Monthly Archives: September 2015

Modern Medicine, circa 1900

 

Eric Johnson, Eve Hewson, Clive Owen in ‘The Knick’/Image © Mary Cybulski/Cinemax

I admit to being a nerd…especially when it comes to medicine, or more accurately the history of medicine.  Medicine today is strangled, but this is not about that.  I have recently discovered the TV show The Knick.  As per usual, I am late to the party as season 2 finished up last fall and it is uncertain whether of not, despite it’s good reviews, it will return for a season 3.  For those who have been living under a rock (much like myself) or completing nursing school (much like myself), here’s a quick synopsis:  Medicine, or more precisely surgery, in 1900’s New York City at a hospital  called The Knickerbocker or The “Knick” was a dangerous proposition. (To be fair, surgery anywhere in 1900 was a dangerous proposition.)  The Knick’s chief surgeron is a fellow named John Thackery (very loosely based on Dr. William Halsted, who happens to be one of my medical heroes). Thackery has a very serious cocaine addiction (because in 1900 cocaine was a wonder drug and it’s addictive properties were not known at all) as well as revolutionary – if not mildly terrifying – ideas that turn patients into guinea pigs at a time when doctors were only slightly more knowledgeable about medicine than barbers.

credit

I travel a fair amount, and not just to the beach for R&R, and in my travels, I’ve been to Semmelweis’ lab in Budapest, and the Old Operating Theatre Museum in London (you should totally go by the way, especially if you like The Knick)

operating museum 2
The old operating theatre museum, London

you see, ust like the TV show.

Summary:  The Knick is awesome.  It’s bloody; it’s gruesome.  It’s realistic.  But there’s only two seasons, and I have binged watched it in a whopping two days.  I have had to turn to books to get my fix.  A few I’ve discovered so far:

Fever by Mary Beth Keane: The search for Typhoid Mary, who is responsible for a massive outbreak of typhoid fever, is a fascinating side-plot during the first season, and Keane writes a great fictionalized account of the actual Typhoid Mary.

Genius on the Edge: The Bizarre Double Life of Dr. William Stewart Halsted by Gerald Imber: The character of Dr. John Thackery is loosely based on Dr. William Stewart Halsted, and this biography is a fascinating examination of his personal and professional life.

Blood and Guts: A History of Surgery by Richard Hollingham: Though it covers a broader period than The Knick, having a sense of where these surgeons and their work sit in the larger history of medical history is helpful for context. And it does shed some serious light on surgery during the Victorian era.

Dr. Mutter’s Marvels: A True Tale of Intrigue and Innovation at the Dawn of Modern Medicine by Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz: Often described as the P.T. Barnum of the surgical theater, Dr. Mutter’s flamboyant approach to medicine is a great primer for appreciating Dr. Thackery’s methods

Adventures of DJ and M | Prague and Berlin

I don’t love Prague; I find it a bit touristy for my taste, but we had to make a quick exit out of Budapest due the political situation going on.  It seems as if we had waited one more day, we would have been trapped in Budapest since the refugees have decided to stake out the train track to attempt to hijack departing trains.  I’ve traveled by train in Europe several times and this was the first time where police boarded the train, checked passports, and tickets.

So Prague…

I first visited Prague in January 2013… snowy, winter, cold.  In retrospect, that was probably Prague at its best. Beautiful blankets of fresh white snow covering the tourist sites, the red tile roofs, the airport runway… Prague in August/September 2015 may have not been Prague at its worst, but it certainly wasn’t the Prague I remember from just two short years ago.

Touristy Things

The Clock: The clock was built in 1410 and is the oldest operational astronomical clock in the world. Even back then Prague was proud of their clock. Instead of  saying ‘thank you’ to the man who built it by offering money or fame, these Bohemians promptly bludgeoned his eyes out so he could never make another one for another city. How charming!

The clock face itself has different dials that identify that date and month both in ancient Czech time and today’s time, zodiac signs, the position of the sun and moon, and other such data. The real attraction, though, is that every hour on the hour during the day, two little windows at the top of the clock open and the apostles parade by. While this is happening, figures representing vanity, greed, death, and pleasure [the four biggest fears in 1410] also move, and a cock “crows.”

See death hanging out over there on the right side of the clock

The clock was built in 1410 meaning it’s 605 years old. The fact that it still works is little short of a miracle. It survived many wars and innumerable tourists crowding around and in it for hundreds of years. Considering that at the time electricity, the internet, cars, and power tools were still centuries from being invented, the technology is pretty remarkable. That being said…it’s a clock. If you want to see the display and it’s not the middle of winter, you probably need to get there at least 10-15 minutes early to get a good spot under the clock, and then the “excitement” lasts for all of about 20 seconds. If you’re looking for Disney magic, you’ll probably be disappointed.

