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.
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
What happens when you've been studying microbiology for your
Part 1 boards and you see a sim patient in clinical problem solving
class? You come up with a somewhat obscure viral infection as your
diagnosis, when something along the lines of autoimmune disease was
what your professors had in mind... Such was my first reminder this
week to take a step back and remember the big picture. Who can
blame me though, really? I've been busy!
The Desert Room--where I found a good reading bench.
This week's second lesson in considering the totality of things
also reminded me to make space for wonder. After picking up my new
glasses on Saturday (Yay! Happy eyes!), I walked over to the Oak Park Conservatory to find a reading bench
among the plants. It was late morning and there were small children
exploring in each of the three greenhouse rooms. Most of them were
working on a scavenger hunt prepared by the curators, but some were
too small for that. I alternated between reading my NPLEX study
guide and watching and listening to the small humans as they went
through cycles of amazement (Mommy, Mommy look at the pink flower!)
and frustration (I can't find the snake! Help me!)
The Fern Room--where I sat to smell the flowers (no joke, so
Thankfully, I was granted about an hour of uninterrupted study
time among the cacti during which I made some good headway through
the section on the urinary system. Around the time I developed a
numb butt from the wooden bench, I packed up my books and set to
exploring the place with my new glasses on. I'm sure some of you
reading this know that feeling of newly crisp vision; texture has
returned to my world! I didn't plan it so, but the Conservatory was
definitely one of the very best places I could go first with my
sharp new eyes. The cacti were spiny, the tropical leaves were
waxy, and the flowers were bright and complex. The climbing vines
sprouted tiny brownish green curly-cues and the huge, fragrant
lemons hanging on their branches were beautifully pock marked
(What's that disease process I was just studying with "orange-peel
The Tropical Room--where I conversed with some
When I finally headed out, the volunteer docent was apologetic
that I had to study over the sound of kids. I reassured her it was
a welcome distraction, and a good reminder before I sit for my
board exam to attend to all the possibilities. Also, that I should
not forget to delight in the details.
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.
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.
• Leaves, Flowers, Berries, and Bark
• Farmer's Market
• Should I Study Massage Therapy, Too?
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