Sigh… turning 27 today. I’m trying to not let the number depress me and to just enjoy the celebration and think happy thoughts about the year to come. So, here are 27 things that I either aspire to accomplish or already know I will get to enjoy in my upcoming year…
Now that the majority of my life is spent in a dungeon-like basement of an old building, I truly relish the moments when I can come up for some sun and human interaction. (I don’t count any interactions down there as being human, because my classmates and I all seem to exist in a state of robot-like limbo when we are in the dungeon…) So I like to get my afternoon coffee and sit in a sunny area of the hospital and people-watch and pseudo-study… I’ve found that people in the hospital often feel inspired to strike up conversation with random strangers, so I’ve met a few interesting souls in this way.
Today I was approached by a polite, well-intentioned older gentleman from Nigeria - a spouse of a cancer patient in the hospital. He started out by asking me what I was studying, spoke about his own past as a mathematics professor, and his interest in genetics. Then he asked what I was studying to become and when I explained that I am in medical school here, he looked me up and down and said “But you’re too small to be a doctor!”
What is the appropriate response to a comment like this?
Yes, I am only 5’1″ and I believe that most people would describe me as petite (though I do have a charming friend who seems to really enjoy implying that I’m heavy lately… you know who you are and yes, it is incredibly annoying). And it’s true that I do look a bit younger than I am, or so I’m told… But the first thought I had when this nice gentleman made his remark was that he would NEVER have said that to a man. No matter how short or tall a man is, no one would ever doubt his ability to be a physician just because of his size. But here I am, a tiny woman, and I realize that there will always be people who will second-guess my abilities just because of how I look. Now, I don’t expect that my colleagues in academic medicine will consciously care that I’m a small female. But for my patients and their families… it’s going to be a thing. There will be times where I will be doubted, second-guessed, or even assumed to not be a physician, just because of how I look. Today was such a great reminder of the assumptions that people can bring to the table, even in this modern day and age where there are more female medical students than male.
So how did I respond?
I chuckled and told him that even though I’m small, my brain is enormous. He appreciated that and we ended up having a pleasant chat for awhile. I know he never meant any offense, I don’t hold his comments against him, I just can’t help but wonder how much more my female colleagues and I are going to have to do to legitimize ourselves in this profession in the future, compared to our male counterparts…
Gotta turn to my main man and my favorite play for some support here:
“And though she be but little, she is fierce.” ~ A Midsummer Night’s Dream
I call Uncle.
I am so done with this season and everything about it. Parents, why did you insist on raising me in the Midwest and then moving to the East Coast where the world goes cold and dark and grey for months at a time? Dad, why couldn’t you have taken that job at Vandy? Then I could have grown up with a nice Southern accent and tan skin and a mild demeanor. Instead I have a mouth like a sailor, look like a sad ghost, and feel the completely unnecessary need to let everyone in the world know about it via social media. Can I blame you guys for this one? My brother is the brilliant one here… he escaped to LA and I fear that I will never have the nerve to leave the miserably cold places I know and resent so well.
Today was the icing on the chilled cake. After several months of wintery insults, a nice block of ice ripped off the sole of my shoe as I was walking into school and I have had to limp around the hospital like a pauper all day, because my car isn’t working reliably enough to risk driving home through the snowy roads for another pair. In my annoyance, I have been melodramatically ruminating on the other various perks of this past month in the tundra. Warning: whining ahead…
My roommate and I have been constantly battling an ineffective heating system (and poorly constructed condo), which leaves our place between 52-58 degrees most nights. I have taken two amazingly thorough falls on ice (embarrassingly, in the same place both times…) and have some impressive bruises to show for it. I have missed buses (my normal mode of transportation to school) due to the lack of bus stops in the snow, waited outside in -30 windchill for 30+ minutes for buses that never came, and even got to enjoy a bus driving right past me last week because, presumably, the driver couldn’t see me in the weather. (KGonc, once again, you are my hero for rescuing me that morning!) My car has been randomly choosing to stop running several times a day, though the mechanics can’t find a problem with it… Oh and the best part about the car thing is that over the weekend I left the car at an airport parking service while I was in Boston… and the garage guys took it out for a joyride! There were at least 50 mysterious new miles on the car when I picked it up last night that weren’t there before. I can’t help but wonder whether or not the car broke down on them while they were on their adventure… Can’t wait for the manager to call me back about that. (Am I living in a Ferris Bueller movie??) Oh, and of course all flights have been delayed in the past few months due to snow…
Any way, needless to say, I am really done with winter. Counting down the days until 20 of us escape to a house in Florida for Spring Break (like literally counting them down… 39 to go). In the meantime, at least there are amazing songs (like this, and this, and this) to keep me sane and remind me that the world is still a lovely place… (Right???)
