First year, first tropical hurricane, first patient

Well, since the last time I wrote here I’ve had some adventure:  I moved to another state (with an amazing night passed in NOLA en route), I evacuated for a rather anti-climactic hurricane (at least for us fortunate ones in South Florida), had my fair share of anxiety regarding this sprinkling of recurrent exams in my first semester of med school, and moved to a different abode two weeks before finals.  After that point, I enjoyed 3 full weeks off – my first true break in 3 years.  It was glorious…Christmas Eve was my favorite part! (My main girl’s got it goin’ on)

…And then this semester started.  Full of its own stress-inducing antics, I’ll just say that I’m grateful for yet another quick Spring break (Wow!  I know, seriously, another break!).

One thing which came to an end during this last block of Neuro was our interaction with our first true patients.  I’m not ready for it to be over.  I want to go back, to keep exploring, to make sure beyond a shadow of a doubt that I gave him what he wanted.   To those who have not been through the experience of gross anatomy dissections, perhaps this may on the surface seem morbid or destructive – appalling, even.  But donating his body to science was specifically what he wanted.  He wanted us to learn.  He wanted us to suck as much knowledge out of him as we possibly could.  I’m also of the opinion that he wanted to get a good laugh when we discovered the rods in his back and the bridge in his mouth.  Did he get a kick out of knowing that those things would take us by surprise?

(The portion below inadvertently turned into a second-person interaction.)

Teach us, Sir, you did indeed.  And yet I’m still left with so many questions.  Who were you, really?  Your hands were so strong.  Your back likely carried its fair share of weight in your lifetime.  Your heart was an incredible thing to see.  I didn’t want to ruin it, so I just kept trying to carefully dissect out the surrounding vessels.

You taught me that there is no shame in aggressive exploration, given that it’s performed in a respectful manner.  When we first met, I was hesitant (typical, for me).  However, I wanted to get comfortable with this process, and the way that I did that was to spend the extra time in the very beginning fumbling with scalpel and forceps (if I even had the presence of mind to use forceps at the time), digging in when it felt most uncomfortable and unnatural.  Then something happened – maybe we “bonded”?  I don’t know.  What I do know is that what you wanted for us became the primary motivating factor for my week.  I yearned for the tangibility of discovery.  Too many other facts about genetics, microbiology, immunology, and pharmacology were inundating my mind – yet in the tangibility of your flexor hallucis longus I found solace (yes, it’s ok to laugh at that – good ole Tom, Dick and Harry).

You taught me a little bit more about how to deal with death – or rather, how I evade dealing with death.  You taught me that there’s not much difference between the two of us, because whenever I breathe my last breath I will be in the exact same state in which I first met you.  Death:  the great equalizer.  I’m not ready for it, but I assume you were…weren’t you?  If you were, how did you prepare?  How did you get to the point where you were OK with it?  How do I get to the point where I’m finally at peace with all that I’ve done with my life, ready to let go?  Maybe you fought it at first.  Maybe you’re a fighter, like me.  Maybe you struggled with it to the point of exhaustion.  Maybe once you exhausted yourself in that wrestling match the peace overcame you…?  I wish I could understand.

Thank you for your generosity.  I wish I had just a little more time for some lessons from you, to allow that kind of discovery to continue.

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We had a meeting in preparation for a ceremony that we are going to hold in honor of our donors.  When we began to talk about how to handle the possible spectrum of emotions from family members, suddenly my memories took me to a place I had not revisited in quite some time.  How should we comfort those family members?

The image burning in my mind during this brief discussion was when Amanda was preparing for her wedding, which turned out to be a month before what everyone in the room knew was inevitable.  Her hair had grown back in a pattern of soft curls which was a change from her previously wavy but relatively straight beautiful hair.  She wrapped her arms around my neck for one of the last times, unloading a burden which perhaps she did not wish to express to her own soon-to-be-heartbroken mother.  “I’m so scared.”

I had no words.  She was so young.  The rest of that month and into the next consisted of the nauseating tension, the dread, of the next phone call which I would receive from her mother.  “Tears stream down your face, when you lose something you cannot replace…”

I don’t feel like continuing the rest of those thoughts.   But I think I am a bit apprehensive about the reopening of the wound, once I’m surrounded by grieving family members.  I need to be strong for them and don’t wish to lose face.  I’m grateful for what our donor offered to us, and I can confidently say that I took full advantage of what he wanted us to receive from it.  His generosity makes it possible for me to move forward as I learn to interact with many more patients and hopefully, learn how to offer even better care than was available to him throughout most of his time.

