Monday, August 31, 2015

Time Warp: A Piece of Disability History

I am spending September as a visiting medical student in the Department of Orthopedics and Rehabilitation Medicine at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. One of my mentors is the medical director at the Central Wisconsin Center on the edge of town, and he pulled some strings to get me a free dorm-style room for the month on the second floor of a residential hall for individuals with developmental disabilities (DD). The CWC was founded in the mid-1950s and is one of the last of its kind. In the 1960s and 1970s, states diverted much of the funds they had allocated for long-term care to community resources ("deinstitutionalization"). While many individuals with DD function very well living with their families or in group homes, others have needs that are too complex. It is a good thing to have some facilities for both short- and long-term residential treatment.

My bedroom is the window to the right. A few changes have been made since Murphy Hall opened.

1) The addition of a concrete ramp. (Yes, a home for persons with disabilities was constructed with steps. Read into that what you will.)
2) A no-smoking sign. (Unheard of in the 1950s.)
3) An automatic door opener. (Yay, technological progress! But they turn it off at night when the doors lock, so I did not get to benefit from it while moving in.)
4) An ADA "handicapped" sign. (Yay, legal progress!)

A little wooden bear welcomes you (above). Behind him is the west wing of Murphy Hall (below). In front of him you see my bicycle, which I stuffed in my trunk for the 4-hour drive, in the hopes that I will be able to do some biking while I’m here--for instance, to church, or to the local public library, as there is no wireless internet at CWC.

Otherwise, the buildings on campus have apparently not been renovated much since CWC accepted its first patient in 1959, so the much of the architecture is strikingly mid-twentieth century. My room has a linoleum floor, hideous curtains that are at least 20 years old, and a bathroom tiled in five shades of “diarrhea.” I feel like I am living in a bit of a time warp. However, my mentor assures me that the treatment is state-of-the-art, belying the historical surroundings.

Down the hall, the staff lounge still has what must be the original tube RCA television set. I watch MASH while fixing and eating dinner.

Sometimes I take the bus halfway around Lake Mendota to the University of Wisconsin Hospital. There’s even a Little Free Library at the bus stop! It's got mostly fantasy fiction in it. But I’ve been too busy reading my birthday present from Dear Husband—a popular history of neuroscience—and my “homework” for this rotation, another advisor’s recent book on the 1960s German measles epidemic and the babies with disabilities it caused. (Reviews to come soon.) Next to the bus stop is a large meadow of goldenrod and black-eyed susans with mown paths that I hope to explore one afternoon.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Fair Food

Dear Husband and I maintained our annual ritual of meeting a friend for dinner at the 40th Urbana Sweetcorn Festival this year. Okay, it was the second time we had done so, but it followed much the same pattern as last year: standing in line, complaining about the prices, questioning the healthfulness of much of the food for sale, and half -heartedly listening to the music. (I will never forget my first visit, taking my Chinese roommate to hear the former guitarist for Santana, her first outdoor concert. It rained, so when we got back to our apartment, she made us hot tea. Unfortunately for me, it was green tea, and I was still very caffeine naive. I was awake until 5am, reading.)

After getting our tickets, we started in the corn line, of course. The corn was boiled and buttery; I wish I had not missed the table with the salt shakers due to the crowd. JS told us about roasted corn on a stick with a variety of Mexican sauces out in California that sounded intriguing.

Since we had eaten BBQ for lunch, I asked DH to buy me a corndog while JS and I waited for in line. He came back with the biggest corndog I have ever seen. Good thing it came with french fries--it cost $10, which was all the tickets he had with him. He had ordered it at the first place he found selling them, and I didn't have the heart to tell him later that another both offered smaller dogs for three bucks. He graciously helped me eat it, although the crust was a little doughy in the center.

JS bought an excellent pad Thai dish, probably the best value at the whole market. She didn't think as highly of the tofu wrap from a different vendor. For dessert I chose a large, vegan snickerdoodle, crispy on the outside and gooey on the inside. DH had a vanilla cone. Taken as a whole, the fair food was just...fair.

We tried to dodge the cigarette smoke to listen to a band of amateurs, but it wasn't worth looking for a place to sit, so full and out of tickets, we bid our good-byes to summer and each other, as the next day I left for four weeks in Madison, Wisconsin. (You can read about some of those adventures here and here.)

Editor's Note: Other posts you might like include reviews of Taste of Champaign and Taste of Madison.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

One Book, Two Book...

Long-time readers of this blog may remember that at the start of my third year of medical school, I pledged to read one book a month until I graduated. I had just finished writing and defending my dissertation in the history of medicine, a process that involved much less reading than I would have liked, on the premise that I should not get hung up on what other scholars had written, would say what _I_ wanted to say, and could always incorporate secondary literature into the manuscript later. So I found to my dismay that I stopped reading nonfiction (I had largely given up fiction years before, except when Dear Husband and I read to each other on long car trips, or before bed).

