29 March 2007

going awol: my exceptionally difficult decision

when i last posted, i'd just experienced a day from hell in which my body revolted and the medical system pretty much tortured me. the time since then has been turbulent, to say the least. and what i'm about to describe may well surprise you.

first, my ct scan came back relatively normal. normal enough, that is, to rule out any kind of pathological process for my pain. the antispasmodics worked nicely to reduce spasms, but my gut remained tender and sore for several days. on the up side, my mom returned to town and proceeded to feed me--so i'm finally off my diet of applesauce, rice, toast and bananas. believe me, this is a good thing.

the whole experience of the pain, the er, etc, however, left me feeling quite anxious. most of you already know that i have a tendency to be an anxious person (again, i was the cautious one of the kids; my brother was the one always running toward fire instead of away from it, like me). but i have good reason for my anxieties regarding my healthcare. to bring the point home without offering too much information, i'll turn 30 this summer, and in this decade of my 20s, i'll have lost 3 different internal body parts, been put through chemical menopause, have endured four surgeries (three abdominal, one routine loss of wisdom teeth), spent more money than i've earned trying to pay for all the procedures and doctors' visits, and, at one point, counted up that I'd been put through more than 24 pelvic &/or rectal exams in a period of 18 months. No, i'm not making this up. and i don't have munchausen's, either. i've merely had a string of really, really, really bad luck. speaking of which, does anyone know where i can get a body transplant? or a refund? or at least some *good* luck? i feel like i could be despair.com's poster child.

so...anyway...let's just say that the recent medical events have pushed some major buttons in me and that now i'm at the point of feeling rather depressed by all of it. it didn't help that i was under tremendous stress in school. in fact, tremendous may be putting it lightly. since i failed a course in the fall (i'm blushing; this still embarrasses the heck out of me), mwms put me on "probation." i'm not the only one out of 163 that's now on the dean's hit list; in fact, 3 didn't even get a chance to return for this semester--but it still really stings to be in this position. not to mention that it makes me doubt myself even more. it's a tough spot to be in, considering that this is precisely the point when i need confidence the most. but the worst thing was the pressure of knowing that if i failed another class, i'd lose my seat in medical school. for good. and i've worked way too long and way too hard to get here to let that happen.

the_godfather has been working hard to coach me through this process and I really don't think i'd have gotten this far without him. in fact, i'm convinced i wouldn't have. but what he showed me last week was probably the most powerful thing of all. i've been doubting myself so much that i keep getting paralyzed. i freeze on tests and i've generally been feeling, well, stupid. in pbl last week, however, something major shifted.

throughout the week, i ended up in positions where i was leading the group. this was particularly profound last friday, when i was given the role of scribe (the person who writes case information on the board and directs the flow of the group discussion). that day, i realized that my intensive liberal arts training, in spite lacking science training, prepared me for clinical cases in an amazing way. i know how to ask questions. i know how to lead group discussion. i know how to teach. and, somehow, through all of this, i've developed instinct--this sense that i know how to approach a case in a logical, yet thorough, manner. and i remember the human side of it all, too, which is not always an easy feat when your patient is on paper and your whole group is intent on "solving the case" rather than thinking of it as a real live situation that we'll face someday soon. i was stunned by what i was able to do in pbl on friday. during wrap-up, all my group-mates commented on it. since beginning of medical school last august, it was the first time i've felt confident in my abilities. and let me tell you: it felt really, really good.

friday afternoon, after a long discussion with some of my classmates, i went for my weekly meeting with the_godfather. before i reached his office, though, i ran into biochem_enthusiast, my facilitator from the first 10 weeks of these past two semesters. he is also an exceptional teacher and a very interesting person, even if he does sometimes get hyper-obsessed with those pesky little molecules that do everything in our bodies. ;-) he was concerned about me and, for the second time, questioned as to whether i should take a leave of absence. hmm...

i went to see the_godfather next. 28 days out from a big pbl exam that would basically cover all of neuroanatomy (on which we have not been lectured; we've merely read the book and taught ourselves), i was starting to hit the peak of my panic. and that's when everything began to unravel. the_godfather pointed out that i was performing well in pbl--so well, in fact, that i'm often two steps ahead of my colleagues. he also noted that this is not showing in my exams because i'm freezing. i mentioned that i'd tried taking some anti-anxiety medication, but that it had been sedating (and therefore not very helpful for exam-taking purposes), but he stopped me. "this is not a physiological problem," he said. "this is a mental problem." and, in hearing him say that, i knew he was absolutely right. he was also quite accurate in pointing out that i've had a rough year. i threw out my back right at the beginning of the year, which subsequently threw off my studies at a crucial time, and then, right about the moment i was recovering from that, my grandmother died, as did one of my favorite high school teachers with whom i was close. combine that with undiagnosed gallstones and the pain they cause and, well, you get where i'm going: first semester was a nightmare. [a note on this: i wrote a lot during that time, but i haven't published it here yet. i haven't decided whether i'll go back and add these to the blog or not, but i thought i should explain why some of this is just being mentioned for the first time.]

when you add into the mix that this semester has involved illness, surgery, recovery, and more illness, it's clear that i haven't had the opportunity to adequately learn the material, let alone show that i've learned it. so, to make a long story shorter, i finally made the decision to take a leave of absence from medical school.


after working so hard for so many years to get here, it's hard to believe that i've made the decision to step away from medical school. in fact, it feels completely surreal. but here i am, one day after the official clearance from dean_honey (who, upon hearing my decision, said "honey, you're making the right decision. you should've done this months ago. i'm glad you've gotten over your stubbornness."), and i feel like i've been shot out of a cannon or something. it's...overwhelming.

so what does this all mean? well, other than another $50K in student loans (i must be crazy to be doing this), it means that i get to repeat the first year of medical school. so now i'll be in the class of 2011 instead of 2010. this feels *very* strange to me.

on the upside, though, i now have four months to get my health under control (<--maybe that's not the best phrase to use...maybe i should say more balanced...because i clearly have no control over this crap whatsoever). i also will have a chance to fill in some of the gaps in my education (since i wasn't a science major in college, i still have some areas of science that are unfamiliar to me, in spite of all those post bacc classes i took). if i can find someone willing to hire an overqualified slave (will work for food!), i may be able to earn a little money, too. that would certainly feel good.

in the meantime, though, i'm reminded of one of my favorite episodes of the west wing. (yes, i'm a wingnut. i loved that show. i'm not usually addicted to tv, but i never missed that one.) in it, cj is exercising on a treadmill and her pager goes off. so she's trying to check her pager and talk to the guy next to her. that's when she trips--splat--and gets thrown off the treadmill. that's *exactly* what this feels like.


1 comment:

j.p. said...


huge decision.

obviously, after everything you've been through in the last few months, this was a good decision.

good for you.

i'll talk to you soon.

a little disclaimer...

i'm a medical student. just a student. so please, don't take anything i say too seriously. remember that i was an english literature major as an undergrad, so there is much fiction to be found in these pages. do you think i'm telling a story about you or your illness? more likely, you're tapping into my sense of "everyman"--that is, your story resonates with what i write here because it's not so uncommon after all. need help? please, please go see your physician. <--i'm not her. yet. ;-)