Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Racism is so profoundly stupid.

This morning, on my drive to work (yes, I listen to commercial radio programming in the morning--NPR is for later in the day, when I'm prepared to hear 1/2 hour programs on spinning organic llama yarn in New Hampshire or depressing war statistics) a guy called in to protest his cousin's wedding because he (the cousin) is planning to marry a Hispanic woman. He yammered on for five minutes about the 'purity of the white race' and said he hoped his cousin would eventually realize he's 'making a huge mistake.' As a parting shot, he said, 'I mean, Hitler had it right, you know? Really, think about it.' To which I could only say: Damn, son.

What do you do with a person like that? I like to think that they don't really exist, that there's the subtle everyday racism (security guards following Black patrons around the mall, people locking their car doors as they drive through ethnic neighborhoods) which is, of course, terrible enough, but that the only explicitly racist folk still around are the same six idiots who keep showing up on Jerry Springer's "Klanfrontation" shows. Oh my my. I realize that saying "Racism is bad" is hardly taking an especially brave stance--sort of like taking up arms against gender violence or anti-Semitism isn't particularly novel, or like the politicians who say, "I'm pro-family." Granted, it's usually a cover-up for deeply disturbing anti-gay bias, but really--who's going to say, "I'm staunchly anti-family. If I'm elected, there will be mandatory divorce for every couple over the age of 25, and all children will be sent to orphanages."?

Anyhow, there are lots of reasons why racism is stupid. Here are several, just off the top of my head...
Race is not a biological classification, ie, if you're looking solely at DNA, you'll find as much variation within a group of "white" people as you will within a group comprised of multiple races. We're all different, but we're all basically the same.

Race is a social construction, which doesn't mean (of course) that it doesn't have power. Any history buff can tell you that who has been considered "white" in the USA has changed over the past 100 years. When lots of German immigrants were arriving, the people already in the US put out signs in their stores saying, "No Germans need apply." Germans weren't considered white; then the Irish came, and the same thing happened to them; then the Eastern and Southern Europeans arrived, and anti-Slavic bias and slurs like "guinea" came with them. Now all these people are considered "white," and Hispanics, Arab/South Asian-Americans and Blacks are getting the raw end of the deal. Granted, these groups have been getting shafted for quite some time in the US.

So, to sum up. Racism is stupid and based on distinctions that, while important, are not germane to the majority of daily interaction. Awareness of racial and ethnic difference is ok, and even helpful (as if we could stop being aware of these things anyway). Discrimination and prejudice based on these differences is not.

Monday, August 27, 2007

All my medical school apps are in! Can I get an amen? I SAID, can I get an AMEN?

Little did I know last year, if you don't have them in by mid-September, you're about as well off putting them in the garbage disposal as in the mailbox. Live and learn. I swear, one day I'm going to write a book of all the things that are unspoken, but that are rules nonetheless: the things that aren't written down anywhere, but that are essential to getting along as an adult human being. I can't think of many off the top of my head, but you know what I mean.
Don't pay for large purchases in loose change.
You can powerwalk around the mall, especially if you're elderly, but don't run around the mall. Even if you think you're faster than the security guards (which you probably are).
People who suffer from what is medically known as dwarfism generally prefer to be called 'little people.' Which I think is nice.

Oh, speaking of things worth knowing, I got onto the New England Journal of Medicine website today and looked at their "Clinical Images" section, which is full of amazing pictures. One was of an 'incisional hernia,' in this case a woman who'd had a C-section for a previous delivery then got pregnant again very soon thereafter. In essence, her uterus was bulging through her abdominal wall where the surgeons had cut through the musculature. Another image showed a man who had visited his family back in Africa, then returned to the States; while driving one day he saw something "wiggling" in his field of vision. When he went to an opthalmologist, the doctor saw a tiny parasitic worm wriggling around beneath the conjunctiva (one of the eye's protective membranes). He pulled it out, and the guy was fine. The worm, fortunately or unfortunately, was not fine.
I'm not certain if that portion of the website requires a subscription or not, but you should go to and look at it.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Don't you think that just once, medical school interview committees would like to hear a little honesty? Don't you think they'd find that utterly refreshing? I got to thinking about this, and came up with some answers to standard interview questions that might fit the bill. These aren't my answers, obviously... my motivations for pursuing a medical career are pure as freshly driven snow. I can tell you, however, through my great experience with lots of underslept, overcaffeinated and hyperstressed premeds: sometimes the filter between brain and mouth slips. Especially right before organic chemistry midterms. And then you realize that your classmates' motivations are, frequently, as pure as the snow in the yard of a person who owns six dogs. Yellow. Here's what I imagine some of my fellows would say, if they were being straightforward:

The infamous "What's your greatest weakness?"
Standard answer: My perfectionism. or, My tendency to put others first and neglect myself.
Honest answer: I'm having a hard time deciding. It could be my tendency to fly into a homicidal rage when I'm contradicted, or my inherent and intractible laziness. You pick.

