Thursday, July 26, 2007


The walk was short, but what a great view:

Tuesday, July 24, 2007


The PU's just left. Today was the one day during their visit during which I didn't have to work. I seem to be run down more now than usual. One would think that it would be no big deal to spend a few hours eating and squeezing in a quick activity or visit and then going off to work, but it's exhausting. I think I am very lucky in that I have low-maintenance parents. They are generally happy enough to just see me for a bit here and there, and entertain themselves the rest of the time.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Second Wind

Today I took the final part of my medical licensing exam. I was somewhat anxious about it as for Steps 1 and 2, I had blocks of vacation during which to study in 6-8 hour sessions. This time, I didn't want to use one of my precious vacation weeks for board studying, so I've been trying to cram in a hour or so of practice questions or reading here or there. The mantra in med school as to necessary study time is "Two months for Step 1, two weeks for Step 2, and for Step 3-- bring a #2 pencil." That is all fine and dandy, except I have a friend who actually failed Step 3 a few months ago, and at over $600, I don't want to make that mistake.

I think that it went well enough. The exam is actually computerized these days. By the end of it, I was kind of absent-minded, but I think I did alright. I won't find out now for over a month. Some of the cases were ridiculously easy, and other ones left me playing eenie, meenie, miney, mo between options of bizarre syndromes.*


Yesterday I ran by the lake again. I don't know what the heck people are talking about when they talk about runner's highs and all that garbage. The best feeling I've ever had is getting to that point where I'm not painfully aware of my labored breathing while trying to find a semi-dry area of my hand with which to wipe away the sweat.

The humidity was a killer. The air was so moist, you could feel each oxygen with its two attached hydrogens hurling itself at you. The air was so moist that if you grabbed a handful of it, you could squeeze the water out of it like a sponge.

Mile 1 sucked. Mile 1 always sucks. I took my walk break, and knocked out Mile 2. Second walk break. I hit the hash mark on the path, but I wasn't ready to turn around and start running again, so I walked down to the water's edge. This run sucked-- even the squirrels were lined up along the path, laughing at me.

And then for once, the shuffle option on my iPod saved me. Instead of it's usual trickery of breaking my stride with something like Enya, AC/DC came on. It was a song I hadn't heard in quite some time-- the one I convinced the squad to choose for the halftime performance, much to the dismay of our coach. It was time to stop being a pansy, and run. Miles 3 coasted by, and by the time I hit Mile 4 it was over: bad mood abolished.


I know I have mentioned this before, but days at work seem to almost have themes. The other day, it was nosebleed day. And, more recently it was "Bad News Day". I can understand that no one likes giving their patient bad news, but when I am at least the fourth or fifth person to speak to a cancer patient that week, I don't think it's fair that I am the one stuck telling them they aren't going to get better.

I had a handoff patient at signout. They had been seen by someone else. I was just supposed to wait for them to get back from radiology, and send them home. Simple. The woman comes back and starts puking all over the place. I get that under control, and then she asks me why she keeps going into renal failure. I tell her that I don't know. I ask her what's going on with her colon cancer. She says she doesn't know what is happening, but her surgeon said he wouldn't operate because the cancer had "exploded all over her abdomen".

Then I ask her what her oncologist said was the next step. She said she didn't know. So there I am, stuck telling her that while I don't know what is going on with her personally, sometimes when cancer starts spreading, different organs start shutting down, and they don't get better. She looked like I had slapped her. I told her that I could treat her urinary tract infection, and give her medicines for pain, but that she needed to talk with her oncologist about her options. They left shortly afterwards, but not before I saw it-- the recognition that she was losing her battle.

It's not fair. I have a hard enough time doing my job-- I don't want to clean up after somebody else. And I don't mean to crush anyone's hope. I do think that attitude is a big part of healing. However, if you are being turned down for surgery because your cancer has metastasized, someone should tell you that this is not only a bad thing, but a VERY bad thing. I went into emergency medicine partly to protect myself from becoming attached to patients. While helping to improve the quality of life of a terminal patient is important, it's also hard to watch them go.

Then there was the very anxious executive who came in after a car accident. He looked absolutely fine, and wouldn't you know it, there was an abnormality on his head CT. Some sort of "spot" that they couldn't determine whether or not it was a benign lesion, a dilated blood vessel, a chronic deformity... or MALIGNANCY. Great. As you can imagine, that little news bit didn't go over so well. "Uh sir, there's something unusual on your head CT..."


Tomorrow the PU's (parental units) are back in town. It's not exactly the best time, as I am working every day but one of their visit, but I guess that leaves them plenty of time to explore on their own. They have a huge RV now, which somewhat complicates things as it won't fit in my driveway, but I guess it has been working well for them.


*I know you don't want to actually think of your personal physician just randomly guessing at crap, but if you've been reading this blog for any length of time, you should know that by now, NOTHING IS SACRED.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

All Work and No Play

Here's a few pictures from my recent "work" conference. This was the main part of the hotel. They were smart and put us in the back building.

We learned a new dice game. This was hours before security got called that first night.

Views from the kayak.

I think I would like to try sailing some day.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Oh, and I Forgot to Mention....

Some days at work are easy. The asthmatic comes in for a tune-up and goes home. The heart failure patient was a little too indulgent over the holiday and now needs to be admitted, diuresed, and discharged after an observation period. The sprained wrist that may actually have a hidden fracture that needs a splint.

