Another Failed Attempt at Studying for NPLEX 1

Yonge and Bloor, downtown Toronto, Canada at approximately 2:00 pm.  Thursday, June 21.  I finish teaching ESL for the day and enter the Toronto Reference Library, a $5 Starbucks strawberry banana whey protein smoothie in hand, sunglasses resting on the top of my head and my First Aid for the USMLE Step 1 tucked under my arm.  NPLEX 1 is in t-minus 45 days.  Here we go…

I select a table by the window.  I find a table all to myself.  Right behind me is a homeless man, lounging on one of the padded chairs.  This doesn’t bother me at all, in fact, more power to him; he’s found a prime location to escape the sweltering downtown humidity, read a free newspaper loudly to himself and take advantage of his tax dollars.  Today, he’s got it made and there’s nothing I’m going to do to get in his way.  Unfortunately, I can’t stay and enjoy his company.  I have business to attend to: NPLEX is in 6 weeks (or so) and I need to hunker down and complete my goal of reading through my review text.  At least once.

I bid homeless man (let’s call him Bob) farewell and select another table.  I position my sunglasses, my smoothie and my bag beside me and I open my book.

Take a deep breath.  Exhale.  It’s time to learn cardiovascular pathologies.  Since the first time we learned it was a complete disaster, with a few key ideas lost in translation, I figure cardiology is a good place to start.

However, before diving into the riveting saga of valvular heart disease, I survey my surroundings.  The Toronto Reference Library, currently undergoing reconstruction, has a few large wooden tables positioned alongside floor-to-ceiling windows that reveal a bustling Yonge street on a humid afternoon.  I am currently sharing my table with guy-in-yellow-shirt, who is staring at his mini laptop computer with the equal parts fascination and defensive wariness that can only come with someone watching porn – how do I know this, you might ask?  I went to school in Kingston, Ontario.  Just sayin’.

Do people actually come to the library at 2:00 pm on a weekday to watch porn?  I muse.  Surely they can do that at home.  Maybe he’s dabbling in voyeurism?  Perhaps he has a fetish of some sort?  I wonder if First Aid offers up a quick synopsis of the DSM IV and can shed some light.  Eventually I manage to pull myself out of my inquisitive inner monologue.  I turn back to my book.

After a few minutes…ok, seconds, loud yelling pulls me away from my dance with bacterial endocarditis.  I raise my eyes to locate the source of the commotion.  I find it at the next table where a mother, who I label Tiger Mom, is hovering over her chubby preteen daughter, who is trying to do her homework.  She yells at her daughter, who is sheepishly adjusting her classes, in a hybrid language of Korean-English.  The daughter is not doing her work right, or so it seems.  She sits, hunch-shouldered with a pencil in her mouth, trying desperately to figure out whether adjectives go before or after nouns, while her mother, ever the boxing coach, screams in her ear every time she makes a mistake.  She makes mistakes often.  I half expect the mother to smack her.  I watch them with fascination.

I turn back to First Aid, feeling content that I have the luxury of studying at my own pace without the added stress of having someone bark at me.  I bask in this feeling of gratitude for a while and then I regress: I wonder if there is a service that provides Tiger Moms for hire.  I’m sure I wouldn’t struggle to find the motivation to study for NPLEX with a wild-eyed Type-A Korean mother peering over my page.

The mitral valve is most commonly affected in bacterial endocarditis, however the tricuspid valve is often associated with IV drug use…”  says First Aid.

Homeless guy, sorry, Bob, is singing the business section of the Wednesday Star to himself out loud.  Tiger Mom is becoming furious that her incompetent daughter can’t tell the difference between an adjective and an adverb.  Yellow-shirt-dude continues to remain engrossed in whatever sick thing is playing on his laptop.  He jiggles his knee.  I cringe.

I finish my smoothie.  I send a text message.  I pretend to read something about pharmacological intervention and cardiovascular diseases.

I pack up.

I smile at the guard on the way out, “No, I won’t be checking anything out today.  I have no time to read, actually. I have a big exam to study for.” 

See you tomorrow.


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