Archive for the ‘Random Musing’ Category

Classic rock music lovers who think they don’t like poetry, and literary purists who think they don’t like popular music, may have been equally baffled to hear that Bob Dylan is a winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature. As an unrepentant English major, I’m delighted.

I can’t remember a time when Dylan’s music wasn’t a part of my growing up, from the rebelliousness of the anti-Vietnam era to the bittersweet maturity of “Tangled Up in Blue“, my all-time favorite.

When you think about it, any time you listen to a song — a current popular hit, a 1950’s oldie, or a centuries-old ballad like “Greensleeves” —  you’re listening to poetry, only with a tune. In ancient times, before most could read or write, people turned stories into poetry and sang them because rhyme and melody made the stories easier to remember and retell. Much of rap music is poetry (often crude, but still poetry) with complex use of rhyme and assonance, and the musical element reduced to a backdrop of pounding rhythm.

Poetry set to music can convey any and all human emotion. Love, of course. Jealousy — absolutely. Just pick a musical genre, and there’s a hit song about jealousy. In pop music, Taylor Swift’s “Blank Space” lets her revel in her psycho side. In country music, Carrie Underwood graphically explains in “Before He Cheats” what can happen when a woman wants revenge on her faithless lover, and takes it out on his car. And the still-creepy “Every Breath You Take“, the 1983 classic rock hit by The Police, blurs the fine line between devotion and obsession.

Then there’s the universal human experience of grief. There was a time when every parent expected to lose a child, or more than one, because children often died from pestilence and poor sanitation. When my daughter Alexandra died unexpectedly at the age of five months, I couldn’t decide which was worse — thinking that I wouldn’t survive, or being horribly afraid that I would.

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Of cats and termites

How an eleven-pound cat precipitated domestic chaos and delayed surgery

Termites are endemic in southern California, and we’ve had spot treatments several times over the years at various sites in our house where little piles of sawdust have appeared as evidence of termite activity. Finally it became clear that the termites were winning and more aggressive treatment was in order: tenting. This is the process of hoisting a big, brightly-colored tent over the whole house and putting an end to the termites with a poisonous gas called Vikane, or sulfuryl fluoride.

Tenting is a major project. All food and medicine has to be put in special non-porous plastic bags, sealed tightly with tape. All the people, animals and plants have to be evacuated. Natural gas must be turned off. The house is sealed in the tent for 24 hours, then aired out with big industrial fans. On the third day, you can go home.

The fumigation was scheduled to begin on Monday. Over the weekend, we put the food and medicines in bags, or most of it anyway. I arranged for our three tabby cats to be boarded at the vet. Our dog-walker agreed to board Milo, our 100 lb. Rottweiler-mix dog, at her house. My husband Steve complained continuously, as though I had bought bags of termites and sprinkled them around the house on purpose to annoy him.

On Monday morning Steve and I both went to work, to our day jobs as anesthesiologists, and I came home at 11:30 to take the cats to the vet and hand off the dog. The exterminators were expected to arrive between 1:30 and 3:30 pm. I had the presence of mind to lock all three cats in the family room before I went to work. Now my task was to get all three into their carriers and off to the vet.

Going three rounds with Tigger

I decided to tackle Tigger, the five-year-old male, first. He is strong, sinewy and sleek, and we’ve nicknamed him the “stealth cat” because he is very good at eluding capture. I thought he would be the biggest challenge to put in the carrier, and I was right.

Round 1. I caught Tigger, shoved him into his carrier, and tried to hold him down while I zipped it up. He turned into a writhing yowling clawing dervish and fought his way out.

Round 2. I think he got out even faster that time.

Round 3. Met the definition of insanity, as I hoped for a different outcome from the same sequence of actions. Same cat, same outcome.

I considered my options, and decided to get Joe and Tabitha into their carriers and drive them to the vet. This, I thought, would give Tigger time to calm down. Joe is a placid 17-year-old senior cat, and while he doesn’t like to go anywhere, he can’t be bothered to put up much fuss. Tabitha is a 10-month old kitten. It took some doing to catch her, and she was very unhappy, but she was still too small to win the contest. I drove Joe and Tabitha to the vet and came back home. As I came in the house, I caught a brief glimpse of Tigger, still locked in the family room. I put some more food in bags and waited for Krys, the dog-walker, to arrive and help me with Tigger.

1 pm: Krys arrived. We discussed the plan to put Tigger in his carrier. Only problem: we couldn’t find Tigger. We looked all over the family room and kitchen. We searched in the coat closet, under furniture, and behind the washing machine and dryer. No Tigger. It was as if he had evaporated. Milo (the dog) at this point was becoming anxious, trotting around after me and panting, sensing a disturbance in the force. I decided it would be best to let Krys and Milo leave.

