Thursday, December 31, 2009

I knew something was wrong when the car started making that noise--like the lovechild of a bobcat and a Philip Glass concert. Then I noticed that despite having the accelerator pressed to the floor, I was only doing 50, and the car was bucking like a bronco, and suddenly there was a smell somewhere between skunk and burning Barbie hair (I wasn't a tomboy, per se, as a child--it was just that some Barbies were for dressing up, and others were for impromptu incendiary devices. By the way, I hope mentioning 'incendiary devices' on here doesn't get me put on some sort of government list). Luckily, I was right near the Sedalia exit off I-70 (Don't know where Sedalia is? Don't worry, almost no one does, and many who do wish they didn't). And as I switched lanes, trying valiantly to avoid the cars rushing around me, and rode past the rumble strip onto the shoulder, it came to me: with the utmost clarity, the result of years of contemplative study of both Western (Christian, Jewish) and Eastern (Buddhist, Taoist) religions and philosophies: Holy Fucking Christ, I Am Going to Die. Panic, in a word.

To make a long story ever so slightly shorter, I waited for an extended period of time for the tow truck to arrive. This included calling the Lafayette County Sheriff's department, walking about a mile back to the nearest sign to determine where exactly I was (with a wind chill in the single digits--swell!! Thank Goddess I was accompanied by Crazy's Little Helper, the panic attack, which gets the blood flowing beautifully), and an hour waiting in my car. I tried to remember everything I'd ever heard about surviving when stranded, and stuck with putting on more layers of clothing, wrapping myself in the electric--but un-plug-inable--blanket I'd gotten for Christmas, and trying to determine at what point rebreathing the air in the car (which must be almost all carbon dioxide by now, right?) was a greater threat than sacrificing a few degrees of warmth by opening the car door for a few seconds. Luckily, before I completely lost my mind--and I realize this is a relative measure--I was ferried (with my car) back to Betty's Garage, Truck Stop, Restaurant, Convenience Store, Gas Station and Motel (no kidding).

I had called my parents, as I was a mere ninety minutes outside of Kansas City, and they were driving there to meet me with their two cars--one in which I would continue on to St. Louis, the other to take them both home (any ill will I have ever felt toward either of my parents has been canceled by this act of love, in the same manner as Zen Buddhism allows lifetimes worth of karmic detritus to be cleared away in one moment of satori). In the meantime I went into the convenience store to look for a magazine, reasoning that I could read that while enjoying, say, a cup of coffee from the restaurant. Perhaps I am--comment se dit? Prejudiced--but I wasn't expecting to find Scientific American or anything. I would have settled for an US, hell, even a Woman's Day. I looked all over the convenience store, which was dark and wood-paneled. What I thought was a magazine rack was revealed to be a rack of signs, among them "Redneck Parking Only," "Parking for World's Greatest Beer Drinker," and a delightful line drawing of a woman who, right side up (and with the words 'Before Beer' painted over her head) appeared quite homely, but when flipped upside down (with the phrase 'After Six Beers' now emblazoned above) bore a striking resemblance to Trisha Yearwood. There were many other signs of this ilk (one featuring Barack Obama's face with a 'NO' sign through it, whose semiotic depths I did not dare to plumb), an entire aisle devoted to light beers and various jerkies--but no magazines. This was evidently not a reading sort of joint. Add the set of antlers mounted behind the cash register and the folksy wood plaque in the restaurant reading "Lord, bless this mess," and you've got the feel of the place. I skulked near the Corn Nuts, hoping the cashier couldn't smell the pinko-lesbo-hippie fumes that were undoubtedly wafting from me. Finally my parents arrived, and after much fussing, my things were loaded into another car and I set off again.

I should say that it was getting late by this point, and that I had only an hour or so of daylight left--but what an hour! Against the colors of mid-winter sunset--that cool rose, the wan yellow, the icy blue--I saw endless groups of geese flying in scraggly Vs across the floodplains of the Missouri river. After a brief stop for dinner, the sky was completely black--or so I thought until I reached the top of the nearest hill and saw the full moon (Her face shockingly large, as if near enough to touch) just over the scrubby horizon. She watched me the whole way home.

The only other kink in the works was halting at a rest stop around 7:oo. Normally rest stops don't bother me--yeah, I don't actually sit on the toilets, and I don't touch any of the doorknobs, and I slather myself in sanitizer afterward--but I basically feel safe, at least from things large enough to be seen with the naked eye. After dark, however, they all look like the Creepy McRaperson Memorial Rest Stop, now even more poorly lit, with even more trees to lurk behind and convenient E-Z-Dump ditches in back. Obviously I have survived to tell the tale, and there wasn't anything eminently creepy--but still.

Anyhow, I made it door-to-door in a record-setting eight hours. The experience was priceless: now I just have to decide whether it was priceless like a collection of Faberge eggs whose worth could never be counted, or like a losing lottery ticket that isn't worth a damn thing.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Some 'serious' poetry--a reimagining of the Annunciation in time for Advent.

Gratia Plena

I was drawing water when
the angel she appeared
all white and gold
backlit by glory,
holding out a lily
as she said Shalom
and told me what she told me
and I said
I am not worthy
I am not
worthy / I am.
And the winged proclamation
Was a question
which I answered yes
Yes resonating
With my entire self,
my soul, each muscle
in my body bowstring-taut
so that I dropped the jug of water,
on my knees in wonder
For what woman
could resist a god's
enters resistance,
God enters.
And so I took God in
as one takes in an
orphan and
as cracked earth takes in
rain and
as surely as I myself am held
to God:
And I am filled with
like water,
and I answered yes
though I am not worthy
yes although
my human love is clumsy,
And I felt the lips
of the Almighty
brush my neck
whispering Shalom
as I dissolved
in the sea of that love.


Thursday, December 17, 2009

Possible New Year's Resolutions--some real, some not (feel free to try and guess which are which...and to add your own [for yourself, not for me]). Because although it's the night before a big exam--one of few nights when I truly NEED the sleep--I have been visited by the Insomnia Fairy tonight. She's like the Sandman, but instead of dispensing mythical grains of soporific sand, she sprinkles you with crystalline caffeine...or if you're one of those chronically-exposed individuals for whom even caffeine has lost its punch (like a medical student), she uses crystal meth.

1. Decrease parentheticals in my writing.
2. Set aside time every day to write.
3. Try to submit a poem or essay somewhere at least once a month.
4. Quit smoking. Really this time.
5. Tell the people I care about that I care about them.
6. Work on my compulsive fire-starting.
7. Also my regrettable tendency to steal.
8. Enter and train for a road race (10-k or longer).
9. Eat more vegetables.
10. Learn how to cook a new national cuisine--Indian or Chinese would be nice.
11. Eat less fiber.

Is that sleep I feel tugging at my eyelids? Here's hoping...

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

I've done this (not on a date, but still). If Martha Stewart and I had kids, they'd be blonde and blue-eyed with superior organizational skills, near-photographic memory, and great intuition and sensitivity. Or, with my luck, they'd come out with my organizational skills (those of a spider monkey on LSD) and get her emotional intelligence--which, according to sources I've read, approximately parallels that of a hammer.
Making Nativity scenes out of pinecones and leftover decoupage materials doesn't necessarily make you nice.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009


I found out today that I've been taking half my regular dose of Zoloft for the past week and a half (the pharmacy gave me 50 mg tabs instead of my usual 100s)...and as a result, though I now understand why I've been having panic attacks every damn day--well, in addition to approaching finals--(ever heard of SSRI withdrawal syndrome? Google it, it'll be fun) it doesn't mean I'm not now tightly wound as a three dollar watch and having some...difficulty focusing, and feeling really. effing. sad. So I've been trying to chill the hell out: difficult indeed, especially when channel K-FCKD is playing at a volume of 10 in my head--study, study, study! Yeah, yeah, bitch and moan.

