Life These Days

Here is just a glimpse of what 4th year has looked like for me since late August/early September:

Please pardon the language on this picture, but I laughed at it because I recently completed a two-week EKG interpretation course and my ACLS training! Lets just hope that I don’t forget everything I learned in that elective because it was fun and useful but now I won’t see it again for a while.

There has been much more free time in fourth year, and you can bet that I am taking full advantage of it. The Ladybug and I hit the local parks for fun as often as I can muster with rotations, studying, ERAS-app production, etc.

I had my ACLS training early in the year, around the time that our ERAS applications were due. I wanted to get it out of the way before interview season started. This was a fun 2 day course with hands-on training (And I passed! Always a relief!); even though the EM residents running it told me they were sorry that I’d have to take it again–Pediatrics has a separate ACLS-style training course that I’ll take in the spring summer, either on my own or in coordination with my residency program.

Downsizing. Since we’re moving next year (either away to a new city/state or even just into a house if I match into our home program), I do NOT want to move all of this stuff, yet again. So we are downsizing and minimizing, which included our movie collection. I took a ton of books and movies to Half Price Books, and the movies that we did keep we transferred to a DVD case and threw away all of these cases. SO MUCH MORE SPACE!! I am so, so pleased with getting rid of all of that.

On the first day of Step 2 studying way back in July, I found the back of my earring caught in my hair but the actual earring itself was nowhere to be found. I panicked. These earring were a wedding anniversary gift from my grandma’s late husband, given to me on my wedding day. I not only wore them the day I got married, but also for every medical school interview, the day I got my first med school acceptance, every day of gross anatomy, the day I learned I was expecting, the day we learned she was the Ladybug, the day we met her and brought her home, the day I took Step 1… So they were beyond special to me. I love you Jed everywhere and retraced every step I had taken that morning. I had been to daycare, the gym, and all over campus. It was nowhere to be found. I have ugly-cried so many times since then, and I couldn’t bear to tell my grandma. I even had the thought of someday taking the remaining earring to a jeweler and having a replica pair made. It has been over 11 weeks since this happened, and I had given up all hope of finding it, took Step 2 without them, and put the remaining one safely in a jewelry box. One night this past week, the Ladybug was fighting sleep and crystal nf for a certain bedtime toy. I looked under her bed and GUESS WHAT I FOUND! How many times have I walked right by it without noticing it?! How many times have I swept that carpet and yet, there it was! I am so relieved! (And I never had to tell grandma that I lost it!)

I also passed Step 2 CK (total relief, I can never tell how I performed on those things) and updated my ERAS application before the September 15th deadline/release date. Now I only have Step 2 CS (the in-person part where we take care of a dozen standardized patients in the course of a day) and then I am totally done with exams (minus the AI, acting internship, elective shelf exam that I take in late October) until after I graduate and get my MD!

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Minimalism and the Weight of Stuff

We have now been in the new apartment for a year. We moved because we needed more space with the baby starting to walk (and getting into literally everything), plus there was no room whatsoever outside in a yard that we could take her to play. There was also an incident with the upstairs neighbor’s water heater flooding our place and leaving behind mold–which they tried to cover up with a thin layer of white paint over half of it… and then their new water heater leaked, and we got another dose of mold. No thank you. So we were looking for a new place, a place with more square footage for the baby to roam with a yard or outside space. Bonus if it was in the country and quiet.

Then we found the new place: nearly double the square footage, huge windows, high ceilings, in the country on 4 acres and a grand total of six apartments in the building so it’s super quiet. It also affords us sunsets like this:


However, there was one thing that I didn’t like about having to move: hauling all the crap from one place to another. I didn’t realize just how much stuff we had accumulated. Frankly, I was embarrassed by how much stuff we had to move, and all the boxes and the stuff that just kept coming. By having the baby we gained a third person to our happy home and all of the stuff that comes with adding a third person to our family… but it was still way too much, and it just kept coming. Babies have a way of making anyone and everyone super generous, which can be nice, but can also add up quickly.

So here we have been, in this new spacious apartment… and it’s got two closets. Not even a coat closet. So lots of stuff got pushed into the closet space we did have.

