Monday, July 10, 2017

Wyoming: Part 1

In April, I accepted the Morehead-Cain Scholarship to UNC Chapel Hill and I am forever grateful to the Foundation. One component of the scholarship is the Summer Enrichment Program, which gives students the chance to travel every summer and gain hands-on experience in various capacities. All first-year scholars embark on a month-long Outdoor Leadership trip, and I chose to go to Lander, Wyoming and take a Wilderness EMT course provided by the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS). 

On June 25th, I sat at Gate A31 in the ATL airport, in complete disbelief that 1) I was early to something for once and 2) I would seriously be flying alone for the first time. Several hours and one connection flight later, I had finally arrived in Casper. I’ll admit: I wasn’t thrilled. Honestly, I was completely baffled by the fact that I couldn’t find a single person of color in the airport. But alas, I managed to hop on the shuttle and relax during the 2.5 hours that it took to get to Lander. 

It was...different to say the least. I thought Macon was small, then I came to a city of 7,600 people. I came to a place where people say “melk” instead of “milk”, a place where black coffee is apparently the drink of choice [*shudders*], and a place where the climate is so dry, only Eucerin could save me from looking like Casper the Friendly Ghost. (I had to learn the hard way, smh.) Most importantly, I came to a city where the facade of “Southern hospitality” was nonexistent; rather, a life of simplicity and transparency was celebrated. Lander would be the place where I, along with 27 strangers of different ages, backgrounds, and viewpoints, would be striving towards one goal: learning how to save lives. 

I arrived at the Wyss Campus long after dinner and nervously walked into the building, but my wonderful roommates Emily and Haley (+ the unforgettable Fritz) welcomed me - the second youngest person here - with open arms. I remember taking a picture of the sunset on the first night, staring in complete awe and overwhelmed with emotion and gratitude. I posted it on my personal Instagram later with song lyrics (yes cliché, I know) as the caption: 

"I’ve got dreams that keep me up in the dead of night, telling me I wasn’t made for the simple life. There’s a light I see but it’s far in the distance… it’s all for You in my pursuit of happiness." - NEEDTOBREATHE, "HAPPINESS"

For what seemed like the longest four years of my life, I felt confined, discouraged, and held back by the small quasi-Christian private school I attended. Here I was, in the middle of Wyoming, grabbing life by the horns and making it my own. This was my first chance to breakaway and find out what I’m truly passionate about - and I was doing it. Seeking happiness instead of going through the motions like I did for so long. I was so thankful, but too proud. Little did I know what was in store for me in the weeks ahead.

18 hour days are no joke. A typical day for me here in Wyoming begins at 6 AM and ends at 12 AM. I wake up, shower, and walk from my cabin to the main building for a PHENOMENAL breakfast at 7AM. Then class, begins at 8. From 8-10:30 AM, we go outside and revise the skills that we learned the day before (ex. rolling a patient onto an insolite pad while still protecting the cervical spine), then come back in and take notes until 12 PM. After lunch, class resumes at 1 PM and after some more note-taking (until 3 PM-ish), we go outside AGAIN until dinner at 5:15 PM. In preparation for the next day (and quizzes along the way), we're assigned 5-6 chapters of textbook reading per night. My jaw dropped the first time I looked at the syllabus. Over 100 pages a night. We’re learning so much content in so little time; my mind became numb. I guess the workload was my introduction to…college? 

At the end of the first week, I was able to go into town with a group of classmates and unwind for a bit. That Saturday marked the first time I was able to make a proper phone call because there's no service on campus. We bounced around from the local farmer's market, to numerous coffee shops and brunch spots where I was able to find the comforts of home.

By Week 2, things started getting...difficult. I kept telling myself. “You’ve got this”. Then I quickly realized that I definitely do not. The scenarios were tougher, we spent more time in the heat, the night sessions dragged on longer, I couldn’t keep up with my reading (still can’t lol), and I wanted to give up. For the first time in a long time, I felt like I was drowning in my own incompetence. Those thoughts of self-doubt reemerged once again. I’ve never had the gift of dexterity and the practical skills portion of the class suddenly felt like an uphill battle. As usual, I started contemplating previous decisions and thought, “Maybe I should’ve chosen a different OL trip…" It took me a minute, but I realized that I needed this. I needed to experience what it was like to claw my way up from the bottom, learn how to humbly ask for help, to accept my shortcomings, and how to function in a group without being the semi-autonomous leader.  I needed to understand that it’s ok not to know everything right away. Like our instructor (coincidentally, he's a UNC alum) says, “Go slow to go fast."


As I’m writing this, it’s currently 2:30 AM, tomorrow marks the beginning of Week 3 (also known as “Hell Week”), and I finished an 8-hour clinical shift earlier today. For someone like me with a wide variety of interests, the ER experience was incredible. It's relieved some (not all) of my doubts surrounding the medical field, but nonetheless, my appreciation for life and good health has definitely increased. In 2 weeks, I’ve learned so much. I’ve learned how to conduct a full patient assessment, how to administer oxygen to patients, apply occlusive dressings to open pneumothorax, how to splint and immobilize fractured bones, how to strap patients onto longboards and short boards, etc. I realized that eventually this temporary ride on the struggle bus will make me stronger, and prepare me for the four years ahead that I've been idolizing and romanticizing for so long. Despite numerous run-ins with deer, bugs in the bedroom, and knowledge of a snake that currently resides under my cabin, I’m still pressing on. 

“These days are tough, these days are long. Sometimes it’s hard, you carry on. But I hear a Voice singing and I know it’s true...” - NEEDTOBREATHE, “HAPPINESS"