Friday, June 24, 2016

Navigating Third Year with a Stutter

I always believed my third year of medical school would be the hardest for me.  Ever since I learned exactly what each year in med school entailed, it got into my head that I would be struggling third year.  Third year is the year when you finally leave the classroom and hit the "wards."  The year where you get to be to a functioning member of a hospital team.  The year where you take all the knowledge you tried to cram into your head for exams and boards the first two years and put it to good use.

I tried to plan my year to set myself up for success.  I figured I'd try to schedule the "easier" rotations in the beginning of the year so I could get used to speaking to patients and attendings and end my year with the harder ones, after I had acclimated and hopefully gained some success.

The first half of this year was extremely hard.  It got very frustrating and tiring to hear person after person tell me "we really love you but.."  The but being about the way I speak.  I spent a lot of nights crying to my friend because I was just so frustrated and at a loss at what to do.  Hearing that felt a little worse than the "you are really great but you need to read more" line that a lot of medical students get third year. All I was hearing was "you are really great, but what are you doing here?"  And it just kept happening. And it just made it even harder to speak.

I tried to keep my head up and defend myself and stuttering and gently proclaim that I don't think stuttering will hinder me in any way when I grow up and become a doctor.  Even if every time I had to say that it was through a stream of tears.  But what else could I possibly say?  Because here's the thing, I completely agree I would be a better physician if I didn't have a stutter, but I also have to believe that no matter what state my fluency is in I can succeed as a doctor.  I have to have that faith in myself to keep going, because if I don't I will inevitably trip into a giant crater and be unable to climb out of it.

Then something happened in the middle of the year.  Before my surgery rotation I e-mailed the two heads of the rotation to introduce myself like we were supposed to put in the e-mail how I speak with a stutter but I still can and want to do everything any other medical student does.  That was one of my best rotations.  No one seemed to care about the way I spoke.  I had a lot of talks with attendings and a lot of them said the same thing "I don't care if you stutter as long as you know the information." This was also the first rotation I got to pre-round on patients by myself.  I love pre-rounding.  It was hard and nerve racking at first but then it became my favorite part of the day.  It was much easier to walk into a random patient's room who I had never met before, introduce myself, and ask them a bunch of questions about their bowel habits after doing it a bunch of times. It really helped that pre-rounding was on my own time.  There wasn't any other overseeing body in the room to judge me or step in when I got stuck for a few seconds on a word.  I could stutter as little or as long as I needed to get the word out and it always came out and I always got the information I needed.

I've been told before how I might make patients uncomfortable with the way I speak, or some patients will just not want to deal with it.  I have only had one "bad" encounter with a patient about my stutter.  I was on my psych rotation and was doing a mini mental status exam on a patient in the inpatient  psychiatric unit.  I was trying to ask him the questions for the exam and I was stuttering, and he kept saying "It's just not going to work!! I can't understand you!"  At first I would just say "I'm sorry" and repeat what I was trying to say.  Then he kept doing it and was getting louder and I just had to take a deep breath and strongly say. "I understand what you are saying, I speak with a stutter, but just listen to me." (something along those lines)  And we got through the encounter and it was fine.  One guy.  In an inpatient psych unit. No one else has cared, or no one else has cared enough to my face to kick me out.  95% of the patients I talk to are extremely pleasant and I can usually make them smile at some point during the encounter. People are surprisingly, not kicking me out every time I repeat a few syllables.

I actually had another funny patient experience.  I was doing an admission of a person with a suspected stroke who was having difficulty speaking.  I walked into her room in the ED, started to introduce myself (which is always the hardest part) and she goes "Yeah, that's what happening to me.  I'm having your problem."  AKA she told me I was having a stroke.  I just smiled and nodded my head and moved on and said " what brings you here?"  Then I got to laugh about it later with my friends how a patient told me I was having a stroke because I was stuttering.

Ever since my surgery rotation the majority of the people I met have not cared about the way I speak.  I know part of it is because I am speaking better, my friends and family have been telling me all year how I'm speaking so much better than I used to.  But also I hope my attitude has changed.  I'm no longer hiding behind stuttering, and I'm forcing myself to speak up more.  Especially these last few weeks.  Well first of all, you talk a lot on internal medicine.  And a good portion of it is very low key stuff that was excellent practice, like calling pharmacies to get a medication list for a patient. Or calling in a consult (actually that can be nerve racking if you have to talk to a specialist doctor that you've never formally met before).

