Thursday, December 31, 2009

Put a Fork in 2009

Boy, this one got out of here fast, didn't it?

I finished finals on the 19th, cracked open a bottle of Blue Label and had a celebratory toast.  Let's just say those damned things were pretty tough.  I focused most of my efforts on Physiology and BioChem.  As a result, I pulled up those grades at the expense of my Anatomy grade which fell.  All told, though, I passed everything so I'm thrilled.  For a while, it seemed doubtful.  After the dust settled, I packed my stuff and got my ass back to Georgia for the holidays and have been doing as little as possible.  Seriously, my goal has been to stay in my pajamas as long as possible each day and watch the worst television possible (reality programming excluded).

What I Learned During My First Semester in Medical School
  • Nobody can truly prepare you for the shitstorm that you are entering.  Seriously, people told me that it would be tough but that I could succeed at it.  After I'd started, it seemed like all of my doctor friends changed their tune to "Yeah, it's pretty tough but you've got to gut it out and get through it."  Today, I really think that I can make it.  For the first few weeks, however, I was waiting for my bus ticket back home.
  • Your closest friends and family really have no idea what you are battling through on a daily basis.  People can empathize and sympathize but, unless someone has done it, people don't truly understand.  At times, this is great because having a conversation with someone who is "in the real world" is awesome.  The outside is a balance to the all-consuming world of being a student; it's beneficial.  At other times, it can be pretty lonely when you are trying to recount an anecdote who's primary audience are med-school dorks like you.
  • Sometimes, a class member can yell out "Anal Sex" in class and be courteously dismissed by the professor and thanked for a good guess but an incorrect answer.
  • When strangers find out you're a med student, they will tell you things that they don't confide to others; it's the blessing and the curse of the profession.  For example, the guy who cuts what's left of my hair dropped some heavy personal medical information on me during a visit.  The best I could do was listen, remind him that I was seven weeks into my first semester of school, offer to track down some information for him and try to give him some resources.  I was flattered and frightened by his confidence in me.
  • I can do this; I will be a doctor.  Early in the semester, I wrote a few notecards for myself and posted them around my apartment where I'd see them each day.  "Kick Ass Today" on the back door.  "You Can Do This" on the bathroom mirror.  The one that gets me going the most: "Do This For Bamba and Granddaddy." Sure do wish that those family and friends who have passed on could be here to experience this with me.  
  • Friends, old and new, get you through it.  I'm now in a fraternity with my classmates.  We've been through the hell of the semester together and have seen each other at our best and worst.  They're the day to day crew that help you get over the peaks and valleys of the coursework.  Of course, my wife, family, and friends back home helped me more than I can articulate.  Cards, voice messages, quick emails or texts give me so much motivation to keep studying for another ten minutes, another half hour, another hour, another day.
  • You will be isolated by what you know.  Lots of acquaintances will glaze over when you get into the second sentence of your description of med school.  Others will laud you with "fact" that are absolutely untrue.  Seriously, people will repeat things that one would think are too absurd to pass along as fact.  People just don't think about what they're saying.  I was walking my dog with a guy at the park who told me about a lady who "cured" her cancer simply by thinking positive thoughts.  After listening to as much as I could, I sort of unloaded on the error of his thinking and of the tremendous gaps in the retelling of his story.  Without a doubt, a positive attitude and strong support network is beneficial when fighting illness but I'm not sure that it's the only thing.  After spending most of every day thinking critically and doing your best to rationalize through things, it's a little more difficult to suffer fools and foolish comments. At a minimum, people should research things; snopes.com is a great start.
  • Classmates will drunk-dial you over the holidays to remind you of that one time when a microphone fell into your ass in front of the entire class.
  • Some classmates might get a little uneasy at jokes involving hobo hunting (for sport, of course) and jokes involving Bea Arthur's sexual magnetism.
Here's looking forward to next semester.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Staying Positive

One class final (Histology) and one practical exam down.

One practical exam, one presentation, and exams in Community and Behavioral Medicine, Medical Microbiology, Clinical Skills, Medical Physiology, Osteopathic Principles and Practice, Gross Anatomy, and Biochemistry to go. 

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

You've Got Mono!

I just got out of an essay exam in Microbiology.  Essentially, we were given an infectious condition and expected to identify the causative agent, describe the etiology of the causative agent, discuss the pathology of the condition, identify transmission methods, describe hallmark symptoms, describe any pertinent incidence/fatality rates, and discuss treatment options.  All of this in a pseudo-cohesive essay per condition, within an hour.

Our prof had given us a list of five possibilities:  bacterial pneumonia, bacterial diarrhea, burn wound infections, infectious mononucleosis, and urinary tract infections.  Of these five, two would be drawn from a hat at test time. We'd write a third essay on a condition of our choice that was not included in the original five.

So, as the week has drawn on, everyone has been busy trying to learn everything for all the conditions, some of which have what seems like a gajillion causative agents.  (Google some of the causes of bacterial diarrhea; there are seven serotypes of Escherichia coli alone.)  A few days ago, I started asking people what their wish list would be for the exam.  Most everyone, would say either bacterial pneumonia or diarrhea and infectious mononucleosis.  Mono is caused by the Epstein-Barr virus and, compared to the others, is easier to quickly understand and memorize key points.  As the rigors of the week continued to mount (we have two tests tomorrow and finals next week), people became more hopeful that we'd all get mono.

"I don't know ... I really hope we get mono!," someone would tell me.

"Yeah, that'd be pretty sweet," I'd concur.

Today, everyone made the final push on studying for it.  Like most exams, the room was buzzing with nervous tension in the minutes before the test.  One of our classmates picked the topics from a jar.  We were on pins an needles as our prof, unfolded the first one and announced that one of the topics would be bacterial pneumonia.  Everyone sighed.  In my gut, I knew that we'd be getting Urinary Tract Infections.

His hand rattled around in the jar for what seemed an eternity before he drew out a folded yellow slip and handed it to the prof.

"Your.  Next. Topic. Is. Infectious Mononucleosis!"

No shit, the room erupted with yells and applause.  All 75 of us were cheering and carrying on like we'd just won the lottery. It was ridiculous.  Hell, I personally was pumping my fist and screaming "Mono!!! Yeahhhhh!!!" without being at all sarcastic or ironic.  For five minutes after the cacophony settled, I sat there with my eyes closed laughing silently.  I smiled and chuckled during the entire thing.  Afterward, I headed to a conference room and laughed about it with a classmate until I cried.  Instead of studying for Histology and Anatomy, I'm writing this because it still kills me.  Damn, I wish I had it on video.  Classic.  Absolute classic.

That's what it's like to be a medical student:  the absolute effing highlight of my day involved cheering with joyful abandon for mono.  Honestly, it felt like my team won the big game on the final play with no time left.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Microphone Check, One, Two, One, Two...

In one of my classes, students are regularly used by instructors to demonstrate certain techniques and practical skills to the class.  Typically, the student, playing the role of the patient, will be examined by the instructor on an exam table on a small stage in the front of the class.  Overhead video cameras are used to ensure that everyone gets a great view of the treatment technique being addressed.

