Thursday, 30 January 2014

Now THAT was a good idea

My husband found my bathing suit last night so this morning I headed off to the pool before class.

Best idea I've had in a long time. I worked my leg a bit then did some laps. Because my right leg is so much weaker right now, I kept veering right as I swam, but I expect this will improve over time.

I have two hours between my morning classes and physics tomorrow, but there's no open swim time or aquafit classes during that period, and I'm a little bummed. I'm working tomorrow afternoon (though I usually don't on Fridays) but I think most weeks I'll make time to go after physics.

This morning I got in forty five minutes of exercise, followed by a few minutes relaxing in the hot tub before I took a nice, hot shower and headed off to class. I feel amazing.

My lack of activity of late had really been bothering me lately and it's so nice to be able to do something that doesn't leave me in pain.

I love to swim. Always have. I nearly drowned when I was eight, but I've never been afraid of the water despite that. I have totally been bitten by the swimming bug again and I can't wait to go back. In fact, tonight is community open swim so we're taking the kids. My son loves swimming too, though my daughter is terrified of water. Both of them are going into lessons starting March 22.

I'm gathering a bit of a group to go to the pool with me on Tuesdays and Thursdays. We all want to be more active and this is a great way to do it. :)

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Stats Watching

I'm watching the interview stats coming in. It's rather like how some people read up about sports stats, but this is my actual future I'm learning about.

So far, lots of people with my stats are getting interviews. Good news. My ECs may seem sub-par to some adcoms since I don't have the typical premed stuff, but I'm sticking with what I have because I'm not going to go do a bunch of stuff to puff up my CV.

Frankly, I have an awesome job and I'm good at it. It involves lots of admin and finance stuff, but also a lot of health care information. I enjoy all of it, and I have great coworkers and an amazing boss. Why would I give this up to do research for a summer, when I have no plans of making a future in research?

I plan to make a future in on-the-ground health care. I am directly involved with health care right now. Every day. Grunt work, sure, but doctors aren't seeing patients all the time. A lot of the time, they are doing what I'm doing. Forms, billing, tracking, requesting and evaluating reports from other providers, ensuring patients get in touch with the services they need. Follow-up. Keeping updated on new regulations. This is the side of health care that many premeds have no real exposure to and I'm glad to get to see this end of it because the bureaucracy of health systems in Canada doesn't intimidate me anymore.

Honestly, I'm really lucky to have this opportunity. I hope that adcoms can see how valuable this experience is and invite me to interviews so I can show what I've learned and what I have to offer.

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Major disappointment

Well, turns out I won't be able to do the physics major. The math department chair got back to me. I need the other first year calc to get into the second year calculus courses. If I get the first year calc credit I need, the first year calc course that I did take will not count for credit anymore. It will have a 'no credit' notation on my transcript, meaning my first year would have only nine credited courses.

That would cause some issues, particularly if I end up needing Toronto's weighting formula. It would cause my first year GPA to end up being excluded by a few schools as well, and I had a 4.0 last year.

It also means I won't be able to get the credits for the second year calc courses, so I won't be able to take eight of the physics courses I want to take, since they require those math courses as prerequisites.

I'm a bit gutted, to be honest. Even before I started I was wavering on whether to major in bio or physics.

I won't be able to take quantum physics. Or solid state. Or mechanics. Or waves and oscillations. Or optics and photonics. Or instrumentation.

I might try to audit the second year math courses because maybe, maybe then I could make the argument to get into the classes I want. The physics department is fairly understanding when it comes to prerequisite issues. More so than math, anyway.

I hate technicalities. Considering I got 97% in the calc course I did take, which covers most of the same material as first semester gen calc, I don't see why they can't just let me take the second semester of first year calc and get credit for both. But no, the academic calendar says you can't have credit for calc I/II and the other one, so I'm stuck.

Time to go study physiology and genetics. I have midterms next week.

Sunday, 26 January 2014


My lack of activity lately has been wearing on me a lot. A few months ago I screwed up my knee so I have been somewhat limited in my ability to keep up with my normal activity, considering that just my necessary walking around has me in quite a bit of pain by day's end.

That is improving, but as with all soft-tissue stuff, it takes *forever* and I really don't want to wait another few months before I get back to very active. At the same time, I don't want to risk doing any permanent damage to my knee. My joints are fragile enough to begin with.

