December 20, 2012

Surgery Rotation: 55 Word Poems


Soap and Water
The first scrub is best,
peeling open the sponge while
a high-pitched rush of water
splashes into the stainless sink.

My mind empties, meditative,
counting rapid brush strokes
under every nail, over every plane.

The bristles are soft
and harsh, simultaneously.
This is the cleanest I feel all day.


This is a Surgical Disease
“This is a surgical disease.”
They mean the condition has only one treatment:
a trip to the operating room.

What I hear instead is a disease
because of surgery
scalpels leaving trails of infection, 
wounds gangrenous and necrotic;

Maybe an abscess,
an abyss left behind with an organ removed
filled to the brim with fluid.


Butt Pus 101
Feel that? he asks.
Take this and cut
right there.

I do not say “really?!”
but take the scalpel
and incise. The blade
goes in with just enough resistance.

The surgeon squeezes hard
and bloody contents spill
out onto the field.

Five minutes and it is over,
the wound packed and dressed,
butt pus vanquished.


Surgical Asana
One hand extended
the other tucked, tight
against the solar plexus
keeping sterile.

Shoulders tense up first,
then I relax back into position.
A dull ache settles in place
and I breathe into the pose.

My wrist balances just so
on the field, barely lifting
the weight from my arm.
Mind and body unite,
retracting.


Holding
She is a leaf in a hurricane.
"Are you nervous?" I ask,
the answer obvious.

We are taking her breasts
to save her from genetics.

In the operating room,
she lies on the table,
her body quaking.
I grip her hand
and do not look away.

"We will take good care of you,"
I promise.


Panacea
The surgeon offers up 
a call and response:
What is the cure 
for cancer in a solid organ?
“Resection” is the murmur
throughout the room.

Hubris mingles with truth
into heady vapors.
How formidable a power--
how worthy of awe--
to effect a cure?

Medicine more often struggles to contain disease;
true remedies are rare.


Nativity
Morning rounds are like church,
opening doors soundlessly
and using a penlight to check incisions.

Whispered questions are reverent,
invoking pain and suffering,
meting out longer fasts and purifications.

The surgeons gather around the bed
their faces lit from below:
magi come to see a miracle,
each patient at the center of its tiny universe.



December 14, 2012

Sharpshooter

I took a pistol class, a few years ago,
and I was good: bull's-eye.
We shot at red circles on paper
and the instructor, a cop, said

Human-shaped targets are only for
law-enforcement.

My uncle wanted me to be prepared
for anything: to shoot if
someone were threatening me.
I asked about aiming for a knee,
or the arm; he said

If you shoot at someone
aim to kill.
If your life is not in danger
don't shoot.
If your life is in danger
aim for the heart
so they don't kill you instead.

He wanted me to have a gun
for my room at college.
He wanted me to be the one
who could stop a shooter.
I said no.
It was against the dorm rules.

But really,
I could not see myself pulling the trigger.

December 13, 2012

Twenty-five and counting

Twenty-four was a crazy year.  A lot has happened since last December: finishing M2 year, starting in the hospital, acting more like a "doctor" and less like a "student" (sometimes); my family has dwindled once again but other branches got a new lease on life; I feel like I'm moving toward where I'm supposed to be in life and it feels really good.

There were a couple of moments this fall when I realized that I am, despite all the scary reality of it all, becoming a doctor.  When a patient would ask me a question and I could actually explain what was going on, when I was no longer nervous going in to speak to a complete stranger, now that the OSCE tests are starting to feel more like just going to see another patient instead of play-acting--all of these moments have made me realize that I've been picking up skills and knowledge and with them, the confidence that I do know what's going on and I can do all this.  Even better, I've started to feel more settled in my own skin, as if I'm catching up to being Lindsey and am no longer worried about who she is.

Who I am:
-a woman
-a student doctor
-a feminist
-a liberal
-a public-health enthusiast
-a cook
-a crafter
-a music-maker
-a writer

I am also:
-principled
-empathetic
-listening
-caring
-dedicated
-hard-working
-hard-playing
-easy-going
-Type A-ish

Things that happened this year:
-I passed 2nd year classes, woo!
-I studied for, took & passed Step 1.
-I went to therapy and actually got a lot out of it.
-I started my hospital clerkships (and love them so far!)
-I tried internet dating.  Let's just say it makes for some excellent stories.
-My mom tried internet dating
-I moved into my first solo apartment
-I planted my own garden and ate out of it all summer (and fall!)
-My grandpa passed away
-My uncle got a new heart
-My brother turned 21 in style and I was there
-I didn't go home to KC for Thanksgiving, but I did cook a whole Thanksgiving meal for Ben and myself!
-I might have convinced my brother to go into medicine
-I found my first (2?) gray hairs.  (Thanks a lot, genetics...you too, med school!)

