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SMS Unplugged

New Girl: Living the sitcom in medical school

New Girl: Living the sitcom in medical school

SMS (“Stanford Medical School”) Unplugged was recently launched as a forum for students to chronicle their experiences in medical school. The student-penned entries appear on Scope once a week; the entire blog series can be found in the SMS Unplugged category.

Natalia and housemates“The question is how would the fantasy suite episode go if you were the bachelor?” My roommate Will brought the conversation back to where it started one evening. My other roommate, Dan, immediately shoveled a heaping forkful of dinner in his mouth and looked away. The first episode of this season’s “The Bachelor” had just aired, to Will’s delight. He found every opportunity to bring it up, from connecting my Venezuelan heritage to Juan Pablo’s, to discussing the scandalous elements of the show with us as we cook. Naturally, a lively conversation between the three of us followed Will’s question about the overnight dates episode, and I was still laughing when I sat down to work.

So what’s it like to live with two guys?

The question has come up numerous times amongst my classmates, friends and family. And when it does, I make a joke about the show “New Girl.” Or I tell people that it’s great as long as I clean my own bathroom. Then I change the topic of conversation because my real answer to that question goes deeper than a passing hallway conversation merits.

In the past four months, we sure have had our moments. There was the day I couldn’t choose which sundress to wear, and Dan liked them all. Or so he said when I showed them to him while he ate breakfast.

There was the day we decided to deep-clean the house. A few minutes later I turned around to find Will shirtless and mopping the floors with undiluted floor polish.

There was the day I came home and snapped at them to turn the TV off because ESPN was echoing in our living room yet again. Dan and Will surreptitiously turned the TV to mute every time I came into the living room after that.

But there were other moments, too, ones we don’t tell other people as a joke. There was the night I came home sobbing after breaking up with my boyfriend. And it was Dan, not any of my girlfriends, who got me a cup of tea and held me as I cried.

There was the time that Will broke his leg, and the following weeks when we pretended that we were going up the stairs anyway so why not let us take his bag for him.

There was the day I came home and saw Dan lying on the couch with his eyes closed, looking as aged as my grandfather after a long day.

We have no secrets in this house. We know when one of us is struggling in a class and how to bring it up. We’ve all heard each other receive distressing calls from home. We know when to give Dan alone time and when to drag Will out on a Friday night. I know when Dan has a crush and when Will gets a Snapchat from his girlfriend. They pretend not to notice when I’m eating inordinate amounts of chocolate.

These are all moments I don’t share with people when they ask what it’s like to live with two guys. This home we share is perhaps the only part of my life in medical school that doesn’t regularly push me to my limit. Rather, this is the place and they are the people I can count on to help me let my guard down. Because the truth is that living with them isn’t a gender issue. It’s about living with two classmates who have become my best friends, my confidants, and my brothers.

Natalia Birgisson is a first-year medical student at Stanford. She is half Icelandic, half Venezuelan and grew up moving internationally before coming to Stanford for college. She is interested in neurosurgery, global health, and ethics. Natalia loves running and baking; when she’s lucky the two activities even out.

Medical Education, SMS Unplugged

Basement floods, ski lifts, and Christmas cookies: Life lessons from winter break

Basement floods, ski lifts, and Christmas cookies: Life lessons from winter break

Natalia at Hot SpringSMS (“Stanford Medical School”) Unplugged was recently launched as a forum for students to chronicle their experiences in medical school. The student-penned entries appear on Scope once a week; the entire blog series can be found in the SMS Unplugged category.

Going home for the holidays means trekking to a small town in northern Iceland for Christmas, and then to the suburb of Miami known as Little Cuba for the New Year. As with so many 21st-century families, my parents are happily divorced and remarried. I have every kind of sibling known to the English language – full, half, step, and ex-foster siblings total eight loved ones I pray for before bed.

Every December, I land in Iceland having slept little, eaten less, and inevitably forgotten my winter coat. But I land at home. This is a place where scathing water bubbles to the surface of the land so hot it is piped into houses at 194 degrees Fahrenheit. Here like nowhere else can you take an endlessly long, hot shower without feeling guilty.

In fact, the Christmas that we installed a hot tub in our backyard, my stepmom joked that we could fill it with hot water from the hose since the plumber hadn’t arrived. I was out cross-country skiing to my grandparents’ for cookies and tea when my dad made good on her joke.

A while later, when I was back home and showering after my excursion, my sister Tatiana forced the lock on the bathroom door open. She pulled me out of the shower, threw a towel at me and barreled past with a bucket of dirty water. As she dumped the water into the shower, she shouted at me to get dressed. Dad had flooded the basement.

I walked out in my towel and joined the assembly line that my family had formed. My dad stood at the front, passing up buckets of water as he sloshed through the basement in his fishing boots. Petra, my stepsister, flashed jokes that had us laughing as we spent the afternoon clearing the basement.

This year’s Christmas adventure was learning to snowboard. Dad woke us up every morning as soon as the lights on the ski slopes turned on. Luckily, my sister Helga is still only seven, so she doesn’t last more than a few hours.

The second day, Petra and I almost crushed Helga when we all fell off the ski lift. We came home for lunch and my little brother, Birgir, regaled my dad and stepmom with stories of how we survived. After lunch I walked through the basement to put the helmets away and passed the buckets we’d used to clear the basement flood. I touched the jacket I’d worn when Dad and I biked through the highlands and the game of Trivial Pursuit that my stepbrother, Asgeir, always wins. I smiled thinking how this home is filled with memories of childhood and love.

And it dawned on me that I have been so busy with medical school, I forgot about my dreams outside of medicine. For I dream that I will become a gifted surgeon, able to help heal those in need. I dream that I will work in developing countries and leave my mark upon the world. And while I have those dreams, I also dream that some day my own basement will flood and my children will laugh as they run around in the mess. I dream that someday my children’s children will visit me on their own for tea and cookies.

Returning for winter quarter, I’m thankful my family continues to ground me amidst the whirlwind of Stanford medical school. I’m thankful they remind me every time I come home that the greatest accomplishment of my life will be to raise a family of my own whose laughter rings in the memories that fill our home.

Natalia Birgisson is a first-year medical student at Stanford. She is half Icelandic, half Venezuelan and grew up moving internationally before coming to Stanford for college. She is interested in neurosurgery, global health, and ethics. Natalia loves running and baking; when she’s lucky the two activities even out.

Photo by Peter Espe

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