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Archive for March 2009

Cat Blimp

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images-1
Today I received one of the funniest emails.  It was a video clip from my hometown.  One of the ER residents was asked to be on TV (that frequently happens, a health issue comes up and local news stations set up interviews with “experts”).  You’re supposed to take it seriously as this is PR for your hospital but it’s difficult at times.  The weather gets cold and you’re supposed to remind people of the importance of hats.  Really?  Who doesn’t know to put a hat on when it’s cold?
With his white coat on and serious expression he noted the importance of protection against cold weather especially for the extremes of ages.  On TV, he is quoted as saying “it’s especially important for the extremes of ages, kids, the elderly, elderly kids, BabaBouie.” And he went on without missing a beat.  For some reason, this did not get caught in the editing room and was aired.  It was hilarious.
I was never asked when I was a resident to perform for the local news and I was pretty happy about it.  It’s not that I’m camera-shy, it’s just that I hate all of the resulting footage that results when I’m photographed/filmed.  Thus, it is vanity and not shyness that keeps me out of the limelight.
Last summer, I was sitting in my office (a windowless cube room that I share with 6 other people with two ancient computers, a circa 1972 couch, and a plastic plant) when Tricia came to the door.
“Emily, the news wants to interview one of you’all about sunscreen at 3 o’clock and I can’t find anyone else to do it.  Do you mind?  It will be a total of 90 seconds of your life, they don’t air all of it and they ask dumb questions.”
“Um.”  Quick Emily, think of something, ANYTHING that will keep you from doing this.  “I guess if you can’t find anyone else, I’ll do it.”
Damn.
Not wanting to appear uneducated, I spend the next 30 minutes, reading up on sunscreen.  Newest recommendations, new products and chemicals, etc.
My time came.  I brushed my hair, tucked in my shirt and went out to meet the news van.
I       was       charming.  I smiled, we laughed, we talked about sunscreen.  I told the good people of my town to save their money!  Don’t buy the spf70!  45 should work just fine.  Just apply frequently.  Make sure to lather the kids until they just slip through their greasy fingers.  She thanked me and I went back to work and forgot all about it.

Two days later one of our patient representatives, a southern lady through and through drawled to me as I passed her in the hallway.
“Dr. Emily.  I saw you on TV last night saving those kittens.  I thought ‘well that sounds like Emily, saving kittens.”
“Jane.  I talked about sunscreen.”
“Oh yeah? It’s all the same.”
Sunscreen and kittens, I get the two confused all the time.  I forgot all about it.

The next weekend, we were hanging out at the neighbors pool (slathered in spf45 as I am paler than Powder) and they said “Emily, we DVR’d your news special.  It’s hilarious , you’ve got to see it.”
Oh no.  Trying to seem nonchalant, I leapt out of the pool and barely dried off before I stood in front of their TV, dripping on their hardwoods.
“Well.  I guess, if you went to the trouble of taping it, we should watch it.”

We fast-forwarded (interesting how that has become a verb) through the usual shootings, car accidents and weather.  Then…..oohooh….there she was, my interviewer.  Standing in what looked like a park with a bunch of sunscreen products in front of her.  This is not where we interviewed.  Where was I?  She spoke about sunscreen and the things we talked about.  She misquoted me (making sure though that she got my name right) and said “We have to break for commercial but we’ll be back with the doctor to tell you more about the dangers of sun exposure.”
The news came back on.  It wasn’t me.  It started with a male reporter describing a “terrible tragedy” that occurred the day before.
“Today, a _____ county man is behind bars for cruelty to animals and littering.  Yesterday, he was spotted throwing a garbage bag full of baby kittens from the drivers’ seat of his pickup as he sped down ________rd.  AND THIS WOMAN SAW IT ALL.”
Who was this special person who is now living with nearly a dozen cats?  Apparently, it’s me.  There I am, in a video clip, (muted, of course) standing in my scrubs with my #*Y%-ing name tag on, smiling and laughing and, ostensibly, discussing the horror of watching the Hindenburg of cats go flying out of a pick-up.
So, if I seem to be snobby or disdainful of the local news and their need to get an expert to tell you to put a coat on, it’s with reason.  They’re idiots.

