Friday, December 30, 2011

Naiya at Christmas

For those of you new to the blog, I have a dog named Naiya. She's pretty awesome. This past Christmas, she got a ball that lights up and plays sounds on impact. She also gets a kick out of unwrapping presents. I thought it would be fun to share this quick video of the whole deal. I promise more posts in the coming weeks than I've eked out recently, but hopefully you find this entertaining:

Friday, December 23, 2011

Grey Hairs

I am 26 years old and I have a lot of grey hairs for someone my age. I tease my wife of ~2.6 years that they come from marriage, as I didn't have any until well into our first year. However, I think it is more likely that they have resulted from the excessive pace at which we've had to live life over the past couple years. Working, going back to school, and managing a new marriage (let alone taking the time for family and friend relationships / issues) is no cakewalk.

We discontinued the practice of keeping track of my "grey count" (and, thankfully, that of pulling out said greys) a year or so ago. I think the last count was somewhere north of a hundred, but I'm pretty sure I called it before we found all of them. I'm also pretty sure the number has more than quadrupled since then. While you might expect me to be dismayed by this, I have actually been looking on the bright side; by the time I finish medical school and reach my residency, I will look a lot older and probably won't have to worry about patients looking at me and wondering if I'm mature or knowledgeable enough to be their doctor. I think it will probably make it easier to get the trust and respect that I will (hopefully) merit after working so hard to reach that position.

So. I am going grey, and I am ok with it. Here's hoping it makes me look more refined and mature than elderly or feeble...

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Curiosity Cured the Cat

Curiosity seems to be a defining characteristic of many people that seek out a career as a physician. Obviously, I'm basing this observation on what I've seen in myself, my fellow pre-med students, and other doctors and researchers, but I think it's an accurate statement. Most of us are simply curious by nature, and I think it's that curiosity that leads us to study (well, aside from the exams and grades and such), investigate, research, and learn. Ultimately, it's this curiosity (seasoned with a healthy dash of dedication) that allows us to care for, diagnose, and cure other people.

In that spirit, I have begun a list of questions to which I hope to have answers by the time I'm done with medical school. Whether I come by those answers by learning on my own out of textbooks, finding out in lectures, directly asking a professor, or just by talking with fellow med students, I'm looking forward to learning everything I can about the normal and abnormal functions in the human body. This list isn't complete yet; as with most things, as my medical knowledge grows over the next few years, the number of questions I have will probably grow for a while as well. If you know an answer to one of my below questions, feel free to post it in a comment. However, before you do, please observe the following qualifying paragraph, bolded for emphasis:

I reserve the right to doubt you if your "knowledge" seems suspect or incomplete. For example, maybe you thought you heard somewhere once, perhaps from your doctor (or could it have been grandma?), that the reason your eyelids twitch sometimes is because you haven't gotten enough sleep. That's an incomplete explanation for muscular twitches of the eye. It doesn't explain what is causing the twitch. Is it a nutrient imbalance in the myocytes resulting from a lack of replenishment during sleep that causes the muscles to twitch because you didn't get enough sleep? Or is it neurological in nature, originating from a fatigued brain that is no longer able to correctly monitor eye muscle function? Maybe a combination? Obviously, these are just made-up possible explanations, but factual, accurate versions of those are what I'm looking for when I say I want to find out the answers to my questions. Aside from the completeness and detail that I'm looking for, I want reliability. Simply having "read it somewhere once" isn't good enough for me. I need references, or at least, "We learned that in my anatomy class last spring."

Now that we've got that out of the way, here are the beginnings to my list of Curious Questions:

1. Why does your skin itch sometimes, and what makes it stop itching once you've scratched it?

2. Why do your eyes water when you yawn? Why do they water when you pee - or is this just me?

3. Is there a connection between sadness and pain that makes people lacrimate from both, or are these two completely separate sensations that just happen to result in the same physiological response?

4. Why do children cry more easily from pain than adults do? Is it just an increase in pain tolerance and self control, or does something change neurologically?

5. Why does drinking milk when you have a cold or sinus infection make you seem to produce more phlegm? Is it really happening, or is there no real correlation between the two?

6. Why do muscles sometimes begin to twitch when you've gone without sleep? Why do eyelids seem to do this more frequently than other muscles?

7. Why do peoples' eyes dilate when they're on certain drugs?

8. Why does hair turn gray or silver when you get older, and why does stress accelerate this part of the aging process? What makes some people's hair turn gray, while others' might go right to white / silver?

9. Why does one person yawning initiate a yawn in another person?

10. What is the cellular-biological explanation for why older people recover more quickly from sickness and injury faster than younger people?

11. Does a cross-eyed individual perceive two distinctively skewed images, given that they eyes often point in different directions? Or does their brain compensate by merging the image? Do they have blind spots in their vision, or perhaps just separate frames for each field of view?

12. Why do your limbs prickle as they "wake back up" after going without oxygen for a time? What is actually happening to the nerve cells? Are they flicking on and off, "restarting" in some way, or is it a perception based in the brain as it begins to receive signals once again where it had grown used to receiving none during the small period of time during which the limb had been "asleep?"

What about you? Do you have any questions that would be good for me to add to my list? Is there anything about which you wonder but have never really learned an explanation? Feel free to post below!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

UW SMPH Interview Recap

Note: The new background photo is of some small falls we encountered while backpacking the Porcupine Mountains in Michigan's Upper Peninsula this past August.

Photo from
Back from my four-state road trip and I must say that, though I don't feel any strong positive emotion for Chicago traffice (quite the opposite, actually), I loved my experience at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health.

Ever heard of the "Wisconsin Nice" phenomenon? Well, I hadn't until this past trip, but I have now. Everyone throughout the entire interview day was great - easy to talk to and just plain fun. The comment was made during the day that if you drop something, three strangers will probably bonk their heads together when reaching down to pick it up for you. Wisconsin people are just that nice.

After the opening presentations and talks by a variety of faculty members, the interviewees were split up into two groups - one that went on a tour of the Health Sciences Learning Center, another that began the faculty interview. I had my interview first, and it went great. There were not standardized questions that the interviewers were required to ask. The faculty interviewers were also only supplied with the basics of your application, meaning that they had my experience descriptions, my personal statement, and my secondary application information / essays, but did not have access to my GPA, MCAT scores, etc. My interviewer was a blast to talk with, and we hit a multitude of discussion topics ranging from using video games to research learning disabilities and illiteracy in adults to how practicing physicians have to use effective teaching skills when dealing with patients. We had so much fun we actually lost track of time; the interview only ended when another faculty member knocked on the door to let us know that her next interviewee had been waiting for twenty minutes for her interview to begin. Whoops. My 30-minute interview had accidentally stretched for 50 minutes, and probably would have gone on for another 30 if he hadn't knocked. The good news is that I know my interview went well!

I then went on the tour and was blown away by the facilities. They've got a lot of great buildings and resources for the students. One interesting factoid that my student guide mentioned was that each entering class of 175 students is divided into Houses like in Hogwarts from Harry Potter. There are five separate Houses, each with their own traditional name (my guide's was called Bamforth) and common room, and practice classroom. That's right - each House has it's own designated areas secured by codes that only they know. It's a pretty cool idea, and I imagine that it immediately fosters a sense of belonging that might not come along as quickly under other circumstances. This is probably intensified by the fact that there is also a House Cup that is won in the yearly competition between the various houses. My guide didn't elaborate on what was involved in the competition, but it sounded like a fun tradition.

After the tour we had lunch, then it was on to the student group interview. I was in a group with two other interviewees and two student interviewers - one an M1 (first year med student) and the other an M2 (second year med student). They didn't have any information about any of the interviewees other than our names. After the opening generalities ("What were your majors, where are you from," etc. etc.) we just chatted about what it's like to be in medical school, what our fears are, what fears the current students had and how they played out, what the cooperation is like between current students, housing availability, the local culture and lifestyle of living in Madison, WI, and a whole bunch of other stuff. It was a really nice conversation, and I felt like my group clicked pretty well with the student interviewers. They said that they had planned a whole list of questions to help facilitate the conversation and had only needed to use one the entire time.

