Thursday, July 31, 2008

Stay in your home and remain calm

Move along! Nothing to see here!

I was just going to type that up and leave it at that. My mind is awhirl with colloids and aneurysms and other such things of which great blogs are not made, so I really couldn't think of anything to write about. But as I wrote it I thought of films I have seen where Our Friends In Blue have stood there saying that while passers-by stand there rubbernecking at the body on the ground or, in the film The Naked Gun, watching the fireworks factory burn down.

There was a point to all this... ah yes! The point is that by telling people there's nothing to see here you instantly arouse their suspicions that you are hiding something fascinating, like a war. Or catastrophic, like a Def Leppard world tour. I thought that if you suspected such a thing of me, that rumours would fly like bananas. And there would be panic in the streets of your town. People fighting over tins of beans.

But really, I'm not hiding a thing. This is all I've got for you today.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

I sometimes find it hard to think of titles


Always the hardest day of the week. Except for Monday of course. And Tuesday because that's when I have my afternoon tutorial where I get extremely lurgied. And Thursday, because that's when I have epidemiology, where the information rate is about 1 bit per half hour.

This week has been just one of those weeks. Not one of those dramatic weeks where everything goes wrong and supplies you with a rich vein of dinner-party-stories for the rest of your life about the time you drove your car through your bedroom wall because you dropped hot coffee on your crotch when you were parking. Just one of those weeks where you drag yourself through it and don't have much enthusiasm for anything, and the dross builds up just out of your peripheral vision but you can feel it looming, ready to topple on you, and you think to yourself sometimes, what the hell am I doing this for?? And you can't think of an answer but you haven't got the enthusiasm to think of an alternative so you just carry on flopping the next foot down in front of the last.

My theory is that people were much happier before cars were invented. Cars have turned the world into a place of easy gratification and multiple ambition, where you zip frenetically from place to place grabbing this and grabbing that, always on the go. Sure, they're useful when you need paprika at 9 pm, but maybe they've blinded us to something more important than late-night paprika. We've forgotten how to walk.

Walking has a lot going for it. Not only does it get you outdoors and exercising, which are both good things, it also reinforces in the most concrete way possible that life is often about just trudging onwards. Sometimes you can see off in the distance where you're going to - sometimes you can't and you have to take it on faith. Either way, it's going to be a while before you arrive, but if you stop you'll never get there at all, so you just keep on walking. It's moral education for the car-less masses.

Plus it's great day-dreaming time. Anybody need some paprika?

Monday, July 28, 2008


Once again, my surface anatomy class has enriched my life! This week we were learning about the bones, muscles, and major vessels of the head. One thing led to another, and I discovered that certain of my Esteemed Colleagues are very skilled at raising one eyebrow.

I lamented that this was a talent I had never acquired. But all hope is not lost! All these years, ever since I was a small child, I have been trying to raise one eyebrow. As I was advised today, a similar effect can be obtained by lowering both eyebrows and then releasing one to float back up again. And this is something that I can do! Hurrah!

At the moment it is a very slow and deliberate action, and I have to concentrate so hard that my face develops some kind of palsy and my eyelids flutter most bewitchingly. So it doesn't look real crash-hot, to be honest. But I'm sure with some practise I will soon be looking most intrigued - and intruiging!

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Ask me about meat

Yesterday when I was at the markets I reprised my celebrity chef routine from last week. Fortunately it wasn't with my friend from Midnight Express who asked me about garlic shoots.

I was standing at the butcher (again) waiting for my turn to elbow my way past the Italian matrons and declare it was my turn when a middle-aged Japanese man asked which was best out of the yearling rump and the veal cutlets. His English was pretty limited but his mime skills were superb. If you doubt me, try miming "veal cutlets" in downtown Tokyo and see how hungry you are by dinner time.

