Sunday, August 6, 2017

Wyoming: Part 2

"I've got a homesick heart, but a long ways left to go. I've been doing my part, but I ain't got much to show..." - NEEDTOBREATHE, "HAPPINESS"

Was I having a pretty good time in Wyoming? Definitely. Did I get to witness a patient get his finger stitched up after a gnarly chainsaw accident? Yes - and it was glorious. Did I get to set up an IV? Yup! Were my practical skills improving? Sure. However, I couldn't help but feel…inadequate. Over the July 8th weekend, I spent hours at a local cafe with my head down, soaking up as much information as possible from a 5-pound yellow textbook. Sure, I made 100s on the open book quizzes, but it didn’t change the fact that compared to my other classmates, I was behind on everything else. In high school, "struggling" meant that all I needed to do was spend more time on the subject, go to tutorial, and I’d get back on track. While in Wyoming, I was stuck on this never-ending path of failure. 

For years, I’d been told, “If you keep on doing what you’ve always done, you’ll keep getting what you always gotten.” That, my friends, is only half-true. This wasn't something "more time" could fix; I was forced to completely reinvent my study habits and for someone as stubborn as myself, it was soul-crushing to say the least. A skill that had once come so naturally to me before was now my weakest asset. On the bright side, I was inadvertently forced to reevaluate the standards by which I found my happiness and self-worth. Why did I put so much of my personal fulfillment into academic gratification? A part of me blamed it on (what I believe is) naturally competitive human nature, but another part blamed it on my perfectionist complex. I would tell myself, "I have to get this right or else I’m gonna-" Going to do what, exactly? Cry?! At age 18?! You better believe I did. Numerous. Times. Eventually, I would once again come to terms with the sad truth: no matter how hard you cry/try, it may not be enough. You just have to take pride in knowing that you gave it "your all" (as annoying as that will forever sound to me). 

In the midst of another one of the many existential crises I had, I thought to myself, "Nothing a FaceTime session with my best friend can't fix!” So, Sunday evening after clinicals (and before writing Part 1), I called Tarab after she returned from Europe and vented for a few minutes until the wi-fi connection gradually worsened. Considering the fact that she’s “Little Miss Optimism” of the friend group, our chat was exactly what I needed to keep going. Quiz 5 would be the following Wednesday (July 12th) and mark my words, I would be ready.

Annnnnd I played myself. On Quiz 5, I not only reached a personal low, but also achieved the lowest grade in the class. Yay?! "Make-it or Break-it" week had certainly broken me. On top of that, AP exam scores were released and I received numerous messages from people I had not spoken to since May 20th (i.e. graduation) asking, “What’d you make on your exams?” To which I responded, “New phone, who dis?” There was no more time for “coulda, woulda, shoulda". The only option I had was to pivot and try to salvage what little dignity I had left. After toggling with my grades a bit, I found out what I needed to make on the next two assessments in order to get the WEMT certification: an 88 and 89. "Definitely doable!” said my instructors. “But not realistic,” I mumbled to myself. Encouraged not to freak out until after Quiz 6, I spent the next few days primarily focusing on Friday’s big scenario.

“By a show of hands, who’s been on a hike before?”
*Everyone raises their hand, except me*
*I, 5’11", try to make myself invisible and silently sink down in my seat*
On Friday July 14th at 1 PM, the 28 of us were split into groups and given items one would bring/find on a hike (like sticks, ropes, sleeping bags, etc.) and create makeshift litters for our “patients". FURTHERMORE, we'd have to use those litters to lug our fellow classmates through the hills on a mile-long hike to a helicopter zone where they’d eventually get picked up in the case of a real emergency. After that, we had some time to unwind at the Popo Agie River, then my roommate and I had to rush to our final clinical rotation 45-minutes away in Riverton.

For the first 5 hours, it was probably the slowest, most disappointing clinical rotation Haley and I had ever gone through. That being said, I had time to think. Time to think about the large Native-American population I had seen in Lander, the alcoholism, smoking, and diabetes prevalent in their communities, the future of their youth, etc. Time to think about their place in this nation's history, their pain, their suffering. Initially, I couldn’t understand why some of these patients were so reluctant to take their daily shots of insulin or stop smoking half a pack of cigarettes a day. Then, I realized that these issues are so multi-faceted; whether they’re attributed to distrust of authority, lack of education, or poverty, it sparked a fire in me. It reminded me of why I chose to major in public health as a little bright-eyed, eager freshman. I quickly snapped out of this pensive state when a teen boy who had gotten into an ATV accident was rushed into the ER. Haley and I finally got in on the action and cleaned up his lacerations with iodine, but once the clock struck 11 PM, it was time to go. When I finally woke up Saturday morning, the weekend consisted solely of studying and practicing. Monday (July 17th) was Week 4, Quiz 6. Redemption. 