And then came the third year of medical school with work hours and patient logs and call days with 30+ hour shifts on top of studying and assignments. I kept thinking that I needed to “go through stuff”when I finally got a day off or on post-call. Well…. guess what. When I did get time off, the last thing I wanted to do was go through stuff and sort out piles of trash, donate, sell, or return to owner. Ever so slowly, those piles did form and items started to disappear. The problem was, there was still…. stuff. Everywhere.

I kept having thoughts roll around in my mind about how to best get rid of the excess we had accumulated. Little by little those same piles started to reform. If I did find myself with some free time and if something was bugging me, I’d settle into a heated, angry, cleaning frenzy (hello cluttered sink that drove me nuts for months…).

In November I came up with an idea for a donation project. I worked through my school to set up a donation drive for the local refugee center, which was a huge hit! We wound up taking over 13 carloads of household goods to the local centers. So not only did we do some good for the local community, but I also got to donate a ton of men’s, women’s and children’s clothing that needed to find a good home.


And even then… we still had excess. And it was driving me nuts. How on earth did just three people accumulate so much stuff? We’re not hoarders by any means, but my goodness, there is just stuff everywhere. When I helped with the dropoffs for the donation drive, I can’t even begin to tell you how much of a relief it was to give away bags and bags worth of stuff that could find new life in a new home. I felt a huge weight lifted from my shoulders, and a lot of the stuff I dropped off was NOT mine/ours.

I had no idea just how much mental weight all of that stuff was putting onto me.

Months later, my husband preordered us tickets to a limited-screening documentary held here in town: Minimalism: A Documentary about the Important Things. That is the kind of people we are: we preorder tickets to documentaries. I was so happy he did this–not only because it meant a weeknight date night after a busy clinic day, but also because sometimes my husband just gets me, and it feeds my soul.

I gotta say, I love this documentary. What Joshua and Ryan say is simple and clean, and made so much sense to me. Stuff and consumerism isn’t what makes us happy. How much of the stuff that we have we bought or kept because we thought we had to, or we thought that it held the memories or was the source of our happiness? And it was then that I realized that…. it wasn’t.

Let me tell you about the stuff that I have that is weighing me down. I still have clothes in my closet from high school, back when I was a muscular, slender athlete with big dreams for what was to come. Add in the grad school weight, the married life happy weight, the baby weight… I have a closet full of clothes that I am keeping for the day when I slim down and I hope my old favorites can fit again. It’s massive. My favorite jeans, shirts, even a couple dresses. The thought of letting most of it go makes me uneasy. My closet is full of stuff that I cannot wear. But… having seen the documentary, and having thought about it for months while I finish up the third year of medical school, the time had come to clean it all out.

The closet was actually one of the last things to be tackled. First was the bookshelves. I love my books. I still have some old textbooks from college, but over the years I have been so happy to use the Amazon Trade-In program to give back some of my textbooks in exchange for funds for the next batch of books I need for school (thank goodness I am entering the last year of school and the textbooks will slow down–maybe–for a bit). Books that I didn’t want/need anymore that Amazon wouldn’t take were donated to libraries or children’s programs. Also, when I’ve been published, the publisher sends me multiple copies of the journal. Do I really need four copies of the exact same issue of the journal?? No. Away they went.


Then we tackled the movie collection. When we got married, we had so many duplicate movies. I thought we had gone through them all and found the duplicates, but I found a few more. Then there was a pile that we haven’t watched since the first viewing. Out they went. Then went (some) of the movies that are unopened (like the entire Saturday Night Live collection still pristine, wrapped in plastic).

The next thing we tackled: all the old paperwork we have kept for a rainy day or just in case. I went through it all and majorly cleaned out all that paper clutter, shredding what needed to be shredded and recycling what I could. Then out went the magazines, after one more time of reading them. Bye bye, paper clutter.

One more thing we found: at my favorite local coffee shop, there was an advertisement for a shoe collection/donation that went to making playgrounds for schools and providing clean water in resource-limited areas. After going through all of our shoes, we donated seven pairs of tennis shoes to that program.