Idiot that I am, it took until this weekend for it to occur to me that I can go to the pool for free. Students at my university don't have to pay to go to the aquatics complex, for lessons or open swims.

Tuesdays and Thursdays, I don't have class until 10am, so why waste that time? I usually just use it as some time to run errands or be a little slower about my morning routine.

I may as well use that time to go to the pool, get active for an hour and a half, then head to class.

It's probably the best thing I can do for my knee - and my brain! - anyway. Favouring it too much will just cause me further problems.

The one hangup: I am extremely modest about how I dress in public. I don't wear or even own any shorts. I wear jeans all summer, even at 35C. When I go to the beach, I wear a sarong and a t-shirt, and yes, I swim like that, quite comfortably. They don't allow that at the pool, so I'm just going to have to get over this.

Friday, 24 January 2014

Majorly Confused

As I've mentioned a few times, I have been wavering between whether or not to declare a second major. If it were not for one tiny thing, I would already have done so.

The one tiny thing: If I get the calc prerequisite I need, one of my first year credits won't count anymore. So my first year would only have 9 credited courses.

Given how careful I have been to make sure I'm taking exactly 30 credits per year, this is a big problem.

Today, after class, I hung back and chatted with my physics professor (I've mentioned before how awesome he is) about a topic of interest, and it really struck me how much more interested I am in physics.

It's not that I don't *like* biology. I love biology, always have, always will.  I wouldn't be pursuing medicine if I didn't. But I have spent most of my life in self-directed study of biology. The vast majority of what I am doing in courses now is material I covered 10, 15, even 20 years ago. I'm not exaggerating. In elementary school. I did a science fair project in grade two on shark evolution. In grade three, on the chemical properties - including identification with simple lab tests - of mono-, di-, and polysaccharides.

Physics is newer to me. While I had some interest early on, I didn't get into more advanced material until around 12 years ago, and my study has been somewhat limited due to lack of direction and not having a large base of people to discuss things with and learn from.

When I mention that I love physics, people cringe or make gagging noises. Finding people to discuss it with, finding mentors, has been very difficult.

So I emailed the chair of the math department and I'm hoping she'll be able to help me out with the anti-requisite issue so that I can declare the physics major and get the other bits and pieces sorted out so I can really go for it.

Besides, a physics degree is far more marketable than a biology degree, so it's a better backup plan.

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Sharing and Keeping Busy

I've encountered yet another premed at my school, and yet again I'm using the opportunity to pay it forward. I was fortunate enough to get a lot of help from people when it came to the materials I needed to study, so I'm making sure to share with those who are writing this year.

Since I am done and will likely never have to write that blasted test again!

And if I do, these materials won't be useful for me anyway.

I'm working on a sort of big project. The time has come to put together a society for aspiring medical students. So far, I've been working on connecting people so I can get some momentum behind the idea.

Because just what I need: MORE TO DO!

I do like being busy, but some days like this when I'm just feeling wiped out and want to sleep, I regret everything I've gotten myself into, though I still make sure I get done what needs to be done. But then there's days where I just revel in it all and I feel so alive while going from one thing to another and fulfilling my commitments.

Realistically, I won't have any downtime until mid-April, and even then might be just one or two days if my boss allows it. I don't accumulate vacation time, so if I want time off it's unpaid. After exams are over, though, I'm going to ask for a few days off because I've been going at 100% for the better part of two years. It's wearing on me and I need to have a break to look forward to so that I don't crash.

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Things I won't apologize for: treats

Tomorrow, we're expecting a blizzard. The island should shut down for the day. Classes will probably be cancelled for my son and I.

So, given tht tomorrow is going to be insanely bad weather and today is -16 before windchill, it wasn't a grand idea to go outside to play. Instead, we went to McDonald's.

Honestly, not terribly worried about my kids having a happy meal before they spend an hour and a half running around and climbing. All things in moderation.

It has been a long time since we have been here. Last time, my daughter stayed on the 'baby' slide. Now she is climbing to the top of the structure with my son. He is keeping an eye on her and making sure she goes safely down the slides. I can hear him twenty feet way "careful you don't want to get hurt!"

