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...



Sunday, September 25, 2011

Getting back into running

My wife is at the peak of her training for a marathon; yesterday she ran TWENTY miles. I haven't been running consistently since I lost the arm strap for my iPod. A while after that, I lost even more hope when the chip that goes in my shoe went dead, so even if I DID get another strap, I still wouldn't be able to record my runs on the Nike+ website. Sure, I still ran here and there, but just not like I used to.

Yesterday, I got up the courage to spend some of these past 7+ months of saving my allowance and bought a Nike+ SportWatch GPS . With this watch, I don't need a chip in my shoe (unless I'm running indoors or where there's no satellite signal), I don't need a new iPod strap (unless I want to listen to music), and best of all, I get the added incentive of having it record all of my running stats effortlessly.

I don't know why, but I really like seeing aggregate statistics pile up. It's similar to how I really like time lapse videos of plants growing, a hoard of ants eating a dead animal, or a season-long time lapse of Lake Michigan freezing and thawing. It's just cool to be able to step back and actually see a long-term change take place. That's why I like seeing my running stats. While I might not be able to see the change while I'm in the grueling first month of training, after several months I can actually see my performance on a graph and compare it to what it was one, two, three, or four months ago. Being able to view this change is very encouraging, and it helps keep me motivated to run. I like running, but sometimes that extra push is necessary to keep me going.

In the interest of that "extra push," I decided to add a widget to my blog that shows my most recent run's distance and date as well as my lifetime's average pace. You'll see it show up in the right-hand column. Today's run (being just my second since I decided yesterday to get back into shape) was a measly 1.41 miles. Hopefully we'll see that number increase quite a bit over the next couple of weeks.



It keeps track of all my records: fastest mile, fastest kilometer, best 5K and 10K times, longest distance, and total miles. It also keeps the data on the 50 most recent runs.



All I have to do is plug it in, and it automatically uploads and updates everything on my Nike+ page.

---

On the med school front, I have my first interview just 11 days from now. I have a "mock" interview with my school tomorrow morning, so hopefully I'll be able to identify and iron out any annoying, subconscious habits like fidgeting or chewing on pen caps before the real deal...

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Emergency Shelter

Today I started volunteering in the local rescue mission's Emergency Shelter. Eight days ago, I was walking past the door of the shelter and thought, "I have some free time, and I've thought about trying to volunteer there before... Let's see what's available." So, I walked in and struck up a conversation with the guy behind the desk. "The Bubble," as they call it. It's basically Command Central for the men's mission. I asked him if they could use some extra help, and he referred me to the volunteer coordinator after we chatted for about a half hour about the Mission, its purpose, and its Christian foundation. Two hours later, I got a call back and had scheduled an individual orientation session for last Tuesday. Fast forward to today, and things have gotten off to a great start.

My responsibilities are really anything and everything that comes through the door, from dispensing and logging residents' medication to handling and forwarding various issues like locker assignments, signing out equipment, answering telephones, monitoring security cameras, escorting new people to various locations, and buzzing people in through the many entrances to the building. That last one is pretty cool; when someone pushes the buzzer by an exterior door to get in, I answer the phone to speak with them while pulling up the security feed to make sure nothing shady is going on before I let them in.

Aside from all of those miscellaneous, random tasks, probably the biggest (and BEST!) responsibility that I have been given is talking to people. This is absolutely amazing. Multiple times this morning, as guys stood at my station waiting for rides or for a class to start or for their sack lunch to get made and brought up from the kitchen, we just talked. Many of them simply long for someone to talk to and share their story with, so often all I have to do is introduce myself and, once I know their name, say, "So what's your story?" After that, it's a piece of cake: I listen and encourage.

One guy that I met today stands out in particular - we'll call him Stan. Stan is just 23 years old, and was released from prison last month after two years of incarceration. Two years, which he summed up in one very distinct word: lonely. His eyes teared up multiple times as he shared his story with me. Stan moved from Albania with his sisters when he was just sixteen years old and has never learned to read or write, though his spoken English is quite good. Can you imagine being in prison for two years without ever being able to read a book or read/write a letter from/to a loved one or a friend? I can't imagine the isolation...

I learned that he is on strict probation for the next two years, and will then move down to a more relaxed probation for three more years. He didn't say much about his offense, and I didn't pry, but he did mention that he has what's called a CSC - Criminal Sexual Conduct violation. He said he is not allowed to go near any underage children at any time; to do so would be a parole violation. He acknowledged that he "had done a really bad thing," but we didn't discuss much more along those lines. I knew that many of the guys living at the shelter have issues like this, so it didn't surprise me. I just tried to listen and talk to him, focusing on the person that I saw in front of me instead of the stigma associated with his criminal conviction.

