How sad and bad and mad it was – but then, how it was sweet!

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: So?

B: Insulin.

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)

B: Calcium?

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.

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 😉

 

My First Scientific Conference

February 11, 2017 § 8 Comments

It’s almost 3 in the afternoon and I’ve only been awake for 2.5 hours. Even still, as I lay here in bed writing this, I’m considering taking a nap (Edit: it’s now 19:00 as I continue writing this… I fell asleep for another 3 hours).

This week was scary, amazing and all-consuming. Almost everything I did was outside my comfort zone. There were some really high high’s and some very low low’s. Everything is changing now. We are nearing the end of this giant, life-altering chapter of our lives and that fact sinks in deeper and deeper with each passing day. I feel like I’m standing in a giant room with every door and window open; time is running out and I need to escape this room, but I don’t know which door or window to go through.

Now, let’s take you through the past week:

MONDAY

  • 8:00-12:00Hematology practice on the Buda side
    • Leave an hour early to make it to anatomy on time
  • 12:00-13:30 – Teach anatomy
    • Colleague is sick, so take on his class as well. Come up with a plan for making the practice useful for your now 25 students.
    • Teach cardiac embryology and hope that they at least understood half of what you were saying.
  • 13:30-14:00 – Try to help your students with a scheduling problem they have with PE and anatomy.
  • 14:00-15:00 – Last minute preparation for public health (PH) research presentation
  • 15:30-17:30 PH research presentation
    • Mock presentation of your research for the entire department
    • Note down critiques and tips and answer any questions
    • Sit in on the presentations and critiques of two other Hungarian students – all in Hungarian
  • 17:30-18:30 – Get home and eat dinner – you’ve only had two protein shakes so far today
  • 18:30-22:30 – Work on changes to your PH presentation

TUESDAY

  • 8:00-13:00 –  Hematology practice
    • Try to pay attention and learn something, but you are 18 people crammed into a small room and you can’t think about anything other than your research projects.
    • Leave early with Amir to work on surgery research project. Note to self: make-up missed session later (just another thing to deal with).
  • 11:00 – Find out you’ve been rejected from the 6th year program in Stavanger, then immediately after, get a call from your boyfriend that he was accepted. Feel extreme happiness and sadness simultaneously.
    • Ignore your emotions so that you can focus on your research project
    • Best friend pushes you to talk about it. Feelings and fears about your future as a doctor rush forward. Freak out about the future for 30 or so minutes.
  • 12:00-22:30 – Surgery research project
    • Literally 10.5 hours of constant work on your presentation. Remember all that statistical analysis you did in December when you wrote your abstract? That doesn’t make sense anymore. Re-learn it and do it again.
  • 22:30-02:00 – Home to finish up project while talking about Stavanger with boyfriend
  • 02:00 – Submit presentation to advisor
    • This still counts as Tuesday night, right??

WEDNESDAY

  • 8:00-13:00 – Work on presentations
    • Make final changes
    • Look up any articles/data needed for any potential questions about your research
  • 13:00: Find out that you need to attend the laparoscopy competition on Friday and need to find someone to cover your classes 
    • Luckily, one of your TAs is a close friend and amazing human being! (Thank you, Marianne!)
  • 14:00-15:00Surgery research presentation for your advisors (one of which is the head of the department)
  • 15:00-16:00 – Watch 4 sessions of the Hungarian student conference while waiting for your public health advisor
    • Get smacked in the face with the reality of what is going to happen to you tomorrow.
  • 16:00-16:30Meet with public health advisor to go over finishing touches on presentation
  • 16:30-17:00 – Rush into a store to find a suit jacket for tomorrow
  • 17:00-18:45 – Amir’s place to work on changes to surgery presentation
  • 19:30-02:00 – Work!
    • Finalize both presentations
    • Practice presenting
    • Make quizzes for anatomy class – and start grading quizzes from Monday!

THURSDAY

  • 07:00 – Get ready and practice presentations
    • Realise you’ve made a mistake in your presentation and go through the data again. Make the change in your presentation.
  • 10:00-11:00 – Attend presentation by Thieme at the anatomy department.
  • 11:00-12:45 – Practice presentations at conference location
  • 13:00 – Session starts!!

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  • 13:35 – Surgery research presentation
    • Maximum 10 minutes
    • 5 minute question section, where jurors can ask any questions regarding your work. Some of your questions:
      • How did you account for the potential bias of those that volunteered for the experimental group (i.e. that they were already interested in surgery as a profession and therefore likely more skilled)?
      • Do you plan to redo the study and if so, what measures will you take to increase the statistical significance of your results?
      • What role do you think gaming systems play in the development of laparoscopic skill and technique?

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  • 13:45 – Rush out of room with Marcus (a fellow 5th year student presenting with you in the next block)
    • The block for your other presentation is already halfway done and you have to sneak in and upload your presentation during the break
  • 13:50-14:50 – Observe presentations of all other students of your block.
    • Marcus does an amazing job and gets more questions than you’ve seen anyone get (he worked on a study comparing different EKG readers).
  • 14:55Public Health research presentation
    • Maximum 10 minutes
      • Get a little thrown off when one of your animations messes up and shows Dresden and Munich as being in the middle of the North Sea. Marcus tells you later that you made a nice save.
    • 5 minute question section, where jurors can ask any questions regarding your work. Some of your questions:
      • What explains the age difference between the analysed subgroups?
      • How did students specify their desired specialty?
      • Do you have similar statistics showing predictive factors of other specialities?

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  • 15:15-19:00 – Pictures, celebrate and nap before the closing ceremony.

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  • You didn’t finish grading the quizzes from Monday, so you have to do it while celebrating with your friends at Spiler.
  • Luckily, your friends are awesome and split the grading with you. Cocktails and grading for the win!