He is a good big brother. For as much as they bicker, they do adore each other.

I found another premed at my school. She's in my micro lab and is planning to apply to most of the schools I'm also applying to. It's nice to meet one who is equally serious. :)

As the days tick by, my confidence builds.

Then again, I've only gotten one mark back this semester. 100% on a quiz. Hopefully the is a good sign.

Saturday, 18 January 2014


I've been more than slightly obsessive about watching the interview invite threads on the premed board.

This time next year, that'll be me obsessively refreshing my email from mid-January through March.

I mentioned it to my husband and he just looked gobsmacked. It's really not that long now. He's already been home eight and a half months and it feels like almost no time has passed. It's really quite amazing. Less than six months until OMSAS opens.

I've been working on tracking down some verifiers from long-ago jobs because it may take a while to find some.

As for now, I'm just focusing on my academics. That's all I can do at this point. Much as I enjoy obsessing about my chances, the only effect I can have on them right now is making sure my grades stay good.

I did put together this handy little chart of all applicants to all med schools based on where they are from.
That's the definition of boredom right there.

The spare time I have had lately has been frustratingly useless, hence charts like that. I blew out my knee (I have crappy joints due to collagen issues) a few months ago so I've not been able to do much in the way of physical activity and it is just driving me buggy. It's been very warm lately and I haven't been able to go do anything fun. My kids are getting all cabin-fever-y and I think I'm just going to strap on the damn brace and have done with it. I've gained almost 10 pounds back over the past few months because I've been on my arse too much and I really need to get back out there and keep moving.


Friday, 17 January 2014

Itchy Brain

Have you ever noticed that when you have an itch and can't reach it, it becomes immensely distracting?

That's kind of what my brain feels like right now. It's like if I could just pop my skull off and scratch my brain, that 'itchy' thought would go away. It's terribly annoying.

It isn't even terribly important, it's just an annoying thing that I can't get out of my head. I HATE that.

Anyway, the semester is well underway. My first test is in a week and a half, in neuro. So far, we haven't done anything that wasn't part of cell bio last semester (same professor, so she's teaching it the same way too) so I'm not overly worried about the test at this point.

Physics is definitely my favourite class. You may notice that's a bit of a theme. Physics has always been my 'thing' and I really enjoy it. It's what gets my brain going, what really holds my interest.

I do enjoy biology as well, I wouldn't be interested in medicine if biology didn't appeal to me, but realistically I went into biology instead of physics because I was pretty sure I could get better marks in it. I'm heavily exploring the double major option, but there's a bit of a roadblock which I'm trying to work out. If I can manage that, I'll declare the second major this year.

While I expect I will be able to succeed at getting into med school within a few cycles, I'd really like to have the physics background and the backup option of medical physics.

At the moment, I'm just relaxing a bit and studying some calc since all my other readings are done.

Have to go get the kids in a couple hours, but then otherwise I'm anticipating a quiet weekend.

Sunday, 12 January 2014

The Red Stethoscope

Sometimes, when bored, I sit down and meander through my past. Writing is a joy. The other day, I was curious and looked up the hospital I spent a lot of time when I was little, and found out it had been closed a few years ago and it seems it has been demolished. For anyone familiar, it was St Joseph's Hospital in North Bay. 

So I wrote up a story about a moment there that meant a great deal to me. So here it is. 


When I was a child, I was sick a lot. My parents tell me stories of me turning blue followed by mad dashes to the hospital on unshod feet.  Most of my earliest memories involve scrubs. 

One year, following my father's Easter service at his church, we discovered my allergy to lilies in a most dramatic way. My breathing deteriorated quickly and as the stars of early morning twinkled outside, I was being admitted to the hospital for what would turn into a five day stay. The kind nurse gave me a hand-crocheted finger puppet to distract me as she drew my blood. I still have that tiny gift, that little memento of simple kindness, and I use it to distract my children while I clean wounds. 

Like most sick children, I was intensely bored while stuck in bed. The televisions they would wheel in on carts kept me company while misty masks did their work. The toy room was where I'd be when I did to need to be tethered to the oxygen tap on the wall. I remember the neat maple shelves of easily-sanitized toys. The plastic building blocks and that peg-and-wheel kit remain as brightly coloured in my memories as they must have been in life. 

