Some kind of clarity

So, hey. It’s been quite a while since I posted here. Since then, I’m happy to say I’ve mustered through a couple more tough modules in Year Level 5 (1st year) of med school. In fact, today was our last day of the Neurosciences module, arguably the hardest one this semester. It was one of the modules that many of us were dreading given the feedback and all the ‘good luck’s’ we were getting from the upperclassmen. On my part, though… well, sure, I was scared but for the most part, I was actually genuinely excited for this module, but I’ll talk more about that later on.

Anyway, so.. we’re currently down to the last module and we are a week and a half away from summer break.  I doubt you could really call it that, though, when the season’s almost over… and hank God for that! It has actually been quite a struggle to have to go out and go to school in this sweltering heat. Every time I step out of our building, I almost wish I were already stepping right into whatever kind of timey-wimey portal which will take me right inside our school. But the reality is that I have to walk a couple of blocks away just to hail a PUV that will take me not even directly in front of the school, but ACROSS it… so then, I would also have to go up and take the footbridge. I would end up feeling so exhausted and so filthy upon reaching school even when it hasn’t been more than an hour since I showered. I hate that I am whining about this when it actually isn’t as bad as I paint it out to be.. well, at least, on a normal day. When you have to do it on days when the temperature would rise up to 36C and beyond? Well, that’s another story.

But then again, I digress.

The point of this post isn’t for me to whine about the weather. I guess you could say it’s a bit of an advanced end-of -YL5 post?

So, the neurosciences? It’s the module I’ve been waiting for all year long. It’s mostly because I’ve gotten interested in the field when I had a class on Physiological Psychology  a couple years ago in college. I know it’s not entirely the same thing but the class was a rough introduction to the neurosciences and I vividly remember being so engrossed with the subject. It was one of the classes that I really, genuinely studied hard for to get an A. On weekends, my sister who was in her third-year of med school then, would even share with me her notes on Neuro… well, at least the ones that were the slightest bit related to what we were studying for PhysioPsych. Of course, their lessons were definitely harder and I probably barely even understood her notes but it was enough to get me excited to learn more about this field.

When I was starting out in med school (I know it’s only been 10 months but it feels like I’ve been here for a long time already!!!), even though I wasn’t really a hundred percent sure that this path is where I really ought to be, I knew for sure that I’d stick it out long enough to get to this module. In retrospect, though, I feel like one of the things that inevitably but subtly pushed me to go into med school despite my reservations was my genuine interest in this particular field of the neurosciences. I hate how ambitious it makes me sound given that it’s one of the toughest fields not only in med school but out in the “real” playing field, but eh that’s genuinely what I think.

But, don’t get me wrong. Despite this excitement, I was also scared. I was actually really scared. The last few months have been rough. In fact, a lot of us in our class were already so close to getting burnt out from the back-to-back tough modules that we’ve had especially that horrid two-week Renal module.The idea of having the neurosciences as one of the last modules before the much-awaited school break was actually quite frustrating to me because I was worried I wasn’t going to be in the best shape given all the other tough modules. I was worried I would feel too drained by the previous modules that I wouldn’t be able to give this module my best.

I guess all traces of any fear and apprehensions were washed away when, on the day that the Neurosciences module started, I found a copy of an excerpt from Oliver Sack’s  The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat on my desk. I knew right then and there that I would power through and give this module my best shot. You see, Oliver Sacks is a well-known neurologist. I came across his work because of the very same class in college which got me interested in this field. We were able to watch Awakenings, a film adaptation of his non-fiction novel detailing the perplexing case of his catatonic patients. Since then, I’ve been so interested in his life and his work.

So then, the first part of our module which was Neuroanatomy went on and I was glad to know that the classic Oliver Sacks story wasn’t the last story we’d have as a supplementary reading. Our lecturer, Doc Ron Baticulon, a pediatric neurosurgeon fresh out of his overseas fellowship, also had us read excerpts from Jean-Dominique Bauby’s The Diving Bell and the Butterfly as well as Paul Kalanithi’s When Breath Becomes Air. And, if you truly know me, I live for this kind of approach to learning. See, one of my many apprehensions regarding medical school is that I would have to take so much time away from my other interests and passions. Literature is one of them. To know that our lecturer finds so many points of convergence for these otherwise vastly different fields is just simply amazing to me. Of course, I should mention that Doc Ron also teaches really well! Neuroanatomy, with all of the brain’s intricacies, seemed like such a daunting thing to face head-on, but he managed to make the subject so interesting and made the information easier for us to digest and absorb.

