Medical School Saga

This Story Has No End

I admit that this time I may have outdone myself. It has been over 365 days since I lined the walls of this blog with a post. You must be tired of me by now. I am too. What did I not try? I wrote a couple of drafts here and there, gave myself deadlines and even resorted to self deprecation and calling myself names.

I had finally given in to the forces that be, wallowing in self-pity and self-loathing, until some days ago, when a brown eyed boy asked me when I planned to write a blog post. I told him I didn’t know, and he proceeded to rain insults on my head, telling me to put an end to the pity party I had thrown myself and continue writing. Overcome with guilt, I finally picked up a broom and chased out the spirits of procrastination, self doubt and indecision, telling them that the owner of the house had moved back in.

First things first: thanks for staying with my overly inconsistent self for 2 years. The world is a better place because of people like you. Also, happy new year, because it’s never too late.

This post is dedicated to the last 18 months of my life. It was quite the roller coaster.

In The Beginning: All Things Bright and Beautiful

I started preclinical school in February last year. It’s the phase of medical school where students take the foundational courses: Anatomy, Physiology and Biochemistry. After about 12 months of classes, we would take the Part 1 Medical Board exam, which we had to pass before we could proceed to the promised land: clinical school, a land of milk and honey. My seniors had already told me tales of how strenuous and challenging it had been for them. So I knew what I was getting into. Or at least, I thought I did . We started and I tried to enjoy it. I really did. I experienced the 3 courses in different ways.

Anatomy

This was the broadest of the courses, with branches that had branches. My least favorite part of Anatomy was the dissection practical that involved cutting up dead bodies, in medical lingo, cadavers. The hall where we performed dissections always had an horrible stench, but that wasn’t the source of my aversion. I disliked it because of how it showed me things about myself I didn’t want to know. I shocked myself with how swiftly I acclimatized with the dissection conditions, how irreverent I became. I remember my first day in the dissection hall, as I looked at the cadavers in reverence, thinking of how sacred that moment, and life in general, was. I could barely tolerate the stench, and I walked in and out of the hall several times. But by the second week, I didn’t mind taking in a cold drink or a bottle of water to soothe my parched throat. By the third week, I was shamelessly taking in my phone charger and earphones so I could watch the latest episode of Scandal in peace and solitude. I searched everywhere for the reverent girl that had walked into the hall few weeks ago and couldn’t find her.

Physiology

This was my favorite and kept me sane through it all. It reminded me of what medicine was about, why I had chosen it and why it had chosen me.

Biochemistry

BIC, as it is fondly called, was the greatest scam of all. We mostly learnt about compounds, their chemical structures and various chemical pathways. For an average biochemistry class of an hour, I would start out all bright and attentive, which would last for about 20 minutes, and then I would drift away for the remaining 40 minutes, trying and failing to connect the dots on how the topic was useful in my journey to being a doctor. When I wasn’t trying to figure out the relevance of my knowledge of phosphatidyletholanmine’s chemical structure to my medical practice, I was usually dozing, because I had read through most of the last night, barely getting enough sleep. (Yes, I did some reading too.)

Soon enough, I wrote my first set of tests. The results came out and I saw that I had barely passed. It was a rude awakening, for I believed I had studied hard for them. I got the message crystal clear: I could read myself to death and still not do excellently well. Reading was not enough. How delightful.

At an Anatomy Practical: Do not let this smile deceive you, I was crying on the inside.

The Middle

Days turned into weeks, weeks turned into months. Pages piled into chapters, chapters piled into books.

In my head, I knew that my Part 1 exams were fast approaching but my heart wasn’t ready to accept it yet.

Winter is Coming

In July, the exam timetable was released and we were scheduled to write the exam that same month.

The days after that were the most terrifying. Every now and then I was calculating how many marks I needed to make the cut. Several times while reading I would stop to think about how unprepared I was for the exams and how impossible it was for me to study everything I needed to. I imagined what it would feel like to pass and what it would like if I failed. I had never felt so vulnerable.

This is a picture of me looking at my approaching exams, seeing how unprepared I was, wondering what I had been doing with all the free time I had had, and wondering if this was how it was going to end for me.

Winter is Here

The first exam day arrived with clear blue skies and a golden sun. I had hoped for a red sun and a red sky, for dramatic flair. My first paper was Biochemistry and it was a good paper, but that wasn’t enough to allay the fears that besieged my soul. The other exams followed in quick succession and in the space of one week, I was done with my Part 1 MB exams.

Then came the waiting. It wasn’t as agonizing as the pre-exam period but my blood pressure wasn’t back to normal either.

The results were released on a cool Friday evening, 3 weeks after the exams. I checked the list of candidates who had passed for my number, and there it was, black figures on a white sheet. Before I did my victory dance, I double checked to ascertain that the number was mine, that my eyes weren’t playing a trick on me.

Needless to say, I was ecstatic but most of all, I was grateful because I knew I was undeserving.

It’s been over a month since I passed my exams and my perception of the promised land has changed. Months ago, I saw the promised land as the end to all my struggles, the place where it would all make sense, where the good life would start: my happy place. But now I’ve learnt that the promised land is a continuous journey, not a destination. I see now that my happy place is wherever I pitch my tent, be it in Egypt or right at the bottom of the Red Sea. I see that the sad story doesn’t end, or the happy story start, when I get to the Promised Land, for it is here and now. I see now that my story, like all true stories, has no ending.

Thanks for reading and once again, for staying with me. Feel free to comment and share as you like!

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