Saturday, October 23, 2010

Of Bones, Brains, Chemistry and Poetry

So, yeah, it's been awhile. A lot of things went wrong in September and I just didn't feel like posting all kinds of depressing crap, and then school started and I've been a busy girl since that moment. I am taking 18 credits, like a crazy person, and working part-time but somehow apparently, it's working all right. I want to talk about my classes b/c there's some pretty cool stuff.

I am taking chemistry, for the first time since high school, and taking chemistry makes me realize that I am definitely a biology girl and not so into the chemistry. I perk up when we talk about things with biological significance, so I have a feeling that I may end up being one of those people who prefers organic chem to general. Still, after some initial frustration, I am getting into the chem and the mindset for it, and getting into solving the problems and getting familiar with the periodic table and the common ions again (I used to have this stuff memorized in high school). And I have a few friends in the class, so it's cool. This is the class that it has taken the longest to warm up to, but I am grudgingly starting to like it. There's a lot of homework, some to be done online as part of the grade and some to do at home for practice, and when I get into doing these things, things start to click and I get lost in it and feel pretty satisfied when done.

The lab for Chem is pass/fail only, no grade, so there's a bit less pressure there. I like my lab TA - very helpful and thorough, and things like staying to go over equations are optional so leaving early is nice, considering my lab ends at 8:30pm.

I'm also taking Intro to Behavioral Neuroscience through the psych department. It's cool b/c it is actually a lot of biology. We spent the first part of the class talking about neurons and the parts of the cell and cell receptors and channels and how neurotransmitters work and now we are going very in-depth into the gross anatomy of the brain. We are watching dissection videos and playing with models of the brain with detachable parts and going a lot more in depth than our book does. A huge part of the class is drawing assignments. For example, so far we had to draw a prototypic neuron, two different kinds of synapses, and a lateral view of the brain. I didn't sign up for the class expecting that I would need a sketchbook and colored pencils, but it's cool. I actually get really into it. I always really enjoyed the drawing parts of bio lab when we had to draw dissected squid eyes or detailed flower parts or dividing cells, and with the neuro class, I don't have to pretend to be able to see shit through a microscope, I just draw and color in what I know. It feels good the way that writing or playing music does; it's artistically satisfying.

My drawing of the right lateral view of the brain:

The prof for the neuro class works (outside of being a prof) looking at brain damage in criminals, so that's a really interesting aspect that he brings to the class. We also end up having lots of questions and discussions about things like brain effects of Ultimate Fighting and boxing.

I am also taking a creative writing class, called Writing and Healing, which also required a sketching journal and art supplies. I never thought my two 400-level classes would involve so much art. It's a pretty intense class. We do a lot of journaling, read a lot of poetry in class, go deep into our life stories and all that good stuff. We also have to read five books and write papers on them, and also write two papers on our journals, so there is a fair amount of work with the class. I've read two books so far, both by local authors, Live Through This by Debra Gwartney and Little Green by Loretta Stinson, and currently working on Small Wonder by Barbara Kingsolver.

On the first day of class, my prof read us some poems by Sharon Olds, who I love, including "I Go Back to May, 1937" which is one of my favorites, ever. She also read us "The Solution" which set the tone for the class that nothing is off-limits.

So needless to say, I was psyched that my prof read some Sharon Olds, and "The Solution" is definitely a daring choice! We also heard poetry from a book called In The Surgical Theater, which, ya know, just totally made my day. On the first day of this class, the prof told us about going to a conference at Duke University about medicine and writing, that involved doctors, medical students, writers, poets, etc, and the thought of these things coming together made my head want to explode with awesomeness of it all.

