November 20 2016

Grateful for the Kindness of strangers

I am trying to live my life in a state of gratitude. Some days are easier than others. And sometimes, when I think about the past, I realize how truly grateful I am.

No traveler lives completely in a vacuum when traveling.  I suppose it is possible to travel somewhere and so strictly follow a schedule that it is nearly impossible to get lost or need help, but that’s never happened to me.  I have had to ask for directions at minimum on every single trip I have ever taken.  Sometimes it has been much more involved than simple directions.

We hear all the time that the world is a dangerous, scary place.  In fact, the most common question I was asked is “Won’t you be scared/Weren’t you scared?”

No, I am not, and No, I wasn’t.

I may have been a little nervous at times, but I was never scared. Okay, maybe I was scared a little when I was kidnapped by two guys between the Peru/Ecuador border when they were trying to extort $250  from me.  Maybe I was scared a little when I was caught by rouge waves that held me under water when I was learning to surf.

But I was never scared of the people. Even amongst strangers, I [almost] never felt like I was in danger.

Scared of these guys yes

I kept my guard up in the beginning, but I soon realized that I needed to learn to trust the people I met along the way. I think that is just part of me.  I am used to being alone [only child and all] so I don’t always think about needing to rely on others.  I have learned how to do so many things for myself.  Time and time again, I needed to rely on the kindness of strangers to get me through.  So this Thanksgiving, I want to thank all of those strangers who went above and beyond to help me in my journeys – from people whose names I never knew or soon forgot to those who I am now happy to call my friends.

Thank you to Missa and Jamie who helped me celebrate my birthday in Rome with a bottle of Chianti, a plate of pasta, and a birthday cards and flowers from the market. It was so nice to not be alone on my birthday.

Thank you to the elderly lady on the train from Rome to Naples or at least I thought it was to Naples.  It was actually headed to the other side of Italy.  I would have figured it out eventually, but she saved me time and money.  I don’t speak Italian great [and even less in 2006] but I know Spanish and between my Spanish and her Italian, she got me pointed in the right direction and I made it to Sorrento during daylight hours.

Thank you to the women in at the Ecuadorian border.  After being kidnapped and missing my bus, two women in their 40’s asked me if I needed a ride somewhere.  They were headed to Guayaquil and offered to take me anywhere along the route.  I had a great time, met some amazing women, had an awesome lunch, and relaxed for the first time that day.  After seeing the ugly side of human nature, it was a blessing to see the good.

Thank you to Javier…the teenager who came and picked me up on his moped after I couldn’t get the bus driver to stop.  I ended up about 2 km past my intended destinations and carrying the 65L backpack plus the daypack loaded down with my tools for  jungle-work would have made a sucky end to a very long day.

Thank you to Massimo…who taught me to cook on a gas stove.  I have always either cooked on an electric range or a grill and gas tended to scare me a bit.  Thanks to Massimo, I didn’t starve during my weekends alone in the jungle lodge.

Thank you to the lady in Trujillo who made sure I didn’t get cheated by the taxi driver.

Thank you to all the people who have hosted me during my travels.  By not spending a ton of money for accommodations, I have gotten to visit so many more places, see how people really live–not just as a tourist, and spend time in places I would have never dreamed about staying.

Lynnley in Charleston, Corinna in San Francisco, Cameron in Seattle, Emily in Vermont, Jeanette in Florida, Angie in Chicago, Emilie in Chamonix, France, Marta in Bratislava, Slovakia, Tomas in Wroclaw, Poland, Alex in Mendoza, Argentina, Steve in Stafford, England, and Sophie in Kokkola, Finland. All strangers at one point; all friends at another.

Thanks to all the strangers who have helped me travel the world. Sometimes strangers become friends

 

November 13 2016

Remembering to remember

Today is Veterans Day in the USA.  In the UK it’s known as Armistice Day as it is the day that WWI ended–on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918 the guns fell silent. It is a day to remember our soldiers, from the Revolutionary War to the latest conflict.  Remembering the sacrifices these men and women made allow me to pursue the life I do.  I don’t have to fulfill traditional gender roles if I choose not to.  I can speak my mind because of free speech.  I have the right to own, carry, and use, if necessary, my .40 caliber handgun.

I’ve seen a lot in my travels but one of the more haunting remembrances was the Ceramic Poppy Installation at the Tower Bridge in London in 2014 (the 100th anniversary of the beginning of WWI).

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The poppies represent the blood spilt during the Great War, and when complete on 11/11 there will be 888,246 poppies in the moat surrounding the Tower Bridge.  I visited in October for the specifc reason of seeing the poppy installation.  And it was amzing.  It was moving.  To think that many young men lost their lives in a single conflict is incredible.  Humans are very visual people and to see this loss of life represented so visually was breathtaking.

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Freedom is never free and sometimes, we, in the USA forget that.  There hasn’t been a conflict on our soil in nearly 100 years. [OK, if you want to be technical, some of WWII happened  in American territories–Hawaii, Alaska, and Philippians].  If you haven’t seen up close and personal the devastation war causes, it’s hard to imagine its consequences.

