Tag Archives: Medicine

The Hardest Day

Second year has started off with a bang. If you are paying attention, you’ll see some crazy stuff in any medical school. Whether it’s an official lesson, or people watching, or patient encounters, or something you learn on accident while researching something else, there will surely be something to learn. Recently we had a deep lesson that I wanted to share, but first I need to set the stage.

All of the MS2 students are packed into our lecture hall. This isn’t the nice, new lecture with comfortable chairs that we used last year. This is the older lecture hall that doesn’t have enough seats for the whole class, the one with the terrible chairs, and the one with not enough room for your laptop and anything else on the desk. There are students standing in the back, and everyone looks sharp because we all are wearing our white coats and professional clothes.

On stage are six people. Standing at the podium is a Pediatric Hematologist who is running the event. She has a very serene demeanor, but seems to radiate strength from her small stature. Sitting at the table on stage are 5 others. There is a couple in their 40’s. He is lean and tan, with the muscle tone and hands of a construction worker. She sits next to him, well dressed and confident, if somewhat anxious. Another lady sits next to them. She is African American, somewhat heavyset, with a joyful face, floral blouse, and somewhat excessive afro. Next to her is an elderly little lady with thin gray hair and a stooped posture, and she is in deep conversation with the woman beside her, who is wearing scrubs and has two phones and a pager.

This is a lecture panel on handling the death of patients, specifically children. The couple on the end lost twin boys, their 5th and 6th children. The first died before being born. The second lived for 10 months, but had a debilitating matrix of health problems and lacked any ability to develop. The lady next to them had a daughter who developed bone cancer at age 11, which metastasized to her brain and took her life when she was 13. The older was a chaplain, and the last lady was a NICU nurse. Everyone was there to talk to us about handling death.

Most learning in medical school is very clinical and sterile. We learn about our bodies from distinguished looking old professors who wear white coats and use technical language to describe anatomy and physiology of organs and diseases, of which they are experts. That approach is obviously not practical when talking about handling death, so we learned from “experts” in their own way, people who had gone through this and were willing to talk to us about their experience.

I don’t like thinking about death, and I don’t think many of my fellow students do either. We are all young and vigorous, filled with the energy and optimism of youth. In my mind, death is something far off. It’s not that I’m scared of it, I just prefer not to think about it. I have been very fortunate to have made it this far in my life with living parents and grandparents.

This forum was not the first time that I had focused my heart and mind on this idea of death, and current events will tell you why. On Saturday evening the violence in Ferguson, MO erupted after a young man was shot and killed by police. Even as I write this tensions remain high, with protests and heavy police presence keeping the conflict in the national spotlight. It was only a few days ago that the world was shocked to discover that Robin Williams had ended his own life. Violence in Iraq and the Middle East have created a summer that will go down in history as a violent, restless summer.

I don’t want to talk specifically about any of those subjects listed above, at least not in this post. Instead, I want to talk about dying. The way someone reacts to death will tell me a lot about the way they view the world.

Death is a part of life, just like birth. Everyone is born, and everyone will die. What we do in between is what makes the difference. Death is also a great equalizer. I learned this lesson at a young age helping my dad clean our boat after a day on the lake. He always said that the boat ramp was the great equalizer. At the end of the day, everyone comes back to the ramp and goes home after a fun day of boating. It doesn’t matter how big your boat was, how big the truck you used to tow it, or how many fun inflatable things you could pull behind your boat. At the end of the day everyone comes back to the ramp sunburned and tired, and everybody had fun.

So when we die, as we know we will, we are all equalized again. Your influence, your money, and your responsibilities are all lost and left behind. What happens to you after you die? What or where do you think you will be after you die? Some believe that death causes you to cease to exist, but I find that hard to accept and impossible to believe.

The hardest part of the last few weeks has been actually organizing my thoughts on this matter. It’s not easy to do, when my cell phone keeps ringing, emails keep arriving, and the world flies by on my laptop screen. It’s easy to ride the wave of now, caught up in an endless progression of thinking about what happens next. Thankfully, I found the time to take my dog to a local state park and hike. So it was there that I hiked miles from any road, on trails not commonly traveled, and sat down for a water break. The sun was high in the sky, coming through the trees to turn the world green. Except for my trampling feet, the world was perfectly still. So I sat there for a long while, and I’m glad I did, because that’s how I was finally able to write this.

