Monday, March 31, 2008

Rural doctors have it all

Today my class got up at the ungodly hour of ...something. I'm not sure, because it was so early that it was dark and I couldn't see my watch, but believe me it was really early. Did I mention it was still dark? Maybe even before 7 a.m. We got up, jumped on a bus and fell right back asleep again, and didn't wake up until the bus had arrived in an enchanted fairyland. In this enchanted fairyland, we were all rural doctors.

Rural doctors have it all! They get "light refreshments" of unlimited choc-chip cookies and coffee and tea, they get morning tea and afternoon tea, they get lunch for free, and then another lunch after that because there was extra food and there are starving children in Parramatta so don't let it go to waste, and they get really cushy work.

The work that rural doctors do is lots of fun. For example, if you ever come across a severed pig's trotter which has an unsightly gash in it, you whip out your suture kit and sew that laceration right up!

And if you slip on a choc-chip cookie while suturing, and you fall and break your wrist, you can put a plaster cast on it.

And if, like many rural doctors, you live in a community of fake plastic people, you can provide them with medical care too. Today we learned to insert intravenous cannulas (or is that cannulae) in fake plastic arms that squirted fake blood at us when we poked them with (real) needles, and we learned to resuscitate fake plastic people that may have drowned in the surf or been struck down by heart attacks.

Overall, I had a great day today. Sure, it was basic stuff, but apparently the next three and three-quarter years are all about learning to apply these skills not just to fake plastic people and stray pig limbs but to real people who really need our help, so I'm pretty revved up about it! Plus I got to eat six sandwiches, an apple, four cookies, a mars bar, some dried apricots and several man-sized blocks of cheddar, AND have two sleeps in the daytime. Shame about the Imperial Roast coffee, but you can't have it all.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Why I stay in on Friday nights

I get a lot of people asking me, "Why is the Australian dollar falling against the US dollar recently even though US interest rates are still dropping?", to which I respond that I haven't really got a clue.

People then usually say that they expect that someone like me, who stays in on Friday nights, would know something nerdy and technical like that. And then the conversation wends its way round to why I stay home. And I tell them the very thing that I am about to reveal to you:
On Friday night you have the internet ALL TO YOURSELF.

Gasp! Just ponder that notion for a moment.

It's a bit like how Mad Max spent a lot of time driving on the wrong side of the road in Beyond Thunderdome - because hey, it's not like anyone else was on the road, right? In fact, I often dress like Mad Max while I have the world's entire communication infrastructure at my beck and call. Black leather, dirty, scowling, bad haircut. Makes a nice change from the rest of the week when I wear neutral greens and browns and am dirty and scowling with a bad haircut. The Road Worrier.

Admittedly, it's easy to let your standards slip when you're online by yourself. Just like being in the house alone when you take big bites straight out of the cheese and promise yourself you'll whittle away the teeth-marks later. Or you don't bother to get a clean knife to flick chunks out of the jam jar for dinner; you just use the one that you licked clean earlier on because you only cut your tongue a little bit. On the internet, of course, such behaviour is entirely normal, if not somewhat prissy and affected. So it really doesn't matter. And even it did, there's no-one there to notice anyway.

So what kind of things can you do when you have the internet entirely to yourself? I like to go to and offer to play games of blitz chess with 1 second time limits to the cast of zeros who are also there. I like to create eBay listings for items like Queensland with a Buy It Now price of 99 cents and a time limit of 4 hours. I like to check a good online newspaper for news updates that never happen because the staff, like all good journalists, would rather get smashed than write the news on a Friday night (or come to think of it, on a Tuesday morning). But most of all I like to read ads. Because at that moment, every single computer at Google is dedicated to figuring out exactly what I want. And one day, when they get it right, I want to be there.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Mia Dyson compels me to sing poorly in the car

Some music suits certain environments. The music of Mia Dyson, the talented Melbourne blues singer/guitarist/songwriter, is perfect for smoky, lonely clubs at 3 am on a Wednesday. Or so I've been told - what kind of lowlife do you take me for?? If you can't take in her music in that perfect environment, it's also very good to listen to while you cruise around in your car in air-conditioned comfort on a Tuesday afternoon in suburban Adelaide, like I did this afternoon.

Some music compels me to sing along. Some of my singing is probably quite good too. For example, no-one has ever thrown anything at my car while I drive past singing, and this is a good thing, because I would not be brave enough to stop and confront them, so the repair costs would have to come out of my insurance and I would have to pay the first $300 or so.

But I digress. Mia Dyson's music compels me to sing along, but unfortunately I can't do it at all well. This is primarily because I don't know the words, and in fact can't even understand them. Mia Dyson's vocal style is to sound a little like she's got most of a bottle of scotch under her belt, or like she just got up after a nasty fall. Lots of atmosphere, but not much intelligibility. So in trying to sing along I have to shout out the odd word that I recognize with great gusto and elan, and fill in the rest with what I call "mouth guitar", which is where instead of singing you make the noises of what you think may be a guitar, like this: "beeeow dern derrrn bur der der baaaah".