In the end, the interview day was a success. We were told that normally, the wait for a response from the interview committee is approximately 6 weeks, as the review conducted on each student is very extensive. Apparently, each applicant is evaluated by a subcommittee. After a subcommittee reviews a candidate, each subcommittee member gives the student a rating. The candidate is then presented to the admissions committee by the committee member who gave the student the highest rating. All of the student's information is then provided to each adcom member while also being displayed on a large projection screen. Apparently they go over every minute detail, starting with "So-And-So was born on July 3rd in City, State. He is the son of Mr. and Mrs. Name and has two brothers, ages 13 and 29." They go on to discuss every aspect of the application. Needless to say, it must take a long time. We were also told that since it's the holiday season, we might not hear back for two months from now.

The decisions are mailed out via physical paper letters. They don't give out phone calls, and they won't be sending emails. The decision will be one of three, and they word the letters so that it will be fairly easy to tell which one you've got right off the bat - though they said you won't be able to tell based on how the envelope looks. The letters will begin with something along the lines of, "We are happy to inform you..." "We regret to inform you..." or "You have been waitlisted..." How much I write in my post two months from now will probably correlate directly with which of the aforementioned phrases begins my particular letter... I'd like to have one of those stereotypical "awesome" moments where you tear the letter open and are met with a happy surprise. Up until now, all of my paper letter moments have been rather disappointing, to say the least.

All told, it was a really fun experience, and I loved getting to know and experience a new school. It would be an honor to be accepted at and attend such a fine school as UW SMPH. As for now - back to the waiting game!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Whirlwind & UWSMPH Interview

This week has been a whirlwind of activity. I worked last Saturday morning, finishing out an 80+ hour work week; we essentially had a big... issue... over the last couple weeks at the company where I work that resulted in everyone from every department working 12+ hour days... Luckily, things calmed down a bit for this week.

Unfortunately, working that much on 2nd and 3rd shifts while going to school on 1st shift tends to leave one a bit... drained. Apparently my immune system took the bulk of the damage, leaving me with a nasty chest cold all week. Originally I had a Biochem exam scheduled for Monday morning and an Analytical Chem exam for Tuesday morning. I was not prepared, largely due to working / finishing assignments until 3-4am all last week. My professors have been great, the major result of their incredible flexibility being that I got to take my Biochem exam on Tuesday (I think it went great!), and I don't have to take my Analyt exam until this coming Monday morning!

That leaves me free to focus on my interview at the Wisconsin State University School of Medicine and Public Health tomorrow. That's right - today I'm heading off on a six-hour adventure to Madison. Got the car all prepped yesterday morning, I took a half-day at work today, and a full vacation day tomorrow. I'm really excited to learn about a new school! I've been looking forward to this for a while; even though many people seem to really not like going to interviews, I actually really enjoy the experience. It's fun to talk to people who are where I want to be. I like hearing them talk about the parts of being where they are that get them excited. I think I'll like participating in interviews once I'm a med student.
This is what I expect much of my drive to look like, aside from the "going around Chicago" part. Very relaxing.
So that's on my plate for today and tomorrow. I'm scheduling this post so that it will go out while I'm driving to Wisconsin. So, if you're reading this within four hours of the timestamp, I'm probably on the road! The next couple weeks will be a breeze of relaxation and good times. All I'll be doing is working, hanging out with my wife Nicole and chilling with friends.

I also look forward to being able to post a bit more, as I've got a few ideas jotted down for some cool med school-based postage. I expect to also enjoy watching some episodes of House (just got Season 7) while using my new bluetooth speakers (hooray for early Christmas present money getting spent on audiophile-quality soundage!). I firmly believe in spending Christmas gift money on stuff you'd love to have but would never splurge on for yourself. For me, this falls right in that category...

We saved up so that my wife can get a massage (or two or four) once her exams are over. It will be a great way for her to detox, letting the stress just melt away. What will I do to relax, you ask? I will probably alternate between running, watching TV, and playing an assortment of Halo & Portal II (XBOX); Starfall & Contre Jour (iPad 2); and Dr. Mario (SNES; best video game of them all, by the way).

Break is going to be great.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Grind Me Down Day

Today (yesterday? I guess it is Friday right now...) was a Grind Me Down Day.

1. I woke up a bit earlier than usual and reviewed for my oral lab exam.

2. I took my oral lab exam, where I think I performed well, giving that the bulk of my studying took place during the previous Number 1.

3. I rode my bike (it's electric though, so perhaps "drove" would be a better word?) a few miles to get a haircut in preparation for next week's interview.

4. I went to work, not knowing that I was about to spend the next 13 hours being the busiest that I've ever been in my current position. Basically, we tried switching inventory software systems this past weekend and the new system didn't take for some reason. Now, the old system doesn't work and neither does the new one, so they have pulled everyone (including the Human Resources Department) down to the distribution center to do every part of the process by hand. It was (and continues to be) a frenzied mess. When I asked one of the corporate IT guys how long he thought this would continue, he estimated that at most another two weeks. While others have it way worse than me (I think my boss put in about 120 hours in five days this week; she was literally there for 30 hours straight at one point, slept for 4 hours, then was back at it for another 20 straight. I think she almost died.), I don't really relish the idea of that many more 12-hour days doing this work. I'd rather wait for my residency for that to begin.

5. I rode through a pleasant blizzard of snow (our first real snowfall this year!) to arrive home at around 1:45am.

6. I then wrote a paper for Analytical Chemistry. I had been planning on writing it earlier this week, but that was before the 15+ hours of overtime that I've already worked.

7. I spent approximately 8 minutes writing this, when I should have just gone to bed. Why? Because someday, when I'm in the throes of my second year of residency, I want to be able to look back at the good ol' days when I thought I was busy/tired/stressed.

I can't wait for next Thursday to be here. By then my exams will be over, I will be taking a half day off of work, and I'll be on my way to a hotel and (hopefully) awesome interview experience in Wisconsin.

Until then, let's hope I don't get ground into nothingness.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Catalyst - My Personal Statement

I was reading one of my favorite blogs the other day, and while I don't necessarily agree with her on the probable origin of mitochondria, her most recent post reminded me of a story that I'd like to share. Coincidentally, this story of mine also served incredibly well as the introduction to my personal statement (PS). One of the main reasons that the AMCAS application includes a personal statement is to help you tell schools the reason why you want to become a physician - not just to gush about how you're so awesome. It's the applicant's chance to grab the adcom's attention - to allow one's vibrant color to stand out from the monochromatic mass that is the med school applicant pool.

The excerpt below is just the first two paragraphs of my personal statement; I'm still debating on what else (if anything) from my PS I will share on my blog. It tells about a single experience that helped spur me on to investigate a career in medicine, and my subsequent search for what that really meant for me. Obviously, that search resulted in a desire to become a medical doctor - one that will actually be realized, now that I've been accepted to a med school - which STILL feels weird to say, more than a month later. Anyway, here's the intro to my personal statement, and the experience which pushed me toward becoming a doctor. Note: I mention my experience teaching ESL (English as a Second Language) classes, which I had mentioned in a different part of my AMCAS application. Basically, it consisted of three years of organizing and teaching a program meant to help adult members of the community learn to read, write, and speak English by allowing them to interact with English-speaking college students in a classroom setting. Now that the ESL reference will be clear to you, enjoy!


I knocked on the office door, pushing it open as I called out, "Anyone home?" Sharon sat with her back to the door, gray bun of hair bobbing in what appeared to be laughter. Chuckling, I asked, "What's so funny?" She gave a kick and as she spun around, I saw her movement for what it was. She was drenched in sweat from head to toe, every muscle in her fragile body contracting in an intense seizure. "N-n-need s-s-SUGAR," she stuttered through gritted teeth. I ran to the packed foyer and yelled, "Everyone listen! There's a woman in here having a seizure. I need anyone who has a drink with sugar in it to bring it here immediately!" Silence. "NOW!" I yelled. Three students responded. Back in the office, I cut the corner off of a juice box and held it up to Sharon's lips. I directed one of the students with a pop to have it ready when she finished the juice. I felt helpless, smoothing the sweaty hair from her face as she choked, continuing to seize. I later learned that she had absentmindedly given herself a second insulin injection after lunch, beginning to convulse before she realized her mistake. Throughout the situation I stayed calm while quickly and effectively directing others to do what was necessary.