So, my lucky day was last week.  I was to be used to demonstrate how to identify and treat certain tender points on the posterior lumbar and sacral areas.  Normally, male students are shirtless and wear only a pair of running short.  The room was cold, however, and I got away with a pair of running shorts and a t-shirt.  During demonstration of the technique, the attending doctor had me slide to one side of the table so that he could manipulate my leg in order to demonstrate the treatment technique.  The following image shows how I was splayed on the table in front of my peers.


For the record, I wasn't wearing a sports bra. Also, my shorts were much shorter. 

While the professor was lecturing, he leaned over to move my leg.  His microphone fell off and dropped right into my ass-crack.  My shorts served as a thin, nylon barrier but, for all practical purposes, it was a direct hit.  Hell, I probably couldn't have placed it so precisely myself.


Precision and accuracy.

On feeling the impact and hearing the broadcast, muffled sounds of a microphone rumbling around in my ass, I quickly raised my head and flashed a confused expression to my classmates.  I was greeted with laughter, some stifled, most raucous.  Although I couldn't see him, it seemed as though it took the professor about an hour to gingerly pluck the microphone from my crevasse.

Never in my life had I been so happy to not have farted into a microphone placed in my butt.  (Not that this scenario has presented itself before, mind you.)  Had I done so, I would've immediately thanked everyone in the room, gather my things, and left, never to return. As it stands, I'm not sure that I'll be volunteering much more.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Down

Last night as I headed back to campus for a Physiology recitation, the moon perched in the sky, peeking through the clouds, winking at me, whispering "There is more.  There is more."  I had dressed in too light a jacket for the cold foggy day and wore the same into the night.  Sometimes, I like to feel the stinging cold air rip through my shirt and chill me to the core.  Sometimes, it's what I need to remind me that life exists outside the walls of this building, away from the formalin that leaps from an old, gray body to bury itself in my skin, apart from the pages and pages of text that I hunch over.  It heightens my senses, puts a snap in my step, pushes me urgently into these halls toward the tasks at hand.

I thought that Thanksgiving break would replenish me.  I thought that I could go home and be fully recharged.  Instead, I feel the pain of transition anew: parting is such sweet sorrow (again).  On my return, I discovered that those tending the fire had busied themselves splitting kindling and, on seeing me, dumped armloads onto the flame.  The heat is too much, is suffocating.  I want to wade out into the river and let the cooling waters pull me down, pull me down.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Culinary Delights

After nearly a semester of dissecting a cadaver, it's safe to say that my culinary horizons have narrowed slightly thanks to the sights, smells, sounds, and tactile experiences I've gained. Recently, I had to really coach myself through some tasty carne asada; so I guess that beef is probably off the list for a while.

Based on today's lab where we removed the GI tract and opened various structures, I can firmly say that I'll be hesitant to make a meal of only Oreos and pesto sauce.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Heal Me, Nature

Still licking my wounds, I headed into the canyon for a little "me" time to get away from things and to put something in front of my face that wasn't ink on a page. So, I headed into the river canyon for a short hike to get away from things, climb a ridge, and get a fresher perspective.

I drove fast in the canyon, leaning into the curves, glimpsing the river down below, seeing the rain clouds move in from the horizon. On reaching the trailhead, I ditched the car, grabbed my gear and heading across the river and into the thicket. I picked the steepest trail that I could find and attacked it. Within five minutes, my legs were throbbing and my lungs were on fire. I pushed onward, upward and, eventually, was rewarded with fantastic view of the canyon.





On the plateau, I lost the trail but managed to pick up a game trail and follow it for a while. Ten minutes later, when I was precariously perched on the seriously steep mountain side, I realized that I was not and had never been a mountain goat capable of comfortably walking on such stupidly sloped mountains. Carefully, I picked my way along the hillside for the next thirty minutes, pausing often, shooting some pics, and scouting my route. Eventually, I worked my way around the canyon and back to some landmarks that I'd noted that were on a proper footpath. Then, with quivering legs, I headed back to the car. I left the parking lot as the rain moved in and drove home tired and happy.

Friday, November 06, 2009

That Stung a Little*

*By "Stung a Little," I mean that it knocked me on my ass and hurt me badly. A brief rundown...

Community and Behavioral Medicine:

I'm in the white trunks.

Medical Microbiology
Here I am, taking the hit.

BioChemistry
Once again, I'm on the bad end of the business.

Medical Physiology
That's me in the role of Marcellus Wallace.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

The Beauty of Sleep Deprivation

While shower this morning, my sleep-deprived brain took made the jump from "I need to shave" to "Billy Mays had a strange beard" to "I wonder how much cocaine he did?" to "what if he was in 'Scarface' as Tony Montana?" to me actually doing the final scene in Mays' pitch man style.

Dress it up with a little Mays' flair...


Do you want to play games? I bet you do; the good new is that I'll play with you!
Do you like to play rough? Have I got a surprise for you!
Say 'hello' to My Little Friend(TM)!


Comedy gold.
(Comparison photo not available, obviously.)

Call me Hollywood ... before I get some sleep.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Friday Nears.

Awesome. Can't wait.


Yep...this about sums it up.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Week 12 : Done

The weeks continue to roll on by and the end of the semester looms ominously. Week 19 will be here before too long.

Anatomy: Still the Winner
Just wrapped up the thorax. Again, the dissection was incredible. I held a human heart in my hands. (!?!) The prof wasn't so thrilled when I reenacted "Temple of Doom."

Wearing the costume to class might
have been a little over the top.

I Am Amusing, Insensitive
So, the H1N1 flu has made the rounds at school. It seems to have abated now but a couple of weeks ago, tons of people were out. I didn't see one of my classmates for several days and just assumed that he had the swine flu (la gripa porcina). When he finally made it back to class, I we had the following brief conversation:
"So, man, are you back from the dead?," I asked innocently enough.
His face twisted in a funny sort of way that immediately made me feel a pit in my stomach. His was an expression that foretold that this conversation wouldn't end well for me.
"I'm not dead ... my wife's grandmother is the one who's dead. I was at the funeral," he tells me.
"I. Am. So. Sorry," I offer. "My condolences. I thought you were out with the flu."
"No, we were at the funeral."
"But I thought you had the flu...that's why I said...," I spoke, trailing off into awkward silence.
We nodded at each other and went our separate ways.

Next Week: 5 Tests!
So, my Halloween plans have been replaced. Instead of rocking the Charlie from "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" costume, I'll be attending a party at my desk and dressing as an overstressed 1st year medical student with five tests next week. In true dedication to the costume, I'll keep my stinking face in a stinking book.

Next Friday at about 12:05pm PST, however, I'll be dressed as a guy with a thirst for beer who's ready to ride the wings of the dragon through the cosmos.

