03 December, 2010

the heart of the matter

When I took Organic Chemistry I was fascinated by the fact that so many reactions were in fact poorly understood or controversial. This weak grounding was only subtly noted and quickly skimmed over. I noticed a similar thing while reading about how to perform the cardiovascular physical exam in Bates' Guide to Physical Examination and History Taking:
"An extensive literature deals with the exact causes of heart sounds. Possible explanations include actual closure of valve leaflets, tensing of related structures, leaflet positions and pressure gradients at the time of atrial and ventricular systole, and the effects of columns of blood."
Netter's Atlas of Human Anatomy

Then Bates goes on to offer a simplified explanation, which is perfectly fine for the purposes of this textbook. It would have been so easy to pass right over this little bit, and under other different circumstances I might have done so. Fortunately, I picked up on it and gave myself a moment to be struck by wonder. I never knew there was still such mystery surrounding the heart. We can make mechanical replacement heart valves and recognize their clicking in chests. I am quite sure we know exactly what causes that clicking and the precise moment at which it occurs. But we cannot completely account for the natural heart sounds? The very same heart sounds that we can hear when we lay our head on the chest of our lover? The very same heart sounds that have been heard for millennia?

Leonardo da Vinci: The Anatomy of Man

We could certainly take this in all kinds of mystical and romantic directions. The human heart is more than it appears to be... man is an unfathomable creation... maybe the answers to our questions about love lie in those heart sounds.... But without going that far, we can simply appreciate the wonder. It may not hold as many questions for the world as it did before da Vinci drew it, or before Netter drew it - or for me before I held one in my very own hands - but there still is some mystery in the human heart. And a little mystery is a beautiful thing.

Auguste Rodin. The Kiss

"The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science." - Albert Einstein

27 November, 2010

tuymans' diagnostic view

Since I began medical school, I have become increasingly interested in the way that medicine infiltrates the rest of the world, especially the arts. So, when I went to the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art, I was initially impressed by the Luc Tuymans exhibit, and then enthralled when I came to a series of paintings titled Der Diagnostische Blick. This is the name of a German diagnostic manual for physicians, which contains photographs of people with various diseases. The MCA had 4 paintings from this series on display: legs with eczema, a woman with anemia, a man with a facial droop, and a breast with signs of cancer.

The ideas behind these paintings, or rather, triggered by them, are pertinent not only to art but also to the practice of medicine. These images are based on photographs that were intended for instruction; therefore the people that posed for them are in fact insignificant, mere bodies. When Tuymans painted these images they lost all instructional value - his dabs of paint will not help me to recognize the defining characteristics of eczema. Yet the people are still reduced to mere bodies, maybe even less. Tuymans uses horizontal brush strokes, creating a distancing effect such that the viewer is unable to feel that he can understand what this person is thinking or feeling. Devoid of both life and instructional value, what is left?

In an interview Tuymans said, "I take all the ideas out of individuality and just leave the shell, the body." This is evidenced in his portrait of St. Ignacious Loyola, based on a photograph of the saint's death mask. Der Diagnostische Blick is also a series of de-individualized bodies. Now I must ask myself, when we diagnose people with an illness, do we leave their bodies behind as empty shells? Does that diagnosis reduce the body to another in a long list of bodies that could be photographed and placed in a diagnostic manual?  I think it is important that we  consider this, and what can be done to prevent it.

Another way to think about these paintings is not as a representation, but as an example of illness. These paintings, overlooking reality, are themselves lacking something vital. In so many areas of life it is easy to reduce a situation to a snapshot, forgetting to consider the whole person, overlooking the other people affected, or maintaining a very limited perspective on life. In fact, the evening I went to this exhibit I stepped onto the train worrying about whether or not I was doing all the "right" things for my future, and feeling a twinge of guilt for doing something fun. By the time I got to the museum I had completely changed my outlook on the world. As I saw all the people around me on the train, performers in the train station, urban bike-riders risking their lives on the daily trip home from work, I realized that I had reduced my world to a little bubble that surrounded only me and rarely floated outside of the school. For me, that is one of the wonderful things about art. It opens a whole new world to me and is a catalyst for me to consider how my own world fits into a much larger one.

