Next weekend, Mike and I are headed to Chicago for a three day trip. We haven't been on a plane trip without kids in over four years, and Mike's been itching to get away. I told him to plan it all, then quickly took over. I'm such a control freak.
I chose Chicago - he's never been but I have lots of family there and have been there frequently. I haven't been to Chicago around the holidays since I was nine, when my grandma Loretta and grandpa Chuck took my sister, my cousin Eleanor and I by train to see my Chicago cousins. I remember being awed by the fold out beds and fold out toilets. We stopped on the way to visit Lincoln's home, and arrived to find the city fully decked out in holiday splendor. I was amazed. I remember it was snowing, and I was thinking that I never knew so many holiday decorations existed on the planet.
Mike asked me, "What do you want to do there?" I replied, "Christmas shop. And see a play."
"Facebook your cousin Zack. The one that just put on Zombies Attack Chicago. That has ended, but I'm sure that he would have a cool recommendation."
I wanted it to be a surprise. But I got curious. I asked Mike, "What did Zack say?"
"I got tickets to something he said would be good. Something about lofty deeds, I can't remember the name."
I was busy at work when he texted me this information, but this past weekend, I googled it. I was impressed.
David Lynch (one of my all time favorite directors) meets Howdy Doody? Sounds fascinating. I was curious about Jon Langford, and decided to buy his album of the same name so I could be familiar with the music before next weekend. That picture up there is the album cover. Again, wow. Here is the only song on the album that has a YouTube clip.
I've been listening to the album all weekend.
My brother recommended a great restaurant, Moto, with an incredible reputation. I think the chef is a food scientist, like my brother - interested in texture and science as much as taste and presentation. We signed up for the twenty course meal one night. The courses have wonderful names like, "Ants on a Log," "Milk Chocolate Forms," "Rainbow Sprinkles,"Reuben Lasagna," and "Pineapple Jerk."
I hope I can get my Christmas shopping done. I'm well on my way, and happy to say for the first time in many years that it is being carried out leisurely in stores, instead of at midnight on the Internet.
I was asked this week to join a community of physician mothers, at mothers in medicine. I was so excited, it's hard to express. It happened Monday night.
Tuesday morning, I woke up to run. I accidentally got in the shower, I was so jazzed about my new community. I've never done this before. You might think that getting in the shower would be good for a run - a wet head might cool one down. But ironically, it became like a plaster glue cap, inhibiting freedom.
Anyway, my first charge was to write about A Day in the Life of a mother physician. I chose to go back in time, to residency. If you are interested, you can read it at my new second home.
"Her friend Emmarie. The one that came to the Halloween party." I had thrown a little Halloween party for Sicily - well, not me really. Sicily made the invitations and cajoled me into throwing the party for three of her friends. She picked the fabulous lantern art activity. She made the goody bags. I just chaperoned - cannot take a single bit of credit. One of the girls was a new friend from her school. I met the dad for the first time when he picked her up, and I hadn't yet met the mother.
I frantically asked Mike, "When is the sleepover? Does Sicily know about it?" I was thinking maybe we could just make an excuse to the parents and never tell her about the party.
He replied, "Yes, and she's really excited. It's Emmarie's seventh birthday party. There are four other girls going. It's tomorrow night."
My head went into a tailspin. I wasn't ready for Sicily to spend the night at someone's house, other than a family member. Sure, she had been begging for a long time, but I actively avoided the subject. And I thought her first one would be a friend that we had known for a long time, and we knew the parents, like Helen or Phoebe. Or Annika. People I was comfortable with, and trusted that they weren't murderers or child molesters. But at the same time, she is over six and a half. I had to let this happen at some point. But six and a half is still so young, I thought. I didn't remember doing this sleepover thing until I was at least eight or nine.
While I was taking her to her stroke technique class Thursday night, she was complaining about her day. I love telling people that I need to leave early so I can get Sicily to her stroke class. They look so puzzled, and I wonder what they are thinking. Is it a class where one learns how to gracefully survive a brain infarct? Or a lesson in the proper etiquette of soothing one's cat? Sometimes I jump in and just tell them she is learning swim strokes, and sometimes I make them suffer and ask.