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With Dr. Ron Baticulon, our Neuroanatomy lecturer

Suffice it is to say that throughout this module,  I was so energized to study which, in med school, seemed like such a rare thing to happen to me.  Never have I been so engrossed in a module before this one. Maybe, for Head and Neck? Although that was a pretty tough one, too, and the two-week marathon for that module really overwhelmed me. This one, though, I was really so into it that I was even surprised at how diligent I was at taking notes IN CLASS. The fact that I haven’t been able to fall asleep in any of the lectures (okay, save for one but that was just demo for the Physical Exam!) this module is a big feat on its own. I’m only saying this not to sing high praises to myself but because I find that I’m also very surprised that I was able to do these.

I mean, who knew that I was capable of pushing myself even beyond what I thought was /my limit/? Certainly, not me. For the longest time, I’ve been feeling so bad about myself because I don’t find myself excelling as much as I had hoped I would be. Sometimes the thought of just not being good enough can really get to you. Day and night, I would beat myself up and compare myself with my classmates even when I consciously try to remind myself not to. I would also end up comparing myself with other friends who are already out in the “real world” earning bucks for themselves while I continue to receive allowances from my parents, friends who are chasing their dreams and traveling far and wide on weekends while I am “stuck” with my huge pile of unread transcriptions desperately trying to cram all the information for Monday’s exam in my head. It’s nothing new, really. EVERY medical student will have their version of this story, but it doesn’t make it any less real. It doesn’t make it any less of a downer, I guess?

Before this turns into an overly dramatic entry, I guess what I’m trying to say is that I never though I had it in me to be able to work and give so much effort for this module. There were lots of times when it would have been a lot of easier for me to call it a night.. or to just go back to the old ways and wait for the weekend to cram before the exam, but the interest and (call me nerdy!) the sheer excitement I was feeling as I was studying the intricacies of the brain really helped me power through this module.

I think – no, I believe that the fact that our lecturers for this module were really great also greatly contributed to my performance. To see from the way they teach that they are truly passionate about their field was really so inspiring. Our module coordinator, Doc Dasig, probably one of the best neurologists in the country, would often include references to other non-medical fields during his lectures. His introductory lecture on brain physiology involved a case that dealt with the inner-workings of an artist’s brain. One time, he also made us listen to classical music as a #NeuronBreak! My favorite part, though, would have to be our integration activity wherein he interjected so many references and insights concerning psychology, sociology-anthropology, religion and even philosophy to our presentations on Behavioral Neurosciences! It was just SO refreshing for me to hear all these convergences of things I am interested in after months of continuously just being bombarded with too many technical medical science-y stuff.

13118985_10154751349989409_843112059864515927_nWith Dr. Darwin Dasig, our module coordinator and Neurophysiology lecturer

I should also mention that I really appreciated the way Doc Ron would share to us his timely words of wisdom. He actually maintains a blog (*) and in there, he’s written so much that some of his entries date even way back when he was still a medical student himself. Even now as a pediatric neurosurgeon, he continues to write. On some days, he would open or end his lectures by sharing maybe a full entry or even just a line or two from his past entry. He would share with us his realizations from when he was in the same position that we find ourselves in.One of the things he would always remind us about is to never settle for mediocrity. He puts this lesson on mediocrity into perspective by telling us that whatever we’re doing now, we’re not just doing it for ourselves. We’re doing it for these people we will be serving in the future – our patients. It would be a disservice not only to ourselves but to these people who will be relying on us in the future if we always just settle on what’s “good enough” instead of pushing ourselves to become the best version of ourselves. Often, when I’d catch myself wanting to succumb to the laziness that’s always creeping in, I would remind myself of this lesson on mediocrity and it was enough for me to be able to go on.

