Goodbye Grenada

July 17, 2006

Grenadian Sunset

I came home from my family reunion to books. For seven straight days I studied with breaks for food, completed hundreds of practice questions and made review sheets. And then review sheets of my review sheets. Monday was the Path final. Most people walked into this exam knowing exactly how many they could miss to save an A. I was no exception and after the exam finished and we were allowed to check our answer, you could hear people cursing under their breath as the first fifty questions sealed their fate before they could consult the other hundred.The toasts downstairs were split evenly between “Horray!” and “Path sucks!” My roommates still had some shopping to do. You see, Kelly is in charge of the Senior Slide Show and the refreshments. They have given him entirely too much money.

After getting alcohol and pizza, the roommates meet up to practice for the Advanced Clinical Skills final. Each of us takes two tests, learns them, and performs them on each other. I pulled Peripheral Nervous System and Abdomen. The exam is cumulative but we ignore the tests premidterm.

The next morning (9:00), we put on our Sunday best and grab our little kits. Here’s how it works: every imaginable test is laid out on a table face down. You stand at the top of the lecture hall until summoned to pick randomly. You then follow your tutor into a booth with a standard patient and begin. I picked up the Venous System. Lame. Because I haven’t studied this (premidterm material), I look at the checklist to jog my memory of the Trendelenburg test and Pratt’s test. The tutor yells at me, “You can’t look at that! Now follow me.” I play dumb, drop the test back into the pile face down and follow her. “Where’s the test?” “You told me that I shouldn’t look at it!” “Go back down and grab the test.” She shakes her head at my idiocy. I walk down and pull the Abdomen Exam. Perfect. 95 A.

So I’ve finished Path and the ACS lab. I’m feeling the euphoria of “finished.” We all sit around the apartment watching the World Cup and helping Kelly finish the slideshow. It’s going to be great. We set up at 6:00 the student bar which consists of several 5 gallon jugs of Hurricanes mixed by our own Louisiana natives. With the class appropriately loosened, the slideshow begins. It’s a riot with clapping and cheering along its entire length and Kelly is the true rockstar of the hour.

The next morning, instead of sleeping off a hangover with the rest of my class, I’m in the Anatomy lab with a bone saw, cutting some man’s hat off. I can sum up the entire experience with one word.

Dusty.

If you’d like to read the complete description, click here. The gist is that cutting into someone’s head, while gruesome, is also thrilling. To carry out the dissections that I want (on an intact jaw) I have to cut a circle around the top of this man’s head, cut out his brain, and then cut straight down the middle of his face. After all of this, you pull the two halves apart and you’re looking straight down at the target. My arm is sore and at least once I was shocked out of the moment by the absurdity of it: left hand clutching the lip of his skull, right hand punching the hacksaw down the center of his face and rattling of in my head the spaces in our skulls that I’m destroying. All of this and smiling, I could forgive someone for stumbling into the room and smartly assessing the situation before walking out slowly. And backwards.

What I’m doing know has nothing to do with collecting data and everything to do with a pretty picture. You see, whenever you carry out interesting anatomical research, you have to do a good job collecting data, but the pissing contest of “who is the best dissector” is far more important. That’s why I’ll spend two whole days on a jaw that would take two hours to dissect the ugly way. All that time in the lab, alone, was difficult, especially with everyone else out on the beach day after day.

Especially when all of the pacemakers go off at 9:15pm every night. They’re screaming at someone to change their batteries. I whisper back to them, “It doesn’t matter.”

So I end up spending a week dissecting a few jaws and sending off a case report to the Journal of something or other. I’d love to sit around and just be nostalgic about Grenada, but my time is tied up in boxes and small errands. I do make time for a few things. I ride to Grand Anse to eat at Nick’s for the last time. After that I see Mr. Green Jeans and ask for one last banana shake. I’m not even that hungry; I just want to hear him swing the mallet. I make it up the hill to Maurice Bishop highway. I wait my turn to pass a Red Reggae bus that opens up the rest of the straightaway. And with my shirt flapping up against my back and the Hero Panther Moped squealing for a fifth gear that isn’t there I’m reaching 80km/hr and flying. Tomorrow morning I’ll be calling a bus to take me to the airport, but that’s tomorrow. Right now I’m passing the wind, the sky is blue walls with a pink ceiling, and it’s beautiful.

Goodbye, Grenada.

