Friday, June 8, 2012


As a med student I am supposed to have great stories about crazy post exam shenanigans. But mostly they all end up the same: everyone gets drunk and complains about the unfairness of the test. 

Tuesday, June 5, 2012


Don’t do it! They bring you nothing but misery! Well, alright I’m not the best authority on this. I have trust issues, which sharply distinguishes me from the rest of mankind. But the reality is you cannot cultivate your own garden let alone have a codependent one. Citing the experiences of others, the person that should give one strength and support is often the greatest cause of troubles, and they have little fault. Dating a medical student is difficult because it is essentially being slave to a narcissist. We always come first; our needs always supersede the needs of the significant other. The med student does need to be studying for a test at literally every waking moment and cannot call or go on a date. Or he might need to desperately do 5 loads of laundry because the only clean thing left is a senior prom dress. To someone who has never had the work load of plow ox and the time management of a sloth, that seems preposterous and hyperbolic. But it’s not. We are busy. We are also incredibly lazy and majestically skilled at procrastination and time wasting. It is however necessary, distractions serve to maintain sanity. I can only study for so long before I lose the will to live. The significant other meanwhile feels neglected and unappreciated. They patiently wait for a scrap of free time and all any of us can do is talk about… wait for it… school. This free time is often with classmates, which leads to inadvertent inside jokes and ever more exclusion of the significant other and isolation. This causes more tension and fighting. So everyone is unhappy.  The tragedy is validity of argument of both parties.

So then dear reader you might ask, what about dating other med students? That might be an even worse plan because med student are inherently emotionally damaged people. Most of us come from various tragedies and becoming doctors is a way to heal ourselves, or for those of us, like me, who do not want to deal with our own problems, we want to fix a broken world. There are exceptions, and there are great couples that come into being, eventually marry and breed future med students. The rest of “medcest” pairings end roughly the same way. I will use a friend to illustrate, since my only real attempt to date another med student concluded in me drunkenly punching him in the solar plexus after trying to ask him out. I don’t know why, don’t ask me. That and when I drunkenly flirted with one of the girls. But back to my friend and her torrid med school romances. The reactions of the men she dated in school reflect the larger attitude of single med students of all sexes: apprehension, distrust, and disinterest. Med school is a perfect mask to hide weak, tender-hearted individuals that have disconnected from themselves. Being tired, overworked, and chained to a stack of books serves as an excellent distraction from any emotion one might have about a significant other. So her boyfriends ran away from her in a method befitting med students: after a few great dates they simply grew distant, quoted studying as the reason, and waited for her to grow angry, insulted, and send them (and their sex pili) on their educational way. 

Friday, June 1, 2012

A Real Human Being and a Real Hero

I will never forget when I snapped a person’s jaw in half with garden clippers. No, this is not an account of a murder of a review notes cadge. This is anatomy lab, a place full of magic, mystery and liquefied fat stains on your scrubs. It also has the added bonus of testing the validity of any violent fantasies one has ever had; no better way to find out what serial killing is like than to systematically disassemble a human in the name of science.

My cadaver was a wispy old woman, Ellie, whom I grew to love. One of the hardest moments of med school and maybe even my life was to put all of her pieces in a body bag and say goodbye. We gave her flowers. Truthfully there were days that I did not want to be there. I did not want to clean out her thoracic cavity full of congealed mucus (which has the consistency of spoiled cottage cheese). Nor did I want to tie off her intestines with plastic neon-pink ribbon, normally used to wrap presents, before removing her bowels and praying to every deity that I would not perforate them and spill out formaldehyde-preserved waste. But I never forgot her sacrifice to us. Thus I’ve decided that when I die I want to donate my body to a bunch of incompetent med students that will massacre it, although I plan to tattoo some helpful hints on myself to guide them.

Lab is also an especially terrible place for hangovers. After a post exam shindig people are seen darting out for oxygen breaks far more than usually. The occasional overachiever can be observed with an airplane style vomit baggie sticking out of his lab coat pocket. I’ve always felt especially badly for the groups that had the poorly preserved bodies, which were basically decomposing corpses they had the pleasure of digging through. Walk by that and keep your lunch. I dare you.

For the few moments I wanted to steal one of those vomit baggies, there were many more majestic ones. I held a human heart, many hearts actually, and removed the brain, which proved to be a difficult task – it’s really stuck in there. I saw the intricacy of human hand, a surprisingly simple system considering that we can write, paint, touch and profoundly manipulate our world because of our hands. I used my hands to delicately dissect the neck with miniscule scissors, working for hours to unveil the astounding complexity of the machinery that helps run our face and brain. The irony is that for all of impressive things our body is and can do, it is a very unassuming lump of beige meat. 

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Tricks & Home

I used to be a neat person. I used to care for order and beauty in my home. I used to buy flowers. The summer before moving into my apartment I researched blogs, magazines, and design books to compile a style for my new dwelling. I scoured vintage shops and local ads for curious furniture, to be both artistic and environmentally conscientious. I found paintings of young, poor artists to adorn the walls of my spacious, New York style apartment, 400 square feet in all.  But now, I live like a hoarder, all I’m missing is a few cat skeletons and compulsion to call my stacks of notes “my babies.”