So in an effort to remember to remember, I visited three Revolutionary War battlefields over the last few weeks.  Without the sacrifices these brave men [and a few even braver women], the USA would never have become the USA.

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Cowpens battlefield circa 1780

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A group of South Carolina militia along with a few army regulars under the command of Daniel Morgan beat the British at Cowpens. The victory kept the British from expanding westward.

Kings mountain

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They were doing some reenacting at King’s Mountain this weekend.

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A 3lb British cannon hanging out inside Star Fort at Ninety Six

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My feet, just slightly smaller than the average revolutionary war soldier. I wear a US women’s size 8 and at 5’9, I’m a few inches taller than the average Revolutionary War soldier.

November 6 2016

Flying the W for the Cubs

Cubs win. Cubs win. Cubs win the World Series!

Wrigley

I am a huge baseball fan. I started playing at 4 switched to softball at 12 and continued playing through college. I understand the rules, the intricatices, statistics, and the history. Baseball was one of the few ways my dad and I bonded. These days I’m a regular at the local Class A affiliate Greenville Drive, and usually try get to a major league game or two during the summer. While my favorite team is the Baltimore Orioles, the Chicago Cubs have always ran a close second. Most teenage girls has the latest boy band posters decorating the wall of their bedroom. Not me. I had posters of Mark Grace, Ryne Sandberg, Brady Anderson, and Cal Ripken, Jr on my wall. And a map of the world…becuase you know, travel…

view from the bleachers

I attended my first game at Wrigley Field in 1996. The Cubs had Sammy Sosa, Mark Grace, and Ryne Sandberg. Mark Grace was one of my top 3 favorite players.  He played first base; I sometimes I played first base. They played rival St.Louis and went 1-3 in a 4 game series. I saw the W. And the atmosphere was incredible. The Cubs was mediocre, the stands weren’t packed, but at my first game at Wrigley, I saw the W fly.

Fast forward 20 years…My dad has passed away. I haven’t picked up a baseball in years, but I finally made it back to Wrigley Field. August this time. Same opponent–St Louis Cardinals. Sames results. Cubs win, and the W flies at Wrigley.

cubs ticket Ticket prices have increased *somewhat* in the 100 years of Wrigley Field

2016 marks 100 years of baseball at Wrigley Field, and 108 years since the Cubs last won a World Series title. That means Wrigley Field has never flown the World Series flags and AC just keeps going up. What’s the AC? AC means “anno catuli” or a Latinized version Cubs time. The first number is seasons without a division title; the second number is years without a National League pennant; and the final number is the number of years without a World Series title. Because the Cubs won the World Series this year, it will read “AC000000” on Opening Day in 2017.
eamus catuliCubs time as of 11 August 2016

108 years. 1908. That was the last time the Cubbies won the World Series. Back them there were no sports bars to hang out in or televisions to watch the game on. News came from the AP wire. Model T cars were in their infancy. This year’s MVP received a 50th anniversary Camaro; 50 years ago it had still been 68 years since the Cubs won the World Series. The curse of the black cat and the billy goat has been broken.

It took 64 innings of World Series action and 17 minutes rain delay before the team from the North Side claimed victory. 64 innings, 17 minutes, and 108 years. I *may* have shed a tear or two. It’s not often that I’m emotional, but sport, Sport is the one thing that can united all types of people.

October 16 2016

Unexpected Love: Seattle

2018 Michelle here:  I first visited Seattle in 2012 because I had friends there.  I never thought I would like the city, but I fell in love with it.  Seattle was the first major city that I could *theoretically* live in.  Rwanda wasn’t my first choice; I was married to Madagascar, but this post reminds me to give a place a chance.  You never know what the outcome may be.


Opposite attract, they say. Whoever ‘THEY’ are, they are right, at least in this case.

Me:  Small-town Southern girl, likes quiet nights by the bonfire, wide-open spaces, tree-frogs and cicadas, roads with no traffic, sunny, summer days, and hot, sultry, summer nights.

top of Seattle
Seattle: One of the top 20 largest cities in the USA, compact, traffic everywhere [but certainly not unmanageable], modern, progressive, cool, drizzly in fall and winter, crisp in Spring/Summer, insanely pretty… pretty much opposite in every way what I am used to.

I’m not sure why I’ve never visited Seattle before because there are so many things about the city that is awesome. My first visit in May 2012 I did all the touristy things like visit the Space Needle, hang out at Pike Place Market, go see the Seattle Sounders match, and visit some of the city’s best museums. I was also staying in a neighborhood [Green Lake] with friends so I got a different perspective than staying a city hotel.  I went back to the city in October 2014, stayed in a different area [Queen Anne] and explored a slightly different side of Seattle [and then again in July 2015, October 2016, and May 2017 for a quick visits before exploring more of Washington].  I did a city hike, explored gas works park, took a ferry across Elliott Bay, ate some amazing food [It happened to be restaurant week], and said hello to Lenin and the troll in Fremont.