Happy Birthday to Winning Run
Wish my sweetness was here. Or that I was there.
Love is a dress that you made
Long to hide your knees
Love to say this to your face
I love you only
For your days and excitement
What will you keep for to wear?
Someday drawing you different
May I be weaved in your hair

Love and some verses you hear
Say what you can say
Love to say this in your ear
I'll love you that way
From your changing contentment
What will you choose for to share?
Someday drawing you different
May I be weaved in your hair

"Love and Some Verses" - Iron & Wine

Monday, October 26, 2009

Tough One

So, last week in our Community and Behavioral Medicine class, we had a few lecturers come and speak to us about Child Abuse and how we, as physicians, can recognize signs of it and take actions to safeguard the children. I gotta say that after sitting through three hours of photos and case studies of physical and sexual abuse, I was ready to form a posse and dispense some frontier justice.

Seems like everyone was in a pretty good mood going into the class and just crushed and defeated at the end of it. Guess this being a doctor thing has its share of grim reality, huh? It isn't always a sunny outlook before the end credits roll and the commercials air.

Kudos to the folks out there who are fighting this stuff and working to protect kids on a daily basis.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Rodeo Daze

Today's shit was so far over my head that I took the rodeo approach: try to hang on for 8 seconds before you're thrown off. Then, quickly dust yourself off, run like hell for the fences, and let the clowns take over.

People were wondering why I was dressed like a bull-rider. They were even more confused when I sprinted from the room after 10 seconds of lecture.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Probably Not Going to Be Eating Crab Legs for a While...

Today's anatomy lab was another first for me. We removed the arms from the cadaver and put them with the other parts in the bin. It was pretty strange to use a hacksaw to cut off a limb and stranger still to put them in a RubberMaid bin with everything else from the body.

Afterward, we removed the front of the thoracic cage so that we could get to the lungs and remove them. Part of this entailed cutting the ribs with a pair of pliers or snips. Let's just say that based on the auditory and tactile experience of cutting human ribs with a handheld tool, it's going to be a long, long time before I sit down to a plate of you-crack-'em crab legs. It sounded and felt EXACTLY the same.

The lungs, however, are super cool. Even without drawn butter.

So, I Might Be a Little Tired...

After a late night to studying, I got up, showered, and lumbered into the kitchen to make coffee. I pulled out the filter and began to fill it. When it was halfway full, I noticed that instead of ground coffee, I was loading it with Splenda which has no coffee aroma and is the exact opposite color.

Nothing like a hot cup of freshly-brewed Splenda water!

Three on the...Right?
Yesterday in anatomy, our prof lectured about fetal lung development and, generally, about the structure of the lungs in the thoracic cavity. At one point, he mentioned utters the phrase "three on the right" and throws three fingers on his right chest. Supposedly, he meant to give us a quick way to recall that the right lung has three lobes versus the left's two.

Based, however, on the fact that I co-invented "three on the left" signal to indicate that one had "Turned the Fun Corner." Obviously, "three on the right" is a clear indication that someone needs an ass-beating. I let him slide this time. Next time, however, the gloves come off.

Disbanding the Army
Today in Anatomy Lab, we're supposed to detach the arms from our cadaver and put them in the body bin. I'm really honing my skills here. Hobos beware.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Almost Halfway Through the First Semester

Monday marks the beginning of the 9th week of this semester, approximately the halfway point. Honestly, things are all running together. Weeks seemingly fly by but, strangely, an hour can seem like an eternity to get something done. For example, a good fifteen minutes can be prime study time to review something in advance of a test or to get in a great, refreshing nap. That time seems to be moving on a couple of different scales is a little odd. It is what it is, I suppose.

Every Week Is Finals Week
Part of the struggle is that each week has a few exams. Seems like feedback from last year's class led to some changes which led to some unexpected consequences for my class: major tests almost every stinking week. A few days ago, someone remarked that they were trying to explain the stress to some friends. They approached it like this:
"Remember how we'd get all stressed out and study like crazy for finals? That's every week for us."
Personally, I think it's an accurate statement.

So Long, Frank the Farmer
For the "upper limb" section in anatomy, I'd worked with a new group on "Frank, the Farmer." A muscular older gentleman with a well-preserved body. Simply put, the shoulder, arm, forearm, wrist, and hand are amazingly complex but perfectly assembled. Seriously, the brachial plexus that sends nerves to everything in the region is amazing. The musculature is kick-ass. Obviously, you can feel how the tendons from your forearm make their way into your hand to control how your hand and fingers move. To see and tug on these things during dissection is another matter: ultimately cool. It really was like looking at a marionette or something.

That's me holding the paper and looking over might right shoulder at you.

My only problem during dissection was cutting into the hand. Specifically, removing the fingernails made me gag a little. My eyes started to water and, while talking, my voice did the funny "I'm about to throw up" sort of gurgle. Luckily, my team did a little distraction (obvious but effective) while they removed the nails so we could get down to the bones of the finger without the added insult of me vomiting on the cadaver.

The lab exam for this section was intense but so stinking cool. At one point, I walk up to a body and the only thing exposed from under the sheet was a dissected forearm and hand (positioned as if gripping an invisible tennis ball). Easily, it could've been a scene from a horror movie but, now, it's quite normal. As I walked up to it for my 60-second attempt to ID the tagged body part, I thought about how effing cool it is to be doing what I'm doing. Pretty awesome. Then, for my answer, I wrote "femur." I'm sure I passed.

Apples In Stereo
On Saturday, several of us went to a local apple orchard with our Medical Spanish group to visit with the migrant workers and get a better understanding of their daily jobs. We took hot coffee and pan dulce from one of the local shops. Holy smokes, these people work so hard. Offer a little thanks the next time you eat any fruit or vegetable, migrant labor got it onto your table.

Tree full of apples.

We weren't supposed to eat the ones off this tree.
I did and became embarrassed of my own nakedness.
(My classmates, however, were already weirded out by my nudity.)

In the orchards, everything is harvested by hand so as not to bruise the apples. These guys and women (some several months pregnant) wear bags that they fill with between 30 and 50 pounds of apples before carefully unloading them into a huge crate. It takes about 30 sacks full to fill a crate. In a day, a fast picker can fill 10 crates. Not only do they work quickly, they're expected to pick the apples without bruising them or breaking off the stems. If they do either one, they get a "demerit," three demerits gets you a "slip." If you receive a couple of slips, you're looking for another job. If I had no quality control levels to hit, I could probably fill three or four crates before falling onto my ass from exhaustion. Afterward, I'd likely be unable to move for days due to intense back and shoulder pain. It was amazing to witness. Be thankful for what you've got, you know.

Up This Week
Exams in Microbiology, BioChemistry, Epidemiology, and Physiology! Friday will be here before I know it.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Cereal Fail

Tonight, my dinner of champions is a bowl of wheat flakes cereal with dried berries in soy milk. As I opened the box of cereal, the scent that rushed out of the inner bag and hit me in the face was the exact one that I get when I open up a body bag in cadaver lab.

Puzzled, I paused for a moment to be sure that I wasn't hallucinating and was really in my apartment and that a well-preserved hand wasn't in my cereal box.

