‘Murica–and all that entails

Did I really just go to good ole ‘Murica?  Only a few days back in Rwanda, and the entire trip back to South Carolina feels like a dream. I left Rwanda on a Saturday night and was in my own bed by Monday. Lucy and Molly inspected me with above normal curiosity… Maybe they know I’ve been cheating on them with Sadie Mae. Thanks to the generous soul who came to fetch me, my first America meal was a home cooked feast complete with time spent with some of my favorite people.  The combination of a full belly and a little more than 24 hours worth of travel had me collapsing into bed around 10p despite the party that was still going on downstairs.

Christmas lights at Biltmore in Asheville, NC

My nearly one month back in ‘Murica had me meeting my new niece [born November 14 ], seeing friends and family, visiting the DMV [in person!], checking out Christmas lights at America’s largest house, dealing with the state nursing board [on-line], making doctor’s appointments, doing some light decorating to my house, and eating pizza! and salads.

glorious cheesy pizza!

I weeded through piles of clothing for clothes that fit [I’ve lost 35 pounds while in Rwanda], donated two large tubs of clothing to charity [maybe I can buy them again in Rwanda] ate out with friends, sat in hot tub, and just enjoyed America’s luxuries in general.

We have matching gold reflections in our eyes

Here’s some general observations I have about going back to America after living 7 months in the rural Rwandan countryside:

  • America is rich. Excessively so. Even though I stayed in my own house [modest by American standards], I was amazed at the luxury I have. 1 acre of land. 3 TVs. Running water that you can drink straight from the faucet. Toilets. Washing Machine and Dryer. A car.
  • American bureaucracy sucks just as much as Rwandan bureaucracy–I just understand the language better. #governmentshutdown
  • Americans eat so much. My Burrito Bowl?  Easily 3 Rwandan meals; it lasted for two in America. Nearly every meal I had in America was easily 2-3 Rwandan meals.
  • Small towns are the same wherever you are.  Even though my American neighbors don’t call me ‘muzungu’, they were definitely aware and curious about the fact that I was home.
  • I got off the plane and went through a fancy customs kiosk. But it literally stunned me, how professional the airport security was. They called me “ma’am” and said “please move this way”.  Did you know there is no Rwandan word for please? Professionalism is something we DEFINITELY take for granted in America. It’s expected that you will be treated with respect and courtesy when you enter a service situation where money changes hands. Professionalism in Rwanda? Definitely not what Americans are accustomed to. People are late, answer their phones in meetings, sometimes even drink beer during training. Professionalism is not a value in this culture. As Rwanda tried to increase it’s service sector and therefore its economic position in the world, its people could learn a thing or two about professionalism, courtesy, and manners.
  • It was nice to be back in an area that is diverse–even if only somewhat. Rwanda, of course, has foreign visitors. And even refugees from Congo and Burundi, but Rwandas are just Rwandan. They have made a concentrated effort to stamp out any ethnic diversity in part due to their history. I love diversity. I love seeing different races and nationalities in the same place at the same time.  I love hearing multiple foreign languages spoken at one time.

I  haven’t been back in rural Rwanda long enough to assess my feelings.  I had to go back to America; I didn’t have to come back to Rwanda. I had appointments to manage, licenses to renew, certifications to maintain, and medical appointment to see about.  These are things I could not do from Rwanda, and these licenses weren’t something I was willing to let lapse.  I also took the GRE, and while I could have done that in Rwanda, it was just easier to do from America. I wanted to see my people, and despite all the rumors you hear about Reverse Culture Shock, being back home felt ‘right.’  Oh sure, some things felt foreign, but overall, it felt comfortable, and I ‘adjusted’ real quick.

‘Light’ decorating… in my office at home

and the living room

There are decisions to be made for sure, but none of that has to happen right now. And for now, I can enjoy my remaining time in Rwanda whether it be weeks, months, or two years, hang out with friends, and enjoy exploring this tiny, yet incredibly diverse country.

The real reason I was home… Rwanda is exceedingly difficult to navigate on crutches.

one month later, I’m back in the woods…. Not 100%… but 100% better than walking on crutches

Things I miss about the USA

Happy Labor Day. These random holidays like Labor Day and 4th of July and Memorial Day has never really meant too much to me. Working in health care, days like these are really just regular days. There’s no such thing as ‘holidays’, or at least not in the traditional sense where I’d get the same days off as everyone else and get do things like hang out at the lake with friends or enjoy cook-outs for the holiday. So in that sense joining the Peace Corps has been interesting. At one point or another I’ve celebrated every American holiday outside America, and some countries’ holidays inside that country. But nothing can replace celebrating the holiday in its original form… And while I’ve only been gone from the USA for a few months, there are still things I miss.  This post is from my previous travel blog from when I spent 16 months traveling around South America (with some updates from what I’m missing now… Some things change; some never will… like my love for good pizza).

