It’s Personal

February — it’s kind of a gross month. No offense to anyone that really likes it, but to me, you’re in the real dregs of winter. Now I don’t mean that in the sense like it’s almost done and over, similar to the dregs you find after almost finishing a good cup of coffee, but more like “Ugh, coffee dregs that probably have gritty coffee grounds in it — I don’t want to drink that, gross.” Yep, that’s my general opinion of February.Screen Shot 2018-02-11 at 1.39.26 PM

If you’ve seen the weather for the Midwest in the last few days, it’s been pretty nasty. Cold (expected) and wet (expected, but really not appreciated). We had a bit of a winter storm that dropped 7ish inches of snow starting late on Thursday night and the sidewalks and countless snowed in cars sure show it. Needless to say, I’m pretty thrilled it’s the weekend and have spent a rather large proportion of my time at home. Ingrid seems to be okay with that and has taken to a new habit of demanding affection at less than perfect times. It’s definitely a good thing she’s cute.

But enough weather/season talk… We started our Pulmonary Module two weeks ago and I have to admit, it’s exponentially more enjoyable than cardio was. We’ve had some amazing teachers for both organ systems, but I definitely connect more with pulm — not that I understand all of it, but it seems like much less of a chore to try and figure things out. But if I’m honest, I think my enjoyment of and connection to pulm is for mostly personal reasons. They say experience is life’s best teacher, and I kind of think the same holds true for learning medicine.

Photo Jun 14, 7 02 07 AMThese last two weeks of lecture have brought about a lot of reminders and stirred up quite a few memories. To most, an example given by a lecturer to explain various blood gas concentrations in a patient that is on a mechanical ventilator (a machine that breathes for you) is simply that, an example. To me, its a flashback. A flashback to personally being on a ventilator, connected to endless tubes going to all these different machines, controlling the inspirations and exhalations of my body down to the last milliliter of air. I will say, learning how seemingly minor changes in ventilator settings can dramatically alter the physiology of the body — it’s a bit overwhelming to know that five years ago, I was that patient. Continue reading


Feel that?

Look at that. Look at what you ask? I’m on the other side – the “it’s finished” side – of my first organ system module of medical school. Cardio = Completed. Phew.

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It was so great to spend time at home over Christmas break — my sister’s cat, however, was less than impressed with my arrival

It felt a bit like a marathon, and having actually raced a few of those, I don’t use the analogy lightly. Six weeks of actual material plus a two week intermission for Christmas break. Well, intermission probably isn’t the right word since I spent an embarrassing amount of those two weeks at home trying to figure out exactly what it was the heart did and how. The cliff notes version of my learning: it pumps blood. And that’s really important.

Yea, okay, I say that a bit tongue-in-cheek, but seeing as it’s still my self proclaimed “be a real person” post-exam weekend, I have zero intention of talking science — even though I have to admit, it is pretty cool science. It’s also pretty cool to be really getting into the nitty gritty of medical school, learning about the organs and systems that allow our remarkable human bodies to do the countless tasks they perform each and everyday.

I think about that a lot, honestly probably a lot more than I should — just the way our bodies are fashioned together with these complex and seemingly disparate units that ultimately rely on each other in order to do, well, practically anything. The more pathology I learn about ways things could and do go wrong, the more I realize how impressive a feat is to be alive and functional for any human being. In my world, and considering the size of that injury causing dead tree, I consider it nothing short of a miracle.

Beyond learning about the physiology and pathology that make up the organ system our module is devoted to, there’s a clinical component where we delve into the real world of patient examination and diagnosis. Now I’ve worked with patients quite a few times since starting med school. For example, there have been patient interviews in the hospital, I attend a clinic every other week where I work with an attending physician, and I also have sessions with standardized patients in the CEC (Continuing Education Center). Continue reading

Heart of the Matter

Since returning back to school from a nice 4-day break over Thanksgiving, things have sure taken off. I know I know, I start a post off talking about Thanksgiving and Christmas is barely over a week away. What can I say, some things just find themselves being placed on the back burner (and to be honest, I should probably be studying instead of writing — oh well, I’ll get back to the books at some point tonight). But anyway, back to the “things have taken off” comment…

Med school is always “busy.” There’s a lot to learn (cue the “med school is like trying to drink from a fire hose” analogy), lots of activities/clinics to potentially get involved in, and of course you still have to attempt to be an adult and go grocery shopping, wash your underwear, and (kind of) clean your apartment. But I don’t know, things feel like they’ve picked up since Thanksgiving and I have a hypothesis as to why.

