Archive for tag: campus life

Storytelling, Salamanders, and Sol

A few weeks ago, before she left us (sad face) for her new position as an Assistant Dean in the Naturopathic Program at the University of Bridgeport, Dr. Stephanie Draus organized for a woman who calls herself Comic Nurse to come speak to us during a Tuesday lunch hour. Comic Nurse told us about how she uses comics with her patients and with the medical students she teaches at Northwestern to help tell the story of the healthcare experience. Whether it is getting patients to express their frustration with their doctors, or helping doctors-to-be address their anxieties about their future, comics have proven to be a remarkably effective form of expression.

Photo of hand drawn comic

Many of us think of comics as funny things that make us laugh, and with good reason, the adjective means, "to cause laughter." But we are talking about the noun here, and the noun is a form of storytelling that involves words and pictures and lets the storyteller use imagery to express those things that are sometimes too hard to express with words alone.

You can probably tell that I like using words to process my struggles and tell my stories. Some weeks though, those words just don't flow like I'd expect them to. I have the modern day equivalent of a trash can overflowing with crumpled up papers; too many untitled WORD docs in my "student blog" folder laden with half-sentences and stories that never came to fruition. Now I know an alternative outlet to get my creativity flowing!

No matter which medium you use, storytelling is a powerful tool for learning, for self-discovery, for communication, and for teaching. In PT Modalities class a few weeks back, Dr. Hill told us a story about chopping the legs off a salamander and then re-growing them with the application of therapeutic Microcurrent. So of course I remember that Microcurrent is indicated for tissue healing and repair! The rescue of quadriplegic salamanders is a pretty great memory tool.

Photo of hand drawn comic and McKenzie
My study comics, Piper and Sun King

I also tell stories to remember my botanicals. For a recent quiz, I had to remember Solidago virgaurea; common name Golden Rod, used for urinary tract infections and colds with a runny nose, and sometimes mistaken for ragweed in allergies. I associate the word Sol with Sun. So, there's this BIG sun god with a golden scepter and he's a super powerful diuretic/aquaretic! (This god always has to pee.) If you look at him directly, you'll start sneezing like crazy and you'll need him to cure your snuffles. You could think you're allergic to him, but you're probably wrong, this sun king doesn't wear rags.

Another favorite Bot Med study story is of Piper methysticum (common name, Kava.) Piper is an aging socialite in NYC who drinks too much wine while she lounges around, sedated on her couch all day, popping muscle relaxants and pining for the elusive man GSH who she loves but who does not love her back. Piper is also sad because she has a urinary tract infection and is very worried about her skin. As you can see, there is a lot going on here with Piper, so I'll spare you the medical translation.

Photo of comic on desk in LRC
Reading some medical comics in the LRC

Storytelling is one of the very best ways to remember and to process emotions, two things we must do often as medical students. If you're more of an artist than a wordsmith, try like Comic Nurse does and draw the story. Or, if you're neither good with a pencil nor crafty with words, screw it, try either one! Because it doesn't matter if the sentences are simple or if the characters are stick figures, what matters is self-expression and creative learning.

The Unbeautiful

All this talk of having found my path in life, the indications that I am "doing the right thing," the gallantry of studying medicine outside of our current paradigm, all the fun being had outside of class, and I forget to show you the unbecoming parts. Isn't that one of the major faults of social media? We share the beautiful pictures, post the good news, write the meaningful stuff.... But a capacity for occasional self-deprecation is pretty important; we're all fallible, and the journey is not always beautiful.

My grades this tri haven't been as satisfying as previous ones. I feel I haven't studied as regularly as I should (maybe the trappings of summer have something to do with it). A few weeks ago I crammed my preparation for a sim-patient and she called me out on it. I rushed through the prep because this was just a practice session; I would not receive a grade for it. To save time and energy when I wrote the instructions for my patient, I used medical abbreviations few non-doctors understand. In our review of my encounter, my sim-patient pointed this out and I responded honestly--I told her I'd banged it out during the boring lecture before this, and knew full well I shouldn't have used those abbreviations, but I did it anyways. She reminded me of the NUHS motto: "Esse Quam Videri" (which means "To be, rather than to seem to be.") Oops, lesson learned.