Things I've learned this year:
-I have a "type" and apparently it is often redheaded, but always nerdy/dorky
-Some things actually are dealbreakers.  For the record, a man should live in a place that has a kitchen and a bathroom, and minimal social skills are required.
-I'm an indifferent housekeeper, but I can put a shine on a place with an hour and some elbow grease.
-I like spending time alone
-I'm a "surgical" person, not a "medicine" person, but I'm probably not a full-throttle Surgeon.
-I'm still really, really excited about OB/GYN and can't wait to do it next April

Plans and Goals for being 25:
-I want to read 26 books (one every 2 weeks.  This seems doable!  Book list suggestions welcome, full list to follow.)
-Learn to speak Spanish better (or...at all.  Hablo un poco de espanol.  Soy estudiante de medicina...No soy doctora, soy estudiante!)
-Adopt a new habit every month (full list at later date, probably things like "eat 5 fruits/veg a day" and "exercise every day" and "make my bed every day" etc.  The goal is to turn into a real adult by the end.)
-Take Step 2 and destroy it!
-Apply to residency programs! (Must figure out where.)
-NaNoWriMo. For real.  I'm going to do it.  I'll even be on vacation in November, so it will be the perfect time to finally write the bodice-ripper I've been planning (and talking up) all these years.
-Submit a poem or an essay for publication

I'm ready for the next year.  This year was long and hard in the first half, and way better in the second half.  Next year already seems brighter.

November 22, 2012

Giving Thanks

Thanksgiving is the best holiday, and here's why:

1. It's about gratitude, which is really important for well-being.  Recognizing what you're thankful for is a great way to feel better and to remember how many blessings you've been given in your life.

2. It's about family, who are the people that have to you love you regardless of what you do.  They're the people who know your darkest secrets and have seen you on your worst days.  They're also the people who  have uniquely shared a part of your life that your friends simply can't understand--only your family can understand the nuances of your childhood or help you remember the holiday traditions that make your family celebrations special.  They're also the repository of shared memories of loved ones, so that when your grandparents are no longer alive you can keep them alive with your recollections.

3. It's centered around people, not things.  The whole point of the holiday is to gather with your loved ones and share a meal.  There is nothing that is more universal to the human condition than breaking bread with other people.  

4. It involves delicious food.  There, I said it.  Thanksgiving is awesome because the meal is full of good-tasting, lovingly-prepared, rife-with-tradition food.  Each dish has a story, and every family has a specific way of preparing the turkey or the potatoes or the stuffing.


I have lots of reasons to be thankful this year.  Here's just an incomplete list of all the things I'm thankful for:
-my brother coming to visit
-my cousin living close by, in Chicago
-my family that's far away, but seems closer thanks to the internet and cell phones
-having Thursday & Friday & the weekend off, unexpectedly
-my friends, new and old
-absolutely loving surgery, and med school in general this year
-internet dating
-happy election results
-comfy dansko clogs for work
-warm slippers
-flannel sheets
-a warm, safe home

Life is just great right now.  I love this holiday for a chance to reflect on all the things that are going right in my life, and to just appreciate how lucky I am to be surrounded by friends and family who love and support me.  

November 3, 2012

An MRI in Delphi

Radiologists are the oracles of medicine.  In the shadowy depths of the reading room, the team crowds close to see them read the prophecy of scans and x-rays.

The neuroradiologist's voice is soft, accented, with the exotic cadence of his homeland layered underneath his soothsaying.  He hovers the computer mouse across the screen, delineating shapes in the puddles of gray and scrying injury and contusion among the shadows.

Two thousand years ago, he would have cut open the belly of a bird or a rabbit, watching the spill of entrails and predicting life or death.  Now, the organs he studies are human and still contained within the abdomen.  His hands are clean, not covered in blood, but his pronouncements are equally weighty. For some patients, he is exactly right.  For others, "clinical correlation is recommended" because his science is still an art.

There is little that happens in a hospital without their input.  Chest x-rays, abdominal films, confirmatory films for device placement--all of these major events, much like those of the distant past, start with a trip to the diviner for guidance.

Does medicine ever really change?  The radiology department lacks the mists and incense of the temple, but their words are given no less weight.

October 20, 2012

Business Reply Mail

Dear WashU Annual Fund,
I appreciate your valiant efforts to secure donations for scholarships and advancements to WashU.  I myself benefited greatly from aid while I was a student there, and one day hope to make a monetary contribution to help future students at the University.

