Chairs Missing by Joe, resident at the New England College of Optometry

11May/12Off

Subterranean Homesick Alien

It’s been a week of “last ____’s ever” .  Our last lab class ever.  Our last lecture classes ever.   Our last group project ever.  Soon it will be our last finals week ever.  Heck, this is even my last blog post ever (of third year that is). It’s all very bittersweet and nostalgic.  And strange because it has a feeling that it’s all over, and yet it’s really not at all.

Optometry school is unique in that the end of third year, not fourth year, is in a way like senior year of undergrad or of high school.  Sure, this time next year at graduation there will be the tearful goodbyes, the blow out parties, and the wistful looking back on how much we changed. But right now we are on the verge of a huge transition. The social bonds that we have all been building are all on the verge of maybe not breaking, but at least bending and stretching out a bit.

For the majority of the students, the very center of their lives revolves around the school and its surroundings.  We have all grown accustomed to the cozy feeling of home inside the old mansion that houses this school, and to the familiar faces of faculty and staff who smile in recognition in the halls. And we're very used to the quaint intimacy of Boston, with its narrow streets, its welcoming parks and green spaces, and its brainy, collegiate atmosphere. But in just two weeks everyone will be off to face fourth year on their own.  The friendships forged together here will remain but become more distant.  Some people will move away to rotation sites across the country, others will still be here in Boston.  A few will even be in the same clinic as each other. But overall we will have much different schedules from each other.  The weekend will be the only time to see your friends.  The focus will become much more internal as you begin the solo transition from student to clinician in the working world.

Most of the people here have been accustomed to being around a large group of like-minded peers, uninterrupted all the way back to undergrad and high school.  It’s a little different for me because I was working for several years after undergrad and I’m married, so I’ll always have my wife to keep me company.  But married or single, we’ve all become attached to the people and the routine, and we’ve shared a lot of memorable experiences along the way. The boot-camp like atmosphere of first year, where everyone was in all the same classes together. The partnerships and trust needed to practice parts of the eye exam over and over to pass our lab proficiencies. The long nights in the library together, studying the minutiae details for some class. And maybe most importantly, the extracurricular adventures, both inside the city and out.  All of these things are winding down. The true adult world is a much different, and potentially lonelier, place.  The set of people you see and interact with becomes smaller, and the things you have in common with them will be inevitably dissimilar. It’s like getting off a huge cruise ship and getting on to a much smaller sailboat to continue on the journey.

Personally, I never expected it to be this way.  On the very first day of classes, I came into NECO feeling very much like an outsider, the older married guy with a pop culture frame of reference that is about ten years out of date.  I didn’t think I’d fit in at all.  But almost immediately people took it on themselves to befriend me.  There was Petar who struck up a conversation in the men’s room randomly about soccer.  Or there was Jenn and Bri flagging me down in Allston while waiting on the corner for the bus, their arms full of brand new furniture for their apartment.   Or there was the first time Jeff or Nick asked me to play basketball at the YMCA.  Or when Steph noticed we had similar tastes in music and struck up a debate over which quirky indie band was better.  And on and on.  Eventually I got to know everyone in our class on a first name basis. I can safely say there’s not one person in our class that I wouldn’t share a drink with somewhere down the road.  That’s just how NECO ‘s student friendly atmosphere works; you couldn’t avoid it even if you tried.

So this post maybe seems overly morose, and maybe it is just a bit. I probably shouldn’t have been listening to Radiohead while I wrote it. But on the other hand, I know that we are all simultaneously happy and excited.  We’re happy because at long last we will be finished with the 12 hour plus days of lecture and lab.  And especially happy to be done taking  midterms or final exams forever and ever. And simultaneously we’re excited because we get that much closer to our goal, the whole reason we came here, to become optometrists.  Fourth year we will get to see patients with greater independence and be forced to have to think as a whole clinician, not just as a student.  This final stage of our education will challenge and engage us in ways not yet foreseen or experienced.

And this will help ease the pain of becoming older and more distant; that, along with the thrill that comes with the realization that very soon our lives will be wide open and free; the possibilities available to us once we graduate will become endless once more.  In time things will normalize and this part of our lives will become another memory; a small but significant piece of many things that define who we are. But the friendships, though not as immediate, will remain no matter the distance.

And so it goes.

 

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EPILOGUE

Well, that about wraps it up.  Going forward into the summer and beyond, I hope to bring you the continuing saga.  The tone of my blog will probably change just a bit, and hopefully I’ll be able to convey the different feel that will be life as a fourth year.  I thank you for reading what has been written so far, and I hope that you’ll join me for another year.

 

P.S.  I just found out I passed boards!  A huge weight is off my shoulders! So the last thing I want to say is congrats to my fellow 2013s who also passed, both here and at all the other schools! Miles to go yet, but savor the accomplishment!

 

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