:: eye of the storm ::

About Me

A 27-year-old PA student who wants to visit all seven continents, write a book, work at a pediatric clinic in Africa, and basically meet as many of the world's challenges as possible.

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current mood:
current mood

Life List

(already accomplished)

Become a PA

Visit all 7 continents

Take a SwimTrek trip

Bike through Western Europe

Raft the Grand Canyon

Improve my Spanish proficiency

Go on safari in Africa

Trace my roots at Ellis Island

Vacation in Hawaii

Work on a hospital ship in a Third World country

Celebrate New Year's in Times Square

Visit all 50 states (29 to go: AK, AZ, AR, CA, CO, HI, ID, IL, IN, IA, KS, MI, MN, MO, MT, NE, NV, NM, ND, OK, OR, RI, SD, TX, UT, VT, WA, WV, WI, WY)

See the ruins at Pompeii

Swim in Capri's Blue Grotto

Tour Mt. Vesuvius

Throw a coin in the Trevi Fountain

Tour the Colosseum

Visit the D-Day beaches

See the Mona Lisa

Visit the palace at Versailles

See the Acropolis and Parthenon

See the Egyptian pyramids

Hike the Inca Trail

Walk El Camino Santiago

Take an Alaskan cruise

View the Taj Mahal at sunrise

Hike Table Mountain in South Africa

Climb through the Amazon canopy

Walk at least part of the Great Wall of China

Get laser hair removal

Learn to surf, ski, and snowboard

Learn to drive a stick-shift

Learn to play the piano

Go on a tropical cruise

Ride horseback on the beach

Ride in a hot air balloon

Get tickets to the Olympics

Go to adult Space Camp

Witness a shuttle launch from up close

Build a full-sized snowman

Sew a quilt out of my old race T-shirts

Update and continue my Life Scrapbook

Become the oldest person to ever do the River Run

Live to be a happy, healthy 100 years old - at least!

(unlikely dreams)

vrijdag 16 december 2011

Thanks for nine great years, Blogger. It's been real, it's been fun -- and at times, it's actually been real fun. But at other times, it's been incredibly frustrating, so I finally made the leap...

...to a NEW WORDPRESS BLOG!!!!!!

Change your bookmarks, all, and I'll see ya on the flip side!

donderdag 14 juli 2011

So I spent the majority of my vacation in Florida with my family, and overall I had a really great time. I ended up going down a bit earlier than I planned because of the timing of my grandmother's funeral, but I'm glad that things worked out to where I was able to be there. I drove down on the first of the month, and services were on the second. We had a small family remembrance in her backyard, and although I hadn't managed to write down anything to say, I was able to speak pretty well 'off the cuff' despite everyone's emotions running high. After that, there was a Catholic mass (the priest was very amusing and did a great job with the eulogy) followed by a delicious lunch. Sad setting aside, it was really nice to have such a big chunk of my family together; my dad has 4 sisters, and they were all there, with most of the members of their families. That's how it used to be on big holidays, when all of us cousins were little, but I haven't seen everyone in one place like that in years.

The rest of break was pretty low-key. I did some clothes shopping with Mom, went to the Bookmine (twice), did a lot of early-morning runs, took my parents to Three Layers Cafe, and swam three practices with my old masters' swim team. The first one hurt (both my body and my ego!), but the second and third ones weren't bad. I also checked out the new downtown library, and, yeah -- there are pretty much no words for how amazing it is. Five stories tall, with everything you could possibly dream of and more: a teen room, a genealogy research center, a theater, a Grand Reading Room on the top floor, a forest-themed children's area, a map room, a cafe, and so on. I would have lived there as a kid.

I got to see some of my old friends, too -- met an old middle-school friend for coffee, an old swim team friend for brunch, and a high school friend for dinner (complete with peanut butter pie as big as my head!). I also got to spend a whole day with my best friend from high school, who is an RN, married and living in Orlando. I sat beside her on the first day of Spanish II class, in ninth grade, when we were both 14; she had braces and long reddish-purple hair (which is now back to brown, and as short as my own). Anyway, I drove down to O-town for the day, and we hit up IKEA, the mall, the outlets, and an amazing restaurant called The Elephant Bar (which unfortunately does not exist in my part of the country, so we may have to make that a regular destination when I visit home!). Our mouths never stopped moving all the while. I am so grateful that she and I have been able to stay friends for all these years -- I've known her for literally half my life, and every time I see her, we manage to pick up right where we left off. It's just so 'easy' to be with her, which is such a rare gift.

The next day, I drove down to Gainesville to watch my cousins (18 and 15) swim at their sectional meet. I'm particularly close to my 18-year-old cousin M; she just got a full college scholarship to a top-five swimming school, and is also competing at the FINA World Championships in Shanghai at the end of this month, so this was my last chance to see her swim before she hits the big time. I am so freakin' proud of her, both as an athlete and as the young adult she's becoming, and it was great to spend some quality time with her, sitting in the bleachers chatting about life in between her events.

Let's see, what else? Well, my dad scrubbed three years' worth mold off my car (he's amazing), fixed my folding bike (see? amazing), and sweet-talked the salesgirl at the Apple Store into replacing my drowned iPod for free (told you he's amazing). And I guess I did a little bit of work myself, too -- reviewed some PACKRAT (end-of-year exam) questions, worked on my speech for the scholarship lunch (more on that in a minute), and wrote a blog entry for the 'Day in the Life' series of essays that are posted on the PA website (link to come). Oh, and I busted out my medical 'toys' to look at my sister's infected ear (she managed to perforate her eardrum less than 4 hours before I got to FL), which evolved into an impromptu medical clinic in the dining room, with everybody looking at everybody else's ears, eyes, and throats. Catie's perforated TM was the star of the show, but it turns out my dad and brother-in-law have great (read: easily visualizable) optic discs, and my mom has perfect 'textbook' pearly gray eardrums. I freaked out for a second upon seeing a black splotch in my dad's right eye, and tried to ask him casually whether he'd ever had any other eye issues apart from his nearsightedness; he replied, "No, but whenever I get those pictures taken of the back of my eye, they tell me I have a 'freckle' back there in the shape of a T-bone steak. It never changes; it's just there." Cue the sigh of relief that it was a normal finding... but I also felt like a stud for seeing it! :)

Oh, and, of course, we drove down to the Canaveral National Seashore to watch the final space shuttle launch. That was a big part of why I'd wanted to go home for this break. Although we were several miles away from Kennedy, it was still an awesome sight, and an unforgettable experience. Waking up at six o'clock to a seventy percent chance that the launch would be scrubbed, but still taking the risk and driving down. Walking a mile down the beach, hanging on the radio announcer's every word for weather updates, anxiously watching the skies begin to clear. Standing on the sand in the middle of a stock-still crowd, everyone facing the same direction, silently waiting. Listening to the countdown via portable TVs and radios, holding our collective breath as it stopped at T-minus 31 seconds for a quick double-check of a retraction arm, exhaling in relief as it started back up. Watching the famous old digital countdown clock tick down to zero for the final time, then exploding in cheers and applause when the bright streak of light lit up the horizon for the last time, arcing its way upward ever faster. Just fantastic. Hard to believe that such a huge part of my childhood is over, though. I went to Space Camp at age 12 and loved every minute of it. A newscaster that I've been watching for my whole life got so choked up over the end of the shuttle program the night before the launch that he almost couldn't finish his piece. His point was that those of us who grew up in Florida feel a sense of ownership of the space program; it means something different to us than those in the rest of the country. We were the kids who stood on our driveways and rooftops on launch days and pointed to the faraway streaks of light, watched the solid rocket boosters fall, listened for the sonic booms from the reentries, heard the stories of the Challenger told and retold. An era has ended, but beautifully so. I hope that whatever comes next can compare.

Anyway... then yesterday was the aforementioned scholarship lunch; the organization that sponsored my elementary school's safety patrol brigade gave me an award last year that they were kind enough to renew for 2011. I had let slip that I was going to be in town, so I ended up being invited to attend one of their weekly meetings, and was asked to give a brief speech on what I'd been up to over the past year and what was on tap for me for next year. I was nervous about it, but I think it went well; I saw lots of smiles and nodding heads throughout, and got a couple of big laughs -- even some spontaneous applause when I talked about St. Baldrick's. I talked briefly about what a PA is ("We're not 'Personal Assistants'; we're not 'Public Attorneys'; we're not the state of Pennsylvania..."), what I'd been up to over the past year ("You may notice that I'm sporting a pretty short haircut..."), what was coming up for next year, and how lucky I felt to be at Duke ("I'm learning something new every hour of every day, I'm surrounded by the most brilliant, caring, amazing people I've ever been privileged to meet, and I feel so humbled that someone, somewhere thought that I deserved to be among them. And I have people like you to thank for that, because it's organizations like this one, and people like all of you, that allow me to get up in the morning and do what I love every day."). I felt pretty good afterwards; one of the things I've been working on this year is trying to become a better public speaker, and this was one of the rare occasions when I've been asked to speak, not about a random school assignment, but about something I'm passionate about and truly know backwards and forwards. Anyway, I was pleased with how it went, and I drove back to Durham last night with a check in my purse, so my Duke bursar account is going to be pleased, as well. :)

Today, so far, has been amazing. I got caught up on bills and various other tasks, then went for a massage at 11am. I haven't had a massage since I was 21 and living with a girl who was in massage school, but I still haven't fully recovered from that finger-breaking tumble I took a few weeks ago -- I pretty much wrenched the entire left side of my body from neck to thigh, and a certain muscle in my left hip/glute area, in particular, is still pretty stiff, especially after long periods of sitting. I thought a massage might help, so I'd been watching GroupOn and LivingSocial for deals, and finally snagged one. I swear I could feel my muscles crunching as the knots were worked out! It wasn't exactly pleasant, but my body felt a lot better afterwards (and, knock on wood, my hip doesn't hurt anymore, either!). My shoulders were actually sore afterward from all the work she did on them (after yesterday's seven-hour drive, I'm not surprised they were so tense), but it was the good kind of sore. I'm glad I did it. It's not something I can afford to do on a regular basis for full price, but I'll definitely keep watching for deals.

