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:


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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Officially in 4th Year!

September 2, 2015 § 2 Comments

Tonight was the long awaited and dreaded: registration! This process is so unbelievably stressful and I have yet to find a way to convey just how stressful it is to anyone that hasn’t experienced it for themselves. I spent 6 hours sculpting the perfect schedule, plus 3 back ups, in the little time I had free this weekend, then 2 hours tonight making a sort of flow chart to maximize efficiency. The 45 minutes before registration opened at 20:00 were spent refreshing the page and going through my game plan. The 5 minutes before were spent breathing heavily, shaking my leg and checking my pulse on my fitbit (it jumped from 62 to 87 as the minutes passed) while talking to Skjalg on speaker (he is at work tonight). The 30 seconds before were spent counting down the seconds.

Actual time to register for 10 classes? Maybe 1 minute. And I’m not exaggerating! That is, if you get the classes you want. After maybe 20 seconds in, Skjalg hit a bump and we spent the next 15 minutes or so trying to figure it out. As of now, he has a pretty similar schedule to the one he wanted, except he is missing two classes (both of which we have the option of taking either this semester or next, but there are only 90 or so spots available). Judging from our class facebook group, he’s not the only one who didn’t get what he wanted.

This was the product of my initial brainstorming:


Evolution of today’s brainstorming from left to right! So funny to see after. I went into complete Rain Man mode!


And lastly, the final product!

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Now: bed! I’ve worked the last four shifts at work, so I’ve pretty much been at work since Monday at 15:00 (with two nights of 5-6 hours of sleep to separate the days). I might actually feel worse than I do during exam period after an exam after pulling an all-nighter! Hopefully this burned-out feeling can be itself burned-out by a good night’s sleep!

Let’s get away

January 29, 2015 § 2 Comments

Winter break is coming to an end and I can feel my brain priming itself for the semester that lies ahead. Once school starts, I’ll have had three weeks (well, 20 days) off – what have I done with all that time?? I look back at the days that have passed and find it hard to pinpoint exactly what I have accomplished… but maybe that’s the point?

Skjalg finished this past Friday and since then we have just been enjoying each other’s company (hard to do during exam period) and watching movies. Honestly, we’re just savoring this time where there is nothing to do and where time doesn’t matter, or even exist. I had so many plans for this break. I was going to review the material from this past semester, read up on the first week’s material of this coming semester, read Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand, do two new art pieces, visit the most beautiful cafés of Budapest, organize all the papers that have accumulated over these past two and a half years, organize all the random drawers in the apartment, go through all my digital photos, etc. Just a few small goals I made while studying for all my exams…

I did start reading a book, though not Atlas Shrugged, but rather something a little lighter (both literally and figuratively). I wrote in a journal. I watched many movies and shows (mainly The Good Wife, my mom and brother’s favorite). I visited with friends. I started a new piece (sneak peak below). I relaxed. And that was exactly what I needed to do, even if I was resistant to it for most of the time.

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On Tuesday night, we had a little game night at our place where we played the oh-so-adult Cards Against Humanity. Amir had just returned from a 10-day trip back home to Haifa and brought with him a GIANT box of the most amazing baklava and burma selection and a fantastic bottle of red wine. The night ran long – until around 6:30 in the morning! Time flies with good friends, good wine and good conversation. The next day was, of course, a dark, rainy day spent inside doing a Lord of the Rings marathon.

From the facebook page of Alwaleed sweets. Didn't manage to take a picture of the goodie box before we dove in!

From the facebook page of Alwaleed sweets. Didn’t manage to take a picture of the goodie box before we dove in!

Tonight we had registration for this coming semester. It is such a stressful experience now that we make our own schedules. We are essentially competing for every single class. Each one fills up within the first ten minutes, if not the first five! I spent an entire day during this break trying to come up with the best possible schedule. Skjalg and I have most of our classes together. “It’s good and it’s bad”, as Skjalg said. We’ll see how much we can stand each other by the end of it! We have 9 classes this semester – 9! I had a hard enough time remembering my classes last semester when there were only..well, actually, 9…but, I had three electives then and only one now, so there are 2 more core classes.

For the first half of the semester, my schedule will alternate weekly with this two:

Sch1.1 Sch1.2

For the second half, it will alternate between:

Sch2.2 Sch2.1Considering the load of classes we have, I love this schedule! The early days and the huge chunk of study time on Wednesdays will be so nice. Thursday is a heavy day, but I’m hoping it won’t drain me too much. I am looking so forward to having more time to study! Last semester felt like a never-ending sprint and I really wish I had had more time to cover the material.

Tomorrow we will do something we’d never planned or even expected – flying to Paris to visit my dear friend Faye! Faye and I met at Santa Monica College when I was living in Los Angeles and we have been friends ever since. It is my favorite type of friendship: the kind that picks up where it left off no matter how long it’s been since you last spoke. She has been doing her masters in Paris for the last two years and when she heard that I had some time off now, she told me we should come visit – an idea which was followed up by an email containing possible flight times! I talked it over with Skjalg and upon discovering that he has never been to France, we decided that we just had to do it. And with such cheap tickets – we would be stupid not to! You only live once 😉

Paris Drawing Wallpaper 2560X1600

On your mark, get set, 4th semester!

February 5, 2014 § 1 Comment

We’re only 3 days into the 4th semester and I’m already settling into the study groove. It’s easier to settle in when you have only had a week or so break between exam period and the beginning of the semester. Adjusting to the new semester after summer break was something else entirely!

