Tag Archives: Books

Back at It

It’s been quite a while since I last posted anything. I will admit that there were multiple times I seriously considered sitting down and writing again, I just never got around to doing it. So what have I been doing lately?

First of all, I finished the Neuroscience Module. I wouldn’t exactly say I passed it, even though I did technically pass. My final grade did not equal a pass based on the way the course was introduced to us in March, but because fully 1/3 of the class was in the same situation as I was, they (our overlords) moved that passing percentage a little lower. Why was that class so incredibly terrible? I guess it’s always been bad, it’s just been 10 weeks long for the last two decades. Because my class is going through a new curriculum, the course was supposed to be shortened and streamlined to 7 weeks. My belief is that the course directors just did the shortening and forgot about the streamlining, giving us 10 weeks of hard material in 7 weeks. And so we all just about died during those two months, barely passing.

I certainly liked the subject matter. I remain fascinated with the workings of our brain and the ways that defects can manifest in people’s ability to understand and interpret the world. Despite my terrible performance in the class, I won’t rule Neurology out just quite yet. To get a sense of some of the cool stuff we learned about in Neuro, I’d recommend “The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat” by Oliver Sacks.

So we finished Neurology two weeks ago, and moved into a course called Behavioral Medicine (or something). I attended a few hours of lecture the first day, and then pretty much didn’t go to class for the next two weeks (except for a few required activities, which I mention below). Much of it was basic psychology, which I was familiar with from courses in undergrad, and the rest was easy to learn from the syllabus and online recordings. So those two weeks were more like a vacation than school, even if I did have to cram a little the night before the test (had to learn a bunch of medications), only to show up and take a test so easy I could have passed it without studying. Compared to the previous neuro stuff we were doing, this psych stuff was like taking a nap.

We did have very helpful sessions where we practiced interviewing standardized patients and working through some possible diagnoses. One session stands out because I had to do the history and questions, and I suddenly was not worried about the process of history taking. Instead, I had a list of possibilities in my head, and I had a plan on how I would get a full story and cover my bases on what I thought it could be. That must be how actual doctors feel all the time. It was encouraging, I have to admit.

Now I am writing this post called “Back at It”, but there are really only three weeks of “it” left. After I complete a short course in hematology/oncology, I will be free for the summer. I’ve mentioned before that it is my last summer ever, so I plan to enjoy it as much as I can. I also am less than a year away from taking Step 1, so I ordered a review book from amazon. It’s called “Crush Step 1” (which is my plan), and it’s really heavy for being such an average sized book.

I also hope to write more frequently here, because it’s very relaxing.

So You Still Have a Blog?

Do you have a Facebook? Of course you do. How about a blog? Even if you don’t have a blog, you are reading one right now, so I guess you’re familiar with the concept. How often do you see people post links to other blogs on your Facebook? I’m guessing it happens quite often. Here’s an example of the type of post I see often:

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That’s from a blog written by James Michael Sama. I don’t know all that much about him, except that his posts appear on my Facebook about twice a week. Even a quick look at his blog shows that he has slightly less than ten million hits on his blog. I can also tell by his archives that he started blogging in June 2013. Take a look at my archives over to the right. When did I start blogging? June 2013. How many views do I have on my blog? Not ten million. Not even close!

I suppose I need to give him the credit for that. He has been in feature films and mainstream media far more than I have (which is never, by the way). He also posts far more frequently than I do, and often on topics that are easily readable. Let’s face it, more people want to read about dating, relationships, and current events than they want to read about science, medicine, religion, or whatever else I’m thinking about. His posts are also well written and creative. So I’m not trying to compare authors or blogs here, I’m just telling you about this guy to set up a point I want to make about blogging.

The strangest thing about blogging is how lopsided our interactions are. I get to write things, post them on the internet, and let them stand for all time and eternity. I covered that briefly here. To write a blog, one must believe at a certain level that “I can write something that others will want to read”. This is the opposite of Twitter, where people just assume that everyone wants to hear about what they had for lunch. To write a blog, you have to be able to string together a line of reasoning, assembling your thoughts and shaping it into a post that is interesting enough that people want to click on it and read it. The best (and worst) part of blogging is that anyone can do it.

