Archive | November, 2011

medical masterminds: dickens and beethoven

29 Nov

Charles Dickens observed obesity hypoventilation syndrome in the 1830s…only over a hundred years before we knew anything about sleep disorders:

…and on the box sat a fat and red faced boy, in a state of somnolency…”Joe! Joe!”  He taps on his head with a stick and the fat boy, with some difficulty, roused from his lethargy.  “Come hand out the eatables.”  There was something in the sound of the last word which roused the unctuous boy.  He jumped up and the leaden eyes, which twinkled behind his mountainous cheeks, leered horribly upon the food.  (Pickwick Papers, 1836)

Today we learned about Beethoven’s representation of his own GI disorders in his Second Symphony, his mitral stenosis in his Ninth.  If his deafness was caused by conduction problems, he wouldn’t need a stethoscope to interpret the sounds of his own body!

These little tidbits brought to you by faculty members at Penn and Jefferson.  It’s a proud day to be an English and Music double-major.



28 Nov

Around this time last year, I took one of my last tests of Mod 1, ran home to pack (a.k.a. throw random shit into a poor, unsuspecting dilapidated carry-on), hopped an overnight flight to Rome, and met my husband in Florence.  We spent a rather unconventional  Thanksgiving in Sienna: no turkey; no family other than each other; about 4,000 miles from home.

This year could not be more different, yet it ended much the same: a very harsh awakening Monday morning; an oscillation between feeling completely overwhelmed by the work I pushed aside for the last 4-5 days, and feeling so emotionally fulfilled by the quantity of quality time spent with loved ones I see far too irregularly.  Instead of a nontraditional feast of sea bass, chianti, and fire-roasted chestnuts, we had turkey three times (at three separate Thanksgiving dinners).  John and I made up for our lack of family/friend-time last year by this year seeing ALL THE FAMILY/FRIENDS!  A quick midnight stop for me to fall asleep on the couch of Sarah and Scott while John actually caught up with two of our best friends.  Thanksgiving with two blood families, three surrogate ones.  Friday catch-up with my favorite first-year RA (who taught me how to wear UVA orange with pride), chill/study-time with the Blasingame-Packs (how they still put up with me, I have no idea), and Yaya-giving!  Roadtrip north with Erica and Dan (no need for radio or podcasts with these two) and puppy Meta (my backseat cuddler) early Saturday morning, followed immediately by John and my trip to the Baireuther Thanksgave in Lancaster, after which we stole Kathleen and Isaac for the return trip (I know Lancaster isn’t the hippest place to grow up, but since we can’t see one of our favorites at her Austin cottage nearly enough, we’re damn thankful she still has family a mere 68 miles from us).

Clearly, I haven’t done this weekend (and the people included in it) justice.  Can I blame lung cancer?  It is the #1 cause of death of any cancers, so I think I should maybe get cracking on learning a thing or two about it.  But, I do want to take a moment to say “thanks.”  As my last Thanksgiving day stop, I went to the home of my nextdoor neighbors growing up–they’ve been like family to me since I was three years old.  I got a chance to see my childhood home from the outside:

Thanksgiving might be my favorite holiday.  I think I had at least 20 years of Thanksgiving dinners in that house, and I miss the idea of the house always being there, should our entire family be able to reconvene for a holiday together.  It was a great home for Thanksgiving dinners, complete with a kitchen that so naturally opens up to the dining area and family room so that one can cook and converse at the same time, and it feels like the end of an era.  Still, as my dad and I took our traditional Thanksgiving morning walk together, this year through a small wood in Annandale rather than our typical jaunt over to Burke Lake, I was thankful for the things that have remained in the face of (good) change.  My sister was married two weeks ago, and my dad is to be married in March.  Holidays are not so simple anymore, but I’m thankful for the complications–and the med student in me sees them as a problem-solving opportunities.

dyspnea, it’s kind of like love

17 Nov

We don’t really understand what dyspnea (difficulty breathing) is…but, as my Introduction to Clinical Medicine (ICM) preceptor (who lectured us on the topic in pulm last week) explained: “It’s a visceral sensation…uh…it’s kind of like love.  You know what love is, but you can’t define it.”

Josh, today being our last ICM session, this one’s for you!  FAR COLDER, for going through a history of present illness:


Associated Symptoms






Exacerbation &

Relieving factors

Hopefully I’ll channel more of your mad clinical skills during my final tomorrow, a full History & Physical!  Here’s hoping it takes less than an hour :/  I’ve been practicing my wrist flick for liver palpation and reflex testing on my wall at home…I’ve become an excellent stud finder.

med student fo’ real

14 Nov

Dr. R was kind enough to share this documentation of a wonderful mod 1 experience (thank you!):

John, as he was leaving for his overnight shift: “When you decided to take the MCAT for a third time, could you have imagined that you would ever be on the cover of Penn Medicine Magazine.”

No.  Absolutely not.  So I guess the message could be that I should keep wanting and working for it and maybe, just maybe, I’ll get to be a doctor one day.

an excuse to cook

12 Nov

I love cooking.  I love friends who let me cook for them.  It’s the best.

Tried this recipe out for our block-ly table six potluck two weeks ago, and I think I’m in love.  Simple and vibrant.  It’s important to eat in color.  My pictures via iPhone don’t do it justice but, just like smittenkitchen said, I absolutely love that “the day was saved by a something as humble as cauliflower.”

