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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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