Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Bloody Wall Hotel - Our 3rd Honeymoon

This past weekend, Nicole and I celebrated our 2nd anniversary, or what I like to call our 3rd Honeymoon. I'm not sure why, but I like the idea of keeping things exciting and new-feeling by calling it that way.

The plan for the weekend was to split the weekend into two parts: one day of "roughing it" and one day of luxury. First we'd try out the new tent and hammock at a rustic campground in St. Helen, MI (one of the few places I found that would have available spaces on Memorial Day weekend) from Saturday to Sunday. Then, we'd pack up on Sunday and go to the Comfort Suites Lakeside Hotel at Houghton Lake.

First off, the camping went great. It was a lot of fun using the new gear; the MSR Holler 3p 4-season tent felt like luxury with two people and a dog. That's right - Naiya tagged along on the trip, and was a delight to have. Seriously, if there's a lower-maintenance pup out there, I have yet to see it. The hammock also worked out incredibly well. There are some pictures from the trip after the break (see below).

We spent Saturday night camping out, and other than an inordinate amount of biker-gang style dune buggy groups making a bunch of noise out in the Michigan wilderness, it went really smoothly. We packed up on Sunday and did some sight-seeing. I hadn't told Nicole what we would be doing during each leg of the trip - kept her guessing each time until right before we arrived. I also might have told her that we had 2.5+ hours of driving left when we were about 5 minutes from the hotel... Surprise!

Well, it would have been a great surprise if it weren't for a couple of minor details. First, the GPS brought us to the wrong hotel. When we got there, I had this sinking feeling in my gut, because it was definitely not what I had been expecting. I couldn't believe that this dinky hotel would have a room as awesome as the one that I had reserved, but I tried to put a good face on it. Nicole did her best to seem upbeat and excited, and for that I thank her, because in the last few minutes of the trip, I had told her what it was about, and had started to really talk the room up to her. It was going to have a big fireplace in the middle of the room, a heart-shaped jacuzzi and a huge four-poster bed, etc....

When we went inside and I said we had a reservation, they couldn't find us in the computer. I thought in my head, "Oh no, disaster has struck! How can this be happening." I had no idea what disaster was. They figured out that we were actually at the wrong hotel and gave us directions to get to the right one. We were both VERY relieved that we weren't staying at that hotel.

My hope restored that everything was going to work out just fine, we arrived at the correct hotel. They had our name on file, we checked in and received our room key, and went up to get settled. I continued to talk up the room, "Just wait until you see it - it's going to be awesome." You see, I had already seen pictures of it online, and I knew the room was huge and awesome, with a balcony view of the lake, a winding staircase from the sitting room to the master bedroom, large bathroom, the works. We would be getting chocolate-covered strawberries with a bottle of champagne and a $40 dinner credit in the hotel's restaurant.

When we got to the room, to my dismay it was a regular, slightly larger hotel room. It had a king-size bed and a hot tub, but the size and decor were nothing compared to what I had booked. I wasn't upset or angry, I just thought that an honest mistake had been made. I had been very descriptive when I booked the room, making sure to state very clearly that I wanted the room with the fireplace, heart-shaped jacuzzi, etc. The person I had spoke with on the telephone was the booking manager, and his first language was not English, so I thought there might have been some confusion. When I got to the desk and spoke with him regarding the matter, he told me that what I was describing was the honeymoon suite. I hadn't known that was what I had described, but I asked him if he recalled our conversation earlier in the week when I had described and booked the room over the phone. He assured me that he did, but that unfortunately the honeymoon suite was booked for the night. He would be happy to give me the room if it was available, but sadly, it was not.

Let me backtrack a bit. When I had booked the room over the phone, the conversation (with a man I will call "Dave") went something like this:

Me: "Hi, I'd like to book a room for this coming Sunday night. I'm looking at a picture of it online, and it has a big bed with a fireplace in the middle of the room, tile floors, a balcony overlooking the lake, and a heart-shaped jacuzzi."

Dave: "Oh yes, that no problem. Just one night?"

Me: "Yup, just the one night. Oh, and we'll have a dog with us - shorter, about 60 lbs. Is that ok?"

Dave: "Yes yes, no problem. That be a $20 charge have dog in your room, ok?"

Me: "All right, no problem. So the room is available then?"

Dave: "Actually, we have special right now. You get romance package, cost you same amount."

Me: "Really! What's in the romance package?"

Dave: "You get $40 for dinner in downstairs restaurant, chocolate covered strawberries and champagne delivered to your room, all for same price already."

Me: "That's awesome. And it's the same room? The one with the fireplace and everything?"

Dave: "Yes yes, same room, you want me to book?"

So, I booked the room. My credit card was charged the right amount, and I thought everything went off without a hitch. You can imagine my consternation when, upon hearing Dave tell me from behind the counter that the room had been booked for the weekend, I was a bit flabbergasted.

Me: "Why did you give someone else the room when I booked it earlier this week?"

Dave: "I'm sorry, it was already booked weeks ago."

Me: "Ok, then why did you allow me to book it earlier this week?"

Dave: "You did not book it earlier this week - you book the romance package with other room. I try to help you out because honeymoon suite already booked. If you want romance package with honeymoon suite, that cost more. I gladly give to you for same price, but it is already booked."

Me: "You never told me that the room was booked when I spoke with you on the phone. I specifically asked if the room with the romance package would be the same room with all the other features."

Dave: "I am sorry, there is nothing I can do." This was said with a rude attitude. You know how you can be really syrupy and polite at the beginning of a sentence, then end it really short and rude? It was like that.

I paused.

Me: "Just to clarify, you didn't book the room that I asked for over the phone. You booked a different one without telling me. This is our anniversary, and you booked a different room than the one I requested."

Dave: "I am sorry, there is nothing I can do." That's right; he just repeated exactly what he said before, in exactly the same tone, which had the same combination of politeness and rude attitude.

And then he just looked at me until I walked away. Normally, this kind of frustrating thing would make me really angry. God must have been watching over me, helping to calm me, because at no point did I get in any way mad or frustrated. I just felt calm and ready to make the best of things the whole time. I really appreciated this, because I think it made it a lot easier for Nicole. I went back up to the room and explained it to Nicole. We both felt pretty indignant, but apparently there was nothing to be done.