  • Pizza  Pizza is probably my favorite food on the planet.  Back home, I probably ate pizza 3-4 times a month.  Not always the same kind or from the same place, but pizza (and a salad when I’m feeling healthy) has been a staple in my diet since the early years and I don’t suspect it leaving any time soon. I did find pizza goodness in Buenos Aires and Mendoza; however most of South America and all of Rwanda has been a huge disappointment in terms of pizza.  Bad crust, bad sauce, strange ingredients.  I can’t wait to hit up Barley’s Taproom or Sidewall’s or the Mellow Mushroom for some good pizza with olives, feta cheese, spinach, and tomatoes.

One of my Peace Corps goals is to make a pizza… a delicious pizza like the one pictured below.

Untitled

  • Watching American sports. I am a huge sports junkie and I miss meeting up with friends to watch March Madness, college bowl games, or stressing over Tennessee football. Fall is always the hardest because college football in nearly a religion in the south, and I am a follower of the sacred University of Tennessee. Watching my favorite teams at odd hours via slow internet streams just didn’t cut it, and while going to sporting events where I am is a small comfort, I am never going to follow Mexican bullfighting, Venezuelan baseball, Peruvian football, Rwandan basketball, or Buenos Aires polo when I am at home.  [Although I happily watched Super Bowl XLV live.]

I am grateful that I was in a country that was a soccer loving one with time time zones close to the original for some of the world cup matches.  Before joining the Peace Corps, I had hoped to score tickets to World Cup|Russia, but watching the games in this tiny corner of the world where soccer rules, is great for international bonding.

  •  Food variety. If I ever eat white rice again, it will be too soon. Seriously, that seemed to be the hallmark of almost every single meal I’ve eaten over the few months. I wasn’t a big fan to begin with, but having it on the plate for breakfast, lunch, and dinner got old. Fast!

  One of the staples of Rwandan cuisine is–you guessed it–white rice.  It’s no wonder I never eat this in America.

  • Free, non-carbonated water in restaurants. Again, this should be self-explanatory. Plenty of places offered free snacks, but free water? Not a chance.
  • Public transportation. Even though back home I do not live in an area with good public transportation, I like going to places where it’s accessible and easy to use.  MARTA in Atlanta has gotten me where I needed to be on more than one occasion.  Subways in Rome, New York, London, Moscow and Buenos Aires are amazing.  If I didn’t live in a rural area, I’d be all about using light rail (like Seattle’s metro link that whisks me to and from the airport to the center of town without issue) or whatever was available.  Motor bike taxis, bicycle taxis, mini buses, cars nearly falling apart, and cabs—not so much to my liking.

Bogota’s TransMileno is surprisingly efficient, and while crowded at times, it is a much better option than loading up a minibus to maximum capacity +1 and having people yell ‘stop’ when they want to get off the bus.

  • Knowing where to find things. Again, yes, you can buy just about everything you need on the road even in tiny remote villages in the middle of nowhere.  But finding those things can be a challenge. In most of the places I visited (and Madagascar is no exception), daily essentials were spread out among many smaller stores and it took me days (or weeks) to figure out where to go for what I needed.

OH, how I love Target. I spent part of my last visit to Seattle walking around this three story gem located right in the middle of the city. They had everything…

  • Not paying to use the toilet.  Or even finding a toilet when needed. I think this one is self-explanatory.  Fun fact:  did you know that, according to The Guardian, the top 10 worst places in the world to find a toilet are in Africa. One is Madagascar [4th worst place in the world to find a toilet] and two of Rwanda’s neighbors also make the list [Tanzania and Congo]  and there is a World Toilet Day (it is November 19th if you’re curious), dedicated to keeping everyone’s shit corralled so that fecal contamination of the water supply as well as diseases transmitted via the fecal-oral route are diminished.

  Another Peace Corps’ goal:  to make myself a luxurious toilet where my knees don’t creak every time I must use it or in emergency             situations, shit does not splash on my shoes/feet.

