Nap Time, Snack Time, Tests, and Recess in the 18th Grade

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By Chelan M. Pedrow

The torturous beep of my alarm clock has pulled me from my slumber once again. I lie in bed for a few extra seconds to count...18...18 years of academia...18 years of opening my eyes and knowing exactly how many days until my next bout of tests, or remembering that an unfinished homework assignment is due. "Eighteenth grade" sounds old, and this morning I'm feeling it. Usually my feet hit the hard dorm floor just before 6 AM so I can begin my morning jog, but I justify a few more minutes to snuggle under my downy comforter. This gives me exactly the excuse I need as I mentally calculate what day it is and what assignment I might have forgotten.

If it is Monday or Wednesday, I will board the Stinger shuttle and it will whisk me through the early morning Georgia humidity to the "basement of Webber." At one time I had likened our beloved windowless basement to Bin Laden's caves, but after logging several hundred hours in the student offices I have become strangely fond of the place.

The week begins with classes in Clinical Gait Analysis and Biomechanics & Kinesiology. The subjects help the engineers to think clinically and the non-engineers to remember vector math. The purpose of these classes is to record each motion in the gait cycle, freeze it in time, and analyze the forces, muscular activations, metabolic costs, and possible pathologies of each stance. The tedious dissection of the theoretical patterns has unconsciously permeated our minds, and we have all been caught, at least once, innocently staring at the backside of a fellow Atlanta pedestrian examining their gait pattern.

On Tuesday we don our white lab coats and migrate to the Atlanta Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Center, where we fulfill our semester clinical rotation hours. The O&P students, having been divided into teams of two, are assigned a division and doctor in the VA to shadow each week. My rotations have included Podiatry, the Orthopedic operating room, and Vascular; remaining rotations are coming in Physical Therapy, and Pain Management and Rehabilitative Medicine (PMNR).

I always come prepared with my sack lunch, but know there's the possibility I will forgo eating as these rotations have proven to be physically and mentally challenging; sometimes I just plain lose my appetite. We are on the front line of surgical repairs, amputations, and toe clippings, but sometimes the tragic life stories of a patient can supersede the gravity of their illness. I've shaken the hand of those who drove a Porsche to their appointments, and I've laced up the shoes of men who sleep alone beneath overpasses.

But then again, it could be Thursday or Friday, and that means duds and plaster! From 9 AM to 5 PM we find ourselves in Lower Limb Orthotics I with our scrubs rolled to our knees while our partners fight the fickle fiberglass casting tape, hoping they get a good cast; later we are up to our elbows in plaster modifying the positive model. This is the essence of the field-a chance to combine human interaction with engineering principles, to build a tool that utilizes science but that also requires an artistic flare. This is the challenge that drives us.

Although I have successfully navigated the academic arena for nearly two decades, my favorite times are still nap time, snack time, and recess. Unfortunately in 18th grade, nap time consists of brief power-naps taken on the cement floor of the student office, with my lab coat tucked beneath my head. For recess the fun-loving antics of the "second year" students provide a much-needed reprieve. One such student, the infamous "pony-tailed bandit" has introduced several of us to a bit of Atlanta's nightlife: we have attended Shakira, Tom Petty, and John Mayer concerts for free after shamelessly begging for tickets outside the front gates! In turn, we introduced the "city kid" to the adventures of camping under the stars-in the midst of a Georgia monsoon.

Though an MSPO graduate school day has many of the same stressors as other academic days, the end goal is no longer solely to bolster one's grade point average. No, we in the program are daily reminded that our responsibility is to learn the material so as to help fellow humans back on their feet, and that is worth getting up to face whatever day it may be.

Chelan Pedrow is a graduate student in the MSPO Program at the School of Applied Physiology at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, Georgia. She will be sharing her experiences through articles in The O&P EDGE throughout her two-year program, internship, certification, and as she begins her professional career.