Monday, March 30, 2009

The little car that could

As I mentioned several aeons ago (link) my Little Red Car tried to asplode on me and has been holidaying at the mechanics ever since. I was really worried because the last time the mechanic looked at it, he thought that it was likely that the head gasket was shot and the head itself would have to be replaced because it had gone soft.

No, I don't know what that means either, but it sounds very expensive. So I was greatly relieved when I spoke to him this afternoon and he said that there didn't seem to be any damage to the engine apart from a little plastic impeller on the water pump which is why the engine overheated so suddenly.

This means that instead of paying thousands for a new engine, I will pay $5 for a new little piece of plastic. Of course, I'll still be in hock for a squillion bucks in labour, but the exciting thing is that the pump failure is covered by my warranty whereas the engine damage due to pump failure would not have been.

I am so happy! Now I just need to pass these exams next week and I promise I'll be good forevermore.


I really hit the books pretty hard on the weekend, but I think they hit me back. I had some really bizarre dreams last night, mostly related to all of the digestive stuff I've been learning.

I dreamed that I kept regurgitating these slimy, bouncy, golf-ball-sized lumps. Every now and then one would be a bit longer, more like an egg. It wasn't painful, but it was pretty unpleasant because I would choke and gag as it came up. At first I thought it was food that I had eaten, but it wasn't.

I cut one open to try to see what it was. It was made of smooth meat, like a chinese pork ball, all grey and gristly. In the very middle was some half-chewed up stuff like alfalfa sprouts.

Ew, it makes me feel sick just to think of it. I hope you enjoyed reading this.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

You dirty rat

Sometimes you learn something that you really should have figured out a long time ago. Today is one of those days.

For more than a year now, I've been studying medicine and on many occasions I've read about "murine models" of various diseases. Today I was reading about inflammatory bowel disease, and there it was again: a statement about murine models showing this, that and the other.

It was only today that some part of my brain went ping! and said to me, "You know, you have no idea what that word actually means."
Yes I do, murines are one of the two major types of compounds that DNA is made out of. So there.

Sigh. No, that's purines. How on earth could you have a purine model of a disease?

Oh. I'd better look it up on wikipedia...
So it turns out that murines are rats and mice. You know, the ones that get kept in labs and conduct fiendishly clever experiments on us. This is all starting to make a bit more sense now.

Shame it's not really examinable. "Question 1. Explain the difference between a murine and a purine." Still, probably useful to know in order to avoid future total humiliation, right?

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Flash! Ah-ah! Saviour of the universe!

I study using flash cards. I have a little program which lets me create and edit cards and orders them for me based on how long it has been since I last saw it and how well I thought I remembered the card the last time. I really like studying this way since my brain seems to respond better to interactivity rather than just reading and writing stuff out.

It does take a bit of time to get the knack of writing good cards. You need to ask very specific questions and the answer needs to be fairly brief. List of things are harder to remember than sequential processes. It helps to put key terms in bold because that seems to stimulate my visual memory. You know how you can often remember where on page something interesting was written, even if you can't remember the thing itself? With flash cards, scattered text in bold helps to make each card look a little bit different which I think helps me remember them.

However, I learned a valuable lesson today, which is this:

If you are studying with flash cards, you should review them as you make them, day by day. Do not spend a week making flash cards and then sit down to review several hundred of them all at once. It's really demoralizing.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Excuse me while I whip this out

I am at home today trying to study the gastrointestinal system. I am very uninspired. For some reason I am not very interested in it. Oh sure, the way everything is put together is very clever, here's a little golf clap for evolution: *clap clap clap*. But the actual medicine aspect is boring.

Here's how it works:
  1. Patient presents with diarrhoea. (All patients present with diarrhoea.)
  2. Doctor takes detailed history about things apparently unrelated to poo, such as tattoos, sexual practices, blood transfusions, and whether patient has ever worked as a paprika splitter.
  3. Doctor advises patient to wait a week.
  4. Patient re-presents in a week with the same symptoms.
  5. Doctor sends patient for colonoscopy.
  6. If anything like a lump is found, whip it out.
  7. If no lump is found, patient is put on steroids.
  8. If the steroids don't work, doctors keep alternately removing pieces of the patient and putting them back on steroids until something different happens.
  9. Oh yeah, tell the patient to try not eating wheat just to see if that helps.
I'm sure it's fascinating for all the surgeons out there who are just itching to cut pieces out of people, but as a thing to study it is dull.