  •  Respect for people’s time. Even though I am not a scheduler by nature, I do appreciate time.  At home, when someone says “let’s meet at 8:00,” they generally mean “let’s meet at 8:00.” If they are running late, they will call or text you to let you know. We have a basic appreciation for people’s time and not wasting it. Such was not the case while I was traveling. Nothing seemed to start on time and someone saying they would meet you at 8:00 meant hopefully they would be there by 9:00 – likely with no contact whatsoever to indicate they may be late. When we were planning anything that include non-Americans  we always gave a fake time. 7:00 meant 8:00 or so. Indeed, most people didn’t arrive until closer to 8:30. I think this just reflects a more laid back attitude, but as someone who hates waiting around for no good reason, I will take the American way every day.

German trains and s-bahns are always so punctual. If I lived in Germany, I’d never be late anywhere.

Alexanderplatz

 I have found a general lack of respect for time in nearly every corner of the globe… except Germany and Switzerland… oh how I love that  place; they are so punctual.

  •  American men. I know many women love over foreign men.  Heck, I have even dated foreign men [One abroad, one who had moved to USA], but overwhelmingly, the foreign men I have met [mostly Italians and Hispanics] are overbearing, controlling, condescending, and overprotective.  I do not like being yelled at or whistled to in the street.  I do not like being asked if I ‘want to fuck’ because those are the only English words they know.  For me, that machismo attitude is such a turn off!  Give me a good old American guy who can see a woman as his equal and appreciate her independence. A guy that smells clean, wears cologne sparingly, and bathes regularly. A guy who wears baseball hats and khakis rather than skinny jeans, and who is at least my height (5’9).  If he has green eyes and curly hair, well, I’m a smitten kitten.
  • Free wi-fi:  Wi-fi is slowly making its way down south, but it is not always free, nor is it always reliable.  It brings me back to the Ethernet cords I had in college. Or dial-up.  Both make me appreciate how prevalent wi-fi is in the USA. [and Canada and Europe].  2018 hasn’t brought many upgrades to the poorer corners of the world.

But what I miss most about being away from the USA, is people and kitty cats …co-workers, friends, and family + Lucy and Molly.

 

Breaking the rules in Aberdeen, Scotland

Ignorance is no excuse

One of the very few things I remember from my Business Law class is ‘ignorance of the law is no excuse,’ nor is it a valid defense.  However, in Aberdeen not only did I unknowingly break several laws, had I been caught, ignorance would have been my only defense.

Aberdeen is not quite the Scottish Highlands, but it is getting closer. Aberdeen is Scotland’s third largest city behind Edinburgh and Glasgow, and its location on the North Sea gives it an amazing coastline and busy shipping docks.

Nearly everything in the town is constructed with granite mined from the Rubinslaw Quarry. The quarry was active for nearly 300 years, but was closed in 1971. Now it’s a big giant hole in the ground filled with 40+ years of rainwater.

Sheriff’s court

History Nerd Alert #1:

Robert I, popularly known as Robert the Bruce, was King of Scots from 1306 until his death in 1329. Robert was one of the most famous warriors of his generation, eventually leading Scotland during the Wars of Scottish Independence against England.

Marischal College–now a civic building in Aberdeen

History Nerd Alert #2:

A mercat cross is the Scots name for the market cross found frequently in Scottish towns, cities and villages where historically the right to hold a regular market or fair was granted by the monarch, a bishop or a baron. It therefore served a secular purpose as a symbol of authority, and was an indication of a burgh’s relative prosperity. Historically, the term dates from the period before 1707 when Scotland was an autonomous kingdom, but it has been applied loosely to later structures built in the traditional architectural style of crosses or structures fulfilling the function of marking a settlement’s focal point. (Thank you Wikipedia)  Aberdeen’s cross was constructed from granite and was designed by local architect John Montgomery in 1686.

History Nerd Alert #3

The Gordon Highlanders was the name of a British Army Infantry Regiment. It was active from 1881 to 1994, and I always thought that Gordon Highlander was a single person in Scotland’s history.

They used to hold public executions in the spot across from Old Blackfriar’s pub. Nothing like a good public execution to stir up an appetite for fine Scotch and good grub.

