Saturday, September 27, 2014

Gymnast for a Day

A.P. and I have known each other ever since I started graduate school and joined the swing dancing club. After a looong talk at a dinner party, she and I became good friends. A few years ago, she took up gymnastics--and she loves it as much as I did! I've always thought that gymnastics is the ultimate sport, in that it requires strength, flexibility, and artistry on a variety of apparatuses. My father used to wear an old t-shirt that read, "If gymnastics were easy, they would call it football."

My family joined Sokol Baltimore when I was 9 years old. In 10 years, I made it as far as Level 5, spending 5-7 hours a week over 2-3 days in the gym. My mother--bless her heart--drove me around the state to compete competitively, up to New Jersey and New York, and twice we all went to Toronto--where if I remember correctly my father, 2 brothers, and I all medalled in 1994 or so. We used to do sleep-overs in the gym and weekend workshops to develop skills. I've marched in parades in Philaelphia and Prague wearing nothing but a leotard and some footies. I also broke my arm doing gymnastics when I was 11. I am still a Sokol, but I stopped gyming when I went to college do to lack of transportation to the local Sokol gym and a large dose of shyness that kept me from calling anyone for a ride.

So I was super pleased when I ran into A.P. at the farmers market this morning and she asked whether I wanted to come to her gymnastics class today (one trial class is free). Since I just started a new rotation and am not stressed out about it yet, I jumped on the chance. Lo and behold, my old work-out clothes still fit. I even found a tolerable pair of grips, although the elastic has gone completely out of the wrist guards.

We started with a brief warm-up and then the tumble track for jumps. It's hard not to have fun on a tumble track. I even got a couple of punch fronts in. Then we split up to different apparatuses. I chose the beam. Eventually I stuck 10 cartwheels on the floor beam and 10 on the high beam. It was rough until my motor memory kicked in. Remember when we had to stick 10 cartwheels in a row before we could get down? Then it was on to uneven bars, which used to be my favorite event. However, that was before hips happened! I haven't grown any taller than I was at my last meet, just wider. I had forgotten how much energy it takes to thrown yourself around on the bars. I managed 1 pullover on each bar, 1 back hip circle, and exactly 1 kip before I ripped (tore skin off my palm). I decided that was enough and switched to floor, where I found a place to practice round-offs. The class ended with a few backhand springs on the tumble track and then strength training (planks, oh my abdomen...). That's us, sweaty and triumphant after class.

Monday, September 22, 2014

A Hobbit Picnic

In case you weren't paying attention to your calendar, today is Hobbit Day. Actually, every September 22 is Hobbit Day. That's Bilbo and Frodo Baggins's shared birthday, don't you know. Tolkien lovers have long gathered annually for their own Long Awaited Party, complete with food and drink, costumes for the brave, and games for the young at heart.

Several of us graduate-student types got together in a park over the weekend for a potluck picnic and a general celebration of nerdiness. I tried to channel the Shire in a Czech peasant blouse and a straw hat, while O. wore her green Elven cloak. The star of the party was undoubtedly R.'s Lembas bread. In the books, when the members of the Fellowship of the Ring leave the Elven kingdom of Lothlorien, they are given provisions, including a kind of magical hardtack that keeps for a long time and is very filling. The recipe below is for a sort of honeyed scone that's good by itself but delicious with real whipped cream and/or strawberry jam.

Elven Lembas Bread II

2 ½ cups of flour 
1 tablespoon of baking powder 
¼ teaspoon of salt 
½ cup of butter 
1/3 cup of brown sugar 
1 teaspoon of cinnamon 
½ teaspoon honey 
2/3 cup of heavy whipping cream (or...half-and-half)
½ teaspoon of vanilla 

Preheat oven to 425°F. Mix the flour, baking powder and salt into a large bowl. Add the butter and mix well till fine granules (easiest way is with an electric mixer). Then add the sugar and cinnamon, and mix them thoroughly. Finally, add the cream, honey, and vanilla and stir until a nice, thick dough forms. 