We were instructed to let the restaurant staff know that we had gotten the romance package when we went down to eat at 6:00pm. We also needed to let them know what time we would like our strawberries and stuff so that they could "be SURE" to have it ready on time. We requested that it be delivered to the room at 9:00pm. During the meal, our waitress assured us that she had the strawberries cooling in the back and they would be ready for us at 9:00pm.

When we finished our meal (which was very tasty), things were going pretty well. We realized that we had only spent $34.60 of our allotted $40, so I requested to use the remaining $5.40 as a tip for our waitress. I was informed that this was not allowed; if we wanted to tip the waitress, it would have to come out of our own pocket. So, we were forced to either stiff the waitress, which wasn't fair, as she had done a great job all night, or pay money even though we hadn't used the total value of the dinner voucher. As I didn't have any cash on me, I ended up asking them to add a 20% tip to our hotel bill if it would end up in her pocket. Otherwise, there was nothing I could do, as they wouldn't run my credit card just for the tip.

So, ever-so-slightly disgruntled, we returned to our room, picked Naiya up, and took her for a walk. It was very nice! Houghton Lake is a really big lake, though you can still see the opposite shore, so it didn't feel that large in comparison to Lake Michigan. When we got back to the room, I decided to test the jacuzzi to see how long it would take to fill up, and figured out it would take about an hour. This would be perfect, I thought. This way, it will be ready right on time when the strawberries get here.


9:00pm came and went. At 9:15pm, I called down to the front desk to ask if the strawberries/champagne would be arriving soon. The woman working the desk was astounded that they hadn't arrived on time, as she had made sure to remind the staff to bring them up. She apologized and told me that it would be right up. For the record, this woman (we'll call her Sheryl) did a great job all night.

9:30pm arrived and still no dice. I called again to ask what the deal was, and this time Sheryl got mad. She assured me she would go right down and it would be up in no time.

9:45pm came, and I went down to the front desk. I passed the woman bringing it up on a tray, and she apologized profusely. That would have been it, except for one thing: the jacuzzi that I had filled at 8:00pm was now cold and would have to be refilled. I started it refilling, then went to the front desk to ask Sheryl what had happened, and to let her know about the really long fill-time of the jacuzzi. She said she had no clue why it would take so long to fill ("One hour is ridiculous") and apologized for the strawberries, that she had no clue why it took them so long to get them upstairs. I told her not to worry about it, and that we were still going to have a nice night.

When I got upstairs, Nicole looked like she felt terrible as she held out the glasses and napkin to me. There were large brown smudges on the napkin, and the glasses had bright red lipstick on them. I just sighed and said, "Oh boy..." before turning and heading back downstairs. Keep in mind - our room was on the third floor (which is probably why the jacuzzi took so long to fill, what with reduced water pressure going up that distance of piping), so each trip took some time. I brought the glasses and napkin to Sheryl, and she continued to apologize profusely, "I can't believe this, that is disgusting, I'm so sorry, we'll get clean ones up to you right away."

When I went up to the room this time, I was again met by Nicole, only this time there was a more sickly cast to her face. She said, "Now, I don't know if it's nail polish or paint or blood, but..." She gestured to three very distinct, very red spots on the wall. They were completely dry. I said, "Well, paint or nail polish wouldn't come off with water, but blood would, so let's try something." I got some kleenex and wetted it with cool water, then daubed at one of the slightly-smaller-than-dime-sized spots on the wall, completely expecting nothing to come off. Instantly, it bled a bloody red onto the kleenex. It was most definitely blood.

I went back downstairs and explained the blood to Sheryl, and she again apologized profusely, taking the bloody kleenex and putting it in a sample enveloped marked with our room number. She asked if we would like a different room. Thinking about the prospect of returning to the room (which had a filling jacuzzi and all of our stuff unpacked) to tell Nicole that we needed to pack up our stuff, I said no, but that it wasn't very romantic now that we knew there was some strange person's blood on our wall, so we would appreciate it if someone would at least clean the wall. She came up to clean the wall, and brought our clean glasses and napkin with her. By the time everything was clean and we had the room to ourselves again, it was about 11:00pm and, though the jacuzzi was almost full, the strawberries' (which were actually delivered fondue-style in the chocolate with wooden sticks stuck in them) chocolate had cooled and hardened, so that we couldn't get the strawberries out. The chocolate was just a rock-solid blob cementing the strawberries in the bowl. We microwaved it to get the chocolate to soften up, but that just made the strawberries fall apart. Not too appetizing.

Anyway, the following morning I spoke with the manager, who just happened to be Dave's boss - let's call her "Judy." Apparently, Sheryl had reported the weird thing with the restaurant (apparently it was under separate management) and the strawberries being late, but forgot to mention the blood and the fact that they booked us a different room while telling us the room I asked for was available. We filled Judy in on the details, and she was very nice and apologetic and said she would call down to Dave and tell him to give us a discount. I also mentioned Dave's attitude from the day before. As it turns out, Dave was the owner's cousin (surprise surprise), and they had been getting a lot of complaints lately. Judy (who was Dave's boss) asked me to please fill out a comment card describing my interaction with him, since "We are hoping to do some... restructuring... and that would really help."

When we got down to Dave at the front to check out, he pulled up our info and pretended as though he was going to check us out like normal. Then, he put on a big smile and said, "Tell you what. I know you had some troubles yesterday, so I'm going to see what I can do." He typed for a few seconds. "Yes, ok, here you go. I give you a $50 discount on your room rate, just for you. That's the best that I can do."

I paused, knowing Judy had just given him a call from her cell, instructing him to do this.

Me: "So, you're doing this for me, just because you want to?"

Dave: "That's right, and I hope you come stay with us again."

Me: "I know that Judy just called you on the phone and told you to give us a discount. I spoke with her in the hallway about everything that happened, so please don't tell me you're just doing this to be nice."

Silence. (Luckily, Nicole went off looking for comment cards around the foyer so she wasn't embarrassed). Dave said nothing, only looked stone-faced as he handed me the printed receipt to sign. I signed, then said, "One more thing. Judy said there were comment cards down here to fill out. Do you know where one is?"

Dave: "Oh, no, those are now down here. The comment cards are up in the rooms." I'm sure he said this knowing that we were not going back up to the room. I'm also sure that there were no comment cards in the room; I had looked the previous night.

