Life Happened

Wednesday, June 1, 2016


Hi, my name is Alison and I am the world's worst blogger. Okay, that's a lie. I'm just really overwhelmed by school/studying for boards and being 37 weeks pregnant, and I guess just... life. I have a bunch of posts, just waiting to be finished, but I've been seriously spending most of my waking hours studying for my board exam.

So, what am I doing here, at 9:23 pm on a Wednesday night, a week before my scheduled COMLEX Level 1? Well my friends, things have a way of changing on you. There's a Yiddish proverb, "Der mentsh trakht un Got lakht, " or, "Man plans, and God laughs." John Lennon also wrote, "Life is what happens to you when you're making other plans," although apparently, that quote can be attributed to a guy named Allen Saunders. In any case, you get the point.

When I got pregnant, I did some very advanced math looked at a calendar and realized that I would be delivering this baby in mid-June, which is precisely when I needed to be taking my COMLEX Level 1 board exam, a requirement of all rising third year medical students. In fact, you have to take and pass this exam in order to continue being a medical student. Of course, passing isn't enough; you have to score as high as you can because it's one the main factors that residency programs use to rank their applicants. If you fail it, you can retake it, but it's basically the worst thing ever, and if you pass it, even with the lowest passing score possible, you don't get to retake it. Oh, and it's around $600 to register for the exam. Basically, it's high stakes and if you encounter a second year in the spring semester or the summer before they start rotations, you'll probably get something that looks like this:



Anyway, I scheduled my COMLEX for June 9th, which is next Thursday. I studied my face off. I read. I did a zillion practice questions. I took (and passed) the school's required practice board exam, the COMSAE, and got over a 450. (Note: 400 is passing, the national average is around 520, higher is better, the exam is out of 851, which is random and bizarre, but whatever, I don't make the rules.) I thought that I was in a good spot. I continued studying. Then this morning, I took another practice exam. 

I failed it.

After making sure that I was still breathing, I emailed the two administrators who run the Center for Teaching at Learning at my school. Well, first I frantically messaged my med school best friends and my non-med school best friends and started freaking out, talking about how I was going to fail my boards and have to drop out of med school and live in a box, in a van, under a bridge, down by a river, eaten by wild dogs. Or something like that. Then I emailed the CTL people. And the Dean of Academic Affairs. And then I waited. (I also ate cereal, but that seems to be a less important part of this story.)

The Dean called me within 30 minutes, which I found to be impressive, seeing as she is the Dean of Academic Affairs and probably has way more pressing things to handle then a 2nd year having a meltdown over her board exam. We talked for about 20 minutes and she confirmed what I already knew: I needed to reschedule my board exam. That was my gut reaction when I saw my score, and honestly, I had been considering it in the back of my mind for a few days because my question bank scores weren't where I wanted them to be either in order to feel confident to take the exam.

My fear was, and still is, that I am going to be completely useless after I have this baby, and that I won't be able to study the way I need to for my exam. However, the more people I talk to, the more I realize that either way, this is hard. There are a lot of unknowns. Here are the things I do know:

- The COMLEX is hard. It's really important. I can't screw this up.
- I am not the first, nor will I be the last, student to ever push back a board exam.
- I can take it in August and not jeopardize my med school career or trajectory.
- If I need to push it into September, the Dean said she'd grant me an extension.
- Ken will be home with me for 8 weeks after the baby is here, and my mom lives less than 10 minutes away.
- I have an amazing partner in Ken, and he is going to be a fantastic dad, and I am extremely lucky.
- I have a great network of friends who are willing to help out with the baby.
- 4-6 weeks of solid, dedicated studying time is usually sufficient.
- Pregnancy brain is real. So is baby brain, apparently. Looks like I'm screwed no matter what.
- If I take the exam next Thursday, there is a significant chance that I will not pass it, or if I did, would do poorly.
- There are med students who push their boards back to August/September all the time, and they're not growing humans.
- Even if I suddenly was doing really well on my practice questions, I wouldn't feel confident going into the exam next week, which is not a good headspace to be in when you're taking an exam that kind of determines a huge portion of the rest of your life.
- The Dean of Academic Affairs knows what's up. Getting students to pass the boards and do well is kind of her thing. She wouldn't lead me astray.

