Monday, July 30, 2007

Not So Anonymous

Today was "The Great Thaw-Out" in which 95 unique plasma samples were unfrozen in preparation for analysis. Looking at the panel of samples, it was an interesting thought experiment for me to imagine that the tray contained nearly 100 individuals who were, in a sense, "frozen in time." The majority of the patients are deceased, but their plasma lives on in a strange way. I wonder if the plasma contains not just proteins and cells existing at a particular moment in the past, but also the individual's thoughts, feelings, hopes, fears and expectations of the future. In contrast, most of the healthy control plasma contains the barest of of collection and initials. Anonymous donors who donated some sangre and moved on with their lives.

I was reluctant to include my frozen plasma in the panel because (a) it seems a bit tacky and (b) I'm not exactly age-matched to most of the cancer patients. But one of the control samples had a cracked side, and so it was thrown out. In exchange, I had to choose between my plasma and a friend's plasma (also originally excluded based on age) as a replacement. So I did what any scientist would do...I flipped a coin in my pocket and Hamilton said that my plasma was going in.

Talking to Joe about the plasma database, I mentioned how most of the patients were familiar to me, how I had met them personally and knew their clinical histories fairly intimately already.

Joe raised his eyebrow and lifted a tube containing straw-colored serum, labeled "SC 7/19/06."

"You mean like this one?" Joe said.

"Oh, man, that one," I rolled my eyes dramatically, "The stories I could tell!"

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Eight Random Personal Facts

A few weeks ago, I was tagged by a medschool classmate (who writes an awesome blog) to continue a blog "chain mail." Here it goes...

The Rules.
-I have to post The Rules before I give you the facts.
-I start with eight random facts/habits about myself.
-As I have been tagged, I need to write my own blog about my eight things and post The Rules.
-At the end of my blog, I need to choose eight people to get tagged and list their names.
-I mustn’t forget to leave them a comment telling them they’re tagged, and to read my blog.

1) Move over, Lindsay, my addictions involve blogging and boba. I can spend 1-4 hours per day reading blogs...most of them belong to high school and college friends (Leo, Ammo, Kim, Jackie, Melkis, Jey), some family (Matthew and Jeremy) and some medschool friends (Craig, Emily, Ben, Irene). Earlier this year, I started reading blogs belonging to *gasp* total strangers, some of my regular reads: a celebrity fashion blog called "Go Fug Yourself," a Hollywood gossip blog called Perez Hilton, a blog written by a Harvard sophomore called "Sex and the Ivy," and a professional one (in that she makes a living off of this blog!) called "dooce." Don't judge me!

2) Lessons learned recently...
...Spend more money on experiences (vacations, meals, uh, charity) and less on material things.
...Connections to people = keys to happiness
...Lab research is eerily similar to cooking, but technique matters more
...When golfing at Lincoln Park, hit at least one golf ball off the edge of the cliff and into San Francisco Bay...after you eat the wild blackberries growing near hole 17.

3) Looking at my high school yearbook recently led me to see a picture of Alison, a classmate who passed away last year before assuming my job at Stanford. Looking at digital photos recently led me to see photos of my grandmother -- who I still think about everday but rarely mention. It made me really sad to think that there are people in my pictures who do not even exist anymore outside of a hollow image. Am I old? Is this what getting old feels like? I think about my grandmother a lot more than anyone close to me realizes and recently I had a dream in which my grandmother came back with blue curly hair telling me that everything was all right.

4) As a Harvard English major, I appreciate but do not love Jane Austen.

5) My fat intake is outrageous. I drink whole milk, eat chicken skins, and slather margarine on everything. Moreover, diet coke doesn't do it for me. I only drink regular coke and enjoy coffee (with generous amounts of cream and sugar, never in the morning).

6) Growing up, my only real pet was a goldfish named Jeanie (because I was creatively wearing jeans that day. Someone in medical school told me that I am always wearing jeans. Some things never change). Never had a "real" pet like a cat or a dog, because I was the oldest of four children and there was always a "rug rat" at home. My mother always liked to say that the children were her "pets" and she didn't need any more poop to clean up.

