Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards

January 31, 2016 § 10 Comments

Out of the seven exam periods we’ve survived there are three that I will always remember. Not because they were amazing, but because they challenged me to my very core and forced me to push forward when I had absolutely no hope or belief that I could. These exam periods were all, coincidentally or not, winter exam periods. I’m sure the weather and short days had a lot to do with it. Nothing stresses me out more than the end of the day in exam period. And in winter, the end of the day comes quite early.

All I can remember about the third semester exam period is anatomy. I set aside 14 days for that exam. Why? Because I knew I had neglected it during the semester (with the introduction of physiology into our curriculum, it was hard to focus on anything else). I expected that I had a lot to learn during that time, but I had no idea just how much it was. Nor did I expect how complex it all was, at least when compared to what we had previously learned in anatomy. Neuroanatomy is almost entirely theoretical, at least everything outside of the macroscopic structures of the brain and spinal cord. Learning things from scratch, understanding them and preparing yourself to present them at an oral exam is a lot to manage in a short amount of time. I was really positive when I started out studying for that exam. I had plenty of time, was excited to only have one subject to study and excited to learn something I knew I’d avoided all semester.

As the number of days dwindled, the panic started to set in. We have a guest room in our apartment that I absolutely never use. It’s mainly used as Skjalg’s office/den. The first, only, and last time I used it is while preparing for this exam. I lived there for the 7 days. I slept in the bed, used only the adjacent bathroom and emerged only to grab food and water and wave at Skjalg. In the 3 days before the exam, I developed a sort of insomnia where I could only sleep for ten minutes at a time before waking from a nightmare. The nightmare was always an exam scenario. An evil examiner, humiliating questions, forgetting how to speak, getting topics I didn’t know well enough, etc. When exam day finally came I felt hopeless and exhausted. I was 100% sure I was going to fail. What happened? Nothing. I got a kind, though demanding, examiner. I got topics I didn’t think I knew but that came forward once I calmed down and gave it some thought. I got a histology slide that I could identify right away. I had a good exam. Some mistakes, but absolutely nothing like I had imagined.

Fifth semester exam period was the next big blow. We no longer had just one or two huge classes. Instead, everything felt huge. Pathology was the monster, then pathophysiology (which included EKG analysis, which I felt so unsure of at the time), microbiology, immunology and our Hungarian final. I’m probably forgetting something, but you get the idea. This was my first time having to deal with so many large classes in what felt like such a short time. I didn’t feel confident in anything at the start of the exam period and was worried that I wouldn’t have time to properly learn anything. I spent those four to five weeks criticizing my study methods from that semester, fantasizing about ways I could improve and praying that I would make it through. So what happened? Again, nothing. I wish pathology had gone better, but otherwise all my examiners were kind, did their best to make me comfortable and to really evaluate my knowledge. I even got the “crazy, mean one” for micro. She was a little tough on me for my mistakes, but otherwise fine; she even complemented me on some points.

Then there was this exam period. I’ve matured enough that I didn’t suffer to the same degree as the ones mentioned previously. I’ve learned ways to quell the panic, or at least limit it to five minutes rather than 2 days. I’m actively working on mastering my emotional self, something I think is important to do now in medical school. This is probably the first time we are under this kind of stress and learning how to handle this version of ourselves, learning how to cope and how to act appropriately and efficiently, will be vital as doctors.

The problem with this exam period was the number of exams and the fact that I put the exams before everything else. I put them before my health, my relationships, everything. I allowed myself to be completely consumed and that is not something that can be done for such a long period of time. Reflecting on this exam period, I realize – and I mean truly realize – the importance of balance. There is no point of a victory if your mind and body are destroyed in the process, if you are not there to enjoy it in the end.

I’ve learned that I’m not good at taking breaks. To be honest, this is something I’ve always known about myself. The difference is that now I am going to do something about it. The way I’ve planned to deal with this is to do all of my “exam period cramming” during the semester. For each new exam, I start by printing out the topic list, dividing the number of topics evenly over the days I’ve set aside for the exam and then going through the topics one by one. I write my own notes, using a combination of sources, and try to finish them so that I have one day for memorization. Then, for the day before the exam, I try to memorize everything perfectly. This is where things go a little crazy. On this day I feel responsible for all of the knowledge at once. I feel as though I know nothing and that I wasted my time and should have done things differently. So, my plan now is to complete all of the note preparation for all of the subjects before exam period, maybe even a couple of weeks before, and utilize the power of spaced repetition. For exam period, my plan is to power through everything in a short amount of time. With all of the work done during the semester, I will only need to review and memorize.

