Whirlwind: the only word I can think to use to describe the last four weeks. I’m certainly not complaining, especially as I sit outside on this gorgeous day on the other side of my anatomy lab practical. If you have no idea what an anatomy lab practical is, no worries, I (and I would guess a fair number of my classmates) didn’t really know what it was either until we actually took the thing. Spark notes version: you rotate around the anatomy lab at the command of a timed buzzer and identify structures, innervations, and/or function of various muscles/nerves/vasculature that are marked in the cadavers.
Since the exam was Friday, part of this weekend involves remembering what it feels like to relax and be normal-ish, like taking time to pause and watch the sun set across the lake just because. The “ish” attached to normal exists thanks to my wheelchair’s attempt at being funny when I got a flat Saturday morning and had to do some wheel swapping and make a trek to the bike store (I’m strong, but my fingers just can’t get that darn tire off). I don’t think I’ve ever been more grateful for spare tires and my type-A “must-be-prepared” personality. I’m also really grateful it happened on the weekend so I had extra time to get things taken care of…
You know, I guess that reminds me of a conversation I had recently about how interesting the way things happen can be. I mean, everyone has a story, but have you ever stopped to think about all the little pieces that must fall in place for that story to be written in exactly the way it has been? Even starting at the beginning, the story of how a person’s parents met, fell in love, and had a child — the person you’re talking to — is chock-full of “things-that-could-have-never-happened” happenings.
Beyond just finding people’s life stories embarrassingly fascinating, I guess I got to this line of thinking as I consider just why this last month has been such a whirlwind. After all, med school is always busy and a module on the musculoskeletal system (even with a bunch of anatomy labs) shouldn’t inherently be that different. But it was. You see, beyond just learning about muscles, this unit has a unique focus on patients and persons with disabilities.
Understandably, that’s a topic I find to be pretty important. At the same time, identifying so personally and so obviously with a “pathological state” that was going to be discussed over and over again as I sat in the front row of the lecture hall (not on purpose — I have a stair vendetta), well, could possibly be challenging for a number of reasons. What if I didn’t agree with the information being presented? What if things were lectured on in a way that I didn’t feel accurately portrayed the life, challenges, and interactions with healthcare for me and my disabled peers? Plus, how will my classmates take everything? Will it change the way they view or treat me? Will they feel like they’re “walking on egg shells” around me or not know how to deal with the “wheeling elephant” in the room?
On the other side of the coin, I myself have all these life experiences — lessons I’ve learned and things I’ve come to realize as my “days post-SCI” number gets larger and larger. To find myself in this moment, uniquely positioned at a place to share so much with future physicians who have gotten to know me as both a person and a wheelchair user, well, that isn’t an opportunity you want to waste.
I guess to put it simply, the last 4 weeks allowed me to realize and appreciate things that I don’t think I truly did before.
New appreciation #1: I attend an amazing school with remarkably supportive and open-minded faculty. I knew about this module’s focus on disability early on and had this brainiac idea back in February where I thought it would be awesome to have my classmates experience what it’s like to be a wheelchair user for a day. I know after my injury I couldn’t get over all of the “little” things I had to think about and be aware of, just by nature of using wheels instead of shoes. Considering all of us will have patients with disabilities in the future, I approached various faculty about having this voluntary experience available, received a thumbs up, and got to planning/organizing.
New appreciation #2: My classmates are even more awesome than I initially thought. I spent a bunch of time putting pieces of this experience together; drafting surveys, figuring out storage, borrowing and obtaining the wheelchairs that would get used, and all the other “behind the scenes” e-mailing/planning that happens for something to actually come to fruition. But then again, if no one volunteers to put their butt in a wheelchair for a day, well…yea. So throughout the 4 weeks, there were 2 wheelchairs available to be checked out and “lived in” for a day. I presented the opportunity to the class the first day of the module and shortly thereafter, every slot in the sign up was filled. It’s a humbling experience, using a wheelchair, and for that many of my classmates (30+) to support what I was trying to do and to be willing to put themselves in their future patients shoes, er, wheels, that’s really extraordinary. Plus, there are so many things going on all the time in med school and using a chair can kind of throw a wrench into things.
New appreciation #3: I’m living an unbelievable, totally unexpected, sometimes overwhelming, unparalleled life. It blows me away every moment I take the time to reflect on where I’ve been, what I had planned and thought would happen in my life and compare it to where I’m at and the reality I wake up to each morning. Sure, it’s not always awesome — there are an untold number of frustrations and struggles, moments of walking envy seeing my peers swing dance, run through the sand, or just walk up a couple of steps, not really realizing that those abilities provide a freedom that not everyone is lucky enough to have. Yet, to look around and acknowledge all the pieces that had to fall into place to allow me to be the successful, wheelchair-using woman, living in downtown Chicago, attending a top 20 medical school with the ability to challenge “able-bodied privilege” and bias against persons with disabilities — well, lets just say I have a lot to be thankful for.
And you know, I think regardless of where we are in in our lives at this exact moment in time …
I think we all do.