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I’ve been hesitant to write this post.  This blog is certainly not a travel blog, and it was never intended to be a place where I posted my exciting travels (and to be honest, during the final years of my PhD and third year medical school I didn’t really have any exciting travels to write about).  That being said, I can’t help but post about my adventures in Moab.  If my antics encourage just one person to get outside and enjoy time in the great outdoors, I will consider this post a huge success…

 

Moab…

After completing my Wilderness Medicine Elective, I opted to take two weeks of vacation time (4th year medical students can get a rather absurd amount of vacation time if we play our cards right) to recoup, relax, and since I was already out west, spend time in Colorado with my best friend.  With over 100lbs of luggage to lug around, I managed to sweet talk my best friend into picking me up in Salt Lake City (where my elective wrapped up), instead of hopping a plane to Denver.

 

My best friend is a good sport about road trips (I suppose she should be, as I once drove 28hrs straight with her when she moved cross-country to Colorado), and she was happy to come pick me up, suggesting that we route our trip back through Moab for a bit of outdoor adventuring before heading back to Colorado.  I didn’t know much about Moab before I got there, but I knew Arches National Park was right next door and that the desert portion of my course was in Canyonlands National Park, so I thought it might be fun to swing back through and at least check out Arches on our way back.

 

That was before heading west… Once I met and talked with the river guides who work out of Moab and spent a “transition” day there between the river portion and the desert portion of the Wilderness Medicine elective, I was counting down the days until I would be back.

 

Moab is a stunning place- the rock formations and geology surrounding the town are truly “other worldy”, with the red rock shaped by time and weather into precarious and beautiful structures.  There is also a LOT to do in Moab for people who enjoy the outdoors.  The Colorado River can be enjoyed from rafts, boards, boats, or the shore, there seems to be a new hike for every day of the year, biking (mountain and road) is king, and the weather in May is wonderful for camping (sans-tent, for those-like myself- who are so inclined).

 

There are plenty of places to stay in Moab, but being on a budget and having spent the majority of the prior 3 weeks sleeping outdoors, I was more than happy to camp in Moab.  There are many campsites with RV hook ups, tent sites, and amenities such as showers, but I’m a fan of primitive camping.  Fortunately, for those in the know (or those who get the scoop from knowing river guides), there is plenty of dispersed camping to be had in spots around Moab.

 

view from one of our camp sites up off Klondike Bluffs, about ten miles north of town.

The view from one of our camp sites up off Klondike Bluffs, about ten miles north of town.

 

We spent out first morning in Moab getting coffee (“That Paleo Guy”, Jamie Scott, would swoon at all the coffee spots in Moab) and sorting out plans for the next couple days.

 

Wicked Brew- home of a mighty fine shot of espresso

Wicked Brew- home of a mighty fine shot of espresso

 

After a morning in town we headed out for a hike at Fisher Towers.  This hike, while popular, is a bit off the beaten track (at least in comparison to the tourist heavy hikes in Arches National Park).  The rock formations are stunning and the plant life was beautiful. This place is popular for rock climbers, and it was breathtaking to see them atop the tallest towers.

 

Fisher towers- if you go on this hike, make sure you get on the proper trail… we ended up scrambling quite a bit looking for a trail on various dead ends when we erroneously got started on a “photograph trail”.

Fisher towers- if you go on this hike, make sure you get on the proper trail… we ended up scrambling quite a bit looking for a trail on various dead ends when we erroneously got started on a “photograph trail”.

 

“The Titan” is the tallest structure at Fisher Towers, and is very striking.

“The Titan” is the tallest structure at Fisher Towers, and is very striking.

 

 

Alas, I seemed to have a knack for attracting rain on this trip… As we rounded the turn at the top of the hike, we were greeted by storm clouds and a flash of lightning.  Needless to say, we made a rapid retreat (I did learn about lightning strikes on my Wilderness Medicine course, but like almost all aspects of medicine, the best solution is prevention, prevention, prevention!)

Alas, I seemed to have a knack for attracting rain on this trip… As we rounded the turn at the top of the hike, we were greeted by storm clouds and a flash of lightning. Needless to say, we made a rapid retreat (I did learn about lightning strikes on my Wilderness Medicine course, but like almost all aspects of medicine, the best solution is prevention, prevention, prevention!).

 

After our hike, we headed back towards Moab, making one stop at a local vineyard and a detour down Onion Creek Road.  If you are around Moab and have an AWD vehicle (or are comfortable taking your vehicle through multiple stream fords), definitely check out Onion Creek Road.  If you’re really lucky, one of the dispersed camping sites might be open and available (we didn’t have any luck on that front).

 

My best friend is an avid paddle boarder, and she’d contemplated packing her paddle boards down to Moab for us to use on the Colorado River.  It seemed that renting boards in Moab was a much better option, so after making some inquiries, we ended up renting two inflatable boards (Badfish MCIT) from Canyon Voyages, strapping then to our car, and driving them up river to our drop-in point.  We’d scouted the river the day before and had decided to drop in at Take-out beach and to get out at Lion’s Park: a ten-mile paddle downstream (with my friend opting for the hitchhikers shuttle after parking her car down at the pull-off site. Pro-tip: carry your PFD (personal flotation device) and catching a ride is pretty easy).

 

Boards- Ready for adventure.

Boards- Ready for adventure.

 

While a road parallels the Colorado River the length of our ten-mile paddle, the trip was still very calming.  I’ll be honest- I went through our lone rapids and a couple of the choppy fast-water sections firmly on my knees.

While a road parallels the Colorado River the length of our ten-mile paddle, the trip was still very calming. (Though I’ll be honest- I went through our lone rapids and a couple of the choppy fast-water sections firmly on my knees.)

 

The rest of our day was spent driving out to Dead Horse National Park, seeking out dinosaur footprints (yes really), cooking dinner at our campsite, and then meeting up with a new friend from my Wilderness Medicine Elective- one of the river guides from my travels down Desolation Canyon.

 

I can’t tell you if they’re Therapod or Sauropod footprints, but they were pretty cool!

I can’t tell you if they’re Therapod or Sauropod footprints, but they were pretty cool!

 

As much fun as the previous two days had been, the real adventures began when we started hanging out with a local… My river guide friend was just back from another long trip down Desolation Canyon, which meant that he had a bit of time off before heading back to the river.  The next morning he took us on a hike up to Cable Arch, an arch off the beaten track on an unmarked trail.  Our drive out to the trailhead took us past quite a few petroglyphs, including one that I found very interesting.

 

The birthing rock- my picture isn’t the best, but this petroglyph seems to show a breach position birth.  Some readers may remember that I’m interested in “traditional” positions for giving birth, so I found these depictions particularly interesting.

The birthing rock- my picture isn’t the best, but this petroglyph seems to show a breach position birth. Some readers may remember that I’m interested in “traditional” positions for giving birth, so I found these depictions particularly interesting. (Here’s a better picture.)

 

An arch all to ourselves… something you seldom get in Arches National Park

An arch all to ourselves… something you seldom get in Arches National Park

 

Not another person for miles...

Not another person for miles…

 

Scrambling up and down rock faces is a lot of fun (and an excellent work out)…

Scrambling up and down rock faces is a lot of fun (and an excellent work out)…

 

After a relaxing lunch in town, we headed up to the Sand Flats for an afternoon adventure of rappelling.  I’ve never been rappelling (save for the ~15’ rappel we played with up in the alpine on the Wilderness Medicine course), and I’ll admit that at the top of our first descent I was more than a little nervous.  However, as I lowered myself into the slot canyon (into an area aptly named “the medieval chamber”), my fear was replaced by exhilaration.

 

Rappelling down into the "Medieval Chamber".

Rappelling into the “Medieval Chamber”.

 

The second rappel, off a natural bridge, landed us at the focal point of a somewhat well travelled out-and-back hike.  My best friend went first, and her adventures were well documented by some of the sightseers below!

 

Kate, headed down off the natural bridge

Kate, headed down off the natural bridge

.

