You are currently browsing the monthly archive for April 2010.

A couple weeks ago, I posted about feeling constrained in what I was able to post about.  After my husband read the post, we talked about it, and he encouraged me to go ahead and put some of my thoughts out there.  There are still some things I don’t feel comfortable talking about just yet, but it feels good to write this much in the meantime.

As BWB and I begin a year of residency applications, interviews, and matching, oh my, we are studying for Step II of the board exams.  This exam consists of 8 hour-long blocks of 44 questions designed to trick you into pick the wrong answer.  It’s awful.  The exam is awful, studying for the exam is awful, the fact that the scores matter so much is awful, the whole process it just plain awful.  It’s only slightly better than Step I, which most people with an MD concede that they likely would not be able to pass if they had to sit for it tomorrow.  To sum up, this exam is a big, ugly pain.

However, I am supposed to think this exam is a breeze, according to conventional wisdom.  “Two months, two weeks, two pencils” is the phrase medical students and residents kick around for the three parts of the licensing exam.  By that they mean for Step I one is supposed to study for two months, for Step II, 2 weeks is supposed to be sufficient, and for Step III, an intern should able to walk in without having cracked a book and ace the sucker.  As a result of this little pithy phrase, I feel the need to conceal the fact that I am studying my little rear end off for the second part of the boards.  Standardized tests and I don’t get along all that well (and that’s putting it mildly), so my studying is as much to try and figure out how to beat the system as it is to get the information into my head, and yet because of this urban myth I feel ashamed that I am spending far more than two weeks working on the thing.

The reality is that most of the medical students I know have had to spend a lot more than two weeks studying for Step II.  Most of us are pretty convinced that the guy who came up with the above saying was trying to trip up his classmates in hopes of a better curve.  And yet all of us, the ones who are working so hard before taking the exam, are keeping it quiet.  None of us admit to studying for it, nor would we publicly discuss how much it sucks.  It’s a code of silence, maintaining the illusion that this test is not a big deal.

News flash: It is a big deal.  Do you hear me, interwebs?  I am intimidated by this exam.  The idea of spending 9 hours sitting in a testing center, sweating over the finer points of urinary casts, leukocytosis, and neurologic deficit localization is not my idea of an easy task.  It is actually pretty difficult, as a matter of fact.  I’m driving myself hard to try and beat the test, beat the people who wrote the tricky questions, and hopefully improve my clinical knowledge base along the way.  It is taking longer than two weeks, and I’m okay with that.

Don’t get me wrong here.  When I say I’m okay with it doesn’t mean I’m having a blast.  I’m miserable.  I wish I were in a hospital working with patients.  I would gladly be taking call and working 80+ hour weeks instead of being here, doing this.  I hate sitting at a desk staring at tables of testicular cancer markers.  I’ve had to push my exam back in the wake of dealing with BWB’s grandmother’s death, and as a result I’ve had to study here in Florida when this was supposed to be my reward post-exam.  This is not how things were supposed to go, and I am not happy about it.  In the broad scheme of things, though, I have accepted that preparing for the test is going to take me longer than two weeks if I expect to do well, and I’m doing what I have to do.

In the end, if knowing myself well enough to know that I need this time to study makes me lesser in some way, then so be it.  I’m sure I have classmates who would scoff at me for this entry.  I prefer to think instead that knowing my own limitations and being honest about them will make me better, safer doctor — and probably a better person along the way.

Okay, not completely Wordless. I just figured out that I can post photos effectively from my phone, so I’m giving it a shot and climbing on the Wordless Wednesday bandwagon to boot. Hope this works!

BWB and I are in Florida visiting family at the moment. It’s been wonderful, even though we both still have to study while we are here — there’s something to be said for studying on the beach!

Tonight we went out to dinner and I ordered fried oysters, one of my favorite bad-for-me indulgences. As I tasted them, I was puzzled by the flavor; something seemed not quite right about it. I finally realized that they were citrusy, some kind of lemon flavor in the breading, and I have become accustomed to hot sauce and pepper on my fried oysters (or anything else, for that matter).

This comes on the heels of our first night here, wherein we went to a pizza joint and ordered food to go. I asked for a beer as well, and when the manager cracked open the bottle and handed it to me, I was flustered. I was fairly certain that I couldn’t carry the open container out of the store, but was she giving this to me now instead of with the food because I couldn’t take a closed container as carry-out, either? I realized I had no idea what the laws were regarding alcoholic beverages. I mean, I knew better than to ask for a go cup, but beyond that I was completely clueless. (It turned out she had just misunderstood and was happy to give me a new, unopened bottle in a nice paper bag to take home with me. It was tasty, as was my calzone, but that’s beside the point.)