Home of Starbucks and the Space Needle, Jimi Hendrix and the grunge movement [hello Everclear, my favorite 90s band… yes, I know they are from Portland], Pike Place Market and the Seahawks, Sounders, and SuperSoncis, Seattle is definitely a place worth visiting. Despite its stereotype of being gray and wet [it rained like 5% of the time i was there], Seattle is a place that I could conceivably call home… you know, if I ever leave the South and want to live in close proximity to a big city.

First tip: I’ve used CityPasses before is some of the other larger cities I’ve visited and found it to be a good value in terms of sites and cost. So I sought out a Seattle City Pass, which let me visit 6 of Seattle’s top destinations and activities, and though not part of the City Pass, my friend Cameron had a season pass to the Sounders, and couldn’t make it, so score! I got to go to my first Major League Soccer match.

The pass covers the Space Needle [2X–once during the day and once at night], the Seattle Aquarium, a harbor cruise, EMP, Woodland Park Zoo and Pacific Science Center or Chihuly gardens.

Here’s what I got to squeeze in:

    • Space Needle–The best-known feature in Seattle’s skyline, the Space Needle was built in 1961 in time for Seattle to host the 1962 World’s Fair. The 605-foot structure was a bit of an engineering feat [nerd factor:  the “bottom” of the Needle is actually 30 feet underground to bring its center of gravity lower], and it has come to represent Seattle in everything from postcards to television shows. You can dine at the revolving SkyCity Restaurant, 500 feet off the ground, or check out the Observation Deck at 520 feet, which gives views out over downtown Seattle and Puget Sound. With your City Pass, take the elevators up once during the day, and then return at dusk to witness darkness falling over Seattle and the city lighting up.

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check out those blue skies and high cirrus clouds

top of Seattle

    • Starbucks [the original one]–While at Pike Place, head across the street from the market and visit the world’s very first Starbucks. It was from this unassuming location that the coffee giant began its world domination in 1971. After hours, is about the only time you can get a photo without a ton of people standing in line.

The Original Starbucks

    • pretending to be Jimi Hendrix at Experience Music Project

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    • the glass garden–Glass artist Dale Chihuly is originally from Washington, and the Gardens and Glass at Seattle Center is a permanent exhibit of some of his work. Indoors, you’ll find large glass exhibits lit up in darkened rooms, and outdoors are glass sculptures that blend in to the gardens. It opened the week I was there so I can say I was among the first to visit the museum.

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    • Seattle Aquarium–With the pass in hand, pop on in to the Seattle Aquarium. You’ll see all sorts of fish and sea creatures, but the real must-sees here are the room of Puget Sound natives (fish and plant life), and the otters and fur seals. Learn about the kinds of life found in the waters around Seattle, and then head into the building next door to watch some adorable sea and river otters frolicking, and some massive fur seals swimming around in zoo-like enclosures.

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    • Harbor Cruise in Eliot Bay

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    • Museum of Flight at Boeing Field–I am such an #av8geek, that this was a must for me. The Museum of Flight covers all aspects of flight history – from the very first airplanes to space travel. There’s one gigantic warehouse space filled with all manner of aircraft, a mock control tower, a space exhibit, rooms dedicated to WWI and WWII, and even commercial jets and an old Air Force One plane outside that you can walk through. It not only includes planes of all shapes and sizes, but also interactive features and tons of history to read about. You can book bi-plane rides outside the museum, or (if you’ve really got the money), sign up to ride in a B-17 or B-24 bomber.

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And beautiful mountain ranges surrounding the city.

Oh and nearby vampires in Forks.

October 9 2016

Surgical history and More Medical Museums

I LOVE all things related to medicine–especially the history of medicine and the science that goes along with it so given that I was ecstatic to visit 6! nerdy, science-y, medical-y museum in a span of two weeks. Not a super well-known fact, but IRL I am a registered nurse and before that I worked as a registered respiratory therapist. There isn’t a single area in a hospital that I haven’t spent time in as a professional… Emergency rooms, YEP. Operating Rooms, YEP. Morgue during autopsy, YEP. Pharmacy Prep areas, YEP. Delivery Rooms, YEP. Intensive Care Units, YEP, and regular ole patients’ room. I’ve worked in them all at some point or another. SO, it should come as no surprise to anyone, that I LOVE all things related to medicine. Enter the Operating Museum and Herb Garret, Science Museum, Hospital Museum, Pathology Museum, and Florence Nightingale Museum. All in London and all open to visitors. [However, they are not all free].  The Semmelweis Museum in Budapest makes up the sixth museum in this sext-fecta of historical medical museums.

First up… The Old Operating Theatre and Herb Garret aka one of the coolest and best museums in LONDON.

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In the shadow of the Shard, near all the cool and modern construction that is going on near London Bridge, lies The Old Operating Theatre and Herb Garrett.  It is a spectacular little museum filled with tons of historic and interesting items related to medicine, pharmacy, and surgery; it is also one of those museums that you don’t necessarily hear a lot about and even if you do, you are still not really sure where it is.  It’s hidden away in the roof space of what was once St. Thomas’ church. It was closed last time I was in London, so I made sure that I’d be able to go in this time. Missing the old Operating Theatre twice probably would have killed me. Thankfully, we won’t have to find out.

