Residential Space A creative outlet during residency, turned ongoing virtual soap box

I graduated from residency!  3

Posted on June 19th, 2009. About Ramblings.

Last night, I graduated from the University of Washington’s neurology residency program. After four years of being on call, running back and forth from the ICU to the ER, giving talks, and honestly – having fun (did I just say that?) – residency is over. Well, unless one includes working next week and taking three more calls before June 30th. 🙂

It’s hard to believe that, after a twelve year road, I’ve reached the end of my training. I’m thrilled to be staying on for the next year at Harborview as the stroke neurology fellow, to continue treating patients while devoting more time to reading, working on various projects, giving talks, writing papers, and transitioning further into that independent role as a practitioner.

Here’s to the next 30 years!

My latest beef with US Air  0

Posted on April 14th, 2009. About Ramblings.

Having lived near Charlotte, NC for many years prior to becoming a Pacific Northwesterner, I flew on US Air flights not infrequently. Evan was even one of their preferred (I don’t recall the specific title) Dividend Miles customers because he flew with them so frequently on business trips out of Charlotte. When Gabriel and I recently were trying to get back to Seattle from Charlotte after a trip East, US Air and I experienced a painful break up.

I initially flew to Charlotte on a Continental flight as we got a great fare (of course, I later realized why – the connection was through Newark). In any case, the return flight was cancelled, and Continental placed us on a US Air flight from Charlotte to Houston, followed by a Continental flight from Houston to Seattle. After being booked, we walked to the US Air counter, where no one was available to assist us with getting boarding passes (the automated kiosks did not recognize our information). Finally I called a woman over to help us, and she rudely informed me that I needed to use the kiosk. When I explained that our information was not in there because we had been re-routed, she then told us Continental should have dealt with this. I explained to her that the flight from Charlotte to Houston was a US Air flight and we needed boarding passes from US Air.

Then came the baggage check. Gabriel and I were both fully ticketed passengers – we paid for two tickets. However, for ease of travel, we consolidated our items into one large suitcase. The suitcase weighed 57 pounds, seven pounds over what they allow for the $15 charge for a single checked bag. I asked how much I owed per pound over, and she informed me it was a $50 fee for any amount over 50 pounds, be it an extra half of a pound or 20 pounds. I wondered if this was an issue with workers not having to lift bags that are too heavy, but no – if you’re first class, your bag can weigh up to 70 pounds, free of charge.

Next came the obvious question – since we paid for two tickets, but were only checking one bag, could she just charge me $15 as if we were checking a second bag that weighed seven pounds? No, she told me. The rules clearly state that I had to move seven pounds from one suitcase into another bag. But why, I asked? It’s easier to have it in one bag, and I’ll just pay you $30. No, she replied, it’s our policy that any amount over 50 pounds for cabin passengers is an additional $50 charge. At this point, my mother, bless her heart, lit into her, and an impressive verbal exchange took place between the two of them. Eventually, we took seven pounds worth of stuff out of the suitcase and left it with my mother in Charlotte. Then, to find that US Air did not carry milk on their flight from Charlotte to Houston was absurd! With all of the children flying, and not being able to bring extra milk through security, how can they get away with not providing it on the planes, even at a charge? Continental had it and was happy to share it.

Flying used to be fairly simple, and fun at times. It has gotten to be so miserable. Between this episode, having to leave a secured area in Houston to travel between terminals and then re-endure security with a toddler for the second time in a single day, getting to Houston and realizing that every single food service place had closed by 6PM and food was nowhere to be found (fortunately my cousin, a flight attendant, was able to buy food for us and bring it to us), and having my son’s little plush puppy taken from him in Seattle to be examined by security while he cried helplessly, I was ready to be finished with air travel. However, because we live 3000 miles from my family, air travel will remain part of our lives, despite my disdain for it.

What do Iraq and the economy have to do with one another?  0

Posted on February 28th, 2009. About News and Politics, Ramblings.

I posted this blog commentary in September 2008, venting my frustration that the war in Iraq and the economy in crisis had been separated by the media and politicians as separate issues. Estimates indicate that anywhere from $1-3 billion (maybe I should write it as $1,000,000,000.00 to $3,000,000,000.00 for emphasis on how many zeros are present in these numbers) is being spent per month on the war in Iraq.

