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I go through these freak outs every so often.  They happened a lot more at the beginning of the semester, but have become considerably less as time goes on.  I think the last one I had was about a week and a half ago.  Yes, that’s considerably less than last month where I was basically freaking out everyday. I wish that was an exaggeration.

For those of you who don’t know what a five year program is, let me explain. Sargent college has a program that allows students to complete a Bachelor of Science in Therapeutic Studies and a Masters of Occupational Therapy in 5 years as opposed to 6.  Other perks of this deal are that students who meet the GPA requirement are automatically accepted into the program from undergrad (without an application process) or taking the GRE.  In addition, in your senior year/first-year grad student year you are still elegible for the financial aid you would recieve as an undergrad, which definitely helps with costs.  And of course, you are getting your undergrad in 3 years, cutting down on an extra year of schoolwork and tuition. Sounds like a pretty good deal, right?

The problem lies in the fact that while you have the work load of a first-year grad student, you also are trying to have the social life of a senior in college.  You want to be able to go out with your friends, do fun things on the weekends, just do nothing all day.  People ask you to do things and you have to say no, because the weekends aren’t for fun, they’re for playing catch up.  And while I have become better about doing papers days before they are due, it doesn’t actually mean I’m ahead, because after I’m done those I have to start thinking about the papers due for the next week.  I envy the girls who came into the program with BS’s already (it’s split about 50/50 between 5 years and post-baccelaureates).  They are here for school and school alone.  Yes they want to socialize, but at the end of the day, they aren’t the ones who have to come home to the two girls who have been their best friends for the past three years and explain to them why they can’t go to shopping on a Friday afternoon.  I feel as though my senior year is being stripped away from me and there is nothing I can do about it. I want the semester to be over so badly and yet at the same time I am clinging to it for dear life as I know that one of my best friends will be graduating this December.  I feel like I can’t actually enjoy the time I have with her.

The other problem with this program is that it doesn’t give you a chance to be absolutely sure that this is what you want to do with your life.  Hence the reason for my daily/weekly/monthly freak out sessions.  Many of the post-baccelaureate students have worked for a few years before coming to this program.  They have experience, they’ve tried other things in their life, they have real motivation for being here.  I on the other hand chose OT because I didn’t want to take the physics that was required to become a PT.  Okay, that’s not entirely true.  That’s the simple version.  But still, I haven’t ever actually shadowed an OT.  I’ve done a lot of volunteer work with older people and people with disabilities (and love it) but it’s a lot different to volunteer and to make a career out of it.  I could volunteer and just as easily decided to become a nurse.  So potentially, I could go through all of this and then find out it’s not the right the profession for me.  And that’s a whole lot of time, money and energy down the drain.  I was attracted to OT because of it’s psychology base and it’s creativity.  I’m much more of a psych person than a hard core science person.  And I love the possibility of incorporating dance or horseback riding (two of my favorite sports) into my OT practice.  It’s a very holistic profession and I have fallen in love with the versatility of the profession.  But I continually wonder if I have idealized the field in my mind.  Made it into something it’s not.

I love learning about the body.  It’s a complex, intricate masterpiece that I don’t think we will ever entirely understand.  It excites me to understand how a muscle works or to see a new lung inflate after a transplant on BostonMed.  I love taking blood pressure.  It excites me to get a medical terminology book (just ask my co-workers from the summer).  But my classes so far haven’t incorporated much this at all.  Nor are these the main parts of being an OT.  Moreover my classes have entailed hundreds of pages of reading from which we then discuss what we think about them and what the implications for our clients may be.  We talk about our feelings and about our experiences.  My notebooks don’t have many notes in them because much of what we discuss is very intuitive.  It feels as though I’m learning things I’ve known all my life.  I know what they’re trying to do.  The faculty.  They’re trying to shape our way of thinking more than giving us everything we’ll ever need to know, ever.  They’re trying to bring these things that seem intuitive to our awareness.  It’s a kind of subliminal brain-washing.