The Old Operating Theatre is a bit hard to find.  I found it as I find most things, by wandering, but that’s not the recommended way of getting there. It’s a bit off the beaten tourist path in London [still Zone 1, still in the city].  If you can find the fabulous Borough Market, which is celebrating 1000! [let that sink in a moment] years in Southwark, then you can find the old operating theatre. I whole-heartedly recommend visiting the market for food and drink and then some more food… [perhaps after the museum if you tend to be a bit squeamish] Anyway… you wander down St Thomas Street and as you do so, you are greeted by this ever-so-slightly alarming skull. And this is one of the many reasons I love London. It’s not often that a skull greets the visitor at a proper museum.

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What’s far MORE alarming, at least to me and my propensity to trip and fall on staircases and hurt myself, is the never-ending spiral of stairs [32 tiny, narrow stairs, in case you were counting] that lead up into the old operating theatre. It DOES take some effort, but it IS worth it.

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First is the herb garret. The heady scent from the big bowls of medicinal herbs and spices will smack you violently in the face the second you go inside, so be prepared for that. Once inside there are numerous displays of herbs, spices, medicinal plants, distillations, tinctures and powders, all with thoughtful hand-written explanations and thoughtful captions such as this description for Motherwort, taken from Maud Grieve’s A Modern Herbal (1931): “Especially valuable in female weakness and disorders… allaying nervous irritability and inducing quiet and passivity of the whole nervous system. Good against hysterical complaints.”  [because you know those damn Victorians were obsessed with curing ‘female weakness and hysterical complaints’].

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There isn’t a square inch of free surface space in the place – it’s an apothecary of chaos. The ambiance created by the smell is absolutely fantastic – there’s a sense of life and of discovery, purely down to the mixing aromas of all the ingredients in the room. It is visually stunning, and somewhat overwhelming, but it *feels* real. I can almost imagine I’m in the old-school apothecary where they just grab a little of this and a bit of that, call it a prescription and send you on your way. And whether or not they’re sure of which herb goes where, who knows? But you get a real sense for the magic and the experimental spirit that lead us to modern pharmacy we have today.

herb manual

 

Once you’ve had your fill of the apothecary [or if the smell starts to get to you], head on to the back to the Operating Theatre. This is the earliest surviving example of an operating room in Europe, [circa 1850 or therabouts] ,and it’s pretty impressive. This one was a teaching theatre, and you really feel that priority was given to the spectators in this environment.

At times, I tend to have an over-active imagination, and it is easy to picture the gruesome scene– well-attired medics sawing through flesh, blood squirting everywhere, scholars craning their necks for a closer look, and for those without strong stomachs– swooning, or making a mad dash for the nearest bed pan; and let’s not forget the blood-curdling screams of the patients…imagine this…a patient is lying on the operating table…wide awake and staring wide-eyed right back at the surgeon. Anesthetics hadn’t been discovered yet and patients were given the option of whisky, opium, or being knocked out by being hit on the head with a mallet.

Surgical technique was still a bit of an idiomatic expression; surgeons relied on swift amputation techniques, the faster you could remove a limb the better a surgeon you were. Most patients died of infection rather than the actual blood loss or surgery and the old frock coats worn by surgeons during operations were, according to a contemporary, ‘stiff and stinking with pus and blood.’

Read the caption–that’s a cervical dilator

Patients often had injuries which prevented them from taking the spiral staircase up to the theater, and were therefore transported into the theater via a pulley system and an opening in the wall behind the current chalkboard. The ground would also be covered in straw to help prevent blood from dripping on to the patrons of the church below the theater. [because that would be rude… taking communion to received the body and blood of Christ only to receive the ACTUAL blood of John Smith or some other mere mortal]

Museum visitors are also provided with a first-hand account for good measure:

The first two rows… were occupied by the other dressers, and behind a second partition stood the pupils, packed like herrings in a barrel, but not so quiet…The confusion and crushing was indeed at all times very great, especially when any operation of importance was to be performed, and I have often known even the floor so crowded that the surgeon could not operate until it had been partially cleared. There was also a continual calling out of “Heads, Heads” to those about the table whose heads interfered with the sightseers.

Having observed [and had!] surgery up close and personal as well as from a gallery [in the 21st century], I prefer the 21st century way of doing things.

Exit the theatre and one can examine the instruments of torture: tools for trepanning; row after row of blades, designed for every imaginable variety of amputation; and even a physician’s stick, used for walking, but also held across the patients mouth as a restraint during surgery – as evidenced by the surviving teeth marks. This was by far my favorite part of the museum.

Elsewhere, there are areas dedicated to the use of animals in medicine (leeches or maggots anyone?), bizarre Victorian contraptions for the hard of hearing, and a number of human organs pickled in formaldehyde, including a pair of lungs blackened by the London smog.

October 2 2016

An Ode to Semmelweis

Medical Museums

I graduated nursing school last year and as a flashback to that time in history, I’m dedicating the month of October to my fascination with all things nursing, medical, and otherwise health related.