But now I am throwing myself into the speaking world.  I bought a car, which involved a lot of talking.  A lot of talking on the phone and in person.  I have also dropped the habit of putting off phone calls to places because I was scared.  I have majorly racked up minutes on my phone these last few months.  The more I make myself speak the better my speaking becomes, the more confident I become, and the easier it is for me to show to my attendings that yes I know my stuff and let me show you.  I still get annoyed/frustrated/a little panicked when I get stuck in stutters, but it's happening less often.  The stutters are less severe.  I haven't had a "stuttering headache" in months and it feels awesome.  I love talking to people, I love talking, and I love that my personality, that often gets stamped out of sight by my stutter, is finally coming to light a little more often.

I like it.  I plan to make it my new habit.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

A Blog About Homes and Friends That Mostly Just Ended Up Being About My Band

I've discovered that I'm really good at making where I am home.  When I moved out of my parents house for college, it only took living in Pittsburgh one, maybe two years, for me to feel like a stranger whenever I went home to Greensburg and to miss the streets of Pittsburgh.  The summer of my sophomore year in college was the last summer I spent "at home" in Greensburg.  It was actually already not my home, I spent that summer sleeping in Leah's room because Nina had taken my room and my dad had made Nina's room a movie theater style TV room.

But Pittsburgh was my home and I didn't care.  Junior year I moved into my first big girl apartment in Oakland.  It was appropriately a semi disgusting hole in the wall complete with obnoxious neighbors, but I lived there up in my attic room for two years and felt comfortable and at home there.  I made myself a home easily with my friends who had turned my family in Pittsburgh.  I then moved out of Oakland, up in life, and into Shadyside for my last two years in Pittsburgh.  Finished my senior year in school and spent a year working "in the real world" at Children's Hospital.  These two years, are when I finally started to really feel young, in my twenties, and moving up in the world.  I was living with my best friend, I had numerous friends within walking distance of my house, I had a dog, rode the bus to work, went to trivia night every week, and generally had a lot of fun doing a lot of activities.  Apple picking, ziplining, skiing, game nights, trips to Cedar Park, Wine Wednesdays, Treat Yo' Self dates, the list could go on.  But then I decided to go to med school in Maine and leave everything and everyone I had ever known behind.

You know, the number one thing I was terrified about with ALL of med school was making friends.  I was not at all scared about the academics and legitimately thought I wouldn't make any friends and would be a complete loner.  I seriously want to laugh at that now.  I like to think I'm pretty self aware, but clearly I don't give myself enough credit, because I have once again found a home in Maine with a lot of people I would easily consider my family.  If there's anything I would say about my classmates (also known as: friends) at UNECOM would be that we have each others backs.  Because, med school, is actually pretty hard.  It's more emotionally hard than it is academically hard.  It is very easy to feel like you are dumber than rocks and don't deserve to continue on this journey.  But the second you think those words, you have five or eight people behind you telling you you are wrong and you can do it, and we will get through this together.  And that is very powerful.

Now, not only do I feel like I have made myself a home in Maine (also I live in a beautiful three story house that costs me about as much as my one floor apartment in Pittsburgh did .. ), but also I did this really awesome, fun thing and that is that I JOINED A BAND.  As the lead singer.  !!!!!!! ??? !!!

About two months ago now, my friend Krishan messaged me saying that my roommate Kasturi told him I have a good rock voice and him and his band are looking for a singer and asked if I would be interested.  I was really hesitant at first.  I thought, "Do I really have time to be in a band?" "How long do they practice?" and "I don't even think my voice is that good."  But, inside I was also really excited because seriously plan B is be in a successful rockband. And wouldn't it be awesome to have both plan A and B?!?!