Lastly, I wanted to leave with the words to a poem. It was written in the 1600’s, but people then died at the same rate as they do now, and the words speak to people today just like they did 400 years ago.

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul’s delivery.
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.
Thanks for reading!

I Don’t Know Anything About Brains

The newest unit in my adventure called medical school is Neurosciences. After just three days, I have come to a couple of conclusions.

First, neuroscience is really hard. The content of the class itself is just very challenging. There are many anatomical structures to learn, pathways to memorize, and some fairly abstract concepts that need to be applied in order to really understand what’s going on. The class itself is going to be hard because we don’t take an exam until April, meaning we cover 5 weeks worth of material before taking any sort of evaluation. There is huge potential to fall behind before the test, and there will be too much material to catch back up.

Next, I have started to second guess my speaking skills. I have always thought that the neuron, the fundamental cell of the nervous system, was pronounced “nur-on”. In fact, I have never heard it pronounced any other way until Monday, when 4 separate neurologists called it a “nur-own”. Is this some sort of professional neuroscience thing to mark the pros from the outsiders? What’s going on? We need to ask the teaching staff to address this ASAP. Every time they confidently talk about nurrowns, i feel a little bit like a morrown.

Finally, I have realized that nobody really understands the brain. I don’t mean that we know nothing about it, just that we don’t understand it. Yes, we understand the areas of the brain that process certain information. We know tracts of the spinal cord and the types of sensations they relay. We even know the functions of the brainstem and midbrain. What no one really understands is how all of this happens. Even in “smaller” nuclei in the brain, there are something like a million neurons synapsing together. There is a huge body of scientific knowledge on what a neuron does and how it functions, but a complete lack of explanation as to how a billion neurons together create conscious thought. The brain is the most complex organ in the body, home to all of our higher orders of reasoning, memory, emotion, and thought. It’s amazing, but we still don’t actually understand it.

This is the first cool brain image Google brought me.

I was talking about this with my family last weekend. Have you ever seen a 30 second commercial for an antidepressant drug, followed by a full minute of side effects and warnings? It’s because we still don’t get the brain. Compare that drug to, say, an antibiotic. We know exactly how that antibiotic is metabolized, the effect it has on bacteria, side effects on the patient, and certain kinds of infections that can be more easily treated with that drug. An antidepressant is far more complicated. For an SSRI, for instance, we know what it is supposed to do, but this action causes a huge amount of side effects due to its action on the brain and neurotransmitter levels. Why would this drug cause suicidal tendencies in younger patients? Good question.

I really like studying neuroscience because I think humans have awesome brains. We have enormous brains, by the way. Why are babies born so young and relatively helpless? Because otherwise their enormous brains would be too big to squeeze through the birth canal. Our skeleton is designed to support a large skull full of brains, and our metabolism is geared to continually supply our brains with the energy it so desperately demands. The most spectacular part of our brains is the interconnections, or synapses. This is where the magic happens. This is why humans are so fundamentally different than any other animal. The interconnected nature of the brain is the reason we make music, paint pictures, write stories, love, hate, and want things. It’s the reason certain smells can evoke such vivid memories, and it’s the reason we can even undertake an effort to learn about our own amazing cognitive ability.

The best analogy for the enormous complexity of our brain is outer space. Even the word we use to describe it fails miserably to convey the entirety of what it actually is. Calling the universe space is like calling the ocean wet. Astronomers are still discovering more planets and stars in our very own galaxy, which is sort of like finding more furniture in your living room when set to the scale of the universe. Small wonder we don’t fully understand our own brains. I wonder if we even can. Even with the elaborate supercomputer sitting in my head (ok, more like an iPhone. Or a fax machine), I will never be able to actually understand how big the Earth is, and I will definitely fall far short of grasping the size of the solar system or galaxy. I don’t think it can be done, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. Who knows, it could be my generation of neurologists that discovers ways of treating and curing Alzheimer’s disease. What’s the saying about effort? Shoot for the moon, and even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.