Rebuilding from the Ashes

I’ve been thinking a lot about just how to follow up with my previous post (here).  I’m not quite sure I can do justice to explaining the process of healing.  However, I can at least start to bring my perspective and experiences to light.

In the previous post I asked many questions, which erupted from a hauntingly dark and painful place – to the extent that I chose to write in that moment of pain rather than succumb to the circuitous thinking that was quickly spiraling downward.  Here, I’d like to explicate a few things that have helped me to deal with a very intense struggle and to begin the rebuilding process:  forgiveness, identification of emotions, release through music, and restoration through writing.

I mentioned forgiveness, and for me, this element has been crucial in overcoming and moving forward.  When I am faced with a full day or few days of raging internal thoughts, I am continually (by the grace of God, I believe) brought back to the determination to extend grace.  The defiance of refusing to become bitter, though it may mean releasing acidic tears on a now less frequent daily basis.  I recognize that in order to be the person I want to be, as well as to avoid becoming my own arch nemesis, I must persistently forgive…I must ask nothing, expect nothing, wait for nothing from the person who inflicted the deepest wound.  Communication may be broken, cut off even.  However, I must truly absolve him from my own…hopes of what could have been, what the world might say he owes me, or what restitution they think I must seek.  I must forgive myself and also recognize the part that I played (thanks, Andy).  Ultimately, this ring of exculpation brings freedom for ME.  I can only control my own responses.

However, in addition to this forgiveness I think it is vital to allow myself to actually feel the pain and to identify why it is looming again.  I feel the darkness creeping in.  I am so much stronger now than when everything exploded (and it actually sort of fell apart more than once after multiple attempts to forgive and rebuild, then I read the book ‘Boundaries’ and discovered that I really had to set hard limits due to a lack of trustworthiness…things they don’t teach you in college, huh?).  But despite the strength that I have gained, there are indeed days when the ominous recollections of that abysmal time still seek to destroy me. Yet, something triggered all of those memories, and to deny that they are there feels like minimizing what I know is really happening.  It is yet another layer of sutures that must heal.  And so, while I may not be able to deal with the encroaching emotional and mental struggle as I sit at my cubicle, I know that once I’m done at my “9-5” (a poor and horridly inaccurate term for a research job), my work of investigating this next layer of mending will begin.  I must confront, rather than hide from, my broken state.  “Can’t let memories become the death of me,” in the words from one Alessia Cara song.

Speaking of which, music has been – Ah!  Let me get my Pandora going again!  As I was saying, music has been my primary cathartic tool and I will ever be grateful for the encouraging and Spirit-filled words of my main girl.  It allows me to share my deepest hurts with the Only One who truly understands the depth of the damage and pain and provides a segue into a more prayerful solemnity.  Music gives my mind an outlet when my tumultuous thoughts relapse to all of the lies and actually start to believe them again.  It allows me to connect with that next layer that was mentioned above.  It reminds me that I’m not the only one who has experienced some level of this heartbreak, betrayal, abandonment…Recovery. Strength. Refinement. Rebuilding.

Maintaining some semblance of a personal journal has also been imperative for my own process of restoration.  When my thoughts become so loud that focusing on anything else becomes impossible, or if I need to clear my heart of a strong negative emotion, writing it down, getting it out in a place where I can actually see what I am feeling, brings my experience to a level of tangibility quite different from the world of cathartic music.  I can see the dark places that I need to change, I can see the bitterness that I must allow Him to take again.  I can see the thread of love despite the pain.  I can see the humiliation that comes with mass betrayal.  And then I can see…breakthrough.  I realize that I must stay true to my own standard of integrity despite the perfidy.  I am once again reminded that I deserve more than that, and also that his/their behavior is a reflection of them, not of me though I must also take responsibility for the large part that I played in that travesty.

