doc w/ Pen

journalist + medical student + artist

Category: Music

Q: How do you “eat the elephant” in Uganda?

A: With another medical student.

(I’ll explain; just keep reading …)

A Perfect Circle, one of my favorite bands, recently released a new album called “Eat the Elephant.” I managed to find a kindred music spirit here in Uganda to listen to it with me.

When one of my favorite bands, A Perfect Circle, released a new album during my time in Uganda, I figured I would have to wait until I got home to hear it. I figured I would listen to it in my New York City apartment, probably by myself, since I don’t know anyone else in town who likes the band.

Not so.

A medical student from Canada, here at Naggalama Hospital for an international rotation, and I discovered one afternoon that neither one of us could wait to go home and hear the new album, called “Eat the Elephant.” So why not listen to it together? Our own little “release party” here in rural Uganda?

It was settled.

I set up my laptop in his room, propped my phone on the windowsill to get a signal from my Ugandan cellular carrier, MTN, and created a wi-fi hotspot for myself. Then I launched Spotify, ready to stream the album. (I don’t do much streaming here because it eats up data like crazy, but this once was worth it.)

Before I hit “play” though, I went to my favorite lyrics website and loaded the words for each song. My newfound friend did the same.

Then we commenced our concert.

One moment, I was in my own world, lost in the music. Another moment I was agreeing with my concert buddy on how brilliant a particular lyric or metaphor was. We were of like minds.

It was absolutely lovely.

The housekeeper walked in on us during a particularly raucous song, each of us rocking out in our own way.

She clapped her hands and burst into laughter. So did we.

I’m Not The Only One

The nontraditional student’s journey to medical school can be a lonely one at times. It has been for me, at least, especially after graduating from my post-bac program and delaying my application for a year. This song reminds me that I am “not the only one” going through this journey, not the only one who has faced struggles and dark times. And I will come out on the other side.

I am so thankful for the people around me who remind me of this on a constant basis. You know who you are. Thank you.

“You’re Not The Only One” 
(by Joseph Arthur, off the album “Redemption City”)

Darkness descends
On everyone

And still you keep past the hyenas
Wearing idiot suits
Past the reformers with holy pursuits

You’re not the only one trying to hold on
To a kiss from yesterday
To a moment surrendered
When you were sure there was something more to say

And you’re not the only one
With clothes so tattered
The eyes look sideways and then beyond
To thoughts of where you once came from

You’re not the only one
Dead still from the beginning
Spinning a tribute to what could be
But you can’t get happy through misery
And you’re not the only one

You’re not the only one
Down streets no shadows ever go
And still you keep moving
Past the shady cameras and artillery whores

You’re not the only one
Against breaking skies and fall away floors
You’re not the only one
Warped and wasted
With poison bought from yesterday

And you’re not the only one
Drunk and holy
Aware of all that’s come before
And what would come to stay

You’re not the only one
In a slumber of booze and dreams
And even high ideals

But who are you
Still a no one
Still a mark
Still a seed
And who are you
You’re not the only one

And who are you
You know you’re not the only one
Who are you
You’re not the only one

Beautiful Day

In the midst of this MCAT madness, and everything else that has gone on in my life in the last couple of years, it’s easy to lose perspective. To get lost in frustration, sometimes even pitch black darkness. But the song “Beautiful Day,” by U2, helps remind me that today IS a beautiful day, regardless of what is happening, and that I shouldn’t let it get away. I don’t see it as a Pollyanna thing, but as a change in mindset. Deciding that I will make the most of the day, of any day. That doesn’t mean it will be a perfect day, or even a great day. But it can still be beautiful.