A member of my family forwarded an email that is circulating currently, which is currently sparking a familial discussion about whether the stimulus package is too expensive, whether it will work, etc. The focus of this forwarded message goes something like this: A billion is a huge number. A billion seconds ago it was 1959. A billlion minutes ago Jesus was alive. A billion hours ago no creatures walked upright on this planet. It then went on to outline how unfair this person thought it was that, of the 400,000-plus residents of New Orleans, the region is requesting so many billions of dollars, which works out to over $1 million per household when divided evenly. Then, at the end, there a not-so-poignant remark about how irritated the author is that he/she still has to dial “1” for English. I’m not sure that adding the issue of immigration into the message helped to illustrate the main point (it’s not the fault of immigrants that a billion is a large number, right?), but in any case, it was there.

My first reaction to this is – this is being circulated by someone out there critical of the stimulus package who thinks the government is spending too much. Does this same person recognize that he/she was (likely) in support of an overseas conflict costing $12-36 billion yearly? Many estimate the total cost of the war will near $1 trillion ($1,000,000,000,000.00) when factoring in disability payments for veterans, healthcare and psychiatric costs, rebuilding efforts, interest on the loans we have taken to pay for the war in the first place, etc.

At least the stimulus package gives us infrastructure we desperately need. It makes our buildings more energy efficient. It funds education. As someone in Washington state, I’m pleased that it replaces our volcanic monitoring equipment, despite how Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal may feel. My point is – we get something from the use of this money. Tangible things in the U.S., built by people living here. We’re investing in children who will make the country better. The $1 trillion to be spent on Iraq when all is said and done does what? Demolishes and then rebuilds a foreign nation that was never a threat to us? Pays to rehabilitate and care for returning veterans who should not have been sent into harm’s way in the first place? People who support the latter and don’t support the former are using a line of thinking which I cannot understand (unless the one arguing in favor of spending in Iraq is a stockholder in an energy company enjoying a no-bid contract over there).

Gabriel’s new president  0

Posted on February 2nd, 2009. About News and Politics, Ramblings.

My son, despite being 18 months old, was able to enjoy Obama’s inauguration as millions of his fellow Americans did on January 20th. He will not remember it, but I hope he appreciates the photos we took.

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Please excuse the bump on the forehead. He is, after all, a toddler, and sometimes walls and the floor can be nuisances for him. 🙂

Considering New Year’s Resolutions  0

Posted on December 17th, 2008. About Ramblings.

So many of us make them, and most of us will break them. Ahhh, the New Year’s Resolution. In the past, mine have always been to run regularly, and then by March I’m finished, until starting again in July, and then losing steam again in October. By then, it’s time to make another resolution to run the following year. I remember one year making my resolution to read 50 books the following year, but who was I kidding? When I read a book, it takes time to finish – I have to be in the right mood, and have to savor every page rather than reading quickly. It takes me weeks, if not months, to finish a book. I have always loved to read, but now that I read so many medical charts, journal articles, and radiology/EEG/EMG reports, when I get home often the enthusiasm is lacking. I do seem to be reading an awful lot of Dr. Seuss and P.D. Eastman with a certain toddler at home, though!

So perhaps I should be setting more realistic goals for the year. Maybe if they are actually achieveable I will feel more compelled to strive towards meeting them rather than giving up when life becomes stressful and busy. Let’s try this:

  • I will shoot to read 12 books next year, one for each month.
  • I will aim to exercise for at least a 30 minute interval, three times each week.
  • I am currently on lesson 11 of my French podcast series. I will complete through lesson 40 by the end of 2009.

If I were being really manic in my New Year’s goals, one would be to finally finish the “book” I’ve been writing since May 2005 when I first moved to Seattle. Every six months I revisit it, re-edit what I have already written, write another page or two, and then set it aside again for another six months. Realistically, I’m not sure I will be finishing it in 2009, but perhaps someday.

I am pleased that I have been able to somewhat keep my blog up, despite a resident’s schedule and a little boy in my life. This seems to be the creative outlet I have maintained for myself, so I imagine I will continue to return to it until at least into my 80’s, should I be fortunate enough to enjoy that sort of longevity.

From reading the news online and talking to others, it seems most people believe that 2008 has been a very lousy year. With the war continuing and the economy in crisis, the future is definitely uncertain. Yet, I’ve found 2008 quite rewarding, mostly because it was my first full year as the mother to a wonderful boy. I have watched Gabriel grow from a helpless five month old at the beginning of January into a vivacious, passionate, and loads-of-fun toddler who runs through our home to hug me when I walk through the door each evening. How could I complain when I have those moments?