Written by composthaste

March 28, 2009 at 2:55 am

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Animalia

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img_0175 I have hit that moment in life when all conversations directly or indirectly involve my animals.  I don’t know when that transition point was.  I used to talk about last night when I was so drunk.   Now I talk about the dog’s ailments, the cats trips to the vet and then segue into other cute animal stories.  Today, I spoke with my good friend Lisa on the phone where we gracefully transitioned between three animal stories.   It wasn’t intentional. She’s not my “animal buddy” like I have “work buddies” or “music buddies”, “med school buddies”; she is the perfect unlable-able friend.  I started the conversation very innocently (while walking my hound dog).
“Hey! What are you up to?”
“Driving to meet Chris and his friend and some chickens.”

Background:  Lisa is a vegetarian, thus she would not be driving up to find dinner chickens.  However, she has mentioned on numerous occasions that she would like to raise them.  I find this admirable…as it is also icky.

“Are you going to buy some?”
“No.   Although I have had some eggs from this farm and they are the best damn eggs I’ve ever had.”
“Is Chris going to buy some?”
“No.  This is the place where he hunts turkeys in the fall. We’re going to feed the turkeys and take a walk around the farm.”

At first I was confused. Why on earth are there turkeys at a chicken farm.  Maybe if you grow chickens, you dabble in turkeys? Or is it the other way around?  After I got comfortable with this bit of information, the cruelty of their gesture started to sink in.  Hey turkey, I’m going to make a special trip up here to feed you and get you used to me so that when I come back in the fall to shoot, kill and eat you, you won’t be scared of me.  I can see them all right now.  Hey! It’s that guy who comes for visits and morsels of good food.  I don’t know what that large stick is that he’s carrying.  Maybe he launches the treats towards us so we don’t have to waddle so far.   Hey! We’re over here! Launch some goody treats our way!
Lisa and I quickly transitioned to more practical matters.  Why hunt the turkeys when the chickens would be so much easier.  You could just sit on the fence and pick them off.
For some reason, this made me think of Buddy.  Buddy is our neighborhood’s newest edition.  He’s a yellow lab and as such, he is not that bright.  The neighbors already had three small children, so it’s unclear at times why they thought a mentally challenged puppy would be good to add the mix but there he is.  Buddy has an electric fence that allows him to sit out in the front yard and observe the world around him.  Buddy is out there a lot.  It’s unnerving.  He is the only dog in the neighborhood that spends any great deal of time outside.  While the rest our animals are snoozing away their afternoons in our beds, we sit astounded that a dog could survive out in the wilds.  The neighbors have wondered what terrible crimes he could have committed that have relegated him to this “outdoor” existence.  Did he eat a Pottery Barn sofa?
Buddy also inspires a fair amount of guilt.  For example, my bloodhound and I like to play fetch.  It is a slight derivation from what many people would consider something I like to call “classic fetch”.  In our derivation, I throw the saliva-laden racquetball and Wyatt goes charging after it.  He doesn’t catch it so much as stop it with his body and then grabs it off the ground.  Ball in mouth, he runs right past me ignoring my pleas to stop.  About 20 yards away from me, he drops the ball out of boredom and exhaustion and then returns to me, without it, in hopes that I will go and get it and then throw it again.   It’s great exercise.  It is also impossible to play this game in front a Labrador puppy who watches the event as though he were a spectator at Wimbledon.
Lisa and I discuss Buddy’s fate as though he were a political prisoner in Tibet.  So unfortunate. What an innocent soul.  Surely they’ll have to bring him in soon.  At this point I bring up the lion.
If any of you haven’t seen this video, you must check out Christian the lion on YouTube.  I’m a little fuzzy on the details so bear with me.  These two guys see a lion cub in Herrods’ and decide that department store living is no good for a cub, so they buy him.  They take the cub to some place.   I think it’s a church? Or a school? Where they spend the next year raising him.  Lots of great footage of two men with bad hair, rolling around on the ground with what looks like large kitten.  When said lion cub, named Christian, reaches critical mass, they realize that this church/school/park/whatever is no good and that he needs to go back to Africa.  SO they send him.  I’m sure this was a more involved process but, again, details not clear.  The best part is that a year later, they go to Africa to find their lion….and they do.  Now here’s where it gets good.  They get warned that their old buddy might not recognize them because their lion is now the head of his….tribe?      herd?      group?     pride?      peeps? something.   You then see, our heroes walking through the African plains and a male lion running up to them at full speed.  They get down on their knees as if they are our neighbors welcoming Buddy back into the house.  The massive cat leaps for them and nuzzles them.  The three of them roll around on the ground together.  Each time, it looks like Christian is going to take a good bite of the jugular and instead they are all laughing.   When asked why they were so sure that the bounding 300+lb cat was going to be friendly, they said that they could tell by his body language.  His body language.  After a year, they trusted their ability to read a lion’s body language that he was not, in fact, going to eat them but merely say hello.    All I’m saying is that it’s a good thing they’re milking this for all the publicity they can, because they don’t sound very bright.

