There is a three-by-eight-foot raised garden bed nestled between the Cardiovascular Center, the Cancer Center and Med Sci I. It is the Medical Campus Garden, and this year it is host to a crowd of tomato plants, lettuce, kale, basil, peppers, marigolds and chard. A plaque explains that it is maintained by medical students, but encourages passerbys to pick whatever is ripe or ready. At this point in the summer, the lettuce and chard are well picked. There are bunches of green cherry tomatoes that unfortunately won’t be ripe until after I’ve left Ann Arbor for our short summer break. The basil has had no problem outgrowing the aggressive reach of the tomatoes and makes the garden smell good with each watering.
Here in Michigan, the garden is a project of late spring and summer. The winter – my first one in Michigan — was long this year with snow well into spring. To celebrate the change of seasons, the Medical Campus Garden, a hodgepodge of students who have gardened or like the idea of gardening (me), organized a spring planting event as part of the April Wellness Week. Students tilled, fertilized, and then planted seedlings while enjoying salami, cheeses and fresh fruit generously supplied by the Wellness Pillar in M-Home.
It is quite shocking how different life is in Michigan in the summer versus the spring. Thunderstorms, humidity, evenings spent swatting mosquitoes on my patio have all certainly defined this summer for me. The weather and its milieu of activities – going on runs, walks (to the ice cream store), reading outside – certainly make school more manageable. Thunderstorms roll in in the afternoons and rain gives relief. A couple times a week I water the garden, pull weeds, and nibble on the one or two ripe tomatoes.
This week marks my 52nd of medical school. It’s been a year since my white coat ceremony and I’ve taken dozens of quizzes and tests at this point, streamed many, many hours of lectures, and spilled coffee on my white coat five or six times. It is a blur of a year, strung together by organ sequences and the change of weather. We planted the half-foot seedlings sometime in April – in the middle of our Neurology sequence when dementia, movement disorders, and locating lesions were of utmost importance. I made a Waldorf salad in mid-June with the lettuce from the garden. We were in Infectious Diseases then, perhaps learning about parasites or maybe fungi? Last week we finished Psychiatry, our last sequence before we begin our clinical education, and the tomatoes had just begun to ripen.
In September we’ll return as M2s and after a month-long bootcamp begin our clinical rotations. While I won’t be tending to it, the garden will grow on until it gets cold and the last of the tomatoes have been picked. Hopefully, we’ll find some M1s to retill and replant in April or May next year. I’ll be in my internal medicine rotation and perhaps stop by the garden on my way home after clinic. I hope volunteers from this year’s crop — from the seeds of fallen fruit, basil, milkweed and parsley — populate the garden and carry a little of this summer into next.
Christopher is a first-year student at the University of Michigan Medical Student. He recently completed a post-bac at Scripps College and is interested in Ob/Gyn and palliative care. He enjoys exploring Ann Arbor and eating ice cream.