"The other day" (From here on I will now be referring to encounters as having occurred "the other day" to further obscure identities.) my shift was filled with "Oh yeah, and another thing" cases.

#1- First there was the cop that came in with what he was sure was a kidney stone as he had one in the past and it felt similar. So, after getting his pain under control, we checked his urine and ran him through the CT. Sure enough, he had a kidney stone. However, he also had a BULLET fragment in his back. It was very superficial, there were no scars on his skin and it didn't need to be removed. However, it seems to me like having been shot would be something you could kindly remember to mention in your medical history.

#2- Then there was the prisoner that I think just didn't want to go back to jail. Everything was wrong with this guy. He'd had seizures, and although he admitted to not taking his seizure-prevention medication, his case wasn't that simple. He also claimed he was attacked and blacked out when he was arrested the day before (head CT), was vomiting blood, had blood in his stools, a fever, and difficulty urinating.

Our whole workup process is based on the idea of a chief complaint and ruling out life-threatening issues. When you give me a bunch of unrelated crap, it just slows everything down. This guy was young, so he learned first-hand that if you complain of blood in your stools, you're getting a rectal exam. If you complain of bloody vomiting too, and your rectal exam is unfortunately positive, you are definitely getting a tube down your nose.

Getting a tube down one's nose also involves flooding your stomach with saline, and sucking said saline back out into the vacuutainer to make sure that there isn't any active bleeding going on. Meanwhile this involves hawking up all sorts of mucus, and nose lubricant-- which is, by the way, the one thing that makes ME sick to witness. And, this is all very entertaining for the officers accompanying you to the emergency department. Here's a hint: next time, stick with the seizures.

#3- Then there was my uncooperative patient. He had a history of some baseline mental retardation and lived by himself. He called his sister up, and told her he just "didn't feel right" and she had him transported to the hospital. He was stubborn and extremely frustrating to examine as he refused to follow directions and wouldn't give me any description other than just "feeling blah". He did seem to have some more distractability than he should have though, so into the CT scanner he went, with having a plethora of labs pending. This was at the end of my shift. I was dictating his chart the next day, and guess what? The guy had evidence of a recent stroke on his scan. We had no idea when the onset was, and there wasn't much to do acutely, but 30 year-olds who just feel "blah" shouldn't be going around having strokes. Now I am a little paranoid about sending anyone home.


Posting around here has been scant this past week for two reasons:

1. My laptop's power cord wasn't connecting well enough to charge the battery. It had gotten to the point where no amount of jiggling would do. $135 and four days later it is better, but I think this machine may be nearing hospice-time as the power button is now sticking and it doesn't like to shut down.

2. We had a state chapter conference thing that was four days long. I survived rooming with McNeedy and even went out kayaking for the first time ever. It was a fun time, but between all the lectures and hanging out, I ended up exhausted.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

July 4th Memories

Somewhere in the linen closet at my parents' home, there is an old green and black flannel blanket. It has several holes in it, and I am sure the thing is quite musty. It is scratchy to the touch and I am sure there are still several burrs still clinging to its worn fibers. It is the last blanket on Earth that you would ever want to offer to a guest.

However, to me that blanket is special. I remember many a July 4th when our family would park along the street of a residential neighborhood and walk what must have been close to a quarter of a mile to find an empty spot on the grass of a local park. All of our arms would be full. Some of us would be carrying lawn chairs. Some of us would carry jackets for when the heat of the hot Texas sun finally dissipated and it got chilly. Someone would be dragging the old orange and white cooler along. Inside the cooler, there would be ice-cold lemonade, and cold fried chicken. My mother would always have brought along some salted popcorn (made on the stove, not the microwave back then), fruit, and some cookies.

That was our tradition. We'd lie on blankets, my brothers and I, straining our eyes against the dusky sky-- looking for the firemen setting up the fireworks. People around us would be waving sparklers.

Finally, you would hear it, the slight whistle of a rocket shooting up in the sky. You would try to guesstimate just how far up it would go, and then-- all of a sudden, bright lights filled the sky.

The green and black blanket was used to duck and cover when the loud cannon booms that rattled our young eardrums would go off. There were many holes poked through it by little fingers as we wanted to be under cover, but still able to see the night sky.

At the end of it all, the sky would be filled with smoke. There were several years when fireworks fell on a dried up cluster of trees and created quite an impressive blaze. After it all ended, we'd stagger back to the car, as suddenly the sleepiness and full-belly combo hit.

After we moved to Arizona, there still were firework shows, but it wasn't the same. By then, my older brother and I were well on our way to becoming miserable teens, and it just wasn't as magical.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Clearing My Head

I don't know what it is about being near water, but it is always very soothing for me. Yesterday I ran by the lake again... granted it is a polluted lake and when the wind blows just so, there it this odd, almost metallic smell to it.

Just the same though, I like running under an old signal bridge, and along the water. The slow, gentle ripples are the one thing moving slower than me as I doggedly jog along, being passed by roller bladers in their fluorescent shorts and bicyclists with their aerodynamic helmets and spandex.

Speedboats cruise back and forth, painting white lines in the glassy water.

The geese are gone today, but along the water are ducks lined up in a row, and every now and again I spot a robin in the grass.

As I plod along, a wee girl with pigtails paces me on her purple tricycle. For a minute, it is her and I-- neck and neck, until her mother calls her back.