To Pandakar and Back

It’s time to break my longest hiatus from the blog. Alas, I’ve officially succumbed to the hectic life of being a medical student. I often choose the pleasures of sleep, food, and an occasional Netflix or Hulu episode over writing. I might need to reevaluate my priorities.

Fundamentals proved fruitful. Unlike the other modules, it’s a hodgepodge of information, and I personally liked the variety of subject material (most of my fellow classmates probably disagree and prefer the focused content of most modules). We were graded on more classical methods of class work (lab quizzes, weekend quizzes, NBME midterm, NBME final, practical final, faculty exam final) and some more society-centered studies (medical interviewing of patients, full physical examination, and humanities essays on medical history and emotion processing after seeing patients). I actually enjoyed myself during Fundamentals. Despite the stress and long days, I enjoyed the information and had a decent time on the weekends, not so social, but I at least managed to get relaxing time in, which I desperately need to recharge.

Within 20 hours of my last Fundamentals final, I found myself on a bus to Pandakar, our patient role-play destination where the four-year USU med students used first-year students as well as volunteers as guinea pigs for a mock deployment scenario of patient health care. We stayed in barracks, which were much nicer than I anticipated. Likewise, all the porta-potties around Pandakar were surprisingly well-maintained. It’s the simple pleasures that keep you going.

We began our first day by taking an emotion intelligence test, personality test, and by learning how to play patients (which included an understanding of various medical abnormalities, how to act them out, and how the fourth-years should be treating our conditions). The next few days in Pandakar were quite epic and exhausting with more or less moulage involved. We played patients in combat scenarios as well as in sick call scenarios to give the fourth-years a plethora of presenting conditions to treat.

I will have more on what the MSIVs do in a few years for their side of the story of Bushmaster (Bushmaster was this doctor-patient role-play experience in fake-country Pandakar/real-world Fort Indiantown Gap in Pennsylvania). They had several roles to play, including security, surgery, ATL, CSC (for mental health), medic, litter carry, and a few more I either cannot remember or never learned myself. The poor fourth-years seemed exhausted by the end and were organized by platoons into different clinical teams by helmet color. I happened to see the Red platoon all the time, and I also happened to play a couple of hilarious patients, one of which was an “odd person”. For the respect of not showing us goof off with fake injuries, we can’t share our photos from Bushmaster, but it was an awesome/exhausting/educational experience for both the patients and the physicians – an experience no other medical school gets!

After Bushmaster, we had our own military training experience as MSIs within our platoons that included M9 shooting/safety training, LRC (leadership reaction course – my COT training served me well), land navigation, preventive medicine, ultrasound, CBRNE (training for chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear defense), combatives (thanks to a West Point graduate I partnered up with, I learned way more and definitely enjoyed myself…slash we sparred in pairs at the end, which I found terrifying to watch but fun/painful to do myself), Health Service Support (strategy of establishing medical/military posts during combat), casualty evacuation, and movie nights to watch clips of videos/documentaries and listen to panels/speakers ultimately illustrating the realities of military medicine [besides my parenthetical insertions, I promise this sentence/paragraph wasn’t a run-on].

And thus, we reached the end of our time in Pandakar. I bonded with the members of Alpha company (the half of MSIs that did Bushmaster before MSI training), and it was nice to go home and have a few days off before classes started up again. Unfortunately, on my last day in Pandakar, I woke up with the world spinning around me. I basically crawled to the bathroom to vomit from dizziness. Luckily I found two kind classmates to take me to the medic who diagnosed me with vertigo due to a viral infection. Fun times. The next few days were mostly spent at home recovering and relaxing, with some occasional activities within the scope of my ability to sit and walk slowly.

This past weekend before classes started, I went to a pumpkin patch with some Air Force friends and had my first experience pumpkin-carving at my parents’ place with Andrew. Also got to catch up with a few local friends and family before classes began yesterday. After organizing my calendar and planner for this next module, MSK (musculoskeletal), I am both excited and terrified to hit the books again.

