Nutty Medical School Memories: Stuck Between Barbara Streisand and an Almond Joy

Medial School Memories: Professional schooling, like medical school, can be a difficult time period. Should we choose to forget what's too painful to remember, as Barbara Streisand suggests?
Dana Corriel, MD

Dana Corriel, MD

A board certified internal medicine physician who, mid-career, swapped stethoscope for computer screen, and has become a digital brand consultant. for individual health experts and businesses, alike.

(Below is both an entertaining ride through memories from medical school and a commentary on memories.)

The Way We Were.

Ah, medical school memories – they light the corners of our minds.

Yes, the above is a spin off of the old Barbara Streisand classic. I think we all know the words. But let’s face it – even the sultry voice of Babs can’t melt away the look of horror that forms on our faces when we think of those days, back in medical school. The four syllables alone cause a twitching and contorting, as cranial nerves V, VII, and XI simultaneously writhe. Down, boys!

As images from those days flash through my cortex, panic sets in. I try to search for a suitable yogic chant to focus my attention on, while simultaneously pushing aside the desire to assume the accompanying cross-legged pose.

Breathe, I tell myself, in preparation for an onslaught of emotion. Just breathe.

But no.

Neither soothing words nor deep breaths can drown out memories from our good old days in med school. They may be mere visions, conjured up by my overactive, aging mind – the hallucinatory work of waning hormones – but they’re jolting nonetheless.

medical school memories: an art piece from Paris, with olives inside of a martini, shaped like mini brains.They span through a cloudy period of time in which we – medical students collectively – somehow existed. It’s what I like to refer to (only half-jokingly) as a separate time zone – one I call Medicine Standard Time, or MST – a separate place in time relative to where we are today, and one which we’re constantly comparing ourselves to, whether consciously or not.

Take my position today, for example – I am in a different time zone, about 19 years ahead of where I was when first stepping my clog-clad foot through those medical school doors (cue imagery of giant Jurassic Park gates, opening up slow-mo, to palpably exciting musical accompaniment. Revealed beyond them are bewildered medical students, dotting the expansive grounds – frail, pale, and squinting up at the glare of a sun they haven’t been exposed to in ages. Ironically, maybe even the dinosaur age.)

I’ve collected some particularly gasp-worthy memories, from those days, highlighted in my thoughts with the same yellow neon I used to mark important medical lexicon in the antiquated heavy textbooks of my time. Remember those? They may have since been converted into their virtual counterparts of today (the likes of kindle chapters or website blogs), but the challenging content in their pages remains the same.

One book, in particular, stands out in my mind –

the medicine bible equivalent, Harrison’s. For brevity’s sake, I’ll dedicate a separate lengthy blog post to the icon, and babble aimlessly about it there. (Please try and contain your excitement at the thought of this tribute).

Whatever textbook we were studying – err, memorizing – at the time, it’s safe to say that in those days, most of us typically burned the midnight oil. Right smack down to the itty bitty last drop. Yes, we were Hannukah Macabees – proving to anyone questioning our study stamina that, yes, goddammit!, our studying could absolutely last – for many crazy nights, at that!

Except the ‘midnight’ of ‘midnight oil’ isn’t even an accurate time depiction. Because, first of all, the library never actually stayed open that late. Second, we typically packed our books up to leave and simply relocated – finding a new place to transfer aforementioned oil, once it burned. The relocation venue would then become the next victim – a temporary refuge for both our neuroses and hemorrhoid-packed bums, sadistically occupying any seat that would house them, for hours on end. We were real life medical squatters.

Medical school memories: of a cup of coffee, with a quote covering the top, on how sedentary life was, when we were going through professional schooling..Life became sedentary, as the promising hours of our lives passed us by and, if the primary care doctor in me today met the overworked, overstressed, medical student I was back then – like in a bizarrely twisted time zone collapse (read my twist on Back to Future, in which we’re Professional McFly‘s, taking on our memories) – I would surely be wagging my pointer finger at me and clicking my tongue in ardent disapproval. Lecturing on lifestyle modifications would then ensue, and, truth be told, I’m not so sure medical school-me would compliantly follow up with attending-me’s recommendations. Being honest here.

Such are only a few of the memories, uncovered from my past. They not only make up the educational backbone of who I am today – who we all are – but also my experiential one. They take me back to a time when nothing really mattered, other than books – and in them, the medical concepts I needed to know. Inside and out.

We were candy bars, our soft and chewy centers covered by outer shells, holding on tightly to our inside so that no one would know we were falling apart. There were Snickers in our bunch, looking for something – anything – to satisfy the spirit on those long and challenging days. Kit Kats, on days of feeling like failures, to give ourselves a break. Mounds and Almond Joys, on especially pressured bipolar days, when we sometimes felt like a nut, and then sometimes didn’t.

But you know what struck me when I read this aloud to my in-laws just the other day? That although they didn’t train as physicians, or in the medical profession at all, they understood exactly where my frustrations stem, and related to almost every word. It seems that all of us, now shining in adulthood as professionals in our own fields, have been through more or less of the same. We weather our own #profession-specific rites of passage, and then come out, at the end, exhausted.

Then, we forget. Or maybe we simply choose to push those memories aside.

Babs sings it to us:

Memories
May be beautiful and yet
What’s too painful to remember
We simply choose to forget

But you know what I’ve realized? That although these memories can sometimes be difficult to recount, it’s still important to recall them. We traveled down a windy professional road and those memories are necessary for several reasons.

They remind us to stay humble.

They’re relevant when our need for self-care ever comes into question.

Remembering them helps keep us grounded, while also reminding us we deserve to be where we are today (like instances in which Imposter Syndrome sets in, and the associated self-doubt makes us wonder if we’re good enough.)

Sometimes, thinking of my own memories in the way that I do, with a comedic spin, is especially useful, because it keeps me grounded.

So here we are – still those very same candy bars, maybe just a wee bit older (that doesn’t matter – have you seen the shelf life on those things?!) and sweeter, because we’re in a better place.

As for the song? I’m changing around the lyrics.

Memories
May be beautiful and yet
What’s too painful to remember
We conquer rather than forget


Tweets from article:

#Medicine Standard Time, or MST - a separate place in time relative to where we are today & one which we're constantly comparing ourselves to, whether consciously or not. #twittermed Click To Tweet We weather our own #profession-specific rites of passage, and then come out, at the end, exhausted. Then, we forget. Or maybe we simply choose to push those #memories aside. Click To Tweet

 

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