The first practice I was super nervous.  I printed out some of the lyrics of the songs Krishan sent me and that I had been listening to basically non stop since he sent them to me and brought my mason jar of water and went to Chris's house to practice.  When I knocked on Chris's door, his roommate answered, and I didn't really know what to do.  I didn't know how to be convey that I was "there to, like, sing with the band?" Because I didn't really know what I was doing! I was just going with the flow as best I could!

I went downstairs, pretty much met the drummer, Alex, for the first time, because I had never really seen him a lot in class before.  Chris handed me a mic, and I couldn't help but think "Oh god. What? A mic?" I made sure they definitely knew that I had never done this before and really did not know what I was doing.  My legs were mostly shaking the whole time.  We did a few songs, I secretly LOVED it, but on the outside probably looked like a doe eyed deer in headlights.  The guys seemed to be pretty excited with me but we all seemed to be keeping it cool.  I really wanted to ask if they liked me and my singing because we made plans to practice again in the next week or something and I was so close to saying, "So, does that mean I'm in? Because I'm not sure and I'd like to be in."  But as we were leaving Krishan told me something that mostly sealed it in my mind that we're gonna keep a secret because that's secret band stuff.

I came home and thanked Kasturi profusely for ever giving them my name because I loved it so much and I said that I hoped that they liked me and it was seriously so awesome but I was keeping it super cool so as to not look like a weirdo (cats out of the bag now, though). Then a couple days later Alex made a new facebook message and included me in it, named it the TOUCH Hours and I knew I was in.

And the band has been exactly what I needed but didn't realize I did since coming to med school.  I was about to be really proud of myself writing a whole blog entry and not mentioning stuttering once, BUT-- I don't stutter when I sing (different brain pathway) and its just sooooooooo nice to just sing and be fluent and to not feel like I'm going stutter or not think about stuttering.  I find I'm slightly more fluent while I'm in band practice.  We'll do a song and then I'll have to say something in between about it and I'm better at stopping myself and saying my words easier and more fluently when I'm at band practice.  And it's not just that, I used to be really into music in high school and my first couple years of college, but then I got too busy with school and other parts of life to keep up with music (unless it was Paramore), and now I go to sleep listening to music almost every night (I'm really cool about it and fall asleep with my big headphones on).  I spend my spare time learning lyrics to songs and take study breaks to go sing downstairs in my basement.

We played our first show a few weeks ago.  This was, I think, less than a month than me joining the band.  We had played together three times total I think, four if you count when we met at Chris's the night of the party to play our songs and warm up before we played.  That was a surreal night.  Like any band, we ended up showing up at the party about 15 minutes after when we said we would start playing.  We had gotten caught up practicing, and then it sort of takes a lot of time to break down a drum set and everything and get it in everyones car and then we caravanned it over to where the party was which was a semi ordeal in its own.  As we were carrying in Alex's drums to the house I couldn't help but think as I was navigating through a pathway caked with ice and snow with my converses that have holes in both the heels that this is the COOLEST thing and I am seriously in a band.

I ended up talking a lot about the band.  A little more than I meant to.  But that's what I'm talking about- I was not close with any of the guys before I started singing with them and now I feel totally comfortable with them (which is why I'm only slightly embarrassed to post this blog, because I'm sure they'll probably read it, but "we are musicians, we don't judge." as Alex would say).  I feel like that with all of my friends at UNE.  I went and watched Laura give a talk about epilepsy the other week and got emotional watching her talk and was so proud of her and I haven't even known her that long! But I feel that way about everyone I've met here!  My heart just wants to explode sometimes with how much I love everyone.

Speaking of hearts! My band's name is Tetralogy of Fallot, and you should like us on Facebook if you haven't already.

Monday, January 27, 2014

What You Think Is Not Important

I have admittedly been in a slight rut lately.  At the expense of being cryptic, because I don't want to get into it, I've been dealing with stuff at school that I've never had to do deal with on this level before. And it took its toll. I found myself listening to the negativity and doubt and the nonbelievers and allowed their thoughts to take a home in my mind.