In any case, an early Happy 2009 to everyone!

The election – with two weeks to go  0

Posted on October 20th, 2008. About News and Politics, Ramblings.

For as much passion as I hold for politics (particularly national politics), I would have thought this historic election would have provided great fodder for this blog. Yet, I have found that plenty of people out there are saying what I wish to say more eloquently than I would say it. The negativity makes me angry, but if I blogged everytime the GOP presidential and vice-presidential candidates behave in a manner that is hypocritical, reprehensible, or non-Christian, I would do nothing but sit in front of my computer, typing furiously day after day. I believe a few comments will illustrate how I’m feeling:

  • When Sarah Palin was selected as John McCain’s running mate, I, like the rest of the country, was inspired by her…to finally donate to the Obama campaign. I have never given money to a campaign, but this was the one. That $150 million Obama raised in September? You can thank Sarah Palin for it.
  • I am constantly fearful for Obama’s safety. He’s so close to victory, and all it would take is one misguided lunatic to end it all. It’s frightening. When Sarah Palin half smiles at rallies as her supporters call him a terrorist and yell things like “kill him,” I have to wonder – where are these Christian principles she espouses? I hear much more Christian things coming from Obama’s lips than from McCain’s or Palin’s. The right-wing Republicans should be voting Democratic in this election, but I suppose voting against one’s self interests is not a new concept.
  • While we’re on the topic of Sarah Palin, have you noticed that she will state things as fact that are easily disproved? I’m thinking of the firing of her public safety commissioner for not firing her brother-in-law, the panel of eight Republicans and four Democrats who found she violated Alaska’s ethics law, and her comment (I’m paraphrasing) that she is so pleased that the panel found she did not violate the ethics law. What?! I half expect her to tell the media how pleased she is to be awarded the Nobel Prize or to state as a fact that scientists have proved the polar icecaps are reaccumulating. As long as you say it definitively and with a straight face, I guess that makes it true somehow?
  • In 2000 when I was living in South Carolina, I had a great deal of respect for John McCain during the GOP primary. I didn’t agree with all of his stances, but the man was respectable. I will never forgive him for this election. He has thrown his principles out the window to try to win the presidency, and as a result, I predict he will lose. He has attempted to embrace the sort of negative campaigning that allowed Bush to beat him in 2000, but what he doesn’t understand is – that worked in South Carolina. It doesn’t jive in most of the country. People at their cores are still decent, and the negativity has gone over the top for most. I will also never forgive him for placing the country’s future in such great jeopardy by choosing the running mate he has chosen. How selfish of him to place her in such a position of power. He needs to really start putting “country first” and ambition-to-win-the-presidency second.
  • Man, isn’t Tina Fey awesome?!
  • I am so glad Joe Biden finally called the other side out about “pro-America.” In their rallies they frequently speak of “small town American values,” “real Americans,” and those who are “pro-American.” Since when did people living in large cities lack values? Why are those in small towns better than those who live in cities? Tax revenues from cities often fund smaller towns – so I guess we’re not pro-America when we’re paying to support all of those “real Americans.” Way to go, Joe.
  • If the other side does win, I’m glad I’m somewhat sheltered in Seattle, although I do love South Carolina very much. 🙂
  • How can anyone be undecided at this point?!

Long time, no blog  2

Posted on July 27th, 2008. About Baby Dodds, Books, News and Politics, Ramblings.

My last substantive blog post was published on June 6th. I’ve fallen behind after two demanding months (albeit, intriguing and important months, but demanding). There are many topics about which I would like to write, so I will try to hit on highlights:

  • Gabriel turned one year old in mid-July! People always manage to sound a bit cheesy when they use that hackneyed expression: “It seems like only yesterday that…” It is so appropriate when thinking about how quickly time is passing in your child’s life, though – or rather, your time with your child. I honestly have a tough time believing the labor, the delivery, the first days home from the hospital – that all of that was now over a year ago. Gabriel has grown from a helpless (adorable!) neonate to a crawling, climbing, laughing, mischievous (yes, he’s already figuring some things out), and loving little boy. It’s been a terrific year.
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  • My two chief resident months at Harborview in May and June brought me back into the acute neurological care setting, and reminded me of how exciting and rewarding it can be. I had the chance to be a part of early intervention in several potentially very bad stroke cases with very happy endings, and these persuaded me to apply for a fellowship in vascular neurology (ie, stroke). I was accepted for it several weeks ago – so I will be the stroke fellow at Harborview for 2009-2010. I look forward to my career as a stroke neurologist.
  • I’m trying to keep a long-term perspective about the economy. Surely it will improve, right? It has not been that bad for that long. Still, I know there is a problem when my best-performing investment is my money market savings account. Hopefully it’s all about dollar-cost averaging.
  • I will blog more about this soon (it warrants its own post), but I’m reading a book right now entitled The Smartest Guys in the Room. It’s about the rise and fall of Enron, and how Enron was able to become as large as it became while operating with fake numbers. I find the California energy “crisis” part of the Enron tale the most intriguing. Remember those rolling blackouts in California years ago? Enron apparently had power grids brought down to create a sense of panic about a presumed electricity shortage, thus driving up the prices. George Bush and others in Washington, D.C. publicly commented that California got itself into this mess, so it has to work it out for itself. Yet, California didn’t get itself into this mess – Enron was manipulating the price. Which brings me to our current oil situation. I’m not a big fan of oil for environmental reasons – but come on. I don’t care how quickly China and India are growing; I just refuse to believe that they have grown so fast in three or four years that the price of a barrel of oil suddenly needs to be greater than $140/barrel. I smell Enron. Oil companies have been posting record profits. After learning about the ins and outs of Enron, I’m thinking, “This game has been played before.” There is potentially an artificial shortage being created to cause a panic, thus pushing people to pay $4.50/gallon of gasoline and persuading people to allow off-shore drilling. What has George Bush pushed for his entire time as president? Drilling in Anwar. This seems awfully suspicious. But more of this later, once I’ve finished reading the book. Disclaimer: I’m not an economist. Just a citizen.
  • Learning French, while very difficult as an adult, must be so much easier now than it was even ten years ago. Evan gave me a Zune last December, and it has changed my life. Now, thanks to Coffee Break French and Learn French By Podcast, while my French is still very poor (I never took a class in it in high school or college), it is leaps and bounds ahead of where I was before I got my Zune. It’s fascinating. Because it’s so portable, I can learn on the bus, at lunch in the cafeteria, or on an airplane (although not recently because I always seem to be at the mercy of a certain little boy traveling with me). Anyway – it’s worth pointing out that with the Zune, unlike the iPod, I can listen to NPR while walking from my car into work if I don’t want to leave a segment unfinished. It’s a delightful little device!

I’ll stop here for now, but these are some of my recent activities/contemplations/celebrations/concerns! A la prochaine.

Farewell, Dr. Bruccoli  1

Posted on June 6th, 2008. About Books, News and Politics, Ramblings.

During my junior year in college during the fall of 2000, I enrolled in a class at the University of South Carolina called “Fitzgerald and Hemingway.” The course was taught by Matthew Bruccoli, widely recognized as the leading F. Scott Fitzgerald scholar and the creator of the largest collection of Fitzgerald memorabilia known. In short, it was an unforgettable experience.

Dr. Bruccoli passed away this week, as I learned from this article, sent to me by a friend in Charleston. I stared at the computer screen, stunned. Then the tears came. The world feels a little emptier with him gone.

His class that semester consisted of about 20 students (of whom about 15 showed up for each session – I never missed it), meeting with Dr. Bruccoli in the rare book room at the Thomas Cooper Library. We started each session by passing around a piece from the collection. The first time, it was a first edition of Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises with the following inscription on the title page: “To Scott, with great esteem and affection. Ernest” Wow – Fitzgerald’s copy of Hemingway’s book, inscribed by Hemingway to Fitzgerald. Truly unique. The following session, we examined an old slide projector with glass slides featuring images of war. Dr. Bruccoli explained that Fitzgerald owned these, as did many in the 1910’s, and used this to emphasize Fitzgerald’s remorse over never having the chance to fight in World War I. One day it would be Fitzgerald’s whisky flask. The next it may be his notebook he carried around Hollywood in the 1930’s as he jotted down ideas for his final (unfinished) novel, The Love of the Last Tycoon: A Western. It was such an awesome way to begin discussing Fitzgerald’s writing.