Time for me to wrap this up for the night. Thanks for reading! If you have read this far, you may be interested to know I will have a guest post featured on the Student Doctor Network next week. I am very appreciative of this opportunity to reach a wider audience. Also, their forums are incredibly helpful for any pre-meds who haven’t found their way over there yet. Just saying.

sortadrwordpress@gmail.com

Standardize Me

I didn’t post at all last weekend, even though I really wanted to do so. There are a few good reasons why. Besides unsuccessfully fighting off a cold and studying for three exams this week, I am also incredibly lazy and didn’t have the time or motivation to sit down and write the post that has been on my mind for several weeks. It’s only fitting that I find this motivation shortly before my pathology final, most likely using a blog post as another reason to avoid studying  for this test. As one classmate posted on Facebook so accurately: “I find that I Netflix better with study going on in the background”.

I don’t even have to study all that hard for this exam. Because of our grading system (pass/fail) and the assignments and tests I have already completed give me all but six points I need to pass the class. To put in another way, I need to get just 6/100 questions correct to pass this class. I could do that in my sleep. Don’t worry, I will study hard and do fine. (Edit: I actually did pretty well on it).

Our Pathology overlords are doing us a bit of a favor, they tell us. All of their exam questions are “board style”, similar to the format we can expect when we take Step 1 next year. This means that we take the exams on our computers through secure browsers, and that some of the multiple choice questions have options a-h instead of a-e.

Our questions are slightly harder than this, by the way.

Another way we are being prepared for Step 1 is that we are doing everything way faster than previous classes have ever done anything. As I write this in the first week of March, we have already completed all of the Year 1 curriculum. Next week we will begin Year 2 curriculum. The benefits to us include more time to study for Step 1, and more time in rotations before having to make important residency decisions. This all seems like a good idea to me, but we are the guinea pigs in this little experiment, so only time (and our board scores) will tell how it worked out.

This got me thinking about all of the standardization we are receiving. The main goal of the first two years of medical education is to perform well on Step 1. My understanding is that this test makes sure new medical students have an appropriate amount of basic medical knowledge before entering the wards and practicing on real patients. This actually works out very well for me, as I have a long history of crushing standardized tests (including NBME pathology most recently).

Recently my brother-in-law graduated from the police academy. Police officers have a very important and challenging job not unlike a doctor. They have a huge body of knowledge to learn, including the geography of their city, procedures of their department, legality issues, physical ability to drive, arrest, restrain, and I know many cops that have a highly developed “sixth sense” that gets them out of dangerous situations. Even my limited EMS experience has shown me the value of this sixth sense, but I doubt it could be taught.

Now if the police academy worked like medical school, they would spend 2 years in a classroom watching powerpoint presentations on street layouts, with the dangerous areas highlighted. They would take multiple choice exams on how to handle interactions with dangerous suspects, maybe watch videos on driving skills. Thankfully, my brother’s academy didn’t work like this at all. He rode with cops, listened to their advice, and saw firsthand dangerous areas of town. He went to an abandoned runway and spent an afternoon learning defensive driving techniques.

Medical school isn’t taught like that, and I’m not even sure it should be. All I know is that medical school has been taught the same way for a very long time, which is why it is so standardized. There is a well defined process to becoming a doctor, steeped in tradition and learning. If improving the quality of medical education came at the cost of leaving behind those traditions, would anyone attempt it? Will there be a series of huge sweeping changes in the coming years, or will innovation come in small steps, creeping along over the years?

I’ll have to think more about this, but it’s something that will be on my mind as I work my way through medical school.

This post is now very late, but thank you for reading!

 

Let’s Talk About Drugs

Maybe the timing is coincidental. Maybe studying pharmacology so much lately is making me more attuned to notice stories and posts regarding drugs and disease. Or maybe there has legitimately been a lot of really terrible Facebook posts, links, and comments lately (at least on my Facebook page). When someone on Facebook posts a story and claims “this is why I will never get my kids vaccinated!” I sometimes die a little inside. I would love to dissect their claim, present some objective evidence, and state my own claim in a reasonable manner, but we all know how that goes. Instead, I have turned to my blog, where I will be presenting some of the more common statements I’ve seen and the reasons why they are ridiculous. We’ll start with….

