Not a doctor, not by a mile

Early this morning, at 1:02am, the time read:

01:02:03 on 04/05/06

Sherin says that this is special because it won’t happen again until 2106. I say it isn’t special because it will happen again at 02:03:04 on 05/06/07, and so on, until 09:10:11 on 12/13/2014 when we run out of conveniently numbered months.

Sherin says that, “No, it only counts if it starts with the number 01.”
To which I retort, “A straight is a straight! It’s the same thing!”
“No, you don’t start counting at 02, you start counting at 01.”
“You can start counting anywhere, so long as it’s a sequence with regular intervals!”
“TOPHER! A number line starts at 01! Not at 02, 01!”

Sherin wonders why I have to argue about everything. I argue that I don’t have to argue about everything, proving her point.

So I haven’t written in over a month and with good reason. I’ve been busy. For the first time I feel like a real grad student. Ana, when I see you again, I’m buying us beers and you must join me in a heavy sigh.

Pathology swallowed us hole and I haven’t handled it with any grace. In one week, the Board of the research society held elections, passed off any and all responsibility for training our replacements and the planning of the golf tournament. We must have thought we were saving time. Haste.

What happened, of course, was a President that was all show and no work, an alienated Board, a collapse of communication within the club, a huge drop in club morale, and a pending disaster on the golf course. Waste.

So to correct this we recruited our faculty advisor, Marios, to tear apart and emasculate Napoleon to the point where he can make no decision outside of Board approval. The previous President is now present for any and all meetings to report back to Marios and to keep Napoleon honest. Second, I started talking to the brave students that decided to make the golf tournament work. They were very excited to have made a brochure for golf. It was tri-fold, double-sided, and everything. It talked about how great the tournament was going to be and when it was going to be and a place for you to write your teammates. I found out about this the day they started handing them out so grabbed one. Here’s what it was missing:

What was included in the cost
Contact information
Registration information

But it was cool-looking. I’ll give them that.

So I wrote them an email detailing what changes had to be made to the brochure before they could distribute it. On second thought, I wondered how the actual tournament planning was going. So I wrote a second, more epic, email that took a player through the day of the tournament, pointing out everything that had to be handled before during and after the tournament for it to work. It was about 1000 words. To be tactful, I signed off:

“I’m sure you guys have thought of most of this already, I just wanted to make sure.”

The guy running the tournament saw me later that night. He was ashen.
“We hadn’t thought of any of that.”
“Well, you realize that all that stuff has to happen, right? The tournament doesn’t just throw itself, right?”
“Now I do.”

All of this is superimposed on Pathology and Microbiology, mind you. Once again, medical school has managed to be more work this term than the last, than the last, than the last. I bet next term is easier.

My Path group is made of 10 other people, all friends, and I hate it. I get three or four pictures of a disease. In the stomach, eyeball, head, leg, etc. I have to go look up that disease, know as much as I can, and then teach it to the rest of the group. I get to do all of this in front of an tutor (MD) who wants nothing more than to remind me that I am not an MD, but an idiot. Whenever I get anything wrong, or omit an important piece of information, the tutor calls me on it, and I promptly embarrass myself by stumbling through nonsense in a squeaky, pleading voice.


I just earned my group a ten minute exposition on the disease. Had I known my material and answered the tutors questions correctly we could move on and finish the 40 slides that are due this week. Instead, we have to come in on our days off. SO the extension of this is:

If a person in my lab doesn’t completely prepare, I don’t learn the disease and have to look it up on my own AND come in on my days off to finish the remaining slides. So naturally, I cringe every time someone is presenting and I can hear a quiver in their voice, because the tutors can hear that quiver and it’s like crack to them. And the entire time the tutor is speaking slowly to us (because we are idiots) I can feel my rage replacing my friendship with this person.

So 1-3pm, every day, is a stressful time in my life.

