Ramblings of a Mad Med Student

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Settlers of Catan November 15, 2010

Filed under: Random — ncyyy @ 6:43 am

I used to read a lot. Which gave me a lot to say. Which made me sound smart. Which is how I got into medical school (note, sound smart, not necessarily be smart). It made me well-rounded, an individual as opposed to a study robot. Since the start of this school year, however, all this has changed. In the past 4 months, I have not been able to complete a single book (trashy novels not included). And no, it’s not because I’ve suddenly developed the “keen gene” and am studying far more. Just the opposite, in fact.

It’s because I’ve lost myself in the world of Catan.

(For non-Catanites, read about it here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Settlers_of_Catan)



I have been settling in Catan non-stop. In fact, I settle just about every night. Initially I only talked about the game, having played it with other people’s game boards. But an ex-good friend (who is not good anymore because I have since realized she must have been plotting the demise of my career with this move) gave me the board game as a gift. And so the dice started rolling. But it was very difficult to get 4 people together on a regular basis to play the game, so I only managed a couple of times a week. Not satisfactory in the least.

And so, one day when I was casually browsing the Internet about a completely unrelated topic (to do with sheep and wheat, perhaps?) I found the ultimate website. Playcatan.com. I could now play the game online, for free! The slippery slope I was falling down had just gotten steeper. In no time, I was playing with other Cataners (Catanians? Catani? Catanites?), ones who shared my love for the land, for settling, building, mining, and raising sheep.


However, the Internet wasn’t my downfall. No, my downfall was something much more deadly. Worse than arsenic, a gunshot, or blunt trauma to the head with a wrench (like how the butler did it). It was – a little-known device called the iPod.



Take tonight. I found myself playing the game on the bus ride home. Sure, you say. That’s excusable, there’s nothing to do then anyway. Well after almost being squashed by the revolving bus door for almost missing the stop, I arrived home in anticipation of finishing the game. Again, that’s acceptable behaviour, right? Then, because I won (and I so often do – iPods are not very smart) I simply had to play another game. Two hours later, sitting in front of a blank computer screen with incomplete research and an essay due the next day, I was feeling frantic.

Why do I use the iPod? Because I win. And apparently, I really need that ego boost and can’t handle playing against real people anymore. Or else, it’s because I delude myself into thinking that I’ll just start the game, then pause it, and come back to it during a break. Delusional is definitely the right word. You’re lucky I pulled myself away long enough to write this mediocre entry. Because I don’t have time to make it a good one – there is an un-started game waiting, after all.


Summary of events: intelligent reading à nerd board game with people (at least it’s social) à nerd board game with online people à nerd board game alone with iPod.

I have not only pretty much thrown my life away, I have done it in the ultimate nerd fashion. When I close my eyes, I see long roads and hexagons of five colours. When I see people wearing green and yellow I imagine them as game pieces, just like how starved people imagine others as giant food items and are tempted to consume them (cannibalism was once accepted practice in certain cultures, you know). Will this obsession ever end? Will I find life outside of a hexagon? There’s more to the world than Catan, I just know it!

There’s Carcassone too.



Author’s note: this author welcomes contact by anyone who would like to engage in either game.


Self-Diagnosis October 18, 2010

Filed under: Med school — ncyyy @ 5:14 am

Not so long ago, I wrote an entry about how I silently diagnosed a brain tumor that turned out to be a just a broken leg. And admitted that more school was probably necessary. Now, my much older and wiser self has decided that in fact, I can diagnose.

I have had an uncomfortable protrusion growing behind my ear for the better part of 3 weeks (this is probably not something I should be sharing with the world. If this makes you uncomfortable and you would prefer to think of me as the epitome of physical perfection, who am I to try and change your mind? Stop reading now.). Initially it was simply a bump. Then it became tender on palpation (= fancy medical word I use to sound smart, means “touch”). Then it became rather red and warm. After about another 2 weeks, I decided that it might not be completely innocuous.