As for the whole life-outside-the-classroom part, my bathroom gets cleaned only when I can't stand it anymore, same goes for the kitchen. Laundry piles up around our apartment and coffee mugs cluster on any free surface in the living room (especially during midterms and finals)! Cleaning out the fridge recently was terrible; eating healthy food doesn't excuse you from the misery that results from neglecting to toss last month's leftovers. I don't think I've vacuumed my car since I drove it from California two years ago. When my mom came to visit and saw my kitchen sink full of dirty dishes she told me its OK to be messy because I am a busy student. That's some consolation, I guess. Also, last night I had ice cream for dinner because... forget it, no excuses, I just did.

I wasn't kidding about ice cream for dinner...(cherry with chocolate sprinkles)!

I constantly talk about all the things I'm going to do once I'm a doctor. And I don't mean the type of practice I'm going to create and the type of patients I'm going to attract. What occupies my thoughts is what I'm going to do with my time once I've passed that last exam. I talk about the music festivals I'm going to attend, the dinners I'm going to cook, the books I'm going to read. I have visions of a clean home and cooking with pricey ingredients like lamb and wild-caught fish. I also have this funny feeling that these aspirations are going to continue forever; I'll probably always know I'm going to do something wonderful just as soon as I finish with... [fill in the blank]. (Speaking of unbecoming, there are at least 16 I's in this paragraph.)

I want future students who read my blog to think; I want that! They should think, my life as a student will be glorious! It will have meaning! I will have purpose! It will; you will. will also likely fall apart in a few ways. You will have to push yourself to make time to catch up with your best friends because, well, you're so tired and you could be napping instead. Your family will have Sunday dinners and cookouts together while you sit grumbling at your desk, memorizing facts for tomorrow's exam on the bacteria that's potentially growing in their potato salad.

My desk strewn with papers...studying is rarely a photogenic event.

Or, there's always that realization that instead of keeping up with your laundry, you could be sitting still doing nothing for a moment. You could just sit and listen to no one, memorize nothing, share no emotion. I've come to appreciate even more the precious moments of alone time without my books, without anyone to talk to, or smile at, or try to understand. Interactions with people are ultimately what keep me going, but in this messy life of a medical student I am so thankful for Saturday afternoons like this one--home alone amid my mess, writing about the unbeautiful parts and bowing to reality.

On Community (and Chocolates for Breakfast!)

I went home. I flew in and out of Boston on my way to and from a wedding in the Adirondack Park in northern New York. My parents have 2 more weeks to pack before they move out of my childhood home, a place they have lived for the past 30 years. While the home itself is large and lovely, it is really the neighbors that make that place home.


On Sunday night we had our neighborhood grandmother, Mrs. Chris, over for apple pie to celebrate her 80-something birthday. She brought the remainder of a box of chocolates to share and when I asked if she had eaten the others for lunch, she giggled and replied, "Breakfast!"

The Hartnetts, our other neighbors, also came over to sing happy birthday and share dessert. You have to understand that all of this transpired over the course of about 15 minutes; my parents realized they had a pie to eat, Mrs. Chris popped her head in the door on her evening walk, I called my best friend Annie (living momentarily with her parents next door while she and her boyfriend wait for their new apartment to be ready), and within 5 minutes she and her family had walked the 100 yards from their front door to ours. And we had a little party!

After pie, Annie's boyfriend Drew helped my brother with his statistics homework, while Annie and I tried to come up with the perfect caption for the photo of Mrs. Chris and the birthday sparkler in her piece of pie.


This is the community I come from. It explains the high expectations I have for Home, wherever that place turns out to be. I know that Chicago is not my true Home, but while I am here, the NUHS community is serving and supporting me better than I ever imagined it would. I chat with my professors in the hallway and I see them at our botanical garden, on the train, and walking around campus. There is an online community too, on Facebook pages, where my fellow students and our professors post links to relevant articles and information about upcoming seminars, workshops, presentations and club meetings.

The recent improvements on campus at the library and the ongoing work in Janse are providing us with more places to congregate during downtime and create community on campus. You might think that 28 credits and all the work that goes into keeping current in all those classes would leave us little time to engage with our community, but it seems that all that work actually brings us together. We commiserate, we struggle together, and we experience success together. We are a small community of hard workers with similar goals and morals when it comes to healthcare. Some of us come from different states, some of us love Chicagoland, and some of us feel lost in this expansive city, but no matter your perspective on this place as Home, the NUHS community certainly offers a supportive community if you are willing to engage.