Long Time No See

The last time I posted, I had just found out that I matched into one of the programs on my Rank Order List for a residency in pediatrics, accomplishing a goal I’ve had since I was 14.


It has been such a long time since then, and I haven’t written about it. After Match Day, there was so much to do, and it felt like we had no time. It all went by so quickly.

We immediately went on the hunt for a house. On one Saturday, we toured 19 properties, put in an offer, and bought our first home.


My brother got married with my Ladybug as the flower girl:


I finished my final med school rotation in the NICU, which I absolutely loved.


We had to find a new daycare and it completely broke my heart to leave the one we’d used since the Ladybug was 8 weeks old.

I GRADUATED!


We took a family vacation to Key West, FL, Dry Tortugas National Park, and Savannah, GA.


We spent two weekends painting the house and moving in, with the help of the best family and friends.

Then the fun started. Mountains of paperwork and training and licensing and certifications before even starting orientation.

And now they call me Doctor. Paging Dr. Allie. It is real, and no longer a fantasy or far off in the future. It doesn’t feel like it at all. I’m currently on my second rotation, which means I have “survived” July of intern year, but not without rubbing one of the children’s hospital’s ladybugs for luck on my first day.

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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.


Day 6: Grand Tetons Bear Encounter at Jenny Lake

The campsite we managed to find in the wee hours of the morning turned out to be really good. $40/night seemed pretty expensive compared to some of the other ones, but it did come with showers, flushing toilets, a bear box, and a picnic table at each campsite.

I wanted a shower, even if it was cold, to get the bug spray and sunblock off. (I had noticed that what little sunburn I had from the previous day’s trail was already vanishing.) I’d been to church camp before, so I was not expecting the shower facilities to be spectacular by any means. Was it fancy? Nope.

It was glorious. To be clean again, even if for not very long, was glorious.

We loaded up, made a stop for breakfast, and tried to figure out what our day would look like. Gas inside the park was a staggering $4.05/gal, where outside it had been $3.55-3.65. Grand Teton National Park is actually just south of Yellowstone, almost to the point of feeling like they are joined. The pine forests just keep stretching on and on (and how I love the smell of the pine forests!). Grand Teton boasts a “strenuous” Death Canyon Trail hike. After the events of yesterday, my only thoughts were no thank you!

Today was a perfect opportunity for photo ops. This area of the country is just too breathtaking for words. These pictures have not been photoshopped in any way, and were taken with my phone’s camera. David’s pictures are much better.

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And in case you didn’t know, signs that read “Caution! Wildlife Ahead!” actually means to get your cameras ready. The three Tetons, which is actually French for the Three Brothers, and the surrounding areas are so massive, so regal, so incredible. Standing at the base, all of my stupid problems at home with work and having to move just didn’t seem important anymore.

David defected to me for ideas on which hikes to do for the day. I’d already marked one in my book, Jenny Lake trail. It’s a 6-mile hike around Jenny Lake that is supposed to be a hiker’s favorite. Teenage me would be shocked with herself for thinking that a 6-mile hike was no big deal and totally appropriate for a day’s activities. Once we got to the lake, though, it was ridiculously crowded, and we weren’t really sure why. Cars were parked in the grass, made their own parking spots in random places, parking alongside the road, and especially in front of signs that said NO PARKING. So instead of parking immediately at the visitor’s center of the lake, we drove out on a gravel road a mile or so away, near the Lupine Meadows Trailhead. We then walked from there to the Jenny Lake Trailhead, right along the base of the Grand Tetons. The total expected hiking distance was supposed to be 8.5 miles of easy/moderate trail since we didn’t start immediately at the trailhead.

Poor David got sick on me just as we were beginning this trail. I wasn’t sure what to do with him. We made lots of stops for water and protein, but he just didn’t seem to act like he felt well. We contemplated trudging on or just going back to the car. Somehow, we managed to continue.

Hidden Falls was well worth the trials to get there. They are massive and thundering, and the area to get the best views will also spray you with the cool water, which felt amazing after how hot we got on the trail.

