Sunday, December 26, 2010

Weekly Update: Christmas Edition

  • I'm adding 2 new topics to the Weekly Updates (see below). If you have any other suggestions, feel free to let me know! Thanks for reading, everyone! Merry Christmas!
  • Current Scholastic Pursuits
    • Well, the interview tally stands at: 6 acceptances, 2 rejections, and 3 pending... hooray! I was a little disappointed over one of the rejections but that's life and I'm way more happy about the fact that I got interviews at my top 2 choices... so keep your fingers and toes crossed for the last 3!
    • I've taken the last week off to prepare for Christmas and generally catch up on sleep and R+R. Penguin starts his vacation today and will be with me for the rest of the week, so I'm really looking forward to spending some quality time with my number one man.
    • Christmas was beautiful. We spent Christmas Eve with my family and it was a relatively quiet night. Dad and my grandmother's boyfriend were both asleep in front of the TV by 8:30pm, so that kinda tells you how much of a rockin' party we created. However, it was nice to have a quiet night before the massive excitement of the next day. Christmas Day was spent with Penguin's family - which outnumbered my own family in people by about 2:1 - and the day started with the joyous announcement of Penguin's brother's engagement. There were tears of joy all around and some rather spectacular reactions to the news. Following this, the gifts were distributed. The generosity and sincerity of this exchange was both overwhelming and touching. I felt very blessed to be so welcomed into this wonderful family and I've never been more in love with my darling Penguin.

  • Recent Recipe I've Been Drooling Over...
    • To be honest, I'm still too stuffed from 2 back-to-back Turkey dinners to be drooling over anything. I'm gonna pass of this topic until next week. :)

  • Favourite Thing on Etsy this Week...
    • I'm also going to dodge this topic since I'm still reeling from getting absolutely everything on my Christmas list this year! I feel so fortunate to be able to wish for and receive such wonderful -yet frivolous - things when so many people in the world can dream only of food, shelter, and warmth. It's very humbling and I am profoundly grateful.

  • TED Talk I Watched this Week...
    • I've decided to replace the TED talk with the opening comments of the Munk Debate by Dambisa Moyo and Stephen Lewis.
    • While it has recently come to my attention that there is now a fee for watching, I still recommend The Munk Debates as terrific resources of education by some first class scholars and world activists. Check out the variety of topics here.
    • The topic of the Munk Debate I've posted here is: Be it Resolved the Foreign Aid Does More Harm than Good... with Dambisa Moyo arguing in favor and Stephen Lewis arguing against.

    • Song of the Week

    • Thing I'm Most Grateful for This Week...
      • The love of (both!) of my families and dearest friends.

    • Thing(s) I'm Most Looking Forward to This Week...
      • Oooh. This one is a tie. Cross-country skiing with Penguin and New Year's Eve at The Sands top the list this week.

    • Bunny Photo of the Week
      • Here's Penguin, Jazz, Hoyle, and I. The bunnies may never forgive us for taking this photo but then they regularly disapprove of everything we do, anyway.
      • Merry Christmas to all!

    Sunday, December 19, 2010

    Weekly Update

    • Current Scholastic Pursuits
      • OBS/GYN is officially over! And, if I dare to predict, I think I did pretty decently on the final exam. Thus, either I'm getting smarter or the exams are getting easier (let's hope it's the former).
      • Now that OBS/GYN is done, I'm on break for the winter holidays. Break being the operative word. Holidays are always a mad dash of spending time with all the family and friends who want a piece of you, plus shopping for presents, plus lots and lots of eating... and this year, plus 1 hour a day each of studying for the LMCCQE and interviews. That's the goal, anyway. Wish me luck!

    • TED Talk I Watched this Week

    • Song of the Week

    • Bunny Photo of the Week

    Sunday, December 12, 2010

    Weekly Update

    Hi Folks!

    I've decided to implement a weekly update for the blog so as to keep you entertained. Regular random posts will continue but I thought it might be nice to create a little weekly edition as a quick update. As always, I love feedback. If you have any suggestions, please let me know! 
    • Current Scholastic Pursuits
      • I have officially finished the clinical portion of my Obs/Gyn rotation. It went waaay better than I thought it would. Pregnancy and birth is significantly less scary than I imagined. It really helped that my preceptor had a great sense of humor and all of our patients were extremely low risk.
      • Just one more week of lectures and the final exam on Friday and then I'm done for the holidays! I'm really looking forward to the break - even if I do plan on studying for the licensing exam and researching for interviews over the holidays.
      • Speaking of interviews, I got my first response for CaRMS! It was a huge boost to know that someone who has never met me read my application and thinks that I have potential and am worth interviewing. I'm so stoked!

    • Recent Recipe I've Been Drooling Over
      • With any luck and some excellent free time, I hope to make these Cranberry Curd Bars for Christmas!

    • TED Talk I Watched this Week

    • Song of the Week
    • Bunny Photo of the Week

    Friday, September 24, 2010

    On the road again...

    Just finished a whole day of exams -- hurrah!!! Peds is now over and I (finally) got my G license. As a reward for all my hard work today, I spent an hour on my couch surfing the web and thinking about our upcoming across-Algonquin adventure.

    Below are some really excellent examples of adventure videography. Hopefully, Penguin and I can put our heads together and come up with a good way to record our spring expedition for your entertainment.

    Algonquin Park Photomotion Adventure from Hannah Maia on Vimeo.

    Saturday, September 18, 2010

    Just because I can hear you through the wall does not mean that I get to participate.

    Ok. 3rd blog post today, I know. Being sick + chicken guilt + thinking about babies is a recipe for depression in this household and the best cure for depression that I know of is Penguin. Since Penguin is in a different time zone right now (actually, he's in Vegas for a week with his boys), I have to rely on the comic gold of our past correspondences. And believe you me, it really is gold. Enjoy.


