A New Kind of Hard – 3rd Year

I’m finishing my last week of psychiatry rotation. Like whaa?! I know. I’m a 3rd year. It’s surreal. The challenges of 2nd year and Step 1 is all behind me now, and there’s no turning back.

Ooo, is that my name?! Hehe…umm…do I really know what I’m doing?!

If I could sum up my 3rd year experiences so far in one word, I would say it is “moving.” Definitions (per Google, not in particular order):

  1. Producing strong emotion, especially sadness or sympathy.
  2. Influence or prompt (someone) to do something.
  3. In motion.
  4. Change the place or position of.
  5. Make progress; develop in a particular manner or direction.

Interacting with patients, reinforcing knowledge, and working with a multi-disciplinary team…they all present a new kind of challenge. It’s the kind that drives me to tears not because I got a low score or fear the next set of exams. It drives me to tears because I realize medicine can only go so far. No matter how well the anti-depressants or anti-anxiety meds we prescribe work, we can’t erase childhood abuse or violence in the home. Although we have great plans to transfer patients to a board and care facility for further care, we can’t keep them off the streets if they choose to leave or if they cannot afford it.

I realize, too, the necessary humility physicians must possess to show love and care to patients who may insult us, ignore us, and distrust us. Humility is also needed to admit when we’re wrong, to respond to constructive feedback, to ask for help when we don’t know the answers, and to respectfully listen to people who strongly disagree with us.

Lastly, I learn every day about my own personal limitations. How many emotions from the day can I manage without feeling completely drained by 5 p.m.? How do I keep a healthy boundary between empathy for the patient and my own health? What is the best way to organize all the things – the papers, the emails, the assignments, the sign-offs?!

In the end, I’m human. I make mistakes, I feel hurt when I’m threatened or not appreciated, I feel frustrated when the same patient keeps coming back to the hospital for the same reason, I want to go back to sleep when the alarm clock goes off. But knowing I’m human and knowing that my patients are human too helps me to connect with them in moving ways. Knowing the impact that I can make on someone’s life –  knowing that my hard work is making a difference – makes this new kind of hard totally worth it.

Welcome to the Wards

After two year of medical school, we are finally done with the classroom portion and are now moving on to the clinical wards, where we get to take care of patients. Ask anyone in my class, and we are all thrilled to finally leave the stress of second year behind. After weeks of furious prep for the onslaught of finals and Step 1, everyone is relieved it is over (except for the crazy people who keep reminding me that we are supposed to get our Step 1 scores back in a week- could you stop adding stress to my life please???)

I was fortunate with how I scheduled my Step 1 exam to get a 3 week break before starting third year. How did I spend this break? Well, I went on my first ever road trip with my family across the US to visit Yellowstone, Mount Rushmore, Gettysburg, Hershey factory, and Washington D.C. including the White House, Capitol, Mount Vernon, and Smithsonian museums. We visited 22 states, traveled over 6,600 miles, and had plenty of adventures including eating lunch on the banks of the Mississippi, almost running over a bighorn sheep who jumped on the mountain road in front of us, and yes, even being forced to stop on the side of the road with vehicle issues. It was the perfect and much-needed break with my family before starting third year.

I am starting with Ob/Gyn and by luck of the draw, I get to start with 4 straight night shifts from 6 pm to 7:45 am. (Oh, and I have NEVER pulled an all-nighter, so staying awake and alert for 14 hours is a challenge of its own besides trying to perform like a competent student doc). And my first day on the job was certainly memorable!

1. First time ever logging onto the electronic medical records to review patients and write my own notes. Trying to navigate a new system is a challenge, but I at least find some workable solutions to get the job done.

2. First patient I am assigned to take care of, this patient has some mental disorder and thinks I am an incompetent clinician for asking questions and verbally is alternating between half-answering questions and verbally throwing us out of the room saying she is allergic to questions. Result is one of the most jumbled up and incoherent histories I have taken. At least it should get better from there!