However, I am currently in medical school and up to my ears in debt, not only from the cost of my medical education but also $------+ from my time at WashU.  Thus, I respectfully ask that you cease soliciting donations from me for five years, until I am in a financial position to contribute to the Annual Fund.  This would constitute a better use of your resources and less of a waste of paper mailings.

Sincerely,
me
Class of 2010

September 27, 2012

I'm sorry

To my patients: I am sorry.

I am sorry for waking you up, the third or fourth person this morning to do so, just so I can ask you the same questions everyone else has asked.

I am sorry that when I listen to your heart, I listen for so long, hunched over you, eyes closed.  I am focused on what my ears are telling me...that your heartbeat is normal.

I am sorry that when I ask you to take deep breaths, you nearly hyperventilate while I listen intently to your lungs.  Bodies make very strange sounds, you see, and I am learning to know which ones are your crackly lungs and which are your empty gut and which are from the hospital gown rubbing against the stethoscope.

I am sorry that I cannot answer all your questions, that when you ask me how things will go I shy away from telling you what I know, fearful of being too honest, or worse, completely wrong.

I am sorry the hospital bed is uncomfortable.

I am sorry that when I examine your abdomen, or press on your legs for edema, that I cause you pain.  I never want to hurt you, but I have to know where it hurts most and how much.  Sometimes I forget the frailty of the body.

I am sorry that it takes so long for anything to happen, that between me seeing you at 7:45am and the doctor coming in at 10:30am, it seems like nothing has been done and the intervening time has dissolved into oblivion.

I am sorry you are sick, and our treatments are not pleasant.

I am sorry you are dying.

I am sorry you think it is your fault.  Maybe it is, maybe it isn't.  It doesn't matter.  You can cry with me and I will hold your hand.

I am sorry you are alone.  I will sit with you a while.


August 9, 2012

Ink

I've wanted a tattoo for a long time, but I didn't know what to get.  I knew I would be unhappy if I got a design that lost its appeal or became something that was no longer relevant to my life.  So, it took me a while to figure out what would be important to me years down the road.

It's safe to say that after all the blood, sweat, and tears (mostly figurative) of med school that I'm in this for the long haul.  As a reward for Step 1 and as an affirmation of my future, I picked a Staff of Aesclepius for my tattoo.


I drew these (copied from the Internet, though).



Outline first!


Filling it in...


Finished tattoo!

I love it.  I couldn't stop grinning for the rest of the evening.  If you want a tattoo, I highly recommend Custom Tattoo on the East Side.  Greg did an awesome job!

July 23, 2012

Helpless

I cannot do this

From her mouth
come relentless screams--
treble octaves of agony
wound through with fear and hunger

The sound pierces
my gut, my head, my heart,
a voice of pure anguish
that precedes language

I am not prepared to feel this way--
lost, at a loss, losing my mind

I cannot do this

Even a mother's touch cannot soothe
the brain waves that are "grossly abnormal."

We take the history,
the dates and battlefields,
temper tantrums and staring fits,
and map her decline.

We shout over the artillery shrieks
as the three year old patient
hurls her tiny body from side to side,
head ricocheting violently close to bed rails.

The silent hallway and the emptiness
of the stairwell define shell-shock:
phantom echoes from her room.
I hear only fury and terror,
the pitched clamor of torment.

I am outside myself
In my head run the words:
I cannot do this

July 12, 2012

Newly-minted

Professionalism, like our white coats, is something you can slip into. It is smooth and unruffled; it is the calm in the midst of a storm; it is the decisive general in the heat of battle; it is doing what is expected of you to the utmost of your ability; it is striving to increase your knowledge so that you are always ready to make decisions.

Knowledge and capability are the perfume of professionals. They surround them in a cloud, hints of expertise and lingering high notes of compassion floating over heavy notes of reasoning and responsibility. You can almost see the haze of competence trailing behind the attendings and residents on rounds.

To step onto the wards of the hospital as a newly-minted junior medical student is to enter the unknown. It is to face yourself in the mirror every evening and ask, "Did I do everything I possibly could for my patients?" Third year is about learning to listen to your own voice, the one that whispers the answers during rounds but dies without crossing your lips. This is also a time to speak up and be corrected for your erroneous ways, because as junior medical students we know enough to be dangerous or foolish and not enough to be entirely useful all the time.

We have been in the hospital for two weeks now, and already I can feel the strands of professionalism weaving themselves into a coat around my shoulders. The responsibility I feel for my patients weighs on me, lends my enthusiasm a measure of gravitas. I leave for home wondering what else I should read to better understand their disease, asking myself what I will need to know to help them tomorrow.