1. Doctors overprescribe drugs. They need to stop throwing pills at problems. They put my friend on too many drugs and he developed all of these side effects. Etc.

As seen in:

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Yeah…I’m pretty good at MS Paint

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First things first: it is very possible to be taking too many drugs. We had an entire lecture on this last week. It’s fine to be on a handful of drugs, but if you have a patient routinely take 10+ pills per day you are going to run into problems with side effects, compliance, and drug interactions. So why is it that patients accumulate so many medications? Why do doctors consistently prescribe drugs for patient complaints?

Probably because that’s what they are trained to do. And because it works. I am not attending medical school to learn how NOT to prescribe drugs. I’m learning how to harness the incredible therapeutic potential available to me and every modern physician. There are so many drugs that work so well at fixing common problems I would be remiss as a physician if I didn’t prescribe.

Example: If a 48 year old man comes into my practice for a check up, and I notice he has high blood pressure, I have two options. I can tell him he needs to eat healthier, exercise, and drink less alcohol. Over time, this would make him healthier and lower his blood pressure. Of course, very few patients will actually do this. He is most likely to walk back into my clinic a year later and tell me that he was busy at work, tried walking but hurt his foot, and otherwise didn’t get any healthier. And he was exposed to an extra year of uncontrolled high blood pressure, increasing his risk for serious problems later on in life.

I could also give him a prescription for Lisinopril. He could take a pill every morning, his blood pressure will go down, whether or not he improves his lifestyle, and I improved his chances of living a longer, healthier, happier life.

The trap of this example is when a patient comes in with an upset stomach, so I give a script for that. They take it and their stomach is better but they feel dizzy and sick, so I give another script for that. That’s usually when people start experiencing really bad symptoms from taking too many drugs. Do people think that the doctors were intentionally trying to hurt people with these medications? There’s nothing nefarious here. The intention was always to treat.

2. If I vaccinate my kids they will get autism. It’s unnatural. I don’t want to expose them to those terrible things. It’ll do them more harm than good.

As seen in:

This has come up a few times lately, especially after we watched Jenna Mccarthy on the Rockin New Years Eve a few weeks ago. I’d like to start by saying that if you are taking healthcare advice from a Playboy model, please re-evaluate your life and see an actual physician immediately. Vaccinations do not cause autism. I’ve looked at the evidence for it, and its pretty slim. For the rest of this article, however, I’ll assume it could (I’m feeling generous). People who don’t vaccinate their children are susceptible to two fallacies. First, that by avoiding vaccination they are somehow protecting their kids from exposure to the pathogens that cause disease. Second, that vaccination is primarily intended to protect their child specifically.

Ever heard of a kid with polio? Rotavirus? Smallpox? Probably not in recent memory. How about whooping cough? Few Americans (or none, in some of those cases) ever develop these diseases. The reason isn’t that the disease doesn’t exist anymore, but instead that vaccination has prevented the pathogen from causing disease. Viruses and bacteria are everywhere. Always watching. Always waiting. Just kidding, but there are way more of them than us, and our immune system clears them very efficiently ever day. If you don’t vaccinate a child against a disease, that doesn’t guarantee that they will never see that pathogen. It just handicaps their immune system if they should ever come across it.

Second, vaccinations aren’t exclusively intended for your child specifically. The key here is a concept called herd immunity. If you prefer to think of the human race as something different than a herd, call it population immunity. When the herd is vaccinated (say 95%) against a disease, only 5 out of 100 members will be susceptible to developing a disease. Should one of them acquire the disease, their chance of spreading it is low, because only 4 of the remaining 99 members can acquire it. If the herd is unvaccinated against that disease, however, one member acquiring it will cause a rapid spread through the herd. There will be a few members who are naturally resistant (there is always a small percentage of people with natural resistance to some disease), but the rest of the herd will be devastated. Getting your child vaccinated is less about their protection than it is for the rest of your kids class. Some vaccines don’t matter for kids, but for adults. Children don’t develop symptoms when infected with Hep A, but they can spread it to adults, where it causes serious illness.