Okay, I want to tell you about a few more paintings at this exhibit. First, another medical one:

The title of this painting is Lungs, and the placard states that it is an obscure view that most people would not recognize, since it is taken from the right side of the left lung, pressed up against the heart. Of course, if you are like me and happen to be studying anatomy you will be proud to recognize the main parts of the hilum: the bronchi, the pulmonary arteries and veins.... But then you might also miss the chance to think about the fact that Tuymans is a serious smoker. He says it is a part of his creative process and has no interest in quitting, but he certainly knows the damage he is doing to his own lungs.

Many of his paintings make striking political statements, from the concentration camps in Germany, Belgian Congo (Tuymans is Belgian), and the KKK, to Walt Disney, U.S. domestic idealism, and Condoleeza Rice. One of my favorites demonstrates a more intellectual aspect of his art that literally is completely unseen. In fact, I would have missed out on it all together if I hadn't been eavesdropping on a tour.

The title is Bridge. What makes it so fantastic is that it is a painting of a bridge in Baghdad, based on a photograph, which was a snapshot of a YouTube video, filmed and posted by a U.S. soldier in Baghdad.

This is the first full U.S. exhibit of Tuymans' works. If you have the chance to see any of his paintings, I highly recommend it. I am sure they will inspire much contemplation. If you are in the Chicago area, the MCA is free on Tuesdays! And, as always, I would love to hear what you think about it all.

25 November, 2010

muffins for moving

In my opinion, moving is one of the most unpleasant tasks one could ever have. Okay, so  I'm exaggerating but it really can be quite the ordeal. You have to pack up everything you own, all the meanwhile living in disarray. Then you must load all of that into a truck. Then you must move it into the new home. More disarray. All the lifting, packing and unpacking, arranging and rearranging... And how on earth are you supposed to eat properly when all of your utensils are hidden away and you fear that a full grocery bag will cause the pile of boxes on your kitchen counter to topple over.

I am so thankful for the people who helped me to move over the summer. Especially the friend who helped to fit everything into the U-haul like pieces of a puzzle. And the other who sent me off with a spanish tortilla for the road and enough blueberry muffins for almost a week's worth of breakfast. So, when somebody new moved into my apartment building I baked her some chocolate zucchini bread muffins. I must admit, part of my motivation was the image of a community where neighbors really do know one another and take turns hosting dinner parties, etc. Although all the people in our 7-unit building is friendly enough I don't really see that happening here.

These muffins have a good amount of nutrients from the zucchini, banana and whole wheat, and they have just enough chocolate that they could pass for breakfast, a snack, or dessert (especially with a glass of milk). Give them a try and let me know what you think - whether you have a new neighbor or not.

Chocolate Chip Zucchini Muffin Recipe:

1/2 c sugar
1/3 c canola oil
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
2 ripe bananas
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 c all-purpose whole wheat flour
2 T cocoa
1 T cinnamon
1 1/2 c grated zucchini (one medium-large zucchini)
1 handful chocolate chips

In a large bowl, beat the sugar and oil, then the egg and vanilla.
Add the bananas, mashing them separately first, or right into the bowl. I usually just use the end of the mixer.
Mix in all the dry ingredients.
Fold in the zucchini, and then the chocolate chips.

Pour into a muffin tin and bake at 350F for about 40 minutes, until a toothpick will come out clean.

08 November, 2010

the most beautiful song?

I have been loving this song and feel I must share it with you - if this doesn't convince you that we can create beauty, I don't know what will. For me, it is possibly the most beautiful thing I have ever heard. When that woman's voice rises above the rest and spirals around, it is pure and intoxicating.

It was written by an italian composer, Gregorio Allegri. At some point this piece of music was protected from being transcribed or played outside of the Cistine Chapel for the Tenebrae service - doing so was punishable by excommunication. The story goes that in 1770 young Mozart heard the work and wrote it out from memory when he returned home. His transcription ended up in the hands of an englishman who published it in 1771. Rather than being excommunicated, Mozart was called to Rome and praised by the pope for his musical genius*. The ban was lifted and now it is the most commonly performed work for a cappella choirs.