My conversation with Stan focused on things like what he was learning in his GED classes, what types of things he liked to do now that he was out of prison (the freedom to ride his bike, as long as he stayed away from schools and parks, was a big one), what his favorite fast food restaurant is (McDonald's, as opposed to my Burger King - though he agreed with me that the Whopper is the best burger out there, and I agreed with him that it was too expensive), why he thought things weren't going well with the classes (he's too shy with his tutors), and what he would like to do with his life someday (work with his hands on things like bikes and cars). I think that Stan probably has a learning disability that makes it much harder for him to read and write and focus on things like that than most people. I think he also doesn't see much benefit in learning to read, given that his skills and background are more trade-oriented. Stan opened up a lot with me, which I found out later was not normal for him. Next week, I hope to encourage him to focus on his reading lessons by explaining that a lot of the time, when you're trying to learn how to do something new with bikes and cars, it can be really helpful to reference written manuals and tutorials.

I could go on and on about how great it was to get to know Stan a little bit, and to encourage him to learn and to keep moving forward with his plans to become reintegrated in society, but unfortunately I have to get to sleep in preparation for my Analyt quiz tomorrow morning. What I will say is that this opportunity to volunteer at the Mission is going to be incredible. I feel like I'm going to make a difference in peoples' lives, even if it is just by listening to them and encouraging them to do the best they can. I want to show them that I care, and many of these men simply want to feel like they matter to someone.

Seems like a good fit to me.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Interview!

I got an interview request! I know you're all going to want me to put which school, but as I have explained to some, I will be waiting until this process is over (or at least until things are more definite) to be providing the specific responses of different schools. Given that it is fairly easy to find my blog online by googling my name, I prefer to play some of my cards close to the vest at this point in the game.

That being said, this particular school is one of my very top choices, so given that mixed with the fact that it is my first interview request, I am pretty pumped. Tomorrow I will be attending a session on the "Top 10 Interview Tips for Health Professions Schools." Hmm, that seems like a catchy blog post...

The big day is in about three weeks, which is much sooner than I had anticipated. I had assumed that once you got an invitation to interview, you would then have to wait much longer for the actual interview day. This means that I've got to get my act together sooner than possible in terms of practice interviews at school, what I'm going to wear (currently planning on the black suit and tie that I got married in, since I read that it's actually better to not wear anything to blatantly draw attention to yourself - any suggestions?), and what questions I would like to ask the admissions committee reps (no worries there - I've got a million).

Things have been crazy crazy CRAZY lately, but I'm happy to say they're going to settle down this week. Nicole and I just got back from camping with a huge group of friends this past weekend at PJ Hoffmaster State Park just north of Grand Haven, MI. It was SO relaxing, just chilling in my backpacking hammock, looking up at the huge pine trees filling the park. Unfortunately, the day wasn't quite as relaxing for Nicole, who had to spend the majority of the day at home doing homework before I picked her up to come camp out for the night.

Now it's time to crack down on homework before possibly adding a new piece of furniture to the Nook in our new loft.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Give Me Your Eyes

Recently, while I was driving along and hitting, "Seek" to skip through random radio stations, a very meaningful song came on. Now, I want to preface what I am about to say with this: I am not one to be commonly affected in an emotional way by music or movies. However, when it happens, it happens in a huge way.

Another preface: When I was studying for the MCAT, my brother-in-law recommended that I find a song that would pump me up for the task - that could get my juices flowing even when the last thing I felt like doing was studying. I ended up with a playlist, since I couldn't pick just one song to be my theme.

I have found my theme song. For those of you that don't know me that well, I am a firm Christian. This means that I believe in the message of salvation taught by Jesus Christ, and also that I believe in personalizing his lifelong example of loving and serving others. The song that I heard on the radio speaks directly to how we are often so busy that we do not focus on and care about others in the ways that we should. This song's message and overall essence characterize my motivation and aspirations - to see and reach and serve and care for others better than I currently can.

And you know what? I believe that, given my specific talents and abilities, the best way for me to do so is to become a physician. The song I heard is a prayer to God for him to give his eyes so that we can see the needs of those around us, to give us his arms so that we can reach the people who are broken, beyond our reach. Most importantly, to give us his heart for those the world has forgotten. Essentially, this song is a plea to enable us to care for those around us as best as possible. It's not a new song (out in 2008), but it was new to me, and when I watched the music video, it resonated with me so much that I cried as I watched it - then cried again when I showed it to my wife. I don't want to become just a cold doctor who treats wounds in a sterile room, then moves on to the next patient. I want to be the doctor that truly cares about what his patients are going through - that empathizes with patients in a way that allows them to feel safe and comforted as well as physically healed. The song is called Give Me Your Eyes, and it's by Brandon Heath.




Lyrics:

Looked down from a broken sky
Traced out by the city lights
My world from a mile high
Best seat in the house tonight

Touched down on the cold black tile
Hold on for the sudden stop
Breath in the familiar shock
Of confusion and chaos
Are those people going somewhere?
Why have I never cared?

Chorus
Give me your eyes for just one second
Give me your eyes so I can see
Everything that I keep missing
Give me your love for humanity
Give me your arms for the broken hearted
The ones that are far beyond my reach
Give me your heart for the ones forgotten
Give me your eyes so I can see
yeah .. yeah .. yeah .. yeah

Step out on a busy street
See a girl and our eyes meet
Does her best to smile at me
To hide what's underneath
There’s a man just to her right
Black suit and a bright red tie
Too ashamed to tell his wife
He’s out of work
He’s buying time
Are those people going somewhere
Why have I never cared?