The problem is, I would rather be learning every patient scenario we could ever encounter.  I want to learn how to walk into a hospital room and evaluate a patient. How to know what treatment is right for a child with cerebral palsy.  Or what to do for an elderly person who has just had a stroke.  And while I know that most of this I will learn on my Level 2 Fieldwork (L2FW), a 6 month time of unpaid internships, I want to learn what I need to do now. Picking apart and analyzing the details of Activities of Daily Living (ADLs) just doesn’t do the same thing for me as understanding the intricacies of muscle movement or brain activity.

These are the reasons why I freak out.  Why am I really doing this?  I know I want to help people and I want it to be in the medical field, but finding exactly the right avenue is the challenge.  I’ve thought about nursing and am still thinking about it. The problem is that I don’t know if I could handle seeing someone having a heart attack right in front of me.  I have a very impressionable and sensitive heart.  And while I know that I wouldn’t have to work in the ER for the rest of my life, it is a rotation I would have to do during school and I just don’t know if I have the stamina for it.

So I’ve complained about it for a while.  I know.  But I am still pretty sure OT is right for me.  I just have my days.  Or weeks.  It’s just difficult when you feel like you never get ahead, you just stay afloat.  I kind of feel like my stress has leveled off to this baseline level of elevated stress that won’t go away until Christmas break comes.  The work just keeps coming. Undergrad was more periods of extreme stress and then you could relax for a week or two or three.  Grad school is just continual stress, and if you don’t run in front, you get run over.  I know I’ll make, I’ll get there.  This blog is just one of the ways I release the stress from school, just taking time to get all my feelings out onto paper, or in this case, the virtual world. If I don’t take time to do something for myself, even just one thing, I’ll go crazy.  I know I’ll get there.  I just have to keep reminding myself of the reason I was attracted to occupational therapy in the first place.  And that my desire to help people far outweighs any struggles I may have to overcome.

“Yeah I’m ready to feel now, no longer am I afraid of the fall down.  It must be time to move on now, without the fear of how it might end.”– Song on repeat:  Ready to Love Again by Lady Antebellum

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The medical establishment infuriates me sometimes.  As does the whole process of becoming a medical professional.  Boston University is a competitive, high standard school.  No it’s not an IV league, but it’s health and science programs are some of the most difficult curriculums around, dare I say some of the most difficult in the country.  Chem 101 is a weeding class. You either make it or you don’t, and you’ll find out real soon if you have what it takes.  While I agree that you must be able to withstand the pressure and challenges on the road to medical school, I often find the bureaucracy of it all highly infuriating.  There are so many people who have wonderfully caring hearts that would become passionate and sensitive doctors if they were given the chance.  But instead they are cut out because they got a C in organic chem rather than and A-.  On the other hand, there are a lot of pre-med students who can whiz through chem, physics and bio tests, but they are some of the most uncaring, rude, stuck up and/or socially inept people I have ever met.  Becoming doctors isn’t really about helping people for them, it’s about a need for power.  Being a nurse or therapist certainly won’t do, they have to be the one in control, the one with the power, the one in charge, the one that everyone looks to.  The funny thing about power though, is that doctors and health care providers don’t really have that much power at all.  It’s the patients who hold the power. A guest lecturer in our class yesterday, “Analysis and Adaptation of Occupation” reminded us that the doctor is working for the patient, the patient isn’t working for the doctor.   Now who has the power?

Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of wonderful doctors out there that do a lot of amazing things that I could never do.  Brain surgery, face transplants, separation of conjoined twins.  Those are unbelievable accomplishments and they should be aplauded for it.  But there are also a lot of smart people who are doctors who are in it for the wrong reasons.  I wish there was a way to weed out the smart, uncompassionate people and let the good-hearted, chem-inept people have a chance.

The value of an A in Chem 101 when your patient is trying to tell you their concerns? Worthless.  The value of listening to them as if they’re the only person you have to see? Priceless.

