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July 16, 2008

My Baby-Blue Blur

Aimee started the real work of her job this week, to her relief. After an initial week of orientation that managed to be both boring and scary ("Blah-blah-blah PATIENT ABUSE blah-blah-blah STANDARDS OF ETHICS blah-blah-blah MAJOR LAWSUIT...") she at last was able to provide some care to some mothers and babies.

I'll leave it to her to report on the actual goings-on of her job, because this entry is actually a self-centered lament. Aimee has moved out of the clinic and into the Mother-Baby Unit, which means that she has moved out of the public sphere of medical care and into the highest-security branch of the whole apparatus. There are vials of potential bio-warfare agents across the hall from me that are less well-guarded than Aimee's workspace. Which is appropriate, and good, but it also means that, as a pathology resident and husband, I'll never see Aimee work.

This is a loss for me. When she was a clinic nurse I spent a week in her clinic as a med student, and I would periodically find other reasons to be around when she was working, and it always gave me a thrill to see or hear her as she took care of the people of Vermillion. She always looked great, for starters. She would be moving at about 14 miles per hour, eyes flashing, smiling conspiratorially (as if you and she were sharing a secret, as if only you two knew the hidden and hilarious truth behind all the drab and fussy trappings of The Clinic), swooping from room to room to phone to desk to room and leaving a blurry pink (if she was wearing her pink scrubs) afterimage behind her. The other thing, of course, was her laugh. While she was reportedly good at giving out sympathy to patients, she kept her laugh on a hair-trigger, always ready to enjoy a patient's joke, anemic though it may be. So there we would be, in clinic, with the nurses moving charts and patients from place to place, chatting quietly with the patients and muttering quietly at the charts. The doctors would be flicking their way through a chart before going into a patient's room or sitting in their offices murmuring nonsensical phrases like "th'patient's heartexhibited reg'laraten'rhythm" and I would be standing around trying to look studious, interested, and in no way bored out of my mind, when suddenly a peal of laughter would tear out of a patient's room and whip through all the muttering and chart-flipping. Everyone who heard it would stop what they were doing and smile.

I can attest that Aimee still looks terrific at work, because when I came by the unit to drop off a can of caffeine the other day she came out and took it from me. She's always a blur of baby blue, now, as all the nurses wear the same color every day. I would expect that she still smiles, but I'm not certain that she laughs. My fancy resident badge has no effect on the door, and I can't get past the front desk (staffed by a duo that I instantly recognized as Woe and Despair). Maybe, if I turn out my pockets and ask very meekly, they'll let me stand in front of their desk for a while and listen.

July 12, 2008

Coffee Crotch

A few hours ago, I spilled a cup of coffee on my crotch. In a moment that I will describe as tragically ironic, I was fussily cleaning up a few drops of coffee that had landed next to my keyboard when my wayward left hand flipped the brimming cup into the air on a path straight for my crotch. The fact that my response was not a surprised "Oh no!" but rather a glum, "Here we go again," should tell you something about me. I'm a spiller. I combine a penchant for eating and drinking while doing other things (reading, studying, computering) and a disdain for napkins (or bibs, or other protective devices) with general clumsiness to create (not a "perfect storm"! I'm so sick of that analogy.) a fertile ground for spills, usually on the crotch of my pants, and often at work.

The obvious difficulties of spilling on the crotch of my pants at work include not having a change of pants on hand, not having access to anything with which to clean the crotch of my pants, and the frequent interaction with people who will see and judge the crotch of my pants. Coffee is actually not that bad of a thing to spill, especially when I'm wearing dark khakis. And now I'm wondering if my tendency to buy and wear dark brown khakis has been subconsciously guided by my history of spills. Much worse than coffee is bright red spaghetti sauce, with which I daubed my crotch while on a busy rotation during my last month of medical school. All day long the red spot shrieked out to patients, colleagues, and passers-by, "Look at this crotch right here! It's eye-catchingly red!"

I've tried to develop various strategies to deal with the aftermath of spilling on the crotch of my pants. Sitting with my legs tightly crossed can mask smaller stains.

