Doctor No, Part 2

I had another idea in the last month or so.  This one seemed  like a real winner. And I was dead serious.  I was going to go to medical school.  It had a lot of things going for it, this idea.   I’d spent a lot of time in medical and biological classes in the last couple of years.  I loved those classes.  I already own all the human anatomy coloring books and a copy of Gray’s Anatomy.  My nerves of steel were on display during the slide-shows in my medical terminology class (which I aced, by the way one more piece of evidence).   All the slide-shows except for the dental one, the thought of which makes my mouth water to this day.

All my time at the ER and medical clinics with Jasper (Stitches, belly-aches, delayed development) and my mom (cancer, cancer and cancer) confirmed that I was very comfortable in medical settings.  I’d be a bilingual doctor, by god.  I love hospitals and clinics, who else does that? Maybe specialize in psychiatry or neurology, endocrinology.  Work with stroke and brain injury patients, maybe.

Before I started the interpreting program, I intended to go back to school to study neuroscience.   I even took an upper level class and did well in it, but my GRE scores in Math were in a score range usually reserved for gruel.  So no neuroscience, I guess it’s heavy on the statistics and other math stuff.  But medicine! Much more hands-on, less theoretical. After I got through the Chemistry and statistics, I’d be home-free.  If I didn’t make it through, at least I would have tried.  The worst that would happen is I would write about it, right? (foreshadowing)

I’m not sure how I got so wrapped up in this, but I did. I was visualizing myself having to cut into a cadaver, sewing up lacerations, giving shots and walking out to my car with my stethoscope absent-mindedly still on my neck (Silly Doctor Lisa, always doing that).  I’d have to take maybe 10 years to do it, but what the hell.  These things would be hard,  but I would do them.  I’ve done hard things before.   I was really good at terminology and patterns and diagnoses (oh my god, I diagnose myself on a weekly basis), anatomy and physiology, that stuff would come easily.

For a change, I didn’t tell people about my idea. Only my brother, and I offered him 5 bucks to keep it quiet.  He said for 1o he’d do it. I decided to just check out the idea and see if it was possible or likely.

Let’s remember, I am 40 years old, terrible at math, studied Anthropology and Linguistics in college, and I get cranky when I don’t get enough sleep. I never lost sight of those things,  but I was positive I could overcome them.  And I think it was Dear Abby who said that in 10 years I’d be 50 whether I do or don’t, so I might as well do.  I was ready for the brutal truth when I went to talk to the admissions advisor at the U of M.  The first meeting should have been a warning to me, because the secretary and I had our lines crossed and the good Doctor wasn’t in.

On top of that I lost my stupid car in the labyrinthian ramp.  The ramp is entirely underground, for starters, and it’s huge.  But all 6 levels are heading down, down, down.   I was clever enough to write down that I was level E, number B8.  Little did I know that first, I was F, not E; and second, there were three different B8s.  One also had to know the color of  the spot.  I don’t want to have to be rude, but it was some fucked. up. shit.

I walked around that damn ramp for Forty five minutes.  So long I thought for sure the people watching the cameras would search me out and want to save me.  So long I thought I could start to feel the heat from the earth’s core under my feet.  So long I almost cried, and  did berate myself for even considering trying something as complex as medical school.  What an idiot.

At one point, I could even see my car across a divide I couldn’t cross.  I tried to just walk around, but somehow I was in a place where my car was not.  Oh my god it was traumatic.  Remember the time I tried to find a cabin in the dark, in the mountains?  It was very similar to that, but without the mountain lions (parking ramp murderers instead).  I can hardly believe I survive in the real world.  Dumbhead.   I was never going back there.  But I did.


Doctor No Part 1

I’ve been having this idea bounce around in my head. Do you ever get GREAT ideas?  I get them every once in a while.  Usually they’re incredibly stupid, but that doesn’t stop me from going manic on them for a couple days, or weeks.  Once it was an idea my mom called Lost and Found Turn-Around.  Somehow I got her looped into it, convinced her to be my parnter in this venture.

Lost and Found Turn-Around was born from the hours I spent at various different elementary and high schools, washing, sorting, organizing and trying to return orphaned mittens, socks, shoes, boots, sweaters, snow-pants, lunch-boxes and thermoses to their rightful owners.  We’re talking hundreds of items.  Jackets, jeans, even a pair of underwear.  Lots of it was really nice stuff,after a turn through the laundry it could be put to use.  I would bring home two, three or even 5 big trash bags full of stuff, and I’d wash it and sort it.  If it had a number or name written on it, I’d call the family and they’d come and pick it up. Or not, at which point I would bring it to the Good Will (after grabbing a pair of mittens here and there for myself and my family).

