Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Random Tidbits

Sorry for the shortage of has gotten overwhelming since going home for a short interblock break after the renal exam. Some very sad things happened. We started the gastrointestinal (GI) block last Thursday.

Some interesting tidbits gleaned from school and life:

- Saw Mandy Moore at the airport last week...that was random...but I was actually able to recognize a celebrity...

- A Cochrane Collaborative mug that reads: "What have I learned from the Cochrane Collaborative?" [turn mug around] "Answer: Life is full of trials."

- Human beings have "anal tonsils." What are they, you ask? Lymphatic tissue just like your oral tonsils, except that they line the other end of your GI tube...makes perfect sense in a gross kind of way. God thought of everything, he really did. The presence of anal tonsils may have increased or facilitated the transmission of HIV among homosexual men.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Your Kidney Is Smarter Than You Are

In a powerpoint lecture earlier this block, a phrase kept reoccuring: "Remember: Your Kidney Is Smarter Than You Are." After this block, I'm pretty sure that those cute little bean-shaped organs are much more cunning than they seem. The mantra seems both funny and demoralizing, because, yes, I am coming to believe that the kidney is smarter than outsmarts me at every turn, adjusting, changing, filtering, secreting, excreting...and then we give it drugs and the whole delicate balance or imbalance of the system readjusts!

I get annoyed whenever they ask us to predict what would happen if X or Y were to occur...don't ask me...I'm a medical student...not a psychic. Even Miss Cleo would be hard-pressed to declare what that little critter called the kidney might do.

So I realize that this blog might benefit from more of a personal angle...what did I do last night, you ask? I spent Valentine's Day in the library, and it was actually a pretty calm, nice Valentine's Day. Half of our class was studying for the renal exam tomorrow, and we wished each other happy Valentine's and sighed over how romantic the whole situation was before sticking our heads back in the syllabus and crying over the kidney.

Then around 7 p.m., I went to a fantastic hot pot dinner at Paul's and watched the season finale of "Beauty and the Geek" with some special people. Even in the hard times, medical students can always make room for TV, food, and company. =)

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Happy Valentine's Day

Meredith Grey
patron saint of romance drama
Valentine's Day is like Paris Hilton. Out of all of the holidays...Valentine's is the holiday that everyone loves to hate...but deep down most people also wish that they were part of that exclusive "in-crowd" of romantic lovers who couldn't give a damn about what other people think.
My love-hate relationship with Valentine's Day is pretty typical, but I would generally favor the philosophy "live and let live" (this includes Paris Hilton), and the holiday has some redeeming qualities. Today at UCSF, I saw at least a dozen men (hmm, no women) carrying fresh flowers for some special people and it was just nice seeing people in love and showing that they care. The anticipation of knowing that other people in the world would be happy made me happy.
This is no time for me to air my musings on love, but there was an interesting study conducted at Albert Einstein that took brain MRI's of college students who had recently fallen in love and who were looking at photos of their loved ones. Obviously, certain parts of the brain connected with pleasure lit up, but those parts were completely different from those that lit up in the brains of students looking at pornographic photos. Love and lust are different, science tells us. If you couldn't pick up on that dry sarcasm, it's okay. Even more interesting, the study looked at the brains of students who were recently rejected by their loved ones, and the parts of the brain that heightened in activity were parts associated with physical pain. Lesson here? Love a kidney stone.

Syllabus Typo

In a chapter on acid-base disorders:

"Define academia and alkalemia."

I never realized how closely related the two words could be.

Monday, February 12, 2007


tachypnea = breathing quickly (pronounced "Ta-kip-nee-ah")

Our small group discussion leader is an MD who helps us through the intricacies of nephrology. Today, he mentioned a funny sidenote:

"I had a friend in medical school who didn't go to class for the first two years because he preferred to study on his own [a fairly common thing in medical school]. It was fine, but when he got to the wards during his third year, he didn't know how to pronounce anything correctly. So he called [the word] "tacky-pee-nee.""

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Bad Medical Jokes for Valentine's

Q: What did one red lacy Valentine heart say to the other Valentine heart?
A: "You're so tachy!"