First up in my orgy of medical museums and such is the Semmelweis Museum in Budapest, Hungary.   I feel bad for Semmelweis.  He made a major medical discovery, yet couldn’t explain it, so all his colleagues mocked him mercilessly, and then he died… a broken man.  Only to have his discovery proven right a few short years later.  He is one of the reasons we do a 2-minute scrub prior to entering surgical delivery rooms.

Here it is:  my ode to Semmelweis and his discovery of germs…

It’s a tiny little thing; it’s hardly ever seen.

But once inside, it can turn you  green.

Germs are many; treatments are few

For many years no one knew

What they were or their effects

Sickness was caused by air or a hex

Then Semmelweis figured it out

“Wash your hands” he wanted to shout.

But no one listened; no one cared

And no one cared how patients fared

A crusade against the little beasts he undertook

He gave speeches; he wrote a book

When he died he was outcast

But twenty years later, a hero he was–at last

Today entire classes are taught how to wash their hands

To wash away beasts tinier than a grain of sand

Semmelweis is the hero; he’s the man

Except to the microbes; talk of him in banned

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Semme;weis’ father’s apothacary shop

Semmelweis was a Hungarian doctor teaching medicine in Vienna. He noticed that the [male medical] students moved between the dissection room and the delivery room without washing their hands and their patients had a death rate of over 30%. [Oh, the infection control police at the hospital would be horrified] while the midwives’ patients, who didn’t do dissections, had a death rate of only about 2%. On a hunch, he set up a policy.  Effective immediately, doctors must wash their hands in a chlorine solution when they leave the cadavers.  Mortality from puerperal fever [aka childbirth fever] promptly drops to three percent and further drops to 1% after physicians began cleaning instruments in the same solution they washed their hands.

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The museum is also a medical history museum

Now here’s the part of the story where things grow strange. Instead of reporting his success at a meeting, Semmelweis tells his boss, but his boss orders him to ‘stand down’. Semmelweis says nothing. Finally, a friend publishes two papers on the method. By now, Semmelweis has started washing medical instruments as well as hands.

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The hospital director feels his leadership has been criticized [by Semmelweis]. He’s furious. Livid. Beyond angry. He blocks Semmelweis’s promotion. The situation gets worse. Viennese doctors turn on this Hungarian immigrant. They run him out of town. Finally, he goes back  home to Budapest.  He is an outcast among the “civilized” Austrian medical community. He brings his hand washing methods to a far more primitive hospital. He cuts death by puerperal fever to less than one percent. He does more. He systematically isolates causes of death. He autopsies victims. He sets up control groups. He studies statistics.  His has it all figured out.

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Requisite skull with a hole in it

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finally, in 1861, he writes a book on his methods. The establishment gives it poor reviews. Semmelweis grows angry and polemical. He hurts his own cause with rage and frustration.  He calls his colleagues idiots and ignoramuses.  He bashes their stupidity. He turned every conversation to the topic of child-bed fever.

After a number of unfavorable foreign reviews of his 1861 book, Semmelweis lashed out against his critics in a series of Open Letters.  They were addressed to various prominent European obstetricians, including Spath, Scanzonia, Siebold, and to “all obstetricians”. They were full of bitterness, desperation, and fury and were “highly polemical and superlatively offensive” at times denouncing his critics as irresponsible murderers.  He also called upon Siebold to arrange a meeting of German obstetricians somewhere in Germany to provide a forum for discussions on puerperal fever where he would stay “until all have been converted to his theory.”

By mid-1865, his public behavior became irritating and embarrassing to his associates. He also began to drink heavily; he spent progressively more time away from his family, sometimes in the company of prostitutes.  His wife noticed changes in his sexual behavior. On July 13, 1865 the Semmelweis family visited friends, and during the visit Semmelweis’s behavior seemed particularly inappropriate.  Later in 1865 he suffers a mental breakdown. Friends commit him to a mental institution. Semmelweis surmised what was happening and tried to leave. He was severely beaten by several guards.  He was put in straitjacket and confined to a darkened cell. Apart from the straitjacket, treatments at the mental institution included dousing with cold water and administering castor oil. He died after two weeks, on August 13, 1865, aged 47, from a  gangrenous  wound caused by the beating. His autopsy revealed extensive internal injuries, the cause of death  pyemia–the very thing he spent his life trying to eradicate.

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Semmelweis was buried in Vienna on August 15, 1865. Only a few people attended the service.  Brief announcements of his death appeared in a few medical periodicals in Vienna and Budapest. Although the rules of the Hungarian Association of Physicians and Natural Scientists specified that a commemorative address be delivered in honor of a member who had died in the preceding year, there was no address for Semmelweis; his death was never even mentioned.

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A memorial to Semmelweis, savior of women and children

That same year Joseph Lister [the person whom Listerine is named after] begins spraying a carbolic acid solution during surgery to kill germs. In the end, it’s Lister who gives our unhappy hero his due. He says, “Without Semmelweis, my achievements would be nothing.”