Since there is a ridiculous game that says that your "porn name" should be (the name of your pet) + (the name of your street), then"porn name" would theoretically be "Jeanie Foothill." Was that RANDOM enough for you?

7) My mother’s passion for antique English silverware and Victorian mystery novels led to many hours of my childhood spent in dusty antique shops immersed among artifacts and pieces of historical debris washed up by the tides of time.

It can be easily said that my taste in sweaters, old houses, and sightseeing ranges from old-fashioned to downright dowdy. My favorite sweater is a black zip-up that Jey calls my "granny sweater." I have several "granny sweaters" worn in the privacy of my home...paired with ugly sweat pants and fuzzy socks. If you have seen me in this outfit, you probably lived with me or I have trusted you with my life (if you have lived with me, I definitely trusted you, haha).

8) Considering all of the wonderful people in my life and the opportunities that I have enjoyed, it's necessary for me to disclose that I am truly blessed. Every girl in her twenties tries to achieve that elusive state of "getting her act together" (attaining self-confidence, passion, resilience, and a general sentiment of knowing what she wants and who she is). Maybe that's a gross overstatement, but that's my goal right now.

9) People often misinterpret my cheesy, emotional statements as sarcasm.

Okay, I am tagging Kim, Jackie, Ammo, Melkis, Matthew, Leo, Jeremy, Irene.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Lab is so quiet at 8:30 PM

Yeah...I'm allll alone...maybe this is a good time to run around naked? ;-)

I'm just kidding!

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Notes from the Underground

Some notable quotes from working as a pipette monkey in a Stanford lab this summer:

From the first meeting with Joe (the ultra-nice PhD): "First, you mix the plasma with something that we like to call 'secret sauce.'"

Joe: "Yeah, you don't really need to add the's really more for superstition than anything else."

Joe: "A lot of the protocol is not set in stone, at this point it's still somewhat like witchcraft."

Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn, and caldron bubble.

Bubble bubble. Toil and Trouble. :-)

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Santa Cruz Boardwalk

Assorted photos from last Sunday when Jey and I visited Santa Cruz. :)

Back in Norcal

Jeremy in San Diego
So after the backyard camping, I watched the movie "Serendipity" in the afternoon and thought that it was a fairly decent chick flick (the key to happiness is low expectations). On Saturday, the family and I drove down to San Diego to see the Midway carrier...which my dad thought was involved in the Battle of Midway, but in actuality the carrier was commissioned after WWII and named after the famous sea battle. He was slightly disappointed, but we enjoyed looking at the planes on the top deck and oohhing and aahhing over the cramped living quarters below. Take home message of the day: Living on a navy boat or submarine is really cramped, claustrophobic, and...yeah.
Today is Sunday, and I just flew back to SJC. :)

Friday, July 13, 2007

Backyard Camping

We pitched a tent in the backyard yesterday afternoon, but we didn't officially leave home until 9 p.m. when it was nice and dark.

In the tent, we...
...ate two boxes of Din Tai Fung dumplings brought to us by Dad
...played Millesborne
...ate s'mores
...brushed our teeth outside while staring at Dad eating peanuts inside the living room
...watched "Shrek" on a DVD player
...allowed ourselves 2 bathroom passes because my mom frowns on the idea of human defecation on the lawn
...screamed when Matthew threw himself against the side of the tent
...ate fruit roll-ups, those Ferrero Rocher chocolates, Pringles, drank Buzz Cola and Evian water
...played with a glowstick and hand warmers
...fell asleep around midnight...well...I fell asleep like a rock and Jeremy and Samantha couldn't fall asleep until 2:15 a.m.
...I woke up around 7:30 a.m. when Matthew left for school and there was a huge ray of sunlight burning a hole into my head. It was hot inside!

...we hung around a bit before deciding to go home and eat some Krusty-O cereal for breakfast.
...Jeremy stepped on a staple inside the house, and didn't want to go to summer school today. He was also bitten on the cheek by a mosquito.
...we cleaned up EVERYTHING before 10 a.m.

