My second shot.

As my first day of medical school approaches and I have limited my social media accounts to my classes facebook group, I can’t help but wonder why Facebook is still a thing how my future classmates are feeling. For many of them, this might be the first time they attend school in a different state. Some of them are probably just turning 22 or 23. For most of them, this will be their first medical school orientation.

Not for me.

In many ways, I am the beneficiary of mistakes made in the past. Working in security for a couple years, while technically a successful venture, only truly succeeded in desiccating the already shriveled husk of my ability to interact with strangers. I suppose that brief career could also be considered successful if my intent was to acquire multiple concussions and MRSA infections, but it was not. I have also tried and failed miserably at establishing and maintaining multiple non-profit organizations. Hell, I’m even working on my second marriage. My wife and I are fine right now, but I’m waiting for the day when ‘fine’ turns into “fine.”

All this is to say: I have attended medical school before.

Granted, Bastyr University is not recognized as a medical school by the American Medical Association. It is a naturopathic medical school. Naturopathy, for your information, is basically a collection of alternative medicine modalities combined into one field.

They define themselves here:

Naturopathic medicine is a distinct system of primary health care that concentrates on whole-patient wellness while emphasizing prevention and the process of self-healing through the use of natural therapies. Naturopathic medicine attempts to find the underlying cause of the patient’s condition rather than focusing solely on symptomatic treatment.”

I used to joke that they were the general practitioners of things not generally practiced.

My jokes, along with my general outlook on mankind, are sad.

The naturopathic field has a few detractors; all of whom are largely ignored by naturopaths and the majority of people searching for “I can’t afford/trust a doctor, can this rash/bump/seizure be treated with apple cider vinegar?” Now, I must admit that I was one of them.

I first learned of naturopathy the way most do: while googling alternatives to the 6th prescription for ibuprofen I had just received from an MD. While I now know that I have ankylosing spondylitis – a chronic disease that can fuse my spine into a tube and other things if left untreated – back then I only knew that there were days where the pain made breathing and walking excrutiating. Also, every January my right eye would become so inflamed I couldn’t see. I also knew that most people thought I was exaggerating my symptoms or simply didn’t have the resources to help me. I ended up having to help myself, which resulted in a very high threshold for pain, a black belt in martial arts, and an extremely low opinion of the conventional medical system. While I succeeded in maintaining my ability to walk and breathe comfortably, I also fell for the genuine compassion of alternative healthcare providers. Tricky bastards, with their kindness and positive world-views.

By the time I graduated highschool, I was in cohoots with chiropractors, herbalists, pagans, and all sorts of energetic snakeoil salesmen. While I now doubt that any of their services had any physiological effect on me, the power of taking the time to listen and give me some hope is what augmented my natural pigheadedness enough to get me better. Being ever-so wise at 18, I attributed my recovery to their pseudoscience. Being even more ambitious at 18, I committed myself to pursuing a role as one of the best in the field of alternative medicine: a naturopathic physician.

Like most 20-somethings with a dream of changing the world, I ignored or rationalized all sorts of red flags around alternative medicine. I had dreams of setting up a non-profit clinic offering locally harvested herbs, counseling, and massage. In a naive way, it made sense. Herbs grow in the wild for free, and – aside from a couch for people to lay on – counseling and massage don’t cost any money to use. In theory, you could help people for free. It wasn’t long before I had set my sights on Bastyr University’s naturopathic medical program. It was one of the best (admittedly there were only 7 similar schools in North America at the time), and more importantly, it was in Seattle and not my home state of Wisconsin.

While I didn’t believe most of the school’s promises of an education on par with that of a conventional medical student, I believed the claims of combining science with traditional medical knowledge.

I was then frustrated in pursuit of further education by my first marriage/divorce and the subsequent brush with alcoholism and 2-3 years of great decisions involving bullet-proof vests and non-profit organizations. Even so, I always quietly held on to my dream of becoming a doctor. After my second wife realized that the homeless security guard she had picked up at the bus station (me) had a bachelors degree and graduated cum laude (Mom was so proud), I soon found myself in Bastyr’s ND class of 2015 Facebook page.

A year and a half later, I dropped out. The ads were wrong. There was no combination of science with traditional knowledge at Bastyr. There was just traditional medicine, with the occasional attempt at peer review or double-blind randomized controlled trials. More than anything, there was faith in their medicine and the innate healing power of nature. It was not so much a school as it was a church. Hell, the campus is an old monastery.

The painful thing is that with limited exception, my classmates at Bastyr were kind, loving, and otherwise wonderful human beings who I miss to this day. My hope is that if nothing else, their qualities as people alone help their future patients.