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The anatomical Venus mad of wax… see I do see art from time to time

PS:  I don’t write poetry often; there is probably a reason for that

September 25 2016

The most important disccovery of the 20th century

Apologies… more science

feel free to skip if science bores you, but I think it’s fascinating…

What do you thing the most important discovery of the 20th century was?  Flight?  definitely an important one, especially for us travellers. Einstein’s theory of relativity?   Sure, it’s important, but how often does the average person use it.  I’m going with the discovery of penicillin by Alexander Fleming in 1928.  Yes, I’m a science nerd [I have a degree in microbiology] but the discovery of penicillin is arguably one of the most important discoveries if you think of its effects on the health of everyone.   So number three in my medical museum adventures is the Alexander Fleming Laboratory Museum opened in 1993  Its centerpiece is a reconstruction of the laboratory as it was in 1928 in the actual room in which Fleming had made his discovery.  How cool is that?

Since photography isn’t allowed in the museum, let’s take this opportunity to learn a little bit more about our hero.

Fleming was born in a farming community in rural Ayrshire [Scotland] and had a very basic education – but he developed his powers of observation during the early years. Bored with being a shipping clerk in London he applied to be a surgeon but was turned down. [We can all be grateful for that ironic twist of fate.  He’d be the one spreading the germs instead of killing them.]

However, following receiving a small inheritance, he re-applied and became a medical student at St Mary’s excelling at all his exams. After graduation he joined the department of Bacteriology, headed up by Almroth Wright. He was one of those caricature flamboyant physicians who believed passionately in research, especially into typhoid, but not in keeping statistics [much like myself…I love experimenting, but keeping records, not so much]. His work was in immunization and this is the department that Fleming joined–working on lysosomes, one of our natural defenses against—wait for it— BACTERIA.

Everyone loves the story of how Fleming came to make his first major discovery regarding lysosymes. He had a cold and a drop of snot fell out of his nose on to a culture plate of bacteria which began to dissolve. Who would have ever thought snot would be the answer.

From there you probably know the  rest…  In the summer of 1928, Fleming left the lab for vacations but left some petri dishes containing the bacterium Staphylococcus aureus [a naturally occurring skin bacteria] on his laboratory bench. He was done with them, but for whatever reason didn’t clean up his work space before he left. On his return to work on 3 September 1928, he took one last look at them before asking his laboratory technician to sterilize them.

In a today’s lab, petri dishes are plastic, used only once and then destroyed. In 1928, they were made of glass and reused after being soaked in a shallow bath of disinfectant followed by a quick wipe. Let’s just say if lab hygiene in 1928 was similar to today’s standards penicillin may not have been discovered… Anyway… Something peculiar caught his eye and he said, “Hmm, that’s funny”, he said. The petri dish had been contaminated by a mold which had inhibited the growth of the bacteria.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Fleming went on to publish his findings – that the mold penicillin seemed to kill Bacteria – in 1929 and he continued to practice at St Mary’s. The problem then became how to manufacture ‘enough’ mold to be able to use it to combat sepsis, which was of the main killer of the times.

Ten or so years later the work continued at Oxford where two researchers, Howard Florey (from New Zealand) and Ernst Chain (from Germany), worked on the manufacture of penicillin. The start of world war II added impetus (and money) to the research project with the thinking being that wounded service personnel could be saved and turned round to fight again – by D-Day there was enough penicillin for every combatant.

Public recognition came in the shape  of a Nobel prize for all three men. [yay!]

September 18 2016

Galapagos Island Animals

Back in 2010, I lucked into the trip of a lifetime when I went to the Galapagos Islands as a research volunteer.  For 10 days I lived on a research boat, visited the islands of the Galapagos, and tagged little baby giant tortoises.  The tortoises ere the stars, at least from my point of view, but anyone with a passing interest in animals, nature, genetics, evolution, or general science would love to visit the Galapagos.  While tagging turtles was my main job, I had plenty of time to wander the islands and snap photos of some of the other inhabitants of the islands.

this is my good side
Sea lions are the most adorable things ever. And friendly too.  They have such personality, and are adorable when they are playing with their offspring…

snuggley sea lions

I can’t be for sure, but I’ll calling these two mom and baby…

 

sleep sea lion
Sea lions like to make a lot of noise.  Sometimes they ‘bark’ just to hear themselves talk I think.

sea lions

This one has so much personality… “Don’t look at me, I’m hideous…” or ‘I can’t even…with all these others…’

underwater starfish
It’s not all snuggly sweet sea lions. There was some snorkeling involved too…

sally lightfoot crab
one of the more interesting creatures- Sally Lightfoot Crab

long leg crab

rtw2004.1128649860.dscf0025f-1
BLUE FEET

Red footed booby
RED FEET

rtw2004.1128649860.dscf0145h
My CHARGES

male frigate
Male frigates are such show-offs

flamingo
PINK FLAMINGOS are cool no matter where you find them

crabs win...octopus loses
Survival of the fittest

courting blue footed boobie
This photo cracks me up. I can imagine all kinds of things these birds are thinking/doing. They could be a couple and one giving the other hell for some perceived wrong doing. Or they could be courting. Or they could be siblings getting into a fight. The possibilities are endless… and even in person, they were going at each other like cats and dogs.

