Back to the House of God: some short reflections


Final exams loom, a distressingly diminishing number of days away. Calendars are the enemy now and every sunset inspires a mixture of awe and resentment. Days and weeks and months are finite, fickle creatures.


I reread Samuel Shem’s cynical exposé on medical training in North America because I needed to remind myself what I was working toward in the weeks after exams. House of God isn’t a particularly encouraging novel, but throughout the story hope rises like the Wing of Zock: unstoppable and overpowering.


In this season of fasting (not Lent) I will have to give up so many of my vices: novels, writing, the internet, sleep. Oh, sleep, I will miss you. A fourth year student asked me what I would do come June 3 when the last of my exams are over.

“I’d run naked,” she suggested. Oblivious to our incredulity, she continued. “As I walk out of the exam, I’d be unhooking my bra, pulling down the straps.” She trailed off in slow-motion speech, lost in a fantastical daydream.

I intend to sleep the sleep of the guilt-free. It’s been so long since I had guilt-free sleep, I’m probably going to get an ulcer. Just one time I would like to put my head on a pillow and not have the voice in my head (which sounds uncannily like one of my friends) demand that I cease this nonsense and get on with studying.


This morning while waiting on the bus that shuttles us to the hospital, I stared across the expanse of sea and horizon, thinking.

I feel like I’m being wound-up, I wrote in my journal, like an old-fashioned wrist watch. Will I fall apart when the time comes, or spring smoothly into action like some well-oiled gears?

Do any of us know how we will perform when we need to? I think everyone feels some tension at this point, regardless of ambition. Even those of us who are certain of passing (there are always some) are still anxious about graduating with honours or distinctions.

There’s so much at stake, so much at risk. I calm myself by remembering that this too shall pass.


P. S.

Thursdays have sort of turned into book sharing time, so I’m sorry if this wasn’t what you expected. But! If you read this far, know that I have been reading way more fiction than I should, and if you want a recommendation Neil Gaiman’s Trigger Warning is absolute soul-disturbing perfection and you should go read it now (Also, he and Amanda are pregnant so yay).

It’s so rare that I recommend a newly published book – am I doing it right?

Hug a GSAT Achiever Today

There’s a lot of pressure on our ten, eleven and twelve year olds at this time of the year. The Grade Six Achievement Test was supposed to relieve the enormous psychological burden that was the Common Entrance but it only added more subjects to the curriculum, keeping the strict “90s or nothing” mindset.

Backbreaking bookbags, sleep-deprived homework schedules and thousands of dollars (hundreds of hours) worth of extra classes are the reality of every child in Grade Six. Like coal, our twelve year olds are compressed into diamonds (the ones that make it, anyway) by unrelenting pressure from parents, teachers and peers. These children put in a lot of effort, but (like most people in our society) they are rushing into a bottleneck situation of too many students and nowhere to put them.

GSAT results are set to be released in schools today (according to the Observer). But with the 70% placement in “schools of choice” there is going to be 30% disappointment. Tears. Depression. Attempted suicide. (Too often we push our children too far).

So hug someone who did GSAT. They need to know that, good or bad, their grades do not define them. Their high school, traditional or not, does not define them.  Tell them this isn’t the end of the road. Tell them the only thing that matters is doing their best and that you will love them no matter what.

You can wait til they’re older to tell them it only gets harder after here. 10414498_743779015679246_9100852974564465432_n


You can also read this sweetly nostalgic article about our rural primary schools and what they have to offer written by Head of Surgery at UHWI Prof Duncan. I’m completely surprised and delighted at this side of him.

It’s that time again

In exams our lives get reduced to bite-sized segments.

We slow to 5 minute crawls, pivot on a handful of marks then stretch to 60 minute sprints of alphabetized glory. We live and die on the sound of the bell; we cliff-climb without supports, swinging frantically from question to answer to question. Hesitation is death. But is that not our calling?

Image not my own.

Zoom zoom? Pressure! Pressure!

The last ten weeks have been some of the most intense weeks of my 21 years, and the last few days have been some of the hardest. For the first time in my life there was hardly a moment when I wasn’t studying – by choice. I wasn’t even being forced to study; I was motivated to out of sheer necessity. There’s nothing like feeling stupid in front of your residents to make a girl want to go home and apply herself. Nothing in pre-clinical years motivated me this much, probably because none of the styles of presentation captured my attention enough.