The Bridge:

The Charles Bridge is, like everything else called Charles in Prague, named after Charles IV, officially the most beloved figure in Czech history This guy is like George Washington, FDR, and Abraham Lincoln all rolled into one Medieval package. Charles not only built this bridge, he founded Charles University [one of the oldest universities in the world], created much of the infrastructure for Prague, and was generally a good guy. There’s a random wall going up one of the hills in Prague. It’s not designed to separate properties, or keep people in or out: it’s a hunger wall. There was a famine and Charles wanted to help his people, so he commissioned this totally useless wall to create jobs.

Anyway, back to the bridge. It’s a bridge. A very old bridge with a lot of statues on it… but it’s really just a bridge. Until the nineteenth century it was one of the few bridges that crossed the Vltava river, which divides Prague… but today it’s one of many and most denizens of Prague give it a wide berth.

The bridge is architecturally striking  and quite pretty. There are some of the statues are cool and old/supposedly bring you luck if you touch them. BUT the bridge and the areas immediately on either side of it are usually completely crawling with tourists and people whose lives revolve around tourists. And these people can make you hate Prague.

Prague Castle:  You can’t come to Prague without seeing the Prague Castle. Literally. It’s visible from about half the city, easily the most striking silhouette on the Prague skyline. What’s known as “Prague Castle” is really a large complex of buildings that includes, in addition to the actual castle bits, St. Vitus’ Cathedral, St. George’s Basilica, and The Golden Lane. In fact, the most prominent part of the “Castle” when seen from a distance is St. Vitus’ Cathedral.

My winter visit to the Castle yielded a much better view than in August… when it was 100 degrees and full of people.

This is one of those attractions that you really should see at least once. The two churches make it entirely worth it for me, and lots of people enjoy the Golden Lane, where servants and later alchemists associated with the castle lived throughout history, as well. St. Vitus’ is really something of a fascinating tour through architectural history. It was commissioned by – guess who!? – Charles IV in 1344, but due to intervening wars and financial issues, the church wasn’t entirely complete until 1929. This means there are styles from about 600 years of history all combined in one building. It’s stunning from the outside, and also gorgeous from the inside, even if it is in a sort of over-the-top Gothic style. It’s not a place where I feel particularly spiritually moved, but there is tons of glorious stained glass, an intricately-detailed carved relief of The Battle of White Mountain, and the hilariously overdone tomb of St. Jan of Nepomuk. St. George’s Basilica and Convent, on the other hand, is the polar opposite Romanesque predecessor to St. Vitus’. It’s small, intimate, peaceful, and maybe one of my favorite places in Prague.

Not-so-touristy things

Just wander.  Prague is a good city to just wander around in.  The tourist part is really compact, so it’s not too difficult to get out of or find your way back to.

I found the ‘sex chair,’ and it said I was wild.

I also found these amazing statues

These amazing berries from the farmers market hit the spot when it was 100 degrees.

DJ even found a chair to sit in on our walkabout.

Sometimes by looking up you can see cool things too.

We found dancing buildings.

and a golden penis…

supposedly if you rub it, you’ll have good luck

And I may have had to go all the way to the Czech Republic, but I finally found a Coke with my name on it [or at least some version of my name].

 

Getting away from it all

I’d rather wake up in the middle of nowhere than in any city on Earth.                                                                                                      Steve McQueen

I have always been an independent sort.  As I kid, I often ‘ran away from home’.  I never went far –usually exploring the outer reaches of our 25 acres.  Many times I had my school backpack and stuffed it with a sleeping bag, snacks and a book and had a good day.  Summers were great as I often set up a tent somewhere on the property and was ‘gone’ for a few days at a time.   A couple of times, I  built a little raft a floated it on the creek pretending to be Tom Sawyer.  As a child, my fondest wish to be a boy scout… just one problem, I lacked a penis.  Our town didn’t have a girl scouts, but that didn’t stop me from checking out books in the library on ‘wilderness survival’.  I  taught myself cool things like how to build a fire, how to set up a tent, and how not to get attacked by bears.

Up until my mid 20’s I considered myself to be pretty outdoorsy, enjoying to spend as much time outside and under the sun as possible, hiking, biking, communicating with nature and all that crap. But somewhere along the line, things changed. It’s hard to put a finger on exactly when this happen, but I think it had something to do with getting my first big girl job. Working 6 days a week with minimal vacation time sucked the life out of my soul, and after about 2 years, I couldn’t do it anymore. It had been 2 years since I’d had a vacation so just after my two year work-anniversary, I took off to the North Carolina’s Outer Banks.

The Outer Banks is awesome. The northern half where Cape Hatteras Lighthouse is by far the more popular part of the Outer Banks. Ocracoke Lighthouse is gleaming white. It was built in 1823, the second oldest still in use in the nation. It’s not a tall as Hatteras or as famous but nevertheless it is an awesome site!