After that, I asked Lisa how she was feeling about starting law school in the fall.  “Fine”.  “Great.  Well I really didn’t have anything else exciting going on.”  “Me either.”  We agreed we’d talk soon and hung up.  It feels so good to really connect with someone.

Written by composthaste

March 18, 2009 at 11:57 pm

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Mulcho Problemo

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mulch

Navigating the waters of relationships can be tricky.  I have to brag that most of the time, our waters resemble a cool, deep lake.  No currents, no risk of tipping, and any possible obstacle is completely visible before your vessel approaches.   The only problem with this scenario is that when you see said obstacle, there is a great deal of discussion as to which side to go around it as we silently but purposefully start rowing in opposite directions.  As the rock draws nearer, our conversation becomes more impassioned as we continue to row against one another.  One of three things happens: one of us gives up but sulks about it for a while pretending to not be bothered by the whole thing, we hit the rock (slowly usually and with much laughter), or one of us (usually me) agrees just the point of making the other one let up a bit.  At this moment, the agree-er digs in like the Swedish team in the two-man boat Olympics and takes the boat where they wanted to go the whole time.
Before we all talk about the potential problems with all of the above behaviors, allow me to say that they are unintended.
1.    The agreement with sulking.  This usually occurs as we’re getting ready to go somewhere.  We are running late.  We haven’t dropped off dry cleaning in a month so instead of closet full of clean ready to wear clothes, we have a pile of wrinkly worn once but clearly smell too bad to try again clothes.  In the flurry of activity, a question gets thrown out.
“what are you wearing tonight?”
“expletive….I don’t know.  What are you wearing?”
We see that this is getting us nowhere so I make the first foray into the closet and appear with, what I think, is a lovely outfit.
“what about this?” –smiling
“you cannot wear those jeans with those shoes.  Where is your belt?  Do you maybe want to iron that shirt?”

Now, at this point, any reasonable person would say the following.  “You asked for advice.  You don’t want to go out looking bad so you really should be thankful that someone cares enough to notice the details and have you looking your very best when you walk out the door”.  The reality is, I do feel that way.  How I respond though is with a snarl. “Fine.  What shoes should I wear?” (if you’re so smart you tell me).  “The black boots.”  Damn.  “With the heels?!?”  “Yes”.  At this point, I’m throwing off the tennis shoes and scowling at the boots that I can barely walk in but at least look decent.  Now, she’s pissed…for good reason.  It all goes back to advice my father gave me.  “Don’t ask for an opinion when what you’re looking for is assurance”.  I realize I’m being unreasonable so I try to act happy and rational about the whole thing.  She avows never to give advice again and that I can just look like I get dressed out of a 1980’s Target catalog if I want to.  The boat goes the right way.

2.    We hit the rock.  We have a lot of house guests.  We love having house guests.  We feel so honored that people would come all the way to see us that we spoil them rotten when they get here.  We get overwhelmed with house guests. (Note to all of those who may come to visit….we can’t wait!)

