Friday, May 29, 2015

Flashback: Coming to Poland

I had just gotten a phone call. It was the type of phone call that could change my future.

"I'm sorry to inform you that our school no longer accepts US government loans."

That's the only part of the conversation that I heard.

I sat in my parents office crying for thirty minutes after that. I had two weeks left until I was supposed to come to Poland, I had already bought the plane tickets, made plans, and then this. TWO WEEKS before I was supposed to come.

I had no idea how I was going to pay for school or what I was going to do. I was totally lost.

I probably should have seen the last minute notice as a sign of things to come. But, me being me I completely ignored it (probably a good thing too!). After I finished crying, my step dad coaxed me out to the living room where we had a good chat. A week later after making some inquiries and after some long hard contemplation I decided that I was going to find a way to make this happen. I was going to go to Poland, I was going to go to medical school.

Thank goodness for Sallie Mae.

I got the money I needed. And two weeks later my father and I landed in Poland for the first time. My Dad being the pioneer that he is opted to take the bus to the hotel versus a taxi like a normal person. We had no idea how to speak the language and no idea where we were going. Luckily some old woman adopted us. She bought us tickets and showed us which stop to get off.

My first thoughts about Poland were, "wow these buildings are really run down." And looking back I was only half right- the outside might be disastrously run down but the inside of most of the buildings are actually quite nice. (Maybe that's a good metaphor for the country?)

After we arrived and got the hotel stuff sorted out we went for what would be the first of many Polish meals. KFC! 

Okay, I know what you're thinking typical Americans! I had just been on an airplane for 13 hours I can eat whatever I want. Plus, KFC in Poland isn't quite the same as in the US, it definitely has more of a fast food vibe here.

My dad stayed for about four days and helped me move into the dormitory. My roommate arrived as we were organizing all the newly purchased items from ikea. Her first words to me were, "If you see any needles I'm diabetic, not a drug addict."

I had no clue how to respond to that so I just said, "I have asthma. My inhaler is in the drawer."

Clearly we both need to work on our introductions.

So something you should know about Polish dorms. They're not the cushy rooms that North American Students are used to. No personal space here. The rooms are small. Very Small. When we laid down in bed at night our feet pretty much touched each other. But, there was something quaint about our room. Yes it was small, but it was about to become home.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Would You Want to Know?

A group of us sat huddled around a table in the local gas station at one in the morning. We were sipping cokes eating sandwiches and laughing at silly jokes.

It's amazing how conversations that are lighthearted can quickly turn into deep discussions about the very core of our existence. We sat there laughing and then all of a sudden someone asked the question: "If you had a terminal disease that cannot be treated, would you want to know?"

We were all quiet for a moment, thinking, wondering.

At this point we've seen people who are dying, we've spoken to them, we've helped them into bed, we've put our hands over their chests to pump the blood through their body, we've seen them take their last breath and die. But, would we want to know if that was what was coming soon for us?

"Yes, of course," were my friends answers. Their reasoning, "Because I would want to make sure that I live life to the fullest."

I thought for a second longer before speaking and ironically my answer was the opposite of theirs, but for exactly the same reason.

If there's nothing I can do about it for myself or future children I would not want to know. I want to live my life to the fullest, I don't want my imminent demise hanging over my head anymore than it already is.

You see I believe you should always live life to the fullest, regardless of when or how you're going to die- why should having a terminal disease change the way I live? I live or I don't.

The truth is terminal diseases aside, anyone of us could die tomorrow in a freak accident or from some undetected health problem. I hate to say it like this, but if I do happen to go, I'm okay with that.

My friend gave me an "I'm concerned" look after I explained my reasoning so I continued to explain.

I've explored the world, I've done crazy things, I've loved and been loved, and most importantly I'm happy.

I'm not saying that I want to die or anything like that. Just that, I think we should all strive to live like we're going to die tomorrow. We should enjoy each sunset, each kiss, each moment of laughter like it's our last.

If that makes me sound crazy, then okay.

I'm enjoying life.


Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Packing

I don't have much time left here. 

It feels surreal. 

How is it over? How has four years of hard work and classes ended just like that? 

Today I began the process of packing my suitcases. There probably aren't too many people that can fit their entire life into two suitcases. 

I feel like I've lived an entire lifetime here.