Backyard camping was really fun; it was easy and exciting to sleep away from home (we have a big backyard, affectionately abbreviated as "BBY" in the olden days) with the knowledge that if anything untoward occurred that we could always hightail it back home. :)

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Soul Mates

Last night, my family had a delicious Peking Duck dinner at a favorite restaurant. It was sooo good (read: greasy, oily, fatty...crispy...goodness).

This morning, I woke up around noon and watched a movie called "The Prestige" on DVD. I was pretty impressed by the storyline and the parallels. Then I drove to Target to buy some snacks (fruit roll-ups, marshmallows, graham crackers, chocolate, chocolate), glowsticks, and looked for some sleeping mats...we might be camping in the backyard tonight!

After I drove Jeremy (my 11-year-old brother) to a little store in Pasadena to buy his new obssession, a French game called Millesborne, we had the following deep conversation in the mini-van following a discussion of a Simpsons episode in which Bart sells his soul for $5:

J: Would you ever sell your soul?
S: No [I lied]
J: Really?
S: Would YOU? [this is a test]
J: Maybe. You wouldn't sell it for anything?
S: No
J: Not even to save someone you love?
S: [Shit] Okay, yes.
J: Me, too. I don't like it when people who don't believe in a soul say that they will sell it.
S: You can't sell your soul if you don't believe in a soul?
J: Exactly.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Better Than Kansas

On a quickie trip back to Los Angeles to visit my family (all of whom were home except ME!).

In the past 24 hours, I have...
...flown in on a bumpy ride from SJC to BUR
...seen the whole family
...eaten Din Tai Fung dumplings brought home by my dad (who offers food to express his affection and who brings back special dumplings every time I go home)
...created Simpsons "avatars" of the four kids and pasted them on the wall (promotion for the Simpsons movie coming out on July 27)
...learned that Jeremy has a signature snore (he starts to wheeze, like asthma, culminating into a little snort, cycle starts again)
...seen Matthew's dream car online
...exercised with Samantha
...eaten lunch at the Santa Anita Mall with Matthew and Samantha
...picked up Jeremy from Clairbourne
...drove to Burbank with the sibs to see the 7-11 turned into a KWIK-E-MART, complete with Buzz Cola, Krusty-O's, pink frosted donuts and Squishees! There was a line around the building! It was fun to see, but not spectacular. Ah, fond memories from the Simpsons!

Monday, July 09, 2007

U Pick Lavender

Jey and I saw a sign on the side of the road on CA 17S on a Sunday afternoon on the way to Santa Cruz and we had to stop: "U Pick Lavender."

There are 2 French varieties and one English one (culinary lavender!). So many scary bees! One fake cow. Awesome.

Summer of the Sequels - NAPA VALLEY 2

Steph and Dan (the Man with the Plan)

Drinking 4 Bottles of Sparkling Wine at Domaine Chandon

UCSF Med Students (MS 1's and 2's) + one incredibly cool grad student

Hidden Grapes

Domaine Chandon, Mondavi (no tasting), V. Sattui, Beringer

There's Only Two Ways to Rock Karaoke...Sing Well or Sing LOUDLY

Last Friday was Paul's Birthday!

Here is the invitation:


Genius. Gourmet Chef. Avid Golfer. MmmSTP.

Paul Cheng (MS 2) is a man of MANY talents, some of which promise to be in full display this Friday night (July 6) when the Slacker President himself finally enters his prime at the age of 23.

What better way to celebrate our beloved Asian food aficionado's birthday than to dine at a restaurant hand-picked by the Expert himself…Osha Thai…at 6 p.m.

Continue the party and come satisfy your secret Asian fetish after dinner when we let all hell break loose in a private karaoke room at Playground in Japantown at 9 p.m.

Remember those fobby yogurt drinks when you were a kid? Come taste the alcoholic version (yogurt soju) while singing karaoke and chowing down on cheese-covered corn-on-the-cob. Because nothing says "Happy Birthday, Paul" like singing the Spice Girls' song "When Two Become One" in a dangerously unsteady falsetto.

P.S. Paul promises to sing a song of the crowd's choice. Rock the vote.