This is what comes to mind when I think of “herd immunity”

3. I’m so worried that I have the swine/avian/llama flu! Everyone is going to die!

Actually probably so. If there is a total disaster to worry about, it would be a mutated influenza virus. We all remember the H1N1 outbreak a few years ago, and ever more recently new mutations like last years H7N9 virus caused concern. Should a strain of influenza develop easy transmission between humans as well as the ability to easily cause disease or death, it will be scary. Influenza changes and evolves quickly enough already, which is why there is a new flu shot every year. Millions of people died in 1918 during an influenza outbreak, where massive global troop and refugee movements allowed it to ravage the world. Despite the present lack of a world war, we have a constant state of travel and mobility, both internationally and regionally. Scary scary.

4. Have you heard about all of these new resistant bacteria? MRSA, VRE, CRE? It’s going to be the end of medicine!

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Surely you have heard of these new “super bacteria”. Are they scary as well? Yup. Are they the end of modern medicine? Nope. That link above was shared by a friend but written by a lawyer. Antibiotic resistance is certainly a problem, but it’s one that we will solve. I have had antibiotic resistance pounded into my head for the last six weeks. When to use antibiotics, when to hold them, how to identify resistant strains, combination drug therapies, etc etc. I can remember a high school teacher from years ago talking about MRSA, how terrible it was, and how that would be the end of modern medicine. Multiple resistant bacteria have developed since then, nastier than MRSA, even. Why am I not worried as much about CRE? First, because its nosocomial (acquired while in a hospital). These super bugs don’t exist everywhere around the world. They usually only infect people with extended hospital stays and invasive therapies (like catheters). Second, they will be beaten as well. People far smarter than me are always working on drugs to combat these resistant strains that develop. A resistant infection is never a good thing, but in order to find yourself developing one of these you would probably already have had something pretty serious going on.

What do you think? Let me know in the comments below or at sortadrwordpress@gmail.com

Thanks for reading

Floating Along

Welcome back to my blog! In reality, I was the one who took a brief hiatus over the holidays, and I don’t regret it at all. I would love to say that I spent my two weeks off deep in thought, drafting blog posts, and learning all of the things I forgot immediately after taking my final exam on December 20th, but that would be a lie. Instead, I spent most of my break at home with family and friends, and the rest of it being as lazy as humanly possible. On the plus side, I am refreshed and ready to tackle another semester of medical school.

Just kidding…I actually laughed after typing that last sentence. Let me do a little catching up on what medical school has done to me recently. In late November we started Pharmacology and Microbiology. I prefer to call it “Bugs and Drugs”. The courses are taught simultaneously, which is actually helpful because we get to learn the organisms that cause disease around the time that we learn the drugs that can treat said disease. I use the word “learn” very loosely here, because really they just throw hundreds of drugs at us and we get to sort out what they do for a few days before the exam. In the week before Christmas we covered around 220 antibiotics, antifungals, cancer therapies, and other drugs in about 4 days before taking an exam on Friday before break. That was my hardest week of medical school yet. While attempting to learn all of those drugs, we also had to learn information on bacteria, viruses, their associated structures and pathology, some information about other organisms (mycobacteria), and take an exam on that the same day as pharmacology. Have you seen Christmas with the Kranks? Remember the scene where Luther is leaving the shop in the beginning and the water canopy breaks, drenching him in water even as he stands in the pouring rain? That was a pretty accurate description of me during this course.

This is not an area of strength for me, either. I had great undergrad anatomy experience to support me during med school anatomy. I did take immunology and pharmacology as well, but both courses were incredibly easy. Most of what I remember from immunology was “viruses are scary”, and I don’t think I remember anything at all from pharmacology. So learning information at the insane pace set by the course directors required long, long days of studying at home. In the winter. In the cold. By myself. Very depressing. But hey, I have passed everything so far, and am 1/8 of the way toward completing my MD.

While talking to an actual doctor, I learned the dirty secret of pharmacology. None of us will remember all of these drugs after this year (I already knew that part). We will really learn them again during third year and beyond, when we begin to prescribe and work with drugs in a practical setting. The goal of this class is to make sure we have heard of these drugs at least once.