It drives me nuts to try to remember stuff about so-called enterchromaffin-like cells when I don't even know what the hell this so-called enterochromaffin is. Maybe it's something I've forgotten from last year, or maybe I was sick that day in high school when everyone learned about enterochromaffin. Like that time when I missed the lesson on complex numbers and was lost for a fortnight. "The square root of negative one? That's crazy-talk!"

Hmm, hang on, contrary to the last post I have just sat here whinging about my study. Oh well. Toughen up people, you'll be reading a lot more of this stuff from now on as from day to day I learn more and more about just how badly my goose is cooked.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Saved by seals

Well, it's been a slow week so far. I think my decision to take a short blogging break was wise, because all I would have been doing is whinging about how much I hate studying, how little work I have done and so on and so forth, which I sincerely doubt anyone else is interested in reading about. Besides which, the more I whine about stuff, the worse I feel, so it's in my best interests to bottle it all up until I have some kind of crisis because of the internal pressure and bust a valve of some sort.

I realized this week how lazy I have been this year because I only just started wearing my reading glasses. Normally if I sit in front of a computer or books without them for more than an hour I get headaches. This hasn't been happening, so clearly I've been taking it pretty easy.

Yesterday I was feeling morose all day until dusk, when we went for a walk down to the beach and out onto the causeway. The sun was setting and it was quiet and dim and soothing, and in the hush we could hear puffing and splashing coming from out in the water. There were two seals splashing around, having a grand old time. Watching them slide above and below the water was good for me I think. It made me forget about exams, about all this civilization nonsense.

The sea is good when you're stressed. It's big, it's mysterious, it's grey and green and blue, it's like the night sky but you can reach out and dip your hand in it in a way that you can't with the stars unless you've got really long arms. It has a way of reminding you of your insignificance and making you feel more humble and also more grateful for things being the way they are, largely beyond your control. It gives you perspective, and the perspective is this: we're just dust in the water, so you might as well just float.

Good luck with whatever trials are coming. They're just waves. From the top you can see further. Enjoy the view.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

I'll be back?

The longer I stare at this screen the heaps more crappier I feel. I'm going to take a break from writing this junk for a while...

Big eared tortoise

I like compliments. But recently I've been getting compliments which are a bit odd.

For example, when I got my hair cut recently the hairdresser remarked to me how small my ears were. I suggested to her that perhaps it was simply that my head is quite large, but she wouldn't have a bar of it. My Smaller Half suggested that perhaps it's because the hairdresser is right next to the hospital so most of her clients are elderly people. Since the ears continue to grow throughout life (which is why Galapagos tortoises have such large ears), my own comparatively youthful ears must have looked like little rosebuds.

Mind you, that hairdresser was barking mad. She started to laugh to herself soon after she started cutting my hair and when I gave her an inquisitive look she assured me that she wasn't laughing at me, but was laughing at how awful my haircut was. What a relief!

Then she proceeded to tell me all about how nervous she was during her wedding because she was a virgin and was really nervous about consumating the union. Too much information, just cut the hair thanks!

Anyway, I got a bit sidetracked there, sorry. I was talking about compliments. This week, after I emailed him a picture of me and my Smaller Half at a recent wedding, my Wise Elder Brother mentioned how pleased he was to see that my nostril hairs were so well groomed. I'm pretty sure he was joking, but when it comes to my nostril hair you just never know. There are a lot of admirers out there.

Then, on Friday, one of my Esteemed Colleagues asked me if I was a fashionista. This genuinely caught me by surprise. Normally I look like I got dressed in the dark and slept in my clothes. But apparently my Friday ensemble was cutting edge - definitive proof that fashion moves in cycles. I suspect that my new shoes can carry most of the credit. I've had more people remark on those shoes than I have thumbs. And that's a lot for me (remarks, not thumbs. I have the usual number of thumbs).