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Jenny Lake from the trail
Jenny Lake from the trail

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Hidden Falls
Hidden Falls

Hikers we met on the trial were talking about bears, but we hadn’t seen any wildlife so far. But we kept pushing on. At times it felt like this trail would never end, or that we would never even make it across the river to the other half of the lake.

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As we made our way around the late, I started to get a bit upset. 8.5 miles and we didn’t see a single bear. As I walked, I smacked my empty water bottle on my leg/knee, since hikers are asked to make noise on the trails. All the fuss my grandma made about worrying about us running into a bear, and being almost a full week into our trip and still not seeing a single one, and having to call grandma to tell her that no, we hadn’t seen any… I was nonplussed. We’d even bough Bear Spray for crying out loud!

And of course, that’s when it happens. David was a few steps in front of me on the narrow part of the trail. He whispered, “Allie, stop!”, so I immediately froze and looked in the direction that he was pointing.

And there it was. A young grizzly bear, not very far away from where we were standing. My blood immediately ran cold. There was nothing really separating us from the bear besides some underbrush and a few trees. This was definitely not a zoo, where there are precautions to keep anything from happening.

Bear!

We made lots of noise and watched him or her wander off before we continued around the trail (and evidence–bear scat right in the middle of the trail just ahead of us). When we got to the visitor’s center, we looked for a ranger to tell about the bear, to keep other people safe, but by the time we got there, the center was closed and no rangers were to be found. We rested our weary feet before we decided to go back to the car. The sun was starting to set behind the Tetons, so we were trying to make good time.

However, this was not to be. During the time that we had been gone, areas of our trail were roped off and we had to take a detour. This was the trail that never ended! We finally made our way to the gravel road that led back to the Lupine Meadows Trailhead. On our way back to the car, a young family pulled up in their car to tell us that a Ranger had told them that our parking lot was a good spot to watch for Grizzlies to come down from the mountains at night to feed, so they were going to camp out to watch with their binoculars. They seemed like a really nice family.

By the time we got to our car, we were both well past exhausted, a bit cranky, sore, and hungry. (But all the while, thinking that thing we just did was really freaking cool.) We did manage to take our time to put up our gear (and take off our shoes–my poor feet!). Our 6-mile hike that I thought would be a good idea had turned into a 10.5 mile adventure. In the time that we had put our stuff up and got into the car to leave, the nice family had already left their spot to bear watch. But as we left, we noticed a car on the gravel road and pulled over and the two passengers had gotten out of the car and seemed to be taking pictures of something. We slowed down, not seeing anything… until I spotted the bear cub super close to the couple, and David spotted another one a bit farther off. I was so glad we were inside the car! I did not want to be caught close to the bear cubs when momma bear came to check on them.

We stopped to eat at Jackson Lake Lodge’s Pioneer Grill. This place was amazing. There’s a lot of history to it, including a massive investment by the Rockefeller family. When we go back (yes, when), I hope we get to stay here. This was some of the best food I’d had in a long time (maybe it just tasted better because I was famished), but I would recommend it to anyone! Some older lady sitting across from us kept looking at me in disgust, my hair all a mess, my clothes dirty, my blistered feet in flip flops so I wouldn’t have to wear my heavy hiking boots… but the women’s restroom was closed off for cleaning, so I couldn’t even clean up when I wanted to. So yeah, we went to a nice hotel and restaurant dirty from hiking 10.5 miles… and I’d have done it all over again in a heartbeat.

“Life has to Win Sometimes”

One of my favorite quotes from Dr. K this week was, “Life has to win sometimes.” This was in reference to work/life balance in med school and beyond.

So maybe this wasn’t the smartest idea ever for a first-year medical student, but I had an entire day reserved the weekend before the three-day onslaught of our first exams. But, it was for a good cause.

I was a bridesmaid in my cousin’s wedding.

Totally worth it. My cousin only gets married once. And I had agreed (jubilantly) to be a bridesmaid a full year and a half earlier, well before I even knew I’d be in school again. And for nearly a year, I thought I’d be driving home or catching the red-eye the night before from Iowa.