So what do I do to try to relax?
Well, there's Xanax. And Ativan. But pharmacology can't be everything.
There's also taking a nice bath with some lavender and patchouli essential oils (yes, I'm a hippie. Shut up).
Petting my kitty (not a euphemism...or maybe).
Kicking back with some herbal tea and a 'brain candy' book--Patricia Cornwell, Harry Potter, Terry Pratchett (whom I luuuurve) or something like that.
Reading Rumi, especially the Coleman Barks translations; also translations of Hafiz. Who knows why, but this little white girl really loves mystic Sufi poetry.
Looking at cuteoverload, failblog, somethingawful, or ichc. Good for those quasi-suicidal days.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Sunday, November 29, 2009

TMI Alert. Colonoscopy in t-minus eleven hours. After which I will be able to eat some damn food. Because you know it's gonna be fun when having a flexible tube inserted into your lower gastrointestinal tract (so as to avoid the obvious and vulgar descriptor, 'shoved up your ass') ISN'T the worst part of the overall experience.
So what is? Could be the colonoscopy prep (if you don't already know what that entails, don't google it. I would say it's something like amoebic dysentery, but as I have recently learned in my GI Pathology course, amoebic dysentery would actually result in LESS voluminous diarrhea). Could be the fact that the prep solution--of which I had to drink two liters--did NOT taste like ass. Ass would have been a profound improvement. It was somehow simultaneously salty and sweet and sour and after the first sip I felt certain I was going to vomit--which, fortunately, I did not. Just retching, which is like vomiting without the catharsis and satisfaction. Overall, though, it was just as well. Because, as I discovered later in the evening, I really couldn't have afforded to lose that fluid--or those electrolytes.
Could be that I've been on a clear liquid diet all day, which originally sounded like a good thing to my ED, but has now left me guessing at what precisely defines clear liquid, not to mention getting headachy and bitchy (more so than usual). Thus far that has meant: Coffee, yes. But with no skim milk. Vegetable bouillion, yes. But with no saltines. And, of course, diet coke. On the plus side: no abdominal pain this evening, which I'm attributing to the lack of food. On the minus side: dude, did you read this post at all?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Things I'm loving right now

The Sixth Glass Quadrupel Ale from Boulevard Brewing Company (from Kansas City--woot). You've heard of the Belgian Trippel Ale...this is a step above, as I discovered when I had two glasses while reading Martha Stewart Living magazine, and suddenly started thinking that maybe I really COULD make a nativity scene out of pinecones and glitter. Also I couldn't walk a straight line when I got up. Sure enough--checked the bottle, and it's 10.5% alcohol. Full-bodied, though, delicious, assertive without being overpowering.

Martha Stewart Living magazine. Not just because I have a crush (she's really the ultimate power femme, isn't she?) but also because I love seeing the insanity that they come up with. Consider a recipe for a Croquenbouche--a tower of pastry--that has you make 200 pastry puffs from scratch and hand-fill them with caramel cream. It takes HOURS. They come right out and say it in the recipe. They admit it; they're not even trying to hide it. HOURS. Also, I started reading the latest issue today, and I was drinking at the time.

Waffles. I've been on a Kashi waffle kick lately. Eating them daily. They have tons of fiber and protein, so they're good for you, too.

"Are You Being Served?", a British comedy from the 70's. I've been watching the first three seasons (which I own) on repeat lately. I don't know why; there's just something about that era that's oddly comforting. And I've always liked British comedy.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

So it begins.

I know it's starting when food in my fridge starts to go bad...because I'm not eating it. When working out only once a day suddenly seems insufficient. When I start sizing up everyone I see (every woman, anyway) not in terms of friend-ability or date-ability, but literally--guessing at what size jeans she wears and comparing us (generally not in my favor). Everyone has certain twitches and issues that show up in times of stress, and food-and-body-weirdness is one of mine. The period around the time change, and segueing into the holidays, is always difficult for me in this respect. Maybe it's a way of dealing with a seasonal affective type issue; maybe it's something to do with the clash between Norman-Rockwellesque holiday expectations and the realities of a live, dynamic and (like most people's) dysfunctional family. Or, hell, world.

To be perfectly honest, it's not just a tic. It is, in fact (speaking diagnostically, clinically) an eating disorder. It's not something I'm proud of, but it's also not something of which I feel inordinately ashamed. I've been living with it for too long: more than half my life at this point. It's been worse than it is now--I've been hospitalized multiple times; I've ended up in the ER with electrolyte imbalances and arrhythmias. It's been better, too--for brief, shining moments, anyway. What's really alarming, though, is how easy it is to blend in--how similar I am (or manage to appear) to the Average (Middle Class) American Woman. Bitching about having a 'fat day' (I think almost all women will know exactly what I mean when I say this, even if they've never heard the term before): check. Though perhaps not to the same extent; if I'm having a fat day, it negates everything else that happens in those 24 hours. I am chagrined to say that the day I found out I got honors on Exam X was still a 'bad' day overall because I got an unfortunate view of my ass in the mirror at the gym. Speaking of which: Going to the gym every day? Check. Buying fat-free cheese, fat-free milk, fat-free butter (WTF, by the way)? Check.

Of course I know better. I can name drop all the slogans, watch: Health at Any Size, Riots not Diets, Fat Dykes are Revolting. Yet as we learned today in our 'Motivational Interviewing' exercise, knowing better and doing better are often separated by a large chasm, one that has to be bridged with patience and compassion (yes, I know I'm a hippie; I want to go into psych. So sue me). Here's hoping, forr all of us.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Autumn and what comes after

is the richest breeding ground
for life.
The gardener knows
this, piling loamy soil
thick with last year's harvest, over roots,
The soft scent of decay which underlies
the sweetness of the blossoms that will come;
The surgeon knows it too, at 3 am
lifting out the liver or the heart
from the body which outlasted life
for one at least, but which will surge again
with blood and gladness in some other chest,
another waiting, ribs splayed apart like hands
opening to receive the gift at once
both horrifying and magnificent,
and to close,
as hands and circles do.

-AG, Nov 2009

Wrote this, perhaps not so oddly, after talking to an acquaintance about her time on the transplant surgery rotation. The first few lines just came to me as I was walking home from school afterward, in the November dark with fallen leaves all around.

Friday, October 30, 2009

If I am diabetic, I will punch someone in the face

Well, no, I won't actually punch anyone in the face--mostly because I wouldn't know to whom to do it (though one of the people on the street who always asks me if I have an 'extra cigarette' might be in for it...just a note: I do not have any 'extra' cigarettes. I do not have any 'extra' anything, except perhaps pounds in the region of my ass and room in the trunk of my car, which is of a capacity to serve the needs of any major crime family. Each pack has 20, which I divide in the following way: 20 for me. Et fin. At least until I quit on OFFICIAL FINAL QUIT DAY TO END ALL QUIT DAYS, NOV 9th 2009. Leave me alone).

So there have been myriad tests. Glucose tolerance tests, pelvic ultrasounds (which somehow manage to be even less fun than they sound), rounds of superfluous antibiotics ("Is there anything else that's been bothering you besides the fatigue?" Dr. W asked solicitously. "Anything at all?" I coughed--again, because I smoke--and said I'd been feeling a little sinus pressure...and won a 10 day round of Augmentin that accomplished precisely nothing), got a CBC, a TSH, a hormone panel, another hormone panel, a metabolic panel, a urinalysis...And suddenly the discovery of a high fasting glucose, and ketosis. Perhaps my immune system has decided it's tired of munching on my thyroid and has decided to feast upon my pancreas as well. I cannot effing possibly have Type II diabetes. Why? Because. Because my diet is composed of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat vegetarian protein. Because I exercise every day. Because it would be so unfair ("Life isn't fair," I can hear you saying, to which I reply: "Bite me").

