doc w/ Pen

journalist + medical student + artist

Month: June, 2016

Exploring NYC: American Ballet Theatre

ABT programAs a kid, I always had at least one friend who was taking dance lessons. So I attended my fair share of ballet performances. But until this past Saturday night, I’d never been to the real ballet. The professional ballet, that is. It was an experience I won’t forget, and one I hope to repeat soon.

To be honest, I didn’t know what to expect. Ballet always seemed a lot like modern art to me—fascinating, beautiful in its own right, but inherently mysterious. Maybe this is why: I’m a writer. So it’s hard for me to understand how you can tell a story without words. But the American Ballet Theatre dancers did a phenomenal job of telling the story of “Romeo and Juliet” through movement, music, and costumes. I think it did help that I knew the story in advance. (Good ol’ freshman English—Mrs. Bailey’s class, and my first taste of Shakespeare. I remember being so fascinated with the line “Do you bite your thumb at us, sir?” and how biting your thumb in Shakespearean times was equivalent to flipping someone off in today’s culture.)

What was so marvelous was how the ballet dancers told the story. There were no words, obviously, but there was plenty of drama. The dancers’ movements ensured that, as did Sergei Prokofiev’s orchestral music. What surprised me was how characters were distinguished from each other. When you watch a movie, you can see each person’s face, enabling recognition. From my perch, I couldn’t see any faces. What the ballet used instead was color. The costumes for the Montague and Capulet families each had a different color palette. Tybalt, Romeo, and Juliet especially had clothing that stood out.

I don’t pretend to be a ballet aficionado now, to truly appreciate the dance. But I certainly enjoyed it—and look forward to my next night of ballet at the Metropolitan Opera House.


Summer plans: Research and palliative care in Uganda

My visa to Uganda.

My visa to visit Uganda.

One of the reasons I was so interested in Weill Cornell is its emphasis on global health. This isn’t a passing fancy. I studied abroad in Valparaíso, Chile for a semester in college, and learned more about the world—and myself—than I imagined possible. My career goal during college was to become a foreign correspondent based in Latin America. And upon graduation, I earned a minor in international studies. All that is to say: global issues matter to me.

Things are a little different now. I’m no longer a journalist. I’m in medical school. But my interest in the world outside our borders hasn’t changed. So this summer, I’m spending three weeks in rural Uganda. I’m going with a physician from Weill Cornell who travels there every summer to help provide palliative medical care in a small hospital, as well as rural home settings. The organization that funds the work is called Palliative Care for Uganda. I’ve linked to the group’s website, which has pictures of the hospital and village where I’ll be going. I’ve seen the photos and heard the stories too, but I know I’m completely unprepared for what I will find there. I don’t know how I’ll respond or feel about what I see. My only expectation for the trip is that it will change me, and how I think about things.

The main purpose of the trip is to provide medical care. We will be rounding in the local hospital. Along with the hospital’s palliative care outreach team, we will also be traveling to people’s homes to provide care there.

While on a medical mission, we’re also on an educational mission. Many people in Uganda, when they become sick, don’t seek medical attention. So their conditions worsen and may become terminal. We want to understand why they don’t seek medical care early on when illnesses are potentially treatable. There are some theories, but none have truly been investigated in Uganda. We hope the information will be useful from a public health perspective down the road, but that’s not part of what we’re doing this summer. Specifically, I’ll be interviewing patients and caregivers in their homes. I’ll ask about people’s understanding of illness, for example, and what type of medical care they sought early on, if any. Separately, I’ll also interview the health care workers. We’ll see what we find.

While in Uganda, I also plan to take in some of the sights—hopefully a weekend safari.

It’s a short trip, only three weeks. But I know it will be a life-changing experience. I will have Internet access while there (at least periodically) so plan to write about those experiences as they occur. So stay tuned.

Exploring NYC: New York Botanical Garden


Posing in the rose garden.

