Sunday, 29 September 2013

Still kicking around...

We're still in my parents' basement. I'm trying to find alternative temporary lodgings but so far nothing has panned out.

This week has been emotionally and physically exhausting. I've been doing so much with the house while trying to hold things together here, and dealing with an extra hour on my daily commute... it's been hectic to say the least.

On the up side of things, the stuff I bought with my MCAT Amazon gift card arrived. I bought two things; a book for the kids and a new calligraphy pen for me.

The book I got for the kids is You Are Stardust by Elin Kelsey. It is both gorgeous and adorable. My son has wanted me to read it to him every night so far and it has sparked in him so many new questions about the nature of the universe and how we understand it.

Tonight, we ended up discussing red shift and distant galaxies. His question meant pulling up some diagrams explaining the electromagnetic spectrum and showing him some MinutePhysics videos. Those are the best kinds of questions.

It's nice to be able to distract him from what's been on his mind a lot - the fire, obviously - and to review some aspects of modern physics that continue to hold my fascination.

For once, I'm leaving an assignment unfinished until the night before. I have a physics assignment due Tuesday but I won't finish it tonight. I have a lab to write up (draft is done, just have to copy it to the carbon paper and format my references) and I have a test on Wednesday in Cell bio. It's going to be a busy week and I really let my mind get out of the game last week. I absolutely have to get back into school work.

I've worked too hard to let a house fire keep me from my potential. Even if I am a little exhausted from it all.

Monday, 23 September 2013


Today I did something very out of character for me.

I skipped class.

Realistically, it wasn't possible to avoid it. My husband had a dental appointment and he gets paid for his working hours; something had to give, and today, that was classes. I had to meet with the adjustor and contractors.

There is a LOT of damage to the house. The whole place is a wreck right now, though the actual fire damage is contained to one room. The smoke and heat did damage throughout most of the house, though. My plants that were completely on the other side of the house from the fire had leaves burnt by the heat of the smoke, but they did survive.

We came very close to losing everything the other night.

Instead, I am currently sitting in the basement of my parents' house which is bigger than my entire house, avoiding studying (yes, I know, so unlike me) and trying to find a place to live temporarily while my uninjured children sleep in newly bought clothing nearby.

We'll be out of our home for probably 3-4 weeks. Two weeks at the very, very least, but as we're already 2 days in and it's looking like 3 more days before work can start, I'm doubting that things will happen that fast. Wonderful as my parents can be, I do not want to stay with them for a month so we are looking for something in town. I moved out at 18 for a reason.

My son did cause the fire accidentally. Children cause thousands of house fires every year, though it is often not reported in the media. They think it's a fun thing to play with, then it gets away from them because they overestimate their ability to control the fire. Fortunately he didn't try to hide it and told us right away. Those seconds probably made the difference in everything.

Do me a favour this evening:
- Check that your smoke detectors work.
- If you have kids, discuss your fire safety plan (two escape routes from every room, where to gather, etc.) *and* discuss how fire is a tool to be used by adults only, not a toy.
- If you rent your dwelling, make sure you have tenant's insurance. We would be facing catastrophic financial ruin right now if we did not have ours. Our landlord could hold us liable for every dollar of damage done to that house; instead, our insurance policy will pay if liability is determined to be ours (which is likely, given the circumstances.)

It's hard to feel normal right now.

But I have a quiz worth 10% of my mark on Thursday, so I have to study whether I feel normal or not.

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Burned Out

No, this isn't a post about stress, this is a post about fire.

We'd had supper and I was making some squash and carrot soup for tomorrow (Mabon. Well, today now I suppose. It's 1am.) My daughter was playing in the living room with my husband, my son was downstairs.

The six year old came screaming up the stairs to tell us his room was on fire. My husband and I went down to look and indeed it was. His bed was in flames. My husband tried to put it out, gave up and closed the door. The smoke detectors were screaming, the kids crying, the birds screeching.

We hauled ass out of there, got the kids out, got the pets out, got some of the tech (backup drive and my school laptop) before the smoke got too thick upstairs to safely go back in.