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My First Speech

July 16, 2006

My First Speech Preparing for my oral presentation was awful. I’ve never spoken in front of a large crowd, let alone a crowd of MD’s and PhD’s that specialize in the area that my little research project concerns. I’m going to get up on stage, my voice will crack, my hands will shake, I will flub one of my pre-recorded sentences and the pin will skip. I will sweat halos around my arms and neck and then take the audience along the agonizing journey that is reading straight from the PowerPoint as they also read along with the PowerPoint. “Thank you for your time. Please no questions?”

Arriving at the Hotel, I slowly bump into the other 20 students from SGU. We each have practiced our poster presentations to our unjudging mirrors, but not to our Research Professor. He arrives, having printed out the posters from kinkos and flying them here. We grab a room and he marches us one-by-one to the front of the room and says, “You have two minutes. GO!” It rattles people but we get the point: we have to be flawless and unthinking. Everyone has a lot of work to do before our next drill sessions tomorrow morning and night. Becuase we do not have a projector, I cannot rehearse and recieve feedback with everyone else. I’m nervous about my speech and won’t sleep well till Wednesday night.

Tuesday is spent rehearsing, running errands, and socializing. One of the big reasons for coming to this Congress is to meet physicians and professors in research or at schools for arranging clinical rotations. As a Caribbean medical student without a campus or hospital in the states, there are huge issues with reciprocity. This makes any clinical rotation outside of our “safe” hospitals nigh impossible. You have to know someone inside.

Reciprocity: You want to send a student to our hospital? Sure! Just so long as we can send students to your hospital. No hospital? Then no.

The first opportunity to meet people is tonight at the wine/cheese social. I’m not very practiced at this and balk quite often. All 20 of us have 50 business cards made up for this trip in case anyone should want to contact us. We feel pretty ridiculous owning them.

Keith Moore, Art Dalley and Anne Argur are here (writers of Clinically Oriented Anatomy). Holy shit! These people are Anatomy rock stars to me. Kyung W. Chung is here of BRS fame. If I had panties I would throw them at him. I CITE these people! EVERYONE cites these people! I have to come up with a word for nerd-groupies.

ANATARDS will do.

***If you’re in a room where you are unknown, where a bright Peach, Aqua, or Royal Blue Oxford shirt. Introduce yourself to people on the far left, tell all your funny stories and charming one liners in three minutes and listen to them for ten. Then repeat on the exact opposite side of the room. Now, get a drink and stand in the middle. Strike up a conversation with someone very attractive and hold their attention. Wait fifteen minutes for the plan to set and watch as people know your name and are introducing themselves to you. I saw this executed to perfection THRICE!***

Tonight after the social we rehearse again. It is amazing how much everyone has improved. Presentations that were choppy, unsure and peppered with like’s, um’s and uh’s are now crisp and professional. I’m incredibly proud of the group. Everyone heads to bed leaving me with three other people. I turn on the computer and, sitting, give my presentation to them. They say it’s perfect and I’ll do fine. I want to believe.

D-Day. Wednes-Day. I put on my nice suit with the tie that matches my slides. I rehearse the speech three more times at an average of eight minutes. I walk downstairs. The fruit bowls and bagels aren’t really helping. What I need is a nice cleansing vomit. I cannot stop my hand from shaking and my heart is up in the 120s at a sit. Whenever anyone wishes my luck or mentions my presentation, the muscles of my face tighten up and I forget to breath. My voice cracks on “Thanks.”

I kill a few hours with the rest of my group. They are in the other room presenting their posters. They tell me that someone was just looking for me. He asked about the student giving the mandible talk. He said he was an oral surgeon and couldn’t wait to hear it, and that there were a few other Head & Neck people in the audience. My face tightens and I excuse myself. Up on the 18th floor I open my Netter and proceed to draw out all the arteries, muscles and bones of the Head & Neck and I go over in my mind how I will describe my approach on dissection, perchance I get a question on it. I am now a nervous wreck.

I go back downstairs to listen to a few of the oral presentations. The first one is amazing. The second one is even better. The third one is horrible. I feel so much better knowing that I’m no longer in the running for first or last place. I sit in the dark and deliver my speech to the back of everyone’s head. It goes well.

As my time comes, everyone from SGU stops what they are doing to come watch. They call my name, I walk on stage and I can feel my heart rate dropping. I fumble with the video cord, plug in my computer, and manage to get the first sentence out of my mouth. The rest is a black haze. People are clapping and a woman in the front offers a comment. “I agree with your comment, and thank you.” I have no idea what she just said.

I walk off and meet my Research Professor and friends in the back. They all have flattering things to say and each offer me a drink. I take them up on it, one by one.