I was tired of listening to Sicily complain. So I started whining. "Listen to my day. I had one of the biggest caseloads I've ever had. And I'm tired from traveling. I was working crazy hard and busy this afternoon, and Daddy called and told me you were invited to a sleepover. I was so upset and worried, and wanted to try to hide it from you. I don't know the parents, and I am not sure I want you to sleep in a house with people I don't know. I'm scared, Sicily."
She was clearly shocked. She doesn't hear me complain, often. "Mommy, why are you acting like a child? I'll be fine, I really want to go. I've been wanting to do this for a long time." I said, "OK, but I'm taking you over there. And I'm warning you. I'm going inside to meet the mom. If something seems off to me, or I don't like the look of the place, I'm leaving, and you're coming with me."
"Mom, what would have to happen for you to not let me stay?"
"Well, if there are children hanging from the kitchen ceiling bleeding, or screaming in the back room - not excited, party screams, but I'm being tortured screams, then you definitely cannot spend the night."
I looked in the rear view mirror to gauge her reaction. She was smiling and rolling her eyes. "Mom, you're crazy."
Friday night I raced home to get her - I had to drive her 45 minutes away to a gated community in Roland, AR. Mike and I had looked at a house there many years ago, so at least I knew the area. It was nice - large lots, giant houses. Not that this fact calmed me down - evil people transcend socioeconomic status. We had a long drive, so we discussed manners. I quickly glossed over the basics - "If you don't like something they are offering to eat, say no thank you. Use the word please if you need help." We did some role playing, and she gleefully mimicked her most horrible screams at foods she did not like as an example of what not to do. She was having fun. "What else, mom?"
"Well, the goal of spending the night out is to behave well so you will be asked back again, if you like it and are having fun."
"So what would I have to do that they wouldn't ask me back?"
"Well, I wouldn't blow your nose on their cat. They might not like a snotty cat."
"Mom! How do you know they even have a cat!"
"I don't, that's just an example. I also wouldn't poop on any one's head."
She cackled. "What if I pooped on their head, and then had diarrhea on it?"
"Then you definitely wouldn't be asked back. In fact, I might be required to take you to the doctor."
"Oh, mom. Would they give me a shot?"
"No, but he might make you talk to him or her. About why you pooped on some one's head. It's really not done, in polite society."
I checked the mirror. It was dark and rainy, and her eyes were glowing. She caught me watching her, and looked away and shrugged. She gave me my favorite response, to the information I dole out to her. She looked away, scrunched up her face, and said nonchalantly, "Hmm."
When we arrived there were lots of girls jumping around animatedly, and the mom was busy with make-your-own-pizza fixings and cupcakes, so I didn't keep her long. I just introduced myself and wrote down phone numbers. I could hardly get Sicily to say goodbye to me - she was having so much fun.
After a family dinner, Mike retired early in preparation for a big hunting weekend and I stayed up. I was watching Escape From Alcatraz, and it was so much fun to see a movie set in the place I had visited Monday night. I think Clint Eastwood was thrown into the same solitary cell that I had spent time in, on D Block. At about 11:15 p.m., my cell phone rang. It was Emmarie's mother. "Sorry to wake you - Sicily just wanted to talk to you." She passed the phone before I could reply.
"Mommy, I miss you! I love you! Can I talk to Daddy and John?"
"No Sicily, they are long in bed sleeping. You should try to go to sleep, it's really late. Do you need me to come get you?"
"No, I just wanted to tell you I missed you."
"I'll be there first thing in the morning, I promise."
"No, mom! Not first thing! I'm always the first to leave. Come a little late so I can play, OK?"
I smiled. "OK sweetie. Try to sleep. I love you. Goodnight."
Whew. We survived. I hung out with the mom then next morning, for a half hour or so, and she seemed nice. She was pleased with Sicily, telling me amusing stories from her observations, and I reciprocated by sharing some stories about her daughter when she was at the Halloween party. She assured me that she was the second to last, not the last kid to go to sleep. Oh the trials of motherhood. I don't know what I'm gonna do when Sicily goes off to college.
I have been trying to resist posting this for over 24 hours, in the interest of, well, propriety, I guess. My partner Michelle walked in on me, bringing a consult, while I was reading it. A prostate consult, of all things. She was as shocked as me.
