Seeing the Sunlight

Michael, MD/PhD Student

Over the weekend I visited the Upland Lemon Festival. Lemonade being one of my all-time favorite beverages, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity. Due to long days in the lab and things to do around the house, I haven’t spent all that much time outside lately. I pushed the concerns and worries to the back of my mind and simply enjoyed myself, exploring the various booths and sharing funnel cake with my wife. Sure, it was hot, making the lemonade that much more refreshing.

Perhaps this combination of mental state and vitamin D synthesis explains the near-euphoric feeling I had wandering around the festival in the bright sunlight. I closed my eyes, spread my arms open, and twirled around, feeling the warmth on my skin.


Scheduling a Blur?!

Looking back at my week it was completely a blur! At times it seemed that everything was moving so fast that it seemed impossible that I could get everything done. Excitement, anticipation, worry, the occasional thoughts of I don’t know what is happening, I think I remember hearing that term before, or woah that’s a scary looking rat (Don’t worry it was a laboratory rat) were just some of the feelings and thoughts I had during my first week.

A typical day that I had to encounter last week was waking up early in the morning to study, fighting the seemingly endless brigade of cars in the infamous Lot X, so that I can arrive to my lab (early of course), taking a quick break for lunch/study time, attending class, running to a scientific seminar, and finally a few more hours of studying in the library to end the day. And then I Rinsed, and Repeated the same thing again the next day…

Although my week seemed extremely busy, chaotic, and at times seemed impossible to plan anything; I was able to accomplish almost everything that I wanted because I had a schedule for each day. Planning a schedule helped me take each day one day at a time (sometimes even hours at a time haha).

Usually I don’t really like sticking to a schedule because it feels so restricting, but I realized that planning everything out and sticking to a schedule is really a great tool for helping people to be sane and balanced. Plus there are a lot of cool schedule and reminder apps in the Apple app store!

So I realized since sanity and balance are pretty important to me and essential for living. With my schedule I am able to create time for accomplishing necessary tasks for the day, leisure time, time to call friends and family, and time with God; basically all of things that are important to me.

I know that sticking to a schedule is much more easier said than done, and many days my schedule doesn’t always go as planned. But I’m still in the learning and trial phase, still trying to adjust and tweak it here and there. Hopefully after awhile I will get the hang out of it. I know that everything can never go exactly as planned, but planning out my days as proved very helpful so far, and I hope it continues to assist me.


Wild Zones

At one point in my life I spent a lot of time mowing the lawn. We had a decently-sized area with terrain ranging from wide, flat spaces to steep hills and washed-out depressions. The ride-on mower was the closest I got to having a four-wheeler, so the chore wasn’t all bad. Even so, during the height of the summer, the grass had to be cut weekly, essentially pre-booking my Sunday mornings.

One area of the yard was especially treacherous––water runoff had formed a rocky stream bed, sycamore trees hid branches beneath bark pieces and wide leaves, and there were two wells to be avoided. This Wild Zone wasn’t highly visible compared to the rest of the yard, making it possible to leave that area for the next week’s mowing.

Each time I shifted the task to the right on my calendar, it became easier to do it again the following week. Eventually it had been postponed so many times it became part of the landscape. Nature continued to reclaim the Wild Zone, increasing the difficulty of the task and the inertia associated with completing it. And so the grass grew tall and went to seed, rippling with the breeze even as it concealed all manner of organic debris.

Containing the most egregious parts of the Wild Zone was easy enough: I mowed close to the edge and tossed stray branches further inward. Nevertheless, ulterior consequences of such a region are much harder to manage, encroaching into other areas in sinister ways. My dog began returning to house with dozens of ticks, mosquitoes diminished the enjoyment of the rest of the yard, thorns and locust saplings obstructed the wells.

This simply could not continue. I pulled on thick jeans and a hoodie despite the summer heat. I added safety goggles and tucked my earmuffs awkwardly beneath my hood. Thus armored, I adjusted the mower and plowed into the miniature wilderness. Almost immediately, I heard the telltale grind-snapping of a branch being destroyed by the blades, followed closely by stray pieces of wood and chipped rocks smacking into my face. Thorns pulled at my sweatshirt and snared my ankles, digging into skin. Disturbed insects rose to mix with the vast quantities of dust and pollen already filling the air.

This is a rather roundabout way of describing my life of late. It’s easy to carry on with the imperative parts, doing what is absolutely necessary to keep things moving forward. Dealing with the rest of it, however, requires initiative; it doesn’t have to be finished immediately, even if it should. And so life moves onward, visibly well-maintained while the more hidden, personal areas grow wild and unkempt.

Mowing the Wild Zone was every bit as difficult as I had imagined, but it had to be done. Similarly, as exhausting as it may be to continue “hanging in there,” it’s not enough. It isn’t fulfilling to merely keep pace with existence. There is a limit to how much of oneself can be sacrificed before the tangled undergrowth begins to choke even the non-negotiable tasks.

Take the extra time to truly focus on a loved one, to do something creative, to enjoy the outdoors is vital. Not mowing edges or tossing the branches farther in, but applying the same professional focus to whatever represents “the rest of life.” We ignore these things at our peril. For sure, isn’t easy to set aside the urgent to take care of something important. It’s hard to overpower the inertia and plow through the stress in pursuit of fulfillment.

That’s what it takes.

Why Two Degrees?

Looking over the long road ahead of me, one might consider asking, incredulously, why somebody would want to do an MD/PhD program at all. It’s certainly a justified question, to which the short answer is that I think receiving training in both clinical medicine and research science will be especially valuable in my future career.

The MD and PhD degrees differ in more than just the requirements – they represent two perspectives on problem-solving. The way I see it right now, medicine ultimately teaches students how to correctly apply what we have learned to new situations, and how to recognize something you have seen before when it is placed in a new context. Graduate school, however, teaches students how to find the gaps in what we know, and design questions that will yield new information.

I think the two schools of thought are complementary, and that having experience with both will improve my skills as a clinician and as a researcher. Additionally, in the field I’m currently looking at, neurology/neuroscience, I will be able to help bridge the gap between what we’re continually learning in the lab (neuroscience) and the application of that knowledge to patient care (neurology). Not only through translational research (a popular buzzword) I do myself, but also by being cognizant of and having experience with developments on both angles.

I wrote this a while back on mistypedURL, but I think it’s worth sharing again here.