From my earliest days, I had a reputation for insatiable curiosity. Far too often, I'd find myself in trouble, or danger, because I just needed to know something. I recall sneaking behind curtains to approach the nurses' desk and listen to them discuss patients at shift change. After padding back to my room following one such escapade, the physician on duty came in to round on me. His name, I've lost to time, but I remember his dark hair and kind eyes. 

After he listened to my lungs, he asked me if I wanted to hear them too. He handed me his bright red stethoscope and helped me position the bell so I could hear my troubled breathing. 

It was then that my view of existence expanded, my goal was set. This device, this simple tool, could be used to hear and understand what was going on inside me. And help fix it. The world within me opened for my study and my education in human physiology began.

While events in years to come would reaffirm my decision, and I would find more reasons to cement my determination, it would be more than twenty years from then before I could seriously pursue what was then the dream of a sick child.

But here I am, mere months away from starting the most delicate phase of this entire journey, and day by day I am making it possible. That dream is my reality, as I take a break now from my now-formal study of physiology. 

And in my cupboard sits my own red stethoscope which I have at times placed in the hands of my own children in the hope that maybe they will find, in that beautiful instrument of a healer's most human skill, a purpose, a calling, like I did so long ago. 

Saturday, 11 January 2014

Researching Research

Many, many premeds pursue some sort of research prior to applying to med school. 

I have not, and don't really plan to. For me, it's actually a matter of economics and time. 

Undergraduate research at my school pays just over minimum wage. NSERC (plus the university contribution) works out to be just about minimum wage. As unskilled researchers, it makes sense that the pay is low. But I have a job that pays around 30% more and I really can't afford to take that large a pay cut just to marginally improve my chances. 

My job is also a daytime only job. I could not do research during the day and work part time at night. My work wouldn't be open. Doing summer research (the most common sort) would necessitate taking a term off from work. 

I really have no wish to do that. My boss is amazing, my coworkers are lovely, and my work is medically-related, and very rewarding, already. Plus one of my coworkers is going to be leaving for an extended period this summer and I will probably be taking on some of her responsibilities temporarily to help her replacement. I'm going to be rather necessary this summer. 

So I don't have the time and I can't afford the pay cut. 

I've considered volunteering a couple mornings a week in a couple of labs. I don't have class until 10 on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and I have most of the morning off on Fridays, so I could probably fit some in if I found a flexible enough professor. There is quite a bit of research going on at the university that is very interesting.

Another option is pursuing an honours project, which I may do if I decide against double majoring. I don't have to decide on that until next year though. That won't help me for this cycle anyway. 

It seems a fairly significant number of premeds apply successfully with no research, though, so I've not made it a priority. While it may lower my chances with Toronto, it seems some schools don't put such an emphasis on research so I don't think my overall chances are significantly lower than they would be if I could afford to take a break from work to do research. 

As it is, I think the longer term EC (my job) will do more for my application than  a few months in a lab. 

Friday, 10 January 2014

One down, eleven to go.

One week into second semester, with eleven weeks of class to go. 

I'm thinking that the radiation course is going to be my favourite. It's very lab-heavy but they are concept labs, not lab assignments. The professor is very enthusiastic and knowledgeable. He really lights up when he talks about his research, which he did today, and it left me with a bunch more stuff t research. 

I've noticed that my third and fourth year courses (I'm only taking two second year courses this semester) have far less wiggle room than the lower level ones. I suppose it is because they are optional and most of the less enthusiastic students won't take them so the profs just expect more of us. I can get behind that. Fewer busywork assignments that just waste my time, more self-directed learning. Right up my alley. 

On an unrelated note, I ended up speaking in front of one of my classes this morning. My micro professor - a really nice gentleman who takes a lot of interest in his students. I had him last year - took a few minutes to talk about the flu. I put up my hand to add something, and that ended up with him giving me the mic to address the class about the importance of getting their flu shots. 

Holy nervous. I don't mind speaking publicly IF I have had time to prepare. Asking questions in class is one thing, standing up to inform people is another.

After class, I thanked him (and apologized for taking over his class!) and informed him that I am just very passionate about public health, and that I'm a member of the Society for Science-Based Medicine which exists to further education and protection of the general population. He actually hugged me for it! He's awesome.

