An Absent Mind

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Last month, I was browsing Amazon Kindle book deals, and I came across An Absent Mind by Eric Rill, a novel about an elderly man, Saul, developing Alzheimer’s. What pushed me to buy the book was reading this review by one Anne D.:

I was unaware that the author secretly moved into my home and observed my family for several difficult years as my late husband faded away toward oblivion.

The only experience I’ve had in my own life with any type of dementia was in high school, when I heard that my 7th grade math teacher, who had been perfectly cognizant while teaching our class, had wandered off and gone missing due to his dementia. I remember feeling shocked that someone who had led a class just a few years ago could now be in a state where he couldn’t even tell where he was. Luckily, he was found safe but disoriented several days later.

I thought An Absent Mind would help me understand the complex disease of Alzheimer’s better, and what it’s like not only for those suffering from it, but also their caretakers. And it did express that, beautifully I thought. What I didn’t expect was to also see myself and my family in the narratives written from the perspective of Saul and his family members/caretakers. Keeping with my promise to myself to be more transparent with this blog, I think now’s a good time to mention that I lost my mother to lung cancer in 2009 after she fought bravely for a little over 2 years after diagnosis. As I kept reading, I marveled at how two unrelated diseases could conjure up such similar emotions among families who are affected. The terminal nature of Alzheimer’s and lung cancer is what connects the two experiences so tightly, and I admit it was pretty cathartic to read that other people, even if they are fictional characters, felt the same as I did while my mom was sick.

One last thing – one small section toward the end of this book where Joey, Saul’s son, decides to take greater responsibility in caring for his parents, gave me an intense feeling of gratitude that I got to live at home during this gap year before med school, allowing me to see my dad, my younger brother, and my stepmom everyday before I go off to pursue my career further. I know we all have to grow up and build our own lives/families, but I think I’ll always want more and more time to spend with them, to enjoy each other’s company in good health.

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blast from the past

Found this draft that I wrote 3 months ago, and it’s so funny to see how much has changed in the short time since, that I’m just going to post it. It ends abruptly because I never finished it:

“Oh boy, I’ve let two months pass since I wrote anything on here, and I don’t even know where to start. It’s not that I have a toooon to write about, but just that if I started somewhere I’d end up needing to write endlessly. It’s either I write something so short it would be like, “I did x, y, and z,” or it would end up so long there’d need to be a separate post describing each meal I’ve had the past two months. Exaggeration, because my life’s not that interesting, but still.

Let’s start with some random updates to feel like I’m contributing to my ever-present goal of journaling regularly:

  • I started watching How I Met Your Mother, and even though it initially seemed like cheesy guy humor and Ted is super whiny, I am now hooked.
  • My left knee is has been feeling unstable the past month. It started out of nowhere, but now I’m beginning to suspect it’s exacerbated by ballet. I need to stop forcing my turnout, which is hard not to do since my turnout sucks so much.
  • I think I’m getting lazier, which is a very bad thing.
  • I’m trying to read more to occupy my time instead of being glued to a screen (unless it’s a Kindle, hah). I just finished reading Haruki Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore, and I’ve never felt so creeped out while simultaneously having my heart warmed. The night after I finished it, I dreamed of being on a hillside or mountainside and passing by a long pool with slimy, orange fish-like blobs slowly crawling out of it. I couldn’t decide whether to put them back in the pool or help them find their way to sea. Trippy.
  • I’m not quite sure I’m warming up to interviews. I also am still swinging between confidence in my ability to rock this med school application process and self-doubt that I’m somehow a terrible interviewer and none of the schools will want me. I mean, I leave interviews feeling pretty good in most cases, but what if I’m not conveying my passion for medicine enough? I end up talking about the activities I was involved with in college, but what if my interviewers hear that and think I belong in social work or some other profession?? Not to mention when I’m around the other applicants at a prestigious school, all I can think about is how much better an applicant they probably are than me. It’s hard to remember that not every competitive applicant has worked at the NIH or been published in Cell or started a nonprofit or was a professional athlete, especially when most of the kids I see at these schools really ARE amazing candidates for med school and winning at life.
  • Ballet has been tough. I feel like I’m making no progress in class, and trying to act like and be a performer during rehearsals is harder than I thought.
  • I’m seriously in love with Chicago. I get stomach butterflies for Chicago. I went to Wicker Park, and even though it is the face of yuppies and gentrification, I will admit this secret hipster died and went to heaven a little. Maybe exaggerating, I haven’t actually seen that much of the neighborhood. Ignoring the fact that Chicago winters are some of the worst in the country and that I am the worst person for dealing with the cold, Chicago is a city I want to spend some of my youth in. That used to be San Francisco, but ever since tech town took over and skyrocketed the cost of living there, it’s grown just a little tiresome. (I’ll never truly fall out of love with SF; it was my first love–of a city.) Great music scene, food scene, art scene, public transportation scene, and affordable! The terrain is flatter than I’d like, but that’s something I could overlook.
  • I was into soapmaking for about 5 seconds.
  • I am now using pumpkin spice goat milk soap in the shower.
  • No, it was only a melt-and-pour project.
  • October 15th CANNOT COME SOONER. Please med schools, tell me you love me! Also, reminder to self: set up voicemail on phone.
  • I have an alumni email address from my university now. Woo~. AND the best part is I have access to PROQUEST! I’m still trying to see if I have all-library access so I can get to Pubmed.
  • I think I’ve taken for granted how easily being in school comes to me. My dad has been worrying about my younger brother’s (16) grades, when they seem fine to me.”

