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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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
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
I wasn't kidding about ice cream for dinner...(cherry with
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. But...life
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
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.
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.
• Leaves, Flowers, Berries, and Bark
• Farmer's Market
• Should I Study Massage Therapy, Too?
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