Before I started medical school, I could have been voted "Most likely to pass out while even thinking about blood." In my undergraduate physiological psychology class, I remember a rare instance when I arrived to class late. I entered the room during a peer's presentation on placing an i.v. on a child. For some reason, the class was filled beyond capacity that day, so with no chairs available I stood in the back. About thirty seconds into the discussion of everything that could go wrong with placing a pediatric i.v., my professor happened to glance over at me. At that moment, I mouthed the words, "I'm going to faint" and he rushed over to catch me, before I hit the ground. He gathered me into the hallway, where I sat on the bottom step of a stairwell in the wonderfully glamorous head-between-knees position. How he knew to look over at the moment, I'll never know.
So, when I finally made the decision to enter medical school, some of my close family/friends were nervous and understandably so. How would I make it through cadaver lab? Phlebotomy? Still, I was encouraged by my parents who remain some of the best sticks this side of the Mississippi (can I say that now that they live in CA instead of the South?) and by my dear friend, Jeannine Hall Gailey, who told me I would grow to love it. And while this growing to love it phenomenon definitely took time--the first several weeks of gross anatomy lab being all that I could do to stay in the room, with the occasional lab being almost more than I could handle (especially when we reached the face--a story for another time), I do remember the turning point.
My first dissection was the posterior leg (the leg being drilled into our heads as referring to what we commonly term the calf, which incidentally doesn't include the thigh.) When I unearthed the plantaris muscle with its long shiny tendon, I was enamored. Here we were looking upon a muscle, absent in up to 10% of the population, that was the counterpart to the palmaris longus, in the flexor compartment of the forearm, which helped us retract our once claws. Who knew these muscles existed--that they were so gorgeously rendered, these tendons slim and fine as curling ribbons?
Second year has brought phlebotomy, which has been back-and-forth for me. Sometimes, the thrill when you enter a vein at the right angle with the right depth and see the flash of blood into the butterfly tubing other times that sinking feeling when you do everything the way it should be and blood doesn't enter the vial. I am constantly reminded that if this were a game, there are days when I shoot 0/4, 4/4, or 2/5 (even with assists)--that this learning is equal parts kinesthetic, mental, and sometimes luck. Applying the trick of laughter to encourage dilation or being paired with someone whose veins are so gorgeously superficial or someone whose veins seem to hide every time you do a proper skin pull--is that luck, skill, a touch of both?
Last week, though, we entered a whole different territory in our clinical lab: the world of semen analysis. And while I would love to expound upon what we found, I will keep it brief for now. That evening, I found myself nonchalantly mentioning how we were exploring our school friend's little swimmers over a drink and appetizers with a non-medical student. He looked over at the table next to us and very politely suggested that maybe we keep this conversation between the two of us, while noticeably blushing. And while I can feel my Dutch side cringe at my bringing up such topic matter in the open air, I admit I'm somewhat pleased to have overcome the squeamishness that I worried might keep me from pursuing what I deemed love at first sight. And yes, I am speaking of medicine.
A few weeks ago on a rare (or shall I say less than rare--due to global warming?) sunny April afternoon, I heard the sound of hammering in the Bastyr courtyard. I went outside to find a couple of workmen, constructing the below platform. The turtles on the Kenmore campus add a good amount of joy, and I would even say perspective, while pursuing a difficult health degree (pick your kind). It's not uncommon to see students and faculty take a break by the turtles, to check on them during the colder months, to gaze out the windows after a particularly challenging exam as if to reset their internal compass. Once I saw a student collect a turtle that had, with great effort, emerged from the pond. The student proceeded to turn it around and place it within turtle's arm length of the pond--as though it was lost and it needed to be righted. I was reminded of this as I watched the workmen, who were deriving such pleasure off of providing the turtles with an alternative to what was deemed an old or improper fit (the decaying log covered in some sort of algae.) I wondered what would happen once the turtles would be provided with an alternative to their old home. An hour later, I found this...
Coming from a mixed background, there has often been this complication around home. Netherlands or India? North or South? East or West? The Pacific NW feels like it. Every time I drive down that last hill toward town, see the Olympics thick with snow or hear the train carry over the Sound, I can’t imagine anything closer to home.
Since I recently visited my parents in CA and spent a few hours with my hands in the dirt, I’ve felt the urge to grow something. Time to re-populate my window sills with African violets and lettuce starts—to smell that good smell of progress. Likely, the makings of salad, a cherry tomato, strawberries, basil, and what am I forgetting? Tell me, do you have any hints?
While researching container gardening, I noticed some free workshops offered through City People's Garden Store, which incidentally refuses to sell noxious weeds/invasive species such as English ivy. Still, I wonder if the trellis where I stop daily to enjoy the scent of some unknown flowering vine isn't one of these…
The following poem was written about another gorgeously seductive, yet invasive species.
Wisteria contain yourself, your legs are far
too feral—spawning by day, rising to twelve
new shoots by morning.
The apple tree spied you
making a pass at the pear
who has done nothing
but boast about her figure.
green, my curves.
Remember your thirst, Wisteria, what first
sent you scaling—how you bet the English
Ivy you’d fetch the sun, a wheel of light to throw.
But your tongues are always
in the way, dripping
and who will trust a tongue
whose purple is her iris
whose iris is her fall
whose kiss could paint
portraits in the dark.
With your many eyes, Wisteria, swallow
what bears. Your trellis fills.
Your garden betrays you as you betray.
Feast, Wisteria, on the light you’ve stolen.
by Natasha Kochicheril Moni (Again, the author kindly asks that you only link to her poems and not reprint them or sample from them without her permission. Thanks!)
First published in Pebble Lake Review. Reprinted in Kathleen Flenniken's The Far Field.
In honor of my Opa on his birthday, I thought I’d risk what we are warned about in medical school (we are told regularly that everything we do or say reflects upon us as future physicians) and start a blog. Last year, while in cadaver lab, I was tempted to do this—to document each week’s dissection, because it was worlds more beautiful than I had ever imagined. I was warned by fellow writer friends that there are too many blogs, that it becomes tiring, insert another common theme here. As someone who appears confessional, even when writing fictional poetry, I realize this could get interesting quick. But if my Dutch grandfather could withhold his radio during the War and support the Resistance, I think I can start this small task now.
Today, I awoke to a message from a pretty well-known and well-respected poet. I had essentially cold-called her for a blurb for the upcoming book. As a poet who has only studied briefly with Ilya Kaminsky and Deborah Digges (no longer living), this has been a real learning experience—how to approach professional writers for support on your work when they already have so much in their own lives to focus on. They are parents, professors, physicians, spouses, research center developers, on top of producing volumes of novels, creative nonfiction, poetry books, so I guess I should be pleased that it took me this long to finally write something that may have hit an uncomfortable chord with another poet. I called her a slam poet. Apparently, she doesn’t consider herself this anymore. And even though I have seen her work appear in journals, sometimes alongside mine under the category of slam, and even though I do admire her, it showed ignorance. And maybe I did it because I have slam on my mind, the Grand Slam approaching at Town Hall on April 19, 2014, or maybe I was just carelessly applying a term where none was needed, or maybe I didn’t do enough research.
Going forward, I vow to do more homework. And if I ever have the honor of being approached to write a blurb in the way, way future for someone in a similar position to me—in medical school sans MFA—I will seriously consider it.
Natasha Kochicheril Moni is a writer and a licensed naturopath in WA State. Enjoying this blog? Feel free to put a little coffee in Natasha's cup, right here.