I can't even begin to explain how much it hurts me to have to leave. I don't remember ever being as happy anywhere as I am here right now. 

I've been running to my favorite parts of the city more, thinking that it might be the last time I ever see these places. Even if I do come back to visit, it will never be the same. 

I know that it will be the last time I ever feel like I'm home for a long time. I'm sure wherever I'm at next will slowly become what this place has been to me. But it will take time. 

I know people will say, "look at all the other great places you will go" "change is good." 
Those people have never dropped everything and left their entire life behind. I have done this more times than I can count. 

I hate it. 

I just want to go home. But I don't know where that is.  

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Flashback: The Interview


Deciding to come to Poland was one of the hardest and easiest decisions I've ever made.

I knew that I wanted to come here from the moment I first saw the website my sophomore year of college. Of course I knew it would be easier to go to school in the US, but I kept Poland in consideration.

The time to apply to medical schools came around and I had my applications in the first week they were open. I was so excited and nervous. Mostly excited. There was nothing else in this world that I wanted to do.

I got interviews at a few places. But, my first interview was for my school in Poland. It was one of their first interview days in November. My mother and I drove out to New York City where the interviews were being held. It was my first time in a city of that size.

My mom helped me pick out my business suit and shirt. She helped me do my hair (because anyone who knows me, knows that I can't get it under control). We sat around for a while at the hotel and I nervously looked up possible interview questions. I had an answer rehearsed and ready to go for almost any question they would give me.

The time finally came for us to drive to the interview. We packed everything in the car and headed off. We had driven ten minutes when I realized that I had forgotten my folder with my passport copies, my research, and everything else I'd need for the interview. We made it back to the hotel in 2 minutes.

After that little mishap we made it to my interview. My mom decided to stay in the car where she could look at the hudson river and I walked- well hobbled to the building where the interview was being held. As it happens, heels have never been a strong suit for me. Why I decided to try them out the day of my interview I'll never know! Luckily they wouldn't see me walk.

I came into the building and was immediately beckoned into a room with a large oval table with 8 people sitting at it. They placed me at the head and thus the interview started. At first it was just basic, why do you want to be a doctor? why Poland? What do you do to relieve stress?... And then the question that I blanked on: Name three attributes that would make you a good doctor?

I got two. And then I totally blanked. My palms began to sweat, my hands began to shake. For the life of my I couldn't think of a third attribute.

I tried in earnest to think of something and then hastily apologized. "I'm sorry, I'm so nervous." I explained. They nodded and smiled.

Luckily, the remainder of the interview was science questions that I knew the answers to. The hardest part was deciphering what the interviewers were asking me. Many had Polish accents which I wasn't yet accustomed to, but one particular older professor spoke so deeply and with such a strong accent that I kept looking to the other interviewers to decipher what he was telling me.

After they were done with their questions they were quiet for a moment. And then the one who must have been in charge at the end of the table said, "Congratulations, we would love to accept you."

My heart literally jumped into my throat.

I was so happy.

I stood up and they each shook my hand. One of the older women gave me a big hug. I'm sure I looked like I needed it.

They gave me pens and a book on the school. They asked me if my mother was in the waiting area so they could congratulate her as well. Unfortunately, she was outside. They still loaded me down with pens and notebooks to give her as well.

I thanked them and walked calmly out of the building. And then I RAN to the car to tell my mother. If I hadn't been wearing the heels I probably would have done a heel click too.

We celebrated by going to see downtown NYC.

I was going to be a medical student.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Athens


Spring break was a few weeks ago and a friend of mine had always wanted to go to Athens. Despite my visa issues I decided that I wanted to go too. So I got a blessing from the visa office and two days before break started we booked a hotel and bought tickets on Ryanair to Athens.

Day 1: We traveled all day. The city where I live does not have direct flights to Athens so we ended up taking a bus to Warsaw. The bus left at around 10am and it got there at around 2pm. From the bus station we decided to take a taxi out to the Modlin airport.

We got in the cab drove for thirty seconds to a red light and the bus that was driving in front of us decided that it was going to back up on top of us. It all happened in slow motion, luckily we were stopped, and no one was hurt. It ended up taking out one of the lights and the front bumper. My friend and I just sat in the taxi awkwardly unsure of what to do. The cabbie did call another taxi for us and we did eventually make it to the airport which was around 30 minutes away.