At first I had the idea that I could arrange an exchange between schools.  Nurse’s offices always need mittens, socks jackets, pants and things for giving t0 kids who either don’t have them, or had an accident at school that made their own stuff unwearable. They don’t like to raid the lost and found at their school because, first, the stuff is filthy, and second, if the unfortunate kid shows up on the playground wearing a classmate’s stuff, it tends to cause troubles.  If I could wash the stuff and just rotate it to different schools… Then what?  My end goal was to match good stuff with people who could use it.  Altruistic busywork.  This is an idea which was so pointless that I can’t bring myself to re-read this paragraph.  If you’ve skpped over it, that’s fine.

But then I got this idea (after calling around to schools and not getting much of response) that I could start a little thrift store, where if you came in and bought something (cheap), we’d tag it for you and you could come and retrieve it for free if it ended up back in the store (which it would because we’d have an agreement with the schools where we picke dup the Lost and Found every month or so.  Mittens could be matched up by some complicated process.  We’d go pick up lost and found mountains at schools and gyms all over the cities and then wash it and sell it.  At the time it made so much sense.  I imagine this is a little bit of  what real mania feels like.  It was so crystal clear, almost no one but me could understand what a good idea it was.

I still love the idea, but my husband was able to to show me through the magic of mathematics that I’d have to sell some ungodly amount of used clothes and lunch-boxes every day just to pay the rent on my cute little store.  Then I’d have to pay employees and gasoline…. I can see how it would seem irretrievably stupid.  The smell of a pile of lost and found stuff alone is enough to make people avoid the store.  It was not a winning idea.  I’m still kind of attached to the idea of my little store with fluffy clean mittens and scarves hanging out of whiskey barrels…  But no.

Ummm, I was just wondering

Listening to the radio and reading the news.  I keep having these unanswered questions run into my head.  I’m gonna put this out there in the hopes that I won’t look too incredibly ignorant or short-sighted, or unimaginative.

The Big Three American Auto makers see their sales numbers drop so much that they’re facing total collapse.  Actually all the car makers are seeing their sales numbers drop.  But here’s the thing. Lots of families have enough cars. Cars are running reliably longer. Some families have extra cars.  I’d like a new car, but I don’t need one.  So I’m not going to buy one.  If the cars last longer, maybe everybody who needs a car has one already, or can buy a used one.  Maybe the number of new cars sold just can’t keep going up for ever.  Or is that crazy talk?

And sales of electronics and gadgets, they’re in a slump as well.  Could it be that everyone already has enough TVs?  And is it a tragedy if a company sells  the same amount as they did the same time last year?  I mean to ask isn’t it good enough for a company, say… Target, to sell groceries and sell soap and sell toys, just enough to pay the salaries and wages of their employees and provide a service to the community, maybe give a chunk to charity.  Why is it such a disaster for them to just break even and cover expenses from year to year?

New home sales are down. Existing home sales are down.  Do they have to keep going up every year? My house is 117 years old.  It’s drafty, but it’s beautiful and decent shelter.  New houses are being built, but most of the old ones aren’t getting torn down.  So maybe we have enough houses for a while.  There’s no new land being generated, so this is a no-brainer for an industry that can’t keep growing every year.

Maybe our population is growing enough that we need an increase in new home sales every year, but as near as I can tell (as evidenced by the two vacant houses on our block) we have enough houses.  I haven’t done the math… But is our population increasing enough to support an increase in new homes every year forever?

And finally, can someone explain to me where all the money went?  That theoretical money I had when my house was worth $500k? Did it exist? And if it did, where did it go?  If it didn’t exist, are we just starting to figure out that an immense percentage of the American economy was imaginary?

If you can help me with these puzzles, be gentle.  I’m not dense in every way.  Just a few.

Childrearing Quandary

My youngest is 15 and very young for his age, but he hangs out with kids his own age at school.  He tells me things, which is great.  Recently he went to a little gathering at his girlfriend’s house.  Girlfriend has lots of siblings (6, I think).  While mom was out and dad was on watch, the gathering (two couples) hung out in girlfriend’s bed room.  Apparently there was some “making out” going on, which offended my boy’s sensibilities (the smacking noises grossed him out).  We’ve never allowed our kids to hang out in their bedrooms in mixed company.  One of those rules I grew up with that seems to have stuck.