Here we go again.

The COT Finale: Weeks 4-5

It’s been three weeks since my last post, and oh my, a lot has certainly happened. I had been so chronically sleep deprived that I never managed to set enough time aside to write a coherent post of what had been going on. So let’s give this a try.

The fourth week of COT was a jumble of events and emotions. We all anxiously awaited graduation, which was the Friday of Week 5. I have no idea how the BOT, ROTC, or BMT trainees do it because 5 weeks for COT already felt like eternity. I have the utmost respect for everybody who successfully completes these intense training programs.

WEEK FOUR
Monday
The day was quite busy, beginning with our final PT exam and the CWT #2, followed by lectures galore (not gonna lie, it was the first time I straight up passed out in the big red pillows. I am quite grateful I was sly and not caught by any instructors. You’re supposed to stand up in the back of the room if you’re falling asleep.) In other news, I finally got my ranks sewn onto my uniform and it feels GOOD. Now I see what OTS staff members mean by having pride in your uniform. My name and rank are looking pretty beautiful.

Some happy times in Boyd Auditorium

Some happy times in Boyd Auditorium

PT test: earned a 98.4 of 100 on the test. I have never run so quickly, smashed so many push-ups, or whipped out that many sit-ups. For the first mile of my 1.5mi, I ran a 7:28 (if you know me, this is a miracle). Ran the full deal in 11:34. Did 43 push-ups in a minute and 57 sit-ups in a minute. KILLING IT. Did not think it was possible to improve on my original score, but I did. Everybody in my flight improved across the board for all three elements of the PT exam. In retrospect, it’s funny that I stressed so much about PT before COT when it turned out to be my strongest aspect.

CWT #2 (our final academic test): solid score, felt good to be done with the academic portion of COT. Done done done done done and time to celebrate!

Tuesday-Wednesday
LRC: Leadership Reaction Course (not to be confused with the Learning Resource Center at USU)

The LRC was a continuation of Project X from the previous week where staff members graded us on leadership skills in a series of (mildly dangerous) obstacles. Playing out Navy Seal-type missions with zero prior outdoor leadership experience, we dealt with heights, climbing walls, building tripods (oh hey, that’s my claim to fame), maneuvering in water, utilizing given resources, relying on the leader, planning the mission before execution, etc. LRC was a great learning experience because it was one of the first opportunities everybody could get leadership training. I might have preferred a crash course beforehand in field activities and outdoor safety though (I was never a girl scout and have never been privy to climbing things). Bravo Bombers beat the record for one of the obstacles when we happened to have only athletic guys grouped for one of the teams.

After the LRC events, we were phased up! Ironic timing too because we were granted phase 3 privileges before our mock deployment began (called Blue Thunder), meaning we could only truly exercise phase 3 status over the weekend. It was nice in theory, but man you have no idea what it meant to be given phase 3 privileges. No more tight meals and we could leave the base outside of duty hours. Sweet sweet freedom was in grasp. Freedom tastes so good.

Anyway, we were phased up before heading to our overnight mock deployment. The tents were air conditioned even though the bunks hurt my back. Awesome Air Force planes were taking off like they were right in front of us (same with on OTS campus but the view was much better here). Luckily we were so ravenous during the events that eating MREs weren’t so bad. [[In case I didn’t mention it before, MREs are almost space-type meals with way too much sodium and interesting methods of chemistry to heat food. I am bringing a few of these meals home that I didn’t finish so Andrew can have an MRE-picnic with me.]]

Our mock deployment base

Our mock deployment base

Inside the girls' tent for Alpha and Bravo

Inside the girls’ tent for Alpha and Bravo

Thursday
Beware of the trains that you hear passing in the middle of the night and the 4:30am wake-up call to rock music. Didn’t get too much sleep at Blue Thunder before beginning our long day of the Ropes Course and Litter Carry during Black Flag weather.