The next day found us rappelling again, this time in Arches National Park.  We were truly spoiled to have a local show us yet another awesome spot, for while we left our car in a crowded parking lot, we quickly backtracked along the road and scrambled up a rock fall to find ourselves isolated atop a large mesa.  Hundreds of feet above the other tourists below us, we spent much of the morning relaxing above Arches, in our own world, away from any other visitors to the park.

 

Above Arches- We spent quite a bit of time wandering around the top of the mesa, but eventually we settled down to soak up the sun, talk, and relax.

Above Arches- We spent quite a bit of time wandering around the top of the mesa, but eventually settled down to soak up the sun, talk, and relax.

 

Above Arches- I’m not sure the scale comes through…

Above Arches- I’m not sure the scale comes through…

 

After an hour or so of basking on the rocks, we started our descent back down into the canyons.  This (again, unmarked) path took us down a number of small descents before finally putting us atop a 100’ wall down to the canyon floor.  The rappel was a rush.

 

Can you find me? Hopefully the scale comes through now!

Can you find me? Hopefully the scale comes through now!

 

My best friend and I did plenty of other things in Moab, including taking a drive and some hikes through Arches National Park. Arches IS stunning, but after getting an insiders-tour to some stunning and relatively unknown-to-tourists spots, hiking along crowded groomed trails to ogle at postcard views lacked some luster.  I don’t mean to sound snooty, and I hope it doesn’t come across that way, but I think my favorite moments of this trip to Moab were the moments with friends around bonfires, scrambling up rocks, and quietly taking in all that our surroundings have to offer.

 

After more than a month away, I am finally headed home to New Jersey.  I am heading home physically tired but psychologically refreshed.  I have always believed that nature is *good* for humanity, but I have never experienced this goodness so intensely as in the last month.

 

Through the wilderness medicine elective, my trip to Moab, and then a Memorial Day Weekend camping trip in the mountains of Colorado, I have experienced many different environments.  A big part of experiencing these environments, to me, is learning to be present in the moment- to quiet the mind of all the banality and drama that so easily catches us and to really appreciate what surrounds us.  In the hustle and bustle of normal life this skill takes practice, but it is practice that pays back in dividends on the principle that nature satisfies a deep and primal part of our humanity, and we should seek it out and absorb it whenever possible.

 

Memorial Day Moonrise over Twin Lakes in Colorado- Not sure I can think of a better way to end the day…

Memorial Day Moonrise over Twin Lakes in Colorado- Not sure I can think of a better way to end the day…

 

Find your people, find your places, and enjoy the moment…

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I have spent only 5 of the last 25 nights in a bed (4 different beds, to be precise). At this point I feel a touch claustrophobic in bathrooms and feeling clean is certainly a novelty.  My Wilderness Medicine elective is over and I have had an exceptional visit in Moab (more on that in another post). Tomorrow I head to the mountains of Colorado for one last stint in the wilderness before heading back to New Jersey where I will start a radiology elective on June 3rd.  From a month in the wilderness to an elective spent in dark, windowless rooms- the change in environment couldn’t get much more extreme (which is saying a lot, coming from someone who has gone from alpine camping to desert camping in the course of 3 weeks).

 

This is the final installment of “Pic of the Day”, at least for the Wilderness Medicine Elective.  I may not be able to resist a “Pic of the Day, Moab edition”… we shall see.

 

For the desert portion of the course we headed to Canyonlands National Park, specifically The Needles District of the park.  We spent 4 nights in 3 different sites, hiking up to 12 miles a day with heavy packs.  I found this portion of the course the most physically demanding, but at the end of the day it was unquestionably my favorite section.

 

I’ll write details in future posts, but for now: Pic of the day- desert edition.

 

Day 1- Canyonlands

 

The geology of Canyonlands (actually, the geology of much of Utah) is stunning and fascinating.  This is in the needles are, near Lost Canyon, where we spent our first night in the park.

The geology of Canyonlands (actually, the geology of much of Utah) is stunning and fascinating. This is in the Needles District, near Lost Canyon, where we spent our first night in the park.

 

Day 2- Perspective

 

Looking back at Lost Canyon as we hike out to Elephant Canyon, our next campsite. From many vantage points in the park you could see the snow capped La Sal Mountains.

Looking back at Lost Canyon as we hike out to Elephant Canyon, our next campsite. From many vantage points in the park you could see the snow capped La Sal Mountains in the distance.

 

Day 3- Druid Arch.

 

Before we packed hiked our big packs out to Chesler Park, we took an early morning park out to Druid Arch.

Before we hiked our big packs out to Chesler Park, we took an early morning hike out to Druid Arch.

 

Day 4- The Joint Trail

 

Probably one of the coolest trails I have every hiked, winding through a narrow slot canyon.

One of the coolest trails I have every hiked, The Joint Trail winds through a narrow slot canyon.

 

 

Day 5- Sunrise and out.

 

We left camp at 4am for the 3+ hour hike out.  I led the group of 19 by head lantern for 2 hours before stopping on a bluff to watch the sun rise around 6am.  Pre-dawn hikes are something I will be adding to my repertoire.

We left camp at 4am for the 3+ hour hike out. I led the group of 19 by head lamp for 2 hours before stopping on a bluff to watch the sun rise around 6am. Pre-dawn hikes are something I will be adding to my repertoire.

 

I did not expect to fall in love on this trip, but I have certainly fallen in love with the desert.  I don’t know when I’ll be back, but I hope it is soon…

 

Chesler Park.

 

Chesler Park

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My Wilderness Medicine elective has officially come to a close. In the last three weeks I’ve experienced three very different environments (alpine, river, and desert) and learned lots of pre-hospital medical care for emergencies that arise in the wilderness.  I have quite a bit to write about, but I liked doing a “pic of the day” for the alpine session, so before I get to a thorough write up of the course I’ll post a “pic of the day” for the river and desert portions.

 

While the course is over, my adventure hasn’t come to an end.  I’m currently taking 2 weeks of vacation time to visit with my best friend, first spending more time in Utah in and around Moab and then heading back to her home in Boulder Colorado.  I hope to get some good writing in during this time… we shall see!

 

Without further ado- “pic of the day” river style!

 

Day 1- We started our adventure at the Sand Wash put in on the Green River where we camped, sans-tent, under the stars…

 

Camping under the stars.

Camping under the stars.

 

Day 2- Over the next 5 days we travelled ~87 miles down the Green River, passing through Desolation Canyon and Gray Canyon.  We saw a few different areas with petroglyphs, presumed to be from Fremont people.

 

Petroglyphs carved into "desert varnish", which according to the river guides (and wikipedia) is at least partially made of manganese.

Petroglyphs carved into “desert varnish”, which according to the river guides (and wikipedia) is at least partially made of manganese.

 

Day 3- Sun rising on the cliffs of Desolation Canyon.  This pic is a bit deceiving, as we actually had more “bad” weather than good.  I suppose we should consider ourselves lucky that we got to experience rain in the desert, but getting hammered with more than a third of the area’s average annual rainfall over 4 days could get a bit demoralizing!

 

A great view by which to enjoy your morning coffee...

The morning view from our campground. A great view by which to enjoy your morning coffee…

 

 

Day 4- Please allow me two pics for this day- I couldn’t chose just one (it would be easy to pick a gorgeous landscape for each day, but there really was a lot more to see).

 

The view from another campground...

The view from another campground…

 

Equipment at an abandoned ranch. During our float down the river we saw abandoned ranches, old mines, and even an old moonshine distillery.

Equipment at an abandoned ranch. During our float down the river we saw abandoned ranches, old mines, and even an old moonshine distillery.

 

 

Day 5- At the end of the day we would gather around a fire recapping the day, telling jokes, and marveling at where we were.  Off the grid, without technology or the distraction of modern society, it was wonderful to decompress.

 

Social gathering place and hot spot for heating evening beverages.

Social gathering place and hot spot for heating evening beverages.

 

Day 6- Our last day of camp was spent just below Rattle Snake Rapids (I loved going to sleep to the sound of rapids).  We were pampered on this portion of the trip, being taken care of by river guides- renaissance men of the modern age.  They’re guides, chefs, handymen, naturalists, historians, and fascinating individuals… I hope to reconnect with some when I return to Moab.