Ocracoke Island sits 23 miles off the North Carolina coast and a quarter mile south of Hatteras Island. It usually measures 17 miles long and a mile wide. The deserted, windblown beaches of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore make up the northern 90 percent of the island, and a small village of hotels, restaurants, shops, homes makes up the southern 10 percent. It’s a great place to get away from it all.

Going to the Outer Banks helped me re-assess my priorities in life. Did I want a life of relative security and stability? Did I want a life where taking a vacation was more of a headache than a means of relaxation? Hell no. I didn’t want that when I started, and after two years I didn’t like where that life was leading. Subconsciously I guess I realized how unhappy I was with my life, and deep down I was yearning to get back to my childhood roots, and to the last time I was really happy with life. I needed to get dirty, sleep under the stars again, and paddle about around on a body of water on a regular basis.

And where did I have this profound, existential realization? In a tent, under the stars off the coast of North Carolina in an area where the one of the most infamous pirates in history roamed.

I sure know how to pick my moments.

There is something incredibly cliche, but true about laying out under the stars, way out in the middle of nowhere, hearing waves crash on the shore that triggers some scary deep thoughts, right? Right? Please say this is not just me.

Seeing the sun rise over the ocean…

watching dolphins play in the ocean…

observing patterns in the sand…

These were the kinds of moments I had been missing over the past few years. Taking a step back away from all the craziness, all the rush, all of the stress that is involved with chasing the “American Dream” and realizing that simple, peaceful quiet moments abroad are often the most meaningful and profound. I exited the rat race at that moment [even thought it still took a while to start chasing MY American Dream].


It’s been 8 years since I’ve had that revelation. In that time I’ve traveled to more than 40 countries. I’ve had short adventures and long ones. I’ve become a registered nurse. I’m on my way to becoming a nurse practitioner. As I paddled around and explored the barrier islands off South Carolina’s coast, I felt the stress of the last few weeks melt away. I was light years removed from the stress of the last few weeks. With each stroke of my kayak, I felt so far removed from the hustle and bustle of life, I could feel a smile creep on my face for the first time in a while.

This was my kind of travel.

And I need to do it way more often.

Straddling both worlds

Part I [The Travel Life]

When I was little, my fiercest desire was to be a National Geographic Photographer.  [Or a veterinarian] I was the elementary school kid reading National Geographic and being mesmerized by the stories and photographs on those pages.  I stalked my cat–hardly taking National Geographic-worthy images, but getting some really good shots of her.  I took my little camera everywhere and there were tons of pictures to prove it.

Fast forward 20 or so years… I still take a camera with me everywhere.  I still stalk my cat.  [not the same cat, obvs] I know that I will probably never be published in National Geographic, but that doesn’t stop me from traveling.  And taking pictures. And making up stories to go with the pictures.  The only [well, not the ONLYdifference between me and those National Geographic photographers–I don’t get paid to do what I love… not one little cent.  In fact, every trip I take, costs money… $100 for a weekend trip away to $1000 or more for a month away.  I could play golf or tennis or going out, but I choose traveling as my hobby of choice.  I absolutely loved my time in South America.  I would do it again in a heart beat.

Part II… [The ‘normal’ life]

I have a job that I love.  It is not travel related at all.  It is not location independent.  I rarely have weekends off.  I have to be where I have a license to practice [currently SC and NC].  I have to be where there are sick children.  I am in  graduate school to hopefully get to what is my dream job… As it is, the program will take me about 4 years or so to finish.  I have an address.  I have a car and a cat. And I like that.

Part III… [Straddling the line]

How do I make it work?  I work in a field where 3 days a week is considered full-time.  I choose to work on an as needed basis [I am almost always needed somewhere so there no fear there]  so that I can make my own schedule.  Do I get paid time off?  Nope.  Insurance paid partly by the company?  Nope.  Participation in the company’s retirement plan? Nope, again.  Do I get ‘guaranteed’ hours each week?  Nope, but neither do the full-timers [I may be the first to go, but not usually the only one].

So how do I make it work?

First, I buy insurance as if I were self-employed.  I have a catastrophic health plan with a Health Savings Account attached to it [Tax benefits#1].  I am generally a healthy person and don’t take any medications on a regular basis.  Second, I opened up an IRA on my own.  Non-profits generally don’t have the best plans anyway, and I don’t have to wait until I am vested should I want to leave. [Tax benefit #2].  Third, I work in different facilities.  This way, if one place slows down, I can usually pick up more time at the other place.  It’s a win-win situation. Fourth, I have a $100 a week deposited into a separate account.  This is my discretionary income.  I could use it to go shopping or out to eat or whatever; I choose to use it to travel.  $5200/year can go a long way. Fifth, I let my boss[es] know that traveling is a priority for me.  When I am home, I am available to work 95% of the time.  When I go away, I am not.  It’s that simple.