Why would this song ever have been banned in the first place? Because it was so very beautiful. Perhaps people would hear this music and have a spiritual experience. That experience, of course could then be had anywhere they heard that music and open a personal pathway to a relationship with God. The church wanted to be sure that that type of communication could only occur with its guidance/control. There are other examples of music being avoided because of the belief that it insinuated evil, like the tritone.

Anyway, as interesting as all of that is, I'm not trying to make any big statement. I just want to share this amazing music that deeply touches my soul, no matter what sort of mood I am in.

*Other composers also transcribed it, and I believe there is quite the dispute about who got it right and whose version is the best. I first heard a recording by the Dale Warland Singers, so I think I'm stuck with my first love, but there are many recordings, both with adult and children's choirs.

31 October, 2010

my nightstand

We all go through periods of time where something seems to consume our entire life - a heavy semester, a project at work, a difficult family situation. Some of us have just resigned ourselves to lives that will always be busy and filled with working and caring for others in some shape or form. I challenge you to think of one thing that brings you peace or joy or fulfillment and make that a priority, and then set aside ten minutes for it every day. It will be a daily gift to yourself. I bet you will be able to find the time, at least on most days, and that it will help you to remember there is a whole world outside of whatever it is you are usually caught up in.

For the past 3 weeks I have been caught up in anatomy. I have learned so much in that short amount of time that it feels as though I had been studying this for much longer. The price (aside from medical school tuition) is a world consumed by anatomy. My brain wakes me up in the middle of the night because it can't quite trace the path of the vagus nerve in my dream and needs some consciousness to figure it out. This blog is one attempt at remaining connected to the world outside the anatomy lab. Another one is keeping a book on my nightstand and reading something other than a textbook just before I fall asleep each night. I don't usually manage more than 2 paragraphs at a time, but it allows me to hold onto something that I have loved since I was a child.

What do you do to stay balanced? What's on your nightstand?

24 October, 2010


I have decided that the hands are the most intimate part of the body. I am getting to know an old man's hands very well. He is (or, was) eighty-three years old and his hands are large, the hands of a man who has used them for many years. I am getting to know these hands so very well, beneath the skin, discovering what makes them tremble or sends blood through the arteries or causes the hairs of the dorsum to stand on end. But that is all I will learn about these hands. They are the hands of my cadaver, so I can only wonder about the rest. I find myself occasionally holding his hand to reposition his arm, as if it were that of a living person, and I wonder who the last person was to hold it before me.

As I migrate through the lab, studying the bodies my classmates have been assigned to, I am not impressed by the faces nor the genitals of the cadavers. The hands carry more meaning to me. One woman has fake nails, painted barbie-doll-pink.

I picture the hands of people who have been important in my life - 
my mother's precise hands that bring instant comfort with their touch;
my father's wide knuckles, that I inherited, and that can tickle so well;
my husband's careful hands with long nails for strumming nylon strings;
his grandmother's hands that were crippled from arthritis but perfect for stroking a cat's head;
my friend's talking hands that are excited about life and spread their wanderlust.

I also remember the hand of a man in the ER that had gotten caught in a corn mill. As he revealed it to the doctor, holding it with his opposite hand, lest the finger completely fall away without the supporting bandage, the man stared at it in awe, wondering if this destroyed appendage was really his own.

I remember the hand of a woman who came to the ER that, despite the IV in the same arm pumping in man's greatest attempt at a miracle, despite the hands of a nurse crushing her sternum, forcing the blood to circulate through her body, fell limp. Even when we all admitted she was dead, I was oddly captivated by her slender, beautiful hand. I wanted to hold it, but did not.

I can understand why people believe their fortune can be seen in their palms. Those dermatoglyphs are indeed unique, formed in the womb, a product of epigenetics.