RIGHT THEN (and I could have just kissed her for this), Nicole walked up with a comment card she had found on a table off to the side. I could almost see Dave's jaw clench when he saw it. I smiled and began to fill it out with scathing accuracy right there in front of him. We left without saying another word. In the end, both Nicole and I agreed that with everything that happened, it was definitely not worth what we paid, even with the discount. Even though it was all probably a fluke, we definitely won't be going back there.

To top it all off, last night we realized that I left a pair of khakis and a button-up in the closet of the hotel. When we called them to see if they could mail it to us, they said that they had a shirt and pants that a maid turned in, but since the maid had not written the room number down in which they were found, the couldn't verify that they were truly our pants, and we'd have to call back the following day to speak with a manager.

I just realized that I forgot to do that today. Awesome.

So, that's the story of our Bloody Wall Hotel 2nd Anniversary / 3rd Honeymoon. As I remarked to Nicole on our way out of the hotel parking lot, "At least this way there's nowhere to go but up for next year!"

Friday, May 27, 2011

Physician Specialties <--> Specialty Physicians

This is something I'm sure I've only just begun to learn. Right now, the realm of physician specialties feels incredibly vast. There is so much variation to what you can do as a doctor, all depending on the specialty that you choose! I know that I want to be a doctor. I feel that this is what I am meant to do. But how do I go about bringing that knowledge and feeling to effect?

Obviously, everyone's personality is different. Bankers are different from pilots and comedians are (very, haha) different from accountants - believe me, I know lots of accountants... My point is, different careers demand different characteristics. If there's one thing I've learned from shadowing the small variety of physicians that I have, it's that they are all very different. The ways in which they differ can be subtle as well as glaring. Everything from bedside manner to diagnostic techniques and problem-solving approach to patience will vary from person to person and specialty to specialty. A general surgeon or cardiologist who grows to know his or her patients will probably exercise different habits than an emergency room physician who does not usually form long-term relationships with patients. A much greater importance is placed on procedural skill and manual dexterity for surgeons than for other doctors in other specialties. I would assume that the opposite is probably true of internal medicine physicians; logical deduction and skills in diagnosis would be much more highly stressed. Naturally, differences in specialty such as these would result in the attraction of very different people displaying similarly different personalities. It takes a particular type of person to go through medical school and specialize in neurology, then be completely content to analyze charts of sleep study data as a sleep specialist; most patient interaction comes when the patient is unconscious, or in the follow-up interview where those charts and tables are discussed.

The question is, with which specialty does my personality fit the best? It's one thing to want to go into a particular specialty, but I'm going to need to honestly ask myself if it fits well with my behavioral tendencies and characteristics. I'm not sure I want to form long-term relationships with patients, but not for a bad reason. The thing is, I find it very easy to care very deeply for and form relationships with other people. I worry sometimes that this will cause me to take it much harder if I lose a patient, because I will have formed a stronger bond with them. I like the idea of helping people get better and live their lives, but I feel like it might be easier to move when a patient dies if I don't allow myself the chance to get to know them as much. I'm not sure if I'm going the right way with that logic or not; perhaps the ease with which I care for people would make me a better physician, and I simply underestimate my ability to move on after the death of the hypothetical patient that I would have grown to know on a more personal level.

*Mental shake.* I'm getting way ahead of myself. After all, I haven't even gotten my MCAT scores back yet, let alone finished the application process or gotten any interviews... Eesh.

Yesterday someone asked me, "What will you do if you don't get in?" Honestly, I hadn't given it much thought yet, but I responded, "I'll apply again next year, and if I don't get in then, I'll figure it out then." Worst case scenario? I keep working and living with Nicole as she starts her first year of the nursing program while I go through the application process again - and that's not that bad of a scenario, for a worst case!

The truth is, I haven't felt this solid about a decision very often in life, so I don't give alternatives much thought. I felt (and feel) the same way about marrying Nicole as I did (and do) about following Christ; it's what I felt I should do with my life, and I will never regret it. Decisions like these come to define us, both in our own minds and in the minds of others. They're not to be made lightly, but sometimes you just know. For more reasons than you can't always articulate, you just know. I know that I want to be a Christian. I know I want to be Nicole's husband. I know I want to be a doctor. I also know that (someday) I want to be a father, but that's a topic for another post...

ENO (Eagle's Nest Outfitters) Doublenest Backpacking Hammock

So we got lots of points on Moosejaw.com from buying our tent and water filter, and with them we were able to get an ENO Double Hammock (and some fleece that Nicole wanted) for FREE! Plus, after we found out that it was actually cheaper on Amazon.com, Moosejaw refunded us the difference in price, which was awfully nice of them. This hammock is SWEET, and even though you'll need a little extra rope to throw around the trees at either end, it's incredibly convenient. It comes with two heavy-duty carabiners attached to either end that can be clipped on to whatever rope you have looped around a tree. The hammock itself weighs almost nothing (just 22oz, including the carabiners), and packs down to about the size of my two fists. It holds up to 400 pounds with no complaints - way more than enough to hold me and Nicole. We got a navy/royal blue one, and it looks awesome. I can't wait to break this out after a long hike. Talk about comfort! Something tells me this will be bliss to sleep in, even if all you do is toss your sleeping bag in it. It would also be a SWEET gift for anyone who likes camping or backpacking; I was actually planning on asking for it for my birthday this June if we hadn't gotten it this way.

So there you have it. I added a link to Amazon's product page in case you want to check it out, for yourself or someone else. Even if you're not going camping or hiking any time soon, this would be a great hammock to string up in the yard, since it's so light and compact. It would be really easy to put up and take down instead of one of those hugely heavy canvas outdoor hammocks. As soon as I test it out, I'll get some action shots put up on here...

Thursday, May 26, 2011


So, it turns out, we have ants. The below video (see jump break) was made from pictures taken (automatically) every 30 seconds for about 11.5 hours. What you see is the corner of the window in our bedroom, where luckily we still have the winterization plastic applied to the window. The little chunks of stuff are ant killer food that is designed so that they take it back to their little home to eat/share it, then they start DYING. At the beginning, there are only a few dead 'uns. Wait till the 0:30 mark for the first wave of "food poisoning" to hit. About eight seconds after that, they really start going crazy...