To be honest, now that we’re SO close to the end of first year, my mind is still plagued by all the what-ifs and could-have-beens of all the other paths that I envision myself in. I guess what changed is that there’s this hint of clarity. I’m honestly not sure if this interest in the neurosciences or even my experiences in volunteering for chronically ill pediatric patients will be enough to sustain me as I go through the wild adventure that is medical school. I used to think that by the time this school year ends, I would have made up my mind already about whether or not this is the place where I really ought to be (I know, I put too much pressure on myself re: figuring things out in an instant) but…. even with all these experiences that I’ve shared, the long haul and the many, maaany sacrifices that come with this field still feel a bit too heavy for me. I know of countless rebuttals to all these reservations but even then, they don’t make them any less real. I guess I still have a lot of introspection to make over the next few weeks, haha.

For now, I will rest easy with a heart full of gratitude for a module that reinvigorated my mind and for lecturers who made me realize that being passionate about and genuine interest in whatever it is that you do can REALLY do wonders.

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*It’s also partly why I decided to go back to writing on this thing. I’ve always thought about maintaining this blog and chronicling my first year in med school. I regret that I always found so many (lame) excuses not to write. Mostly, it’s because I  would start to write and then eventually spiral down into the inescapable pit of self-doubt. I would get so insecure about my writing style and how it isn’t one that would hook people right in, not realizing that the only opinion I should even take into account is min… because I’m writing this for myself and not for other people!!!  It would have been a nice way for me to remember the tough year that was first year in med school! I guess it’s better late than never????

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Earlier this month, my family and I went on a cruise, touring the coast of Spain, bits of Italy, Portugal and even Morocco. My parents are such huge fans of cruise tours as they’ve been going on these kinds of tours for a long time and they have always wanted us to experience it for ourselves.

Even when I was much younger, I have always wanted to know what it was like to be part of a cruise tour. It’s probably more influenced by the fact that it has been featured in several children’s books and TV shows. I remember a book in a middle-grade series I loved called The Adventures of Mary-Kate and Ashley (the Trenchcoat Twins!) wherein the twins’ family went on a cruise. I don’t exactly remember the entire story but I do recall that the twins talked about joining this treasure hunt and all the other activities reserved for kids on board. I was also an avid viewer of the spin-off series,The Suite Life on Deck with Zack and Cody on Disney Channel. So, suffice it is to say that I was actually pretty excited for this tour but color me disappointed when I found I wasn’t really going to fulfill some of  the cruise ship scenarios I’ve painted in my mind mainly because, well, I’m 21 and I count as an adult and most adult activities cater to the… well, let’s just say, the adult adult.  Still, the entire ten-day cruise has been nothing short of amazing. In fact, I am very, very grateful for this trip.

Aside from the fact that we got to see many historic sites on shore days and when we went around cities in Spain before and after the cruise, my favorite thing about his trip is that I was able to – surprise, surprise -get out of a mean writing slump. You would think that because of all the traveling, I wouldn’t have any time to sit down to jot down something, or anything at all! On the contrary, the bounty of free time on days and nights when we were on sail (and when I didn’t have much energy to join in on the activities) and the sporadic access to wifi both allowed me to flourish a bit in the writing aspect.

It’s funny, really, how I even found it in me to write at all during this trip. It’s invigorating, though, to know that I can still do it. That I can still write. I’m not, in any way, a great writer and that’s not just me downplaying my skills. At best, I consider myself an okay writer. Writing, you see, has always been my biggest frustration. I used to want so bad to become a writer growing up. But then, whenever I write, I always seem to have this voice in my head telling me that I’m never going to be able to write anything moderately okay. In fact, even as I write this post or any blog post for that matter (the amount of drafts I have for this blog isn’t even funny), that voice lingers. But, I’d like to believe that I take it easy these days. I don’t push myself too hard, but it doesn’t mean I don’t challenge myself. It just means that I don’t pressure myself into writing a really eloquent piece cause I know I’m not some writer aficionado.Words don’t come to me as easily as they do for others. But I guess I’m just really, really, really, grateful that I’m still here, that I’m still trying.

So, really, after that trip? I am just so grateful- not only for the fact that my parents were able to let us see some of the most breathtaking cities, but also for the fact that the trip allowed to find that small voice in me that urges me to never stop writing and to block out the bigger voice that’s been telling me that I can’t.

In a couple of weeks, I’m taking another trip – this time, alone. I can only hope that it will further encourage that voice in me. But, really, what I’m ultimately hoping for is for that voice to never ever be drowned out again even when I’m home and in my comfort zone.