In other news, I have now interviewed and presented my own patients. The dermatologist I have been shadowing is letting me see patients (with a resident keeping a close watch). This allows me to demonstrate my complete ignorance of dermatology for both the patients and the residents, but has helped me start to develop my all important “bedside manner”. I have a feeling I will be much better at interviewing and taking histories when I know roughly what I am hoping to find.

Of course, this is kind of what I expected from medical school. I’m busy and I’m challenged, and I like it. At this point in undergrad I was already bored (and still on winter break). The pace is grinding, but is also what keeps school interesting. It’s like sightseeing from a bullet train. While it’s impossible to see everything that flashes by, there are so many interesting things to see that the view is still captivating. Some semesters of undergrad felt like sightseeing from a snowplow.

I have been sending Facebook messages back and forth with a friend who is considering medical school. Most of his questions centered around the difficulty of the classes and exams, the pace, the hours, etc. I understand the worry from potential students, but I don’t understand the doubt. I have never once, even for a second, thought I would fail/drop out/give up during medical school. I would say that trend is strong among my friends as well. Despite the deluge of information and massive investments of time and money, I don’t think anyone is legitimately worried about dropping out. It’s fine to ask “how”, but counterproductive to ask “what if”.  To be honest, most of my classmates are generally happy people. Maybe this is because of our pass/fail system. Maybe our class is different. This is just an honest opinion from what I see on the days I go to class (instead of watching lectures online from home). If you think you can do it, you probably can. Just my opinion. Of course, it wouldn’t hurt to read up on this before you go applying, just in case 🙂

I have other topics I want to write about (vaccinations, antibiotic resistance, books and movies, and a stunning realization I had ordering dinner over break), but I really need to wrap up this little update of a post and call it day.

Thanks for reading!

sortadrwordpress@gmail.com

Habits

I have a Sunday afternoon ritual, one that has lasted for at least six years. After spending the morning at church and with the family, we get to the (potentially) best time of the week: Sunday afternoon. This wonderful time of the week can be spent doing whatever you want. Some of my favorites include napping, reading, cycling, watching football, and writing. This is why I can go an entire week without a post, but have a remarkable consistency on Sunday blogs. Unfortunately, none of these other activities are a habit for me on Sundays.

On most Sunday afternoons I come to terms with the assignments or exams due on Monday. I crack down and get started, only to be sidetracked by a blog or a funny YouTube video. During anatomy, we have a quiz or exam every Monday morning on the material from last week. That’s what I’m supposed to be studying for right now. During college I usually had lab reports due on Monday morning, and during Organic Chemistry the reports would regularly exceed 15 pages a week. One semester I completed a half-Ironman triathlon on Sunday morning, drove home during the afternoon, and then spent 3 hours that night finishing my lab report for the next day.

So I make a habit out of putting things off until Sunday afternoon, then trying to get them done quickly. It’s worked for me in the past, since I am usually pretty efficient and can pull a good grade out of last minute studying. I may have done myself in this last week, however. My birthday was last week, as well as the release of Call of Duty Ghosts, as well as some other extracurricular activities and generally gloomy weather that all combined to make me not very productive on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. Now I have to dig myself out of this mess, which means time in the lab all weekend long and extra studying next week to catch up and stay caught up with new material. Yikes.

Thankfully, I have an awesome teacher to help me get caught up. In fact, she is probably the best teacher I have ever had, and I don’t even know her name. I’m talking about the cadaver I have been dissecting for the last month or so. Learning anatomy from textbooks and pictures is terrible. Learning anatomy in the lab doing dissection is awesome. We can learn with our hands, learn from our mistakes, and learn the critical relationships that could never be grasped by looking at a book. Whoever this lady was, she gave a great gift to our group of students.

A few days ago we held a memorial service for all of the 200 or cadavers donated to the medical school. All of the families came and packed into a Catholic church (which is super old, but beautiful). The medical students then honored those that gave their bodies through music, reflections, and a prayer from each of the religions represented in the class. It was really moving, and a great way to thank the families whose relatives donated their bodies. I volunteered as well, but didn’t do anything too special. I drove a golf cart from the parking garage to the memorial service for those who couldn’t walk. True story.