Out went the bags of trash. Out went the bags of donations. Out went the paper and the clothes with holes and all the things that we kept that every time I looked at it I thought, I hate you. Why do I still have you?

One of the things that we do for fun in the summer is go to local home shows. I love seeing how different homes are set up as I daydream about our future home. But what I think I like most about touring this homes is just how crisp, clean and decluttered they are. I know it’s all staging and set up to be that way, but what draws me to that style is the minimalism of it all.

After the first round of attempting to be minimalists, we still had a lot of stuff. But, we have much less. I feel like a huge weight has been lifted. When we end up moving early next year after I match into a residency program, I don’t want to have that same anxiety-provoking, overwhelming nightmare occur when we move for the (hopefully) final time.

An unexpected way we’ve been able to minimize: using up what we already have.  I haven’t been to Bath & Body Works in over a year. I’ve been gifted so much that I do not need anything from there until I use up what I have.

Which means my pocketbook is happier too. I collect Starbucks mugs in their Cities collection from all of our trips. Lately, on two of our trips, I have intended to buy a mug but left without them. And I’m not remorseful about it. They’d just be collecting dust until they have their own home once we move into a house next year. For now, they’d just be clutter. And who needs that? Why organize so much when you can downsize? Less stuff = no need to organize. That makes me so much more…. free…. now that I have let go of so much stuff and the need to have so much stuff.

This weekend, we tackled the most dreaded of all tasks… the baby’s room. Holy moly, so much stuff.

We are far from done with cleaning out and adjusting to be minimalists. I still have plenty of books, as they are my first love. I still have some old jeans that I hope to once again wear. Because minimalism isn’t about never having any materialistic thing, but about knowing that things and stuff do not bring happiness. We have a long way to go, but we are trying.

 

Wearing All the Hats

Hats. I wear several. It’s hard to keep track of them all. Let me tell you how today went.

I’m on my Family Medicine rotation, and I’m spending the first two weeks (out of six) at a local clinic. Three of my classmates are also at this clinic for the two weeks. At this particular clinic, we get 4 half-days off to study. This morning was my first half day off.

First, I still got up before 6am to get ready for the day. I packed my daughter’s daycare bag with breakfast and snacks, got dressed for the day, and then got her up, got her dressed, and out the door we went to daycare. When I got back home, I cleaned the kitchen, put up one load of dishes and started another load, started laundry, took out the trash, and rearranged my kitchen cabinets (the place was seriously a mess and I couldn’t stand it anymore!).

Once that was done, I did some things I needed to get done: sifting through emails. Fourth year is rapidly approaching and we’ve been bombarded with emails about scheduling 4th year, writing our personal statements, meeting with our advisors and our MSPE letter writers, etc, so there have been a lot of emails with a lot of important dates attached. So I filed away all of the ones I was done with, updated my planner, RSVP’d to events, set up meetings with advisors, that sort of thing. I then did some of my fun things like edit an article for in-Training, submit Annual Meeting programming ideas to my AMA Committee, etc. Then I sat down to study for a bit.

For the past couple of weeks, my back and shoulder have been killing me so I booked a massage for this morning to see if that could work out my tight muscles since even yoga hasn’t been helping. After my appointment, I grabbed a quick lunch and made my way to the clinic. We saw 6 patients before the end of the day (not bad for a half day, as several of them required quite a bit of time to address all of the problems).

Tonight, my school’s GHHS group hosted “Compassion Rounds”, which was a great meeting on self-care and wellness that was a great reminder of why I came to medical school, and gave me a lot of things to think about, in terms of how I treat myself while I’m going through this process–I always feel like I am failing at at least one of the things that I do.

By the time I got out of the meeting, it was 7:30pm. We really needed groceries and I missed my hubby and the Ladybug, so we all went to the grocery together for a quick trip. Once we got home, the hubby put away the groceries while I gave the Ladybug a bath and dressed in her PJ’s. I then took a shower, paid bills, balanced my checkbook (all that “adulting” stuff, and worked a few of the Case Files cases for Family Medicine.