He just got invited to another gathering where there will be boys and girls.   I ran into the mom hosting this latest deal in the school atrium and found out that she wasn’t planning on being home while the kids are over.  Yikes… Call me counter-culture, call me old fashioned, but we have a rule about parties where no parents are present.  Not allowed.  Maybe one well-trusted friend, but no way a mixed group.

The mom was nonplussed when I neglected to control my face.  “Is that a problem? I trust my kid. He’s a good boy.”  When I explained that the last get-together involved make-out sessions in the girl’s bedroom she was shocked.  “Who was making out? Not John.  Was it Sam? John? Who was making out?”  It was her own dear sweet John, by the way.  Plus his girlfriend and my own little sweetie and his girlfriend.  His mom was shocked. I didn’t say who was smooching, just that I knew it had happened.  She was shocked that any of them were smooching, but absolutely positive it wasn’t her son.  “Well I can’t be there, but I trust these kids, they’re good kids…”

They are good kids.  They are.  But her little darling  is sprouting a beard and was hospitalized two weeks ago for cutting himself.  He isn’t a bad kid, but he also isn’t a good candidate for self supervision if you ask me.  But what can I do?  I called mom again to talk about the situation and she reiterated that she understood if we had that rule, and I probably knew my kid needed that kind of supervision, but both her kids are really good and she trusts them. What is that? What causes a mom to say over and over how much she trusts her kids?

We’re going to pick up our kid early, but he’s pretty bent out of shape about it. We talked about it being just a standing rule and one that I’m not too flexible on.  He had two questions for me which I didn’t have a good answer for.  The first one I didn’t  touch, but I blame that other mom for planting the idea in his head. “Mom, you don’t trust me, do you? Don’t you trust me?”

The second question was a little more difficult for me to answer because of all the answers that came into my head at once.  It was this:  “Mom, so when am I supposed to make out? When do we do that?  Are we supposed to never make out?”  This was little more dicey.  Here are the things I thought of initially:

  • Some time after you’ve hit puberty
  • When you take a walk
  • When you’re watching a movie in the theater
  • When you say you’re doing something else
  • After one of you can drive
  • After you figure out how to do it without your mom knowing

The uncomfortable truth is this: it seems to me like kids and parents are supposed to be in a sort of cat and mouse game about sexual behavior.  They’re supposed to try to kiss and neck and do all sorts of stuff that we are supposed to try to prevent.   By them trying to do it and us trying to stop it, there gets to be a sort of balance.  They still engage in behavior we don’t approve of, but we slow it down by being vigilant. I can’t tell him that, can I?  Eww.

Radio Lab

This isn’t perfect, but I’m throwing it out there because I think it’s interesting.

If you’ve never listened to Radio Lab on PRI or NPR or whoever does it, you should listen.  It’s interesting, smart, adult radio about science.  It requires a bit of an attention span to follow the subject through to the end, but usually it will reward you with a slow dawning of knowledge that makes you feel like the time was well spent.

Recently they did a piece on race though, and I was disappointed.  It had some good info, like about how bogus it is that Bidil got approval as a drug specifically for African Americans having heart trouble.  The truth about that drug is that was just a cocktail of already existing drugs that happened to work great together, that the patents for the drugs in the cocktail were about to expire, and that it works really well for for people of any shade.  They did a good job of explaining that, although they never really explained how the drug companies benefited from being able to re-patent already existing drugs.  If you’re interested, Scientific American did a great Article a few months back.

Then Radio Lab did a piece on genetic testing, the kind that will take cells from your cheeks and analyze them for your ancestors’ geographic origin.  They told the story of an Africa American guy, a professor, I think.  He did his own cheek swab and had it analyzed.  The results said he had zero Arican ancestry.  Dude’s family history has had him and his mom and her mom back generations calling themselves black. The testing says they are of Native American, Asian and Eruopean extraction.  After the testing, the show never followed up and answered how it is that a family could have thought, and their nieghbors could have thought something that was completely wrong for generations?  What mad them think they had ancestors in Africa?

