PSR – “Perfect Spiritual Rejuvenation”

Last weekend, the entire medical school was invited to put down the books, take a trip up a winding mountain road, and fellowship together at the Pine Springs Ranch Retreat.  Pine Springs Ranch is a little mountain oasis tucked away about an hour from our school.  We first years had heard about how fun this retreat weekend would be, but I don’t think any of us were prepared for the incredible experience we were about to have as we packed into our carpools and headed up the mountain.

My carpool group, which happened to be my main study group, decided to leave around 3 on Friday afternoon, foregoing the notion that we could stay at the school and study until sundown and then leave.  We thought, “We can study in the car and then once we get there, we can find a nice spot and study amidst the nature.”  We faithfully studied physiology and mastered the types of adrenergic receptors during the car ride, but as soon as we reached our destination, the clean, crisp mountain air whisked away any further thoughts of anatomy, biochemistry, or physiology.  We therefore finished the afternoon off with a self-guided hike and proceeded to share some of our favorite stories of past adventures with each other.  This was the first blessing that came from the weekend, a chance to spend normal quality time with a group of friends that I usually only get to study with.

That evening began the first of several very spiritually rejuvenating worship services as the school gathered together to sing, praise, pray, and hear God’s word through our speaker Barbara Hernandez.  She shared the message that the Bible is like one big storybook and that our lives are similarly full of many stories.  She encouraged us to mark the important stories and landmarks in our lives and share them with others.  Stories like the first moment we knew we wanted to become physicians, how God provided to get us into medical school, and stories about the people we encounter along our healthcare journey.  I couldn’t help but think about this opportunity that I have to blog and share some of my stories with those of you who choose to skim through these words.  I feel blessed to have an opportunity to share my story and I can only hope that it will have some sort of positive impact on you.

Saturday brought more opportunities to worship and play together.  After Sabbath school and church a group of us decided to try out the White Pass Mountain Trail that we had heard people talking about.  I thought, “I’m in decent shape, I can do this no problem!”  However, little did I know just how much work this hike would actually be.  After a large portion of our group decided to head back to camp and forego the rest of the adventure, I became the only girl amidst a group of very athletic boys.  Luckily they were kind and allowed me to stop and catch my breath every once and while and put up with my obnoxious questioning of,  “Are we there yet???”  In the end, it was so worth the effort when we reached the peak and could look over both the mountain valley from which we had just ascended and the desert valley on the other side of the mountain range.   It’s amazing how caught up in our own little world we can be sometimes and it is experiences like this that make you realize that God’s creation is so much more expansive, intricate, and beautiful than we can ever begin to comprehend.

On Saturday night we finished off the retreat with the annual med school talent show where our deans and our students strutted their stuff and impressed us all with their comedy and musical talent.  Things like this make you realize that medical students aren’t always the type-A “let’s study all the time and have no fun” group that society makes us out to be.  While there was no shortage of nerdy med school puns throughout the evening, we spent the entire night laughing, singing along to silly to songs, and just plain having a good time.

PSR Retreat turned out to be one of the most memorable experiences thus far in my medical school journey and I am so thankful for the amazing friends that made it unforgettable, the dedicated faculty and staff that made it possible, and the God that showed me once again how beneficial it is to take time away from the drudgery of studying to worship him and gain spiritual rest and rejuvenation.

No Romance in Medicine

I have been documenting a novel syndrome. It’s not rare, yet has not been thoroughly described in medical literature. How exciting to be pioneering this! I shall call it Primary Medicine Exposure Romantic Block Syndrome. When exposed to a new environment and cognitive concept that leaves their fundamental confidences shaken, patients find themselves with an inability to manage their romantic faculties. I have seen it with my own eyes as one relationship after the other falls apart amongst my fellow classmates. An anonymous poll for prevalence rates is tempting. I’m still working on more marketable nomenclature for this syndrome if you have suggestions (whoever coined Restless Leg Syndrome, feel free to comment this post, I respect your opinion).

After the first week of tests, this weekend has served as the very cure to my constant, controlled, yet gnawing fear of both the medical knowledge and romantic abysses that seem somehow anastamosed.

This weekend was the Pine Springs Ranch retreat for the School of Medicine, where newly relieved first year students, still shaken second years, rebellious third and fourth years (sneaking away from their rotations or setting aside their review books), got together for some good ol’ campfire tunes. While there was no actual campfire, the stars were scintillating and the bugs were chittering along our harmonies.

Muita calma pra pensar, e ter tempo pra sonhar. Calmness to think, time to dream. We all stopped to think and dream on Friday night. Paige, Ben, Linden, Chris, Morgan, Justin, and I plopped down on an inclining rock clearing and watched the quiet stars as Mike played quiet chords on his guitar. We sang, we laughed out our fears and thus renewed our courage.

