Wednesday, September 30, 2009


Look! It's fall!
(And construction season is still in full swing, too.)

Monday, September 28, 2009

Don't yell "fire" in a crowded theater unless you're sure

The other night, I was sitting at the dining room table and happened to glance out the window. Across our back yard I could see the back window of a house on the next street over.

"Oh, someone has a fire lit," I commented to Jack.

"I was wondering why it smelled like smoke," he replied.

I could clearly see the flames through their window, and idly thought what a coincidence it was that I was at just the right angle to see their fireplace.

Then I looked harder. Those were awfully big flames, and from where I was they seemed to be filling the whole window of the house across the way. I couldn't see much else of the house, since there were trees and fences in the way. "Huh, that's weird."

Jack came over to look. "Wow, that's a pretty big fire."

Then I saw the windowsill start to glow reddish orange, and skepticism started to change to panic. "Um, I don't think that's in their fireplace."

"I don't either. What if there's someone inside? We'd better call the fire department."

So he did. Since we didn't know the address of the house, we gave them the name of the street it was on, as well as our address, for reference. When he hung up the phone, he went out to go drive by the house to see what he could see.

After he left, it occurred to me to go into the back yard to see if I could make anything out better. So I padded across the grass in the dark, and peered through a gap in the fence.

The only fire there was a fire pit in their back yard, a good ten feet from the house. There were no flames leaping in the window. There was no windowsill glowing red-hot. There was just a cozy urban campfire, with the kids likely just inside, impaling marshmallows on sticks.

And then I heard the sirens.

Three or four enormous fire trucks had pulled up onto the street. Our street, not the next one over. In front of our house. The lights were flashing and the sirens wailing..... and alllllll the neighbors were out on their front porches, bewildered and wondering what was going on.

It was kind of surreal. I walked back around to the front of the house, swallowed hard, and stood on the driveway as three large firefighters in full gear got out of the trucks and came toward me.

Now, just try explaining that you called the fire department because of a neighbor's cookout, without feeling stupid. Try leading several firefighters through your back yard to peer through the gap in your fence (while still feeling really confused as to how you could have been so, so mistaken). I was just glad it was dark enough that no one could see how red my face was.

To their credit, they were really nice about it. I kept apologizing, and they kept saying things like, "That's okay," and "Probably when they first lit it, the flames looked really high," and "They do have some candles in their window." Then they called in and explained that it was a false alarm, got in their trucks, and drove away.

And I went upstairs and shut all the drapes that were still open, and hid my face and hoped I would never run into any of the neighbors for the next month.

(It wasn't until Jack came in and we looked out the window again-- where it still looked remarkably like the house was on fire-- that we realized our mistake. It was a reflection in the window. We were just at the right angle to see the leaping flames of the back yard fire reflected in the dark glass. And the metal windowsill was glowing red... with a blurry reflection of the red-orange fire.)

So, thus ends this cautionary tale. The moral of the story is.... if you think your neighbor's house is on fire, feel free to call the fire department, but you might want to check from another angle first.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Can you dig it?

Perhaps out of respect for the ferocious winds that make Northwest Ohio winters especially chilly (it's known as the wind belt of the state, apparently), my med school campus has tunnels conveniently connecting nearly every building. This means you can go from the child psychiatry building to the clinic to the education building to the hospital to the library, all the while never poking your head above ground level.

However, some of these tunnels are downright... creepy. Especially because often, you're the only one walking through them. And the ventilation system makes eerie clanking noises. And it's dim and full of echoes.

And also, mysteriously, many of the tunnel walls are painted in wide stripes, in tones of avocado green, mustard yellow, and rust orange. They're kind of hard to see in this picture (though the creepy vibe is plainly apparent).

And when I walk through there, I can't help wondering... am I going to die down here, underground, amid a color scheme from the 70s?

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Safety First!

If you are going to fly in an airplane, the TSA wants to make sure you will be safe. So they conveniently provide pamphlets for every passenger, full of detailed pictures illustrating various safety tips. However, as these pictures don't come with captions, I thought I would explain some of them here. FOR YOUR SAFETY, you understand.

First of all, you should know that there are some things that are FORBIDDEN on airplanes.

Remote control cars, for instance. I know how tempting it may be to bring your favorite battery-powered vehicle, but we must insist. None of this.

Record players. No record players allowed, not even if you use eraser-pink headphones.

Also-- and I know this may be difficult for all you evil supergeniuses-- you're not allowed to bring your favorite walkie-talkie-computer-communicator-device for relaying orders to your minions (no matter how cleverly disguised it may be with "TV" emblazoned on it in large letters).

And finally, no lighting your cigarette before you get to the bathroom. For goodness' sake, people, at least wait until you're inside the lavatory. The door doesn't take that long to open.

Once we've got that settled, here's a diagram for the benefit of everyone who hasn't been inside a car since 1950:

Okay, now that everyone understands the basics, it's time to cover What To Do If The Plane Crashes.

First, there are several possible reasons the plane might crash.

