Second Year of Dental School

A few short months ago, back at the beginning of fall semester, a couple random classmates and I were chatting while standing in line to use a model trimmer. We were talking about the newly minted first year dental students and how fresh faced and eager they all were (as, I’m sure, we were just a year prior). Having newer dental students at the school was quite novel to us then. Somebody mentioned that one of the newbs was Vlogging dental school, another kid commented that a few people have Vlogged first year of dental school but nobody vlogs second year.

See, second year of dental school is a bit like Fight Club in that you don’t talk about the second year,not while you’re in it

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….because you just don’t have the time and energy Actually it’s like Fight Club in some other ways too: second year students (D2s) all look pretty rough and beat but there’s a comradery to being on the inside, it’s challenging but we’re revelling in the difficulty of the tasks at hand, getting through it provokes a deep sense of pride and accomplishment. But, mostly, we are all in pain (physically from stress and lack of sleep or mentally and emotionally) and questioning our collective existence while just trying to survive the hours and hours of labs and lectures; just trying to get through the competencies and skills tests, the rotations and the exams. Holy hell, the exams! We had 10 finals total, 8 in one week along with a random four hour Sim lab crammed in for good measure. By the end of finals week the D2s looked like the walking dead in scrubs.

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But we survived. We all somehow made it to the two and a half week December break and, as far I can tell, most everyone did so thoroughly enough to make it to the next semester.

So what is the point of this post? I’m not really sure…to share the misery? Not really. To give you a peek into the life of a D2 student? Definitely not! There just isn’t time; another intense semester just started and it’s going to be at least as arduous as the one I just survived. In fact, the schedule this semester was so daunting that I considered going off grid and not coming back to school….if only I wasn’t already a quarter million dollars deep in student loan debt. Most likely I just need to whine a little about this. Because it is, and has been, super rough these past few months. In the really tired moments I question what I’m doing and why I’m here. I wonder if I made a huge mistake and feel panic and dread inside. On paper I am excited and grateful to be where I am and to have this opportunity (and I really, truly am) but the magnitude of the task at hand is great. I don’t feel ready and suddenly I just don’t know if I can handle the responsibility of patients’ health and well-being resting in my hands. All those decisions being mine to make and the consequences if them being my responsibility (and liability).

Towards the end of that brutal finals week, while sitting in a small room with a few classmates who have also become friends, trying to cram enough information into my brain to do okay on the next final, I brought it up. “Maybe I’m Not supposed to be a dentist and I should just go home now.” I said in a not quite joking tone. I question and doubt myself on a daily basis right now. I feel like I’ve worked so hard and learned so much since August of 2018 but I really don’t know anything. How am I going to be ready to treat patients in four very short months? One of my friends whose dad is a dentist then said she’d been feeling the same way lately and that she unloaded to her dad about it. Apparently he reassured her that most dental students feel that way at some point in second year.

The self-doubt is real, folks, but it seems this is “normal” for the second year of dental school. Congratulations, me, I’m normal! Maybe this self-doubt and sense of impending dread that’s so pervasive is what makes us into good dentists. Perhaps the fear of being incompetent and harming people with our ineptitude is what motivates us D2s to kick it up yet another notch and push ourselves just a little harder. Could it be that this stress and struggle is the transforming fire that we have to pass through? I guess we’ll see.

Your Job is Trying to Kill You

Okay so that wasn’t the title of the blurp I saw on Facebook at four AM (two hours from the end of my shift) yesterday when I was at work but it might as well have been.

The tag line of the link to the article read,  “A new study finds that lack of sleep due to shift work is causing irreversible brain damage.” By shift work I assume they really meant working third shift or working nights. I’m pretty sure starting work at 6am and getting done by some reasonable evening hour isn’t going to cause “irreversible brain damage”.