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Specialty Thoughts

A lot of people have asked me what kind of doctor I want to be. Most often, it's the first question out of someone's mouth after they discover that I am working toward applying to medical school. I don't know how it is for everyone else, but at this point in my journey to becoming a doctor, I am pretty clueless about where I'm going to end up. Unfortunately, that's not for lack of consideration...

I have shadowed a number of different physicians in different specialties. I've spent four hours each shadowing a cardiologist, a general surgeon and a sleep specialist. I haven't yet had a chance to shadow anyone in family / internal medicine, and I'd like to, so if you know anyone... ;-) I've also spent almost 30 hours shadowing an emergency room physician. All of them were very enlightening experiences, but the imbalance leaves me with a bit of a problem. You see, I find myself identifying with the ER experience the most, but I don't know if that's because it's truly where I should end up, or if it's simply because that's where I've spent the most time so far. I've also spent about 150 hours in the emergency department as a volunteer.

I enjoyed the other experiences as well. I could see myself enjoying a wide variety of physician specialties. The heart is an amazing organ, and it astounded me how much the cardiologist I shadowed was able to understand from a simple ECG printout. Plus, the heart catheterization that I attended bedside was just awesome; watching him run a line up through someone's femoral artery into their heart to release a contrast dye that gave a high resolution, real-time, instantly-viewable video of how their blood was flowing through their heart was one of the coolest things I've ever seen. He said he usually does 1-2 heart catheterizations each day. I'm sure it becomes old-hat eventually, but it was very cool to see.

The surgeries that I watched with the general surgeons were also very enlightening. I learned that I don't get sick easily. I was surprised by two of my senses during the procedures- sight and smells. You never really think about the wide range of color you see inside someone's chest cavity, especially how vivid yellow adipose (fat) tissue can be. The other is the smell, specifically of burning flesh. What most people don't know is that there is a lot of burning that goes on in a lot of surgery because the surgeon has to cauterize different areas as they cut so as to minimize the patient's loss of blood. I had a blast talking with the surgeon, asking questions occasionally while she worked. It was really interesting, but again, I can see how it could become routine to be a general surgeon. There's a lot of adrenaline involved, knowing you're INSIDE someone's chest, but I don't know how I would feel about doing something like that long-term.

I think what attracts me to emergency medicine the most at this point is the variation in the work. Most of your time, at least in a small-town emergency department like Holland Hospital, is spent on smaller things like fevers, stomachaches, concussions, broken noses, cuts, broken bones and that sort of thing. However, every once in a while, you'll have a trauma situation come in, and then everything gets crazy. A controlled crazy, an intense, interesting crazy, but very definitely crazy. It's time to perform. That person's life depends on whether or not you as the attending physician know your stuff. You have to know how everything is connected, how one drug interacts with another, how the patient's previous medical history (or whatever you happen to have access to) plays into the current situation, and a dozen dozen other details. And the thing is, once you get everything under control, it's not the end of your day; you still have to go back to the rest of your patients. You can go right from an intense, critical-condition situation right into a room with someone who has a frustratingly persistent cough. I found that polarized dynamic to be fairly intriguing.

I think what probably attracts me the most about emergency medicine is the mixture of hands-on procedures and diagnosis that the emergency physician needs to do. While they might not be actually setting the bones (they call in a bone specialist to do that and apply the cast), they might go from resuscitating someone who is having a heart attack or helping stabilize a car accident victim to trying to figure out why some other guy has intermittent pulses of level 10 pain in his abdomen. Clinical procedures are regularly mixed in with problem-solving and diagnosis. I like the idea of doing both, and while this mixture might be present in the daily work of other physician specialties, I'm not aware of it at the moment. So, at this point, emergency medicine retains a tentative hold on first place in my list of potential specialties. It will be really interesting (however many years from now I actually make a decision) to see what I end up picking, then look back on my thought process at this point and see how much has changed or stayed the same.

New Tent - MSR Holler

Our tent came in the mail today! We got an MSR Holler tent, and it is the best tent I've ever been inside. It's light and durable enough to be our backpacking tent, yet it's also big enough that we won't feel stifled if we use it for regular camping. It can be set up using just the footprint if we want to go ultra-light. The vestibules are sweet, and I really like the gear loft inside. The tent hangs from the poles, of which there are only two, one hubbed and one standard. The rain fly drapes over the poles perfectly, so that the rainfly never actually touches the inner tent. In short, it's perfect. Click the jump break at the end to check out the pictures; I'll be doing it like this in the future so that the initial pages load faster.

We also got a water filtration system which is pretty sweet. It's gravity controlled, so no pumping endlessly from a stream for us! All I have to do is fill the "dirty" bag up with water and hang it higher than the "clean" bag. Gravity pulls water from the dirty bag through an in-line filter before depositing it in the clean bag, ready to drink! To clean the filter, I just lift the clean bag and lower the dirty back and let water back-flush through the filter for four seconds, and it's done! It's called a Platypus Gravity Works filter, and it's awesome. It weighs less than most pump filters, and will clean a liter of water in about 2.5 minutes. I tested it on our tap water today, and it went a bunch faster than that. I'm assuming it's talking about nasty, silty water taking a longer time.

Best of all, with the points that we got from buying these things off of Moosejaw, we got a free $89 backpacking / camping hammock! So cool! I'm very excited to use that on our next trip, which will be a five-day treck through the Porcupine "mountains" along the northwestern coast of Michigan's upper peninsula. We'll be hitting Lake of the Clouds along the way, and I can't wait. The trip will be from August 5th - 11th, and I think there will be a total of nine of us going. It's the same group (Mike, Kelly, Darren and Susanne) with which Nicole and I hiked the 47-mile Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore last year, plus three people (Josh and Jamie and Josh's brother). I'm not sure how long the trail is this year, but I think it's around 30 miles. So, quite a bit easier than last year, but it will be hillier, so that will be interesting...

I used some of my allowance and bought a special case for our camera that will let me carry it on the trip. It attaches to the waist strap of my hiking pack, and even has its own waterproof rainfly in the (likely) event of a downpour. This should help me get some great pictures of that trip to share, so be looking forward to that! It's basically a glove for the camera that opens at the top, giving me quick access to the camera. That's right - QUICK ACCESS. That way, if I see a bear, I'll be snapping pictures of it way before it rips off my leg.