"I noticed you haven't had much work experience."
Standard answer: That's because between my honors-level course load and time volunteering with stray, disabled inner-city kittens, I just didn't have the time.
Honest answer: I was going to get a job, but then I decided: hey, my parents are both rich doctors and I have a trust fund. Fuck it.

"What drew you to medicine?"
Standard answer: I want to help people. or, I was inspired by the story of Dr. _____, and I knew I wanted to follow in her footsteps.
Honest answer: The money and the sex. I plan to use my position of power as an aphrodisiac, just like Kissinger. I look forward to abusing nurses and interns without fear of retribution. Also, both my parents are physicians and I lack imagination.

"What do you do for fun? What are your hobbies?"
Standard answer: Volunteering, reading, painting, writing, running, doing yoga, cooking vegetarian meals...(these are actually all my hobbies, coincidentally)
Honest answer: If I'm not playing tennis at the club, I usually hang out with my friends watching reruns of Law and Order, smoking pot and eating ice cream. Unless someone has coke.

"What would you do if you saw a fellow medical student cheating on an exam?"
Standard answer: I'd talk to them, and encourage them to confess. If they didn't do it, I'd tell the professor myself.
Honest answer: Blackmail them for all they're worth--for money if they're loaded, sexual favors if they're not. Or both. It would depend on my mood.

That's today's helping of vim, vigor and vituperativeness, kids. I'll be studying for the GRE(hence, the vocabulary--hell, who am I kidding, I use words like that in everyday conversation.) in an effort to get into an MD-PhD or MD-MDiv program (yes, they exist), so postings may be sparse. I'll keep you in the loop. Excelsior!

Friday, August 10, 2007

Sixteen military wives
thirty-two softly focused brightly-colored eyes...
Thirty-two gently clenching wrinkled little hands.
Seventeen company men
out of which only twelve will make it back again
Seargant sends a letter to five
military wives whose tears drip down from ten little eyes.
-"Sixteen Military Wives," The Decemberists

The other night I was at the Y (as I so often am) and was reading an old Newsweek on the elliptical--I'm not usually an elliptical person, I hasten to say, but I was waiting for a blister to heal--and the whole thing was composed of letters written by soldiers who have died in Iraq (and Afghanistan--remember that place? You know, the one with the guy who actually masterminded the attack that was the alleged reason we were going to war? A dorky shout-out to all Princess Bride fans, but 'Never get involved with a land war in Asia.' We should have listened). Then, as if that isn't heart-wrenching enough, there are the "if something happens..." letters. The ones that soldiers write when they know they're headed into a place where the potential for getting killed is even greater than what they experience on a daily basis. By each tattered scrap of looseleaf or legal pad (yes, Newsweek scanned in the actual manuscripts) was a picture of the soldier in question, his name, where he was from, and to whom the letter was written. The youngest was 19. No 19-year-old is ready to die, not really. And certainly no parent of a 19-year old, or at least no parent worthy of the name, is ready to let a child go.
"Well, if you read this, that means something has happened to me," most of them began. Then the reminiscing about fond times on the family farm, going hunting with Dad, talking to older sisters late at night when sleep wouldn't come, and of course: the assurances that he died doing something he believed in, and that he was proud to be able to give up his life in the name of freedom. That was what got to me, as much as the messages addressed to "my little sister Britney" and "my best girl Lisa." The patriotism, the nationalism, which normally would annoy the shit out of me but in this case only served to highlight the extent to which people will sacrifice themselves for something big--the American dream, the promise of peace in the Middle East--which they can never win by those means. War is not obliterated by war; a 19-year-old's death makes the world no safer.
My best pal Keegan happens to be US Marine (how I ended up best friends with a Marine is a strange tale--suffice it to say we have pretty much everything in common but our views on the military). He has one more year left at school, where he's in the ROTC; after that, if the war's still going on, he'll ship out. I asked him once if he was frightened, or at the very least apprehensive. No, he said. I have to say, though, if I got a "something must have happened to me" letter from Keegan, I would never forgive him. Or Bush either. To be fair, I decided a long time ago that I was never going to forgive Bush.
It takes more committment to live for something than to die for it. This is why we have to start protesting in earnest, demanding the dismantling of Guantanamo, screaming in the streets for an end to US torture, the withdrawal of troops. Waves upon waves of us, marching up the Mall, dressed in the colors of our flag--OURS, everyone's, not just Bush's. If civilians aren't willing to stand up for peace, the soldiers will keep laying down their lives for war.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Tales from the Hospital

