31 July, 2010

and so it begins

What do you get when you combine 150 new first-year medical students, beer, and one last week of freedom? A very strange social situation. That's because there is no common mold for student doctors. We are quite the diverse group, ranging from the East coast frat boy to the shy first-generation American. Also, none of us knows exactly what we are getting into, but we do know our lives are about to change.

The week of orientation began rather anticlimactically, with lines and paperwork. The second day included fun pep-talks and boring safety speeches. On the third day, however, the tone changed. We heard from the top guys at the medical center. Students no longer let their eyes close heavily, nor whispered plans for the evening to their new-found potential soul mates. We sat up straight and at attention as we were told that we are on our way to becoming doctors. This means making sacrifices, we were told. One must be willing to work long hours and give up the idea of going home early for a birthday party. One should participate in many admirable organizations, become involved in research, sit on important boards, etc., even if it means one's spouse may threaten divorce. One should expect one's liver enzyme function to decrease, as there will be little time for drinking. Fortunately, we were also told that medical school will not only teach us science, but also how to function while fatigued, because we will almost always be fatigued.

But there is one more presentation, and I must tell you about it because it explains why we are all here. The doctor in charge of our curriculum walks to the podium and kindly asks, "How many of you woke this morning and thought, 'Wow! I'm a medical student.'?" He then begins what is known as the "First Patient" lecture. One of his patients, Mr. A., has agreed to come speak to us. The doctor asks him questions, as though he were a new patient of his, regarding a previous injury. Then we are called upon to ask questions. I am impressed by some of my classmates' questions. Mr. A. answers them all kindly, clearly and honestly. I am even more impressed by his knowledge of his condition.

You see, Mr. A. speaks simply, with imperfect grammar, but thoughtfully. He tells us that he has to use the dictionary when he goes home from the doctor's office in order to understand everything. That's a fine quality to find in a patient. He also tells us that his doctor really listens to him and discusses treatment options. He tells us that this is what we should learn from this doctor, because it will allow our patients to trust us. The doctor blushes. Mr. A. is a proud man, in the most positive sense of the word. I would guess that he has always worked blue-collar jobs and that his family is grateful for the life he has allowed them to realize. He is proud to have a wife and sons, who help him when his pain is most severe. Although he has not been able to work for over a year, he has not signed up for disability privileges because he is proud of what he was able to contribute to his community in the past and he is hopeful that he will regain those abilities. I find that to be quite respectable.

I hope that someday I will work with a patient like Mr. A.

18 July, 2010

time to reflect

The last two months have gone by so quickly and the past six weeks have been so crazy I haven't really had time to let it all soak in. It was my last summer in Denton so my goal was to wind down on my work schedule, say my good-byes, and prepare myself for medical school. I also took a French class because I have no idea when I will be able to do something like that again. I did have a few episodes of feeling worried about preparing for the move to Chicago and about what awaits me when I begin medical school. I was finally beginning to feel like I had things under control when something crazy happened - my husband, a friend and I were hit by an 18-wheeler on I-35 on our way back from Dallas. We are incredibly fortunate that none of us were injured, but this added a few complications to our plans. We are still dealing with the Canadian insurance company and are in the process of buying a new car. Every time I get upset Ian reminds me, we should just be thankful that we are alive to be frustrated. How true that is. I am so glad that I am alive and healthy enough to do yoga, and to love my friends and family, and to work on becoming a doctor, and to enjoy this beautiful world...

After the accident I realized that I was really happy with how I had spent the previous month. I didn't review the notes from each of my undergraduate biology courses, nor did I memorize all the vocabulary in my Spanish for Medical Professions book; but I did spend a lot of time with my friends, and now I see that that really was the most important thing I could have done.

I got to be part of a dear friend's beautiful wedding.

I taught myself more about photography while figuring out my new camera.

I saw a humpback whale and her calf in Cape Cod.

I received a lesson in Indian cooking from my organic chemistry professor and her mother.

I shared some fantastic meals with friends.

I strengthened some old relationships and made some amazing new ones.

We had a Spanish-style going away party - complete with paella, sangria, and music.

I said good-bye to my coworkers, the hospital, the university, the new-age hippie town that has been home for the past five years, my friends, and finally I said good-bye to a big, beautiful Texas sky.

01 July, 2010

self-disclosure and a classic

Two weeks ago my husband and I visited our friends and family in Houston. It was a bit strange to recognize that it might be a really long time before we return. We might never again travel along that strip of highway leading from Dallas to Houston where, years ago, we had a terrible car accident. And where we wave at the statue of Sam Houston every time we pass.