Also, doing my best to keep my crotch underneath a desk and not standing up. When forced to stand, keeping a hand in front of my crotch at all times can work, but can be difficult when I have to use both hands to do something. Plus, I'm not sure, but it may look weirder to have a hand floating in a masking/protective manner in front of my crotch all the time than to just have people see the stain. I have also, following the example of the suddenly-and-embarassingly-adolescent-male main character in "Then Again, Maybe I Won't" kept an appropriately-sized book to hand with which to shield the crotch of my pants. I think that looks less weird than just using my hand. To my recollection, I've never spilled on my crotch and then gone home. This surprises me, because I've ditched out on school and work for some pretty flimsy reasons, but after spilling on the crotch of my pants, I just soldier on with my day, legs tightly crossed and hands/props strategically placed.

Interestingly, prevention is not part of my plan. I'm not about to stop eating and drinking while doing other things, it just wouldn't be worth it, even to spare myself the humiliation of having stained pants. And, now that I'm a real doctor, I have even less incentive to change my ways, for now I am entitled to wear a full-length white coat. Medical students are forced to wear waist-length white coats, which actually tended to accentuate any stains on my pants, as the stark white top contrasted glaringly with the large discolored spot on the crotch. The white coat (which I take off or at least unbutton or open when eating or drinking), however, can be buttoned and furled to cover the evidence of any unfortunate accidents. This is the latest and greatest benefit of earning my medical degree.

July 10, 2008

Charming the Crowd

Today on the crowded bus, filled with dozens of homebound, weary University-affiliated employees, Adelaide sat on my lap sizing up the riders and the scenery.

As the bus rumbled around the corner, Kinnick Stadium came into view. Emblazoned on the gargantuan scoreboard is an image of the University of Iowa mascot, the tiger hawk.

Adelaide caught sight of the hawk and said, at the top of her little 2 year-old voice, "Go Hawkeyes!"

All of the riders within range (i.e., 1/3rd of the bus, including the bus driver) laughed.

We feel very, very welcomed here.

Don't get me wrong, moving and starting new careers and "school" (in Adelaide's case) has been hard work. Add together all of the humidity, eight-to-ten hour workdays, and still-packed boxes, and you'll find a perfect recipe for three crabby, sweaty, tired people. Still, we're managing to stay friends. When I asked Adelaide today on our way home if she liked living in Iowa City she replied, "Pretty well."

Nine, however, is another case altogether ... Robbed from the beautiful, full-of-nestlings backyard she owned in Vermillion, Nine is learning the ways of an Indoor Life. Not natural for cats, you say? Shocking, you say? Welcome to Iowa City, Nine, where all, yes all, animals are required to be on a leash when out-of-doors. Whoever has heard of a cat on a leash?!? When Nine turned in her Match List, the University of Iowa was NOT on the list, perhaps we ought to have reconsidered our rank list ...

Hmmm ...


Go Hawkeyes!

July 6, 2008

First Day as a Pathology Resident

Alright, I'm officially done with my four days of orientation, and now, finally, it is time to become a pathology resident!

[Time passes. Eventually a gecko runs up onto Joel's motionless shoulder, mistaking him for an inanimate object.]

Okay, so I'm starting off in microbiology, and there's a little less action than I'd hoped. The "once-in-a-great-while-but-actually-every-13-years" flood failed to spark an epidemic of water-borne diseases or fungal pneumonias (which, of course, is a good thing, and speaks well for the public health efforts to keep people from wading in raw sewage and to encourage them to wear masks in formerly flooded buildings), and so much of my time is spent simply studying microbiology out of a text book. Don't get me wrong, there are fun and interesting aspects of service, I get to evaluate certain specimens and make some decisions that affect patient care, and of course I really like reading quietly. The emphasis on books and reading quietly was one of the main reasons I went into pathology. And- hey! I have time to whip up a quick blog about how I have time to write blogs.

In other good news, my fellow residents are fantastic. The friendly camaradery that I sensed during my interview last fall is a well-established reality. We had a lecture and then a hands-on practical this morning on how to perform fine needle aspirations, and everyone was chatty, cracking jokes, and simultaneously un-selfconsciously attempting an awkward and unfamiliar task in front of their peers. The staff is all very cool, too. We had a "get to know the new residents" reception and I found myself chatting quite easily with the department chair and various service directors. So, I'm having a very happy, but somewhat prosaic beginning to my residency here at the University of Iowa.