Life, the Universe, and Everything

Today I feel a little bit famous

Posted on Oct 30, 2012 in Blogging, Life, the Universe, and Everything

Last year, I posted about the the Great Lakes Beer Variety Pack Costume that my friends and I dressed  up as for Halloween . This year, we sent the link to Great Lakes Brewery and they actually featured us on their facebook page!

We’re huge fans of Great Lakes Brewery and are totally honored to be featured by their marketing crew :-)

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Nice to Meet You: Tools I Can’t Live Without

Posted on Oct 28, 2012 in Blogging, Life, the Universe, and Everything

Suzannah over at Adventures in Dressmaking and some fellow bloggers are running this thing called the “Nice to Meet You” series and this week they’re asking us to chime in about our favorite tools. They asked us to name 6 but, like Haeley from Design Improvised, I just couldn’t narrow it down. So here’s my top 10:

My favorite tools


1. Sewing Machine! This probably comes as no surprise, but my sewing machine is, without a doubt, my all time favorite toy. My current baby is the Singer 9960, she’s only a few months old and was even given to me by the best boyfriend in the world.

2. Serger – I didn’t know that I needed a serger until I got a serger and now I’m never going back. It makes finishing a dream, saves me tons of time, and made this crinoline possible.

3. Dremel – I used it a ton to make tiny holes in Lego for Love Brick by Brick, which unfortunately is in hiatus because medical school gets in the way, but I still use it and love it!

4. My Camera – I spend a lot of time prancing around in front of this camera in my backyard – I’m pretty sure my neighbors think I’m crazy.

5. Giant washers – Using pattern weights was a revelation for me after pinning all my patterns for years and years. But don’t buy expensive pattern weights when you can go to a hardware store and buy giant washers – they’re so much cheaper and I think they even work better.

6. Photoshop – I used Gimp for a long time before springing for photoshop, and now I’m never going back.

7. Tiny Clamps – these are great for hold little things when making things like jewelry, and also for “pinning” bias binding and working with materials that you can’t really pin.

8. Round nose pliers – Another revelation – when I couldn’t make wire loops, I thought I was just incompetent. But really I just needed a pair of these :-)

9. Sewing Scissors – I think every seamstress has a pair of scissors to be used only for fabric (any violation of this is punishable by death). My roommates have in the past had trouble with this concept, so I tend to use relatively cheap ones.

10. Seam Ripper – If you sew and you say you don’t need one of these, you’re lying. We all make mistakes :-)

And here’s the official stuff from Suzannah:

RULES: If you’re a blogger, please include this button and a link back to this page somewhere in your post. Make sure to use the permalink for your blog post when creating your link. (In Blogger the permalink is under the scheduled posts on the right side.) The linky tool is open until the end of the day Sunday, October 27.

You must follow at least 4 of the hosts. See more about them here to help you pick out some new faves!

Jeanette @ Artchoo
Sentrell @ Suite Seven

AWARD: Each of the hosts will select one blog from the new followers who linked up to receive the “It Was Nice To Meet You Award.” You may proudly post the award on your sidebar, or in a blog post! You will be introduced in a post by the hostess that awards you. Check back with each of us next week to find out who won. 

So have fun thinking about your fave tools! Leave a comment here if you’re not up for linking or not a blogger!

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Sad Notes in Medicine

Posted on Oct 2, 2012 in Life of a Medical Student, Life, the Universe, and Everything

When you enter a career in medicine, you’re signing yourself up for a career where you will participate not only in the gratifying role of making someone better, but also in the painful and saddening role of watching someone fail to get better. It’s something (I hope) we all accept in going into it, but that doesn’t make it any less sad.

I was fortunate to have some exposure to death and dying before getting on the emotional roller coaster that is medical school. I met my first dead patient at the age of 15 while I was working as an apprentice on a local ambulance service. In the throes of a dramatic thunderstorm, we found ourselves struggling to extract the 67 year old man from a barn stall shared by his thunder-spooked horse and his now hysterical wife. But before we even started the process, even me in all my naivety could tell by the color of his skin that there was nothing we could do. We transported the man to the tiny local ER, where he was pronounced within a few minutes.

I’ve seen a lot of patients die by now and unfortunately I can’t say I remember them all, but some of them still resonate with me. And I had an experience recently that I’m certain will stay with me for the rest of my life.

