Tuesday, May 28, 2013

On becoming a doctor because I like the costume, among other reasons.

On Saturday, my little brother Stephen married his best friend Hillary Walker. The weekend could not have been more perfect---clear skies, joyful fellowship, and Southern goodness. I loved how the wedding was traditional, but also so them. For the rehearsal at  the church, Hillary wore her Civil Engineering hard hat onto which we had fashioned a veil. She wore it all night at the rehearsal dinner at the West End Wine Bar and it served as a great way for people to locate her, being that she is so short. One of my favorite moments of the Mass in the incredible Duke Chapel was when Father Mike said, "This might be the first time I've seen Stephen without some sort of tool on him." Stephen's classic wiry smile spread across his face as he reached into the pocket of his tuxedo pants and pulled out a pocket knife. Everyone burst out laughing. It was clear to all of us that Stephen and Hillary have found a perfect match in each other. They seemed happy, but much more importantly, they seemed sure and content in their decision. No cold feet for them, just feet dancing the night away wearing sassy purple and red Chuck Taylors.

The (new) Clement's
Another exciting piece of news happened this weekend. I was formally accepted into Northwestern's Post-Baccalaureate Program in Pre-Medicine, a 15-21 month night school program to complete the requirements for applying to Med School.  I will begin in the fall. Wait, what? Maura, I thought you were an actress? Where did this come from? This decision has been brewing for almost a year now.  The simplest way to explain this change of direction is to share with you my personal statement which I wrote for my application to the program.

APRIL 2013
In the ten years I’ve been a member of the workforce, I have worked an amazing variety of jobs including knitting instructor, marketing director for a storefront theater, classical actor, Segway tour guide, horseback riding wrangler, Shakespeare teacher, burger bar waitress, and nanny. The one common thread through all my many livelihoods is that each one entailed working face-to-face, hands-on with people. I have a passion for people; for communicating with, investing in and caring for people.
When I moved to Chicago after graduation, I began acting as a standardized patient at Northwestern University and Kaplan Test Prep Center. Although I had a facility for math in high school and found my science coursework in college fascinating, I had never considered becoming a physician until I found myself in patient rooms with medical students. I learned firsthand the importance of a doctor’s peerless communication skills and empathetic demeanor because I sat on the other side of these medical encounters daily. One day last spring, while portraying a patient experiencing domestic abuse with a particularly oblivious and cold doctor at Kaplan, I found myself thinking, “I could do this.” Over the last year, “I could do this” has become “I want to do this. I was made to do this.”
My extroverted nature, my diverse skill set and specific career goals make me well suited for a vocation in medicine. I feel most engaged and curious when I am working with my hands. I have strong academic and analytic capabilities. I want the opportunity to affect public policy. Most importantly, I want to work where I am needed.  My father and mother both served in the U.S. Navy and raised me with a strong sense of national service. Although a career in the military was not the right fit for me, I have a deep desire to serve my country through my work. While I love performing and storytelling, I do not live and breathe by the fickle limelight. There is not a shortage of classically trained actors in this country. There is a shortage of primary care doctors especially in very urban or very rural locales. I believe in the power of art; but I doubt that making art professionally is the best use of my abilities and my best way to serve my country.  My background in the theater, adeptness with language and human emotion, and passion for healing will make me a powerful force in my patient’s lives as a doctor. I want to treat the physical ailment while fully considering the social, mental and spiritual realities of each individual.
My undergraduate Honors thesis was an interdisciplinary performance piece inspired by poetry, music and theater created during the intifadas, or uprisings, in Israel and Palestine. I am inspired by these political artists who enacted positive change through non-violent expression in extreme situations through person-to-person interactions. Their work embodies the type of doctor I want to be. I will strive to build fruitful relationships with families in a high-need area like Chicago or the Appalachian Mountains in my home state of North Carolina. Because freelance artists surround me, I know many people who do not have medical insurance. I passionately believe that all people should have access to affordable, quality care. With the passage of the Affordable Care Act, our country’s need for primary care doctors will increase as the number of people with health insurance increases by the millions. I am excited about the prospect of being a healthcare professional during this time of policy change. I would be honored to provide healthcare for deserving people who have so long gone without.
Enrolling in Northwestern’s Post-Baccalaureate Program in Pre-Medicine will allow me to prepare for application to medical school in a structured and supportive environment with a rigorous course load. Because my recent coursework and experience is in the theater and not a technical field, I know that I need to revisit and build upon my math and science coursework¸ most of which I took in high school. Collaboration, teamwork and organizational skills are essential tools of any actor, and I believe they are a particular strength of mine. Those skills will enable me to make a unique contribution to Northwestern’s Post-Baccalaureate Program in Pre-Medicine community and I look forward to learning alongside the other ambitious professionals and scholars admitted by Northwestern to the program. From what I’ve seen while working in NU’s Clinical Skills department, I am certain that my success in the Northwestern University program will demonstrate to medical schools the seriousness of my desire and my readiness to meet the rigors of medical school.

