This weekend I tried to move slowly. I will spend all week
moving somewhat obsessively and efficiently from one task to the
next. I look forward to the weekend because I don't have to be
anywhere at any particular time with my brain on and ready to go.
Despite this, it's ridiculously hard to slow down after moving
through life at such a clip. I had to make a sincere effort to have
an unhurried shower on Friday evening. I had no plans, and yet I
was operating like I had better soap up quickly so I could rinse
off fast and move on to the next task. The weekends are supposed to
be my reprieve from go-go-go! I'm not kidding guys; I had to
actually think about lathering shampoo with patience.
While we're talking about unicorns and
(Image source: www.twisteddoodles.com)
Why move so fast in the first place? I would prefer to go
through life at a relaxed pace, but medical school is the perfect
storm of lots of time required for sitting in class and for
learning stuff, and high expectations for doing it well. I was
blessed/cursed with the ability to move quickly, as will happen
when you grow up with ambitious parents in a progressive Boston
suburb. Because of this, I can all too easily accelerate to match
the flow of med school traffic and maintain that speed.
Part of the reason I am drawn to massage and bodywork is that a
general attitude of peace and flow permeates such treatments. If I
want to give a good treatment, I must relax into the spa music and
foster an environment that allows my client to relax. I reap the
benefits of relaxation when I meet my client where they are, ready
to slow down and be quiet.
My home office, set up to practice massage and in doing so,
calm my mind.
On the other side of things, an inescapable aspect of working in
the ND clinic is that an air of quick anxiety permeates, especially
on certain days. It can be hard to come in to work a 2-hour
hydrotherapy shift and create a bubble of calm in the midst of an
existing sizzling atmosphere. I have found that if I can channel
that massage mindset and embody the feeling I'd like my patient to
get from their hydrotherapy treatment, the whole appointment goes
much more smoothly. If I succumb to the tension that lurks in the
clinic hallways, I have a harder time taking blood pressure, or I
forget to heat the hot towels for my transition phase of
constitutional hydro. Sometimes it takes this little moment of poor
planning or fumbling with my stethoscope to realize that I am
letting every one else's fervor drive my thoughts and actions.
In a recent appointment, I sensed that my patient was a little
more on edge than usual. Before entering the room again after
checking in with my clinician, I took a deep breath and made up my
mind to fill my being with the word "compassion." I moved more
slowly as I pushed gentleness out in front of me in an effort to
dissipate the angst I'd sensed earlier. And you know, I think it
I'll admit that pushing a positive emotion ahead of me, or
embodying a feeling or a word in order to change the feel of a
space and support a patient, is exhausting. However, I know it has
to be like anything else; practice will certainly make it easier
and self-care (physician heal thyself) has never been more
I've been both praised and questioned for my optimism. The
skeptical people want to know why I am so positive, especially in
the midst of finals, for example. My answer is that while it might
be tiring, I can always sleep. It is easier to be happy than to be
sad. It serves me so much better to look at the bright side than to
wallow in the fog. You can approach medical school as if it is a
dark and scary beast, or you can make it into a giant, shiny
unicorn that might blind you or run you over if you aren't willing
to grab it by the horn and ask for help. Yeah, I like that; medical
school is a huge unicorn. I think I'll stop there.
Ugh, guys and gals, it's been a tri! I'm sitting here trying to
bang out a meaningful blog post for my loyal readers and... turns
out the only thing I can focus on is that I am surrounded by three
loads of unfolded laundry (clean at least, thank goodness) and
that's just the start of what's not getting done around here...
My mom would be mad -- sitting in my messy room, mustering
energy to do lots of things.
What week in the tri is it? I keep trying to write a comment
about it being "that week" of the tri, and to quote my fellow ND
student friend Wendy, "I just can't even." I keep telling myself
that taking boards in week 4 or 5 (or whenever that was) is why I'm
all out of sorts, but really, it's just that med school is med
school is med school, and there's just no changing that.
Classic medical student portrait -- sleepy and
In the summer I wrote about the unbeautiful part of being a
naturopathic medical student. That was the last time I had ice
cream for dinner and even though it's not exactly ice cream
weather, tonight's lookin' like its time for a repeat.
Enough complaining! What I HAVE managed to do lately is this: I
get out of bed every morning! I put on clothes, and I think I
always look presentable, if maybe, occasionally, a little weird.
Each morning I succeed in making myself coffee, and if I had a "To
Do List," I would almost always put a satisfying check next to
"make breakfast." But, it's a good day if I manage to actually eat
the breakfast without also doing two other things simultaneously;
I'm usually taking bites between packing a lunch and scrambling to
gather up all my things.
I can say with confidence that each weekday I make it to campus!
Yes! I am proud to say that I stay awake in class, and I almost
always know which room I'm supposed to be in, and when. Also, I
generally always know what's going on in lecture, although... I
have my days.