    Memoirs of an Undergraduate Lab Rat
    Year 5.last.semester.ever.
    February 11th, 2008

    • At 11:57pm, the Lab Rat blows out her candles and takes a hot water bottle with her to bed.
    • Prior to this, the Lab Rat had studied consistently for approximately 9 consecutive hours.
    • It should be noted that the Lab Rat did take a break to watch Oprah between 4 and 5 pm, but dutifully muted the television during the commercial breaks in order to keep studying.
    • The Lab Rat, sadly, did not eat dinner. Or snack. In fact, she completely forgot about that thing called food.
    • In the last 9 hours, the Lab Rat has read more slides than she can count and created over 32 pages of notes.
    • The Lab Rat shall arise at 5am tomorrow to continue studying the last 3 chapters (8-10) and review said notes before her midterm.
    • The Lab Rat is not looking forward to writing her midterm. However, since it is the LAST BIOCHEM MIDTERM EVER, the Lab Rat will attempt to appear enthusiastic.
    • The Lab Rat desires carrots.

    Lab Rat


    Dear Lab Rat,

    We at 
    Tufty Ears Laboratories have read your recently submitted memoirs. Your dedication to your work is very notable. 9 consecutive hours of studying without pausing for food demonstrates a strong will and dedication, even in light of your puzzling, yet intruiging fascination with Oprah. A note-taking rate greater than 3.5 pages per hour is well above our requirements, especially accounting for the numerous slides you have read. The text of your memoirs indicates that you can count at least as high as 32, which is an acceptable number.

    We would be interested in meeting with you to discuss the possibility of a position with 
    Tufty Ears Laboratories. A block of time this upcoming weekend has been set aside for you. This will be an informal gathering, although you should be prepared to answer some questions, particularly the specific number of slides you can count up to. It was unclear whether your remark about desiring carrots was an initiation of salary negotiations, however rest assured there will be an ample supply of carrots this weekend.

    Thank you for considering 
    Tufty Ears Laboratories. We look forward to seeing you this weekend. Sincerely,

    - Penguin
    CEO and Chief Carrot

    No one has ever been charged for smoking oregano...

    I tried to solve my chicken-guilt by mindlessly creeping on Facebook this afternoon since I was too snuffly to get any productive work done. Facebook didn't help, it just gave me more to think about.

    It seems like everyone I know these days is either engaged, married, pregnant, or has a newborn. So, needless to say, FB is filled with new pictures of infants, engagement rings, and wedding pics. Sometimes in that order, too. Today, I've ping-pong'ed back and forth between looking at baby pictures and writing about my biochem thesis where I cloned a gene. Right about now, my CV reads something like this:

    "Hello, my name is Saroja. I cloned a novel gene during university but I'm terrified of the idea of meiosis occurring in my uterus."

    I will admit though that I've spent some time in the last few months looking at cute baby stuff. I mean, I'm 25. My reproductive years are limited. Sometimes, I fantasize about buying some of the extra cute baby stuff I see. Not because I like babies but because I like the idea of extolling my idea of what is cute and what is not on the blank slate of a child's psyche so that they'll grow up to have exactly the same tastes and interests as me. And also because we already know that I have a problem with impulse buying.

    Anyway, I can usually end these fantasies pretty quickly by imagining Penguin finding my hidden shoebox of baby stuff. I picture myself becoming pale and stammering... "My ovaries made me do it, I swear."Because really, up until this point, we've only ever discussed my becoming pregnant as a Worst Case Scenario. That's right, Accidental Pregnancy is filed under A in my binder of Disaster Management Plans. And if you think I'm kidding, I'm not. (As a side note, Penguin is all for the actualization of a future hypothetical child at the appropriate time. I'm the one who's throwing up all the speed bumps to that actualization... frankly, I'm throwing up speed bumps at the actualization of our discussing the actualization of a future hypothetical child, too. Which, frankly, I think is better than throwing up because of morning sickness because pregnancy itself has to be a pretty significant speed bump in life.)

    Anyway, there's a none-too-fabled list of Pro's and Con's to having a child that I've been keeping while we navigate through medical school. And no, I won't share it here on the world wide web. I think everyone's decision to have or not to have children is personal - and should probably stay that way for the kids' sakes. And it's not that I'm judging the wonderful people I know for their happiness in life. They are doing a great job of being terrific parents and raising strong, happy, healthy children. Kudos to them.

    This post is really just about recording the significant vacillations I have about considering the prospect of future child rearing. The breaking news is that I can admit I like cute baby stuff. I also like blaming my internal organs for making me do crazy things that are out of character for me. And lastly, I like the idea that we could tell my parents that I'm pregnant by presenting them with a bushel of chicken wire. It might take them a few minutes but they'd eventually figure it out. It's an inside joke in my family.

    But, let's not forget. The reason I'm sitting around thinking about all this baby stuff is because I was on FB trying to repress the memory of buying a chicken today that was severely under-valued. Why did I buy the chicken? Because I'm sick and I didn't have the energy to go to the ethical butcher and buy a happy chicken and then dress and cook it myself. Why am I sick? Because I'm on my pediatrics rotation. A child gave me their strep throat when they coughed directly in my face while I was trying to look in their throat.

    That's right. I'm blaming the kid.

    “The difference between 'involvement' and 'commitment' is like an eggs-and-bacon breakfast: the chicken was 'involved' - the pig was 'committed'.”

    Three days ago, I came down with strep throat (cultures pending). Today, I turned the corner and am finally beginning to improve. I can swallow my own saliva again (yay!) and even though my nose is running like a faucet and I still have a spiky temperature, I feel better than I have all week.

    Having been unable to eat anything but chicken broth and popsicles for 3 days, I was delighted to awaken this morning with the knowledge that I'd finally be able to eat real food again (ie. I could swallow and it didn't feel like razor blades were going down my oropharynx). I also had just enough energy to get to the grocery store and back in order to restock my empty pantry.