My experience with Sharon spurred me to look into a career in a health care profession. I was intrigued by what I had seen in myself and wanted to gain more experience in a medical environment, so I pursued an internship shadowing medical interpreters at my local hospital. While observing the doctors, I found I could see myself in the role of a bilingual physician, speaking directly with and helping the patients. From my experience in ESL, I found I have a passion for serving the underserved. At the time, I thought one had to be premed in undergraduate studies to apply to medical school, so I gave up the idea until three years later. After getting married, I found out that my sister-in-law's husband had majored in German and Linguistics before attending medical school. He had gone back to school to fulfill his premed requirements, taken the MCAT and simply applied. After many conversations with my wife and long hours of thought and consideration, I decided to return to school to pursue a career as a physician.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Crazy Season

This little guy looks just about how I feel at the moment.
Some of you may have noticed, but I haven't been posting very frequently. The normal end-of-year craziness seems to be hopped up on Monster this year; both work and school seem to be busier than normal. A new software and hardware implementation at work means I've been working overtime almost every day for the past week. Normally, it's just a couple hours longer than normal, but I ended up coming in for six hours on Sunday night, then working a 13-hour shift yesterday from 1pm - 2am. YIKES. Add to that all the projects / papers / labs that are coming due this week before exams happen next week, and you've got one busy Justin. My interview at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health is a week from Friday, which is sort of a light at the end of the tunnel; I'll be taking a vacation day (and a half!) from work, stay at a hotel, experience another medical school, and meet some great people. I can't wait!

I promise I will try to update a bit more once things calm down a bit. Till then, gifts and well-wishes in the form of coffee and other caffeinated beverages will be warmly received.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Break, Games, and Biochemistry

This Thanksgiving break was SO relaxing. Nicole and I spent a lot of time relaxing with family, which was desperately needed. I learned a new game from my brother-in-law Jd (yes, I have my own secret way of naming people on here who I'm not sure how they would feel about me using their name) called Dominion. It is kind of like a mixture of Risk, Monopoly, and Magic the Gathering - all cards (no board) but the object of the game is to own all the property. INCREDIBLY fun, and definitely worth a look if you're trying to find a good game for someone this Christmas. I liked it so much, I immediately put it right at the top of my Christmas list... And the following day my mom may or may not have gotten it for me... And Nicole and I may or may not have played it with my mom and stepdad that night... Yeah, it's that good. The deal was that I could get it and we could play it that night, then I could decide whether or not to go without it until Christmas, unwrapping it on Christmas day. I actually decided to go without; I love opening presents, and I can't wait to essentially get that game as a gift a SECOND TIME. Awesome, it will be.

I also spent a ton of time over the weekend going back through glycolysis, gluconeogenesis, and metabolic regulation. That last one gave me a bit of trouble in lecture last week, but I've got it figured out now. I also just finished reading through tomorrow's lecture on the conversion of pyruvate to acetyl-CoA and the Citric Acid Cycle (CAC), and I'm feeling pretty pumped. Yes, it is tremendously nerdy to describe oneself as "pumped" about pyruvate conversion and the CAC. I'm ok with this. Note: I am on the cusp of another detailed review/explanation of something awesome that I am learning, so now is the time when anyone not interested in Biochemistry should zone out. We have already memorized the entire process of glycolysis, as shown here:
See at the bottom there? The product of glycolysis is pruvate, which is where we left off. Below is the reaction for converting pyruvate to acetyl-CoA in preparation for the CAC:
Seems simple, right? Well, you see that blue "pyruvate dehydrogenase complex" under the above reaction arrow? That's an enzyme composed of three protein subunits that act together to take a carbon dioxide molecule off of pyruvate, then smack on a CoA complex. Here's the AMAZING reaction mechanism for what happens at the pyruvate dehydrogenase complex - something without which we would be unable to function at the most basic of levels:
Now, CoA stands for Coenzyme A, and given that the below image is the actual structure of CoA, I'd say this is the most dramatic abbreviation I've seen so far.
Now that we've formed that useful little guy called acetyl CoA, we can actually start the CAC (remember, Citric Acid Cycle), given that it's the starting reagent:
Please note: every time you see a blue name on the inside of the reaction arrows, that is an enzyme. Grey boxes show the name of the process that is occurring at that step, the pink highlighting shows the atoms from the acetyl group (which originally came from glucose), and the orange shapes show the electron carrier molecules that will be used in the electron transport chain. That is what the next few days will be spent memorizing - all the enzymes, substrates, reaction mechanisms, and stoichiometric product ratios involved in this amazing process.

I just had a thought. You know how people play football for the fun of it, yet sometimes the training (and even in-game getting hit and such) process can be pretty painful? Even though they really do have fun with the strategy and skill involved in the game, there are unpleasant aspects too. I guess that is how I feel about this; it can be horribly tedious to memorize all of these tiny little details, but doing so is what let's me see how all the parts fit together later on and "play the game," if you will. Painful, but it prepares me, and when I get to the end, it feels good. Even though I know it is probably going to be pretty rough, I still get excited about the challenge, about the rewards, and about the fun that I can have with the right attitude. Tme to let the "fun" begin...

Monday, November 21, 2011

Interview Invitation!!!

So, today's good definitely outweighs the bad.

The Good:

After The Bad (see below), I opened up my inbox to find an invitation for an interview at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine in Madison! I'm super pumped because I didn't really think I had a shot at this school. In 2009 they only interviewed 496 out of a total of 3,137 applicants. Since I'm OOS (out of state), my odds were even slimmer; they only interviewed 130 out of a total of 2,504 OOS applicants. Wow, I'm such a stats nerd... Surprising, considering how little I enjoyed statistics... Anyway, let me just say that I'm very pleasantly surprised and honored to receive this invitation to interview. The extra bonus is that this time around it won't feel like my entire future is riding on that one interview, so I think I'll be able to relax a bit better. Maybe I won't forget my interviewer's NAME this time around... Yeah, I did that, and I was too embarrassed about it to say anything until now. Luckily it was my student interviewer and he reassured me that he didn't care at all - but that I should definitely not do that with my faculty interviewer.

The Bad (which doesn't seem so bad in the face of The Good; hence, the title of this post):

Got a Biochem exam back today - very poor performance. My first truly embarrassing performance on an exam since I went back to school in pursuit of this whole medical school thing almost three years ago... Yikes. I think I mentioned this in a previous post, but about 14% of the exam was on specific plasmid DNA structures and characteristics, particularly their roles in gene replication. We had (in my opinion) hardly covered it (maybe 15-20 minutes of one class period), so I had reviewed it just enough to be able to leave everything on that section of the test blank. I mean not even any good guesses - pure blankness. Terrible. Excuses, excuses, excuses. Suffice it to say that, from the class average, I should have studied that material more than I did; I underestimated its importance and spent my time on things that weren't covered. Such is life. That, plus the Analyt quiz that I took today was abysmal - thumbs down... Overall not a good day for tests / quizzes, but a GREAT day for med school progress nonetheless.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Glycolysis, Like Today, is Awesome

My wife is away in Chicago for the day, which means that I've had an entire day to do with whatever I wanted. I actually was incredibly productive! Here's what my day looked like:

1. I walked downtown and ate breakfast at a counter seat of a local diner while watching an episode of House M.D. on my iPad. I had an egg sandwich with bacon, and I spoke with a man named Tom who was mentally handicapped. When he noticed my iPad, he marveled. I was using bluetooth headphones at the time, so no cords. He was amazed at how the sound could travel to my ears without any cords.

"Are you listening to what's on the screen?"
"Yep, sure am." Patience. I took off my headphones and gave him my attention.
"Is it like, on cable or something?"
"No, actually, it's downloaded to the hard drive. It's saved on here."
"Ohhh, ok. How can you hear it without any cords??"

I rarely stop to think about how awesome something like this is, so I explained it to him as best I could without going into much detail. For those who know me, that was quite a feat. Regardless, he seemed impressed.

