Med Student Syndrome

Through the trials and tribulations of medical school, your personal sanity will undergo many tests.  I’ve seemed to avoid the stereotypical medical school depression, typically sparked by the doom & gloom mentality that seeps its way into one’s psyche when they’re forced to learn seemingly endless amounts of drugs, diseases, and whatnot for years on end with minimal breaks. So far I’ve also avoided burnout, which is good considering I’ve only been here since July 5th and I’m only 25% done with my preclinical classroom-lecture-exam format of learning.

However, one thing that has become a trend is my recent obsession over what I’m learning, and how it plays into my life. Our medical school curriculum is arranged in a block format, where we learn the different bodily systems in order.

The first block was musculoskeletal – everything dealing with the growth, development, and ailments of the bones and muscles. It started in the summer when we had a lecture on shoulder injuries and pain. I’m a stomach sleeper, and for the past three years I have not been able to sleep on my stomach with my left arm raised and my head facing my right side. I cannot do overhead shoulder presses without a sharp twinge of pain in my left shoulder. Three years ago, while playing in the ol’ thanksgiving family turkey bowl, I had my arms whipped backwards while trying to tackle my bulldozer of a brother, and instantly felt a pop in my shoulder. Being a typical college student with an arrogantly tough attitude, I said I didn’t need to see a doctor. Over a couple months, the pain eventually subsided to the point where it was hardly noticeable aside from doing certain movements (shoulder presses) and and other sort of action that requires my arm to be raised and bent backwards.

So, we’re learning about all the different ligaments in the shoulder – the rotator cuff.  Typically the supraspinatus is the ruptured ligament. I went home to study and ended up trying to replay the physics of my arm’s movement and pinpoint the injury to a specific ligament, and narrowed it down to the infraspinatus. In lecture, the good doc said, “this is a surgical injury, it will not heal properly on its own”. The pain isn’t enough to bring my overworked ass to a doctor. However, after a drunken royal-rumble wrestling match with a buddy a few weekends ago, it’s apparent this baby aint ever gonna feel right. Now, once again there’s a persistent dull ache in my left shoulder, which as any medical professional must know is from an injury or you’re going to have a heart attack. Let’s cross our fingers and roll with the former. Surgery down the road? Probably. Fucking A, man.

Fast forward to September. We spent the week examining x-ray images of fractures, diagnosing different kinds of breaks, and learning about the complications and treatments that accompany each injury. On a Monday morning before a “clinical skills” exam, in a fit of shitty technology-induced rage coupled with exam anxiety, I slammed my hand down on my table. I immediately knew what I’d done. My pink finger was pointing directly at my thumb. The kicker?  It was 7:30 a.m. and the exam started at 8. I took the exam, barely able to read or think over the throbbing pain pounding in my hand. After the test, I went to the campus doctor who took some x-ray images revealing a few shattered bones in my right hand.

Tuesday, we learned about the fractures of the different bones in the hands. Although angry that I couldn’t write, lift, or even jerk off for a month, the irony of the situation made the whole thing rather amusing. Definitely cemented that day’s lecture into my brain.

In October we were in “Infection and Immunity” block. As we were learning about congenital immunodeficiencies, one in particular rang a few bells in my head. “IgA (read: little molecule that fights off bad things entering the body) – plays a critical role in the immune function of mucous glands and in the lungs. IgA deficiency is linked to frequent respiratory problems as well as respiratory and sinus infections”. Funny, because I happen to get pneumonia or bronchitis or some other lung infection/ailment almost yearly. I was diagnosed with asthma as a boy, but the phrase “if patient has frequent respiratory infections, they should be tested for IgA deficiency” makes me wonder. Maybe I’m just crazy.

Last year I had thick white tonsilar exudates (read: white spots in my throat) combined with a fever, classic telltale signs of Strep throat. I never received antibiotics. Strep without antibiotics can result in Rheumatic Fever (read: bad).

And now were in Cardiovascular block. We spend the day learning about heart murmurs and I’m holed up in my apartment with my stethoscope listening to my own heart to ensure its regular. Not like I’d be able to tell if something was seriously wrong anyways, but I humor myself.

However, I have noticed that my blood pressure has recently been consistently high. Studying – heart is pounding. Lying in bed trying to fall asleep – heart is pounding. Waking up – heart is still pounding. I chalked it up to my excessive stimulant intake. Consequently, I’ve drank one coffee in the past two weeks. Nothing has changed. And this whole caffeine-free stint makes studying a heckuva lot harder. So, seems that something’s wrong with my ticker.

Apparently you can get Mitral Stenosis (read: thickening of a valve in your heart – bad) from having Strep throat and not treating it with antibiotics from the resulting Rheumatic Fever. Mitral Stenosis causes mad heart problems. Perhaps I have this.

Currently, I’m in respiratory block. Jokes on them, because I already have asthma. Next we’ll move onto the Gastrointestinal system. I’ll probably diagnose myself with IBS, when in reality I should probably just lay off the lactose and protein shakes.

But I still can’t diagnose much of anything. The more I learn, the more I realize what I don’t know. I’ve been here for five months and still have a hard time diagnosing a patient without textbook symptoms and research.

Yet, I have made one definite diagnosis: I’m a hypochondriac.

I’m thinking about scheduling a doctor’s appointment over winter break to get a bunch of tests run to put my mind at ease, but then again, I don’t want to be back in three months with a new set of worries. I think the plan is to wait until I’m done with my first two years of school, roll in with a laundry list of possible diseases, get a bunch of tests done, and either find out that I have a month to live, or that I’m completely fine and just have a case of med student syndrome.



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