I'm eating it but every damned bite smells like formyl preservative. I just wasted four and a half bucks on this shit. Fail.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

When It Rains...

After a wonderful weekend in which my wife, parents, sister, and mother- and father-in-law visited for my white coat ceremony, I've been getting ready for this week's exams. Last night, however, I came down with what I presume is the flu. Today, I stayed home and huddled, shivering under the covers most of the day while I tried to sleep and, in the process, get every bit of sweat out of my body. As night has fallen, I've been increasingly stressed out about class and exams and sad about missing Winning Run's building opening.

My plight was quickly put into the proper perspective when, a short time ago, I found out that a buddy of mine from my old neighborhood softball team, the East Atlanta Pillage, died either yesterday or today from a fall while hiking Lava Rock Falls in the Grand Canyon. Needless to say, my heart goes out to his family and everyone who was touched by his endless cheer and wonderfully unique outlook.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Stand and Deliver

Or Holy @$*!, They Know Our Names
Today's BioChem lecture found us with a new prof for the next several weeks. Today's lecture was on the intricacies of conservative DNA reproduction. Easy enough, we thought...until he started calling people's names from memory and asking them to answer questions. The tension was overwhelming. The first time he called on someone, we thought that maybe he simply knew them as their faculty advisor. The third time it happened, we were terrified. Each person's eyes were wide with fear; everyone screamed through closed mouths "They know our names! It is not safe here." You could hear the seat cushions being squeezed by room's collective ass clenching.

Like everyone else, I willed myself invisible, declined to make eye contact with him, studied his slides intently, and took amazing notes. It was to no avail: As he strolled around giving his lecture, he asked a question and then said my name. From me seat, I yelled the answer because he was on the other side of the room. The heads of everyone in the class spun around to look at me because, evidently, he was talking to someone else with my name. He casually looks at me, correctly states my last name, and asks me to stand and tell the class the answer. Well, for some reason, I geeked out and totally changed my answer to one less correct before turning beet red, peeing on myself, and sitting back down in my seat.

Next time, I'll wait for him to call my last name prior to spazzing out and yelling an answer.

This is awesome; it's not like I wasn't stressed out before. Super.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Man, We Make Our Own Movies

The Hold Steady's "Slapped Actress" has gotten me through the last few weeks. Holy smokes, I love it.
Don't tell my sister about your most recent vision.
Don't tell my family; they're all wicked strict Christians.
Don't tell the hangers-on.
Don't tell your friends.
Don't tell them we went down to Ybor City again.

Don't tell the dancers; they'll just get distracted.
Don't tell the DJs; they already suspect us.
Don't mention the bloodshed.
Don't mention the skins.
Don't tell them Ybor City almost killed us again.

We are the theater.
They are the people dressed up to be seated, looking upwards and dreaming.
We're the projectors.
We're hosting the screening.
We're dust in the spotlights.
We're just kind of floating.

Don't drop little hints.
I don't want them to guess.
Don't mention Tampa, they'll just know all the rest.
Don't mention the bloodshed.
Don't tell them it hurts.
Don't say we saw angels; they'll take us straight to the church.

They queue up for tickets to see the performance.
They push to get closer.
Looking upwards with wonder.

We are the actors.
The cameras are rolling.
I'll be Ben Gazzara, you'll be Gena Rowlands.

Sometimes actresses get slapped.

Sometimes actresses get slapped.
Sometimes fake fights turn out bad.
Sometimes actresses get slapped.
Some nights making it look real might end up with someone hurt.
Some nights it's just entertainment.
Some other nights it's work.

They come in for the feeding, sit in stadium seating.
They're holding their hands out for the body and blood now.

We're the directors.
Our hands will hold steady.
I'll be John Cassavettes, let me know when you're ready.

Man, we make our own movies.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Five Weeks In: Cracks Are Starting to Show

I guess the end of this week brings it to five weeks in medical school. So far, things has been barely manageable. Last week, my anatomy practical was the latest hurdle. This week, it was major tests in Physiology, Microbiology, Biochemisty, and Epidemiology. Next week, it is Histology.

Yikes. Any of these alone would be enough to have me drawn tight enough to devote all my time to it specifically. Together, however, it's a lot like being on The Tonight Show and keeping the spinning plates going: everything is precariously balanced and threatening to spin off into destruction. So it is with me: things are beginning to hit the floor.

When I Said I Wouldn't Have Time to Call or Write, I Wasn't Lying
Recently, I had a pretty big argument with someone dear to me. Conversation started fine enough but, I felt, turned into a questioning of how I'm spending my time and some guilt-laden pressure to stay in better contact. Naturally, I took umbrage at this assertion. Honestly, I have unreturned phone calls and unread email messages from friends and family. It is no joke: I HAVE NO EXTRA TIME. The first week of school was, in retrospect, pretty damned leisurely. Since then, it's been a steamroller that is crushing me.

So, I beg you not to take any lack of communication or of response as a personal slight. Often, if I'm not in class I need the time to recharge my batteries by doing something mindless, by sleeping, by being quiet, or by doing nothing. If I don't take care of myself, I'll be in no shape to be successful at this.

Please consider that I'm under some phenomenal stress here. Not only am I fighting to achieve a goal toward which I've worked for the last several years, I'm trying to do it in a place without the immediate support structure of family and friends.

Think of not hearing from me as "no news is good news." That being said, feel free to drop me a line or leave me a message if you're thinking of me; I love getting cards, messages, and email messages. When I can, I'll get back to you but it might not be for several weeks.

Labor Day Weekend
Last weekend, I went to L.A. for my buddy K's wedding. It was ridiculous. The hotels were fantastic, the food was great, the company was better. I loved seeing family (Winning Run!) and friends and letting them talk me off the ledge and give me some perspective on things going on in the "outside world." Needless to say, I didn't get much studying done for the four exams that I had yesterday (and it showed!) but I wouldn't trade the experience for anything. Nothing beats having an "In & Out Burger" catering truck show up after your reception to feed those guests who had so much fun dancing and taking advantage of the open bar. In other words, I enjoyed my double-double animal style.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Deep Inside Walter's Back

Or Why I"m Taking a Break From Eating Butter
(Or: Why I'll Never Again Look at a Wood Chisel the Same Way)
A couple of weeksa ago in Anatomy Lab, I used a wood chisel and a hammer to perform a laminectomy on Walter. We removed part of his vertebral column so that we could take a gander at his spinal cord. It was ridiculously cool but it will forever make me think of Walter whenever I see a wood chisel.

Also, during dissection, fat cells seem to "weep" their contents into your work space. While I was trying to clean around some muscles in the neck, these yellow fat cells kept oozing greasy fat. If I wasn't already a little put off by them, I certain was when one of my teammates remarked that it looked like melted butter. I immediately grabbed a dinner roll and, then, puked.

Overheard
"Aww, man...these nuts taste like my cadaver smells."