It has been taxing to me on multiple levels, but mostly because I don't like being unhappy and negative and angry and pissed off and sad and scared and frustrated.  I choose to be happy and full of hope and life every day because I don't understand why you wouldn't.  What is the point of looking at a rain storm and only seeing the misery and loss of a sunny day?  One time during the summer I walked to a park with my dog so we could hang out and I could read.  There were clouds accumulating when we got there, but I wanted to stick it out and read outside with Iorek for awhile.  Then when the clouds started to really look ominous, I figured we should probably leave.  Not even two steps out of the park it started POURING.  I didn't have an umbrella.  All I was wearing was a t-shirt and a pair of shorts, and it was dumping rain, within 30 seconds we were soaking wet. I couldn't really see because of the immense amount of water that was flooding my face and my mascara was running, blinding me with pain.  But it was kind of fun?  I couldn't help but laugh at how ridiculous we must look to the cars whizzing past us as we shlepped home.  I'm pretty sure I only took one step into my apartment before throwing off all of my wet clothes to get into a nice warm robe.

I could have been really pissed that whole 10-15 minute walk home in the literal downpour, but what would have been the point of that?  It does no use to dwell on the negativity when you can always find some part of your situation to make you laugh.  I have forgotten that. I have accidentally let everyone else's thoughts and opinions of me stamp out that part of my personality.

Right before I went in for my scoliosis spinal fusion surgery the nurse came in to give me drugs or do something, I can't remember now, but she very specifically said something along the lines of how I was going to be lucky to survive the surgery.  I was the opposite of pleased.  Literally five minutes before I'm about to be put under and you tell me that I'll be lucky to wake up?  I was livid.  I told my mom something along the lines of I never wanted to see that nurse again.  But she lit something of a fire in me, because I did not just go sixteen years on this earth with a spine the shape of a question mark to bite it while trying to get it straightened out.  I let the drugs wash me into oblivion while constantly thinking, "I'm going to wake up.  I'm going to wake up. I'm going to wake up."  And I did.

That is my problem with medicine.  Medical people like to make a lot of assumptions, as if they have any idea of what they are really talking about.  Don't tell me I'm not going to survive a surgery because I might look like a weird case to you.  Who cares if I was born with tetrology of fallot, two left lungs,  had a curve of over 70 degrees, and was mildly underweight?  Who are you to say that my body probably won't be able to handle it? I literally do not care what your statistics say or what your science wisdom tells you, there is more to health than the workings of my cells, there is the soul and fire inside of me that holds me all together and that can make or break your diagnosis.  There is so much of the body we have yet to understand, don't act like you know why and how everything will play out.

I actually attribute the fact that I woke up to my little mantra I spoke as I was falling asleep, because it was an admittedly hard surgery.  That is what I decided tonight that I'm going to take back.  I don't care what you think about my stutter.  I don't care what you think is happening inside of me when I'm stuck in a stutter, because you don't know.  I don't know and I'm in me.  How anyone can act like they have any clue is beyond me.  I am done caring about your concern over my speaking ability.  I am done listening to your ignorance masked as confusion, and I am done being seen as only a stutter.  I am also done with the notion that putting someone in an impossible situation breeds success.  I don't bow down to fear.

I had a preceptorship with a family physician a few weeks ago and I asked him what his advice was for my stutter.  He told me to not apologize for stuttering and to be brave with it. Tonight I decided to get back to my happy self.  Tonight I decided to love whatever comes out of my mouth.  From now on I don't apologize if the words tumble out as a stutter.  We have choices in this world.  I choose to focus on being the best that is me, and get back to the happy "I love med school!" Mia that I was first semester.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

The White Coat

I'm a very symbolic person.  I like to pepper my life with little hints of symbolism, sort of like Gus's affinity for living his life in metaphors in The Fault in Our Stars by John Green.  For instance, my cousin's favorite color was purple, and when she died, the fact that she loved purple was very glorified (as you do when people die).  Everything that was involved with her was purple, and purple became a very comforting color for me.  When I bought my suit for my interviews I got a purple top to wear with it, and any day I was feeling like I would need a little something extra that day I wore purple.  Also, every medical school interview I went on I had my Hunger Games Mokingjay pin on hidden under the ruffled part of my shirt.  The Mokingjay pin was a symbol of defiance and strength in the series, and that was something I wanted embedded to my person as I went on these interviews.