This day has felt like three individual days. I still didn’t get everything done that I wanted–I didn’t make it to the gym today. I usually go either super early on my days off, or after the Ladybug goes to bed during the week. I didn’t get to study as much as I hoped today since I did need to do some “life” things, but I am ok with that, since I got so much of the “life” stuff done.

Today I also read a short article titled “I’m a Mom, Not a Martyr.” It was a great article; it addressed so many of the feelings that I’ve had while trying to go to school and be a good wife/mom. I do all of these things because I love all of them. I love being a mom. I love taking care of my family. I love spending time alone with my husband. I love going to the gym and having my free time. I love writing and editing. I love being a medical student. I’m exhausted, but I’m also extremely happy. Some days, I get so frustrated. Some days, I just want a nap! And it’s all ok! I’m not a martyr, I’m not a saint, I’m not superwoman, I’m just me and I’m doing what works. Sometimes it’s messy. Sometimes it’s not. Being a medical student is not nearly as impossible as I had originally thought way back when I first got my acceptance. I thought I would spend every waking minute (and give up sleeping, too, I thought) to be totally consumed with medicine. That’s not how it has been at all, and we are all three thriving. There have been plenty of struggles, plenty of tears, but also plenty of laughs and smiles and joy. It’s all about adjusting and rolling with the punches. Today was long and convoluted and I wore all my hats at different times–and it was a great day!

Looking Forward

It’s that time of year again!

2015 was one heck of a year. I finished my second year of medical school, passed Step 1 of my medical boards, celebrated our daughter’s first birthday, took her on her first long family vacation, moved into a new home, started my third year of med school on the wards, and went on a birthday trip (My first time on a plane since 2005!). As phenomenal as all of that was, it wasn’t without it’s low points. We lost my father-in-law in September, and early this morning, David’s family lost another remember. As excited as I am to ring in the new year tonight, it feels a bit dampened now. However, I’m trying to remember the good times and press forward with hope.

Over the past month, I’ve been thinking about what I’d like to accomplish with this new year, knowing that by this time next year, I’ll likely be done interviewing for residency (more or less), and we’ll be making hard decisions about the first step of my career. I’ve never been good at keeping my New Year’s resolutions. The best thing I’ve ever done to stick to my resolutions is… To start before the new year. 

After my surgery rotation, I started going back to my gym (I mean, I’m paying for it anyway, right?) and I am so proud of myself for losing nearly 20lbs so far. I feel better, my pace time is already improving, and I’m already down a size in my jeans. I usually go for a run super early on my off day or late at night after the Ladybug goes to bed. I really enjoy my time for “just me” at the gym… I don’t think about school, or things I need to finish, or anything…. it’s just me and the distance racking up on the treadmill (and my iPod, to be honest). Since I’ve been able to keep at it for a few months now, I bit the bullet and finally bought a FitBit (it came in the mail today!) to help keep me on track. I’d really like to run two half-marathons this year… if I can keep this up.

Last week, I found this idea: a “7 x 2016”, a prompt for making wishes become goals instead of ‘traditional’ resolutions. I really liked that idea, so here goes mine, with a couple additions:

Learn how to.….. speak in medical Spanish. Back in high school and even college, I was pretty good in speaking Spanish with native speakers. However, it’s true that what you don’t use, you lose. I’ve bought a guide and have already conquered the first chapter. Here’s hoping for better communication with some of my future patients.

Start……. My Year of Kindness. One thing I’ve been noticing lately is a genuine lack of kindness in our community. I’ve got a few ideas on what to target for each month, and I’m really hoping this new venture is a success. More on that soon.

Stop…… Doubting myself. I do it all the time. It’s a hard habit to break, but I realize what a detriment it is to my psyche and my performance as a student, wife, and mom. There is no room for it anymore in this new year.

Travel to.….. This one is my favorite, I think. While I feel like I am overdue for a visit to somewhere outside the USA. It’s been almost 5 years since we went to the Caribbean. However, I think that adventure might still be awhile off. This year, we’re planning on a post-third year pre-Step 2 studying family vacation to Washington, DC and Virginia Beach–three new states for me and the Ladybug’s first trip to a beach. Much slower-paced than we’re used to, but that’s ok! Making memories with my family is a priority this year.