Last summer, I began by filling a deficiency in my education, namely that I had read nothing about the Tuskegee syphilis experiments. I also indulged in a popular history of Jean Marie Charcot’s three most famous hysterics. And then Disciple I Bible study started. Disciple is a series of weekly readings, videos, and conversations created by the United Methodist publishing group, and I had long wanted to take the 32-week course, if only I could fit it into my busy schedule. Finally, I figured there was no time like the present, and gave up my quiet Sunday evenings to laughter, cheesy videos, and serious discussions about the historicity and spiritual truth of the Bible. I managed to keep up with the weekly readings through the first semester, but then Winter Break hit, and I fell entirely off the bandwagon. Between the pastor retiring and various Sunday-based holidays (Easter, the Super Bowl), the course stuttered to some kind of end in May.

Summertime meant the start of another medical year and renewed resolve to get back to reading. For my birthday, Dear Husband gave me a book he heard about on the radio: The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons: The History of the Human Brain as Revealed by True Stories of Trauma, Madness, and Recovery, by Sam Kean. Since I was on the Neurology service for the month of August, it was a perfect fit.

Kean realized that the discipline of neurology thrives on patient narratives: when was the patient last normal? what happened when they fell down? what is wrong now? So he recounts how scientists have come to understand the functions of the brain through stories of historical patients. Neurology is also a diagnostic specialty par excellence: the presence of certain physical findings and absence of others suggests what precise part of the nervous system has been damaged. Neurologists love to sit around and talk about lesions. There is even an entire board game called The Lesion. Kean's Tale catalogues the localization of various brain functions, from spatial awareness (parietal lobe) to making new memories (hippocampus) to sense of touch (post-central gyrus). Consciousness, however, appears to be an additive property, the result of the collective functions of a variety of structures.

The text is engaging and easy to read. Each chapter begins with a rebus that spells out the topic (e.g. B + [image of rain] = brain) and is illustrated with photographs and charmingly simple line drawings depicting the thalamus or Broca's area. I did bristle slightly at Kean's characterization of the "dueling neurosurgeons" in the title. The two in question are Ambroise Pare and Andreas Vesalius, summoned in 1559 to tend to King Henri II of France, who had suffered a nasty closed head wound while jousting. The two actually worked quite well together, performing experiments with the heads of decapitated criminals to try to understand what had happened to the monarch's brain. The case was too serious to operate, so they settled for a post-mortem autopsy, which showed that Henri had suffered a coup-contrecoup injury, even though his opponent's lance had not penetrated his skull--he didn't even have a fracture. Kean weaves other famous patients and physicians--Woodrow Wilson, H.M., Phineas Gage, Santiago Ramon y Cajal, Wilder Penfield, Karl Wernicke--into a fascinating narrative that I can recommend to general readers and neurologists alike.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Tasting, Tasting, 1, 2, 3...

When he moved here 10 years ago, Dear Husband's first gig was at the Taste of Champaign festival, a food-crafts-music fair held at a local park. It was with the children's community choir he has accompanied ever since, and as I remember it, the group had not yet met for the school year, so he was entirely new to town and the singers. I arrived separately, looking for my new husband among the crowd. I suppose it went well enough. This year, the latest iteration of the garage band he plays with had a Friday evening slot at Taste. They bill themselves as "New Orleans Funk," something completely different than the country group they followed. I thought they rocked pretty hard.

There's a bit of a "Where's Waldo?" vibe to this one. Can you find DH?

This time I brought some mending to occupy my hands: patching the lining of a nice shirt that I had accidentally melted with a too-hot iron. Oops! In the photo above you can see the "scookie" I had purchased for first dessert from a local vegan restaurant. It was dry and fluffy like a scone but had chocolate chips like a cookie. I wished the dough had been a little bit sweeter. (Actually I had wanted some coleslaw as a "vegetable," but the health department wouldn't let them sell it, because it wasn't cold enough.)

Second dessert: a raspberry popsicle flavored with hibiscus tea. It tasted good--and the raspberry seeds attested to its whole-fruit authenticity--but by the end the texture was too...icy for me. I suppose it is artificial polymer fillers that make store-bought popsicles soft.

Not pictured: the two empanadas I downed before thinking about my responsibilities to food photo journalism. One was carne, the other corn and goat cheese, and both were delicious. DH scarfed a piece of second-rate pizza before going on stage. Afterwards, we set to find him some real food. Along the way, we ran into several friends from the adult community choir he accompanies. Two of them were attempting to string rope lights in their booth, and I could tell it was not going well. Since we were easily half their ages, I volunteered us. By the time we were done, it was the best-lit booth at the festival! Our reward: egg rolls.

Also consumed that night: BBW jerk chicken with beans and rice from the very popular Caribbean food truck and (for third dessert) frozen yogurt with gummy worms. Unfortunately, it turns out the gummy worms freeze in fro-yo just like gummy bears, so I essentially had to eat the two components separately, thawing the worms in my mouth so I could chew them.