WHO: "Paulbladder"
WHAT: Paul Cheng's 23rd Birthday
WHEN: Friday, July 6th
DINNER (6 P.M.): Osha Thai (3)
149 Second Street
SF, CA 94105
Phone: 415-278-9991
KARAOKE (9-11 P.M.) : Playground
1705 Buchanan St (between Post St & Sutter St) SF, CA 94115
Phone: (415) 929-1471

Please RSVP…there's enough Paul to go around. :)

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Tipping Point

Just finished perusing Malcolm Gladwell's "Tipping Point," and although most of it involves Gladwell rambling about his informal social theories of How the World Works via certain historical psychology studies and other anecdotal pop culture evidence, there were some interesting points raised (betcha didn't see that conclusion coming). Generally, Gladwell can get away with shooting the bull for an entire novel because of his engaging, seductive writing style that pulls you into an instructive, pseudo-intellectual, albeit one-sided conversation.

The most applicable points for me:

1) Studies have found that the amount of neocortex observed in each species is proportional to the number of social relationships that must be maintained in a group of primates. For instance, if you are a primate who lives in a group of 5 individuals, you have to keep track of your social relationships with the 4 other primates and the relationships that the 4 other primates have with each other. Gladwell's informal Rule of 150 argues that most human societies have found by trial and error that humans can only maintain a level of personal connection with groups as large as 150, at which point social cohesiveness drops off dramatically. The first thing that occured to me was that UCSF's medical school class consists of 141 that a coincidence?

2) Gladwell likes to make up artificial designations, describing certain influential individuals as Connectors (people who know -everyone-), Mavens (people who are passionate about knowing practical things like how to get the best bed, etc.), and Salesmen (people who can sell you any idea or object). Funny thing is, reading descriptions of the Mavens made me realize that several people who mean a lot to me are prototypical Mavens who will do anything to get the best foie gras, the greatest travel deals, etc. And they love to share their knowledge and expertise.

Okay, time for bed. :-)

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Happy 4th of July

Happy 4th of July!

Monday, July 02, 2007


Golden Gate Bridge, View of SF Bay, March 2006

"Ken Baldwin was twenty-eight and severely depressed on the August day in 1985 when he told his wife not to expect him home till late. “I wanted to disappear,” he said. “So the Golden Gate was the spot. I’d heard that the water just sweeps you under.” On the bridge, Baldwin counted to ten and stayed frozen. He counted to ten again, then vaulted over. “I still see my hands coming off the railing,” he said. As he crossed the chord in flight, Baldwin recalls, “I instantly realized that everything in my life that I’d thought was unfixable was totally fixable—except for having just jumped.”

(From Tad Friend's "Jumpers," The New Yorker, Oct 2003).

Suicide remains an emotionally charged topic, an issue covered extensively in our UCSF medical curriculum under psychiatry and Brain, Mind, and Behavior. We spent a small group learning how to screen patients for suicide, different levels of suicide, and listened to someone's story of survival after jumping off of the Golden Gate Bridge (only 29 people out of 1,500 have ever lived to tell their stories).

Living in San Francisco and going to UCSF seems to inherently require that we constantly think and talk about Golden Gate Bridge suicides, and it has become a dark side to my unending fascination with this almost mystical structure. Admittedly, my last posting on the Sun and the Moon (the GG Bridge and Bay Bridge respectively) was intended as a prelude to this darker rumination on why people jump off of the Golden Gate Bridge and some outrage over why there is no suicide barrier erected.

A somewhat droll excerpt from "Jumpers" in the New Yorker illustrates the Bay area perceptions of the Sun and the Moon:

"There is a fatal grandeur to the [Golden Gate Bridge]....Several people have crossed the Bay Bridge to jump from the Golden Gate; there is no record of anyone traversing the Golden Gate to leap from its unlovely sister bridge. Dr. Richard Seiden, a professor emeritus at the University of California at Berkeley’s School of Public Health and the leading researcher on suicide at the bridge, has written that studies reveal “a commonly held attitude that romanticizes suicide from the Golden Gate Bridge in such terms as aesthetically pleasing and beautiful, while regarding a Bay Bridge suicide as tacky.”"