So I'm kind of pissed, and wondering why this is all happening, and having the usual struggles that people have when accosted by illness. 'Why me?,' while of course the most prosaically human of questions, is also the most difficult to answer. OF COURSE I don't believe that people get sick as 'punishment' for things, or that being virtuous provides even the faintest protection from harm--though you have to admit, popular culture does feed into the assumption that if you eat enough veggies, don't smoke, exercise, limit your stress and sodium and fat intake and get lots of fiber and'll never get sick, never age, never die. Having in some ways lost the moral imperative in the realm of the soul, it's been transferred to the realm of the body. Which still leaves me thinking that I shouldn't be having all these problems, because while I'm certainly not perfect there are also many people 'worse' than I. People who eat puppy sandwiches with kitten au jus. Go after one of them.

Monday, October 12, 2009

What's the Big Secret?

Ok, they're not that big. They're actually little secrets. The ones you don't want people to know, not because you would be dragged before the tribunal at Nuremberg but rather because you know people would think of you a little differently--perhaps more negatively. Not the big, horrible, need-therapy-to-deal-with-it shames, but those things you wouldn't even tell your therapist. Because they're too small, but also because she'd think of you differently, too. The things that aren't crimes but rather matters of style, that would mark you as crass or a nympho or deeply un-PC. We all have them. Put up one or two of yours! Seriously. I know people read this but no one ever comments.

1. I love poetry. Love it to pieces. But...I really can't stand Maya Angelou's poems. I am aware that this makes me a bad person.
2. I have a thing for older women. Not 'elderly,' but older, and definitely powerful (Kissinger was right about power being an aphrodisiac. Was that Kissinger?). At various times in my life I've crushed out on Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, Meryl Streep and Madonna. And on numerous female members of the Cornell and WUSM faculty.
3. In most areas of my life I am utterly nonjudgmental. You can be gay, bi, trans, straight; into SM or roleplaying or leather; you can smoke, drink and gamble. However, I cannot abide errors in punctuation or spelling. I have actually not entered restaurants just because of mispunctuated signs.
4. I haven't read Moby Dick, or The Grapes of Wrath, or Great Expectations. Nor do I particularly wish to. I can couch this in feminist ire by saying that literature by dead white men is overrated, but the truth is I'm too lazy. At the same time...
5. If I see you reading Nora Roberts or Danielle Steele on the Metro, I will judge you. Again, I realize this makes me a bad person.
6. I HAVE to exercise every day. If I don't, I am secretly convinced that I will gain 20 pounds and lose all my cardiovascular fitness. The only day this doesn't apply is the first day of my period, when I'm not in a condition to be exercising anyway.
7. I've been drinking it since college, but I still can't stand the taste of coffee. Vicious bitterness, that's what it is. Finishing the dregs in the bottom of the cup often makes me feel that I am literally about to vomit... which is why I often throw the last 1/4 to 1/6 of the cup away.
8. Speaking of beverages...before I got nice stemware (read: 1.49 a piece at World Market) I occasionally drank red wine out of a coffee mug. Classy.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Anniversary--Six Years Is a Long Time.

A lot has changed since September 2003: I've graduated from Cornell, started medical school, had a job in the interim, had several relationships.
Since then I've become fluent in German, lost 60 pounds, competed in road races, had essays published in several anthologies.
Since then I've become an Anglican, become an activist, marched in a gay pride parade, have grown more comfortable being 'out' about both my spirituality and my sexual orientation. Yes, a lot has changed.

Six years ago today I was raped by a stranger. It was violent. It was terrifying. It was painful. I was injured both physically and emotionally. "Why talk about it?" I can hear people asking. "Keep that stuff to yourself. It's too dark, too personal. No one wants to know. It makes us uncomfortable." Even the word itself--rape--makes people wince; its single syllable falls like a blow. 'Sexual assault' is gentler; it spreads the impact over multiple words. It is less explosive, less primal. This is precisely why I make the effort (though it is still difficult for me) to call what happened to me rape.

It makes me uncomfortable too, but I don't have the luxury of expunging it from my memory and living free of any consequences. I cannot forget. And as long as women are being victimized--as long as I know my sisters are being hurt and humiliated and then, on top of that, shamed into silence--it is my intent to prevent anyone from forgetting it. I don't think people ignore issues like rape out of callousness (though perhaps some do); it is rather a need to protect their delicate human hearts. It is frightening to witness another person's pain, especially a pain of this intensity. It is uncomfortable to face injustice and violence--to know, not at a superficial level but to acknowledge in a way that can only produce horror, that there are human beings who intentionally hurt other human beings to gratify their own drives.

Tonight I went for a run in the park. I misjudged the sunset and ended up halfway through my run with almost no daylight left. The rape happened under similar circumstances. I was freaking slightly. It felt like a fairy tale, where someone is always warned at the beginning, "Don't touch the pumpkin," or "Stay away from this room at midnight," and at the end of the story finds themselves doing precisely what they were told not to, and thus bringing disaster upon themselves. I peered through the darkness, checking every tree for figures, running along the road (where the lights are). By the time I crossed Kingshighway, though, a peculiar joy was running through my veins. The moon was a waxing gibbous; waxing moons are auspicious, and I could practically feel her beaming down at me as I ran the last few blocks home, my footfalls and heartbeat synchronized with my breathing and the drone of cicadas, like a symphony of flesh. I have made it through six years. Not without pain or injury; not without bouts of choking sadness or ragged anxiety, but also not without hope.
Tonight is also the feast of St. Michael and All Angels. As autumn descends, as the days shorten, everyone gets caught up in the universal drama of dark vs. light. It's a constant struggle. That's the point. Who will win is not a foregone conclusion. But then that's what hope is about.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

I took a glucose tolerance test today, and as a result spent the day riding the blood-sugar rollercoaster from hell. A glucose tolerance test (GTT, for those in the know) involves drinking 75 grams of sugar in one go in the form of a delectable 10 0z of "orange flavor glucose tolerance beverage." Hummingbirds love the stuff, I'm sure; me not so much. It didn't help that the promised orange flavor was in fact a bizarre hybrid of grapefruit and ass. And that they took 6 tubes of blood at the beginning. And another one two hours later.
Nothing terribly exciting to report--no convulsions, no fainting--just a profound feeling of fatigue, some nausea, and a headache.
All this in an attempt to figure out what's going on. More poking and prodding Friday. And then: answers. I hope.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

"Cosmetic intervention" are-you-f*cking-kidding-me corner

So I'm flipping through O magazine in a doctor's waiting room, and I happen upon a full-page ad featuring Brooke Shields. Oh, yeah, I remember her from the 80s and 90s. Cute kid, heavy on the eyebrows. Cool. Then I notice that the ad is for--I kid you not--an ACTUAL DRUG (did you get that? A pharmaceutical formulation. A drug) called Latisse, intended to cure the life-shattering ill that is hypotrichosis. Waitaminit, I say to myself. Trichosis--that's 'hair.' As in trichotillomania, when people compulsively pull their hair out (knew a girl in high school who did this--she had a cute side-part all the time, and it was only when I spent the night at her house that I discovered it was covering a silver-dollar sized bald spot), or hypertrichosis, the overgrowth of fine downy body hair that I experienced when I was way underweight in college. So hypertrichosis is...not enough hair?

Right enough, but in this case it refers to--as the makers of Latisse say on their web site--'inadequate eyelashes.' Wow. Now the ballsiness of this alone was almost sufficient to send me into conniptions. Now not having the lush, luxuriant lashes of a mascara model is a clinical disorder. "Once you begin treatment," the site promises--TREATMENT, for the love of Christ--you will begin to see increases in eyelash darkness, thickness and length within four months (I will say that it appears to work--Brooke's eyelashes look downright shaggy). In the 'safety' section, it is mentioned that some people experience eye irritation and redness. Or darkening of the eyelids. Or eye infections, if it isn't applied correctly. Also it may darken your irises permanently, and you have to keep using it for as long as you would like to remain in possession of your newly bat-worthy eyelashes. Mostly the folks at Allergan just wanted to remind you that deviations from the standard of Western female beauty, no matter how small, can be considered illnesses, and that you're never good enough as you are.