I explained to him that they were quite different, that the rump steak was thicker and more meaty, while the veal would be thinner, lighter, and sweeter in taste. The fact that the rump was more expensive than the veal seemed to bother him so I tried to explain that price wasn't directly related to quality, but rather to the equilibrium between the increasing willingness of producers to increase supply as price increases and the inverse relationship between price and consumer demand.

He asked me which part of the animal they came from. He understood about rump coming from the - well, the rump - but wasn't sure about the cutlets. I wasn't too sure myself so I told him the rump, which was almost certainly wrong, but I didn't want to get into the whole surface anatomy thing again in case I ended up with stockings and a suspender belt drawn on me.

I also explained to him that veal was from a younger, smaller animal, which he seemed to understand. The animal welfare arguments seemed too difficult to get into in gestures so I skipped them.

Next Saturday I will be at the markets from 10am to 11:30am, so anyone who wants advice on what to buy or how to cook it, be there! I'll be wearing a grey beanie and a friendly face.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Keep it from the kay-eye-dee-ess

You know how parents of young kids will spell out words that they don't want to say in front of their kids? Like this: "Have we got the pee-ay-ar-tee-why organized yet?"

Well what did parents do back in Dickens' days, before literacy was widespread? And don't try to tell me that kids didn't get pee-ay-ar-tee-eye-ee-ess back then. Parents would still have needed to say things like, "Once those kids are asleep lets have a tee-you-ar-en-eye-pee", without exciting the littlies.

Come to think of it, what do Chinese parents do? Maybe they carry around little chalkboards and write things down.

And why is it so hard to read the phonetic spelling above when it's so easy to understand when someone says it aloud? I found that I had to check it by reading it out loud to myself. There must be some funny brain thing, perhaps involving the brainic nerve. I'm sure that when I am a neurologist that one of my neurologist mates will be able to explain it to me.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Feverish ramblings

I am getting crook. Tiredness. Chills. Prickly skin. Craving for Tim Tams. Oh the humanity! Since I'm sick I'm going to be totally self-indulgent and say hello to you all. Not personally, just some of the real notables that I'm aware of.

Hi to my Esteemed Colleagues who have mentioned to me that they have read this. As far as I am aware there are three of you. And your esteem in my eyes only goes up because of it. Truly!

Hi to my reader(s?) in Germany. And Israel. And Canada. And France, Chile, Turkey, and the UK. I cannot imagine how you ended up looking at my blog and it amuses to think of your reaction. My international empire of world domination grows apace!

And finally a big HI to Mr Spielberg who even now is signing a three-movie deal to create a cinematic version of my life. I told you Ryan Gosling would be perfect!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

I call it a bro

I am doing a surface anatomy class. On Monday we had to draw on each other with these "easily removable" crayons to show where various things are in our bodies. So I had the outline of the lungs drawn on my chest. Unfortunately the guy who drew on me didn't follow the instructions properly and so the lower border he drew on was two ribs higher than it should have been. So I had two nice little triangles on my chest. He also drew lines for the lung fissures which run from the triangles around to my back.

Sadly, when I tried to wash the crayon off it didn't come off very well. Maybe he pressed really hard and it got ground into my pores. Maybe he actually used some kind of special tattoo crayon. I don't know why, but I still have prominent red lines running all over me. It looks pretty stupid. In fact, at the moment it looks like I've drawn a bra on myself. So if you're planning on drowning near me, sorry, I'm not stripping off and diving in to save you.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

It's a long way to the top

Today I had to do a cardiovascular examination on a Standardized Patient (a.k.a. a bored actor). It's a pretty straightforward examination but, unsurprisingly, I managed to stuff up a couple of bits of it quite badly.

The reason I wasn't surprised by this is that I only did one practise examination over the weekend, on my Smaller Half, and even that was only a pretend one because the weather was cold which meant that my hands were like hand-shaped blocks of ice so I just stood there and rattled off the list of things I would do. I had very good intentions of reviewing my notes the night before but ended up spending the evening in the company of some disreputable friends, so my homework went right out the window.