"You know lots about this stuff, don't you?" It wasn't really a question, but I answered anyway.
"I guess I do..." I smiled, not knowing what to say, exactly. He got a very pensive look on his face, furrowing his brow as he thought very hard about something. I waited for a bit, then almost turned back to put my headphones back on before he whispered softly, beckoning me closer.

"Do you think it would be possible to, you know, get all of someone's information, like their social security numbers and all, and put them into your - what was that, an iPad? - into your iPad and then hear everything that they're saying?" He was dead serious, but I played along, whispering my assurances that no, what he was suggesting was not possible.

"Are you sure? You're listening to them [gesturing at the paused screen] without any cords, so maybe they're listening to US without any cords..." He looked around warily at the walls. His simple, direct logic made me want to smile, but I wanted him to feel better, so I pointed out that there was nothing around us that could record what we were saying - nothing that could send "them" our words. I don't think he quite believed me, but he laughed anyway and we finished our meals. As I got up to leave, he said that next time, he could tell me about the new bathtub that he was having installed at his house. It's a real bathtub, not one of those FAKES. I honestly hope I bump into him again, as I'm very curious about what a fake bathtub is like, as well as what separates it from the "real" ones.
2. I got back home and vacuumed the apartment. Hooray, no more drifting dead brown dog cells piled up behind the doors!
3. Gave the dog a VERY thorough cleaning. That's two sudsings, mind you.
4. Took the dog on a long walk.
5. Ate dinner, played Halo Reach for a couple hours (first time in MONTHS - sue me), then hit the books. And that's where I've been for the past four hours - holed up in my school's science center. Here's a shot of my actual surroundings as I write this post:

Warning: do not read the rest of this post unless you are very interested in Biochemistry. If you don't like Biochem, this post will bore you terribly. I mean it. If that is you, please stop reading now and salvage what you can of your opinion of my blog. If you choose to continue reading... Well, I warned you.

Glycolysis is good stuff; it's the beginning of our cellular metabolic pathway. Another personally defining characteristic of glycolysis is that I have to memorize it up through pyruvate (no need for gluconeogenesis this time around) for my Biochem quiz on Monday. Those of you that have ever memorized metabolic pathways before know that the key is pure repetition. For me, that means going to a room with a whiteboard and doing it over and over and over until I can do ALL of it from memory. For glycolysis, taking glucose to pyruvate, this took a total of six repetitions. You'd be surprised how hard your brain will work to memorize something if it means you get to quit earlier.

Below is a 4x-speed video of me going through my sixth write-out of the pathway. Just for fun, and this statement may be my crowning glory of nerdhood, I did a voiceover talking my way through the pathway post-recording. And then modulated my voice to sound ridiculous. I don't know why; I guess I was just feeling goofy. Oh, how the levels of my reckless abandon reach new heights at 10:17pm...

I know I put it up here, but please don't watch this video. Come on, just do yourself a favor. I don't even know why I'm putting it up here. Guess it just seemed a waste to leave it sitting on my hard drive (or even worse, to delete it...), so why not share it with the world? Eesh.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Twenty Minute Lab = Perfect Morning

This is Naiya. She wonders why I was home so early today, and why I have had so much time to spend tugging on a rope with her. Well, it's because my Analytical Chemistry lab was only twenty minutes long today!! That's right, just twenty minutes of GC Mass Spectroscopy peak analysis, and I was out the door. As a result, I've gotten to spend an awesome morning with the pup. I was also able to do a bunch of dishes for the wife, which made her extra happy when she stopped in between classes. Follow that up with making and eating six cheesy scrambled eggs with toast and strawberry jam, and you've got a morning as close to perfect as they come.

Time to go to work soon, but I'll leave you with Savant Syndrome Fact #4:

In the book The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, Oliver Sacks wrote about twin autistic savant brothers named John and Michael. Even though they were unable to take care of themselves, they could intuitively calculate the day of the week for any date over a 40,000 year period.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Terror Is When Your Wife Gets Kidnapped.

My wife Nicole is 5 feet 0.5 inches tall. She likes to say she's 5' 1" but she's fooling nobody. She also weighs only about 102 pounds.

She's very small.

With that in mind, sit up and focus on the harsh glare of whatever screen holds my words as I tell you about how I learned the feeling of terror.


We live close enough to my work that I can ride my bike home for my lunch break. Sometimes my wife is home when I get there and we can eat lunch together. Yesterday, I arrived home and all of the lights were on. A tuna noodle casserole was out on the counter, ready to be eaten for dinner. My wife's computer was on the kitchen table along with her cell phone. Great, I thought, she's home! I took my coat off as I called out her name, walking further into the apartment.

"Nicole?" No answer other than my dog running to meet me from the living room.

Thinking that perhaps she was taking a nap (she's the heaviest sleeper you can imagine), I went into the bedroom. The bed was neatly made. I walked through the entire apartment. She wasn't there.


The cell phone on the table was strange. My wife never leaves her cell phone at home. Huh, I thought. She must have just forgotten it. Weird, but not a big deal. She probably just went to study with someone and forgot her phone. As I walked back into the kitchen, I noticed something. Nicole's school bag was sitting on the floor by the kitchen table. She never leaves that if she's going to study, whether at a coffee shop or with a friend somewhere. The only possibility was if she took her iPad in her purse and didn't need the rest of her stuff.

Getting a little worried, I hastily tore into her school bag. Her iPad was still there. Maybe she didn't go to study; maybe she just walked downtown to meet up with a friend and forgot her phone. I quickly checked, but no. Her purse and coat (she's always cold and never leaves without her coat) were still there. I scanned her Shelf of Shoes (she has a million pairs) and every single pair of shoes and boots that she has worn recently were still there. Her gloves were there, her hats and scarves were all there.

Her keys were gone from the key rack.

I tore out of the apartment; her bike was parked outside. I raced to the parking lot behind the building. It was dark out, but I ran through all the cars until I found hers. Lights off, hood cold. She wasn't inside. I ran back up to the apartment. We don't know any of our neighbors, so she wouldn't be in any of their apartments.

Getting desperate, I checked her phone. She had sent text messages to a friend just ten minutes before I got home. This meant she had been here a mere twenty minutes before, and now she was nowhere to be found.

I was starting to get really worried. Sweat was popping out of my forehead and my heart rate was increasing as fear ripped through me, releasing adrenaline to surge through my veins. A million thoughts raced through my mind, surging ahead of one another in leaps and bounds each second. Nicole is really small; it would be no problem for some nasty criminal dude to follow her into the apartment or knock on the door, then put a hand over her mouth and walk out the door. We don't have one of those peep holes in our door, so this last one was a real possibility. With that thought, every terrifying B&E scenario imaginable began to run through my mind. I ran through the apartment, looking for any sign of a struggle. Nothing; everything was in place.

I checked the shower and between the bed and the wall, in case she had somehow passed out or was unconscious somewhere. I convinced myself she wasn't in the apartment, and began to pace. I knew she couldn't be at the mailboxes in front of the apartment because I had passed them on my way in. However, the only explanation that I could think of was that she had walked out with her keys to get the mail and come back into the apartment. Then, with her back to the street as she opens the mailbox, someone grabs her and gets in a van and...

I sat down at the table to think, focusing on staying calm. I remember the feeling of my sweaty palms on the lacquered wood grain. Minutes passed as my mind raced. What should I do? Who should I call? The police? No, can't call the police; hasn't been long enough, and no evidence that she actually got taken. They'd just shrug it off, tell me to wait. (Man, I'm starting to sweat just remembering this). It had now been almost a half hour since I knew she had last been in the apartment, and everything was so very quiet. She was out in the cold somewhere, with nothing to keep her warm, with who knows what having happened. If anything else had been missing with her keys, but no - everything had been left here! The silence in the apartment was almost as thick as the panic that swelled within my chest. I swallowed hard to control it, wrapped it tightly inside me and forced it down.

I took stock of the situation:

1. My wife is gone.
2. My wife always leaves a note if she's going to be out when I'm coming home for dinner.
2. Her shoes, coats, purse, school stuff, laptop, iPad, cell phone - everything she would take if she were to go somewhere by her own free will was left in the apartment.
3. Her keys were gone, meaning she had taken them with her when she left. Maybe not... I checked the pockets of all of her coats. Nope, no keys. She took them with her.
4. The only thing I could conclude was that I did not know where my wife was. But maybe someone else does...