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  • 19:30Closing ceremony
    • On the way here, Skjalg brings up how he thinks you could win. You tell him to stop bringing it up because you don’t expect it and don’t want to start thinking about it. You’re just happy with having presented.
    • The ceremony starts and people keep asking you what section you were in. You honestly don’t know. Getting through the day was literally the only thing on your mind.
    • You recognize a name in 3rd place of one of the sections. Skjalg, Amir and András (your advisor) get antsy. Second place is announced and you see your name flash across the screen as it is read out loud by the conference director.

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    • You walk up, get your prize – in complete shock – and then return to your friends.
    • The next section results are read. You’re busy looking at your prize and diploma – still in complete shock. Suddenly, your and Amir’s names are read out loud for 1st place.

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  • Back to the front you go – is it possible to be more in shock than to be in complete shock? You and Amir are both so surprised that it makes for one of the most endearing and genuine moments.

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  • 22:00 – Bed
    • Have you ever been this tired before? Probably, but it doesn’t feel like it.

FRIDAY

  • 06:00 – Suturing practice
    • Laparoscopic competition is at 8:00 and you haven’t practiced suturing in a long time
    • No chicken breasts or bananas present….this kitchen glove will have to do!

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  • 8:00Laparoscopy Competition
    • 1st round – Peg transfer: you do great during warm-up, but when the comp starts, you drop your rubber tube twice! This adds 40 sec onto your best time and puts you in 12th place.

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    • 2nd round – string 5 pieces of straw onto suturing thread: you drop one of your straw pieces (again!)

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    • You (somehow) manage to snag 4th place. Your amazing boyfriend rocks it with 3rd place!

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  • 13:00-17:00 – Last day of haematology practice on the Buda side
  • 17:00-18:00 – Psycho-cleaning of the apartment
  • 18:00-midnightIndian night with your friends!! And a perfect way to close a hectic week.

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Click here for all of the abstracts by presenters at the conference.

In summary:

  • I was rejected, and Skjalg accepted, from Stavanger. This means that I will be here in Budapest for 6th year and have to find a new place to live (for myself). Skjalg will be in Stavanger for the entire year and will come back to Budapest every few weeks for exams.
  • I won 1st place together with Amir for our surgery research project and 2nd place for my public health research project.
  • Skjalg won 3rd place in the laparoscopy competition.
  • I have amazing friends from all over the world.

I’ve slept for about 16 of the last 24 hours, which is a pretty good indication of how I am feeling right now. This week was a heavy one. A really, really heavy one. But in the end, I am so happy for it. It felt so good (afterwards) to have pushed myself through something I never thought I could do. I’m happy that I have the strength to throw myself in new directions and the support system to care for me when I don’t quite make it.

 

To build a home

November 14, 2015 § 6 Comments

I’ve disappeared again! I haven’t forgotten, nor have I decided to stop, blogging. Why the quiet? Because I have so many posts I want to write (my mom’s visit, Skjalg’s family’s visit, my first trip to Italy) and so little time to write them! It feels wrong continuing on with new posts when I have those memories to document, but I’m obviously not finding the time to write them 😉

So, here we are! We have only 3 weeks left of the semester and I’m sitting here baffled. Where has the semester gone?? There has been so much going on and I feel like time has completely escaped me (something that I feel a lot). There has been no time to establish a routine, no time to feel the moment for the moment. I’ve been viewing time in chunks: “2 days until the weekend, when I can finally study for ____”, “4 days until my pharma midterm”, “5 hours to prepare for tomorrow’s anatomy lesson”, etc. Right now, the focus is on Wednesday next week, when we will be done with our 2nd pharmacology midterm and our radiology midterm. After that, I’ll find another goal to set my sights on. The problem with this is that all the time between these points is seemingly inconsequential. I’m always looking to the future and hardly ever to the present. And that’s no way to enjoy life.

This brings us to another major thought consumer – we’re almost doctors! It’s an unsettling thought. A big one. Not just because we’re going to be doctors, but because this means that this giant chapter of our lives is coming to an end. In the past when people have asked me how long I would be attending medical school, I’ve actually witnessed them buckle, even if only ever so slightly, under the weight of my answer, “6 years”. This adult life we’ve created for ourselves, this place, these people – they aren’t forever. And that is sad, and its scary, and its horrible, and its beautiful.

No man ever steps in the same river twice, for its not the same river and he’s not the same man.

– Heraclitus

The universe is in a constant state of flux – that I know, consider and appreciate – but feeling the flux is something else entirely. Its the flux that is always felt at a transition, at the closing of one chapter and the beginning of another. Its exciting and terrifying.

This flux has been on my mind a lot this semester. We’ve made it through the toughest years and now its time to stop focusing on just surviving and focus on where we’re headed. I’ve spent most of my life trying to get here and now I need to start on a concrete plan for where I want to work as a doctor. Is it the US? Is it Norway? Is it somewhere else? I’m not tied down anywhere. My family is spread out all over the world, I have no “home” I go back to for holidays or special occasions. I am my home. And with that, the world is open to me. So what do you do then? How do you even start to make a decision? And am I really at the point in my life where I need to start thinking about things like starting a family? I’ll be 31 when we graduate. Most of my classmates will still be in their early or mid-20’s. When did I grow up?

On that light note, I’m off to the gym. Its a beautiful bipolar winter day. The last of the fall leaves are clinging on despite the wind. I’m going to miss the green. After the gym, I’ll be back home to study! If I get above 80% on my pharmacology midterm on Tuesday, I can take the semi-final during the week before exam period. On Wednesday we have our radiology midterm, which I’m dreading. I’ve actually been surprised by how much I like radiology. I just wish I had more time to study it! I’m not very good at studying subjects simultaneously, so this will definitely be a learning experience.

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