Today, when taking a blood pressure I struggled to multiply 17
by 4. It's OK, not all doctors can do math every single time,
Some days seem unbelievably long, and others I just wish, wish,
wish could extend by just an hour or two! If you had an extra hour
in the day, what would you do with it? I used to say, "Yoga!" Now,
I would sleep. I would definitely sleep. I used to think sleeping
was for the faint of heart. I'm not sure anyone could get through a
medical education without a strong heart, and so, my views have
Speaking of strong hearts, I am surrounded by them and
Hallelujah! If it weren't for my friend Blaine's reliable punchy
sarcasm, Wendy's big grin and occasional colorful language, Tina's
quick laugh, Mallory's eager smile, Abdulla's kind eyes, Lisa's
happy conversation, and Brad's constant confidence, I might have
imploded by now. And these are only the people I see the most
often! I have so many other fellow student friends who keep me
laughing, who commiserate with me, and who help me talk through my
thoughts everyday. Thank you all! You guys rock.
Sigh. Thank you for reading about my blunders and my teeny, tiny
daily successes. Now I think its time for that ice cream
I spend a lot of time looking at the sky. When I lived in the
West, I realized that a big sky makes me feel that anything is
possible and that I can never understand it all. I adore this
feeling. I desire to be outside of my comfort zone as often as
possible; so much so that at times I've had to give up and retreat
to calmer waters.
I spend a lot of time looking at the sky. Sunrise on my
morning commute last week.
On a long weekend during my first year at NUHS, before the
program had a chance to wear me thin, my partner and I set out on a
camping and fishing trip to Wisconsin's driftless region. We
meandered through farmland and found our camping spot as the clouds
were gathering, no big deal. We'd once tried to camp at Vedauwoo
near Laramie, Wyoming, in late October with a wicked, biting wind
that threatened both to snow and to overturn our tent. When we
realized they'd shut off the water and closed up all facilities for
the season, we gave up.
My partner Hanzi tying flies at our kitchen table over the
weekend, caused this story to surface.
On this particular trip in Wisconsin, we made dinner over our
camp stove as the rain picked up. We ate our rice and beans on the
tailgate to stay dry. As the downpour intensified, we climbed into
our tent earlier than expected and snuggled into the center, trying
not to touch the wet walls.
At 1 a.m., the 5th drop of water landed on my face and I
realized my sleeping bag was totally soaked; our tent was no longer
waterproof and the Midwestern thunderstorm was still raging. Soaked
and sleepy, we sloppily disassembled our tent and crammed all the
sopping wet sleeping stuff into the trunk and slunk out of the
campsite, our tails between our legs.
The fishing the next day was terrible. The streams ran high
with mud. You can see our soaking wet camping gear piled in
We drove a wide-open rural highway with lightning cracking all
around us in the longest, loudest and most spectacular streaks I've
ever seen. This was some thunderstorm! If you've never experienced
one, do come study naturopathic medicine at National. If you've not
chosen our school for the strong philosophy and awesome
collaborative learning environment, then do at least choose it for
After a drive through the downpour and lightning, we checked
into the only room left at the nearest hotel, a suite with a hot
tub in the corner and the fluffiest king size bed ever (save for
that one that enveloped me during that bout of food-poisoning I got
in Banff, Canada after eating scrambled eggs at the airport. Don't
ever eat scrambled eggs at the airport.)
When you're in medical school, you pretty much can't do these
adventurous, uncalculated things. They squash that tendency to toss
logical thinking to the wind (like setting up camp in the midst of
a deluge) in the process of teaching us to be responsible doctors.
I don't mean my professors tell me to stay out of the rain. I mean
that medical school in general takes you away from the fun stuff by
sucking you dry of energy and sitting you down for some serious
business. It's all worth it though, I promise.
I may not be able to adventure, but I guess my education does
cause me to constantly move beyond my comfort zone. Each new class
I take demands that I commit to memory information I've never known
before. When I see a sim patient, I have no idea what to expect and
have to dive in ready to grapple with whatever story they tell me.
This is undoubtedly like the real world of doctoring and so I rest
assured; I totally AM in the right place.... If doctoring is a
process of continually stepping out of your comfort zone while
seeking the patterns that help you find your way to healing a
patient, then I think I'm on to something.
Really though, I already knew I was in the right place before
writing this rambling essay on thunderstorms and airport eggs and
squished adventures. I came to naturopathic medicine because I
thrive on the different stuff. Our medicine is not well known but
it is intelligent. Our medicine is not entirely understood in
reductionist terms, but it works from a place of truth. Camping in
the rain is not a comfortable choice, but it does make for a good
Here I sit, on a plane bound for Chicago after a weekend on the
East Coast, listening to the air from the blower overhead and the
rushing outside the window as we taxi. The deicers blast the window
inches from my face with a heavy spattering sound. The engines roar
a little louder and I think of the rattle my cousin's smiling,
blonde 1-year-old used to fill my ears this morning.
At this past week's Nu Delta Sigma meeting, Nadene introduced us
to sound healing as presented in the book, "Tuning the Human
Biofield," by Eileen McKusick. I was the lucky recipient of a sound
experiment from my friend John, a brilliant healer and
doctor-in-the-making. You might call us crazy, but when was the
last time you checked in with the sounds in your life? It had been
a while for me.
