffee becomes the lifeline of some people, seeing interviewees every Monday makes your day because at least you’re not at that stage anymore, hunting down a library room is quite the task, the world outside the med school bubble appears alien, I have such amazing classmates with interesting backgrounds, the scent of coffee now that the semester is over makes me nauseous, and I officially cannot stand eating Subway.
Now that it’s the end of the semester, I’ve allowed myself to flip through a small journal I’ve kept on me. It was a journal to record hilarious quotes and moments between friends and I and also a place where I could store pieces of inspiration I’ve learned from others. The pages turned my lips upwards. Despite all the stress we’ve been through, I can’t help but be thankful because wow, what a life we live. How fortunate are we to experience such an education and gain amazing friends and mentors from it too.
So cheers to us for completing our first semester, and I hope everyone has a safe, wonderful break! Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!