Sometimes you think you have heard it all. Then you are proved wrong.
Not a long postponement. But I can't sleep. So here's to San Fran. But first, Vegas. I went to Vegas for the first time on the way to San Francisco, and learned that you don't have to go far, even leave the airport, to experience the mood. These were everywhere. I didn't engage, but had fun watching others pour their money down the drain.
Here's Madeleine. Her mom and dad, the infamous pathology duo who are taking the academic scene by storm at Stanford, picked me up from the airport, with their three kids. We went to dinner at a fabulous Mexican organic (every thing's organic in California) kitchen. I tasted Amy's tamale and quesadilla, and Jesse's carnitas. Somehow, I couldn't get anyone to taste my squid and rock cod ceviche. Don't know why - it was fabulous. Maddie, their eldest, turned her nose up at my meal, but here she is enjoying her chocolate and cinnamon Popsicle.
They dropped me off downtown at The Palace Hotel, an elegant GrandDame of a hotel. No coffee machine in the room, though. My view, each morning, on the way to the workout room, was of a grand hallway with regal carpets and endless closed wooden doors. Kinda spooky. Redrum. The rooms were nice.
I mostly hung out with this one guy - he was amazing. I couldn't tell you the name of a single pathologist at the conference - there were around a hundred, but I didn't meet a one. Me and this guy, though, we hung out at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. He is a great storyteller, and well traveled. A bit of a drama queen, with a flair for a punchy ending. He likes the word interminable, and used it so much, I began to look for it in every story. Luckily for my husband, he is dead. W. Somerset Maugham. I bought his short story collection a while ago, on a recommendation from a novelist I admired but now can't remember. I powered through 800 plus pages in the course of the trip. It is fun going to fancy restaurants solo, armed with a burgundy hardcover book. It's like a flag, "I am dining alone." We enjoyed sashimi tuna, foiegras, pannacotta, etc.
At breakfast each morning before the conference, there was a veritable feast. Pastries and bagels with so many accouterments, I took to putting a little of each on my plate, to taste. My favorite was a cream cheese laced with blobs of pink jelly, that I first thought was grapefruit. A quick sample proved me wrong. Smoked salmon. Wow. Good thing I was running each morning.
The lecturers were really good - if you are into pathology. One guy, a Northerner with silver hair, liked to tell jokes. I was impressed with his fancy suit and his seemingly winning battle with middle-aged paunch. He was pretty smart about hemepath, too. He prefaced each joke with the statement, "My wife OK'd this one. I think you'll like it. It should go over better than the last." I had sympathy for him - he was entertaining a roomful of solemn scientists, many of whom were from another country. I wondered if they could appreciate the humor. Here's an example:
A woman walked into a drugstore and went up to the pharmacist's counter. She said, "I want some cyanide, please." The pharmacist was taken aback. He replied incredulously, "Miss, that is an illegal substance! I can't give you cyanide." She rummaged around in her purse for a minute, and pulled out a photograph. She presented it to him. It was a picture of her husband in bed with his wife. He looked at it for a long time, and stared her straight in the eye. "Miss, you didn't tell me you had a prescription."
On Monday night I went to the night tour of Alcatraz. It was everything I hoped it would be, and more. I was a little anxious about traveling in a big city by myself, but the concierge and the cabbie assured me that I would easily find a cab when the tour ended. I found myself irrationally sizing up people to hang with, in case something happened. Unfortunately, most of them spoke a foreign, Western European language, quickly ending my imagined intimacy. The only couple that spoke English included a Jewish Princess from the Bronx who sang the entire theme song to Gilligan's Island, loudly, in Uggs and a pink and white striped scarf, while we were boarding the ferry. No disrespect meant, but not someone I wanted to become acquainted with, despite the fact that I was impressed with her memory of all the refrains.
Here's a picture of the dilapidated industry buildings, before night fell.
Here's a picture of a cell, waiting for an inmate.
I was a little embarrassed that everyone but me had seen Clint Eastwood's Escape From Alcatraz, and The Birdman of Alcatraz, and The Rock, but they are all in my Netflix queue now, I promise. I saw the library, which was sad and dreary. And I spent some time in solitary confinement on D Block. Here is the door.