Galapagos-Blue-footed-Booby1
Boobies…just as entertaining as the sea lions

mom and baby
And just for good measure… another sea lion and a newly born baby…

September 11 2016

Someday

We are all visitors to this time, this place. We are just passing through. Our purpose here is to observe, to learn, to grow, to love… and then we return home.                                                                        Australian Aboriginal saying

cocora

The world is a rather large place, and I love exploring new cultures, places I’ve never been, and seeing new things. And since the world is a large place, new destinations generally take precedence over places I’ve been before. Often, I say [in my head] “I’d love to come back here. Someday.” Which places are those, you ask? Places that hold a special place in my heart. There are the easy ones, like London, England where there is so much to see and do I doubt I could do it all in one lifetime. Or Charleston, South Carolina, which is an international tourist destination, but is relativity close to my current home. And Huanchaco, Peru where there isn’t a whole lot to do, but it’s where I was first part of an international community of backpackers. I’m not so naive to believe that if I went back to Huanchaco it would be the same as it was when I was there. Part of the charm of living in a tourist/backpacking town is the continuous influx of new people, but that’s also what makes it hard to fit in. Excluding the obvious, here are five places that I’d love to return to. Someday.

Mendoza, Argentina
There’s no other way to put it–Mendoza is simply amazing. The wineries

The food… [try the parilla for a plate full of delicious grilled meat]…

The scenery…

The mountains…[the tallest in the Western hemisphere]

The ruins… [some Inca ruins are all the way down to Argentina].  I only hope that someday I will make my way back to Argentina.

Isle of Skye, Scotland
Nestled up in the Scottish Highlands is the Isle of Skye. Other-worldly. Beautiful. Remote. Amazing. Skies that go for miles. Castles. Ruins. Stone footbridges.

Cartagena, Colombia
Colonial. Colorful. Safe. Fortified. Tropical. Magical. Botero statues. oh so Colombian. White, sandy beaches nearby.  Someday…

St. Petersburg, Russia

Russia in general isn’t known for its friendly, welcoming attitude towards visitors. But everyone I’ve known who has taken the time to deal with Russian bureaucracy has thought it was completely worthwhile. In 2009, I studied abroad at Moscow State University. My sole reason for doing that was to get to Russia. I didn’t care so much about the program as it was an agriculture program, and I have zero interest in farming, but from January until June I was in possession of a student visa which allowed me access to most of European Russia.

I made it to St Petersburg 4 times over the course of 6 months–each time different than before. I’d love to go back in the fall. Moscow is interesting; it is just too big of a city for me to enjoy. St Petersburg is more manageable with the added bonus of imperial Russian history. Moscow is historic in a communist sort of way. St. Petersburg, though, is more to my liking.

Kotor, Montenegro
I only spent one day and one night in Kotor as a last minute detour to defrost after being in Hungary, Romania, and Serbia. I was so glad I made time in my schedule to see this amazing small town. In January, it was as if I was the only one there. I’m told that even in summer, it gets none of the craziness like Split or Dubrovnik, Croatia. YET.

As the country of Montenegro, it has only been in existence since 2006, but its civilization dates back as far a 9th century, and it has been, at times, ruled by Italy, Ottoman Empire, and Yugoslavia. It is being “discovered” by tourists and is the second fastest growing tourist destination. Go now before it becomes just another blip on the European tourist trail.

Honorable Mention:
The Alps…any part, any country, any time of year.

September 4 2016

Flashback Friday | 70 (ish) years later

“Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little freedom deserves neither and will lose both.”

Benjamin Franklin

auschwitz 2

I used to love to watch the news.  I think it was because 1. as a kid, we only had 5 channels and 2. the news was always so exciting with reporters in such foreign sounding places.  So, it was as a kid watching the news that I first heard the word ‘genocide.’  At that time it was referring to Slobadan Milošević and the ‘ethnic cleansing’ occurring in the Balkans in the early 1990’s. At the time I remember thinking the Balkans might as well be another planet and that could never happen here…or at least not in a place I’d heard of before.

So imagine my surprise when I learned about Germany and World War II.

The end of World War 2 has different endings, depending on who you ask. Some consider May 8 [V-E day] to be the end; others consider V-J day [Aug 15] to be the end and still others don’t call the end until the final surrender [September 2.]

It’s been just over 70 years since the liberation of Auschwitz from the Nazis.  Poland was home to the world’s largest Jewish community for centuries. Before WWII there were 3.5 million Jews living in Poland. Between the German invasion in 1939 and the end of the war in 1945 over 90% perished.

Work does not, in fact, make one free

About 50 km from Krakow is the town of Oświęcim, Poland.  It’s better known to the world as Auschwitz. The Polish were the first to be brought to Auschwitz.  They were not there for racial reasons but instead under the broad term of “resistance”: for listening to foreign radio, reading illegal leaflets, absence from work, aiding Jews. They were killed for further resistance within the camp, shot dead for minor disobedience.  Then came the Soviet POWs and POWs from other countries.