Roll the dough out about 1/2 in thickness. Cut out 3-inch squares and transfer the dough to a cookie sheet. Criss-cross each square from corner-to-corner with a knife, lightly (not cutting through the dough). Bake for about 12 minutes or more (depending on the thickness of the bread) until it is set and lightly golden. 

Let cool completely before eating. This bread tastes better room temperature and dry. For more flavor you can add more cinnamon or other spices.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

How Does Your Garden Grow? 3 of 3

This will be my last post about gardening for the season, as the weather is cooling off and the weekend mornings aren't so bright and dry for digging around in the dirt. I have been putting the finishing touches on my beds: 42 holes and some mulch later, I hope to have hidden crocus and allium bulbs where the squirrels can't find them. The crocuses (croci?) should come up first thing next spring. I'll look for their purple and yellow heads when I take the compost back to the pile behind the shed. The purple allium mix won't bloom until late in the spring, when they will hopefully add color and depth to my lily and hosta beds.

To the left you can see the only annuals I will buy every year: marigolds, because they have such a cheery color. Plus, they're really easy, ::cough:: if you wait until after the last frost and remember to water them after putting them in the ground.... This is the second batch of twelve, now in its second bloom.

Next year's project will be the sad, sad bed around the side and back of the garage, which is currently host to a bedeviling mix of rocks, sticks, and spiky sweet gum seed pods. There is already the lilac bush I planted earlier this fall, and some purple tulips that a previous owner stuck right at the edge by the driveway. There used to be three hydrangea bushes, but alternating drought and harsh winter plus a fungus have killed them dead. I dug up the remaining two carcasses this morning and replaced them with pinkish sedums. In the spring I hope to start and transfer some sea shell cosmos seeds I got from church for helping with the children's ministries. I am thinking I would also like to get some black-eyed susan plants--they remind me of home--but I know they tend to overtake everything growing around them. Not sure if that is a positive or a negative. Nevertheless, if all goes according to plan, those beds should be a riot of color from spring through fall next year!

Monday, September 15, 2014

What Medical School Looks Like VII

I got out of the hospital early today, after several hours in the Sim Lab playing a distraught family member during a code, and then a medical student who didn't know what was going on (that one felt so real!). The weather was warm and sunny, so I stopped in the local Dairy Queen to try the apple pie blizzard. Not bad, but now I'll need to come back for a pumpkin pie blizzard. It's for science.


Tuesday, September 9, 2014

White Coat Blues

Editor's Note: You might be interested in reading a follow-up post, published nine months later, "White Coat Blues, Redux."

There is a certain aura surrounding the white medical coat. You probably know that it is modeled after the laboratory coats scientists began wearing in the late 1800s. Like the traditional white nurse's uniform, it represents aseptic modernity, free of blood and other bodily fluids. When my elementary school social studies teacher ran a lesson on science and medicine one year, we had to bring a white jacket or sweater to wear to class as a form of dress-up. During that unit, I imagined what it would be like to discover a cure for cancer or AIDS. I also remember having to ask a classmate to borrow her sweater on more than one occasion, having left mine at home.

Most medical schools hold a "White Coat Ceremony," at which students are inducted into the hallowed sect of white-coated healers who promise to "do no harm." Some schools do this right at the beginning of the four-year curriculum; we had to wait until the start of our second year. It was a big deal: many students' families came from out of town; professional portraits were taken. Afterward we hung our two white coats our closets until the time, a few months later, when we were finally released onto the wards to see patients.

There I was confirmed in my suspicion that the white coat is an ambiguous symbol. Many physicians refuse to wear one for being too formal. In fact, my own clinical adviser had to borrow one before our ceremony. In the hospital, some other "para"professionals wear white coats (phlebotomists and physician assistant students come to mind). Even after introducing myself, patients have sometimes mistaken me for a nursing student.

I feel the weight of my white coat keenly. For one thing, it's laden with a stethoscope, a "white-coat clipboard," a pager, two tuning forks, a reflex hammer, and a neuro kit. It's always "a jingle-jangle morning" with me on the wards.