As you can probably guess, what I wore to the White Coat ceremony was riddled with symbols, and everything I was wearing was worn for a reason.  I may not be a writer, but I like doing things for reasons, even if no one really knows about it.  I wore the nicest dress in my closest, you could say as a symbol of wealth, but it was mostly because I just like looking nice and getting dressed up.  Also it was dark blue, one of the University of Pittsburgh's colors.  I find that I have a lot of Pitt and Pittsburgh pride now that I'm not in it (so it always goes).  I wore my best, and hottest, pair of heels.  For two reasons, another one of those I really like to dress to the nine's when I can, but more because I bought those shoes at a second hand store in Portland when I came up for my interview at UNECOM.  I had on earrings that my younger sister bought me and I wore my late grandma's fur coat, as another way to have my family close to me even when they are far away (or dead).

White Coat was awesome--and I mean that in the real definition of awesome way, not the "oh that shit was awesome" type of awesome.  I couldn't help but get emotional as I was sitting there listening to all the speakers and watching my classmates get coated and think of all of the people who helped me get there.  I am indebted to my best friend and former roommate, Meg, who was my rock during the whole application process.  We were both applying at the same time so we were able to be each other's cheerleaders when we needed it.  She was there for me on those days when I felt like all my trouble and hard work would be for naught, like the day I came home fuming mad because my professor told me I should find something else to do with my life because I'm not going to be a doctor with my stutter, and as soon as I started telling her the story I dissolved into tears and waves of "Am I doing all this for nothing?" feelings came crashing over me, but it was Meg who told me that was ONE person's opinion and clearly that woman doesn't have any idea who she's talking about because I'm going to be a great doctor.

I am indebted to my stuttering friends in Pittsburgh who showed me how to live a life with a stutter.  It is thanks to Seth and Sara (and the many others) that I even started to think that you could be happy and have a stutter.  Anytime I was with either Seth or Sara or a group of stutterers out in the real world (as opposed to our NSA meetings) I always felt so empowered, sitting in a coffee shop with a bunch of "normal" speakers around us as we chatted away while stuttering.  It always made me wish I lived in a world where stuttering was the normal, or on an island populated by only people who stutter.

Mostly I am indebted to my parents.  To my dad, who always works so hard to support me and my dreams financially, and who is so proud to say he has a daughter in medical school (and I know he loves bragging about it).  I inherited his drive and work ethic and it's thanks to all of that I was sitting in that chair at white coat thinking all of these thoughts.  To my mom, who maybe doesn't always understand everything that I do or I like, but is proud as hell of me and always there for me when I need her (and especially when I need her to move me somewhere).

As I was sitting in white coat I was just very happy--feel in it in your stomach happy.  It's one of the many "I did it!" moments that I'm going to have in this life- like the first acceptance letter I got (unsurprisingly, UNECOM), and walking out of my clinical practical having spoken at least 95% fluent during the full 45 minutes, and I'm excited to keep having them.  I'm excited to live in this medical life and be around medical people.  Also during white coat, I kept thinking about the time Meg, Russell, Sean and I were out one night in Pittsburgh getting dinner and drinks and we got Sean talking about his work and he was telling us about Ulcerative Colitis and Meg, Russell, and I (med school applicant, med student, and med school applicant) were ALL sitting on the EDGE of our seats while Sean (surgery resident) talked about ulcerative colitis..ULCERATIVE COLITIS! Of all the things we could be interested in we were FASCINATED with UC! Not a pretty disease! It was hilarious because we were all so into it and asking so many questions because we love and thirst that knowledge.  That might be one of my favorite memories from this past year.  I just loved that I found people who were as into medicine and the science behind it as I am, not because they have to know the information for a test, but because they are honest to god interested in how the body works.  Of course, now they are all hundreds of miles away from me-which is the one drawback to this profession-the constant leaving that happens--but that, my dear friends is another blog for another day.