Lyrics to “Beautiful Day,” by U2:

The heart is a bloom, shoots up through stony ground
But there’s no room, no space to rent in this town
You’re out of luck and the reason that you had to care,
The traffic is stuck and you’re not moving anywhere.
You thought you’d found a friend to take you out of this place
Someone you could lend a hand in return for grace

It’s a beautiful day, the sky falls
And you feel like it’s a beautiful day
It’s a beautiful day
Don’t let it get away

You’re on the road but you’ve got no destination
You’re in the mud, in the maze of her imagination
You love this town even if it doesn’t ring true
You’ve been all over and it’s been all over you

It’s a beautiful day
Don’t let it get away
It’s a beautiful day
Don’t let it get away

Touch me, take me to that other place
Teach me, I know I’m not a hopeless case

See the world in green and blue
See China right in front of you
See the canyons broken by cloud
See the tuna fleets clearing the sea out
See the bedouin fires at night
See the oil fields at first light
See the bird with a leaf in her mouth
After the flood all the colours came out
It was a beautiful day
A beautiful day
Don’t let it get away

Touch me, take me to that other place
Reach me, I know I’m not a hopeless case

What you don’t have you don’t need it now
What you don’t know you can feel it somehow
What you don’t have you don’t need it now
You don’t need it now, you don’t need it now
Beautiful day

Let It Burn

One thing I learned from my ex-husband was how to make a good music mix. So when “Ticket To Ride” popped into my head (see my previous post), I decided to make an MCAT inspirational mix. I would like to share those songs on my blog, in the hopes that they might inspire others.

The next song on my playlist, after “Ticket To Ride,” is “The Fire,” by The Roots:

The music is catchy as heck, and the lyrics are phenomenal. The chorus alone makes this song an amazing inspiration:

There’s something in your heart
and it’s in your eyes
It’s the fire, inside you
Let it burn
You don’t say good luck
You say don’t give up
It’s the fire, inside you
Let it burn

It’s all about keeping that fire burning, not giving up, achieving your goals, even in the face of hardship. That’s a good perspective to keep in mind when facing something as daunting as the MCAT, or anything else for that matter.

Here are the rest of the lyrics, for those who are interested:

“The Fire”
(feat. John Legend)
[John Legend]
Ohhhh, the fire, the fire
Ohhhh, the fire, the fire
[Chorus: John Legend]
There’s something in your heart
and it’s in your eyes
It’s the fire, inside you
Let it burn
You don’t say good luck
You say don’t give up
It’s the fire, inside you
Let it burn
[Black Thought]
Yeah, and if I’m ever at the crossroads
and start feeling mixed signals like Morse code
My soul start to grow colder than the North Pole
I try to focus on the hole of where the torch goes
In the tradition of these legendary sports pros
As far as I can see, I’ve made it to the threshold
Lord knows I’ve waited for this a lifetime
And I’m an icon when I let my light shine
Shine bright as an example of a champion
Taking the advantage, never copping out or cancelling
Burn like a chariot, learn how to carry it
Maverick, always above and beyond average
Fuel to the flame that I train with and travel with
Something in my eyes say I’m so close to having the prize
I realise I’m supposed to reach for the skies
Never let somebody try to tell you otherwise
[Black Thought]
One love, one game, one desire
One flame, one bonfire, let it burn higher
I never show signs of fatigue or turn tired
cause I’m the definition of tragedy turned triumph
It’s David and Goliath, I made it to the eye of
the storm, feeling torn like they fed me to the lions
Before my time start to wind down like the Mayans
I show ’em how I got the grind down like a science
It sounds like a riot on hush, it’s so quiet
The only thing I hear is my heart, I’m inspired
by the challenge that I find myself standing eye to eye with
Then move like a wise warrior and not a coward
You can’t escape the history that you was meant to make
That’s why the highest victory is what I’m meant to take
You came to celebrate, I came to cerebrate
I hate losing, I refuse to make the same mistake
[John Legend]
Ohhhh, the fire, the fire
Ohhhh, the fire, the fire
[John Legend]
Ohhhh, the fire inside you
The fire inside you
The fire inside you
The fire inside you

The MCAT: My Ticket

Exactly three months from tomorrow, on May 23, I take the MCAT. It’s the equivalent of D-Day, a potential turning point in my long pre-med journey. Hopefully a positive turning point, with a “victory” (a good score). Given that I want to do an MD/PhD, a victory for me means scoring at least a 35, out of a possible 45. That might not sound difficult, but the national average in 2011 was about a 28. Most people are happy if they get a 30. So naturally, I’ve been a bit nervous about the whole thing.