We enjoyed talking to my family and swimming in our backyard. My sister is home from Nebraska for the summer, and one of my cousins from Cleveland, Ohio decided that searching for a job in Houston might prove more fruitful so he is currently living in my old bedroom. (There is a girl that just happens to be my best friend from high school who might have had something to do with this decision, but that's another story.) Several friends from high school reunited at an old favorite restaurant, Spanish Flowers, to reminisce and laugh. Just like the good old days.

We also had a very new experience, one that we have been talking about for several years. Sky diving. For me, the beauty of it was more incredible than the exhilaration. A few of the images that really stand out in my mind are looking up at the parachute, seeing birds flying below me, and seeing my shadow in a cloud just before we passed through it, with a beautiful rainbow forming a complete circle around it.

My good friend MJ had never been to Houston so I invited her to join for the ride and offered her a place to stay. I was so happy to share some of my own favorite places with her, those that I sometimes have trouble convincing others that they deserve a repeat visit. The Menil Collection of is the most amazing private art gallery I have ever seen and they are constantly rotating in new permanent and temporary exhibitions. The nearby Rothko Chapel is the most peaceful place I know. Eating lunch at Baba Yega's is like dining in an exotic greenhouse.

It was interesting to me that after a couple days of doing things together and on our own I was disappointed that she had not met my family yet. It was the first time since I left home that I have felt close enough to anybody to want to share my home with her, and to want to share her with my family. Now, I recognize that this was some major self-disclosure I was asking for, and self-disclosure is a risky business. You make yourself vulnerable when you tell somebody about your past or your inner-most thoughts or introduce them to the people who helped to form the person you have become. It is also one of the greatest ways to strengthen a relationship. I was surprised to find how happy I felt as I watched my father put his arm around MJ and assure her that she was welcome for dinner. It also reminded me how much I love my family.

I have a special recipe I would like to disclose to you all. It's my mother's lasagna recipe and I have loved it for as long as I can remember. As a child, this lasagna convinced many of my friends that maybe they did like tomato sauce after all. It was my yearly birthday treat. If I was lucky when I visited from college I would get to take back a small container of it frozen. It was my dad's request this year for Father's Day.

As I looked at the recipe and followed the familiar steps with my mother and sister I realized how simple it is. I'm pretty sure it's just the slow-cooked, herbed tomato sauce that does the trick. The emerging cook in my thought of a million additions that might be more interesting - a layer of fresh basil leaves, a hint of cayenne, some zucchini or eggplant... Perhaps it will pique your imagination. But if you have a good-sized salad on the side this really does hold up on its own. Just like the good old days.

Classic Lasagna Recipe:

This recipe makes two 9 x 13 pans or one extra large pan.
Options if you don’t need so much: cut recipe in half, freeze one pan of lasagna after baking, or just make one pan of lasagna and freeze the extra sauce for later use.

For the sauce in a large kettle over medium heat, cook until translucent:
2 T.   olive oil
¾ c.   onion - chopped or minced (food processor is okay if you don’t want chunks)
2 cloves garlic, minced

Add 1 ½ lbs.  ground beef and brown, stirring frequently

32 oz.  diced canned tomatoes
64 oz.  crushed canned tomatoes
2 T.  dried parsley
1 T.  sugar
1 t.  salt
1 t. oregano
¼ t.  pepper
1 bay leaf
Reduce to low and simmer 1-2 hours.  You can add water if it gets too thick.

1 lb lasagna noodles - cook, drain, rinse with cold water

For the cheese mixture, mix in a large bowl:
15 oz ricotta cheese
1 egg, beaten
1 c mozzarella cheese - grated
1/3 c water
¼ c parmesan cheese
1 T. dried parsley
Dash nutmeg
Salt and pepper to taste

More grated mozzarella cheese for layering (4-6 cups)

Layer the prepared ingredients in this way:
Light sauce in bottom of pan
Ricotta mixture
Grated mozzarella
Repeat noodles, ricotta, mozzarella, sauce until noodles are gone
Top the last noodle with sauce and mozzarella
Bake at 350o for 25 minutes, covered with foil. Remove the foil and bake for an additional 5-10 minutes, until the top layer of cheese is slightly browned.

If you want to assemble everything the day before an event you can refrigerate it, covered with foil, overnight. It will take 15-20 minutes longer to cook the next day.
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