At dinner tonight, I relayed my oyster epiphany with amusement, and pointed out that taking into consideration both of the incidents I was definitely having issues. He grinned.

“We’re just New Orleanians now, baby. That’s all.”

Yeah, that sounds about right.

Now pass me the Crystal. There’s something wrong with my oysters.

Yesterday I tweeted that I wanted to make a post, but couldn’t come up with a topic.  That’s not quite true.  I have topics, oh brother do I have topics.  Unfortunately, I can’t write about any of them.  Next year, I will probably post a summary of the experience I am going through right now, but for the moment it will have to stay with my inside voice.

That leaves me staring at a blank page, and anything else I sit to write feels awkward.  I feel like I am being dishonest in not displaying my innermost feelings, or even outermost feelings, but I’m not in a place where I can put those emotions on display just yet.  It feels disingenuous to post about the part where I fell off my bike this morning, alas, when I could be making deeply emotional outpourings.

Or perhaps, I could get over myself and just write about the things I can write about, and trust that the other parts will come in time.  I think I am experiencing growing pains which stem from moving from a tightly-locked, private blogging arena into a public, more anonymous stage.  There is a balance to be struck here, and I appreciate the handful of you who seem to be hanging in with me while I get my bearings.

With that said, we now return to regular programming, already in progress.  Hooray, progress.

A year ago, I was talking with Katie — this was not an unusual thing, in fact I would say we were talking more often then, cramming time into the last few weeks she and her husband were here before they disappeared into the west.  But this particular day, she seemed so sad.  Did you hear about Maddie, she asked me?  No.  I listened as her voice took on the overly brisk tone she gets when she’s talking about something that upsets her.  Maddie was this baby, she told me, and her mom blogged, and everyone thought she was going to be okay, but she died.  She died this morning.

Katie isn’t someone who lets other people see her get choked up easily, so I was surprised when I saw her tearing up.  I don’t remember exactly what she said, but it was something to the effect of, it’s amazing how someone can be here one day, and then you wake up the next day and they’re gone, a baby is gone out of this world.

I didn’t really get it, at the time.  I mean, of course I understood why it was upsetting to think about a baby dying, taking with her a full life of potential and breaking her parents’ hearts.  That part made perfect sense, but even though I had spent years in online communities, I failed to grasp why this particular loss was so wrenching for my friend.  Not only my friend, but as she told me then, for a widespread community of bloggers.  In the year that has passed, I have read more about Maddie, and I begin to understand.  Begin.  I lurk on the blog, I follow @mamaspohr on Twitter, and I watch how this tiny life has touched so many.

With the internet, people say the world is just that much smaller.  It’s not that the world is smaller, it’s that our grasp is so much bigger now. We can reach so much more than we ever could before.  It’s inevitable that horrible things happen, as they always have, but now a young woman in New Orleans weeps for the child lost in California.  Now, thousands of people talk about her and know her through her mother’s eyes, and both her life and her death are inspiring people to try and make the world better. It is amazing.

(If you do not know Maddie, I strongly encourage you to go over there and get to know her a little bit today.  She and her family are amazing people.)

I don’t have the cred to be writing this blog post, by the way.  I’m not a part of this amazing, intertwined blogosphere full of Friends of Maddie, I just watch it from over here in the corn field.  But that, really, is why I am writing it — even from over here in the corn field, I can see how powerful Maddie’s legacy is, and I am in awe.  If only we were all able to have that kind of impact in such a short period of time.  If only all of us could touch as many lives, and make as much of a difference as Maddie and her mother can.

If only it didn’t take a tragedy for us to realize that we all have that ability within us, every day.

I challenge all of us to think about how we can change the world.  Do it now, do it without having to have your life turned upside down with grief.  Do it because it is the right thing to do, and because you can even if you don’t think you can.  Touch someone’s life today.  For Maddie.

Two and a half years ago, I went on a bike ride with a good friend.  It was a beautiful day, the sun was shining, the grass was green, the pavement was hard, my head was not… The day ended poorly.

Since then, my poor little bicycle has been sitting forlornly in the corner.  It is a fantastic bike, one I acquired when a Team in Training mentor was upgrading to a custom job.  This bike has done two Ironman triathlons.  It was seriously a downgrade in ownership when it came to me, and has only gotten worse over the last two years of non-use. Alas, the poor neglected bicycle.  It wasn’t that I was afraid of getting on the bike or anything, I just didn’t want to.  Just never came up.  No need.  Yeah, that’s the ticket.