Also, I have a rip in my jeans. This is the first pair of jeans I have ever owned long enough to have them rip. Until the age of 18 I grew out of my jeans every year. After that I boycotted jeans for the next 12 years because I thought they were uncomfortable and there's probably some kind of ethical issue concerning denim that I would have cared about if I'd been aware of it plus when I started working my arse got fat. But then in New York in 2005 I bought a great pair of jeans that I really like, but now the legs are coming apart. Anyway, ripped jeans are sometimes worn by fashionistas, so you can see how the confusion arose.

So if you see me moping around in the next two weeks, miserable because I have really buggered up the first two blocks of second year by being a lazy lump, why not shoot me a compliment? Something unusual, something unexpected. It could make my day!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Anticipatory paranoia

I read a story in the paper the other day that got me thinking. Here it is: linky.

It made me think to myself, "Self, that guy is totally ripped. You really should take up body-building". It also made me think, "Hmm, I wonder if a time will come when I will regret putting all this blog stuff up for the world to see?"

Let me give an example to illustrate. Twenty years from now, I am an expert medical practitioner of surprisingly youthful appearance. I have many patients, all of whom love and respect me for the care that I provide to them. All, that is, save one, who I shall refer to as Mr Diddy.

Mr Diddy suffers from a chronic inflammatory condition that I have not been able to help him with. He is unable to work. He is housebound. He is unable to maintain social contacts or engage in hobbies or anything to break the monotony of the day. All he can do is sit on the internet and cyberstalk his doctors.

Eventually, Mr Diddy finds this very blog, long discontinued, archived in a dusty corner of the web. And he finds a post that I wrote, all about inflammation. And when he reads it, he becomes enraged. Clearly I am an idiot. Clearly I do not take medicine seriously. Clearly I am causing him pain and suffering with my attitude. Mr Diddy somehow finds a rapacious lawyer for hire and sets him loose upon me.

How will the story end? Will I be bankrupted and ruined? Will I win the case but lose my reputation as all this foolishness is made public? Or will I eventually triumph and be depicted in a movie dramatization by a freshly thawed Tom Cruise? It worries me. Tom Cruise is a nutbag and is far too short. Ryan Gosling would be more appropriate.

And so I have decided to write a Disclaimer. No harm will come to me whilst I am under its protection, for I shall speak magic words of legalese such as "heretofor", "whereas", and "moreover". It will be an Iron-Clad Disclaimer. It will be the blog equivalent of Ned Kelly's helmet. I'm just praying that Mr Diddy doesn't think of shooting me in the legs.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Look right

Polls don't vote in themselves, people.

And no, I won't be voting this time. That would be weird.

Information underload

This is the bit where I complain (again) about being lucky enough to study medicine.

We had a lecture today which purported to be about the menstrual cycle. It was incomprehensible. Now, I appreciate that it's a complex topic, so it's unlikely that I was going to come out of that lecture unscathed. But the guy who presented it to us did us no favours either.

He may well know his stuff back to front and inside out, but I seriously think I could have given a better lecture than him with just five minutes preparation. He didn't ever seem to summarize or recap or explain or do any of those good pedagogical things.

It got even worse when someone asked him a question and it sounded like he was making up the answer. It went like this:
Q: Could you explain again how luteinizing hormone causes the follicle to release the ovum?

A: "Well it's simple, the way that, the thing is that, LH stimulates FSH, until it's high, and by high what I mean is that it's not dropping so fast as it was before, estrogen doesn't, I mean, how long have you got? I could give you a 200 page book on this stuff."
Not very convincing. He wouldn't last 2 minutes in my old PBL group. We could bullshit for 3 hours much more fluently than that.

Then later on today there was an outrage perpetrated by a different lecturer. In the course of trying to explain how to use trigonometry to find the distance from the beach in Chennai to the cricket stadium (the guy was ambitiously trying to distract us from the fact that his lecture was Content Free (tm) by weaving a line through Auckland, Mount Everest, surveying, Chennai, and antenatal oxygen tension, not necessarily in that order), he claimed that if you know the length of one side of a triangle and one of the angles that you can calculate the length of another side. Oh, sorry, I meant to end that sentence like this: "... another side!!!" I can tell you're shocked.

I shouted out to him that he needed to know two angles (yes, another side will also do, but that's not how you do geological surveying) but he chose to ignore me, clearly recognizing that I spoke with the Voice Of Authority and was not to be trifled with.