After the massage, I went to lunch with my friend R, her baby girl, and her sister M; she had scored yet another LivingSocial deal (it was just that kind of day). We caught up over a delicious shrimp and artichoke risotto, and then I went a few blocks down Main Street to get my hair cut by the amazing C (whom I discovered during the St. Baldrick's event a few months back and to whom I was an immediate convert!). We agreed that I had reached 'critical mass' in terms of hair and that it drastically needed thinning out, as well as some shortening. It's amazing how fast it grows; C was telling the other stylists behind the counter that she couldn't believe how fast it had come back; it's been less than three months since I shaved it! Oh, and she and her hair posse officially challenged the DPAP crew to a cornhole tournament next week... this should be interesting... :)

Anyway, I just called and left a message for my very first preceptor, which was only slightly nerve-wracking; I assume he's in clinic all afternoon, so I doubt he'll call back until after 5. I'm headed to my BodyTone class now (the second-to-last one I'll get to do for a while... *sniff*), then back home to clean up, then a couple of errands, then to Tutti Frutti with some DPAPers, and then... drumroll... the very last Harry Potter midnight show of all time! (Yes, I will be wearing my graduation gown -- I'm just that big of a dork! :))

Three and a half more days of freedom... and it's been an awesome break... but I gotta say, I'm actually feeling a lot more confident than I was before the vacation. I've wrapped my head around the transition and my changing role, for the most part, and I'm ready to jump back in.

Just don't tell my classmates I said that. :)

maandag 13 juni 2011

There have been three major developments in my life recently that I haven't yet posted about, so I'm going to try to write a brief update that encompasses all three. Caveat: I managed to trip while running last weekend (caught the toe of one sneaker in the loop of the shoelace on the other) and fell in the exact wrong way to break one of my fingers, so this may not be as detailed of a post as you guys are used to (typing isn't the easiest thing in the world right now), but I'll do what I can.

(1) Global Health
Our Global Health electives were announced last week, and I got my first choice -- Tanzania!!! I'll be spending most of the month of March at Machame Lutheran Hospital in Machame, Tanzania, which is on the lower slopes of Mt. Kilamanjaro, right on the Kenya border. I'll be going with a classmate of mine who is also a good friend, and we're both incredibly excited. Word on the street is that, because of the language barrier, this rotation is more observational than most of the ones we'll do here in NC, but we've also been told that you can 'mold' the experience into whatever you like best -- i.e. if you're a surgical type, you can spend lots of time in the OR, or if you're like me and more interested in pediatrics, infectious disease, that type of thing, then you can spend more time in the HIV clinic. I also discovered today that this hospital has a palliative care program, so that might be rewarding to be involved with, as well. I've wanted to do medical work in Africa for as long as I can remember, and I absolutely cannot wait! I've already borrowed a couple of Swahili books from a classmate who's been to Tanzania before, and I'm planning to study up during the fall and winter. (Foreign language #7! Woohoo!)

The only minor down side is that we're going in March rather than in January, meaning we won't have that nice long winter break preceding the international experience (on the contrary, it's going to be sandwiched between two of the rotations I'm most dreading -- surgery and psych!) This is a bummer, partly because there are a ton of cool extracurricular things to do in Africa -- safari, the Jane Goodall Institute, etc. -- and also because most of the flights to Tanzania go through Amsterdam, which means I could potentially stop and visit friends (and shadow a couple of Dutch PAs at their hospital, as I was recently invited to do, but I'll get to that in a minute). I was also hoping to spend some time in South Africa with a friend I haven't seen in nearly a decade. I might still be able to do most of those things, but the timing will be a lot more of an issue than it would be if this were my January rotation. We'll see. Anyway, I'm still so unbelievably stoked to have gotten this rotation and to be fulfilling a lifelong dream. Can. not. WAIT.

(2) New Apartment
We had a travel snafu on the way home from Vegas last week that resulted in a miserable 24 hours (but netted us a free airfare, so it's all good), and I really just wanted to come home and crash. However, upon walking in to my apartment office the day I got home, it turned out that my new, permanent apartment was ready two days earlier than I thought it would be. Suddenly, I was no longer tired -- I'd been waiting nearly six months for this day! :) I borrowed a hand truck from the office and got busy. Within 24 hours, I had everything moved (and didn't fall and break my finger until, oh, two or three hours after I was done, so I suppose my timing was decent?!), and I've spent this past week slowly getting organized. I bought a TV stand and bookshelf on the cheap from a classmate, finally ordered my IKEA sleeper sofa, which should be here next week, and after lots of looking, finally found and ordered a dining set that I really like. Then I went to IKEA in person this weekend and bought a rug, a paper lamp, a couple of pieces of art, and some other accessories. The place is shaping up to be absolutely beautiful and completely 'me', and I'm so excited. I've never lived completely on my own before, and I've waited a long time for this, so it's awesome to watch everything coming together. It's a quirky little apartment -- my books are in the highest kitchen cabinets, my pantry food ended up in the linen closet, my silverware is in a lower cabinet -- and yet somehow none of this is annoying to me in the least. It's all part of the charm of the place.

Photos to come, once the sofa and dining set arrive. I really want to have people over for a big brunch once things are completely finished (bought two kinds of scone mix at World Market last week in anticipation of that)... hopefully we can make that happen before the end of the school year on June 30th.

(3) Vegas
What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas... unless you happen to have a website. :) I recently attended my first annual AAPA conference, which was held in Las Vegas. Oddly, this was actually my first time ever traveling west of the Mississippi. I can't say much good about the city itself -- it was like sensory overload 24 hours a day, with the music and lights and cigarette smoke and noise and general level of public inebriation... like a theme park for adults -- but the conference itself was utterly AMAZING. Our faculty gave us the week off in hopes that we would use it to attend the conference, and even though I know that was something of a calculated move on their part (X + Y = Z, or "let's get them to go to this conference so that they'll get really excited about our profession and hopefully continue to be involved at a high level throughout their careers"), it still worked; I had an incredible time and will definitely continue to attend every year that I can reasonably do so.

Even though I wasn't eligible to earn credit for them (yet), I still attended a bunch of CMEs, and learned a ton. (CMEs = Continuing Medical Education sessions... I'll have to complete 100 hours of CME every two years throughout my career once I'm licensed, and this conference is a great opportunity for licensed PAs to earn a big chunk of those hours.) Since I wasn't shooting for a certain number of credits, I was able to just attend whatever sessions interested me most, and it was amazing. I listened to talks on pediatric palliative care, the hygiene hypothesis, pediatric immunology, maternal/fetal trauma, and pediatric seizure, among others, and scribbled notes the whole time. I was both amused and pleased to see that every CME presentation began with a statement of the learning objectives -- that's something that our every lecture and unit and course is built upon, and it was interesting to see that what we do in the classroom is directly modeled from what happens out in the 'real' PA world. One of my faculty members presented a lecture (aimed at preceptors) titled 'The Unprofessional Student' -- so, of course, a dozen or so of us showed up to be living, breathing examples. :) I knew Duke didn't employ slackers, but still, I was impressed that this faculty member was enough of a 'big shot' to present at a national conference, and told her so; she blew it off and said, "One day this'll be you up here." (We'll see about that, but the comment made me feel good. :))

There was a lot more to the conference besides CMEs, though. There was a huge exposition hall with more free samples than I could count, and we spent a good amount of time in there, which was a great way to meet people and make connections. I met two middle-aged Dutch PA students from Rotterdam, who told me all about their program and even invited me to come shadow them at their hospital. It was great to speak Dutch again and really enlightening to hear details of how other programs are structured. There was a 5k Fun Run one morning, which a few of us ran, and a Duke alumni reception one night, where we got to meet graduates from years past. Also, one of my Challenge Bowl teammates won tickets to the fancy-schmancy conference awards dinner (basically, to honor PAs from across the country who have done amazing things), so we got to sit at a table with the AAPA press, meet all the honorees, eat a delicious free dinner, and basically rub elbows with all the bigwigs in the PA profession. And everybody was so nice! I was amazed at how willing people were to help us, and how enthusiastic they were to hear that we were students. We had business cards shoved into our hands every few minutes, and were repeatedly told, "If you ever need anything, get in touch." One of the dinner speakers quoted one of his students as having said, "It's amazing that such a large, fast-growing profession can have such a small-town, family feel to it," and I found that quote to be right on the money.

The National Medical Challenge Bowl (a.k.a. "Quiz Bowl"), took place at the conference, too, and was an incredibly intense experience that I am so glad to have been able to participate in. I can't even explain how it felt to see all 30+ of our attending classmates decked out in Duke blue on behalf of the three of us! We ended up coming in second to Yale in the first round, which was something of a letdown -- it was hard to have five months of preparation and anticipation be over in five minutes, and I'd be lying if I said there were no tears -- but the sadness stemmed more from the fact that something that was such a highlight of the first year for me was suddenly over. I've never thought of myself as someone who thinks well on my feet, and as a result, I truly never expected to actually be good at Quiz Bowl -- I was just going to the practices for fun, to see if I could learn something -- but I surprised myself and turned out to have a real talent for it. I'll never forget hearing the moderator read our tenth and final question, having that 'light-bulb' moment after the first few words, buzzing in before the question was complete, nailing the answer, and hearing my class scream their approval. It's not likely that I'll ever be able to use that skill again in that type of setting, which makes me sadder than it probably should. But I'm trying to remind myself that, someday, whether it's in six months or six years, a patient will benefit because of something I learned through Challenge Bowl. I suppose that's enough of a reason to be glad about having done it.

Honestly, the predominant emotion throughout the entire conference was, I can't believe how lucky I am to get to be a part of this! I can remember, before PA school, having some lingering doubts. Despite how much I liked my pediatric job, and how well I'd done in my science classes, I was still really shaken by my 2007 experience of having realized that I both wanted and needed to quit linguistics. On a fundamental level, I'm just not someone who quits things, and so that experience was both unusual and scary for me on a lot of levels. As I went through the PA application and acceptance process and started preparations to come to Duke, a tiny voice inside my head would occasionally whisper, "What if you go through all of this, and devote all this money and time and energy... and then this isn't it, either?" Thankfully, it became clear almost immediately upon starting school that those fears were unfounded, and the thought of this not being where I belong honestly hasn't even entered my head once -- but it was still wonderful to stand in the middle of a bustling conference center or awards dinner, look around at all the activity, and feel such high levels of interest and motivation and happiness surging through me. It confirmed for me yet again that I am in exactly the right place, in exactly the right profession, with exactly the right people. As nervous as I am about the end of the first year (18 days!) and the start of rotations, I'm excited to see what comes next, and thrilled to be inching ever closer to my life as a licensed professional.

zondag 24 april 2011

I should preface this post by saying that my class has been working for months on a fundraiser for pediatric cancer research, raising money by pledging to shave our heads. When we first started talking about it, I immediately wondered whether perhaps I should volunteer to be a ‘shavee’ – seeing as it’s one of those things that I’ve secretly always wanted to do on some level – but then talked myself out of it. As a result of that ‘go big or go home’ mentality, I ended up doing absolutely zero work toward the fundraiser whatsoever. As the big day drew closer, I mentioned to a few people that I’d temporarily considered the idea of shaving, but the conversation never went further than that. The online shavee list stayed constant, as it had been from the beginning: every DPAP 2012 boy (save one), but no girls.