Our fire plan worked, everyone got out safe. The fire department showed up within probably ten minutes (keep in mind, we live in the country. This is pretty good.)

The kids are okay. The pets are okay, though the small birds seem to be having some respiratory distress but there isn't much we can do for them.

I needed some oxygen for a bit, but otherwise am fine. My husband's quick thinking about closing the door saved the rest of the house. Our son's room is gutted, there's smoke damage everywhere, but most of the house is safe and all the lives are safe. Even the plants are okay.

Any of you who have kids, talk to them about your fire plan. Talk about getting out and STAYING OUT. Talk to them about not playing with fire and talk to them about how to get out if their main way is blocked.

This is my son's room. You can see the outline of his bed. It went up in seconds. We do not yet know the cause of the fire, but we do know it started on his bed (which was reduced to coils.)

If this had happened at night, I would probably be writing something very different.

This is how close we came tonight. Our son has lost everything of his that was in his room, but he is alive and he is upstairs (we are at my parents' house) sleeping.

Also, to any of my readers who rent, get renter's insurance. We are careful to have it, we had to use it once before when our basement flooded, and now we are beyond glad we have always kept it. If we didn't have a place tonight, it would have paid for a hotel. It will pay for my son's furniture. It will pay for the cleaning and clothing and everything we have to replace. Like all of our food. The power is off so the food in our fridge and freezer will spoil. Anything that was not sealed in the cupboards will have to be thrown out (the smoke was thick even up there.) We live on very little these days, this would be catastrophic if it weren't for our insurance.

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Getting going

Next week I have a quiz worth 10% of my animal diversity mark and then I have at least one test or midterm worth 15%+ every week through mid November. So far I have only gotten back one mark - a chem lab - but it was 100% so at least the year is starting strong.

I love it how when school gets going, it really gets going. It's fast paced and consuming and you have to keep up or you get buried. So far, I've been doing well staying ahead. Even with work, which I didn't have last year, my schedule is not so rigorous as to have me stressed out about a lack of time. I study in the evenings and in my one hour stretch between history and orgo. I'm still new enough to my job that I do not have time between tasks, and I may never since my job is pretty busy.

My husband has an interview on Monday for a better position. It's also sort of a crappy job, but it is a crappy job with better hours which is a considerable improvement.

My boss is gone next week. I'm only three weeks into this job and neither of my coworkers actually do everything I do, so I'll be less directed next week. My boss told me that I get to be her next week. I'll be directly interacting with health care providers, getting reports on financials, things like that.

She also has my name in for some training which would be immensely helpful. It's on medical claims tracking and coding. She wants me to do it because there's only a chance to do it locally twice a year and it is something I can put on my CV. She's really actively looking out for my future, and that is part of why I have the responsibilities I do. This job is *intended* to help me get into med school, she designed it that way. For that, I am immensely grateful.

All in all, things really are going quite wonderfully lately. School's good, work is amazing, kids are happy and healthy, my husband has brighter horizons to look forward to when it comes to work.

Pretty awesome how things work out when you follow your dreams. :)

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Privileged Perspective

I grew up fairly comfortable. My dad had a very good job, my mother took good care of our family, I had what I needed and many things I wanted. We never went without basics, not once in my entire childhood did we go without adequate food or clothing or utilities. We lived in safe areas and I went to good schools, always in the gifted program being trained up to go to university and be a professional someday.

Because of our choices early on, my husband and I have spent the majority of our marriage rather low-income, something I've talked about occasionally. This blog is intended to be a real accounting of this process for me to look back on in a few years, and that is part of our reality.

For me, this existence is very different than how I grew up. When I was a kid, the food bank was where you volunteered, not where you got groceries. Charity was something you did, not something you received. Being on the other side of that as an adult with kids is both humbling and enlightening.

A lot of doctors come from privilege - at least half, according to most stats I've read. Upper middle class kids who mostly did things right, went to university right out of high school, went to med school from undergrad, then into residency. I'm not saying that is a bad thing (in fact, it's great that they were careful about their futures!) but for many their privilege makes them blind to the reality of their patients.