I was now desperate and scared enough to no longer care about seeming foolish. If you've ever reached that moment of panic after having lost someone, you might know how I felt. There's a certain reckless abandon that comes over you. I got her phone back out and called the friend with whom she had been texting right before she disappeared, just in case they had been planning on getting together, but hadn't mentioned it in the texts. No answer. Called again - still no answer. I checked her calendar, planner, and email just in case she had some meeting or appointment that I had forgotten about. At this point, I was grasping at straws.

I got her cell phone back out and scanned through her older texts. She was planning on meeting up with a friend at 8:00pm! But no, it was only just after 6:30pm, there's no way she had already left for that, especially not leaving everything behind the way she did.

That was it. I was out of options. I couldn't think of one more positive explanation for why she would have left the apartment, without wearing any shoes or a coat or anything, without coming right back in unless something prevented her from doing so. Something that kept her out there. Forcing myself to ignore a dense, swollen, tidal sense of panic, I started moving by rote. I got the leash for my dog Naiya, who at this point had caught the tense mood and was freaking out right along with me, though she surely had no clue why. I took her outside and let her do the Deuce. I went back inside.

And there was Nicole.

"Hey Hon-"

"Where WERE YOU!?" I almost exploded with relief, voice and hands shaking as I rushed over to wrap her in a hug.

"I went out for a run! It was so late, I thought you had taken your lunch break before I'd gotten home and that I'd missed you!" she stammered, caught off guard by my white face and overly emotional response. This made sense, as I normally take my "lunch" at around 4:30-5:30pm, working on second shift.

I looked down at her feet. Running shoes. She had been taking a break from running and hadn't gone for one since finishing a marathon last month. It hadn't even crossed my mind that she might have been out running. You don't wear a coat, scarf, hat, school bag, or purse when you go running.

But you do bring your keys.

Relief welled up within me, and I wrapped her in another huge hug, tighter than before. I don't think either of us realized just how scared I was until my tears began to mingle with her hair. I had convinced myself that I had gotten home just minutes after my wife had been taken from me. You might think that I was rash, jumping to foolish conclusions, but to me the evidence had just been so overwhelming that...

No, you know what? This is my blog, so I need make no excuses or waste my time hedging, trying to save face. Next time, I will more readily assume there's simply something I'm not seeing, but right now I'm just glad my wife was ok.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Good Reads & My Biochem Blunder

I follow a number of interesting blogs, and I finally whipped up the gumption to add a tidy list of them to my blog. You can find them off to the left, populating a column that was created just with them in mind. Thanks to Phenomenemily (who I've followed for a while) for the following link to a strange but deviously interesting story post from Inkfish (which I am now following):

I explained in a previous post what the following relates to. Check it out if you're confused.

Savant Syndrome Fact 4:
To savants who experience synesthesia, numbers can vary in their "degree of beauty." To Daniel Tammet, an extremely high-functioning or "prodigious" savant, a telephone number with the sequence 189 is much more beautiful than one with the sequence 116. A good comparison would be how, just as it would be impossible for a hearing person to explain to a deaf individual why the sounds of a chainsaw or nails on a chalkboard are horrible and grating noises, it is impossible for Tammet to explain to others why one number is more beautiful than another. It is as though he has an additional mental sense that most people lack. Not all savants experience numbers as having shapes, patterns, or varying levels of beauty.

I took my Biochemistry I exam this morning, and it was rough. I felt I had prepared pretty adequately for this one, and was just surprised at some of the material that comprised the bulk of the test. Seriously, 14 points on plasmid vector structure implementation in DNA replication? That was barely a blip on the daily lecture radar, yet it made up almost a letter grade and a half of the total points... Add that to the stuff that I really SHOULD have known and completely blanked on after that plasmid shake-up, and the result goes down in the books my first real Biochem Blunder of the semester. Eesh. Definitely not looking forward to getting this one back...

Friday, November 11, 2011

Anatomy Audit & Savant Story 3

Daniel Tammet is what is known as a prodigious savant; he can effortlessly compute vast sums in his head. He pictures numbers as mental shapes with different colors, patterns, motions, and even emotional and perceptual connotations. While he is on the autistic scale and has been diagnosed with Asberger's syndrome, he is very highly functioning. Unlike most savants, who are unable to communicate due to the severity of their autism, Tammet is able to vividly describe what it is like living with a mind like his. I am reading his book Born on a Blue Day, and I will be mentioning on my blog some of the interesting things that I read. Some days it will be about Daniel Tammet, while other days it might be about another savant story mentioned in his book. Here is today's excerpt:
When Daniel Tammet divides one number by another, he sees a pattern in his head of downward rotating spirals that get larger, curving and warping as they go. Different division problems make different patterns and sizes of spirals. By creating these mental pattern representations of numbers, his brain can intuitively and effortlessly "calculate" divisions like 13/97 (0.1340206...) to almost a hundred decimal places.

Today I got permission to audit an Anatomy lecture three times a week this coming semester!! My wife enjoyed this particular professor's style during lab last year, and this morning I got his official permission to sit in on his class. I'm really excited! I've dabbled in Netter's incredible work before, but I've never had the chance to take an anatomy course before. Plus, I'll just be auditing, so I won't have to do any of the homework, and nothing will stress me out. I'll even get to take the exams, and won't have to sweat it one bit! We'll see how I do without studying more than I want to in my "leisure" time... If nothing else, it will be a good introduction to the terminology (Latin! I wonder if my experience in Spanish will help me make connections and remember things...) and complexity before I hit the break-neck pace of medical school next year. Plus, Ax (you know who you are) will be taking the class, and Ar is considering auditing as well, so I might even have some buddies to sit next to.

Any suggestions if you've taken Anatomy before? What helped you absorb the most information at the fastest pace?

This'll be fun.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

A Glimpse of Savant Syndrome - Stories 1 & 2

I have discovered something that absolutely fascinates me. It's bothersome when people use outstanding descriptors like that lightly; not everything is fascinating. In using it now, I am not using it lightly.

Extreme intelligence is has always interested me, savant syndrome or not. Movies like Good Will Hunting and Rain Man, books like The Name of the Wind and Ender's Game or especially Ender's Shadow - they are just so interesting to me that I can hardly put them down. I am fortunate to have been blessed with a healthy and capable mind, but something about contemplating superintelligent minds really gets my imagination going. It never matters if the story is based in fact or fiction, I just like them.

I'm reading a book that fits right in with this theme. It's called Born On A Blue Day: Inside the Extraordinary Mind of an Autistic Savant, and it's an autobiography by Daniel Tammet, a man with savant syndrome - the same condition as that exhibited by Dustin Hoffman's character Raymond Babbitt in Rain Man. Most people with savant syndrome are so unable to communicate or interact with other people that they cannot express what is going on in their heads. Daniel Tammet is one of under a hundred known "prodigious savants" - extremely high-functioning savants.

It is incredible to get a glimpse like this into the life of someone that experiences numbers in their head as combinations of shapes, colors, emotions and sensations. For example, when he imagines the number 9 in his head, it gives him the feeling of something vast and immense in scale. He said that when he stood in Times Square, he felt like he was surrounded by 9s. Conversely, the number 581 is small, for a reason that even he can't explain. It's just the way it is, similar to how the noise of a chainsaw is horribly grating to me, while the sound of a harp is soothing. I have no way of explaining why I perceive those sounds the way I do. That's just how it is.

Some of the most fascinating stuff is how his brain works to calculate huge numbers effortlessly. Before reading this book, I always just thought that savants' brains were able to work a lot faster and more accurately than mine because of their greater memory, but this is something completely different. Tammet describes how he sees each number as a specific shape. To multiply the numbers together, he simply holds those shapes apart from one another and fills in the space between them. He then reads the shape of that filled-in space as a new number, and it is always the correct product of the first two numbers! Below is a graphic representation of what he does in his head.