If anyone ever bugs my car I will probably die of embarrassment. But who would bug my car?? 60 Minutes used to have a bit of surveillance footage every now and then, featuring cops handing each other brown paper bags under the dashboard, presumably chock full of donuts, but I think they've gone more tabloid than investigative these days, and anyway I earned those donuts fair and square. Still, one day it'll happen and I'll be famous on youtube. Keep your eyes and ears peeled.

Bup bernt diddididdididdy bernt diddididdy be baaaaap ....

Sunday, March 23, 2008

A visit from the Easter Bilby!

Happy Easter! Were you visited by the Easter Bilby? We were!

I was a bit worried that he wouldn't remember where we lived since we've moved a lot in the last few years. However, he did remember, and he brought us some lovely Easter eggs. Hooray!

Funny thing is, he left them in a supermarket down at Glenelg and the man there wouldn't let me take them home until I gave him some money. Come to think of it, the same thing happened last year...

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Zoom zoom a zoom a zoom zoom!

First, I'd like to apologise for not posting for so long. I have let down myself, my family, the blogging community, and you.

On with the show! Hopefully, I will get to go out on a flight with the Flying Doctors! Last Sunday, I went off to the airport and spent the morning getting briefed by the Royal Flying Doctors on this great program they run, in conjuction with the Rural Doctors Workforce Agency, which allows medical, nursing and paramedic students spend a day on the plane with the flying docs.

It began with a breakfast bbq, which is a bit of a strange concept, but something I could definitely get used to. Sausages, hash browns, and a new thing to me: a piece of bread with the middle torn out, and an egg broken into the hole, which is then fried. They called it "Toad In The Hole", but what I call "Toad In The Hole" is sausages fried then baked in a doughy batter. It must be an Adelaide thing.

We then got briefed on a bunch of obvious dos and don'ts for the day we go up, such as do dress respectably, don't be drunk, don't try to do anything you haven't been asked to do, don't photograph the patients, etc. And some not so obvious dos and don'ts such as do take a credit card in case they have to leave you behind because you won't fit into the plane at the same time as the patients for some reason and you have to stay the night in Woop-woop and find your own way back the next day. And don't eat anything too spicy the night before because gases expand at altitude and it's a pretty confined space inside that fuselage anyway...

We had to fill in a form nominating which days we are available until the end of the year. Unfortunately I only remembered to send mine in today, Thursday, and it really had to be there today and now it won't arrive until Tuesday because of the Easter holidays. I have my fingers and toes crossed hoping that I can do this. I will be very disappointed if I miss out, but I'll have only myself to blame.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Tales of the fig-headed man

This morning I bought some figs from the fig-man at the markets. I approached the stall and noticed that the figs are smaller and greener than the figs last week.

PTR: "Hi, I bought some great figs from you last week."

Figman: "Yeah, those would have been ..."

PTR thinks: This guy has big round cheeks. He actually looks like a fig himself (and hence misses the name of the figs)

Figman: "... which are a dessert fig, very sweet and oozy. These ones here are a more technical fig."

I've heard of technical drawing, technical climbs, and technical innocence, but never technical figs. Apparently a technical fig is one which has superior shape-retaining properties and doesn't get too oozy and over-ripe. Think of it like a Platonic Ideal Fig. All the figs in your life that you thought you had enjoyed were nothing but the shadow of the Ideal Fig which exists Out There, outside The Cave, in the bright sunshine, eternally retaining its shape and not getting oozy or over-ripe. Eating this technical fig would be like eating fruit from Narnia, like having ET cure your taste-buds with his cute little glowy finger, like snatching Gilgamesh's morning tea and sinking in your fangs. (This isn't exactly what the fig-headed man said, but it's the general gist of it.)

So I bought some. They were okay, but were a little bit firm and under-ripe. Maybe they'll have the oozy dessert figs next week.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

School Report Card

Homework: C
Your tactic of concentrating on the last item to create the impression that you did all of the preceding ones just as thoroughly is fooling no-one. Try starting before 11:30 pm the previous evening.

Punctuality: C-
Your obvious enthusiasm for arriving exactly on time has been marred by the sad fact that you cannot park your car right by the door of the classroom.

Enthusiasm: D
Off to a slow start due to the understandable O-Week malaise caused by interminable "introductory" lectures where nothing was done except for informing us that it was compulsory to attend exams, and other such astonishing facts. Then you really slowed down into a full-reverse mope, with no explanation forthcoming.

Lunch: A-
You would have earned an A+ except for that time when you turned up with a huge container of pasta with nothing on it but butter, which distressed some of the other students.

