March 2, 2018 § 5 Comments
Today marks nine years since I moved to Norway. Every year on this day, I take the time to reflect on everything that has happened. On who I was then. On the challenges experienced. On the memories created. And finally, on who I have become. This time nine years ago, a man seated next to me on the plane asked me where I was going and how long I would be there. “Norway. And, I have no idea.”, I’d replied. I remember getting lost in Heathrow during my connection. I remember feeling the most alone I’d ever felt in my life. As the plane passed through the clouds blanketing Oslo, it hit me. There was snow – everywhere – and I hadn’t seen snow in almost a decade. From that point, from that shattering realization that home was no longer a familiar concept, everything changed. I am no longer that clueless, hopeful girl with a one-way ticket.
It’s been quite a while since I wrote. It’s not for lack of caring – or lack of reflection or content – but rather lack of time. The weeks following USMLE Step 1 were extremely tough for me, as can be gathered from my previous post. I was exhausted and felt completely defeated. I set my focus on my trip to the states and any motivation I was able to muster up was funneled into preparing for my final exam in internal medicine (one of the biggest exams of our final year).
On December 13th, on my way home from the gym, I got THE email I’d been waiting for since the moment I’d selected “submit”. At that point, I had absolutely no idea how I was going to react. So, I continued home, where I started cleaning and organizing the apartment. After half an hour or so, Amir called me. It turned out he’d been waiting in my apartment building for the past twenty minutes. The results are released on the Wednesday three weeks after your exam at around 15:00. I’d initially wanted to be alone when I opened the results, but I invited him in and tried distracting myself with cleaning and meaningless conversation. He finally convinced me to stop avoiding it. If you ask him, he’ll tell you that the moment the result loaded on the screen, the look on my face told him I’d failed.
“Oh my god…. I passed.” Pure shock ran through my body.
Allowing him to be there while I got the result was the best decision I could have made. I had been so sure I’d failed, that I genuinely didn’t know how to respond. Having your best friend there in such a moment, celebrating you with such pure excitement, is priceless. It dragged me out of my state of shock and allowed me to start feeling the relief and happiness that one should feel after such an accomplishment.
After that moment, a certain confidence began to set in. Pushing myself through those months of studying, the countless hours spent going through questions and memorizing pathways and tables, had altered my brain. It took all the unfiled knowledge I had packed away in my mind after five years of medical school and put it all into place. It taught me how to think like a doctor. The first time I realized this was on a night shift in internal medicine. As we were running up the stairs to see a patient who had just been admitted to the endocrinology department, my doctor said, “Patient presenting with severe dyspnea and hyperkalemia. How do you treat hyperkalemia? Think about it and tell me when we get there.” Initially, I felt panic. I told myself I didn’t know and began to worry that I would look stupid. But then, I stopped myself. I pushed away the immediate block I’d put up, took a deep breath, and began to think it through. By the time we got there, I was ready.
T: Good. Another?
B: Mmmm, diuretic?
T: Which one?
B: Loop. Furosemide?
T: Good. And a third? (She gave me the hint that it was an ion)
T: Yes. Good.
Had I learned this in pharmacology? Yes. Had I been tested on it in my endocrinology exam? Yes. Was it knowledge easily accessed as a result of studying for school exams? No. Was it knowledge easily accessed as a result of studying for Step 1? Absolutely. Preparing for that exam has made all the difference. It took my mindset from that of a medical student to that of a clinician.
We left for Minneapolis the day after our final exam in internal medicine. What followed was three blissful weeks with my amazing family. I allowed myself a break from everything. After the year I’d had, I wanted to check out and live completely in the moment. I was going to need a rested body and healthy state of mind to tackle what lay ahead.
Sitting at the airport in Amsterdam on our way back to Budapest, Amir asked me how I felt about coming back. At that moment, it felt like I was heading into hell. While studying for Step 1, I’d pushed off everything I possibly could. Coming back meant having to finally deal with everything. My thesis (which I hadn’t started), applying for internships and summer jobs, starting the study process for Step 2 – all on top of my rotations, exams, and teaching.
It’s been a little over a month and a half and now I’m standing at the top of the mountain, looking down at everything I’ve accomplished and all the possible futures that lie ahead. My thesis is finished and my defense is scheduled for next Friday. I’ve submitted applications to the U.K. and Norway. I’ve registered for Step 2. The things that at one time felt so impossible are now just ticked boxes on a checklist.
So, what do I have ahead? Interviews. Step 2. Rotations and rotation exams. Boards.
After that? We’ll just have to wait and see.
December 8, 2015 § 9 Comments
Yesterday, I received an email from a new doctor in England whose brother is a 2nd year student here at Semmelweis. She was curious about exams here, about the demand placed on us, and said that it seemed more difficult than her studies in England.
I received it at a funny moment. I was in the middle of crying over my notes and being so thankful that they were in plastic sheet covers. What a coincidence that I should come across this photo this morning:
I don’t consider myself to be a very emotional person (generally). The only time you’ll see me cry is while listening to certain songs or watching movies; usually ones that touch on mortality (like About Time). I AM a perfectionist. Though I’d like to think I’m a recovering perfectionist, if there is such a thing. I’m also, as my mom once wrote in one of my birthday cards, “intolerant of inadequacy and incompetency”. She wrote that after a story about how I freaked out on a plane one time because my younger brother Christian was coloring outside of the lines in his coloring book. On top of this, I demand a lot from myself. I set impossible goals and when I don’t make them, I get really upset with myself. Studying medicine seems like the perfect fit, right? The perfectionist and the infinite subject.