It's easy to tell patients to eat better when your food budget can be increased if you want higher quality food.

It's easy to say they should take their medication when the $125/month cost seems to you a small price to pay for health.

It's easy to say they need to get out and exercise more, when you live in an area where it is safe to go out for a walk in the evenings or have a gym included with your condo fees.

It's easy to say they should move out of the mouldy, decrepit building because of their asthmatic kid.

It's easy to say they need to get a less physically demanding job, when you had access to education that could qualify you for professional work.

It is very easy for many doctors to not know the reality of their patients.

A lot of you will have absolutely no idea what it is like to stand in line at the food bank and be tearfully grateful for that half a cabbage and the two apples you got because it means your kids actually get some fresh produce that week. I'm glad for those of you who do not have that kind of experience; you are more fortunate than you may realize.

Why I bring this up is that this discrepancy of experience is huge in the med school application process, and because so many involved with it have no real idea what living with very limited means is like, the process perpetuates its own biases. Many of you probably do not realize how daunting this all is from a financial perspective for those of limited means.

For instance:
- Going to university full time (which is necessary for most schools) is nearly impossible for those who need to work full time to support themselves. Going only part time seriously limits the schools they can apply to and their competitiveness.
- Volunteering is awesome if you can afford the time off work to do it. Between school and the work necessary to survive, premeds of limited means are extremely limited in their ability to volunteer.
- The $284 to take the MCAT is a big deal. For people of limited means who live in rural areas - and people living in those areas are more likely to be poor - and have to travel, the additional travel costs can be an insurmountable burden even if they qualify for the fee assistance program from AAMC.
- Additional resources like tutoring to help deal with academic difficulties (or to prepare for the MCAT) are not an option.
- Application fees are a big deal. My OMSAS application (U of T, Ottawa, Mac, Queen's) will cost $600 next year. That is more than my food budget for a month. It will require careful scrimping to put that away.
- Travel to interviews can be $700+, not including any lodgings, making it incredibly difficult to apply broadly. Calgary, to my knowledge, is the only school that offers MMI travel bursaries.

Some schools are taking very small steps towards helping change this inherent preference for those of means - NOSM's MCAT statement, for instance - but I really doubt this is ever going to be a process that doesn't favour the privileged, since a single application cycle can easily cost 10% or more of an average worker's annual income.

If I am fortunate enough to turn my plan into reality, I want to set up a fund that will provide bursaries for Island students going through this process to help them with travel costs or application fees.

Those of you who are in med, or will be in med, I urge you to be aware of your privilege and try to look at things through the eyes of your patient instead of through the lens of your own experience. If you are fortunate enough to have grown up in comfort and stability, try not to let that isolate you from the reality of the difficulties your patients face. They will see you as more human for the effort taken to understand.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Long mornings

Tuesday and Thursday, I don't have class until 10 so I'm still home at the moment, doing dishes.

Okay, my dishwasher is doing the dishes. I'm just making sure nothing goes wrong with it.

My husband's new overnight job is not going well. It's in food service and because it's a very busy place, they expect the overnight shift to do all the cleaning and maintenance. Problem is, this particular location is on the way into the city from the bridge direction so it's busy even at night and there's very little time between customers to do the long list of tasks that is really designed for overnight people at quieter stores. He's coming home physically and mentally exhausted, then goes to his other job. It doesn't help that, despite him stating he wants only 3 shifts a week, they are insisting on giving him four which means he only gets to nap most of the week and gets very little restorative sleep.

He's on the lookout for something better. An evening job would be preferable. We need him to work ~15-20 hours a week additionally (his primary job is 32.) A 52 hour week isn't that bad. He used to work over 100 hours a week frequently, so this is still an improvement. At least the risk of him being blown up or gassed to death is now so small as to be insignificant.

One thing I am considering is moving my Thursday lab to an evening lab (6-9pm) which allows me to work four additional hours. Given the amount of work my unit has to do, I am pretty sure my boss could get approval for me to work those hours. I'm cheaper than casual or indeterminate employees, anyway. I am not allowed to work during the academic term for more than 22 hours a week, so I do have an upper limit on what I can do.