I asked roommate to have a look. She took one glance, and diagnosed me with, “EEew. It looks like a spider is going to come out!”


This guy was probably growing under my skin, hairy legs and all.


I was very concerned. Roommate is an excellent diagnostician. Images of tiny spiders crawling just under my skin, eating their way through my skull and falling out of my eye sockets dazzled across my mind like a Vegas sequin dress. And this, just in time for Halloween. I had to see a real doctor.

I made an emergency appointment the very next day. They fit me in during noon, and with my life hanging on the line, I left class 30 minutes early to go to the doctor’s office. And sat down to wait. And wait. And wait.

Forty minutes later, I asked the receptionist when I could get in.

“Oh, not for another 25 minutes. We’re sorry, he’s really backed up today.” She said nicely.

What I heard was:

“Oh, sucks to be you. 2 hours. Maybe 3. Actually, I don’t feel like letting you in today at all. You have a weird potentially cancerous thing behind your ear, and we don’t need that today. Muahahahahah.”

I rescheduled for 2 days later, fuming. It would serve her right if it WAS cancer, and spread to all my internal organs and I consequently had a short but incredibly painful death. If only they had caught it just 2 day earlier it would not have spread and I would still be alive and well. Maybe all my friends and relatives would band together and sue her and she would go to prison for manslaughter. (I am aware that all my passive-aggressive fantasy moments involve my death – which on an objective note isn’t beneficial – and also might be a tad over-the-top. That’s why I don’t usually tell people about them).


My doctor's Medical Office Assistant. Only uglier.


Two days later, I finally managed to get in.

“Well, Nancy, what brings you in today?”

“You see, doctor, I have this bump growing behind my ear. It’s probably nothing. I of course did a little research and realize it’s probably just a cyst. But it’s starting to hurt, so I thought I’d get it checked out.”

Doctor: Chuckle. “Oh, so you’re self-diagnosing now?”

Me: “Umm, oh no. I was just curious. Really.”

He took a look behind my ear.

Doctor: “Well let’s hear it. What do you think it is?”

(I had been lying. I hadn’t really done any research. I didn’t really even know what a cyst is.)

Me: “Umm. Some sort of a cyst. I guess. Maybe? Uhhh…”

And that’s how I ended up looking like a complete fool. I really don’t learn. Mistakes are for re-making, right?


The strange science of babies September 30, 2010

Filed under: Med school — ncyyy @ 12:32 am


For your pleasure and easy access, I have ingeniously created a “Subscribe” option to this blog. Now you can enjoy these extremely witty and enlightening readings the minute they are posted. Your welcome.


As I delve deeper into the mysteries of the human body, I find myself in more and more disbelief over what my professors expect me to believe. My intestines are how long? (7.5 metres) A typical red blood cell travels how fast? (I actually forget, and can’t find the answer. Suffice to say, REALLY fast. 300 km in a day? 1000 km? 100000000000 km?). Really. No, really. You must have it all wrong.

In two completely separate conversations today, I found myself discussing where babies came from. After all these years, I still find myself marveling at babies.

According to Roommate, when a mommy and daddy love each other very very much, that love makes a baby. But this is so confusing. Because sometimes they don’t love each other very much at all. And sometimes there is no daddy. Or conversely, no mommy. Then where do babies come from? Storks seem like a much more plausible answer.

If science is to be believed, two very special little cells from a mommy and a daddy join together to eventually make a baby. These cells are so small you can only see them with a microscope. So they’re pretty much almost nothing. Something that is almost nothing grows up to be a giant 6 foot 4 inch basketball player (or if something weird goes on, a 5 foot not-quite-2 inch midget like me). My mind boggles at the idea. Think about it. You were once just one cell. Imagine yourself as a cell. Do it now.

You see? Mind boggling! Doesn’t it comfort you to think of yourself delivered on the doorstep by storks? (And also for reasons to do with Mommy and Daddy loving each other very much. I could do with not imagining this scenario. Hello, stork).