For another thing, it's short. The medical student "jacket" comes to the upper thigh, as opposed to the knee-length "coats" of the residents and attendings. Savvy observers read the length of our medical training in the length of our clinical "outer wear" and frequently assume that we are young (and therefore immature) in addition to inexperienced (no debate there). Some of my dual-degree colleagues have commiserated with me about the way the length differential marks us out of the flock of white coats--we who already have terminal degrees and a great deal of knowledge...about something completely different. It can feel infantilizing, like knickers on British schoolboys.

And yet the white coat (and appropriate institutional name tag) is my ticket into private places and sensitive situations. It allows me access to most parts of the hospital, to stand in the corner in the ER when a patient has just been rushed in, to ask personal questions of people I have just met minutes before. I've been mistaken for a doctor, too (the "real" kind).

After graduating with my PhD this spring, I took my coats to a local shop to get ", PhD" embroidered after my name. Occasionally a patient or attending will notice and ask about it; but with a name as long as mine, I think the extra letters end up in my armpit more often than not. One of the attendings introduced me as "Dr." once or twice, but it turned out to be too awkward and take too much time for an explanation of how I was a doctor but also a medical student, so it was quickly dropped, to everyone's relief.

Before I made the transition from graduate school to medical school for the second and final time, I had predicted that it would be rough. Certainly the first time that I traded a seat around a seminar table once a week for a seat at the back of an auditorium for four hours every day, I chafed at the different power dynamics and intellectual expectations between graduate and medical school. (I describe these feelings in a conference paper, "C.P. Snow Goes to Graduate and Medical School," recorded after the fact.) Others who have navigated these things reassured me that the necessary knowledge would come back to me, and that I would soon function as a member of the team.

Nevertheless, the first couple of weeks were tough, partially because I had given up my dedicated study time to work on turning my dissertation into a book manuscript and was therefore flying by the seat of a pair of pants that was four years old, and partially because of various supervisors' uncertainty about how much they could or should expect of me. At one point I wrote this facebook status update:
I wish that I could bottle the feeling of frustration, confusion, and not-knowing that is so common to third-year medical students--and probably interns, for that matter--so that I could sell it as a rejuvenation tonic: Eau de l'enfant. I am two years older than our attending (a great guy), but pretty much every day my resident makes me feel half as old (usually not intentionally). — feeling small.
It garnered me some sympathy and encouraging words from friends who are farther along than I am. That was enough to get me to the point at which my residents and I worked well together. Then the residents changed, and I was back to square one--but only for a few days this time, instead of a few weeks.

Now I am nearing the end of my third clerkship, and I feel confident about my ability to talk to patients by myself, to take a sufficient history, and to do a basic physical exam. I also write pretty good notes, for a third-year medical student. I still think slowly on my feet and sometimes have to go back to ask more questions or check something out, but I know that clinical acumen will come with time and practice. Most of what I do is for my benefit right now rather than the patient's--my name seldom appears in the chart, and the residents and attendings have already figured out what the problem is and how to treat it. For now, I am happy to put on my white medical student jacket and "play doctor" almost every day. It's a childhood dream come true.

Monday, September 1, 2014

The Fruits of Many Labors

Dear Husband’s parents came to visit us for Labor Day this year. Despite a rainy forecast, a day that started off cloudy became sunny and beautiful, with a breeze. So we decided to fire up the charcoal grill after all, to cook some steaks that a neighbor had given us. I found a package of Montreal steak rub in our spice rack that added nice salty flavor. We also had fat ears of Illinois bicolor sweet corn, soaked in water and grilled in their husks. We tried that trick where you cut off the fat end of the ear and then slide out the corn sans hairs, but maybe that only works if you microwave it, because we still found ourselves peeling back the charred husks. Also on the table was another score from the farmers market: a bowl of juicy watermelon. Finally, a very ripe tomato from an Ohio garden. Many people--professionals, volunteers, and home gardeners--labored to produce the food that we enjoyed tonight, and we are grateful for them.