 

The nomadic life, with a new campground each night, was great- especially when gear was being floated down the river and not packed on our back!

The nomadic life, with a new campground each night, was great- especially when gear was being floated down the river and not packed on our back!

 

I’ll post some pics from the desert section when I get a chance!

 

——-

 

And for the skeptics, who question whether there was any medical learning on this trip…

I’ll write more on the medical learning in a future post, but here you can see me rocking an improvised humeral fracture splint… in a torrential downpour (thank goodness for Gortex!)

I’ll write more on the medical learning in a future post, but here you can see me rocking an improvised humeral splint… in a torrential downpour (thank goodness for Gortex!)

 

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If you read my last post, you’ll know that I’m currently away in Utah on a Wilderness Medicine elective.  I’ve just come back from the first evolution, the alpine section, and have one night in Salt Lake City before hitting the road tomorrow morning to head to the Green River and Desolation Canyon to take on the next portion of the course.

 

I certainly don’t have time for a thorough write-up of the last week, but I thought I’d give a quick “pic of the day” from the last week to give you an idea of what I’ve been up to.  The pics certainly can’t show all the learning that’s been going on- while there is certainly a large component of this course that many would consider recreation, I think I’ve learned more practical medical skills in the last week than I have in quite some time.  Sure- I don’t know when I’ll next be using an avalanche beacon or when I’ll next use an ice axe to “self arrest“on the side of a cliff, but the skills of dealing with medical emergencies is non-hospital settings and with limited means is certainly important.

 

Without further ado (and because I don’t have much time…)

 

T-minus 1 day… I went shopping.  I knew I wouldn’t be enthusiastic about much of the food available on our trip, so I packed a significant personal stash to keep me going (I ate more nuts in the last week than I have in the last few months).  I also rented double plastic boots, snowshoes, and an ice axe from REI.

 

Yes- I packed a stick of butter and a jar of coconut oil up the mountain... And if I never eat cold, unseasoned, packages of salmon again, it will be too soon

Yes- I packed a stick of butter and a jar of coconut oil up the mountain… And if I never eat cold, unseasoned packages of salmon again, it will be too soon

 

Day 1- The hike up.  I’ve never hiked in snowshoes with a big pack before, so why not add in dragging a loaded sled to the process! Our group of 20 (12 students, 4 residents, 2 fellows, and 2 attendings) hiked up to our site near Lower Red Pine Lake in the Wasatch Mountains.

Wool was definitely my friend on this trip, starting on day 1. Can you spot the avalanche beacon I'm wearing?

Can you spot the avalanche beacons?

 

Day 2- Water. Our group was broken into 4 teams of students and residents, and each day we had different tasks. On our second day my team was in charge of water, which we filtered from this lake.

It is incredibly peaceful out on the lake pumping water (at least when it was warm enough the water didn't freeze within minutes in the tubing.

It is incredibly peaceful out on the lake pumping water (at least when it was warm enough that the water didn’t freeze almost instantly in the tubing).

 

 

Day 3- Snow.  Yeah… this happened. A good 6” of “dust on crust”.

Fresh pow

Fresh pow

 

Day 4- Home. This tent was my home for 6 days. I shared it with two other medical students, and with overnight temps dipping  into the teens (F) I got very familiar with the workings of my 0o mummy bag.

 

Our camp was quite impressive- 7 tents, a double kiva with dug out benches and tables beneath, and a kitchen dug into the snow pack.

Our camp was quite impressive- 7 tents, a double kiva with dug out benches and tables beneath, and a kitchen dug into the snow pack.

 

 

Day 5- Hike day. On our last full day we hiked up to the ridge leading to the false summit of Pfeifferhorn. The views were stunning.

View

 

Day 6- Out.  This morning we woke at 6 to pack camp and head back to civilization.  My feet won’t miss the heavy double-plastic boots, but I will definitely miss these mountains.

Out

 

I plan to write more about the actual medical aspects of this course, but for now I hope you enjoy these pics!

 

And for those that see the t-shirt picture and think this was a warm-weather hike, this is how I was dressed most mornings in camp.  

 

Cold

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Into the Wild

No- this isn’t another post about books (though I did enjoy the book of this title by Jon Krakauer and I love the soundtrack by Eddie Vedder).  Rather- I wanted to let you all know what I will be up to for the next few weeks.

 

Wilderness Medicine is, well, kind of what it sounds like- providing acute medical care in various outdoor environments.  Being an outdoor person, this was an area of medicine I’ve been rather interested in exploring.  My school doesn’t offer a Wilderness Medicine elective but many schools do, and they generally welcome students from other schools.

 

A number of months ago I set to, looking at a number of Wilderness Medicine electives offered by other schools and organizations.  There are quite a few options, but one, run my U Mass, really caught my eye.

 

I should interject at this point to say that, due to the timing of my PhD defence, I started the clinical years of medical school half a year off schedule with most students. Unfortunately, that meant that when I started looking at wilderness electives, I was a bit behind the eight-ball timing wise.

 

A number of months ago I sent an e-mail to the organizers of the U Mass Wilderness Medicine elective enquiring if they took students from other schools.  They replied, kindly informing that they did but that the course usually fills up a year in advance (and it runs from the end of April for three weeks).  Somewhat disappointed, I set up my schedule for the remainder of fourth-year medical school, sans wilderness medicine elective.

 

Fast forward to three and a half weeks ago when, out of the blue, I got an e-mail from the program coordinator asking me if I was still interested in the Wilderness Medicine elective.  After some frantic shuffling of my schedule I was able to say yes, and have been hustling to get myself prepared ever since.

 

Bags are packed and I'm ready to go (both under 50lbs, though I'm getting close).

Bags are packed and I’m ready to go (both under 50lbs, though I’m getting close).

 

Tomorrow morning I leave New Jersey to head to Salt Lake City (and to think- I was there less than 3 months ago).  After spending a couple days meeting up with friends and seeing the sights of SLC, I meet up with the students, residents, fellows, and faculty who will be participating in the Wilderness Medicine elective.

 

The main reason I was particularly interested in the U Mass elective was because it is a 3 week elective taught almost exclusively IN the wilderness (unlike some other programs that do a lot of classroom-based learning and then have excursions into remote areas).

 

The elective is broken up into 3 components, an alpine section, a river section, and finally a desert section.  In each we receive faculty taught lectures, participate in scenarios, and hear (and give) student lectures (my topic is diarrhea and communicable diseases).  I’ll write more when I return, but this is what I know for now.

 

The alpine section

 

We head up into the Wasatch Mountain range where we set up a base camp that we will be living in for the next 6 days.  We snowshoe in with all our gear (apparently about 50lbs in our packs, plus pulling sleds, and then camp on snow for the next 5 nights.  Here we learn how to live in the alpine environment, the basics of mountaineering, avalanche training, how to lift and move patients with spinal injuries, as well as attend lectures on topics relevant to the alpine environment.

 

The river section

 

After snowshoeing out of the mountains we have a day to recover in Salt Lake City before heading to the Green River for the river section of the course.  Over the next 5 days we raft down the river (camping on the banks each night) and learn about water-associated injuries (drowning, of course), as well as other injuries and illnesses that occur in the bush, including fractures (and improvised splints), dislocations, wilderness dermatology, mammalian injuries, and evacuations.

 

After a transition day in Moab (where we can apparently opt to participate in outdoor activities of our choice, or perhaps enjoy a needed day of R&R), we then head to the desert portion of our course.

 

The desert section

 

Having had a chance to check out Moab, we head to Canyonlands National Park.  Here, we hike into the desert (in smaller groups, so as to decrease our impact), and set up camp for 4 days.  We meet daily for lectures on topics such as snakebites, heat illness and injuries, communicable diseases, wilderness toxicology, and other relevant topics while also learning skills such as orienteering and mass casualty training.