I will share one poem that I heard in the class. I am so drawn to anything involving the moon, so was really struck by this poem:

Facts About the Moon
by Dorianne Laux

The moon is backing away from us
an inch and a half each year. That means
if you’re like me and were born
around fifty years ago the moon
was a full six feet closer to the earth.
What’s a person supposed to do?
I feel the gray cloud of consternation
travel across my face. I begin thinking
about the moon-lit past, how if you go back
far enough you can imagine the breathtaking
hugeness of the moon, prehistoric
solar eclipses when the moon covered the sun
so completely there was no corona, only
a darkness we had no word for.
And future eclipses will look like this: the moon
a small black pupil in the eye of the sun.
But these are bald facts.
What bothers me most is that someday
the moon will spiral right out of orbit
and all land-based life will die.
The moon keeps the oceans from swallowing
the shores, keeps the electromagnetic fields
in check at the polar ends of the earth.
And please don’t tell me
what I already know, that it won’t happen
for a long time. I don’t care. I’m afraid
of what will happen to the moon.
Forget us. We don’t deserve the moon.
Maybe we once did but not now
after all we’ve done. These nights
I harbor a secret pity for the moon, rolling
around alone in space without
her milky planet, her only child, a mother
who’s lost a child, a bad child,
a greedy child or maybe a grown boy
who’s murdered and raped, a mother
can’t help it, she loves that boy
anyway, and in spite of herself
she misses him, and if you sit beside her
on the padded hospital bench
outside the door to his room you can’t not
take her hand, listen to her while she
weeps, telling you how sweet he was,
how blue his eyes, and you know she’s only
romanticizing, that she’s conveniently
forgotten the bruises and booze,
the stolen car, the day he ripped
the phones from the walls, and you want
to slap her back to sanity, remind her
of the truth: he was a leech, a fuckup,
a little shit, and you almost do
until she lifts her pale puffy face, her eyes
two craters and then you can’t help it
either, you know love when you see it,
you can feel its lunar strength, its brutal pull.

This poem really spoke to me. "Forget us. We don't deserve the moon."

Almost completely jumping tracks here, I have to talk about my favorite class - Anatomy & Physiology. I've been looking forward to this for a long time, and it is my one true biology course this term. I really love it. I love learning about the workings of the body. So far we have done a basic overview of the building blocks like proteins and lipids, the workings of the cell, and then all the different tissue types of the body. For the exam this past week, I was totally ready to identify things like pseudostratified columnar epithelium, the features of all the different types of connective tissue and to identify all the places in the body where all the tissue types can be found. It wasn't quite that in depth though. Now we are going on to skin, and soon to the physiology of bones and muscles.

The way it's set up, the lectures are mostly physiology and the labs are mostly anatomy. So, in lab, we started out the first week with learning the bones, first of the vertebral column, sternum and pelvic girdle, then limbs and shoulder girdle, and then lastly, the skull and face (and hyoid bone). On Friday there was a bone practical for which I had to know all the bones of the body, and all their bumps and ridges and lines and divets and smooth surfaces and HOLES (the skull has a lot of holes), be able to spell everything right, and also be able to identify bones as right or left. I originally thought this would be incredibly challenging because of my low vision, but it turned out not to be a big barrier at all. Most of this was done with plastic (or real) bones to handle while learning this stuff, and while taking the tests. I also got a skeleton, which is big help in practicing things. I was able to take his head off, take off the top part of his skull and examine all the bone structures. I also was describing this to a friend of mine (who's a naturopath and also had a skeleton for practice when she was going through school) while at a cafe on campus and was thinking, wow, anyone who overhears this conversation about me taking heads apart is going to think I'm one twisted sister.

For the quizzes and practicals in the class, what happens is we walk in and get quiz/practical sheets and have to start at a station with a bone. Then we have to identify the bone or the structure (and as I was saying, w/proper spelling, and also identifying right or left). We get a minute and then have to move on to the next station. And so on. For the practical we had FIFTY bone stations, and a bit more time per station because a lot of them had two questions, like name the structure and the overall bone, or name the structure and name what articulates with it. My lab TA kept asking me if I would need extra time and assuring me that if I did I could stay after, but I didn't. I like to take the tests like everyone else. Plus, I was really confident that I knew the bones inside and out. I felt really good about turning in my sheet, filled out, with everyone else.

