Archive for May 2008

Rumors, Lies and Chromosomal Abnormalities

May 28, 2008

Can you find his deltopectoral triangle?

Can you find his deltopectoral triangle?

It’s week 3 at Ross and the pressure is on. It has become readily apparent how easy it is to fall behind and why some of us aren’t going to make it through. The amount of material given to us is snowballing and whatever we don’t cover in lecture is our responsibility to learn before Mini I, the first big exam. With all the work and the rampant rumors about how treacherous the minis are (how they’re designed to weed out half of the class, how professors lie about what and what not to study), I’ve been feeling a bit overwhelmed. Add to that some sad news from home and a longing for familiar company and…well, I really could use a big hug.

But all is not as dismal as it sounds. Even though I’ve been studying for 5~6 hours a day, my eyes have not yet begun to bleed. I’ve created an intricate schedule that is designed to maximize my study time and I’m currently working on ways to improve efficiency. I’ve found a good study group for biochem and am in the process of organizing another for anatomy. And even though it still feels like we’re all acquaintances, I’ve found a few people here that I can laugh with, which is my chief criteria in selecting friends. Hopefully, instead of becoming desolate, I’ll be forged by the difficulties ahead and remain steadfast and focused. I didn’t come here to get sent home after the first exam.

Today, I had my first Problem-Based Learning (PBL) session, which is easily the most enjoyable class I’ve had so far. In PBL, a group of eight (or so) students must discuss a case or scenario and ultimately, diagnose a patient. We’re given information about the patient in bits and pieces (today, we received 3 pieces of the puzzle) and each case is discussed for three weeks. At the end of the third week, we must reach a decision about what we think is wrong with the patient and recommend a course of treatment. It’s really quite fascinating. I’d love to tell you all about our case (it’s a really interesting one) but even though it’s theoretical, we’re not permitted to discuss it with anyone other than our colleagues (doctor/patient confidentiality!), so I’ll just mention what my research topic is for next week’s discussion: viable chromosomal abnormalities and mental development of individuals who present with them. Trust me, it’s scintillating!

I’m excited about tomorrow’s dissection of the scapular region. It won’t be as easy to see the muscles as it would be on Mr. BBQ Muscles above but I’m definitely looking forward to the challenge…

Politics and Bags of Meat

May 20, 2008

Today was my first Gross Anatomy lab. When we entered the laboratory and the lab techs began to unwrap the bodies, I thought I might cry. There was something surreal about it; an odd atmosphere of anxiety and excitement. Our cadaver was an 87 year old male who’d died of congestive heart failure. Our task for the day was to dissect the muscles of his back.

We share our cadavers with other groups and the group who’d gotten first crack at ours had left him supine, abdomen open. I tried not to look at his face. We turned him over to do our initial palpations for the occipital protuberance, vertebra C7 (that’s the one you can feel sticking out of the back of your neck), the spinous processes of the spinal column, the sacrum and iliac crests. Then, we cut open his skin. I was a bit hesitant at first but by the time it was my turn to wield the scalpel, I was flaying flesh from subcutaneous fat like a pro. Scooping out orange chunks of adipose tissue, trying to separate deli-thin slices of muscle from fascia, I somehow shunted the part of my tender heart that was quietly grieving for the lives that had belonged to the bodies in our lab and focused on respecting them by making clean cuts and learning what I could. Once you’ve folded back half of the trapezius or run your finger along the iliocostalis, you’ll never forget where it is.

After changing out of my scrubs and taking some time to recalibrate, I returned to campus. A 3rd semester student started a conversation with me and I asked him for advice on how to keep afloat and do well. He mentioned a number of underground study aids – in-depth histology CDs, textbooks on pdf, etc. I asked how one could obtain these things and he let me in on a little secret – apparently at Ross, “it’s all about politics.” He said that when looking for help and support, one should look to people who “look like you”… I found something a bit fishy about that. But perhaps that is the way things actually work at Ross, and in the world at large…I’m kinda naive about these things. In any case, I smiled, thanked him for his advice and went on my way, promising to attend the BSA opening meeting. I’m not really keen on affinity groups but if it is all about connections and who you know, and if people want to help me for no reason other than shared ancestry, that’s fine with me. As long as they don’t expect me to talk a certain way, think a certain way, or adhere to a certain agenda because of it…

Going Natural

May 20, 2008

Warning – what follows is a quirky quarterlife issue that has absolutely nothing to do with medicine. If you are only here for the info and updates about med school, feel free to skip this one.

Those of you who have seen my updated Facebook profile (or read the previous entry) may be quite alarmed. What happened to your hair?! No, I didn’t cut it. What happened to the magic of the flatiron??? Well, the flatiron, magical though it may be, isn’t going to cut it in the heat and humidity of Dominica. So, what was once a lovely, long, luxurious mane has shrunk into a coily, curly coif that is a cross between Sister, Sister and Sideshow Bob. Ladies and lads, I have gone natural.


The White Coat Ceremony

May 17, 2008

The White Coat Ceremony was kind of a big deal. I didn’t expect to feel as moved as I did but the simple act of donning a white physician’s coat – the cloak of my future profession – was quite profound.

