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Oh, the Places You’ll Go!

March 3, 2013

What follows, is a collaborative effort between my brother (Trip), my cousin (Cameron), and myself…with input, of course, from my mother (Leigh) and aunt (Jamie).

Our grandparents spent the last 30 years making sure we learned all the most important lessons…how essential a bar of Toblerone is; that “it never rains on the golf course;” how to find a stud in the wall; how to make pigs in a blanket; that artwork is always messy, and always imperfect; and the importance of Dr. Seuss…among other things.

We spent many nights sleeping in Grandma and Grandpa’s guest room, all three of us (Cameron, Trip and Cristin) snuggled up listening to Grandma or Grandpa read us a Dr. Seuss book…they had the complete collection. Dr. Seuss was the perfect blend of our grandparents. He was creative and silly, as our grandmother; and smart-witted and quick with encouragement, like Grandpa. And, while I don’t know why this is the case, the following quote, reminds me of those many nights, and the years that followed…perhaps it is because our grandparents couldn’t have been more proud or excited about what each of us had chosen to do with our lives, and how different (and yet similar) we are:

“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who’ll decide where to go…”

– Dr. Seuss, Oh, The Places You’ll Go!

Our grandparents died one week apart, to the hour. It was peaceful, romantic, and we’re fairly certain, the way they wanted to go. For our grandmother, it was after two years of severe Alzheimer’s disease; and for our grandfather, it was after four months of fighting through pancreatic cancer. However, these are not the selves that they would wish for us to remember. And so, in an earnest attempt to send them off knowing we remember them at their best, we have compiled a list of our favorite memories. Without further ado, and in no particular order:

– Grandpa had a love affair with anything and everything that was green. Except for the green that ended up on his dinner plate.

– We don’t know whether to call it organization or a touch of OCD, but Grandma had a lovely habit of folding aluminum foil (washed and dried from a previous use) into tiny little squares, making sure the creases were crisp by running the back of her fingernail across them.  She’d then put these folded pieces of treasure back into the drawer for a later use. She also insisted on cutting cereal boxes in half, fashioning a new cardboard closure mechanism, and stacking them one on top of the other, to save space in cabinets.

– Our grandfather’s favorite goodnight quip: “Goodnight, shirt.

– Grandma’s favorite coffee was French Vanilla, but only from gas station coffee machines (the button kind, if it ever came out of an actual coffee pot, she wouldn’t touch it)…and she insisted on bringing the same paper cup (washed of course) back to the gas station for refills…it saves $0.10, oh, and the environment.

– Grandpa bought a putter for a penny, and used it until he stopped golfing (that’s fifty some-odd years!)

– Our grandmother was the only person we knew who could make a half can of Coke last three days. We’d find them in the fridge, with an appropriately sized straw (yes, she’d cut them too) and a small piece of aluminum foil covering the opening.

– We spent quite a bit of time in Amelia Island, FL, where our grandparents had a condo looking out of the golf course. There are a number of fond memories there, and they follow below:

  1. – Sally the squirrel, who our grandmother insisted on feeding peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to every morning. Sally loved ‘em…she’d sit and wait outside for grandma to come out with brunch.
  1. – We used to take old school bikes and ride along the boardwalk to the “General Store,” where we’d buy ungodly amounts of gum (#sorryma, #notsorry) and stockpile them in brown paper bags in our rooms
  1.  – Grandma and Grandpa used to take us on nightly walks on the beach, just at dusk, and we’d look for sharks teeth…Jamie and Leigh were the best at finding these…we rarely found any that weren’t kicked towards us by those two.
  1.          – 

– Our grandmother was an exceptional artist (we’ll post some of her paintings), but she insisted on using little, crummy, crumpled pieces of paper for much of her artwork.

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– Grandpa and his Playboy Bunny (see below)

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– Grandpa and the Bunny he adored for over 60 years. (Our grandmother’s nickname was “Bun”)

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– Grandma always enjoyed being part of the group…even if she wasn’t really supposed to be. Our best evidence of this is seen in the picture below (coming soon!), taken at Cameron’s fraternity house. It was supposed to be a picture of all the fraternity brothers…somehow Grandma snuck in: “Who’s that lady in the picture next to Chad? A famous Phi Kap?” Nope…just Grandma.

– Grandpa’s Hole-in-One at Essex County Country Club in West Orange, NJ

– Grandma’s love of plastic rain hats…as in the kind given out at the dry cleaners.

– Grandpa’s Christmas bathrobe – worn every Christmas for the purpose of present opening and the making of Grandpa eggs.