One last thing - Nicole's and my 2nd anniversary is this weekend. Can you believe it? I'm not going to say anything about where we're going or what we're doing because Nicole doesn't know yet. Something tells me it would ruin things for her if one of you let it slip... It's going to be tons of fun and not a little bit played-by-ear, as I didn't start planning it until this past Saturday afternoon... That's one thing about having your anniversary on Memorial Day weekend; EVERYONE is making plans for that weekend. In the future, we might stagger our anniversary plans to avoid the crush...

I'm still figuring out my whole "blogging style," in case you can't tell. I don't know what I like reading yet. Believe it or not, this is mostly for me, not for you. I love it when I can keep people updated on how things are going in my life, and this has been proving a great tool for doing that. So, if you care enough to read, I do want it to be enjoyable for you. However, that being said, probably the only one to go back and read these posts ten years from now will be me. I'll either have made it and will be a doctor by then, or God will have led me in some other direction that he has planned out for me. Either way, I'm going to want to look back and see all the little stops on the way that led me to where I am. The point is, I will be the one reading it, and I really don't want to be bored by my own writing. So, I'm still trying to work out a way of doing this that serves both of these goals equally: writing to keep others informed in an enjoyable way, and writing for my future self's retrospective pleasure. Thanks for reading, and if you want to marvel at something for a bit, I'd suggest just taking a look at your hands. Isn't it amazing how they respond to your thoughts? How you can close your eyes and feel what they feel? Isn't it amazing how much we take for granted in all the little functions that are constantly being carried out by our bodies? Think about the awesome gift that God gave you in that body. That's something that I've thought about a lot lately, and I will definitely be writing a post on it later. Until then, click below to see those pictures that I mentioned earlier and probably weren't expecting anymore and are now surprised to be seeing.

Monday, May 23, 2011

And Now, The Waiting: MCAT results still 29 days away (0)...

The problem is, I might be going mad (0).

Before I continue on with this post, I would like to promise - both to myself and to you, and for no other reason than that it will be interesting - that I won't go back and delete anything that I write for the rest of this post (1). Normally, I write lots of cool stuff, then take it down for fear of revealing the internally-raging tempest that comprises my thoughts (2). For your sake, I hope you can come to figure out what these numbers mean, otherwise it will probably drive you nuts (1). No, they're not random, and yes, that means there's a pattern (0). I'll correct spelling and other mundane mistakes, but I won't take out the content (1). This time, I'd like you to know my inner storm, so I'm keeping it all just exactly the way it spills out (1). If this goes well, I'll consider continuing to try and always post posts significantly similar to those that take tricky turns and allow unexpected usage of overtly even expressions of outrageously paired pairings aimed at amazing alliteration (16).

Continuing (0):

You see, I have this tendency toward impatience (1). Not so much about the little things - waiting for my accidentally-close-cropped finger/toenails to grow back in, chewing on a saltine cracker long enough for my mouth's salivary amylase to turn the starches into glucose and make it taste sugary, or waiting for Nicole's leftovers to get old enough that she doesn't want them anymore so that I can eat them (2). For those things, I usually find it pretty easy to be patient (1). However, with the somewhat LARGER bits of life that come much fewer and further between, this is not so much the case (0). How should I say it (0)... For the bigger deals, I tend to mentally maul them to death, and a tough, tasteless, bland death at that (4). You know what it's like when you chew a piece of gum for way, way too long (1)? It's like that, only in my brain, and it has only been two days since I took the test (1). I have tried distracting myself, and I've been successful for several minutes in a row a couple of times, but as soon as my current task is complete, there's that sugarless piece of Bazooka Joe just sitting like a dense rock inside my skull (1).

A little bit ago, I tried looking up other peoples' reactions to their MCAT scores (0). There's a forum online where people talk anonymously about how they were doing on the practice tests leading up to the real deal, how they were preparing and studying, how they ended up scoring, and whether or not they should retake the test (1). Now, if I continue the trend in scores that I had been displaying during the practice test sequence, I won't be retaking the test (2). In fact, I would be ecstatic - not because my scores were incredible, but because I would get in somewhere (0). Unfortunately, I kind started to drive myself crazy, reading probably 150+ posts by people running the whole gamut of practice and real score combinations (0). Many people had lower practice test scores than I did, and some had higher scores (1). However, some who had practice test scores like mine leading up to the day-of ended up doing really poorly (1). That's not cool (0). I'm hoping and praying that I will end up like one of those who did just like they had during the practice tests (0). The thing is, I never felt good about my practice test scores during those few moments between finishing and clicking "Next" to see my actual scores (1). In fact, I totally DREADED that moment of clicking that terrible "Next" button because every time, I was SURE that my score had to be worse than the last time I took a practice test (1). That is just like how I feel right now (0). The difference is that this moment is lasting 31 days instead of 3.1 seconds (1). The result: a Justin who thinks himself in neat little circles about 118 times per day (0). I told myself, "You gotta not think about this," and since I was getting excessively wound up by my inability to do anything but that, I decided to write this post (0).

So, I think you see my dilemma (0). The good news is that if you would like to help, there's something you can do (0)! Whenever you feel like it, please try to distract me (1). Send me loads of funny or tragic or scary or stupid stuff in the form of emails, comic strips, news stories, viral videos or text messages (2). I would even enjoy any exceptionally nasty comments you could come up with (2). I'd rather spend my time writing emails trying to reply to snide remarks about my nostril size than spend it thinking over every single question that I was instructed to not remember but just can't seem to help remembering, wondering if the number correct will tally up high enough over the number incorrect to make things turn out well (1). Pray that I don't drive Nicole insane, too (1). I tend to be more crotchety and irritable and old-man-on-his-porch-with-his-rifle-and-rocking-chair-telling-kids-to-GET-OFF-MY-LAWN-ish when I've got something like this on my mind, which is really not cool (1). Someone who is good at woodworking could make her a slap paddle to use (0). You know, something like one of those big foam fingers you get at sporting events, only made out of really durable wood, and with an extendable handle so she can just smack me with it from wherever she's standing if I start worrying that tasteless mental gum with my brain teeth (3)...