This may seem like an obvious plan, something that I should have been doing all along. It is always my plan at the start of the semester to prepare notes from the topic list, but it always gets dragged out. During the semester, I feel like I become so short-sighted. I get distracted by midterms, weekly projects, research, visitors. I spend time reviewing or writing notes from lectures and not setting them up as topics. Another thing I tend to do – something I really dislike – is that I spend way too much time on one topic. For example, 1 topic during the semester may take me 10-12 hours to prepare. In exam period? I can power out 17 topics in a day. When I have the time, I spend it. So I need to be more strict with myself and exercise efficiency. In our oral exams (and most of our exams are oral), we draw a certain number of topics and have to present those topics. It makes sense then that this would be the format for note-taking during the semester! Easier said than done, I know, but I’m promising myself that this time, that’s not the case.

The best part is that my schedule this semester is AMAZING. It’s quite similar to 4th semester in that the class load is very low. I took 36 credits last semester and this semester I only have 25! I am looking so, so forward to having time to study during the week, to stress-free time at the gym, and maybe some early nights off where I can read in bed.

This is my schedule (not including research, not sure yet when that will be):

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And this is how I’ve planned out my time during the week:

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I want to be more strict with my schedule (i.e. only allowing myself to study during certain times so that my time is used more effectively) and want to spend more time studying outside of the apartment. With this schedule, I’m out at school/gym/studying for 12 hours of the day and then I’m home to relax, read, spend time with Skjalg before bed. It might make this feel like more of a job/something we do rather than being everything we are. It definitely isn’t like this for everyone. I know a lot of people that have done an excellent job balancing life and school. But for the crazies like me, this is something that needs to be worked on. I’m just happy to have the self-awareness and drive to acknowledge and change these things. Better to do it now than later.

It’s probably pretty clear that a lot of reflecting has been done this exam period and in the weeks following. It’s been the perfect amount of time between exams and the new semester, at least for this round. I’ve had enough time to relax, binge watch TV shows, organize notes, answer emails, spend time with friends, etc., but not enough time to get lazy. Over the past couple days, I’ve prepared for this first week of school. Purchases school supplies, organized my folders, downloaded lectures and notes. All of the busy work that takes time once the semester actually starts.

One of my big post-exam projects (that I’ve never completed until now): go through all the notes/papers from the last 4 years:

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All this is going to be recycled! Must be at least 4,000 pages in there:

I’m really excited for this semester. I’m excited to challenge myself to improve as a student and push my comfort zone. I’m excited to get more involved in surgery.
We’re getting closer and closer to becoming doctors now. I almost can’t believe it sometimes. It feels like just yesterday that we started…

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7th semester: check!

January 26, 2016 § 1 Comment

We’re just a little over halfway between my last exam and the start of a new semester. In the past week I’ve slept as much as possible (in my best efforts to force away the post-exam period hangover), gone on a weekend trip to Amsterdam with an amazing group of friends and done a Making of a Murderer marathon.

The last couple days before my last exam – pulmonology – were really, really tough. I’ve been going so hard for so long that I was just absolutely, completely depleted. Having to live the same day over and over and over again for weeks is a special kind of torture. Get up, sit down, study, freak out, study, coffee, study, sleep, get up, sit down, study, etc. On the Saturday night before my exam, slow streams of tears began falling from my eyes. I wasn’t scared or stressed or panicking. It was simply because I was so, so tired. The idea of having to push myself further when I felt the way I did was an impossible task in my mind. Luckily, I’ve been through this before and know some tricks to keep pushing forward. On Sunday afternoon, Skjalg sat down with me to do an amazing thing: let me explain each and every single one of the topics to him. We sat for a total of 10-11 hours and actually managed to go through all 55 topics. I don’t think I could have done it otherwise. Sometimes, being alone while you are studying is the worst thing you can do. It lets the crazy take over and slow you down!

I slept about 5 hours before that exam which, if you’ve been following me this exam period, you know is more than twice what I normally get before exams. My friend Andrea and I took an Uber up to the exam. There was a strike against Uber that started that day, so it was a bit of a stressful start to the day. Cabs were parked in the major intersections of the center and the Uber driver couldn’t get to me. Andrea had to fight him to wait for me rather than leaving me behind. Such a dramatic situation!

