With the neurophysiology texts and cheat sheets in front of me I tried to get started on my final studying for Wednesday. But I couldn’t get the endocrine-reproduction exam out of my head. I wrote down each of the questions from both exams and a brief synopsis of what my answers were. I was sure that what I had written was pretty much correct, but was there info I forgot to write? I compared questions to answers to cheat sheets and main notes and found that I had forgotten to discuss some details in the endocrine part of the afternoon exam. But I there was a lot of info that could have gone into that answer. I resolved to closely examine the subjects I did not discuss in the written exam and be very ready to discuss them in detail during the oral test. I would need to either justify not having discussed them, or to discuss them then and say I had run out of time.
My brain was racing and I was not going to get any studying done. Now I wished I had invited Ann over for dinner. I missed her. It had been a week since we last saw each other—last Sunday—and that was too long.
Tuesday was a long day, but at least I could focus on neurophysiology. Cell physiology was also on Wednesday and that was a strong subject for me. I wanted to do well in cell physiology but had to focus on the neurophysiology to make up for the lost day of studying. The day flew by. I called Ann at lunch and promised to see her on Wednesday after the tests. That seemed to make her happy; it made me very happy too.
Wednesday’s neurophysiology test was strange. There were actually two tests. One was a single open-ended and highly subjective essay question, and the second was 8 relatively traditional essay questions. We were given the choice of doing one test or the other. The open-ended question was, “The spinal cord is both a superhighway of information and major interchange for that information. Discuss the role of the spinal cord as a signal processor and signal transducer.” I thought very carefully about the personality of the examiner, Dr. Adams. He was a very cerebral person, had a dry sense of humor and a very rigid educational and scientific perspective. He would not be interested in the philosophical and the use of the expression “superhighway” was certainly fitting, given the volume of information and importance of the processes in the spinal cord. I chose the spinal cord question. I focused much of my answer on how spinal cord injury affects the physiology of people with such injuries.
The subject of spinal cord injury was something that was very close to me and my family because a cousin broke his neck and ended up paralyzed in a wheelchair. So the subject is an emotional one for us and I had seen many of the aftereffects of spinal cord injury firsthand, between his injury and others I observed when I worked on the ambulance.
The spinal cord is actually like a mini brain that makes decisions and has its own reflexes that it can enact without involving the brain. When the spinal cord is injured, many reflexes are lost or changed. So in the neurophysiology exam I talked about the role of the spinal cord and how it changed with injury. This was another question that I could write for hours on, but I stopped after 4 hours and handed my exam into Sharon and ate lunch.
The afternoon exam was a traditional essay exam that I did almost on autopilot. I wanted the exam to end because I would get to see Ann when it was over. I had skateboarded in and would meet her at my apartment as soon as practicable. Ann was getting out of her car in the parking lot of the apartment complex just as I was skateboarding into the driveway. I picked up the board and we embraced for a long time in the parking lot. She told me about her day and I talked about mine. We shared a simple but very pleasant dinner and enjoyed each other’s company. Then we talked more about moving in together. She had signed the lease on an apartment and we could start moving in next weekend. The apartment was on the third floor in the same building as my apartment and the rent was reasonable. For the first time in what seemed like weeks, I forgot about the exams and all I could think about was moving in with Ann. Only true love could take my mind so completely off of those comprehensive exams and that was what was happening.
Friday came too fast. I’d been looking forward to getting these exams over and today the written part would be over, but I felt anything but ready. I wasn’t sure if I was distracted by moving in with Ann or if I was burning out. Either way my head was not focusing on those last exams. I went through the motions of taking them and writing the essays, but I couldn’t concentrate. I knew something was different because when I turned the exams in I had written much less. I wasn’t even confident about the information contained in what I had written. But I did feel relieved when it was over.
Ann and I got together again on Friday night. However, I spent Saturday comparing notes on the questions asked, my outline of answers and checking the details of what I said in the essays. I did all this from memory, but it was easy to recall what was asked and how I answered the questions. Unfortunately, I found several factual errors in my exams for Friday. I had one particular concept of fluid flow completely backwards.
Sunday was very busy with me fact checking various concepts and trying to formulate a strategy to address, explain or correct some of the errors I had made in Friday’s exams.
Monday I went to the department and tried to see if I could get any scuttlebutt on what people were thinking about the exams and if any of my comrades were feeling the pains of wrong answers. I confided some of my errors and misgivings about the exam to Dr. Dillon. I am not sure who he talked to or what exactly he knew, but he was able to give me some feedback.
“Don’t start packing your bags just yet,” he said. “Remember you can talk about such things in the orals.”
The oral exams were tomorrow and I was well aware that I would be able to try to redeem myself there.
On Tuesday morning I was scheduled for my oral exam at 11:00 A.M. The seven faculty members were seated at a semi-circular table and I was expected to stand before them with my back to the board and answer their questions. I was allowed to draw on the board if needed. My first question was concerning my Friday exams and they asked if there was anything I wanted to change about my answers.
“YES!” I almost shouted.
Without apologizing, I corrected my errors in detail and gave as precise and complete information concerning my errors on fluid dynamics as I could. The faculty members went around the table asking questions. On some of the tests I needed to expand the information because I had run out of time and on others I needed to explain some concepts in greater detail. I was especially surprised by rather intense questioning from Dr. Adams concerning the spinal cord question. I had apparently relied too heavily on the pathology and did not provide enough detail on normal physiological functioning in the spinal cord. I did not offer any excuses or talk about my cousin. I added to the information using traditional physiological terms and they went on with the questioning.
The time for the exam was winding down and Dr. Krier started to ask a series of short questions. He was a scary looking person with wild hair that tended to stick up in all directions and seemed to get fuller if he was annoyed. It became a kind of rapid-fire series of questions and very quick answers. He would quickly ask a question and I would respond immediately. Question, answer, question, answer went on and on. Finally he asked me a question and I paused and my mind went blank.
“I do not know,” I said.
“OK,” he said. “I’m done.”
The chair dismissed me and the minute I walked out the door I remembered the answer to that question. I wanted to run back in and announce the answer, but it was too late. Did I fail?
I did not fail. I passed and that was all I needed to know. Two people did fail, though. I was hated to lose them. They were friends and softball teammates. Dr. Dillon tried to console me by saying that the value of a Michigan State University Ph.D. is increased by keeping the quality of the graduates high. He was right, I guess, but from my perspective it meant losing two friends.
After the comprehensive exams I told Ann that despite being apart a lot during the past few weeks, I really felt much closer to her. She said it must be true that absence makes the heart grow fonder.
I said, “I was thinking it might be the ‘Florence Nightingale Syndrome,’ where you fall in love with your caretaker, and you were certainly my caretaker.”
“Or,” she said, “it could be like the ‘Helsinki Syndrome’ where you fall in love with your captors. You’ve been held captive and I was your only visitor.” 
We settled on a new word, “HellSinkiGale,” to express our growing love during adversity.
 Stockholm syndrome is the condition being referred to here. Our error at the time, but the name stuck.