One of the hotter topics in our med school right now (other than the terrifying/amazing game of Assassin that is currently causing many M1s to act like your average paranoid schizophrenic…) is the fact that we recently lost our library and a good chunk of our study space, due to construction. They are building a brand new library/med school that will be completely gorgeous, well-lit, and comfortable… but it won’t be ready until we are M3s and, during the construction, the pre-clinical students have essentially been displaced into a basement. And people are pissed. To be fair, the admins also created a “swing space” for us in the hospital, which is about a 12 minute walk from our lecture halls/labs. Although it has windows (which makes it our only study space with windows, right now…), it is often booked up by other programs and there are only 6 computers and 2 tiny group study rooms in the space, to serve a med school of about 700 students. So most of us have been using the computer labs/limited study space in the basement closer to lectures/labs (which we are affectionately calling “the dungeon”), which has low ceilings and poor lighting, has no cell phone service, and no access to sunlight. And no group study space…
Now, many of my outspoken, ambitious, and endearing classmates have made their disappointment with this situation clear to the administration. We feel like we weren’t told during the admissions process that we would lose our med school for 1.5 years, during our pre-clinical years when reliable study space is so important. Many people feel that they are paying $45000+ in tuition for a product that was promised and not delivered. People have brought up the fact that our sense of community as a class has diminished quite a bit, because we lost our old computer lab/study space where everyone congregated and now people either just don’t come to school or are spread throughout campus, because there is not enough space for all of us to study. My biggest issue, personally, is that I don’t have a reliable place to talk through material with classmates anymore, which is my go-to study method. All I want is a room with a table that will allow us to all look at each other and spread out our papers, some chairs, and a door… maybe even a window and a whiteboard, if I’m feeling really bold… but lately, my friends and I have to spend over 20-30 minutes just wandering through the school/hospital to find open/unlocked rooms that are actually not intended to be study space at all. We are studying in hallways and lecture halls and the hospital cafeteria. Not quite ideal, though I recognize that it could be much worse.
The admins impressively held a Town Hall meeting last week to allow students come voice all of their concerns. I felt so bad for the dean who ran the show… he did a pretty good job fielding the tough questions, apologizing, and explaining that no one anticipated a lot of the issues that came along with the loss of the library and our study space. But he also mentioned that this happened to him when he was in med school and that the expectation was to just suck it up… and it ultimately led to more of a class-bonding experience, presumably because people were united in their disgruntlement. When I mentioned this whole fiasco to my dad, who is a dean at a different med school, his reaction was that we are all whining a bit much about something that will ultimately not really matter, when we look back on our pre-clinical years. So, now I’m curious… Are our concerns valid or are we being a bunch of whiny, entitled brats? Should we let it go and just make the best of our basement or should we continue to push the admins to find us better space to study? How do we sell this to the new applicants who are going to be choosing between our school and other schools with normal resources, like a library? And, as many people have fervently brought up… is it fair for students to be paying full tuition when they no longer have access to all of the resources that students before and after us will have? Interested to hear your thoughts!
(I mean… would it be too much to ask for them to make us one of these overnight??? :P)
In our dreams…
Gotta love this sequence, just for how visibly uncomfortable it has made so many people so far… And how uncomfortably excited it has made others. (Yes, I should probably include myself in the latter category, but, hey, at least I know what interests me!)
Count ‘em, here are the best moments of our Endocrine/Reproduction sequence in Week 1:
- When my (female) small group professor gave a fist-bump to a classmate after he made a joke about penis size.
- When my anatomy professor showed us how to give a pelvic exam on a cadaver… and about five people just immediately turned and walked away at full speed.
- When I saw that ovaries are ACTUALLY the size of almonds. Insane.
- Whenever I walk through our computer lab/study space and the screens are just littered with pictures of genitalia.
