Berlin

September 7, 2017 § 2 Comments

The date is set! There’s no turning back now.

Registering for Step 1 is a pretty long process (really a lot of waiting). First, you have to register with ECFMG. Once that is assessed, you are sent an ID number and eligible to apply for a three-month exam window (I chose September to November). Then you need to submit a form to your university, who then has to send it to the US for further processing. That’s where the waiting comes in; I completed my application in mid-June and didn’t receive my scheduling permit until the end of August!

(Studying for USMLE: You know you’re in deep when you get really, really, genuinely excited about seeing “cerebral amyloid angiopathy”!)Screen Shot 2017-09-07 at 19.30.03

I already knew that I would be taking my exam at the end of November, but I didn’t know the exact date or location. Amir took his Step 2 exam in Berlin and really loved the city and the testing center, so I decided to follow suit. I’ve been putting off setting the date because….well, there is really isn’t a good reason. Once you set the date, things suddenly become very, very real, and I was probably trying to put that off for a little longer.

I’m extremely nervous for the exam. I want to do well and I have so much going on in my life right now that I’m worried I won’t have enough time to prepare myself. But there is nothing I can do about that. I can only push forward, maximize my time and hope that my best is good enough.

My final exam in surgery is on Tuesday, so I’ve switched over to exam cramming for now. I am so, so thankful that studying for exams doesn’t mean covering an entirely different subject! The surgery exam consists of three topics (out of a possible 168) and we are examined orally by one general surgeon and one trauma surgeon.

That’s all for now! Be nice to me, Berlin…

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Berlin

 

Starting over

September 2, 2017 § 8 Comments

I’m struggling to find the words to describe where I am at this point in my life. These past two and a half months have changed me. They’ve forced me to face parts of myself that I either never wanted to face or didn’t know even existed. I’ve had to evolve and grow all while embarking on some of the greatest challenges I have yet to encounter.

I’m in my final year of medical school and the idea that I will be a doctor this time next year is… paralyzing. It’s exciting, yes, but paralyzing at the same time. I’ve spent more than half of my life trying to get to this point and now that it’s finally here, I feel like I don’t know what to do with myself. Knowing that I am about to achieve THE goal leaves me feeling almost empty. Checking that box will mark the end of almost 20 years of doing everything I possibly could to make this happen. It makes me wonder, will anything ever even come close to that?

Since I last wrote, I’ve been re-familiarizing myself with… myself. All while studying for one of the biggest exams I’ll ever take. There have probably been more bad days than good days, but the bad days are becoming fewer and fewer as time passes.

We started sixth-year rotations in the middle of July. My first rotation is surgery, which lasts for about 8-9 weeks. I only have one week left now and will take my final exam on September 12th. I’ve really been struggling with how to balance everything on my plate. I’m planning on taking Step 1 at the end of November and that exam requires EVERYTHING from me. But I can’t give it everything. I have my final exams in surgery and obstetrics and gynecology (not to mention the rotations themselves). I have my thesis. I have teaching. I have applications for next year. It’s…suffocating.

So where am I now? What am I doing? What am I going to do? These are all questions I’ve asked myself almost daily since the beginning of June. If I’m going to be completely honest, this has not been an easy summer for me. Everything I thought I knew about myself, my life and my future changed. My foundation fell out from under me right when I needed it the most. I needed to be the best version of myself and I didn’t know how anymore. So, I slowly started picking up the pieces, forced myself to accept whatever I was able to produce – regardless of how small – and pushed forward.

I turned 30 almost two weeks ago. I really wish I could describe the feeling I had that day. I know that birthday means different things to different people, depending on where they are in their respective lives. For me, it meant everything. It meant saying goodbye to myself. It felt like starting over. Like stripping myself of everything I knew. Complete and absolute vulnerability and, oddly enough, strength. What made the experience even more “life-altering” was the fact that I celebrated it in the historic city of Acre, Israel with my best friend and his family.