Oh my goddess, this is so lame I almost had a seizure.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Exams of any kind make me nervous, yet they're also sort of like sporting events. Me vs. the test, me vs. me, me making a last-minute three-pointer at the buzzer (is it a hyperplastic polyp or a serrated adenoma? She shoots...she scores!). In college I even had a set of little rituals that went along with test-taking--put on the lucky shirt, drink the optimum blend of caffeine (for energy and clear-headedness) and gingko biloba tea (for, you know, more clear-headedness).

This week is an exam week--ENT, general pathology and pharmacology. I feel prepared for the first two, not completely ready for the last.

Hopefully by Friday I'll have all the adrenergic and cholinergic and everything else -ergic drugs committed to memory (I'm 90% there, I think--just a little more work around the edges). This is all absolutely cool stuff to get to be learning. Hey, here's how aspirin works; hey, this is the reason selective COX-2 inhibitors like Vioxx--and Celebrex, may it rest in peace--don't eat holes in your stomach lining as readily as ibuprofen! As for learning antidotes, that was just a piece of practically shamanic coolness. Give Narcan for heroin OD. N-acetylcysteine, if given early enough, can protect the liver from acetominophen overdose. A kid ate some Jimson weed--try physostigmine. It's like a throwback to The Olden Days, when you'd give feverfew to someone with (duh) a fever, or black cohosh tea to someone with dysmenorrhea--except, y'know, now we know why things work. And we use fewer plants (although vinca alkaloids and Taxol are both plant-derived, and are used in cancer treatment). Just rambling.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

So for the last few days I have been in...a bitchy phase. Premenstrual. Cheez-it cravings (for someone whose normal diet includes foods that sound like the punch line to an uncharitable joke about hippies--lentil loaf, bulghur salad, soy burgers--and for whom eating saturated fat is akin to promising my firstborn child to the dread lord Satan). Profound lethargy. Tearing up at the thought that someday my dog is going to die. And, most surprising and uncharacteristic of all, being visited with the urge to bludgeon a sizeable percentage of the people around me with blunt objects.
Wednesday night roomie brings boyfriend over at 11 pm. Fine. Whatever. I'm trying to sleep. Our rooms are on either side of the bathroom, and the heating/cooling ducts connect all 3 rooms, but most particularly hers and mine, so that one can hear, through the ducts, exactly what is going on in the next room. Roomie and boy are talking. Annoying, but what am I going to do, tell them to shut up? Plug in white noise machine, turn it to 'waterfall,' crank it. Then they start...well, I don't even know for certain what they were doing. It sounded like it might have been one of those little 'personal' shredders, or like they were using hair clippers for Christ only knows what reason. Turn up waterfall. Apply pillow to head. Imagine applying pillow to roomie's head, at high speed.
Sitting in class, watching as five (literally, simultaneously, five) people take out apples and start eating them. Feel guilty about having Cheez-Its for breakfast. Wish people at this school weren't so damn health-obsessed all the time (it's not like it's a medical sch--oh, wait). Listen to the crunching. Feel my last nerve being plucked, dangerously, about to give way. I am not a huge fan of eating sounds, in myself or others. Let's be honest, especially not in others. Two people sitting behind me begin to talk, cramming as many polysyllabic, pretentious words into their back-and-forth as humanly possible--which makes it not only distracting but grating and prickish. If I wanted to watch two pricks in action I'd rent a porno, I think to myself.

Jung said we must all confront our shadow sides in order to be truly whole. One week a month I see mine. I am generally well-controlled enough to prevent my bile from spilling into the world at large (I say perhaps 1% of the truly appalling things I think-- I don't know if this is a larger or smaller percentage than the average).

Sunday, August 23, 2009

I'm not usually super-forward about being of the Christian persuasion (I'm probably more out about my gayness than I am about my Christianity), for two reasons:
1) I hate the idea that people might automatically assume I am the same 'brand' of Christian as Pat Robertson, or James Dobson, or for that matter the Pope (who, God help me, I still think looks a lot like Senator Palpatine from the Star Wars movies)...'cause in fact I'm pro-choice, anti-death penalty, feminist, sex-positive...
2) My views could perhaps be better explained as Quaker/Episcopalian/Wiccan/Buddhist. I don't know that that makes me un-Christian; maybe I'm just not a very good Christian.

But I received in my email inbox an invite to the Christian Medical Association's first meeting this year (I attended briefly last year) and the focus of discussion is going to be on processing the first-years' initial experiences with their cadavers in anatomy. And I started to thinking--for all the anti-body, 'Satanic urges of the flesh' B.S. that's been appended to Christianity over the years, it is at its core a profoundly embodied religion. The center--the lynchpin--of the faith is the physical death, and later physical resurrection, of a facet of God. The most sacred of the sacraments is communion, a physical meeting of God with human--an act of ingestion. The very definition of 'sacrament,' according to the church, is "an outward and physical sign of an inward, invisible grace." The body is described as 'fearfully and wonderfully made' in the Psalms, not as a dirty thing to be denigrated or ignored. The Jews, to be honest (even with the observation of restrictions like niddah) are much more body-comfy than Christians are: be fruitful and multiply is a requirement, not an 'extra.' Rabbis should be married--a much more reasonable position, to my mind, than requiring priests to be celibate. Just doing a little thinking. It doesn't seem coincidental that a disproportionate number of the women I've met in eating disorders treatment have been Catholic...again, just thinking.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Sweet suffering Jesus, I can tell you I'm not going to be an ENT specialist (ear nose and throat--though it sounds much less impressive than 'otolaryngology,' which is the official title of one of our courses this block, and which I remember learning to spell when I went to the state spelling bee in middle school. Yes, I was as impossibly dorky then as I am now).
Granted, a lot of ENTs spend time doing hearing tests, prescribing antibiotics for refractory sinus infections, and cleaning the cerumen (fifty-dollar word for earwax) out of people's auditory canals.
But they also deal with things that are...I can't really put it any other way...disgrossting.
Para ejemplo, in our first lecture we saw a case of sinusitis complicated by orbital infection (imagine your eye socket getting filled with pus) and a trauma case in which a motorcyclist had his face ripped off and crushed in. Which was exactly as stomach-churning as it sounds. And which was a joy to look at half an hour after lunch.
Hey you. Yeah, you. My other blog is You should totally go there.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Somehow my sleep cycle has gotten totally out of whack, to the point that I am currently awake, and that for a while now I've been falling asleep around dawn, then waking up (at last) around 2:00 pm. Obviously, with the coming of school and 9 am lectures, that's going to have to stop. Insomnia has been my bete noir since childhood; my pineal gland and suprachiasmatic nucleus seem to think it's funny to set themselves to Tokyo time despite my physical presence in the Midwestern United States. I hate it when I feel like my organs are putting one over on me.

In my experience, it is possible to 'reset' the circadian rhythm in one of two ways: either by sleeping your way through (last fall I really did have a weekend when, except for a few bathroom and food breaks, I slept 24 hours consecutively...and more than 36 hours total, when it was all tallied up...God knows why; maybe I was fighting off an infection or something), or by staying up a full 24 to 36 hours. Considering that I'm awake now--despite having taken Ambien at midnight-- and I have things I need to accomplish tomorrow, I think I'm going to end up taking the second option. Bonus: I'm quitting smoking (for real this time, really and truly, honest, I swear) and when you stay up for extended periods of time sometimes something clicks in your brain and it's possible to rewire the ol' neural circuits. For example, the first time I ever did the up-all-night thing, for the next six months or so I couldn't handle caffeine very well. I would have a soda with lunch and feel positively wired (keep in mind that prior to this I was drinking about 2 liters of soda a day and barely felt any effects). It's weird--sleep deprivation leaves you in this very 'limbo' place where it seems like lots of things--quitting smoking, or falling asleep standing up--are not only possible, but likely. Doable. Let's hope this turns out to be the case. And if I look like an extra from Night of the Living Dead tomorrow...well, at least you'll know why.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Why Men Go For Guns, or the George Sodini Massacre...heard of it?