Ready to embark on the day

Ready to embark on the day

The ropes course consisted of a 40 ft rock wall, the tooth pick (the second worst), a repel wall, and an actual ropes course (which was the worst). I have this massive fear of heights; despite lots of crying, I got through it. I received endless support from my Bravos and the Alphas who came after us as well as OTS staff (the OTS staff members helping on the ropes course were fantastic). I was grateful to have the most adventurous Bravo female in our group come behind me to help out emotionally along the way. Completing the ropes course events in its entirety was a big accomplishment for me but I cannot say I will ever do it again voluntarily. It was pure torture. Good to know I can accept a challenge and see it through.

Featuring the wall and the toothpick

Featuring the wall and the toothpick

I assure you, that was not a real smile

I assure you, that was not a real smile. Also, the picture is misleading; I am not walking on ground.

Who knew there were so many things involved in carrying stretchers (ie litters) in the military? So many commands. I was pretty unhappy to discover that carrying a 113 lb flight mate on the litter was painful although most of the guys didn’t have a problem. Here I thought I was a strong, capable woman, but I guess I should hit the gym some more. Luckily, black flag conditions meant we didn’t have to do the litter carry course with an actual person on the litter. A highlight of the course was when OTS staff threw sand on us (“blood and guts”) as we crawled underneath wire that got progressively narrow as we proceeded. Fun times at COT.

Sleepy during litter carry break

Sleepy during litter carry break

Friday
As part of the Blue Thunder mock deployment experience, MRIC (Medical Readiness Indoctrination Course) consisted of two portions with a massive tent set up as a combat field hospital, the first part testing response to patients with minor injuries and the second part testing response to a mass casualty event due to a bombing. Trainees had a variety of positions, including hospital administration, security, manpower, ICU, OR, patients, moulage, etc.

The Bravo moulage crew

The Bravo moulage crew

I signed up for mental health originally, but only 1-2 individuals got the slot. I was assigned the role of a patient, which ended up being ridiculously fun. First scenario, I was a marine who got hit by an IED while chasing car bomb suspects. Despite my minor injury (which was never treated), I was sedated for being so belligerent (I was trying to stick with my devil dog, aka my chaplain roommate, who was severely burned. Also security took my rifle away. You don’t take a marine’s rifle away.) I was almost sent to the morgue due to confusion about my sedation records. That was exciting. Second scenario, I had shell shock, and the team had a much more appropriate response to my clinical condition than the first round. Very interesting experience from a learning standpoint of what should be done in a mass casualty scenario.

Coming back from MRIC, we had our usual Hall Call to end the week, which is basically one big pep rally. Bravos won flight of the week within our squadron and our overall class. Within Bravo, I won the award for flight member of the week, which was exciting recognition for building flight morale and challenging myself during all the field events. In other news, my Falcon squadron rocked the drill competition (with Bravos leading the way as element leaders, guidon bearer, and flight leader for the superflight and made it #1). As per usual, Bravos REPRESENT.
FORWARD HARCH.

Getting our flight of the week award

Getting our flight of the week award

OUR GUIDON

OUR GUIDON

Falcon Superflight

Falcon Superflight

Saturday
The morning was short but eventful. We wore dress blues for the commandant inspection, consisting of open ranks (basically a fancy drill/uniform/military inspection) and room inspection. Only thing the Bravos needed to learn was folding hospital corners in our beds, which was something we had not been taught before so we were pretty proud of ourselves.

As for the rest of the day, we got to feel like normal people again, wear civvies, watch a movie (got a military discount for the first time!), eat out, and go shopping. I was a little bit of a chauffeur but I missed my Charlie baby so that was alright. One day to almost feel like a real person, despite our imposed squadron curfew at 2230 (aka 10:30pm).

Sunday
A little back to the COT world – errands galore for dining centerpieces, plus a summer camp feel when we were doing art for it, plus the ultimate Frisbee tournament. One of our Bravo’s dorm rooms had electrical issues that caused a fire alarm to go off, which added extra spice to our weekend because we weren’t allowed to go to Morehouse dorms for a solid chunk of Sunday.