I have this theory that 42% of all blogs have one post called “I have a blog”. Because starting a blog requires an internet connection and two thumbs, nearly anyone can jump online and make a blog. Historically, this is unprecedented. I can sit in my office and write a post in about an hour. Let’s say a few people put it on their Facebook pages, and it goes viral. Suddenly hundreds of thousands of people have read my post and I get tons of traffic. 100 years ago, there was no way to reach hundreds of thousands of people that easily. Radio, perhaps, but that was harder to access. Newspapers, maybe, but only certain groups of people could actually write in a paper. Anyone can write a blog, and who knows if that post is the next one to go viral?

The downside to the accessibility of blogging, of course, is that anyone can do it. I’ve read some blogs and wondered whether they had ever graduated high school, or even attended one. I followed a blogger for a while who posted once every three weeks, and his/her only content was “I’m sorry I haven’t been posting lately….I’ve been like super busy”.

Blogging is great, especially when authors like Sama go out and reach a huge audience, but I don’t see it lasting. I understand that my little post here is just one tab on your browser, and I have to compete with everything on the internet for your attention. Blog posts take time to read, and require much more effort from you than, say, a YouTube video. It can be difficult to find your way to a blog you really enjoy consistently, while YouTube gives you a recommended playlist based off your preferences, so after you watch a cat video there are 12 more cat videos to watch. My favorite blogs have been those that people referred to me. When I search for blogs, on Google I have much worse success.

I’m not upset that I don’t have ten million views on this blog, since that was never my goal. My goal is to write, and enjoy writing, and talk about what I learn and see during medical school and life. That’s not a good recipe for generating ten million views in six months (unless somehow I was already famous). At the same time, I like it when people enjoy what I write. That’s the whole point of blogging, right? If no one reads your blog, that’s just a diary. While I enjoy Sama, Matt Walsh, and Fat Cyclist, I know that I will never be that kind of blogger. Why? Probably due to my sporadic writing schedule and “no proofreading ever” policy, among other things (like medical school, for instance). If I wanted a million views in the next six months, I am confident I could get them. I just know I wouldn’t have as much fun as I am now, and I’m having lots of fun 🙂

Thanks for reading!

sortadrgmail@wordpress.com

Tales from Anatomy – The Long Post

I just finished anatomy. The last eight weeks have been a complete blur, but last Friday I took the final exam and most likely identified enough body parts to pass the class. I needed to get 38% on this final test in order to pass anatomy. Because of how hard the test was, I am not completely sure I got 38%, just reasonably sure. The test was hard. My score will likely be the lowest score I have every received in my life. Ever. On anything. To sum up my experience this final week of anatomy, I have to share this screencap someone posted on our Facebook page before the test. This should go on our class T-shirts.

I spent this last week studying hard, spending extra time in the lab, and cramming “high-yield” study tips. I studied with my dissection group, with random people, with lab TA’s, and anyone else who would help me. My wife quizzed me on insertions and innervations of muscles, and my little puppy was intent on helping however she could. Admittedly, she has a tiny brain and no thumbs, so she wasn’t much use. She’s mostly a ten inch tall Roomba (with a slightly lower chance of tumbling down the stairs to her death), trotting around the house and eating anything she finds on the floor. Even after all that studying, I still felt really dumb at the exam. Anatomy has a way of doing that to me. I would study all week on assigned materials, then drive in to take the practice exam on Sunday. Number 1 would say “What is this thing?” and I would have absolutely no idea. Was that even assigned to us?

I also realize I was fortunate during this class. First of all, I took a tough anatomy course in undergrad, so I was roughly familiar with most subjects. Second, I have a quick memory and uncanny ability to remember pointless details from lectures several weeks ago. We seem to get tested on pointless details all of the time, so I get those questions during the exam (most of the time). I also learned anatomy the hard way. I did the dissections, pored through atlases, and did the leg work required to learn relationships and functions. Compare that to a certain member of my lab group, who we will call Leo. Leo doesn’t dissect. Leo doesn’t even help his group during dissection. Instead, he drifts around the lab like a knowledge mosquito, stopping briefly at each groups table and learning a few factoids from each group. Then, during exam week, he becomes the king of mnemonics (more on those below). He has mnemonics for everything. He has primary, secondary, and tertiary mnemonics to remember his mnemonics. He confuses his mnemonics with others, and ultimately forget it all and have to relearn it. Also, he probably can’t problem solve as well when he mostly knows mnemonics.