The War On Innumeracy rages on.

Monday, March 16, 2009


For some reason I am thinking back to when we drove home at Christmas to my Aged Mother's house. It was quite rainy so we were driving slowly. We were also exhausted because we'd just flown in that morning from Vietnam on an overnight flight. To make matters worse we were driving a old car belonging to the mother of a friend of ours and we were slightly paranoid about it packing up on us in the middle of nowhere. We were about 150 km from home.

I could smell, coming into the car from the outside air, a sharp green acid smell. It was the smell of christmas beetles. (I hope you know what a christmas beetle is. It's a dark brown beetle, about the size of the end of your thumb. I don't know if their proper name is christmas beetle or if it's just a made up name that my family used, like the name "walking peanut" which is what we called one of the common sorts of small brown beetle that used to get caught in the flyscreens all the time.)

It transported me back to when I was young and we would go to the university or to my father's work and play tennis under the lights in summer. The bright lights would attract thousands of christmas beetles that would swarm around, buzzing and swaying clumsily through the air and crashing even more clumsily to the ground to lie on their backs and wave their legs feebly in the air on the concrete courts. The air was filled with the smell of them.

It was usually cool at night even though it was summer, though the courts would still be warm. I would flick the beetles off the court with my racket because I felt sorry for them for being so hopelessly inadequate at the task of righting themselves. The tennis balls almost glowed yellow. They always seemed new, probably because we didn't play very often. There were dense rows of pines adjacent to the courts and when it was my turn to sit out for a while I would creep under the trees and get their sticky sap on my hands from pulling the young pine cones off the branches.

I have no idea why the smell of the beetles was so strong right there at that point on the road on Christmas eve, nor why I had not noticed or thought about the smell since I was much younger. Perhaps it was the exhaustion and stress that planed away our everyday worries and allowed me to notice it. But it brought back a lot of happy memories, so I was glad for it.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

This is what I learned today

The parathyroid glands are right beside the thyroid gland.

Hypoparathyroidism is a condition caused by having parathyroid glands that don't make enough parathyroid hormone.

Pseudohypoparathyroidism is a condition with the same symptoms as hypoparathyroidism but caused by parathyroid hormone being ineffective.

Pseudopseudohypoparathyroidism is yet another condition which is similar to pseudohypoparathyroidism but lacks some of the symptoms and has a different cause again.

And megapseudopseudohypoparathyroidism is when you have pseudopseudohypoparathyroidism real bad. Okay, I made up this one. But the others are all real.


Last night I attended a local drinking establishment in the company of my Smaller Half and another (female) friend. I seldom go to pubs because they are loud, smelly and full of idiots, but we'd been out for dinner and had decided to try to find a hot chocolate somewhere and had ended up careening around looking unsuccessfully for somewhere that was open, so we decided to go to the pub instead.

I walked through the front door, but the security person at the door stopped my companions and asked to see proof of age, which I found a bit preposterous to be honest. As they fumbled in their wallets I turned and asked the security person, "Me too?" and she just looked me up and down and said, "No mate, you'll be right."

Apparently I look like the kind of guy who walks into pubs with an underage girl on each arm.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Group work

Today at school my tute group had to present a talk on a government model for training and retaining indigenous health workers. It went pretty well. I even managed to buy some cheap laughs by referring to the task as "an arduous assessment task cooked up by eccentric academics".

We had to submit a page to the lecturer afterwards outlining our contribution to the group and how we felt the group had worked together. I was originally going to submit a bit of garbage glossing over everything and saying nothing but how lovely everything was and how it was like an enchanted fairyland where nobody ever got angry or had to go to bed without their dinner, but then I realized that everyone probably writes that sort of nonsense. So I tried to write down what I really thought, and it was actually quite enjoyable and even a little bit educational.

Since I have had no other original thoughts today, I have decided to share what I wrote with you. I'd be interested to know what you think...

"I am part of group 16 which presented its talk today on the Canadian AHHRI model for training and retaining indigenous health workers.