1:30 pm: A fair amount of stuff still needed to be put in bags, but I couldn’t find the cat anywhere. Rising anxiety. I called my husband. A veteran of married life, he recognized the tone of desperation in my voice, and promised to come home as soon as he could arrange coverage. Cat clearly more important (for the moment) than heart surgery.

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My son, the doctor-to-be

My son has been accepted into medical school, we learned last week, and I must say I’m about as happy a mother and a physician as you could find anywhere.  For everything that’s wrong with the American healthcare system today, medicine is a wonderful profession and it’s still the greatest honor in the world for a patient to have faith in your skills and care.

It will be interesting to see how my son navigates the still controversial issue of how to manage family and “work-life balance”. How do you do justice to the trust that was placed in you when that invitation to medical school was extended?  That trust came from the college faculty members who recommended you, the medical school faculty who evaluated your application, the public whose tax dollars help support your medical training, and the patients–now and in the future–who will need you to take care of them.  No, that doesn’t imply that you’ve accepted a life sentence to work 80 or 100 hours a week until the day you retire.  But it does imply that all those people believed that you accepted the calling to make the practice of medicine one of the highest priorities in your life.

You’ll hear the argument that the desire for “work-life balance” is a generational thing, not a gender issue–that young men in their 20s and 30s today don’t want to work as hard as their fathers did at their age.  That may be true.

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Every once in a while, a new catch phrase appears that you hear or read rarely at first. Then suddenly you meet it everywhere, and it progresses rapidly from novelty to irritant.

The latest phrase to reach the active loathing stage for me is “reach out”.  In the past few weeks it seems that everybody–mortgage brokers, politicians, you name it–wants to reach out and make sure I’ve heard the special message they have for me. Generally this message presages an attempt to separate me from some amount of money.

The spiel typically goes something like this:  “Dr. Sibert, I wanted to reach out to you and let you know about…”  Whatever it is, I can virtually guarantee I don’t want to know about it, and it will make me recoil like a cat from a lawn sprinkler.  What’s particularly annoying about this introductory gambit is its implication that I was in need of being reached out to, or rescued.  In effect, the message suggests that the writer is in possession of valuable information without which I will flounder or sink.

This brings me to a point about modern manners.  Often, phrases that are used to convey politeness or helpfulness today contain a veiled insult, and aren’t genuinely polite at all.  Take, for instance, the greeting you often hear on the phone or from a receptionist:  “How may I help you?”  Consider for a moment what this question actually conveys.  The person asking the question makes two presumptuous assertions.  The first is that I am a hapless individual in need of help, and the second is that he or she is uniquely qualified to offer any of the many kinds of help that I might need.  This is very different from the simpler and more courteous question that was usually asked in times past:  “May I help you?”  This query simply asked if the speaker might offer any assistance.  It did not imply that the other party was incompetent or helpless, or that the speaker possessed superior powers.

When my husband and I traveled in Japan, we were particularly struck by the difference in manner between the salesclerks in Japanese shops and department stores compared to many in America.  If a wait of any length takes place in Japan, the staff members seem genuinely regretful and say “Thank you for waiting” as soon as they are able to attend to you.  In the United States, if salesclerks even notice that you have been kept waiting, they are more likely to say, “Thank you for your patience.”  I’ve always found this annoying.  The assumption that I have waited patiently is nearly always wrong.  I would react much better to a simple “I’m so sorry that you’ve been kept waiting,” and acknowledgement of the fact that waiting is generally irritating and inconvenient.

There are so many other misuses of the English language in print and other media today.  So little that is labeled “amazing” actually is.  The words “affect” and “effect” may not be used interchangeably.  The word “impact” is a noun, not a verb.  And a tire or a diaper may need changing or it may need to be changed; it does not “need changed”.  Texting may in fact augur the death of elegance in the English language as we have known it.  But that, dear reader, is a topic for another day.

 

We went to Princeton!

Naturally, I remember the night I met my husband.  We were walking along the seawall on a lovely evening in San Diego, having met over dinner at a nearby hotel, and were exchanging all the usual get-acquainted questions. Eventually, he asked where I went to college.

“Back east,” I said.

“Where?” he persisted.

“In New Jersey.”

“Oh, come on,” he said kindly.  “It can’t be any worse than where I went to school.”

He was right on that score.  Before he went to medical school, my husband attended Cal State Los Angeles, which is a fine state college but not in the same echelon as—well—Princeton.  Which is where I went, and didn’t want to admit to him.  Not in the first hour of our acquaintance, at least.

A long time has passed since that meeting, but apparently nothing has changed—young women still hesitate before admitting to potential suitors that they went to an Ivy League college.  Nikki Muller, who graduated with Princeton’s Class of ’05, just posted a YouTube video on this very subject that’s gone viral, with over 100,000 hits so far.

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