Fast forward to the Mardi Gras Marathon in February.  Standing there at the start line, feeling the rush of adrenaline that comes from standing in a crowd of people about to do something amazing, I remembered why races are so motivating for me.  That morning, I decided to do another race, and soon.  By the end of the week, I had decided that I would do another Olympic-distance triathlon in October, and then shoot for a half-Ironman next spring.  I’ve done tris before, and am excited to get back into it.  There’s part of me which is tempted to aim for a full Ironman, but the half seems more sensible, and my husband appreciates it when I am not broken.

Of course, making this decision meant I would have to actually get back on the bike.

I have put together a training plan which takes me as far as the Olympic distance race, and it starts at the end of April.  The first week, the plan calls for a 45 minute bike ride one day and an hour ride on another.  It occurred to me (since I am clever) that I might want to get on the bike a few times before attempting this 45 minute bike ride, not to mention the hour long ride, and so I worked backwards to create a gradual increase and all that responsible, sensible stuff.  (See above.)

Today, I had the monumental task of 15 minutes on my bike.

I am only partially being sarcastic.  It really did turn out to be monumental.

First there was the helmet.  I have a new one, since generally when one puts a dent in one’s bike helmet one is supposed to replace it.  This meant I had to fit the thing, which proved to be entertaining.  Apparently either my head is small or they just like to give you as much strap as possible in an attempt to give your cats something to play with.  It took me probably 20 minutes of yanking and sliding and twisting and un-twisting to get it to where it would go on my head, at which point I remembered that helmets are not made for ponytails, or buns, or really any hair at all.

Then I went out to the shed and grabbed the bike.  I had it tuned last year, thinking I might actually get on it then, so I knew it was in decent if not perfect shape.  The tires, of course, needed to be pumped up.  I took off the little black plastic cap, stuck the pump thingy over the stem bit that pokes out of the wheely round thing (try to keep up when the language gets technical, it’s a challenge), and started pumping for all I was worth.

Nothing happened.  Or more specifically, nothing happened with the wheel.  The pump was exceptionally recalcitrant, I was literally jumping up and down on it to try and get it to move, and yet the tire was still as empty as an Alaskan former governor’s head.  I took the pump thingy off, fiddled with it, put it back on.  Nothing.  Took the pump thingy off, shook the pump (a variant of percussive repair), put it back on.  Still nothing.  Just when I was coming to the conclusion that I would need to either replace the tube or the pump, and that I was going to have to take both in to the bike shop, I realized my mistake.  See, on these fancy tires, you take off the black plastic cap, and then there’s this little metal bit that has to be loosened, too.  Except I hadn’t loosened the metal bit. Very glad I had realized this before making an idiot of myself to the bike shop guys, I loosened the metal bits and was then successfully able to pump up the tires.

Finally, I was going to be able to get on the bike and ride!  I walked the bike around to the front of the house and prepared to ride off into the sunset like a real live athlete.

Or not.  As I started to get on the bike, I could feel my heart rate increasing.  Perhaps there was more to this not riding the bike for two and a half years than just not feeling the need.  I took a deep breath, told myself that I was not about to die, and clipped in to the pedals.

A half a block later, I was thinking, this isn’t so bad, hey look I even remember how to shift gears!

Another half block later, I realized I had forgotten how to un-shift.  I could shift up (I think), but down was right out.  (Or it might be vice versa, I have never been able to keep those straight.)  I stopped, unclipping my feet in time to not crash and burn — you laugh, but you should see the bumps, bruises, and abrasions I sustained the first time I rode clipped in! — and then sat there for a minute or two trying every combination of pushing, pulling, and twisting I could think of to get the gear moving shifting cable things to go the other direction.  Eventually, I figured it out, got back on the bike, and started riding again.

And I rode.  I rode around in circles.  I rode past cars.  Cars rode past me riding.  I went over a gravel-ish spot.  I rode on some broken pavement.  Mostly, I rode around about a 3-block radius from my house, convincing myself to relax every time the road was uneven (and there’s a lot of that here in New Orleans).  At the end of 15 minutes, I felt like I might have just ridden the entire Olympic bike leg.  But I did it, and I didn’t crash and burn.  I didn’t even fall once.

Thursday, I will get on the bike and ride some more, and this time I will venture out beyond a three-block radius.  My plan is to go down St. Charles to Audubon and do loops there.  I’m starting slow and working my way up.

What I realized today is that my bike training is going to have two components this summer.  There’s going to be the part I do in the gym on a stationary bike or in a spinning class, which will be where I work on the strength and endurance I need.  Then there’s going to be the part where I get on my actual bike and go ride in the actual world, and that is going to be a lot more about re-learning to trust the bike, trust myself, and enjoy the road.

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