"First, let me say that as a raging introvert, I always dread group projects. The process of trying to find a direction for the group without actually adopting a formal method of group leadership and decision-making is painful for me. This is exacerbated by my 7 years of prior employment in the public service which has given me a fondness for resorting to bureaucracy in order to resolve disagreements. Although I recognise that having formal meeting procedure and voting is too heavy handed for such a small project, I can't help but think it would have been useful a few times as a way of drawing the group's attention to an elephant in the room. More on this later.

"Fortunately, the group worked well together. Relations were always amicable, everybody was cooperative, and everybody contributed in roughly equal proportion. Out of everybody I honestly had the least impact on the final content of the talk although since I presented half the talk and wrote my own speaking notes (including hilarious knee-slapping jokes) I suppose that was my main contribution. I always tried to contribute to discussions that the group was having about the project, for example by encouraging people to explain their ideas or asking them to explain things that I didn't understand.

"I was pleased that everyone in the group seemed motivated to contribute, and that the group as a whole took the project seriously and wanted to do well.

"There was a small hiccup early on when the group's topic changed from an Australian model to a Canadian one due to difficulty locating information. Unfortunately, the decision to change was made without the input and awareness of the whole group, which subsequently led to a very confusing meeting where myself and possibly others were totally confused about what had happened and why and when. This meant that I, at least, was left thinking that the decision was probably made too expediently (as similar problems arose later with the Canadian model as with the Australian one) and I felt somewhat disenfranchised with the process. Due to this, my project libido took a hit for a week or so. I think that such a major decision should probably have been subjected to a group vote rather than a straw poll. However, given that I had an opportunity to suggest this at the time and chose not to, it's fair to say that my grievance was not major.

"My other sad memory was that we did not take the opportunity to present something more interesting than just a talk with slides. Early on I floated the idea of presenting the information in the form of a drama, with characters acting out the barriers encountered by indigenous health workers, and a "Mr Government" figure offering assistance. I think it would have made the final presentation much more interesting, albeit at the cost of having to do more preparation. The reception by the group was mixed, which is to be expected, but somehow the idea just drifted away without really ever being discussed seriously as a possibility and we fell back into the default option of giving a talk. I regret not drawing the group's attention to this and requesting a vote on the idea, as now it is hard to avoid the sneaking suspicion that we took the easy way out rather than acting out of more honorable motivations, such as stage fright.

"Overall I found the process a lot less unpleasant than I had expected (yes, my wife accuses me of being a pessimist) and I was satisfied with our final presentation which I think focussed well on the topic at hand. I think that working on this project helped us to bond better as a group and led to an improvement in our PBL tutorials, which is a nice spinoff benefit.

"This email has been circulated to all group members."
STOP PRESS! The lecturer emailed me back thanking me for my "honest appraisal". How disappointingly bland. I suppose getting 140 of these things would get a bit tiresome...

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Always get your colonoscopy on film

When you have a colonoscopy, you are given a drug called midazolam. Apparently it is an amnesiac, so you can't remember what happened when you were under its effects. This sounds pretty freaky.

I wonder how this drug was discovered? Perhaps someone was experimenting on themselves by self-administering it, and they suddenly found themselves sitting exhausted and stubbly at the lab bench with an empty bottle of midazolam in front on them, wondering what the hell just happened.

The reason I bring it up is that I recently heard talk of a gastroenterologist who, each year, has several patients who refuse to pay him for colonoscopies that he has performed because they don't remember anything happening and thus accuse him of trying to trick them.

It's kind of the inverse problem of Descartes' evil demon, which fed him false sensory data to undermine his ability to obtain any reliable knowledge. If only Descartes had had more colonoscopies - I'd like to hear his perspective.

Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance

Yesterday was a crap day all right. The verdict was finally handed down on my Little Red Car, and it was found guilty of overheating and buggering up the cylinder head gasket. Overheating = $$$$.

My mood wasn't improved when I talked to the head of servicing at the dealership where I bought it. The fault occurred on the last day of the statutory warranty that you get with all second hand cars. Since then it's been waiting for my mechanic down here to look at it. The dealership argues that I should have informed them on the day that something happened and that since I didn't, the warranty doesn't apply. I think that's pretty lame.