I’m still not used to being examined in the actual hospital. It’s such a strange feeling to pace back and forth in your suit and heels, muttering your notes under your breath Rain Man style, while sick patients and their families wait nearby. I usually try to stay as out of the way as possible. One thing about Hungarian patients in that they are generally very sweet. I remember after my internal medicine exam last semester, a patient stopped me to ask me how my exam had went. She had such a huge smile on her face and seemed so generally invested in how it had gone (she had seen me reviewing for the 2-3 hours while I was waiting). When I told her it went well, she was so happy and squeezed my hand.

My heart dropped when I read the list with the our names and our assigned examiners. I’d been assigned to the exact examiner I had absolutely hoped not to get. She is…special, to say the least. I don’t know how, but it went really well – which I was so, so happy for! On the way out, I noted that I felt nothing. No relief, no sudden burst of emotion or happiness. In my mind it was just one more down and however many more to go.

I wasn’t able to sleep when I got home, so I watched movies instead. That night, we met up with some friends at this amazing new tapas bar called Vicky Barcelona. After some amazing food and company – and several glasses of sangria – I was finally ready for my post-exam crash. I’m usually a total zombie for a few days after my last exam. I have a tearing headache, my eyes feel swollen and I have no energy to do anything. This weather doesn’t help either!

On Thursday morning, we flew out of Budapest on the 6:00 flight to Amsterdam. The trip was absolutely fantastic! Skjalg and I stayed in a charming boutique hotel along one of the canals while the rest of the group rented a 3-story apartment in the city center. I’ve never been to Amsterdam before and I have to say that I think it is my favorite out of all the cities I’ve ever been to – even in the winter! It feels like a beautiful, giant village, like you’re walking around in one of those miniature Christmas towns (which I love).

We got back early Sunday morning and decided to close out the trip with lunch at Vicky Barcelona. After that it was home to watch a movie and relax. I had no plans on napping (didn’t want to ruin my sleep) but half way through the movie, I feel asleep and didn’t wake up for another three hours!

Yesterday, Stephanie and Amir came over and we did a 12-hour Making of a Murderer marathon. It was cold and grey out, as it has been, so it was a perfect day to stay inside. I made banana bread and corn bread and we munched on some delicious Dutch cheese we brought back from Amsterdam. Life after exams is not bad at all!

I’m still not 100% recovered, so I’m going to call it a night for the blogging. I will make a post about our trip to Amsterdam and another one about my exams (for those of you who are interested in how those were). Now, I’m off to work on some of your emails!

Last stretch

January 15, 2016 § 3 Comments

Radio and derma are done and if all goes well with pulmo on Monday, I will finally be done with the 7th semester. 

At this point, I am absolutely, completely drained. I wasn’t able to sleep at all before my derma exam yesterday morning and ended up taking a 5 hour nap when I got home. Then it was up to watch The Martian with Skjalg and back to bed so I could get up early for the library. 

Since Skjalg finished Monday, I’ve been studying at the library. It’s been really nice to get out of the apartment. I think a pure month of studying at home is enough. My friends Edu and Louise have been studying there as well and it’s been such a great change to actually be social during this. We grab a coffee in the downstairs café just before noon and then head to a local French-style café for quiche and salad for lunch around 14:00.

Louise finished today, so it’s just me and Edu for this last bit. Cross your fingers for good studying this weekend and a good result on Monday! Then, I will sleep and finally answer all the emails that have poured in these past weeks 😁    

  

 

6 down, 3 to go

January 6, 2016 § 4 Comments

It’s snowing in Budapest and I honestly can’t remember it ever having been as cold here as it is now. The day before yesterday it was -10˚C and I almost couldn’t breathe on my way to the subway (thin tights do nothing). Snow has a tendency to leave as soon as it’s arrived here in the city center. The way things are now, I feel like I’m back in Norway!

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I spent these first few days of the New Year studying for my cardiology exam, which I had on the 4th. Since I last wrote, I’ve had five exams – yes, five! This exam period is unlike any we’ve had before. Usually we have three or four medium/big exams and maybe one or two small ones. This time, we have nine or ten – some even eleven – total!

This is where I am at now. If all goes well, I’ll be done on the 18th of January. Then, I will sleep as long as I can for as many days as possible!

  1. Pharmacology
  2. Surgery
  3. Public Health
  4. Psychotherapy
  5. Internal Medicine
  6. Cardiology
  7. Radiology
  8. Dermatology
  9. Pulmonology

I was hoping to write a long post (giving some detail about my exams and how we spent our Christmas and New Year’s) but I was so absolutely dead after cardiology and now that I have some energy again, I need to spend it all on radiology.

So, this is where I am (pretty much all the time I’m not in bed or at an exam – or dancing around the apartment trying to move my body):
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This is how I feel:

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And this is what I’m listening to now:

Where Am I?

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