There are two kinds of anatomy geniuses. The first kind was my dissection partner. He could study a picture and a cadaver, then somehow reconstruct everything into a mental, 3-dimensional structure that he could then picture anytime, from any angle. He was always oriented, and always knew where structures came from and where they were going. It must have been awesome to be him. The second kind of anatomy genius (and the kind I actually understand) are the ones who understand relationships. There is no intricate mental picture stored in their super-brains. Instead, they know where a structure is based on the structures that surround it. They can use the context to identify what a specific structure is, much like confirming the location of your house by locating your hoarder neighbors house. Yes I used to live next to a hoarder.

I also used mnemonics, which are tools to help you remember something. For example, there are 13 cranial nerves that every medical student must memorize. Here they are, in order: Olfactory, Optic, Oculomotor, Trochlear, Trigeminal, Abducens, Facial, Vestibulocochlear (auditory), Glossopharyngeal, Vagus, (Spinal) Accessory, and Hypoglossal.

Here they are demonstrated on a cartoon brain.

That’s quite a list to remember. Instead, we first memorized “On Old Olympus’ Towering Top, A Finn and German Viewed Some Hops”. We then knew the first letter for each nerve in order (OOOTTAFAGVSH). Any sentence works, really, as long as the letters fit that pattern. There are incredibly dirty mnemonics I won’t post here, and some creative ones involving Harry Potter, the Hunger Games, and certain faculty members at the school. Everyone uses these to some extent, but I think students like Leo (not his actual name) ended up getting buried in mnemonics, so they are only somewhat helpful.

So what were my “takeaway lessons” from anatomy? I definitely liked it, enough that my interest in surgery has been validated. I enjoyed working with my hands and learning how knowledge of anatomy is applied to procedures and therapies. I also gained an appreciation for all of the material I still don’t know. We learned a vast amount of information in just eight weeks, and no one learned everything that was assigned to us. That amount of material isn’t necessarily unknowable, but it is probably unlearnable over the course of two months. I know that I will need to go back and re-learn critical areas during rotations, and should I decide to become a shoulder surgeon I will learn that anatomy at an even more detailed level. Lastly, I am even more amazed at the intricate design and daily function of our bodies. Even studying a single organ, like the kidney, is absolutely fascinating, totally reinforcing my decision to attend medical school.

Of course the good news of anatomy being done is that I can spend more time on my favorite activities, one of which is blogging! I have this entire week of Thanksgiving off, which will be completely glorious. There is nothing for me to study. Nothing at all. I will likely pick up the pace at which I post here, because I have a lot I want to discuss. I read some blogs that are easily categorized. There are “mommy blogs”, “medical school blogs”, “tech blogs”, “political blogs”, etc. While the general theme here will always be medical school, I can and will branch out write about whatever is on my mind. I’ve gotten a lot of support lately, despite my complete lack of regular posting, and I really appreciate it.

Two weeks ago I made the unfortunate decision to start reading Game of Thrones when my friend (so he calls himself) lent me the first book, which I promptly read in one week. Now I’m hooked, on book 2, and have thousands of pages left to read (and probably hundreds on main characters yet to die, if the next books are like the first). I am also doing a lot of outside reading on religion, so expect posts as I finish reading other religious texts. I realized that despite my college education and multiple classes on world religion, I had done little firsthand reading of any religious text besides the Bible, which I have read cover to cover multiple times. I am now working my way through the Qur’an, the Bhagavad Gita, and the Pearl of Great Price, with more to come afterwards. That was a good decision, since even my early readings were very interesting.

Of course I will also spend time playing Call of Duty, training my puppy, and eating at the new Chick-fil-a that opened RIGHT BY MY HOUSE. I may or may not have camped out and received 52 combo meals, which I am eager to claim for delicious free chicken. Finally, as I get ready to publish this post, I can see that all of the recommended posts from WordPress are posts that I wrote myself. Weird. I’ll leave you with another picture of my cute puppy.

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Thanks for reading! sortadrwordpress@gmail.com

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My Only Opus

I really enjoy writing. As a clever reader, you have likely already figured that out. After all, I have this blog, and another blog that I loved for several years, so it would seem obvious that I enjoy writing. In fact, I am a far better reader than I am a writer. 