#newyearnewme

Writing this post is borderline scary, but I’m forcing myself to put my thoughts onto paper text today. It feels like there’s too much to say at once and I’m just going to start word-vomiting everywhere.

2015 was all sorts of awesome. It was the year I started dancing again, the year I did long distance with my boyfriend (not awesome, but we made it!), the year I started working like a real adult, and–now is as good a time as any to mention–the year I overcame the hurdle of getting into med school!! More on that later. Sometimes I think everything is going too well to be true, like what did I do to deserve it all?

Anyway, since this is the new year, it’s all about change. What can I do differently to be a better version of myself? A few things that have irked me about myself recently have coincided with the “new year new me!!!1” sentiment, so here is my one resolution:

1. Break more rules.*

Okay, let’s be real. It’ll be more like bend the rules…baby steps, right? I’ve found that I totally and unquestioningly follow rules sometimes, and I don’t like it. It’s probably what made me such an easy child to raise (you’re welcome, mom and dad).

This characteristic really came to light the past few weeks. My boyfriend, C, and I took a road trip through Vegas and some nearby national parks. We drove in early to Bryce Canyon to watch the sun rise, and one of the viewpoints had a “DO NOT ENTER” chain blocking the path, probably because of the snow during winter. C wanted to cross it to get to the viewpoint, but I hesitated. We weren’t supposed to! People were going to see us! I did it anyway (literally just stepped over the little chain and walked a short way up the hill), but I had felt so reluctant–for what? If I had been alone, it would have never even crossed my mind to walk past the sign to reach the viewpoint.

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The view at the top of the hill

Another example: I was at the airport to fly back to NorCal after the trip, and my flight was delayed 2 hours. Since I had checked a bag, I decided getting on an earlier flight wouldn’t work, because the bag would still get there later than I would. I waited and waited and finally was picking up my bag at 12:30am at SJC–only to find that it had gotten there on the earlier flight. -__- That moment I was struck by how my own rigid idea of “just how things are/should be” potentially cost me the chance to get home sooner and save my dad a trip to the airport at such an ungodly hour (arrival was supposed to be 10pm…shout out to my unbelievably chill dad and his jetlag from his own trip).

These are just two mild examples, and maybe to some this will seem like the opposite of what a resolution should be or that my fear of breaking rules is laughable, but blindly following rules has become tiresome.

You don’t learn to walk by following rules. You learn by doing, and by falling over. – Richard Branson

Did I format that quote right? Actually, whatever. I’ll learn in time. 🙂 Ooh, here’s another one I like from Pirates of the Caribbean:

You’re pirates. Hang the code, and hang the rules. They’re more like guidelines anyway. – Elizabeth Swann

*With that said, my guidelines are: don’t get my med school acceptances rescinded and in general don’t be an asshole.

HAPPY NEW YEAR EVERYONE

What do we do?

I feel like I ruminate on death more than the people in my life want to, but I have to express this somewhere. Today, I heard the news that someone who graduated alongside me this May passed away suddenly. The details are unknown yet, but it’s unsettling to me that I have the option to just go on with my life while this person is simply gone forever, and their family and close friends are going through hell somewhere out there. No one has acknowledged anything on social media yet, and every time I think about her being gone, it doesn’t seem real. I hope that as the news spreads, our school community can do something special to remember her.

believing

My stomach feels like there’s a storm brewing inside it. What is up with my weird intestinal problems as of late?? Please stop.

