This past week we had a surprise day off! Though not under the
best circumstances (a power outage at the clinic that lasted all
day), we did take advantage of the free time. We went to the Morton
Arboretum! Yes, we'll have to make up those hours "lost" among the
plants rather than in patient care, but that dose of nature did so
much good for me that I'm totally OK with an extra Friday shift
Group Hug! (Thanks to Joe for the picture!)
Kaila, Lisa, Joe, Brad, Blaine, and I carpooled to the Arboretum
once we found out we were free for the day. Mallory met us there a
little while later. We wandered the gardens, explored the old
buildings, ate lunch at the café, and sat for almost an hour in the
library reading old botanical medicine books! This was the nerdiest
and possibly the best part of the day.
I also loved wandering the paths, reading off scientific names
of plants and recalling their medicinal uses. There were many
plants whose names I know but whose medicinal actions I cannot
remember. We vowed to return soon with our bot med notes and do
some real review with the actual plants in front of us.
Strolling at the Arboretum
I've been meaning to visit the Morton Arboretum since I learned
about it when I started here at NUHS 3 years ago. If you can find a
friend who is a member, it is cheaper to visit for the day. If you
can't find a member to tag along with, I suggest paying the $14 (or
on Wednesdays it's only $9!) to explore that beautiful place; it's
totally worth it. The arboretum is a haven for nature-loving folks
in this very suburban area. If you go once you've taken a few bot
med classes, you can study while you're there! I promise, it's
rewarding to see the plants in person and make that mental
connection by touching, smelling and observing medicine as it
exists out in nature.
Reading old botanical medicine books.
Apologies to our patients that we did not get to see that day!
Lucky for you though, we are now more clear-minded thanks to a day
spent in the natural world. Not seeing patients yet? I still
suggest getting outside to clear your mind after these recent
midterms! Oh yeah, everyone else is taking midterms these days,
while I'm over here in 9th tri giving presentations and taking
online, open-note quizzes instead. ~Happy Sigh~
Happy belated Halloween! I think once Halloween has come and
gone, fall has really shown itself and we're officially getting
closer to winter. Winter's impending presence is evident around
here; it has been in the 30s at night. Brrrr! We even had our first
snow last week!
First snow! Early morning on campus
before classes began on Halloween day.
To celebrate Halloween this year, Hanzi and I went out to
support the arts in Chicago. We saw a creepy opera put on by the Third Eye Theatre
Ensemble called "The Medium." The show is about a woman named
Madame Flora who scams customers by putting on fake séances with
the help of her daughter and a "deaf and dumb" boy she has taken
under her wing. When Madame Flora feels icy cold hands grab her
around the neck at one of her séances, she gets terribly scared,
admits her dishonesty and tries to give the people their money
back. But the couple and the mother who have been coming to her
séances to speak with their deceased children are convinced that
Madame Flora has truly helped them to connect with their lost loved
ones, and they fight her on her claims. Her customers say they know
the voice and the laugh of their dead children and she must
continue to help them connect with their dead!
The story is lots of fun and this particular show was put on in
a black box theater, with two rows of seats along two of the walls.
It was incredibly cool to feel that we were participants in the
events taking place in Madame Flora's parlor.
I left this little rhyme outside
our door incase we had any trick-or-treaters come by while we were
It is really very easy to forget our creative side when we are
so busy with school, but taking the time to either make art or
appreciate it brings me so much more alive! This is something I
speak with my other student friends about often; when we're really
dragging we encourage each other to go create something or find
something artistic to enjoy. The experience of using the other half
of our brains seems to really help put everything back in
On the set of "The Medium"
(Photo credit: hanzi d. - www.hanzid.com)
After the Halloween show, as Hanzi and I hustled through the
freezing rain back to our car, we had to make a stop at a bookstore
called Myopic Books. It was 10:15 p.m. and the glowing
red 'OPEN' sign in the window was intriguing. The place was packed
with books from floor to ceiling, some narrow shelves constructed
from raw 2x4s made for several narrow halls and fantastic browsing.
The whole place was 3 stories, and packed with used books! I
bee-lined to the third floor and parked myself in front of the
alternative health section. Our spur-of-the-moment stop at this
shop was totally worth it; I found a copy of "Women's Encyclopedia
of Natural Health" by Tori Hudson, ND, know as THE women's health
doc in naturopathic circles. And it cost me less than 10 bucks!