Med school housing takes two distinct paths: obsessively clean or post-tornado messy. The cleanliness does not come from a positive situation, however. To avoid studying, to channel anxiety, to use up insomnia time, some people clean. Others, my people, we just leave everything where it drops and each time an inkling to organize comes to us we simply claim we have absolutely no time. Of course much of study time is actually spent on facebook or other internet ventures. Still, we have absolutely no time. Both factions are extremes, and neither is healthy.

I don’t actually like living like a reality show special so I have devised a clever trick to force myself to clean. I invite friends over for dinner. See, I am too Russian to allow anyone ever see my house in anything but photo shoot quality condition. I have been indoctrinated with a policy of pristineness for oneself and one’s things. The most effective technique is to invite someone I’m not wholly close with, someone I would be embarrassed to show imperfections to.  This ensures that I don’t give up half way through and just stuff all my laundry into my closet or hide it within shoes boxes  (still occupied with shoes) under my bed. Yes, this is what I have to do to myself to still live in sanity. 

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Before beginning my first year of medical school I had promised myself an ongoing memoir of that first year. It seems I am a liar. Two weeks to the finish line and I have just begun, likely using writing as a more respectable method of procrastination than say, watching old cartoons. In truth, this is the first moment I feel inspired to say something other than a melodramatic complaint. First year is an experience much like I imagine war is: so singular, so grandiose, so awful, that not even a person with the most eloquent tongue could ever truly explain it – so now, ladies and gentlemen I’m going to try.

Med school: not a place anyone is ever prepared for. Before it began, I had imagined an obscene amount of work and memorization. That part, as best as I could, I anticipated, but the rest, the intangible darkness that slowly strokes its victims with notes of sadness, self-doubt, and hopelessness until all that exists is despair in a shell of one’s former self, that friends, I was as prepared for as getting hit by a train. Not only are you hit by the train, but you are expected to maintain enough composure to climb into said train.

One of the professors during the orientation week compared medical school to drinking out of a fire hydrant, the water signifying the information we are asked to learn. We will discuss what I believe to be the deadly flaw in modern medical education at a later time, but for now we shall briefly address the workload. It is a lot. More than you can imagine; more than I can imagine, because even right now at the end of my first year I did not learn all that I “must” have learned by this point. There were many days that I was certain the information was increasing my intracranial pressure. But that is inevitable and ultimately conquerable, unlike the smoke monster, also known as interpersonal relations.

Fellow med students are both the cause of and solution to most of medical school life problems. So let’s begin with the fact that one must have friends and support, and sadly there are many moments where one would rather crawl into a damp moldy cave and become a troglobite than have to speak to another soul in one’s class. Even more sadly those moments dominate class time. School is hard, obviously, and each person reacts differently to the stress. Some turn into aggressive beasts, others cry incessantly, others turn into hermits, and others still, become sociopaths. At any given moment nearly half of the class indisposed with some psychiatric ailment, although no one will admit that. Admitting it would mean responsibility of ameliorating the illness, and that is an unacceptable amount of energy directed away from studying.

Being in medical school is like being in a zoo for psychiatrically disturbed animals that all have to share one large cage and have a limited amount of food, so they quickly turn on each other. The worst aspect is it is absolutely impossible to successfully avoid people for more than 2 days. There is always something: small group, a mandatory class, a standardized patient encounter or simply commitments to a study group that at this point I am displeased I joined. So here I am, an only child with traces of avoidant personality disorder and social anxiety, permanently forced to be with people who can only make matters worse.

At this point dear deader I’m sure you’ve asked yourself about my supposed lack of complaint, but indeed I am not complaining because now, unlike many points during the year, I am happy to be a med student and I do not feel a heavy woe.  I am simply divulging the ugly truth of all medical education, no matter the country or the year.

Along the way, in my deep focus on academics I had lost a big part of myself, the most important part: my soul. It was taken, but I did nothing to resist. But that is the inherent nature of the thing. When attempting to not drown in a yearlong tsunami with only a poorly constructed raft at one’s rescue it is easy to lose sight of anything but the next approaching wave. Everyone and their mother speak of the importance of balance.  However, that is possibly the most useless advice ever uttered because the only way to have any understanding of that balance is to completely lose it. So now, near the end I finally approach that balance and gain back my soul, my joy and interest in things. Being in medical school is like being depressed. I went through the motions with duty but had no real emotions attached to anything. Except the occasional outburst of crushing sadness or sharp anger, I was numb. And now, as I am approaching the shore, I feel exponentially more joy in the things I used to love before.

This place changed me. It has at times made me much more, and at times much less myself. And now I do not know what I really am, just that I’m different.  There came a moment during studying a very long lecture on the pathology of bone cancers, that the slides, x-rays and cases are not just theory. Each of those is a real person that has suffered from the disease and the sadness of that truth is overwhelming.