I look at my own hands and I see an old scar from playing hide-and-seek, another that will soon fade because it's young, because I'm always running into things, nails that are smooth but will never hold nail polish for more than an hour without chipping. A new freckle. A broken pinky, recalcified. These hands take a scalpel and peel back the skin of another's, with the hope that one day soon these hands will heal.

19 October, 2010

a tip from my mother

My parents recently visited for the first time since I moved up here. It was really nice to show them my new place. I was also reminded of how much I can still learn from my mother - from how to remove mineral deposits from a neighbor's would-be-trash cast aluminum bundt pan, to how to handle difficult people with grace and maintain an appropriate perspective on life at all times.

Here's a little tip from her that has probably saved me a few bucks over the years. When you have a tube of lotion or soap that you have squeezed the life out of....

Just cut it in half and you will find several more helpings. Then pop the end back on to keep it from drying out.

Thanks, Mom1

tomato leaf soap

Well, there's no doubt about it. It is Autumn, and it is beautiful! I am still a bit apprehensive about my approaching first northern winter, but I think that 2 months of weather like this will definitely make up for it. I also made sure to take in as much sun as possible during our "Indian Summer". I never even knew what that meant until now.

In an attempt to hold onto this time of year as long as possible, I made tomato leaf soap. I happened to come across instructions here a while back and mentioned them to my neighbor, who had a garden. When she pulled everything up she saved some leaves for me. I took a few short-cuts and they seem to have worked just fine.

1. I used the entire 2-lb. block of glycerin (that I ordered from Amazon), melted it and added the leaves and stems in large chunks.

2. I didn't measure out the tomato leaves, nor did I add them in 2 steps. This is how much I used:

It got pretty bubbly, but that didn't seem to cause any problems.

3. I added a few drops each of tea tree oil and cinnamon oil, just because they were what I had on hand.

Here's a picture of the final product, including the bar that I wrapped up and gave to my neighbor, to thank her for giving me her leaves.

06 October, 2010

soda and cigarettes

In the Seven Year Itch the main character, Mr. Sherman, sends his wife and son away to Maine for the summer. He is initially determined to obey the doctor's orders to quit drinking and smoking and to eat healthily. He locks away his cigarettes and eats dinner at an outrageous vegetarian restaurant. He goes home and removes a bottle of soda from the fridge. He reads the back of the label: "Carbonated water, citric acid, corn syrup, artificial raspberry flavoring, vegetable colors and preservative." Then he asks himself, "Why is this stuff better for you than a little scotch and a twist of lemon? I'd really like to know." Of course, it's obvious to us that it is in fact much worse to drink the soda. What I find interesting is that this must have been obvious to the 1955 audience as well.

There is a lie that I have been telling myself for some time now as a means of explaining how our tolerance of preservatives and artificial flavorings developed. It is the same story that we often hear regarding cigarettes. They didn't know any better. I reasoned that we must excuse ignorance, and that the food industry was out of control before we realized that these things could be so bad for us. But clearly that is not the case. In 1955, although he still got milk delivered to his apartment door every morning,  simple Mr. Sherman knew that drinking corn syrup and preservatives was unhealthy and his doctor told him to quit smoking.

Then how did we get to where we are today? Well, clearly health is not the biggest concern in these matters. I think it is reasonable to argue that media plays a huge role*. Although Mr. Sherman was the protagonist, he was just a nice guy, a bit of a schlump. The real star in this film is clearly Marilyn Monroe. She is oblivious to any reason that one should quit smoking. And she eats potato chips with champagne. Today we don't see the glamorous cigarette adds that were common in the 1950s, fewer Americans smoke, and fewer Americans die from diseases associated with smoking, like stroke and heart attack. But it certainly took a while to get to this point, and it is still a problem. How long will it take for better eating habits to become the norm?

I'm actually very optimistic about this. I think change will come sooner rather than later because it is necessary. I certainly see it in my peers (okay, so maybe they are all medical students, but still). I also see how many people are drawn to farmer's markets and  and preparing their own meals. There is even a movement for specialty ingredient foods - chocolates, wines, gelato. Even if these are not the healthiest items, the call for natural whole ingredients is promising, and it proves that Americans are willing to pay for quality, not just quantity.