We started organ systems.

What does that mean? Well, it means I’m learning things that have extremely obvious clinical implications. It means I’m hearing lectures where the vast majority of the information being presented would never have been covered in an undergraduate course. It means my weekly schedule is filled with more in-person and online lectures (all covering different and extremely important material) than it has been in the 4 months of med school prior. Now don’t get me wrong, it’s such an honor and privilege to have this opportunity to learn these things and be here — it just seems like organ system modules progress at a different pace that is going to take a bit of time to adjust to.

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Studying with the 4-legged one

Our first organ system — cardiovascular.

It’s a bit comical, every doctor seems to make sure to point out how their field is the most important and the organ you’re going to learn about is the end all be all to well, life. The pulmonologist points out you need lungs to breathe. The neurologist says you need innervation of the lungs by nerves for them to even work. Then of course, the cardiologist takes no time to remark that without the heart, you wouldn’t have a reason to worry about any of the other organs. Of course the reality is that the body is a system of organs, but human pride seems to like rankings.

It’s been an exciting (if not overwhelming) two weeks, although I’ll be the first to admit I doubt you’re currently reading the words of a budding cardiologist. At the same time, you wouldn’t believe how remarkable the heart is. The insanely artistic way it’s formed, starting as a long tube in a 24 day old embryo and becoming this complex, beating, 4-chambered power house of circulation and muscle 8 short weeks later.  Continue reading

To blend? Or not to blend?

I’ve never really been known for my ability to blend.


Not Blending — with Filmore the sheep

Maybe I should just blame it on my genetics and the fact I easily stood a good foot above most of my classmates for the majority of my childhood years. After all, when your “person” is composed predominantly of legs and your haircut isn’t exactly subtle, well, you’re kind of asking for it. I guess I should also mention I’m a middle child and I definitely grew up with that “middle child syndrome.” What does that mean? Well, I was plenty loud (read: obnoxious), basically all the time, to ensure I wasn’t forgotten about. And I sure wasn’t.

Yet, funny story; looking back, I could and did “blend” on occasion. I guess it was more of a when-it-suited-me kind of situation. Those days in class where you really didn’t want to be called on so you sat in the middle of the classroom, avoiding the extremes of front or back in order to best meld with the crowd. Or how about those times you’re at the grocery store to pick up those pseudo embarrassing personal hygiene products or some new underwear (even though everyone uses them) and you slowly meander to the aisle, keeping a casual pace so as not to draw attention to yourself. Or when you’re waiting for your delicious warm beverage to be made at Starbucks, you take a step back in order to 1) be out of the way and 2) to observe your surroundings as a non-participant.

It can be nice to blend.

Comically, I mentioned being 6 feet tall was one of the reasons I didn’t typically blend as a kid/high schooler/undergraduate student. Let me tell ya, cutting it down to 4.5 feet sure doesn’t help either — somebody add a point to my “extremes are bad for blending” theory. Naturally, I don’t think my struggles blending now are strictly due to that foot and a half height difference. Even though there’s a pretty high prevalence of Americans who self-identify as being disabled, you don’t see very many wheelers (especially young ones) rollin around the city of Chicago. So I get it, I don’t really blend. I think the hard part of that comes from my more recent realization that I really can NEVER blend.

Yea, I know it’s a bit sad that it’s taken me 4+ years to truly recognize that no matter how much I want to look like or be like everyone else, I never will.

“But Sam, why would you want to be like everyone else?! Differences and being unique is what makes the world diverse and awesome!”

True. But the ability to blend in is an ability that should be more appreciated than it is.
Or at least that’s what I thought since starting med school until last week. Continue reading

 Two Months In

Before starting medical school, I told myself multiple times I would make a point to still update this little blog (probably more accurately referred to as this “memory archive of Sam’s random life experiences and musings”). But then I actually started med school. Sooooo….. here we are almost 2 months since my last ramblings. Two months really isn’t that long, and yet as I sit out on the deck of my apartment on this Friday night, looking up at the moon (and the 2 stars you can still see with Chicago lights), feeling the fall breeze against the blurred rumblings of the active city below, it feels like its been so much longer. 20170912_194039

So what is med school like? How has it been? How is everything going?

Well, you know how every so often you have something happen in your life that really impacts you? You have an event or sequence of events that change the way you view life? It causes you to stop and think about what you thought you knew about the world, your community, your relationships, and even who you are as a person?