The weather was unseasonably cool: just over 80 degrees when we arrived, and probably just under 70 degrees when we left. The light breeze had blown the smoke of nearby cigars and cigarettes to my table while I was sewing, but that was a temporary nuisance. We sat in the glow of the lights we had strung and talked, and talked, and talked. We shut the place down at closing time. It was a glorious night full of food and friends, a perfect Friday night of tasting, tasting, 1, 2, 3.

Editor's Note: Other posts you might like include reviews of  Taste of Madison and the Urbana Sweetcorn Festival.

Friday, August 14, 2015

M R Fish. C M Gills?

For the second Friday in a row, Dear Husband and I decided to treat ourselves to a dinner date. Last week we ate fast-food Chinese, watched Mr. Holmes in the theater, and had Blizzards for dessert. This week I managed to get out of the hospital early enough for us to beat the dinner rush and score a booth at the hottest BBQ place in town. The service was so fast that we had over an hour until we could pick up our tickets to the closing-night performance of Hay Fever by Noel Coward at one of the community theaters in town. So we decided to take a walk. Along the way, we discovered some new public artwork and walked the length of the newest stretch Boneyard Creek path.

The landscaped walkway is a definite improvement over the stark concrete culvert that used to cut through the northern part of downtown. The wheelchair-accessible concrete path winds along under bridges and behind one of the nicest restaurants in town, which has built a wooden deck overlooking the now-babbling brook.

At one end there is a sort of small amphitheater. The concrete walls are now decorated with patterns, one of which looks like crawfish. We didn't see any of those in the water, but we did see a bunch of fish, including one unmistakable pet-variety goldfish, a duck, and a bicycle tire, probably courtesy of all the rain we've had this summer.

This part of the path is still pretty short, so we had enough time to sit by the water and relax. It was the longest time we had spent awake together all week. DH read in the massive tome he's working on by Will Durant, and I composed this blog post. You'll have to imagine the sound of the gurgling water, the trees full of cicadas, and the muffled traffic. We didn't chance upon any mountain lions, at least not the live variety.

Western Mountain Lion, Tim Summerville (2015)

Wednesday, August 12, 2015


Dear Husband and I have been reliving the laughter and fun times of this past weekend's potluck to celebrate our tenth wedding anniversary by eating our way through the leftovers: jalepeno chicken, lasagna, Kugel, roasted carrot salad, green salad, Asian salad, broccoli salad, two kinds of fruit salad, chips and salsa, pita and humus, chocolate birthday/anniversary cake... Here paired with yogurt, fresh farmers market berries, and almond slivers for breakfast one morning. Not pictured: the deviled egg I had already stuffed in my mouth.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

For They're a Jolly Good Couple...

Dear Husband and I recently celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary with a lovely potluck party at our house. For the friends and family who could not attend, here are some photographs.


After the party, DH and I recreated our favorite shot from our wedding album: him noodling on the keys and me draped alluring on top of the piano. (The blue floral Vera Wang maxi dress was my anniversary present to me.) We got engaged on the beach at the Outer Banks and had a seaside-themed wedding, so my parents gave us this sweet framed print about love at the beach.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Gumbolaya, Take 2

One year ago, I invented a cross between jambalaya and gumbo that we called vegetarian gumbolaya.  Unfortunately, the rice did not cook well (okay--at all) in the Creole-style tomato-based sauce, but I vowed to try again. Okra was back at the farmers market this morning, and our local Cheese & Crackers shop sells a variety of sausages, so I decided a meat gumbolaya was on the menu for the week. Here follows the second iteration of this recipe:

Looks suspiciously familiar; tastes 100% better!

1. Put on an episode of your favorite tv show--a finale episode that lasts an hour is particularly suited for this purpose.

2. While assembling ingredients, discover your spousal unit forgot to get the items you texted him for the recipe.

3. Bike to grocery store.

4. Find out the store doesn't carry cans of black-eyed peas (?!). Finally settle on cannellini beans. (Pinto beans came in a close second.) Pick up birthday cards for your niece and nephew. Bike home.

5. Set 1 1/2 cups brown rice to boil in four cups of vegetable broth. Meanwhile, chop two pints okra, two small red onions, and two Italian fennel sausages.

6. Because rice is still boiling, prep corn on the cob. Open can of beans into a pot. Wash and strip kale; place on top of beans and cover.

7. When rice is nearly done, cook onion with some garlic in oil. Turn on burner under beans/kale.

8. Brown meat, then add okra. Empty one 12-oz. can of tomato paste and one 14-oz. can of diced tomatoes with jalepenos into the rice. Stir beans/kale.

9. Combine meat-okra mixture with rice so the flavors can mingle while you plate the sides.

10. Ladle gumbolaya into bowls and eat! Goes well with watermelon for dessert.

The sausage and spicy tomatoes added a punch to the rice, which cooked this time. Dear Husband even found that he did not taste the okra, of which there was "too much." It's a very visually appealing dish, and I look forward to leftovers this week!