Excitedly -“Hey. I talked to Sally the other day.  She wants to come for a visit.”
Guarded – “When?”
With enthusiasm – “Great question.  She’s not entirely sure but sometime in the next few weeks.  I told her my work schedule so I think maybe one of the weekends I have off.”
Perplexed – “OK.  We’ve had a lot of house guests though and you were just saying that you needed some downtime.”
Rationally -“I know. I know.  But it’s Sally.  We haven’t seen her in forever.  She’s totally low maintenance and we’ll all have a great time together.”
Irritated – “Maybe we can just put it off for a few weeks.  Remember how you just said last night that you were exhausted?”
Deflated and irrational- “You’re right.  You’re right.  I’ll give her a call and let her know that we can’t do it right now.”

A few weeks later…still gliding toward the rock.
Concerned – “did you manage to get a hold of Sally and tell her that this month doesn’t work for us?”
Oops – “haven’t had a chance yet but I’ll call her today.”

Later that night…rock looming ahead
Sheepish – “Couldn’t get a hold of Sally.”
Irritated – “Wasn’t she supposed to be coming this weekend?”
Blink-blink – “Um..yea…. I think this was one of the weekends we spoke of.”
Sigh – “Do you think it might have been nice to let her know earlier?  If she’s planning on coming here then she is leaving her house tomorrow morning.  You can’t just change someone’s plans like that.”
“oh”

Next day…house guest arrives…rock meets boat.

Another great weekend enjoyed by all until Sunday evening.
Concerned – “Hey Em. You look irritated, what’s going on?”
Frustrated – “I’m just tired.  I really need some downtime.”

3.    The fake
This is another one of my party tricks that could not be more irritating and brings us to the title of this essay (finally). Mulch.  There is a large area in our backyard that is left “natural”.  This is code for “Jesus Christ that’s a big area.  No way do I want to plant, weed and tend to it but we can’t afford to get it landscaped so it sucks to be our neighbors”.  This year, we decide we’re going to mulch.  Bringing order to chaos.  Organizing our little section of nature and beautifying our view from the patio we are finishing so we can enjoy sitting out there.  She and I have different ideas of what will look good out there.  As the person responsible for mulching my parents yard when I was growing up, I am partial to the large mound of double hammered hard wood that gets dropped on the driveway.  It’s rich dark color and fragrant aroma are a joy to work with which is good since it takes my twiggy arms about two days to spread it all out.  She likes the aesthetic appeal of the nugget variety.  Crisper.  Neater.  And here is the rock in our lake.
As we glide toward the rock, negotiations begin.  I won’t bore you with the details, let’s just say it’s an intelligent back and forth about the relative merits and downsides of each of our mulch choices.  We listen.  We understand.  I still don’t agree but I offer compromise.  “If the mini-nuggets are as good for the soil underneath, I will get them, otherwise I’d prefer the double hammered hardwood because it will condition the soil for planting in the future.”  Seems so rational doesn’t it?  She stops rowing.   I call and the mulch-expert on the other side of the phone tells me all about how great the hardwood is and I’m sold.  I start rowing like there’s no tomorrow.
She, with good reason, is now irritated. “Why did you waste my time and energy discussing this if you were going to do what you wanted anyway?”  The good news is, though, that she will have lots of time to tell me “I told you so.”  Invariably the path that I choose leads us around the rock into another rock.  I’m sure that later in the summer when the well-conditioned soil under the warm southern sun is sprouting weeds like crazy through my carefully placed hardwood, she will enjoy reminding me of the merits of the mini nuggets that I will then be placing on top of my double hammered hardwood.

Stay tuned gentle reader, the mulch will be delivered on Friday.

Written by composthaste

March 17, 2009 at 2:45 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Nausea