If you are driving one of these and wearing a suit with a nametag, you can go anywhere you want.

I have no idea who this lady was. How many kids did she have? What was she like? Was she a night owl or a morning person? Who were her friends? She is a complete mystery to me. The only things I know about her are that she made a generous decision to help students she would never meet, and she was selfless in her gift. That’s pretty special. What we received from her was the capsule of what was a person. We get the chance to look inside and see the structures that made her human. Ultimately, that’s the reason I am going into the lab on Sunday afternoon to study. I know that this chance I have is special, and I want to honor the people whose gifts gave me this chance.

Thanks for reading.

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Brains, Blogging, and My Favorite Month of the Year

It’s Friday, the sun is shining, the leaves are brilliant shades of red and yellow, and November is just getting started! So many great things happen in November each year that it always makes for a great month. Allow me to walk you through some of these things by first backing up to yesterday.

It was fitting that our dissection of the skull and into the brain would be scheduled for October 31st. I spent the majority of the morning and afternoon carefully sawing, chiseling, and hammering my way through our cadaver’s skull. Eventually we were separated the brain itself from its protective covering (called dura mater) and removed it from the head as well. I think an appropriate amount of Frankenstein/Halloween jokes were made throughout the day. Personally, I thought this dissection was great. Not only did we get to use power tools, we also got to hold and examine the brain, the most intricate and beautiful organ in the body. One partner in my group was a little disturbed by the whole process, and I’m not actually sure where she was most of the time. The skull is quite thick, and the sawing process created lots of dust and a terrible smell (I thought it smelled like burnt hair and cheddar Sun Chips) that grossed many people out. The sawing part was tricky, since we didn’t want to cut too deep and turn our nice brain into a brain smoothie, but we also had to cut far enough to lift off the skull. I didn’t love the smell, but I thought the work was pretty cool. Side note: Chipotle was selling burritos for $3 if you wore a Halloween costume yesterday. I had a pair of scrubs in the car, which I realized doubled as a costume, and since I dissected straight through lunch my burrito for dinner was extra delicious. Yes, I just transitioned from brain smoothie to burritos in two sentences.

Another reason I love November is that my birthday is each year in November. I get less excited about presents every year (yet I also look forward to that….let’s be honest) and more excited about spending time with my family. Since I live farther from home now that I’m in medical school, I’m really looking forward to having my family come stay with me for part of the weekend to celebrate my birthday.

November is a bit of a sad month, because baseball is over, but also a happy month, because a whole new season kicks off. Yup. Gaming season. This pre-Christmas period is launch time for big budget video games that I enjoy playing, like Assassin’s Creed, Battlefield, and Call of Duty. Ever wonder why work/school is a little less crowded on the first Tuesday of November? Call of Duty came out, that’s why. Add in some time off for Thanksgiving, a few premature Christmas carols, and you’ve got a great month ahead of you.

There’s some other things going on this month that I would like to mention as well. You may or may not have heard of NaNoWriMo, which stands for National Novel Writing Month. Each November, several hundred thousand authors attempt to write a full length novel (50,000 words) in one month. They register online and could potentially win prizes when they submit their finished story by midnight on November 30th. All genres are fair game. I don’t think I can honestly commit to writing 1,667 words a day while in medical school (I’m not sure I say that many words a day), but someday I’d like to try. The beauty of NaNoWriMo is that the rush and pace help spark creativity. You essentially forget about editing and revisions and just dive in and write. That sounds like fun to me.

A more realistic goal is NaBloPoMo, AKA National Blog Posting Month. The challenge is to post once a day on your blog. The posts don’t have to be long or complicated. I’m pretty sure anything goes. I’m a firm believer in setting low expectations and then surprising yourself (just kidding) and this challenge is much more manageable than writing a novel this month. It takes just a quick glance to realize that despite blogging for nearly six months, I have only accumulated 29ish posts. Attempting to double that in a month will be challenging, to say the least.

I’ll wrap this up for today. I’m worried about my dog, who has chased her tail consistently for the last five minutes and looks a little bit dizzy. Thanks for reading. As always, feel free to leave a comment below or send it straight to my face at sortadrwordpress@gmail.com

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