Taking five courses, raising a family, working 17 hours a week, maintaining my grades, finding time to meet my commitments for the executive for the mature students society... I think I can do it. Not like I'm going to get *less* busy going forward, anyway. It all just requires good time management and a nice, restful sleep every night.

Besides, two evening labs for the ten weeks remaining in the term is nothing in the long run. I can manage that easily.

Saturday, 14 September 2013

Half Off

Apparently you can lose power to just half of your house.

I discovered this the other day. Less than impressed, honestly. It's fixed now but it was annoying not to be able to cook. Fridge had power, but the stove didn't. It was strange. Although now I know which breakers are fed by each of the 'hot' lines coming into the house.

Second week done and all is good so far. I did have to miss class yesterday to wait for the electrician, but there was nothing I hadn't already studied that was covered.

From browsing through the chapters in my books that will be covered, it seems my MCAT studying over the summer will pay off significantly in cell bio, organic chemistry, and physics. I had to learn things a bit more in depth for the MCAT than was actually covered in first year and now that will pay off. I now don't feel as bad about only doing three weeks of official pre-studying this summer.

My history course has an interesting major assignment. In pairs, we are to select a figure significant to the history of biology and 'act out' an interview with that person that covers their most significant contribution, as well as issues surrounding it. My friend and I have chosen Henrietta Lacks. We get to dip into issues of racism in medicine, consent, credit for discoveries, and whether the ends justify the means. Should be fun!

Physics has assignments. This week it is four questions. Critical thinking and calculation questions. Nothing difficult so far. My prof is a medical physicist and his wife an imaging physicist, so the course promises to be really interesting. He dislikes the book too which is a pretty common sentiment.

I'm really enjoying second year so far. My chem prof - who I didn't much enjoy as my gen chem prof in second semester last year - is actually pretty great as an organic chemistry professor. She seems much more at ease.

Cell is cell. Detailed, kind of dry, terribly boring book, but the tutorials offer some challenges. They are biweekly though, so there won't be much of that.

Animal diversity is about what I expected. We're doing evolution right now (well, that's the theme of the whole course, but the five main theories right now) and the labs look interesting. I've had to request accommodation in two latex-using labs, but so far so good this year.

Really excited to start handing things in and getting marks back! I want to see if I can beat my average from last year.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013


I was refreshing my bloody phone all day. Logged into MCAT THx over and over and over to see if my scores were up.

Finally, on my way out of work, they came up.

11 PS, 13 VR, 10 BS.


I figured BS would be my lowest since the orgo had me a little shaky, but it's still at least 10 so I'm happy!

I will not be rewriting next year!!

Also, THIRTEEN on VR! I was pretty comfortable with the passages but holy cow! Yay! That means I got 37-38 right.

Think that will really work in my favour for McMaster. I bet if I can keep my grades up this year (I expect I will) then I should have a pretty good chance of an interview there at least. I exceed Toronto's cutoffs and have a solid 11.33 average for Queen's so I think I'll have a good shot there too.

I am so frigging glad that step is done with!

Step 2: Bit Fat CHECK!

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Sunday Wok

In an effort to reduce our grocery budget, I've been planning my week's meals based around what is on sale. I used to do this, got out of the habit, and now I'm doing it again because our grocery costs were getting out of hand.

For supper tonight, I made chicken and broccoli stir fry with egg noodles. I used my old (35+ years) wok which I am sad to say has been sitting in my cupboard mostly unloved for the past few years. It really is a fabulous piece of cookware.

The menu planning helps with my occasional frustration with deciding what to make for supper. With the limits on my time during the week, meals need to be quick to prepare. While I can get very creative with my cooking, sometimes the limits of my available ingredients mean quick meals are difficult without advanced planning. For instance, beef roast was on sale this week. I have to put that in the slow cooker at the start of the day, since there's no way I can prepare a roast after work/school.

Since today had a scheduled big thing to do, I needed a quick meal so I made the chicken and broccoli with an improvised sauce. Everyone was happy.