Appearance: B
Considering the material you have to work with, you've done surprisingly good work.

Friday, March 14, 2008

How not to study medicine

I've learned a few things in my seemingly endless first six weeks of med school. The most important thing I have learned is how not to study medicine. This is very important because I used to be an engineer and I was very good at studying engineering. Which is to say, I was very good at goofing off for 13 weeks then busting a gut in swot-vac and cruising through those exams. So here are some things NOT to do:

1. Don't leave it until the night before you really need to know it. In mathematics, if you understand it, you've learned it. End of story. In medicine, you have to actually try to remember stuff too.

2. Don't expect that you'll be able to use a bottom-up approach. In mathematics, you learn some axioms, then extend these the theorems, and so forth. In medicine, you get thrown straight into the middle of some god-awful mess of undefined terms, vague descriptions, assumed prior knowledge that you don't actually have, and seemingly unintelligible consequences. You just have to deal with the chaos.

3. Don't get freaked out and stop studying for two weeks while you wonder if this really is the right decision for you. It is. You've already been through all that. Just do the work and put up with it. It'll all come good in the end.

I love it all.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Sci-Fi Giants Cage Fight!

There comes a time in every young gentleman's life when he starts to wonder who would be the victor in a cage fight between two of the giants of 20th century science fiction, Kurt Vonnegut and Philip K. Dick. For me, that time is now...

To start, PKD would undoubtedly muster his immense back-catalogue to try to crush Vonnegut under its weight. This would be a brutal blow, as PKD could produce up to 3 kg of short stories or novellas every second. Vonnegut would almost certainly defend by inserting PKD into a novella of his own where he would seem to act freely until Vonnegut himself intervened to demonstrate PKD's impotence and jeopardize his very existence. Ironically, PKD was himself exceedingly deft at this type of referential in-fighting and would retaliate by extending a metaphor, seizing Vonnegut firmly around his foreword, and dragging him into his own work of fiction.

Vonnegut, of course, was famed for his ability to jump back and forth through time, and would seek to employ this non-sequential narrative to undermine PKD's axioms. Defenceless and vulnerable against this attack, PKD would then desperately restart the fight in an alternative history in which Vonnegut had not been a writer of science fiction at all, but rather some kind of pathetic internet "blogger", churning out meaningless crud in an attempt to hammer the numbness out of his fingertips by extemporizing on contrived, allegedly humorous situations.

Philip K. Dick 1 - 0 Kurt Vonnegut

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Genetic Modification: the ice-cream

Some of you may remember that several years ago, Streets (a Unilever company!) released for a limited time a range of 7 different ice-creams themed on the Seven Deadly Sins. They were great. If you had one you didn't need to eat again for a week, and the sugar rush would take you on a journey not only of sight and sound but of mind.

So I'm sure you can imagine that my interest was piqued today in a tutorial at university when the conversation around me turned to the Seven Deadly Sins. It was revealed to me by my Illustrious Tutor and a Well-Informed Classmate that there was now a new set of Seven Deadly Sins, updated for the modern era, including "Genetic Modification".

I burst out: "Amazing! Who in their right mind would sell an ice-cream called Genetic Modification?", which promptly turned into a running gag for the rest of the afternoon. Turns out they weren't talking about ice-cream at all, but a new announcement from the fine folks at the Vatican.

Still, having thought about it, Genetic Modification is a great name for an ice-cream. I bet it would have crushed nuts in it.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Secrets of graceful living

In theory, I should be studying my arse off. It's a long weekend here, I'm in the 6th week of semester, and I didn't do much work for the last 3 weeks, so I'm already behind. In practise, I spent today eating and sleeping. Why?

Because, gentle Reader, the first Secret of Graceful Living is that it's always okay to take a study break to eat, or to sleep. (It's also okay to take a break to attend to personal hygiene or waste disposal, but most people have figured that out for themselves already.) Sleeping and eating are really important. I'm a medical student, so believe me. We haven't got to those particular topics yet in the course, but I am very confident that my belief will be confirmed. Sleeping and eating may seem like egregious wastes of time*, but in fact they are investments. Time spent doing these things make your subsequent study more effective. They are synergistic, if you will. They leverage your intellect. They are force-multipliers in the asymmetric war on ignorance. And I am right there on the front line.

* Blogging, on the other hand, is an egregious waste of time.

Sunday, March 9, 2008


This is my first post. Of course, by the time I spent the emotional energy to go so far as actually commit to creating a blog, and made some kind of half-hearted token effort to read the terms and conditions to make sure that Google won't claim my as-yet-unborn children when I become famous, and thought of a name for it (the blog, not the as-yet-unborn child), I found that I had nothing to say. No funny anecdotes, no witty or insightful remarks on politics or the human condition, nothing.

So ... here we are then. Nice weather.