St. Nicholas Church

Courtyard at St Nicholas

I’m not very good at following rules. It’s a badge of honour that I have not yet ever spent time in jail.  I certainly have done some things in my time that could have landed me there. In my wanderings out and about in Aberdeen, I have inadvertently broken the following Scottish laws today:  [I can only hope that I don’t end up at the roofless Scottish prison in Edinburgh]

  1. Took pictures in a shopping center
  2. Took a picture of a police car and perhaps a police man[person]
  3. Touched an old rusted propeller in a museum that had it labeled as something “too fragile to touch”
  4. Read an article in a magazine in a store without purchasing it
  5. Took pictures in a church
  6. Took pictures of Scottish people without their permission [ In my defense though, no one will be able to recognized the aforementioned Scottish people.]

Aberdeen–you are a beautiful, unexpected breath of fresh air.

Museums of Broken Relationships

2018 Michelle here:  This museum I found in Zagreb, Croatia is perhaps one of the more interesting museums I’ve ever been in [The Sex Museum in Naples is another].  While Zagreb is no uber charming city, this museum had me enthralled.  The end of a relationship is always a trying time for everyone involved even if it’s just a ‘whew, I dodged that bullet’ thought. But I’ve never thought of putting my relationship detritus in a museum for other to look at.  Let this be a reminder that atypical museums can be some of the more educational/informative/pleasurable.


A break-up is like a broken mirror:  it’s better to leave it alone than to hurt yourself picking up the pieces.

His name was Michael. Today is his birthday. I shouldn’t remember that, but I do. When we met he was 32, and I was 24. We met at work.  I loved his sense of humour and he loved my adventurous spirit.  We were friends first.  Nearly a year, before anything more than friendly happened.  But as is often the case between men and women, something did happen.  I practically dared him to kiss me, and when he did, it was as if time stood still. July 19, 2004…after lunch. The kiss lasted exactly 42 seconds.  I know because I had a digital atomic clock on the wall in my office.  The kiss touched every neuron in my body, and for the first time in my life, I felt alive.

I named him “Nobody” and he called me “Girl. ”  If people asked me who I was dating, and they did because people love to meddle in the affairs of others, I’d say “Nobody.” If people asked him who we was seeing, he’d say “Just some girl.”  It was our secret, and it was exciting.

We carried on our secret affair for 18 months –until I moved away…co-workers weren’t supposed to date. And even after moving to a different state, the thought of him was like a drug.  We were like addicts addicted to each other; couldn’t stay away, yet couldn’t get enough.

broken relationship 4

The first step in recovering from an addiction is admitting that there is a problem, and oh boy, there was.  Michael was as strong as any drug I’d ever encountered, and willpower alone wasn’t enough to make me quit him.  Over time I came to rely on a power greater than myself and contact with Michael became more and more sparse.  Withdrawal is a painful master.  There was physical pain.  There was emotional pain. There were tears.

broken relationship 5
There were no stuffed worms. No legs were broken in this break-up.


The last conversation I had with him was right before I left for Moscow.  He said “you always did want to go places.” and I said “I will always love you, but this will be the last time I tell you that.”  And I haven’t had contact with him since.  After returning from Moscow, I wanted to call him.  I wanted to tell him all the amazing adventures I had.  Instead, I got a cat.  I named her Lily. She was a sweet cat.

Lily helped me heal.

I still have a post card he gave me. And ticket stubs for various events. And a necklace. And various little notes.  What can I say, I’m a sentimental soul.

broken relationships 1

I knew before I went to Zagreb that I wanted to go to the museum of broken relationships. I find it  fascinating to see what people keep as mementos from relationships.  Not every relationship ends on a sour note.  Some have other obstacles that time just could not overcome.  Some just aren’t meant to be.  Some exist solely to prepare you for the future.  Michael was not my first boyfriend, but he was my first love, and without that relationship, I wouldn’t be where I am today.

I’ve held on to the mementos of the relationship with Michael for 15 years, and karma, good energy, and such being what it is, it’s time to release that energy into the universe. Good bye Michael.


PS...I have a slight confession to make.  One time I was dating this guy.  His name was James. Now I knew that the relationship with James was never going to be long-term, but he was ummm, fun, and I had recently broken up with a cheating bastard I caught with another woman.  I made James brownies for his birthday.  I left them on the kitchen table with a ‘Happy Birthday’ note.  I came over the next day to find everything in the trash. I was pissed to say the least. Livid. Irate. Incensed. A seething cauldron of raging fumes; you get the idea. He was being such an ass. I went to the local World Market, bought a bottle of cheap $7 Il Bastardo wine, and switched it out for his fancy $200 bottle of French Bordeaux.  My friend and I drank the rich, velvet wine while sitting in her hot tub cursing all the shallow men in the world.  I still feel no shame in taking Il Bastardo’s prized bottle of red wine.