Now, onto the physical aspect of it. A baby grows in a Mommy’s tummy (we’re still uncertain about how it got there). But then how does it get out? There are no gaping head-sized holes through which to emerge. It was only last year that I saw my first picture of what crowning looks like. I was extremely disturbed. Even though nature seems to have intended it in her strange and sadistic way, crowning looked completely unnatural. A ball (aka baby’s head) that size should not be fitting through that tunnel. Why on earth would God/Nature/Evolution/Whatever-you-believe-in ever create such a painful and inefficient design? Consider some better alternatives:

1. Need it be said again? Storks.

2. How about if the baby actually will just fall out when the time is right. Through an appropriately-sized tunnel.

3. Lay eggs. Chickens do it, why can’t we? It’s also more efficient. You could lay multiple eggs at the same time.

In conclusion, I do not understand babies or childbirth. This has not changed with medical school. It’s beyond me.


Desperate Times September 9, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — ncyyy @ 6:34 am
Tags: , ,

There are 2 things about being a medical student (or really, any student) that are invariably true.

1. We never have time to do anything, and even when we’re at some party, way in the back of our minds (behind the alcohol-induced haze) is the thought that really, we should be studying.

2. We’re so incredibly poor that the idea of making minimum wage (or receiving an honorarium of $1000 for 3 months of work) is not only extremely attractive, it’s worth fighting over.

So is it any surprise, then, that the mere IDEA of free food makes my heart not flutter, but buzz like those bees still trying to pollinate what’s left of summer?

Take today, for example. During lunch hour, a few friends and I decided to go to our student lounge center 3 blocks away to microwave our food and, well, lounge. It was far better than sitting in the metal chairs in the hospital that were so uncomfortable that no one would ever dream of stealing them. Once we arrived, we discovered to our surprise and pleasure that there was a Psychiatry Staff Luncheon taking place. The courtyard was filled with professional-looking (not at all crazy-like) psychiatry staff. And right there in the middle (and I swear there was a halo of light around the area) was a buffet-style table filled with food. Was it fresh? Don’t know. Did it smell good? Couldn’t tell. But it was free. Thus good. And that was all that mattered. My mind became overwhelmed with the idea of free food, but unfortunately it was evident that the individuals on the receiving end of the food table had yet to get their fill. That’s fine. I could wait.

We circled the table, not un-vulture-like, and rounded to the other side where the microwaves were, all the while keeping a keen eye on the food table. Unfortunately, it didn’t seem like they were leaving any time soon, and so we in turn settled in to eat our lunch, which in no way, shape, or form was at all attractive compared to the other food because the other food was – you guessed it – free. The mere fact that this food was “free” made it the most delicious of spices, more (ironically) priceless than any saffron and more addictive than any chili. This must have been how people used to regard salt. Or how we now view fat.

The entire lunch hour was whiled away in a similar fashion; enjoying each other’s company whilst keeping the idea of the free food outside in the back (okay, forefront) of our minds. Soon, it was time for us to leave and actually learn something. Yet the psychiatry staff seemed to have no inclination of leaving. We agreed that it was probably a lost cause, and really, we weren’t hungry anymore anyway, having inhaled our actual lunches. But inside, I couldn’t help but bemoan this lost opportunity, and the injustice in the world. They had jobs and could buy things. We had debts and sometimes got our parents to buy things. Who’s the more deserving?

Throughout the next lecture, which lasted all of 2 hours, I could not forget the food that had been just within reach, yet still so far away. Perhaps I was living the hell of Tantalus.

Tantalus: Greek Mythology. A Phrygian king who was condemned to remain in <the underworld lower than Hades>, chin deep in water, with fruit-laden branches hanging above his head. Whenever he tried to drink or eat, the water and fruit receded out of reach.

