Balance, Part 2

I’ve had a lot of time, well that’s an overstatement, a few free minutes here and there, to think about my last blog, and about what I do to try to maintain some sort of balance in my life. Even though I have already figured out that it’s not really possible to have equal “balance” during this process.

This past weekend was an “exam weekend” which means that there was an exam on Monday and the whole weekend was spent studying as much as possible, both to learn new things from the previous week’s lectures, as well as to review things we learned the week before. Right now in our gross anatomy course, the exams are every two or three weeks. Every two weeks is hard because then we only have one “free” weekend in between (which really isn’t free, it just means we only study a few hours each day not 8 or 10). But then every three weeks is also hard, because we have a lot more to review, and many more concepts to know. There is so much to learn, and we never know what is going to be asked. A hundred questions on the written exam and only 50 questions on the practical – this despite the many hundreds of anatomical parts and concepts that can be asked. So of course, it’s best to know as much as possible; hence, “exam weekends.”

I have a fellow student friend who decided with his spouse that they wouldn’t talk about anything having to do with medical school on Saturdays. This was a challenge for me on one particular Saturday when my husband Ronando and I, and this couple, went for a great hike up to Angel’s rest in the Columbia River Gorge. (This was definitely not an exam weekend). I found myself quite challenged to find things to talk about that had nothing to do with medical school. What was there to say?

It was a good exercise for me, but I failed. I kept bringing things up that I remembered from lab, funny things that had happened, and insights into what we were learning in our clinical rotations. Many times I wanted to say something but then stopped, wanting to honor their “no medical talk on Saturdays” agreement. What a great way for a couple to force themselves to have balance in their lives while one is going through medical school! When we went home I asked Ronando if he felt like we needed to do something similar, and breathed a huge sigh of relief when he said no. If so, Saturday’s would have been really quiet in my house. (I also felt a bit guilty about all the times in the last ten years that I asked him to talk about something other than work – now I get it).

But my friends’ agreement to not talk medicine doesn’t apply to “exam weekends”. That’s the time when all other normal expectations of life cease to matter. I get up early as possible (depends on how far behind I feel, anywhere from 6 to 8 am), and start studying at the kitchen table until I have to get up and eat something. I grab something quick, sit back down with the food in front of my notes, and keep reading, looking at photos, recalling all those new words that I will soon be tested on. It’s the same for the whole weekend….and the morning before the exam. We then get a few hours off after the exam, to either go out and celebrate at a restaurant or bar with fellow students, to go home to pay attention to the family you ignored all weekend, or to just go home and pass out. If we’re lucky we get to do all three! But then it’s back to class 8 am the following morning, for a new blast of information.

So, we just finished our third exam, and even though the past weekend was therefore an “exam weekend” I did a few things for myself, to restore my social life a bit, and to recharge my battery. Friday night I went to a gathering of all my favorite women friends (my tribe as I call them). It was a potluck with lots of laughter, wine, and great food. My dear friend Tiffany gave me some advice that I have thought a lot about since then, advice that has helped me to find this slippery “balance”. She lived with a medical school student for four years, and watched her roommate struggle with the demands of medical school, and trying to have balance in the process. Tiffany’s words of wisdom were:

Valerie, don’t fight it.

What she meant was for me to accept the demands of medical school and stop trying to resist what was necessary to become a doctor. It may not be in my best interest to live like this (how ironic, in learning to become advocates for healing, we go through a very unhealthy process, for many years…), but it is only temporary. Not as temporary as the painful two hour labor I had when Erinna came into the world, but four years is a small time when I look at the whole scope of my life. (I hope to live to at least 90). So even though it’s painful, stressful, and hard at times, it is not going to last forever, so I may as well accept it!

Those pearls of wisdom woke me up like a shot of caffeine, and excited me just as much. Duh! I thought, you already know about all this: it’s my attitude that will keep me alive during medical school. Not necessarily how many hours of sleep I get, or how many vitamins I take, or how much I exercise, but my attitude! So this got me thinking about the things I do to help me feel positive, and being with my favorite group of women definitely helped. The following day, after studying for 8 hours, I took a break to go to a movie with my husband. On Sunday I took a few hours off to go get a massage, the first one I have had in three months! It was delicious, and way way way overdue. I feel bad for the therapist who had to work on my knots….they were hard as stones…..I even rescheduled another massage for another month from now, to get back in the habit of taking better care of myself.

So, long story short, whether it’s making time to talk about things other than medicine, to visit with friends and family, or to spoil ourselves with luxuries of movies and/or massages, it is possible to have a tiny bit of balance in medical school, and to enjoy the process. If I start complaining too much to any of you, please just remind me – Valerie, it’s all about your attitude!! You can do it!! You are laboring through this in order to give birth to a new you – it is worth it!

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