Interestingly, "Almost everyone in the Bay Area knows someone who has jumped, and it is perhaps not surprising that the most common fear among San Franciscans is gephyrophobia, the fear of crossing bridges."

A few weeks ago, I watched a movie called "The Bridge" during a viewing hosted by some medical school classmates. In 2004, the director received permission from the Golden Gate committee to supposedly film the natural grandeur of the GG Bridge, but his real motives were to film people jumping from the bridge to create a movie inspired by the New Yorker article. During the course of a year, 25 people were filmed during their last moments.

We see a Caucasian man, slightly overweight and wearing a white striped shirt, carefully climbing over the four-foot railing like a kid on a jungle gym. He takes great care in positioning himself on the wrong side of the fence before slipping off of the ledge like a fussy child into a swimming pool. The movements would seem almost comical, except that the man seems so ordinary, so unassuming and his movements are so chilling in their simplicity.

During the climax of the film, we see a tall, pale man with long black hair, wearing dark glasses and black leather, pacing the pedestrian walkway. Throughout the movie, we have watched this man pacing the bridge for almost two hours, spliced with interviews of his friends. When you see the tall man with his hair blowing in the wind and he walks back and forth, you can perceive the inner turmoil. Suddenly, he pounces upon the railing, stands his full height upon the top of the fence, and falls backward with his arms outstretched in utter surrender.

Like scenes of war or famine, it was a horrifying experience to see ordinary people climbing over the four foot bridge railing and plummeting into the water at 75 mph. It was real and unreal at the same time.

More recently, the SF Gate featured a seven-part series on GG Bridge suicides and why there should be an suicide barrier erected. There is an interesting website with some graphs of how many suicides have occurred and where they occur most often. Grisly, but informative.

As Friend notes, "The idea of building a barrier was first proposed in the nineteen-fifties, and it has provoked controversy ever since. “The battle over a barrier is actually a battle of ideas,” Eve Meyer, the executive director of San Francisco Suicide Prevention, told me. “And some of the ideas are very old, ideas about whether suicidal people are people to fear and hate.” In centuries past, suicides were buried at night at a crossroads, under piles of stones, or had stakes driven through their hearts to prevent their unquiet spirits from troubling the rest of us. In the United States today, someone takes his own life every eighteen minutes, and suicide is much more common than homicide. Still, the issue is rarely examined."

I feel that our cultural biases against suicide prevent us from understanding how to best prevent them, and until Friend mentioned it, I had forgotten about those crossroad burials mentioned in Elizabethan dramas. The prejudice and stigma continues to this day:

"In 1976, an engineer named Roger Grimes began agitating for a barrier on the Golden Gate. He walked up and down the bridge wearing a sandwich board that said “Please Care. Support a Suicide Barrier.” He gave up a few years ago, stunned that in an area as famously liberal as San Francisco, where you can always find a constituency for the view that pets should be citizens or that poison oak has a right to exist, there was so little empathy for the depressed. “People were very hostile,” Grimes told me. “They would throw soda cans at me, or yell, ‘Jump!’ ”"

"A familiar argument against a barrier is that thwarted jumpers will simply go elsewhere. In 1953, a bridge supervisor named Mervin Lewis rejected an early proposal for a barrier by saying it was preferable that suicides jump into the Bay than dive off a building “and maybe kill somebody else.” (It’s a public-safety issue.) Although this belief makes intuitive sense, it is demonstrably untrue. Dr. Seiden’s study, “Where Are They Now?,” published in 1978, followed up on five hundred and fifteen people who were prevented from attempting suicide at the bridge between 1937 and 1971. After, on average, more than twenty-six years, ninety-four per cent of the would-be suicides were either still alive or had died of natural causes. “The findings confirm previous observations that suicidal behavior is crisis-oriented and acute in nature,” Seiden concluded; if you can get a suicidal person through his crisis—Seiden put the high-risk period at ninety days—chances are extremely good that he won’t kill himself later."