 

Throughout the course, in addition to many lectures, we participate in 12 “scenarios” which further train us for practicing medicine in the wild.  There will be 12 medical students, 4 residents, and 2 Wilderness Medicine fellows, as well as faculty.

 

I’ll be interested to see what happens when it comes to camp dinners.  They asked if anyone had “dietary restrictions”, with a special shout-out to vegetarians.  While I’ll be willing to eat things that I usually don’t consume (rice and beans, for example), I really hope I’ll be able to largely avoid processed foods, grains, and vegetable oils… we shall see.  I’m also a little nervous that I’ll get some foul looks for my choice of footwear.  The packing list suggests bringing hiking boots (or maybe hiking shoes) for the desert and river portion: I have neither, and imagine that trying to get some and break them in would not be a good idea (not to mention that I am kind of opposed to thick soled heavy hiking boots). Instead, I have my minimalist trail running shoes and my vibrams… I’ve climbed a 13er in Colorado with them, hopefully I can hack it carrying a heavy pack!

 

Up Matterhorn in Colorado, happy in my VFFs.

Up Matterhorn in Colorado, happy in my VFFs.

 

So there you have it- starting Monday morning (maybe sooner) I’ll be off the radar for large chunks of time (though you wouldn’t know I was on the radar with the frequency of my blog posts).  When the course is done, my best friend will be picking me up in SLC and I’ll be heading back with her to Colorado for a vacation before coming home to start a radiology elective in June.  On the way back to Colorado we plan to spend a couple days in Arches National Park- since I’m sure my appetite for the outdoors won’t yet be sated.

 

More posts to come!

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I have been a zombie today.

I’ve wanted to write this post all day, but I’ve been spinning my wheels, unable to find the focus to sit and write.

I know where my inability to focus comes from. It’s the same thing that’s been causing my insatiable hunger and serious sweet-tooth.

I had a night shift on Thursday night.

The health industry is notoriously unhealthy. Even during the best of times the medical community tends to get things wrong with seminars on preventative health being coupled with breakfasts that consist of pastries, margarine to schmear on bagels, and fat-free non-dairy creamer to opacify a foul smelling substance that masquerades as coffee.

Practicing medicine is not easy on the body.  Being a doctor is stressful and, of course, spending your days around people who are sick makes you prone to getting sick yourself.  Lack of sleep is another big problem.

Of all the clerkships that medical students rotate through, the surgical ones- surgery and obstetrics/gynecology- have the worst hours. Depending on a school’s program, this is where students first get to experience the joys (by which I mean terrors) of 24+ hour call and “night float”.

At my school, the surgery clerkship has maintained the traditional call schedule (you work a day and then when you’re on call you stay for the night and finally go home the next morning when you are “post call”), while the ob/gyn clerkship has adopted a “night float” schedule for students, where we switch from day service to night service for a few days running during the clerkship.  These two clerkships were separated by 8 months in my schedule, so it’s perhaps hard to accurately compare them.  Nonetheless, I’d like to write about my experience with these two notoriously rough clerkships.

Surgery…

My school still follows a traditional call schedule for students on the surgery clerkship: every 4th or 5th day we would be “on call” after our normal day in the hospital. For the first half of this clerkship I was at a hospital 45 minutes away from my apartment. I was up between 4:25 and 4:30 each morning to be in the hospital by 5:30 to round on my patients before we “ran the list” as a team shortly after 6 and then headed to the OR for the day.

My problems on this clerkship started early. I had just come off my psychiatry clerkship where I’d been enjoying the psyche hours of 9-4… surgery hours were a big change. I couldn’t convince myself to eat breakfast before 4:30 and instead started my mornings with 1 or 2 double-shot espressos before heading to the hospital. The hospital to which I was assigned doesn’t have great quarters for medical students on surgery, so I was left to share a miniscule locker with 3 other students.  We barely had space to store our clothes, let alone space for real food. While there was a residents’ lounge, it was adorned with a large sign warning “Med students- do not leave your shit here”, and we didn’t have access to a fridge or a microwave. Lunch was a hit-or-miss occurrence, and the general mantra for med students during a surgery rotation is “eat when you can, you don’t know when you’ll have the opportunity next.”

Here’s a classic from Whatshouldwecallmedschool

During that first month I subsisted on my morning espressos and my best attempts at healthy snacks- unsweetened banana chips, jerky, nuts, and 85% chocolate. In the evenings I’d eat a proper dinner before putting myself to bed before 9 on most nights. I occasionally managed to make it to the gym, but I tended to feel rather weak and pathetic when I managed to get in a workout. Every 4th or 5th night I was on call, and instead of heading home around 5pm as per usual, I would grab dinner in the hospital cafeteria and see patients in the emergency department and go to the OR for emergency cases.  At some point during the evening (usually between 11pm and 1am) the night resident would tell the med students to retreat to our on-call room for some sleep, promising to page us if anything interesting came through. For me, at that hospital, I was never paged during the night.

My second month of surgery was on the trauma team at our university hospital, which is a level 1 trauma center.  Start time was similar at this hospital, but I was now 25 minutes closer, giving me 25 more blissful minutes of sleep. Also, at school we have a students’ lounge with a fridge and microwave, and I was able to start eating real lunches again. I also had realized that going to the gym in my stressed and sleep-deprived state was doing me no favors so I put my gym membership on hold.  Our call schedule was similar on trauma service, but unlike the general surgery service at a community hospital, the trauma team at our inner-city hospital was constantly getting paged in the wee-hours of the morning. I don’t think I ever got more than 2 hours of sleep when I was on call, and was always woken by the screams of the pager rather than the dulcet tones of my cell phone’s alarm (I occasionally hear a pager with the same ring-tone as the trauma pager and it still sends chills down my spine).

At the first hospital, after being on call, we were usually dismissed after we “ran the list”- frequently being on the way home shortly after 7am. On trauma we would run the list, go to radiology rounds, and then physically round on our patients as a team before being sent home.  Alas, our list of patients grew malignantly during my month of trauma and at one point we had over 30 patients, with some on each floor of the hospital. After a night on trauma I would usually find myself driving home after over 30 hours in the hospital (sometimes with no sleep) willing myself to get home safely (I really didn’t want to end up in the trauma bay as a patient- nothing like the fear of having your classmates cut your clothes off with shears to keep you awake!).

It’s amazing what lack of sleep does… I remember being asked a simple question one post-call morning on rounds and completely drawing a total blank. The funny thing was, it was a simple question that I actually felt very strongly about (Why do so many of our hospitalized patients have messed up electrolyte levels? We do it to them by flooding them with fluids!). Also, despite eating a lot less than I usually do, I definitely put on weight during my surgery clerkship.

Eight months later, as I faced the prospect of another notoriously rough clerkship (ob/gyn), I prepared myself a bit better.  While I was again stationed at the hospital 45 minutes from my apartment, this time I made sure that I ate breakfast before starting each day. I had also weaned myself completely off coffee before the start of the clerkship and never drank more than a single double-shot espresso each morning. I also preemptively put my gym-membership on hold.

We didn’t have call on ob/gyn and instead had a brief stint of “night float”, where we were in the hospital from 7pm-9am for a number of days consecutively.  This is a more realistic experience of life as an intern (with current intern rules), and has the advantage of allowing you to “switch over” from days to nights. I did a bit of research and when I switched over to nights I did a combination of fasting and napping that saw me switch over easily.

During ob/gyn I didn’t have much of a social life- I was going to bed between 8:30 and 9:30 most nights and most of my time was spent in the hospital or sleeping, but all things considered I think I held up very well.  I’ve long liked ending showers with a brief cold-water rinse (I think of it as a healthy bit of hormesis), but during surgery I lost the ability to tolerate cold showers.  Actually the worst part of being “post call” was the dreadful, inescapable cold that would come over me early on the post-call morning.  I’ve always been a warm-handed person, but on surgery I developed cold hands on a regular basis. While my hands weren’t always warm, I didn’t develop terrible chills on ob/gyn.

Med school is, of course, a learning experience, and a big part of the experience is learning what your body can handle and what it can’t (and what you need to do to keep yourself healthy, happy, and sane).  I’m not looking forward to the rough hours of residency, but I know the importance of prioritizing sleep, food, and socialization and I’m learning how to balance these things to keep myself well.