Until Thursday – approximately 24 hours before the shave-a-thon – when I walked past a couple of my faculty members (both female with very short hair) and heard, “Hey, what’s this we hear about you wimping out on shaving your head?!”

Um. Well.

I laughed, then launched into my litany of reasons: “Oh, you know, I have clinicals coming up in three months…”

“Come on, just take an extra multivitamin! It’ll totally grow out in time!”

Coming from a couple of PAs, that cracked me up. “But, I mean, I didn’t even raise any money for the foundation, so there wouldn’t really be a point to my shaving…”

“Well, I donated to your class as a whole,” one of them pointed out, “so you can kinda count that as money that ‘you’ raised…!”

They kept saying yes, I kept saying no, and after some more good-natured back-and-forth, I continued on my way and forgot (mostly) about the conversation.

After the school day ended, I was feeling rather melancholy and went for a run. The second-years had been in the building with us all day and it had been a weird, ‘transition’-feeling type of day for me – clinical year suddenly felt incredibly close, and the idea of losing my comfortable first-year routine was looming particularly large. I didn’t have any plans, but didn’t feel like going home to an empty apartment, so I texted a few classmates to see what they were up to. One friend responded that she had a bunch of girls from our class at her house making homemade sushi, and that I should come, which I eagerly did.

Sitting around the table with full bellies a little while later, someone mentioned the fundraiser, and I made the mistake of mentioning the conversation I’d had a few hours earlier. Everyone at the table was two or three glasses in by this point, so naturally the mass response was, “Oh, you should TOTALLY shave your head!”

I smiled, shook my head, and started reciting my excuses again. “Nah… clinical year starts soon… and I’ve had short spiky hair before, which looked awful… and I didn’t raise any money for St. Baldrick’s anyway…”

…at which point one of the girls across the table cut me off short, smacking her hand on the table and saying, “I’ll give you fifty bucks right now if you shave your head.”

I blinked.

After a beat of silence, the girl next to her nodded and said, “I’ll match that.”

The next girl raised her eyebrows and said, “Well, I’ll pledge a HUNDRED bucks if you shave your head!”

And so on and so forth, until the girl at the end of the table stood up and said, “Okay, Jess – I will match the donation of every single person at this table, if you will shave your head.”

Silence. Everybody looked at me expectantly.

Oddly enough, it felt right. I couldn’t help but grin. “I’m trying to figure out if I’ve had too much to drink, or if I’m actually considering this,” I said, “…and, you know, I think I’m actually considering this!”

“Okay! So. We need a computer,” someone said, very businesslike. The hostess ran to fetch her school laptop, and ten minutes later, there was a new team page on the St. Baldrick’s website. “How do you spell ‘booyah’?” the typist inquired, and suddenly we had a team name: “Jess Is Shaving Her Head, BooYah!”

Credit cards were whipped out, promises were kept, and I was approaching four-digit territory within minutes. I was starting to get excited by this point, thinking about my rockstar cousin Anna and her recent victory over lymphoma, little Vinny from Kernersville whose heroic saga I’ve followed online for years, the (thankfully) few pediatric patients I dealt with firsthand who were diagnosed with various forms of cancer, and my own misdiagnosis of osteosarcoma as a thirteen-year-old. Here was something that I could do – actually do, not just talk about – that would make a difference. Not to mention that part of me had sort of always wanted to shave my head anyway, but had just never had the right opportunity. I started to feel ridiculous for having waited so long to get on board. I grabbed the laptop and wrote a short message on the team page, stating that I would shave my head IF, and only IF, I reached my fundraising goal by the start of the shave-a-thon at 5:30pm. It was nearly midnight by this point, which left us just eighteen hours to work with. Deep down, I knew that I’d take the leap regardless of how much more money I managed to pull in, but wanted people to work for it.

Within minutes, I started getting text messages from others in the class, wanting to know if one of the guys had signed me up as a joke. When I assured them it was for real, Facebook started lighting up with people enthusiastically reposting my team page, with variations on “the ONLY girl in our class brave enough to shave!” The donation total crept steadily upward. We’d set the goal at $4,000, knowing that if others in our class joined my ‘team’, that their already-accrued donations would transfer towards my total, but there were a sizable number of new pledges coming in, too. My class is roughly 80% female, and I think it was exciting to suddenly have a lone representative from Team Estrogen at the eleventh hour.

My class had yesterday off, but the 2011ers were watching the numbers from the lecture hall, and my class was keeping track from home. I don’t think I’ve ever received that many texts in a single day. “OMG, you’re halfway there!” “Wow, look how much you’ve raised!” “Only $1000 to go!” Faculty members were emailing me, “I’ll donate in your honor!” and “I’ll try to make it over there to watch!” I got donations from old high school classmates that I haven’t spoken to in years, as well as from second-year DPAP students and even a couple of 2013ers, who will be entering in August; I also got a large donation from the amazing doctor that I worked for prior to entering school, and a couple of lovely, touching personal messages from other donors. I made a special trip to Target to buy a few headbands and scarves, and posted on Anna’s Facebook wall “Um. So. My class got me into this thing, and it kinda snowballed, and… well… I think I may need some hair advice!” (Chica was brave enough to rock her bald head in all its glory the whole time, but I wasn’t sure that I would be.)

By the time I left the house for the event, I had raised $1,271 in ‘new’ money, putting me in the lead for individual fundraising. After factoring in all the classmates who had pledged their totals to me, I was at $3,806 – and in an unbelievable show of goodwill, the girl in our class who, until the day before, had raised the most money, who was supposed to be a shoo-in to win the jacket for number-one individual fundraiser, transferred her entire four-digit total to me at the last minute.

And there I was, over goal. By a lot.

The event was held outdoors, under part of the covered brick pavilion at Tyler’s Taproom; the philanthropy committee did an amazing job of setting up tables, hand-painted signs, band equipment, raffle tickets, shaving stations, and so forth. Stylists from Posh had come to do the dirty work; after the preliminary niceties, we got down to business. Our class president went first, followed by a group of four guys from our class, who held hands the whole time in a show of solidarity. (So friggin’ cute.) A second round of guys went next, and then I joined in the third round. (And I’m not sure whether I personally shamed him into it, whether the other guys did, or whether it was just the excitement of the atmosphere – but the lone male holdout from our class plopped down into the chair next to me, completing the baldness picture for the testosterone contingent of DPAP 2012! :))

Before I sat down, one of my friends grabbed me by the shoulders and said, “You are my HERO. And if my mother would not LITERALLY throw me into the Atlantic Ocean, I would be right there with you!” Truth or not, it made me giggle.

I sat down in the chair, the young blond stylist introduced herself, we talked for a second… and then she walked away. Everyone was whooping and hollering and taking pictures of me, and I wasn’t really paying attention to the goings-on behind us, but then a slightly older woman with a kind face came and crouched down next to my chair. “You get the old stylist,” she said with a smile, gesturing to herself, “because the young ones are all scared.”

Oh. So that’s how it is. Okay then.

“What exactly… were you thinking of doing?” she asked a bit tentatively, gesturing to my head.

Wasn’t it obvious? “Uh, if I’m doing this, I’m gonna go big or go home. Take it off!” I said.

She laughed, and we talked for another minute about exactly how short to go, finally settling on a ‘three’. I’m still not clear on exactly what the numbers mean, but she seemed to know what she was talking about, so I let her do as she pleased. I’d been expecting that all of us were going to be shaved completely bald, and was both slightly disappointed and slightly relieved that that was not the case; I didn’t see anybody who went down to a full ‘zero’.

And then… the clippers touched my head. My class was clustered around me, taking photos and video, screaming “You look great!” and “Ohmigod, Jess!” The clippers felt so strange, vibrating closer to my scalp than any hair implement ever had, moving in broad strokes, tickling and yet not. She started from the bottom, leaving the bulk of the fluffy hair on the top for last. At one point, at the back of my head, she stopped short, then leaned down and asked me, “Uh, did you have surgery back here, or something?”

“Oh! Yeah, I had a hemangioma when I was a baby,” I said, realizing I’d completely forgotten about that bald spot.

“Well, we just found it!” she said with a shrug.

Not much to do about it by that point, so we both just laughed, and she continued cutting. “Jess, you have a good-shaped head!” someone called out. (Oh, the things you never expect to be complimented on…:))

After three or four minutes, the stylist finally started cutting off the top sections of hair, and that was when the noise level really increased. The guys were hollering “Yeah, J-Money!” and one of them exclaimed, “Damn, Demi Moore!” which made me smile internally. The same girl who had mentioned getting thrown into the Atlantic blurted out, “Oh my – Jess, you look incredible! You really do. …You’re the only one who could pull this off!” I kept hearing various compliments from different parts of the ‘audience’, which, not gonna lie, felt pretty good.

After some final ‘cleanup’ around the edges, I finally stood up from the chair, and the stylist said, “I think I get a hug for this one!” I said, “You definitely do!” and we hugged, to cheers all around. She talked to me for a second about maintenance, telling me that she’d cut my hair for free during the ‘transition’ phase if I decided I wanted to grow it out again, “but I think you’re going to want to keep it this way; it looks really good on you!”

I ducked into the crowd to make room for the next round of shavees. Everybody wanted to hug me, rub my head, and take pictures with me. “It’s very G.I. Jane,” someone said. Another comment was, “It looks so good! Because you don’t have, like, an abnormal head.” (What?!) One of my good friends said, “You know what? I’ll admit it: I think I actually like it better this way!” (Um, thanks, I think?!)

I made my way toward the four faculty who had shown up to watch, and they started rubbing my head, taking pictures, and telling me how good it looked. “My mother is going to kill me,” I said at one point, to which one faculty member replied, “I’ve met your mother! She’s not going to kill you. I actually think she’s going to like it!”