They never said, things like: these tests don’t count anything north of the Sahara as African, or that Australian aborigines would show up as Asian (These are 2 possible explanations, I have no idea if they’re the right one for this situation).  The guy and the show sort of shrugged their shoulders and said, “Huh. I guess everything we think about race is total bunk.”  I am very bothered by science shows bending their shows away from controversy in order to accomodate either the left or the right.  I think it takes credibility from them.

Finally they did a segment about the disproportionate numbers of Africans and African-extracted athletes in certain sports.  They did an interview with Malcom Gladwell.  He was once an Olympic caliber runner in Canada, he’s also a great and interesting writer about various social and psychological phenomena.  Great and interesting, but not exactly scientific.  His explanation of why there were so many Jamaican runners among the Canadian sprinters was no more than this: the Jamaican kids had fewer oportunities in their lives, so they wanted victory more.  That little bit of desire was what kept them in front of their non-African-ancestry competition.

It would be easy enough to check this out, right?  Break up competitors economically instead of ethnically.  It should jump out that the most disadvantaged competitors in any group are the most likely to be at the top.  If that were the case I wouldn’t have been totally convinced, but it would at least be an interesting finding.  A finding.  Instead, a science show asked one guy, a writer, what he thought.  He gave his opinion, then backed it up with an anecdotal example.  Come on.

If scientists and science shows aren’t up-front and honest with us about race, it makes it seem like they have something to hide.  By brushing off the legitimate question of why Africans tend to dominate certain sporting events, they lost an oportunity to openly discuss some of the really interesting bio-geographical differences among people. (skeleton, lung capacity, ability to see in bright light, for example).    If you don’t admit that Australian aborigines have, on average, much bigger teeth than other people, or that most people of African descent are lactose intolerant, or that dark-skinned people in northern latitudes need more vitamin D supplements than light-skinned people, if you don’t admit that, it makes it look like science is afraid to look at the truth about what we call race.  That mainstream science is hiding something… That’s bad.

Here’s what I think, for what it’s worth.  People are different.  Some groups of people are different from other groups, although interbreeding has always complicated things.  Many of the differences between groups have to do with geographical variation, culling of the poplulation by diseases, sexual selection and random chance, among other things.  There is nothing to be afraid of if we look at it and ask why, marvel how, or simply admire the array of ways people can be.  It’s cool, and it tells us as much about ourselves as it does about other people.

Found MyAchilles Heel

Well, on Monday we had another speaker in my medical terminology class.  By the end of it, I wasn’t feeling so smug about my nerves of steel.  He was a dentist.  I was good with the slides of the fossilized South American teeth encrusted with jewels (not unlike some teeth I’ve seen on the bus).  I was cool with the ulcerated precancerous tissue of a tobacco chewer.  But when he pulled up the diagram of a tooth I started to get uncomf.  It was a cartoon.  One we’ve all seen in grade school.  The enamel, the dentin and the pulp.

When I saw that picture I knew I was in trouble.  I started doodling.  As he started talking about people who come in with a little bit of recision of the gums and complain about touching their dentin with a fingernail and it hurting… Yeesh.  I started biting my cheeks, which is a habit I guess not everyone has.  Enough people have it though, that my last dental hygenist said, “I see you’re a cheek-biter.”  I’ve been trying to cut back, but sometimes you need that little bit of pain to get you through.

As he went on to discuss pit and fissure cavities, sealing teeth, fabulous new procedures, baby-bottle-mouth, mountain-dew-mouth, bleaching induced sensitivity and gunshot wounds I hung in there, but it was tough.  He said the word root-canal enough to make me actually twitch.  The girl next to me, who is usually very queasy about these things was totally casual.  Even showing me her capped front tooth.  She was ready to tell me all about it, but I had to tell her I couldn’t handle it.  If she had a weeping sore anywhere, or macules or papules or endometriosis… Bring it on.  But no dental stories. Dental stories are to be told in hushed tones to people who understand the seriousness of the matter.

We had to look at pictures of the stubs of teeth before they put a crown on it, all drilled into a little tooth-pole. We had to look at a photo of a root canal from above.  We talked about pulling teeth with plyers, taking grafts from the palate, cold sensitivity.  It was like a horror film.

And the thing is, there’s no reason I EVER need to look at that stuff.  If I’m interpreting, I won’t need to look in the patient’s mouth.  As a patient, I prefer not to watch any procedure.  As a polite guest, I won’t be inviting myself into the Dentist’s office with my host.  Dental business is serious and private business.