This picture explains that the plane might crash if it only has one wing:

While this picture illustrates what happens if the pilot overshoots the runway and, instead, careens into the air traffic control tower. Unfortunate.

Now. If you think the plane might be crashing, and you have a baby, it's important that you smash the baby's face into your bosom, as illustrated here:

If, on the other hand, you are accompanied by a dysmorphic midget man-child with a beer belly, feel free to help him with his oxygen mask.

On the other hand, if you ARE a baby, things are a bit different. First you have to make sure to aim a good kick at whoever might be messing with the straps on your life jacket:

Then once you escape from those interfering adults and get into the water, you'll have a brilliant idea that will allow you to save everyone.

Okay. But suppose the pilot manages to skillfully crash-land the plane, and everyone's okay? How do you get out of that flying tin can?

Well, first look out the window to make sure there are no SCENES OF DESTRUCTION outside.
Thunderstorms, forest fires, and giant piles of razor-sharp icicles are some common things to look out for.

Next, if everything looks okay out there, you can attempt to open the door. However, your efforts will be in vain, and you'll likely get really angry, like this guy:

But all is not lost! All you have to do is hold your arms out in front of you and clap your hands, and the door will open!

Once the door is open, get the @*&# away from there. None of this staying around to help people. That thing could explode.
See that arrow? It means RUN. The guy in yellow knows how to follow directions. The guy in blue does not. Obviously he did not thoroughly read his TSA safety pamphlet.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

deep in the heeaaaart.....

...of Texas, people. Texas.

We traveled this past week to go take Step II CS, the last part of our Big Bad Board Exam. It's just like an OSCE (which is a test where you interview/examine a pretend patient), only there are 12 pretend patients so it's an all-day thing, and it costs around $1000 to take, and it's a licensing exam so it's nationally standardized and really important. And also, in Houston.

This is how we knew we were in Texas:
Very... direct. ("That's not a threat, y'all. It's just a statement of fact.")

(Also, the test went fine.)

Sunday, September 6, 2009

sunrise, sunrise, looks like morning in your eyes

Sunday morning at the hospital. An almost-empty parking lot and V-shaped flocks of geese flying overhead.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

stitches in time

I'm lucky enough to possess three quilts which were made by my great-grandmother. They were delivered to my family when I was in high school-- I don't remember why or from whom. I have a feeling it may have been shortly after the death of an elderly relative. But in any case, I immediately snatched up the quilts and claimed them as my own.

I just love old quilts. Old-fashioned yet fresh, prim yet determined, rigidly patterned yet softly comfortable, plain and straightforward yet intricately beautiful. They're such a vivid reminder of times long past, nearly forgotten. You can imagine a quilt was the work of some desperately poor yet proud and determined pioneer woman. Or a shining-eyed girl who folded it carefully away in her hope chest. Or an amiably gossiping group of housewives at a quilting bee. In some ways, quilts are a legacy of women.

As I sit here with my crocheting (and yes, that's my geeky spreadsheet) and my coffee and my music, in my own home with the sun shining through the trees outside the window, cuddled up in a quilt made long ago with love by my own ancestor.... well. Then sometimes I wonder why I ever thought this whole "career" thing was so great.

(Don't worry, I'm not quitting medicine. Just... you know. You can't have everything.)

Friday, September 4, 2009


Remember those granny squares I was crocheting? Well, it occurred to me that it was going to get awfully hard to remember which color combinations I had used already. And if I'm going to eventually make them into a blanket (which I hope to), I'd like to try to avoid having just a couple randomly identical squares.

So, uh.

*cough cough*

I may or may not have made a ridiculously detailed Excel spreadsheet for myself to keep track of the color combinations.


Did I mention I might have a little, tiny bit of a tendency toward Type-A nerdiness?

Tuesday, September 1, 2009


We have a patient on the service this week, an elderly lady who recently had a massive stroke. As in, she was fine when she went to bed, and woke up the next day unable to speak or swallow properly or move her right side. It's an interesting and difficult case, because since she is unable to talk, it's hard for anyone to know just how much she still understands, beneath it all.

But I was reminded today-- and it's good to be reminded-- that she's not just an "interesting case."

Her husband was in the room when we went in to see her, sitting in a wheelchair facing his wife. The attending asked cordially, "So how is everyone doing today?" And the patient's husband looked at him and replied, "Well, I'm not doing so good." And two tears ran down his face as he looked back at his wife. And at the end, before we left, our attending put his hand on the man's shoulder and said, "We don't know just how much she understands. But she knows you're here with her." "I hope so," he replied sadly.

Their granddaughter had informed us that they've been married for 57 years. And I thought of how many Christmases and sunsets and cups of coffee and Sunday dinners they had shared together, and how young and beautiful she probably was when they got married, and all of a sudden she wasn't just an old lady who couldn't talk, and he wasn't just a hospital visitor. For a moment they were the hero and heroine of some great Shakespearean tragedy or epic tale.

I once read a quote-- I can't remember it exactly, or even who said it-- but the idea was... if we could know all the joys and sorrows of a person's life to their fullest extent, then every life would be as fascinating to us as the greatest novel.