Now, another year and a half later, I am back in school again. I am 29, I have 16 month-old baby, I have traveled around the country and the world, and I am in debt up to my eyeballs. My application essay to this school began like this: My interest in the medical field is founded in failing every possible alternative pathway to improving the world.

Despite all this, I feel like I might actually get it right this time.

Third time is the charm, right?

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Cute babies are the best.

Before I had kids, I would routinely make fun of people who shared pictures of their children with as many people as they could, regardless of how attractive or well-behaved they were. It appeared to me that these poor parents had fallen into some sort of Stockholm Syndrome where their children were their captors.

Now that I have a son of my own, and am also waiting on the results from my last psych eval before acting on considerations for baby number two, I realize that I was wrong.

For every picture like this, there is a overflowing graveyard of adult ambitions.

Those parents were simply looking for someone to pawn their kids off on for two minutes so they could remember what freedom feels like. For this reason, my wife and built a cage for our baby.

In case you don’t understand the subtle nuances of my son’s facial features, he is trying to figure out if he can make shiv out of his bottle.

In all seriousness, I love my son more than life itself. Here’s some cute pictures of him.

Here, we can see my son graciously bestowing the early seeds of my dad bod belly. Bastard.
Smug AF
Here we are practicing our cardiac auscultation skills.
My son loves lemons. He will eat them like a diabetic in a candy shop with a fresh new prescription for metformin.

Cute tiny homes are stupid.

Ron Swanson is my spirit animal.

This is why it pains me to admit my gratitude for all the Instagrammers, Pinteresters, YouTubers and other producers of intangible products that fanned the flames of my family’s current tiny living venture. Damn them.

(Yes. I have a Pinterest. It’s largely composed of pictures of minimalist interior design woodworking.)

The thing is, people have been living in small houses for a long, long time. I come from a family of truckers, farmers, and trailer trash, and while the size of their home was more out of necessity than preference, the ‘novelty’ of the tiny house movement truly irks me. What irks me more is the ridiculous double standard around small homes. If you live in a trailer park, you’re low class, regardless of how nice your double-wide is. If you spent twice as much building something half as big and often a third as durable, you’re retro and edgy.

Hipster or not, tornados will still wreck your day, but I digress.

In the brief time I have spent immersed in the instapintube ™️, I have made few observations. Most full-time travelers don’t work a normal 9-5 job. Some work as they travel, others have somehow harnessed the power of likes and clicks to make a living. Many more are simply chasing internet fame during their free-time. They usually don’t have kids, at least not ones they see very often, and they probably don’t have much debt. Basically, they are the antithesis of my family.

As much as I would love my home to get all the likes, clicks, notes, follows, and hashtags, I am the father of a 10 month old, I work 40+ hours a week as a medical assistant, and I will be attending medical school July of 2018 (after spending a year pursuing alternative medicine as a career – acquiring much more debt than I like to admit in the process). We need to be a little more pragmatic.

I think most people are in a similar boat, and for all the gilding of social media, it just distracts people from a truly effective way to save money and pursue goals effectively.

Admittedly, we do have an Instagram, Twitter, and even a LinkedIn account (prodigalsonogram is the username for all of them, fyi). My family also does hope to take a trip around the country in our trailer before school starts, but aside from that, we intend to stay put and pinch pennies. We have made some modifications to our trailer, but they are modest, and largely focused on improving livability.

Aside from the price of the rig, we have made due with scavenged materials and the tightest of construction budgets. I think we’ve spent about 200 dollars altogether on things like septic hoses, insulation for water lines, and the fence-turned baby gate.

Our baby has a kennel. Don’t judge us.

Our situation is also somewhat unique in that we are choosing to live in a trailer for the sole purpose of reducing our cost of living while I’m in medical school. Many tiny homes run up a bill over close to 20,000 dollars (at least. Many custom-built tiny homes are closer to 60,000, which is the same as buying a brand-new, fully tricked out fifth-wheel trailer). We bought Harold for about 10,000. If we weren’t limited to buying a relatively new trailer – as all of the RV campsites near my school have a ten year age minimum rule – we could have spent significantly less. Our previous trailer, Maude, was 30 years old and only cost us 3000. With a little elbow grease and mostly-salvaged parts, she was looking damn close to beautiful at the end.

Admittedly, not everyone has access to the tools and skills we did. My wife is a tile-setter and I’m pretty handy in general, so we make a pretty decent team with access to all sorts of construction scraps. None of that really matters though. Free materials are easy to find on Craigslist or Facebook if you’re patient. The common fixes for trailers aren’t terribly complex, and there are a ton of people to learn from online and even your local trailer park. An open mind, a gracious heart, and some creativity go a long way when it comes to full-time trailer living/rennovation.