The second picture is of the ride home…we were hungry, so we asked Christina to bring down some spoons from her apartment so that we could consume Nathalie’s gallon of Dutch chocolate ice cream en route.  Only the best amuse-bouche for my girls.

The recipe made an encore performance for Erica, Dan, and Meta’s arrival last night.  Now I’m searching for brunch places in the ‘burbs for tomorrow, which is no simple feat.  Not sure this place will work for tomorrow, but I stumbled upon PB & U, and I’m literally drooling a little (just in the corner pockets of my lips, nothing too egregious).  Suggestions?

Finally, low-maintenance friends are the best, especially when they’re yayas and/or their very significant others and furry four-legged friends.  It felt so cozy to snuggle up with respiratory physiology while Erica and Dan graded his student’s math homework and Meta snuggled on a spot on the floor in-between.

the pelvic pledge

11 Nov

Raise your two gloved, lubricated fingers: “I’m going to insert my two fingers into your vagina to examine your uterus and ovaries.”

On Wednesday night, I performed my first male genital exam and female breast and pelvic exam…with 5-7 of my colleagues watching.  The standardized patients were some of our best teachers yet, and I hope they get paid really really well.  (The male standardized said that the most discomfort he felt was that, at the end of the night, his throat was sore from all the times we asked him to “turn [his] head to the side and cough.”)

It’s amazing how, even though many of us are some combination of considerate, thoughtful, and/or well-spoken, inevitably some wrong words or catch-phrase tumbled off our tongue at one point or other.  To note: when in doubt, use the word “examine.”  Avoid: “inspect”; “squeeze”; “touch”; “expose”; “spread.”

Finally, everything looks “normal and healthy,” it doesn’t look “good.”

blood flow to the lungs

9 Nov

Not sure I would have stopped to think how truly bizarre this excerpt sounds if Eric hadn’t read it aloud:

The pulmonary capillaries form a dense network in the alveolar wall that makes an exceedingly efficient arrangement for gas exchange.  So rich is this mesh that some physiologists feel that it is misleading to talk of a network of individual capillary segments, and the prefer to regard the capillary bed as a sheet of flowing blood interrupted in places by posts, rather like an underground parking garage.  (John B. West, Respiratory Physiology: The Essentials, page 37)

Oh, yeah, I’m not sure I mentioned that we started Pulmonology on Monday.

to explain

8 Nov

I have been a bad, bad blogger as of late.  I miss the consistency.

One of the reasons behind the lack of writing here is that I’m writing elsewhere…scandalous!  Actually, I’ve taken on a project.  There is a physician who works in Maternal-Fetal Medicine whose work totally fascinates me and, last semester, she agreed to let me work with her for the next couple years.  Right now we’re working on a piece to submit to a few journals in the next couple months…will tell more once everything is in!

For now, I’m just happy to report that she’s become an invaluable mentor to me.  She’s truly an incredible woman, physician, and leader…and I kind of want to be her.  And she’s really given me a great deal of control in the shaping of this current piece.  I feel like I don’t know what I’m doing at all, but she seems to be convinced that I can write, so I’m just trying not to prove her wrong.  I love writing; this has been great fun for me.

Quickly, on the topic of mentors: I am so lucky to have them.  This weekend was our fall break, so John and I took advantage and hopped down to Charlottesville.  We could not possibly see everyone we love and admire in that wonderful town/city, but I did see two very special mentors.  As we talked over tea and snacks, as friends, I allowed myself to take the periodic deep breath to appreciate how much they helped shape my life, my profession, my passions.  After UVA and Goucher, Penn has not disappointed–I feel I already have a handful here.  I don’t think everyone needs mentors to succeed, but I certainly credit my successes, as well as my happiness, in large part to them.

With one fascinating friend (sustainability coordinator for UVA Dining–woot!) and one of my longest mentors (professor of music and conducting, director of too many ensembles to name):

Can you guess where I am??  Six years later, still on the U-Singers board.

countdown to clerkships: the schedule

6 Nov

During this weekend’s mini-vacation, a number of friends and family have asked me when I start on the wards.  “Oh, just a little over two months,” has been my standard response.  Imagine my shock when I looked at my calendar this morning and realized we had passed the two month mark.  58 days and counting!

And I am pumped (and terrified) about my schedule.  Here’s what:

January 3-March 23: INTERNAL MEDICINE (good God.)
March 26-June 15: SURGERY (have I lost what’s left of my mind?)
July 23-August 10: NEUROLOGY (seeing some daylight this summer?)
August 13-September 21: PSYCHIATRY (weekends!)
September 24-November 2: PEDIATRICS (love and fright.)
November 5-December 14: OBSTETRICS & GYNECOLOGY (holiday babies!)

This order was in my top four (we submitted our order preference about a month ago…1 to 48!), so I’m stoked, or course.  Although, as soon as it flashed before my eyes on Oasis, my first thought was, “What the hell have I done to myself??!”  The first six months of 2012 should be, well, an adventure…a scary, exhausting, but completely exhilarating one!  Wish me luck!

26 more days of lectures.  Two more exams of Mod 2.

like an umbrella causes rain

5 Nov

I worry that there are matters about which I’m too closed-minded.  Then I stumble upon smart people who articulate my perspective respectfully and thoughtfully.  I might still not be as flexible in my philosophies as I’d like, but at least I’m in good company.

Thanks for the article, Koop!