There were signs inside the store asking us to not take
photographs, so I had Hanzi snap this shot of me outside on our way
out. The blustery, seriously chilly night combined with the red
light in the window made for an appropriately spooky setting!
My fab bookstore find! On Halloween
night at Myopic Books in Wicker Park.
(Photo credit: hanzi d. - www.hanzid.com)
After our artsy and interesting Halloween night, I am inspired
to seek out artistic endeavors in the midst of my studying. Maybe
I'll doodle when I'm losing focus in class, or maybe I'll take more
creative pictures on my short walks between buildings on campus. I
do really love to patronize the arts; this is perhaps the best use
of my time (and money), as I don't really trust myself to find time
to follow through on my own creative projects in the midst of med
school. Now that I think about it, I have been getting more
exposure to the arts... Just last week Hanzi and I went to a show
at Cole's Bar in Logan Square where several hard-rocking local
Chicago punk bands covered other awesome bands like Led Zeppelin
(my absolute favorite!), Bikini Kill, and LCD Soundsystem. It was
such a treat to lose myself in the music, all the while surrounded
by people who sought out this show to do the same exact thing.
If I can't enjoy and create art on a regular basis right now
because I am too busy studying medicine, I can at the very least
let the little exposure that I do get to the arts fuel my studying.
I'm writing this on Sunday, and am feeling totally ready to sit
down and dig in to my Phys Dx lectures in preparation for this
week's exam. I realize that I've had a good fill of art lately, and
it would serve me well to remember, over the next year or so of
school, how it truly helps to balance my brain.
Ah, sigh. This weekend I finally got away into the outside world
where the air is significantly different from here in Chicagoland.
I took in gulps of fresh air and smiled. I experienced my first
corn maze in the flat, flat Midwest and sat under a tree whose red
leaves came drifting down into my lap as I chewed my apple brat. I
ate a candy apple, but we didn't get to pick our own apples because
we were a little too late in the season for that.
These past two weeks, for some reason, I've found myself
answering questions about my life before medical school. People
have been asking about the places I've lived and the cultures
there. I'm quick to tell a story about places outside of the
Midwest, so this weekend's little adventures served as a good
tether to pull me back, and to examine my current place.
When I was studying non-fiction writing in undergrad, we often
examined the concept of Place and wrote on the topic: what does it
mean to be in a place, what makes a place yours, not yours,
different, the same, why sit and become enveloped in this place
now? It's a damn hard task, to sit patiently in place and observe
it for what it is. This is especially difficult when your world
moves so quickly and you are expected to work hard at attaining,
achieving, getting there, making progress towards becoming a
Despite the rapid clip at which I am working to become a doctor,
I try, try, try to slow down and observe this place, to take it in
and notice the unique things. This weekend helped me to settle and
gaze, to take in the flat farmland, to hug my boyfriend, to laugh
with new friends, and to read through old physiology notes in order
to refresh my memory and help me be more present in my current
When you talk about the Midwest with anyone, they inevitably say
something about how nice people are here. My initial experience
with this Midwestern friendliness involved some confusion, seeing
as I come from Boston, a place where nobody acknowledges anybody
unless they definitely want to talk. When I arrived in Chicago, a
stranger would smile and ask me, "How are you?" I inaccurately
perceived this as an open invitation for a full conversation. Over
the past two years of living here, I've learned that friendliness
does not necessarily equate to a desire to have a conversation,
they're just being kind, I guess. I'm still a little weirded out by
this; if you ask me how I'm doing, I still look at you sideways to
figure out if you actually want me to answer that question, or not.
On the other hand, my rather immediate assumption to jump into
conversation has served me well, and I've made friends with shop
clerks at nearly every place I buy goods and services.
Right now, the Midwest is my home, though perhaps not my truest
Place. Here in Chicago, I've had to stumble along trying to
navigate the culture, and I finally feel that maybe I'm able to
catch these Midwesterners in stride and keep up. I have learned so
much about life in the heart of classic America by living here. My
greatest adventures so far have been getting to know a place by
living in it, participating in the community, and feeling out the
social habits of the people there. From this perspective, it's no
wonder I feel so slammed with new information; it's not just the
study of medicine I've been trying to assimilate, but the
Midwestern way of life as well.