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The other day I sat in Starbucks working.  I would like to linger on this statement for a moment.   Desiring to work in a more peripherally stimulating environment is the only acceptable reason to sit for any length of time in a coffee shop with the exception of the following activities:  reading a book, meeting a friend for quiet conversation or listening to live mediocre local music on a rainy Tuesday night.  The coffee shop experience is based on warm color, endless supplies of caffeine and a background of activity that makes you feel less isolated.   I would like to place some emphasis on the word background. This means that I don’t want to hear you discussing your morning meeting agenda with a colleague, I don’t want to listen to a gaggle of teenage girls and their almost unintelligible English (honestly, the can barely stand listening to themselves as evidenced by the amount of distracted texting that goes on in the middle of a conversation).  I don’t want to hear about your problems with your children and I especially do not want to be approached by anyone.  This is not a meet and greet.  It is the façade of being less isolated that I seek, not actual social engagement.
Slight digression.  I was sitting at Starbucks, trying to get work done when a very distinguished and obviously retired gentleman comes up to ask me about my internet connection.  He dangled his new MacBook Pro in front of me like a carrot so of course I offered to assist.  I am not a computer genius but I am happy to try to help a fellow Mac user.  For me, it’s the modern day equivalent of drawing a fish in the dirt with the toe of your sandal.  I instantly see an ally.  Turns out, his problem was easy to solve and he was right away on the internet.  At this point, he asks me the standard Mac user questions.
“How long have you had a Mac?”
“Since my first computer”
“This is my first one.  I love it.”
“Aren’t they wonderful?’ (At this point, I didn’t think he’d appreciate my “Once you go Mac you never go back” commentary).
“Yeah, I initially got it because I take a lot of photos of the grandkids.  I wanted to make some videos.  I have around 9,000 pictures now.”
Silently.  “Oh no”
“It’s amazing to me how easy it is to work this stuff.  I’ve only been to the genius bar a few times.  I keep trying to get a one-to-one but we don’t have a Mac store where we live [what kind of a place is that exactly].  It took me only a week or so of messing with it, and I’ve already made some DVD’s.”
Trying to be supportive without displaying any interest in seeing his grandchildren “I love the iLife programs.  Do you use iDVD or iMovie?”  Mistake! Mistake!  Don’t ask questions. Abort!  Abort!
“If you have a minute, I’ll show you.  This is a video I made of a friends house we went to visit.”
Silently – “shit”.  Aloud – “Yes, I’d love to see them”.

The video began and, to be honest, with the exception of the 30 amateurish photos he took set to banal music….Norah Jones…..really?  It was very sweet and captured the weekend he and his wife spent with their friends very nicely.  Sadly though, I saw neither TV nor computer in their mountain home.  This begs the question, how will they watch this gift when they receive it?

I get very tired when social commentators discuss the lack of written records we leave.  It’s true, nobody writes letters anymore.  Only the grooviest and most introspective folks write by hand their thoughts and goings on in a journal.  I see no problem with this for a few reasons that I will title completely offensively as a cheap ploy to grab your attention.

1.    You are average
Let’s face a few hard facts of life.  We are all average.  There are a few shining stars that compensate for the multitudes (I put myself here) that can’t even achieve the median.  These stars are the only ones we should spend time on.  Who’s diary to we really care about? John Adams? Or, his second cousin Bob the soy farmer who never left his hometown?  John’s diary includes beautiful imagery of what life was like at the time as well as describing the interpersonal relationships of the fathers of our country.  Bob’s diary, I feel would have read something like this. “March 13: got up, ate breakfast, fed the cattle, worked the field, came home, ate dinner, went to bed”….fascinating.   Should we really mourn the loss of such potentially stimulating page-turners?
“But how will people know what life was like in the early 21st century without diaries and correspondence?’  This brings me to my next point.

2.    We waste our lives AKA I’m thrilled nobody knows how I spend my time
Thank God no one knows how I spend my time.  Diaries were interesting when evenings were spent retiring to the great room for conversation with neighbors, a glass of brandy and clever discourse regarding the days’ events.  All the while, the women were completely tapestries of embroidery projects and men were smoking cigars.
Do we really want people to know what we do?  “Today, after work, I forced myself to go to the gym. Here I worked out enough to justify eating a large dinner and drinking half a bottle of wine but not enough that I will hurt for the rest of the week.  After coming home and tending to the needs of the hound, I cooked dinner, which we subsequently ate in front of the television.  After dinner, we watched a Netflix episode while taking turns looking at our Facebook pages.  After a continuation of our eternal debate, whether to open another bottle of wine, we decide to go to bed.”
Don’t get me wrong, I love my life.  But if I journaled every day, I might want to hang myself.