Now I'm starting to ramble (though I'm sure it won't be the last time), and I haven't even mentioned everything I'd like to (0)! Today, Nicole and I had a GREAT morning (0). It was very pleasantly distracting, and didn't even feel like a Monday morning (1). We went to Jacki's Place, a small restaurant about 1.5 miles from our house that specializes in good breakfasts for not too much money (0). That made me happy; it was close by (not much gas spent to get there), it was very tasty (I loved me a Hungry Man Special) and it was CHEAP (about $16.00 for all the breakfast we could eat, including tip!) (1)! After that, we took Naiya to the pet store for more dog food, a (Nyla)bone that she could eat (since, after her bout with pancreatitis, she is no longer allowed rawhide bones) and some treats that are coordinately conducive to her disadvantageous diet yet taste like peanut butter, an additional delectable delicacy outrageously outlawed by both treacherously tenable and annoying digestive dispositions (11). ALLITERATION AGAIN (1)!

I guess it wasn't that outrageous of a morning; after all, nothing new happened, like finding a talking puppy who knew my name and wanted to be my friend or seeing solar eclipses or figuring out a way to store gravity in some kind of awesome gravity battery - "A Convenient Solution to your Gravity Needs - for the moments when you find yourself 'unattractive.'", but I loved it anyway (3). My morning was great though, just being outside, driving around, not worrying about getting back to study or do anything in particular, and spending some quality time with "my girls," as Nicole likes to put it (2). So yeah, it was a great morning this morning (0). It also helped that my car has been getting some GREAT gas mileage since I had the air filter replaced (0). Normally, I get around 220-240 miles on a tank of gas (around 12 gallons) (0). Right now, I'm on mile 281 and the little bar is still a bit above the empty line (0)! At first, I thought that it might be a combination of the fact that I got the air filter replaced and I decided to try out the premium gasoline because I heard that it might give some cars better gas mileage (2). After actually doing a little reading, I found out that this wouldn't be the case with my car, as it only really makes a difference for the higher-end, high compression engines like big V8s or the nicer Lexus SUVs (2). For my '04 CR-V (who is named Swarley, by the way; like Charley, but better), more expensive gas is just more expensive gas (0). So, the better mileage is apparently completely due to my new air filter (0)! So, for those of you that haven't gotten an air filter replaced in 2+ years, you might want to give that a try; it actually makes a difference (1).

As far as plans for the rest of the week go, I think I'm going to let strangers put thin pieces of metal through Naiya's skin while squirting highly-researched chemicals throughout them into her bloodstream (0). It's been too long since her last visit, and I know how she loves it so (0). I might also get some of my more lengthy follicles sliced down to a more agreeable tip-to-scalp distance, as that tends to help me appear less like a wandering vagabond (1). Other than that, I got Portal 2 for Mac, which should be a very fun game that will provide me with a greater amount of mental stimulation than most video games; not only is it challenging control-wise, but it's tough just wrapping your mind around it in terms of spatial comprehension (2). It causes you to regularly readjust your concept of "down," something that most adults whose professions involve equipment other than the trapeze don't have to do on a regular basis (2). Seriously, if you like video games or science fiction, you should try it, or at least check out some of the trailers here (1). It's amazing how awesome video games have come to look during in-game play (0)... This game has better in-game graphics than the best movie segments of any game older than two years (2). It has been several years since I last bought or played a computer game, so it has been a lot of fun seeing what a more recent game is capable of (0). Granted, I only just started the first level last night, but still - amazing (1).

With that, I think I will get going (0). You see, I wish I could write so much more - about the new-egg-drop-soup-looking laundry detergent that Nicole made and I (with some happy success!) used to wash a load of laundry the other day, or the awesome discovery that it only costs us $5.34 per MONTH to run our fan every night (I have a remote for it, which is awesome), or even about how the belligerent moles in our backyard are really starting to piss me off with their insufferable insistence upon mounding the earth up from beneath atop my newly-planted grass seed, but unfortunately I cannot (3). The thing is, I feel something detestable beginning to wriggle its way up through my peripheral brain folds toward the light of conscious thought (2). It's a stubbornly resilient monster, what with its refusal to be replaced by any of those more welcome thought-beasts, absorbing each of them at the very instant they are tossed up by the waning defenses of my subconscious (1). Worst of all, the wretched jerk has a mental taste despairingly identical to that of 8-inning-old Big League chew in the mouth of a middle school outfielder - and not the nice grape kind, but the nasty cherry kind, so that when all the taste is gone, even the memory of the taste flirts in a cloying fashion with my uvula, fumbling amidst my gag reflexes like a man-handled tongue depressor that is simultaneously dusty and moist (0).

29 more days (0)...

Saturday, May 21, 2011

MCAT - Check!

Well, MCAT... maybe check. I'm officially not sure how I think I did. I could have done poorly, I could have done so-so, and I could have done great. I felt worse after some practice tests and did great on them, and I felt better after some practice tests that I didn't do so well on. So, at this point it's really a toss-up, but hey, I'm done! The only way I'll take it again is if 1) I really don't like my score and 2) my advisor recommends that I take it again. Hopefully that won't be the case and I will officially be done with the MCAT for GOOD. The biggest upshot of the whole thing is that right now, I don't have to study any more AT ALL! I have 30 torturous days to wait until I get my scores. Until then, I will be hanging out, relaxing, spending time with Nicole and Naiya, possibly camping, reading, and oh yeah, working 40+ hours per week. It's crazy how working feels like vacation after preparing for something like this...

Friday, May 20, 2011

MCAT: Tomorrow

I'm feeling excited and eager to take the MCAT, surprisingly enough. I want to take the opportunity to rise to the challenge! This is new for me. Some people get energetic about proving themselves in tests, but I've never really felt that way. Usually I'm somewhat nervous, but I mostly either dread tests, or feel somewhat apathetic about them. I'm not sure what it is about this one; maybe it's because I care more because of the impact it will have on my life. Maybe it's because I've worked so much harder to get ready for it while still doing everything else. Maybe I'm still trying to prove to myself that I have the ability to become a successful physician. Probably a conglomeration of everything.

Regardless, nerve level is currently normal. I've said it a million times: I'm always nervous right before a test, but once I start taking it, I feel fine. Something tells me it's going to be the exact same with this one. I've done some very intensive studying over the past two weeks (I took a break from studying last weekend to avoid burnout), getting in 57 hours and 48 minutes over the past nine days. I'm not one to cram, normally, but I studied a lot during the week last week, then took an old MCAT on Friday, and my score went up two points, which is a fairly big jump.