It was an especially exciting weekend for me, because I was finally going to sing one of my favorite tunes at the talent show, Corcovado (Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars), by Joao Gilberto and Stan Getz, a song that has stayed in my mixed CDs since I was 11. Did I mention it was to an acoustic guitar, alto sax, and electric bass? I felt like the luckiest immigrated Brazilian who misses the raw and relaxed sounds of a typical Saturday night in a bustling musical neighborhood back home. Thanks for the opportunity Drew, Daniel, and Mike (see his take on this weekend, at Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars)! Whether it was rushing through my books to get to practice on Friday afternoon, ditching the hike up to the mountain ridge in order to refine my egg shaker skills, finally singing that song on Saturday night was my cure for Primary Exposure Romantic Block Syndrome.

Medical school is not the bitter, tragic joke, some fall into believing. Did I hear this weekend of a 70% divorce rate amongst physicians? Maybe these bitter folk haven’t taken quiet walks by quiet streams, or looked out the window that looks out on Corcovado, where the Redeemer stands. Now that I have taken a step back from my past month of academic agony and romantic fear, I realize that this is possible and I could even thrive. You see, the art of medicine illustrates Joao Gilberto’s fundamental mistake of claiming the meaning of existence in romantic love. Romantic love is a little selfish in its expectations of returned affections. Love practiced in medicine reaches out to miserable humanity, giving it a hand in the ugliest, dirtiest, most ungrateful and tragic of circumstances, giving one more chance before the final flicker of life’s ember. So learn how to wisely yet unconditionally love first, medicine being a good teacher, and discerning a wise lover will be a skill that translationally follows.

Next Stop: Pine Springs

My arms and legs are on fire. Both boast impressive sets of scratches and scrapes. Note to self—next time I decide to scale a mountain, a clearly-marked trail or a brush-whacking machete would come in handy. I spent a piece of the weekend at Pine Springs Ranch, away from the books, smog, and closed-in feelings that all gradually settle over Loma Linda. It’s funny how lacing the weekend with perks to look forward to digs the spurs in a little deeper Monday through Friday. Little goals keep me trotting through life. Morning coffee is a prize for dragging myself out of bed. I creamer-splurge on days that are extra cold or extra early. Saturdays, I study at non-Starbucks getaways. Sunday nights earn me shaved legs and clean sheets. Unwrapping a chocolate, taking a walk, or sparking up favorite Yankee candles are all rewards. Marks of mild accomplishments being met. Kind pats on the back for making it a few paces further. Call it self-indulgence. I think of it as sanity maintenance. We all need those little stops that we can eagerly trot up to on the way to where we’re going. The small, looked-forward-to detours on our pilgrimage to progress. That’s precisely what this weekend was. A 45 minute drive into a different world. A world made of pine needles, hot chocolate, and just enough chill to warrant long sleeves and a scarf.

“Let’s go on a hike” is such an innocent proposition. As soon as the offer is thrown on the table, my mind tosses together a lovely picture featuring several bluebirds on either shoulder, sunlight spotting through tall branches, and the soft rustle of leaves singing the background track for casual banter and light-hearted laughs. Nature bows beneath my confident, hiking boot steps. Like much of life, reality has a funny way of weaving around the ideals. My shredded thighs and throbbing elbows now know better than to trust such lie-painted pictures. My old Adidas had no traction. The thorny trees decided to stage a revolt against any patches of uncovered skin. My hemoglobin was having a stingy day of oxygen-delivery selfishness, and my coordination decided to skirt out on attendance all together. A troop of eight of us started up the mountain. Laughter rolled, smiles flashed, and jokes and stories were swapped like grade school lunches. By the end of our three hour death march, a very different brigade stomped down the great hill. Languishing for water, licking our wounds, and making bold pronouncements of “never again!” I have a new-found respect for Lewis and Clark, and am so relieved that my profession will be bathed in sterile white instead of terror-riddled underbrush.

That being said, Pine Springs was still awesome. I think I may have even been bragging a bit about scaling the rugged heights by the end of the day. It was a redefinition of rest, bred by distance from my “normal.” Something about being miles away from study material and the life that orbits classes breathes a new version of freedom. Being physically removed from the option of work lets you use the moments of nothingness to plop down in the grass and find cloud shapes. Or attempt to throw a spiral pass. Or look into someone’s eyes and ask how they’re doing so you can hear them ‘til they’re through. You can listen like you mean it, because you do. You can lay back on a field of green, happy just to be outside on something soft. You can let the wind push against your face and hair and know that God’s breath and love are persistent and fresh. Yes, I think a life with little “get to it” mile markers is far improved from one without. Like a marathon with water stops. Or a year spotted with holidays. Living is so much more fun when it runs toward something. Which is precisely why I’m excited to fall asleep tonight. Because tomorrow plans to be a slightly-early morning. I can already taste the extra creamer.

Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars

It’s the morning now after I’ve driven back from my first Pine Springs Retreat––the annual LLU School of Medicine and friends event in the San Bernardino National Forest––and I figure I have approximately way-fewer-than-I-think minutes before I have to start hitting the books again. That should definitely be enough time to write this post, though. Physiology can wait! YOLO!!

(I’ve been known to say that a great many things on this planet are both hilarious and tragic. I think the fact that putting physio off for another half hour has totally sated my rebellious streak for the week is definitely, definitely hilaragic).

To be honest, though, I actually don’t even mind the fact that I have to “catch up” a bit after spending the last couple of days at Pine Springs Ranch. My PSR experience definitely deserves its own post anyway, and mostly because of a little song called “Corcovado.”

“Corcovado”––also known as “Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars”––has always been one of my favorite tunes. The original recording by Joao Gilberto and Stan Getz on their album “Getz/Gilberto” (Verve, 1964) gives me chills nearly every time I put it on––the beautifully haunting intro, Gilberto’s serene vocals over the never-hurried, yet slightly driving groove, and one of Stan Getz’s always captivating tenor saxophone solos has cemented its status as not only one of the most iconic standards in bossa nova and jazz history, but also as the song that plays in my head in those moments where despite the travails of life and love, everything feels just about right.

With that in mind, imagine my excitement when I somehow got Drew Sheldon (alto saxophone), Daniel Chiou (bass) and Giovanna Sobrinho (fluent in Portuguese and a real-deal Brazilian!!!!!!, vocals) to let me play with them for the talent show at Pine Springs!

Of course, to do the song justice, we would have to practice, which takes time, which is unfortunate because, well, we’re all medical students! When we got together for only the second time an hour before we were supposed to leave for Pine Springs, there was some uncertainty. Do I come in here? Is that a G-sharp or a G-natural? Half-step or whole step? When am I supposed to come in again??

After practicing until what we thought was the very last minute, and then taking a few more to sort out a few important details (skinny black tie, or skinnier black tie?) and to WAIT FOR SOMEBODY TO PACK BECAUSE HE HADN’T YET (I still love you Daniel), we somehow loaded all of our bags and gear into my little Hyundai compact and started to meander our way to Pine Springs. The car ride was a blur of not knowing how to get there, sort of knowing how to get there and then doubting that we were getting there (all set to a eclectic soundtrack accompanied by our, uh, “singing”), so we were really happy once we got there, even if we had to run to the cafeteria to get fed before they closed.

What I noticed immediately was this odd sensation that I had been displaced from my natural habitat, which by now has become the annals of Centennial Hall and the library. It wasn’t an unwelcome contrast––there was a beautiful view of the mountain, clean air, and most importantly, when I looked up, there were the stars––Pleiades, Draco, Cassiopeia and the rest, twinkling like the final flickers of life’s ember. Later that night, as I laid down on the side of a hill with a few friends, took out the guitar and sang the first few lines of “Corcovado,” I couldn’t imagine wanting to be anywhere else.

The next day, between worship, some ill-fated hikes, and some combination of volleyball/basketball/ultimate frisbee games, the four of us found a bit time to practice again for the talent show that night. It wasn’t perfect, but who could care at that point? The only things left to do were to look as awesome as possible and to groove as hard as we could. That night, after a few brilliant acts ranging from spoken word, to musical comedy and opera, we got our chance.

 

When we sat down afterward, we were all wondering the same things. How did you think it went? Do you think they noticed _______? I think some people were singing along! Of course, everyone was super polite after the show, but it was hard to not feel a little trepidation about how it was really received. As the boys of our group walked back to the car to put away our gear, there was the feeling that we were trying to reassure ourselves that it had in fact gone well. Yeah, you sounded great man, don’t worry about it.

A while later, we had stuffed our faces full of dessert at the ice-cream social, said our goodbyes, shoved all of our stuff back in the car and were on our way back to Loma Linda. There was only one thing to do: boot up the laptop and watch/listen to the recording. Oddly, something happened that usually doesn’t when I listen to recordings of my own performances––I smiled. I was proud of us––a couple of med students that had absolutely no business trying to pull off a passable performance of a jazz and bossa nova classic did just that, and in front of the whole medical school community no less. As we drove off into the quiet night of quiet stars, this time accompanied by our own original soundtrack, I couldn’t help but think that things just felt right, even if just for one delicate, fleeting moment. Corcovado… oh how lovely.