See, my learning style has always hovered somewhere between audio-visual, where it works really well if I can hear the words being spoken and have a mental picture at the same time but doesn’t work at all if it’s only one or the other, which means I learnt a lot on clinical rotations because of all the talking that went on about patients we were actually seeing.

I also learn better in small groups, like three or less people, where I can get individual attention from the tutor. Luckily, even though most of our groups were allotted six people my group ended up with four students (including one guy who rarely showed up). Plus our very, very dedicated senior residents were determined to make sure we learnt something on this rotation. God bless them but they tried hard for us.

But as the weeks wound down, the pressure of exams wound us up. It was our first practical clinical examination (fondly termed an OSCE, pronounced “OS-ki”) and everyone was freaking out all over the place. People who were confident in their examination technique were panicking over differentials, or at speaking aloud to a stern-faced consultant. Most of our consultants are of the sarcastic, dry-wit variety. We had good reason to be paranoid.

And yet somehow, we managed to emerge relatively unscathed (at least until results come out). I’ve yet to hear reports of anyone breaking down into tears during the exam, though I actually came close once, and all the other complaints are along the expected lines of “I can’t believe I forgot to do that!”.

If Medicine was the frying pan of our Junior Clerkship, I can’t wait to see if Surgery is the fire or a respite from the kitchen altogether.

In other news, I auditioned on Saturday for the University Dance Society’s upcoming Season. Crossing fingers I get in a piece; (crossing toes that I can handle it).

The week from hell: it’s only Wednesday

It’s the final week of my Community Health Rotation and that means exams, exams, exams. We’re graded by way of oral presentations and multiple choice papers. I have four such presentations to prepare and deliver between Monday and today. On Thursday and Friday I have to sit two papers  for Paediatrics and Comm Health.

What all this boils down to is a remarkable lack of time to scratch my butt. I like scratching my butt. It’s a welcome distraction from the gargantuan piles of work looming over me. My one saving grace so far is that I apparently haven’t failed my Paediatric OSCE (read: practical) since I wasn’t asked to contact the course coordinator like some truant schoolchild.

Regardless, I still have to study my socks off for what is allegedly the hardest exam to get good marks in. Not that I’m overly concerned with good marks. I’m more interested in hanging on by my fingernails to this sham of a medical education. Which is why at 11:11pm on a school night I was in someone else’s dorm having a group study session instead of catching up on my well-needed beauty sleep. (Yesterday I woke up with dark circles under my eyes. Dark circles, you guys.)

The other people I was studying with are A students. Well, at least one of them is. If I was a self-motivated student capable of studying effectively on my own, I would definitely not not have subjected myself to that kind of sleep deprivation.

Why must I always be surrounded by over-achievers?

Exam Week Take 2: med memes

Last week we had the ‘hard exams’ – Clinical Haematology and the second part of the Urogenital System. This week we have the ‘easy ones’ – Human Nutrition and Understanding Research.

With subjects that are less clinically oriented, and which place less emphasis on memorizing anatomy or physiological values, we tend to slack off and ascribe them much less weight. But in medical school, all exams are challenging in their own right, despite the subject matter. This is because the lecturers are out to get us.

But my classmates continue to be awesome because they always manage to find the humour in every situation, no matter how statistically insignificant it may appear. Here are some of the memes we have come up with when late night studying has addled our brains.

Well, I sort of do.
And then the 104 slide lecture came along and kicked HIS ass.
True story bro.
While reading Nutrition lectures…

I should probably expect more as our semester advances. I love my classmates sometimes.

Time wasting, like sleep cycles, probably wasted on the studious

Don’t fall asleep.

If I could offer you on piece of advice on relieving boredom in an examination, not falling asleep would be it. The benefits of not falling asleep have been discussed by many students, whereas the rest of my advice has no basis other than my own meandering experience.
Sincerest apologies to Mary Scmich.
Hum your favourite song.
Rock back and forth, casting darting, suspicious glances at everyone who looks your way.
Try to use telekinesis to make the clock move faster.
Watch people.
Draw something.
Erase it.
Draw something else.
Spend time planning ridiculous blog entries like this one.
Sketch a cartoon.
Play doll house with your pens and pencils.
Write a story.
Count the number of tiles in the ceiling.
Leave funny notes on your exam paper for the invigilators to laugh at.
Measure your pulse rate.