Another example that really fascinated me was a quoted account about a blind man with savant syndrome from Dr. Darold Treffert's book Extraordinary People : Understanding Savant Syndrome:

"When he was asked how many grains of corn there would be in any one of 64 boxes, with 1 in the first, 2 in the second, 4 in the third, 8 in the fourth, and so on, he gave answers for the fourteenth (8,192), for the eighteenth (131,072) and the twenty-fourth (8,388,608) instantaneously, and he gave the figures for the forty-eighth box (140,737,488,355,328) in six seconds. He also gave the total in all 64 boxes correctly (18,446,744,073,709,551,616) in forty-five seconds."

As I read through this book, I'll be noting down particularly astounding examples of what the mind is capable of, including them at the end of my posts for a while. However, I want to make it clear that I understand that savant syndrome is more than amazing mental faculties. As Daniel Tammet makes clear in his book, the condition carries with it many debilitating and frustrating impairments, such as the necessity of eating exactly 45 grams of porridge in the morning, or the inability to calm down when stressed without counting numbers. I understand that this condition has many extremely negative sides to it, but the scientific side of me loves getting smashed flat by the mental impact of these Savant Stories, as I plan on calling them.

Most days I will choose one Savant Story of the Day, but for today I chose two:

- Daniel Tannet experiences all prime numbers as having a "smooth, pebble-like" quality when he holds them in his mind. As a result, he can recognize every prime number up to 9,973 automatically, without thought, because it exhibits this quality when he thinks about it.

- Daniel Tammet holds the current world record for quoting the most digits in the number π (3.14159...) to more than 22,514 digits. There's a reason that I can't link to a video of this online; I calculated that if he can speak three digits per second, this would take two hours, five minutes and 4.2 seconds of continuous speech, without stopping to breathe. For the record, take a look at what 22,514 digits looks like:

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Daft Punk, Exams, and Biochemical Awesomeness

Whoa, over 10,000 views! When did THAT happen?? Thanks for reading; it's very encouraging to see that people read what I write on here...

For the record, I love my classes (Analytical Chemistry and Biochemistry I). Not always equally (and not always consistently...), but for the most part I genuinely enjoy the time I spend learning.

Aaaaand following that warm-and-fuzzy thought, I just made myself laugh by thinking how good it is that they don't shorten Analytical Chemistry in the same way as Biochemistry was shortened from Biological Chemistry...

Yup, I'm in two classes, so normally I'd be expecting two exams right about now. What's that? I have three, you say?? That's right! Apparently my Analyt prof decided to make this exam twice as large and worth the same number of points, so now it spans two days. Why? The only reason I can find is that he didn't want to be choosy about what to include, so he's including EVERYTHING.

I could have done very well without that...

I've gotten back into listening to music while studying and working, and let me tell you - it's GREAT. I found a particularly energetic / pump-me-up album in Daft Punk's Tron Legacy R3CONFIGURED album. Not everyone's cup of tea I'm sure, but it did lend itself to an awesome, impromptu dance party with my wife... See #8. After this experience, I will be looking more heavily into remixed soundtracks for my study-listening pleasure.

Next Analyt exam is Friday, then a tasty Biochem exam on Monday. Mmm...

One last thing I'd like to mention (edit: "mention" was used lightly here... it would've been better said, "discuss in inordinate detail") corresponds to the images below that highlight membrane transport proteins.
These are some of my notes from Monday's lecture, and it was just another of those I-am-blown-away-by-the-neat-complexity-and-awesomeness-of-what-I-am-learning moments. The intricate biological machinery employed to monitor conditions across our cell membranes - it just floors me.

These transport proteins, made up of huge chains of amino acids folded together (see below picture for an artificially simple example), get plugged into the lipid bilayer in the appropriate amounts to construct and maintain extremely sensitive charge and concentration gradients. In the example above (blown up for better viewing) ATP (adenosine triphosphate) binds to a region of the protein located within the cell but attached to the membrane. ATP donates energy through the loss of an inorganic phosphate molecule to form ADP (adenosine diphosphate). This causes a conformational change in the protein, creating an opening in the cell membrane through which ions can travel.
On top of all that, as you can see in the calculations shown in my notes and in the problem below, given the concentration of solutes inside and outside the cell as well as the charge potential across the cell membrane, we can actually calculate how much free energy it takes to transport a given ion across the membrane! Very cool stuff. I'm looking forward to Biochemistry in med school, though mostly for the detail we'll see, not so much the pace at which we see it... Today my professor said they tend to cover the material at least five times as fast as we cover it in our lectures...


Sunday, November 6, 2011


If you were to drop in on my Biochem class in the morning, you would have the privilege and honor of seeing me walk in sporting this fashionable number:
Now, don't you either wish you were taking Biochem with me, or that you had someone in your life as awesome as my wife who could suggest that you purchase and wear similar finery?

I'm sure you do.

For the record, I have been incredibly excited about the possibility of attending MSU CHM. It felt like an incredibly great fit, and I know that I would be happy there. I'm still keeping my name in at six other schools, mostly because I've already paid them and I saved vacation days particularly for interviews, and partly because I am simply curious about how things will go with each of them. I would love the opportunity to interview at a few of my remaining schools and learn about them, because you never know what might happen. I have had one interview so far, and since that was the only medical school that I have visited, I would really enjoy seeing what some of the other schools are like.

Wish me luck this week, as I've got an exam that spans two lecture days - Wednesday and Friday in Analytical Chemistry. According to our professor, Wednesday will be the "easy" half, and Friday will be the hard half. Somehow, the exam is still the same number of points as all the other one-hour exams, yet takes twice as long... It'll be an experience, that is for sure...

It has been a while since I've had senioritis, but since the acceptance it has definitely set in a bit. Not as bad as for some of my classmates (ahem, Ax and Aw), but I have been feeling it...

And now, I will leave you with an awesome video created by some current MSU CHM students. Even if you're not into rap (I'm not) and don't understand all the medical terminology (I don't (yet!)) it is VERY worth your time. The lyrics are below the video. You may have to "click more" to enjoy...

Thursday, November 3, 2011

NO... I got hit BY a deer!!

In an event somewhat reminiscent of a particular episode of The Middle (see the video after the break), I was hit by a deer on my way home from work tonight.

Picture this: I'm cruising at a healthy, silent 21mph down the bike path that I take home every night. It splits off from the main road and runs a short way with the river on my left and a small stand of trees on my right before connecting to a bridge over the river. I was enjoying the cool night air while my bike's bright LED headlight cut through the spooky shadows from the overgrown trees when BLAMMO! A huge deer, probably 130 pounds bursts out of the trees on my right. It jumps right across my path, maybe two feet in front of my tire. Unfortunately, one of the first things I learned about deer when going through driver's education was that when you see one deer, you need to keep your eye out for more. I slammed on my brakes, but not soon enough. 

Another equally gargantuan deer was following close behind the first deer, beating it across the path as fast as it could. Given that it was a bit behind the first deer, I managed to make it a few more feet before it reached the middle of the path, causing it to SLAM into my right side. The best way that I can describe what happened next is that I and my whole bike bounced to the left, skidding to a stop after almost losing control. I was freaked out, thundering, afraid that the deer was going to turn and stomp me or something, so I tried out a war cry. Unfortunately, it came out as more of a wavering, sing-songy "WhoaaaaahhhheeeyyyyAAAHHH!!" Kind of like how you would imagine an eight-grade boy in the throes of puberty would sound when trying out vibrato for the first time. Not too intimidating. Unfazed, the deer barely stopped, simply hopping over my front wheel and charging into the watery brush at the edge of the river after its friend.

I paused. Did that really happen. As I looked after the deer, I heard a rustle in the brush behind me. 

Out of breath from pedaling with the throttle full-on the whole way home, I stepped inside my apartment. I called out, "Honey! I just got HIT BY A DEER!!"

"What?!?" she cried out, running into the kitchen. "You hit a deer??"

"No! I got hit BY a deer!"

Enjoy the video after the break.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Accepted to MSU College of Human Medicine

At 6:38pm this evening, I received a phone call from the Assistant Dean of Admissions from Michigan State University's College of Human Medicine telling me that the admissions committee had just met and voted to accept me into the 2012 entering class!! He was incredibly nice and excited for me - talk about the best phone call ever!!!