Yes, I know, a very apt comparison. Luckily for me, one of my friends had stayed behind to work out. She informed me (after a gently-worded query) that there was indeed food left over. Suddenly, the sun appeared (in the dim windowless lecture theatre). The world had set itself aright, and Major Injustice had been corrected. (Of course, I cannot speak for things like famine, disease, and natural disasters. Only my Major Injustice. The most important, of course). In the next break we had, I rounded up the gang and once again braved those 3 long blocks to where our sweet reward lay, on a ceramic platter. I think I must have had about 10 slices of watermelon. Delicious; there’s nothing quite like the sweet taste of – freedom.

At one point I might have felt embarrassment about my behavior (or at the very least, embarrassed about associating with someone like me). But that’s a thing of the past. That’s right, I’m past shame. Now all I cater to is – well, I don’t cater at all. That’s the point.


¼ Doctor, ¾ Nobody August 24, 2010

Filed under: Med school — ncyyy @ 3:33 am

I’ve been blessed (or cursed) with a ridiculously overactive imagination. As you’ll remember from previous entries about heart attacks and funerals whilst jogging, my mind sometimes runs away from me. This summer, I did a trip to the east coast. Towards the end of July, I had to take a Greyhound from Toronto to Montreal. It was a hot day, just after the stifling heat wave, and the bus depot was filled with Torontonians eager to leave for the long weekend. As I got there, I couldn’t even find the end of the line! And then I noticed something that sent my heart to my throat, and wet clammy sweat to soak through my clothes and break out from my palms. A poor girl had passed out, right before my eyes.

I was freaked out, for probably all the wrong reasons. I was not swept away by fear for her health and safety as any kind-hearted individual might. No, instead, my mind decided (yes, I can talk about my head like it’s a separate entity that I’m not actually responsible for) that it would be really cool to play out a scene where there was no one capable of rescuing the poor girl. I, a barely graduated-to-second-year-fledgling-medical-student, would be the only one responsible. I had to save her. Her life depended on me. Not just her life, even, but that of her family and friends as well, dependent on me. Me. I. I. I. Me.

Suddenly, all those insecurities that I had managed to tuck away safely into the corner of my closet for the summer some thousands of miles away in Vancouver came hurling at me at the speed of light. Responsible? Me? Seriously, me? But it’s summer! I’m on vacation! I left all that knowledge behind when I boarded the plane. Also, I’m not renewing my CPR certification until August! Why couldn’t she have waited?!

Thankfully, in the time that I stood frozen with tortured images of inadequacy racing through my mind, said poor girl came to. Saved! And I mean, me, of course.

I had managed to forget about this thoroughly disturbing event until last week. I was back in Vancouver and going to an outdoor production of Singin’ in the Rain with a few friends. The setup was quite impressive, and in fact, they had real water for rain. I was immersed in the play until one particular monologue, when my tenuous grasp of the here-and-now slipped. My mind could not help but imagine the lead man, for no particular reason, clutching at his chest and falling forward onto his handsomely chiseled face on stage. I know, quite a morbid line of thinking. Then, in my mind, I heard someone scream out, “Is there a doctor here?”

Of course, there was no doctor there.

My friend (who was also a recently promoted-to-second-year-medical-student) and I would leap (fly, even) up to the stage and start life-saving CPR. And in this case, save his life. I even saw the headlines.

“The show must go on: two medical students save life of local star before hundreds of cheering fans”

(I haven’t quite figured if the fans were for him or for us. I’m leaning towards us)

Funny how when in real life I can only stand frozen, in my head I’m a local hero. Well, the saviour of the world, really. A part of me is definitely looking forward to Back-to-School.