Advising my classmate to stop eating the nuts seemed like a sensible reply that, if nothing else, completely let go of the comedic gem of his statement. He should consider it a freebie.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Matrix and BioChemistry

You know what I really, really want right now? I want to live in a Matrix-like world where I could just have someone download BioChemistry into this thick-assed noggin of mine. I just cannot seem to get a toehold on this subject; I think that I'm still carrying some resistance from Organic Chemistry (recap here) that is preventing me from opening up to BioChem. Nonetheless, I'd love to pause for a second or two until the download was complete and, in my best Keanu voice, look up and marvel "Whoa...I know Bio Chemistry."

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Sorry, Walter, This Might Hurt a Little

Another week of medical school in the books. I swear, some days are awesome and others just humble you; so it has been for another week. Once more I stare at an approaching weekend with little more than studying, doing laundry, and catching up on sleep on my list of things to do.

Another week in the books. The gloves are off, now. I am still running on adrenaline: staying up until midnight or 12:30 studying and getting up at 5:15 or 5:30 to, surprise, do more studying. I'm starting to feel a little run down. Guess that's part of what I signed up for, isn't it?

Classes were good. This week, we practiced doing a patient interview and taking a patient history which was pretty damned hard. Seriously, how the hell do you meet someone, figure out why they're seeing the doctor, get more information about their "chief complaint," take a medical history, make a diagnosis, and form a plan of attack in about fifteen minutes? Pretty tough to do. I have a great respect for those folks who make it look easy.

Anywho, I'm still struggling to keep up with the reading and make sense of everything covered in class. It's a battle that I don't imagine will end soon. At the very least, I hope to get used to the discomfort of it all.

My First (Human) Dissection
Today was our first dissection in anatomy lab. All day long, everyone was buzzing with excitement. Some were really looking forward to it, others were cautiously excited about it, and still others were pretty apprehensive. Prior to lab, we had to watch a video specifically about removing skin. Funny, when I mentioned wanted to hear "The Killing Moon" and made vague references to "putting the lotion in the basket," people didn't seem to know that I was talking about. It's a cultivated sense of humor, I suppose.

As the time neared for lab though, the joking seemed to dissipate and everyone got a little more serious. Our tasks for the day were to get to lab, flip our body onto the stomach, skin the back, and dissect some of the superficial muscles. Seriously, think about this for a moment: we were tasked with skinning a human back. Not really something that you do every day.

I grabbed a lab coat and joined my team at the dissection table. Everyone was really amped. I mentioned that I'd like to call the cadaver Walter and explained that, to me, he really looked like a Walter. One of my teammates confessed that, she too, had been thinking of the name Walter for him. I thought it was a little uncanny that we'd both thought the same thing but it was settled; we'd be working on Walter.

Our first task was to remove Walter from the body bad that we'd put him in the prior week and roll him over. Prior to doing this, though, we put some socks on his hands and feet and sprayed them with a moistening solution to prevent them from drying out too badly. Then, we need to put a wet cloth on his face and plastic bag over his head for the same reason.

As we're working on his hands and feet, I guess that we shook him a little. While I was staring right into Walter's lifeless eyes, the top of his skull pulled off to reveal that his brain had been removed. Immediately, I felt myself flush and felt beads of sweat on my forehead and upper lip.

"Why's it so hot in here?," I asked. "Seriously, are you guys hot?, " I asked, feeling a little lightheaded. "I'm really hot." Afraid that I would soon hit the floor, I tore myself away from Walter's vacant stare, replace the top of his head, took several deep breaths, and tried to think of something else. Within a few moments, I felt fine; crisis averted. In retrospect, I think that getting really freaked out and almost hitting the deck is pretty normal when staring into someone's eyes and their head comes apart. Hell, you're just not supposed to see that, you know?

With the help of a few other folks, we turned Walter onto his belly and worked a prop under his neck so that he wouldn't be laying on his face. Then, it was time to cut. Everyone else in our group was a little tentative about making the first incision, so I readily volunteered. Our job was to make a series of incisions in order to remove the skin from the back and get access to the musculature.

A guide to making incisions
from our dissection manual.


I thanked Walter for his gift to us, apologized to him, plunged the scalpel into the base of his skull and cut a line from his neck to his ass crack. Then, I carved around the top of this glutes, up to his armpits, down his arms and, finally, back up to his neck where we started. I must say, it's a pretty damned unnatural thing to do.

During the skinning, I felt like I was the king of the "finger hole," a technique that allows you to put a good bit on tension on a piece of epidermis that's being removed. Again, in any other context, it would be quite disturbing to think about but, hey, it's what goes on in lab. Finally, we got the skin off of his back and attempted to remove additional fatty tissue in order to get down to the superficial muscles. All the while, we kept pitching parts of Walter into a bin. During the semester, all parts of a cadaver are kept together so that, when the dissection is complete, the remains will be cremated and returned to the family. In all likelihood, I probably won't be eating steak for the near future (or, for that matter, visiting my local butcher).

Behold: the "finger hole."

After an eternity, we finally removed enough tissue to clearly identify the superficial muscles. We saw his atrophied trapezius muscles, his latissimus dorsi, his rhomboids, and a slew of nerves and arteries. It was pretty damned cool, I must say. During the dissection, I was trying to get a piece of fatty tissue off of the back when it tore loose and flew straight into my eye and onto my face.

Afterward, my fingers were tingling from the formaldehyde (through the gloves); my clothes stank of it. No matter how much I washed, I couldn't seem to get the smell off of me. I guess we're bonded now, Walter and me. BFFs or at least until the course ends and he goes home to his family after completing one final awesome deed.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Med School Is Like Golf

(Or How Thinking About Taking A Dump Gave Me Hope)

After a weekend spent trying to catch up on sleep and determine the best approach to studying, I find myself nearing the middle of week two. So far, the only constant is that the peaks and valleys are still there. One day, I feel like I'm about to get voted off the island. The next, I think that this crazy-assed plan just might work: we just might win this dance contest and save the old folks' home with the prize money.

In a lot of ways, it's like the game of golf. Or, more importantly, it's like the game of golf is for ME. I'm okay at it. During a typical round, I feel like I'm having to work hard just to be a moderately bad golfer. Just when I'm considering throwing in the towel, I hit a nice shot that lands in the fairway. Hell, if I'm lucky, I might make par on a hole. It's just enough, exactly when I need it to make me put the clubs back in the car instead of heaving them into the nearest water hazard.

Same thing with school. After a series of "defeats," something - some little insignificant thing - clicks and you think "I can do this. I'm going to make it. I'm going to be good."

Today's tiny victory came during Histology. After a great day of Physiology (diffusion, active transport, and action potentials), Biochem (protein folding and the health problems associated with incorrect folding), Gross Anatomy (lecture about the structure of the spinal column), we moved into Histology for a lecture on Epithelium and Connective Tissues.