New York City is a massive concrete jungle. But you don’t have to go far to get a taste of nature. Aside from Central Park (a short walk from my apartment), New York has not one but TWO botanical gardens. I visited the Bronx version yesterday, the New York Botanical Garden. I’d visited here last fall with a couple of classmates, but one of the collections I really wanted to see, the rose garden, was past its prime then. I promised myself I’d return in the summer, and so that’s exactly what I did.


This rose bush, which sports both peach and pink blossoms on the same plant, was one of my favorites.

The Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden, according to the garden’s website, has more than 650 varieties of blooming roses at its peak. It was funded by the philanthropist David Rockefeller and named after his wife, Peggy. On the day I went, Mr. Rockefeller himself happened to be touring the rose garden—not a place I expected for a celebrity sighting, but there you have it. Just walking through the entrance gate of the rose garden is an experience, both olfactory and visual. So many varieties, all different colors, sizes, and shapes. I’d forgotten how different roses can look from each other.

The top of the conifer

The top of an odd conifer.

The bottom of the conifer

The bottom of an odd conifer.

Another highlight of my trip to the botanical garden was the ornamental conifers collection. I grew up frequently visiting my grandparents’ cabin in the mountains of Colorado, so the smell of pine and the rustle of wind through the branches are among my favorite memories. The conifers here, though, were unlike any I’d ever seen. Strange shapes (like the photos here) and unusual colors abounded. I also learned something new—that some conifers lose their needles. Who knew?

It was a wonderful adventure, and all just an hour’s train + bus ride away. That’s one of the great things about New York—it has a little bit of everything.


One of the garden’s lovely waterfalls.


Exploring NYC: Shakespeare in the Park

Central Park's Delacorte Theater, lit up after the show.

Central Park’s Delacorte Theater, lit up following the amazing performance of “The Taming of the Shrew.”

New York City has a reputation for being expensive. After being here nearly a year, I can tell you that reputation is well deserved. That said, there are some pretty cool free things to do in the city too. One of them is Shakespeare in the Park, which I attended last night with a classmate. We saw a hilarious, irreverent, rock-music-tinged version of “The Taming the Shrew” that had the audience (myself certainly including) rolling with laughter.

Shakespeare in the Park performances are held in Central Park’s outdoor Delacorte Theater. The way to get tickets is to wait in line that same morning for a few hours—a wait plenty of people find worth it. According to the theater’s website, “More than five million people have visited the Delacorte Theater for free performances, making it one of New York City’s most beloved summer traditions.”

I would certainly like to make this one of my own traditions and attend future performances. What a wonderful way to spend an evening—outside in the fresh air, watching an amazing play, and doing so in good company. Next time though, I think I’ll bring bug repellent. The mosquitoes liked the show too.

Exploring NYC: The MoMA


One of my favorite exhibits was a collection of modern art from the 1960s. I grew up listening to the music from this decade, and so could appreciate at least some of the cultural references.

When I finished my final exam last Friday, I returned to my room and felt lost. What in the world would I do with 10 days of unstructured time? The answer: have fun! Do things in this grand city that I’ve wanted to do, but simply haven’t had the time (or taken the time) to do. I’ve teamed up with one of my classmates who is also in town this week, and is also casting about for things to do. First on our agenda was to hit The Museum of Modern Art, better known here as The MoMA.

I truly enjoy art, though I don’t pretend to understand all of it. To be honest, much of modern art especially is a mystery to me, though I am fascinated by it. When I read the placards next to the pieces, I can see where the artist is coming from, but often until then … not so much. I think, though, that while part of art may be understanding the thematic and stylistic elements, a significant part is simply experiencing it, the pure visceral nature of the visuals. And that—that I can do.

Vincent van Gogh's "The Starry Night" is undoubtedly one of the most recognizable paintings there is. How exciting to see it in real life!

Vincent van Gogh’s “The Starry Night,” 1889.