These are always SO SAPPY.  I promise I am also a very fun person, I just apparently can't write anything unless it drips with feeling.  Here's a picture of me at white coat to unsappify this-- (maybe my favorite picture ever of me)

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Culture of Osteopathy

--Disclaimer: I started writing this on Sunday (Sept 22) night, but then got tired and wanted to go to bed and wasn't feeling inspired enough to finish it until today.  I'm too lazy to go back and fix all the dates of stuff, so pretend it's Sunday.--

I mentioned in my last post how I was elected as one of my class's student representatives, well I then also decided to be on the SGA(Student Government Association)  E-board as the Public Relations Officer.  To be honest, I had no idea what E-board even stood for or meant (Executive Board), but I knew that I wanted to be as involved with school as I can and the main responsibility that came along with the title was to take care of the website, and since my tag line is- "I'm good at the internet." I thought, why not?

Because I'm a member of the SGA E-board, I had the opportunity to have dinner with the President of the American Osteopathic Association (AOA), his wife, Dean Kelley (our Dean of Constitutive Services), and all the student leaders of the SGA and SOMA (Student Osteopathic Medical Association) tonight and it was a really amazing dinner.  Besides the fact that the food was delicious and the restaurant we went to was beautiful (I devoured my entire meal of scallops, green beans, and mashed potatoes), hearing Dr. Vinn talk about osteopathy and the culture of osteopathic medicine really made me think.

I think it's very fair to say that a decent number of us students of osteopathic medicine got into osteopathy not really knowing exactly what it is.  Sure, we knew it was an approach to medicine that was more about the whole body and finding health instead of focusing on disease, but what does that really mean?  I still struggle with trying to explain exactly what me becoming a DO instead of an MD really means to my friends and family, but hearing Dr. Vinn's answer to what being an osteopathic physician means to him just reaffirmed once again that this is exactly what I want to be doing.

He stressed that being an osteopathic physician is being apart of a family. It's about connecting.  It's about connecting to our patients and our colleagues and caring about one another.  It's about helping each other out.  It's about seeing people and patients as complex beings and being cognizant of more than just what is wrong with them.  It's about touch.  It's about physical touch, it's about emotional touch.  It's about so much more than getting a history, running some labs, and diagnosing the patient and sending them on their way to keep wandering around in the darkness while they look for health as they circle around disease.  It's about the connection.

After almost two months of being here I already see how the osteopathic touch is really an incredible asset in medicine.  The first time we learned the real OMM (OMM stands for Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine - which is where we use our hands to introduce health into the patients body by working their musculoskeletal system ...I'm still working on my definitions for things to make it easy to really understand what we do)..but the first time we learned the real good OMM techniques we all left class feeling AMAZING.  Actually, half of our class have OMM on Wednesday and the other half have it on Thursday -- I have it on Thursday, and Wednesday night I ran into some friends at the local coffee shop who were raving about the OMM class and how great they all felt after having spent three hours practicing on each other in class. They were right.  We were learning a lot of techniques that worked out problems in the neck and back area and I left class, changed out of my sportswear, and texted my partner I was working with that day how I felt like I could actually breathe better.  Which is a HUGE deal for me.  I do not have great lung capacity,  ask my cardiologist, ask my speech therapist--they will tell you.  Also, this may or may not be related but anatomically I have two left lungs. Add in the fact that my spine is fused together and you can see how I clearly don't have a lot of movement in my back area, and I really felt the difference when I left class.

But it's not just that.  It's the fact that osteopathic medicine is all about that physical connection with the patient.  There is a really big problem of depression and mental illnesses in our society and it's because we don't touch and connect with each other.  We're all so scared of showing affection, but we are literally killing ourselves because we're depriving ourselves of that human connection.  Dr. Vinn said tonight that DOs are huggers, and they are! I noticed that it's in his nature to touch people when he's talking to them, a gentle hand on the shoulder to show them he's listening.  I think more behavior like that could really help people out.