Luckily, my group has a sense of humor about it. We have two awards. The first is a statue of a woman in the throws of passion riding a crescent moon. The second is a sheet of xmas stickers. Brilliant comment of the day or best performance earns you the statue; and the biggest idiot gets a sticker on their books. I’m happy to report that I have dodged the stickers so far and have taken the trophy home twice.

It’s important that I keep my blood pressure under control, and I do give myself breaks now and again. A few weeks ago the 42nd Airborne division came to GND for disaster preparedness exercises. They were traveling between the islands setting up emergency clinics and treating everyone for free. They were nice enough to accept student volunteers and I jumped at the chance. For the first time, I was on a boat traveling through the Caribbean islands. We got off at Petite Martinique, marched the supplies down the road from the dock to an abandoned building where 200 people sat, blocking every entrance and exit, waiting for us. There were two minutes of confusion before someone started barking orders and everyone else started following. Bless the military for their chain of command.

I ended up in triage, asking little boys and girls why they felt sick. They would look puzzled, stare at their mothers, and then remember that their stomach was hurting them and their eyes were scratchy. No matter how many times I tried to tell the mother’s that it was ok to say “check-up,” they insisted that their children were very sick. We developed a code with the physicians:

“abd pain” means check up
“loss of appetite” means check up
“itchy eyes” means check up

The physicians had their own code:

“Here’s some medicine” means “I bet you have thin blood, here’s some iron.”

Everyone was treated for thin blood. It’s the carpal tunnel of free clinics.

Later I went to the General Practitioner and saw five patients before we had to pack it up and head back to GND. The highlight was an old woman who came in with “a stomach ache.” She had a strong heart murmur, hypertension, swollen legs and abdominal pain. I’m still teaching Neuro and Physio, so I knew this woman’s pathology pretty well and was able to talk to the physician about everything I found during her workup. She listened to all of this but didn’t catch any of it because of all the jargon involved. I became excited that I knew what was going on with this woman and she heard it in my voice. She smiled and asked what we were talking about. The doctor looked at her and said that we had medicine that might make her feel better and we would make sure she saw a heart doctor that week.

I’m not sure how to describe the feeling you get when you’re excited about someone’s congestive heart disease, but I hope no one reading this ever gets to go through it.

Another great distraction was my roommate’s parents coming into town. Sam’s father is a Cardiothoracic surgeon, and every year or so he and his surgeon friends travel to a different vacation spot for a week with their wives. They came to GND and decided to cook for us every other night, entertain us with stories from their careers, and explain to us why surgery was the worst profession to get into and why surgeons hated their jobs. So it’s official: I have yet to discover a single medical discipline where the people practicing it would recommend it before panning it. It’s a bright bright future.

They great thing to come of it was having Sam’s father look over the paper I had written, tear it apart, and make suggestions that helped turn it into the type of paper that could be submitted to a surgical journal. With those changes, I rewrote most of it over a weekend and submitted it with Marios to the Annals of Thoracic Surgery. Fingers crossed, everybody.

Back to school…

So two weeks before the Path exam the usual library bunker shenanigans started, complete with room-squatting and hurt feelings. While I was busy trying to learn the minutia of every disease and the names of every translocated proto-oncogene, the Path department was busy writing a painfully simple exam, with just the type of big-picture concepts and plainly-stated questions that you dream about. I can solve a problem in calculus but I can’t tell you what a number is. They wanted me to define a number. I did not do well.

I stayed to check my grade which was a mistake that cost me a day of studying to self-pity. That left three days till the Microbiology midterm. While Micro is 5 credits (making it of equal weight to Neuro or Physio from last term) it pales against Path’s 13 credits. So we ignore it much like we ignored Embryo in first term. Sure enough, I barely know the material, cram and cram and cram, and leave with an A. So add bacteria and viruses to the list of things that I don’t have to understand at all. They can keep the fetuses company.

So with Micro and Path behind me, I have this weekend to enjoy the dodgeball tournament on Friday and the golf tournament on Sunday. I’ll be wearing a mustache to both.

Cheers, and thanks for waiting. topher.


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