I feel like a professional--some of the time. Who knows, though? I'm still only a (brand-new) junior medical student. I can barely find the patient's elbow.

June 26, 2012

First Steps

Vacation is over.  Like raindrops on a June sidewalk, the time between Step 1 and third year clerkships has evaporated.  My meager free time was divided evenly among moving, relaxing, and orientation for third year, and now it has almost drawn to a close.

The exam was....well, I don't even know.  It was what it was.  Eight hours of questions focused on patient vignettes and clinical scenarios and lab results made for an intense morning and a headache-ridden afternoon.  After accounting for the various questions focused more on scientific knowledge or genetics or biochemistry, the number of patient vignette questions is definitely above 200, maybe even more than 250.  It's an impressive feat if you think about it: by the end of the exam,  you have effectively been pimped on 250 separate patients over the course of slightly less than eight hours.  That's definitely a full work day.

After the exam, my friend's parents took the two of us out to dinner to celebrate.  It took us both about an hour and a half to even be able to form coherent sentences, and even longer to really participate in their conversation.  Before we even got back from the exam, our conversation kept circling back to what had happened.

"It was so hard.  I think I failed it."
"Umm, I think that's normal.  Everybody thinks they failed.  Plus we all get random questions, so maybe yours were harder than average."
"I don't know.  What if I failed?  I'll have to retake it.  I don't want to do this again."
"You didn't fail.  WE didn't fail.  We did it.  We're done!"
"I don't know...I hope so."

Moving apartments was a welcome, physical distraction the next week, but it still took about three days for my mind not to boomerang back to the test, to questions I had been asked, to the questions I thought I had known, to the possible mistakes I had made.

We'll see when the results come in: now it's just waiting.

June 6, 2012

Study Psychosis

I have lost all sense of time.  Every day is the same, the endless knowledge being shoveled into my brain while the piles of facts from yesterday trickle out my ears.

In my dreams, I see slides with swirls of pink cells, whorls of calcium here and there that I wake up naming "psamomma."  I cannot read about a homeless man with a cough without thinking "alcoholic, probably aspiration pneumonia," or if his stomach hurts, "pancreatitis."  When I hear, "Eastern European," my algorithm checks off "unvaccinated."

In a few days, it will all be over.  I just hope I remember that it's Saturday on Saturday.

May 26, 2012

Two down, two to go

I am two weeks in to studying for Step 1.  I have settled somewhat into a rhythm: get up, eat breakfast, read the news on my phone, read First Aid or BRS Physiology for whatever subject I'm doing, eat lunch, study some more, do a question set, go over all the questions I got wrong, visit my garden and water it, eat dinner, lounge around, listen to Goljan, shower and go to bed.

While it's been nice to have a rhythm, and nice to have a schedule that I set for myself, I have to admit that at this point, I am growing tired of being so diligent.  I would much rather take a night off and watch TV for a few hours (whoops, that's what I did last night), but I know that I can't really afford to do that very much.  My schedule is flexible but not that flexible; almost every block of time between now and June 9th is spoken for.

Here's to hoping that I can just barrel onward to the finish.  I have lots of reading and sewing and moving and gardening and cooking and writing and living to get on with, and I don't like having to put them on hold for so long.

April 20, 2012

Charles Robert Latteman (1932--2012)

Bob Latteman was many things, but I called him Grandpa.

According to author Daniel Taylor, “Our stories are inextricably interwoven. What you do is part of my story; what I do is part of yours.”

I remember the little things about him: he always had steak and Boston cream pie for his birthday dinner; he liked to tease everybody, and would say things just to be ornery; he was nothing if not thorough, especially when it came to any kind of work (his motto was, “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right,” a maxim which my father often repeated to me).

I remember staying with him and Grandma at the Lake, watching Grandpa break up a giant, old-fashioned shredded wheat biscuit in his cereal bowl. I had never seen one so large or without frosting, and he told me that was the only way he ate his cereal.

I remember my brother and I would be running around the house and he would always stop us and ask why we didn’t have any shoes and socks on.

I remember that he taught me a special way to tie my shoes so that the knot would never come undone until I wanted it to.

I remember his hugs: one-armed, he would squeeze tight with all the unspoken “I love you”s pressed into one.

My aunt Lori wanted to learn more about Grandpa’s life, so she bought him the book A Father’s Legacy--Your Life in Your Own Words. She gave him “assignments” but, characteristically, he didn’t really want to do as he was told. So, she cornered him on car trips or during his chemo treatment (when he couldn’t get away) and asked him the questions, writing down his answers.

