Saturday, June 30, 2007

Spice World Redux

None other than Tom "Danger" Haythornthwaite himself sends in a photograph taken on the very afternoon of the events discussed in my earlier post about the connection between wars in the Horn of Africa and English girl bands.

Tom says: "It's a pickup truck full of gesticulating Eritreans. They are either cheering the downing of the Ethiopian MiG or reacting in distress to Ginger Spice's departure." It was a very confusing day for all involved.

(If you'd like to see more, he has a riveting collection of his photographs from all over the world at; the Souvenirs section is particularly recommended.)

Speaking of downed Ethiopian MiGs, Eritrean anti-aircraft gunners did, in fact, bring down one of the attacking planes just outside of town. A huge procession of Asmarinos headed out to watch and collect trophies, then came back into town in a caravan of pickups (as pictured above) brandishing burned-out airplane parts. The streets were packed with a cheering mob, and white-shawled women were leaning out of bus windows, ululating. Unfortunately, at the same time I was trying to swim upstream against this river of war sentiment to reach the music school where I taught.


Friday, June 29, 2007

Tales of the ER: Behind the Curtain

So my medical student colleague L and I were paged to the ER to see a patient who had just had a stroke. The neurology team was around the bed, waiting for the ECG tech to show up to test for any cardiac problems (which is standard procedure). The attending physician was teaching the fairly large group of residents and students some of the finer points of neurological evaluation. L and I were standing at the fringe of the group beyond the foot of the bed, paying attention and trying to learn everything we could.

Suddenly the ECG tech shows up with his device on wheels, pushes through the group to the foot of the bed, and with a practiced flick of the wrist flings the curtain closed. Right in the faces of L and myself. Leaving the two us standing out in the hall by ourselves with the fabric tickling our noses.

Sometimes I just love medical school.


Great to hear from everybody!

I've been overwhelmed (in a good way) by how many people have been stopping by and getting in touch--it's fantastic to hear from everybody! I'll be on duty in the ER until late tonight, but after that I'll start replying to everybody's e-mails.

(I guess I really am a blogger now--I'm already explaining why upcoming posting is going to be light....)

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Do we land this plane or not?

Went to a medical ethics conference today where the speaker asked us to comment on the following case (a true story from his own experience).

You're a doctor sitting in first class on a flight from Texas to Florida when an overhead announcement asks any physician on board to please press the call button. You do, and you're taken to one of the last rows where a woman has been having a tonic-clonic (grand mal) seizure. By the time you get there she's improved, but is still displaying strange behavior: opening and closing the shade, repeatedly flipping through a magazine, non-conversational. The crew wants to you examine her and determine if the plane needs to make an emergency medical landing. There is nothing in the on-board medical kit that would be useful for diagnosis or provisional treatment.

Although her condition seems to have improved, you don't know what caused the seizure and it is possible that she could have additional seizures or suffer a sustained seizure (status epilepticus, a life threatening condition). On the other hand, an emergency landing will cost tens of thousands of dollars and disrupt the travel plans of a full airplane (and don't doubt that the surrounding passengers are paying close attention to your every word and move).

An airport with a runway long enough to land the plane is nearby. The chief flight attendant is standing nearby, on the phone with the captain, and needs to know within 30 seconds: "Doctor, do we land this plane or not?"

Spice World

In the spring of 1998 I was living in Eritrea. The Eritrean-Ethiopian War had just started, and Ethiopian warplanes were carrying out a series of air raids over the Eritrean capital, Asmara. I was staying with Tom Haythornthwaite in a house off Asmara's San Francesco Square. The back bedroom had been converted into a makeshift safe room, with mattresses blocking the windows. A small group of us would gather around a shortwave radio in the living room, tuning in the BBC Africa Service, seeking news of the escalating ground war. And what was the top story? Geri Halliwell--Ginger Spice--had left the Spice Girls!

So the BBC web site evoked a wave of nostalgia today with these two stories on the front page:
Ethiopia 'ready for Eritrea war'
Spice Girls announce reunion tour
The first time as tragedy, the second as farce....


Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Remembering Ursula Guidry, M.D.

Ursula Guidry, a college classmate, died recently. I remember her fondly, although I lost track of her long ago. She was a cardiologist in the Bay Area. She featured in a recent roundup of The East Bay's Top Doctors. It's a poignant piece to read now, but there's inspiration to be found there as well.

Ursula Guidry, M.D.

Ursula Guidry has a stunning pedigree that would allow her to be any kind of a doctor she wanted. A native of Texas, Guidry studied at Harvard University as an undergraduate before heading to the University of California, San Francisco for medical school before returning to Cambridge for her residency and fellowship in cardiology at the Harvard hospitals.

But she nixed the idea of cardiac surgery for one important reason.

“I knew back then that it was important for me to be able to talk to patients—when they are awake!”

Since 1999, when she returned to the Bay Area, Guidry has been a staff cardiologist at Kaiser Permanente focusing on preventive medicine, especially for patients who have already suffered a heart attack.

While Guidry, the mother of two small children, has long been known as a warm and fuzzy physician, her patients’ fear and pain have resonated deeply since she was treated for breast cancer.

“I feel like I am more in tune,” Guidry says. “Now before I walk into a patient’s room, I take a deep breath, center myself and listen from my gut. The exam room is a sacred place, and patients are so vulnerable. I just want to make sure I honor that.”

A missing piece

Went to an emergency medicine conference this evening. The speaker had been on staff for over 20 years at Charity Hospital in New Orleans, and showed pictures of the storm's effect and of the makeshift ERs they set up in lounges and then in tents. The hospital came through the storm relatively unscathed, but the state had been looking for an excuse to close it, and now they had one.

He lives in Maryland now. He described the closing of his old hospital as feeling like a piece of himself is missing.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The story thus far

In 2003 I moved to Iowa from Seattle to start medical school and, what with the geographic dislocation and the demands of medical training, I have become miserably lame at staying in touch with the people in my life.

However, last week I was fortunate enough to spend time with four very important people from my past. This week is the first week of my fourth (and last) year of medical school. And the combination of these two events seems like some kind of milestone. Hence the sudden onset of bloggery, in an attempt to stay a bit better connected.

Here we go...

Alrighty then. I've spent enough time lurking around the internet, peeking at people's blogs and such, absorbing the details of their lives but never revealing mine. So no more hiding in the digital shrubbery, spying through the windows of this mansion called blogging. It's time to walk in through the front door, set up a Blogger account, and start posting.