Alas, just after celebrating my successful navigation of ob/gyn (at least on the “feeling good” front, I’m still waiting for grades to be posted), I was knocked almost flat by a night shift on my current EMS elective.  While a night shift is not *required* during this elective it is strongly recommended, and I went out with the night crew on Thursday night to get an idea of what night-life on an ambulance in a rough inner-city is like (short answer- it does not disappoint).  While I was out with a great team and saw some pretty interesting things, I’ve been suffering the consequences since.  On Friday morning I had an insatiable appetite and was battling sugar-cravings (something I don’t usually have) for the rest of the day. Even after getting 11 hours of sleep last night I was still pretty groggy and fairly useless most of today.

There are no more night-shift in my foreseeable future (though I know we’ll meet again during my Emergency Medicine clerkship) and I’m confident that with another good night’s sleep I’ll be back to normal, but this has been a good reminder of just how brutal sleep deprivation can be.  My time with EMS (though only brief) has also reminded me that being in the health profession is often not a healthy practice. The people I’ve been working with sometimes risk their lives to save a stranger, but they also risk their health on a daily basis by living a lifestyle for which our bodies are ill-suited.

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It’s currently the time of year when the Student Affairs personnel at my school people are rallying the troops (third year medical students) to start thinking about what we want to be when we “grow up”. It’s early days yet, but the words “personal statement” seem to inject fear into my classmates. I guess most of them don’t write a blog for a hobby…

 

I haven’t started to write a statement yet, and I’m sure it’ll be an angst filled experience when I finally get down to it, but mulling it over got me thinking back to the personal statement I submitted when I first applied to medical school.

 

I was not a traditional med-school applicant. I was not “pre-med” (a major I would discourage anyone from pursuing) and I had never shadowed a doctor nor shown any interest in a medical profession.  I had a broad interest in all things scientific. I took the MCATs on a dare and did well enough to consider applying to medical school.  My love of science made the MD/PhD route intriguing to me, so I decided that in addition to the PhD programs I was interested in I would also apply to a few MD/PhD programs.

 

A couple weekends ago I was up in Boston and enjoyed a dinner with Kamal Patel of Pain Database and others. It was an enjoyable evening, and while discussing the merits and perils of being a med student I somewhat jokingly suggested to Kamal that I should dig up my old personal statement and post it on my blog.  He thought it seemed like a great idea (surprisingly, alcohol was not involved in this discussion), so now that I’ve had a bit of downtime I’ve dug it up and given it a look over.

 

In hindsight, I seem a little overenthusiastic (so many exclamation points!!!!), but generally I think that my enthusiasm for life is genuine.  One of the closing lines is something that I still deeply believe. In fact, it is a sentiment that comes through in the name of this blog.

 

I believe that the practical application of knowledge is the most rewarding result of study and curiosity.”

 

 

Even 8 (eek!) years ago, I wanted to put principles into practice.

 

Without further ado…

(Unedited, except to abbreviate the names of the professors I worked with)

_____________________________________

 

Until a few years ago I could still see the remnants of my first “experiment” in my garden every spring: red tulips growing along the fence line of the vegetable patch. As long as I can remember, I’ve been asking questions and trying to figure things out. The directions on a pack of tulip bulbs told me to plant them six inches deep, six inches apart. But at five I had to ask… why? Luckily I’ve been blessed with equally inquisitive parents, so my father indulged me, and the next day we were digging holes ranging in depth from one inch to two feet. The next spring I waited expectantly. Somewhat to my disappointment, they all came up! That wasn’t supposed to happen! Only the next year did it become clear that six inches seemed about optimal for a perennial show.

 

My quest for understanding and knowledge through experience has been a lot of fun, taken me many places, and introduced me to many people. As a child I would spend days in the woods and fields around my house exploring and trying to understand nature. When I wasn’t out adventuring, I was home reading books; I was amazed at what there was to learn! When I first started riding horses it was hard to find me away from barns, vet offices, or anywhere else I could learn about horses. While this led me to compete at national quiz competitions, I have most enjoyed becoming a thoroughly knowledgeable horse person. I apply what I know to working with my own horses and those of others, and enjoy teaching and helping local kids and even adults with general equine knowledge and veterinary care.

 

I particularly enjoy teaching others about polocrosse, an exciting combination of polo and lacrosse. I started playing on my first pony, a well-trained, athletic pony that did everything I asked her to do. When it was time for me to get a bigger horse, I looked at a number of horses that were ready to play, but eventually decided to buy a young ex-racehorse with a lot of potential and very little training. At times it was hard to watch my peers get better so quickly on their well-trained horses, and at times I thought I should give in and get a horse that was ready to play, but the challenge excited me, and I stuck with it. After four years of hard work, a lot of sweat, a few falls, and occasional bouts of anguish, I’m proud to play on a horse that I brought to the game on my own, and I know that I am a better rider because of the experience.

 

Now in college, I still can’t learn and do enough. I have joined a number of groups on campus, and am on the executive boards of the campus-wide Programs and Activities Council, the Biochemistry Club, and Alpha Zeta, a co-ed honors/service/social fraternity. Going to a large state school, I have had the opportunity to take a wide range of classes that apply to my major, my interests, and things that just seem neat! During the fall of my freshman year I became SCUBA certified so that I could travel to Little Cayman during the winter break to study coral reefs with a marine geologist. I was so enthusiastic that she invited me to apply for a summer internship studying the reefs around the island. I applied, got the position, and spent two weeks documenting species diversity, morbidity and mortality of coral around the island.

 

A fascination with Moorish architecture and Picasso’s Guernica, and a desire to test my Spanish on its home ground, led me to drag my mother to Spain. My basic grasp of the language and her ability to rent a car made for an incredible trip. For ten days we traveled in the south of Spain, seeing architecture and experiencing the culture. Similarly, a fascination with Guinness Stout, Ireland, and the Irish led me to take a youth-hostelling trip to Dublin. These and other trips have heightened my curiosity and driven my desire to see and experience more of the world.

 

During college, the curiosity that my parents initially encouraged when I was a child developed into a desire to do scientific research. In addition to the coral reef project, I am glad to have had several other exciting research experiences. I was fortunate to receive a Center for Bioinorganic Chemistry summer grant to work in the laboratory of Dr. GZ on the biodegradation of aromatic hydrocarbons by Pseudomonads. Another year I got funding to study the incidence of Lyme disease in mice and their parasites along a rural to urban transact in New Jersey in the laboratory of Dr. MS. I am now conducting my senior thesis work in the toxicology lab of Dr. LW, studying the effects of 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p–dioxin, an environmental contaminant, on developing fish embryos. The curiosity that once inspired me to plant rows of tulips has brought me to believe that medical science is the most exciting and dynamic field I could hope to enter, yet I am hesitant to devote my life purely to lab work and research. I believe that the practical application of knowledge is the most rewarding result of study and curiosity. I want to enter the medical field to combine my drive to discover and understand with my love of people, and become a doctor working at the frontiers of clinical science.

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This sh*t is bananas…

Whenever I type the word “bananas”, I hear a certain Gwen Stefani song in my head… This post is going to be painful to type!

 

I just wanted to put up a quick post on one of Americans’ favorite fruits. According to the USDA, bananas are the most consumed fruit in the United States, accounting for 25% of fresh fruit consumption.  Bananas are rich in potassium, magnesium, and manganese, and while some who embrace a low-carb lifestyle may find fault with them, they are without doubt a whole, real, food.  While our modern domesticated varieties are very different from wild bananas (and no, the shape of the banana is NOT proof of creationism!), bananas can be part of a healthy diet for most people. Bananas are a staple of many traditional diets, and their leaves are also used for cooking in many cultures.

 

A wild banana, courtesy of Wikimedia commons. I wonder how they taste?

A wild banana, courtesy of Wikimedia commons. I wonder how they taste?