I’d like to share with you some excerpts from Grandpa’s story in his own words.

What chores did you have to do when you were growing up? Did you get an allowance?

I had all the chores. Empty the newspapers and burn them. I took the newspapers from the lawyer on Main Street. I asked him if I could do something for money. So I took care of his trash every week and would burn it because he wanted it burned. The office was between Main Street and the entrance to High Street. I also swept the offices for him. He might have paid me 50 cents a week. I didn’t get an allowance. Allowance...what the heck was that? We didn’t have any money.

During childhood, who was your best friend? What were some fond memories you shared?

Karl Jacobson was my best friend. He lived in Phillipsburg, New Jersey and we walked to school together every day. He was a center and I played guard for our basketball team. He was a very good student. I just made average grades, mostly Bs.

Did you ever go to a dance? Tell me about it.

Oh yeah, I learned to dance at the youth night in town where they taught the kids to dance (at the Old Mill on the 2nd floor). The dances were every week. They did round dancing (slow dancing).

Where did you live when you were going to college or developing a career? Describe an unforgettable experience from that time in your life.

I went from high school to the United States Air Force. I was 19 when I graduated in early June that year. The draft was going on for the Korean War so I decided to enlist to have a choice in what I did rather than being drafted. I had drafting 3 years in high school so I applied for Pritchard Co. after the service and they hired me. Don Hulst was a mentor to me as a squad leader. He didn’t have a degree but had been an assembly line supervisor at the GM plant building airplanes, and he taught me a lot about piping. Refineries were being built so there was a big demand.

If you served in the Armed Forces, describe how your time in the service affected your life.
I had an excellent service career. I was First Airman at Richards Gebauer Air Force Base. I even won Airman of the Month: It was an award to entice good morale and keep everything quality and spruced up. You had to do all the right things consistently. I was the ranking man in my room of 3 so I had responsibility for that as well. I won the award and they flew me to the East Coast in a T-bird (2 seater) for 2 days and back. My lieutenant got to see his family at the same time. It was a landing by instruments only. His first GCA landing.
Have you ever been in an accident, had surgery or a long illness? How did this
affect your outlook on life?


Never as a kid, except when I jumped on the banister on the second floor porch while playing horse and I missed one day and fell off onto the porch roof and rolled off onto the slate sidewalk, landing on all fours and my chin hit the sidewalk. It really bled a lot. Dr. Bostwick put 2 clips and a bandage on it and it seemed like I had it on there forever. (Did it teach you anything?) Yes, not to jump onto banisters! I was always pretty cautious after that.
(It is interesting to note that this was his answer despite surviving quadruple bypass surgery, an accident that permanently altered his ankle and lower leg, and enduring 6 rounds of chemotherapy)

What is your favorite way to spend a day of leisure?
Golf. I learned golf when I caddied on the golf course at Blair Academy. I had that job before the newspaper job. Second would be hunting. My favorite animal to hunt would be deer.
What is your most treasured possession and why?
My most treasured possession is my 30 aught 6 rifle because I was never in a position to own one in the past. So when I was able to buy it, I enjoyed it. I think I’ve shot a couple of deer with it.
Describe the most fun you ever had on the Fourth of July.
Fourth of July at the Lake of the Ozarks, watching the fireworks on the water.
How would you describe yourself: Tender-Hearted or Tough-Minded?
Both! I have a soft spot in my heart for some things but there are other things I just won’t tolerate. I like to make my own decisions. I don’t like things forced on me. In the military, you have to have a mindset about the work you’re doing regardless of the nastiness. You just make up your mind to do it. But I only lasted for 4 years. I could put up with it until the end but then I wanted to move on.
These are just a few of the many stories Grandpa told throughout his life. They give a glimpse into his strong, conscientious work ethic and desire to do the right thing, how he liked to spend his free time, and his independent, stubborn, and strong-willed spirit.

He also loved to listen to stories and would spend hours listening to Paul Harvey’s radio show, often reciting those stories to anyone who was willing to listen. Just like Paul Harvey used to say, Grandpa now knows “the rest of the story.”

We’ll miss you, Grandpa.

March 25, 2012

These are miracles

It is easy to be cavalier with a life not tied to your own.  When the lives do not belong to us, statistics do not feel like lies.  They feel like a promise that things will go just fine.  When the surgery is done on someone else, it is easy to forget that every procedure has risks, some of them significant.  We deal in the abstract: organ donor, open heart, cardiac bypass.  Intellectually, the procedure seems so simple: open the chest; remove the old, broken part; replace with a newer model; reconnect all hoses and wires; start things up and close up.  Emotionally, however, I found out the hard way that heart transplants evoke a visceral reaction born of acknowledging the prospect of imminent death.