The funny thing (if you enjoy laughing at the spectacle of thousands of dollars of your own money swirling down the toilet) is that we purchased an extended warranty for the car at no inconsiderable cost, but it specifically excludes any liability for faults related to overheating. As I mentioned before, overheating = $$$$.

I had a narky conversation with the dealer who also tried to tell me that my warranty period started three days earlier than it really did, because the original delivery date was different. He took a very strange approach where he started out really hardline and flatly refused to accept any duty to repair the car and was quite rude to me, but then at the end of the conversation he agreed to talk to my mechanic and then to his own boss to see if they might agree to cover the repairs. What on earth is going on there??

I'd like to think that I talked him round, but to be honest I think it's probably his standard approach to piss people off then offer them a carrot. That way they aren't too disappointed when it's subsequently snatched away again. I will continue to badger him since I think I am in the right, both legally and morally.

Anyway, the fact that the car hasn't been driveable for 2 weeks now has been really frustrating. It's tricky trying to manage with one car when you live in the country and you and your Smaller Half need to travel 100 km in opposite directions.

I got myself worked up into a bit of a frenzy about it yesterday, but eventually I just burned out. Getting some perspective on it (which is easier said than done) was made possible by a conversation with a friend in which we discussed some awful things that are happening in his life, compared to which a broken-down car is insignificant. Sure it's a pain in the arse, but it's not a life-defining moment.

Will I telling my grandchildren all about the Broken Down Car? No. End of story.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

I don't get no respect

I had a pretty substandard day today in my tutorial. Since I'd been gallivanting in Melbourne all long weekend at a friend's wedding, I had done zero work. Unfortunately my tactic of making hilarious jokes to cover up my ignorance failed today on account of being unable to make hilarious jokes.

For example, after an Esteemed Colleague had been talking about microadenomas of the pituitary being defined as those tumours up to 1 cm in size, I wittily observed that if a microadenoma was 1 cm across, then an adenoma would be 10 km across! (sound of crickets chirping) Seriously, that was some of my best material and it just crashed and burned in there.

I also managed to be blatantly incorrect about stuff that I dredged up out of my memory. So when the tutorial notes mentioned the use of a exophthalmometer, I leaped in and claimed that it was a device which measures intra-ocular pressure by bouncing a pulse of air off your eye. Now, I believe that such a device does actually exist, but it isn't called an exophthalmometer, as was made embarrassingly clear to me just a few minutes later. An exophthalmometer is a set of calipers and prisms which you use to measure how far someone's eyes are bulging out of their sockets. Different concept entirely.

This led to the following conversation between my Smaller Half and I over dinner tonight.
What's the name of that thing that measures eye pressure by bouncing air off your eye?

Smaller Half
It's an optometron.

Wow. Optometron. That's such a cool name...
[short pause]
Wait, you just made that up!

Smaller Half
You're so gullible!
[Dies laughing]

It is because of such shenanigans that I dispute the opinion of my recently married friend's mother who thought that my Smaller Half was far too lovely to be a doctor. I believe she is a fiendish scoundrel who will be right at home in the cut-throat world of medical practice.

Monday, March 9, 2009

One year old today

Gaaaah!!! I almost forgot my own blog's birthday! How insensitive. As of today I have been blogging for one year.

Happy birthday to you.
Happy birthday to you.
Happy birthday dear Prone To Reverie.
Happy birthday to you.

Hip-hip, hooray! Hip-hip, hooray! Hip-hip, hooray!

Lo, I am returned

I'm just back from a weekend jaunt to Melbourne for the wedding of an old friend. Had a great time, of which I will write more tomorrow. I can't really string it together at the moment - too tired.

But the exciting news that has just been brought to my attention is that this blog is considered by Google to be the fourth leading web source of fictional country names. Try it! I knew I'd find a niche one day. Next stop - third!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Cool link

Sorry, nothing from me here. I just wanted to post a link to this awesome diagram, here.

It shows the relationship between language pairs, where one language uses the name of another language as its prototype for unintelligibility. For example, in English we say, "It's all Greek to me". (However, I'm annoyed by the non-inclusion of the English phrase "double Dutch".)

My favourite part of this diagram is the inclusion of "Heavenly Script". Sweet.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009


We're learning bits and bobs about the pituitary gland at the moment. I find it quite interesting, in that "oh-my-god-I'm-going-to-drown" way.