To slightly express my excitement, I will just say this: if you had been fishing on the river as I crossed the bridge on my silent electric bike tonight on my way home, you would have heard one long, drawn out, Doppler-Effect(ed) "YAAAAAAAAHOOOOOOOOO!!!!" echo victoriously across the night-shrouded waters.

At this time next year, I will be in medical school...!!!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

This Tuesday = Very Important

So here's the deal: I've applied to 15 med schools. I've interviewed at one so far, and I feel like it went well. Like many schools, this school posts a list of their "decision dates" online. These are the dates when, if you didn't get in or if you get waitlisted, you will receive an email telling you so.

However: I've done some light reading on the internet (, anyone?) and have found out that this particular admissions committee meets the Tuesday before each decision date to decide who will get accepted from recent groups of interviewees. Each decision date is on a Wednesday, the next one being November 2nd, which means that the next meeting of the admissions committee will be this coming Tuesday, November 1st.

After the adcom meetings end at 6pm on Tuesdays, the assistant dean of admissions personally calls all those that the committee voted to accept. He makes his calls between 6pm and 9pm; this information was confirmed by multiple sources who received phone calls on a previous Tuesday night. Apparently if you don't get a call and they reviewed your group during that meeting, you can expect either a rejection or waitlist email the following Wednesday morning.

The personal significance of this tidbit: Someone posted online that he/she interviewed on a later week than I did, and that the assistant dean of admissions told his/her interview group to expect a decision on the November 2 decision date. That means my group will likely be reviewed that day as well, since they review multiple interview groups during each adcom meeting. Needless to say, this coming Tuesday, November 1st between 6:00pm and 9:00pm I will be paying very, very close attention to my cell phone.


If I get a call, I'm in - officially part of the med school class of 2016. If not... well, for the sake of sanity I won't subscribe to those thought circles quite yet. Check back here on Tuesday night after 9:00pm because whatever happens, I'll be posting an update. Until then I wait, you wait, we all wait, and wait, and wait...

Let's hope I get a call, hey?

Thursday, October 27, 2011

This Is Why I Love Science

Sometimes there comes along a thing in my classes that takes my breath away. The amazingly complex and beautiful designs that form small parts of us, like the first picture below from my biochem lecture that shows the complex structures that can form as a result of complementarity in single-stranded mRNA molecules - things like this amaze me. That letter sequence is a series of nucleotides joined by glycosidic bonds; the letter actually represents the base that hangs off of the ribose (because it's RNA, not DNA) molecule within each of those nucleotides. For those non-biochemists out there, the reason this image highlights a guanine double H-bonded to a uracil is not because it's a mistake; normally guanine triple H-bonds to a cytosine (see the second image below), but there are certain exceptions to this as shown in this example; if you look closely in the macromolecular representation, these rare bonds are designated by dots instead of lines.

The second picture is an idealized representation of a chunk of DNA designed to highlight the specific purine-pyrimidine base-pairing of adenine with thymine and guanine with cytosine inherent between the double-stranded structures in our DNA. I have a quiz on this stuff tomorrow morning (well, both DNA and RT-PCR - Reverse Transcriptase Polymerase Chain Reaction), and I couldn't help but express some of my awe at the complexity of what goes into the smallest parts of our organic beings. To me, this level of blatant design shouts that there is a designer, which I believe to be God. This is the reason I studied a science (Physics) in the first place - to closely examine the order and design present in every niche of the world around and within us. This is the stuff that makes me wish I could study every science course in existence (minus statistics, which is more of a necessary evil than a science). This excitement is why I don't worry too much about the hard-science aspect of medical school... I worry a bit, but not too much; it's definitely not easy, but I like it.

Anyway, hopefully enough of my enthusiasm came through that you weren't bored, even if biomolecules and science aren't exactly your cups of tea. For those of you that feel the same way as I do - ISN'T THIS STUFF AWESOME?!?!!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

My Non-Traditional Pre-Med Schedule

Today, I got to see my wife for about eight minutes before we headed off to class. I won't see her again until after I get home around 11:30pm or so, once she's done with a study group (or something like that; her schedule's crazy too). That's a normal Wednesday.

I'm posting (check out down below) a copy of my schedule so you can get the gist of what I'm talking about. Keep in mind, this only shows the bare minimum of my daily plannings; it doesn't include things like meeting with professors, trips to the pet/grocery/bike store, group study/homework meetings and the like. Unplanned events get crammed into whatever area of white I can manage to find in layout. That is, whatever isn't taken up by eating, studying, sleeping (any nap over 20 minutes is AMAZING; I'd seriously pay to get a reliable, non-narcotic instant sleep button implanted in my forearm. My biggest problems at the moment with sleep are that 1.) It's REALLY hard to find enough white space in my schedule to come by enough sleep to make it worth attempting a nap, and 2.) most of the time when I try to nap for a few minutes, I can't manage to fall asleep.), or riding my awesomely slapped-together electric mountain bike to or from work/class.

Most days start between 6 and 8am, unless I get up earlier to study. That is very rare and only happens if I'm freaking about an exam or something. I'm trying to keep that to a minimum this semester. I think I've managed an actual breakfast once this week, as I've been dragging in bed for some reason. This behavior has been facilitated by the Quaker's "Oatmeal To Go" bars that Nicole bought this past weekend - VERY GOOD. Shower, clothes, backpack, coat(s) (it gets cold riding an electric bike at 25mph, and it's only going to get colder), take care of the dog and I'm out.

Oh, by the way, it's official - I put my car into storage a while ago, so my only form of transportation is my bike. I've ridden it for a total of 548 miles as of this morning, translating into a total savings over the past two months of $328.00, assuming an average gas cost of $3.75/gal and the $100/mo savings on insurance.

To remedy the not-seeing-my-wife drawback to being a non-traditional med school applicant is what we like to call "Doughnut Dates." Every Friday morning before class we sacrifice 1.5 hours of sleep in the name of romance to do something cheap together before class. We only actually go out for doughnuts one Friday each month, but it's awesome. Even if you're not incredibly busy, I'd highly recommend doing something similar. We both look forward to it all week!

Anyway - who knows if this schedule is the best way to go about attempting this whole process, but it's working so far. The bike thing might (WILL) get more difficult in the winter, but I'm up for the challenge. Alright, lunch (dinner?) break's over, so away I go... :)

Saturday, October 22, 2011

102.6 Fever = Sick

Woke up last night with a fever of 102.6°. Shaky and pretty weak, extremely tired. Being sick is no fun. I'm so lucky to have a wife that takes good care of me. Plus, it is very fun having her know what to do since she's becoming a nurse.

It sounds ridiculous, but I am so sore that it hurts to type. Luckily, I have Dragon Dictation so I don't have to type any of this. All I do is talk into my iPad, and it records everything I say almost flawlessly. It is a free app, and is incredibly useful when you don't feel like typing on your iPad screen.

Alright, time to get back to resting and getting better. Maybe I'll watch some Malcolm in the Middle on Netflix. Here's where I'll be for the rest of the day. Thanks, Nicole, for setting me up on the couch; it's just one small example of how well you take care of me.

Oh, one last thing. Progress with medical schools is moving along, slowly but surely. I will hopefully hear back about the results of my most recent interview within the next two weeks. Everything else is still up in the air.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Exam and Quiz Today

This week has been a blur. Nicole ran a Marathon last weekend, making me an extremely proud husband. Unfortunately, that also resulted in us not doing as much homework as we should have over the weekend, so this week have been playing catch-up. I have a Biochemistry I exam at 9:30am today, and I'm not feel feeling very prepared, despite hours of preparation full of work like this:

Midterm grades came out this week, and I am happy with them, but definitely don't want them to take a downward turn today. These pictures were taken last night as Nicole and I studied in the science center, since she has a tough exam this morning as well.

Once this exam is over, and after my Analytical Chem quiz is done, it is smooth sailing for the weekend. I finally got a secondary application quest from the University of Toledo; apparently they have been having some serious staffing issues. I was told on the phone that I should have received it in August, and they did not know why it wasn't sent, but that it would in no way affect their consideration of my application. So, I will hopefully be finishing that up this weekend. Wish me luck on today's tests!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Interview #1 - Recap

I know this is long overdue, and for that I am sorry. Life has been crazy recently, and I just haven't taken the time to write. Now, on to the recap.