In retrospect, the Il Bastardo was still probably pretty good.  After all it comes from Tuscany and is a Sangiovese so probably still good. I really would have like to have smashed Il Bastardo over the bastard’s head, but I got my revenge in other ways that even though the statute of limitations has passed, I’ll still keep my mouth shut because some things are just better left unsaid [or in this case… things are better left un-typed].

at least no axes were ever involved in any of my break-ups

PPS…Names and dates have been changed to protect the innocent…Except Il Bastardo.

PPPS...If I dated women, I’d totally give every.single.one I ever broke up with this bar of chocolate.

broken relationship 6

My one travel regret

I have made it a point in life to not regret the past. Sure there are things that I wish had not happened, but I also think that for better or worse, these life experiences have shaped me into the person that I am today. That being said, my one regret is that I didn’t study abroad when I was in college. It wasn’t as if I actively made the decision to not study abroad; my college, being a small (tiny even) liberal arts school did not have contracts in place with foreign universities.

chichen itza
Studying Mayan art and architecture in Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras was most certainly interesting, but not all that practical

And also, let’s be honest. Even if they had had those agreements in place, most likely I would not have been able to afford it. It was all I could do to afford college to begin with. I worked full-time hours throughout my entire college career. Going abroad for a semester or a summer would have meant 3-4 months of no job and no income.  Putting that together with the added expense of being overseas and it just didn’t add up.

I did manage to travel while in college so it wasn’t as if I never left the country.  I turned a two week vacation into a three month tour of Northern England, Scotland, and Wales with a side of Ireland after my freshman year. While my friend were actually graduating college, I did an ‘independent study’ in Mexico AFTER I’d taken all my other classes needed to graduate thus delaying my official graduation for a year.

llanfair
I did make it to the town with the world’s longest name whilst wandering about Wales. Thankfully they just call it Llanfair.

I am quite certain that if I had studied abroad, my life would be 99.9% different than it is now–or maybe I would have arrived at the life I have now a lot sooner. I am quite certain that NOT studying abroad in college led me to take a ‘career break’ in 2010. And that ‘career break’ in 2010-11 led to me changing my career over the last 5 years. That career break also led to me choosing an elective where I got to spend time in both St Petersburg and Moscow (studying plants of all things) , Russia and Cardiff, Wales (studying the UK’s National Health System).  Both of those experiences, while amazing, was not the immersion experience I was looking for. And while travel nursing in the US is totally a thing; international travel nursing is not.

cardiff
At least I got to do a little exploring in and around Cardiff whilst working/studying at the Wales Hospital for Children.

All these experiences (and lack of experiences) has led me to the Peace Corps.  Peace Corps is not something I’d even strongly considered even though I had heard its existence while in high school. I pondered joining after I graduated college, but there was always this reason or that reason holding me back. But it is something that has been nagging at me, sometimes gently, sometimes with a bit more force over the last 15 years.

So maybe not studying abroad in my initial college experience was a good thing; after all, it has brought me to the Peace Corps where I’ll finally have that immersion experience I have been craving since I was 19 years old.  Let’s only hope I don’t regret joining at this stage of life.

 

The difference time makes

I had always heard that I would have a better time in my  30s than my 20s. I was skeptical; how could older be better?  It’s fitting that a decade after my first adventure, I’ve started evaluating my past choices and wondering what my 20-something year old self would think of me now:

Love Prior to leaving for Mexico I agreed to marry my [then] boyfriend.  He didn’t want me to go, and I agreed more as a way to not hurt his feelings than because I really wanted to marry him.  I knew as soon as he tried to talk me out of going that he was not the one for me.  I wanted [want] to be with someone who will support my decisions not try to change them.  I wanted [want] to be with someone who has his own dreams but is not afraid to support mine as well. Prior to leaving for South America, I did everything possible to salvage my most significant relationship since, but it didn’t work either. BUT HE NEVER TRIED TO STOP ME FROM  GOING.  I wanted him to go with me, and thought about him constantly.   Sometimes I wonder if it would have worked out had I not gone to South America.

I climbed to the top of the pyramid back in 2000, but I’ve heard these days, that isn’t allowed.

Children I have always claimed to not want to have children of my own.  Ten years ago, I was convinced that I never would have considered having children.  Now I still don’t think it will happen, but I do occasionally have thoughts about some nebulous future children. Also these day I have little people in my life that love their “Auntie Chelle”.