And I’m a terrible artist.

Let me put it to you this way. While I read prolifically and consistently across multiple genres, the only real output I have ever actually generated while writing is in the form of blogs or mini-papers on current topics. I am such a flighty author, never able to stay perched on any subject long enough to generate a substantial product. 

I have a friend who is already a published author. He is my same young age, but he has already written and published his first book. His second and third books in that series are on their way as I write this! So when I consider the fact that we both run blogs with a readership that consists of more than our mothers (barely….hey Mom!), I find myself wondering why I also have not published a book. Is it because I am slightly ADHD and flighty when I get writing? Yes, definitely. ALSO, it’s because I’m an amateur. My friend doesn’t have the work experience or academic experience that I have. In essence, while I was working and studying, he was writing. He has decided to become a professional author. That seemed to suck some of the fun our of it for me. He HAS to write, every day, all the time. Without these next few books coming out, his life will have negative consequences in his near future. I really don’t want that.

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The utilities have to stay on. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

So I will keep writing for the fun of it. Now I may have sold myself short near the beginning of this. I want to publish books. Multiple books. I have the rough outline of a novel that I am slowly filling in. I would someday love to publish a work of non-fiction as well, and I have collections of writings on modern day issues that I would publish, if given the chance. I don’t see myself finishing this novel any time soon, but I have no doubt that I will one day sit down and work through the whole story, polish it up, and let other people read it. It might even be good. I have even given some thought to a movie. Despite films many weaknesses in storytelling (and my absolute lack of experience in screenwriting), I have kicked around some ideas for a movie with a good plot. I’ll have to write some other time about why I don’t like movies, because I feel myself getting off topic.

Right! While I may eventually write a book, perhaps a movie, that is sort of good, I think I may have already created my best idea ever, and it’s a video game. Hopefully I didn’t lose anyone there, because this game I have designed will drown everyone who builds and programs it in heaps of money. I’m a med student with no experience whatsoever in video game design, but I pretty much minored in video games for the last four years of college, so I know this is good. If you make video games, or know someone who does, please comment or message me (even if you are reading this far in to the future). I volunteer myself to do writing and design work.

You may be wondering what this game is like. It’s online multiplayer, but with singleplayer portions and mechanics as well. It combines RPG mechanics like levels, equipment, and stats with survival mechanics and open world action. The technology may not yet exist for this game to happen. It might have to wait for the console after Xbox One, or for the PCs of the next decade. I spend a significant amount of time thinking about it this last week, and just the thought of how sweet this game would be has made the games I’m playing now seem less fun in comparison. I think video games are a form of art. Well, if movies are considered art, then video games certainly should be art as well. Bethesda and Ubisoft come to mind as current companies that may have some knowledge of the world I want to create, due to their work with open world environments in games like Assassin’s Creed. 

I will admit that this game is not entirely original. I have created countries, creatures, and geographic features that are distinctly mine, but I borrow freely from games that do things well. I love the survival mechanic from Minecraft, but even that mechanic is better characterized from an older game called Lost in Blue. 

The way I know this idea is good is because I add to that document often. Pretty much daily. It’s like when I am reading a good book and have to know the ending, except I get to continually improve and refine the stories and concepts as I go. Here in a few minutes I will hit publish on this post and leave it on this blog for all of the internet to see forever, but I am going to keep writing. I’ll keep blogging. My novel will fill out a little more (right now it’s like the awkward teenager that seems to be all knees and elbows). I’ll keep daydreaming about this video game, and the game that is made will likely be quite difference from this current version in my head. I’m content with that. I’ll keep writing.

Thanks for reading!

All That Glitters

So this is definitely the final stretch before my first year of medical school starts. Four weeks from today, in fact, I will be starting orientation week. I have so much to do during these few weeks that they will likely go by extremely quickly, and I will look around to find myself in the middle of medical school.

Possibly my grades after the first exams. We will see.

I have two more weeks of work, then a weekend of call, and then two weeks “off” while I attempt to get my wife and I moved several hundred miles into a new house before school starts. The first weeks of school should yield lots of posts on this blog, as my wife will continue working at her current job for a few weeks after medical school starts, leaving me all by my lonesome.