My hope is that if there is someone struggling to find tangible ways of dealing with a past that nips at your heels, perhaps here you may gain at least some insight as to where to begin sorting the chaos.  The concepts of forgiveness, emotional presence, release through music, and breakthrough via written word are just a few suggestions to get started.  Many blessings and health to you.

 

 

Experiment #1 with Vulnerable Questions

Truth.  Love.

What happens when they lose?  What happens when the logic that your brain automatically tries to apply to a situation simply…fails, because the lies have so tragically and irrationally won?

What happens when only those closest to you know the truth, and another very different story, with you as the primary “fool”, is known to the public?

How do you regain your sanity, when the vitality of the lies  make you question the reality of what actually happened?

How do you….prevent relapses?  How do you banish it from your mind forever so that the dark taint vaporizes?

I have forgiven.  I sometimes have to forgive daily.  I refuse to become bitter.  Yet, aside from forgiveness, it seems it truly is the memories, laying dormant just underneath the surface of my consciousness, which constantly threaten to overturn this homeostasis secondary to the healing process.

Something mundane – a song, a landmark, a certain time of year with the weather just right – sparks a memory that brings it all flooding back to me in overwhelming fashion.  My memory here works against me, and with the visual reminder I am instantaneously brought back to a torrent of haunting emotions.  Humiliation.  That’s the big one – I would argue worse than the rejection because I know that the rejection comes from fear.  But also the nagging…persistent…grating….WHY?

Why did the lies seem to win?  Why was the love that was very thick and tangible, traded for something else so destructive, manipulative, unhealthy and superficial?

Yes, I know I know…”Oh, well that wasn’t really love.”  Or…”just do something else, keep yourself busy and don’t think about it” (because that works for the millions of work-aholics in our country already…great, thanks I’ll just join the ranks of people who deaden their emotions with work).  Or even, “Well, you just have to trust God” (thanks, I strive to do that daily but these emotions are really strong and I don’t think they dictate whether or not I’m trusting the Deity whom I follow).  “Look ahead, keep moving forward, see all you have to look forward to and all you’ve accomplished.”  OK, but what about the days which, while further between now, still bring everything back in a flash, catching me off guard even?

(To be continued…)

Avocados and Upheaval

Transition, even when moving towards something new and exciting, brings challenges along the way.  And many of those hindrances, I am finding, are mental and emotional.

As I think about uprooting and establishing a new life, there exists the irony of something so daunting in the midst of known or fairly certain great opportunity.  I am sensing a deep excitement about what lies ahead, and simultaneously, a daunting emotion that comes with being overwhelmed with a multitude of comparatively small tasks required to grab the next monkey bar, so to speak.  And in order to grab the next bar, I must let go of the one behind.

In the midst of this changeover, I find myself thinking about everything all at once – past, present, future all in one pot.  There are the bittersweet memories of a soul mate turned oppressor.  There is pride for the things I have overcome in this process to get where I’m headed.  I also think about the friends I’ve met along the way who will, if I have anything to do with it, remain part of my life as I move forward (and I will remain a Spurs fan, in the territory of Miami Heat  – “Race for Seis” to continue in 2017!).

Besides all of these things, I also consider the doubts I have about what lies before me.  I’ve come this close.  I am at the edge, about to jump.  Should I do a 180 and bail?  I know the lifestyle of a medical scientist is not easy.  What if I just turned around, now that I know I made the cut at least, and pursued a family, with a perhaps much more mundane job.  But then I think about how far I’ve come and all the years of hard work I have put in.  I think about experiencing one of the deepest heartaches of my life that also happened to encompass core elements of my desired future in academics…and then dragging myself out of bed for the next two years until life seemed more normal again, less of a fog.  I think about how God has taken me this far, in preparation for this opportunity which two years ago I considered to be out of my reach and but a dream.  If He got me this far, surely He will see the rest of the way.  In the words of Lauren Daigle, “God’s not a God of risks. He just says, ‘Trust me,’ because He has it all under control” (article here, and might I also strongly suggest Lauren’s YouTube channel).