Passion I have always had a passion for photography. My first camera was a 110 model that I received in 2nd grade.  My early trips to England and Mexico sparked my passion for traveling. I have recently [rediscovered] a passion for medicine.  I hope to be able to combine the three [travel, photography, and medicine]  of them at some point in the future.

Ambition I moved to Mexico to study Mayan art and architecture. I had dreams of returning to the US to start graduate school in International Business and making it big. Ten years later my younger self would be hard pressed to recognize me now.  Not only did I eschew the business world for the medical one, I also went back to school to get a degree in Microbiology, and now I’m working towards becoming a nurse practitioner.  My younger self avoided science like the plague; my older one is attracted to it like nothing else.

Fear I had no fear when I was younger…  jumped right into things.  I’m not sure if I was brave or just naive. Now I imagine all the ways I could injure myself… or someone could injure me.  In Mexico, I jumped 40 feet into a cenote. I went swimming with sharks.  I stared down a bull [OK, he was a baby bull, but he still could have hurt me].  I’m trying to regain some of that, letting go of my fears and embracing the unknown. Traveling to places I didn’t plan. Sometimes it worked out and sometimes it didn’t.  I’m not exactly sure why I didn’t have a guidebook as the Internet existed but certainly didn’t have the proliferation of information that it does now about travel.  I  just jumped on buses and found accommodation when I arrived. I didn’t have anxiety about how to get there, or where I would stay.

It wasn’t all great. I remember once going to one hotel on the Mexican/Guatemalan and the guy at reception told me I didn’t want a room even though I insisted on looking at one. That’s because I didn’t notice the locks– everywhere.  It should have been a clue that it wasn’t the safest place around, but it was late, I was tired, and the border was closed.  I got in the ‘room’, dropped my stuff, and headed for the showers.  The bathroom had a toilet seat barely hanging on and a  pipe stuck out of the wall.  I could pee and shower at the same time.  After the shower, I heard my first gunshot.  I locked the door, set an alarm, and prayed for a few hours sleep.  As soon as the lights went out, the bugs came out.  Gunshots I could deal with–cucaraches as big as my shoes I could not.  I packed up determined to get the hell out of there–even if it was 1 am.  The hotel compound was locked up.  I banged on the metal doors until someone came to let me out.  He said it wasn’t safe.  I said I didn’t care.  He let me out, and I walked the five kilometers in the border town where the Zapatistas were active.  Not the smartest things I have ever done.  I wouldn’t conceived of doing it now, but at 20 I had no fear.

 

But those are the badges of traveling and I earned many of them. I loved meeting other people and hung out with the few younger people who lived in Campeche.  There wasn’t many Americans so I had to hang out with the locals.  I didn’t know the value of that now, but being forced to speak Spanish, watch the novelas, eat the ‘traditional’ food, and assimilate into daily Mexican life was a godsend.   In Peru, I lived with a host family while working at the clinic. Their kindness was overwhelming and they had a dog and a cat which was a godsend when I was homesick for Lily and Lucy . They took care of me when I had malaria.  I don’t know if I would have died or not, but by having someone around, I did get the treatment I needed.

The changes in me have been gradual but profound; I’m not the same person but much better and much of it due to traveling.  I don’t know who I’d be if I hadn’t experienced life this way.

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

semmelweis museum
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.

semmelweis museum 4
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.

semmelweis museum 6

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

Paris is a bitch

This
paris-nye-2012was my introduction to Paris. And to be honest, it was a bit much. Beautiful, but excessive. I’ll be the first admit that I came to Paris, not wanting to like Paris. I knew it is an expensive city and I didn’t need yet another expensive city to be crazy about [London, I’m talking to you]. I didn’t know a lot about Paris before I came here, but I knew that if I didn’t resist its charms, I would regret it later. Sort of like that extra bottle of wine at dinner.

If cities were people, Paris would be a supermodel. Super hot, but incredibly high maintenance. It’s unreasonably expensive if you want to take full advantage of what the city has to offer. Compare that to Krakow, Budapest, or Prague; they are just as amazing– just not as famous.

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Yes, Paris is beautiful. Gorgeous even. But still I think it’s overrated. But tourists seem completely infatuated with the city. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Eiffel Tower gets dry-humped a few times a day by overzealous tourists. [yes, I realize I am being crude].

 

Perhaps if Paris had been my first adventure instead of London [although to be honest, it took me years to warm up to London], I’d have a different opinion. Or maybe one needs to visit Paris as a couple. Or in the spring. Or perhaps I just have a completely different idea of romance than most.

