I won't say I have all the answers or any answers for that matter. Juggling is hard. Yet, all of us do it, our lives like a prize wheel at times, the most pressing needs getting our attention whether they deserve it or not.
It wasn't easy. They say medical school alone is like drinking from a fire hydrant and being taxed with regurgitating it every few weeks. Out of altruism, I wouldn't recommend anyone else do all the things I did at a time. [But then again I might because the human spirit is indomitable.]
My modus operandi in life has always been biased toward gritting my teeth and getting through whatever life tosses my way, keeping my mind on the big picture. Driving to school with little REM sleep under my belt - because my toddler who had mastered sleeping through the night had begun to wake up again - absorbing lectures two part words, one sip coffee. Holding my sick baby while sickness ravaged me and neither of us could get out of bed, fighting to make up the missed lectures in the wee hours of the morning, my husband in a different part of the country. What got me through was the big picture, dreaming about it, envisioning the end of the year when I'd look back and reminisce on the struggles I had overcome to get that far. Getting through another block was my focus (our courses at RWJMS are arranged in blocks), and each exam I ticked off brought me closer.
The last year has taught me about a moment in time, about its potentiality, its promise, about its reward. I learned the difference between getting through and staying the course. I learned to appreciate the small moments. The moment during my son's stomach virus when he clung to me till he drifted into sleep, though he had prior to that favored independence and spurned his mother's hugs. I learned to appreciate the moment after the storm, after each exam. I appreciated the moments walking to my locker or to my car, 'fatigued' an insufficient adjective with which to describe me, in awe of the human brain - my human brain - and how much it had absorbed, how much I had understood and could reproduce. In those moments, I was able to look back on the weekly assessments and see how far I had come. Leaving after an exam, I was always in awe that I knew enough to explain the pathway of blood through the Circle of Willis or the nerves stringing through the trigeminal ganglion, or the delicate balance between potassium and protons and potassium and sodium. In the last year, I learned to anticipate the beauty of the next moment even when things were difficult. In the moments too difficult to appreciate in the present - and there were a number of those - I learned to look back on them and revel in the strength that carried me through.
If you asked me how I made it through juggling my roles, I would say it was keeping my eyes on the big picture, beginning with the end in mind. If you asked me what kept me going, I'd tell you about the moments, the small successes in the failures, the memory of successes, the moments right after the storm, the quiet moments lounging on the couch a small head leaning against me, mine against my husband's, as we embraced rest after a tough week. If you asked me for advice on how to do it all, I would laugh because I don't have it. I had a great support system in my family. Then, I would say, the big picture and the small moments.
Grace Ibitamuno Obienu is an MD/PhD candidate at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and the Department of Epidemiology in the Rutgers School of Public Health. Her research has a global focus with emphasis on developing nations. A lover of verse and story, her debut novel Not Yet Beautiful - a book about sex trafficking, faith, holding on to hope, and finding love and self - was published last year. Connect with her on Facebook, she loves to chat.