Friday, March 27, 2009


Video is self-explanatory.

PS. Sam walks!

Sunday, March 22, 2009


I matched at Stanford! I'm pleased and grateful to know where I'll be next year. Yay!

In the picture below, Sam is holding my all-knowing envelope just before the Big Moment.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Oh heck!

Sam has learned to say no. We're in trouble!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The sound of one hand

So Sam's new trick is clapping and -- I know I'm his mother, and that makes my judgement suspect at best, but trust me here -- it's ridiculously cute. Off camera, he claps for anyone and anything, acheivements large and small. He's all about equal opportunity affirmation and he happily claps for me, Brian and himself. He claps on cue and he claps spontaneously. It's beyond delightful and we are lapping it up. Tonight we tried to catch the clapping on camera but he was having none of it. Still, the ensuing video was pretty adorable, so here it is.

(The usual caveat applies.)

Friday, March 13, 2009

Trial and error

It's been a crazy week on the general neurology service. During my mid-rotation feedback session with my attending yesterday (*mwah mwaaaah mwaah*), I cast about briefly for something -- anything -- positive to say about my experience so far. "We've seen a wide variety of patients since I came on service," is what I came up with.

"Well," he said, "it's not usually like this."

Have I mentioned that I just love in-patient neurology?

In any event, I really have seen a wide variety of patients since I came on service. There have been some good bread-and-butter cases: strokes and multiple sclerosis flares, a couple of people with seizure disorders, a case of neurocysticercosis. Two days ago, I admitted a man with glioblastoma multiforme, a devastating form of brain cancer. But there have also been some mysteries and even a few zebras: slurred speech caused by the same auto-antibodies that cause type 1 diabetes, progressive multifocal leukoencephalopahy in a patient with leukemia, weirdly chronic meningoencephalitis that didn't seem to be caused by an infection.

The upshot of all this variety has been surprisingly unvaried: brain MRIs and lumbar punctures for everybody; steroids for almost everybody. There were a couple days earlier this week when my team was a virtual lumbar puncture machine. There were so many LPs to go around that the residents let us medical students try our hands with the needle, which was simultaneously an opportunity (for me) and a torment (for both me and my patients -- and probably my resident too). I didn't succeed in finding the dural space a single time and at least once thrust my needle into a patient's spinal nerve root, sending a zing of electric pain down his leg. There's nothing quite like pulling a four inch needle out of someone's back, slightly adjusting the needle's angle and then shoving it back in. And then doing it again.

Good times, I tell ya.

Like every single medical student in the history of ever, I'm deeply ambivalent about practicing painful, invasive procdures on real live people. But I also understand that there's simply no way to learn medicine without practicing on patients. Other people have written more eloquently than I can hope to on this subject. For now, suffice it to say that I'm very grateful to my patients for trusting their medical student with something so precious.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009


I'm finally posting video! My dad has been asking for video of Sam crawling, so here it is. He's been working very hard on standing up lately, so I think the crawling is just about over. I'm in pre-mourning, I admit. The crawling has been so darn cute.

Warning: this video is only appropriate for serious sam-o-philes. It's pretty boring otherwise.

Saturday, March 7, 2009


Last weekend, Brian's parents came to visit us to celebrate my mother in law's birthday. We took Sam to the zoo for the first time. I expected him to relish the experience, but instead, he seemed almost disinterested. We could hardly get him to engage with the animals in the petting zoo at all.

The tigers were in a particularly fiesty mood; I've never seen tigers wrestle, race and pounce like they did last weekend. But Sam was much more interested in the large bolts that keep the tigers in their cage.

By the end of the day, Sam had found his groove: he loved the pigeons and squirrels best. I think we'll stick with the park for a few more months. The zoo can wait until he's a bit older.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Peace, love and neurology

So I'm one week into my neurology rotation and I have to say, I hate it exactly as much as I expected to. Neuroanatomy was by far my weakest subject during the preclinical years of medical school and even now, I get a little jumpy when I hear words like thalamus and medial lemniscus. Scanning through a brain -- or worse -- spine MRI is enough to make me feel queasy and I panic slightly when the conversation turns to cranial nerves. The upside I suppose is that this reaction confirms my decision to go into (internal) medicine. One of my patients, admitted following a small stroke, had the decency to muster up a little chest pain overnight and as a result I spent a few happy hours reading EKGs and checking troponins. Fotunately for her and unfortunately for me, her angina resolved after a single dose of sublingual nitroglycerin and hasn't been heard from since, so now I'm back to counting down the days until neurology is over.

One of the aspects of neurology that's particularly difficult is that it's damn depressing. One patient recently discharged from our service is a young woman with a history of leukemia for which she received chemotherapy injected directly into her spinal canal. The chemotherapy cured her cancer, but also caused a rare and catastrophic neurological toxicity. Apparently when she was admitted to the neurology service a few days before I began my rotation, she had completely ceased to speak or move. After a week or so of our able care (!), she was talking in one and two word sentences, following simple commands very slowly and copying her own name with a pencil. The left side of her body remains profoundly weak. Her husband has kept a vigil at her bedside, feeding her and encouraging her, taking her for slow walks around the hospital. She is expected to recover some additional function, but will almost certainly never regain her full self. I'm not even sure what to say about this couple. When I think about them, loneliness and disappointment wash over me. This can't be the way they expected life to go.

I've been thinking about disappointment in general lately, in part because I submitted my rank order list for the match a couple of weeks ago. In the end, I ranked Stanford first; staying here in Palo Alto is what's best for my little family and I'm deeply grateful to be in a position where I have the luxury to simply choose what's best for my husband and son. Plenty of medical students every year feel lucky to match anywhere, let alone to a program as excellent as Stanford's. But I'm also disappointed, maybe more than I'm willing to admit, that I'm giving up BWH. The truth is, that's where I want to be next year and I suppose I'll always wonder how my career might have been different had I trained there. Of course, this is a very small disappointment, and already I feel more wistful than resentful. But I've vicariously encounted a few other disappointments lately, much larger than the little scratch I'm currently nursing. So I'm thinking about disappointment.

And, of course, we're in Lent, the season of loneliness and disappointment. Last week, my priest caught up to me at coffee hour and handed me a printed packet of poetry, left over from a Lenten concert. The poems, she said, were for the part of me that's "neither a doctor nor a mother."

"That part is very small," I told her.

"Of course it is," she said. "But don't worry. It's there, just waiting for when you're 60."

Inside the packet were poems by Shakespeare, Auden and two poems by Wendell Berry, new to me. Here are a few lines from 'A Timbered Choir':

The clearning rests in song and shade.
It is a creature made
By old light held in soil and leaf,
By human joy and grief,
By human work,
Fidelity of sight and stroke,
By rain, by water on
The parent stone.

We join our work to Heaven's gift,
Our hope to what is left,
That field and woods at last agree
In an economy
Of widest worth.
High Heaven's Kingdom come on earth.
Imagine Paradise.
O dust, arise!

And suddenly, I think I can see that the cure for disappointment is anticipation. So as my Lenten observance this year, I'm looking forward. Looking forward to Easter, to being an intern at Stanford, to being 60.