That’s what the first two months of medical school feels like.
And it’s both amazing and terrifying — for a number of reasons.

Reason #1: I am extremely aware of how much I don’t know and how much I will eventually need to learn (Not to mention all the things I don’t know I don’t know and will need to learn…).

Our curriculum for the first two years of med school consists of a large portion of basic science/physiology/pathology lectures. It’s split up into different “modules” with a variety of topics covered within said modules. Module 1 = Foundations 1, which was bare bones basics about genetics/metabolism/other odds and ends that you really need to know to understand practically anything. I’m currently in Foundations 2 with an exam two weeks from today followed by another Foundations module, AND THEN we actually get into organ systems. Yea, four months of “basics” (which are much more complex than most of the material I covered during my 3 years of undergrad) before we even get into organ specifics. Needless to say, it’s a bit intense — but it’s also fascinating.  Well, most days it’s fascinating, other days I consider hiding out by the cows at Lincoln Park Zoo…

Reason #2: A great many med school experiences defy typical life “norms”

In addition to the basic science lectures I talked about, we also have a clinical medicine component to our curriculum. What does that mean? It means I’ve actually spent time in the clinic with a faculty preceptor and have had the opportunity to work with real patients. I should clarify — I say “real patients” because part of our training also occurs in a Clinical Education Center (CEC) where we work with standardized patients who are professionally trained actors that live/work in Chicago. It’s pretty awesome to have those individuals as a resource since it allows for a “lower stress” learning environment. It’s especially appreciated when you’re learning things that may feel a bit awkward or uncomfortable, like how to take a sexual history (last week’s session) — but back to the point.

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Official — Finally.

Have you ever noticed how certain physical objects in life have an almost automatic association with some sort of event, person, or memory? Pumpkin spice latte = fall. Colored hard-boiled eggs = Easter. Mailboxes = a certain dog that had to pee on every single one while on a walk. It goes without saying some of those associations are pretty ubiquitous while others are a bit more personal. This blog would be about an object of the former category — a white coat.

As a proudly born and raised Midwesterner, I can certainly say I’ve worn my fair share of coats. Coats that were crucial to survival during those 8-month long winters (yea, that’s only kind of a joke) where you find yourself repeatedly asking yourself if it’s actually worth it to leave the house. Of all those coats, I can promise you none of them were white — probably due to practicality more than anything (I’m not exactly known for my ability to keep anything clean).

Of course I’m not actually talking about winter coats, but instead a coat that has been used in and associated with the the profession of medicine for 100+ years. A piece of clothing that has found itself so intertwined in association that it has a syndrome named after it. No seriously, white coat syndrome (or white coat hypertension) is a phenomenon where patients exhibit a higher than normal blood pressure in clinical settings. When you think about it, such a connection is actually pretty remarkable.

When you see a person wearing a white coat, they’re instantaneously brought to a different level. Even never having met them, you likely have thoughts about who they are, what they’re like, or their relative level of authority or importance. Maybe those thoughts are positive ones, or maybe they’re not — I guess it all depends.

Regardless, that white coat sure seems to hold a lot of power. To think something as seemingly insignificant as putting your arms through two sleeves and shrugging the stiff and boxy shoulders into place could change a stranger’s perception of you at such a surreal rate seems illogical. Yet it happens, each and every day, over and over again.

It’s powerful and borderline magical. It brings with it potential and has pockets brimming with responsibility. Ironically, it sure seems to carry a lot more weight than it actually weighs.

On Friday I received my white coat at a beautiful ceremony with my fellow M1 classmates, various faculty, and my parents proudly watching. It’s even embroidered with my name and everything which hopefully helps to remind me that it IS actually mine. I was pulling clothes out of my closet to go to church this morning and I had to do a double take when I saw it hanging there, so unobtrusive and yet starkly present now as a part of my every day life.

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You know those things you think about, you plan for, you dream of, you work and work some more and then keep working a little bit harder to reach? That’s what Friday was for me. Then again, looking at that sentence I realize that Friday was simply the official kick-off. The official “Here you are Sam, celebrate today because you made it to the starting line. Now get it in gear; it’s a good thing you like long distance races.” Continue reading

 Status Updated.

August 1st already. Gee wiz, that’s pretty nuts. Time can be so fickle, sometimes just barely dragging along then moments later racing forward at the speed of light. But of course that isn’t literally the case — a minute today is the same length as a minute last week, but goodness it rarely feels that way.