I only spent about a minute in there, but that was enough. I can't imagine the thirty days that all prisoners spent there, when they first arrived to the prison. Reform had a different definition, back then. There was one solitary block, unlike the others, with no sink or toilet. Just a hole in the floor. That was the place where you went when you were really bad. Completely naked. For days on end. Without light. Unthinkable.
On the way out, I got waylaid by a placard announcement of the prison morgue. It was sealed off in plexiglass, so I had trouble taking a picture with my flash camera. But the iphone did a pretty good job. It was built into the side of the hill, back before Alcatraz was a prison for bad prisoners - when it was just a federal prison. Here it is:
I thought my training hospital had rough morgue conditions! I hope you can see that, with the dark blog background. I love this photo. Especially since I got yelled at by the guards on the island while I was trying to take it. "Keep moving! Down to the boat!"
The concierge and the cabbie I had consulted were wrong about the taxi back to the hotel - it was rough getting one and I got scared. But I hijacked a hotel shuttle full of Dutchmen and talked the Chinese driver into taking me back to my hotel.
Wicked is an incredible musical. I can't wait to find a venue to take Sicily. It has everything you would hope to find in a fun package - political subterfuge, love, female friendship bonds, trusting your own instincts, and being alienated for your appearance. All important messages.
The last lecture I almost skipped, but I'm glad I attended. The speaker talked of brown stains, immunos, quite hilariously. Antibodies weren't just non-specific, they were promiscuous. Infidels. This unassuming elderly gentleman was randy. He was totally jazzed about the role of p16 in basal cell carcinomas of the head and neck. A large slide read: Genital-Oral and Genital-Anal transmission. Better Prognosis. He promised us all we would be reflexing our cases to molecular analysis in the next five years. "This is where we are headed."
I surfed around today, on the internet, looking for a conference for next year. I am excited already. It's a little early, but I found a possible candidate in Hawaii.
I'm dying to blog about Alcatraz and San Francisco, but I'm so exhausted from traveling all day yesterday, and being up all night with a puking son, and having a whopping record number of blocks today that I still haven't finished, that it's not going to happen tonight. Instead, I just want to quickly refer a blog by a primary care pathologist (like me!) who is new to the blogging scene, and quite excellent. Gregory Henderson wrote a great blog about the landmark federal task force decision, one I read about in the restaurant at the Palace Hotel. While I was reading my eyes got as big as saucers and I almost fell out of my chair. You know the one - the new controversial mammogram guidelines. His blog, posted today, is titled "Hell Hath No Fury like 287 Breast Cancer Patients Scorned." I wonder what the numbers are in my own practice. It's as entertaining as Gail Collins' NY Times editorial, The Breast Brouhaha.
Important breast reading, for now. Alcatraz later.
This is a picture of my partner Michelle at her wedding last summer. She is amazingly beautiful, isn't she? Her husband's quite a looker too, and he has a wonderful singing voice that brings down a house every Sunday. I've been invited, and am plotting a time to take Sicily.
She's my estrogen lifeboat - that's how I think of her when we bump into each other in the doctor's lounge once in a blue moon. She's usually picking out the best looking apple while I'm over in the corner drudging oil from the coffee machine, contemplating whether or not I could just hook up an IV bag to get my much needed caffeine in quicker. That's why she looks like that, and I look like me.
She is probably one of the people I laugh with the most on this planet. I grabbed this photo from the publication Weddings In Arkansas a while ago - I think of blogs all the time about her, but they pile up so much in my head that I get overwhelmed and blocked. When I read her piece in the magazine, I thought it was funny and mentioned it to her.
"Michelle, this looks great, but it's kind of odd, don't you think?"
"What do you mean?"
"Well, y'all are the only black couple featured. You're sandwiched in by all of these boring, traditional white yuppie couples."
She laughed. I love her laugh. "I am so glad you are comfortable enough to say that to me, and not worry that I would take it wrong."
One day she brought me a case, for consultation.
"I need to send this to Dr. Styles, but I'm embarrassed to. Could you just look at it? It's a rectal polyp. I know it is benign, and I should be able to put a name to it, but I just can't." She walked out of my office.