The things I don't know:
- What this baby will be like
- How I will feel after having a baby

Those are big unknowns, but there are only 2 of them. I spent my morning freaking out, and largely hating myself for "not being able to make this work," where "this" is "finishing second year of medical school, studying for boards, prepping for a baby, actually growing said baby, and taking boards" all on a very tight timeline. I don't know why I held myself to this ridiculous standard, but here we are. What it came down to, in the end, was something one of my friends said. 

"Here's the thing. You're not naive - you know you'll be a zombie when she comes, honestly, the first year is tough! BUT we adapt and do life. I don't know. Just because other people say you can't do it doesn't mean you can't. Yes, you will be tired. Possibly useless and non-functional. But remember, a lot of people go back to work at 6 weeks. So, you can not study for a few weeks, then start to prepare again, or take it now. Either way is going to be hard, right? So pick your hard and make a plan."


When she said that, my immediate reaction was, "I like the hard option with more time, not less." I've had a lot of moms tell me that they were useless during their postpartum period, and I believe it. I have no delusions that this is going to be easy or fun. I know that I am going to want to be at home, snuggling my baby on the sofa. I know that I am going to want to be asleep when the baby is asleep. I know that there are going to be sleepless nights (like, a lot of them). I know that this is going to probably be the hardest thing I've ever done in my life. But what I do know is that right now, I am not in the shape I need to be in to take this exam in a week and really rock it like I need to. 

I tried. I really did. I can't say that I gave it all I had, because right now, whether I like to admit it or not, I'm growing a human and that is kind of distracting. I underestimated how tired I would be at this point in my pregnancy. I was very fortunate that aside from a lot of nausea, some back pain, and the ridiculous carpal tunnel syndrome that has largely resolved thanks to cortisone injections, my pregnancy has been relatively quiet. The last month has really started to take it out of me, though. I can't be up on my feet for very long without getting exhausted, and spent most of my day studying, drinking water, and peeing every hour, on the hour. I wake up a lot during the night, so I'm not getting great sleep. It doesn't help that it recently decided to be all-caps SUMMER, so now the heat is making me feel like a puddle of goo. But here we are. 

This is a really difficult place to be, stuck between two worlds and two dreams; I've fought like hell to get here for both of them, and I can't give 100% of myself to either. I knew that when I went back to medical school that this would be the rest of my life. Splitting my priorities between my family and my career, trying to keep all of the balls in the air, hoping to enjoy it as much as I could along the way. I didn't think it would start this soon, but again, life. Plans. Things happen. I am a planner by nature, and I do it because I like to control situations. It makes me feel good. It quells the anxious beast who lives in my brain and takes up way more space than it deserves. The hardest things for me to accept are the ones over which I have no control. Apparently, having a baby is one of those things. 

So yes. It's June 1st, at 10:25 pm. I paid my $85 rescheduling fee and my board exam is now August 23rd at 8:30 am. The plan is to do content review until this baby decides it's time to arrive, and then take a couple of weeks to put my head back on. Then it's back to the books, hitting the ground running. I may be wearing a baby, but you'll still find me at Starbucks or Barnes and Noble or the library, headphones in, books open, multi-colored pens and highlighters strewn over the table. I'm doing this, becoming a doctor, for me, sure. But I'm also doing it for my daughter, who needs to grow up knowing that she can do the hard things, the things that people tell her she can't do. That she can follow a dream, even if the route to the endpoint is twisty and you can't always see the path in front of you. 

My whole life, I've been the one who does the hard thing, often because it's there in front of her and she wants to say she did it. That, simply doing the hard thing because it's hard, has been worn out of me because it's unsustainable. But I still don't shy away from a challenge. In fact, I kind of live for them. I'm not sure how this will go, but I know that I'll get through it. Somehow. 

I like to remember that so far, I've survived 100% of my worst days. That has to count for something, right?



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