Biologically speaking, one of my favorite cells is the goblet cell. Essentially, it's a single-celled gland, shaped like a wine glass, that secrets mucous in various places in your body, such as your esophagus and other places in your gut. Our professor was showing slides of goblet cells and happened to display one of a goblet cell in the colon. He described how, initially, one would encounter only a few goblet cells in the walls of the colon but as you move through it, you'd encounter an increasing number until, near the end, there are a substantial number. (I am, of course, paraphrasing a bit. A proper scientist might pick this one apart.)

He asked, "Why would you encounter an increasing number?" Then, silence.

"To help you poop more easily," I whisper to classmates around me.

Although nobody, including me, offered an answer, he confirmed what I'd said, albeit in a more eloquently stated manner. And I got to take down the following words in my notes:
Going down through colon: more and more goblet cells.
Needed for lubrication to aid removal of fecal matter from the anus.
All hail the goblet cell.

That was my victory for today. I shall try again tomorrow.

Monday, August 17, 2009

God Bless Skype

Made a few video calls this weekend to Winning Run and to my friend who's on active duty in Germany. Holy smokes, it's pretty damned cool. Really, it's the technological promise of the future. Next, I want my jet pack, dammit.

Back to the studying. I've scratched my ass twice today and those small insignigicant actions have got me behind. Boo me.

Friday, August 14, 2009

One Week

If anything, this experience has been about the emotional ups and downs that accompany being a new student in a med-school program. One day I'm thrilled and really positive that I'll succeed; the next day I'm pretty convinced that I'm going to fail everything and be asked to leave the program. So far, it's been a study in control and stress management. I worked with a guy who would describe it like a duck. "A duck?," you might think. Yep. A duck: on the surface it might look calm but underneath, it's paddling like hell.

So, I'm like a duck. Except I might not look as calm.

The Honeymoon Is Over
After the glorious "ease-in" of the first day, I've definitely been freaked out about everything. The volume of information is, as they put it, intense. If I've heard the phrase "it's like trying to take a drink of water from a fire hose" one time, I've heard it a thousand. It is, however, a pretty good way of looking at everything.

Here's a quick rundown of my classes with the official descriptions:
  • Clinical Skills - This course is designed to teach the students how to perform a proper history and physical examination. He/she will be assessed not only on the knowledge related to this activity, but also the practical skills related to (1) interviewing and history taking, (2) performing the physical examination, and (3) making clinical judgments. The course will teach the various systems and how to understand the importance of the history and physical examination for detecting pathophysiology. The student will learn to make a differential diagnosis, leading to the selection of "definitive" laboratory studies and then ultimately to diagnosis and treatment.
  • Community and Behavioral Medicine - This combination lecture, small group and problem-based learning course will focus on topics ranging from the behavioral sciences to health care systems management and public health. The emphasis will be to develop the student's process of clinical decision-making. PNWU curriculum goals regarding lifelong learning, self-care, ethics, and social and community contexts of care will be addressed. Other topics include biological correlates of behavior, personality, learning and behavioral change, life-span development, communication and interaction, group processes, family and community socio-cultural patterns of behavior, behavioral risk factors and disease, study design and biostatistics, and medical jurisprudence.
  • Physiology - This combination lecture and laboratory course is a comprehensive study of normal human physiology and neurophysiology. It will focus on properties and functions of living cells, tissues, organs, and organ systems with special emphasis on integration, control, and pathophysiology. The course includes an overview of normal and pathological physiology of the human nervous system as it relates to perception, behavior, and the control of bodily functions.
  • Biochemistry - Students will learn the structure and function of the human body's most basic constituents and the role of these components in normal body function and pathological processes. Major elements of the course include key concepts in biochemistry, nutrition, molecular biology, immunology and genetics.
  • Gross Anatomy - This combined lecture and laboratory course introduces the student to the macroscopic structure of the human body using a regional approach. Emphasis is placed on the correlation between anatomical structure and function, embryonic development, clinical application, radiologic interpretation, and usage of correct anatomical terminology. Study of the emergence of human form is oriented towards its relation to gross anatomy, on the one hand, and to the pathological conditions that have a developmental basis on the other. Resources used during the laboratory portion include cadaver dissection, radiographs, MRIs, CT scans, OPP, and orthopedic clinical correlation.
  • Pathology - This combined lecture and laboratory course explores functional anatomy principally at the light and electron microscope levels. Study of basic cell structure, the functions of cellular organelles, and the relationship between ultrastructure and cellular function will be emphasized. This course further highlights the intimate relationship between structure and function through the study of functional morphology of diverse cell types, their organization into tissues, and the properties of these tissues. In addition, this course examines contributions made by coherent organization of tissues into organs to human form (gross anatomy) and function (physiology) and provides a foundation for how its distortion correlates with disease.
  • Osteopathic Principles and Practice - Osteopathic Principles and Practice I is a combined lecture and laboratory course comprised of formal didactic lectures ("cognitive component") in an amphitheater setting, small group "problem based learning" (PBL) sessions ("cognitive component"), and clinical skills training (CST, "psychomotor" component) conducted in a large teaching laboratory setting. The skills and knowledge that will be taught and examined are done in a cumulative and comprehensive manner. The course will familiarize the students with the history of osteopathy, the research contribution, the future projections for the profession, and the anatomical and physiological basis of osteopathic medicine. The students will also understand the biomechanics of the various joints of the musculoskeletal system and how to manage them. The student will understand how to integrate osteopathic principles with clinical medicine, surgery, pediatrics, and gynecology/obstetrics.
  • Microbiology - This combination lecture and laboratory course presents virology, bacteriology, mycology, and parasitology from a medical standpoint and will emphasize microbe morphology, physiology, life history, pathogenicity, epidemiology, diagnosis, therapy, and prevention. A case history / problem-solving approach to infectious diseases will be incorporated throughout the course and will emphasize such clinical aspects as etiology, patient management, specimen collection, laboratory tests, pathologic findings, and prognosis. Most basic science concepts will be discussed via analysis of clinical case studies.
  • Current Issues - In this lecture course, osteopathic primary care physicians and other professionals will present lectures on specifics topics related to the present day practice of primary care medicine, especially in rural or underserved areas of the country.
So, as you can imagine, I'm a little busy with stuff. So far, I've had about a gajillion pages to read. I've literally gone to bed at around midnight or later and gotten up at about 5:30a.m. to begin the day with a little coffee and "light reading." Wow. This stuff is intense. And, they took it easy on us this week. Yippee.

I Met Walter, Our Cadaver
On Thursday of this week, we had our first official Gross Anatomy lab. During the course of the year, we'll be dissecting a human body. We've been reminded to think of the cadaver as our first patient, the one who will teach us so much more about medicine and about the body than we'll ever learn.

I'll admit that I was pretty anxious about going in there on the first day. Hell, with my luck, I would be the one to pass out or drop the body or set something on fire or throw up or something. Various scenarios ran through my head, you know. Anywho, we met in the lab to "unpack" our bodies. Our group of four cautiously opened the hood on the stainless steel table and looked inside. There, in two giant, plastic bags was our cadaver. Our task for the day was to remove the plastic bags, drain the preservative from the body, and put a body bag on it. Really, there was nothing to do but to dive right into it. I cut through the first bag and the smell of the formyl got really intense. If you've ever dissected a fetal pig or anything, magnify the scent by about 100. Then, we cut the second bag away to reveal the naked, preserved body of an older (maybe 70s) male.