3. First delivery! My resident tells me that this delivery is mine and that I am supposed to deliver this baby. I am able to suit up fast enough to get in on the action. While trying to remember all the steps for a successful delivery at 4 am, I am shocked when the baby comes FLYING out and all the carefully choreographed steps for a good delivery we had learned in our skills lab are now useless and I find myself simply trying to catch the kid and not drop it. With the help of my resident, I don’t drop my first fly ball 😂

4. You’re going to do this fetal ultrasound, my resident tells me. Never mind that although I had plenty of ultrasound experience in my first two years of training, I have never done an ultrasound on a pregnant patient before. All I am supposed to do is find the head and spine, but I get so disoriented that I find the head, but have no luck finding the spine. The babies must be doing well because they sure move a lot and don’t hold still as you try to find them😄

Well, what an eventful night! Never before has sleeping at 9 am felt this good! Back at it tonight!

The Night Before Step 1

Less than 12 hours away from the 8 hour beast. I feel like the armor-clad protagonist facing the final villain with only one “revive” potion left. As I look back at the past two years (all the 25 miles *nod to Allison’s post*), I seriously can’t believe I’m finally here. There’s no way I’m really taking the Step 1 tomorrow. Right? My emotions cycle between fear, anxiety, confidence, anticipation, and back to fear. Deep breaths, Eunice. Deeeeeeeep breaths.

Now that I’ve done all I can to fit two years worth of information in my worn-out brain, all that is left to do is to leave the rest to God. Do I trust that God has everything in control? Do I trust that He has the best planned for me? Sometimes I sincerely question. And even now, I still have lingering worries about tomorrow and the rest of my future. Yet in spite of all my failures and mistakes in the past, He somehow always helps me back on my feet to try again. He somehow teaches me to be still, to listen, to be patient. I think I can trust Him to do it again this time.

A few of my classmates and I met together before the big test to talk about our fears, pray together, and encourage each other. We also crammed in a quick anatomy review sesh! Thank God for good friends who remind me of what’s really important and who see fun in everything. A passage we read was from Psalms 118:

The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid.
    What can mere mortals do to me?
The Lord is with me; he is my helper.
    I look in triumph on my enemies. [STEP 1!!]

13 I was pushed back and about to fall,
    but the Lord helped me.
14 The Lord is my strength and my defense;
    he has become my salvation.

25 Lord, save us!
    Lord, grant us success!

29 Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
    his love endures forever.

Pre-Step 1 – ready to be 3rd years!

See you on the other side of Step 1!

Mile 22

Ever since I was young, I have had a passion for running. Early on in my running career, I realized I was not always the fastest, but I did learn that I had a well-established base of endurance that allowed me to run for miles and miles. During my senior year of college, I decided that it was finally time to run a marathon. For five months, I awoke early on cold, Tennessee mornings for long, training runs. After months of training, my friends and I made our way out to the starting line at 6:30 in the morning in the pouring rain of Atlanta, Georgia. The elements were not at all cooperating, but nevertheless, we were determined to run the race that we had been preparing for despite being completely soaked in water and sweat. Somewhere along the way, my friends and I got separated by our different paces and I found myself running alone. I remember getting to the twenty-two mile marker and feeling completely and utterly exhausted. My shoes and clothes were soaked, my muscles were screaming for a break, and my optimistic outlook was beginning to wane as the miles droned on and on. To say the least, mile twenty-two was filled with a lot of doubt in my training and feelings as if the finish line would never come. It was also in mile twenty-two that I met a fellow marathoner who was feeling about the same way. We began commiserating about the experience and we encouraged each other to keep running. When we saw the sign for mile twenty-three, it was as if a second-wind hit and we knew that the end was just a little ways away. Before we knew it, we crossed the finish line with the greatest sense of accomplishment.

In many ways, second year of medical school has brought up so many parallels to the experience of training for and running a marathon. I awake before the sun has come up to study for a few hours before campus becomes abuzz with activity. Each day I sit down to answer a block of at forty UWorld questions as I try to train my mind to the discipline of focusing and answering questions well for such a long duration of time. I now find myself at what feels like mile twenty-two of the marathon. My mind is tired, the to-study list seems to be ever-growing, the sleep and exercise seem to be decreasing, but I have to keep pushing forward one day at a time. Similar to my marathon race, I find myself surrounded by classmates who are experiencing the exact same situation. Although we each feel discouraged, exhausted, and stressed, I am daily amazed to see what endurance, abilities, and passion each of my classmates possesses that causes them to give this medical school life their absolute best day after day. We encourage each other daily, we laugh and cry together in the misery, and ultimately we will soon round the corner of USMLE Step 1 and be third-year medical students. Oh how I cannot wait to cross the finish line!