    Well, even though I made a list and checked it twice, I ended up engaging in some rather bizarre impulse buys. That's the trouble when you go shopping and still have a fever. The first craving had to do with potatoes. I bought regular red potatoes for roasting, baking potatoes for baking, mashed and scalloped potatoes in boxes, french fries, and potato chips. Can you say, "Holy carb craving, Batman"? You'd think I was pregnant. I'm not. Just sick.

    But the crowning impulse buy was a cooked BBQ chicken. It cost $7.99 and even though I couldn't smell it's tantalizing aroma, I was sure it was exactly the perfect compliment to my main course of potatoes.

    It wasn't until I got home and was halfway through eating one of the chicken legs that my illness-fogged brain started doing the math. Apparently, a chicken's life is worth only $7.99. Could I look a chicken in the eye and tell it that for 1 penny less than 8 bucks, I could kill and eat it? No, I don't think I could. $7.99 is too cheap - I can't even buy a paperback book for that price! Life, even chicken life, is more valuable than that for me.

    But wait. It's worse. $7.99 also covers all the costs of raising a chicken from egg to adult. This includes food, shelter, and vet care. It also covers transportation from the chicken farm to the butcher. Plus the actual butchering and cleaning process and then, lastly, the seasoning and cooking of the chicken before me. And nowhere in there is any calculation for overhead at the grocery store or profit for the farmer.

    It turns out that a chicken is really not worth very much at all. And that makes me pretty sad. Because I like chickens. Because I think that all lives are valuable and I don't like the idea that I'm willing to pay only $3 more for a chicken than I do for my potatoes. That doesn't say very much for the chicken.

    So yes, I'm glad that I'm finally able to eat solid food again... but I'm pretty disappointed in my choices. It's time to get back on the wagon.

    Sunday, September 12, 2010

    While you were sitting in the back seat smoking a cigarette you thought was your last, I was falling deep, deeply in love with you.

    Quote of the day: She was like a chain-smoking grizzly bear who had just awoken in the spring, all shaggy and thin- and just as grumpy. She only worked the night shifts and I called her Grandma.

    Wednesday, September 1, 2010

    How to Introduce Yourself as Batman

    Correct Method:

    Incorrect Method:

    and finally - we'll let you judge the appropriateness of this last one:

    This isn't life at Walden Pond, sorry.

    Today is Sept 1st and with only 4.5 months between me and CaRMS interviews, I decided that I needed to prepare for game day with more than a catchy CV and a heavily edited personal letter. Thus, Operation Turbo-Minx (OTM) has been brought into being.

    If you're sitting at home right now wondering, WTF is OTM? Let me explain. Between now and January, I promise myself that I will not let anything come between me and physical fitness 4 times a week (minimum). The plan is to get myself into peak physical shape by interview day.

    Why? - you may ask... a few reasons: (1) if I don't do it now, I won't do it later; (2) sports are my way of dealing with stress and applying for residency is the most stressful thing I've done yet; and (3) I want to look good (scratch that...) I want to look GREAT for interview day. I want to walk into my interview looking like Catwoman (minus the leather unitard) and have them think, Damn. Look at those guns! This woman means business.

    OTM will consist of the following 4 workouts: run, swim, spin, and yoga - one day each during the week regardless of crazy call schedules or overwhelming homework. In addition, I'll be undertaking the Twenty Pull Ups Challenge. Why? Because Pull Ups (or Chin Ups, I haven't decided which to do yet) are hardcore and butch. Also, nothing develops grit like doing 20 Pull Ups - other than eating gravel, that is.

    Lastly, I'm calling this Operation Turbo Minx for a few reasons. Firstly, all epic adventures deserve a code name. Secondly, Turbo is appropriate because if I'm really going to achieve all this, that's pretty much the speed at which I'll have to get things done during the day to make enough time and still get sufficient sleep. Thirdly, because Minx are sexy and smart and vicious - all excellent qualities in a surgical candidate.

    So there you have it folks. Day 1 found me sweating buckets on the spin bike and ready to tackle more.

    Monday, August 30, 2010

    It's Folly to Assume that my Awesome Lies Dormant

    Some recipes I'm dying to try out...

    Grilled Eggplant with Tomato Salsa and Goat Cheese
    Kale Chips (seriously, you can't go wrong with kale)
    Avocado Fries with Chipotle Mayo Dip (I'm secretly having an affair with an avocado these days)
    Roasted Red Pepper Soup with Lime Sorbet
    BBQ Pineapple with Rum and Cinnamon (a la CopaCabana)
    Strawberries in Balsamic Vinegar with Black Pepper over vanilla ice cream and angel food cake (hello heaven!)
    Hedgehog Gingerbread Cookies
    Blueberry-Lavender Buttercream Frosting on a cake of yet-to-be-determined-type
    Spicy Zucchini Soup

    Are you drooling yet? I am. Sadly, it's mac and cheese for dinner tonight. I feel like Remy (the rat) in Ratatouille, dreaming of glamorous food but unable to get it... one day, though. Until then, cheers to imaginary YUM.

    Friday, July 23, 2010

    Skydiving: or How a Humanities Degree Makes Me a Different Kind of Doctor

    At the beginning of clerkship, I did a family medicine rotation in the North. During the cold and snowy months of November and December, a lovely couple took me in as a guest and supplied me with a place to stay. They lived in a log cabin, tucked away within a group of tall hills that were carpeted in trees and snow and silence. The cabin had originally been a barn. The couple had hand-chinked the logs together to transform it into their home, adding a green tin roof and a veranda around 3 of the exterior walls. It was heated by a lone wood burning stove and it was the most beautiful place I think I've ever lived.

    The wife was a bright eyed, humble woman who had all the features that I associated with living in a perpetual state of joy. She was quick to laugh and gentle in her seriousness. Having a conversation with her was like receiving a warm hug.

    One day, she shared with me an insight that was so brilliant I felt like I had just been given a treasure. I took it, giddy as a child who has just been given candy, and tucked it away in a pocket of my mind to examine and covet when I had more time to indulge in such leisure.