I find the anatomy lab very soothing, at least so far. Going in there and spending time examining bones and learning all their structures just really soothed me. That is probably pretty weird, but hey whatever works, right? Learning all these things also means I have words like medial malleolus, foramen spinosum, greater occipital protuberance, linea aspera, subscapular fossa and distal phalanges running around my head all day. Another cool thing was that learning the skull in anatomy lab coincided with learning the gross anatomy of the brain in neuro class, so I got to kinda integrate the two. Now when I look at the sella turcica (translation: turkish saddle) of the sphenoid bone of the skull, I automatically think, that's where the pituitary gland sits. I love it.

Sella turcica: (looking at the inside of the skull from above - that big hole you can see near the bottom of the pic is the foramen magnum, basically the opening to the spinal cord)

Starting this week we will be working with human cadavers and I am both excited and a little freaked out about the idea. I mean I have not seen many dead people, knock on wood, at all, so I'm wondering how it will be emotionally. On the other hand, what a great way to REALLY see how the body works, what connects where, and so on and to learn, really learn. Definitely with these classes I am appreciating different learning methods, like how drawing the brain stuff helps make the learning more physical in your body, how the tactile learning of the bones adds a new dimension.

My last class is a one-credit class called the Art of Medicine, which I had to apply to get into. It's taught at the hospital near my apartment, by a doctor of family medicine. It's really interesting, we talk about things like professionalism, communication, how to take a patient history, and most recently, how medical billing works. That was particularly interesting because I really want to take some classes that get into the social justice aspect of healthcare, so it was good to get a crash course in how it works, though I know there is a lot more to learn. The class only meets five times, and there are two more left. On the last class we do some sort of fake thing on a mannequin and also take a fake patient history (on a med student) which I'm pretty excited and nervous for. I don't talk much in that class. I just have the feeling everyone else is further along in their studies and experience.

The only downside of the class is that on days that I have it I have to leave A&P early in order to catch a ride with a friend. One time I had to leave while my A&P prof was talking about Van Gogh and how he may have had blue vision, a side effect of digitalis and some of the supporting evidence and how this may have affected his art. It was really interesting!

Along with all that, I am working part-time, from home, for an accessibility project for SimBiotic Software and their Eco Beaker virtual labs. Right now I am doing a lot of investigating science accessibility stuff that's already out there, as well as accessible games.

Somehow I am managing to take all these classes, work, and still have a social life. Oh and still find time to do things like watch House, even during the craziest week of classes so far! I like the challenges, honestly, of fitting it all in but man have I been tired. In fact I may go take a little nap. It's perfect afternoon for that, with a steady rain going on outside. I'm still struggling a bit with time management and figuring out how to make best use of my studying time. All these classes say things like "for every hour you spend in class, you should spend three at home." Well if I did that I would never sleep or eat or leave the house or work, so it is all about how to be smart about it.

It is an insane amount at once but I am just loving it :) And now, time for a nap.

Currently listening:
"The Chain" - Ingrid Michaelson - love, love, love this song. Will be seeing her live on Saturday, very cool. REALLY hope she plays this song, by far my favorite of hers at the moment.

The Chain

The sky looks pissed
The wind talks back
My bones are shifting in my skin
And you, my love, are gone

My room seems wrong
The bed won't fit
I cannot seem to operate
And you, my love, are gone

So glide away on soapy heels
And promise not to promise anymore
And if you come around again
Then I will take, then I will take
The chain from off the door

I'll never say
I'll never love
But I don't say a lot of things
And you, my love, are gone

So glide away on soapy heels
And promise not to promise anymore
And if you come around again
Then I will take the chain from off the door
So glide away on soapy heels
And promise not to promise anymore
And if you come around again
Then I will take the chain from off the door


sinclairj1982 said...

Chrys, since you are in med school, I think you would like the magazine I work for, Pharmaceutical Executive. Let me know if this link works for you

Also stay on top of our website,, for a great insight into medicine and healthcare from the point of view of those who work in the industry--doctors, pharmacists, healthcare marketing firms, etc.

Story teller said...

how is med school going???