Interestingly that is the second time I've been hit by a vehicle that's decided to back up without any warning. The first time I was on my bike. Talk about bad luck.

Our flight left Warsaw at around 7pm and we got to Athens at nearly 11 o'clock their time. It's hard to believe it's only around a three hour flight.

Day 2:  We woke up early the next day excited to see the area! The place we were staying was in a pretty run down area but there were plenty of people around so we walked to our first destination- the Acropolis!

Apparently if you have an EU student ID card you can get into most everything for FREE. It was a definite bonus!

We stayed at the Acropolis for at least an hour if not more. I loved reading about what all the old ruins were and trying to imagine what it looked like back in the day. It's amazing that things like that were able to be built when they didn't have tools that we have now. We saw the theater of Dionysus, climbed the hill to see the Parthenon which was undergoing renovations, viewed the temple of Athena, and checked out the view of Athens from the top. You can see pretty much everything from up there- including the sea!

Next we headed to what was my favorite part of the trip, the Panathenaic Stadium. The site of the first modern olympic games and where the marathon ended. This one we had to pay for, but we still got a discount with our student cards. We walked around on the track and checked out the statues and I did a lap for completeness sake. We walked into what we thought was a cave but turned out to be a tunnel to where a museum is set up. They had all of the old torches from olympic games past as well as more history on the stadium and of course the marathon.

Nearby the stadium is the Temple of Zeus, which unfortunately isn't as cool as it sounds. It's mostly just old pillars on a nice little plot of grass. We did a loop around it, took some pictures, and then headed to the Plaka.

The Plaka is one of the main shopping districts in Athens. There is your typical tourist trap area with souvenir shops which we spent some time perusing. If you walk far enough from their there's also a typical sort of market with less touristy stuff. We ran into the Roman Agora and the Temple of Hephaestus we walked so far.

Day 3: We had decided pretty early on in our trip planning that we wanted to do some kind of cruise tour. As we walked around we discovered that there were signs everywhere for this one day tour of three islands for 100 euro. We signed up not knowing what to expect.

They came and picked us up at our hotel at 7am and took us to the dock where our boat awaited. We were still pretty sleepy from the day before and it was chilly out so we sat at a table inside for the first hour or so. There was music and then they told us more about the islands that we'd be visiting as well as the events on the boat. At one point on the way to the islands I walked into the bathroom to find an elderly woman being violently seasick, I ended up hunting down a seasick tablet for her and helping her hold her head over the sink- my first med school moment of the day (the second was when my friend and I "consulted" a boy who had split his chin and needed stitches).
I think it took two hours to get to our first island which was Hydra at which point it was very windy and rainy! It was a small little place with only donkey's for transportation (though we did see a small truck!) We walked up the hill to check out some of the houses which were typical of the Greek architecture and then we walked down one of the costal trails which was amazing. It's too bad the weather was miserable, I think we both would have liked to spend some time swimming there!
We got back on the boat and they had a buffet prepared for us. I had three huge plates- I was starving! Others didn't eat so much though, the water had gotten significantly more rocky after we left port. People were puking left and right. They even started handing out barf bags. Meanwhile I was stuffing my face.

By the time we had reached the next island, Poros the rain had stopped and the sun was starting to peak through. We were only there for 40 minutes I can't say too much about it.

Our final island was Aegina where we went and saw the temple of Aegina and bought some pecans which are apparently their main crop. I liked the temple of Aegina more than the ruins in Athens, it seemed more put together and there were less tourists around so it was more personal.

As we headed back to Athens that day there was traditional Greek dancing! And of course I joined in!

The cruise was hands down one of the best parts of our trip! We had a blast!!!

Day 4: We slept in and went to the Archeological Museum for a few hours. It was chilly and a bit rainy out again so being inside was nice. After we went to the Plaka to explore again and to pick up last minute souvenirs. We also found a great restaurant where we hung out for a few hours. Heads up, if you're ever in Athens- get a spinach pie.

Day 5: Once again we spent all day traveling. This time we went from an airplane, to a bus, to a tram, to a train, to a cab. We didn't get back to our city until 3am!

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Neurology

Since I've finished neurology I suppose I should tell you a little bit about it.

Really, there isn't much to say except I really enjoyed the course and learned a lot. It was the best course I've taken in medical school so far, except for maybe my electives. If anything the course actually made me consider neurology as a possible career course.