Probably, because I've heard of it, and I'm generally the last to know about current events now that I'm in med school (and never watch TV). I learned about the attack, which happened a few weeks ago now, via Dan Savage's current "Savage Love" column. Go read it. So what exactly happened?

Dude had been rejected by lots of women. Worked out at a fitness club in Pittsburgh and thus was in a position to see a lot of fit, 'objectively attractive' (if such a thing can be said to exist, and it can't) women, in tight workout clothes, panting and sweating and...well, deal is, a fair number of people have said (without realizing exactly how much like the Taliban they sound) that the poor guy just couldn't help himself. To be sexually rejected and at the same time surrounded by those sweating, gyrating, nubile gym tarts...seriously, isn't a woman in bike shorts and a sports bra just asking to get shot in the face? (HEAVY, HEAVY SARCASM ALERT). Oh, they say they're just trying to get to their target heart rates, but I think we all know they're just wanton temptresses in Spandex (not that the occasional woman in my yoga class hasn't gotten my heart pounding a little faster than the asanas alone, but damn...). Sodini hadn't had sex in almost twenty years (he put this on his website, in an angry, neanderthal 'journal' that detailed his plans). Maybe because people intuited what a creepy-ass person he was. So he walks into the fitness club, into an aerobics class, and kills three women and injures nine others. That'll teach 'em. Then he kills himself, which is sad but probably just as well.

All these shootings...the Virginia Tech, Columbine, Paducah, the Amish school shooting in 2006 (where, again, the shooter specifically targeted females, though in this case they were little girls--all prepubescent--and the shooter additionally brought restraint devices and lubricant with him, which he seems not to have used before finally killing himself)...people talk about the epidemic of 'school shootings' or 'senseless violence' and what never gets said is that THE. SHOOTERS. ARE. MALE. Granted, they are all also quite mentally ill, but you'd think in a country that claims to want to know "the reason for this violence," someone would have looked for a pattern and found the smoking guns, so to speak, that are testosterone and societal imprinting. Sondini was raised, as a white male in America, to feel entitled--perhaps most especially, through the influence of sources ranging from advertising to the book "How To Date Young Women: For Men Over 35" (it was found on a table at his house), to the woman and sex of his dreams--and he didn't get it. In a society where greiving, or 'settling,' or acknowledging the primary fucked-upedness of the paradigm is impossible, the response most readily available for men is rage, and unchecked/unsublimated rage leads to aggression, as any armchair psychologist (me, for example) can tell you. So Sodini, while obviously a bastard, is also a symptom of a sickness that preys on the Western male, and finds its most heinous and vicious expression in attacks like these on the unsuspecting and powerless (see also wife-beating and child abuse, but those unfortunately don't make headlines).

This isn't to say that women don't rage, but for most, conditioning (and the fundamental LACK of entitlement that most women are inculcated with--yes, I ended with a preposition, deal with it) leads them to direct rage and aggression inwards rather than out. So while school shootings and such aren't so much female territory (which again isn't to say that they couldn't be), self-mutilation, depression, self hatred--particularly directed at the body--and eating disorders are how the ladies act things out.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

So the story cuntinues. HA!

I'm feeling dispirited. I'm certain this is NOT the etymology I remember from Ms. Muscio, which was empowering and kick-ass, while this one is tepid and passive, akin to the (very real) origin of the word 'vagina,' which is ancient Latin and means 'sheath for a sword.' I'll keep pointy bits away from my genitalia, thanks.

So I went further, and typed "cunt etymology" into Google, praying to the good Lord that the inclusion of the second word would decrease my probability of being swamped by the nastier sites associated with the first. And, lo and behold, I found this. It's convincing, but not as convincing as Barbara Walker's entry in "The Woman's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets," which, coincidentally, is another fantastic book very much worth owning. It says that 'cunt,' far from being a slur, was originally a word of positive power, a title of respect; furthermore, it
-comes from the same root as county, kin and kind.
-is related to cunning, kenning, and ken (ken=Brit-ism for 'know')
-is, and here I quote Walker directly, "Derivative of the Great Goddess as Cunti, or Kunda, the Yoni of the universe."

A far cry from something you'd see scrawled on a bathroom wall, no?

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

It's not offensive. It's etymology (no, not bugs. That's entomology). Let's have fun learning about words!

One of the things my first girlfriend left me (besides a few words of Chinese and a broken heart) was a book. I've had it nearly ten years now. I love it--it's one of my favorite books ever. However, I have to keep it on a bookshelf in my room. I can't leave it lying around in the living room, or put it on the bookshelf downstairs. When I went into the hospital last time, I brought the book with me, and when one of the therapists met with me in my room she looked at the book on my bedside table and said, "Excuse me, but does that book say cunt?"
It does indeed. The book is "Cunt: a declaration of independence" by Inga Muscio. One of the most engaging, inspiring feminist books I've ever read, taking into account the combined sister-powerhood of Gloria Steinem, Naomi Wolf and Betty Friedan. Go buy it, now...NOT at amazon, damn it. Go to your local, independent bookstore, or failing that, hit up

So how did I get into the sort of frame of mind, on this particular evening, that would lead me to write about the origins of the C-word? Well, it goes like this (skip this paragraph if you don't care about my life or any humorous references thereto and want to get down to business, as it were). I was researching a Traffic song online, which had popped into my head this evening and which I had just purchased. Said song is entitled "John Barleycorn Must Die." I heard it for the first time in my dad's old Honda when we were driving together on I-70. I must have been seven or so, and I remember it was the most haunting (ie, beautiful, but song I'd heard in my young life. Seriously, go look up the lyrics and tell me they aren't BEYOND sick. Barley, the crop, is personified, and said anthropomorphic personification is 'cut off at the knees,' stabbed with pitchforks, bound to a cart, pulled skin from bone, ground between make whiskey, y'see.

According to Wikipedia this folksong is positively ancient...the earliest version roughly 500 years old. There have been suggestions that this song is related to the ancient practice of sacrificing a king (or a 'king,' ie, a commoner conned into wearing a funny hat for the proceedings ["Wow, this robe is nice, and this crown, and this mead you keep pouring me--'s terrific...Why are you looking at me like that, guys? Guys? Let's put down the knives, guys. Oh, fu---" THUD.]) at some suitable solstice to ensure the continued/returning fertility of the land.

And there's a hyperlink to an article on human sacrifice. And from there to Norse practices in that regard more specifically (the Germanic peoples weren't as into it as, say, the Celts or the Aztecs...if the Aztecs told you there was something really great to see at the top of all those temple stairs, you would be well advised to take a rain check). And there, in the middle of a description of hangin' and immolatin' I saw a word I'd never seen before: apparently the word for 'wise woman' in some Nordic tongue, "volva." Pretend there's an umlaut over the o. What's this? I thought. Some etymologic relationship? The trip from volva to vulva is short (though thrilling, I'm sure...after all, it's the quality, not the quantity).

So I look up "vulva" in the online etymology dictionary I use, and it tries to feed me a line of BS about Latin, 'vulva' from older Latin 'volva,' related to turning and returning, an enclosure or pouch, twisting about, related to modern Spanish volver, to return...and I said, fool, what?

Monday, July 20, 2009

Damn, I didn't know anyone actually read my blog.

Anyway. Before everyone freaks out permanently. It was Henrique.