    Today, I had that time. And now I will share it with you.

    The woman was a practicing buddhist and her insight was about death - she stated, rather matter-of-factly, that the only thing we can ever count on in life is our final exhalation. For in death, the last thing we do is release that one, final sigh.

    It's funny to think about all the things we do through exhalation. Exhaling is our means of communication - to create speech, we must exhale. And let it be noted that so often, our primary means of connecting to one another is through speech. Exhaling is also our means of relief and comfort – whether we sigh in contentment with an “ahhhh” or scream in pain and terror with an “AGGHHHH” – we do these actions instinctively.

    -       While inspiration is an active process (you must contract your diaphragm and intercostal muscles to create a zone of negative pressure that will pull air into your lungs), exhaling is physiologically passive. With every inhale we actively assert our vitality… but we cannot continuously inhale. For every inspiration, we must exhale – to accept our finitude – in order to create room for more life. It's a yin and yang. Thus, while we can actively do things to keep ourselves alive (breath in, jump out of the way of a car, or eat our veggies), when it is our time to die, it will be a passive act. Something over which we have no control. Every exhale is a potential death.

    Now, this is all very philosophical, so here's the practical side. As physicians, we are overwhelmed with claims of various drugs or procedures as "life-saving" but I am always reminded of what my grandmother's boyfriend said to me when I found out that I was accepted to medical school, "Why would you ever want to go into a profession where you will always fail?" Doctors don't save lives. They forestall deaths, and only temporarily.

    Recently, I have witnessed a number of deaths while working at the hospital. Most have been of the "ahhhh" variety, where an elderly person acknowledges the immanence of their death and breaths out in a sigh of relief. On the flip side, I have also recently witnessed the death of a very young woman who left this life literally screaming for more air.

    When I think about what it must feel like to die, I am reminded of a line from the novel The Cobra Event by Richard Preston. Early in the book, a young girl dies from an infection. To describe this exact moment, Preston wrote, "And then, she fell away."

    I always thought that this was the perfect description of the experience of death. However, the line brings to mind certain questions:

    Fell away from what?
    I think he means, her consciousness fell away from her body.

    Was she aware of this?
    I think so. At least, she is conscious of it for as long as we are - and that is a mere instant. Maybe just the same amount of time it takes to read a 5 word sentence.

    How far does she fall?
    Far enough that we can't imagine it. Maybe forever.

    Does she know she's still falling?
    Probably not. I imagine that this is very much like skydiving. The moment you jump out of the plane, you feel a sudden lurch as you plummet through space. It is a terrifying moment but it's only half a heartbeat in time before you reach terminal velocity (where you stop accelerating because the force of gravity becomes equal to the resistance of air against your body). At terminal velocity, you're still falling (in fact, you're falling faster than you were when you first just jumped out of the plane) but it no longer feels like it. You just exist in space. It is the most beautiful, exhilarating feeling.

    Now, some of you will know that this is no idle analogy. I recently went skydiving for the first time and I remember my skydiving instructor giving me this advice just before we jumped: "It will help if you exhale. Scream, shout, laugh, whatever. But breathe out. Here we go!"

    And in that terrifying moment of falling away, I did yell. Because I was scared. Because my stomach decided to take up residence in my throat and there was no more room for my lungs to have air in them. But after that feeling of falling passed, I don't remember inhaling the way someone would if they had just been choking. I don't remember being greedy for more air - more life. I just remember breathing out again and again and again, saying over and over "Yay! Yay! Yay! Yay! This is fun!"

    I think that this is, from now on, how I will think of the experience of death. On our side, we only see that moment of terror. The initial drop. The knowledge that the person is falling away from us. We have all the points of reference from our side. We can measure their velocity and we know that it is accelerating beyond our control. An instant later, and the patient is gone. But in my mind, I think that I will believe that they are skydiving. They reach terminal velocity the moment after they leave our presence in this world. After that, they are floating in space, feeling beautiful and exhilarated and free. And while, in the here and now, we might pull off our gloves and masks and gowns, letting out our collectively held breaths in sighs of frustration or sadness- I will think that the patient is still falling, exhaling again and again saying "Yay! Yay! Yay! Yay! This is fun!"

    At least, that's how I hope it will go when I die.


    A friend asked me how I came up with this idea, so I figured to keep the conversation in one place, I'd write my response down here:

    This afternoon, I was reading about meditation and this sanskrit mantra Ham-sa. Which, incidentally, is the noise you make when you breath (try it, I did). Inhale: Haaahm; Exhale: saaaaa. The mantra translates into "I am That."

    Now, let's fit that into my everday working paradigm. "I am" --> creativity in the 21st century is based on individuality. These days, we typically define something as creative when it is unique, authentic, one-of-a-kind. The emphasis in Ham is on the individual... it is an active (inhale = intentional action) construction of our selfhood.

    Ham, however, is immediately followed by Sa, or That. In this context, I think That means God, or The Oneness of All Beings, or whatever you think of divinity. Now, since exhaling is passive, this must mean that God lies within us and there's nothing we can do about it. I don't think that it's unusual at all that most people consider dying as a "return to God" or The One or whatever - and how elegant is it that our last act in life is to exhale? To return to God. To acknowledge the Oneness of All Beings. Whether we like it or not.

    See, that's what I like about philosophy and religion. It's so TIDY. It all makes sense. And it makes you feel better. Every moment of every day you are both inspiring as an individual and at one with with universe - so just keep breathing. And when it's time to stop breathing, you'll be ok.

    Tuesday, July 20, 2010

    I'm afraid of seaweed and other things that are scary.

    This is uncanny.

    I am afraid of seaweed.
    I have blond hair.
    I worry about all kinds of strange and unusual things.
    I regularly engage in eating, praying, and loving.
    This person talks like I do when I'm home alone and have a great idea that I only get to share outloud with my bathroom mirror.
    And I believe (and have argued before) that our genius lies outside of ourselves.