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In the days leading up to my birthday, I was in a constant state of reflection. With the way my life has developed, the multiple life paths I’ve entertained, the struggles I’ve endured to get here…it’s not uncommon for me to take a moment and think about where I am versus where I would have been. Whether sitting on the banks of the Danube with a bottle of wine, wandering through the crumbling barracks of Auschwitz, looking out over the fjords from Tåkeheimen, reading the names on the stone plaque beside a Sarajevo rose, or feeling the jasmine scented footprints of Muhammad at the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, I always have the same thought: I wasn’t supposed to be here. In that moment, I think about all the points where the course of my life changed, all the decisions and challenges that brought me there and how rich and special my life is as a result. On the eve of my birthday, I stood alone on Amir’s parent’s balcony and watched the sun dip into the sea. As I sipped a glass of wine, I said goodbye to myself as I knew me in my 20’s and reflected on who I will become in my 30’s.

 

 

That trip changed everything. I had a moment in the car on the way to Jerusalem where everything clicked. Suddenly, I could see my future. I saw exactly where I want to be and what I need to do to get there. Every time my future has crossed my mind in the past two years, it’s been followed by absolute nothingness. It’s been a source of anxiety and fear and prevented me from enjoying the present. So when everything clicked, the feeling was indescribable.

Once I’ve worked out some details and made some progress with my plans, I will share them here – I promise.

Otherwise, things aren’t very exciting here. I pretty much only sleep and do practice questions. I’ve been sick since last week and my cough has been pretty extreme. Since I’ve been holed in my apartment studying, I didn’t even notice that I’d lost my voice until I went to the pharmacy to pick up an expectorant. When I opened my mouth to utter the first words I’d spoken aloud in three days, nothing came out. There were a few strange squeaks, followed by a long, intense cough. The pharmacist began to laugh. I laughed and coughed. Exciting stuff.

It’s off to bed for this one! To be continued 😉

 

A picture is worth a thousand words

June 20, 2017 § 4 Comments

So much has happened in the past two months that I hardly even know how to write this post. It makes me sad to think that there are memories that are lost or that will fade because I didn’t have the time to write them down here. This blog has documented almost every step of this journey – from applying to medical school to now. Though this year has a bit less documented than the others, I plan to continue it until the end.

The weeks after we returned from our trip to Ukraine were a complete whirlwind. I honestly can’t even organize my mind enough to put those weeks into words, so I think my only option is to describe these past months in photos.

Ukraine Trip
April 26th

Helping out at the anatomy competition

April 30th

Even Baloo finds studying for exams exhausting

May 1st

Baloo brings everyone to the yard

May 3rd

Notes everywhere! I was trying to gather together all the hematology notes I’ve taken since 3rd year, since we were tested on it again in internal medicine this semester.

May 4th

Going through cranial CT scans in neurology

May 5th

Jannie’s 30th Birthday!

A quote I wrote in her birthday card

May 6th
May 7th

May 8th

That feeling when your puppy sleeps in the same room as you so that you’re not alone during your all-nighter

May 10th

Marianne signing her contract as a student doctor!

May 11th

Cram time!! 4 days out from Internal and Gyno

May 12th

Huge day – LAST LECTURE EVER!!

Last dinner with the gang

May 13th

Weekend of hell! I had 6 exams the following week and had already been cramming for weeks up until this point.

May 14th

An idea of what I was up to during the month of May

May 15th

May 16th

May 19th

Sword and Scale is my ultimate guilty pleasure podcast!

May 20th

It’s nice that some of us get to sleep in

May 21st

When your notes randomly pop up somewhere on the internet..

May 24th

Studying for my last exam with Marianne!

May 25th

DONE WITH MY LAST EXAM PERIOD EVER! Still can’t believe I survived 10 exams in 2 weeks.

May 26th
May 30th

Dedicated Step 1 studying time – here we go!

June 1st

Charlotte’s Birthday!!

I love this city!

June 2nd
June 3rd

Wandering the city and running errands while listening to a new favorite podcast

June 5th

Goodbye dinner with this one 😀

June 7th

Re-discovered my old, little notebook of quotes

What happened after all this? Well, a lot. After 8 years together, Skjalg and I split up. We love each other very, very much and will continue to be good friends. As he is off to Stavanger to complete his 6th year (and I am staying here), I’ve moved into a new studio apartment. The past two weeks have been a bit heavy, but now that the moving is complete and I am finally in my own space, I’m really happy. I whittled down all my belongings to the essentials, donated 3/4 of my clothes, gave away tons of my notes to one of my students. I tried to take only what I really needed. It is so utterly liberating to not be tied down by tons of things. With the recent changes in my life, my future is now a blank slate. I have no idea where I will end up after medical school, but I’m really excited for the year that lies ahead, for the challenges that await.

