Archive | April, 2011

the pill & the pope

26 Apr

Let me tell you a little about John Rock.  You might have heard of him.  He’s kind of a big deal in the OB/GYN world.  A graduate of Harvard Medical School in 1918 (sadly, one of the few physicians I rave about who didn’t go to Penn…but I wouldn’t trade William Carlos Williams for the world), he was a pioneer in in vitro fertilization and sperm freezing, and he quickly became known as a “ground-breaking infertility specialist.”  Rock was a long-standing advocate of natural family planning and the legalization of other birth control methods (he literally wrote the book on voluntary parenthood), and he was recruited to lead the clinical trials of the oral contraceptive pill in the 1950s, even though he was approaching his 70s and had already attempted retirement.

Rock was also a Catholic.  Or, perhaps more appropriately: Rock was first and foremost a Catholic.  A father of five and a grandfather of fourteen, he attended Mass daily and kept a crucifix on the wall above his office desk.  Rock credited the Catholic Church with steering him to always, even in the face of opposition, follow his conscience.  Over the course of his career, he witnessed the suffering women endured from unwanted pregnancies (the collapsed wombs, premature aging, and economic crises), and he was guided by his humanitarianism.  He believed in the Catholic Church, and he believed in the importance of effective birth control.

If you’re anything like me, you might have dismissed those quasi-obnoxious Seasonique commercials (“Repunctuate your life with fewer periods!”) as the latest gimmick.  How were we supposed to know that we all just bought into the long-accepted, socially ingrained gimmick of the necessity of a monthly period, originally concocted by John Rock?  Those weekly withdrawal bleeds?–Solely an attempt to demonstrate to the Church how “natural” birth control could be.  It used the same natural hormones and, check it out, women still underwent the same monthly discomfort that they always did.  Does anyone else feel just a little uncomfortable with how easily the influence of the Catholic Church worked its way into our private lives?  Though, in all seriousness Dr. Rock, well played.

Pope Pius XII approved use of the pill to treat menstrual disorder in 1958, and Rock thought it was only a matter of time before the Catholic Church approved its use as a contraceptive.  In 1968, Humanae Vitae settled the matter: oral contraception would remain prohibited by the Catholic Church…period.  Dr. John Rock stopped attending Mass.

I can’t get over the name of the encyclical: “Of Human Life.”  Are we not considering the lives that already exist?  I have nothing really profound to say on the matter that hasn’t already been said before by physicians, scientists, activists, and friends who have invested far more time into understanding the nuances and can express the practical sentiments far more eloquently than I, but I leave you with this: 6 million women become pregnant each year.  Half of these are planned.  Unplanned pregnancy is a major public health problem…and I don’t just mean physical health, but mental health, social well-being, and economic security and safety.  The failure of any sect to support the benefits to humanity that could be obtained through the use of contraceptive technology is blasphemy.


dear jeff

21 Apr

an email to my physical therapist:

Hi Jeff,

How’s it going?  Thanks for asking about my follow-up x-rays.  The bone is completely healed.  When I asked Dr. G if I could wear a backpack again, he said, “Anna, you can do whatever the hell you want.”  (Hells yeah!)  “And I don’t need to see you ever again either, unless you want those screws out.”  (No, thanks.)

I am clear to do everything.  EVERYTHING.  And I have a new prescription to include as much strength training as you see fit.  This is all to say: give me your worst.

Hope you’re having a fabulous day!


*   *   *   *   *

I’m not sure which part felt better: 1) hearing those blissful words from my surgeon; 2) getting to practice yoga for the first time in 12 weeks (even though my poses resembled that of a zombie just waking up from the dead, having not used her joints in several hundreds of years–kind of like BillyButcherson…you know, that zombie from Hocus Pocus who was Winifred the witch’s boyfriend in life…anyone?); or 3) receiving an email from that better half of mine after I shared my good news (“Awesome!  They were impressed with your range of motion and strength?  I certainly was – nicely done.”)

look what i can do!

17 Apr

I know, it’s pretty immature of me to show off like this…but still, recognize:

I haven’t been able to do this in THREE MONTHS!  Yesterday John asked if I could also do a push-up.  To put it shortly: no, I definitely cannot…but it’s funny to watch me try.

This picture was taken by the lovely Lauren M, right before we devoured a vat of the best soup ever!  I most certainly could not get back into plank after dinner.

Now I’m just counting down the days until I can wear a backpack again.  Follow-up x-rays tomorrow!

an experiment

15 Apr

You would think that we would devote a nine-week course to a biological system we knew something about.

Apparently, there is something to this whole “positive-thinking” thing (increased activity in the prefrontal cortex?)…so, as I rev up to take this second B&B exam, I’m going to give it a try.  What’s the harm, right?

Anyway, I can use all the positive vibes I can get…so will you join me?  Thanks!

adventures in petersham

11 Apr

John says that I do remarkably well during truly stressful situations (not so much the mild stuff…then I just cry).  He says that he can literally see me get calmer as the surrounding stress level increases and that, if it weren’t for my “processing issue,” I would do well as an ER doc.  (As it is now, he tells everyone, in front of me no less: “She would be terrible at emergency medicine!”  Thanks, babe; love you too.)

Anyway…more than once in the last 24 hours, I’ve felt my stress level get to that annoying mid-level that’s not enough to be productive but just enough to be debilitating.  I hate that; what a waste of energy.  And so I’m taking the rest of the night off to do something that will make me feel better, productive even, without forcing me to think more about brain trauma (note to readers: wear your helmet, and maybe splurge on one with a newfangled crumple mechanism to minimize gliding contusions).  I’m going to finish a post I started writing in January and never finished.  Please don’t get your hopes up; it can’t possibly live up to the woman I’m trying to encapsulate.