First reaction - my interview went great! I felt like I clicked really well with both my interviewers (I had two - one faculty member and one current student), and the conversation flowed really smoothly.

One interesting aspect of both interviews was the relatively informal nature. Both of my interviewers went out of their way to show me that it was all right to relax, doing a great job of putting me at my ease. The questions were not what I was expecting, especially the one below, as I had already written an essay in response to this exact question for my secondary application.

"Give an example of a time when you were faced with an ethical dilemma and how you dealt with it."

I assumed that, since my interviewer had my secondary application in front of her (and it was covered in highlighting and markups) she probably wouldn't like it if I regurgitated that story to her. So, I told about how I know a man whose highest level of education was a short couple of years in elementary school in Mexico. He now works for the company where I am employed as a Human Resources technician, and is very superstitious when it comes to medicine. Everyone where I work knows that I am trying to become a physician, so naturally everyone immediately wants to discuss with me anything that vaguely borders on being a medical topic. This man in particular regularly cautions me about the dangers of things like how, if you eat Mexican pork, then drink milk, then take a shower in that specific order, you will surely die. If I am going to be a doctor, I need to know about many things like this that most doctors don't understand. He really wants to help me become a good physician. Many of his beliefs like this are harmless, but some can be dangerous, especially if he applies them to caring for members of his family - things like his belief that you need to take at least three cold showers (after which you allow yourself to dry slowly in open air) during the winter to avoid getting sick that spring.

My ethical dilemma comes into play in that I have a responsibility as an educated person to help inform him about the practices that might be dangerous to him or his family. However, I have to be careful about how I go about this because of the responsibilities inherent in my role as a Human Resources Technician. I need to maintain a respectful relationship with him so as to foster an atmosphere of trust, which can be hard to do if you tell someone, "Remember what you and your ancestors have been taught for generations - that thing you told me about the other day? Well, it's wrong, and might actually make you more likely to get sick." A delicate balance is needed if I am going to preserve the trust that will allow me to caution him in the future and have him give my words credence.

After I responded with the above, my interviewer then asked, "Now what if that patient came to you as a physician? What would you do?" I responded that, as his physician, my primary concern would be his health and well-being and that of his children, so I would be much more direct in firmly addressing the possible negative effects to good health that could arise from some of his practices. I would take care to explain everything to the best of my ability on his level of understanding, given his educational background, while still being informative and respectful.

Both of my interviewers were incredibly professional, and on the post-interview survey, I gave them flying colors. Going into it I was worried that, since this was my first medical school interview, I would make mistakes or be extra nervous. Fortunately, everything turned out to flow much more smoothly than I had anticipated, and I had an absolute blast. Now I just have to wait for the next "decision day" when they give phone calls to all those that got accepted. It could be as soon as the end of this week or as late as six weeks from now, but either way I'll have my answer relatively soon. Exciting, huh?

Granted, that's only one school out of the eleven (realistically ten; one school STILL hasn't sent me a secondary application request or a rejection), but still, it feels good to be at this stage with at least one school. I'll try to do better at keeping this thing updated in the future; no more week-long waits for an update after an interview, I promise. Thanks to all of you who have sent me encouraging emails and comments; I haven't been able to respond to all of them, but please know that they are MUCH appreciated! Thank you thank you thank you...

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Interview #1 Tomorrow

Tomorrow is my first med school interview. I've taken a vacation day from work and arranged to have my Analytical Chem lab covered. I've finished my homework and lab reports early, and took both an exam and quiz this past Monday, so I have nothing to study for. I've read up on this particular school, which wasn't hard because it happens to be one of my very top (possibly THE top) picks.

Last week I went to a practice interview with my school's Career Services office. They video recorded me so that I could see myself do things that you aren't supposed to do. For example, I said "Uh" and "Um" far, far too much. I also found out that I REALLY need to make my responses more concise. I was clocking in at about 3 minutes per answer, and answers should be about 30 seconds to a minute in length. My mock interviewer also told me that it's not good to start off a response with a leading word like, "Well" or "Hmm..." It's much better to just jump right into the question after preparing your answer. So, he recommended that I just take a 1-2 heartbeat break to compose my thoughts, then answer simply and directly. Shortening my answers will also help reduce the number of "uhs" that slip out.

I plan on going for a run in the morning tomorrow. Not only does it help me prepare mentally, it also makes my body much calmer, reducing the amount of twitchy energy that I have, which might otherwise seem like nervousness. Surprisingly, I am only a little nervous right now. That might change in the morning, but I'm feeling pretty good about it, and I'm optimistic that it will go well.

Just got back from a run with Naiya, watched some Malcolm in the Middle, and now it's time for a shower and some breakfast! In case you're wondering how I had all this free time, classes were cancelled for a Critical Issues symposium. I decided that I was more in need of some self-time than symposia talks, so I kicked it at home for today. Anyway, wish me luck for tomorrow!

Friday, September 30, 2011

24-Year Old Man Killed by Tooth Infection??

I read an unfortunate story on Medscape's news section (originally reported online here) earlier this week. It was about an aspiring paralegal who was also an out-of-work father. He was young - about the age of my younger brother. He got an infection in his third molar (wisdom tooth), and two weeks before his death doctors recommended that he have the tooth extracted. Since he didn't have insurance, he decided to try to ignore the pain.

Two weeks later, he started experiencing headaches and severe swelling, so he went to the emergency room. Doctors there wrote him prescriptions for pain medicine and antibiotics, but he could not afford both and ended up choosing the pain medication. The infection quickly spread to his brain, causing it to swell, resulting in his death.

Stories like these tend to give me a hard time. Sure, he made a bad decision in choosing the pain meds over the antibiotics, just hoping that the problem would go away on its own. He probably wasn't thinking straight; I don't know how much pain he was in, but he was probably willing to do just about anything to find some relief from the pain. However, if someone had just offered to pay for his antibiotic prescription, his six year old daughter would still have a father. I can't hold the hospital at fault; chances are, he just didn't fill the antibiotic prescription at Walgreens when he found out how much it would be without insurance.

The money isn't really the issue; it's the policies that are involved. I understand that hospitals cannot just offer to pay for everyone's prescriptions, and I am not advocating that they should. It just seems like there must be a better option in situations like these... I wonder - did his doctor do a good job of informing him of the risk (death, disability, etc.) if he allowed his infection to go untreated? Or did the doctor do his full duty, and the patient just decided to not trust his doctor because "they don't know what they're talking about?"

(As an aside, I got some hairs cut a few days ago. The woman doing the snipping was chatty, and I ended up giving an outline of the process one has to go through to become a doctor. She was flabbergasted at the time and resources that go into training doctors, laughing as she said, "Yeah, and after all that training, people say that doctors don't know what they're talking about." Sure, doctors are humans and make mistakes, but her point was that anyone who spends 7+ years of post baccalaureate training for their job probably knows a lot more than the average person, yet average people are constantly ridiculing physicians for "not knowing anything." Crazy...)

That's where the new health care law comes in. I have been trying to educate myself on it as best as I can (check out this great timeline of when different parts of the new legislature will come into play), and as I learn more I become more polarized. Some things look great (making it illegal to refuse to insure people with specific pre-existing conditions, requiring all plans to provide free preventative care services, like colonoscopies and mammograms, increasing govt. funding to institutions that provide preventative medicine cheaply), some not so great (mandating what certain primary care physicians can charge based on an assessment of the level of "value" of the care that they provide, transitioning from systems where patients and insurance companies pay for the individual services rendered to systems where patients pay one "package price," regardless of what services are rendered). I worry that it may create as many problems as it fixes due to a lack of foresight, but that's not really the point of this post.

The point is that deaths like this are pointless and SHOULD NOT HAPPEN - especially not in a place like Cincinnati, or anywhere else that literally has the easiest access on the planet to simple solutions like antibiotics. As much as I don't like the principle of it, one positive result of making it illegal (or making you pay a fine) for not having health insurance is that it will make things like this happen much less frequently. Additionally, if the government really can offer cheaper plans, people like the man in this story will be more capable of purchasing healthcare. As a taxpayer, I wouldn't mind paying a little more to fund a plan if it means that girls like that daughter get to grow up with their parents...

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