This morning I decided I needed an extra pick-me-up because I stayed up late reading my current book ("Perdido Street Station" by China Mieville - it's excellent!) so I vastly increased my caffeine dose. Perhaps this is why, despite not feeling nervous beforehand, as soon as I started the examination some gland deep within in me squirted out litres and litres of hoppy juice into my blood and I basically went nuts for about 5 minutes.

I was talking really fast, I was making strange jokes and laughing inappropriately at them, and to top it all off I skipped the entire first section of the examination: the hands. There's a bunch of signs you look for in the hands and since they hang right out on the end of the body they are an obvious place to start. But I lunged straight past the hands and latched onto the patient's arm and started on pulse and blood pressure.

I was just fitting the blood pressure cuff when I noticed that the patient was trying to catch my eye and was wobbling his hands around like Al Jolson. He was trying to remind me to look at his hands! Hooray for the patient - he always pulls me through! I went back and did the hands, then returned to the blood pressure cuff.

Unfortunately, I wasn't hearing anything at all through my stethoscope, so I had no idea what his blood pressure was. Now, at this point, although I just buggered up the process entirely, I am the only person in the room who knows this. Furthermore, I have already watched someone else take this patient's blood pressure, so it occurs to me that I could just repeat what they said, maybe fudge it up or down by 4 for effect, and move right along.

However, in the spirit of World Youth Day, I decided to confess. I explained that I hadn't gotten a good reading, readjusted the cuff, and started again. And once more, I couldn't hear a thing and got no reading. A cold chill broke out across my back. This is starting to get embarrassing. This patient has been examined by hundreds of medical students every year. My tutor is watching me and assessing me. My classmates are also watching me and pushing me a little further down that internal bell curve of competence that we all deny that we maintain on each other. Once more I am tempted to announce a made-up measurement. Once more I resist, and make a fool of myself by admitting that I couldn't get a good measurement.

Back to square one. Remove blood pressure cuff. Re-apply. Check stethoscope - am I wearing it back to front? (You never know with me!) I offer up a prayer to Saint George, the patron saint of ER. And this time I could just barely make out the sounds I needed to hear - phew!

The rest of the examination went smoothly enough. I thanked the patient for reminding me to examine his hands and for being so tolerant of my blood pressure disaster. He said, "You know, if I had a doctor who did what you just did, I would think he had no idea what he was doing. But I think it's great that you persevered and did it right". What a great guy! I think HE should be the doctor. More specifically, a psychiatrist.

He also complimented me on my percussion technique. Maybe he was just trying to make me feel better after I made such a twit of myself, but even so, I was happy. Maybe I can get a job as a drummer.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Garlic shoots

I can't remember if I've mentioned it before, but there is something about my face which says to complete strangers, "Hi there! I'm very friendly and non-threatening, so if you have any questions or unusual comments to make, I'd love to hear them!"

This usually manifests itself in these main ways:
  • Being asked for directions in a city I have never been to before, in a language I do not speak,
  • Being asked for money by scruffy teenagers who claim to have missed the bus home and now need to call their worried mothers,
  • Having the guy who runs the gym come up to me and tell me rude jokes while I am trying to avoid him (because my membership has expired) and run on the treadmill at the same time,
  • Having Alexander Downer thrust his bare buttocks towards me and ask to be spanked.
On Saturday, a new one was added to the ever growing list. I became a celebrity chef.

I was in the Chinese shop at the markets buying stuff. (I call it the Chinese shop because it's run by Chinese people, sells all sorts of things with Chinese writing on them, and has Chinese characters on the sign.) I was sorting through a big box of garlic shoots looking for the best bunch when I was tapped on the shoulder by a guy.

