no shoes for me…

Ingrid, Second Year Medical StudentI did not deserve them. When I was a teacher, I used to tell my students and myself, “If you work hard enough, you can achieve your goals.”  This past Monday, our first set of exam scores slowly trickled in. The angst, the anticipation, the disappointment.  The dust settled, and I faced the realization.  Perhaps all along I believed a lie.  Did I set up my students for disappointment in the future?  Maybe I was lying to myself.  I firmly believed that if I put in enough hours, organized my schedule more efficiently, and put my mind to it, I could accomplish what I set out to do.  And that is what I did.  I can be perfectly honest and say to myself that I put in the time and effort all the way from day one.  But I didn’t achieve my goals.  Maybe effort and hard work was not enough.  Maybe I just need to be smart. Smart like the classmate who remembers everything after listening in class.  Smart like the classmate spends all his time with his girlfriend and studies half as much as me but does better….Smart like everyone else.

Thus began a week of self-loathing and frustration for me.  After all, I studied to be victorious, and in the end, pathophysiology and pharmacology left me less than satisfied. I remember that during one point of the test, I was reading one of the pathophysiology questions.  Every single multiple choice answer seemed like a valid possibility.  I could talk myself in and out of each of them, spinning in circles in my own head while sucking on a blueberry Jolly Rancher (I always bring Jolly Ranchers into exams…keeps my spirits up during the torture).  I just had to quietly laugh at my sad situation.  If I studied 100 more hours, I’m not sure if I could have done better.

So Friday, at 4:00 pm, I was studying microbiology with my friend Esther.  As I stared at the multi-page chart of positive stranded RNA viruses I had to memorize, the words on the page seem to blur together as I felt myself being overwhelmed with the task at hand. I felt like I was drowning. I didn’t want to study.  I didn’t want to give up precious real estate in my brain to obtuse facts such as Hep E viruses cause fulminant hepatitis to 20% of pregnant ladies in their third trimester.  Or, here’s a cheery thought, infection by Norovirus can follow eating food or breathing air near an episode of vomiting or diarrhea, even after it is flushed or cleaned up.  Why do I need to memorize this?  Why can’t I look it up online or in a textbook if I need it?  And yet, with the help of my friend, we pushed through the mire of material.  Slowly at first.  But at the end, we took those irrelevant, lifeless words on the page, and we shaped them, giving them life with our stories and our laughter.  At the end, we learned them.  Thank God for friends like Esther.

It is now Sabbath.  I can now shift my focus away from the microbio and think about the One who created it all, even the annoying microbes that plague my life presently.  I can give thanks for the ability to learn, even at my own inefficient speed.  I can appreciate that God has given me the privilege to catch a small glimpse into the amazing workings of the human body.

So at the end of hard, disappointing week, I am coming to terms with my life views.  Should I not work as hard because I can’t see a better outcome?  Should I lower my expectations and demand less of myself?  Plowing through micro notes today in spite of my negative feelings reinforced the importance of perseverance.  It helped me realize that although I don’t have total control over tests, I can control my attitude and my actions.  Although I am no longer the teacher but the student, I still want to an example that my former students can look up to….and not just because I’m wearing 3″ stilettos. So no new shoes this time, but another set of exams are always around the corner.  So I press on with strong mind, brave heart, and high heels.