After a sleepless night (try as I may, I just could not sleep), my husband (who consistently drags his ass out of bed a full 20 minutes after me) jumped out of bed before me. I couldn't believe it was already time to wake up and prepare for this dreaded day. In fact, I stayed in bed for another good 20 minutes thinking self-defeating thoughts before finally dragging myself out. We then went to get some bagels and coffee to feed my committee. My husband kept insisting that I eat a bit, but it's just not my style to eat before exams and besides, I didn't want to end up so nervous that I perhaps would throw up on my committee. It really was surreal. I've never felt so nervous before in my entire life and that includes a whole lot of med school interviews, presentations, and the USMLE Step 1 (which is one of the most important things not to screw up if you want your pick of specialty). I don't know why it seemed like such a monstrous, unsurmountable mountain to me, but it did. Honestly, I've never walked into anything before in my life thinking that I would fail. Sure, I've been scared, but I've never fully believed that there was the possibility of failure. Here, failure seemed to be inevitable.
So off I went to my doom. I left nice and early in order to have some time to gather myself beforehand but was foiled by the fact that the location of the exam had been moved. After barely settling in, I was joined by the chair of the committee and then Replacement Committee Member, who was very talkative. Which was good. But still. I just wanted some silence.
And do they really have to make the whole thing so nerve-racking? After everyone in the committee arrived, I got shuffled out of the room so that they could discuss how they were going to proceed. Those were the longest minutes of my life. I was trying so hard not to freak out, but I couldn't. I tried rehearsing my talk in my head, but couldn't get past the introduction, which only served to freak me out more because it made me think that I had forgotten it all. Then I tried reading some of the stuff on the bulletin board, but realized that I wasn't reading but rather memorizing the stuff, which was distracting from my attempts to not forget my talk. So then I tried pacing, but after a few circles, I started getting dizzy. So I couldn't do anything but stand there and wait while my fight-or-flight response went wild.
Then I'm finally called in and the pain begins. First, there was my talk. They did not let me finish it at all. Not even close. And they asked me questions that would have been explained had they only let me finish. Needless to say, that lack of control over even the beginning threw me off. Then onto Replacement Committee Member, who got the first shot at me. Of all things, pericytes! I didn't even study anything remotely close to pericytes. AT ALL. I was lucky to even remember what they were. And how do you expect me to design experiments having to do with brain slices when I have no experience with such things?!
When that torture was finally over, I was so shaken up that I couldn't even remember crossbridge cycling anymore! I had carefully gone over this topic too because I was sure that I would be asked about it. Had they asked me my name at that point, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have been able to spit an answer out. And I still had three more people to go.
The next purveyor of doom happened to have conjunctivitis for the occasion and was wearing sunglasses! Just imagine walking into an interview to be greeted by someone wearing dark sunglasses who then did not take them off for the duration of the interview. Talk about creepy. Not to mention her off the wall questions. It was at that point that I started accepting that I was probably going to fail. And I still had two more people to go.
Onto Evil Committee Member, who strangely enough, wasn't quite as evil as she was when I met with her. But still, I couldn't wrap my head around the Frank-Starling length-tension relationship, no matter how hard I tried, even though I did know it. It was quite pathetic, really.
And just when I was down to my final committee member, Conjunctivitis Member decided that she needed a bathroom break after I'd decided that I just wanted to go straight through (I figured that no breaks would mean that I wouldn't have time to sabotage myself with self-defeating thoughts in between). So we take a break. And then, finally, it's the chair's turn. Her questions were nice and easy. Well, easy if you think tracing motor and sensory pathways is easy. Which I do. Because I like that kind of stuff.
And then it was out of the room for me while they discussed my fate. No pacing this time. I spent the time trying to build up a strong front for when they failed me. I mean, really, after that fumbling performance where even I wanted to fail myself, why would they pass me? I was surprised that no one stopped it in the middle and just kicked me out for being an insult to PhDs the world over (though I've never heard of such a thing happening). I figured that if I didn't burst out in tears that I would then at least have some of my dignity left.
The moment came and the chair walked out with a smile on her face. For a moment, I marveled at how evil she had to be to be smiling about someone's failure. But then she told me that I'd passed. And I almost responded with, "WHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAT?! Really?!" But I didn't. Instead I walked in to have everyone congratulate me. I thought I was dreaming. And I still can't believe it now. I can't believe that I passed. Or that it's finally over. Only now do I realize what kind of burden it was to be dreading this test for over three months.
But trust me. I would never do this again. Ever. It really has been the worst experience of my life. So far. I'm sure things will happen once I return to med school that will be far worse. But for now, the PhD qualifying exam is the reigning champion.