Chorus
Give me your eyes for just one second
Give me your eyes so I can see
Everything that I keep missing
Give me your love for humanity
Give me your arms for the broken hearted
The ones that are far beyond my reach
Give me your heart for the ones forgotten
Give me your eyes so I can see
yeah .. yeah .. yeah .. yeah

I’ve been there a million times
A couple of million eyes
Just moving, passed me by
I swear I never thought that I was wrong
Well I want a second glance
So give me a second chance
To see the way you've seen the people all along

Chorus
Give me your eyes for just one second
Give me your eyes so I can see
Everything that I keep missing
Give me your love for humanity
Give me your arms for the broken hearted
The ones that are far beyond my reach
Give me your heart for the ones forgotten
Give me your eyes so I can see
yeah .. yeah .. yeah .. yeah

Give me your eyes for just one second
Give me your eyes so I can see
Everything that I keep missing
Give me your love for humanity
Give me your arms for the broken hearted
The ones that are far beyond my reach
Give me your heart for the ones forgotten
Give me your eyes so I can see
yeah .. yeah .. yeah .. yeah

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Photos - Backpacking the Porcupine Mountains

All right, I know it took me forever, but I finally got some time this weekend to get these photos out. I realized when I went back to look at my preview post that those photos were all blurry, so I'm just putting all of the photos up. I'm not sure what happened with those last ones, but I think I've got it all set for this post... Enjoy, and if you feel so inclined, let me know what you think!

Here's the map of the path that we took (in orange), including the points where we stopped (circled and labeled). These points will coincide with photos that I've included after the jump break. Click below to load the rest!



Friday, September 2, 2011

Analytical Chemistry

First off, there's no news yet on the medical school front. My current status is still "Forwarded for review" on the majority of the secondary app sites. I'm waiting to hear back from Wayne State and the University of Toledo about whether they want a secondary app or not, while all of the others are all set.

This post is actually to talk a bit about my classes this semester - specifically Analytical Chemistry. For those that don't know, my classes started this past Wednesday. I'm enrolled in Biochemistry I (no lab for me!) and Analytical Lab (w/3-hour lab) for a total of seven credits. Almost all of my class time falls in the mornings, leaving me free to work evenings.

"Wait though," you might say. "Why are you taking Analytical Chemistry?? That has NOTHING to do with medical school!" And you know what?

You'd be right to say that.

After going through all these classes in preparation for med school, I realized that after taking Biochem I and II, I would only need another class/lab chemistry combo to tack on a bachelor's in Chemistry. The class needed to be above a 311-level course, which meant it had to be either Physical Chemistry (aka the infamous "P-Chem" - basically the Chemist's version of Quantum Theory, but slightly less difficult) or Analytical Chemistry. When I asked my old advisor about the difficulty of the class, he responded, "Oh yeah, that's one of the easiest Chem. classes we have!"

Sometimes, I have trouble detecting sarcasm when I'm not expecting it. I understand this about myself, so to make sure, I asked him, "Are you being sarcastic?" He assured me that no, he wasn't.

Now that I picture his face, I think he had a slight smirk tugging at the corner of his mouth.

Here's one of my two pages of notes from today's lecture (click to enlarge):

From Life to/through Med School

With all of that differential notation, four semesters'-worth of calculus came crashing back, filling my ears with that rushing-and-pounding-of-breathing-and-pumping-blood sound that they sort of muffle but still play really loudly when you're watching an intense scene in a scary movie. Yeah, it was kind of like that, only the professor continued to lecture really quickly as I scribbled down notes. At the time, I was feeling a bit overwhelmed, but now that I go back and take a look, it's not as unintelligible as it seemed at first. Not simple, but doable.

Today I learned that this class is going to involve some conceptually difficult work - something that I've had a break from in going through two semesters of Biology lectures. Basically, Analytical Chemistry deals with the practical science and mathematics of measurement when applied to Chemistry. Yesterday's lab was three hours of calibrating glassware - basically, we did our best to measure out fixed amounts of water using a buret, weighing the water after each dispensation. Given the density of water at room temperature, we could determine the exact amount of water (to the ten-thousandth of a mL) that we actually measured out, thereby determining the accuracy of the little white lines on our glassware. One of the most sticklerish fixations on detail that I've ever seen was part of this lab: we were required to thoroughly wipe our fingerprints from the beakers used in weighing the water so that their weight wouldn't corrupt the data. When he first mentioned this, I thought he was joking. He wasn't.

Biochemistry this semester is probably going to be tough as well, though not really for the concepts and math, but more for the volume of information. I'm looking forward to the challenge though. I think that's something that I never want to lose - the ability to find a difficult situation and relish in its complexity, just for a little bit, before diving in. It's always a bit daunting, always a bit scary, but always that much more satisfying when you come through on the other side of it and have all those nerdy awesome notes to sift back through...

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