Archive for tag: life

Examining Place - The Midwest

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.

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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 doctor.

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 classes.

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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.

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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?

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.

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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. 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.