The guy was in his fifties, had a grey handle-bar moustache and crew-cut, and wore a denim jacket. He asked me if I had ever been in a Turkish prison. No wait, that was a different guy! This guy asked me, "What are those?", and because I was momentarily stupefied I pointed at the sign that said "Garlic shoots $1.50" and told him they were garlic shoots. He gave me a pitying look and said, "I can see that, but what do you do with them?", so I told him that I used them like green beans, but they cooked a lot faster and were much sweeter, and I liked to stir-fry them with mustard seeds and chilli. He told me he didn't really like chilli but he liked mustard. So maybe he'd try them. Later I saw him animatedly discussing them with a woman who I presumed was his wife.

About half an hour later I was a different store and he buttonholed me again. "You're the guy who buys garlic shoots!", he said. I admitted that this was the case. "I'm going to use them in a salad with some baby octopus!", he told me, sounding very excited. I agreed that this would indeed be delicious and was a great idea. I think he was about to start rummaging through my shopping trolley looking for other inspirational ingredients, but his wife prised him off me and led him away.

If you're out there reading this, Handle-bar Mustache Guy, I hope you enjoyed your garlic shoots! I certainly did!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Fifth Law of Thermodynamics

I have discovered a new law of the universe. I call it the Principle Of The Conservation of Bullshit. In short, the less effort I put into a post, the more likely it is that other people will fill the gap by providing inane comments of their own.

It makes sense really. If I wasn't blogging I'd be out there on the interwebs writing smart-arse remarks on other blogs' comment pages. What's true for me must be true for you, as argued by my good friends Jesus and Kant. QED.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

ECG ahoy!

Got my ECG taken for the first time today! It's a rare luxury I think to have it done out of curiosity rather than out of fear of a lethal heart condition. I also got to take someone else's ECG, although it's really not that exciting - just a matter of knowing where to put the sticky labels really. The tricky bit is interpreting the results, which is why cardiologists drive faster cars than me.

If you look closely at the text up the top, you'll see that the machine was concerned that I had bradycardia (heart rate too slow), despite my heart rate being bang on 60 beats per minute. This is because we accidentally told the machine that I was 3 years old (which is why the heading on the chart is "pediatric ECG analysis") and 60 bpm is too slow for a 3 year old.

I was actually quite relieved to get a normal ECG out of this. (Note: if you're a cardiologist and see something lethal, please contact me.) Studying medicine means hearing lots of stories about young, fit, healthy people suddenly dropping dead of undiagnosed heart conditions, so it's easy to get a bit paranoid. It seems I'm in the clear for now...

Fire your postmodern copywriters

Woolworths has a really stupid new ad. It says something like this: Number one for "value"

It really makes me wonder what "value" is, if not value itself.

Monday, July 14, 2008


Through some mysterious kind of time-travel, this morning I got my hair cut in the same barbershop as a younger version of myself, aged about 10. I could tell it was me because of the things he said.

So how long do you want it on the the sides?


Do you want me to leave you a fair bit of fringe?


And what about the top, do you ever gel it up into spikes?

I've just got too much hair, it's too long. And even when I brush it, it looks stupid. So I don't brush it. I just want it to be shorter.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

A la recherche du bears perdu

Here are the four interesting facts that I have learned in the past two weeks as part of my study of the cardiovascular system:
  1. Excess liquorice consumption can cause high blood pressure.
  2. Kangaroos have both left and right vena cavae (the large veins returning to the heart). Human embryos also have them but we lose the ones on the left very early in our development.
  3. Hibernating mammals such as bears (anyone know any other hibernating mammals) have parasympathetic nerves plugged into their ventricles. Humans don't.
  4. Duck egg whites are deficient in globulin, the protein which foams up when you whisk them, so don't try making meringues out of duck eggs.
(Actually the last fact is from Stephanie Alexander's big rainbow coloured cookbook, but it's just as scientific sounding as the stuff I learn at med school!)

Have you noticed the common theme? The stuff I remember easily and without effort concerns either food or animals, preferably both. Perhaps it's a holdover from prehistoric life when the most important things you could learn concerned finding food and avoiding being someone else's. I'm starting to wonder if I should have chosen veterinary science or butchery as a career rather than medicine. But it's too late to switch now, I'm already on career path C as it is.