A Month of Love

As Step 1 nears and anxiety escalates, I often find myself looking at the negatives. Like, I’m never going to finish all of these UWorld questions!! Pathophys will be the death of me!! And other catastrophic thoughts that only serve to destroy my productivity and self-esteem (don’t think of such things!). But I wanted something positive to look back on in this experience, and the end of February seemed like the perfect time to do that.

The first weekend of February was a golden weekend, and it marked the end of the 4th test cycle (woohoo!). That Saturday night, a group of my classmates had a game night of Trifecta (Taboo and charades combined). I laughed SO HARD. So hard I couldn’t breathe. While imitating Donald Trump, hula dancing, pretending to be a potato, and acting out old musicals, we all temporarily forgot the stress of the last test cycle.

The next evening, a friend and I visited an Escape Room in Redlands. We worked on puzzles with two strangers and escaped the room with minutes to spare. I had a blast using my mental abilities for something other than medical school for a change.

On February 8, one of my friends celebrated a birthday, and a few of us surprised her with some macaroons and balloons. She was studying at home and was so happy to see us! While at the bakery looking for her gifts, I nibbled on some sweets too, which always makes me happy.

During that week, one of my classmates had a healthy, handsome baby boy. A few days after giving birth, she brought her baby to class so that we could all look at his angelic sleeping face. He was a sweet reminder that life is so precious and that many wonderful things can happen during times of distress.

That Friday night, we had a class vespers at one of my classmate’s lovely house. His parents were so kind and welcoming. We had fantastic Indonesian food and home-made cookies and heard two of our classmates share their testimonies of their journeys with Christ. We also made Valentine’s Day cards to hand out to a neighborhood in San Bernardino.

February 11 was Caribbean Day (part of Black History Month celebration) at Kansas Ave. SDA Church. A few of my friends were on praise team that day. We celebrated the many cultures of Caribbean countries. Many church members were dressed to represent. The music was lively and uplifting. So many colors and beautiful people! And delicious food for lunch!

That night, our class had a documentary showing for a fundraiser. We raised hundreds of dollars towards our class project — Koidu Clinic in Sierra Leone (check it out here)! Also that night, a friend’s church had an Acoustic Night during which lots of old and new love songs were sung and played. I was sitting next to a special someone that night, and the whole event simply felt like a dream.

100 roses!

Valentine’s Day was a big day because I had been planning a rose fundraiser for the class project. I and a few friends (and a far-away expert florist) worked hard to get them ready for distribution. This was the giving day, and it was a success! Everyone was so happy to receive them. Valentine’s Day was off to a good start.

The day got even better when I went to my car. I was greeted with this! A “I <3 U” message on my steering wheel, a solar powered dancing plant, snacks, and chocolate. I felt so loved and special.

The weekend of the 17th was a big one for the M1s. Friday night was the class’s dedication, and I saw my first year friends receive their LLU Bibles. I was so proud of them. The next afternoon, an M1 friend invited me and other friends over to his place for lunch with his parents who were visiting for the big weekend. We played Trifecta with his parents, and now I know where my friend gets his hilariousness and competitiveness from!

That Saturday night, a group of friends and I went to Round 1 in Moreno Valley and had a karaoke night. We sang to Beyonce, Journey, Phantom of the Opera, Usher, and Disney songs. I saw the true fun (slightly crazy!) side of my friends, and it was so refreshing!

The next day, Sandi Patty performed a concert at LLU Church. She was overwhelmingly amazing!! I have never seen her perform live, and I was blown away! The day after was President’s Day, and I was able to spend it with my family. The moments when all five of us are together are few, so we always make sure to involve food as well.

In the days that followed, I went to Street Medicine, gave advice to high school students at a CAPS event, ate at an Indonesian restaurant with a few girl friends (girl’s night out, we called it), spent time with an uncle and aunt visiting from Colorado. The School of Medicine had a special vespers during which an experienced panel discussed the topic of relationships (oo la laaa, I know).

The end of February was capped with a visit under the sea – to The Little Mermaid! I experienced it with a very special friend (yes, the same one who went to Acoustic Night with me and decorated my car).

In the end, although the time between these events were filled with classes, studying, stress, and Step 1 anxiety, the good still outweighed the bad. I still had friends and family who cared about me and reminded me that there is life outside of medical school. I still had weekend time to enjoy extra things. There were still so many things for which to be grateful. In the end, it was still a month of a lot of love.