Worst pick-up line: "Hey baby, you must be an alpha-1 agonist, because I can feel my blood pressure rising..."

Saturday, February 10, 2007

The New President of Harvard

Rumors are flying thick that the new president of Harvard is set to be announced this weekend. Who is the top candidate? Drew Gilpin Faust, currently the Dean of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study (formerly Radcliffe College).
It's useless for me to point out the inherent irony of hiring Harvard's first female president on the heels of comments made by the former president of Harvard concerning women in science, etc. Refer back to the "Female Brain" entry in December if you wish. However, it's interesting how circumstances aligned for this appointment to be possible, and how so many other well-qualified candidates were either not interested or unable to take the job.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Absolute Heroes

Dr. Frederick Kaplan and a Patient (from Newsweek)
Dr. Frederick Kaplan from orthopedics at the University of Pennsylvania gave a talk today on his 15-year research on a rare genetic disease known as Fibrodysplasia Ossificans Progressiva(FOP). FOP is a startling disease that episodically transforms skeletal muscles into bone, the ossification can be triggered by any trauma, immunization, viral infection, or it may occur spontaneously. Imagine getting whiplash in an automobile accident...and then having those muscles turn into bone and never being able to move your head. Then getting an injection in your thigh...and then being unable to bend your knee ever again. Instead of Galatea coming to life, it's like a child becoming a statue before your eyes.
Dr. Kaplan presented his research with the sensitivity and intelligence of a storyteller who has unraveled this disease over the course of 15 years. As an associate professor in the 1970s, he asked a medical student what "exons" and "introns" were, and was surprised to learn of the scientific revolution that occurred over the past decade. It's incredible to see how this physician's journey from taking classes on genetics led him to discover the gene responsible for FOP. Dr. Kaplan's passion for his work and his compassion for his patients made this presentation the best talk that I have seen this year thus far. His patience, dedication, and intelligence have led him on an incredible quest as well as show the marks of true genius, and I really feel that he will continue dedicating his life to finding a cure.
I can never forget how these awe-filled moments that occur at the intersection of science and humanity hit me about every other day at UCSF. Watching Dr. Kaplan from the audience, I realized that this slightly short, unremarkable-looking doctor wearing a navy blue blazer was saving the world in his own way. Strangely, in medical school, you often feel yourself in the presence of absolute heroes -- cleverly disguised as ordinary human beings.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

DLo Quote

"The currency of academia is creativity." - Dan Lowenstein (DLo)

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Oh February

Photo from, I like their series "Offbeat Images"
In honor of Valentine's Day, here is an essay by David Sedaris entitled "Old Faithful" much beloved by my sweet college friend, Amy.
On a lighter note, I think that renal block is killing me slowly.
Happy SuperBowl Sunday!

Saturday, February 03, 2007

I Love My Intellectual Mother

Being unable to study in the library today, I went home defeated and started doing laundry. I decided to call my mother and we talked about the New Yorker. Then she started talking about NPR and her recent fascination with Truman Capote, and how she plans to read "In Cold Blood" and "Breakfast at Tiffany's." This tickles me, because her last obsession with Jane Austen led her to reread most of Austen's classics and purchase box sets of the BBC series of "Pride and Prejudice" and the one with Keira Knightly.

It was only in recent years that I realized that my mother is not your typical immigrant Asian mom...even though she did make me take piano lessons.

Anyway, at the end of our conversation, she mentioned that a new book is coming out by a female is a NYT review. Interestingly, it covers much of the themes included in this blog and it's written by a female Asian physician of Taiwanese heritage. I hate being a stereotype, and I say that only half-jokingly.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Without Music Life Would Not Be Fair