This concept of trust versus risk has a few implications, as my choice to further my education in Florida was not the “logical” choice of those that presented themselves particularly as I reviewed the financial pros and cons of each offer.  Yet Florida was where I sensed peace.  The turmoil I experienced at my other option precluded my ability to further consider it, though it was/is a wonderful program with great people as well, and despite the fact that its monetary benefits trumped the offer that I ended up taking.  Regardless of how many people I spoke with for advice or how many prayers for wisdom, I did not, in fact, receive a lightning bolt from the sky indicating what decision was best.  So I had to go where I felt at peace.  And I am confident in this decision, despite its seeming contrast to what most would consider financially optimal.  Just ask my mom.

OK, so what about avocados?

After a day of internal struggles – yes, ALL day, and in the mind of a woman that is literally ALL day with NO “nothing” space for my thoughts, I ended with a phenomenal workout which is my Tuesday night BodyPump class.  I had an avocado ready to go with my post-workout meal and this part concerned me, as I find avocados particularly difficult to choose at the grocery store.  Come to find out, the moment of truth had proven that it was indeed a properly ripe avocado – and still good after 2 days!  I had a happy “adulting” moment, which I shared with a friend who also unbeknownst to me was having a rough day.  At this point, I realized that some days in this defiant life that I strive to live, I must cling to the little things, the simple successes, in order to maintain a certain element of positive self-worth.  And so with the excessive endorphins from a great workout along with the beauty of finding joy in something simple, my day ended well despite the turmoil inside.

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Photo Credit:  Huffington Post; Will Merydith Flickr

“F— you, Mars.”

When Mark Watney is thought dead and abandoned by his crewmates, he regains consciousness with the realization that he has narrowly escaped death after his protective suit has been punctured, leaving his oxygen levels gravely low.  He makes his way back to main camp at the Mars station and realizes his precarious situation – as well as his profound isolation.  His initial emotional response is that death is imminently encroaching.  There is no escape.

But after removing a foreign body from his abdominal area and regaining strength with a meal, his perspective changes:  “F— you, Mars.”  Rather than accept death and defeat, he determines to “science the sh– out of” his opportunity to attempt survival.  He records his thought process and his daily activities for those who might come behind him and find his files.  He determines the remaining number of meals that he must now ration strictly.  He even makes a greenhouse and reignites his passion and genius for botany.

My military experience enabled me to poignantly understand Watney’s verbal response to the situation, in this movie filmed after the Andy Weir novel “The Martian.”  At times, when faced with a grave situation (life or death, physical or emotional trauma, or some other traumatic experience), having a simple positive outlook may not be enough.  The situation described above illustrates to me the grit and sass required to look death or failure in the face and to, defiantly, refuse to accept it.  Sometimes survival or success after a profound personal failure, requires us to look rather rebelliously at a situation and say, “No.  I do not accept failure.  I do not accept ____.  F— Continue reading

Why I Started This Blog

This is my (second) first blog post, anywhere, officially.  I am trying a couple of different venues.  I was inspired by an organization called Live Your Legend (LYL) to start a blog, but decided my budget called for a free blog site rather than what was recommended.  If you knew my past 3 years, you’d understand my hesitancy to part with aliquots of my income that need to go towards moving expenses.

So, I wanted something with a “defiant” theme because I consider myself to have defied many odds.  I grew up in a single-parent home, where I moved frequently, and I lived in a small city where local politics and the business of others spread rapidly.  I wanted out, so I went to Chicago for college, after graduating at the top of my high school class.  Perhaps Chicago was a bit far for a start, so I ended up returning home (anti-climactic) after graduating with my B.A. in 3 years.  Two years later I simply couldn’t stick around and was, if anything, losing momentum, so I joined the military.  Within six months of training, I decided that I would pursue med school as soon as I got out – which was a long time.  But after one long deployment and a reprogramming of my brain for Mandarin Chinese, I did what I had determined to do.

I am currently preparing for a move to Florida (yay! Sunshine State!) to begin a MD/PhD program and I’m super excited!  And also a bit stressed!  This time of transition has prompted much introspection (as if I don’t already do too much of that), and as a result, this desire to try out a blog as an outlet to continue this journey of self-discovery nagged me to this point.  So, I’m no longer a virgin to the blog world!  And I hope to encourage others along a path of…defiance.  Defiance against the crap that life throws at you, not just to survive, but to thrive.  To live a meaningful life of following your passion, whatever that may resemble.  This is just one of many previous steps in finding that out for myself!  Bon voyage!  Buen viaje!