On my first day on my neurology rotation I met a patient admitted for a headache who had some odd but nonspecific findings on his MRI. Other than the headache, he was cheerful and active, antsy to get out of the hospital and back to work. He was a physician, and he spent time teaching us about the diagnostic tests we were running on him. All of our tests came back negative. It turns out, that happens more than you’d think on the neurology ward service.

So eventually, the headache seemed to be somewhat better, although not completely resolved, and he was discharged to follow up as an outpatient. He did not improve and, in fact, seemed slightly worse when he came for his appointment, so he was readmitted. Because I’d met him before and I love a good medical mystery, I took him on as my patient. For the next two weeks, we ran more tests and checked for everything we could think of. We were bouncing ideas off most of the medical specialties you can find in a hospital.  I spent hours pulling articles about rare disease presentations and learning about obscure syndromes. We were all coming to the same gut feeling, though, a really bad gut feeling. And we were right, it was ultimately found to be an incredibly rare presentation of an aggressive cancer and the prognosis is very poor.

The wonderful thing about being a medical student is that while the doctors you are working with have to see 15 patients, you’re only following 2 or 3. And so it meant that I got to spent a lot of time with him and his family. In his lucid moments, we talked about genetics, his medical school experience, his son who had spent time in New Hampshire close to where I grew up. And through the experience I witnessed a family go from expecting to go home with their loved one in a few days to realizing that over the course of three short weeks, seemingly without warning, they’d lost him forever.

He was a wonderful man. I’m grateful for the opportunity to be one of the last students of many that he taught and I feel privileged to have been allowed into his family’s life as they went through the heartbreaking ordeal.

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Countdown to Wednesday

Posted on Jun 21, 2012 in Life of a Medical Student, Life, the Universe, and Everything

I know, it’s been a while since I’ve posted. And fifty-two weeks of sewing is way behind…

Studying for the dreaded “Boards” is a really not-fun period of time in the lives of medical students. But on Wednesday, it will be over and I’ll be back, more human, and sewing/crafting/doing stuff again :-)

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Notes on Bomb Threats and Shootings

Posted on Apr 6, 2012 in Life, the Universe, and Everything

The fact is, the place that you go to school is not supposed to be a place where you worry about your safety. Sure, I picked an “urban” school where you do undertake a certain element of risk by living and studying amongst other non-university associated city dwellers. But it for almost six years it was a place where we were left reasonably undisturbed within the walls of our own buildings.

Until about a month ago, anyway.

Since February 13th, the University of Pittsburgh has received 17 bomb threats, totaling 24 building evacuations and searches. The Cathedral of Learning, the pride and joy of our campus, has been evacuated nine times. And what I think is clear is that this is not some guy trying to get out of his biology test, as was the general theme during the string of bomb threats during my sophomore year in 2007. This guy is doing something else – and even if the police know what it is, us of the general populous can only speculate.

Maybe he’s just playing games with the police because he can – he’s a major news story so he’s getting a lot of attention, he feels smarter than the police because they can’t catch him, he’s getting bolder and bolder to taunt them just a little bit more – prove his superiority over the people who are chasing them. I really feel for the law enforcement personell that must be tormented by this right now.

Maybe it’s a different game – maybe he’s trying to to desensitize us as the folks over at The Patch suggest. Then one day, when we’re “so over it” he’ll catch us by surprise. Maybe he’s creating all this hype for some type of twisted grand finale.

Maybe he’s just a stupid kid who thinks it’s funny and doesn’t quite realize the consequences of his actions.

We can’t know. But it comes entwined with another horrific tragedy that is difficult to ignore – the March 8th shootings at Western Psychiatric Institute. The first bomb threat came a little less than a month before the shooting. And let’s not forget that the shooter, John Schick, had explosives in his apartment. I’m not saying they’re related, but it leaves you acutely aware of the fact that a bombing on our campus was almost a reality just a month ago. It only took our bomb threat-er 6 days after that shooting to start playing his game. It started with a bomb threat every 3-5 days, loosely correlated with times that you expect students to be in classes and with a monday-wednesday-friday at 10am-ish dominance. Then about a week ago – it escalated. Now we’re seeing threats targeting multiple buildings at once, as many as 7 buildings in a day. The buildings are unrelated, house students in a multitude of different fields. Thackery Hall is even primarily an administrative building with only a few classrooms.

But you know what? He didn’t issue a bomb threat on April Fool’s Day.

