Tuesday, September 25, 2007

ain't the way you found me, and I'll never be the same

Since I'm always a bit more negative and grumpy on here than I am in real life, I ought to mention some things I rather like about school. I know that in my last post, I adequately demonstrated how I spend too much time observing behavior in my class. I've also wasted a lot of time picking apart my own reactions and behaviors in this environment. But there are some other things I have observed that are kind of astounding, in a good way.

Yesterday, we learned how to do prostate exams. And when I say we learned how to do prostate exams, I mean that we learned how to do prostate exams (you know, by actually doing them). It was the third class that we'd had which involved physical examination. Think about that for a second. You're learning how to take a blood pressure, listen to someone's lungs and heart, and next up at bat? You're shaking hands with a stranger and telling them to lie down on their side with their back facing you. Thankfully, the stranger was a very seasoned, paid model who was incredibly comfortable with his body and thus made the entire experience a lot less traumatic.

I'll tell you what. I wasn't afraid of taking seventy billion hours of class or cramming for exams or any of those types of rigors. That's a known quantity, even if it's somehow more extreme than previous experiences. But doing a prostate exam? Yeah, I was pretty anxiety-ridden about that. In general, I'm most afraid of the doctoring part of being a doctor. Not because I want to have my nose buried in books all my life (contrary to what it may often appear what with my ultra-nerdiness). But it's more because there is very little that can prepare you for these types of things. Some things you can only learn by doing.

So yesterday brought to mind the first week of class, as a result. Because the first week of class, what I feared most was Anatomy. I had never taken an Anatomy class before. And again, memorizing every branch of the brachial plexus is not really, ultimately a big deal. But I had no idea how I was going to react to being in the same room with a considerable quantity of cadavers. I also had no idea how I was going to react to cutting into someone who was once, but no longer is, alive.

The first week of lab, my group stood there regarding each other, none of us quite sure what we had gotten ourselves into. We were so tentative and uncertain. And it really blows my mind that it was less than two months ago. Because nowadays, we're slapping our gloves on and getting arm deep in colon without the slightest hesitation. It just astounds me how quickly you get over things in medical school, whether it be cutting into human flesh or examining a man's prostate. These things seem like they'll haunt you forever, but you very quickly shrug them off as commonplace and unremarkable. It says to me a lot about the capability of the mind- not just a medical student's, because I really do not think they possess some unique ability. If you think about it, it's like a compressed version of heartbreak- you think you'll never get over it, and this goes on for some time, until one day, you wake up and his face has become a bit of a blur, and yet another day, someone else catches your eye. The brain is designed for resilience, for getting over a lot more than we ever imagine, it seems.

This does not even get to the original impetus for mentioning the good, though. Because the other thing I really like about school right now is that it's not about anyone else. Sure, some people make it about other people, but here's the thing. It's pretty intense. Not OMG, I can't handle this! intense, but intense enough that you have to figure some stuff out, and you have to figure it out fast. It will not do to simply follow the crowd. I feel like school has been a process for me for the past two months, of figuring out what things work and don't work for me, how I learn, what I can retain and what I can't, which subjects are intuitive and which require correcting the way my brain reasons, which subjects I can study in group settings and when I need quiet me time. Anatomy, that class I initially feared like a little sissy, has turned into a fascination- it's basically like taking a foreign language class. Well, except that it's a foreign language class coupled with these visual and tactile components. And it's sort of neat when you figure out how to integrate all those components to figure sh*t out fast.

In a way, I learned that last bit from Indian Uncle. He and I, in our quibbling uncle-niece dynamic, went on a kind of west coast tour before one of our exams. Taking our show on the road, someone would ask us a question and the two of us would do our little back and forth about how we made sense of a thing. And whoever asked the question either took one of our sides or (more often) melded our quibbling into something that made sense to them. And weirdly, to me, that's more important than being able to explain something perfectly- it's far more pleasant to see someone else take your words and make sense of those words in their own way. Then again, anyone who enjoys writing might point out the same thing.

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