However, the prac we had this morning was bordering on the incomprehensible. The worst bit was a radiologist who showed us about 20 slides of the pituitary, all in different formats, different sections, different orientations, and (for all I know) different species. He didn't waste any time explaining anything, he just flipped rapidly from slide to slide while naming all the things he could see in each one. Unfortunately in a volume about the size of a golf ball right in the middle of your head there are about 5 major nerves, umpteen major arteries, and of course all the arcanely-named bits of the brain, all of which are crossing over and twisting up into strange shapes.

When each new slide flashed up I spent the first 10 seconds trying to figure out which direction was forward or up, which means I missed most of the names of things, and the names that I did catch meant nothing to me because they were all coined by Latin-speaking dead people. As a result, I eventually tuned out and went into La-La Land and just listened to his voice like he was telling me a soothing bedtime story.

One thing I noticed was that he seemed to be using alliteration excessively. It was like listening to a clinical version of Beowulf. Two examples were so great that I wrote them down, and these fragments constitute the entirety of my notes from the prac:
"Any insidious mass in the supra-sellar cistern gives a similar set of symptoms."

"Patients present with precocious puberty from having a hypothalamic hamartoma."
We then got to move on to another room to keep learning. This room was full of models and specimens to examine in befuddlement. One of the displays I found most intriguing was a set of X-rays of the head with numbers labelling about 30 different structures. There was an accompanying guide with names which I was examining with fervour until one of my Esteemed Colleagues pointed out that the names were itemized with letters and didn't correspond in any way to the numbers on the X-rays. For example, on the X-ray the label "A" was in the middle of the forehead. There was no "A" in the guide, but the number "1" was for the mandible (lower jaw) which, if recall my surface anatomy correctly from way back in last year, is not located in the middle of the forehead. So that was educational.

After an hour and a half of that, I was ready to not be an endocrinologist. Next specialty please!

Monday, March 2, 2009


I have a tragic confession to make. I just spent the evening re-reading my own blog. How sad is that? When my Smaller Half found out, she hit me with the weekend edition of the Sydney Morning Herald. Thank God they don't send the real estate supplement this far west.

Xenocrine glands?

I had a Big Moment today in class in the first lecture of our block on the endocrine glands. The lecturer asked a question and I was the only person to stick up their hand. Sadly, the question was, "Does anyone not know what an endocrine gland is yet?"

To be fair, I have heard the term endocrine before and I could even name some endocrine glands - I was just a bit fuzzy as to the definition. To confuse the issue, there are also exocrine glands and paracrine glands. From the sound of them, endocrine glands secrete stuff into the body and exocrine glands secrete stuff outside the body and paracrine glands secrete stuff ... beside the body?

When I stuck up my hand and said, "Yo dawg!", the lecturer fixed me with a piercing glare. I'd like to think that it was because she was impressed with my intellectual honesty and wanted to make sure she remembered my face so that she could follow my future career and make a heartfelt speech in front of the King of Sweden when I am awarded the Nobel Prize for my discoveries in endocrinology, but to be honest she was probably sighing inwardly and pining for the olden days when idiots like me were sent over the trenches to charge the machine-guns rather than being admitted to medical school.

Anyway, it turns out that the definition is pretty prosaic. Endocrine glands secrete hormones into the blood, while exocrine glands secrete hormones into a duct that goes somewhere else, and paracrine glands just kind of ooze stuff over their neighbours. How dull.

It does, however, invite the obvious follow-up question, "What's a hormone?" - to which the equally obvious answer is, "Whatever you want her to, she's a professional." Boom boom! Thanks for reading, have a great night.

A simple story involving a humorous misunderstanding

Found myself wandering around a Myer department store on the weekend. As happens when you're pretty much eligible for the Senior's Card, I realized that a quick trip to the bathroom would be desirable. Rather than careen randomly around the store in an ever-increasing state of urgency, I made my way purposefully to the store directory near the escalator and verified that yes indeedy, this floor had a bathroom on it. But it didn't say precisely where.