So being in medical school is more than just your peers, your
books, your lectures, and the other trappings of studying medicine.
Many of us move to a new place to start this journey into medicine,
and the culture of that new place also provides us with struggles
and triumphs. If we can find the time to sit with our new place, in
addition to our books, we'll learn more about the world, which will
certainly make us better doctors, right?
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
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.
OK readers, I did it! I decided. My parents were a reliable
sounding board in a conversation last week and while I trust my own
intuition and will follow it even in the face of resistance, being
reassured with parental support really sealed the deal. I plan to
start the massage program in September!
Trusting intuition is something we address in class from the
very first trimester. Mostly, we have these discussions in our
naturopathic theory classes, although this week in Homeopathy 1 we
started a topic on How To Take the Case, which is inseparable from
learning about becoming a true healer. "Taking the case" means
listening to our patients without any preconceptions; it means
forgetting ourselves, and dissolving the boundary between the self
and the world so as to note every important detail.
In discussing both homeopathic and naturopathic theory, our
professors have talked about mirror neurons, a term that defines how empathy
is evidenced in brain scans; the listener's brain lights up in
exactly the same places as the storyteller's brain does. Our goal
as doctors is to use our mirror neurons.
One of my peers asked about how, on the one hand, we dissolve
the boundary between ourselves and our patients' stories of
suffering, and on the other, maintain our own sanity and refrain
from shouldering the burdens of every sick patient that walks
through our doors.
It is a good question. How many mirror neurons can we afford to
use? Turns out, the answer is different for every doc. Of course we
knew that, everyone (every case, every patient) is different, after
One professor told us that he sits behind a desk, with the
patient opposite him; this provides a physical boundary to remind
him. Another professor spoke on how her spirituality and the
healing cannot be separated. Her spiritual practice involves
dissolving boundaries and finding compassion for every single
During several of these class discussions our professors have
sited an author named Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen, a doctor known for
her work teaching other physicians how to heal from the heart. On
her blog, Remembering Your Power to Heal, Remen writes of
physicians: "Our habitual way of seeing things and even our
expertise can blind us to the meaning of even the simplest of our
daily interactions and relationships." This tendency towards
blindness is an obstacle to cultivating the healer in us, and comes
at least in part, from our training. One of Dr. Remen's tools for
learning to see through "new" eyes is to keep a "heart journal" in
which you answer three questions each day.
The Heart Journal
The first question is: "What surprised me today?"
The size of the nose ring on the
girl sitting next to us at the beach; it was huge but I figured she
probably loves it that way!
The second question is: "What moved me or touched my heart
On our way to the beach, Hanzi was
looking out the window and said, "That was cute!" I asked what, and
he told me that a little girl was leading her grandmother in an
investigation of something smooshed on the sidewalk.
And the third question is "What inspired me today?"
The camaraderie of the group of "Bears"
gathered at the beach, all bobbing together with their big bellies
in the chilly Lake Michigan water.
If this exercise is something Remen thinks we should do as
professional physicians, why not start practicing it now? In
addition to practicing things like taking blood pressure,
evaluating cervical range of motion, or taking a history from a
SIM-patient, we should probably be cultivating the healer through
exercises like this.
Hard to believe, but I did study at the beach. Here's the
Want to find a Chicago beach to visit? It's easy: CPDBeaches.com.
The skill set of a healer includes knowing how to find the
beauty in the midst of the suffering we are exposed to daily for
the duration of our professional lives. So, to my fellow students,
don't write in a journal every day if the time commitment freaks
you out, but at the very least, have these conversations with each
other. Try to talk about the heart-full things, rather than the
test you're dreading or the professor you can't stand. Look for the
things that inspire you, the things that touch your heart, and the
things that surprise you. Forgetting to cultivate our eye for these
things will, I suspect, prove a grave mistake whose consequences we
will learn when we go out into the real world and try to heal
So, I encourage you to notice the things that make you smile
more than the things that make you groan. You may even find less to
• Leaves, Flowers, Berries, and Bark
• Farmer's Market
• Should I Study Massage Therapy, Too?
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