    I think I've found my celebrity Doppleganger. :)

    Exciting titles for blog posts don't come easily at 7am when you're under the weather and running late for work.

    Sunday, June 13, 2010

    I can't help it, I like weird stuff. Like cats with white paw pads. I've made it a point to collect strange fruit.

    Throughout my undergrad, my program would produce a yearly publication called North. Everyone was encouraged to submit stories, poems, art, or photos to be included. While I never had the talent or creativity to submit something, I always purchased a copy of the end result.

    Recently, I found myself re-reading these magazines. I was slightly taken aback by how much medical content I found. Below are a few of the poems that struck me the most.

    In Defense of Non-Physical Death, by Ciara Wolff

    Without hospitals
    or other intermediaries between
    the known and the unknown
    death occurs.
    On the immediate level of the everyday
    death may be passing in one's veins

    life right out of them.
    Death occurs here
    as here, lives moving in their possible ascent
    from plane
    unto plane
    while within
    the body racing bruised

    death lives
    while dying loots
    light from under the eye
    as it does, also, in its physical variation.


    I Choose Acid Reflux Today or A Speech on the dirty word diversity, by Angie Murphy

    I choose acid reflux today because I like hot hot spice.
    I like flat bottomed shoes with rubber souls and
    brazen roaring jazz horns.

    I choose acid reflux today because I like chocolate.
    I like smooth brown voices speaking up and
    warm hugs for rich and poor alike.

    I choose acid reflux today because I like orange juice.
    I like loud, vibrant faces, dancing, and
    singing out with all their limbs.

    I choose acid reflux today because I like coffee.
    I like full bodied black vinyl records,
    ceramics and cream spirals.

    I choose acid reflux today because I like buffets.
    I like a variety of colourful solutions and
    global know-how all at one table.

    I choose acid reflux today so simmer,
    simmer down.


    Man's Creation, by Chris Reid

    This day and age
    All I have to do is sit.
    I can do almost anything sitting down:
    I can send letters
    To the other side of the world instantaneously,
    Watch million-dollar people
    Take over the world,
    I can listen to music
    Not made by instruments.
    And all this from home!

    Never was there a better time to live.
    If I was dying of some fatal injury,
    It is possible that doctors could save me;
    If for some reason my heart wasn't working
    (A reason other than it being broken)
    They could replace it;
    I decide I don't like my looks
    A little snippety-snip here, some plastic there,
    And voila, I'm someone else.
    Masterful things have we done!

    Incredibly advanced are we now:
    Man has trop on the moon,
    Made a living sheep from nothing,
    Discovered nuclear power.
    Discovered nuclear bombs.
    We ended millions of lives;
    Ruined more.
    Made our driving force in life
    The desire for more.

    The technology that we have created
    Could help millions
    But we forgot to develop one thing:
    Each other.

    Sunday, May 30, 2010

    We should not strive to be scholars - people who hoard up founts of knowledge like treasure - instead, we should aim to be anti-scholars...

    ...anti-scholars pride themselves not in what they know but in what they have yet to learn. Their focus is on the unknown, the yet-to-be-discovered, and beyond. To illustrate this point: what good is a vast library if all the books in it have already been read? Read books have no value to the owner who has already explored their pages except to enable passive reminiscence. The most valuable library is one in which none of the books have been read, for it holds the greatest potential.


    When driving back and forth from the Tropical Tundra to the Great North, I like to play the ABCs* game in the car. It's much better when there's a passenger to play it with but, in desperation, I have been known to play it by myself.

    (* For those of you who don't know - the ABCs game is where you go through the alphabet by naming aspects of medicine based on their first letter. There are a variety of versions: diseases, diagnostic tests and physical exam, pharmacology, etc. For example, if you were playing the 'diseases' version, you might begin with: Addison's Disease, Boerhaave Tear, Coronary Artery Disease..., etc.)

    This clip not only depicts the experience of clerkship extremely well but also refers to my favourite medical Z word - Zollinger-Ellison Syndrome. Sweet!

    The air goes into your lungs, around in your heart, and on through your blood...cautiously into the dark.

    Saturday, May 29, 2010

    We are often so preoccupied with the right of every man to live that we forget it is the destiny of every man to die.

    Just a quick note... but an important one in the evolution of my general outlook on life and the future. As most of you who know me in real life have come to understand, I'm certainly rather unenthusiastic about the idea of having children.

    My issues with pregnancy and childbirth aside, one of the reasons I tend to resist the idea is that I've always dreamed of a life of adventuring. Raising a family always seemed to me to preclude the ability to go on wild adventures, for several reasons:

    (a) is it really ethical to expose a young child to the risks of an adventure (ie. adventures usually mean taking on all kinds of risks like infectious diseases, wild animals, bad weather, etc)? Or, if you leave the child at home with a babysitter to avoid those risks, is it ethical to abandon your child for 6 months while you go chase a different dream than being a mom?

    (b) money. Kids are expensive and so are adventures. How could you possibly finance both?

    (c) time. An adventure that could be accomplished in a reasonable amount of time would suddenly take much much longer if you brought a child along. Just think about how much longer it takes you to make dinner for 4 people instead of 2! A longer adventure requires more money, more time off work, and more supplies (ie. food, medications, etc).

    (d) weight. When everyone can share the load, carrying the supplies necessary for an adventure isn't a huge hardship... however it's rather impossible to strap a 50lbs pack on a 6 year old and expect them to haul their share of food, water, and shelter. This goes back to item (c), too -- the heavier the packs, the longer it takes to get from A to B.

    (e) The kids just might not be interested... or interested enough to sit still on a bike / canoe / horse / sled / etc for 8 hours a day while their parents attempt great feats of endurance. I'm mean, really... what could be worse when trying to ski to the north pole than dragging a child behind you that keeps whining, "Mom, are we there yet??? I have to pee."