(Update: she definitely does not. However, I am at least still alive to tell about it. :))

The evening wore on. Students from 2011 and 2012 who are particularly musical had formed a band for the occasion, “The PA System,” and they were rocking out the whole time. A few more people got their heads shaved, including one more girl, a nursing student – coincidentally, also named Jess, and even more coincidentally, whom I had actually met during one of my Patient Assessment experiences over at the hospital last semester. I got presented with a DPAP jacket for being the number-one fundraiser in our class (which I actually felt a little guilty about, seeing as I’d swooped in at the eleventh hour, but I suppose it was still $1,271 that St. Baldrick’s otherwise wouldn’t have gotten), and then a few of us went to Tobacco Road for a late dinner before heading home. The total amount of money we raised as a class, including cash donations at the event itself, came to over $15,000, which we're told is several times more than anything ever raised by any previous PA class. I can unequivocally (and totally impartially...) state that we rock. :)

My first hairless day involved a six-mile run, brunch at Guglhupf with a classmate before going to see Water for Elephants (which was quite good; I was far more impressed with Robert Pattinson than I’d expected to be), a bunch of computer business at home, and then a late-night Local Yogurt run with another classmate. I had wondered whether people would look at me funny or treat me differently, but that doesn’t seem to be happening so far; to be honest, when I’m out and about, I forget about my hair (or lack thereof).

However, things I’ve learned so far:

1. Wind and rain feel REALLY WEIRD on a shaved head… like something’s crawling up there! Such basic things as opening the refrigerator door have become an adventure.

2. I can actually drive with the windows down and not mess up my hair! This is a respite from about a dozen years of frustration.

3. I have to un-learn the habits of all the little unconscious motions I make in the shower – things we all do without even paying attention, like exactly which way to flick your hair to keep water from running into your eyes. Completely unnecessary.

4. Also, it dries in about thirty seconds, so no more worrying about the repercussions of falling asleep on wet hair! This, too, is a respite from a degree of frustration that can be measured in decades.

5. Big earrings are going to be pretty essential, I think. However, the cut actually looks really good on its own, with no head accessories – might not need those Target headbands after all.

6. Breezes aside, it’s really nice to not have hair flopping around while running… and I sweat a lot less, too!

Anyway, even though I was afraid to look at myself at first (one of my friends pulled out a pocket mirror to show me as I exited the chair, and I made her put it away after one glimpse), after 24 hours, I can honestly say that the new ‘do is really growing on me (pun intended!) and that I’m really glad I did it. I raised a considerable amount of money (in eighteen hours!!!) for a cause that I really care about, and I got a new haircut out of the deal, which I needed anyway. :) I feel like it’s a distinctive look as well as being a good potential conversation piece (“Yeah, I shaved my head for pediatric cancer research.”). I’m a tad nervous as to how it might be received in peds, since I have a four-hour pediatric outpatient assignment in four weeks, but honestly, I’ve already been asked several times by little kids whether I was a boy or a girl, even with my regular haircut (not kidding), so what’s the worst that can happen? And if my faculty aren’t worried (which they’re clearly not; they were some of my biggest supporters!), then I don’t really think I need to be, either.

Anyway, for those who like to live vicariously (and who had the patience to read all the way to the end of this post), here’s your reward: a link to a few of the photos and a one-minute video clip of the action:

donderdag 31 maart 2011

(Note: I've been lazy about finishing this post, and now I'm glad I was, because I just checked YouTube and somebody else who was at this concert has since uploaded videos of a lot of the songs! Don't mind the video quality -- just imagine you're in the front row like I was :) -- but the audio is pretty good. So awesome in terms of my memories!)

Anyway, I saw Idina Menzel live in Raleigh on Thursday night and thought I'd post about it. For those who don't know that name, Idina originated the Broadway roles of Maureen in RENT and (of course) Elphaba in Wicked; she also makes an occasional appearance on Glee these days. At the moment, she's touring, hitting up mostly small venues with city orchestras and the like, and she puts on an incredible show, equal parts hilarity, intimacy, and and talent powerhouse. I scored a front-row center ticket through Ticketmaster months ago, and despite the fact that I had a surgery practicum the next morning, I couldn't NOT go... :)

Anyway, Idina is incredibly entertaining to watch in a venue like this, mostly because she's so quirky. For example, she sauntered out on stage in an elegant floor-length purple gown -- barefoot. She belted out 'Life of the Party' like the superstar she is -- and then became mildly obsessed with the various unidentifiable plastic artifacts lying around on the stage, picking bits and pieces up off the ground and saying things like, "I'll just do a little housecleaning while I'm up here," and "Wait, is this stuff coming from me? Is it, like, falling out of my dress or something?" She knocked one of her earrings off at one point, looked down at those of us in the front row, and said, "I'd give this to you, but my husband gave it to me, and they're real diamonds." Not sure why that was so funny in the moment, but it was.

She sang a pretty eclectic mix of stuff -- various Broadway things, of course, mixed in with some of her own songs (namely 'Gorgeous'... "This is for all my gay friends out there. But you straight people can have it, too." LOL!) as well as quite a bit of oldie/jazz-type stuff ('Funny Girl', 'Roxanne', 'Love For Sale', 'Don't Rain On My Parade'). There were a few I'd never heard of ('Look to the Rainbow', 'Asleep on the Wind', 'I Feel So Smoochie'), but most were familiar to me. She even sang a couple of the songs that she and her husband 'wrote' for their 18-month-old son, Walker... so stinkin' cute. She said, "His name is Walker Nathaniel Diggs, and we feel like, with a name like that, he could be a Supreme Court justice. Or a famous jazz musician." Her pianist (who was evidently an old friend of hers) said, "Or both!" at the same time that I said the same thing from the front row; he and I then had a 'moment' where we locked eyes, nodded heads, and gestured at each other. Kinda fun. :)

This dynamic continued throughout the whole show -- Idina would have a ridiculous conversation with us about something completely random (wedding singing, Long Island, etc.), then turn around and belt out a perfect song or two, then go back to chatting. At one point, she picked up one of the random plastic tubes she'd found on the ground and said, "Do you guys ever play that game with your friends, you know, like, 'What could this be?'" [studies it thoughtfully] "Hmm. A urine sample..." [extends it from her nose] "...Cyrano de Bergerac..." While she was going on like this, the musicians, who were apparently operating under an entirely different set of cues, started to play the intro to the next song. She stopped them, laughing, and said, "I wanted to talk to them" (gesturing toward the audience) "about games and stuff, and you guys want to play this serious song. Which I guess is my bad," she continued to us, "because I always tell them to go right into that song..." At another point, she didn't know what song was coming up next, and said, "I really really hope it is what I think it is," then looked at the 'cheat sheet' taped to the floor and said, "Oh, no, it's not at all what I think it is!" Her stream-of-consciousness chatter just made me giggle.

She also had a funny story about singing a Barbra Streisand song at the Kennedy Center Honors, and how she'd poured so much effort and preparation into it, and then Barbra had completely ignored her when they were seated at the same table afterward. "So then my husband and I decided to start taking tequila shots, because it just seemed like the thing to do...!" :) Anyway, apparently Barbra did eventually ask, "Did you sing for me tonight? I wasn't wearing my glasses," and when Idina said yes, Barbra paused, then said, "Oh. ...You were good," and walked away. Idina's commentary to us was, "So I didn't know how to take that. Is that a good review? Is that a bad review? ...So then my husband and I proceeded to fight about it for the next two hours, and he said I was too pessimistic, always seeing the glass as half empty... and by that point, all the glasses were empty...!" :)

Side note: of all people, Beyonce had also performed a Streisand song that night, 'The Way We Were', which is one of the songs that Idina used to frequently perform as a wedding singer, and she indignantly said to us, "That was MY song!" She paused for a moment, then, as an afterthought, added, "...Bitch." LOL!

She also sang 'Tomorrow' as her second curtain call, "dedicated to my mother!" she said wryly, because apparently her mother wouldn't ever let her audition for Annie, "because she wanted me to have a normal childhood." :)

Oh, and one other fun thing. She spent a lot of time talking about a military guy she'd been seated next to on the flight to Raleigh, and he had told her about 'Challenge Coins'. I'd never heard of this before, but apparently it's a military thing, where certain units/brigades get coins minted that they're supposed to carry on them at all times. In theory, you can walk up to anybody in the military and say, "I challenge you!", and if they can't produce their Challenge Coin, then they have to buy a round of drinks for everybody. (But if they DO have their coin, then YOU have to buy the drinks!) Anyway, this guy had evidently given her his coin, and she pulled it out of the front of her dress to show everyone ("I put it there, because I knew I wouldn't lose it!"), and was in the middle of her meandering story about the coins when a distinguished-looking gentleman stood up from about the tenth row back, walked up to the stage, handed her something, and said, "There's another coin for you."

Well, he got the longest applause of the night, and Idina was visibly moved. "That was such a nice thing to do. ...I'm trying to hold my shit together here!" She was dabbing at her eyes, looking around the stage, trying to figure out where to put the coins. Someone gestured to the front of her dress again, and she exclaimed, "No, I can't put them down there with my sweaty boobs!" which made everyone crack up. Eventually, she laid them on a table next to the pianist, but pointed a finger at someone offstage and said, "Do NOT let me forget!" (If you watch the 'Poker Face' video below, where she loses the earring, she makes a reference to lying the earrings on the table with the coins.) Anyway, it made me laugh.

Other high points:

1) The second song she sang was 'I'm Not That Girl' from Wicked. 'Nough said. That song doesn't make as much sense out of context (and nobody beats Teal Wicks for that particular song in my book, anyway, not even Idina), but it was neat to see her perform it, knowing the history behind it.

2) I have somehow managed to survive 27 years of life without ever seeing RENT, and I think that situation needs to change, pronto. As I said, Idina was the original Maureen, and in a nod to the show, she sang 'No Day But Today'. If you haven't heard it, it's a slow song, about the importance of living in the present. At the end, she had us all sing with her. So amazing, and definitely one of my favorite moments of the whole show. Here's the video.