Anyway, I received an amazing piece of news yesterday evening! Checked my email after moping around between secondaries and pretty much screamed. I got my first interview invite at U Chicago Pritzker! To be honest, this is a HUGE confidence booster and obviously an incredible opportunity. I might have mentioned this before, but I sometimes go through periods of feeling less prepared for the intense med school admissions process than my peers. But receiving this invitation is a reminder that there are people out there who believe in me…not just friends and family who will support me no matter what, though I’m ever grateful for them, but admissions committees that meet with exceptional candidates for a living. While writing my secondaries, I’ve had time to reflect on my strengths and unique skills, and really learn not to treat this process as a competition. Funny, because it’s one of the most competitive processes out there, but I’m not doing myself any favors by comparing my life experiences to others’, especially since what we actually gained from those experiences matters so much. I just have to show that I’m capable, informed, and committed, even more so now that my grades and scores don’t give me an edge anymore. It’s up to me to prove to schools that I’m just as awesome in person as I am on paper.

Trip to the ER

This past week has been unpredictable! Last Sunday, I woke up with my stomach feeling kind of funny, but thought nothing of it and went about my day with the goal of finishing up 3 secondaries for submission. My body decided, nope, plan derailed. By 3pm, I felt like I had a moderate stomach ache, and by 8pm, I was tossing and turning unable to get relief from the pain in my midsection.

My dad drove me to the ER, and I hobbled in clutching a throw pillow. They were able to room me immediately and started giving me fluids through IV. The nurse also had to draw my blood to try to find the cause of my stomach pains, but I was so dehydrated by that point that they had to poke me a few times. I don’t have a fear of needles, but I just really wanted something for the pain at that point. And the ER delivered! After a while of laying there miserable and freezing (does pain make you feel cold? I didn’t have a fever), the doctor ordered some medication for the pain and I felt so. much. better. It was like breathing a sigh of relief, and I could even take a short nap. Speaking of the doctor, he was so kind! I always think of EM doctors as intense people rushing around, but this doctor was great at listening to my concerns, speaking to us patiently, and even returned with warm blankets when I said I was cold.

I was eventually wheeled over to radiology for a CT scan to rule out appendicitis, but plot twist, my appendix was apparently not visible in the image. At that point, they couldn’t do much else so they discharged me around midnight and advised us to return in 8 hours if my pain got worse. Morning came around, and my pain was still pretty bad, but not worse than the last night, so I just stayed in bed. It was strange knowing almost exactly when my pain meds wore off, because I started waking up around 4am and not being able to sleep well after that. Over the next two days, I stayed home from work and caught up on sleep, and by Wednesday morning, the pain had totally subsided.

Unfortunately, during my little episode I received 9 secondaries. 9 secondaries with a 3 day delay due to illness! I’m now playing extreme catch up with these essays and spent the last two evenings feverishly writing and editing and throwing money at these schools. My sad, sad wallet.

So that’s been my past week. Being sick and feeling like my insides were going to cave in makes me appreciate feeling well and unencumbered by any health problems. Remember to take care of yourselves everybody! There is nothing more important than our health.

earth vs. water

Preface: This is a reminder to myself that this blog is for me to write about what I’ve been doing and feeling, even if my writing style isn’t the best. I think one of the barriers that keeps me from posting here is feeling like I’m not expressing myself the right way, or that people coming across this blog will find it boring. But, hey, not writing anything is worse than putting out “rough drafts,” so just do it! Not everyone is a naturally great story-teller; some people need practice more than others. You should hear me try to retell a joke or a funny story to my friends…

Now that that’s out of the way, I can finish writing about my Yosemite trip! In a previous post, I wrote that I tend to jump in water when the chance presents itself, which is true, but another true thing about me is that I’m sometimes afraid of water. I remember snorkeling in Hawaii on a family vacation at age 13, only to freak out and run/swim back to shore when the water got deeper than 5 feet and I started seeing these giant rocks everywhere. My greatest fear is basically being stranded in the ocean with all that depth and darkness below me.

In Yosemite, this little phobia kicked in when my boyfriend and I were attempting to float down the Merced river in inflatable rafts. We lasted for about a quarter of a mile. Number one: I could not steer for the life of me and ended up tying my raft to his. Number two: it was too shallow (the recommended raft launch point was a more downstream) so our butts kept scraping against the riverbed rocks. Also, there were logs in the water that I would’ve had trouble dodging if we had actually gone far enough to be able to hit them. After getting stuck on a rock for the 3rd or 4th time, we got out and walked to shore, dragging our rafts along. Unfortunately, all we brought were flip flops, so we hobbled barefoot across the uneven, rocky riverbed nearly twisting our ankles with every step. When we got to land, I wanted to kiss the ground and vow never to leave again – but instead, we fought our way through some trees and scurried through someone’s campsite to get back to the main road.

I didn’t feel much like going back in the river after that. I’m sure I’ll try rafting again in a future visit, but I was perfectly content to keep my feet planted on the ground for the rest of the day.

Doesn't the Merced River look beautiful and totally not scary? Apparently not to me when I'm in it!
Doesn’t the Merced River look beautiful and totally not scary? Apparently not to me when I’m in it!

Half Dome story to come!