And lastly, check your answers over exactly one minute before the end of the exam. This never fails to induce a last minute panic that you can do almost nothing about.


Exams and a postcard {poetry}

I have my first exam today. It’s a practical: the dreaded Spotter.

Since I don’t have the strength or inclination to type an actual post tonight, have a poem:


I’m thinking about you. What else can I say?
The palm trees on the reverse
are a delusion; so is the pink sand.
What we have are the usual
fractured coke bottles and the smell
of backed-up drains, too sweet,
like a mango on the verge
of rot, which we have also.
The air clear sweat, mosquitoes
& their tracks; birds & elusive.

Time comes in waves here, a sickness, one
day after the other rolling on;
I move up, it’s called
awake, then down into the uneasy
nights but never
forward. The roosters crow
for hours before dawn, and a prodded
child howls & howls
on the pocked road to school.
In the hold with the baggage
there are two prisoners,
their heads shaved by bayonets, & ten crates
of queasy chicks. Each spring
there’s race of cripples, from the store
to the church. This is the sort of junk
I carry with me; and a clipping
about democracy from the local paper.

Outside the window
they’re building the damn hotel,
nail by nail, someone’s
crumbling dream. A universe that includes you
can’t be all bad, but
does it? At this distance
you’re a mirage, a glossy image
fixed in the posture
of the last time I saw you.
Turn you over, there’s the place
for the address. Wish you were
here. Love comes
in waves like the ocean, a sickness which goes on
& on, a hollow cave
in the head, filling & pounding, a kicked ear.

Margaret Atwood

Exams and procrastination go hand in hand

I’m compelled to use this comic every so often.

It’s the time of year again when medical students lose more sleep than normal, drink inhuman amounts of coffee and somehow still manage to freak out that they don’t know enough while reading five textbooks simultaneously.


And I know you’re thinking But if you have exams, how come you’re still writing this blog? The answer is simple. Because it’s a heck of a lot more fun than trying to commit to memory the embryology of the uterus. In fact, several things have turned out to be more fun than trying to learn a semester’s worth of anatomy in a matter of days. Reading romance novels, for instance. Or spending all day on Facebook, which usually ranks pretty low on my list of Fun Things but for some reason skyrockets in fun-ness when compared to Pharmacology. Blogging has so far been the most productive thing I’ve done all weekend. This happens to me every time. :|

By now you’re probably thinking, she’s totally prepared for exams already, but I can readily assure that that’s far from the case. I still have a ton of videos to watch, past papers to go through and memorize, and lectures to read over. Yet here I sit, tapping away at the keyboard like blogging will somehow guarantee me an A this semester.

Because it totally should.

{29} Exams, what exams?

Exams are around the corner, and my Facebook feed is buzzing with frustrated status updates and calls to religion. The academic world is stressed and it’s not just the students. Lecturers are cramming in last minute tutorials, tutors are trying to get the thickest of skulls to understand the most complicated concepts.

And me? I’m blogging in class one week before my first exam.

Pictured here: model student.

Exams should come labeled like the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I’m talking FDA mandated black box style warnings here because, frankly, life-threatening side effects are likely to result from the misuse of this drug.

A good healthy dose of panic is all well and good, but in the long run all it guarantees you is hypertensive heart failure. And possibly tin foil hats.

I’m guilty of the same things as everyone else (wittily expounded on here in this article from Cracked) but I like to think that as a professional procrastinator stress won’t kick my butt (too badly).

In the past I’ve done nothing differently when exams got closer. I’d been looking at past questions and reviewing my notes from the year started. And those exams didn’t ask you to remember much anyway.

Medical school is an entirely different kettle of fish. I do nothing for the first half of the semester and then suddenly wake up a month before the exams to a wonderland of gargantuan titles, obscure diseases and complex pharmacology. Joy.

Like this girl. Except with less LSD.

But I’m still not stressing (much). I have to completely rearrange my schedule, rethink my study strategies (invent study strategies, more like) and really really try not to fail this.

It’s a working progress and we’ll see the results in about two months. Crossing my fingers.


P.S. I owe Project 52 and entry from last week! I’m behind on everything but I’ll get to it soon.