By Helena Herber (’23)
In the first week of March, I knew very little about COVID-19. I was busy preparing for the week of exams that were supposed to fall between March 16 to March 20 and looking forward to the fun of spring break the following week.
To someone who was not paying attention to the news, changes happened quickly. All I knew was that our exams were expected to continue but in a socially distanced setting. Then on March 16, while I was studying with other freshmen in the cadaver lab, someone announced that we should all check our emails: everything was canceled. Exams were postponed and would be in an essay, not-for-points format following spring break. All classes would be moved to an online format until at least May 1. The energy in the lab became like that on the last day of school. Those of us who could leave made plans to go home. I left Loma Linda the next day and went home to the Napa Valley.
I was lucky enough to stay in Napa for 65 days from the week before what would’ve been our spring break through our final exams. After spring break, my daily routine shifted quite a bit. Instead of snoozing my alarm and then having to rush to get ready, running out the door with coffee to get to lectures at Centennial on time, I would wake up without an alarm to the sounds of my parents making coffee. I’d slowly get out of bed and take our dog out to the garden for a bit. After watering our herbs and vegetables, I would come back inside and grab a cup of coffee and chat with my parents. After saying goodbye to my dad as he left for work, I’d head upstairs to watch the morning’s recorded lectures. During study breaks, I got to spend time with my mom. We’d garden, work out together, and cook.
My afternoon labs shifted quite a bit. Instead of struggling through a dissection for cadaver lab, professors recorded videos showing us the day’s anatomy on their own beautiful dissections. We then had a quiz and Q&A session over Zoom. The physical diagnosis lab also took place over Zoom. Normally during these labs, doctors teach us exam maneuvers in small groups, which we can then practice and receive feedback on our technique. Instead, the doctors showed us how to conduct an ENT and thyroid exam on a mannequin. To practice what I’d learned, I gave my mom and dog otoscopic exams.
Over dinner, I’d tell my parents what I had learned and quiz my dad to see if he remembered any of what I was learning from his own first year almost 40 years ago. While it was strange at first to shift from studying with friends in coffee shops to studying at the same desk I did my algebra homework as a teenager, it was wonderful to be home.
Final exams, as always, were stressful. However, instead of taking the exams with all of my classmates on computers in the basement of Mortensen Hall, the School of Medicine allowed us to take exams remotely. A software system monitored us through our computer’s camera as we took the exams to ensure integrity. We were instructed to make sure we took the exams in a room by ourselves with no reference materials or extra technology accessible.
I returned to Loma Linda after final exams. We had to be on campus for two weeks of wards and an end-of-year OSCE, which tests our history taking and physical exam skills. At all times on campus, we wore masks and maintained social distance.
We are now on summer break. Classes resume August 24 and, when possible, will be conducted in person. I am looking forward to seeing my friends regularly again and doing all of our labs on campus.