I don't know that much about what happened. Probably you should talk to someone who knows more about it, if you don't already know yourself. Apparently there isn't a lot of information.

Saturday, July 18, 2009


I got a phone call this afternoon. A friend of mine from college is dead. He killed himself.

I have a picture of us, in a big group, from freshman year. We're all so young, all smiling, on the front steps of our house. It's spring; you can see the sunlight shimmering on the leaves behind our heads. We are at the beginning of something big, our salad days, the spring of our own lives. Hope drips from us like honey.

I want to ask why. I don't know the answer. I would ask how someone could come to that place, to a place where death seems like comforting respite, where it becomes a thing desired rather than ignored or feared...but I know how--it's a place I've been as well, and recently. A place where the dark is completely enveloping, where the moon is eclipsed, where it seems like there is no hope for any dawn. But I also know it's a monstrous untruth, a lie of the highest (or lowest) order. It denies that most basic of human instincts, one as powerful as the drive to eat and drink and breathe: the drive to hope. As Emily Dickinson wrote (who I would appoint to sainthood were I ever put to the task of developing my own religion):

Hope is the thing with feathers
that perches in the soul
And sings the tune without the words
and never stops at all

and sweetest in the gale is heard
and sore must be the storm
that could abash the little bird
that kept so many warm...

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Gay gay gay. Gaydee gay gay.

The Matthew Shepard Act (see this) is up for a vote this week in Congress. So if you've read my stuff for a while, and think that someone who bashes my head in for being a lesbo (or for thinking that I'm a dude dressed like a lady, something I'll get into a little later) should be charged with a hate crime, and pursued by the federal government even if the local law enforcement lets it slide...then by all means contact your Congresspeople. "Dr." James Dobson has been calling it the Pedophile Protection Act, and if it's got his panties in a wad you know it has to be good...this from the man who recommends, essentially, 'beating the will' out of your child. Like I said, quality stuff (did I mention my parents owned all his books?). I apply the word 'hate' very, very sparingly--things may piss me off, or cause me to take umbrage, but the 'hate' bar is set pretty high. "Dr." Dobson clears it with a flying leap. I hate him. Almost as much as I love Helen Mirren (see previous post).

The Episcopal Church (of which I am a member...damn, I hope that was grammatically correct) has just passed DO25 at its General Convention, meaning that the moratorium on consecration of same-sex loving folk to ministry (priesthood, the deaconate, the episcopate) is over. So even gay folks can serve Jeebus (he doesn't mind that I call him that. I asked). If you're a church nerd, you can read the text of the proposal here. )

And last but not least, I dug up an old Atlantic article about queer folk in Saudi Arabia that I remember reading with a great deal of interest in's only from 2005. Read it here, and decide for yourself if you want to make Riyadh your next vacation destination. They could stone you...but then again, you could also get super-laid.

Only 15 days late for Pride, or Queer Awareness, or whatever June is nowadays,

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Helen a bikini (?!?) at 63

So apparently this picture was published to the world at large in Dec. of last year, and I just wasn't paying attention. Go ahead and google "Helen Mirren bikini." I'll wait.

Holy Mary Mother of Christ, is she not gorgeous? I had previously set my "attract-dar" at an upper limit of 40, with a few notable exceptions (exemplia gratiae: Dame Mirren herself, the lovely Catherine Deneuve, the ravishing Isabelle Huppert, and the incomparable Meryl Streep). But looking at old magazines in my therapist's waiting room today, I was accosted--that is really the only appropriate word--by that photo of Helen Mirren, who is old enough not just to be my mother, but in fact to be my grandmother. So, as the kids say, what gives?

One could, if one were bloody-minded, point to my own psychological pecadilloes and mommy-issues. However. There remains another option: hotness is not in fact a package with a sell-by date. Self-confidence, good health, a sense of humor (and good Goddess, those ode-worthy breasts that would have moved even Homer, and we all know how those Greeks were)...these are the makings of attractiveness. I am not ashamed to say it. Even on my 200 mg of notoriously libido-killing Zoloft, today in that waiting room, a photograph of a 'mature woman' gave me serious physical needs.

Further disclosure: This issue of People (for such it was) had pictures of other "older women"--defined in Hollywood parlance as anyone significantly post-pubertal--who had undergone cosmetic surgery, or had other assorted procedures in order to 'age gracefully.' 30 year olds getting Botox. Poor body-obsessed Janice Dickinson, who should by now (at least in my opinion) be focused more on her legacy, such as it is, than her legs, with full-body lifts and Lord knows what else. None of these women--especially not those who'd been tucked and implanted and sanded into oblivion--held a candle to the au naturel (as far as I know) Ms. Mirren. So there.

Saturday, April 25, 2009


My roommate brought home a painting when she got back from Amsterdam. It's huge, 2 feet by 4 feet, and is composed of deep blue, a bruise-ish purple, brackish green and occasional strips of white. Also teal, which is a color I have always hated. Have I begun to convey the fact that I really don't like this painting? It's meant to be abstract, I think--just wavy lines emanating from a central blue circle. Where the hell did this come from? I asked myself. Surely she didn't lug it all the way from Europe. I noted with trepidation that it's about the size to be hung over a couch, and that the wall behind our futon is conspicuously bare. Shudder. I couldn't really say anything about hanging it in the living room--not directly, anyway, not until I knew where it came from, especially since no fewer than 3 of my own paintings are currently on display downstairs (the difference being of course that mine are actually attractive). Why is it that there's nothing so truly off-putting as bad art? Is it because art is meant to be appealing, or to convey a message, and that bad art fails to do either one? Can there really be such a thing as bad art, I mused philosophically? Yes, the resounding reply came, and if you aren't careful you're going to have a big hunk of it hanging in your apartment forever, and your friends who know you paint will think you are responsible, and it sounds bad to say, "Sweet Lord Jesus, I'm not the one who did that. I'm not the one currently despoiling your retinas with what looks like the kraken emerging from the depths of oceanic hell."
I discovered later, when Roomie's boyfriend was over, that it was his painting. "I did that," he said simply, as if it were no big deal, as if he had not essentially just copped to aesthetic murder. "Oh." I said, and since I had given up lying--even little white ones--for Lent, continued hesitantly (hoping to convey a sense of fraternity, one artist to another--and further hoping he'd accept that as a compliment of sorts), "It's so big. Where do you go to get canvas that size?" We talked for a bit about the relative merits of Hobby Lobby versus Dick Blick's, and finally I said, "It'll look really great in Roommate's room."
"Well, it'd take up the entire wall, though, wouldn't it?" he said.
I wanted to reply, "Yes, but it would take up an entire wall down here, too, dammit," but refrained. I'm hoping the fact that Roomie hasn't put it up anywhere yet is an indication that she has no desire to do so. She's not the type to put things off. But until I know for sure, the painting crouches beneath the stairs, and each time I pass it I can feel it ready to spring.