My Admirable Driving Competence June 25, 2010

Filed under: Random — ncyyy @ 5:45 am
Tags: ,

I’ve been half-heartedly planning an East Coast trip with my cousin because I’ve become more spontaneous over the past few years (translation: lazy) and like doing things on the fly. But one thing that has been plaguing my mind has been whether or not to drive. You see, I very cunningly got my driver’s license while living for 8 months in the States, where it was ridiculously easy to obtain one. It was a one-stop shop: you take the written exam (pretty much the same one as the one here), then take the road test maybe one month later. There is only one road test (none of this Class 7 or 5 business) and it consists of driving straight, making a couple turns, pulling over to the side of the road (but NOT parallel parking), and backing up 5 meters. Doesn’t promote trust in your fellow drivers, does it?

In any case, that’s how I got my license (and in case you’re wondering, that sarcasm about trust in your fellow drivers doesn’t apply to yours truly). The rule is that if your license is >2 years old and from the States, you can transfer it directly to a Class 5 license. Which is what I did, and thus became the proud owner of a license that some of my friends who started driving at 16 have yet to obtain. So needless to say, my experience on the road has been rather limited. And it was further hindered by the fact that I do not own a car, nor do I plan to buy one in the next year or so. But that’s not to say I haven’t had practice. In fact, I’ve made many a trip on the long and treacherous No. 1 HWY between Surrey and Vancouver, spanning a distance of upwards of 40 km! Most of this driving occurred when I was moving, some 1.75 years ago, though, so my already-meager driving experience is on a very long dry spell.

When I started looking into transportation options between Toronto and New York for my trip in July, the words “driving” and “road trip” shone like beacons in my deluded, dumbed-down, dim brain. No, it’s not at all unrealistic to make a 769 km trip estimated to take 8 hours 24 minutes with a cousin who cannot drive in North America and might have some difficulty reading road signs because she’s used to reading ones in Finnish. It can’t be that much different from the trip I make between Vancouver and Surrey, except that it’s about 20 times the length, right? Yes, US is the land of semis and large 4-wheel drives. And sure, I’m talking about driving into New York and likely having to do some driving within the arguably worst driving city. Nope, can’t be that hard.

Despite my confidence, my parents were (unnecessarily) a little concerned. So this weekend when I went to visit, I asked – no, demanded – to drive back into the city with my dad’s giant work truck. My dad owns a landscaping business (as an aside, let me know if you need your lawns done) and owns not one, not two, but three trucks. Which ironically are the colours red, white, and blue, even though he despises the US. The red truck is pretty small for a truck, and it’s probably teased mercilessly by the other two for this. But speaking as someone who is small but packs a punch, it’s quite an excellent truck. The blue one, that’s quite a beauty. It looks like something made in the 1970’s, all metal exterior and no padding inside.  Looks a little like the one below. Now, it’s not actually made in the 1970s, although I have no idea how old it is. But it’s definitely the granddaddy of the 3 trucks – a little rough around the edges, some wear and tear, but gentle as they come (okay, I don’t know what that last part actually means. It just sounded good in my head).

The third truck is a Truck with a capital T. It’s so large that I actually have to climb on – meaning the step onto the truck reaches somewhere around my waist area and I often find myself bum in the air as I seat myself. In your average parking lot it takes up about 1.3 parking spaces, and that’s not even for small cars! So of course, this was the car I had to drive to Vancouver to prove myself.

The drive began fine. I didn’t hit any curbs while making rights, although I did cut a lane while making a left (the truck is so long that any normal driver could have done this, NOT just me). I drove in the city of Surrey for about 10 minutes, and nothing happened. I was feeling pretty proud of myself, calm, cool and collected. What a pro! And then I merged onto the highway. And all my suppressed memories about fear and highways and being crushed into little bits because people fly at you at over 100 km/hr came rushing at me. In fact, I have difficulty pushing myself to drive at 100 km/hr; I probably average about 95 where the speed limit is 100. Yes, I drive like your grandmother.