 

In America, the word banana is synonymous with the Cavendish banana, but this is certainly not the only variety and many argue it is not the best. “Best” is, of course, subjective.  Choosing a “best” banana is like choosing a best apple*. Seasonality and freshness matter, as does personal preference.

 

Variety makes life interesting. Genetic variation is necessary for evolution. Food variation makes out diet more interesting (and broadens our nutrient intake while minimizing exposure to potential toxins).  Over the past year or so, I’ve made it my goal to try as many varieties of banana as I can find- so far I’m doing pretty well.

 

Cavendish bananas (a triploid variant of Musa acuminata) can be found just about anywhere. Grocery stores, cafeterias, and many gas stations have these ubiquitous yellow fruit on offer year round.

 

At my local grocery store I can usually find other Musa varieties.  Next to a small selection of yucca, aloe, and other somewhat “exotic” offerings I can almost always find plantains (a hybrid between Musa acuminata and Musa balbisiana).  They usually have green plantains, sometimes yellow, and occasionally brown.  The color varies with ripeness. Green plantains are the least ripe and are not sweet, while yellow- or even better, dark brown- plantains are sweet.  Plantains are best eaten cooked. (Personally I love to fry them up in coconut oil. The greens are great with a squeeze of lime, some chile, and salt, while the sweeter fruits are good plain or with a shake of cinnamon or cocoa.)

 

Occasionally my local supermarket has Niño bananas ( a diploid variant of Musa acuminata known by a number of other names), and I can almost always find these at the Asian supermarket I like to visit. I find that these small bananas have a similar taste, though slightly different texture, than Cavendish bananas.

 

At my favorite Asian supermarket I’ve also found Burro bananas, which (at least to me) seem like a hybrid between plantains and Cavendish.  It can be eaten cooked or raw.  To me they have a slightly tart, almost lemony, flavor when eaten fresh.  They have a distinct shape- shorter than Cavendish and very angular.

 

This weekend, I found yet another type of banana to add to my list. I was visiting a friend on Long Island and took a trip through an ethnic supermarket that caters to the local Hispanic population.  Like so many ethnic supermarkets, this store had a fabulous produce section- with a great variety of fruits & vegetables, all really fresh and reasonably priced. The meat department was also extensive, with lots of interesting cuts, including goat! (A friend and I were recently bemoaning the fact that you can rarely find goat in the US- I’ve only ever had it when my family bought whole animals from a local farmer).

 

At the store on Long Island I finally came across Red bananas (another triploid variant of Musa acuminata). As the name suggests, this variety is a dark red, almost purple. Otherwise, it looks like a slightly smaller Cavendish.  I picked up a couple but I haven’t tried them yet as I don’t think they’re quite ripe.

 

The variety of different bananas I picked up.

The variety of different bananas I picked up. From left to right: Niños, Reds, Cavendish, and plantains.

 

I only have to find one more type of banana to knock off every variety on this list, and I will continue to keep my eyes open for other, unusual varieties. Some of my family members have tried Manzano bananas while visiting Hawaii, and as the name promises, they do taste a bit like apples (Manzano is spanish for apple).

 

Actually, it looks like Hawaii has many interesting types of bananas, and I’m in desperate need of some sunshine and relaxation… looks like it’s time to go look at plane tickets to Hawaii!!

 

I wish… I start an EMS elective tomorrow. I’m looking forward to working with first responders as we pick up and transport patients to our University Hospital. From all reports, this is an exciting elective!

 

*When it comes to apples, GoldRush are, without a doubt, my favorite, but the “best” apple on any given day depends on what is fresh, what is in season, and what you’re in the mood for!

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New Year in Dubai- part 2

I’m back! While I should probably be studying for my upcoming Ob/gyn exams (practical exam tomorrow, written test on Friday), I thought I’d take some time this evening to get part 2 of my trip to Dubai up.

 

As I mentioned in my last post, people in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have historically lived either on the coast or in land at oases. Most of the major cities- for example Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Sharjah – are on the coast, but there are some cities that have grown up around oases in the desert.

 

During my trip to the UAE I visited Al Ain, the second largest city in Abu Dhabi and the fourth largest city in the UAE. Al Ain was built around an oasis: a source of water and thus agriculture in the desert. From groundwater and runoff from the mountains, farms were built where water was found. I saw a number of oases, all which were extensively planted with date trees. I did also spy one farm where they grew lush grass- animals did not graze this land, but I saw men cutting portions and carrying the greenery to livestock (I saw it being fed to goats).

 

Looking over the Al Ain Oases. Al Ain also has a truly world class zoo.

Looking over the Al Ain Oases. Al Ain also has a truly world class zoo.

 

Another oasis, this one at a historic homestead.

Another oasis, this one at a historic homestead.

 

One more- this one was next to the oldest mosque in the UAE.

One more- this one was next to the oldest mosque in the UAE.

 

At some oases I saw pens of goats, chickens, sheep, and doves (I believe these are used for falconry training). Camels, which survive with much less water in much harsher lands, were seen roaming the deserts and dunes along highways. As we drove from Dubai to Al Ain, I saw many camel farms as well as camels being ridden and camels loose in the desert. We also passed a camel racetrack!

 

Speaking of deserts…

 

A highlight of my trip to the UAE was going on a “desert safari”. My environmentalist side felt a little guilty, but “dune bashing” through the dunes in an area known as “Big Red” (technically in Sharjah) was a lot of fun.

 

Stunning scenary

Stunning scenery

 

"Dune Basing." Let your tires down to 15psi, and make some tracks.

“Dune Bashing.” Let your tires down to 15psi, and make some tracks.

 

The landscape of the desert is incredibly different from anything I’ve ever experienced. I tend to find peace and happiness in green, wooded, and wild areas, but the dunes posses a beauty that is unlike any other natural environment I’ve encountered. We went dune bashing with another friend of my brother (another native Sharjan), who has been taking people out into the desert on safari for thirteen years. Going out into the desert is what he does everyday professionally, but when I asked him what he did with his days off and his evenings he said he spent them in the desert. It’s where he’s happy and it’s where he finds peace- a sentiment I can understand. Nature, in many forms, is deeply soothing.

 

The UAE gets very little rain. The cities, which aren’t designed with rain in mind, handle even a small amount of rain very poorly, flooding with even the smallest precipitation. Likewise, the sand of the deserts quickly forms an impervious surface when wet, and water runs off into deep ravines known as wadis- dry riverbeds.  If you’re ever camping in the desert, resist the urge to pitch your tent in a wadi- with even a small amount of rain you and your tent may be swept away in a torrent.

 

As someone who is named after the geologist Charles Lyell I was immediately fond of the these deep desert ravines that showed how water had eroded through many layers of rock, exemplifying the theory of uniformitarianism. I also really enjoyed the scenery as we went “Wadi Walking” through Wadi Wurayah in Fujeira.

 

Wadi walking.

Wadi walking.

 

I hope this gives a scale of these Wadi’s... Some of these scenes really reminded me of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, though that movie was filmed at Petra in Jordan.

I hope this gives a scale of these Wadi’s… Some of these scenes really reminded me of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, though that movie was filmed at Petra in Jordan.

 
This Wadi is home to the tallest waterfall in the UAE- I haven’t found it documented, but it’s probably 15’ max…

 

Record breaking waterfall.

Record breaking waterfall.

 

This is a good time to point out one of the serious problems in the UAE- garbage and graffiti. Every inch of stone at this waterfall was covered in grafitti, as you can see. A more widespread problem is garbage. I was deeply saddened (and annoyed) by all the trash that was around the waterfall and at other beautiful places. Despite the big signs warning against leaving garbage, there was no end of detritus.  I saw people actively throwing cigarette cartons, bottles, and food wrappers throughout the Wadi and at the beach in Dubai. I found the litter in the dunes most demoralizing. People would camp and make bonfires and leave all of their garbage strewn about the site. There were very few expanses of unspoiled sand.

 

On a day trip to Abu Dhabi I visited the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, the largest mosque in the world outside of Mecca.  Most mosques are closed to non-muslims, but this one is open to the public… as long as you follow “Mosque manners”.