I just really loved what he said about the osteopathic culture being a family.  I already feel like my class and the school act like a family.  We have weekly Sunday dinners and on Saturday we got a group together to go apple picking and it sort of made me laugh because while there were about 15 of us who went, we wanted to all stick together as a group and not split up into a bunch of little groups. The second years help us out like older siblings and really make school a lot easier with their block reviews and old notes and general advice.  I can walk through the school and first years, seconds years, and even faculty will say hi to me and use my name.  This isn't the kill or be killed environment you're used to from your undergrad--we're all here to help each other out, we're already living the life of an osteopathic physician and I don't think we know it.  I can go up to anyone and ask them for help on a certain subject, I can go into the lunch room by myself but within ten minutes find myself at a table full of medical students, and I can go into a social situation only knowing a few people and come out a few friends richer.  That is what I love about this school, it's a true community, and that is what Dr. Vinn was saying is one of the hallmarks of osteopathic medicine, and luckily for me I found a school that already has that so engrained in it's culture.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

In the Mind of a Stutterer Before Speaking

I want to try to keep this blog as a way to keep all of my friends and family back home in the loop with all of the interesting things that happen to me while I'm out in Maine for med school.  I wish I could individually tell everyone all the great stories, but I'm realizing that is way too time consuming so I'm doing the semi-impersonal thing and just writing my feelings for the world to read.

A part of me actually finds it easier to tell personal anecdotes to large groups of people instead of more intimate groups (the only exception here might be a one on one conversations).  About two weeks ago, during our last class on a Friday, we had a lecturer who wanted us to think of something that we don't like that we can't control and to think of what we do to resolve that.  Immediately, my stutter came to mind as a perfect example.  He first wanted us to talk about it in our small groups (our main classroom is set up as a bunch of round tables with 6 chairs at each for members of our small groups so we can do more interactive learning), and then he was going to ask some people to share their thoughts to the class.

My thought process went as follows:

"Man, my stutter is a perfect example of that. I should really share it.  I don't really want to share it with my small group...I want to share it with the whole class.  Wait. That involves speaking into the mic.  I'm pretty sure I've only met about 40% of the class so far... that is a large majority that has no idea that I stutter.  What are they going to do when I start speaking and 0.1 seconds later I hit a block?  What is the professor going to do? I've never met him before, will he realize what is happening? Will he be one of those people that recognizes stuttering or will he be confused? I shouldn't care.  I know I shouldn't care."

I'm mostly silent the whole time my small group is talking this over, and then he starts to ask for volunteers to share.  I'm listening to a few of the examples and getting continually more agitated because of how much I want to speak and how badly I also do NOT want to speak at the same time.

More thoughts rattling through my head:

"I have to do this.  The next time he asks for a volunteer I'm going to raise my hand.  Okay, the NEXT time he asks for a volunteer I'm going to raise my hand.  I can't let this opportunity pass me by.  It is literally the perfect way to actually tell my whole class I stutter in one shot.  I'm not going to do it.  I don't need to.  No, I do need to.  The ONLY reason I'm not doing it is because I'm scared.  I'll be really mad at myself if I miss this opportunity.  No, I'm not doing this."

Then, as someone is talking I realize my heart is racing:

"Woah, what is happening, I'm not even definitely speaking in front of the class and my heart is freaking out.  Damn, not only is it racing, but it's also pounding furiously in my chest.  Okay, this is not great for a person with congenital heart disease.  Shit, I have to calm down.  Okay, take deep breathes.  Deep breathes.  Everything is fine.  I am fine.  Is this working?  Um.. maybe.  It doesn't matter I can't have my heart working this hard.  Fuck, calm down!  When did this even start?  This is annoying.  More deep breaths.  Maybe deeper deep breathes will help.  I think that might be helping a smidge. Okay I have to do this.  My heart is only going to calm down if we move past hearing from volunteers or if I just do it.  I WILL be mad at myself if I don't do this.  Damnit, I have to do this.  I'm going to start out as "Well I stutter."  "Well I stutter"  "Well I stutter"  I don't know what I'll say after that.  Do I even need to say anything else, that seems pretty self explanatory to me.  That is a cop out, don't think like that, tell the story.  Um... something about speaking up in front of people is really hard and I've gotten over it by making myself do it and meeting other stutterers.  Or whatever.  "Well I stutter." I'm going to get stuck on that "W" and then it's going to be terrible.  "Well I stutter." time he asks for a volunteer.  Damnit..okay if he asks for one last volunteer. Okay.. Okay.. here we go.  Putting my hand up.  Cannot turn back now.  Does he see hand is straight up."

My mind finally silences as he points to me.  I ask for the mic from the people at my table, pointedly not looking into anyones eyes, wondering if they are all dumbfounded that I rose my hand to speak.  I put my hand on the button to turn the mic on and begin speaking.