Figuring that it had to somewhere on the perimeter, and probably near the elevators, I made my way even more purposefully there. But the bathroom was nowhere to be found. So for lack of a better strategy I decided to circumnavigate the store in a counterclockwise direction. I made my way briskly around the entire floor, eventually arriving back at my starting point in a state of near panic.

I decided to try a different floor, so I went back to the escalators, and that was when I realized that I had mis-interpreted the sign beforehand. It did indeed say "Level 5: Bathroom", but it continued on with, "Kitchen, Manchester, Furniture" - what I thought was an indication of facilities was just one more sales department. It's just as well they don't actually sell toilets or there could have been a terrible scene.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Karma Chameleon

Following on from my previous post on personality, I find it really difficult to confront people about things. This means that when I'm sitting in a pleasant seaside cafe with my Smaller Half and my Aged Mother and some boof-head walks in wearing a T-shirt saying, "Australia: f*ck off, we're full!", I have problems. These are the things I considered:
  • Approach the man and inform him that I find his T-shirt offensive.
  • Approach the man and tell him that his shirt is a disgrace to the country.
  • Approach the man and tell him that he's a disgusting redneck pig and it's people like him that make me wish I was from New Zealand.
  • Get a part-time job as a morning barista in that cafe and wait for him to come back so I can give him a little "Coogee Bay Special" in his latte.
This is the cunning plan that I put into practise:
  • Go very quiet and seethe for the rest of the meal, leave the cafe quietly and without incident, then explode an hour later into raving and ranting about how much I hate people like that.
While being diplomatic and good at smoothing things over has its positives, I also really admire people who have the guts to bite the bullet and stand up for what they believe in right there and then. I'm a man without conviction and I hate myself for it.

Strange Doctor

I really like taking personality tests. I especially like the ones which tell me that I like taking personality tests. There's nothing better than getting a few people together who have all sat the same test. You can compare strengths and weaknesses, and then those of you who are similar can band together and ridicule those who are different and alone. Great fun.

Because my Aged Mother was visiting this weekend and we needed some conversation bait, we all sat the VIA Signature Strengths test available on the Authentic Happiness website care of Dr Martin Seligman and U.Penn (you need to create a free account to access the questionnaire, which is 240 questions - takes about 15 minutes to do). It gives you a personal ranking of the 24 different personality strengths, with a brief explanation of what they mean. While I did the quiz I was lucky enough to have my Aged Mother looking over my shoulder and heckling me, telling me that I didn't know what I was talking about or that I was cheating or lying. Great fun.

Anyway, for interest's sake, here are my top 5 strengths:
1. Love Of Learning. You love learning new things, whether in a class or on your own. You have always loved school, reading and museums - anywhere and everywhere there is an opportunity to learn.
Okay, I probably didn't need to answer 240 questions to find out that I'm a nerd. I knew that already.
2. Humor And Playfulness. You like to laugh and tease. Bringing smiles to other people is important to you. You try to see the light side of all situations.
On careful reading I note that it doesn't actually say that I'm any good at it. Perhaps this is why my grade 5 teacher used to say things to me like, "Okay Mister Funnyman, maybe you'd like to spend all of lunchtime picking up rubbish in the playground. Who's laughing now?"
3. Appreciation Of Beauty And Excellence. You notice and appreciate beauty and excellence and skilled performance in all domains of life from nature to art to mathematics to science to everyday experience.
This is more like it. Art, nature, sounds pretty romantic - just like me. Hey, what's with the mathematics and science again? I got the nerd message already, Seligman!
4. Fairness, Equity And Justice. Treating all people fairly is one of your abiding principles. You do not let your personal feelings bias your decisions about other people. You give everyone a chance.
Promising stuff. I wonder if my Public Health lecturer will give me a pass if I show this to him? Hopefully I'll be able to get out doing that presentation on Health Equity and catch up on some zees.
5. Master Of The Mystic Arts. As the Sorceror Supreme of Earth's universe, charged with defending it from otherworldy threats, you can channel the virtually unlimited extra-dimensional energy of nigh-omnipotent beings in multiple realms to empower your spells.
Oh - now that's new! To be honest I've never thought of myself in this way. Hooray for personality tests!

So I encourage you to embark on this journey of self-discovery. Why not sit a personality test today and post your result here under a thinly transparent alias for the world to see? You never know what you'll learn.