 

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque

 

Mosque Manners

Mosque Manners

 

I obliged...

I obliged…

 

The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is stunning. It is massive and beautiful, though the interior design is definitely not my style (perhaps I’m just used to the solemn interior design of churches, but I found the bright colorful baubles and chandeliers out of place). The flooring outside the mosque is marble, and when you take your shoes off (you’re not allowed in the mosque wearing them) the floor is surprisingly cool, despite the desert heat and sun, thanks to radiant cooling. Inside the mosque, bright carpet covers the floor, which is specially designed to be removable in pieces so that it can be regularly cleaned (in accustom with islamic rules).  There are also large digital displays on the wall with 6 times listed: dawn, and the 5 times at which muslims are supposed to pray throughout the day.

 

As you travel throughout the UAE, you see prayer rooms and mosques tucked away. Muslims are supposed to pray 5 times a day, and while they do not have to pray in a mosque or prayer room, it is preferred. These religious areas are labelled with women’s and men’s entrances, and I believe the “mosque manners” above apply to all. Certainly, muslims can’t always make it to a mosque to pray, and you occasionally see people get out a prayer mat, clean their hands and feet, and pray in a (relatively) quiet corner on a public street.

 

While out in Fujeira, we stopped at the oldest mosque in the UAE. It dates from the 1400s and is overlooked by 2 towers. The architecture is very unique.

 

The oldest mosque in the UAE. It has very unique architecture.

The oldest mosque in the UAE. It has very unique architecture.

 

As I mentioned in my last post, UAE law is deeply influenced by Sharia law, and Muslims may not eat pork (or drink alcohol).  Pork (and products with pork in them) is off limits and is kept in its own area in supermarkets. I really couldn’t get enough of these signs.

 

Look at the cuddly pigs on the wall!

Look at the cuddly pigs on the wall!

 

Also, while Dubai is a global city and quite tolerant, it remains relatively conservative in comparison to the western world. There are many requests for modest clothes (I awkwardly toured the Emirates Palace Hotel in Abu Dhabi  trying to conceal my flip flops), and public displays of affection are generally frowned upon if not expressly forbidden. (Also, weekends in the Muslim world are Friday and Saturday.)

 

No kissing (unfortunately I cut off the top right with the request that people wear clothes that cover shoulders and knees.

No kissing (unfortunately I cut off the top right with the request that people wear clothes that cover shoulders and knees.

 
Dubai initially grew along an inlet from the ocean known as “Dubai Creek”. As time passed, the creek became used as a port for traders. As trade increased, the decision was made to develop the creek further, and it was dredged and reinforced so that it could be used for major trade. The creek remains an important port, though it is no longer the dominant port in Dubai (this has fallen to the Jebel Ali Port).  Water taxis (known as Abras) shuttle people across the creek, and we took a trip across (for the cost of 1 dirham, about $0.27).

 

Abra

Abra

 

One thing you notice all around the UAE are pictures of the various sheiks that rule the emirates.  Large portraits are on buildings, signs, and posters.  Here’s just one example.

 

Sheiks

Sheiks

 

Part 1 of my trip to Dubai started with the Burj Kalifa, the tallest building in the world, so it seems appropriate that this post should come full circle.  I left Dubai on the morning of the 1st, after watching New Years fireworks. No picture I took can do them justice, so here’s a video of the show.

 

 

The Dubai fountains also featured heavily in the show. I only saw them during the day, but that’s another site worth seeing! (Talk about the land of excess!)

 

this is seriously worth watching…

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New Year in Dubai- part 1

As I let on in a recent post, I spent Christmas and the start of the New Year visiting my brother in Dubai and touring around the United Arab Emirates (UAE). This isn’t a travel blog, but while I was touring around the emirates and learning some of the history of the region I made some observations that I think are worth sharing- especially since I got a great tour of a part of the world that many will never visit. Apologies if this reads like a blog version of a vacation slideshow!

 
Dubai is an otherworldly place.  Obviously built to be “the city of the future”, the skyline is chock-o-block with architectural masterpieces, though many have been stalled or vacant since the financial collapse of 2009. Put in any other city, many Dubai buildings would be iconic, but standing next to the world’s tallest building, the world’s only 7-star hotel (self proclaimed), and other masterpieces, otherwise stunning buildings start to look commonplace.

 

The tallest building in the world. It's almost twice the height of the Empire State Building.

The tallest building in the world. It’s almost twice the height of the Empire State Building.

 

Burj Al Arab by night: Taken from Palm Jumeira- an entirely man made island in the shape of a palm tree (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palm_Islands). The Burj Al Arab is actually built on its own man-made island in the Gulf. *

Burj Al Arab by night: Taken from Palm Jumeira- an entirely man made island in the shape of a palm tree. The Burj Al Arab is actually built on its own man-made island in the Gulf. *

 

 

Old Town: While parts of the city look “authentic” (or what you might expect to see in a Middle Eastern city), the oldest building in Dubai is probably from the 60s or 70s. This complex, known as “Old Town”, was finished in 2007.

Old Town: While parts of the city look “authentic” (or what you might expect to see in a Middle Eastern city), the oldest building in Dubai is probably from the 60s or 70s. This complex, known as “Old Town”, was finished in 2007.

 

 

Other towers: My brother was able to give me fairly detailed background on many buildings around Dubai, many of which have been stalled or vacant since his arrival in the city 3 years ago. Their vacancy does not hinder their stunning architecture.

Other towers: My brother was able to give me fairly detailed background on many buildings around Dubai, many of which have been stalled or vacant since his arrival in the city 3 years ago. Their vacancy does not hinder their stunning architecture.

 

On the surface, there seems to be little “traditional living” or “ancestral health” wisdom to glean from Dubai.  It is a very modern city with immigrants, corporations, and businesses from around the world.  Within a block of my brother’s home you can get Kentucky Fried Chicken, Nando’s (a chicken restaurant originally from South Africa), and Al Tazaj (a chain BBQ chicken restaurant from Saudi Arabia) and that’s just to name the chicken restaurants (Popeye’s chicken is also popular, but there isn’t one within a block of my brother)! You also see The Cheesecake Factory, Texas Roadhouse, PF Chang’s and just about any American or international chain you could name (though I don’t think I saw a Chipotle).

 

I’m confident that if humans develop an extraterrestrial community, this will be the first chain available in outer space.

I’m confident that if humans develop an extraterrestrial community, this will be the first chain available in outer space.*

 

Of course, Dubai only recently became a modern global city. Dubai changed rapidly from a small pearling center and regional trading port to a cosmopolitan global hub fuelled largely by the discovery of oil in the region.  Dubai also developed laws and practices that encouraged rapid expansion of business and real-estate on a global scale . Older Emirati have truly seen it all, from the days of very basic living to modern global excess.  As someone who is deeply interested in ancestral health, I asked around and read about the traditional ways of living in this part of the county. While no one today lives an “ancestral” lifestyle, the memory of traditional days is not yet forgotten.

 

The easiest place to start, of course, is food.  Until relatively recently, the diet of the Middle East was limited to foods that could be locally produced or transported great distances without refrigeration. While traders would bring spices and rice, which was a staple of the diet, perishable food was limited to what is locally available- which isn’t much. On the shore, seafood was a staple. I was told by a local Emirati (a good friend of my brother) that a generation ago, the main meal of the day would be rice and fish. Fish, readily available from the sea, was relatively cheap, while meat was expensive. Today this has reversed and meat (usually lamb, but sometimes goat and increasingly beef) is cheaper and more commonly eaten while fish is now more expensive and less common.

 

One of the highlights of my trip to the United Arab Emirates (I spent time in Abu Dhabi, Fujairah, and Sharjah in addition to my time in Dubai) was an evening walking tour around Sharjah led by my brother’s friend Khalid. Khalid is a native Emirati, with a deep knowledge of the area as well as the history and culture of the region. He kindly took us on a tour of some of the markets of Sharjah, and graciously answered my endless questions about the food, history, culture, and religion (and occasional lack thereof) in the area.