Postcard from Postsecret
After class and Clinical Sciences Journal Club today, I hung around a practice room at Millberry Union as four of my friends rehearsed for a concert. Jenny plays the piano like prodigy, Elaine and Paul play violin with amazing skill, and Albert plays violin (an understatement) while sensing music on an entirely higher level. What impresses me even more than their individual musical skills is that these four friends had enough initiative to get together on a Friday afternoon to practice for a concert that they are setting up themselves with funding acquired from UCSF.
In many ways, I am a musical dunce. As a lazy and unmotivated child, I never practiced the piano (even though I took lessons for an untold number of years) and my perception of tones, rhythm, and melodies is pretty much equal to that of a softly ripened tomato sitting quietly in the sun. Oftentimes, I marvel at how Albert can explain the meaning, emotions, and genius of certain musical pieces...allowing me to appreciate nuances in rhythm, musicianship, etc. that seem to have magically appeared within seconds. In a strange way, I feel as though Albert is actually translating the music for me so that I can understand what the violin is saying.
The idea of art being lost in translation has occurred to me in the past. As a person with many "pet-ideas," I once thought that although beauty can take an infinite number of forms, people themselves can only perceive beauty in a limited number of ways. Beauty is like white light, but we only see certain wavelengths as individuals. For instance, here is a poem:
The Forgotten Dialect Of The Heart
How astonishing it is that language can almost mean,
and frightening that it does not quite. Love, we say,
God, we say, Rome and Michiko, we write, and the words
get it all wrong. We say bread and it means according
to which nation. French has no word for home,
and we have no word for strict pleasure. A people
in northern India is dying out because their ancient
tongue has no words for endearment. I dream of lost
vocabularies that might express some of what
we no longer can. Maybe the Etruscan texts would
finally explain why the couples on their tombs
are smiling. And maybe not. When the thousands
of mysterious Sumerian tablets were translated,
they seemed to be business records. But what if they
are poems or psalms? My joy is the same as twelve
Ethiopian goats standing silent in the morning light.
O Lord, thou art slabs of salt and ingots of copper,
as grand as ripe barley lithe under the wind's labor.
Her breasts are six white oxen loaded with bolts
of long-fibered Egyptian cotton. My love is a hundred
pitchers of honey. Shiploads of thuya are what
my body wants to say to your body. Giraffes are this
desire in the dark. Perhaps the spiral Minoan script
is not language but a map. What we feel most has
no name but amber, archers, cinnamon, horses, and birds.
-Jack Gilbert
Look at the beauty of the end-stopped lines and the genius of his enjambment, the fantastical conceit of ancient Sumerian trade and timeless love. Makes your toes curl, doesn't it? When I was in middle or high school, one of my favorite books was a cheesy anthology from my wonderful mother called "Immortal Poems of the English Language" and I used to read all the emily dickinson poems. Once, when I tried to eagerly read the poem to my mother "Because I could not stop for death," or even better, "I died for beauty," I remember with distinct clarity how my lovely mother shook her head and said that the poem did not speak to her; she didn't understand its sublimity but she wasn't upset. It was like that Christmas story, where the little boy asks for a sleigh bell from Santa Claus and the adults could not hear the bell and assumed that it was broken. It was at that moment that i realized that there are special languages and senses in this world and certain arts -- visual, literary, musical, theatrical -- that touch people in certain ways, that bring those people to life and sensitize them in ways that are abnormal. This is all probably elitist harvard english crap, but what if there are a million different beautiful senses in the world and we are only privy to one or two of them? What if music is the same as poetry and poetry is the color aquamarine?
As individuals, we can sometimes see beauty in a landscape, a lovely poem, a powerful painting, a certain style of architecture, or a musical performance. In a less traditional sense, we can see beauty in the curve of a parabola or a mathematical equation, the elegance of an experimental design, or the smoothness of a chemical reaction. Beauty can be found in the way that a medical student comforts a sick patient or in the way that a doctor smoothly performs a a physical exam.
Back in the small windowless closet known as a practice room, I sat on the floor as Jenny and Albert continued playing their superb duet. If I concentrated hard enough, I could almost sense the beauty, the aching loveliness, inherent in the music and the way that the notes seemed to linger, float, twirl, and make complex arabesques. The music seemed to fluidly progress into an invisible maelstrom that pulled me, and I could just feel the edges of something else. I don't know how to explain it further, except that as first year medical students, we are taught to push our fingers underneath the rib cage to feel the edge of a patient's liver, and someone once explained that it feels like "the edge of a rubbery something quickly slipping away from your grasp."
I could almost feel the music's liver.