Most importantly, remember to make sure your actions truly serve your goals. If you want to travel, do what needs to be done to have reliable transportation and a safe space to sleep. If you want to cut costs, focus on sealing up the leaks and cleaning up the mold on something older than you are. Don’t sweat how the backsplash on your kitchen isn’t perfectly retro, or whether the paint scheme is minimal or post-modern. It may not look as good as the 30,000 dollar rennovated airstreams or the 60,000 dollar tiny home, but warm, dry, and title in hand is a lot better than a 10 year loan on something that will only depreciate in value (assuming you can get a loan at all).

Just do what you can, when you can. You do that, and you will be proud of accomplishing more than most people ever will.

Doctors can be poor too.

There is a general belief that doctors make good money, or at least are more capable of doing so than their lesser educated peers. While the concept of a six-figure income is enticing, there’s a lot more to life than how much money you make.

Aside from family, friends, and other life-fulfilling activities which are basically placeholders for the blinding light at the end of the tunnel we all eventually sprint headlong into…there is how much debt you have.

Just thinking about it makes me want to find that light a little sooner.

With the exception of a few scholarships and interest free loans, it’s largely expected that medical students should be responsible for their entire educational debt.

Given that the average income of a doctor is over 100 thousand a year, that sounds reasonable. They ought to be able to pay off significantly higher debts with that income. Right?

Well the average medical school education costs about 250 thousand dollars. Currently, the interest on most medical student loans is around 5.5%, and many students defer payment on their loans until after residency – so that interest racks up quickly. As an insult to injury, the interest that accumulates while you’re in medical school capitalizes when you graduate, creating a new – higher – principal ballance that you pay interest on again.

How this is legal, I don’t know. I have a theory that it was done by the same people that complain about how expensive healthcare is in this country.

One of the doctors I worked for prior to starting school had been making regular monthly payments on her school loans for 8 years before even touching the principle loan amount.

That’s 8 years of 12 monthly payments of around 1000 dollars. It doesn’t take a good MCAT score to be able to do that math, and yet many medical students accept the debt as an inevitable part of becoming doctors. With the exception of a few schools in Texas that have excellent in-state tuition rates, most medical schools have an annual tuition of around 50,000 dollars. Some schools, such as those in the Carribean, are even more expensive.

We haven’t even touched on the cost of living while in school, or during the low paid years of residency.

All of this is essentially to say that I’m confused that every medical school in the country doesn’t have a trailer park within spitting distance of it.

My family can’t be the only one that is doing this.

Edit: I found another med student who is living full-time in a travel trailer. She has a beautiful rennovated airstream and can be found at meowndering on Instagram.

Harold Photos!!!

We got the keys to Harold, we moved in, and fixed him up to fit our needs. There is still some work to be done, but it’s largely cosmetic. We’ve been living in him full-time for a couple weeks now and couldn’t be happier with our decision.

New Trailer!

As excited as my wife and I are about renovating Maude, we have always kept an eye on the other trailers for sale in our area. It’s not that we aren’t faithful to the old girl, we just have wandering eyes sometimes. Like my dad always used to say, “You can go to the store all you like, just don’t bring anything new home unless you got a space for it.”

Unfortunately for me, I’ve never been great at following my Dad’s advice.

Fortunately for us, I have very good luck on Craigslist. My wife won’t let me near the personals section, my luck is so good. However, she is more than happy to let me lurk the trailers and RVs for sale by owner, and I found us a 28ft 2016 Springdale travel trailer for roughly half what we would pay at a dealer. Not only is it essentially brand new and does not require any special hoops to park it at our preferred RV park in Henderson (they have a strict 10-year rule), it also has our ideal layout with a bunk house with two bunk beds on the opposite side of the trailer from our queen-size bed. The kitchen is modern, the fridge is huge, and there is a couch that turns into a full size bed as well.

Pretty much the only thing I don’t love about it is the exterior. For the life of me, I cannot understand the reasoning behind the way travel trailers and RVs are decorated like geriatic Ed Hardy clothing.

Hopefully we can fix it, but for now, we still have to pick up the keys. Be ready for pictures when we do!

More photoshop fun

One of the things that you hear left and right on the path to medical school is the importance of having goals. Perhaps it’s because I’m old enough to be married, have a kid, and two careers under my belt (while most of my classmates this June will have just graduate from their undergrads), or perhaps it’s because I just like messing around in photoshop, but I’ve created some images of what our goals for the trailer looks like. Check ’em out.

Also, speaking of goals, I finally proposed to my wife.

That’s pretty cool.

Happy Holidays!

As it is New Year’s Eve, now is a great time to look back on the past year, take stock of all the blessings and accomplishment, and also try to drown out the anxiety aroused from illegal fireworks being set off by my neighbors. As if living smelling distance from the local city dump wasn’t enough incentive to get Maude finished, I also have had to console my 9 month old baby multiple times tonight after exploding mortars woke him into hysterics.