I tried not to let my fear show. I tried to continue conversation even though my knuckles were turning a rather interesting shade of clear-white and I was 5 seconds away from teeth chattering and had difficulty moving my neck. I tried taking deep breaths. I told myself that because my car is so large, everyone will do their best to avoid me because I had road-power (it exists. You know it does). Sure, I only have about 2 inches on either side before I get into the next lane, but the other cars should see this and thus steer clear of me. I even tried to tell myself that should I actually get into an accident, my car is so much larger than the average car that no harm would come to me or my parents (self-interest is often a powerful motivation). Why was there so many people on the road on Sunday night?!

Eventually, I managed to safely drive us into the city. I had never been so happy to get on an off-ramp in my life! (Well, except the time I drove from San Diego to LA. Whoever designed ramps on both sides of a highway must have spent his entire life being driven by others). As the speed dropped down, so too did my heart rate, probably at a 1:1 ratio. My hands stopped pouring sweat out, and I could move my head again. It was a wonderful feeling.

I’ve since decided to take the train down to New York. Not because I can’t make the drive, oh no. But because I’m sure my cousin would be happier, more comfortable on those larger, cushier seats. Yes, she’d be much happier on a train, and I am ever willing to put others’ needs ahead of mine.


Now what? June 16, 2010

Filed under: Med school — ncyyy @ 6:36 pm
Tags: , ,

I feel empty inside.

No, I did not just give birth. I did not just throw up. And I did not just use the bathroom in a major (or minor) way. I just finished writing my exams.

It’s funny, all throughout the month of May all I could think about was how the sun was outside. Or, more often, how the clouds were outside. And how I wanted to be under them, gazing at them, talking to them (what, doesn’t everyone?). It got to the point where I simply refused to look outside, and took a permanent position with my back to the windows and the blinds drawn down. Sometimes I even studied upside down with my feet in the air. Okay, that’s a little unrelated, but it added to the studying experience.

Last Wednesday exams officially ended. And because we got an exam review session in the afternoon and we could look at all the RIGHT answers, I’m fairly certain I passed everything and thus have nothing to worry about. I could finally go outside again. And talk to friends again. And fill my refrigerator again. There was freedom to be had – by me.

But I was lost.

I didn’t know what to do with myself. I felt like a little boat, blown this way and that during a tremendous gale. And now that the storm had receded, I was in the middle of nowhere. There was no lighthouse in sight, the waters were extremely calm, and I was just – adrift.

So the next day, I cleaned my room. I went through and sniffed all my clothes to determine the cleanliness, and lack thereof. This is actually a complicated process because I also have to think about how long it’s sat in my closet and lost it’s initial fresh (or un-fresh) odor and gained just a generalized clothing odor. It also required that I sniff it at three different places to make sure I was getting the average odor. I created 3 bags of clothes for different loads (and I NEVER separate my loads). I washed all the dirty dishes in the sink, accumulated over the past 5 days. I mopped the sink and the counters, fed the cat (before you tout animal cruelty – let me say that this was a daily occurrence despite the exams. That’s right, my cat ate relatively better than I did during exams). And then I didn’t know what to do with myself. I wandered aimlessly around the house, very ghost-like.

Winding down from exams is proving to be extremely difficult. I’ve become so accustomed to not having a single minute to myself that having full hours to myself is a bit unbearable. On Saturday, I thoroughly researched decided on a phone plan and Blackberry model (having been barely aware of their existence previously), got my eyes checked, ordered contacts for the first time, got a hair cut, bought desperately-needed clothes for the summer, and read an entire 300-odd-page book. Inactivity was unbearable. They should have eased us out of school just as they eased us into it.

I’m not sure what makes this exam season so different from past exams. I think it’s because there was just that much more material (we did have 10 exams, after all) AND I’m expected to retain all of it – forever. In the past, the process has been to retain as much as I possibly could prior to the exam, have the knowledge flow uni-directionally from the temporary part of my memory onto the paper, and leave it on the test paper permanently, never to be seen again. I guess I should be concerned BECAUSE I feel empty inside. Because this must mean that the same thing has happened again, right?


Maybe rewriting some exams IS a good idea. Maybe re-doing first year is a good idea.