In a related note, my basement is clean. Every few months we do a BIG clean out of the basement since so much crap ends up hauled down there. Workshop area needs to be sorted and organized, laundry section needs to be cleaned, storage area needs to be sorted and gone through for anything that can be downsized. Every time, we end up with a pile of donation items and a pile of trash. We don't buy that much stuff in three months, how do we end up with that much to get rid of?!

On the plus side, the winter coat program is getting some really nice coats and the women's shelter is getting some baby furniture.

Busy, but fulfilling weekend. My husband starts his new job on Tuesday evening, so this week is going to be a little odd with the adaptation period, but it will work out.

Tomorrow, Cell, history of biology, and organic chemistry, then work until 5. Going to be a fun day.

Saturday, 7 September 2013

Oh you're serious?

Just downloaded the notes for next week's organic chemistry lectures to review.



I know this stuff backwards and forwards already. Considering that I spent all summer drilling myself on it constantly, I'm really doubting this class is going to be difficult.

I only have two more chapters to read this weekend - one that doesn't need to be done until Tuesday - so I'm not really nervous about workload yet. Two classes will have regular, small assignments and one will have occasional lab reports, but I'm really not terribly worried.

My husband did manage to find another job, finally. It's 3-4 overnights a week which really kind of sucks, but we'll adapt. We always do. He should start sometime next week. That takes some financial pressure off, which is definitely a bonus. It's going to be pretty tough for him since this job is 10pm to 6am three to four nights a week (weekends off) then he'll be at his other job from 9am to 3pm six days a week. He'll have to sleep through supper and family time in the evenings, but it's not forever and it is for the good of our family. Between the two jobs he'll be working about 65 hours a week, so about what I'm doing between work, school, studying, and extracurriculars.

We're busy, but it is out of necessity and it isn't forever. We'll still have Sundays off as a family, and Saturday evenings. So we still have time together every week, which is what really matters.

Friday, 6 September 2013


When I catch myself feeling a bit overwhelmed, wondering what on Earth I've gotten myself into, I take a minute to work on a daydream.

Since I decided to go to school and pursue medicine, I've liked to have a little mental exercise now and then. At first, I'd imagine my graduation from undergrad; seeing my husband and kids there, beaming with pride.

But, if I do succeed at getting into medicine from my third year, I won't graduate from my undergrad. I won't have any sort of graduation until I finish med school.

As a result, I started loosely planning my celebration for when I get my acceptance letter. Yes, I plan to celebrate before I even start medical school. Cake, nice supper, and presents for my kids. A celebration of completing the first big phase of this undertaking, a celebration of my family for what they have done. Because they are awesome.

I hope whatever school I manage to get into has some sort of white coat ceremony, some symbolic entry into the profession. I like ceremonies, formalities, traditions like that. A physical rite to represent one's shift in focus. That will matter a lot to me.

I like thinking about it, imagining crossing a stage into a new phase in my life. Gives me a bit of a happy glow for a bit, knowing I'll get there, but I just have to get through this first.

That time will come, but I have to deal with the now at this moment. If I take a mental break and daydream about what I can do, it helps me focus on what I need to do so I can get it done and make the dreams into my reality.

Just can't get too carried away with it. It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live* after all.


Thursday, 5 September 2013

Into the Fray

Well, the world didn't end so university began yesterday as planned. My son started first grade today himself.

Overall, my first impression is roughly along the lines of what I expected: History of Biology and Modern Physics look like they will be my favourite courses, animal diversity and cell bio look mostly like just deeper versions of material covered in last year's bio courses, and organic chemistry is, well, organic chemistry. A necessity, not a matter of enjoyment.

For organic, I have the same prof I had at the end of chem last year. I did not like her for first year chemistry. She's really nice and all, but her lecture style leaves something to be desired. She writes down precisely what she says (on a tablet which projects it, not the board) and then posts that online. I've heard she is quite good at teaching organic chemistry, though, so I'm trying to go in with an open mind this time and see how she does.