3) Sort of the antithesis of that: she actually also sang the Glee version of 'Poker Face', and had us all giggling uncontrollably for much of it, mostly because she kept stopping the orchestra in mid-song for no particularly good reason. Totally gets my point across about her quirkiness. First it was because of the ridiculous lyrics ("'Bluffin' with my muffin'... Why are we talking about baked goods?"), then to explain a gesture she had made, then because she lost her place ("Wait, what is it again?") and so forth. Utterly hilarious, and the musicians were all laughing right along with the audience. At one point, I leaned over to the girl next to me and said, "I bet this is the first time the North Carolina Symphony Orchestra has ever performed Lady Gaga!"... and approximately five seconds later, Idina stopped the orchestra in mid-song for the fourth time, faced them, and said, "I'd just like to take this opportunity to say thank you for indulging me with this song -- because I know you all went to Julliard and this is not the kind of music you thought you would be playing!" Maybe you had to be there, but it was ridiculously funny.

4) 'For Good'. Oh. My. Goodness. This was absolutely THE highlight of the entire concert. For those who don't know, it's the final 'big' song from Wicked, very sentimental, where you've seen the 'good witch' and 'bad witch' go through their full character arcs and now they're singing about how much they've learned from one another. Anyway, Idina sang the first line, then seemed to be thinking about something... and stopped. She put the mike down. Silenced the orchestra. Pulled her earpieces out. Stepped to the edge of the stage in her bare feet. And sang. Completely a cappella.

You could have heard a pin drop.

My hand flew up involuntarily to cover my mouth, and I heard the girl next to me sniffling. That was, hands-down, the most intimate, 'real' thing I have ever experienced at a show. Here's a video, from a different angle than the others I've posted -- you can really get an idea of how her voice filled up the house, even without a mic -- but it still doesn't even begin to capture the magic; I think it's one of those things where you really did have to 'be there'. Anyway, she got a standing ovation, and there wasn't a dry eye in the house. Amazing.

5) ...And, of course, her first curtain call was 'Defying Gravity'! She launched into it, and the spotlight changed to green as a nod to Wicked :) ...which was funny enough on its own, but then Idina changed the lyrics of the first few lines and started singing, "...and they've got the green spotlight, but without the green makeup on, it just makes you look -- sickly..." Hilarious. Here's the video; this one is from the same angle as above, and the person filming actually caught the ad-libbing about the green spotlight, so it's pretty funny.

Anyway, I waited at the stagedoor afterwards and got a brief encounter; the groupies around me were too awestruck to say anything once she finally reached our part of the line, and for all their former bravado, they just held out their Sharpies and programs without a word. I'd been planning to tease her about a comment she'd made about the Kennedy Center folks being worried about her falling into the 'hole' through which Beyonce was going to rise up (one of Idina's dubious 'claims to fame' is that she fell through a trapdoor and cracked a rib during one of her final performances of Wicked), but the joke didn't feel right; there were about 200 people there and she seemed pretty frazzled, with bodyguards flanking her on either side. So instead, I took advantage of the relative silence and said, "Thank you for such an incredible show. It's so rare to leave feeling as though you really got to know the person, not just the performer."

That got through, I could tell by the way she had to search for words for a second. She said "Aw, thank you!" then pulled her eyes up off the marker in her hand, searched for the face that matched the voice, and when her eyes found mine, she smiled and said, "...You know, I feel the same way."

I asked her if she'd mind if I got a picture with her, and she said, "Ooh, they're gonna get so mad at me...!", meaning the bodyguards. But she did it anyway. :)

Anyway, that was about it... but if any of you guys get the chance to see her live, you should definitely go. Whatever your musical taste, and whatever your knowledge (or lack thereof) of who in the world Idina Menzel is, you will not be sorry.

zondag 27 februari 2011

New York City is where magic happens, period.

I made a good start at integrating into 'the city that never sleeps' by waking up at 4am on Thursday for my 6:05 JetBlue flight to JFK. After successfully navigating the AirTrain and subway system -- a victory unto itself -- I made my way to the Court of International Trade to meet my gorgeous friend A. She gave me a quick tour of the court (chick is a big shot, let's face it) and the key to her place; I fumbled through the subway again, walked to her apartment, dropped my bag... and headed back out onto the city streets of New York.

It was intoxicating, honestly; on this first day, there were moments where I found myself giggling aloud just from the sheer delight and disbelief of being there. Sunshine, blue sky, dizzyingly tall skyscrapers, streets teeming with noise and activity... all the cliches are perfectly true, and no less magical for it.

I stopped off at Katz's Deli (consistently ranked one of the top delis in NYC) for some heavenly potato latkes, then hopped back on the subway and headed toward Battery Park, figuring I should get my outdoor activities and photo ops out of the way before the forecast rain and wind arrived on Friday. After walking around the park and taking a few pictures, the first thing I did was ride the Staten Island Ferry, which is free and provides some great views of the Statue of Liberty and the Manhattan skyline. Quicker and cheaper than trying to do one of the organized tours, for sure. The wait for the ferry plus the round-trip ride took about an hour and a half all told, so it was approaching 2pm by the time I headed toward Ground Zero on foot.

It was strange. I've never been to NYC before, and yet I kept looking up at the sky as I walked, half expecting to see the Twin Towers still standing, and feeling uneasy each time I didn't see them. I noticed that the crowds were thinner here than at any other area in the entire city, and I don't question that phenomenon for a minute. Honestly, I don't know how the locals do it. Sure, it's been ten years, but I still don't see how true New Yorkers can walk past Ground Zero every day. The negative energy is unbelievable; it was making me physically uncomfortable. The closest thing I can compare it to was my visit to Auschwitz, but that was a different vibe, much quieter. Juxtaposed next to the vibrant city, still so shockingly alive, this was just plain wrong. The cranes and backhoes and construction workers could have belonged anyplace, but it wasn't just any old place, it was here, this site that we all watched for hours via our TVs on 9/11/2001. It was a Tuesday; I took an AP biology exam and then heard the news as I walked into calculus class. I was 17 years old, had never heard of Osama bin Laden or al-Qaida, had no connections to New York City, and had no concept of how this incident would irrevocably shape my perceptions of the world in the years to come. And now there I was, walking down the same streets through which I had watched people fleeing thick walls of choking smoke, my feet covering the same ground where terrified people had jumped from towering windows. I couldn't handle it; I had to leave.

On a recommendation from a classmate, the next thing I did was walk the Brooklyn Bridge. There's a promenade down the middle, between the two directions of traffic, which resembles a boardwalk in the center. It was a pretty good hike, but I enjoyed every minute of it: the beautiful views, the excited tourists, the continual parade of joggers (I would run there every day!).

Once reaching the Brooklyn side, I found my way to Grimaldi's, a fairly well-known pizza joint which is tucked right beneath the bridge. It was jam-packed and the line was out the door, but because I was by myself, I was able to walk right in and be seated immediately, at a table next to a couple from Chicago. ("How did you know when to come?" the Italian owner asked with a grin.) The pizza was delicious, New York-style thin-crust with crushed tomato, thick mozzarella slices, and basil leaves.

My feet were screaming at me by this point, so I decided to take the subway back to Manhattan rather than walking the bridge again. This was where the magic started. I had sucked up the $100+ cost and bought a Broadway ticket for the 8pm show of Wicked over a month prior, knowing that I'd be upset if I ended up missing out on it once I actually got to NYC. As of February 1st, the role of Elphaba on Broadway is being played by Teal Wicks, who was on the L.A. and San Fran productions for years and whom I had always desperately wanted to see. (Look her up on YouTube; you won't be sorry.) However, I also knew there was a Wicked lottery at 5:30pm, where 25 front-row tickets would be given away for $25 to those lucky winners whose names were drawn. I had told myself all along that, since I already had a ticket, I wasn't going to build my whole day around the lottery and wasn't going to plan on being there at the expense of potentially missing out on something else -- but that if I happened to be in the area at the right time, well, then, we'd see.

Anyway, what with all the excitement, the show had barely entered my mind all day, but as I was walking to the Brooklyn subway station around 4:30pm, I started seeing taxis with Wicked on their roof advertising bar. And not just one, but six or seven, all in the span of twenty minutes or so. With all the taxis in NYC, and even with all the walking I'd done, I'd had yet to see a single Wicked ad -- and for the next two days of my trip, I would see only one or two more. But in Brooklyn, they started coming at me thick and fast. "Interesting," I thought. I got on the subway and started heading toward the theatre district of Manhattan -- next on my list was Times Square, anyway -- telling myself that we'd just see what time I got there, and play it by ear.

45 minutes later, ascending the subway stairs to the streets of the theatre district was, again, pure magic. Night was falling, there was a new chill in the air, and the city's lights were coming on, with giant Broadway billboards everywhere I looked. More Wicked taxis kept flying by me, and the show was really starting to move to the front of my mental radar screen, so I made the conscious decision to walk just a couple of blocks out of my way and go past the Gershwin Theatre before heading to Times Square.

As it happened, I got to the Gershwin at 5:32pm -- and was greeted by a massive lottery line. "Well, that chaps THAT in the ass," I thought cheerfully. I took a picture of the mob and texted Liz, saying, "I am sooo glad I bought a ticket and didn't depend on the lottery!"

I stood there debating for a minute, wondering if it was selfish of me to even enter, given that I already had a ticket and there were so many folks standing there who clearly didn't. "Well, I'm already here," I reasoned, "and if I'm not meant to win, then I just won't win. What do I have to lose?" So I got in line after all. The two girls behind me turned out to be PTs from Virginia, so we started 'shop talking' a bit, and the line moved forward quickly. It took over 30 minutes, but finally, the theatre staff quieted us all down and started calling names. People whooped and hollered as they won, pushing their way to the front of the crowd. Eventually, they reached 24 winners plus guests, and needed a single-ticket hopeful to fill in the 25th and final seat. The man walked back to the basket, pulled out one final slip, and read the name.

It was mine.

I couldn't believe it! My first reaction was almost guilty -- how can I possibly deserve this? But I stuck my hand in the air and yelled "Here!" and pushed forward to the winners' line. After paying my $25 and securing my 'I Won the Wicked Lottery!' button to my shirt, I put on my best smile and asked the box office attendant if he had any suggestions for what to do with the ticket I already had.

"Well, you can take it out front and try to sell it yourself... or you can leave it here with us and we'll try to sell it for you in the cancellation line." He winked at me. "I'll do my damnedest for you!" I couldn't believe it was that easy! (And he was true to his word; when I stopped by the next day, I was handed a crisp $100 bill and change.)