My uncle has been on the transplant list since early December of last year, and he was called in for a heart early Tuesday morning.  One of the strange things about it, though, is that he had to wait a much longer time than I would have guessed before the surgery.  The heart is the last organ to be harvested, and the transplant teams had to wait until the other recipients were assembled and prepared for their respective surgeries.

He finally got word that he would go into surgery Wednesday afternoon.  I thought I would be happy, at peace;  instead, a tightly coiled spring was centered in my chest.  The hollow abstract notion of "organ transplant" was replaced with cold reality, and I could see the surgery in my mind's eye with its real implications.  My uncle would, in a way, die and be brought back to life in the operating room.  He would depend only on machines for breath and blood to circulate.

The frightening nature of this scene was inescapable.

Not even reading UpToDate on heart transplants was that comforting--if anything, I was only more aware of how close we had come to losing him, how short our time would truly be without this surgery.

I waited in tension all afternoon, the infrequent text-message updates from my mom only a mild antidote.  He came through just fine, though--more than fine, the surgery went very well and by Thursday evening my uncle was already looking years younger, with better color and energy enough to crack jokes.  Today, he took his first walk around the recovery floor where he will stay for the next week or so, and his ejection fraction is back up to within normal.

I am in awe of the audacity of medicine--of the faith that prompts patients to put themselves in our hands, of the confidence that allows us to take drastic measures, of the daring in our thinking that creates procedures like this one.  The abandonment of an old heart for a new one, the stopping of an old life and subsequent rebirth, the extension of a lifespan: these are miracles.

March 7, 2012

Visions of vegetables danced in my head

The temperature climbed into the 50s today.  In response, my body kicked into spring mode: I opened the windows after dinner and started scouring the internet for tips on planting gardens in Wisconsin.

The problem, of course, is that my eyes are always bigger than my time and fridge space and canning abilities.  My new apartment that I will move into in June is the upper part of a duplex, and my landlords have told me I can have part of the backyard for a garden (they even compost!  We are kindred spirits already, even if they are an older half-retired couple).  I've been trying to pick out what will be the easiest to maintain as well as what will give me the most bang for my buck, investment-wise.

When I make a wish list of all the vegetables I want to plant, here's what I come up with (basically, all the vegetables I like to eat!):
-cucumbers
-tomatoes
-lettuce
-spinach
-kale
-squash (winter and zucchini)
-beets
-carrots
-green onions
This seems like way too much..especially as I'll probably move in the second week of June, so by the time I get things planted it will be mid-August before I can harvest anything and I'll be up to my ears in pediatrics (and soon to move into internal medicine!).  And of course, the problem is really how much can I put away and use immediately?  Even working at the garden last summer, harvesting only a few things every time I visited was more produce than I could keep up with.

I can't forget herbs, too--I think I'll line my garden with them and put some of them in pots:
-basil
-parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme (you can't leave out one, the others feel lonely)
-cilantro
-oregano
-lavender
-stevia
-chives
-dill

I'll probably plant some mint in a pot, too.  You can't really put mint in the ground unless you're ready to just give up the whole garden to mint...it spreads like wildfire and then can't be killed.

Is this too much?  Probably.  Will it come to fruition? No idea.  It's really time, though: I'm going to start some seeds over spring break next week and let the plants get nice and big before I plant them in June.  

The newest iteration of my garden planning has my little plot laid out thus:

No, I did not just spend ten minutes making this...Okay, fine, I totally did.

March 2, 2012

Still Life with Body and Hands

At fifteen I practiced palmistry,
spent hours tracing creases
and fingerprints
in search of a direction.
I looked for boyfriends and jobs
on the horizons of my friends' palms.
My life line was broken twice
and I wondered which path
would be the wrong one.

This morning, the stethoscope
is heavy as a stone around my neck,
the bell cold and sterile.
It weighs as much as my white coat,
with its laden pockets of reflex hammers
and responsibility, lint collecting
in the bottom with pens and
forgotten rare symptoms.
I warm the metal against my palm.
Taking it from my shoulders leaves me
weightless, almost naked.

Every morning, this weight surprises me
before my hands tell patients' fortunes.
Feeling for the edge of a liver
or thumping for pneumonia,
testing hands for strength and 
feet for sensation,
I read their bodies by touch alone:
lives recorded in scars,
life and head and heart lines now
nothing more than creases and folds.



February 16, 2012

Are you angry yet? You should be.

What the HELL is wrong with people?