The main arguments against a GG Bridge suicide barrier are 1) cost 2) aesthetics and 3) a near fatalistic public attitude towards suicide in general. However, a suicide barrier would save thousands of lives by stopping people from jumping at a time when they believe that there is no other alternative. I wanted to write a piece urging people to NOT jump, promising them that everything will be okay, but the sentiment was best expressed by Ken Baldwin at the start of this posting. At the moment that he jumped from the railing, everything that seemed hopeless and unfixable suddenly appeared correctable, and the only thing that he could not correct was the fact that he had just killed himself. These are the thoughts of a man who committed suicide and lived to tell about it.

A depressed person, however, cannot pull themselves out of the darkness. He cannot see the hills beyond his valley; he cannot cross an imaginary bridge and reach the other side. He suffers from mental gephyrophobia (fear of crossing bridges) in a manner that almost none of us can comprehend and in his darkest hour, he will seek resolution by jumping into oblivion.

If we can stop someone from jumping on a certain day and hour, we give them another chance to rethink their problems, to meet new people, and to find the reasons for living.

No matter how much I love the natural beauty of the Golden Gate Bridge, aesthetics be damned. Vanity renders us blind to the simple solution (a fence) that would keep people from dying. I hate how thinking about the Golden Gate Bridge now reminds me of watching countless people kill themselves on film, that familiar and eminently tangible red railing in every frame. The price of picturesque views like the one above is too costly for my conscience and probably my soul.

When people stop dying needlessly, the bridge's natural poetry will be pure to me again. The Golden Gate is more than a structure that takes you from point A to point B; the bridge connects two faraway shores; a visual symbol of grace, strength, and hope above all.

At the bridge's opening in 1937, Joseph Strauss, the chief engineer, read a statement in a low, trembling voice:

What Nature rent asunder long ago man has joined today."

"The class poet at Ohio University, class of ’91, Strauss also wrote an ode to mark the occasion:

As harps for the winds of heaven,
My web-like cables are spun;
I offer my span for the traffic of man,
at the gate of the setting sun."

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Beach, Bison, and a Windmill

It's Sunday morning around 11 a.m., and instead of drinking sweet milk coffee at a leisurely pace and reading the newspaper at home, I'm actually working at Stanford with an open can of Coke and wishing that there was a food vendor open at this time. Sometimes, when I am not moving for a prolonged period of time, the lights go off, and you can see me mechanically waving my arms in the air like I just don't care.

Things at work have been semi-productive, my greatest accomplishment this week has been cleaning the -80 degree freezer, systematically peeking inside every box to find long-lost blood serum samples that need to be catalogued and recorded. Although I was skeptical that the work could give me freezer burn, I am wiser now. After working through the spreadsheet yesterday, I am impressed by the contents of the serum database. :) More work needs to be done!

Yesterday was Saturday, so around 5 p.m., Jey finished his work as an intern at Santa Clara Valley and we drove up to San Francisco because I really missed the city. We stopped by my favorite boba joint in the Sunset district, "Wonderful Foods Co" on 22nd and Irving (I think) and Jey sampled the #2 boba with pudding. We also ran into a classmate there!

Then we drove to Ocean Beach and walked around a bit, but it was a bit chilly. The name Ocean Beach really bothers me, a beach cannot exist without an ocean. The redundancy hurts my head. Then we drove to the Beach Chalet and wandered around the edges of Golden Gate Park. We found a giant windmill and "Queen Wilhelmina's Tulip Garden," which contained only impatiens at this time. As Jey jokes, apparently the Dutch "two lips" were "too slow," and so they were "impatiens." The windmill is the most random landmark, I cannot even fathom why they would build a windmill in Golden Gate Park in 1902, but there is very little background. I am so curious to know who is Queen Wilhelmina and why there is a non-existent Dutch tulip garden in the middle of SF!

However, that was not the strangest thing that we saw in Golden Gate Park that day, we drove around and eventually found the famous GG Park BISON paddock! The bison were apparently moved to the Park in the 1890s to promote breeding. There were around 8 bison in the paddock, shedding wool and eating slowly.

Afterward, we drove to Paul's apartment. He was making ratatouille in honor of the new Pixar film and it was delicious. We also drank some non-alcholic merlot purchased during our recent jaunt to Napa and finished off with some lychees. Overall, a wonderful meal. :)