I recently began reading In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto by Michael Pollan. He argues that America's nutritional problems have been complicated by the rise of what has been called Nutritionism. Nutritionism is the idea that we can calculate what we should eat and follow those numbers in our diet and be perfectly healthy. But that has lead to catastrophes like Liebig's Extractum Carnis, the idea that multi-vitamins would solve all our problems, or that simply cutting back on fats or carbs would solve all our problems. This idea forced me to think a bit more, because I am very interested in understanding more about nutrition - what different foods can offer us, how different nutrients work together as our body attempts to metabolize them, etc. But the more I thought about it the more I came to understand that when we try to apply a formula to each meal we can no longer enjoy our food. It becomes like a pill we have to take or a temptation we must resist.

When I was in high school I paid no attention to the nutrition information on packages and I definitely could not tell you what percentage of my calories came from fats or if there was too much sodium in my diet. First, I want to clarify that understanding these things are essential for people that are already overweight or have Diabetes or Hypertension or are at risk for heart disease. Second, I do think that for most of the population we can totally forget about these numbers and follow our instincts when it comes to eating well. Michael Pollan's manifesto is this: "Eat Food. Not too much. Mostly plants." So, basically, avoid artificial anything, be mindful and don't eat past the point that you are full, and listen to your mother - eat all your vegetables.

It is likely that I will have more to say about nutrition in the coming months, as I read more of this book, but I'm curious to hear what you think. Should we rely on our gut to tell us what to eat? Or do we need science to guide us?

*So does the government - according to Pollan, as recently as 2004 the Bush State Department was enlisted in a campaign to recommend that Congress threaten to cut WHO funding unless they agreed to raise their daily recommendation of calories from added sugars from 10% to 25%, the official U.S. recommendation at the time. I believe that has been changed, adding to my optimism.

22 September, 2010

eight minutes

That's all the time it took me to make this awesome dinner last night. I wasn't even in a rush, I just started cooking and when I finished and glanced at the clock I was shocked to see that only 8 minutes had passed. Which is good news, because I was in need of a reminder that I can in fact have good, wholesome, healthful, fresh, homemade meals almost every day. A few more benefits to this meal: only one pan to wash, (plus cutting board), a small number of ingredients, a million variations, the fat from the salmon & olive oil help your body to absorb all the nutrients from the vegetable, and it tastes good.

Honey Mustard Salmon and Swiss Chard for 2

2 T. olive oil
1 T. mustard
1 T. honey
salt & pepper to taste
1 bunch swiss chard, chopped (include the stems and don't worry about drying the leaves after you wash them - you want to have that water to pulls the glaze up from the bottom of the pan)
2 filets salmon (a little under a pound)

Add the olive oil and mustard to a large, deep skillet on low heat for about 1 minute.
Add the salmon filets, allowing one side to cook, and drizzle the honey on top. Meanwhile, chop the swiss chard.
Flip the salmon filets, throw all the swiss chard on top and cover.
Allow this to cook for a total of about 5 minutes longer, until the chard is wilted and the salmon is cooked through. If you worry about the fish over-cooking (like I do) you can  lift it from the bottom of the pan so that it rests on top of the chard, or completely remove it.
Season with salt & pepper and serve.

19 September, 2010

expectations and eggplant

I'm afraid I could not come up with any way to link these two things, other than the fact that they both start with E and I want to talk about both.

First, the expectations. When I was young enough that only my mother could understand my high-pitched voice I used to get very upset when something did not go the way I expected it to go. My mother cleverly told me stories about what it was like to go to a new store or to a stranger's house during the car ride there. This gave me a better idea of what to expect and softened the blow of a new situation. Today, when I enter a new situation I don't have a caring, protecting figure who can tell me exactly what will happen and what I will feel. Rather, I have hundreds of people telling me what to expect, and none of them quite get it right.