WEEK FIVE
Monday
Our day mostly consisted of random lectures galore. They were actually pretty useful topics for the future. However, I had still been struggling with sleep debt and thus paying full attention was not the easiest. We spent the evening at Mellow Mushroom (deliciousness) for our flight commander dinner, where we invited Capt Warren, his wife, niece, and seven children out for a meal. They were such a lovely, happy family. His wife and kids decorated rollos to look like dynamites in honor of the Bravo “Bombers”. Adorbs.

Dinner crew at Mellow Mushroom

Dinner crew at Mellow Mushroom

Tuesday
The highlight of Tuesday was the Dining In, which was a formal event (despite wearing our ABUs, not blues) at the Officer’s Club. The military traditions were a-plenty and oh so odd. If you broke any rules, you could be sent to the grog, which was a hodgepodge of mixed drinks that apparently tasted really good (with both alcoholic and nonalcoholic options). There was a certain way of doing everything. So many rules to remember, which they cover pretty extensively and include in the red packet they leave on your table. So many little quirks about the meal; for example, instead of clapping, you tap the table with the round part of your spoon. The best part was the comedy skit coordinated by our class – absolutely hilarious and pointed out all the silly idiosyncrasies of COT. The night ended with a DJ event in the basement bar area of the Officer’s Club.

At the Officer's Club

At the Officer’s Club

The beautiful centerpieces!

The beautiful centerpieces!

Wednesday
We did our last PT with a fun run around campus, learning about the history of Maxwell AFB. At the conclusion, we got our wings! It was quite ceremonial.

Family started pouring in (so we were phased up to phase 4 privileges) and made me wish I could fast forward to Friday when my dad and Andrew were coming into town. We had the USAA dinner that evening, which included a delicious buffet. It turned out to be a huge advertisement event with bankers and USAA insurance agents at the ready while speakers were giving out random prizes and presenting certain aspects of financial opportunities with USAA. Congrats to me: USAA approved me for a career starter loan (at 2.99% interest!) so I can pay off my credit cards and my higher interest student loans. Afterwards, some of us hit the town near the Riverwalk area in the Alley (basically the only place to go out in Montgomery, Alabama).

Thursday
The last full day of COT. Falcons won Honor Squadron at the awards ceremony, and unfortunately, Bravo came in 2nd place for Honor Flight (we lost by 0.2%). In my heart, Bravo will always be #1. Even though my car battery died and needed replacing, I absolutely enjoyed my last day and night with these fabulous officers.

Friday
Thanks to an active duty meeting first thing in the morning, a few of us were late to our graduation ceremony – whoops – in the COT conference room (it was actually supposed to be in our flight room but we had too many guests to fit). When I walked in, the very first faces I saw were my dad’s and Andrew’s. So much happiness in the world when your home comes to you! Our flight commander shared funny tales about each of us while giving out certificates and coins. Great success! As per usual, we rushed to get to the graduation parade after. Because my dad was one of the few distinguished visitors (as an SES in the Army), I knew exactly where he and Andrew would be sitting and watched them with my peripheral vision during the entire parade – you’d be surprised how much you can see using peripheral vision by the end of COT. After graduation was over, I exchanged hugs and photos with my Bravos as we said our goodbyes.

Graduation

As a conclusion to this post, I have to put the cherry on top of my Bravo-loving. We’re a bunch of goofballs. I wish I could list all the things I love about each and every individual in my flight if I had the time and could dish out details of their private lives. I am grateful that I contributed to this group, with zero drama and 100% support. I am grateful we didn’t crack the whip on each other and could courteously make corrections when necessary. I am grateful we kept up good spirits while getting through such a challenging training experience together. Finally, I am grateful to have 3 Bravos in USUHS with me, 1 Alpha, and a Bravo dentist close by at Andrews AFB. I love being surrounded by good people, and COT encouraged me that we are recruiting some amazing people as officers of the U.S. Air Force.

As always,
Peace, Love, and Bravo