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– Grandma’s Hole-in-One

– When helping with homework, Grandpa always would begin by saying, “First, get a BIG piece of paper,” which was ironic given his minute henscratch on itty-bitty pieces of paper.

– Grandma, likely due to being a child of the Depression, was always saving new things (purses, shoes, table linens, etc) for “good” events (which may or may not have ever come)…and as a result, she left approximately 1,000 pairs of perfect kid gloves and a multitude of spotless placemats.

– “No lunch, no nap, no swim.”

This is written with love, admiration and the deepest gratitude, in honor of our grandparents:

       Evelyn “Bun” Grace Cameron Hunziker  July 23, 1923 – February 22, 2013

       Frederick “Freddie” Louis Hunziker   December 15, 1922  – March 1, 2013

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What Happens When You’re Not Looking.

June 7, 2012

People say, “love happens when you’re not looking,” in my case, impromptu fireworks happen when you’re not looking.

But let me get this started correctly for you…

There are few things I enjoy more than a spring/summer evening outside with a glass of wine.

And that is exactly how my evening started.

Being that Pittsburgh is among the nicest places in the Universe, I was enjoying dinner and drinks with my Chief-Resident-to-be (T-minus 7 days) in the courtyard of a serene little Asian fusion restaurant in Lawrenceville.  We had settled into a nice conversational rhythm (discussing anything and everything Pittsburgh), and had placed our orders with Jason – an effusively cheerful waiter with fabulous black rimmed glasses.

Somewhere in the middle of our discussion about creating a monorail between Michigan and Pittsburgh, I heard a noise, followed by a “thud” against my head, With some sort of survival instinct, or perhaps fear, I reflexively picked up my menu, to protect my left ear.  Next thing I know, my menu has deflected a smoking green ball to the ground, where it proceeds to bounce along, finally coming to rest between two tables near ours.  Green smoke is spewing from the equivalent of an iris, as the ball rolls wildly in place (not unlike Professor Alastor “Mad Eye” Moody’s eye in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire).

There was mild commotion, most not knowing what had happened.  The two  30-something-year-old gentlemen (hereafter referred to as Purple Shirt and White Shirt) seated adjacent to us looked quizzically at one another and then at us: “Are you ladies okay?”

Stunned, but not worse for the wear, we both responded in the affirmative, while watching the smoke swirl.

White Shirt: “Should I grab it?”

Me and My Chief-to-Be: “NO!”

Purple Shirt: “Are you sure you’re okay?”

Us: “Yes, yeah, we don’t even really know what happened.”

Purple Shirt: “Oh man! Your reflexes were amazing!”

Me: “Well, they should be cat-like, I’ve only been working on them Hunger-Games- style for the past 27 years.”

Purple Shirt: “Are you a ninja?”

Me: “Um, obviously. Can’t you tell by the bright orange sweater and oversized sunglasses?”

Purple Shirt: “You’re an orange ninja. That’s what I’m going to call you. Orange Ninja.”

Me: “I LOVE NICKNAMES! In fact, I’m going to take that and run with it….might even shorten it to just initials: ON.  Love it.”

Purple Shirt: “Sweet”

 

The mini-explosive stopped spewing it’s bilious smoke, and a waiter manhandled it with a napkin, and brought us another glass of wine.  A plate of guacamole and half a tray of sushi later, we had happily returned to non-explosives conversation.

Orange ninja…”

I didn’t hear it at first.

ORange NINja”

Even the second time I wasn’t sure what was going on.

ORANGE NINJA!”

Third time’s a charm.  I broke conversation and turned to see Purple Shirt (a few sakes deep) waving a dessert menu at us. “We get free dessert because of your reflexes! Want ours? We’re too full.”

It was a very sweet gesture; though we were still working through a spicy tuna and yellowtail and scallion rolls.  It was also at this point, that Jason (remember our fabulous server?) came over, and told the “boys” that we would also be receiving free desserts, so they needn’t worry about trying to pass theirs along.

So, all in all, I’d call last night a success for three reasons: 1) I made three new friends, 2) it’s not everyday that you get hit by impromptu fireworks; and 3) I was bestowed with a great new nickname.

 

What Would Matt Damon Do?