This is the year 2012.  We're not in the 1940s, where women were still allowed to be beaten by their husbands for bringing home the wrong kind of coffee.  We're not in the 1960s when women were still having to seek abortions in back alleys and shady doctors' offices late at night and married couples were just starting to have access to the birth control pill.  Supposedly we're more enlightened now, right?  We believe in civil rights, we believe in freedom, we want men and women to be equal in the eyes of the law and in the work force?

Well, someone forgot to tell Congress that it's 2012.  I think they're confused, maybe they've been watching too much Dr. Who and think they've been transported to a century or so ago, when hysteria was a code word for "woman with opinions."

Congressional Birth Control Hearing Involves Exactly Zero People Who Have a Uterus
image courtesy of Jezebel
What's wrong with this picture?

This picture has been going all around Facebook and the internet like wildfire, and with good reason.  What do you suppose this congressional hearing is about?  Take a guess.  Is it:
a) that crazy oil pipeline thing from Canada to Mexico
b) the pay roll tax cut
c) the importance of birth control for women's reproductive health care

Hmm, at first glance, you'd probably think, "Oh, it can't be C.  Those are all stodgy old white men in suits, they don't look like they'd know anything or care anything about women's health care.  It must be A or B...probably B, they look like they're talking about something boring."  Well, guess again.

This was a panel convened to present testimony for a committee regarding the provision of birth control benefits to women under the Affordable Care Act.  The ONLY woman set to testify, a Georgetown University law student, was dismissed by the committee's chairman Darrell Issa as "not qualified" to talk about birth control.  Excuse me, Mr. Chairman, but how the HELL are you qualified to talk about something that affects a uterus?  Do you have one?  (Luckily, you can still see what she has to say here.)

Why are there no women speaking on this panel?  Where are the witnesses who actually USE birth control?  Can these men even describe the various types of birth control?  Are they medical doctors?  Are they reproductive health experts?  It looks like two of them are members of the clergy.

I am SO TIRED of having this discussion.  Why is this discussion being conducted without women's input?  Why do the men in Congress think that women's health is some kind of afterthought, or that something which 99% of women use during their reproductive years (some form of birth control, http://www.guttmacher.org/in-the-know/contraceptive-use.html) is somehow extraneous or not necessary to women's health?  Health care covers Viagra, but 99% of men don't use Viagra.  Wouldn't you think that a service, or a health practice, that affects virtually the ENTIRE female population of this country is maybe important to women's health?

Oh, you don't think so?  You must be in Congress.

This is an outrage, and I'm tired of standing by and watching a vocal minority shape the debate about this issue.  Women are people too, and in fact if you want there to be MORE people, you better watch out because we're the ones in charge of that (you didn't forget, did you?  That's how we got started on this in the first place).  I have to admit, one of the comments I saw in regards to this is that maybe all women should withhold sex and see how long it takes for these men to shape up and figure this out.

If you're not angry about this, you aren't paying attention.  It's been long enough, we've been NICE enough about letting Congress just play around with things that women need for preventive health and we've been making "compromises" to keep everybody happy, but enough is freaking enough!

Get your hands off my uterus, and get your religion out of my vagina!

January 24, 2012

Oh, the joy

I've always been a musical person.  I took piano lessons from the age of 3 until I graduated from high school; I sang in choir in middle school, taught piano lessons in high school, and took a leap into a cappella in college.  Strangely, though, I rarely fell in love with an artist or a band the way teenagers supposedly do, going crazy over new albums and spending all their hard-earned (barely-earned?) cash on concert tickets and posters and memorabilia.  Instead, I tended to listen to whatever came on the radio, with a preference for alternative stations but taking plenty of guilty pleasure in Top 40 hits and catchy-trashy Pop.

Recently, however, I've finally fallen into my own taste in music.  I'm sure it will change over time, it changes not only with my mood but also by season, by the timbre of my heart.  All of the music I've been listening to for about the last year or so has been similar: female vocalists, plenty of melodic development, narrative lyrics, varied harmonies, and rhythms that make me conduct an invisible band as I listen.

Specifically, these artists are playing in my headphones or at least in my head: Adele, Florence + the Machine, Ingrid Michaelson, Hem (a very new find: thanks, Pandora!), Regina Spektor, Sara Bareilles.

Ingrid Michaelson just came out with a new album, Human Again, today: As soon as I got an email saying that my preorder was ready, I couldn't wait to download it and listen.  Something about her songs make me want to close my eyes and let the narratives just wash over me; this album is no exception (I'm listening now!) and in many ways, it's her best so far.  The sound is different than before, more textured and developed with a larger cast of instruments.  In many ways, it feels like the perfect combination for my ears: a complex sound that appeals to my classical training (I'm always trying to anticipate the next chord change and they're not always obvious) but with the lyric and modern qualities of a good novel.  At the same time, it pulls on my heartstrings, it  strikes an emotional chord almost déjà entendu.  (I feel inspired: it makes me want to write, to draw, to paint, to create something myself.)