The sim patient I saw this week in my Advanced Clinical Problem
Solving class complained of tinnitus, a rushing sound in his ears,
and was nearly deaf. This was the only abnormal finding on physical
exam as we searched for clues to the cause of his dizzy, vomiting
spells. When I made kale for dinner on Wednesday night, the leaves
squeaked when I stripped them off their stalks. The sound reminded
me of lemons and a crisp, cold, clear evening with a sky full of
stars, when the frozen snow sings underfoot.
So excited to be out skiing in celebration of one of my very
(She taught me to suck my thumb when I was 2.)
When I rode the chairlift at Cranmore Mountain in New Hampshire
with my childhood friends over the weekend, the chairs clunked as
only chairlift chairs do each time you reach a tower. I reveled in
the swish of skis and the crunch-pop of poles into snow, the whoosh
and shudder of skiers of various skill levels as they rocket
downhill beside you. There were also those split seconds of silence
when I caught a little air and my skis left the snow, allowing me
to hear only the wind in my ears.
Beautiful bluebird day in the White Mountains! There are my
friends, waving at me from the lift.
On Sunday morning, I listened to the coffee maker grumble and
splurt that divine bitter stuff into the pot. The bottle of
champagne made an adorable pop! And we toasted our friend, a
bride-to-be. We thanked her for bringing together such an
intelligent, fun, active and clever group of young women. Our
glasses clinked! I am back at school now, refreshed and
All the lovely, intelligent women in our PJs, toasting our
So now I sit here typing, my fingers trickling across the keys
making that distinct blipping sound with each letter. I spend so
much time using my eyes and my hands to observe and palpate in
medicine, but I haven't engaged nearly enough with my ears. The
more blood pressures I take and the more lungs I auscultate, the
more familiar those healthy sounds become. I listen to the normal
sounds in hopes that I'll recognize when they are different, when
the lungs pop or crackle or gurgle and tell me something about the
environment inside my patient.
So, I guess the exact name for this new lunar year in the
Chinese calendar is up for debate. What's not debatable is the fact
that I went to a (belated) Chinese New Year party on Saturday and
ate a delicious hotpot with ingredients sourced from Chicago's
China Town. Yummy! I also tried my hand (mouth?) at a Chinese
blowgun and wore house slippers.
Hotpot! (The little mushrooms were the most delicious
According to both the New York Times and NPR, the English translation of this year's
Chinese animal is fuzzy. "Yang" may mean a sheep, a goat, or a ram.
The sheep/goat/ram debate seems to be a uniquely American and
European problem. Throughout Asia, most people are settled on what
exactly the word "yang" represents for them, often depending on
which one of these animals lives in that particular region and
whether they do good or bad things for the ecosystem.
Party host Reed taking aim with the blowgun
For example, I learned that in Mongolia, this year is likely be
regarded as the year of the sheep, as opposed to the goat, which is
known for eating not only the grass but also the roots, leaving no
grass for the following year. Thus, the sheep is more auspicious
and one's ancestors would surely name a year for the animal that
leaves opportunity for growth.
As part of our naturopathic training, we take an Intro to
Chinese Medicine class in our third trimester. The course provides
an excellent segue for those ND students who are considering a dual
Oriental Medicine at NUHS. The information we learn in this
class barely grazes the surface of Chinese medicine, but it does
give us the capacity to converse with its practitioners based on
our rudimentary understanding of the substances, organs, elements,
and patterns used in Chinese medicine. We are taught to analyze a
case to determine imbalances in yin/yang, internal/external,
cold/hot, and deficiency/excess.
Pulled out my old notes on Chinese Medicine for a
After much debate in my third tri here at NUHS, I realized that
studying in the OM program was not for me. Many of my ND peers are
working toward dual degrees and take night classes in the
Acupuncture/Oriental Medicine program. I hear fabulous things about
the professors and the program as a whole! If you're curious about
the master of science programs in acupuncture and oriental medicine
here at National, don't hesitate to jump over to Juli's blog
and read about it!
As for the rest of the naturopathic medical schools, I believe
that the Canadian colleges include more training in Chinese
medicine in their curriculum than do the American schools because
parts of Canada include acupuncture in their ND licensure. Another
note to make about this overlap between naturopathic medicine and
Chinese medicine is that as NDs we have the opportunity to sit for
an acupuncture-specific board exam when we take NPLEX Part 2. If
you want to practice in certain Canadian provinces, Arizona or
Kansas, I believe you must sit for this board exam. In order to sit
for this add-on exam, you must have upwards of 200 credits in
acupuncture/oriental medicine. At NUHS, this means you must enroll
in 7 specific courses in the AOM program. I looked into all of this
because I intended to take every add-on board available to me when
it comes time to do so, but in the end I decided I was unlikely to
end up in Arizona or Kansas or most of Canada, and if I do end up
in one of these places I'll tackle that obstacle when I come to
In the meantime, I'll be making an effort to embody these
qualities of our new Year of the Sheep (/goat/ram): avoid pessimism
and hesitation, be kind-hearted, clever, tender, and compassionate.
Happy New Year to you all!
• Leaves, Flowers, Berries, and Bark
• Farmer's Market
• Should I Study Massage Therapy, Too?
To read older blog posts, scroll to the bottom and click the "Older Posts" button.