Beginning the 2015 Chapter

2014 came and went, and along with it a plethora of emotional highlights I felt along the way: unadulterated happiness and relief with my unconditional acceptance into USUHS, excitement visiting close friends around the world, mixed feelings saying goodbye to the NIH, joy traveling to Brazil for the World Cup with childhood friends, stress when I hastily submitted my research paper for publication, anxiety due to sleep deprivation at Commissioned Officer Training, and passion, resolve, plus occasional fits of overwhelming despair during my medical training.

The MSK module ended on a solid note. I beasted during finals and redeemed myself from a post-midterm funk when I felt beyond burnt out for a few weeks. Without a doubt, winter break was well-welcomed. I spent the better half of our two weeks off in San Diego with my mom – we figured out Uber and adventured the city together. First day consisted of decompressing, food, and a lovely walk in her neighborhood where we could see the ocean and appreciate the great weather. Just what I needed after my first four months in medical school.

My family never really celebrated Christmas when I grew up, so lo and behold, I was in for a treat this year. I woke up to a breakfast feast – filet mignon, eggs, yogurt, and tea. My mom is the best cook ever, and I have been missing out since she’s moved to the west coast! After the necessary time needed to digest, most of Christmas Eve consisted of pool time and me appreciating warm weather galore. As for the evening, we were graciously invited to dinner with the Mormon President’s family and some other church-goers. My mom has become a regular attendee at a Mormon church near her and entered this network of lovely individuals I enjoyed meeting during my trip. [Note: I myself am a little confused about the role of the President, but I knew that he is a trained lawyer by profession. I learned a great deal about Mormonism from my mom, who’s working on a project comparing the Book of Mormon in English to the Persian translation to see if the translations are appropriate in Farsi.] Dinner was delish – ham, cheesy hash browns, green beans, followed by pumpkin and banana cream pies (everything home-made, the President literally whipped cream just before dessert).

Our Christmas Eve festivities were unlike anything I had imagined. After we ate, we all sat together and sang Christmas hymns. I had expected this to be uncomfortable, but I was pleasantly surprised. We all sat in a circle and picked our favorite songs (thankfully there were books for lyrics) while the President or his daughter played the piano. As a first-generation Persian American, it almost felt like one of those perfect families featured in the end of a Christmas movie. It didn’t feel like real life, but I certainly enjoyed it. The Elders joined for hymns later in the night to; this is when I learned that “Elders” are missionaries, with all the ones I met recently out of high school.

After singing hymns, we all dressed up in costumes the President’s wife had made to re-enact the nativity scene. My mom volunteered herself to be the Virgin Mary, and I played two roles: an angel and a wise man. Truly one of the most fun and memorable Christmases.

Virgin Mary (mom in the middle), three wise men, and Joseph on the right.

Virgin Mary (mom in the middle), three wise men, and Joseph on the right.

On Christmas day itself (with more steak and eggs for breakfast), my mom and I went to Seaport Village and Coronado Island, enjoying seafood, the warm weather, beautiful views of water, shopping, and a festive evening at Coronado Hotel.

In Seaport Village

In Seaport Village

After Christmas, I spent a good amount of time with family friends in the area, some of whom I hadn’t seen in nearly ten years! It’s amazing how at home you can feel with certain people, picking up just where you left off no matter how many years have passed. My ‘cousin’ took me to La Mer, so I got some face time with the ocean.

My last full day in San Diego was truly beautiful and my favorite day of the trip. My mom and I gallivanted all over La Jolla, which seemed to have all the fun activities packed into one area – with the beach, the lounging sea lions, an outdoorsy picnic area, shops, and restaurants. We showered each other with some much-needed love and attention before we parted ways the following day, when I returned to the real world of Virginia.

The week before classes began consisted of working on my NIH paper and seeing friends in the area, but mostly working on my paper revision. After recently catching up with some friends/former coworkers from NIH, I realized how much easier medical school feels in comparison! It’s nice to be a professional student. I enjoyed the longest lunch ever with my fellow genetics IRTA the other week and had this epiphany that she (along with Andrew and the IRTA she replaced) was one of the few people who were intimately a part of my post-graduation transformation. I don’t know how to describe that post-graduation phase I know many of us experience… It was certainly a time of figuring out my priorities in life and what I wanted from myself, others, and my environment. Few people in the world know you on that deeper level, and seeing her felt like this unexpected reminder of the younger Afsoon before she grew up.