Still marveling at my good luck, I realized I only had 90 minutes left before the show, so rather than try to take in any more tourist sights, I broke my rule about 'no food that I could just as easily get in Durham!' and stopped by a Starbucks to let my phone spend some quality time with an electrical outlet. (My iPhone was absolutely indispensable on this trip; it served as subway map, city map, camera, subway timetable, notepad, communication device, and music player, in no particular order.) Along with the table-sharing at most restaurants, the other unexpectedly delightful conversations of my journey mostly happened during these Starbucks stops -- or, on one occasion, when I plopped down on the floor by the only visible outlet in the ferry terminal! :)

At 7:30, I headed back to the theatre and sat down in my front-row aisle seat. My knees were literally brushing the stage; I could lean forward and talk to the musicians in the orchestra pit without leaving my seat, and there was a trap door right in front of me. If I'd been so inclined (read: an asshole), I could literally have reached out and touched the actors. I couldn't stop trembling; I'm pretty sure I was emitting a force field of excitement. When the show began, the flying monkeys came vaulting out of the trap door, sending me reeling backward at their proximity; they and the ensemble members were literally locking eyes with me as they capered about during the opening seconds of the show. Absolutely breathtaking.

I'll spare you the detailed play-by-play of the show itself (read my June 2010 entry for the Charlotte version if you're that curious :)) but I will say that when Teal made her initial entrance, I was the one to lead the audience in applause (and shout "Yeah, Teal!"). It was only her third week on Broadway, and I wanted her to know she had a friend in the front row. :) She had me a little worried at first -- her first big song ('The Wizard and I') felt to me like she was holding back a bit, and she kept the 'angry' side of Elphaba's character going a bit longer than might have been strictly necessary -- but once she and Katie Rose Clarke (Glinda) started their verbal thrust-and-parry, she relaxed into the role and was absolutely amazing from that point forward. Her 'I'm Not That Girl' was heart-wrenching, with every facial expression and gesture utterly perfect. That's never been a song I've particularly cared about until now, but will never forget Teal's version. I was really grateful for my front-row seat, because I could see more detail than I ever had. 'No Good Deed' was similarly fantastic for the same reasons; the character's internal agony came through loud and clear. And suffice it to say that I have never heard a 'Defying Gravity' like that... never. Not from Anne Brummel, not from Vicki Noon, not even from Idina Menzel herself. Teal's last note, while suspended high above the ensemble, pierced my soul. A-freakin-mazing. I never wanted it to end. I was thoroughly engrossed, enjoying every minute, and at the same time, there was a continual voice in the back of my head repeating, "Remember this! This, right here, right now. Wicked, Broadway, front row, Teal Wicks, NYC... don't ever forget this moment!"

I'd made sure to ask at intermission where the stage door was, since I knew from the Charlotte performance that the actors are ridiculously fast at getting out of their costumes and out the door, so as soon as the final curtain call was over (and I'd yelled Teal's name a couple more times :)), I grabbed my coat and dashed out of the theatre as fast as I could. It was raining, but not horribly so. I queued up outside the door with about 50 other people, and we got Katie Rose Clarke (Glinda), Etai Benshlomo (Boq), and several others to sign our playbills. I congratulated Katie on a great show and told her she had been cracking me up with 'Popular', which was true; she smiled and thanked me. What I forgot to mention was the catfight scene in Act II where her wand got stuck in her dress; she played it off very well (ad-libbing "I got it! I got it!"), and I'd meant to mention that to her and hear what she had to say about it, but unfortunately forgot.

Of course, it was Teal we were all really waiting for, and so when the security guard came out to say, "That's it, guys, everybody's out," there was a collective groan. Unexpectedly, I felt my heart drop to my feet, and the beginnings of tears. I'd thought that all I really wanted was the chance to see Teal perform; I didn't realize how much it had meant to me to meet her until the chance seemed to be gone.

Most people shrugged and dispersed right away. I walked around to the other side of the theatre with a NYC native who said he'd occasionally seen actors come out a different door; we had no luck there either, so he wished me well and headed home. The heavy disappointment was still with me, the rain was still drizzling down, and I had nowhere else to go, so for lack of options, I found my feet carrying me back toward the stage door.

And... standing on the sidewalk was a petite girl about my age, with long red hair and a black hat. She looked vaguely familiar.

I looked at her; she looked at me. I smiled, a question clearly in my eyes; she smiled back, an acknowledgement, and said, "Hi."

I opened my mouth to speak, and heard a voice behind me say, "Hey, were you the witch?!"
She hesitated briefly, and I felt the pang of her 'uh-oh' moment right before she found a new smile and said, "Yes."

It was like a magnet; there was an instant collective rush inward, and we found ourselves at the center of a circle of 15-20 people. I felt bad for Teal; since the guard had told us to go, clearly she hadn't particularly wanted to 'run the gauntlet' tonight. But she was extremely gracious for all that, signing playbills and tickets. I told her thanks for a fantastic show and said, "I was the annoying one yelling your name in the front row." She laughed and said, "Were you yelling 'Elphaba', or...?"

I said, "No, I was yelling 'Teal', actually!"

She said, "Oh! I didn't hear you!" (And here I thought I was being so loud!)

I said, "Yeah -- you were the Elphaba I'd always wanted to see, but I'm from North Carolina and you were always in Cali, so I never thought I'd get the chance. You were phenomenal."

She thanked me for making the trip and signed my front-row ticket in silver Sharpie (surprisingly, a perfectly legible signature!). Then I asked the people next to me, "Can I be super annoying and ask one of you guys to take a picture of us?"

Teal smiled again and said, "I don't find that annoying."

We posed, I thanked her again, and then she headed off down the block on foot.

Utterly magical.

Seriously -- how is it possible that I have this much good karma with this show?!?! I had a similar experience in Charlotte last June, but this was even sweeter... because it was Broadway, and Teal, and NYC, and front row. Really... I have no words.

Anyway, the night was young, so after a moment's brief squealing with a girl from South America (she'd seen my disappointment when we thought Teal was gone earlier), we all went our separate ways. As planned, I headed toward the Empire State Building -- I knew it was open until 2am, and, rain or no rain, I had no desire to stand in the (by all accounts) two-hour line to get in during the day. I was able to walk in and go up with zero wait time whatsoever, and found myself looking out over a beautiful sea of light, stretching as far as the eye could see in all directions. Stunning.

At one point on my first trip around the observation deck, I found myself standing near a young couple about my own age, who were snuggled up against the corner of the fence kissing. I felt a brief stab of annoyance and loneliness... and then made the conscious decision to put those emotions away. They were young and in love and here in this magical city, and I am fortunate enough to know firsthand what all of those things feel like. They had every right. So I chose, instead, to smile, to be happy for them, to appreciate that there was that much more love in the world tonight, and to linger for just a moment before continuing my loop around the building.

When I reached that same corner again, a new couple, clearly just recruited, was holding a camera and taking pictures of the kissing couple. The girl tried to pose and smile for the photo -- then was taken aback as the guy dropped to his knees in front of her and opened a small red box. His back was to me, but the question was obvious. "Yes, of course!" she said, and I started clapping. The second couple did the same, and the three of us started congratulating the guy and girl, who turned out to be Sarah and Alex from Memphis, TN.

"We're headed out to have a drink -- want to come with us?" Sarah asked. I tried to defer, saying that I didn't want to interfere with their moment, but she said, "Well, they're coming" -- indicating the other couple -- "so you should come, too!" Far be it from me to argue... so we all headed downstairs and around the corner to a bar called Legends, which turned out to have great food and music. The five of us hung out until past 2am, just having cocktails and shooting the breeze and swapping Facebook info. Such a delightful and unexpected surprise. Only in New York!

We all parted ways around 2:15, and I decided to walk back to A's neighborhood rather than taking the subway. It turned out to be a 45-minute walk, but I loved every minute of it -- the rain, the lights, the taxis. I know a lot of people don't feel safe on the streets of New York, but my (albeit brief) experience was that there are always so many people around, whether at 3pm or 3am, that it actually feels a lot safer to me than the streets of, say, Durham. :)

Around 3am, I finally made it back to A's neighborhood, right as she texted me to say that she was almost back to her neighborhood. We tried to go to 'her' bar, Parkside, which is right on the corner of her street, but it turned out to be closed. Her roommate was at another bar around the corner, so we went there instead and met another of her friends. We finally crawled into bed just before 6am.

I didn't sleep much that night -- A had to be up at 7:30 for work, but slept through her alarm, and went flying out the door over an hour later than planned. I dozed for an hour or two after she left, then got up myself, showered, and went to Katz's again, for the pastrami this time. It was the beginning of the lunchtime rush, so for lack of options, I shared a table with a Ukranian woman (who said she had come all the way from Staten Island just to try this deli). I was still reeling from last night's experience, so after eating, I stopped by the post office and wrote a quick thank-you card to Teal, then headed to the Gershwin for my ticket refund. I talked to a security guard from Raleigh who said that his NC accent had earned him a lot of work when he first got to NYC, because people loved hearing him talk. :) After that, it was a bunch of wandering and picture-taking... Times Square, Grand Central Terminal, and so forth. The rain slacked off in the early afternoon, but the weather was still a lot colder and windier than on the previous day, and I made a couple of Starbucks stops just for the chance to warm up.

While I was at Grand Central, A called to say that she was going home to take a much-needed nap and that we should go to dinner afterward, so instead of going and standing in the discount Broadway ticket line (there are SO many more shows I need to see!), I took the subway to Central Park and wandered around as night fell. I chanced across some absolutely stunning views of the skyline over the reservoir, which literally made me gasp out loud. The city is such a paradox -- often seedy and gritty up close, but heart-wrenchingly beautiful as a distant whole.

Around 9pm, the two of us took a taxi to Brooklyn and had drinks, followed by a delicious dinner at a charming little Italian place. Pasta, pork, potatoes, pear cake, coffee, and a bottle of red. I was, and am, so grateful for A's presence in my life; without delving into gory details (those who need to know already do), she has 'been here' emotionally in every sense, and really understands me perfectly right now, which was such a gift.