I know it seems that I’ve gone off on a bit of a tangent (or five), ones detailing quite personal things about me, but I promise they all feed into a point.
Exam period is hard. That’s nothing new. I’ve written about it many times before. However, I usually write when I feel a spurt of inspiration, sort of as a means to motivate myself through the hell of the moment. I may convey that I’m stressed, that I’m nervous, that I don’t know if I can do it.
When I read that email, I felt so connected to her brother. It’s so easy to isolate yourself in moments of weakeness, to feel like you are the only one feeling what you are feeling. I usually add on to it by thinking that everyone else is doing fine and that is just me that can’t handle my emotions.
I started to wonder if that comes across in the posts that I write during exam periods; these specific chunks of the year where I am a full-blown emotional wrek. It’s not that I want to portray weakness or that anyone really needs to witness this wholly irrational version of myself, but more that connection; that moment where suddenly you feel normal and truly believe, even if only for a second, that everything is going to be ok. Sometimes Skjalg will joke around with me and say, “Buda-B doesn’t get scared” or “Buda-B doesn’t back down”. If I’m seen as super strong or if people are under the impression that I always have control, I’m flattered, but that’s just not the truth.
Let’s take a look at the ugly truth. This morning I was supposed to have my semi-final in pharmacology. I’ve been studying well (or so I thought) through the semester. I finished my notes for the topics last week. I started reviewing the topics we’d covered at the beginning of the semester. I started building my wall of insanity:
But pharmacology is memorization. And for some reason, I hit a total block. I started obsessing over some topics, not trusting my notes, searching through 20 different sources saying slightly different versions of the same thing. As time passed, I started to panic. I was spending 3 hours memorizing 1 topic. I calculated that if I somehow brought that down to 20 minutes per topic, that would still mean 16 straight hours of memorization.
Yesterday, I got 2 topics done in 9 hours. I felt hot and cold, exhausted and overstimulated, motivated and depressed, and I could feel my entire circulatory system throbbing in my body. Tears left me dead by 22:00, so I decided to call it a night and wake-up at 3:00 to continue; to salvage what little chance I had left. What happened? I started studying, but got only half a topic down in the first hour and a half. I felt nauseous but decided to force down some food. Then I distracted myself with some YouTube videos while I ate. Then I started thinking about all the topics I couldn’t answer. All of them. At the same time. Into the shower I went, hoping that the steam would someone distract me from my hyperventilation. It didn’t help. I can’t do this, I thought to myself, I really, really can’t do this.
There were still 40 minutes before Skjalg’s alarm was supposed to go off. No way I was waking him up before then. So I got into bed and stared at the dark ceiling while observing the stress race through my body.
When his alarm went off at 7:00, I leaned in and said, “Hey, I don’t think I’m going to go today.” He responded with a simple “ok” and lay with his eyes closed for a few more moments. “Why not?” he asked. I began to explain that I really, truly wasn’t ready, that I didn’t want to go and get lucky on my topics, that I wanted to learn it properly so that I know it long term and not just for now. “I think that sounds like a good idea,” he said, eyes still closed. With that, I started sobbing. I felt such a sense of relief that he supported my decision. I was so scared that it was a hasty decision being made out of fear, that it wasn’t rational in any sense, that I was just succumbing to weakness.
That’s just it: we are complete messes in exam period. Some of us lay on the floor and stare at the ceiling for hours without almost so much as blinking. Some of us sneak out to the corner store and literally jump at the site of another human being. Some of us cry about anything and everything. Some of us are complete roller coasters. And some of us are like a storm, calm in the beginning, but with a dark strength that grows larger and larger until the storm hits. That’s me.
I hope you’re still following me at this point. It’s been a long, long day. I made a really tough decision that feels like a really strong decision made in a really weak moment…one that my brain is still trying to define as weak. My thoughts are scattered, my eyes are throbbing and I should be sleeping so I can get up early to review for tomorrow’s surgery exam.
So why did I write this? Because I wanted to show that there is a side that doesn’t get published. That no one likes to talk about. That many would say shouldn’t be talked about. That the weak moments are there and sometimes they are the only thing we know. And yet, we keep pushing forward. Exam after exam. Semester after semester. And we can feel so alone while we do it. We can be so quick to think that everyone else has it so easy while we have it so hard. I don’t want people who read my blog to think that I always have everything figured out. That I don’t go through tough moments. I do and I know them very, very well. But there is such a beauty in that weakness. Not during, of course, but after. Smooth seas do not make skillful sailors.
As I lay in bed this morning, in a pool of my tears on Skjalg’s chest, I gave him one of the most heartfelt “thank yous” I’ve ever given. “It’s ok baby, it’s the back of the medal”. I’ve never heard that expression before and hearing it then in that moment that fit is so perfectly, I couldn’t help but smile. It’s so easy to feel isolated, especially with social media being what it is today. You compare yourself and your life to everyone’s highlight reels. You only see what others want you to see. So, I wanted to share with you a glimpse of the “back of the medal”. A side Skjalg knows all too well. A side that we are probably all too familiar with in some way or another.