Everything worked out. We got our hair done. We put on pretty dresses. Kelly was a beautiful bride. She said “I do.” We danced. We laughed. My husband even put on a suit and danced with me in public. At 1am on Sunday we crashed from exhaustion.

And somehow, somehow, I passed all of the exams anyway. =)

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Day 5: In Which We “Summit” Avalanche Peak and I am Paralyzed by Fear

At 10,000 feet, less than 600 vertical feet below the summit, loose, flat shards of slippery shale underneath my feet, surrounded by nothing but sky, the wind taunting me, shrieking and screaming, shoving me in all directions. The tree line is hundreds of feet below me, so there is nothing to hold on to, brace against, or block the wind. The mountain slope above me is at almost a 90 degree angle. What is supposedly a path in front of me is maybe a foot wide at its most generous.

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For the second time on this same trail, my confidence and composure failed, and panic paralyzed me. We did not complete this hike.

But, first things first.

East Entrance
East Entrance

We left Worland early in the morning, taking the scenic route toward the East Entrance of Yellowstone. We passed through Cody, WY, home of Buffalo Bill, just in time–right before their annual 4th of July parade that kicks off a huge rodeo–that Fodor’s guide says they call “Cowboy Christmas.”

On the other side of Cody–I’m so glad we didn’t get stuck in the parade traffic–we briefly stopped at Buffalo Bill Dam. It’s a beautiful place, but in an effort to continue on to Yellowstone, we only snapped a few pictures before getting back out on the road.

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Several miles later, after passing a snow plow in July, we finally reached the East Entrance of Yellowstone, what I had been waiting for since we started planning this excursion a year and a half earlier. (Traveler’s tip: wear clothing that depicts something from home. With me in my IU shirt and David in his Purdue hat, we met far more people. One group from Fort Wayne, IN even offered to take our picture at the East Entrance.)

Not really having a plan, we stopped at Sylvan Lake for lunch to watch the loons and take a quick flip through the guidebook. We had both marked Avalanche Peak Trail, and it was near the entrance, so we set out on our first hike in Yellowstone. The guidebook says that on a busy day, there may be 6 groups of hikers that attempt the trail. Our car made #14 in the parking lot beside the trailhead, with more following us as we put on our gear. Busy day, indeed.

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The start wasn’t so bad. The entire trail is 2 miles long in one direction, but it climbs 2,000 feet in elevation. It was very steep in parts, and definitely the most tiring that we had ever attempted. We made frequent stops for water, rest, and pictures, meeting a group of guys and their young sons, also from Fort Wayne, IN.

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Up and up we went.

The scenery was beautiful; there was even a stream that kept us company on our ascent, clear and crisp as ice. Ahead of us, we could see peaks and snow.

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When we got to the area that I thought was the summit–but wasn’t–we saw a badger and a momma mule deer with her fawn. I went and played in the snow while David took pictures. I really thought we were done with the hike at this point. In retrospect, I should have stopped there. From that little plateau, the trail became much more steep and much less safe. We pressed on, and the longer we were on this bit of the trail, the more uncomfortable I became. The trail was barely wide enough for one step, and here is where we met a lot of other hikers on their way back down the trail. Finding a place to get over to let them through was difficult, and was rapidly becoming concerning. At one point, I had to stop, fighting back tears, and told David that I needed to go back down the trail. It was far too steep, far too narrow, and fear was creeping in. After a few minutes of breathing and finding a place to rest, I was okay with pushing onward. To have come all this way and not summit didn’t seem like an option.

This is where I played in the snow (in JULY), and where I should have stopped.
This is where I played in the snow (in JULY), and where I should have stopped.

