Saturday, July 23, 2011

Breathing to the Bases Again

For those of you just tuning in, on Monday I wrote the USMLE Step 1 exam.

The USMLE is an 8h mental marathon, designed to ruin free-time around the world and deprive second year medical students of sleep and robust immune systems.

My Summer 'Break' 2011
I will attempt to give an account of test day, though at this point most of it is just a collection of scenes which my stressed-to-the-max brain compiled.

I had my alarm set for 0600h as the testing centre was an hour away from my mothers place but I awoke at 0540h to a newsworthy thunder storm. Peering up from my basement-bedroom vantage point all I could see was a magenta sky--really, it was magenta and I figured either Armageddon or the Rapture had arrived. The thunder and lightening were happening at the exact same time, no pauses between each, just continuous crashes and flashes. I envisioned a darkened testing center, no power, or a flood of water rushing through the place. Didn't happen.

A bald-headed Buddhist Nun in full robes met me at the Prometric doors, told me in heavily accented English to remove my shoes and handed me slippers. I tried to ascertain when said slippers had last been washed as I had bare feet and a wart phobia. She was either perplexed or offended by my inquiry (or both) so I after a few minutes in the unsettling footwear I went to the car and found some socks.

The Buddhist Nun took my ID and information, another guy in line asked me what I was writing, I said, "USMLE Step 1", he coughed softly and replied in a bored tone, "oh yeah, I wrote that last year". I tried to make my smile convey the "please stop talking to me" vibe.

The Nun scoffed at my lunch size. It was ridiculous, I'll admit. I had no idea what I was going to feel like eating so I had everything: a thermos of my sister's borscht, cheese, one bite brownies, strawberries, apples, caffeinated beverages, nuts, fruit leather, turkey wraps, water, and granola bars. Oh and salty chocolate.

I started the exam. Had issues with the mouse and figuring out the 'strikethrough' and 'highlight' option (since I had been practicing on my mac and this was PC delivered). Got in the groove. For the first 60 questions thought, "this isn't so bad".

I took a break after block 2. Not long.

Block three the Nun walked over to me and handed me 2 orange earplugs wrapped in kleenex. I had no idea what was going on but I accepted them and popped them in my ears, under the sound cancelling headphones.

It was so quiet. I was pretty sure I could hear my own heartbeat. I started thinking about The Abyss, got claustrophobic and tore off the headphones and earplugs.

After block 4 my coffee rush and will to go on was starting to wane. I took a break.

The Nun informed me that my mother dropped off the earplugs. Wha??? I remembered saying at breakfast that I'd forgotten to buy earplugs but wasn't too concerned about the oversight. My mother had driven in to drop off some earplugs. I am guessing after the inspection, Nun felt they contained no crib notes, tiny microphones or recorders, and brought them in to me. I told Nun that my mother lived an hour away and it blew her mind. She informed me that she wished she had my mother. I felt Nun and I starting to bond. I think we'd gotten off on the wrong foot (pun intended).

The testing centre was connected to a Sylvan Learning Centre which meant that on my break little Timmy's and Johnny's were coming in and out of the main foyer en route to their reading lessons. The doors were open to the learning centre so naturally I heard the lessons.

Timmy can you draw me a big "D"? Can you draw me a little "d" now? OK, now I want you to tell me which words start with the sound, "duh". 

Oh how I wanted to be Timmy at that moment. I could easily have drawn a little AND big D!! I didn't have much of a handle on the Krebs cycle but I. Know. My. D's. 

Come on TIMMY!! Get your head out of your ass! You GOT this one!!!

Good thing I am not a Sylvan tutor.

Back in I started to really hit the wall. Seems that they put all the easy questions in blocks 1 and 2 and NOW I was getting hit from all directions. Self esteem dropped, dreams of practicing medicine faded, desire for throwing in the towel, peaked.


I din't feel eating. I felt like building a time machine and going back to study harder and longer.
Decided to have some 2-bite brownies. Chocolate always makes things better.  I parked my butt on the curb outside, in the parking lot, and wrestled with the packaging. The packaging gave, suddenly sending the brownies flying into the air and scattering on the pavement.


I probably would have eaten them if a woman sitting in her parked car hadn't been watching the whole scene unfold. I just couldn't bring myself to pick up the brownies off the oil-stained tarmac. Especially considering how much microbiology I'd learned in the past 3 weeks.

Thankfully I still had a double espresso and taurine drink which kicked in and brought me to the finish line.

Afterwards I walked out into the shimmering heat I noticed a Vietnamese nail shop next door. Yep. Watching Dr. Phil and getting a mani/pedi for cheap was just what I needed.

Then there was catching up with some dear friends, dinner, drinks...some random drunk guys harassing us at the bar flashing their Peace Officer identification cards. One asked me where I'd been all his life and I couldn't resist saying, "University".  Most days that is where I feel I've spent my life.

It all made sense at the time.
And that concludes a romp through the days events. Thanks again for all the support friends and strangers.


Anonymous said...

Haha, I think standardized tests are designed to be as stressful an experience as possible.

Enjoy the remainder of your well-deserved time off.

Estelle said...

Thank you for reminding me why I decided not to go to med school. And I though the NCLEX-RN was a hassle. ;-)

Anonymous said...

Loved reading this post!! Congrats on this wonderful accomplishment. :-)

Ms. Donna said...

Congrats. Sure you did just fine! When do you get results? said...

Good luck starting the third year!

Keet said...

OMG. You are a rockstar. I am so proud/happy for you!!!


Shrtstormtrooper said...

Yeah, that makes the NCLEX-RN sound like a nice jazz cruise or something. Glad you're done!

Just an Intern said...

Part way through the middle of my Step 1 I couldn't stop thinking of the lyrics to "Bohemian Rhapsody"

I think we get a little hypoglycemic and delusional. I like how you wanted to build a time machine. Try to enjoy life as much as you can now. You're free! Step 2 is much less awful. PROMISE.