I’ve been telling myself for years I was going to write a book about my life. The only real issues with that brilliant idea (and, believe me, I’ve had more than my fair share throughout this journey) is lack of funding and lack of any publishing history. Surely I can write! I’ve never had an issue with that!
I’m a physician: a real MD. It’s been seventeen years now since I graduated medical school and I’m still not licensed to practice. I still haven’t passed the second part of my board exams (see my first posting for further explaination here), so what the heck have I been doing for 17 years?
A Trip Down Amnesia Lane
The Medical School Years
I started medical for pure reasons. I truly wanted just to help: I wanted to be able to help those who couldn’t afford medical care; I wanted to help those who were in pain and/or suffering; I wanted to help those who were afraid to ask for help; I wanted to help those who couldn’t get to help; I wanted to help everyone, everywhere. I still do. It reads really cheesily and hand-holdily, but it is true to my very core.
My problems first started about my second year of medical school. I was in a relationship with another medical student. I became pregnant right before my classmates and I were all to take the first board exam (the United States Medical Licensing Exam, USMLE, Step 1). Always being one for having great timing in major events in my life, I was presented with a marraige option by my boyfriend. This never would have panned out. He wasn’t the “love of my life” by any means, and telling my mother I was pregnant would have meant sure death (for the young man and myself).
I was graced with living in my old bedroom at my mother’s and step-father’s house during medical school. This alleviated room and board expenses on my behalf, as well as insurance payments for the car I was driving (which was one my mother had “given” me; she’d bought a new one with the trade-in of my beloved college car – a Geo Metro – as the down-payment; my mother never actually put the car in my name and would remind me of this any time I didn’t follow her explicit wishes). Additionally I was able to hone my cleaning skills by helping to clean my parent’s home throughout medical school, and was able to aid my mother earn her master’s degree in nursing (I did the research she needed for her thesis paper, as she wasn’t very technologically advanced).
My mother is a work of art. She surely has meant well all of her life in her actions (I hope) but she has harmed a lot of people with her thoughtless and selfish actions. She was insistant I go to medical school as far back as I can remember. She once told me this heart-breaking story about how her mother, a nursing assistant, had willed to my mother the last bit of money she had so my mother could go to nursing school. My grandmother did this, my mother told me, because she herself had always wanted to beha a nurse, but never had the chance. How sad that story is! My mother wanted nothing more than for me to go to medical school, as she always wanted to be a physician, but being a single mother raising two girls, and “times being what they were,” she didn’t have the opportunities. Awww!
I must have heard this sad, sad tale over 100 times growing up. It moved me so much it was actually the story I wrote for my essay when I applied to medical school. Too bad none of that is actually true. When I reconnected with my father years later (after not communicating with him for over 29 years) he laughed at this story. In reality, he had worked at a snack distributing company to put my mother through nursing school, and the only thing he could ever recall her mother giving them was $500 once for a television set. (I clearly recall my dad being there at her graduation from nursing school when I was in elementary school in Texas, and I knew he worked, so I believe his version).
Anyway, I ended up in med school, despite doing exceptionally well in undergraduate studies in my minor, anthropology. I loved anthropology and had secretly wanted to be a forensic anthropologist. I even retook an introductory course once during college just so I could tell everyone I had taken a class taught by the great Mary Manheim (creator of the FACES Laboratory, currently at LSU A&M in Baton Rouge, LA. I was fortunate enough to be able to go on a tour inside the FACES lab.)
So, as a pregnant second year medical student with an overpowering mother, I did the only thing I thought I could do to save my career, to save my future, and to save my good place in my family: I had an abortion. I also was in classes to convert to Judaism at the time (because going to medical school wasn’t challenging enough, I needed to learn a new language and new way of life).
My additional reasoning was the baby wasn’t going to be born Jewish. Basically, I had tons of justifications at the time: the Jewish thing, my domineering mother, my career, my boyfriend’s career, and lack of wanting to continue in a long-term relationship with my boyfriend. I took the easy way out.
Additionally I had been dealing with chronic knee pain in both my knees as long as I could walk. The pain had grown progressively worse. My mother didn’t make issues better by giving me narcotics and a (then) non-scheduled medication called tramadol (Ultram). The real problems with tramadol started in my second year, also, when I found (along with other classmates) there were plenty of samples for the taking in the clinics where we saw our patients as student doctors. (This is no longer the case – the drug is now scheduled, and samples must be signed out for patients by providers.)
Initially we stuffed our short white coat pockets with as many samples of as many drugs as we could. Of course, when one of my classmates seized from taking too much tramadol, the reigns were tightened on sample access.
At first I only took the pain reliever twice a week. Then I rewarded myself when I did well on an exam. Then I found I could stay up longer for study sessions if I took it (i.e. started abusing it). I also just plain liked the way it made me feel. This was the first time in my life I can recall taking a medicine purely for the way it may it made me feel – high, euphoric, good. I hadn’t felt good in a long time. I felt like crap on the inside since I could recall, and my mom helped remind me almost daily how utterly useless I was.
A brilliant idea dawned upon me about this time. (More later….)