So what have my minutes been consisting of as of late? What in the world is going on with my medical school plans? Am I actually in school yet? What am I even doing with my life? Yea, that last question may or may not cross my mind more often than I should admit depending upon the company I find myself surrounded by or the situation I’m in….

I’ve mentioned before that for my program I do lab rotations to help figure out where I’m ultimately going to complete my PhD. I completed my third rotation at the end of June, went on a pretty cool retreat with all the other MSTP students that weekend, and have been on “chill time” ever since. It was remarkably good planning on my part (don’t ask me how I managed it) and have been able to take the past few weeks to enjoy a Chicago summer while simultaneously getting all those little “life” things (like doctors appointments and insurance fun) straightened out.

It was quite the experience to have that much time without pressing obligations of any sort. No speeches or presentations to give. No things to study for. Nothing that really REALLY needed to get done. It was certainly enjoyable, but I’ve come to realize I’m one of those weird people who enjoys life more when I have lots of stuff to do (which will likely be the case in very short order).

On the list of ways I’ve passed the time: becoming acquainted with little Ms. Ingrid Mae. She is now 13 weeks old and has definitely come into a personality that is all her own. We have quite a few similarities, mostly that we are both exhaustingly independent and will do what we want when we want, regardless of what someone says or tries to convince us otherwise. However we do have our differences, especially when it comes to our energy level at 11pm when someone spends at least 30 minutes running around the apartment like she’s on fire while the other individual pulls the covers over her head and lets out an exasperated sigh. Needless to say, there have been multiple conversations, errr monologues, about how it’s a good thing she’s cute.

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Some people have a knack for foresight. They seem to possess this unique ability in which they appear to be prepared for everything; never truly surprised by an event or outcome while simultaneously thinking their prescience is completely unremarkable. You know, those people whose most commonly used phrase could very well be “I told you so” because, well, they did.

I am not one of those people.

Now don’t get me wrong, I wish I was. After all, I do everything I can to try and prepare myself for my future, both immediate and long term. I plan out my week with things I need to get done. I often obsess over my public transportation routes, ensuring all the necessary elevators are working and what not till that last possible moment before heading out the door.  I plan and then I re-plan, all in hopes of stacking the deck in my favor for success and positive results in whatever realm matters to me at the moment. Yet, I’m consistently taken by surprise.

I mean, planning only goes so far. Trying to prepare yourself for all possible outcomes to a particular set of events is a hopelessly useless cause. Then again, there are also those things you know you should expect to happen “eventually” but the timeline for “eventually” tends to steer towards a more prolonged one so you never get around to actually being ready.

One of my and my family’s “eventually” clocks stopped ticking this week and sitting here now, staring at my flashing cursor, I can only shake my head and wonder how that clock ran out of life so quickly. On Monday, my family put our floofy Cheerio-loving, Little House on the Prairie watching, man-bun wearing Oscar to sleep.

Now Oscar has made a few cameo appearances here on the blog in both pictures and commentary (Who’s Counting?Mom. Mom? MOM!Uno. Dos.Aisle 7, and others…) but I think a little refresher course is in order.

Oscar is a 13 (almost 14) year old mutt of a pooch (although he prefers the term designer dog) who was rescued from a farm where he spent his time eating horse droppings and chasing cats. While both those activities ceased in a literal sense upon coming to live in the Schroth home, I’m 98% convinced there was a lot of kitty chasing in Oscar’s relatively abundant and assumedly vivid puppy dreams per his sleep barks and leg twitches.

Oscar is technically Lindsey’s dog (my littler sister) and made his fair share of 4-H related appearances as well as being present for countless homecoming, winterfest, and prom parties. Now even though Oscar is most certainly the “senior” pet in the household, he always seems to be at the bottom of the “status” totem pole and with his profoundly laid-back personality, I don’t think he much cares. Some of his favorite past times include eating, sleeping, eating some more, and going on walks where he is allowed to pee on everything taller than the average blade of grass (seriously, that’s not an exaggeration…). He’s a bit of a goofball with the coolest looking underbite and most happy-go-lucky personality. I saw him when I was home for Easter and I certainly had no idea that would be the last time we’d be bed buddies. Continue reading

At Ease

My blog posting habits are (noticeably) pretty random. I don’t have any kind of schedule or “I must post every other week or once a month” kind of goal. Maybe it would be a good idea, but meh….