But about two weeks ago, I had an epiphany. I realized that I could look at the MCAT in one of two ways: either as standing in the way of my getting into medical school, or as my ticket to getting into medical school. Regardless of which way I view this exam, I need to study my butt off. But having a more positive outlook, I think, will help me be more confident. And confidence, when it comes to standardized test taking (or to anything for that matter), can make a huge difference. Self-doubt, on the other hand, is most certainly not a recipe for success.

Being a musical person, as I pondered the word “ticket,” a song popped into my head: The Beatles’ “Ticket To Ride.” Granted, the majority of the song’s lyrics have nothing to do with my situation (thank goodness). But one memorable chorus line definitely does:

She’s got a ticket to ride
But she don’t care

The MCAT is my ticket. And I don’t care what else is going on, what distractions may come my way. I will focus on my ticket. Because one way or another, I am going to ride.

It’s All Coming Back To Me Now

Finally, after some hemming and hawing, I have begun studying for the MCAT. “M”-Day for me is March 23, 2013. So I’ve got a bit of time. But given that I took Physics, General Biology, and General Chemistry two years ago (2010-2011), and Organic Chem one year ago (2011-2012), I feel the need to do some hard-core review. That, and the fact that the average MD/PhD matriculant’s MCAT score is a 35 puts a bit of pressure on.

To put that score in perspective, the mean MCAT score for 2011, according to the American Association of Medical Colleges, was a 25.1. That’s out of a best-possible 45. Not a single person got a 45 in 2011. The highest score was a 42. To get a 35, I would have to be in the 94th percentile. Yikes. (See the full score report from the AAMC here.)

My strategy is to use the Examkrackers review books series, both the subject matter review books and the “1,001” questions books. I have started Gen Chem, Orgo, and Gen Bio. Today I will venture into the world of Physics. I am making flashcards on Quizlet, which I can study anywhere using their iPhone app. With all of these resources, along with taking (and re-taking) the available AAMC practice tests, I believe I will be as prepared as I can be.

That said, I was a bit worried, when I first opened the review books, that I would have forgotten … EVERYTHING. Not so. And thus, the song “It’s All Coming Back To Me Now” has been cycling through my head. And of course, like most songs that play in my head over and over again, I had forgotten most of the lyrics. Solution: YouTube. So here, I present Glee performing this song, in celebration of the fact that my science knowledge is … all coming back to me now.

The Way Out Is Through

If you recognized the title of this post, CONGRATULATIONS! You and I have more in common than a love of science and medicine – we also have in common a thorough knowledge of the Nine Inch Nails music catalogue.

Seriously, though, the title of this blog post is a meaningful one for me now. With all that has been going on in my life – serious upheaval and loss and decision-making – the song I reference in this blog post title (which is from NIN’s double-album, “The Fragile”), and its lyrics (while simple) are quite poignant to me right now. I would like to share them:

"The Fragile" album cover.

“The Fragile” album cover.

“The Way Out Is Through”

all I’ve undergone
I will keep on
underneath it all
we feel so small
the heavens fall
but still we crawl
all I’ve undergone
I will keep on

I know, I know … Nine Inch Nails has a reputation for some serious negativity. That reputation is partly deserved (although only partly, if you know Trent Reznor’s later music). But that’s besides the point. The point is that when you are “underneath it all,” the way really is through – through the difficulties, the pain. That’s how you get past it. But even when “the heavens fall,” perhaps when we feel like we can’t stand up in the darkness, we can still crawl, and keep on. The opening and final lines, “all I’ve undergone / I will keep on” are so on-point as well – after going through so much, I don’t want to give up. I refuse to.

I will keep on. No matter what.