The thick skin I’ve built up for more than 20 years seems stripped away. Where did the strong, independent, fierce woman go? She got lost in the hierarchy, in the desire to please, to show that she knows something, to not be the annoying little med student. Make an ass out of myself, it’s ok, learn, go, check labs, make and ass out of myself again. Be aggressive, shut up, ask for help, juggle, juggle more. Determined to do better, put that skin back on, move forward, work harder.

Caught up in stereotypes, I admit to my friends, embarrassed. Writing a note no one will read, trying to find the team, only once does the team try to find me. Talking to a patient who doesn’t know who he is, wanting to sit with him a while.  These things I have learned for sure: 1) hospitals are terrifying places where infections lurk on the hands of a busy resident, and 2) getting old means growing feeble of body or mind, sometimes both – why waste my youth watching my future a thousand times over?  That, perhaps, is why public health calls to me – delay the inevitable for others and by doing so I gain a little more time for myself? Can I learn myself into immortality? Would I want to?

Beating myself up daily, hourly, it all depends on the kindness of the nurses in the morning.  Coming home to an empty apartment, too tired to cook, all the vegetables rot.  Too tired to miss the one I lost. Curl up with a glass of wine and a friend to debrief. Sleep. Do it again. 


I made it through step 1, and thankfully I won't have to take it again. I'm glad to have that chapter closed. Another has opened, and I hope to post about it with some regularity. I'm aiming to post twice monthly to begin with.


Life measured by exams

The whole year slipped by in 3 and 4 week increments.  Every exam a final, squeezing in life between studying.

I’ve been MIA since kidneys kicked my ass (I’m still really impressed that they actually work).  I’m studying for step 1 now, so I don’t expect to post until later this summer.

My friend just had a baby a few weeks before she was due, a good reminder that life doesn’t stop just because we make a perfect schedule.  Another friend had to put her cat down right before our last exam. We schedule. We study. We’re type A people. But we can’t put life on hold for anything. The most important thing isn’t my score on step 1.  The most important thing is to measure life by the people we share it with.  


Pink toenails

                       “Well, how about the fact that encouraging the choosing of gender identity, rather than suggesting our children become comfortable with the ones that they got at birth, can throw our species into real psychological turmoil—not to mention crowding operating rooms with procedures to grotesquely amputate body parts?”

What is this quote from? Toemageddon made the news last week in ABC, CBS, with most of the controversy stemming from Fox News.  This is not a news story, but I’m not surprised Fox picked it up. It does surprise me, however, that the author of the op ed piece is a psychiatrist, and frankly this is professionally irresponsible.

Medicine isn’t exactly the most liberal profession, but it is our job to remain neutral, non judgemental and do what is best for our patients, even if includes life choices we would not make for ourselves. Controversial examples of this (although it baffles me that these are controversial) include harm reduction with needle exchanges, STI/sex education, methadone centers, and treating transgender patients with hormones.  But this is not a discussion about transgender children.  Pink toenails do not, in any way, make a gay or trans child.

Many things we consider inherently masculine or feminine are solely cultural constructs. Color coding pink to girls is a recent development:  “The Sunday Sentinel in 1914 told American mothers: 'If you like the colour note on the little one's garments, use pink for the boy and blue for the girl, if you are a follower of convention.'” My father was put in dresses as a baby. The Scots wear kilts.

There are, of course, biological differences between the sexes. The prevalence of many diseases differs based on sex, anatomy and reproductive organs are different – but there are overlaps. Skene’s glands are considered to be the female prostate (and are responsible for female ejaculation), clitoromegaly (which can be a symptom of a congenital anomaly or simply be normal variation) can look like a penis.  If you give a female testosterone, as in the treatment of transgendered individuals, facial hair will grow and menstruation will stop. The dichotomy of the sexes isn’t such a binary after all, but a spectrum. 

So this is not a discussion about transgender children, as I said, but there are important points to be made regarding the treatment of transgender people and about their discrimination within medicine.  The idea that letting children of both genders engage in the same activities, like painting toenails will lead to “crowding operating rooms with procedures to grotesquely amputate body parts," especially needs to be addressed:

#1 – transgendered people are, by far, a minority.  (the American Psychological Association estimates 1 in 10,000 male births and 1 in 30,000 female births.) While the cause is likely multifactorial and not well understood as of yet, we are at least 85% sure that it's not due to pink nail polish.

#2 – There is so much discrimination in health care towards transgender individuals, by the time someone presents to the medical community for help in their transition, it is something they have given a whole lot of thought to. Think about the last time you went to your doctor – did you think about what you wanted to say? What you wanted to ask? How much time did you spend on your mental preparation? Multiply that by years of feeling like you exist in the wrong body.  The idea that something like painting one’s toenails can make one transgender in a flash is preposterous. Moreover, that it will cause “crowding [of] operating rooms” is intentional inflammatory hyperbole.

#3 – Calling transgender surgery grotesque amputation of body parts is wholly irresponsible for it adds to the misconceptions and discrimination faced by these individuals.  The more stigma there is against any group of people in society, the more at risk their health is from long-term stressors. Teen suicide related to perceived sexual orientation has been in the news quite a bit recently. Many transgender people and those who treat them see transitioning as medically necessary.   There is a high risk of depression and suicide in transgender youth, especially related to stigma, harassment, and discrimination.  Any healthcare professional who adds to this stigma and discrimination, goes against his or her oath to do no harm. 


I'd rather be...

Since (I hope) I have a future in primary care, I try really hard to convince myself that every subject is important and interesting. But I just cannot get into orthopedics. I find it so, incredibly boring.  Some things I’d rather be doing right now:

-stomping grapes and learning about wine in Napa
-biking in a place with trees and a body of water
-writing for a living (interesting that having MD after one’s name makes it significantly more likely people will listen to you)
-social event planning
-working on an MPH
-eating plants
-playing with puppies
-snuggling with SO

What you rather be doing today? Or are you one of those lucky people who gets to do what you’d rather be doing?

First Aid quote on the Musculoskeletal section: "The function of muscle is to pull and not to push, except in the case of the genitals and the tongue" -Leonardo da Vinci


Joke of the Day

I appreciate jokes aimed at surgeons, dermatologists and radiologists*, so this one was a winner:

How do you hide a $20 bill from:

            -a radiologist? 
                        tape it on a patient
            -an internist? 
                        tape it under a bandage
            -a plastic surgeon? 
                       you can’t!

*I can take a joke as well as I can dish it.


The light

High potassium states are dangerous because neurons become unable to fire more action potentials. This will stop your heart.

Potassium is used precisely to do this in open-heart surgery and in executions.  What an interesting juxtaposition. 

The light and the dark are within us all. The profession of medicine, especially, has the potential to do tremendous good and tremendous evil.