After dinner, we walked a few blocks to a bar called Ginger's, and one of A's old flames came to meet us. Lots of drinks, lots of dancing (the DJ laughed outright at A's 'Hold It Against Me' request, but played it anyway)... lots of fun. I haven't danced like that in ages. I can't tell you how long we stayed there, but we eventually took another taxi back to Manhattan (the driver was really funny and got us into a long conversation about zodiac signs and I don't know what-all else) and then ended up at the same bar we'd been at the night before, which was a lot more crowded on a Friday than a Thursday. We only stayed for a few minutes before heading home; we were in bed by the much more reasonable hour of 3:30. :)

The next morning, the three of us slept late and then went to brunch. A's roommate has a food blog, and was able to tip us off to the recent opening of Gaia, a hole-in-the-wall Italian cafe just a few blocks from their apartment. It was a quintessential NY-style place, below street level, complete with exposed brick and hardwood floor, and I loved it. For $12, we each got fresh fruit juice, a panini (chicken-tomato-pesto for me, prosciutto for A -- which she pronounced as being 'smack-yo-momma good'), a Nutella brioche, and delicious coffee. After we ate, we headed into Soho to do some shopping; I bought a hat at H&M and A bought a couple of things for work. After this, we somehow decided to go play some pool -- because it just seemed like the thing to do in the middle of the afternoon -- so headed back to Parkside, pooled our quarters, and played seven games. (For those who have never tried vodka and Vitamin Water, it is a surprisingly good combo, and could possibly be considered a performance-enhancing drug when pool is involved! :)) Afterward, we went to the Remedy Diner (which is right down the street, with decidedly average food, but which, interestingly, Lady Gaga has been known to frequent) and had chicken fingers and cheese fries and coffee. I left at 7pm, thinking I was going to have too much time before my 9:50 flight, but due to altered weekend train schedules and a JFK security snafu, ended up hitting the gate right as they started boarding. I had never flown JetBlue before this trip, but I adore them now; they even have seatback TVs. (However, I will say that the lowest point of this entire experience was spending the flight home watching Virginia Tech beat Duke on those seatback TVs... sigh.)

Anyway, not gonna lie -- I'm already planning my next trip! There's so much that I didn't do, so much that I did do and want to repeat, so many more restaurants to try and shows to see and streets to walk. Simply put, I love that city -- already! I love that you can share a table with a stranger and leave with a new friend. I love the public transportation system. I love that you can set your 'NYC Soundtrack' by navigating the city with headphones on (which seems to be what all the locals do, and, interestingly, I now realize is exactly what I always did in Utrecht, too -- whether on foot, bike, bus, or train, I always had my headphones!). I love that random mariachi bands can jump onto a subway car and start singing, and nobody even really looks up. I love that if you decide you want Greek food at three in the morning, that that's completely possible, even normal. I love that there seems to always be room for one more -- that the people, as a whole, are amazingly tolerant of everyone and have a great sense of humor about themselves. I love the hidden treasures that abound, whether it's a random sidewalk furniture sale in Soho or a plate of melt-in-your-mouth prosciutto on the Lower East Side.

In short, the city really got inside my heart in the brief time I spent there -- and I can't wait to go back.

donderdag 23 december 2010

The last week of school was simultaneously really nice and insanely stressful. We had one exam each on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, from 8am to 10am, and then nothing else to do for the rest of the day. That sounds like there would be plenty of down time, but in reality, we spent the whole of each afternoon and evening studying for the next day's test (or, during study breaks, panicking about how we weren't studying for the next day's test and how unprepared we felt. I'm sure I was absolutely no fun to live with for those three days.) Passed everything in the end, and so can proudly claim to have finished the first semester remediation-free! (If we score below a 70 on anything, we have to complete a remediation assignment, which goes far more in-depth than the things we learn in class -- think six separate pharmacology essays for one assignment -- and doesn't even help your grade in the end. Needless to say, we all do our very best to avoid that!) Still waiting on official final grades to be posted, but by my estimation, it's going to be six Hs (Honors, 90+) and one P (Pass... in anatomy, of course), which I'm pretty darn thrilled with. We're told that the fall semester is the hardest, and that it gets marginally easier from here. I'm already terrified about our Patient Assessment course, though; as I mentioned in a previous post, starting the week we get back to school, we're going to be heading over to the hospital a couple of times a month to perform physical exams on actual patients. Yikes!!! Facing a patient actor (which we all did during the first week of December) was nerve-wracking enough; the prospect of having to face an actual patient is currently preventing me from believing the second-year students who tell us that the spring semester is a little bit better overall.

Anyway, we were supposed to have our Evidence-Based Medicine group presentations on Thursday morning (presenting articles to our small groups about the effect of sleep curtailment on weight loss), but a mass email was sent out on Wednesday citing the possibility of bad weather and dangerous road conditions on Thursday morning... so our vacation started a day early. We'll be giving the presentations in January instead. (This email only came through after my partner and I had spent over two hours prepping our PowerPoint, of course.) Ah, well, I'm not complaining. :)

Since class was canceled, I slept in a bit on Thursday, and then we had an end-of-semester bash at Josh and Jeremy's awesome apartment at West Village (they set a new record for the number of people they fit into it: fifty!). One of my friends slept over that night since she had an early flight the next morning, and we were both up at 4am to head to the airport. I dropped her off, then came home, went to the gym, took care of some loose ends around the house, then made another airport run at 10am for another classmate. Needless to say, I was ready for a nap after all that!

On Saturday we got some more snow flurries (I happened to be running on the Tobacco Trail when they started, which was kind of cool), and then most of Sunday was spent hanging out with Liz and doing some Christmas shopping. On Monday I was up before 5am yet again, this time to take Liz to the airport for a fly-by visit to her father and grandparents in Pennsylvania. I dropped her off, came home and worked out, then did my grocery shopping before the mad rush of Christmas shoppers descended upon Target. I took a nap in the afternoon, then met up with some classmates at the Duke vs Elon basketball game, which we won by a huge margin (are we surprised???). We all went to Tyler's afterward, where we were disappointed to find the kitchen closed; however, I ran into the father of a former patient, which made me smile.

Tuesday was the first day that felt like a real vacation. I slept in until 8:45 (funny how 8:45 feels like a luxury now), went and had coffee with an old friend and coworker, then did some Christmas shopping at A Southern Season and the Duke bookstore. Came home, made gnocchi, watched A Christmas Story, did some laundry, and discovered Pandora Internet Radio (haha). The low-key vibe continued yesterday; I made gingerbread while watching (of all things) Free Willy on Instant Netflix (yes, I am a total dork), did some packing (I'm headed to Jax on the afternoon of Christmas Day), then ran 10 miles in today's upper-40s weather, which felt positively balmy after the low-30s highs we've been having lately. Came home and watched another movie while I finished wrapping my presents, then went and picked Liz up at RDU. Slept until 9:30 this morning (and was informed upon waking that I had repeated, "There were pancakes on the windowsill; don't you remember?" multiple times in my sleep) and am now sitting at the kitchen table drinking chai tea and typing this post.

Let's see, what else is new? Well, I'm sort of casually training for another marathon, the Shamrock Marathon in Virginia Beach on 3/20/11. I say 'casually' because I haven't officially signed up for it yet, but it's being held on the same day as the Georgia Marathon and the Wrightsville Beach Marathon, both of which are also within easy driving distance, so even if I miss the Shamrock deadline, there are a couple of other options. I read about a new plan in this month's issue of Runner's World which former skeptics are now swearing by: fewer miles, but at higher intensities. The longest 'long run' in the plan is 16 miles (you'd more commonly go up to 20) and the program includes a lot more 'speed' workouts, runs of 3 to 6 miles where you're running intervals at 10k pace (which is faster than marathon pace). This plan appeals to me for a couple of reasons: first, as someone with a history of foot issues, I tend to get injured if I try to log too many miles, so being able to pack a more quality workout into a shorter distance is great for me. Secondly, I've been doing more speedwork lately anyway for the past couple of months (among other things, running with a wicked-fast friend who was a Division 1 college heptathlete in her day) and it's been incredible to see the changes. A couple of weeks ago, I ran six miles and held a 9:15 pace the whole way, which would have been unthinkable for me even just a year ago. Then, yesterday, I did a ten-miler (my long run for the week), aiming to hold a 10:00 pace. 9:45 was easy for the first five miles; when the fatigue began to sink in around mile 8, I struggled momentarily, but then found another gear and was actually able to push my pace back under 10:00 for the remaining 2 miles. That degree of control isn't something I've had historically; before, when I started to flag, I was just done, period. My point in saying all this is that I'm starting to really believe in the benefits of speedwork, especially for someone like me who has an established distance background, so the idea of this plan is intriguing. We'll see how things go.

Oh, by the way, here's something else for y'all to chew on. Emory's PA class of 2010 made a video about their program which is absolutely effing hilarious. (If you watch it: 'capturing the kidney' is a physical exam technique, 'Mayfield' is the director of the Emory program, 'Bates' is the author of our Physical Diagnosis textbook, a 'smile-frown' is a neurological test, a 'Panoptic' is a fancy instrument to check the eyes, an SP is a 'standardized patient' (one of the patient actors I mentioned before), and Welch-Allyn is the manufacturer of our (pricey) otoscopes and opthalmoscopes.) Anyway, so our class wants to come up with something similar. However, we don't want to just 'copy' them; we feel like we need to add some sort of new and different twist to it. Emory is the #3 PA program in the country, Duke is #2, and Iowa (of all places) is #1. My thought, since Emory's lyrics included "we're number three in fact, y'all just can't handle that", was to include something about us being number two, then doing some sort of hokey "we're all gonna be great PAs no matter where we're ranked" and then ending by somehow saying "OK, Iowa, your turn." That way it's like we're one of a series, rather than just straight-up copying and not bringing anything new to the table. Anybody else have any suggestions? And does anyone have any ideas for a song we could use?

maandag 6 december 2010

There are only a few more days left of our first semester of PA school. How did that happen??? And how is it that I STILL have zero energy for Christmas? Honestly, I'm not sure anyone is getting presents this year (apart from Liz, because, you know, I might get kicked outta the house :)). This is an unfamiliar feeling -- I'm used to being totally jazzed about the holidays. I still am, I guess; I just have so many other huge things on my mind that I (selfishly) don't want to have to do any work or spend any money, which kinda knocks a bunch of things out of contention for my attention. :)

The big news is that, as of last week, we are finally done with anatomy and cadaver lab (thank goodness)!!! However, we'll continue going over to the hospital once a week during the spring semester for what they call 'vivarium lab', where we learn to suture, cast, and so forth. We're also done with EBM, a.k.a. Evidence-Based Medicine (or, at least, we WILL be done with it as soon as we present our final projects on the 16th), which is another huge relief; that class is mostly about statistics and research studies, how to read them critically, and how to know which ones are reputable and which ones aren't. It's necessary, I'll give them that, but it's also pretty boring compared to the rest of the awesome stuff that we get to learn. It will come back to bite us again in the second year when we have to spend one rotation (a solid month) writing a research paper on a topic of our choice, but it'll be great to have a few EBM-free months in the meantime.