We had guest lecturers too. I’ll never forget famed writer and critic George Plimpton’s visit to our class. We sat at the large conference table, Plimpton and Dr. Bruccoli with us, and laughed at their stories of their various encounters with Hemingway, his family, and friends. That night, we were Dr. Bruccoli’s guests at a performance of a dialogue Plimpton had written after compiling letters between the two men. I was one of three students from our class that attended (and I brought my mother, a bibliophile). Where was everyone? Did they not realize the experience they could have? As Plimpton closed our class, I handed him my photocopy of his script that had been distributed at the start of class and asked if he would mind autographing it. When he died in 2003, the script, which had sat on my bookshelf, was moved to a special box for preservation.

When I started medical school, I would go through flurries of short story writing, and once was even brave enough to send one to Dr. Bruccoli for an opinion. He sent feedback several days later, which to my relief was positive. I have the envelope with the manuscript and Dr. Bruccoli’s letter in storage, but the word I remember from the letter is “publishable.” He went on to explain that he almost became a doctor, but didn’t want to be surrounded by people who were ignorant. Instead, he continued, he went on to become an English professor, and was surrounded by people who were even more ignorant. I submitted it to a literary magazine, and it was rejected. He also enclosed one of his books with a witty inscription. After graduating from medical school, I went back to USC to visit Dr. Bruccoli before I moved to Seattle. He encouraged me to continue collecting rare books, and to enjoy medicine but to remember my passion for literature and writing.

He was gruff, and he was remarkable. I don’t know if I will ever meet another person like him. He is still very much alive in my mind, slamming his hand on the table and growling, “Hemingway was a MEAN son-of-a-bitch!” I can see the curious look on his face as we opened boxes of Hemingway galleys and manuscripts recently purchased by USC. I remember only being able to enter the University Club in St. Paul, MN, where Fitzgerald used to have drinks when he was a young man, because I was able to describe to the door attendant, thanks to Dr. Bruccoli, in detail what the bar looked like, despite not having ever seen it in person.

In the midst of my sadness while at work today, one of my friends was kind enough to listen to me ramble on about how remarkable Dr. Bruccoli was. He reminded me that I was lucky to have known someone like that. Lucky indeed. I am lucky, but unfortunately it just doesn’t seem like there was enough time. There never is with someone like him.

A childhood dream fulfilled – I saw Duran Duran!  0

Posted on May 1st, 2008. About Entertainment, Ramblings.

Evan and I saw Duran Duran in concert at the WAMU Theater in Seattle last night! As is the case whenever I have seen a good ’80s group perform, things were quite surreal. To hear a song like “Hungry Like the Wolf” performed live by the group who created it, a tune so familiar that I cannot remember not having known it, was pleasantly bizarre. I heard everything I wanted to hear – “Planet Earth,” “Save a Prayer,” and “The Reflex,” to name a few from their 1980’s grandeur. My very favorites, though, were the two hits from their 1993 album, The Wedding Album, “Ordinary World” and “Come Undone.” Perhaps this is because I have real conscious memory of when these songs were huge, and the others came out when I was too young to really understand how big they were.

There was a moment when I leaned over to Evan during “Ordinary World” to remind him that this great tune was actually fifteen years old. Sheesh, wasn’t it yesterday that my friends and I were riding in the carpool to drama camp during the summer following eighth grade, and we heard this song almost daily on the radio? I remember the music video – a girl with a big bow on her dress running. I did not see too many music videos back when MTV actually featured them, but for some reason I really remember that one.

What has happened to it all? Crazy, some would say…

But I won’t cry for yesterday. After all, life is better now! I have Evan, with whom I can enjoy nostalgic concerts. I have Gabriel, who was someday to be back in 1993, but was still 14 years from actually being. It is difficult not to reminisce, though, when music used to be this good.

Skagit Valley Tulip Festival – Third Annual! (for us)  4

Posted on April 13th, 2008. About Baby Dodds, Ramblings.

The festival has definitely occurred more than three times, but this was the third time that Evan and I made the trip to Mount Vernon, WA to celebrate the local tulips (and the coming of spring!). This was the best one to date – not only because it was a gorgeous 70-plus degrees and clear, but this year we had the chance to relish Gabriel’s delight at seeing flowers and sitting in lush green grass. He smiled, laughed, and babbled the whole day! It was such a wonderful day for our family.

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