I put the slide under my scope and looked. My mind was blown away. Rectal polyp? What the heck was this? Yes, it did look benign, but those glands are so fluffy! And the stroma is so jazzy! I got more bogged down and started to pull out a book, but Michelle reappeared at my door.
"Um, never mind about the consult. Can I have that slide back?"
I looked up, confused. "Are you sure? I still haven't figured it out."
"It's OK, please, just give it back to me. Don't worry about it."
As she started walking down the hall, my mind snapped into place and it all made sense. The requisitions must have been mixed up. It happens all the time. Paperwork gets shuffled into the wrong order in histology, and we get confused. I yelled down the hall, "Michelle!"
"Was that endometrium?"
We laughed so hard we cried.
On another day, I brought her a case. It was a breast. I told her, "I know this is benign, but I can't put a name to it. It doesn't quite look like a fibroadenoma (common benign female breast tumor), but it's not one of those other weird ones either. I'm going to lunch. Help."
When I came back, the case was on my desk, and she had circled the gender. Male. DUH! Of course. It was just gynecomastia. We so rarely get male breasts, compared to female, that I had forgotten to look and assumed the wrong gender, wreaking havoc with the diagnostic reference atlas in my brain. I sheepishly went to her office to thank her, and she waved me off and laughed. "Not something I haven't done before!"
Anyway, I was thinking about her, because she came back from D.C. today, and came into my office. She complimented me, on my outfit, and I became horribly flustered. Physiologically unglued. The compliment was sweet and friendly and heartfelt. I called myself out, because I didn't want her to leave, I wanted to catch up. "I'm flustered. I'm not sure why. Stay here. It will go away in a minute." She said, "I hope you don't think I'm a lesbian. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but I'm as straight as 6:00." I laughed, "No no, of course not, it's just me. I have a problem with compliments. Especially when they catch me unawares."
"Oh yeah, I remember that time I whistled about your legs in front of the office staff and you got so embarrassed."
"Yeah, and the time Brian complimented me on my article in front of everyone and I had to run into my office and close the door for a while. I don't know why I do that. But trust me. It's me. I'm weird. Not you. Promise me you will only ever say bad things about me. If you have something good to say, do it over the phone. I promise I won't think you're a lesbian. I'm not either. Not that there's anything wrong with that." So funny, the how we always couch our words to be politically correct. One of us would probably have to be a lesbian, in order for us to feel comfortable enough not to say that.
Now that I've introduced her, I can start slowly leaking out stories. Some of them are really funny.
This is an amazing record label. I am so impressed with everything I am hearing from them. The Peekers, Dr. Dog, Floating Action, etc. I got a mix recently, and have been enjoying it with the kids on the way to school.
My favorite song this week is by the Generationals. I tried to find the lyrics or the youtube video to embed, but no dice. So I will try to recite the chorus from memory. Don't quote me.
Everybody's making faces in the dark
Don't stop struggling that's what sets you apart
It's the ghost of inhibition that keeps breaking your heart
Everybody's making faces in the dark.
It's pop, it's fun. They have other great songs on their debut album, Con Law, like AngryCharlie, WhenThey Fight, TheyFight, and NobodyCanChangeYourMind. But this is the one me and the kids are addicted to, this week anyway.
I hadn't been on one in a couple of years. My best friend from med school, Alyssa the ophthalmologist, and I hit the town of Hot Springs on Friday and didn't leave until Sunday morning. We were pretty exhausted from being up with sick kids all week, so we ate dinner and retired to the room early Friday night, using up all the juice on my computer showing off kid pics, songs, and favorite YouTube videos.
After a full day of shopping and massages on Saturday, we went back to the hotel room to rest and get some coffee before hitting the lobby for drinks, after being rendered somnolent by a mud and steam massage. Unexpectedly, we received a cup of mud tea to drink afterwards, touted as an "internal cleansing, like the Native Americans used to do." Being pretty relaxed, I agreed and as I tossed the cup back there was a startling amount of silt at the bottom. I worried about receiving a diagnosis of pica.
Unfortunately, the mud was not agreeing with Alyssa. I figured out the single cup coffee machine, and brewed the two cups successfully. Alyssa was pacing uncomfortably and trying to decide whether or not to lay down for a few minutes. In the meantime, I added sweetener to my cup and was in the process of adding half and half. As I stirred, large white curds rose to the top of the liquid. This did not agree with Alyssa's already upset stomach.