Scary I know.

My group was fortunate to have one of the younger doctors who was more hands on. The first thing we learned was how to do a neuro exam, which is easier said than done. There's a lot more to it than just hitting a person with a hammer. You have to know why you're hitting the person with the hammer, what to look for when hitting them, and where the abnormality is if you hit them and something weird happens.

We practiced on each other first because it's easier and faster to do in English than to figure out how to say it in Polish, especially when you're a mediocre at both (though I think by the end I could almost do the exam in Polish- almost). We quickly moved on to real patients which were a bit trickier since there were abnormalities in the exam.

The section of the department we were placed in had an overwhelming number of MS patients. So we got really good with all things MS. Because of this however, the variety of patients we saw was limited. For example, I don't think we saw any Parkinson's patients except maybe the one I spotted in the waiting room (the tremor really is a give away).

The ward next to us was a critical care section for more severe patients, we got to visit this area several times. They didn't have anyone on respirators but they had patients with encephalopathy and strokes which were stable. It's here that we did our first neurological exam on a semi-comatose patient. It was strange. We kept being very gentle with them in fear that we would hurt them, our doctor had to remind us to be more aggressive. Actually, now that I think about it (and after being the victim of it) the neurologists are kind of scary with their hammers.


We got to see a good number of spinal taps as well, which is something none of us had seen before. Our doctors made it look so easy! The only time I saw a patient moan in pain was when one of the professors did it (there is serious irony in this...) Unfortunately, the didn't let us try, but I can completely understand why.

Somewhere during the middle of this month long course there was a party downtown which I attended. Around 11pm I turned towards the dance floor to see two of my classmates doing a choreographed neurological exam.

Needless to say, it was a great course.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The Visa Game

If you've ever lived for a prolonged time in a country that is not your own you probably know what a hassle it is to apply for a visa or residence permit. There is nothing worse than feeling helpless in a system that seems doomed for you to fail.

I can't say much about the U.S. immigration system as I'm lucky enough to hold a U.S. passport, but I am thankful most days to have that piece of cardboard. I say most days because there are days like today when I would kill for an EU passport. Life would be so much easier.

My first two years in Poland I went through the US embassy in Washington DC to apply for a student visa. I went in submitted my forms and three days later picked it up. No problem, easy peasy, simple.

My third year I didn't return back to the US so I was forced to apply for what is known as a temporary stay card as you can't apply for student visas inside of Poland (you also can't apply for temporary stay cards outside of Poland. Which makes no sense.) So I did what I was supposed to do, I applied within the 90 day period, I collected the letter from my school, proved that I had enough money in my bank account, got health insurance from ZUS, officially registered my residence with the town hall, was visited by the Police, and managed to navigate my way through the Polish immigration system (mostly in Polish, a miracle even then).

Generally speaking it was the nightmare you're probably imagining. But it was nothing compared to what some students have gone through to get their temporary stay cards. So I was happy to have conquered the system and in the end I was rewarded with a shiny new temporary stay card. Proof that I live in Poland.

Let's fast forward a year. The card expired when I was back in the US last fall. I was going to apply for a student visa in Washington, but my school never sent me a letter of enrollment to prove I was a student (after I repeatedly called and asked). I finally got an e-mail from them asking if I still needed it a week before I was supposed to return to Europe. Too late.

I got back in December but wasn't able to apply for my temporary stay card right away because unlike the student visa I also had to prove that I had funds to stay in Poland. Which I didn't as we don't get our loans until the end of January. So I had to wait. Which totally wasn't a problem. I had time.

Around the first of February I had everything I needed to apply for my visa. So I did. The next weekend I flew to Ireland again which "reset" my 90 days in Poland, but not in the rest of the shengen zone- something that wouldn't be a problem once I get my visa. (Oh and I have the 90 day rule recorded from the horses mouth. Because I couldn't find that law written anywhere.).

I waited and waited. No letter, no confirmation of my application. No nothing.

I went to the visa office. "It's no problem, don't worry" they said.

I visited them 5 times in the past 2 months and waited two hours in line or more each time. And every time they said the same thing.

Today I visited again and this is what I was told. "You aren't eligible for a visa because you're leaving in June."

I just want a visa! Is that too much to ask?!? 

If I get deported before I graduate, I'm not going to be a happy camper.