    Miraculously, however, I have recently found 3 stories of families who have challenged and overcome all these obstacles in the pursuit of adventure. Through their incredible examples, I have decided that children can no longer be considered a reason not to go on an adventure. Therefore, dear Penguin, you are one theoretical objection closer to the possibility of future hypothetical children than before. :)

    Story #1: Pedouins cycle to Alaska.
    Story #2: The Heuers in Finding Farley
    Story #3: Sailing on the Northern Magic

    Monday, May 24, 2010

    I will preface this with the obligatory disclaimer: I shit you not.

    All I did this week-
    end was surf YouTube and click
    Refresh on Facebook.

    Some of the bounty of my mindless web searches:

    Why Cats Are Not Employed As Doctors
    • Valuable minutes lost in surgery as doctor furiously paws at nearby fly.
    • While informing patient's family of their loss, doctor suddenly loses interest and walks off.
    • In bid to become chief surgeon, doctor scent-marks entire hospital.
    • Doctor refuses to respond to own name during code blue.
    • Staff grows increasingly alarmed as doctor runs up and down hallway for no apparent reason.
    • Sensing colleagues' growing dissatisfaction with his work, doctor curls up against a radiator and goes to sleep.
    • Doctor raises hackles and bares teeth whenever new interns are introduced.
    • Doctor loses medical license after licking self, instruments clean. 

    Saturday, May 8, 2010

    The Elegance of the Hedgehog

    I just finished reading The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery (no small feat considering that in the last week, I have also written 3 exams and finished my core surgical rotation!). This books was terrific and I strongly recommend that you immediately go out, find a copy, and consume it like a voracious velociraptor in the same manner that I did.

    The book has 2 main characters: Paloma, a 12 year old girl who has decided that life is futile and is planning to commit suicide on her 13th birthday to validate her beliefs, and Renee, a widowed concierge who compulsively hides her outstanding intelligence from the tenets of the building where she works. When a new tenet moves into the building, Paloma and Renee discover one another's secrets to heart-warming and surprising results. To spur your interest without giving away any of the key aspects of the plot, here are some of the best insights I gathered from this book. I can't wait to read it again in order to find more that I missed on the first pass...

    On Adulthood:

    "All our family acquaintances follow the same path: their youth spent trying to make the most of their intelligence, squeezing their studies like a lemon to make sure they'd secure a spot among the elite, then the rest of their lives wondering with a flabbergasted look on their faces why all that hopefulness has led to such a vain existence. People aim for the stars, and they end up like goldfish in a bowl."

    On the Meaning of Life:

    "No one seems to have thought of the fact that life is absurd, being a brilliant success has no greater value than being a failure. It's just more comfortable. And even then: I think lucidity gives your success a bitter taste, whereas mediocrity still leaves hope for something."

    On Materialism:

    Manuela: "Pleasant like after Christmas holidays, when you've had too much to eat. I think about the way it feels when everyone has left... My husband and I, we go to the kitchen, I make up a little bouillon with fresh vegetables, I splice some mushrooms real thin and we have our bouillon with those mushrooms in it. You get the feeling like you've just come through a storm and it's all calm again."

    Renee: "No more fear of being short of anything. You're happy with the present moment... You enjoy what you have, there's no competition. One sensation after another."

    M: "Yes, you have less but you enjoy it more."

    R: "So: have our civilizations become so destitute that we can only live in fear of our want? Can we only enjoy our possessions or our senses when we are certain that we shall always be able to enjoy them?"

    On the Intellectual Capabilities of the Working Class:

    "They may prefer stories to theories, anecdotes to concepts, images to ideas- that doesn't stop them from philosophizing."

    On the Significance and Meaning of Still Life Portraits:
    (something I have never been able to understand before reading this!)

    "Beyond the frame of the painting there is, no doubt, the tumult and boredom of everyday life- itself an unceasing and futile pursuit, consumed by projects; but within the frame lies the plentitude of a suspended moment, stolen from time, rescued from human longing. Human longing! We cannot cease desiring, and there is our glory, and our doom. Desire! It carries us and crucifies us, deliver us every new day to a battlefield where, on the eve, the battle was lost; but in sunlight does it not look like a territory ripe for conquest, a place where - even though tomorrow we will die - we can build empires doomed to fade to dust, as if the knowledge we have of their intermittent fall had absolutely no effect on our eagerness to build them now? We are filled with the energy of constantly wanting that which we cannot have, we are abandoned at dawn on a field littered with corpses, we are transported until our death by projects that are no sooner completed than they must be renewed. Yet how exhausting it is to be constantly desiring.. We soon aspire to pleasure without the quest, to a blissful state without beginning or end, where beauty would no longer be an aim or a project but the very proof of our nature. And that state is Art.

    ...But when we gaze at a still life, when - even though we did not pursue it - we delight in its beauty, a beauty borne away by the magnified and immobile figuration of things, we find pleasure in the fact that there was no need for longing, we may contemplate something we need not want, may cherish something we need not desire... In the scene before our eyes- silent, without life or motion - a time exempt of projects is incarnated, perfection purloined from duration and its weary greed- pleasure without desire, existence without duration, beauty without will. For art is emotion without desire."

    On Philosophy:

    "I have always been fascinated by the abnegation with which we human beings are capable of devoting a great deal of energy to the quest for nothing and the rehashing of useless and absurd ideas... meaning is merely another impulse, an impulse carried to the highest degree of achievement, in that it uses the most effective means - understanding - to attain its goals. For the quest for meaning and beauty is hardly a sign that man has an elevated nature, that by leaving behind his animal impulses he will go on to find justification of his existence in the enlightenment of the spirit: no, it is a primed weapon in the service of trivial and material goal. And when the weapon becomes its own subject, this is the simple consequence of the specific neuronal wiring that distinguishes us from other animals; by allowing us to survive, the efficiency of intelligence also offers us the possibility of complexity without foundation, thought without usefulness, and beauty without purpose. It's like a computer bug, a consequence without consequence of the subtlety of our cortex, a superfluous perversion making an utterly wasteful use of the means at its disposal."