Friday, April 24, 2009

The Metro, Pornography, and My Self-Esteem

Sure, there are all the 'normal, sane, sensible' reasons to love St. Louis' Metro, despite their recent cutbacks in services...*I swear no one is paying me to say this, though if someone from the transportation department would like to cut me a check, drop me a line and I'll send you my address. Just kidding. Why not? Because if I were a stalker, that's exactly what I'd do to get my prey's location.*
It's almost always on time, though that still sometimes means waiting twenty minutes for the damn train. Fine in April, not so fine in January.
If you are affiliated with my particular university, you get a pass for unlimited travel each semester; a pass that's free (and I love free things, though I am often reminded of something my father once told me: "Nothing's really free but God's love and syphilis." Ah, the happy childhood memories of having an ultrareligious father who worked as an epidemiologist in an STD clinic). I use the metro round-trip four days a week, something that would cost me 2.50 a pop; thus I save forty dollars a month over 'retail.' Kaching, says my inherent Germanic cheapness.
Now, the real reasons: Interesting people ride the Metro. People like you, and people so different from you that you might as well be different species, a luna moth and a sugar glider eyeing each other across the aisle.
This is going to sound awful, but I'm going to say it anyway: when I am having a low self esteem day after being around my fantastically thin and healthy, ultra-intelligent, very rich (as evidenced by BMWs and Chanel sunglasses and Coach accessories) classmates, riding the Metro makes me feel better. I am not trying to corral three children under the age of six. I am not floridly schizophrenic. I am not at the north end of four hundred pounds. And, as the rest of this entry will indicate, I am not an unapologetic and complete perv.
Now, I will first say that I see very few cases in which it's worthwhile to judge, or attempt to change, the sexual practices of others. I'm gay; I have friends who are bisexual, gay and straight; I know several people who have (and have myself been involved in) May-December romances; I know masochists and sadists and people who are into costumes and role-playing. Some of these things aren't my cup of tea, but keep it in your own bedroom or dungeon or whatever and I'm fine. Keep your mitts off of children and animals and I'm cool.
I will further say that while I myself am not a conoisseur (I'm sure I spelled that incorrectly, but whatever) of pornography, I can understand that there are people for whom it's a part of a wider sexual picture. I'm sure there are addicts, too, but that's a whole different topic--let's just say that there are pornographic papyri dating back to the Old Dynasty of ancient Egypt, that people have enjoyed looking at porn for many millenia, and that they probably aren't going to stop any sooner than they're going to stop enjoying cannabis or alcohol or for that matter a good meal. These are all centuries-old pleasures, and enjoyed properly, they don't hurt anybody.
Where am I going with this, you ask? What does porn have to do with the St. Louis public transit system? You can probably guess, but if you can't, I'm going to ask you to sit tight a bit longer.

Now, I am a profoundly German person. The Germans have been accused--and not entirely unfairly--of being weird when it comes to sex. Out of all that Teutonic repression have come folks afraid of their own sexual shadows, but also people who glory in them. I will say that before today, with my own (admittedly quite limited) exposure to porn, the single most disturbing thing I have ever seen in my life was part of a sex scene in a German movie. It was mind-numbingly, profoundly dark and unsavory (at this point some of you are going to ask the name of the movie--and I'm not going to tell you, lest the contagion spread). It made me wish I could scrub my corneas with pure lye, and it occurred to me that if I did not devote the rest of my life to the service of humanity, I would end up in Hell, where I would be tied into a movie seat and forced to watch that scene on endless repeat. Now you know why I chose to become a physician. So there's that. But there is one group of people who have consistently and overwhelmingly beat out the Germans when it comes to inventiveness and pure perversion in pornography. I speak, of course, of the Japanese.
So, on my way home from therapy today (yeah, wanna make something of it?), because there weren't any unoccupied rows, I sat down next to what I assumed to be a nice fortyish gentleman reading a book. I glanced over briefly and noticed that he was reading manga--Japanese comics, essentially. I looked a bit closer, since I don't really like manga but enjoy graphic novels now and again (he obviously had no idea I was looking at his reading material or he would have--at least I hope to God he would have--concealed it somewhat) and saw it was what is known as hentai. Not run-of-the-mill anime porn, either. On the two pages that I could see were a series of acts that, despite my esoteric Ivy-League vocabulary, I lack the words to adequately describe. I was reminded of this Onion article which at the time I dismissed as hyperbolic. But no, it was there before me, in black and white, in the hands of this graying and unassuming fellow passenger. It made the German film I saw look like The Sound of Music. Orifices and fluids and medical devices and, for the love of all that is good and holy in the world, tentacles... so, as nauseous and doubtful about the existence of Ultimate Goodness as this whole escapade made me feel, it upped my self esteem somewhat on what was otherwise a low-ebb day. At least I do not read soul-crushingly, mind-bendingly profane pornography on public transportation as if it were the latest Tom Clancy novel.

Friday, March 13, 2009

So I'm not usually into fantasy, or perhaps more appropriately into milataristic bullshit, but I've been watching my roommate's Lord of The Rings DVDs lately (in fact I am at this very moment working on the last disc of "The Return of the King") and I have to say I've developed something of a fondness for it. It's an overly simplistic view of the world, of course--one in which the bad are utterly and supremely bad, beyond hope of redemption, and in which the good are beyond corruption; there's a paucity of moral ambiguity here. Perhaps after years of reading modern and postmodern novels, and watching modern and postmodern movies in which there is nothing BUT moral ambiguity, I'm happy for a change. Even history (there are many folk who say LOTR is a totally allegorical recounting of the World Wars, in particular WWII--think about it; Sauron as Hitler, Saruman as either Mussolini or Stalin, or perhaps one of the Nazgul. Mordor as Germany, the Shire as England, Rohan and Gondor as the various regions of France) is less morally absolute. The 'bad' are bad for different reasons, and all the forces of evil are not allied; Stalin and Hitler had a gentlemen's agreement for a while, but both knew even as they were signing it that they would break it as soon as the opportunity arose.
Though I'm not crazy about a movie in which the heroes slash their way through battle scenes keeping count of the corpses they leave behind (so that they can compare later and see who 'wins'), it is nice to know that there are definite sides and that in the end goodness is going to triumph. Eowyn and a Hobbit kill the Witch King (something 'no man' can do--yay for a little bit of feminist sensibility). That is why we love fairy tales and fantasies, why we tell them still and write them still--they offer something we never find in life, a reminder of never is and cannot be, but that we still wish for: the heroine's redeeming journey and ultimate reward, the vanquished Dark Lord, the end which is always another beginning.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

I don't have anything to say about this right now, because I'm too furious to be coherent, but it's great to see that Halliburton essentially sanctions sexual assault. Makes me feel justified in my abject loathing.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

So much of our lives are closed books to one another. I see you everyday, but I don't know your secret dreams, your hidden desires. Hell, I probably don't even know how you take your coffee. I am phenomenally good at keeping secrets; my own and other people's. I wonder sometimes how people feel who are professional secret keepers (who would those be? You ask. Priests. Doctors. Nurses. Therapists. Lawyers.) feel about this. What is it like to carry the secrets of not one or a dozen or a hundred but thousands and thousands of people? If you're a member of the Cabinet, what is it like to keep the secrets of an entire country? If you're a cardinal or Pope, what's it like to keep the secrets of an entire religion?
What would happen if we--not the professionals, bound both my law and ethics, but the everyday men and women on the street--told one another our hidden stories? What if we opened our shells just a little? Are we so afraid of being crushed that we'll cower behind walls of our own making forever rather than risk that soupcon of freedom? And some secrets are secret only because they aren't told, not because they're horrible or uncomfortable to share. Let someone know a little more about you. It's much more interesting to talk about real life than to hash over last night's Grey's Anatomy. Some secrets, both mine and others':

I know several women who have had abortions. One of them I held and massaged through her cramps and tears afterwards.

I know someone who actually won a red convertible from the McDonald's Monopoly instant-win game.

I know at least a dozen women who have been sexually assaulted--by friends, fathers, uncles, strangers, husbands. In no way did I think less of them after I knew. In fact, I was inspired by their fortitude and courage in surviving, and in telling me.

In middle school, I went to the national spelling bee in Washington, D.C. I was eliminated on the word "indefatigable."

I know a lesbian nun.

I started smoking with some regularity when I was 13.

I knew someone who died in a plane crash.

My second college roommate was Susan Sontag's niece.

In high school, someone scratched "Dyke" into the paint on my locker. I suspect it was the same kid who later called me "Lesbo" and hit me in the stomach. No one ever did anything about it.

One of my high school friends killed himself right after he loaned me Mark Twain's "Stories from Earth." I still have the book; I don't have Josh.