Farther up the trail, it became impossibly steep. The ground gave way to broken rock, flat and sharp and smooth–it was not a good substance for finding a foothold. There was no room for error in footsteps, as one wrong move would send a hiker over the side. We were also above the treeline, so there was nothing to obstruct the wind, which was absolutely howling at this elevation. That was when it happened. I was gripped with fear, tears in my eyes, and it was hard to breathe. David was trying to console me by joking around and hugging me, but I was in no mood for jokes or being touched. All it did was make me more aggravated. All I wanted was to descend. At one point, I sat down, basically on nothing; I was too terrified to take even one more step upward, but also too petrified to start downhill (or downmountain).

Taking the time to stop and breathe to try to calm my nerves, the view was pretty cool. But with the wind and how narrow/slippery the path was, I was not comfortable. Fear overmastered me, and I could not continue.

I’m still glad that we attempted this hike, as it was lots of fun before the last 600 vertical feet. The view, even though we were below the summit, was still pretty spectacular, and well worth the grueling hike up.

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Coming down was brutal. This trail was the most rugged I had ever been on. Rugged is not the right term. “Treacherous” suits this one better. I guess I should have known better with a name like ‘avalanche.’ I couldn’t even pray on my way down because I could not form complete sentences, even though I tried. My whole world consisted of: “One more step… one more step…” I couldn’t even tell you how long it took to get back down. I now know why people have knee replacement surgeries. As we descended, the only thought I had was, maybe I won’t have to worry about med school debt, moving, or boards… because I am going to die right here! I held on to my small set of binoculars in my left hand so tightly, as if that would somehow save me from my untimely demise. I don’t think I fully relaxed until we were back in the SUV and I had my shoes/gear off.

I know David was disappointed. I was too. I REALLY wanted to summit Avalanche Peak. The thought never crossed my mind that we wouldn’t. (Fodor’s calls Avalanche Peak Trail Yellowstone’s “best kept secret.” My foot!)

Avalanche Peak broke me. Never again would I attempt this trail. I was not prepared for that. As an amateur hiker at this level, it probably wasn’t the best choice of dayhikes. Sure, 8 year old Boy Scouts finished the climb and I didn’t, but I did push past my first bout of fear and saw the view–it’s still a win in my book. Mountaineering is not for me.

At the base, I couldn’t tell if I was starting to get a tan, or if I was just covered in dirt and dust and grime that stuck to all of the sunscreen and bug spray. Here, i finally stopped shaking. Mountain goats would have been ok on this hike, but sadly, I am not nearly as well-equipped as a mountain goat!

And where did I twist my ankle? Twenty feet from the trailhead, on flat ground devoid of rocks, tree roots, or obstacles of any sort. Go me.

Day 3: Mt. Rushmore & Crazy Horse

Some people do not have much. Some of the places we saw as we left Badlands were old homesteads, decrepit and falling apart. Evidence of a life was manifested in abandoned tractors that are now memoirs written in rust. As we left Badlands behind and raced toward the Black Hills and Mt. Rushmore, we passed several road signs for towns that had maybe one or two distinguishable farms or houses on them. There is just not a lot of “stuff” or “conveniences” in this part of the country. Personally, I quite enjoyed the tranquil driving and the wide open spaces. But as much as I loved all of the space and just enjoying the drive, I was super excited to catch the first glimpse of Mt. Rushmore.

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Who knew that Teddy was done in such detail that he actually has on his spectacles?! I totally did not know that.

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After Mt. Rushmore, we found a little gem thanks to Fodor’s (seriously, worth its weight in gold). Scenic routes are awesome! Custer State Park is in the same area, and I really wish we would have had more time to visit and hike there. It’s a beautiful place with lots of wildlife, with some that would come right up to you and expect to be petted. Wildlife Loop Road is so worth the drive. This park also boasts the Cathedral Spires, which were beautiful in the partly cloudy weather we were having because the sunlight would highlight the spires. Beautiful!