We seem to have such a desire to control the world around us and create rules so that we know exactly what to expect. This is, in effect, absurd. When learning a new language, one quickly learns (and becomes annoyed by the fact) that every rule has exceptions. In everything I am learning about cell biology and genetics, I am discovering more and more instances that do not feet into neat categories. Just ask any histologist. If these grand systems of linguistics and biology do not allow for our expectations to consistently be met, how can we expect our everyday life to do so?

I am beginning to see that if I let go of my expectations I will be much more satisfied with the outcome. What exactly does that mean? It means not assuming that tomorrow I will be able to study for 10 hours, or that I will soon become best friends with somebody I met, or that a rainy day will lead to melancholy. Balancing this with organization will be difficult but I think that when I try, each day will be filled with a bit more wonder.

And now for the eggplant. This is the second time I've made this dish recently and I cannot get enough of it. I'm tempted to call it an eggplant caponata, but there are probably some traditional guidelines to what gets to be called a caponata and, well, I don't want to give you any false expectations.

Eggplant Recipe:

Roasting an eggplant is my favorite first step in any eggplant dish. You don't have to go to the trouble of salting and pressing, nor do you have to use a ton of oil for it to take on a rich, creamy texture. I don't even bother with removing the skin - it's a tricky step, and I want to keep all those antioxidants in my meal.

1 good-sized eggplant
1-2 Tbs olive oil
1/2 red onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
Pinch of salt
1 Tbs tomato paste
Fresh basil, chopped or cut into ribbons

Preheat oven to 350˚F
Cut the eggplant in half, length-wise, and spray or rub the inside with olive oil. Place it on a baking sheet and roast for about 40 minutes, until it is good and mushy
Meanwhile, heat 1 Tbs of olive oil in a large skillet. Add the onion, garlic, and salt, and cook over low heat until the onion is soft and translucent.
When the eggplant is done roasting, allow it to cool for a few minutes and cut it into 1-inch cubes. Add these to the onions along with the tomato paste.
Let this cook for a couple minutes longer, making sure the eggplant is heated through and everything is nicely mixed. I like to mash the eggplant a bit with the back of the spoon.
Remove from heat and top with fresh basil.

Serve with good crusty bread or wasa crackers and kalamata olives.
Serves 2 on its own.

13 September, 2010

end of summer

"I expand and live in the warm day like corn and melons."
-Ralph Waldo Emerson

11 September, 2010


This plaque is laid in the ground at  Bebelplatz in Berlin, the historic site of the Nazi book burning. Nearby is a small glass-covered chamber that descends into the ground, like an up-right coffin. All that is inside are empty bookshelves.

On the plaque is a quote from 1820 by the German Jewish poet, Heinrich Heine. It reads, "That was only a preview, where man burns books, in the end he also burns men." (my translation)

Something to keep in mind, in these days filled with anger.

05 September, 2010


"Luscious" is the best word I can come up with to describe figs. When biting into one on its own, the sweet earthy flavor and the soft, round, fleshy texture makes me feel as though I were doing something sinful. I first came to really appreciate figs when I spent a summer in Spain. My husband was so kind as to follow me around as I gawked at the amazing food market in Barcelona. We bought giant figs, jamon serrano and a dry, salty cheese, which we ate picnic-style in our hotel.

I love it when something so simple feels so luxurious. That's my favorite thing about good, fresh food or a hot cup of coffee as the sunlight streams through the kitchen window. This weekend has been kind of like that. For an evening snack I prepared some warm figs with cheese and honey, 2 different ways. Try it with a glass of red wine if you're feeling romantic.

Warm Figs and Cheese:
Version 1:
On a baking sheet lay out plain round crackers
Top with a slice of hard cheese, followed by half of a fig
Drizzle top with honey and a sprinkle of cinnamon

Version 2:
Cut an "X" into the bottom of the fig
Stuff with goat cheese
Lay them on their sides on  baking sheet
Drizzle top with honey and a sprinkle of cinnamon

Bake at 350 degrees until the cheese begins to soften, 10-15 minutes

29 August, 2010

travel reading

It took me a few months - okay, 10 - but I finally finished reading Moby Dick. Actually, if you count the fact that I started reading it in high school but never got past meeting the noble savage, it's been years! But this book is just so epic that I really had to be ready for it. There are people who have made careers analyzing this novel, so I don't even know where to begin, but I certainly did enjoy it. I can't imagine a more honest depiction of insane obsession.