3.    Nobody wants to read your shit
One saving grace of diaries and letters is they are meant for a very specific audience or none at all.  Sure, we’d all like to think that posthumously our thoughts would be published as “a brilliant commentary of the author’s era”!    I would like to refer you to #1.  I’ve tried on numerous occasions to express myself creatively.  I’ve played music and made numerous half-hearted attempts to write.  I was in orchestras and played in a punk band and I would like to describe my artistic impact as being akin to an ATT phone plan.  I was able to reach out and touch Friends and Family.  If my thoughts were profound, well communicated and performed, they might reach a larger audience but the reality is that nobody outside my plan really cares.  I don’t say this disparagingly.  I just continue to hope to strike some chord, create one thing that’s above average enough to outlast me.

In the meantime, I say to all those who wish that people committed more to paper, be careful what you wish for.  You might be forced to watch a ten minute video of a country house.  Those things that are truly excellent will rise to the top and be preserved for the rest of us to aspire to and deeply appreciate.

The irony that I’m writing all of this in an average Joe blog, for my friends and family plan to read, is not lost on me.

Written by composthaste

March 13, 2009 at 7:35 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Book Review numero uno

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Eden’s Outcast
What North American born and raised girl did not grow up with Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women?  I just finished the Pulitzer Prize winning biography of Louisa May (sounds like a Dukes of Hazard character) and her father Bronson Alcott (can’t get much more early 19th century Boston than that name) written by John Matteson.  Unlike this review, this book was beautifully written. Mr. Matteson begins the book by acknowledging his daughter who ostensibly has taught him a lot about father-daughter relationships.  He then spends the next 200 pages, railing against what an egomaniacal dreamer Bronson was.  Either this mans loves and sympathizes with Ms. Alcott or he has serious insecurities about his own role as a father.
Seriously though, if you loved Little Women and you identified with and wanted to grow up to be Jo, you would love this book.  You get to see just how autobiographical the novel really was.  Louisa May was an independent girl who liked to…wait for it…go for runs in the Concord countryside.  In a petticoat and leather soled shoes, no less.  Her father, who had a penchant for communal living (even with a nudist at one point) and a great love of the Shaker way of life, was great friends with Emerson and Thoreau. Louisa May grew up hanging around these literary greats while her dad and Thoreau went for dips in Walden Pond.  Unbelievable, although, after having tried to read Walden on many occasions without success, one can imagine hanging out with the literary greats could have been a bit boring.  After all, the transcendentalists were not known for their wanton ways and wild sides.
The great Marmee who, lets face it, was too much of a goodie-goodie to be anything other than annoying to live with, was actually based on her Louisa May’s mother.  Abba (not the band but the cute nickname Bronson had for his wife Abigail) lived in destitution while her husband “the reformer” failed at almost every endeavor until his 60’s.  Not only did he not make any money, but he believed in charity and veganism. I know, it if one is a vegan, what does one have to give?   So, they had to share their few apples and wheat bread, and she was continually darning their linen clothing.  On his commune, he didn’t believe in abusing animals to work the fields.  A noble gesture, however, he couldn’t seem to keep people there who wanted to work (no great shock there), and as he was naturally a writer, his hands didn’t do so well with the manual labor.  Thanks Abba, great job tilling the fields now can you whip me up some hot potato water?
It really comes as no surprise that Louisa May is desperate to help out once the Civil War breaks out.  She may have been surrounded by dying men in an army hospital, but at least she’d eat real butter.  Unfortunately, the illness she contracts and the treatment she receives leaves her ill for the long remainder of her years.  The author engrosses you in this family and their trials.  You learn to appreciate that without Bronson and his requirement that all members in the family keep diaries that everyone in the family gets to read-how fun for a teenage girl-and his persistence in keeping his family in debt, the industrious (and likely hungry) Louisa May would not have become the prolific writer she was.  Amazingly, she supported her aging parents on her income and managed to take of her mother’s physical and fiscal needs in her later years.
I won’t spoil the entire book for those who want to read 500 pages about a 19th century author and her vegan-commune living-financial failure father.  I will just say that Little Women was very autobiographical. After reading this book, I find myself wishing I were less like Jo and more like Louisa May.

Written by composthaste

March 6, 2009 at 8:09 pm

Posted in Uncategorized