So, a minute later, I'm there with a lab partner, wrestling with a preserved human body, trying to slide a body bag under it, occasionally glancing at the vacant eyes that keep staring at the ceiling, looking at the stubble on his face, and trying not to get the fluid all over me. Had the setting and circumstances been different, we could've been acting out a scene from a Scorsese film. Instead, I was surrounded by 74 other students trying to do the same thing to 19 other bodies. It was one of the most amazing things that I've done and I've not even started a dissection...this was just unpacking day.

I couldn't help thinking that this person had been someone's friend, somebody's husband, a father, a grandaddy. I thought about what we'd be doing to this body, how we'd be getting to know the most minute secrets it held and I couldn't help but be amazed by the beauty of the person's gift to us medical students. Dissection, after all, is not easy; it is a highly organized destruction of a body. To know what occurs during dissection and to still make the ultimate gift of yourself is nothing short of amazing. I've decided to call the cadaver Walter. (I don't know, he just seems like a Walter to me.) Anywho, thanks Walter. Look forward to spending more time with you.

The General Freak-Out
So, everyone is pretty much freaking out. We're right to do it, too. Already we're feeling behind in class and feeling that there is no way in hell that we'll be able to survive any of the testing. It's pretty funny (or not) to put 75 mostly Type A personalities in a room and watch their anxieties about grades manifest. The funniest are the youngest people who are fresh out of school and are terribly stressed. That being said, I need to quit writing and get some more studying done. I'll try to post as frequently as possible.

Monday, August 10, 2009

One Down...

Well, I made it through the first day of school: about four hours of Clinical Science and another three of Epidemiology. My brain hurts.

Gotta go read.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Ready, Set ...

Got back from an orientation retreat on Thursday afternoon and joined a friend and his wife for dinner. I must say, everyone that I've met -- both students and faculty -- have been really friendly and genuinely excited about the school.


We spent the orientation at some cabins at Camp Prime Time,
a camp for seriously ill children and their families.

A lake near Camp Prime Time.

There are 75 of us in the incoming class. I've probably had a good conversation with about 65 of them. The other ten or so, I've not really gotten to know just yet. There are, however, a crap-ton of interesting people. For example, one guy used to train honeybees to identify landmines. (Apparently, they're also being trained to find dead bodies and meth labs.) Pretty stinking cool. Seriously, he used to train bees to find landmines. I still can't get my head around how freaking cool that must've been. Several have just left the military. One, I think, is fresh out of college.

Like me, several folks are without their wives and families. One friend just left his wife and two kids (3 and around 1) back east; they won't be out until next June. Strength in numbers, I guess.

I'm neither the oldest or the only person without a hardy science background.

I am not alone. (I knew I wouldn't be but still.) I am happy(-er).

Someone's Going to Show Up and Take It All Back
I've picked up about a ton of books, some scrubs, a stethoscope, and other diagnostic gear. I put it on and, next week, will wear it to school on certain days. At this point, I feel like they're a bunch of props for some costume party. Isn't someone going to come and take them away from me? It's all so new and strange.

Freshly unpacked, oversized scrubs.

Putting on the gear.

Seriously, my self image hasn't come up-to-speed with where I am in this process. I'm still holding on to my former identity as an instructional designer / software consultant or, at the very least, an applicant. Holy crap, I am a medical student; it's here.

The Crushing Weight of Study
I'm right on the precipice of my "Oh Shit Moment," where I'll absolutely lose it and freak the hell out. As expected, the faculty met with us during orientation to describe some typical study schedules and how we should expect to spend between 60 and 80 hours a weeks on coursework (in class and self-study). As expected, their plan to motivate everyone to begin their studies has worked. I've started to substitute Pepto Bismol for the half and half in my coffee.

Based on their professional estimates, I can probably have about four hours of waking time to myself. Subtract the time that I'll need for meals and stress-related bowel movements and I should have about 20 minutes per day. Holy smokes, what have I gotten myself into?

Monday, August 03, 2009

Scrambled Eggs; They're Calling Again

Last Tuesday, I met Winning Run in Seattle. She'd come out for a few days of R&R and to speak with a few firms in the area. I made the drive from Yakima to the Sea-Tac airport in a little over two hours; it was a very pretty drive. I'm still amazed at the change in topography: the closer you get to Seattle, the greener everything becomes. I really am in the high desert, I suppose.

View from the drive toward Seattle.

We drove from the airport to our meager hotel in downtown Seattle. In any other time of the year, it would've been just fine but, considering that Seattle was in the grips of a triple-digit heatwave, a Euro-style hotel without air-conditioning wasn't going to work out for us. So, we dipped into Pike Place Market for a bite to eat, to get a glimpse of the sunset, and to prepare ourselves for a restless night in a 9th floor sweat box.

Pike Place Market

The next day, we toured some interesting buildings: the Seattle Public Library and the Experience Music Project. The library rocked. I was sort of cool on Gehry's Experience Music Project / Science Fiction Hall of Fame. Like some of his other works, I think they're interesting at a distance but, up close, the detailing sort of detracts from everything.


Inside the library.

A view of the Experience Music Project.

Seattle's Space Needle.

Space Needle, The Scholar.
The Scholar, Space Needle.

Later, we stumbled across a gem: Maximus Minimus, a mobile BBQ joint. They served up some ridiculously good sandwiches and lemonades. Lucky, indeed!

Maximus Minimus, a rolling BBQ stand with kick-ass wares.

Portland, OR
Thursday evening, we headed down to Portland for more explanation and interviews. This city was amazing. Although we don't have the photos to show for it, the scale of Portland was great: smaller building, cool neighborhoods, and friendly people. Of course, we bumped into our share of homeless folks with severe mental health issues. Apparently, Meth is a helluva drug.

On our way back to Yakima, we drove along the Columbia River Gorge and we're awed by everything we saw along the way. Holy smokes, that river is amazing. The gorge is amazing. Oregon knows how to put in a freeway: make it run along stunning scenery. Two thumbs up.

We took a detour and headed down to Mt. Hood for a little sightseeing. It rocked. I'm looking forward to getting in some quality snow time in the future.


Back to the Yak
We made it back here late Saturday afternoon. Winning Run inspected the apartment and decided that it wasn't as bad as she expected. So, we've been trying to unpack and make it "homier." It's a big, big help to have her out here; it doesn't seem so bad when you're sharing it with someone.

Orientation starts tomorrow!

Monday, July 27, 2009

File This Under Strange

So, I've sort of talked myself off of the ledge of despair. Today, I had a technology orientation where we received our laptop and learned all of the various software programs that will make hard subject matter a little bit cooler. During the session, I met a few other classmates and had some nice conversations. After the session, me and this guy, Mike, decided that we'd grab a bite and a beer in the evening as his wife is also back home.