*  *  *  *  *

There’s a simple Nickel Creek line about “a girl who shown with beauty and light,” which I heard while making my way from Boston to Petersham.  An oversimplification of a complex woman, to be sure, but it struck me as a fairly apt description of Emily.

I met Emily during my first concert with the Tanglewood Festival Chorus in Boston in October 2008.  Although I like to think we were always friends, it was only this past summer, while we were roommates out at Tanglewood, that we became close.  (To give further cred to the Nickel Creek description, when I tried to describe her to John a little over a year ago, trying to jog his memory of the woman he had only then met briefly, he finally responded, “Oh!  The really beautiful one.”)  Some of my favorite moments of the summer were while sitting in the passenger’s seat of her car, bopping to and from rehearsals and concerts around the Berkshires.  She just opens her mouth and the most fascinating things spill out…for example [not a totally precise quote]: “I was vegan for a long time.  Then I had children.  But I had a hard time finding meat and poultry that were raised in an environmentally and morally conscientious way.  So I learned how to raise and slaughter my own chickens.”  Emily is a business woman, co-owning a successful bike shop with her former husband who remains her close friend.  She is also a singer, a farmer, and a yoga instructor.  Most importantly, she’s an awe-inspiring mother, daughter, sister, and friend who thinks kindly and frequently of others…and I’m only brushing the surface.  I’ve had the good fortune to meet some truly exceptional women in my life, but Emily is one of those rare individuals who can simultaneously be on the pedestal and by my side, be my mentor and my close friend.

In December, we had a girls’ night at her farm in Petersham with Addie, her youngest.  After Addie fully glamorized us using the make-up she received for Christmas (I think I was left with one purple eyelid and one pink, and Emily with two bright teal circles on her cheekbones), she went up to bed (the same bed where Emily and I would later settle in to make an Addie sandwich), and Emily and I stayed up.  We sat by her wood burning stove, with potbelly pig Celeste on one side and Olive the dog on the other, glass of wine in hand, enjoying homemade cheese (yes, that is her solution to having too much milk from the goats in her backyard: Emily makes cheese, and damn good cheese too).  We talked about our careers and school and love and music and the moral character of her children and city versus country life, to name a few.

It felt like our heads barely hit the pillows before we were up again at the crack of dawn (I had insisted that Emily wake me up for her morning rounds [I think maybe it’s not called “rounds” on a farm?], and she had gently talked me awake).  We checked in on the chickens, horse, pony, and new goat kids, and then she let me try my hand at goat milking.  Thank God she has patient mother goats, poor things.  I had to leave shortly thereafter to pick up John from his overnight call, but Emily sent me on my way with a fresh cup of coffee, cut with fresh goat milk.

I wish I could eloquently tie together these thoughts and experiences with some over-arching theme or take-away message, especially since I get pissy after lectures that fail to do just that.  But I’m tired now, and I don’t want this memory, rambling as it is, to sit in a draft pile for another three months, at risk of further specifics obliteration in favor of tighter writing.  To conclude: I am thankful that people like Emily exist.  She’s about the least hypocritical, most insanely intelligent and kind person I know.  And, although I haven’t gotten into it so much in this post, if you were to ever see Emily interact with or talk about her children, you would understand fully why I say that, someday, I hope I can be half the mother and woman she is.

(With three other fabulous singers/friends/mentors who let me tag along with them for a few beautiful summer nights.)


9 Apr

Earlier today, I couldn’t wait to get on a computer (before promptly racing back outside…wishful thinking) just so I could share/brag about what a gorgeous day it was in Philly.  Riding my bike to grounds never felt so good…that’s right: riding my bike!!!  Don’t tell my physical therapist, but I hopped back on Caro on Sunday night for the first time since that January incident.  I’m definitely a more tentative rider so far…but, considering how I got into this mess, that might be a good thing.

Unfortunately, my mood is somewhat less upbeat at present.  In preparation for the neuropathology component of Friday’s exam, I’ve been reviewing the 62 gruesome images from our head and spinal trauma lecture.  I think I did an okay job holding it together, but the last ten slides on victims of shaken/battered baby syndrome did me in.  In my brief time in med school, I’ve sawed through a cadaver’s jaw, hacked through a vertebral column, and pinched off the grey matter of a brain…and I have never had such a visceral reaction to the material.  I think I need to meditate, after I get the image of a recently autopsied infant out of my head.


7 Apr

I couldn’t resist:

(Photo courtesy of Eric R.)

We’re wrapping up week eight of nine of Brain and Behavior.  Recently, I’ve been studying in the empty classrooms in Stemmler (good light, lots of table space, distinct lack of chatty undergrads [no judgment]).  Today I walked into a vacant one that looked like the perfect place to settle in and learn about cocaine.  As I started to get my computer out, I noticed a faint, familiar odor, and I looked up to see a wall lined and stacked with containers of full and half brains (looks like the specimens from all the other rooms had been consolidated here)–didn’t we demolish them all before Spring Break?  I think I might be ready to start Repro now.

marriage and mental status

5 Apr

So, I’ve gone on before about how great John is for putting up with me all these years…don’t get me wrong, he really is, as I can be quite a pill.  But Brain & Behavior is helping me more fully appreciate what I bring to our marriage.  As a woman, I am apparently a protective factor for John against depression.  Unless they’re members of Pennsylvania’s Old Order Amish community, men don’t contribute squat in that regard.

Giving credit where credit is due, John may very well have protected me against bipolar disorder, but only because I snatched him up before the ripe old age of 19.

and a med student too?

4 Apr

have i mentioned that my classmates are the coolest?  check it out:

invisible instruments–jigga what??!