 

The first stop on our tour of Sharjah was the local fish market, where merchants sell fresh catch from dawn until late in the evening (they get two deliveries of fish per day).  Here we saw the wide variety of fish that are caught, sold, and eaten in the area.

 

The fish market in Sharjah**

The fish market in Sharjah**

 

I recognized a number of fish and marine life on offer. There were shark, rays, and tuna, as well as small reef fish (such as angel fish, parrot fish, and grunts) that I’m familiar with as a SCUBA diver.  In Dubai, I saw Tiger Prawns (shrimp) larger than I’ve ever seen: almost a foot long. It appears that this species is on the seafood “red list” as, I’m sure, are other species I spied in the market. An interesting aspect of the fish market was a large station at the end of the market where men would prepare your purchase (fish, squid, or shrimp). It cost 1 Dirham (about $0.27 US) to have a fish cleaned, 2 Dirham to have a kilo of squid cleaned, or 3 Dirham to have a kilo of shrimp cleaned (the most expensive item on the list). As someone that peels her own shrimp, I recognize that ~$0.35/lb is a cheap price for cleaning shrimp!

 

Traditionally, fish was also dried and used for trading, fertilizer, and animal food.  Dried fish would make its way to the oases in the desert (anything fresh from the coast would spoil before it could reach any inland populations) where it could be sold or traded for products of the oases. The #1 product of the oases has traditionally been dates.

 

The cultivation of date palms (Phoenix dactylifera) has been the most important form of agriculture in the area now known as the UAE.  Date palms not only provide their owners with high calorie fruit, but also supply leaves that can be used to make fans and baskets, branches that can be used to make walls and roofs, bark fibers that are suitable for making rope and for stuffing pillows and saddles, and dead trunks that can be used as beams. Date fruits can be eaten fresh, dried, crushed for juice, or boiled and packed in bags made of palm leaves. Fruits stored in this way could be kept for a long time and were used as staple foods for men and animals on long journeys across the desert [1].

 

 

Palms of many uses. You can see in this open kitchen in a historical abode that palms trunks were sometimes used as beams and fronds were used as roofing or for walls.

Palms of many uses. You can see in this open kitchen in a historical abode that palm trunks can be used as beams and fronds used as roofing or walls.

 

This was a small building on the same homestead. Dates were placed on the ridged floor and a large trunk was used to crush them, with the juice running off into the depression where it could be collected.

This was in a small building on the same homestead. Dates were placed on the ridged floor and a large trunk was used to crush them, with the juice running off into the depression where it could be collected.

 

Today most dates are eaten whole- usually dried, but sometimes fresh when in season.  There are MANY types of dates, a number of which I sampled. I’d be lying if I said I weren’t a date enthusiast (though it is a fondness I’ve only developed in the last couple years). Varieties have different characteristics, though they are all incredibly sweet (one shop keeper tried to tell me that a certain variety was lower in sugar and therefore “good for diabetics”. I think not…).

 

Date Poster: This is an incomplete list, but it gives you an idea of the variety available. I expect it is like the many types of apples that were once available in the US. While you can still get a wide variety today from growers and specialty markets, a few types have started to dominate the market. (In the US, I’ve only seen two types for sale in stores Medjool and Deglet Nour. To me, the Deglet Nour is the Red Delcious of the date world- not worth bothering with- but maybe I’m picky.).

Date Poster: This is an incomplete list, but it gives you an idea of the variety available.

 

Many types of dates are available from different shops and stands in the UAE, but I definitely didn’t see many of the varieties that are shown above.  I did see some unique dates, but there were a few varieties that I saw over and over again. I imagine that the diversity of dates is much like the diversity of apples available in the US. While you can get a good selection from growers and specialty markets, a few types make up the majority of the market. (As far as dates go, in the US I’ve only seen two types for sale in stores: Medjool and Deglet Nour. To me, the Deglet Nour is the Red Delcious of the date world- not worth bothering with- but maybe I’m picky.).

 

Date alley: Perhaps my favorite part of our Sharjah tour. With the exception of the stand directly on the right that sells coconuts, all of these stands sell dates.

Perhaps my favorite part of our Sharjah tour. With the exception of the stand directly on the right that sells coconuts, all of these stands sell dates.

 

One of the many date stands. Merchants were keen to tell you the price and source of dates.

One of the many date stands. Merchants were keen to tell you the price and source of dates.

 

The price of dates varied widely. At the street markets, I saw dates from 8-16 Dirham/kg (~ $1-$2/lb), in Waitrose (a nice supermarket) they were 22-35 Dirham/kg (~$3-$4/lb), and at fancy date stores at the Dubai Mall they were 165-240 Dirham/kg ($20-$40/lb)! I tasted dates from all sources and will say that the cheapest and the most expensive were the best- the ones from Waitrose were a disappointment. Lining them all up and having a blind taste test would be fun- I’ll put that on my list for next time!

 

The third and final local food that played a role in traditional diets is camel products- usually camel milk. If you haven’t seen it already, check out my recent post.

 

Camel milk of many colors: rose, cardamon, and saffron flavored alongside plain.

Camel milk of many colors: rose, cardamon, and saffron flavored alongside plain.

 
Though there has never been enough wildlife to support a population of hunter-gatherers in this part of the Middle East, there is (or was) some game that has historically been hunted.  Such sources could not be relied upon, but provided much appreciated variety and sustenance when found. Traditionally, falconry was used for hunting.  Falconry remains a deeply loved sport in the Emirates, one that is seen as part of Emirati heritage and supported by the Sheikhs.

 

Falconry remains a popular sport in the emirates.

Falconry remains a popular sport in the emirates.

 

Coffee also holds a special cultural significance in the UAE. Arabic coffee, usually spiced with Cardamom, is offered to guests as a sign of hospitality. The hotel where my brother lives (a common choice of housing) has dates and Arabic coffee on offer to guests at all times in the lobby. The coffee (at least to my taste) is rather weak, though the spice is pleasant.

 

While I’m interested in traditional diets, I’m also interested in what people are eating now.  Maybe I’m a weird tourist (or maybe I’m just easily amused), but when I’m traveling I always love to take a trip through a local supermarket to see what people are eating. The Waitrose at the Dubai Mall did not let me down…

 

First to the meat department:

 

Grass fed beef from NZ and Grain fed beef from Australia. I really like that you can buy the two side by side. I wish I’d found two comparable cuts so I could compare the prices…

Grass fed beef from NZ and Grain fed beef from Australia. I really like that you can buy the two side by side. I wish I’d found two comparable cuts so I could compare the prices…

 

Pork Department: Islam is the national religion in the UAE, and laws are based around Sharia law. Muslims may not drink alcohol or eat pork (amongst other things). That being said, non-Muslims may buy pork at supermarkets and alcohol is served at hotels (though not in Sharjah).

Pork Department: Islam is the national religion in the UAE, and laws are based around Sharia law. Muslims may not drink alcohol or eat pork (amongst other things). That being said, non-Muslims may buy pork at supermarkets and alcohol is served at hotels (though not in Sharjah).

 

 

 Interesting finds in the pork department: The pork department isn’t just a meat counter- you can also find processed foods that include pork products. The Corn Bread has Pork Fat in it, but I couldn’t find an offending ingredient in the Pop-tarts (though I do find Pop-tarts offensive!). The bacon flavored crackers are obviously taboo!

Interesting finds in the pork department: The pork department isn’t just a meat counter- you can also find processed foods that include pork products. The Corn Bread has Pork Fat in it, but I couldn’t find an offending ingredient in the Pop-tarts (though I do find Pop-tarts offensive!). The bacon flavored crackers are obviously taboo!

 

I didn’t travel halfway around the world just to visit supermarkets. In addition to spending quality time with my brother and his family, I also got to see A LOT of sites in the surrounding emirates, but as this post is already getting rather long, maybe I’ll save that for next time!

 

Credit where credit due. I took most pics, but the ones marked by a * were taken by a friend Amber, and ** were taken by Khalid. 

1.            Heard-Bey, F., From Trucial States to United Arab Emirates. 2011, London: Motivate Publishing.

 

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