I just need to figure out how to take advantage of this peculiarity of my memory. Perhaps I need to carry around with me a big deck of cards with pictures of dangerous animals and delicious foods on them. Every time I come across a new fact I want to remember I will quickly glance at the next dangerous animal or delicious food and the new fact will be branded forever on my mind. The advantage of having both dangerous animals and delicious foods is that I will never know what to expect next so it will keep me in a heightened state of awareness.

I think studying medicine would have been much easier for my caveman ancestors because they wouldn't have to carry around a deck of cards with scary and delicious pictures on them, because behind every tree was a 9-foot tall carnivorous tree rat waiting to rend them limb from limb. On the other hand, they didn't have Wikipedia. With my patented Threat/Food Learning System (TFLS) I have the best of both worlds!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

A la recherche du mints perdu

When I was a kid, one of the best things that happened was when my parents would have people to our house for dinner. I loved it because not only could I stay up late listening to the grown-ups talk and not have to negotiate the normal dinner time routine of treacherous family conversation where the ground was full of wombat holes and any slip was death, but afterwards when the guests had gone home ... we kids were allowed to polish off the remaining after-dinner mints!

I used to dream of being grown-up, and being able to have after-dinner mints after every dinner. Or after every meal. Or for every meal! Why on earth did my parents, with such vast financial resources under their control that they could afford to buy vegetables for us to spit into the toilet, not spend more money on after-dinner mints?

I am grown-up now, but that dream of after-dinner mints is gone. I could easily afford to eat them every day, but I don't. It doesn't even occur to me to do it. I had forgotten all about after-dinner mints until a few days ago when we had some minty chocolate and the memories came flooding back. The crackle of the little brown envelopes. The rich smell. The anticipation. The bliss of eating one, and the sadness once finished of knowing it could be months, which felt like years, until the chance came again.

I don't know if my parents knew how much I treasured those mints. They must have seen how excited we got when we had them. I'd like to think they gave their guests one each, then snatched the box away from them to ensure that they didn't take any more, then caught each other's eye knowing that we kids would be so happy. How could they not?

I'm going to buy some tomorrow.

Boy do I know cars

Oh the shame! The very day after arrogantly running down Toyota for their foolishly long car names, and singling out the noble Toyota Corolla Seca Ascent for ridicule on the grounds that all Toyota Corolla Secas were also Ascents, I saw a counter-example.

I was investing my superannuation in a tank of petrol and while filling up I idly gazed around at the other cars. My eyes fell upon the car in front. It was a Toyota Corolla Seca Conquest!

I shall never ever post again on subjects I am so ill-informed about. Until tomorrow.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Little is nice

As I finished off the last of Maggie Beer's Burnt Fig Jam Honeycomb and Caramel Ice Cream, two thoughts crossed my mind. First, this is possibly the best ice-cream I have ever tasted. It is truly amazing! You may be suspecting me of being caught up in some kind of cash-for-comment scandal. I only wish I was, because I could use the cash to buy more Maggie Beer's Burnt Fig Jam Honeycomb and Caramel Ice Cream. Not very much though, because this ice-cream is seriously expensive. However, since I am apparently going to be a doctor one day, I thought it would be wise to affect some of the trappings of wealth, and even though this ice-cream is really expensive, it's still cheaper than a set of golf clubs.

The second thought to cross my mind was that this ice-cream has the longest product name I have ever seen. In fact, this is not so much a product name as a list of ingredients, a topic I have posted on before. Ms. Beer could have called it Fig Honey and Caramel Ice Cream of course, but I suppose she had to add in the extra words to make it seem worth the extortionate amount of money I had to pay for it. It annoys me, but not too much since it does provide information about the product.