So, I did the same thing this week, just studying notecards, doing practice problems and reviewing weak areas in the Kaplan test books. Biological Sciences are my weakest areas, which is weird/annoying because that is where most people do the best. Verbal Reasoning and Physical Sciences have been tying as my best subjects, which is again weird because the Verbal Reasoning is traditionally the most difficult for people. It is also considered the hardest to study for, so I guess I'm lucking out. My main issue with Biology is not knowing all the little memorized tid-bits of vocabulary. Sometimes, not knowing one word will make me get a question wrong, and there's nothing I can do to avoid that but go over the material over and over again. I know a LOT more about the nervous system than I did before, since I pretty much spent all day Tuesday learning everything I could about that.

The central nervous system is AMAZING! I also never knew there was so much symmetry and structure to the peripheral nervous system. Did you know that the spinal cord is not just a bundle of distinct cords running through your vertebrae? It's actually very different from that, and more similar to brain tissue, from what I now understand. As I learn more about this stuff, it just throws all my previous ignorance about very general things in much sharper contrast. There's so much I still don't know! I think that's one thing that has been hitting me throughout this process of studying for the MCAT. You have to know SO MUCH MATERIAL to take this test, yet the vast majority of what you learn for the MCAT is not really needed for medical school. I'm never going to have to know the magnitude and direction of a force on a proton of mass m and charge q located a distance r away from a wire of length L carrying a current of magnitude I. That's just to show that I'm capable of the concepts, but will not really be much of an asset to my education later.

Anyway, I will be staying in Grand Rapids with Doug Potter tonight, since he lives about a mile and a half away from the testing center on Burton. I'll get there at 7:20am (ten minutes before they recommended), then start taking the test around 8am. We're not allowed anything with us except our ID when we take the test - everything else gets put in a locker. The website says they will even make you turn out your pockets! Not even a bottle of water or a watch is allowed to come in with you. They provide pencils and scratch paper, and will collect both at the end of the test. If you remove a sweater or jacket during the test, they escort you to a secure location where they make you leave it, but the timer keeps running on your test! That seems a bit ridiculous to me, since the time on the test is so stringent. I will probably wear a t-shirt and if I get chilly, I get chilly. Better than trying to decide between being swelteringly hot and having to lose time that might cost you points...

Anyway, that's that. Pray for me, wish me luck! At this time tomorrow, I'll either be feeling incredibly satisfied and relieved or incredibly apprehensive about getting my scores on June 21st. Here goes nothing!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Nicole Ran the River Bank Run 2011!

I'll let her post her stats/times on her blog (check here for updates), but she did great!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Tulip Time in 100 Minutes

Note: I had to repost this with different settings because the pics were too small. So, those of you that subscribe, you may have received this twice... Sorry.

I have a ham sandwich cooking in the oven. Before I put it there, I cleared the yard of sticks and debris from the winter. After that, I watered some new grass seed that got laid down. My sandwich will be done in a half hour. After I eat it, I will take a nap because I am very tired, and I would like to be awake for what comes next. After my nap, I will take my fifth practice MCAT exam. So, since I am currently waiting for my sandwich to get done, I thought I would add some pictures from when Nicole and I strode around Tulip Time for 1hr 40 minutes yesterday before she went to work. In the pictures, she's eating a corn dog. I'm eating a fatball.

They were both delicious.

Random pug with good profile.

I created a new semi-sepia filter, and he just looks so good, doesn't he?

That's Nicole and her corn dog.

So very happy.

My fix would come later; I approached the stand twice in twenty minutes, and the vendor told me it would be about ten minutes. I got one, after a half hour...

We decided you can make anything belong in Tulip Time by adding "Tulip" to the front of it. This is the Tulip Trolley.

Curb shot.

Nicole thinks this was a dog. I say no way; this woman was carrying a rabbit around. You can't see it, but it was wearing a very complex harness.

Cold Drinks. Blue.

This was the line for the trolley tours.

The Holland Museum. It is one of my sight-seeing shames that I've lived here for eight years, and I've never been inside...

trees with buildings

I think he was supposed to be a fairly significant historical figure, but I took the picture of him because I liked thinking he was a pirate.

The ugly moss-covered fountain around which people were gathered to watch many dutch-looking children play disordered combinations of patty-cake and footsy with one another. Interesting, but not necessarily my main attraction during Tulip Time. That would be the fatballs.

I had to include some tulip pictures... The event's namesake, and all that...

6.4 more tulips.

Awkward Nicole, displaying the tulips.

"Is there really a spider near my hair?!? You're kidding. Are you kidding? Justin! This isn't funny! I am going to KILL you! No, wait... There's no spider... Right? Justin! Take the picture so I can run away screaming!"

The pistil (stigma and style up top) and stamen (filaments + anthers). Thanks, Organismal Biology...

Two really weird people we saw at Tulip Time. They weren't posing for a picture; that's just how they were.

Old clothes and new stroller - temporal contrast at its best.

You can't see it because my mongo hands are covering it up, but I'm eating a fatball. It's basically a fried pastry with whatever fillings you want crammed into it. I got cinnamon apples and Bavarian cream.

Nicole took this picture of the creepy not-baby in this woman's bag.

This dude is awesome - The Grand Pedicab Company. I'm pretty sure it's just him. He rode around calling, "Pedicaaaab?!" kind of like a vendor at a baseball stadium would yell, "Hot dooog?!" while walking around. The thing is, hot dog vendors don't do that while someone is buying a hot dog from them. This guy did it whether or not he had passengers, which I thought was funny.

This is where we got married.

She didn't know I was taking this picture; it was a hip-shot as we walked.

She was jumping like a crazy duck; the mail truck was not intentional.

Again, she was just jumping for kicks; she's not that excited about Home City Ice.

Thursday, May 5, 2011



That's the sound I heard as I stepped out of my car after parking in front of the Science Center before my afternoon presentation. I had just driven from work to home really quickly to pick something up for a post-presentation meeting I had with a professor, and had no problems with my tire... Until parking. I bent down by the tire, and the pressure felt pretty strong as I pressed on it with my thumb, but I could actually feel it getting softer as I heard the air shoot out of the unseen break. For a second, I stood there, dumfounded. I shook myself, muttered, "Well, there's not much I can do about it right now." And went in to give my presentation, knowing what I would come back to. The below video is what greeted me after my presentation.