I read far more than I write, and I write considerably more than most of my generation. Heck, I regularly exceed 140 characters when I post my thoughts to the internet, and I rarely abbreviate. Since I read often and quite rapidly, I spend a fair amount of time on Amazon or browsing book stores for something interesting and different.

NOTE: I read Jim Gaffigan’s new book last weekend, and it was incredibly funny. It is probably best read in short segments, but the in-laws were shopping last weekend so I had several hours to kill in a local mall. I laughed out loud so many times the guy next to me at Barnes and Noble probably thought I was losing it.

Like I was saying, I spend a fair amount of time browsing for new books. I am certainly guilty of glancing at a book and immediately making assumptions about it based on its appearance. I am sure that I have passed some very interesting reads simply because the appearance of the book was not what I was expecting or wishing it to be.

Everyone knows the saying “Never judge a book by its cover”, but the truth it teaches is worthy of illustrating to show some of the things I have learned over the past few days.

Right now I am re-reading the Lord of the Rings. I have made it a tradition to re-read the Chronicles of Narnia each Christmas and the Lord of the Rings in the summer, enjoying the familiar flow and cadence of each story, reacquainting myself with favorite characters as old friends. This particular copy of Tolkien that I am reading is the exact opposite of the story contained within. Grey, paperback, and largely featureless on the cover, the backdrop shows the Misty Mountains in poor focus behind a prominently displayed title. My book shows plenty of wear, between the bent corners and curved spine. Those that have read the story know that the tale told inside is of epic proportions, detailed, polished, and assembled over the course of decades by one of the most masterful authors of the 20th century. If I saw my book on the shelf in Barnes and Noble, I might very well keep walking. Maybe this is a bad example, because everyone and their mom has seen Lord of the Rings. Let me put in a huge picture to make up for my lack of pictures so far.

The three really long movies. Surely not everyone slept through them….

There. That should be huge enough.

 

That same idea (not judging by appearances) is a key theme throughout the story. The appearance of a character is inversely proportional to the role they play in the story. Aragorn appears to be a dirty Ranger from the wilderness, but is in fact heir to the throne of Gondor and descended from a line of noble kings. Gandalf is a pivotal character in the story, counselling, fighting, encouraging, and rallying against Mordor, yet he is called Gandalf the Grey. The color grey itself implies vagueness and ambiguity, and for much of the story Gandalf does nothing to dispel the illusion of himself as a wanderer. Even Frodo, who by his resilience is finally able to bear the ring to its destruction at Mount Doom, is by all outward appearances useless in the fight. As a hobbit, he is small, weak, and totally unprepared for combat and violence after an idyllic upbringing in the Shire.

The opposite holds true as well. Denethor is Steward of Gondor, the leader who should be at the forefront of containing the evil of Mordor. Instead he does nothing, even squanders the resources at his disposal. Elrond and Galadriel, wise and powerful Elven rulers, do little more than offer shelter and counsel during the journey and climax of the story.

Given the pace of our lives today, it is our nature to make quick decisions and rapid judgement. Our actions weave a web of cause and effect that last far longer than the instant that it took to make those decisions. I am better at this than most, often picking meals from a menu in seconds (although that may also be because I mostly eat hamburgers. Bad example, sorry)

Pretty much the parts of the menu I can see

Pretty much the parts of the menu I can see

 

To put it another way, I am often quick to make assumptions on people based off recent status updates, despite knowing next to nothing about their lives. I don’t know what it is for you…maybe someone is bigger or smaller than you. Maybe they are better dressed, or more poorly dressed. Maybe they live their lives a way that you don’t necessarily understand (ahem, people who don’t eat at Chick-fil-A!) I do no one any favors by sorting through that new information in an instant.

To summarize before you go to sleep: I am hoping to find places and people with which I am not familiar, and spend enough time learning from them and about them that I am not doing them an injustice by an incorrect first impression.

Now I hope to spend a little longer before settling a matter in my mind. I want to give more than passing thought to what is subtle, and learn to notice the absence of something expected as easily as the presence of the unusual. I hope this makes me a better husband, a better friend, and someday a better doctor as well.

Thanks for reading!

 

Edit: After posting this, I have received tons of traffic from Lord of the Rings fansites. My best guess is they showed up because of the giant picture of the ring I placed in the blog. In an effort to drive traffic, I will soon begin inserting photos of famous people and upcoming movies into posts….just kidding. Maybe.