Half a Chance

I can’t focus on writing this one-thousanth paper for the semester, so I decided I might as well blog.  Maybe I can put to rest all these thoughts that keep running around in my head if I write them down.

So we have these things called Level 1 Fieldworks (L1FW) each semester.  They’re basically clinical experiences that allow us to take a small step into the world of OT.  I got really lucky with my fieldwork placement this semester.  I’m working with the Sargent aphasia program, specifically a games group.  The purpose of this group is to use games to help participants work on goals related to their aphasia or disabilities. Aphasia is a condition in which a person has lost certain abilities related to speech. Some people with aphasia can understand what others are saying perfectly, but they have a difficult time getting out what it is they want to say.  Others can speak more clearly, but have a harder time with cognition and understanding.  Some have speech impediments that are barely noticeable, while for others it is a struggle to get one word out.  Most of the clients have experienced a stroke, leaving them with this condition.  This is a population that I’ve never worked with before and it’s been not only eye-opening, but so much fun!  The challenge of this group is that each participant have different skills they want to work on.  While some want to work on speech, others want to work on strengthening the coordination of their weaker arm as it was left somewhat paralyzed after their stroke.  Each week me, my fieldwork partner (another classmate) and my fieldwork supervisor (an amazing professor at Sargent!) decide on a game for the clients to do that will help each of them to work on their goals in a different way.  We usually have to adapt the game in order for each goal to be met, but it’s amazing to see how through one game, each person can work on a goal that is meaningful to them (that’s real OT right there).  For example, last week we played Uno.  People who wanted to make communication as their goal would say the color and number of the card they put down, while people who made strengthening their arm as their goal used their weaker arm to pick up cards and then reach for the pile when it was their turn to put down a card.  It worked out really nicely and all the clients really enjoy the challenge!

It’s been so rewarding to work with these people.  There’s only about 5 or 6 of them that come to the group on a regular basis, but I feel that the smaller size gives a sense of closeness and intimacy to the group.  They are all so sweet and so encouraging to one another.  I’m sure it’s because at one time or another they all experienced those rough times during recovery.  They have empathy for one another. They know what each other is going through. Some are just further along in the recovery process than others.  When one person is struggling, the others are all right there to encourage him or her.  The sense of community within the group is absolutely beautiful and inspiring.

So I guess what’s been bothering me isn’t the actual group.  I love the group. Hopefully that’s obvious.  What I’ve been beating myself up over for some time is the debriefing sessions with my supervisor before and after the one hour and fifteen minutes we spend with the actual clients.  These ‘debriefing’ sessions are all about talking about how the group went that day, what we observed in the clients, what we could do better, and what game we are going to do during the next session that will incorporate everyone’s goals.  So, this is fine.  But you have to understand that I’m a fairly reserved person.  I think I’m a pretty sweet person, but nevertheless I’m a more reserved person.  I’m also a perfectionist.  And I also hold very high standards for myself.  This is possibly a lethal combination.  I don’t like saying things unless I know what I am talking about and it is of the highest quality.  I would rather not say anything at all than say something that I don’t think is valuable. Which is one reason why I hate participation points.  If a topic really strikes me and touches me, then I will absolutely say something.  I am not afraid to speak up at all (a common misconception about quiet folk).  But I hate saying things just for the saying something.  Just for the sake of hearing myself speak. And I think there are a lot of people out there who are like that.  Sometimes I think having participation as part of a grade encourages this concept more than actually encouraging everyone to participate.