My trip home to visit my family was in one word: perfect. I was able to spend quality time with almost all of my family members and friends – most of whom I haven’t seen for two years now. Despite the quick turn-around, I was able to squeeze in everything I wanted to do. Unfortunately, in my post-exam period delirium, I didn’t take any pictures! I snatched these ones from my mama’s facebook:

FamilyFridaySisShot1SisShot2 FamShot

After a total of two full days of traveling, two and a half days in San Francisco area, and three and a half in Los Angeles, I was back home in Budapest. Skjalg and I spent the entire weekend relaxing, watching movies and drinking sparkling wine. We made sure to squeeze out as much relaxation as possible before Monday morning.

Our schedule this semester is amazing. This is mainly because we only have 22 credits (vs. the normal 30 or 31). The main reason for this is that anatomy is now only 3 credits instead of 6/7. Why is that? Because the end of the second year boasts the three big FINAL exams: physiology, anatomy and biochemistry. The anatomy final will cover everything we have ever learned, so this semester has been designated a sort of “review semester”. We will still have midterms, however, because they don’t want us getting lazy! None of this extra time will be going to waste. By the middle of May, we will be responsible for a year worth of physiology, three semesters worth of biochemistry and two years (well, technically three semesters) of anatomy.

Here is our group’s schedule. You’ll notice we are especially lucky because: we have an entire day off! Last semester our group was actually divided in half for physiology, because there were too many people registered for our lab group (there were 5 or 6 people from the previous year retaking physio that registered for our group). As a result, 6 of us who were actually in the group got moved to a separate one, me included. Now, this semester, our little made-up group has physio lab on a different day entirely. So, while the rest of our group heads home after Hungarian on Thursdays, the chosen 6 of us will be gearing up for our weekly double-quizzes (we have a seminar and a lab quiz every week in physiology). On the plus side, after surviving a hellacious Thursday, we will have the rest of Friday off after physio lecture while the rest of our group gears up for their quizzes Friday afternoon. It’s a little sad to be getting split up. Our group is really strong and full of amazing people. This may very well be our last semester together, since we get to choose our own classes from 3rd year (rather than be assigned in groups the way we are now).

Schedule4thSemWith today being Wednesday, we didn’t have class, so Jannie and I headed to  the Corvinus library. Skjalg and I only started going to this library during exam period and I only wish I had found it sooner! It is modern, clean and always has a spot available (unlike the library at school, where you are lucky to get a spot on the floor). It only costs 1500 forint (about $6 or 40 nok) for a 3 month pass for guests. The library is part of a university that offers bachelor/master/doctoral programs in economics, business and international affairs.

Ok, hope that was enough catching up. Off to bed to get my rest in before our hell day of the week…


Schedule for 1st semester of 2nd year

August 30, 2013 § 2 Comments

Our schedule is out and I’m not so sure how I feel about it yet – not that I have any say in the matter.

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Our class load is less that it was previous semester. Last semester we had several smaller classes and this semester we have one BIG one – physiology! Dun dun duuun

Screen Shot 2013-08-30 at 22.49.31Physiology is a whopping 11 credits! Which means that Anatomy might – and most likely will – for the first time, take second place on the most important/demanding/stressful class list. From what I’ve heard, we have quizzes in Physiology every week during our lab period  and each of the quizzes count towards our final grade. For that reason, I am happy that we have our lab session on Thursday. If it were on Monday, the entire weekend would have to go to cramming for that quiz. The biggest downer with our schedule is how spaced out some of the classes are – for example, on Tuesday. Sometimes it takes a while to get into a good study groove and the way it is now, there are a lot of hours that have the potential to be misused.

Schedule for Second Semester

January 28, 2013 § 2 Comments

Sooooo not looking forward to this! Last semester we only had one day where we had to be at school by 8 a.m. –  definitely spoiled. Now we’re looking at about 30 hours of actual lesson time a week, which goes up to about 40 hours if you count time between classes. While I’d enjoy feeling sorry for myself I have to admit that our schedule is actually one of the best ones. One group has 3 days where they have classes from 8 in the morning until 8:30 in the evening. When do they expect us to study? Or sleep? Time to work on those efficiency skills…

Schedule 2nd semester

Here is Skjalg’s schedule. They are pretty similar, considering the fact that we are in different groups. It’s nice that we will get to see each other during the day. Quality time will be hard to come by once classes start..

Skjalg's 2nd semester schedule


Hump Day(s): Round III

September 27, 2012 § 2 Comments

For those not familiar with the term hump day, it is a reference to Wednesday as being the “hump” of the week – that is, everything is down hill from Wednesday. This is not the case for the members of EM1 Group 12… We have class from 10-15 on Monday and Wednesday and only from 13:50-16:30 on Tuesday, and then our week gets fun. Thursday isn’t too horrible (we have lectures from 9:20-18:00 with some breaks in between) but Friday is a life drainer! As I’ve posted earlier, our Friday is simply lab, after lab, after lab, and finally lab. So, here we go! Thursday morning and we’re only at the start of the climb…

The good part is that I am almost back to my healthy form again, save some bothersome sniffling and coughing. I’ve rationed what remains of our Dayquil/Nyquil reserves since Hungary operates under the same “get better by resting and not by using cold medication” philosophy as Norway does.

Drinking fluids is proving to be harder than I would like it to be. We are not allowed to have food, drink (even water), or gum in the Anatomy building and don’t always have time between our long classes to take restroom breaks. Sometime I will come home and realize that the last fluid I ingested was my single morning coffee, which pretty much makes me negative for fluids for the day. It also doesn’t help that they are doing construction on our street and the water came out like this yesterday:

Would you like a drink? It’s rust flavored!

Definitely not a “get your 8 glasses a day” motivator…though it went away after we ran the water for a minute or so.

Ok, enough dilly dallying – off to school we go!


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