Find…. Two half-marathons to run this year. With rotations, it’s not like I can just pick which ones to do this far ahead of time, so I’m wondering if I should skip the local half-marathon in April (during my OB/GYN rotation… just watch my week of nights in L&D be the same time as the race) and plan for one in summer and another in the fall. Any suggestions for fun ones to run?

Try…… New restaurants in our area. Since there is a great probability that we just may not be living here after The Match, I’ve insisted that instead of always going to the same places (which I love, honestly), that we try some new places that are unique to the Louisville area. We’ve asked friends of ours to go with us to a new restaurant once a month. I’m really excited for this new Double-Date Night!

Be more……. Girly. Since being in med school, I quit dressing nice for class/school in general unless it was absolutely necessary. Then once I became a mom, I put myself last on the list of people to care for. I love dresses but don’t think they look right on me. Since losing so much weight, the brand-new clothes I bought for rotations in July already don’t fit me, which is a blessing and a curse. I hope to actually acquire some style this year, and maybe even keep my nails painted and try new lipstick or something.

And then two I added to make my own “9 x 2016”:

Less….. Screen time/wasted time on my phone. I wonder how much efficient I would be if I transferred all of my phone time to work time. Not that it’s bad to focus on something outside of medicine for awhile, but I find that I scroll through all the social media apps when I’m bored and spend much more time on them then I intend.

More…… Memories/Playtime with my kiddo and hubby. The Ladybug loves for momma to come home and do nothing but play until it’s her bedtime… which sometimes eats up a large amount of my study time, and sometimes makes me worry that I’m not a good medical student. However, I don’t think this is time wasted (such as when I’m on my phone). I always, always, always make sure that I tell her that I am happy to see her and that I love her as soon as I pick her up each day. I want to soak up all of this sweet toddler time as I can.

A friend of mine stuck to her resolution last year to try to bake one new pie/month. I really like that idea, and David has already volunteered for the difficult job of taste-tester! 😉

2016…. another big year for us. I am so excited to see where it leads us, and start the process of finding my first job as a doctor… Sometimes it hardly seems real.

So, friends, I leave you with this: I hope the new year brings you enough obstacles to keep you courageous, enough disappointment to keep you hungry for personal growth, and enough adventures to keep you inspired. Let the following question be your guide:

Six Years… and Counting

In the hustle and rush of a med student’s schedule, I often don’t get to spend as much time with my friends and family as I’d like. But there’s one person in particular that I feel like I’ve put through a particularly hard ringer in the past two and a half years, and that is David.

When I first met him, he had just moved home from a job in Iowa, was living with his mother, and didn’t have a job here yet. I was particularly miserable when I met him… I felt lost. I had been through a bad breakup earlier in the year, had been rejected after months on the waitlist of my dream medical school, had left behind many friendswas working a job I wasn’t sure I even liked, and enrolled in a graduate program I wasn’t sure I fit into, all while trying to figure out what I was going to do with my life. I’d considered dropping everything I was doing to join the Peace Corps or AmeriCorps… I had the applications filled out but had not had the courage to hit “Send”.  I imagined a life of loneliness, being married to my work, and maybe someday adopting children if I still wanted them. In reality, at that time, I wasn’t even sure I wanted to meet anyone until after I got my own life figured out.

But…. he sure was handsome. And he was kind. He had a sharp wit and understood my science jokes. He had his own science jokes. When I talked about all of the trips I dreamed about taking “someday”, he was the first guy that didn’t balk at me…. but instead, added in his own. And when I rattled on and on about my dream of becoming a doctor, with one unsuccessful application cycle under my belt… he didn’t try to talk me out of it, as others had. He is always encouraging, always supporting, always pushing me to find new horizons. In the past 18 months, he’s had to deal with my insanity of becoming a mom… and endured all the silly songs I have created to make our daughter smile (sometimes, I am sure he thinks I have lost my ever-loving mind).