My modern physics professor is, himself, a medical physicist so he is very enthusiastic about the subject matter. He's also going to be looking into the scheduling of the intro medical physics course next semester. I wanted to take it, but it has a schedule conflict with microbiology which is a course most bio students pretty much have to take. The courses for the biomedical physics minor were supposed to be scheduled in such a way as to avoid such conflicts, so I'm hoping they change it. Preferably to the same time as that religious studies course I'm scheduled to take. I definitely wouldn't mind dropping religion for physics. (Heh.)

Starting the week of September 23rd, I have a test worth at least 10% of a course mark every single week until the 'no exam period' in November.

Animal diversity has a quiz and a midterm, cell has three (15%) tests, history of biology has a midterm, physics has two midterms, and organic chemistry has two midterms.

I remain baffled at calling something a 'midterm' when it is not at the midpoint, but I suppose that's just how things go.

My animal diversity class also happens to have two field trips, one to a beach. Sounds pretty awesome until you realize it's to a beach *in October* and I have to be there at the buttcrack of dawn. Not what I was hoping for when it came to a beach field trip.

Still, looks to be a really interesting, fun semester full of great classes and awesome professors.

Not a bad start to second year.

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Tomorrow, tomorrow!

School starts TOMORROW!!

I am so, so excited. Who knew I'd be so excited to start second year?

My organic chemistry prof posted the syllabus today and I've already looked it over. The course doesn't even cover HALF of what I had to study for the MCAT. With the exception of aromaticity, which I suspect will probably be limited to Huckel's rule. It was in some of the older MCAT materials, so I at least have some familiarity with that too. I actually laughed when I saw the syllabus.

Some of the animal diversity labs have been posted already, and I can't say I'm overly nervous about the material. None of my other courses have anything posted yet, but I'm sure they will soon.

My bag is packed, my notebooks prepped, my pens organized by colour and point size. Yup, I'm ready. Bring it on!

Also, MCAT scores should be out Monday.

I had a nice farewell lunch with my coworkers, and met briefly with my new manager. She's really keen on my position involving learning about health care, not just doing administrative stuff. I hope I can exceed her expectations of me. I start that position tomorrow at 3.

Going to miss working in the financial side of things, since I do so enjoy numbers, but this new challenge is calling to me and I am so excited to get this all started!

Monday, 2 September 2013

Final peaceful days

Well, tomorrow is my final day of full time work until April, my last day before classes start.

My husband hasn't yet found a second job, which is more than a little worrying. We will need to stretch my student loan funds - which came through already, surprisingly - as much as possible to cover my loss of income for the next four months, at which point I'll get the provincial portion of my loan. I'm going down to just over 1/3 the amount of hours I worked previously, so my income is dropping significantly and we haven't yet found an adequate replacement for it. The student loan funds make up about 70% of the difference, so my husband - fortunately - doesn't have to work too many more hours.

I'm actually fairly pleased at how well we've coped with the drastic reduction in income this year. Our take home is less than half of what it was when my husband worked full time out west, but it is predictable. When he was out west, his paycheques could range from just a few hundred dollars, to a few thousand and we often had no notice of him having no work coming up. We were constantly playing catch up because he'd go a couple months with higher-than-expected expenses and less work an anticipated. At least now we *know* within a fairly narrow margin what our situation will be at any given point in the future.

Since tomorrow is my last day with my unit before I'm re-hired by the medical unit, my boss has arranged for a farewell lunch. I've mentioned repeatedly how awesome she is, and I really can't state it enough. No, she does not know about this blog so there's no reason to think she can read that. I'm not sucking up, I've just really enjoyed working for her. I've wrapped up my position as much as I can - anything that can't be resolved fully before I finish has a sticky note on it explaining what needs to be done. I wrote a fifty page handbook that explains my duties in exacting detail. My files are organized, I'll be packing up my cubicle at the end of the day tomorrow since I move upstairs, and I'll wish farewell to the people who have taught and looked out for me this summer, at least farewell as immediate colleagues. I'll still see them around.

It's transition week now. Monday is coming to a close. Wednesday I'll be a second year and Thursday my son a first grader.

Slowly, inexorably, the days fall away and I creep that much close to the next stage of this exhausting, exhilarating project.