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..."
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