One of my friends found out she had 'dysplastic cells' from HPV in high school. Two years later her mother died of cervical cancer. I know she must be frightened, but we've never talked about it. Maybe we should...

Of my med school class, I know at least 4 of us have eating disorders, and that many more than that have what might be termed 'alcohol problems.'

Sharing a secret with another human being is one of the quickest ways to diminish its power. It also forges a bond between you and that other person. It doesn't have to be your deepest, darkest desire; it can be that you were the 'weird kid' in elementary school, or that you make your own kim-chi, or that you've always been afraid of dogs. Face your secrets, then share them.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Psychiatric Diagnosis--who decides?

The struggle for definition is veritably the struggle for life itself. In the typical Western two men fight desperately for the possession of a gun that has been thrown to the ground: whoever reaches the weapon first shoots and lives; his adversary is shot and dies. In ordinary life, the struggle is not for guns but for words; whoever first defines the situation is the victor; his adversary, the victim. For example, in the family, husband and wife, mother and child do not get along; who defines whom as troublesome or mentally sick?...[the one] who first seizes the word imposes reality on the other; [the one] who defines thus dominates and lives; and [the one] who is defined is subjugated and may be killed.--Thomas Szasz (a psychiatrist himself!)

So, I've been reading a lot about PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) recently, and noting some interesting things. Yes, psychiatric diagnosis is useful to the extent that it guides treatment, helps someone understand themselves (or others) better, or provides insurance benefits. When is it not beneficial? When it's used as Szasz describes, of course, or when it becomes the sole focus of the therapeutic endeavor--ie, the psychiatrist begins to treat a diagnosis rather than a patient. But the very process of diagnosis can be biased and inappropriate to the particular circumstances. For instance: who is primarily diagnosed with PTSD? Yes, soldiers, but who else? If you guessed sexual assault survivors, good job.

So, what are the symptoms of PTSD? Some are arguably pathological, yes, and to the extent that any of these symptoms cause suffering it may be appropriate to approach them as treatable dysfunction, BUT I think it is essential to recognize that these are not pathologies inherent to the individual, but to the traumatic situation itself. The patient is having a normal reaction to a profoundly abnormal situation. Labeling with a psychiatric diagnosis may cause undue stigma and further suffering in addition to the "condition" the patient is perceived to have. So what about PTSD symptomatology, particularly as it pertains to rape survivors? Some of the symptoms seem not to be pathological at all when viewed from a female perspective (yes, I know men can be raped too, but roll with me here--I guess what I mean by the 'female' perspective is the 'constant awareness of being a potential target' perspective).For instance, 'hypervigilance' is one symptom of PTSD; being victimized DOES make a person more aware of their surroundings. Once bitten, twice shy, as the saying goes--and who decides what constitutes HYPERvigilance anyway? I would think being traumatized would make you pretty effing vigilant, to try and keep it from happening again (even though, of course, it wasn't your fault), and who the hell am I to tell you how vigilant you should be? Irritability--hell yes. Trauma and suffering tends not to bring out the best in anyone, and if I've been raped and you tell me I'm being excessively irritable, you're suddenly going to have a whole lot more irritability to deal with (and possibly head trauma). Intense psychological distress at reminders of the event, and subsequent efforts to avoid such triggers--well, if you have a panic attack every time you smell cigarette smoke, you're probably not going to be hanging out at a lot of bars. I mean, it doesn't take a Mensa member to figure that one out. And intense psychological distress at reminders--well, isn't that kind of a given? Does the average person, who has undergone much less acutely traumatic events, not have similar reactions? Who likes being reminded of their messy divorce, the time they broke their arm, their first car accident when they were sure their parents were going to kill them and bury them in the backyard? Yes, of course, it's a matter of degree; but it's also a matter of perspective. I wouldn't go out for a run at dusk; if I were a man, that might be considered hypervigilance. Since I have a vagina, it's just business as usual, and a man who tried to give me a psychiatric diagnosis based on my desire to protect myself from potential pervs in Forest Park would earn himself either an impromptu lesson on gender sensitivity or, failing that, a swift kick to the groin.

Monday, January 19, 2009

So this has been an awesome weekend.

Got an email from the doctor saying, yeah, we need to do an MRI. To check for--no shit!--a brain tumor.
Had a respiratory physiology take-home exam.
Couldn't start my car Saturday because it was too cold and the gas line had frozen up.
Went outside today to discover that someone had broken into my f*cking car.
And this week looks to be like a baguette--long and hard (well, maybe not AS long, since it's only 4 days).

Seriously, God. Not cool.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Everyone comes to terms with adversity in their own way. I'm usually a joker, occasionally a moper, always a writer.
About a month ago I began having some bizarre symptoms--the most family-appropriate being killer headaches, but others...well, I'll put these in medicalese and hope those with vested interest either already know what I'm talking about or have the motivation and intellectual capacity to consult a dictionary...amenorrhea (which I've had quite a while...occupational hazard of ED/distance running, and speaking of which, the marathon training has been going phenomenally, thanks for asking!) and galactorrhea. Well. I'm definitely not pregnant--nor have I been, ever, and I'm not on birth cotrol. So, what's high-ish on a differential diagnosis for such a set of symptoms? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller? (See? Joker). That's right, Virginia, this weird little thing called a prolactinoma--a prolactin (the hormone that causes women--and sometimes men--to secrete milk from the mammary glands) secreting tumor on the pituitary.

Usually benign, generally treatable with medication--though the medication has a not-so-cheery side effect profile, including inducing depression, which is at the top of a long list called "Shit I don't need to deal with, especially during my medical education, thank you SO much." And then there's, y'know, brain surgery. But of course I'm putting the cart before the horse. The preliminary tests come back tomorrow. We'll see what they show.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

In celebration of the new year, a list of some of the best advice I've ever received.

By no means complete, but interesting all the same.

Sometimes you've just got to say, "fuck it." --Deb Linderblood, a dietitian at the EDU, on what to do when the battle in my head just won't wind down. It became our code, for instance when I was staring warily at a huge dessert that was part of my meal plan...

When you're done peeing, what do you do? Shake your dick off. When you're done pumping gas, what do you do? Shake your dick off. --Amina Omari, describing how to get those last precious drops off the nozzle

That high-speed, slumped-over walk you do on campus? That's the dork walk. Slow down. --Amina Omari again

Oh, honey, don't mix red with white!--Suzanne Guthrie, some years ago, on wine consumption and the probable consequences of having shiraz and chardonnay in the same evening. Believe it or not, we were having dinner with a bunch of kick-ass nuns at the time.

The thing that is important is the thing that is not seen. --Antoine de St. Exupery

"Are you like this about everything?"
"Like what?" (me)
"Do you have to control everything in the world?"--Taryn Mattice on letting go

It's not the things I've gone and done/ I'll regret or be ashamed/ but the things I did not say or do/ because I was afraid --Carrie Newcomer

Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof. --the Bible, somewhere, via Elizabeth Peters

I want you to breathe. You look like you're not breathing. --Beth Parker

Anxiety is excitement without breath. Breathe. --Lucinda Ramberg (anyone noticing a pattern?)

Think outside the mouth! --Suzanne Guthrie again, yay!

Moshe says you're not a failure. --Addie L-Z, my best pal. It's an inside joke.

Do not multiply entities beyond necessity. --Sir Occam; his razor specifically. Good advice for philosophy, even better advice for writing. Someone needs to have a talk with the biochem faculty about this.

Never negotiate from a place of desperation. --Niccolo Machiavelli (So was he saying always always have some dirt on the other person that you can use for leverage, or was he advocating taking a .45 in a calf holster to the bargaining table?)

People here stress themselves out so much. They use the word 'fail' all the time--'I'm going to fail, I'm going to fail!' Well, I've come up with a nice rhyme to address that. It's easy--if you fail, you go to Kahl. --N. G. with another inside joke