- When I study in public, forget that not everyone in the world is in med school, and accidentally leave pictures of genitalia on my computer screen… whoops. Sorry, Starbucks patrons.
- When my anatomy group chose to dissect a penis, although it wasn’t technically part of the dissection. Crazy, fascinating, and traumatizing for a good chunk of my classmates that chose to cluster around when I made that fateful cut.
- When I had this song stuck in my head all week… Wait, maybe that is the worst part of this sequence. (Though Michelle Pfeiffer reaches ultimate BAMF status in that movie.)
- The fact that half of the males in my class seemed to be thinking this throughout the week:
Can’t wait for Week 2!
This has been an intense month. Not much time for writing, reflecting, or even sleeping… But most of the craze has been worth it. We finished up GI, which was a whirlwind of biochem and memorizing random facts I’ve already forgotten. Now we are onto Endocrine/Reproduction, which is right up my alley. (Insert obvious pervy joke here). But really, I think that the endocrine system and definitely the reproductive system are ideal examples of the incredible complexities of the human body. Sometimes I still don’t understand how we are alive at all, let alone able to do all of the amazing things we can do.
Now to the fun part… I dissected a penis today! And testes, which are surprisingly lovely. And it was AWESOME. And yes, it was absolutely cringe-worthy for every male in the lab (and probably the universe)… You should have seen the cringes when our professor uttered the phrase “skin the scrotum”. But I actually found it super fascinating and my interest in urology as a field continues to grow. I can’t say the same for gynecology yet, though our dissection today did make me appreciate the female reproductive system much more than I previously did. Sounds weird, but I really enjoyed learning about the developmental parallels between male and female genitalia. Sometimes it feels like men and women are completely different species, but even our most distinct “bits and pieces” have the same origins and kind of beautifully complement each other.
On that note, I must have my feminist moment of the day, regarding the word pudendum. Though this word can technically refer to any external genitalia, it is most commonly used to refer to the vulva. And it comes from the Latin word pudere, which means “to be ashamed” or “the shameful”… What an interesting, disappointing thing it is to learn that the very medical language used to discuss any body part is shrouded in an air of shamefulness. No wonder my (male) Endocrine professor got all flustered when having to say “vagina” in an unplanned context, in order to answer a student question. We are taught, trained, ingrained to not be comfortable talking about women’s bodies, even in an educational context. Makes me fiercely, defiantly proud to be a woman and somehow regret not being born a man all at once.
Okay, maybe it just mostly makes me defiantly proud…
“What would men be without women? Scarce, sir, mighty scarce…” ~ Mark Twain
Right now we are in the middle of GI “hell week”…. Essentially, that means we have more lectures and labs than any other week in school so far. And I have also had multiple rehearsals every single night for various singing/dancing/acting/pretending-I’m-a-Broadway-star-and-not-a-med-student performances that are coming up soon. It’s been a little overwhelming, to say the least…
So, tonight I made the silly mistake of looking through my journal to see what I was doing at this time 6 months ago. I thought it would be a nice relaxing way to calm my mind before bed… But now I want to cry, because this is what I found:
It is only noon in Italy right now. I am sitting in our lovely courtyard, alone for the first time in 9 days, listening to the belltower tolling in the next town and the bees buzzing around the lavender. And the birds hooting and cicadas singing and the sound of my keyboard clicking. The air smells like jasmine and peaches and damp grass and the sun is shining in down in little patches through the grapevine canopy over my head. Everything is perfect.
I just ate the best fruit I’ve ever tasted. A sweet and fuzzy white peach that we let ripen in the sun over the past two days. I washed it carefully and ate more slowly than I ever let myself eat. The juice ran all down my chin and fingers, even stained the pages of East of Eden, but I resisted all urges to wipe it off. I let myself be sticky and happy and just sat, enjoying. What a rare feeling. For that moment, my only obligation in the entire world was to relish the experience of eating that peach. And in such a lovely environment. Our patio is so idyllic, it looks taken right out of a Thomas Kinkaid painting. Everything from the stone on the villa to the red stone shingles on the roof, to the stone hearth and gate that gives just a glimpse out into the valleys and hills of Umbria beyond. I could not have imagined a lovelier trip than this.
I want to punch that former version of myself and give her a big hug all at once.
Sigh…. I miss you, Umbria.