So the two 'swaps' we're making are (1) picking up Surgery/vivarium lab instead of Anatomy/cadaver lab, and (2) moving away from Physical Diagnosis (learning to do a physical exam) and into Patient Assessment (going to the hospital and taking histories / performing exams on actual patients, YIKES!). In addition to those two exchanges, we'll also pick up a brand-new course, Behavioral Aspects of Medicine. I have no idea what to expect from that one; it hasn't been mentioned to us at all yet.

The other half of our spring curriculum will be made up of our normal 'trio' of Clinical Medicine, Diagnostic Methods, and Pharmacology, all of which run all year long because they're so (a) detailed, and (b) intimately connected to one another. This triad covers basically every aspect of what we'll see when dealing with a patient face to face -- what signs/symptoms will they present with (Clin Med), what labs/studies will we want to do (Dx Methods), and what treatment will we prescribe (Pharm)? These 'Combined' exams are our longest and most intense tests since they are tri-fold; each question is written in such a way as to specifically test our knowledge in each of the three areas, and we get three separate grades at the end of the exam based on how well we do in each 'category' of questions.

The three things I'm going to have to work on over break are (1) scholarship applications (because goodness knows that's a full-time job unto itself!), (2) practicing my physical exam in anticipation of starting Patient Assessment, and (3) my Global Health Elective application for the clinical year. Basically, that's where I 'officially' express my interest in going abroad and rank my preferences as far as a country to do my elective in, but it is a true application nonetheless, complete with essays -- if you're not serious enough to take the time to do all that, then you probably shouldn't be doing this elective in the first place -- so it's going to take a while to complete.

This is what my next two weeks look like:

Tonight - dinner out with Liz, then Duke Chapel Christmas Carol Sing-Along
Tomorrow - dinner out for a classmate's birthday
Thursday - dinner at home with Liz and Erin
Friday - DPAP Holiday Luncheon, spin class, DPAP Yankee Swap
Saturday - tickets to Duke vs St. Louis, then Liz's and my annual holiday shindig
Sunday - studying my tail off!!!
Monday - ANATOMY FINAL, advisor meeting about clinical year
Thursday - EBM FINAL PROJECT PRESENTATION... and then a party to celebrate being done with our first semester!!!

Thursday at 10am marks the 'finish line', and we're in the final sprint. Just gotta keep on keepin' on...

zondag 28 november 2010

Speaking in the spirit of Thanksgiving... it's unbelievable how much I have to be thankful for this year. Specifically, to be part of such an incredible group of people and finally living the dream of becoming a PA.

January 2007, when I first admitted to myself that linguistics wasn't actually what I wanted to do with my life, marked the beginning of a long, hard road. That year was one seemingly endless slog of roach-infested apartments, community college classes with nobody that I could really relate to, a job I hated which paid utterly crap money (I remember setting a $5-per-person cap on gifts that Christmas), Liz constantly sick with mysterious, painful 'attacks' which wouldn't be diagnosed as gallstones until six months had gone by, and a constant underlying current of stress. Am I ever going to 'get there'? Will things ever get easier? Will I ever feel more secure in what I want, more certain of my place in this world, more sure of what it is that I'm supposed to do?

In January 2008, things took a turn for the better when I got the pediatric nursing job. It was a relief to enjoy something in my life again, and the money situation eased up slightly, although I was still gutting out a full course load at Durham Tech and had virtually no life outside of work and school. Our lives improved further in the fall of that year, when we moved into our first truly decent apartment and I was down to just a couple of prerequisites. Liz started her second master's program at NCSU and met a new group of great friends, which was a great expansion to our social network. Still, the worry: Am I going to get into school anywhere? Are they going to think I'm ridiculous for taking all my classes at a community college? If I do get in, is it really going to be 'right' this time? I truly do *think* this is what I want... but what if I'm wrong again?

2009 was a banner year. Money was still tight, and I was still making a 50-mile round-trip commute every day, but I finally finished my prerequisites, turned in my PA school applications, and continued to work at a job I liked. I still felt pretty isolated in terms of having a true 'community' around me, but as I started receiving interview invitations and investigating the cities I could possibly be living in (Portland, Charleston, Gainesville...), I finally started to feel some twinges of excitement. Then, in the first week of September, I got the phone call: I'd been accepted to UF's PA program. I still had four other applications out, but it was official: I was going to PA school somewhere. It was really happening.

And then came November 12th, 2009, and with it, my Duke interview. I won't bore you by rehashing all the details, but I remember being told that they conducted interviews Monday through Thursday of each interview week, discussed candidates on Friday, and sent out acceptance emails on Monday or Tuesday of the following week. Needless to say, come Monday the 16th, I was a nervous wreck. I had my phone sitting on the desk beside me at work, and each time I returned to the nurses' station, I pressed Refresh on my email inbox. By lunchtime, still nothing. I was beginning to think they were going to keep me waiting until the next day -- or, worse, that I'd only made the alternate list, and wasn't going to hear anything until February.

And then, around 2pm, I hit Refresh for the millionth time.

Sender: CFM_PA_Admission

Subject: Congratulations on your Admission to the Duke PA Program!

I didn't even open the message, just gasped, broke into a huge grin, and jumped up and started running through the office, hugging everyone. I couldn't believe it. Almost exactly three years after the agonizing decision to abandon the known in favor of the unknown... I had actually made it! Somebody had looked at all that work, all that misery, all that stress, and thought that *I* was worthy of representing their school -- and not just any school, but Duke University, the institution responsible for inventing the PA profession, the school with the number-two PA program in the entire country. They wanted me.

Dear Jessica,

Congratulations on your acceptance to the Duke University Physician Assistant program. The Admissions Committee has approved your application for the class entering August 16, 2010. An official letter will be mailed to you this week. In that letter any contingencies to your admission will be clearly stated.

Please note that your $700 deposit and response forms are due in our offices by December 2, 2009. This is explained in more detail in the offer letter of admission.

If for some reason you do not receive your official notification by November 24, 2009, please contact the Admissions Office at...

Again, congratulations!

Now that I'm three and a half months into this program, I can say with certainty that there is nowhere on the planet that I'd rather be, and no place that could possibly be a better fit for me. I remember feeling like this during the IB Program in high school, but this is multiplied exponentially. It's such a relief to feel like I somehow managed to make all the right decisions in the midst of all that stress. I'm slowly getting the answers to all the clinical questions I wondered about during my three years in the medical field, and it's an amazing feeling each time that light bulb goes on. All the things I worried about -- will I be able to keep up academically? Will I make friends -- true friends, not just friendly acquaintances? Will I actually like what I'm doing enough this time to want to turn it into a career? ... all those concerns have long been laid to rest. I love every minute of what I'm doing, and already, I've made friends that I know I'll still be close to a decade from now. I can see my future unfolding in front of me -- the possibilities for the next few years slowly solidifying. If I were to win the lottery tomorrow, I'd still want to have a job and work as a PA, which isn't something I could ever say as a pre-linguist.

It's utterly incredible how far I've come in only three and a half months. We did our physical exam practical finals right before break started -- 154 exam components, performed on a classmate, completely from memory, in under 45 minutes. We had to wear our white coats and move through the exam as though we didn't know the 'patient' at all, using all our 'toys' appropriately and verbalizing everything we saw and felt. During the first week of school, when they showed us the video of a second-year student doing this same exam, we all sat there incredulously, absolutely terrified, each of us certain that we'd never be that professional, that Duke had made a huge mistake letting us into this program. The first time I tried to do a complete run-through of my own, I hung onto my cheat sheet for dear life and needed 90 minutes to get through the entire thing. Again, I was frustrated, scared, and sure that I'd never be able to do it. And then... somehow, during the latter part of October and early November, it all came together. By the third run-through, I no longer needed or wanted the cheat sheet. And when my exam day came (last Monday), I slammed through the entire exam in 39 minutes, forgetting only a few things and earning a score of 94. My classmates all reported similar experiences. I am so incredibly proud of us and how far we've all come in such a short time. I've obviously got a very long way to go (20 more months), and I'm still far from pinning down a specialty or knowing every detail of all the things I need to know... but as of this moment, November 28, 2010, there isn't a day that goes by that I'm not overwhelmingly thankful to be one of the 75 people sitting in that Duke lecture hall. For the first time, I really feel like I'm carrying the Thanksgiving mindset around permanently, the way we're told that we should.

I'm not sure how I got this lucky... but I'm humbled to have such an awesome life.

Anyway, it was a great Thanksgiving. My parents came to Durham for a couple of days (swooped in and fixed the shredder, cleaned the trash can, bought us an ottoman, and did a myriad of other things around the house... they are so amazing) and then we drove to Charlotte on Wednesday. I experienced IKEA for the first time on that trip, and I can say with some certainty that I now know exactly what my downtown Durham loft will look like when I get it... LOL! We spent Thanksgiving with my aunt and uncle in Fort Mill (on the outskirts of Charlotte), and then I took the train back to Durham on Friday. (Can I just say how much I love the train? Cheap, easy, tons of legroom, onboard wireless... I wish I had more opportunities to use it.) I went out to dinner with one of my friends that night and then actually did a little bit of studying the next day (yesterday). So far I've spent today cleaning and Christmas-ifying the apartment a little bit, and I'm about to head out to buy groceries and (LONG overdue) new running shoes. Liz comes home tomorrow, and since our class schedule changed and I'm going to be in class longer than I thought, her friend Erin is going to pick her up at the airport. I'll see her when I get home at 5:30. She made it safely from Spain to Italy and had a really amazing Thanksgiving there (you can read about it here).

The month of November has really flown by. Usually I'm the first one off the mark when it comes to holiday playlists, party plans, Christmas gift ideas, and so forth -- I often get going as soon as Halloween is over -- but this year it's really the lowest thing on my radar, probably because so many of my thoughts are wrapped up in school. I'm trying to get myself in the spirit by playing holiday music and decorating the apartment a little (but not too much, or Liz will be upset that she didn't get to help :)). It's been a great mini-break, but the next three weeks are going to be absolutely brutal in terms of school, so any holiday-mindsetting that's going to happen is going to have to occur today. Though I suspect I'm going to be dragged out to purchase a tree sometime in the next two or three days whether I like it or not... :)

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