I write when inspiration strikes. I write when I have an experience that surprises, shocks, and/or confuses me. I write after I wake up at 2 in the morning with a “Oh goodness, I should spend some time thinking about that….” topic that popped into my mind. After all, I write because I enjoy it, not because I have to.

Now I say all of that, but I guess there is an exception. I have posted a blog on May 25th for every May 25th this blog has existed and I find it doubtful that will change anytime in the near future. I’m assuming you’ve connected the dots as to why that would be, but if not, May 25 is the anniversary of my spinal cord injury.

Some people make a pretty big deal out of that one day each year and I’m not saying that’s wrong, I’m just stating that as a fact. Some even have a special name for it like “My Life Celebration Day” or something similar. I mean, we’re all unique individuals and I certainly don’t think there is a right or wrong way to approach that one day out of the year where your injury will likely take a bit more of a front seat than it usually does.

Certainly some of the differences in the “approach” of such an anniversary are due to differences in personality. But now, coming from someone who is celebrating 4 years post-injury, I think a good amount of the difference in approach has to do with where you as an individual, where you as a member of a family, where you as an employee, and even where you as a friend “are.”

You know, I spent some time going back to read all of my past “May 25th” posts (if you’re curious, here are the links — 1: Press Pause 2: Uno. Dos. 3: At Least). It was an interesting thing to do, to almost “re-experience” some of those emotions and the places I’ve been on May 25th’s since passed. I will admit, the post from my one year anniversary struck a chord and imagining myself back at the moment… it was a bit of a melancholy reflection where I really just wanted to give my younger self a hug. As I progressed through those posts, there’s a noticeable change. Was it a confidence? A maturity? A better understanding? Maybe a more realistic and practical acceptance? I have no idea — but it’s definitely there.

lateSo I sit here today, looking around at where I am in all those previously mentioned categories — family, friends, work, life. I have no special name for today. I have no special plans or celebrations (besides getting a delicious latte and likely some sort of delicious carb to devour) for this “Year Number Four” anniversary. And you know, I am indescribably content.

At four years out, while I assuredly am by no means “a pro” at wheeling life, I’ve transitioned, matured, and grown through stages of life with an injury that I didn’t know even existed (yea, I realize that probably means there are still many more to go through…). I’ve reached a level of “seated normalcy” that the thought of being my full height in public and not receiving those fairly frequent “curiosity stares” would, in all likelihood, be unnerving. Continue reading

New Blooms

I’ve decided spring in Chicago is way more enjoyable than winter in Chicago. Then again, spring anywhere is probably more enjoyable than the cold and wet calamities of winter. I appreciate winter (and by extension snow) for the first few weeks and when it suits my desire to cross country ski, but beyond that… let’s just say I’m more than okay with today being April 29 and not January 29.

My phone’s photo gallery has quickly been filling up with springtime views of blooming flowers down Michigan Ave, reading along the lakeshore, and various coffee shops I couldn’t help but try. I seem to have developed this tendency to use my weekends to explore some of the countless Chicago neighborhoods resulting in even MORE photographs being added to the already substantial collection.


Then again, today would be Saturday and I have zero plans or desire to leave my cozy apartment. The gloomy looking skies and the “consistent soaking rain that will persist throughout the afternoon and into the evening” forecast (the weatherman’s words, not mine) begs for a more subdued kind of day.

People have asked what I do, as a wheeler, when it rains. I mean, obviously I can’t really hold an umbrella and push. My answer: push really fast. I’m sure there’s some sort of dorky umbrella holder attachment for a chair, but I’m convinced that it would be more
hassle than it’s worth and I’d look like a complete moron since I would likely manage to unknowingly detach it and get it stuck in my wheels or goodness knows what else.

IMG_4114One of my cousin’s asked what I did with the rain living it such a pedestrian friendly city with my own pedestrian escapades and upon hearing my answer took it upon himself to help and found the attractive solution seen on the left (Note: enthusiastic model not included with purchase). Maybe “help” is a poor choice of words…

Long story short, I simply try to minimize my rain time or just push fast. Sure, I’ll undoubtedly get stopped at various crosswalks waiting for lights to change, but sometimes sweet little old ladies share their umbrellas with me and we have a lovely conversation. Literally – that happened and it made my day. So I manage – after all, as my Mom says, “You won’t melt” and thus far, she’s been right. Thanks Mom. Continue reading