Aside from the legendary plot and the remarkable character development, Melville includes so many thought-provoking one-liners. The fact that he was basically self-educated just makes it that much more impressive. Here's an example, spoken by Starbuck:
"'Here some one thrusts these cards into these old hands of mine; swears that I must play them and no others.' And damn me, Ahab, but thou actest right; live in the game, and die it!"
Wow, right? Here's another one. I think it might be the most beautiful of the book:
"Bethink thee of the albatross, whence come those clouds of spiritual wonderment and pale dread, in which that white phantom sails in all imaginations? Not Coleridge first threw that spell; but God's great, unflattering laureate, Nature."

 I read a good chunk of the novel while I was in Cape Cod this summer. One of my absolute favorite things to do when I travel is to read a book somehow related to the place I am in. For example, last summer I read Don Quixote in Spain and Berlin Alexanderplatz in Germany. I discovered what a pleasure this is when I read Milan Kundera's Unbearable Lightness of Being  (which I highly recommend) while in the Czech Republic. His description of the cemeteries gave me a whole new outlook on the cemetery we visited; suddenly it was a place full of beauty and life, by way of faded flowers and flickering candles.

Let me know if you know of any good books that take place in Chicago, and give it a try the next time you take a trip.

27 August, 2010

crystal fluid structure

"Why do we have membranes? Because life is compartmentalized," said my very cool professor this morning.

I love the bilayer lipid membrane, but I don't want my life to be compartmentalized. I want it to be like the membrane so that everything can fluidly move aorund and interact with one another, so that I can see how every facet of my life connects to the others.

23 August, 2010


Chicago's Cloud Gate sculpture in Millenium Park (also known as "The Bean")will turn you into an amateur photographer. It seems to me that everyone around it has a camera, a little bit like the Mona Lisa, but with neither the obnoxiousness nor the lack of appreciation for the art itself. This sculpture begs you to look at yourself and take pictures of the strange reflection. People really love it. Perhaps because we don't ever get to see ourselves quite in this way (and one can come up with so many funny poses). Of course, due to its shape the image is highly distorted. Anish Kapoor, the artist, named it Cloud Gate because 3/4 of the reflection is of the sky and this brings the reflection of the viewer, the city, and the sky all into the same realm. It is difficult to keep such a broad perspective on life, and especially difficult to place ourselves in the center of this reflection.

I recently wrote about the idea of reflection, but it has been an important recurring theme in my life recently. The mentors of my patient centered medicine group stress the importance of reflecting on one's experience as a student and as a physician. For me, what I most want out of this is to focus in on the image of the doctor I would like to be, and keep that in mind as I get closer and closer to that day - to continue to uphold the values of social justice and improving the quality of life that speak to me so strongly today.

This idea of reflecting resonates so strongly within me right now because I must keep reminding myself to do so. As I begin a new stage of my life I feel like I am being told in so many ways and by so many people how I should spend my time, who I should be friends with, what my aspirations should be, who I should be. Amidst all this it is difficult to remember who I want to be and who I am. I recognize that these expectations are mostly assumed by myself, not necessarily placed on me. Also, I mean this on a small scale, mostly on a moment-by-moment basis. At the end of the day, when I think of it, I haven't really lost sight of myself. But there are brief instances throughout a day when I lose confidence or feel jealous because I am not who I think somebody else wants me to be. These are the moments in which I most need to be genuine with others and honest with myself.

It is difficult to be mindful of this, but I have found something that helps. I have a few triggers. An image, a song, a memory of an occasion or a feeling. Something that reminds me of the happiest moments, when I have felt inspired and full of life and light and known that I was in the right place at the right time and that I was exactly who I was meant to be. Do you have any memories that you lean on when you need to feel more in touch with yourself?

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