"Well, I st-st-st-st-stutter."  Man my voice is shaky, I sound like I'm near tears.   I don't exactly know what I said after my opening phrase, that was all I had planned and one of the main things that stuck in my memory.  But I realized a lot of what I said were thoughts that I think to myself all the time (you can now see that I think about stuttering and perseverate on phrases way too much for my own good).  I talked a little about how just the act of speaking on that mic is actually terrifying for me but I have to make myself do stuff like this everyday because not speaking hurts worse.  When I said this is terrifying the class erupted (may be an exaggeration) into applause and that made my heart want to swell and burst, in the good way--with feelings.  I really wish I knew more of what I said, I touched on the fact that I have learned things through my stutter and the one way that I cope with it is making myself do frightening things.  By the end, I was elated.  I thought, Wow, I sort of love this.  And the last couple words I said into the mic were with PERFECT technique and I was just so proud of myself, because after the fear was gone I could actually use my speaking tools that are so damn elusive normally and speak in my favorite voice of all time.

That was a defining moment for me.  I will never forget it.  I was suppressing a smile for a good 15 minutes after that.  It was crazy how easy it actually ended up being, how much I loved doing it, but more importantly how amazingly my class responded.  I had mentioned to my speech therapist within the first week of me meeting everyone how really well everyone has been receiving my stutter, more so than I'm used to by a long shot. But then, speaking and stuttering in front of 180 people and them applauding me and getting messages from people afterwards saying how awesome that was, I never in a million years imagined that.  I was on a major life high that whole day.  So much so I decided to run for one of our class reps ! (spoiler alert: I am now one of our class reps)

It's not even just the students.  Every Monday in Anatomy lab we have oral quizzes where one of the faculty members comes around to our little anatomy groups and asks us questions they give out the previous Friday.  I was initially really scared of this, but after the first one and I stuttered my way through it but still explained things decently well, and I started to allow myself to care less about my stutter and just let it be.  Then this Monday, my favorite anatomy professor was quizzing us again (really awesome retired surgeon) and I noticed he didn't really give me a real question and was asking me sort of one word answers, and then right before he left us he asked me to find him after class.  And I did one of my bad habits and tried to spell out a word I was stuck on so I was thinking, damn, I shouldn't have done that I know better than to do that.  But I tried to just put it out of my mind because he's a really nice guy, who knows what he's going to say.

After class he finds me, and I go to walk away with him and he says "Lets just stand over here.  I notice when you get stuck on a stutter you sometimes try to alphabetically get yourself out of it, have you ever tried writing down what you're trying to say?" This is it? Man, this guy is awesome.  We then spent a good 10 minutes talking about neural pathways and Pittsburgh and confidence and he told me the hardest part of medicine for me will be patient interviews and when I'm in residency and everyone decides to act like jerks and ask impossible questions on the spot.  Then he said, "If I could punch anyone in the face who gives you grief about your stutter I would, because your patients are going to see who you are and they are going to LOVE you." I even asked him if he would want me to go over the questions after class so he knows that I know them and he said, "I know that you know them.  I can see it in your eyes.  They dilate when you know the answer.  I know you know the answers."  That, right there, is another reason why my stutter is the coolest thing about me, because one of my best friends from Pittsburgh confirmed that she knew exactly what he was talking about.  My stutter might suck a lot, but if it leads to people noticing little things about me like how my eyes change when I know exactly what I want to say but my mouth won't let it come out, then I think it's actually pretty awesome.

I just cannot believe my good fortune--to go from being told by multiple people I'll never get into medical school with my stutter, I'll never be a doctor if I don't fix my stutter, to a retired surgeon on faculty at a medical school giving me the most incredible boost of confidence after only a handful of (admittedly, awesome) interactions.

 Maine is beautiful, the weather has been awesome.  So much enjoyable outside studying, studying on the beach, the stars!!!  Sure, I have a handful of mosquito bites on my person at all times, but from everything that has happened so far I feel really fortunate to be here, and really glad that life brought me here because I think it's going to be really great for me.  Especially if I keep making myself face my fears.