I treated it as an opportunity, thinking I can change my own tire, then proudly tell Nicole when I get home tonight how I was able to handle it myself and didn't need to call a professional for help.


Sure, I got the spare tire off of its mount on the back door. Yeah, I got the jack out, positioned it well beneath the car, and lifted the wheel a significant distance off the ground. I even got four of the nuts off their respective bolts. What I couldn't quite do was keep the jack from suddenly failing, bending nearly in half as the car slammed to the ground again. Luckily, I (nor any part of me) was underneath the flat when it happened, but it was definitely a surprise. When I pulled the cheap, crunched jack from underneath the car, it was with a sense of resignation that I said to myself, "Well, guess I have to call someone..." Forty minutes and fifty dollars later, the tow guy had the easiest time of his life in changing a car tire. The good news is, my insurance is going to reimburse me for the cost of having him come out to do it, so I'll get that fifty bucks back. Tomorrow morning will be spent dropping off the bill to the insurance company, getting the flat fixed or replaced at OK Tires here in Holland (the tow guy recommended it to me), picking up the sticks from the yard so that the yard service (yeah, we have a yard service...) can mow the grass that's just now beginning to grow, then studying for the MCAT. Which, coincidentally, was what I was doing before taking a small break to write this post!

That being said, Nicole is reveling in her newfound freedom from class-related responsibility, as she had her chem final today. Granted, she wasn't under much stress leading up to today's exam, since she's so smart that she could have gotten a D- on the exam and still had an A- in the class... Yeah, I married a smart one, so that's pretty cool. I'm proud of her.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Sweet Potato

Today, Nicole waggled a gigantic sweet potato at me as she stood by the microwave and said, in a creepily deep and guttural voice, "I'm going to eat this whole sweet potato for lunch today, I think."

It's the size of her forearm.


Sunday, May 1, 2011

Exam Week This Week - 3 Weeks Till MCAT

This weekend has been a blur of studying and eating out. My dad came to Holland yesterday and took me and Nicole out to eat at Crazy Horse, which was awesome. I'd highly recommend the food - both the quality and variety. Today, Nicole's dad came to Holland to take us out for lunch at Red Robin, which was also very nice. It was a lot of fun catching up with both of them, and both were perfect study breaks. The rest of the weekend (with the exception of church this morning and a post-lunch, pre-study nap) was filled with book-time. Nicole has her Microbiology exam tomorrow and is currently gearing up for a late night, an early morning, or both. I studied for a good while today, so I plan on going to bed in the next half hour, then getting up early for a long study time tomorrow before I go to work at 1pm.

All right, time for a break from the regular rhythm of describing the same old study-eat-sleep routine. I really want to tell an interesting story that happened to me recently, but I can't really do that at the moment. Nothing incredibly unique has happened lately. I've just been studying, taking quizzes, learning tons of information about organismal biology, and that's it. One interesting thing that I learned in class that disproved something that I sort of had always assumed about urine. I always thought that your bladder connected straight to your digestive system and that whatever water you didn't need from everything that you ate and drank just kind of passed through your digestive system pretty quickly and went to your bladder. Not the case! All the liquids that you digest (unless you end up with diarrhea) get absorbed into your blood stream. The blood then filters through your kidneys to remove toxins, filter out excess hormones, dump excess nutrients and help regulate glucose levels. At this point, excess water also filters into the kidney tubules and drains to the bladder. Your bladder isn't directly connected to your digestive system at all! Weird. I'm probably going to come back to this in five years and think, "Wow, I can't believe I ideas like that were ever so foreign to me." At this point, though, so much of how our bodies function is still such a complete mystery to me, my classes are like exploring something incredible and new! Too bad my organismal biology class is over - I was really starting to like it...

I need to take some more pictures sometime; I've taken some of the Holland area for Boar's Head, but I don't think I'd be allowed to post those on my blog... Proprietary rights, and all that. Lots of fun, but they own the pictures, so that's that. I kind of wish I had taken the MCAT last week. That way, I'd be able to relax after my exams this week and then enjoy Tulip Time. The summer is going to be incredible, though. This is going to be an awesome June, once I get my applications done for Medical Schools. That reminds me, I really need to figure out where I'm going to apply. Oh man... Well, that's a thought that will keep rolling around in my head as I try to fall asleep tonight. Great! It won't be too bad, though. I've got a whole statistical analysis set up in Excel comparing average academic statistics for accepted applicants at twenty of the mid-west med schools where I think I'd stand a chance, so it's basically going to come down to picking the schools where A) I compare academically to a majority of the students that got accepted and B) the most students from Hope College were accepted. I think it will end up being between 10-15 schools. That's a concern for a later time, however, as I still have not even begun my generic AMCAS application. That process will become available on May 5th. I also need to start on my personal statement sometime soon... 3500 CHARACTERS is the limit for that, and I'm definitely not known for being short-winded.

One last thing. Our house has a million spiders. They don't bother me in the least, but Nicole freaks out so badly EVERY TIME she sees one! She won't let me rest until I have killed it for her. As I type this, she just noticed two on the ceiling. I told her that this time, she needed to vacuum them up or something because it drives me crazy to have to get up every time she sees a spider. Honestly, it's not too much of a hassle if it's one or two spiders every couple of days, but this has been maybe ten or twelve spiders a day. Invariably, there are three or four spiders on the ceiling when we go in there at night. I'll get the spiders every time, but this time, it can wait until I'm done, or she can get - oh wait, she just brought the vacuum back into the room, and is now sucking them off of the ceiling. I'll write what she's screaming out over the noise of the vacuum.

Nicole: "Oh! This is a big one! Got him!! There's another!" She turned the vacuum off and is looking through the plastic of the dust collection bin. "Oh great, now what happens to them? They're just crawling around in there!"

Me: "Well, they're probably just going to crawl around until they find a way out. Or until they die."

Nicole: "I'm gonna vacuum some other stuff to kill them!" She took the vacuum out into the hall and started it up again. Now, from down the hall I hear: "Swirl around in there! SWIIIRRRRL!! Swirl around and DIE!!! You are the bane of my existence!"

The vacuum turned off. I can hear her wrapping up the cord.

Nicole just came back into the study and sat down primly at the table across from me. I can tell she's very proud of just killing the spiders.

Way to go, Nicole.

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