Admittedly, I am sure I missed out a lot by not knowing French or not having a background in art history or not being a culinary snob. But I can see the city  as a very livable city, if you are earning a local wage. The public transport system [it was free over the holiday, vomit-covered, but free] and bike-sharing system are among the best I’ve encountered.

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Parisian Metro vomit–not quite the introduction that I was looking for

I can see the appeal of Paris as a vacation spot for tourists. Amazing art and architecture are everywhere so it’s like a massive orgy of tourism.

notre dame gargolye

And I guess therein lies the problem. I stopped being a tourist about 5 years ago. My ideal way to travel now is slow and easy…to feel a city as a local. And when you try to do that in Paris, you feel like a serf. Cheap in Paris is still expensive.

In the two days I was there, I found people pretty helpful especially considering I can’t speak any French apart from “Bonjour, parlez-vous anglais?” and “s’il vous plait”. I mean strangers weren’t exactly inviting me home for glasses of wine, but I didn’t find them any more rude than say people in New York City. What I did see was rude tourists rambling on in English without any introduction. And if they weren’t understood, they would just speak louder. Parisians aren’t fucking deaf – they just don’t or won’t speak English.

<a data-flickr-embed=”true” href=”https://www.flickr.com/photos/127203703@N03/15376878432/in/album-72157648063462756/” title=”Pere-LaChaise Cemetery”><img src=”https://farm4.staticflickr.com/3861/15376878432_a164224834_b.jpg” width=”684″ height=”1024″ alt=”Pere-LaChaise Cemetery”></a><script async src=”//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js” charset=”utf-8″></script>

My favorite parts of the city were Pere LaChaise cemetery and Notre Dame cathedral. Maybe it says more about me that I preferred hanging out with the dead than engaging with shopkeepers, waiter, or merchants.

Pere LaChaise Cemetery Paris, France

Should you visit Paris? Sure, it’s definitely worth visiting. Especially if it’s your first time to Europe. Would I go back? Probably not, but I’d glad I checked it out.

If you’ve been to Paris, what did you think?  Would you go back? What am I missing?

 

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.

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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)

you see, just 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

30ish things I still need to learn to do

Last week, I wrote about things traveling has taught me.  Today, it’s about things I still don’t know how to do despite my 30+ years on the planet.  When did being an adult get so complicated?

  1. How to dance.–Even though my best friend is a dance teacher.
  2. How to cook anything that isn’t tacos.–I mean I can follow a recipe but those people who can whip up amazing dishes with random ingredients in their pantry a la Chopped!–those people have real talent.
  3. How to flirt.  It is shameful the things I don’t know about flirting.
  4. How to say no to something I really don’t want to do.  I have been on a few dates with people only because I couldn’t say NO without making up something or coming across like a bitch.  I have also done things I  wasn’t overly thrilled about doing just because I couldn’t say no.  And I’ve worked way too many extra shifts and done way too many extra projects because I didn’t want to say no.
  5. How to wear make-up.  You’d think that every female alive would know how to apply make-up properly.  I am not even talking about special occasion make-up.  I don’t even know how to do much more than put on lotion.
  6. How to run. Properly. Seriously, who can’t run.  That would be me.  I have never managed to eek out more than 0.25 miles before collapsing in a heap of rubble thinking Who would do this on a regular basis?” And I have managed to trip over a root and break not one, but two bones while running.
  7. How not to take criticism personally.  I try.  I really do, but when someone say to me “That poem sucked.”  or “that photograph is pretty generic” or “this dish is rather bland” what I hear is “You suck. You are generic and bland.”  and then I think no one likes me.
  8. How to sew. Clothes.  Skin I can manage, and I did learn to darn socks when I was a child, but who does that anymore?
  9. How to air-kiss.  I mean what’s the point.  Kissing should involve lips and tongues and attractive men.  Otherwise, what’s the point…just shake hands.  Or hug.  I only wish people in France, Brazil, or basically anywhere not in the USA [or Japan] would come around to my way of thinking.
  10. How to change a diaper.  And I work with kids.  In a hospital.  Where diapers are being changed constantly.  Who knew people at home didn’t actually weigh the diapers to see how much pee it contained.  They just tossed them away.  So cavilier–these people we call parents.
  11. How to use a budget.  I can set one up just fine, and I always have a very good estimate of how much money is in any given account and/or how much I owe. I am just not every good at following a plan.
  12. How to drive a stick shift.  I am ashamed to admit it.  It has held me back in some of my travels.  I have only owned 3 cars in my lifetime and none of those have been stick shifts.
  13. How to manage time well. I often get distracted by things that are much more fun than the task I am currently doing.  Cleaning out the file cabinet–boring.  Reading all the stuff I found stuff in the file cabinet–much more interesting.  Let’s not even get started about all the things I find on the internet at 3am.
  14. How to have meaningful conversations.  I am sarcastic at times. Snarky even.  I make light of serious subjects.  Humour is a defense mechansim and I use it well.  Becuase when the time comes, how do you really bring up serious conversations.  And if you can manage to braoch the topic–how do you have a honest conversation about the serious parts of life.
  15. How to tell people what I want.  Whether in the more personal aspects of life or the more general.  How do you say no, I really don’t want to go to that party with you.  I’d really rather just stay home.