Turns out he taught someone who comments at SBM a lot and who writes at SkepticNorth, someone local whose work I'm familiar with. 

Small world. Especially this little corner of it. I keep having those "this is a very small community" moments these days. 

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

A plea

I need to take a break from this being about my journey and take a minute to make a post about you.

My readership is small - about 100 a day - and I don't know a lot of you, but I dislike suffering and I do not want you to suffer or inadvertently cause suffering in those around you.

But first, a bit of a story. In 2011, my son had a bout of influenza which was followed by six months of off and on pneumonia (exacerbated, we think, by some environmental factors, but it all started with the flu.) Six months during which he just didn't get completely better. 

It was... scary. For me as a mom to see my vibrant four year old curled into a ball, in pain, unable to breathe properly so many times. I've talked about it before, described how sick he was, how terrifying it is to see your child so incapacitated. He looked like a corpse each time and it just got harder on him. 

That is what influenza can do to a healthy child.

Think of the fragile people you encounter or almost encounter every day - the cancer patient at the grocery store, the 90 year old woman who will touch that door handle after you, the tiny infant held in her mother's arms on the bus - and think about what the flu could do to them. Even if you aren't hit hard by it, even if you are sure you can survive the flu (which isn't always true - some strains tend to kill healthy young adults more than the typical at-risk populations,) can you make that guarantee of the people around you?

I could direct you to the WHO or Health Canada or the CDC or (my personal favourite) for real information about the flu shot, instead of the fearmongering crapola you'll see here and there about the web, but I think it's fairly safe to assume that my readership is primarily premeds and so you are likely smart enough to find the information yourself and capable of sorting the good from the bad.

If you want to go into medicine, you probably want to save lives.

You can do that already.

Just roll up your sleeve.

Monday, 6 January 2014

Off to a good start

First day of classes went well. My first lab is tomorrow.

I had a mild schedule panic when my physics prof suggested a certain time for the radiation course. It would have cut my work shifts in half and reduced my schedule by 9 hours a week, which I really can't do since my boss needs me the 15 I've agreed to. I emailed him and he asked me to call. When I spoke with him, it turns out there's another time that works for everyone, and it works for me too, so that will be the class time. He's one of my favourite profs for a reason!

Plus, this class will likely have field trips to the hospital to check out their equipment. I cannot say how thrilled I am at the prospect of going to the hospital to learn. I have spent quite enough time there as a patient.

Now that I have more core courses out of the way, the classes I'm taking build on prior knowledge. This is when it gets really fun; I really have to integrate what I've learned from prior courses into what I am doing now. This is when I really get to shine and I am very much looking forward to it!

On an unrelated note, I've posted here a few times about my opinions with regards to the essential nature of science in medicine. The writers of the Science-Based Medicine blog have launched the Society for Science-Based Medicine. Any summary I can give their goals with this organization would be inadequate, so hop over and read the post and if you are interested, join the society. There is a reduced student membership rate.

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Requisite New Year Post

Happy new year, everyone!

This is THE year. This year, I apply to medical school for the first (and hopefully only!) time. In six and a half months, OMSAS applications open for the 2014/2015 cycle and you can bet I'll be starting my application the first day.

We're into the point where we need to put away hundreds of dollars a month to make sure we can afford interviews. The goal is to set aside $3800 for this. That's $800 for each interview and $600 for applications. Some may cost less, some more, but that's about what I expect the average to be. $500-$700 per flight. I'll need rental cars and possibly accommodations for two (Mac and Queen's) but the other two I'll only need airfare since I have friends and family in those cities who can put me up and drive me.

I may not get four interviews, in fact I probably won't, but I really don't want to be in the position of having to decline one because I can't afford to go if I am lucky enough to get many. Those interviews are the key to making this all work, I can't say no to a date with my future. Worst case scenario, I have a bunch of savings. Not exactly a bad situation.

Twelve months from now, I'm going to be just weeks from interview invites. I'll be on the edge of the final step at which I have an impact on my chances. After interviews, it's all up to the adcoms.

This is my year. This is when I take a big shot at turning the dreams of a sick child into my daily reality.

To all those who are taking these steps with me this year, good luck. Not long now before we dive headlong into this and see if our labours bear fruit.