I followed the link and learned…nothing. They gave it all away in the tag line. A new study finds that working nights and the lack of sleep that it inevitably comes with it is causing brain damage.  Not just any kind of brain damage either, irreversible brain damage. Experts are researching medication to help counteract the damage. That’s all it really said.

My job, more specifically the shift I work at my job, is trying to kill me.

I’ve suspected this for a while now actually. It hadn’t occurred to me that irreversible brain damage might be the weapon of choice though. I thought it would  take a much faster course of action. I’ve seen signs in my day to day of some ways that working nights might be trying to kill me.

Here are a few ways “lack of sleep due to shift work” is out to get me:

1.Burning. Many, many times I have reached for hot items, cups straight out of the microwave, metal pan lids on a hot stove, cookie sheets in the oven, without the appropriate protection. Sometimes a little voice in the back of my mind sends up a flare that says something is not quite right and I stop in time to realize this is a bad idea, one I normally would not even entertain. Sometimes I grab the hot lid or mug; dropping and swearing ensue.

 

2. Reduced levels of physical coordination. I can trip literally over nothing when sleep deprived. It’s pretty scary.

 

3. Loss of control of emotions. Normally I’m pretty even-keel. I’m not dramatic, the closest I usually come to an over the top reaction is a short burst of geeky excitement over something like Doctor Who or Game of Thrones finally starting a new season (even though I already know what happens….they all die) or yarn. I do love my sci-fy and yarn.

With sleep deprived me it’s a whole different ball game though. By the end of my work week little things might cause me to feel irate, to be seething with anger, or conversely (and even worse) to tear up like a menopausal woman. I hate crying…for any reason.

 

4. Bad judgment. Okay I have somewhat bad judgment all the time but when sleep deprived I have chronically bad judgment. Persistent bad judgment when it comes to both big and little decisions. This is especially apparent and dangerous when driving but can be seen when I’m trying to get somewhere. Running ten minutes late? Yes, I need McDonald’s.

Luckily I’ve adapted to this chronic bad judgment due to sleep deprivation and now avoid all major or money related decisions on my work weeks whenever possible.

 

5. Extreme caffeine consumption. I don’t know if this would actually kill me but if coffee was alcohol I could drink an Irishman under the table any day night of the week. I’m sure there’s some negative side effects from this. I don’t really want to know them right now though. Ignorance is bliss right?

 

6. Incarceration due to committing homicide.  My neighbors like to be really, really loud in their back yard…in the middle of the afternoon…when I’m trying to sleep.  See numbers 3 & 4 above? That should explain it.

 

7. Decreased levels of social awareness. Okay this might not kill me but it does tend to make me look like an ass sometimes…well, more of ass than I usually do. I suffer from Foot-in-mouth disease (you know, open mouth insert foot). Sleep deprivation magnifies the symptoms exponentially.

Who knows. Maybe this could kill me. Someday I’ll say the wrong thing at the wrong time to the wrong person and…BAM!

And when it happens I’ll probably be wearing pajama pants…at four in the afternoon… adding to my generally disheveled appearance because ten extra minutes of sleep was totally worth not having time to get dressed or brush my hair.

Hopefully it doesn’t make the news.

 

8. Inability to watch the end of movies. This one definitely won’t cause my demise but is super annoying all the same and seriously impairs my social life. No matter how much I want to I just cannot stay awake through a whole movie if it’s within 48 hours of working. Sometimes crocheting helps but I can even fall asleep while watching TV or a movie AND crocheting.

 

9. By turning me into a vampire. Extremely pale, sleeps all day,  never sees the sun, ? Yup, that’s me.

Or maybe a Mombie (a female zombie who performs parenting duties for living children even while in her zombie state). Dark circles around the eyes, blank stare, unwashed hair and sloppy clothing (see number 7 above) jerky uncoordinated gate (see number two above), monosyllabic sounds that make no sense coming out when she tries to speak…yeah.

 

And now I can add irreversible brain damage to the list.

Suddenly that shift premium is not looking as appealing.