So here we are. Break has come and gone, and classes are in full force. Despite the cold, which generally arrests my sense of productivity as my body and mind become increasingly lethargic, I have been faring pretty well this winter (knock on wood). Somehow I anticipated the cold to be much more gripping coming back from San Diego than it turned out to be. Warm weather was paradoxically a cure to my cold-weather loathing simply because I expected the cold weather to be so much worse.

The CPR (Cardio-Pulmonary-Renal) module has been more unrelenting than others, and yet, I feel like I am managing time better. Maybe I needed that positive encouragement on the first day back to school when I was awarded a free Gray’s Anatomy textbook for getting a 100% on my anatomy exam in MSK [I hate to be the nerd that says good grades are motivating, but they are.] I felt like I was trudging through medical school for a few weeks last module, and I finally have the energy and motivation to manage a better work-life balance that I didn’t have before. Maybe it’s because I started Crossfit too – something about lifting heavy weights and my muscles hurting 24/7 has helped me focus more and take the necessary breaks away from school and thinking too hard about science and medicine. Then again, Crossfit is also pretty intimidating, so maybe med school has simply become less intimidating.

Midterms are in a week, and I need to pick up the pace for our big exams coming up. I went overboard and bought prep books galore – including BRS (board review series is amazing) physiology, BRS pharmacology (pharm is a subject area I need to work on), First Aid Organ Systems, and a book on how to read EKGs. Granted, this might have been a response to well-deserved me-time rather than study-time. Andrew and I celebrated our two-year anniversary last week! Our second celebration at L’Auberge Chez François in Great Falls, where the ambiance and food make the experience worthwhile. I’m lucky our anniversary falls on a three-day weekend so I can carve out time from studying with zero guilt or anxiety. We spent a fabulous Saturday watching Breaking Bad and enjoying our fancy meal at L’Auberge. Grateful for Andrew who’s supported me from pre-MCAT NIH days to military medical school today. He’s the best fake patient for all my practice medical interviews/physical exams.

December and January have been good months to me. I addressed a few long-standing goals of my life. I bought a tablet (feeling pretty fancy as I get with the ages). I learned how to study (it’s an ongoing process, but I think I finally figured it out…for now). I began reading regularly (for fun, nothing with too much intellectual substance). I sleep more than I used to and still make time for Netflix. I think I understand how blood flows in the body and might even identify some murmurs accurately. Most importantly, I got to spend much-needed quality time with my mom.

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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.

Medical School: Round 1

It’s official: I completed my first exam of medical school today (terrifying). I finally have a chance to write a brief update. Now I know what real academic volume is. I especially sympathize with my classmates who have children because I can barely manage myself these days. Graduating from William and Mary, I feel adequately prepared in terms of my undergraduate education, but being two years out of the classroom came with challenges. Bright side: I don’t find it horribly difficult to sit eight straight hours studying on a Saturday. I have averaged about 11 hours a day of school/study time in the past three weeks (weekends included). Granted, I am a slow reader, but I feel like my schedule is probably reflective for most of my classmates as well.

Our first module, Fundamentals, highlights biochemistry, histology, pathology, epidemiology/biostatistics, microbiology, and immunology. It is a good introductory review of science as well as getting the basics of histology and pathology down (we have computer-based labs for these courses too). It’s a nice way to level the playing field in terms of everybody’s background education in science.

In terms of patient experience, we are already learning how to conduct medical interviews and how to perform a full-body physical examination. These take up our Tuesday and Thursday afternoons. I was incredibly anxious at first, but all of our preceptors are amazing and approachable. These sessions are opportunities to begin developing specific skill sets in physician-patient communication and the ins and outs of performing an examination. Medical interviews are done with standardized patients (actors) or real patients at Walter Reed. We practice the physical exam with other classmates in small groups.

Thus far, I am excited about the USU medical school curriculum. They instituted a recent change that bumped up Step 1 scores remarkably, and the layout seems well-thought out and organized. Each module usually lasting 7-8 weeks has a major theme: Fundamentals, Musculoskeletal (MSK), Cardiopulmonary-Renal (CPR), Neuroscience, GI/Hepat/Nutrition/Metabolism, Reproduction/Endocrinology, and Multi-System/Complex Disease. Between Fundamentals and MSK, we’ll be heading out to Fort Indiantown Gap in Pennsylvania for 10 days of leadership/teamwork training and some patient role-playing for the fourth years.

All in all, I am enjoying medical school despite not seeing my friends/family in the area very much. I definitely have my moments where I feel like I am riding the struggle bus to downtown struggle city. But don’t we all?

Stay tuned. I might be changing the blog up a little bit because med school talk cannot stay interesting on its own.