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As fascinating as Mt. Rushmore is, with all of the logistical work it took to carve something like that, Crazy Horse is even more of a wonder. The fee to get into the actual park is $10/person. At first, I thought this was pretty high, since it wasn’t covered under our national parks pass. We soon discovered why this was, though: it’s not a national monument because the people working on the project want to do it without government funding (and have actually turned down $10 million twice), and are instead funding the project solely by donations and the park entrance fees. After hearing that, I was completely satisfied to see where our dollars were going. This is supposed to be a monument not only for Sioux Indians, but for all Native American groups, which means the Black Hills were the perfect place for the monument to be built. It has taken decades for them to get this far along with it, so there is obviously a lot more work to do. I hope that sometime in my lifetime it is completed so we can go back and see the finished product.

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For perspective, the entire Mt. Rushmore sculpture would fit in the top half of just the head of Crazy Horse. It’s an insane scale!

“I’m Going On an Adventure!”

I love the scene from The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey where Bilbo has made his final decision to go on the perilous journey, and he completely throws himself into it with nothing less than pure optimism. I love it so much that I have decided this is how I am going to approach the first few weeks of Orientation and Class. Excitement, hope, and not even the hint of trouble or stress. Which is probably why I’m so jittery right now. Tomorrow, I will sit in on my first medical school class–and I will have officially begun.

One of my big issues is thinking positively. So, my goal for the first day is: Do not cry. My goal for the second day is: Do not cry. (Do you see a pattern?) This trend continues, and my goal for the entire first week is: Do not cry. If I can manage that, I think I will be just fine. For the first week, anyway. 😉 I’ve heard from several other medical students that crying was definitely involved during the first semester, so I am going to try my best to not feel that overwhelmed this week. It’s a marathon and not a sprint, right?

I wish I could say that we’re all moved in, Internet is installed, and I have a freezer full of meals so I don’t have to cook. That wound up not being the case. But, my backpack is packed. Books are in the bookcase. My “first day of school” outfit is laid out. I’ve at least skimmed the first week’s worth of material. My notes are printed, my anatomy lab garb is ready, and I made a surprise for my unit labmates. I’m still mulling over the research assistant position opportunity. I’m still excited but still extremely nervous about the first day, first patient, and first dissection this week.

My hopes:
To make friends
To have some fun
To finally study all those things I’ve always wanted to study
To continue research work, bench/clinical/ethical
To get involved and “be someone” on campus
To excel in classes
To be happy as a student
To make this place (the new place and the school) home

My fears:
I’ll wonder why they accepted me
Maybe I can’t handle it
That I’ll freak out/get sick in Gross Anatomy lab
I won’t make friends
LOANS
That I’m too old for this
That I’ve forgotten how to learn/study/memorize
That I’ll get fat from sitting on my behind studying all day
That I’ll lose touch with friends/family
That David will not be happy with me, with all the time this new venture will suck away from me
That my worrying tendencies will get the better of me

Admittedly, I have trouble with wanting to be “on top of things” too much. I like being involved, so I tend to take on responsibilities and sacrifice “me” time… but I’m good at it (or at least, I have been in the past). Hence the self-proclaimed nickname of the Queen of “And” (“I do this… and this…and this… oh yeah, and this…”) Once, in grad school, I missed a meeting–the only one I’ve ever missed, ever–because I thought it was the following week instead of the current week…and I’ll never forget what one of my friends said. “Well at least now we know you’re human, because you just don’t do stuff like that.” (Gee, thanks.) So one of my goals is to be involved, but to not be too involved… because landing my dream residency is my ultimate goal. That’s what I’m here for, that’s why I’ve taken on so much student loan debt… to get the job I want, so that I can help people, feel fulfilled in my work, to pay off my loans, and to be a competent, compassionate physician–the whole reason I’m here to begin with. So I’m not trying to overmaster myself with “and’s”. I hope I can be organized and keep it all together. I hope I still get to sleep, occasionally. I really hope that, somehow, I can find a way to be a badass at this med student thing, all while still being a good wife.

This is, by far, the least prepared I have ever felt for the beginning of a semester. I’m sure that in a few days it won’t make one bit of difference, but I’m sure nervous about tomorrow. I have so many hopes that I’d like to fulfill this year, but right now I just want to get through the first day.

So for now, I’ll rest up and hope for a good first day tomorrow. Wish me luck!

I’m going on an adventure!