It was when I took the final L on Quiz 6 that I knew I’d end up settling for a lower certification. I’d walk away from this course with something I didn’t intend to get (a Wilderness First Responder certification), baggy eyes, and an incredibly bruised ego. One of my classmates, Sean, called it “freshman syndrome”: you get behind too early, too quickly and you just have to roll with the punches. Just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, I had a close encounter with death that same day. On Monday night, we had our final big scenario at the Popo Agie River. We split up into mock rescue groups and our student-leaders, Zoe and Emily, instructed us to survey the land and do a quick sweep of the area to check for potential patients. Somehow, I walked past an area of brush, turned around, and saw a snaked coiled up by the bushes. I quickly ran away, but that wasn’t the issue. The issue was 1-2 hours later when the scenario was coming to a close and I was at my wit’s end. Tired. Annoyed. Frustrated. Despite the pretty sunset, I wanted to be anywhere but outside. At dusk, I hurriedly tried to clean up the area and throw away any trash, so I walked to the restroom and just so happened to look down. Less than 10 inches away from my toe was this rope-looking bundle. When I saw a snake's head peep out, I heard this haunting rattling noise. I was SO shook that I bolted silently, then screamed “SNAKE! SNAKE!” about 5 seconds after. Soon, the class and instructors huddled around the the outhouse and said, “Yup, we got a rattler!” A few yards away, there I was hyperventilating. Jaw tingling. Hands shaking. Mrs. Marina (my mother away from home) and Haley tried to calm me down by coaxing me with Chick-Fil-A and other happy images, but I just could not manage to get my breathing under control. Charlie, a literal gem, eventually had to drive me back to campus in his car.

I don’t know if it was because I legitimately almost died or the fact that I only had 4 days of the course left, but I no longer cared about the Wilderness EMT cert. My priorities had changed 100% and I had to channel my energy into obtaining something that was actually feasible. I became the little cheerleader, gleefully watching everyone complete their practicals, encouraging them through testing, and even volunteering to be a patient. The best part was that they did the same thing for me. Not once did they ever look down on me, knowing that this was completely out of my comfort zone. Rather, my classmates were proud of me in the midst of all my failure. On Wednesday July 19th, we took our respective exams (I took the WFR exam while everyone else took the WEMT exam, casual) and after everyone passed their practicals on Thursday and I passed my WFR evaluation, one of our instructors, Jake, gave us a quick speech about what it means to be an EMT.  “Do good, well,” he said. The job of an EMT consists of good deeds, specifically saving lives. However, whether you’re saving lives or cleaning hospital beds, whatever you do, do it well. Immediately after, I started thinking about this course. Did I do it “well”? Isn’t that word subjective anyway? For someone who 1) had never been in a wilderness setting 2) whose  only medical experience was conducting surveys in an OB/GYN office and 3) had never had to read more than 100 pages in a WEEK for AP Lit or AP Lang, I guess I did decently “well”. 

On Friday morning July 21st, after a full month together, we all dispersed. Everyone went the local library at different times for testing, and it was so strange knowing I probably wouldn’t see some of these people beyond an iPhone screen ever again. At 11:50ish PM, my flight took off from the SLC airport and I arrived in Atlanta at 5:30 AM on July 22nd. However, like any obedient Nigerian child, I had to wait a full hour for my mother to drive up to the airport from our home - despite the fact that I called her the night before and told her to leave at 5 AM. It’s fine though, I’m not salty AT ALL. :)

I remember that as I landed in Georgia, I started getting weirdly…emotional. It was almost as though as these feelings I had kept pent-up during my high school years had now emerged. I hated the bugs, and the deer, and the snakes, and really just being outside, but accomplished so much at the same time. I learned how to think, how to relate, and how to get in touch with my authentic self. I guess my worry was that coming back to Macon would be indicative of an erasure of all of that progress. However, it didn’t have to be…

I’ve said this before, but this trip was QUITE a wake-up call for me and for that, I’m thankful. Thank you to the gracious instructors, my incredibly sweet classmates and roommates, and to my friends back on the East coast who dealt with my whining via Snapchat all throughout the trip. Thank you to the Morehead-Cain Foundation for pushing me beyond my comfort zone and helping me learn so much about who I am before what could be the most formative years of my life. Lastly, I thank God for the next four years, these amazing opportunities, and for getting me back home in one piece. 

"It’s all for You in my pursuit of HAPPINESS."