  • 16.  How to ask for help.  I grew up super independent.  No one ever had to check my homework, wake me up for school, or tell me it’s time for bed.  I probably went years without asking anyone for anything.  Now that I am an adult, there are situations that I am in where I really need help.  At work—you can’t save a dying person by yourself.  At home–Christopher and Lucy need someone to look after them when I travel.  In life–maybe just how to do all these things I don’t know how to do.
  • 17.  How to say I love you.  Especially when I really mean it.  I can tell the kitties I love them all day long, but people–especially the ones I am closest too–saying I love you usually causes me to break out into an episode that looks strangely like a heart attack on an EKG.  But to those people–and you know who you are–I love you.  I am glad you are in my life.  There I said it.  Just don’t think this will be a regularly occurring event.
  • 18.  How to tip people?  I mean why is this even necessary.  [and yes, I have worked in the service industry where most of  my income was from tips]  I am not going to tip someone for getting a bag out of the car for me.  Or turning down my sheets [not that this happens often as I don’t usually take taxis or stay in fancy hotels]  But why should I tip someone for doing their job.  No one tips me when I save their life or their child’s life and I’d argue that CPR is one damn important service.  I don’t even get a ‘great job on the rescue breathing’ or ‘those were some awesome chest compression you did’ so I don’t see the rationale behind giving a tip to the person who cuts my hair or cleans my hotel room.
  • 19.  How to break up with someone.  Hasn’t been much of an issue of late because generally the guys break up with me.  And while that sucks.  At least I am not the bad guy.
  • 20.  How to select produce or meat.  Grocery stores present a huge challenge for me.  I usually walk around looking lost.  And I don’t generally buy more than bananas.  It’s the only thing I know I can’t mess up.  Unless I select a plantain by accident.
  • 21.  How to match shoes and purses with my outfit.  Which is possibly the real reason I don’t carry a purse. Or have a wide variety of shoes to choose from.
  • 22.  How to really work my cell phone.  It’s a phone, people. And that is what I use it as.  Occasionally I use it to look up something on the internet or post something to Facebook, but that’s about it.  I don’t tweet, pin, or do much more from my phone other than talk and occasional text.  I know…I sound so OLD.  [I am getting better at this one though]
  • 23.  How to do cool things on the computer.  Ok, so I have a blog.  I am fairly good with a camera, but Photoshop–I have no clue.  Making cool videos–no idea.  I can crank out research papers with the best of them, but figuring out how to present them using SMART technology is beyond me.
  • 24.  How to work an ipod…or any MP3 player.  I am probably the last person in the USA who has never owned a MP3 player.  In fact, I have no apple products of any kind [see #22–what would I do with an iphone].
  • 25.  How to pack a real lunch.  I always end up packing too much or too little.  It’s never just right.  Especially since I work the night shift at a place that has no cafeteria service overnight, I have to bring everything that I might want. [Well, they do still have soup, applesauce, and milk]
  • 26.  How to walk in heels.  Especially the spiky ones.
  • 27.  How to network. I am horrible at this.  I hate talking about myself in general, and I especially hate promoting myself.  But I have taken small steps to work on this.  Baby steps are better than no steps
  • 28.  How to use a fire extinguisher.  Only because I have never had to.  I have to take the yearly competency exam at work.  I know what PASS stands for, but what if I can’t get the pin out?
  • 29.  How to kick someone’s ass when necessary Literally and figuratively–I struggle with this.
  • 30.  How to properly start a fire without matches –and I call myself an adventurer…[shakes head in shame]

Oh how I love cute little tiny kittens…when they are sleeping.