The Straight Story

Ostensibly, the reason for my total radio silence on tumbledry is clear: the second half of my first semester of dental school was extraordinarily busy. For example: for the first time since I began working out in 1999, I voluntarily gave up the gym for six weeks. I ran through gross anatomy flash cards on the bus to and from school, I ran through flash cards before sleeping, I ran through flash cards with Mykala, I ran through flash cards while walking across the train tracks between my bus stop and apartment, I woke up running through flash cards in my mind. Incidentally, I slept little. I skipped so many meals that by the end of the semester I looked at the mirror and was shocked to see someone who appeared quite gaunt. So, that would seem to be the full story. It is not.

November 12, 2008 was the biggest day of reckoning in my life. My mid-term test results in two big classes came back with some stupendously low numbers. I don’t mean just not good… no, my performance was earth-shatteringly bad. I crunched the numbers on the grades and realized that, if I didn’t do nearly perfectly on my remaining tests of the semester, I would be kicked out of dental school. I would be booted from what I’d been working toward for 5 years, with a shockingly large debt load, into the worst economy since the Great Depression. Those were the stakes — so on the night of November 12, I almost gave up. And I don’t mean that lightly. I didn’t almost decide not to go to school anymore. I almost gave up on myself completely. Totally. In an utter panic, I called Mykala and said I didn’t know what to do — she left very early from work and came down, just in time to watch me totally, completely melt down. Weeks later, talking it over with Mykala and later with my parents, I described the event as something snapping in me. In time, it felt like something snapped into place. At the time, though, I felt no such comfort from an alternate path illuminated before me: I was a caged animal gnawing my arm off for release. I didn’t know if I could go on.

It all boiled down to this: I had four final exams (2 lab, 2 lecture) split between histology and gross anatomy in which I had to perform unfathomably well. I had to step up to the plate four times and hit four home runs. Once I decided I might be able to do it, I focused exclusively exclusively on studying. Saturday night after Thanksgiving found me in the Histology lab, reviewing slides and trying to organize all the organ systems and their interrelating hormones. I attended lectures, then I rewatched them online, pausing every 30 seconds and writing down everything I heard. I remember spending five hours straight in the histology lab before the test, desperately trying to make sure I could identify organs in histological slides. The histo course director was absolutely amazing — endlessly enthusiastic and helpful, she did weekly tutoring sessions and stayed as late as 8pm to help me with all the concepts. And then there was gross anatomy.

In an effort to reinvent the way I had been studying for gross anatomy, I made a stab at a method I hoped would work: I diagrammed everything. Everything that I could possibly draw, I drew. I now have a binder full of schematics for structures like the external carotid artery, parasympathetic and sympathetic contributions to the Vidian nerve, dural venous sinus drainage, muscles of facial expression, sensory innervation of the skin on the skull, and on and on and on and on. The last night the lab was open before the final, I spent 13 hours on my feet, examining my group’s dissected cadaver in addition to all the cadavers of my classmates. I took a half hour break for a panicked dinner.

Then on January 1, 2009, between 1:30 and 2:30am, the U of M’s computer grading system FINALLY refreshed and I found out that I had passed my classes. I made it. More accurately, we made it — Mykala and I. During that living hell of endless studying, we grew closer to one another and grew more as people more than I would have ever thought possible (especially during such a time like this last semester). We came out on the other side more in love, more understanding of one another, armed with an arsenal of tools to tackle future crises… and me owing a huge debt of gratitude to my wonderful fiancée. I even became closer to my family: my mom answering all my phone calls, my dad emailing advice, and my sister praying for me and sending me the occasional funny video.

It was amazing. Terrible. And amazing. Life-changing. My entire worldview has been shifted, clicked into place, and I am a much better person for it.

And one more thing: never again. Never, ever, again.

Essays Nearby