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.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...