Here is my new place before I moved in:

And here it is “Biancified”:

Alright, back to studying I go!

Ukraine, here we come!

April 20, 2017 § 1 Comment

After my last post, my streak started to suffer a bit (I either jinxed it, or I started getting a bit tired. Probably the latter!). I didn’t feel well this weekend, so I left the library early on Saturday and spent the rest of the weekend studying at home. I returned at 6:30 on Monday morning (in order to get in a full study day before picking up Baloo, who came home that day). I’m still so shocked at how many people are at the library. I’ve spent so much time studying at home, random cafés or hidden libraries that it’s like I have no concept of just how many people I go to school with. We’re probably a couple thousand across all the years and all the faculties Hungarian, English, and German). It’s been really motivating to study in the same building as so many similar students.

In the end, I ended up with 83 hours and 5 minutes towards obstetrics and gynecology studying over break. I honestly wish I had gotten through more topics, but I’ve come to accept that most of my goals are unrealistic and that I should be happy with any progress I am making. Considering how poor my studying was at the beginning of the break, I’m pretty satisfied with the turn-around!

This week we are in our trauma rotation. We started the day with four back to back lectures, then spent an hour in the emergency room and finally an hour practicing suture techniques.

On Tuesday, six of us stayed for our extra shift in the emergency room. Previously this consisted of returning to the hospital from 15:00-22:00, but today we were expected to just remain at the hospital until 19:00.

There was a huge queue in the emergency room when we got down there. In the main entry there were three stretchers with their corresponding two paramedics waiting to enter the exam room along with at least a dozen other patients. The next few hours were a bit of a whirlwind. Trauma doctors see an unbelievable amount of patients in a short amount of time. Each of the patients has about two minutes with the doctor asking them questions and examining them. Then wounds are bandaged, blood taken, etc., by the nurses. Then the patients are sent off to imaging or surgery. I really loved the dynamic, high-energy environment. Next week we have our actual emergency medicine block and I’m excited to learn more about it as a specialty.

In other news, Skjalg and I are leaving for Ukraine today! We are going on a medical screening trip organized by our university. We will be visiting various rural areas for a total of four days. Each of the English students is paired with a Hungarian student and we will work at different stations: history taking, physical exam, EKG, blood sugar monitoring, etc. I’m a little nervous, but I’m really, really looking forward to it. The weather is going to be horrible and some of the locations don’t have any heating, so we’re definitely in for an experience!

Library wormhole

April 13, 2017 § Leave a comment

I’ve fallen down the rabbit hole. I met up with my friends Stephanie and Amir for a drink on Sunday evening (after a weekend of study-fighting against myself). They are both only a week or two out from their Step 2 exams (for the USMLE) and the weight of that was almost palpable. When Stephanie told me that she had been studying at the school library, I made up my mind to join her the next day. I love the comfort of studying at home, but lately, that comfort is just slowing me down.

Fast forward to now. Every day, I get up at 6:00 to have breakfast, shower and prepare my food for the entire day.  I hop on my bike and then before I know it, I’m seated at my favorite spot in the library. I’ve gone every day this week and it’s already starting to feel routine. In fact, I hardly even know what day it is. I feel like I could continue on this way forever. On top of that, my focus has been almost robotic. After 4.5 years in medical school, I’ve learned to take breaks for the sake of increasing my overall productivity. But this week? Totally not needed. I’ve been sitting – with lazer focus – for over 10 hours – almost everyday. The only time I’ve gotten up is to go to the bathroom. I’m not on my phone, I’m not napping or talking to friends – I’m not even leaving to eat my lunch and dinner (I eat them while I’m reading). Healthy? Not so much. My body hurts from all that sitting, no matter how many different positions I can come up with. Productive? Absolutely. And it’s honestly just what I needed. It’s only the end of Thursday and I’ve already put in 48 hours and 14 minutes of high quality studying. I find this so strange – and almost shocking – but I’m going to milk it for as long as I can. Like I said, this is just what I needed. Pure, productive and uninterrupted study time.