    On the Benefits of Friendship:

    "All those hours drinking tea in the refined company of a great lady who has neither wealth nor palaces, only the bare skin in which she was born - without those hours I would have remained a mere concierge, but instead it was contagious, because the aristocracy of the heart is a contagious emotion, so you made of me a woman who could be a friend..."

    Tuesday, April 13, 2010

    She's got houseplants to keep her company. Bought her a goldfish, she named it after me.

    Recent (hilarious) Patient Encounters -- they're 100% real, I couldn't make this up if I tried!

    Doctor: "Have you ever had gallstones?"
    Patient: "No, but my cat recently had kidney stones."

    Doctor: "The pathology report says that the lesion on your face is a basal cell carcinoma."
    Patient: "Basil cell carcinoma? You mean, I got it from eating the spice?"

    Saturday, March 13, 2010

    There is no single 'right way' for most things in life. Although, I'm sure there are exceptions in fields like medicine or Japanese tea ceremony...

    Presently, I'm in the Halifax airport waiting for my connecting flight back home from Labrador. I've got about 2 hrs, so I decided to listen to the podcast "You are Pre-diseased" that my preceptor gave me. It's quite interesting and once I get back, I'll try and post it here so you can listen, too.

    The podcast talks about whether or not cancer screening is a good idea. They've raised some good points so far (I'm only halfway through listening) that have articulated what I've had rumbling around in the back of my head as vague feelings for awhile. One of the points that I'm interested in discussing here is the idea that cancer is always deadly and that we should be very, very afraid if developing it.

    This got me thinking about the recent Guardasil commercials on tv. Perhaps you've seen them? They consist of monologues by young women who describe their safe sex habits or long term relationships followed by an anxious narrator who responds with phrases like, "I wouldn't say that if I were you" along with scary music and blurring of the womens' pelvic regions. This kind of fear monguering by a pharmaceutical company makes me angry. These ads critize responsible choices and further alienate women from their bodies by making their pelvic areas seem like incubators of disease and pestilence. Who knew that a "cure" for cancer could have such a dark side?

    In other ads, guardasil advocates that women ought "to do everything (they) can" to protect themselves fro
    HPV. The implied message here is that if you don't volunteer to get the vaccine, then it's likely your own fault that you develop cancer.

    Now, don't get me wrong. I'm all for vaccines and preventative treatments as thenrxt person (and probably moreso since I'm a med student)- my objection is really how we're framing these preventative measures to the public. I personally don't believe that this Machiavellian approch to advertising and awareness is the way to go- people ought to choose screening and treatment procedures out of informed consent rather than fear or shame.

    Saturday, March 6, 2010

    Let's Get Feralicious!

    A feral organism is one that has escaped from domestication and returned, partly or wholly, to a wild state.

    We sit at desks in heated buildings, swaddled in high tech fabrics. We eat food made in factories, and go weeks without breaking a sweat, or months without seeing a night star. And it doesn't all suck, but perhaps you feel a creeping uneasiness with your domestication.

    -- Social Workout may be my new favourite site.

    Budgie Smuggler, Banana Hammock, or Skivvy -- this makes for one cold swim.

    Health care will go the way of the car manufacturers within the next 30 years...

    Unless the beaurocratic waste within the system is addressed. Unfortunately, the direction we've taken health care has become such a juggernaut that the only way to fix the system now is to take it apart, root and limb, and begin anew. In Newfoundland and Labrador, 46% of the overall province's budget is directed to health care. But how much of that money do we see on the ground? In the physio clinic in Goose Bay, NL, there is a mould infestation on the walls. It has been covered with plastic and taped off for a year. In the meantime, they are doing additional renovations to the 2 year old administration building next door. For a hospital with only 28 beds, there are over 200 administrators who have a building of equal square-footage as the hospital itself.

    On the front lines, doctors are weighed down by paperwork that prevents them from engaging in patient care. Yesterday, for one carpal tunnel release surgery, we had to fill out over 12 pages of forms. I think that if they just consolidated all that paperwork into 3 pages - not only would the physician be able to see more patients in a day but they would also save on stationary, let alone assist in helping the environment by not cutting down so many trees!

    My preceptor is very frank about the matter. He is continually frustrated by the waste of resources, the lack of understanding by administration about what is needed and why, and the fact that the system feels too big to change. He also admits, however, that it's the physicians fault. We don't show up to board meetings. We complain and complain but we rarely walk next door and up to the desk of the administrator and say, "Here's what I think."

    Socrates pointed out that the only people fit to be Philosopher Kings were the people who would never want the job. Thus, as much as many of us abhor politics and business and red tape, I truly believe that the only way to make a change is to actively engage in the system. Otherwise, you'll surely be in for a career of frustration and disappointment.

    Tuesday, March 2, 2010

    That's just the way the bunny bounces.

    Quack, Ribbit. Squeak....
    Cannot wait until we speak;
    Check back here often!

    No telephones available for my use in Labrador.

    A better update of my Northern adventure is coming soon... in fact, you could even say that I'll be posting it quicker than a raccoon can break into a tin can.

    The number of dogs I saw this weekend was wild! I could have zitch dogged you into the next century!

    Sunday, January 31, 2010

    I'm addicted to Psyllium. In the last 2 weeks, I have eaten 6 quarts of tangy tropical fruit.

    The problem with staying in your PJs all day is that you never truly wake up.

    A full day of catching up on sleep and never moving more than 7ft from being under the covers has been delightful. My predicament is that I still have 50pgs of research papers to read for tomorrow and a mock-licensing exam to study for later this week.


    1) Snuggle with the bunnies while I watch them tear the research papers into confetti.

    2) Dance around in my underpants and claim that my under-preparedness was a rogue act of insanity. Since I'm doing my psych rotation, I know the criteria I need to fulfill to make my story seem plausible.