Anyway, that was a tangent.  But the point was that I have a hard time speaking in these debriefing sessions because I want to say the right thing.  Things that are insightful.  Not things that a 6 year old could have pointed out.  In addition to my perfectionism, I’m slow.  I just am.  I think I got it from my mom.  She does an amazing job at everything she does, but she is a slow poke.  She has told me many times how when she was a nurse all the other nurses would be going on their coffee break and she’d still be making medication rounds.  It always took her an hour while all the other nurses did it in 45 minutes.  She tried so hard to get it done 15 minutes earlier, but she just couldn’t and she finally just accepted that she was just plain slow.  But you know what?  That was okay, because she did the best, most thorough and most careful job of any nurse out there.  She didn’t cut corners.  She held to her highest standards.  I’m pretty sure I inherited this gene.  Not just because I take 5 hours to write 2 page papers or the entire hour and a half to take a 50 question test, but because I’m slower at processing information as well.  I rarely learn much in lecture, specifically science lectures. I am usually scrambling to just take down notes.  But if I get an hour or two to myself to really process and understand the concepts, it eventually clicks.  And it’s the same in these debreifing sessions.  My supervisor will ask us to think about a game for next week, and in the time that my fieldwork partner has thought of a game and how it could be adapted for Sue, Sally and Sam (names changed), I am still trying to think about what game we could do. I shut down in the presence of quick thinking, loud, outgoing people. There’s nothing wrong with them, I don’t fault them for it, and there’s nothing malicious about it.  Actually they usually don’t even notice that they might be taking away from the thoughts of others. But of course, like the perfectionist, introspective, overly analytical person I am, I feel as though if I can’t contribute quickly with creative ideas, I won’t make a successful occuaptional therapist.

I know this isn’t true.  I know that my own struggles and inner characteristics will only make me a stronger OT.  But it’s difficult when you feel as though people can’t see the real you. If I could pause life for a second, process the fieldwork for 20 minutes and then resume the debriefing session, I know that I could share the creative ideas that are bubbling up inside me.  Of course, that’s impossible, but I can still dream.

It’s just frustrating that I’ve worked so hard to overcome my quietness through many of my college experiences and I get to a place where I think that I can do anything I want and then it somehow finds its way back into my life again.  But I guess maybe that’s where I’m wrong. For so long I have seen my quietness as something that’s bad, something that I have to overcome, something that I have to be ‘cured’ of.  I think a lot of it has to do with society. American society implies that if you want to be successful, happy and confident you need to be loud and outgoing. It’s a society that doesn’t appreciate quiet people and what they have to offer.  And I get caught in the trap of thinking that too.

This fieldwork is giving me a real life experience of occupational therapy, from the inside, out. I’m not only the growing the therapist, but also the client.  I have to adapt my way of approaching these sessions, by knowing myself and therefore choosing to be more proactive in my role as a group facilitator.  I need to come to each debriefing session prepared and having thought things out.  I need to plan out what I’m going to observe about the clients.  Or maybe which clients I’m going to observe for the day.  I need to give myself a chance to think, and not beat myself up if my fieldwork partner has another creative idea or answers before me.  I need to give myself half a chance.

Song on repeat:  Family Man by Craig Campbell

Blog Convert

This is really the last thing I ever thought I’d be doing. Starting my own blog that is. I’ve just never understood the point of them. Why would you ever want to share your innermost feelings and thoughts for the whole world to read? Just get a journal for pete’s sake. But I have to admit, I was wrong. I was inspired to start this blog by a nursing student blog that I read about a month ago when I was having a small freakout, wondering of OT school was actually right for me and debating about applying to nursing schools. My mom was a nurse, but she went to school almost 30 years ago and the challenges of nursing school back then were certainly different than they would be today. I needed something where I could really understand the innermost thoughts and feelings of a nursing student. I couldn’t stop reading it. The posts were so real, so well written.  I felt like I was going through exactly what she was going through. And through that blog, I realized that nursing school probably isn’t the right choice for me.

 

But I am 99.9% sure that occupational therapy is the right profession for me. The .1% of doubt? Nothing wrong with it. Doubt is what keeps us questioning, keeps us evaluating, keeps us reflecting. For a long time I thought that if this isn’t what I wanted to do with my life right now that I’d be stuck in it forever. But while my college career as I have known it may be over, my life outside of undergraduate school is a completely unwritten book. Maybe the beginning of graduate school marks the beginning of that new book. And this blog? Well it’s just a few of the pages.