Thinking about what to do

Since starting this way of life in 2007, I have managed to take 16 months off to travel in South America, one month off to travel in New England and Quebec, Canada, another month to enjoy Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon, Yosemite National Park, San Francisco, Seattle, and Mt. Rainier National Park, and another month to travel in Central/ Eastern Europe.

People constantly tell me how jealous they are of all my travels. They tell me how “lucky” I am. They say they wish they could travel like I do.

But you know what?

They absolutely can do it. They just choose not to.  For whatever reason. [Usually it’s a job, relationship, home, money, or some combination of these four things that holds people back]

A lot of travel blogs are written by professional nomads who are actively traveling. Or people who have been professional nomads at one point.  Many of them lack a home address, and can fit most of their worldly possessions into a [somewhat large] backpack. [I have one of those too] They flit from here to there to back again, and we ordinary people think –“wow, I wish I could do that”, or “this is so awesome that I will never be able to do that”, or “I  would do that if I didn’t have significant other/mortgage/car payments/ kids or whatever.”

We psyche ourselves out and buy into a lot of misconceptions about living a life full of travel. We begin to believe things like:

  • You must be rich to travel.
  • You must be single to travel.
  • You must be brave and outgoing to travel.
  • You must be free from responsibility to travel.
  • We convince ourselves that we can never be one of “those people” because we have a job and debt and a family and pets.

These misconceptions are just that — misconceptions. You can travel without being rich and single. [Although I am currently single, I am certainly not rich.  I traveled for nine months with a boyfriend at home] You can travel without being particularly adventurous [ I am not the most outgoing soul.  There are things that I will never do voluntarily such as jumping out of a plane or off a bridge with a rubber band on my ankles] And, most of all, you can travel without completely setting aside responsibility.  [Find a good pet sitter/house sitter.  Find a job that allows a modicum of flexibility.  Work two part-time jobs if necessary.]

There are ways to have a normal life and a traveler’s life…you just have to be more creative to make that happen than you do in either one.

I’m not going to lie and say it’s easy, though. Because it’s not. If you have a strict work schedule or a young family or a lot of debt to pay off, it may be challenging to live your “ordinary” life and still manage to fit in travel.

But just because something is challenging doesn’t mean it’s impossible.

Here are some tips for how to fit travel into your ordinary life:

  • Start saving now. It’s never too early to start saving for a trip. Even just setting aside $25 per week can go a long way quickly [$1300/year and you will probably never miss it]
  • Plan your dream vacation. Even if you won’t be able to take it right away, planning a vacation can keep you upbeat about traveling and give you something to look forward to. I really, really, really want to go to Spain, but I want to have the time to do it right.  The right time for Spain is not now, but it will happen… someday.
  • Make the most of vacation time and holidays. Americans get a raw deal in my opinion when it comes to vacation time. 2 weeks is a joke, and if it’s like most places I know, you can’t even do the two weeks consecutively. If your employer isn’t cool about letting you work overtime or giving you unpaid days off, you’ll have to get creative in order to make the most of the vacation time you have. You can stretch your 2 weeks much further if you plan travel around paid holidays, or if you can elect to work your holidays and save them up for later.
  • Don’t wait for someone to travel with. I would love to have a travel partner, but no one I know wants to travel the way I do.  They all have full-time jobs and/or small kids. Sometimes it’s hard enough just to be able to coordinate dinner with friends. But that doesn’t mean you should forego travel. It just means you may need to consider adding “solo travel” to your vocabulary.
  • Pick up new hobbies. I am a shutterbug.  Part of my reason for traveling is wanting to capture a fresh perspective on life.  And see some amazing scenery along the way. I have taught photography in Peru, public health in Brazil, and English in Mexico.  I have helped with sea turtle conservation in South Carolina and Uruguay and animal conservation in Ecuador and the  Galapagos Islands.  I have volunteered with big cats in Bolivia.  My goal is to volunteer my way around the world.
  • Take advantage of all opportunities. Right along with picking up new hobbies, be sure to take advantage of any travel opportunities that those hobbies might afford you. For example, I traveled a lot during college because I was on our the fencing team.  We weren’t great and didn’t get to compete internationally [like Notre Dame’s football game in Ireland this year–so jealous], but we did get to go to a lot of places in the USA that I would have never thought of visiting before… and it was [mostly] paid for by the school.

Most of all [and this one is important]

  • Don’t make excuses. Any excuse you can make about why you can’t/don’t travel can be overcome.  I’ve seen parents eschew traditional schools in favor of the education traveling gives.  I’ve seen professionals take jobs in other countries.  I’ve seen couples travel in a RV [or motorcycle] from Alaska to Argentina.  I’ve seen people start location independent businesses so they can be anywhere.  In the famous words of Nike–JUST DO IT.