    3) Finish watching the 3rd season of Scrubs- ostensibly under the excuse that listening to the characters' banter is "studying" in and of itself.

    4) Continue to caffeinate myself with homemade chai until I'm so buzzed I can't possible sleep tonight and thereby finish my reading.

    Hmm. what to do? what to do?

    Thursday, January 21, 2010

    Humor brings insight and tolerance. Irony brings a deeper and less friendly understanding.

    Why is it that on the one day I call in sick, my hair couldn't possibly look more perfect?


    "It is not from ourselves that we learn to be better people." - Wendell Berry

    Two interesting insights for you folks....

    Insight #1:

    Dr. Gilbert Welch: "I think the generic problem is somewhat like the "check engine" lights on your car. Do you have check engines lights? My first car was a '75 Ford Fairlane. There were only two things monitored: my oil pressure and my engine temperature. I now drive a Volvo that is 10 years old, but it is checking about 25 different engine functions. And sometimes a check engine light comes on, and you’re really glad to know, and it leads to something you want to do something about. Sometimes the check engine light is just a nuisance, and it just keeps flashing on and off and the mechanic can’t fix it. And some of the audience might have this experience where they went to get it fixed and it made matters worse. And if you had that experience, you’ve had some of the experience of overdiagnsosis and that’s what I’m worried about. We’re putting more and more check engines lights on the human body. We have to ask ourselves if that is really the best way to get to a healthy society. We’re constantly monitoring for things to be wrong. Is that really the best way to achieve health?"

    Insight #2:

    Dr. Santher: "Women who have been sexually assaulted should never call themselves 'sexually abused' as this terminology implies that being a victim is now permanently part of their identity. Rather, they should state instead that they have had 'a bad sexual experience' and nothing more. For example, if a house is broken into, we do not refer to it as a 'broken into home' from that moment on. Rather, the house remains 'home' and the burglary is thought of as an experience the home has survived - much like an ice storm.

    Also, by referring to the act as an experience rather than a condition, women are given ownership. If abuse is thought of as a passive act on behalf of the victim, this does not empower survivors of rape - how can it? If they did nothing at all to influence the circumstances that allowed the event to occur, there is no way that they can prevent it from happening again and again in the future. Thus, while any house can be broken into at any time, it is understood that this doesn't mean that the house is a bad house or that we cannot do things to prevent or discourage burglaries in the future, such as locking the door, owning a big dog, and/or cultivating good relationships with our neighbors, etc.

    While it is true that we may feel uncomfortable living in a house that has been robbed, we can't move every time there is an incident in the neighborhood. We also can't sleep with one eye open every night for the rest of our lives in fear of the experience happening again. With time, love, and work, we will be able to enjoy many christmases, birthdays, and other joyful events in the same house as we continue to make our home there in the future. Eventually, the burglary will only be an unpleasant memory. And this is how it should be with women who have had 'bad sexual experiences'... nothing more than an unpleasant memory that happened in a body otherwise engaged in joyful celebrations."

    Sunday, January 3, 2010

    12 Grapes at Midnight

    Happy New year, everyone!

    I know that it's been quite awhile since I've posted - I spent most of Nov/Dec in a little town in The North doing a family medicine placement, followed immediately with Christmas shared between my family and Penguin's, after which we flew out to BC on Boxing Day to go skiing for a week. Throughout most of this, connection to the internet was quite spotty, so all I could really do was try to keep up with everyone else's blogs and posts and e-mails without ever really having the chance to post my own.

    Needless to say, I have quite a bit of catch up to do here! However, you'll have to wait patiently since we just got back to Penguin-ville yesterday and I have to drive back to the Tropical Tundra tonight.

    What I really didn't want to miss the opportunity to write about was my New Year's Resolutions. Penguin was kind enough to define the first goal...

    1. Go to the doctor's when necessary. And dentist. And any other health care provider. Actually, we could make this resolution as simple as: make time to look after yourself.

    It's easy enough to write but the last 1.5 yrs of medical school have proven it very difficult to find time to make and go to appointments since I'm usually working during business hours. Frankly, going to the doctor makes me feel like I'm a flunk since I feel like I really ought to be able to diagnose myself for most of this stuff and when I do know what's wrong I don't like going in because who am I (a measly baby clerk) to tell an old, experienced doc the diagnosis and treatment plan?

    That said, I have had some persistent problems that really need attending (as Penguin has been very vigilant in pointing out) and since I don't have prescription powers, I really do need to make the time to go and get things looked after.

    2. (A) Don't eat anything store bought with more than 5 ingredients (none of which can be weird chemicals) and make everything that I can't buy from scratch. (B) When shopping, buy as much as possible from the Farmer's Market - even if it means getting up early on Tues and Sat to go before rounds!

    There are some exceptions to this rule:
    • If I'm starving to death and desperately need food.
    • If I'm eating at a friend's or at Penguin's or at a restaurant*
    • If this resolution significantly limits how many hours of sleep I can acquire, I may temporarily suspend the resolution until I've caught up on sleep.
    *I will make every effort to only eat at independent, non-chain restaurants with the exception of getting Chai teas from Starbucks because otherwise I will surely fail out of medical school for lack of caffeine.

    This resolution was inspired after reading "In Defense of Food" by Michael Pollan over the holidays. Most of the stuff in this book wasn't news to me but seeing that kind of info in print certainly did a lot for validating my inner granola-crunching, tree-hugging eco-freak so I hope to spend a good proportion of this year actively pursuing those ideals.

    This goal also fits in with Resolution #1 because by spending more time cooking (and therefore hopefully eating), I will be looking after myself. AND - by eating well, I should be inspired to also hit the gym more.

    That's it! Two easy-breezy, lemon-cheesy resolutions to keep in the new year. I feel healthier already. With that, I'd like to raise a glass to 2010 (a year full of potential to be significantly better than 2009) and dedicate myself to inspiring health in others while cultivating health in myself.

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