Unlike the names of most cars. When I'm stuck in traffic I examine the back of the car in front of me very closely in case there is a kidnapped person trapped inside and I need to provide a description to the police. And before you mention license plates, the kidnappers would have stolen them off another car, so there's no point bothering with them. Since bumper stickers seem to be out of vogue these days except on utes with searchlights and bulldozer-sized roo-bars on them (such stickers say things like, "Fat chicks - shoot 'em, don't root 'em", which I find contemptible, disgusting, and highly amusing), the only thing to examine is usually the model name of the car itself. And I have found that I much prefer short names to long names, as I am an elegant, aesthetic type of guy.

My favourite so far for its brevity: Mazda 3
My least favourite so far for its verbosity: Toyota Corolla Seca Ascent

If Mazda can have a single digit to enumerate its cars, why does Toyota need to use four whole words? And none of the words actually mean anything! If the word Seca actually signified something about the car that was worth knowing, it would be okay (for example the Datsun 200B used the number 200 to signify the fact that it had a 2-litre engine, whereas the 120Y had a 1.2-litre engine). The thing that really gets me is that there don't seem to be any Toyota Corolla Secas that aren't also Toyota Corolla Seca Ascents. It seems inefficient and wasteful. Note to Toyota: you'll save money by not having to write whole sentences across the rear end of your cars.

Next time you see a Toyota Corolla Seca Ascent on the road, point and jeer - then pick up a rake or light a torch and give chase to the hideous monster. There's nothing a frenzied mob can't achieve if pointed in the right direction.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Don't ask why

My mother has always told me never to ask "why" questions. They often lead to confusion, like this:

Why did you rob the bank?

Because that's where the money is.

The reason I bring this up is that a similar (but different) thing occurred on Friday in my new tutorial group. We weren't discussing robbing banks - we were discussing the electrical activity of the heart. There was all-round bafflement, until Yours Truly applied my phenomenal powers of anal-retentiveness and solved the problem.

New Tutor
Why is heart conduction delayed at the atrioventricular node?

Studious Colleague
Because the cell membrane at the node has different properties that cause the action potential to have a slower depolarization.

New Tutor
Yes... but why is there a delay?

Studious Colleague
(think: didn't I just answer that question???)

Other Less Studious Colleagues
(thinks: didn't he just answer that question???)

Are you are asking what is the cause of the delay, or are you asking what is the functional usefulness of the delay?

New Tutor
Ah. Yes, perhaps I phrased that question badly. I meant to ask what is the purpose of the delay.

Studious Colleague
It means that the ventricles beat after the atria do.

This really annoyed me, since one of my pet peeves is teleological explanations in science. Saying that the purpose of the AV node is so that the ventricles contract after the atria is like saying that the purpose of the sun is to warm the surface of the earth. Or the purpose of falling over is to break your leg. Or the purpose of this post is to make you think I'm a pompous git. There's a big difference between purpose, and cause and effect.

Purpose is something that belongs to the shady penumbral world of conciousness. Having purpose involves mental states and prediction of future events and preferences and choices. It has nothing to do with evolution, biology, and all those good things.

What really spun me out was that my tutor would express himself in this way. He's a teacher of anatomy for heaven's sake! I would have thought that this sort of thinking would have been beaten out of him years ago. Evidently not - so we gave him a damn good thrashing and made him say sorry.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008


I am spying on you. So excitement!!!! Not really spying on you of course, I just stuck a page hit counter down at the bottom of this page. It counts the number of different IP addresses that access this page. 15 as of the time of writing, though two of those belong to my home computer and a computer from uni when I checked from there to see if it worked, so thirteen really.

It doesn't actually tell me what your IP address is or who you are. But I can get graphs of country of origin (hello to the solo American!), and browser being used (Firefox 3.0 in the lead, what a geeky audience I have). Oh, and of course I can see all your web searches for the past two years. Shame on you Trev! Nah, just pulling your lariat.

This probably really isn't very interesting to you, but it was fun for me to see. Funny - it just occurred to me that normally the phrase "one in a million" would mean you are very special. However, the fewer people that read this, the more unusual and special (to me) those readers are. So being one in thirteen is a much better thing than being one in a million. Stick that in your family album!