In addition to the faculty, Dr. William J. Crump, our keynote speaker, and several local dignitaries, the President of Dominica and his lovely wife were in attendance, as well as an armed color guard. During the advance of the colors, I couldn’t help but compare the national anthem of Dominica (Isle of Beauty, Isle of Splendor) with the Star Spangled Banner. Isle of Beauty is more like America, the Beautiful, a song praising the land and the people. Our national anthem is a fight song.

At the end of the ceremony, we recited The Morning Prayer of the Physician, attributed to Maimonides, the medieval rabbinical scholar and physician.

O God, Let my mind be ever clear and enlightened.

By the bedside of the patient, let no alien thought deflect it.

Let everything that experience and scholarship have taught it

be present in it, and hinder it not in its tranquil work.

For great and noble are those scientific judgements

that serve the purpose of preserving

the health and lives of Thy creatures.

Keep far from me the delusion that I can accomplish all things.

Give me the strength, the will, and the opportunity

to amplify my knowledge which yesterday,

I would not have dreamt of,

for the Art is great, but the human mind presses untiringly.

In the patient, let me ever see only the man.

Thou, All-Bountiful One, hast chosen me

to watch over the life and death of Thy creatures.

I prepare myself now for my calling.

Stand Thou by me in this great task, so that it may prosper.

For without Thine aid, man prospers not even in the smallest things.

Fun Fact from Biochem

May 15, 2008

Did you know…

that the FDA allows companies to label their products as having “no trans fat” as long as they have less than half a gram of trans fat per serving?

Last time I checked, none of something and less than half a gram per serving of something were not the same thing.

It’s still the first week of classes (right now, we’re taking a 10 minute break at the midway point through our 2 hour cell biology lecture) and by tomorrow, I will have had a lecture in each of our 1st semester courses. Tomorrow is also the White Coat Ceremony, which will be streamed live.

Uh oh, break’s over. Back to histology!

Second Week at Ross – First Week of Classes

May 12, 2008

I guess I spoiled you guys last week – there’s no way I’ll be able to have three updates a week regularly, especially now that the real work has begun. I’m currently in the library and though I’m supposed to be reviewing today’s lectures, I’m updating my blog, so we can see how diligent I am.

Goals for Tomorrow

1. Be more diligent

Today we had an introductory lecture from the coordinator of each department as well as our first full anatomy and biochem lectures. The anatomy lecture was especially fascinating, and even though I had a bit of difficulty tuning my ear to the professor’s accent, he was funny and engaging. There’s this awesome software he demonstrated, the visual human dissector (VHD), which is amazing, but only available for use in the anatomy lab. I heard that med schools in the states give this software to all their students – can anyone confirm this? Also sweet: six years of Latin coming back into play. Mr. Minden, Homer and Catullus would be proud.

The biochem lecture was actually mostly review for me: an overview of biochemical molecules, bond types and energies and the beginning of the stereochemistry lecture, which will be continued tomorrow. One thing that irked me – I learned the esterification to create Acetyl CoA from Acetic acid and Coenzyme A in Orgo but for the life of me, I couldn’t remember how to push the arrows…

Although we have dry lab this week, I can’t wait for next week’s anatomy lab when we get to “meet” our cadavers. Hopefully I’ll have learned everything there is to know about the superficial and deep back by then…

Here are the pictures from Saturday’s Island Tour:


First Week at Ross, Part 3

May 9, 2008

Today was the final day of orientation. After a few more words of wisdom from the directors of Student Affairs and an exercise in poetry, we walked from The Annex back to the main campus and went from department to department, collecting reading packets like trick-or-treaters on Halloween. The “marathon” has already started, so after this entry, I’m going to try to digest a chunk of the biochem reading assigned for the week ahead.

Throughout the week, we’d been given prompts during our orientation activities to write about seemingly random things: our favorite foods, childhood memories, sayings and in-jokes among our families. We were then asked to create a poem using what we’d written. I’ll admit it – part of the reason why I volunteered to recite mine for the student body was sheer vanity – I know I’m not the most brilliant scientist here but I wanted to show my peers that there is an area in which I am quite gifted. In any case, here’s the poem, full of in-jokes and references only people in my family would get:

The Breaks

Set off from grandma’s house up Dunkirk and down Linden,
dodging cars on Merrick
and chasing twilight to Lynbrook.
It’s warm and breezy and pedaling’s easy on a balmy night
in mid-July.
Sign says ‘Park Closes at Dusk’ but they leave it open for us –
We make rings around the lake, chasing flocks of geese away with
songs and raucous laughter
And after we’ve circled miles and miles on trusty bikes with tired tires,
there’s French fries and fried dough and if Auntie Sharon is home,
she’ll take us all to Bennigan’s – but we’ll have to listen to
K-Joy on the way. Oh well. You know what they say.
These are the breaks.

© C. Bass, 2008

Tomorrow, there’s a free island tour for first semesters, a final spot of fun before the start of classes. We’ll be hiking up to Trafalgar Falls and then we’ll head down to Scott’s Head Bay for a dip in the ocean. Even though my mom bought me the world’s unsexiest tankini, it’s sufficiently modest and it will have to do.