After Easter, we only have 4 weeks of school until exam period starts. We have 8 (or 9?) exams that I need to power through as fast as humanly possible in order to reach my holy grail: dedicated Step 1 study time. I need it so badly – and I’m so close – I just need to attack these hurdles head on. My plan of attack is to study for my exams as much as possible now so that I can finish all of my exams within the first two weeks. If I can do that, I will have 6 or so weeks of pure USMLE prep goodness until rotations start in the middle of July.

Enough of an update for now! The wormhole is calling…

The Transition

March 23, 2017 § 3 Comments

During a break on Tuesday, I mentioned to an Erasmus student from Germany how brilliant Budapest is when Spring really hits. I told her, “There will be one day where the temperature jumps and the parks fill with people – that is the day where everything starts.”. Wednesday was exactly that day. After class, I came home, opened up the doors to our small balcony and laid out a yoga mat. For two hours, I soaked up the first real taste of spring while listening to a samba mix. It’s amazing how much a difference the sun makes!

I took the rest of that afternoon to work on my study schedule (the one I was supposed to do Monday). I’m always searching for ways to improve my studying and I stumbled across a USMLE blog presenting a technique that I am going to try. It’s really common when studying to designate “days” for a subject. Whether it’s a certain day of the week, a certain number of days a month or a chunk of days for cramming before the exam, using “days” as the base study-time unit is extremely common. This new technique involves breaking up each day into sessions and studying different topics during those sessions. What I liked most about it is that it gives several opportunities to “restart” during the day rather than waiting until the next day to start fresh. If the 1st session doesn’t start on time or isn’t successful, the rest of the day can continue without that guilt and negativity trickling in to the rest of the day’s tasks. I’m definitely one of those people who gets thrown off if things don’t work out like I planned, so something like this is perfect for me.

I’m going to put a little more emphasis on preparing for my finals (which will take place during the middle to end of May). I want to get those out of the way as soon as possible so that I have more *pure* USMLE time. We have 8/9 exams, 4 of which are oral. During oral exams, we usually have to draw a certain number of topics from an assigned topic list and present each of these topics to the examiner. Thus, the best way to prepare for oral exams is to write out a plan for each topic that includes major points/info you should mention. For forensics, obstetrics and gynecology, pediatrics and internal medicine, I’ve divided up the topics over 6 weeks. If all goes to plan, I will be done preparing a week before exam period, which means that I won’t need as much time between exams during exam period.

My tentative plan for next week

Today was my first attempt at this plan and it went really well – in spite of not actually going to plan! I slept an hour longer and took a 2-hour walk with Baloo, but still managed to get a chunk of topics done within different subjects. It felt really good to be able to look at my schedule for the start of the next session rather than waiting until the next day. No more entire-day sabotaging for me! It was also really nice to mix the subjects (5 years of medical school and I still haven’t figured out how to successfully study multiple subjects at once). I was tempted to repeat gyno for a session because I was really enjoying it, but now I’m happy I moved on because I really look forward my next session with it (and it feels good to have made progress in other subjects).


I’ve been a bit more reflective this week than usual. Fifth year is not what I thought it would be. It feels so much more final than I ever could have imagined. We still have one year left, but most people go back to their home countries to do their final rotations there. As such, most people are treating this as the last semester. I notice so many different ways of coping with this transition, of cutting ties with Budapest, of closing out this chapter. We’re going to be doctors soon. An overwhelming fact that weighs heavier with each passing day. And with such an immense transition ahead, it’s hard to focus on the present. Every effort is placed on cushioning the inevitable blow that follows graduation.

In autopsy on Wednesday (our current block is forensics), we had two young men, only 21 and 22 years old, who had been killed in a car accident. One of them had just gotten a new haircut. The day before that, we had a 18-year old male that had died from complications associated with his almost decade-long history of drug use. The fact that I am almost 10 years older than them was not lost on me. It’s so important to savor the present, to soak it all in. The sights, the smells, the sounds. To just marinate in the moment. Life is too short to rush through a transition, even one as big as this.

Here I am, maximizing this moment 😉

 

World, stop.