At first it was not a death camp.  People were released as their sentence was completed.  At first, it was just another prison, ordered to be built by Hitler, but unable to be built by the SS.  Supplies were stolen from outside of Germany in order to just construct the camp.  In the beginning, it did not seem to be destined to become the most infamous death camp of the 20th century.

No mass killing just yet, that was to come later.

The Jewish didn’t arrive until 1942.

Within two years of building Auschwitz, it was the most notorious of the six extermination camps in Poland (Belzec, Chełmno, Majdanek, Sobibór and Treblinka are the more unknown ones).

There were three primary to the concentration camp. Auschwitz held between 12,000 and 20,000 prisoners. Due to the overcrowding at the primary site, Auschwitz II-Birkenau was built in 1941 and is located 3 km away. Birkenau was by far the largest section and in 1944 there were over 90,000 prisoners.

In 1942, Auschwitz III-Monowitz was established. However, only Auschwitz and Birkenau remain. By early 1943 there were four crematoria operating 24/7 at Birkenau. Over 20,000 people were gassed and cremated every day. The exact number of people killed at Auschwitz and Birkenau will never be known but estimates put the number between 1.1 – 1.5 million people from across Europe. There is still one gas chamber at Auschwitz but the gas chambers and crematoria at Birkenau were blown up by the Nazis in 1944 in an attempt to cover up the mass killings.

The Beginnings

In the original plan, the Nazis said that Jews would be resettled in the east. Or south…somewhere like Madagascar…just somewhere other than Germany and Europe. Many people actually had to purchase tickets for the trains that took them to their deaths.

All arrivals to Auschwitz were immediately stripped of their belongings. Luggage was taken and stored in various spots of the camp.  You could tell who would have immediately been taken to the gas chambers based on the markings smeared on the luggage cases. Hannah, age one ,would have immediately been marched [or carried] to her death.  Same with Otto, age 83. The very young and the old and infirm suffered the same immediate fate. They were no good for work, you see.

90% of children went straight to the gas chambers. A few were kept for work, and others to have medical experiments conducted on them.

A small display showed tattered clothes the kids wore to the camp. Another showed the many, many pairs of shoes, of all sizes, left behind.

The most disturbing part of Auschwitz I was the mounds of bundled hair that sat in a very long container of glass. The prisoners were shaved upon arrival, or if not done immediately, then another prisoner was forced to shave their heads after they had died in the gas chamber.

After 2,000 of them had been crammed in a chamber and after the excruciating twenty minutes passed following the cyanide being dropped in. When life was finally squeezed out of each of them, the hair would be taken, some used to make fabric other to be uses as stuffing for pillows and the like.

Up to 1.1 million bundles of hair, from 1.1 million people murdered.

I confess that I am an unabashed history nerd. I read history textbooks for fun. I ‘learned’ about the Holocaust in school. I’ve read Elie Wiesel’s “Night” and the ‘Diary of Anne Frank’. I’ve heard about Hitler, Himmel, and the SS. I’ve seen Schindler’s List and read about the horrors that took place at concentration camps across Europe. But I grew up a million miles away from that…in a small town in South Carolina. Standing there, in front of the gas chambers that KILLED over a million people or in a room of discarded personal effects, it’s as real as it gets. Nothing prepared for me for that.

Walls displayed pictures of prisoners on their arrival. When the photos were taken, the new arrivals had no idea what was waiting for them. Some were smiling. Some showed obvious fear, others, defiance. Many were indifferent. Most looked defeated.

I had been warned ahead of time that this would be emotional, that it couldn’t be understood…that the best thing to do would be to experience it and feel whatever it is you feel whether it’s sadness, anger, or nothing at all. Some people say that when you visit a place that is so devastatingly dark and depressing, you may feel nothing at all. I am not the most emotional person out there, but I didn’t expect to be numb.

I went on the first day of winter. It was mind-numbingly cold, but also breath-takingly beautiful covered in a blanket of fresh white snow. I don’t know that there is a “good” time to visit Auschwitz. In the summer, it can be crowded and bright and sunny. A place that claimed so many lives shouldn’t be bright and sunny…or at least that is what my mind says. In the winter, it isn’t crowded, but that’s because it is so cold. I was bundled up in long underwear, my thickest wool sweater, a wool coat, wool socks, North Face fleece lined boots, a hat, scarf, and wool mittens…and I was still cold. Most of the prisoners at Auschwitz had no coat or shoes. After about 30 minutes, I couldn’t feel anything. Not physical discomfort nor could my mind process all that I’ve seen.

Auschwitz was the only concentration camp where inmates were tattooed on their arms. However, the vast majority of people were never tattooed because they never made it beyond the initial screening.

My thoughts

Visiting a place like Auschwitz is not a pleasant experience. Nor should it be. It’s not happy and it will change you in some way. I completely understand how some people will never visit a concentration camp because of how utterly depressing they are. BUT, I feel that visiting places like this — facing this reality — is important. It helps us recognize the cruelty inherent in the human race. And hopefully helps us understand how important it is to never let something like this happen again.