This year, we celebrated six years of our fairy tale. Things haven’t always been easy. There have been many obstacles that we didn’t foresee: funerals, sick family members, two more unsuccessful medical school application cycles, a successful application cycle, last-minute switch in medical schools, getting pregnant during medical school…. This year alone we’ve dealt with the stress of Step 1, moving, juggling a toddler during a long and draining surgery rotation, an unexpected funeral… In the year to come, we’ll deal with the stresses of the Matching process, together.

In these years, he is unchanged. He continues to surprise me with his thoughtfulness. He has never once told me my dreams were too big… instead, he stretches their boundaries and makes them ours.He has never once told me things were too rough. He lets me vent my frustrations when I need to. He has his own frustrations that sometimes I feel he keeps to himself because he knows I am stressed. However, this life is still pretty sweet, and I love him more each day. I never thought that this life was possible. He is a treasure, and my perfect match. I am so thankful for our  we have built together.

Very often, I remember what life was like pre-David. I remember all of the things that ran through my mind, and I remember that I didn’t like where my life was going. This all makes me realize just how lucky I am that he chose me.

David, my handsome…. I can’t promise white Christmases or always-clear skies…. But I can fuel your adventurous side, and walk those trails hand in hand. Happy anniversary, David. Six years of adventures behind us, and hopefully many more still to come.


18 Months to Go!

 

Natalie Christmas Charlestown

Guys! I am now on Christmas Break and third year is officially halfway over. How on earth did that happen so quickly?!

If there is one thing that I learned in med school so far, it’s to always be prepared. Today was no exception. My neuro classmates were mixed in with the peds, OB, FM, IM and psych classmates to talk our shelf exam today. Halfway through the shelf, the NBME (the company/organization that makes the shelf tests and Step) servers went down. Over an hour later, we were all finally allowed to finish our exams. By that time, my brain was no longer in “exam mode” and I was starving, so I have this feeling that the neuro shelf will not be my best. But there’s nothing I can do to change that now.

Afterwards, I rushed home to start baking cookies for the annual Americana Winter Festival where ULSOM has hosted a cookie decorating booth for the kids for the past several years. I made 9 dozen sugar cookies and then rushed all the way over to Americana before rushing back home to take the Ladybug on a carriage ride through a local small town to see Christmas lights and displays. Even if the morning didn’t go as planned, the day was still pretty great, and I am now so thankful for a break for two weeks to enjoy the holidays and visit family and friends. I may even get to update this blog a bit.

A friend reminded me a couple days ago that in 18 short months, we’ll be called “Doctor” and have our MDs. That, to me, is so scary! I’ve learned (and re-learned, and forgotten) so much this year already. The Ladybug just turned 18 months old, and that amount of time seemed to go by so quickly!

My First Diagnosis

…and it’s not what you think.

The memory of that day has haunted me ever since.

My grandma called on a Sunday afternoon, which used to be fairly normal. I talked to her for a few minutes, then handed the phone off to dad, since that was who grandma wanted to talk to on Sundays when she called. (I was still in high school, so yes, I lived at home.)

Once dad took the phone, I turned to mom. “Grandma has Alzheimer’s,” I said.

Mom looked at me, startled. “What did you just say?”

I told her about the conversation. In the few minutes I had been on the phone, Grandma had asked me several questions and each one she repeated multiple times, even after repeating my answer back to me.

My Grandpa had Parkinson’s, and later developed Alzheimer’s. Grandma was a retired RN, and took care of him in the home they lived in for ~50 years. He never spent a single day in a nursing home or hospital. I was quite familiar with what these issues looked like. During those few minutes on the phone with my Grandma, I knew. My blood ran cold and my stomach churned. A few years later, an actual doctor diagnosed her with Alzheimer’s (presumptively of course, since plaques and tangles can’t be confirmed until autopsy, if one is performed). We lost her tragically on Thanksgiving during my first year of grad school.

This week we’ve started our final new course, Clinical Neuroscience, and we started the week with neuropathology. Learning more about cognitive disorders has kinda freaked me out this week, and awoken some memories I guess I had repressed. I think what scares me most is wondering. I have no idea if maybe I carry the ApoE4 gene… And I do not want to know.