This is a HUGE shift and a long road, I know. I have always known that my life's work is to serve where my service is most needed. I do not think a life as a theater professional is that place. I still love plays. I still want to do plays, good plays. But everyone I  know works other jobs to support their theater habit. Truly, I think what I love is going to the theater, even more than I like being in plays. I feel that if I could channel my artistic abilities (my voice, my agile hands, my heart) into a more objective, practical field, I could make more of an impact, because there are less people like me, a need for people like me... BUT I have to pass organic chemistry first. I dream of being a doctor who does a play every year. I dream of creating a family practice clinic with a corgi and baskets of yarn in the waiting room. I dream of having a weekly knitting group at the clinic for young women struggling with anxiety. I have this crazy dream of my mom managing the office and my sister being my nurse and my dad being our  lawyer. I dream of my daughter Clementine saying, "Yeah, my mom made me this sweater, but she's also a bad ass doctor lady. Want to see her in Steel Magnolias this weekend?" My dreams have always been big and  I know you can't have it all at the same time. But life is long and you can have different things at different times. I couldn't be dreaming this way if I didn't have a family who says "We'll help you do this" and a boyfriend who says, "Stop crying in Starbucks. You are smart enough to do this."

Also, as I said in the title of this post, I will look really cute in a lab coat saying things like, "Scapel." and "Wait, how did that cat attack you?"

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

On getting attacked by a cat.

So as you may have heard, I got attacked by a cat last week. We were cat-sitting for neighbors of the family that I nanny for because we are always looking for ways to make money while watching Woody Allen movies. Scot and I were very excited for a four day stay-cation at their beautiful condo in Wicker Park. We had really exciting plans for the weekend, like washing our clothes and bathing in a shower which has anything resembling hot water and water pressure. All-in-all, our visit lasted a brief 12 hours. The apartment's wifi network is called "S____'s world" after their cat S_____. And indeed, it was S's world... and he wanted us to get the hell out. On Thursday night, he welcomed us with hisses and began to watch us rather creepily from behind counters and couches. Perhaps in retrospect we should have been more concerned about his mounting rage. But what would we have done about it anyway? Cats get mad. Cats pee on things. Cats don't usually try to eat you. Tigers try to eat you.

In middle of the night, the little tiger began to try to speak human outside our door making a bizarre braying sound which I have never heard a cat make before. In the morning, I gave him his constipation medicine (yes really). He took it well, but when I reached out to pet him, he bit my hand hard. Destructokitty then chased me around the kitchen, launching at me multiple times to bite and scratch my right arm and leg. It was like that scene in The Grinch where the cat from the garbage can clings to Jim Carrey's face.  Scot somehow got between us, sent me to safety in the hall and got the cat locked in the bedroom. I'm so grateful he was there, as my own defenses were simply to shake, cry and say "GET HIM OFF OF ME." All in all, I had about two dozen scratches and punctures.

My hand.

Scot took me to work at the hospital and they sent me to urgent care. In some bit of cruel irony, Immediate MD on Clybourne Avenue is next to Paws Chicago, a cat adoption storefront with about twenty cats in the window and cat posters the size of small cars. The folks at urgent care power-washed my punctures, bandaged me up, tetanus booster-ed me and sent me on my way with a prescription for antibiotics. I'm expected to fully recover. Most importantly, I was about to knit after only 3 days. The owners, of course, feel terrible and plan on taking the cat to a cat whisperer (yes really). Mom said, "Time for kitty to go night-night forever." Scot's concern was really sweet. One night shortly after the attack, he said, "I like animals better than people generally, but I really, really hate that cat." But I'm happy to take one for the team because fortunately, he attacked the one of us who has health insurance.

People's reaction to the attack have been the best part of it. The theater community is particularly good at spreading dramatic tales quickly. The other night at a reading an actor I know came up to me and said, "I heard what happened to you. Shelley was acting it out at work!" Now, I've not seen Shelley since this happened. Ed at Northwestern told Shelley about it and she ACTED IT OUT for my co-workers at Kaplan. I really really want to see her performance of what happened to me. It's the best game of telephone ever. At Northwestern, I just began working with a local actress whose work I particularly admire. The cat attack became the topic of our first conversation. Before work the other day she said to me, "I heard about what happened to you and I think about it all the time. I spent a long while last night staring at my cat and wondering if he wants to attack me." As Scot said, "It's a moment for all of us to pause and consider our feline relationships." Another SP I work with, but had never talked to, said to me, "You don't know me, but I was at dinner the other night at my friend's house and she said that a terrible thing had happened while they were on vacation. Their cat attacked the cat-sitter! And I thought, I KNOW THAT PERSON!" It's a small, small world.

In conclusion, maybe humans should let cats that can't poop without assistance move on to the big yarn basket in the sky. I'm never going to be the cat lady that my grandmother is (11 cats and counting) and I'm definitely a supporter of de-clawing now.