History lessons

by Lorien E. Menhennett

My view of the beautiful Ugandan countryside — fulfilling a goal I set more an 7 years ago.

This week, I’ve taken some time to “clean house” here on my blog. Some of my first posts didn’t migrate over well from the Blogger platform to WordPress. There are formatting and image resolution issues.

As I tinker, I also read. With more than 350 posts behind me now, dating back to January of 2010, this is truly a chronicle of my journey. Here are a few things I’ve noticed from my review of about a year of posts (2010 and the beginning of 2011).

Posing with one of the Ugandan nurses who attended my palliative care educational session.

Sometimes a post elicits a shiver down my spine. Like one I read from January of 2011, where I talk about one of the things I was looking for in a medical school. The post details how “I want to do at least one international rotation as a medical student.”

The timing of this … to read those words, penned more than 7 years ago, about wanting to go abroad during medical school, while sitting outside and enjoying the cool breeze of Uganda’s rainy season. Not during my first medical school trip abroad, either (this is my second). And not my last! (I plan to go to Spain for 4 weeks next spring.)

To be reminded of this dream, envisioned what seems like a lifetime ago, which has now come true.

Tropical cocktail with a 3-D protein structure as a garnish. My kind of beverage.

Sometimes a post makes me groan at my own corny sense of humor. Like this one, about a “dream vacation,” complete with what I’d like to be drinking on said dream vacation, a tropical cocktail with a 3-D protein structure garnish (see my photoshopped beverage at right). I’m still making silly photos like this one, cracking myself up as I do so. I’m not sure whether anyone else laughs at these, but I sure get a kick out of them.

As I read a post about my Grandpa’s death from cancer in 2010, I realized that it has always been important for me to reflect on how medicine and my personal life intersect, both then and now.

The posts, in their entirety, also prompt me to think about how things have changed, both personally and professionally.

On the personal front, I’m divorced now rather than married, as I was back then. Reading about how much I loved my then-husband, how much I enjoyed time spent with my wonderful in-laws, brought back so many happy memories, tinged with sadness that such a significant chapter of my life came to a close.

Professionally, my experience of medicine has evolved from abstract to real. Back then, I wrote about research articles and news stories related to medicine, things I was learning in my pre-med program, my hopes and dreams for medical school. These days, I write about what medical school is actually like for me. I chronicle my own experiences with patients, not research studies, not news stories. These days, I also often write about things that have nothing to do with medicine, like going for a walk in Central Park and how lovely the turning leaves are, because there are moments when I need to step away from it all.

I’m less wild-eyed about it now, less naive. Medicine is exciting, just like I thought it would be, and more so. But it’s also incredibly demanding and difficult. Some days I come home exhilarated; others exhausted. My writing reflects this internal maturation. I use fewer exclamation marks, put fewer words in all caps, don’t emphasize so many of my thoughts with bold or italicized font.

Even as I’ve experienced the difficult parts of medicine, the parts I couldn’t truly imagine when I was a pre-med student, even as my life has changed in ways I couldn’t anticipate when I started this process in 2010, I am glad to be here.

At this very moment, I am glad to be here in Uganda, learning more about this country, its kind and welcoming people, and about palliative care. In a more general sense, I am glad to be in medical school, glad to be applying for a psychiatry residency, glad to be starting my career as a physician soon.

I wonder what I’ll think when I read these words 5 or 10 years from now, reflecting on my time in medical school.

I’ll let you know.