That said, we are very close to getting our ’89 Fleetwood Yukon Wilderness trailer ready to be a full-time residence. Gotta keep that glass half-full of something, right.

Here’s what we have gotten done so far in the last few months:

  • Tore out the lofted bed, hamper, and defunct fresh water tanks.
  • Rebuilt the right wheel-well cover.
  • Rebuilt the damaged door.
  • Replaced the stick and peel wood-look flooring with floating wood-laminate flooring.
  • Removed the cabinet doors.
  • Built a removable tray for the AC-DC Converter.
  • Tore out and rebuilt the area for a larger fridge.
  • Rebuilt a smaller power cord storage box.
  • Replaced a broken brake light lens.
  • Sprayed every hole I could find with spray foam.

PICS OR GTFO

We also got a new truck!

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There’s still a lot to do, and with a month until we move in, not much time to do it.

Wish us luck.

Talking ’bout my refrigeration

Most trailers have a 3-way fridge that runs on AC, DC, and Propane. They are small, not very effective, and expensive to repair/replace.

Maude’s previous owner took the liberty of ripping out the old menage-a-frost and installed a small AC fridge in it’s place. This would have worked great for those who were parked next to an actual fridge inside of an actual home, or possibly for someone who never had leftovers from their meals. As we are living in the trailer full time and I am a proud midwesterner fluent in German, Swedish, and Italian flavors of casserole – all of which only become more delicious as they are ignored inside a fridge – that won’t work for us.

So we ripped it out.

In doing so, we made some discoveries.

  1. The vent needed for the propane exhaust from the old 3-way fridge made our trailer very cold without a fridge in front of it to block the wind from cutting through. The previous owner had tried to block it off after they replaced the fridge with a piece of plywood, but it wasn’t sealed well. Not only was it essentially a sieve trying to keep out the cold, it was not waterproofed, so it had started to rot. I cut all that out and then used spray foam and a fresh piece of wood to block off the vent and replace some of the missing insulation.
  2. Spray foam is kind of like the worst kind of pringles. Once you pop, the mess just doesn’t stop. It sticks to everything and everyone. The can doesn’t suggest wearing gloves out of some strange homage to Michael Jackson. It expands unpredictably, and is ugly and hard to clean once it’s dry. On a scale of 1 – 10 of usefulness, unless the task is permanently preserving someone’s highschool locker contents, I’d give it a 2 much to handle. Lesson: I’m using boards of foam insulation and weather caulking next time.
  3. In order to make room for a larger, more useful fridge, we needed to take advantage of the space that previously housed the propane heater mounted underneath the original fridge. Moreover, we had to actually increase the width of the space where the original fridge was mounted. In order to do that, we cut into the wall between the bathroom and the fridge, which was insulated with the old-fashioned yellow fiberglass cotton candy for some reason.
  4. The shower wall is simply 1/4 inch plywood. No water-proofing, just paint. That’ll need to get fixed.

On a related note, there are almost no fridges that fit our space for a fridge. Aside from the mini-fridges that you’d find in most hotels (much like the one we currently have and hope to replace), most refrigerators that are narrow enough to fit inside our trailer are too tall. The ones that aren’t too tall are usually expensive. So far, it looks like we found one fridge that will just barely fit.

As we don’t have 300$ to blow on something we won’t use for a month, we’re keeping the old fridge until we can afford to upgrade. In the meantime, we’re hoping to take advantage of the holiday break from work to apply some faux-brick backsplashes and other aesthetic touches tomorrow. More pictures to come tomorrow.

Tear out.

There are two kinds of tear out. There is the kind I like to do, which is more like the first part of an organ transplant operation and requires patience and skill.

There is also the kind my wife likes to do.

hulk_smash_t_shirt_textual_tees_grande

Our plans for Maude the travel trailer require a good balance of both my wife and my destructive specialties. On the less delicate side, we have to make room for our new bed by knocking out the shelving that failed to contain the water pump and long-defunct fresh water tank. We also had to take out what remained of the lofted bed, which also meant removing the light fixtures embedded in said platform.

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Before tear out.

This was actually a lot of fun to do, as we had a sledgehammer and a grinder to work with. As anyone knows, the more likely a tool is to horribly maim you, the more entertaining it is to use it. We also had a video camera, which is apparently a required tool for a project like this.

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After getting the bedroom tore out, we moved onto the making room for a larger refrigerator. This involved more sledgehammering, grinding, and also a jigsaw. Admittedly, anything more than an emory board and some tweezers felt like overkill with the way these old trailers are constructed, but it made for quick work.

All in all, a lot of fun.