I didn’t realize how little outside exposure I would get during the first two years of medical school. I’m inside practically all day and only go home to sleep (which is still indoors!). As Step 1 nears, the atrophy of my social skills has become all the more apparent, and in many situations, I end up being very…well, awkward.

A few examples to illustrate:

On one normal Sabbath day, I was merrily singing my heart out during song service. Then the congregation started singing, “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name.” For the first verse, I sang, “All hail the power of Jesus’ name! Let angels prostate fall!” I immediately stopped, incredulous and amused. Did I really just sing out the word “prostate”?

Spending time in crowded areas, even grocery stores, lately feels new and exciting. When I’m out in public, I can’t help but stare at people. I think, his face and arms are very edematous – I wonder if he has superior vena cava obstruction? I would have to look at his JVP, check for pitting, and rule out a heart or liver issue. Or her right eyelid is drooping – I wonder if she has Horner’s? Or maybe Bell’s palsy? That man is walking with a shuffle gait. I wonder if he also has a Parkinsonian resting tremor. I stare long enough until some people catch my eye. Of course, my instinct is to smile and totally give away that I’ve been coming up with a dozen review of system questions to ask them.

I have become great at not maintaining eye contact. Whenever I start talking to someone, my eyes get confused and dart everywhere, looking for words to read. Talking to people who are interested in things outside of school has also become unfamiliar. What do I say? Am I saying the right things? Why does he think I know anything about TV shows and fun? Responses have become reflex, like “That’s so cool that you went cliff jumping and waterfall swimming in a lake! I just learned what microbes swim in places like those!”

Lately, I’ve been fumbling with words and staying silent because I don’t know how to say something. What’s the word for putting fruit into a blender and mixing them together? Oh right, blend. I’ve forgotten how to speak English. I’ve also forgotten essential information like names. Whenever I see an acquaintance, my usual greeting has become, “Oh, hi there….you! *awkward pause* How’s it going?” I can only hope that in a few minutes, my hippocampus catches up, and I can finally recall his/her name. Or else I end up asking the same person multiple times in multiple occasions, “I’m so sorry. What was your name again?”

Let’s just say, I can’t wait to be done with Step 1.