"Oh my god. That is disgusting. I am going to go lay down now."
I stirred, still perplexed. I had not seen chunks come out of the half and half. Maybe if I stirred a little more it would go away. I smelled the coffee, then the residual half and half. No sour milk smell. I asked Alyssa, "Are you sure it was the half and half?" I was reluctant to pour my one cup of coffee down the sink. I was also finding it rather amusing that Alyssa, who operates on eyeballs, was about to hurl over a little sour milk. I guess the mud tea was to blame.
I studied the half and half, and looked at the other three containers. "Alyssa, is there even an expiration date on these things? Can they go bad? I can't find one."
Alyssa moaned from the bedroom. "Trust me. It's bad. Just take my coffee. I don't think I can drink it anymore. Pour yours out."
I was feeling bad for her, but excited to get her coffee. I poured mine down the sink, and was determined not to make the same error with this last cup. I poured in the sweetener first and stirred. No chunks. Then I decided to test the last three containers of half and half individually, in the sink. I wasn't convinced of my ability to discover a half and half that wouldn't curd up in my coffee, since I was unable to detect anything wrong with the first one. So I poured each out slowly into the sink, sniffing and testing. Finally, I got brave on the last one, and dumped it in. "Hooray!" I announced to the green Alyssa. "No chunks!"
Alyssa rallied, and we had a fabulous dinner Saturday night at a new fusion restaurant in town.
After we ordered, she said, "I am so laughing about what a dork you are. Not that I am any better."
"What do you mean? Me dorky?"
"I am referring to your store purchases."
Earlier in the day while shopping, we were wandering around an upscale rock shop, with eclectic jewelry and rocks. Alyssa was trying on necklaces, and I was picking out gifts for the kids - soapstone dinosaur for John, and a beautiful piece of lab grown bismuth for Sicily. The bismuth looked like a miniature M.C. Escher bizarre stair step, metallic and shimmering with pastel rainbow colors. I looked at all the jewelry in the store and decided there was nothing there for me. Then I noticed a back room. It was amazing - full of fossils, teeth, all kinds of unusual museum relics. I immediately fell in love with the Crinoid fossils. I jumped back and forth, trying to decide which one to get. I grabbed Alyssa.
"See, this one looks like Aspergillus Niger! With the medusa head! It's amazing! But the colors on this other one look much better, even though I don't like the morphology of this animal quite so much." Crinoids have been around since the Paleozoic Era, and these fossils were from Morocco. They are also known as sea lilies or feather stars. Upon googling Crinoids, I learned that their mouth was located directly adjacent to their anus. Ha! A new secret name for those I consider to be talking shit. But that might be an insult to the Crinoid - it is such a beautiful marine creature.
I agreed with Alyssa. I was not very cool. But it is so much cooler to be a nerd in your thirties than in your teens. Suddenly, you just quit caring what anyone else thinks, anymore.
Alyssa texted her husband in the middle of dinner, who was busy working a night shift in the ICU. "We are going to bars to pick up twenty-five year old guys." Alyssa could do it. She looks about eighteen, and upon reluctantly admitting that she is a doctor to anyone who inquires she often gets incredulous looks and exclamations. By the end of dinner, we were glowing from our shared bottle of wine, and I was beginning to distrust our already challenged iphone navigational skills to get us bar-hopping in Hot Springs. Plus, I didn't want to drive on much more than I had in my system. I said, "Why don't we just go back to the hotel bar and pick up some forty-five year olds?" She agreed, and we headed back to have another glass of wine. In the meantime, we did manage to bump into a group of youngsters who were trying to entice us to go out with them. They were stylish and infectious, but we had to go home in the morning.
I looked at Alyssa, "Wanna go out? It's up to you. My computer is dead, and I forgot the charger. No more YouTubing Les Mis show tunes in French."
She looked at me and smiled. "We can always use our iphones for that."
Now who's the dork? Well, me again, for not thinking of that. We headed back to the room, full of mud and wine and yummy food. A great girl's weekend. By the way, that's my fossil in the picture. My Crinoid. It's in my office. I own it. Aren't you jealous?