Two weeks before my 12-week Scientific Principles of Medicine (SPM) exam, I spent my evenings reading Harry Potter fanfiction, and my leftover free time studying for the exam that I should have started preparing for 7 weeks previously. Naturally, one week before the big exam, I had to reverse that pattern.
With my propensity to over-stress about everything, I woke up at 5 AM on October 31st, the Friday of the exam. I studied cancer biology and immunology for 3 hours before leaving my apartment.
On my way to campus, I noticed that the sidewalks were quiet and empty. Normally, there would be students streaming out of their apartments by this time of day, frantically flipping through binders of notes and mouthing the biological targets of antifungal medications. I grew more fearful by the moment – had I misread the exam schedule? Was I late? Was the entire class already struggling through free-response questions that asked us to recite the life cycles of all known parasitic flatworms from memory?
How I felt the morning of my SPM exam.
When I arrived, there was no one in the lecture hall except for two proctors and two medical students. I was half an hour early.
On the other side of the spectrum, one student arrived five minutes after the proctor began reading aloud the instructions for the electronic exam. The rest of the class, including the proctors, watched him in utmost silence as he climbed down the steps of the aisle to retrieve his designated scratch paper.
In any case, the exam went well. I flunked the immunology multiple-choice questions and still managed to pass with a decent overall score. To celebrate, I treated myself to a lunch of vanilla frozen yogurt with chocolate chips, white chocolate chips, and peanuts. When a classmate asked me about my impersonation plans for Halloween, I proudly announced that I would be a narcoleptic.
Featured above is Ledroptha Curtain, the narcoleptic villain from a sci-fi novel that nearly made me fail a chemistry midterm as a freshman in college. Because of his narcolepsy, Mr. Curtain often falls asleep halfway through his diatribes.
During the metabolism block of our SPM course, I discovered that straining my brain did not burn nearly as many calories as exercising my skeletal muscles.
From Californian karate student to PA medical student.
I took my metabolism professor’s advice to heart and contacted three fellow first-years who were interested in practicing karate on weekend mornings. We dubbed ourselves “The Ninja Team.”
The weekend after our SPM exam, however, I decided that our recent accomplishments warranted a change in routine. Moreover, I had never seen autumn leaves before – watching trees turn brown from the comfort of the medical student lounge did not count – so I decided to invite my Ninja Team friends for a hike up the mountains near Harrisburg.
On Sunday morning, Siri warned me that the weather outside was “BRRRR!!!!” cold (37 degrees Fahrenheit) and windy. After searching my closet, I found only a business-worthy winter coat from last year’s medical school interviews in the snow. As an alternative, I decided to wear a couple of additional cotton layers underneath my everyday clothes. At 8 AM, I picked up my fellow Ninjas and drove 30 minutes to the trailhead of the Appalachian Trail.
As it turned out, the wind was murderous – 30 miles per hour, with gusts of up to 50 miles per hour. The wind quite nearly swept us off the mountain. I had underestimated the power of wind to sap away every ounce of our lung capacity.
Climbing up the switchbacks against the wind.
An oasis of calm: this flat portion of the trail was shielded from the wind. We paused here to catch our breath.
Even through misty eyes and streaming nostrils, I savored the pristine landscape stretching on into the distance.
We had lunch at the Peter’s Mountain summit. The sun began emerging from behind the clouds.
Photography, however, also became my downfall. With autumn leaves blanketing the forest floor, it was easy to overlook potholes and unstable boulders along our path. Numerous times, we found ourselves ankle-deep in forest mulch, besieged by thorns and bracken, and without a hint of a trail in sight.
The Susquehanna River.
Climbing down the mountain, I paused to admire the sun and the autumn leaves.
As we were driving home, one of my friends remarked that we had earned our titles as Ninjas because no one in their right mind would have tried to hike up a mountain in 50 mph winds. She was probably right; I decided not to mention the wind part of our adventure to my mom over the phone.
Only a couple of hours after we returned to Hershey, it was time to don our hospital scrubs and meet our cadavers for the first time. After a weekend of adventure, I had absolutely no idea what was in store.