Here are some photos I took at The MoMA yesterday. Every piece I’ve captured here intrigued me in some way, though the highlight was probably seeing Vincent van Gogh’s “The Starry Night.” This is undoubtedly one of the most recognizable paintings in existence. How exciting to see it in real life! Most of the other pieces I saw, perhaps with the exception of works by Andy Warhol and Jackson Pollack, were not so familiar to me. But as I said, fascinating nonetheless.

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As a writer, how could I NOT love this, Dieter Roth's "Literature Sausage (Literaturwurst)." According to the exhibit explanation: "Between 1961 and 1970, Roth created about fifty 'literature sausages.' To make each sausage Roth followed a traditional recipe, but with one crucial twist: where the recipe called for ground pork, veal, or beef, be substituted a ground-up book or magazine. Roth mixed the ground-up pages with fat, gelatin, water, and spices before stuffing them into sausage casings." Apparently, he used both materials that he loved and hated, everything from tabloids to Karl Marx. "Roth turned literature into a metaphorical object for intellectual consumption and physical subsistence."

As a writer, how could I NOT love this, Dieter Roth’s “Literature Sausage (Literaturwurst).” According to the exhibit explanation: “Between 1961 and 1970, Roth created about fifty ‘literature sausages.’ To make each sausage Roth followed a traditional recipe, but with one crucial twist: where the recipe called for ground pork, veal, or beef, be substituted a ground-up book or magazine. Roth mixed the ground-up pages with fat, gelatin, water, and spices before stuffing them into sausage casings.” Apparently, he used both materials that he loved and hated, everything from tabloids to Karl Marx. “Roth turned literature into a metaphorical object for intellectual consumption and physical subsistence.” Hm. Well, consider the literature consumed, I suppose.

Year 1: That’s all folks!

When I thought to myself today, “Year 1 of medical school is done!” this familiar cartoon song immediately came to mind:

The Looney Tunes reference seems appropriate in more ways than one. Being in medical school certainly seems crazy at times. I had a successful career in publishing, and I’ve given that up to go back to the bottom of the professional ladder, to live on student loans in a dorm, to spend most of my recent hours at my desk studying and most of my future ones (for a time, at least) in the hospital. Why would anyone do that? Well, it could be that I belong in a Looney Tunes cartoon along with crazy Bugs Bunny and the bunch. Or it could be that I know this is exactly what I want to be doing with my life, and I’m willing to do whatever is necessary to make it happen. (I’m going with the latter, in case you were wondering.)

The cartoon reference also reminds me how important it is to laugh. This last year has been a challenging one. I’ve had to learn to study in a new way, to process more information than I ever thought possible. I’ve had to adjust to a new city far from my family and friends. That can take its toll. Remembering to have balance in my life — to eat well, to exercise, to spend time with people I love, to sleep in on the weekends, and to laugh — has kept me going.

Thanks to all of you who have helped keep me going this year. You are dear to me, and I love you very much.

And now, on to year 2 …


ChampagneI have two photos to share. First, the bottle of brut cava I just bought to put in my refrigerator for tomorrow. Not that I need an excuse to drink bubbly, but this is for a momentous occasion—to mark the end of my first year of medical school. I’m not quite there yet; I’ll be done in 24 hours. With all the hurdles I’ve have had to overcome to get here, finally finishing my first year—not only intact, but truly thriving—is surreal.

Rotation scheduleThe other photo, and another reason to celebrate: in February of 2017, I will begin my medical “clerkships.” This is where the rubber meets the road, so to speak. They send us out of the classroom and into the hospital to work with real patients (*gulp*). This photo is of my clerkships schedule, which I received yesterday. This will be my life, from February of 2017 to January of 2018: OB/GYN (6 weeks) → Primary care (6 weeks) → Psychiatry (6 weeks) → Surgery (8 weeks) → Anesthesiology (2 weeks) → Open elective time (2 weeks) → Neurology (4 weeks) → Internal Medicine (8 weeks) → Pediatrics (6 weeks).

Whew! So exciting. So much to learn. One day at a time …