Air Conditioning
Yesterday security escorted a heavyset, sixtyish man out of the ER (where he had been panhandling). I suppose he preferred the air-conditioned comfort of the hospital to working the streets, as it were. He had long cargo shorts that had been cut into strips below the knees, and he had decorated each strip with several pony beads--you know, the kind you used to make necklaces at day camp when you were nine. The sleeves of his Hawaiian shirt had received the same treatment, and his belt loops and various pockets were festooned with a variety of cheap plastic keychains--the kind you win at a school fair as a consolation prize. He had on Birkenstocks that had seen better days, and long yellowish-white hair (not blonde; rather, the color that white becomes when subjected to years of cigarette smoke) with a beard to match. In short, he looked like Santa Claus's schizophrenic brother Bill.
"Hey, man," he said, as the two security guards (wearing nitrile gloves--a universal safety precaution, I wondered, or one they instituted with this gentleman specifically in mind?) walked him to the edge of the hospital's property. He turned around to face the security guard and I scurried by, anxious to avoid possible vitriol. "Hey, man," he repeated, "you showed me honesty, and I really appreciate that." Then he walked away. I tried to imagine what the security guards had said to him to earn his gratitude. He was obviously mentally ill, according to the "wearing crazy shit" test, but apparently not acute enough to be admitted anywhere. Or maybe he was uninsured and hadn't been able to get things together and apply for Medicare or Medicaid. In any case, as I watched him walk into the 100-degree day, heat rising from the street like a solid wall, I wished him well.

Her Head
I saw her from the back as I was leaving the hospital--a girl in her late teens or early twenties, in a gown, pajama pants and flip flops. She was walking to the smoking outpost at the edge of the hospital property, and I could see from the side that part of her head had been shaved. I followed her, wanting to see more of her hairstyle--was it in fact a style, or a souvenir from some medical procedure? I got my answer when she turned around. Half her hair was up in a messy bun, while the other half (the bottom half, nearest her neck) was gone. Stitches ran in a straight line across the right side of her head. Eleven stitches--I counted them, big and black, running up her skull like railroad tracks, or a ladder. Had she been in a car accident? A domestic despute? Had brain surgery? And if any of those things were true, why was she running around outside? She lit a cigarette and glanced warily at me. I quickly averted my eyes. What the hell happened to her head?

More installments as I witness more craziness at the hospital. Names will not be used except in conjecture. I bear no legal responsibility for anything, ever.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

OK, so the whole "Twixter" thing is an old issue (this is a January 2005 Time cover) usual, I'm a little slow on cultural references that emerged between 2003 and 2007, on account of all my book-learnin' what I was gettin' back then. Anyway. Apparently this isn't a solely US-based phenomenon. In Japan they have "freeters" who work low-paying jobs and mooch off their parents and hikikomori who work no jobs at all. Italy has a similar crush of "adult children" (a phrase that really sums up the whole problem) who won't move on with their lives. Lest you think I'm lambasting the twentysomethings, though, allow me to register my dismay with the 'real' adults.
Things being what they are--stagnant wages; long, soul-crushing hours on the job; the implicit assumption that who you are is defined primarily by your job title (What's the first question you ask someone when you're introduced? That's right, "What do you do?" Not "How do you do" or even the amusing "Whom do you do," which might prevent some misunderstandings when it comes to dating)--why the hell would anyone want to grow up? In a society that glorifies a youthful body and lifestyle, with an attendant youthful lack of responsibility, as the pinnacle of happiness...why are we nailing people for not falling in line?

Wednesday, August 01, 2007


I've been smoking for 4 years, with one 6-month break (after which I stupidly returned to the nic)...until, that is, 18 hours ago. When I smoked what I hope will be my last cigarette ever.

Now, however, I feel like I've been shot in the head at close range (wait--that seems like a bit of hyperbole. I just WISH I'd been shot in the head at close range). I planned to write a really clever, incisive report of quitting, but it turns out that I'm not capable of those quick little turns of phrase I usually spit out. Oscar Wilde-ish. Currently I'm in more of a "Smoke. Want now." sort of place, more like Oscar from the "Odd Couple." Strangely enough, I don't feel a lot of anxiety. I anticipated feeling like I was trapped in a room with seventeen rabid wolverines, but instead I'm sort of floating through the day. I feel kind of high, frankly, which could be a plus when it comes to getting through the day--grab some Cheetos, look through the patient records while listening to "Dark Side of the Moon," and just chillllll.

It is entirely possible that I've spoken too soon, and that at some later hour the wolverines will come.

By the way, I just heard Beck's "Nausea" on the radio, and I have to ask: what the hell? I know Beck doesn't 'mean' anything per se, and the dada groove of "Loser" is one of my super-favorite songs to run to, but this polyphonic nonsensical insanity on EVERY. Single. Song? Come back to reality and write some lyrics. Seriously. (Is that the impending irritability? Oh no).