So, we stroll into the Second Street Grill, take seats at the bar, grab beers, and start chatting. Thirty minutes or so pass and there is lull in the conversation. In the break between topics, I take a minute to look around the bar and take in the surroundings. I recognize the guy sitting next to me: Jeremy from Atlanta, a friend, an accomplice of Dr. J3K, and a mountain-biking buddy. He is the very last person that I expect to randomly bump into on a Monday night ... at a sports pub ... in Yakima freaking Washington.

"Jeremy???"

He looks up from his meal. Stares at me and just freezes before muttering something like "What the hell is going on? Who are you?"

We were both good and freaked out for about ten minutes.

Evidently, he's here on a consulting assignment and, at this point, has lived in the city longer than I have. As we see each other mostly when Dr. James Three Thousand is in town, I'm not sure that he was aware that I was moving here. Needless to say, it was a freaky-ass thing to experience. I'm still a little weirded out by it. It is, by far, the strangest thing to happen to me in a long, long time -- excluding, of course, the incident at the hobo convention with the duct tape, squash blossoms, and commemorative Obama plates.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

What Not to Do When You're Homesick

Just for the record, a good homesickness cure is not to ask your wife to put you on speaker phone and let you talk to your dog.

The words "He just picked up his toy and started wagging his tail" will break you down into a heap of choked sobs and streaming tears.

How the hell am I going to do this without them?

#1 Dad

This afternoon, I put my dad on the shuttle back to Seattle for his flight. On my drive back to the craphole, I fought back tears. After arriving, I managed to wallow in my own homesickness for a little while. Holy shit, I was one step away from watching "Of Mice and Men." That would've been happy-go-lucky. Anywho, it made me reflect on the past week.

On our cross-country drive, we were listening to The Moth podcast. A woman was telling a story about her mother and made the comment that "parents are so much more forgiving of their children than children are of their parents." It stuck with me and made (makes) me want to be a better son, to be more patient with them, and the like because no matter how old you get, you're always their child and, if you're lucky, the beneficiary of their unconditional love.

At this point in my life, I've lived away from home for as long as I ever lived at home. Since I left for college, this road trip has been the longest time me and dad have spent together by ourselves. It was a pretty fun drive, I must say. It was pretty damned cool seeing dad excited, like a little kid on a family vacation drive. If I had a dollar for every time he called my name and pointed to something he saw on the freeway, I'd be a rich man. It's nice to see your folks full of wonder.

Checking out St. Louis from the arch.


Snapping shots of the "fireball dropping out of the sky."


Studying the roadside, getting ready to point out something.


I suspect that, in part, this trip was something that Dad really wanted to do as an adventure. I also suspect that the equally important reason was that he was the family ambassador sent by Mom to come with me on this journey, to lay eyes on me and this strange new town so many miles away, and to once again turn me loose to the world.

I am lucky.

You Have Died of Dysentery

Friday, we woke and started final leg of the trip with promises that we'd be in-bed and well-fed early in the night. It seems like all week long, we ended up driving really late and going to bed hungry. In retrospect, it seems like more punishment than was necessary but, at the very least, dad was a great sport about it.

The stars of the show.

On reaching Oregon, we were constantly amazed by the scenery, the mountains, and the farmland. At one point, the highway rounded a mountain and opened into an utterly staggering vista before dropping for six miles at a six percent grade. Once more, the descent was harrowing in a moving truck towing a car. Dad and I both got a chuckle out of the fact that my mom would've been absolutely unglued had she been in the car with us.

Click on the image to enlarge it.
No matter the size, it won't do it justice.

Best Rest Stop in the Country: Weatherby, OR
In dire need of "rest," we stopped at a rest stop in Weatherby, Oregon. After narrowly avoiding ruptured bladders, we wandered about the place and read about the Oregon Trail (the real one, not this one) which passed through those very mountains...with horse-drawn wagons...a hundred and sixty years ago. Ridiculous.

The next time you get pissed that you have no bars on your mobile phone in the middle of nowhere, think of a family spending six days trying to navigate one single stinking mountain while watching loved ones die. We're sissies every one of us.

View from the rest stop at Weatherby, Oregon.
Dad was checking out the educational signs.

He Was Right
A few rest stops we bumped into some folks that, evidently, were traveling the same route. They were the grungy, black-clad, dread-locked, pierced hippies. Dad walked by them on the way to the can. On returning he says, " Sax was right, they are dirty hippies. That girl had dirt and grime all on her elbows. She stank." Classic.

Arrival and the Great Underwhelming
At about 3:30pm on Friday and 2682 miles after starting, we pulled into the apartment. Did I mention that I rented it sight-unseen? Did I mention that it was half of a duplex, the other half of which is occupied by four female second-year med students? Did I mention that I was hopeful that it would be great?

To say that I was underwhelmed would be a fantastic understatement. To say that I simultaneously wanted to choke the shit out of the landlady and weep with frustration would be getting warmer. The place was dirty, strewn with dead insects (beetles or something, not roaches). The kitchen has a terrible drop ceiling with plastic lighting tiles. It has about 17 bazillion light switches that control something non-intuitive. It has a pair of metal exterior doors in the middle of the living room wall that lead into the other apartment. It has teal effing carpet with matching cheap-ass honeycomb paper blinds. It has the DSL modem and wireless router for the girls on the other side. It has the mailbox where all the mail for the duplex is delivered. It has a 1/5 share of all the bills for the duplex but no untilities of its own. It has a toilet that constantly runs. It has a garage that can easily accommodate a 16-foot moving truck and, I assume, an RV.

It does not, however, have a happy tenant. I'm not unpacking just so that I can entertain the notion of moving the hell out of here after Winning Run arrives on Tuesday. Wish me luck and patience.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Salty Lake and Potatoes

Yesterday, we finally made it out of Wyoming following a stay at a motel in Green River and a breakfast with the weirdest waitress ever. She looked like she'd just come from a fight club boxing match and answered "You Betcha" to everything with a saccharine sweet laugh.

Another wind farm in Wyoming.
Notice the truck near the base of the turbine in the foreground.

We headed into Salt Lake City to visit with Big Chief Mike, a friend from college. Driving into the city, we headed down a few steep grades. When we finally got to Mike's place, smoke was still coming off the brakes of the truck which was a little disconcerting. During lunch, I phoned the roadside assistance to bring a new tire because we'd noticed an increasing bounce in the front. When the guy showed us the tire, it had worn clean through to the tread. He told us it was a good thing that we called when we did because he didn't think we would've made it too much farther on that one. So, we got to visit Mike with the ability to stop and without having my things scattered all over the highway courtesy of a high-speed blowout. I feel like a winner.

After a fantastic lunch that Mike had whipped up, we headed out and, after an eternity, made it to the north side of Boise, Idaho. Today, we've got around 500 miles to get into Yakima. Hopefully, it'll be uneventful.

States Covered
Wyoming, Utah, Idaho