First Week at Ross, Part 2

May 8, 2008

Today was Registration Day – I received my school ID, Ross email and login, course schedule and refund check for my student loans (cha-ching!). Waiting on the lines at the various registration stations, I almost couldn’t contain my giddiness. I suppose it’s kind of like those moments you have when you’re in love – you glance at the person you’re with and it suddenly hits you that they are as mad about you as you are about them and your mind is blown and you just can’t help but grin…that is how excited and enraptured I am to be a med student. Really. I am sooooo happy!

But we’ll see what happens when the honeymoon phase is over and classes actually begin.

First semester students take the following courses:

Developmental and Microscopic Anatomy I

Gross Anatomy I

Doctor, Patient & Society I

Biochemistry & Genetics I

Medical Physiology I

I grudgingly parted with over $200 to purchase half of the required texts from the campus bookstore. Hopefully there will be some used books for sale from other students. According to all the upperclassmen, biochem is the killer. I’ve had genetics before (while in HCP) so perhaps that will give me a tiny edge but the first set of exams is on June 16th (four days before my birthday!) and the biochem portion is worth 35% of the final grade. We’ve already got a reading assignment in advance of the first class (Wednesday).

The social scene seems to be becoming more fluid. As people have begun to adjust to the environment, they’ve started to mingle a bit more so perhaps the initial segregation was just a sort of coping mechanism to deal with being in an unfamiliar situation. People are generally friendly so far. Two nice guys I met were kind enough to walk me back to my apartment after a bit of star-gazing last night (it is strongly recommended that students who live off-campus DO NOT walk alone after dark), even though it was like half a mile out of their way. I’m hoping that kindness and camaraderie endure throughout the semester.

Here are some more pictures:

First Week at Ross, Part 1

May 5, 2008

Apologies to everyone I left hanging for the last couple of weeks – things were pretty hectic!

I’m currently sitting on the deck outside of the student center with Sugar, my new macbook, enjoying a balmy breeze off the Caribbean Sea. Things have been a bit overwhelming since I landed on Dominica early Thursday evening but I’ve secured an apartment, got a new cell phone, and am starting to settle in. My parents came down to make sure everything was all right but they flew out yesterday so I’m officially on my own. Even though everyone I know who’s traveled to Dominica has described it as a “third world country”, it certainly isn’t as “third-world” as I imagined. Yes, cows roam randomly along Banana Trail (my neighborhood) and there is jungle all around, but it isn’t that different from parts of the Kansai countryside or the rural South. 

Today is the first day of orientation. While Sugar was being configured to run the campus media sites, a large group of first semesters was ferried down Indian River, a winding waterway along which the native Carib Indians used to live. There was a first semester social last night and a bonfire on Saturday. Tonight, there are several welcome-type lectures at The Annex, the complex where all first semester classes are held. I’m both eager and anxious for classes to begin but we’ve got another week before they start (feel free to call/email while you still can!).

One of the things I’ve noticed is that students have already formed cliques – some of these groups consist of people who met each other while they were MERP students (MERP is a sort of post-bac in Miami with linkage to Ross) while other groups seem to be self-segregated mono-racial pockets. Both types appear to be difficult to infiltrate. In my Action Plan for Supreme Success in Medical School, I didn’t factor in much of a social life. I have met a few cool people so far but to be honest, I’m here to work, not to make friendship bracelets. However, I was hoping to find a few like-minded people to be my study buddies. Will forming lucrative study partnerships be worth the time spent navigating the social scene? Do I really need to make time for fostering relationships?

Here are some pictures – 


En route…

May 1, 2008

Greetings from SJU!

I’ve completed the first leg of my journey to Dominica and am now hanging out in the airport in San Juan, waiting for my connecting flight. I am sad to say that despite having studied it for 6 years, I am incapable of functioning in Spanish. Perhaps it’s due to the fact that I’m running on an hour and a half of sleep or maybe Japanese just pushed all that vocab and all those verb tenses right out of my head, but when I was trying to figure out how to ask where my departure gate was, I realized that I didn’t know how to say things like “just arrived” and “check-in”. Goodness. I really need to brush up…

Here’s some random funniness – on my flight to SJU from JFK, there was a group of young ladies, one of whom was a bride to be (I think the wedding is going to be in Puerto Rico) and this other group of young men, who, compelled by the ladies’ attractiveness and stylishness, tried to talk them up. When the ladies deflected the guys’ come-ons by informing them that they were in a wedding party, one bold guy invited himself to the bachelorette festivities, saying that he’d be happy to entertain. “I’ll drop by tonight,” he said, with a sly, but not uncharming, smile. “My name is Chocolate Knight.”

Chocolate Knight, ladies and gentlemen. Almost makes me wish I’d been born male so that could be my name.

The bride-to-be declined Chocolate Knight’s offer but he just laughed, saying, “Don’t worry. You don’t have to tell Rondell.”

“Who’s Rondell?” One of the bridesmaids exclaimed while the others screamed with laughter.

“Oh, what’s your fiance’s name?” asked CK.

The bride-to-be, with a dry voice and awesomely arch expression, replied, “His name is John.”