March 19, 2017 § 4 Comments

This weekend, I finally took some time to breathe. Since I last wrote, I’ve been busy studying for Step 1 of the USMLE (which I’ve been planning to take in June), studying for my classes and enjoying some time with friends and family. Step 1 requires many, many months of dedicated studying and trying to manage that in addition to my normal “life” load has been really difficult – and exhausting! I’ve been waking up every morning at 5:00 am to complete a block in UWorld (the quintessential question bank). After that I work out from 6:00-7:00, go to class and then come home to review my questions from that morning ands study. Each block is 40 questions and reviewing an entire block can take a really, really long time. Sometimes, I’ve even used up to 8 hours reviewing a single block! Each question comes with detailed theory pertaining to the correct answer, as well as information behind each wrong answer. In addition to doing my blocks each morning, I should be reviewing the various subjects. I had planned to cover at least one subject each week. Have I been able to do that? Nope!

In the beginning of March, we visited Krakow with a group of friends. I kept my studying up during that time, but it was not easy! Waking up at 5:00 while everyone was still asleep for a least a couple more hours was…lonely and frustrating.

Outside of that, the trip was amazing! The city has so much history and it was such a unique experience to visit Auschwitz. It’s really something I will never forget.

After we arrived back in Budapest on Sunday evening, I only had a couple of days before my mom and brother arrived (from the US and Oslo, respectively). We haven’t been together – the three of us – in 4 years, so this was an extremely special trip for me. In the beginning of their visit, I tried to balance studying with family time. By that Friday, I gave in. This past month has shown me that I’m not going to be ready for the exam in June. I’m not planning on going back to the states in the immediate future and you can only take the exam one time, so I would rather push the date and take it when I am more prepared. It felt good to check out of my study world for a little bit and fully enjoy time with my family. They mean the world to me.

Their visit was perfection. We tried out new restaurants in Budapest, including an AMAZING new one called Makery where you make your own dinner. You are supplied with prepared ingredients and a fully stocked workstation. Each person chooses their dishes (just like in a normal restaurant) and then follows step-by-step video instructions to make it. Such a cool concept! We also did some escape rooms, had a cocktail night with all of our friends and took a day and a half trip to Vienna.

We even got to celebrate Christian’s 27th birthday on the day! Our friend Amir brought over a bunch of fresh goods from his favorite bakery, which we served alongside a collection of cakes we’d brought back with us from Aida in Vienna. Then we watched Chef (one of my favorite movies, which Christian had never seen before). After that it was shopping on Vaci utca, two escape rooms, drinks at a roof top bar close to the basilica and dinner at Iguana with Dushyant and Amir (including the dogs! My mom’s dog Romeo and our dog Baloo).

My mom and Christian left on Thursday and I spent the rest of the day reviewing for Friday’s anatomy exams. Since I have my own group, I’m a main examiner during midterms. This means that I may be in charge of examining an entire group (other than my own). I like to vary my questions as much as possible, so I try to do a thorough review of all the topics before the exams.

In addition to exam day, Friday was the day of Baloo’s surgeries – yes, surgeries! Technically, there was only one surgery with three parts, but when your dog weighs less than 1.5 kg (3.3 pounds) you worry a bit more! On top of being neutered, he had two baby teeth taken out (some of them have been a bit stubborn) and a suspicious lump on his head removed. Luckily, the lump turned out to be nothing more than a hair follicle that had grown inward! If any of you follow Dr. Pimple Popper, then you’ve seen these before. If you’re curious, check out this compilation video.

I was so thankful for the distraction of examining students for the anatomy midterm during Baloo’s surgery. I was so nervous that something would go wrong! When Skjalg picked him up at 14:00, the vet told him him that everything went smoothy and there were no complications at all! Afterwards, he was a bit loopy, but by Saturday he was almost back to normal and even playing fetch!

​The only problem now is dealing with his cone. Because he is so small, the cone they had that fits him is really hard and narrow. He absolutely hates it. While it’s on he will stand in place for 10 minutes then get tired and try to lay down somewhere (but never really get comfortable). I slept on the floor with him the first night, since he can’t navigate the stairs leading up to the bed in the dark. Last night, we tried putting his jacket/harness thing on instead. He was able to sleep through the night, so hopefully that is enough of a “blocker” for any licking or scratching he might try.

Otherwise, week 8 (already!!) of the semester starts tomorrow. I’m starting with new material for my students, which I will prepare tomorrow morning before my class at 12:00. We are in the middle of our forensics block, so I might start with preparing my notes for our final at the end of the semester. I’m considering October for Step 1, so I will start studying more for my current course load (I’ve ONLY been studying USMLE so far this semester). I’m going to have to sit down tomorrow and make a study plan for the rest of the semester.

 

 

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