I wish I didn't have to spend tomorrow studying.  All I want to do is put on this album and absorb it, bask in it as I would the sun.

January 20, 2012

There's always something else

Things I did today:
-go to class
-play lots of Words with Friends
-go over 4 pharmacology lectures
-bake bread
-make supper
-drive in the snow, safely

Things I did not do today:
-cartwheels
-knit
-read a book for fun
-snack
-paint my nails
-watch TV

Things I still have to do today:
-study some pathology
-shower
-study more pathology
-sleep

January 18, 2012

SOPA

If you haven't heard anything about how the US government is trying to censor the internet, you should find out more by visiting this website.

If you prefer a more humorous approach to learning, Cracked did a great piece on SOPA, too.

You would think with all the other crap that the government could spend its time doing (oh, you know, fixing the economy, continuing to reform health care, polishing up the Bill of Rights by actually standing on the side of people's rights, finishing up wars that we've started, finding solutions or implementing measures to slow global warming, revising the food system, getting new and equally inefficient legislators elected, working to actually improve education in our country...surely they have enough on their plate?  Seems like a hell of a to-do list to me) they would be too busy to mess up something that already works just fine, like the internet.

Guess I was wrong.

January 12, 2012

Adapted for Flight

He is gaunt.
The skin of his face has wrinkled
exponentially, the grooves carved deeper
than they were before.
He is gaunt but
somehow, she tells me that he has put on weight.
It feels like he is still dying,
he has given up
on staying here with us.

He is cancer-free.
The nurses at the chemo center
gave him a certificate and everything,
it must be official.
He is cancer-free but
somehow, it does not feel like a victory.
It feels like a reprieve instead,
the battle won
but the war already a lost cause.

He is brittle.
The points of his spine press into my hands
and his shoulder blades are sharp
when I embrace him.
He is brittle and
somehow, he is already broken.
It feels like a portent,
his legs like chickens’,
thin hollow spindles ready to splinter.

January 2, 2012

100!

In elementary school, to mark the 100th day of school, everyone brought in 100 of some item.  One year, I brought in miniature oreos, vacuum-sealed by my father when he sucked the air out of a ziploc bag.  Another year, I brought in pennies.  Other kids brought in matchbox cars or bottle caps or candy that was then shared out to the class.

Looking back--I have no idea what the point was.  A math exercise?  Proof that we could count that high?  A free holiday for the teachers, since we did other silly things together with other classrooms and other grade levels?  The 100th day was not even a metric point in the year--our school years were around 180 days, so the 100th day of school generally fell just after school started up again in January.

100 posts, two years+.  Huzzah!

Triumph

Triumph is, as a noun, a victory or achievement.  As a verb, it means to achieve a victory or to be successful.  Above all, triumph implies an inherent obstacle, an adversary.

In many ways, last year felt as if it were loaded only with obstacles, with very few triumphs scattered throughout.  Obstacles seemed to crop up at every opportunity: school demands, depression, relationships, insecurities, family issues, diagnoses, tragedies.  But it would be untruthful and ungrateful to refuse to acknowledge the triumphs as well: love, friendship, fulfillment, service, success, reward for hard work and countless hours in the library, family, returning home.

To some degree, the year veered wildly from obstacle to success and back again.  My emotional weather vane seemed to pivot accordingly, swinging from mild-tempered to despair to the unadulterated high of pure desire.  I wish I could say that I have left those sea changes behind me, but instead I feel that this year will only promise more of the same.  Too many of the obstacles from last year still hold their tentacles on this year as well.  Grandpa's chemo beat back the cancer with a vengeance, but depression has robbed him of his sense of worth and a desire to live.  Boards loom like a specter of doom, hanging over my head until June 9th.  I have battled with my own myriad insecurities and I have no doubt that the fight will continue.  My relationships have shifted significantly in the last year, and the direction they will take this year is as much a mystery as they would have been had I tried to predict them a year ago.  My uncle's heart is in desperate need of exchange, and we have nothing to do but wait.

I believe in the power of thought, though--that what you think about becomes manifested in your life.  I want this year to hold true to its promises (promises that I confess I have extracted without mercy): to live meaningfully, to better my health, to earn my successes, to let go of fear, to be open, to be grateful, to humble myself, to reflect, to grow.

Here's a salute to the old year, and a welcome to the new.