I don’t think any of us know what to think. The fact that even the District Attorney has now issued a statement and the Joint Terrorism Task Force is involved is surreal. I’ve seen Pitt go through a lot in the almost six years that I’ve been here, but this is entirely different. But hang in there, Pitt, and don’t let one psychopath ruin our spirits.

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Talking to Strangers? Best Hobby Ever.

Posted on Mar 1, 2012 in Life of a Medical Student, Life, the Universe, and Everything

I got into a car with a stranger this morning. Yeah, I really did that. And it’s moments like that which make my life so great. So the story: I got to campus today to find the UPMC garage that I often park in when I’m running late full. “No Event Parking – LEASES ONLY” sign out front. Really, at 8 in the morning? So I grumbled to myself and drove on to park at UPMC Montefiore. This has happened before, usually in the afternoons, but I’m accustomed by now. After my 8am class, I had to walk past the first garage to get to the garage I was actually parked in. One of the really friendly security officers was managing the chaotic traffic trying to get into the garage (this is typical of when things like this happen – it involves a lot of people trying to pull in, discovering they were really serious about not letting people in, having to make eight point turns to get back out, all sorts of fun frustration and traffic back-up). She was talking to a woman in a car waiting to turn around, so I stopped and ask what the event was. Swimming competition.

The woman’s daughter was swimming in it (but by this point, her frustration was to the point that as far as she was concerned, the swimmers could all just drown. Her words, not mine). She was desperate for parking, and the security officer directed her to Montefiore. She was worried she wouldn’t be able to find it, but the security officer and I assured her it was really easy. Then I jokingly said “I’m walking there to retrieve my car – you could follow me.” And she suggested I get in the car. So I did. To drive a quarter mile down the street. And then, she let me out at my car, I pulled out, and she took the super awesome spot I got at 8am before the rush.

Some day this behavior might get me killed. But that’s ok. Interactions like this are worth it. We had a great five minutes and while she probably would have found it on her own, I was able to relieve some of the aggravation, put a smile in her day, and give her a great parking spot. And I had fun in the process. It’s the little things. And this leads me to – why I love talking to strangers.

Strangers have no expectations of you. People you’ve never seen before, might never see again, interact with you every day. But those strangers are people, too, we all have things going on in our lives, and we’re all having a day (whether it be a good one or a bad one). And there’s some intrinsic satisfaction in being able to elicit a smile from a stranger. It’s all about exchanging energy. If you give someone a positive vibe, they often return it. Whether or not it gives them satisfaction as well is impossible to tell, but that doesn’t really matter.

I have a lot of interactions with strangers. There’s a security guard in the medical school building. He’s a little man, not too old and not too young, and he has a shy air to him. I said good morning to him once as I was walking by. He looked so happy to receive it and returned my smile, so I did it again the next day. Now I do it every time I see him. Sometimes two or three times a day. And I don’t know about him, but it makes me feel better every time. I’ve sat in the chairs in that lobby waiting to meet with someone before – I’ve only ever seen one other person acknowledge his existence just to say hi.

There’s a parking attendant at a garage I used to park in. He has to validate your ticket every time, which means you have to interact through a little window once a day, five days a week. That’s a lot of 30 second interactions. Assuming I’ve parked there at least 250 times in the past 5 years (maybe more), that’s at least two hours I’ve spent interacting with the man. He knows how my schoolwork is going, he tells me about how his dad is in the hospital, how he’s biking to work, the community college calculus class he took. He loves calculus, he thinks it’s fun, and he works through a book of problems while he’s sitting in his little booth killing time. I think that’s inspiring – he’s working a job that doesn’t require a lot of eduction, but he’s seeking education because he enjoys it. He doesn’t take calculus because he thinks it will get him a better job. He took it simply because he wanted to learn it. And I never would have learned this if I hadn’t taken the time to find out how his day was going.

Being a doctor is all about interacting with strangers. Especially in the ER or in the EMS work I used to do, you sort of hope that you’ll never see any of these people again. People don’t come into the ER because they’re having a good day and want to say hi. They come because something really awful is happening to them. And they expect you to fix their physical problem – they don’t necessarily expect you to brighten their day. But, sometimes, it’s trying to brighten their day that makes all the difference. And I like to make that a goal. I’d like to make my patients feel physically better, but I also want to get them to smile at least once during our interaction. It doesn’t work for everyone, and you have to learn when to put the smile away because frankly sometimes excessive cheerfulness really pisses sick people off. But for the successes I’ve had, it’s always always worth the effort.

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