June 7, 2012

Things you need to know before I tell this story.
1. I love my father
2. My father is the most punctual person on the planet…he even walks on escalators (it’s more of a run)
3. My father cannot stand when he doesn’t know the plan…and worse, when the plan deviates
4. We were supposed to leave at 7am, 2 cars…me with Leigh (mother), Ed (father) by himself (because he didn’t want to be slowed down by the inevitable delay 2 women cause)

That’s enough background…here we go:
So, 7am didnt happen…we were close, 7:27, but that was enough to send EMcD almost through the roof (why didn’t he just go, you ask? Good Q…no idea, I think he wanted to make sure we weren’t going to have more fun than he was gonna have)

Anyway, as we pull out of the driveway, Leigh McD declares its coffee time, EMcD informs us he’s going to the bank…fine.

Not fine. Five minutes later we get a phone call from my father, “the Card reader that lets me into the bank ate my ATM card.” He’s hysterical, and pissed because no one is at the bank at 7:36am. Leigh and I drive over to the bank, and in a moment of I-don’t-know-what, I volunteer as tribute (if you’ve read Hunger Games the joke is funnier ), and wait with my father while Leigh gets on her merry way.

So there we are, pacing outside Chase bank in Westport…I pick up his mannerisms so quickly…we stave off people trying to get in, and finally, my dad goes, “stay here, I’m going home to get a knife.”

WHAT?! A knife…seriously? I hardly had the words out of my mouth before I found myself alone in the bank’s parking lot.

No joke, four minutes later (he speeds…and is borderline proud of it)…he comes back like freaking Batman, screeches to a halt and leaps out of the car with a Leatherman.

This is the best part…he then starts using a knife (alternating with scissors…surgery was not a calling) to try and pry the ATM card out of the machine (see follow up email with picture).

Yes, I know what you’re thinking, “Cris, doesn’t that look like he’s robbing the bank?” Yes, yes it does/did. And there was a moment where I thought that instead of Pittsburgh, I’d be spending the night in the Westport jail (We have one…its literally one holding cell) with my father. We got more than our fair share of looks…all the while I’m saying, “Dad, there’s electricity in there…if you get electrocuted I don’t know how to fix that.”

After about seven minutes of prying – to no avail – the bank manager rolls up and “invites” my father in, where he is issued a new card.

It was now 8:34…a full 94 minutes behind schedule (which will effectively be made up for by not stopping to pee and hitting a consistent 92mph). EMcD jumps into the car, and it was like the goddamn Apollo space shuttle…I’m still trying to get over the G force!

Needless to say, we’re somewhere in New York.

Addendum: A full 24 hours after this event, I thought it appropriate to bring it up again, just to gauge exactly what was going through my father’s head at the time.  Boy did I hit the jackpot…I’ll recount the conversation for you below:

Scene: Dinner at a restaurant in The Strip

Me: So, Dad, you got all Batman on us this weekend.

Dad: “What?”

Me: “Knifing the ATM-card reader?”

Dad: “Oh, that” (chuckling) “Yeah, absurd…as we were standing there waiting around I just kept thinking, ‘What would Matt Damon do’…you know, like in the Bourne Identity.”

Me: (choking on a piece of ice) “What would Matt Damon do?” “Seriously?”

(My mother sitting next to me is beside herself with laughter)

Dad: “Yes, seriously…I thought about what he would do, and I went home and got the knife…Matt Damon wouldn’t just let a card sit in there.”

Me: “And I’m done.”

More Spring Cleaning…Revisiting the Past (Part III)

April 11, 2012

Yes, it’s been another afternoon of going through piles of papers…and among them, was this…a short foray into poetry, by yours truly:

“Remember When…”

It used be enough to just color outside the lines?

Then they said you had to stay inside.

It used to be enough to use a #2 pencil to erase mistakes,

Then they said you had to use pen.

It used to be enough to play for fun,

Then you found out what it felt like to win.

It used to be enough to just show up and sit down,

Then you became the teacher.

It used to be enough to hold your ideas lightly, loosely, to modify and change,

Then you became the expert.

It used to be enough to watch the marshmallows melt into cups of deep, chestnut hot chocolate, until they were only wisps,

Then you stopped having the time to watch. 

It used to be enough to put a wooden spoon under your pillow and turn your pajamas inside out,

Then you became the “Snow Day” phone chain.

It used to be enough to shut your bedroom door and drown out the world,

Then the world learned how to turn the handle.

It used to be enough to have someone else tell you you were fine,

And then you became the judge.

Now, there is no “enough.” 

Spring Cleaning…Revisiting the Past (Part II)

April 10, 2012

It’s official. I’m moving to Pittsburgh! And while the last month has brought an onslaught of paperwork and introduced a new level of anxiety, the sheer excitement of the next step is rather overwhelming.  Adding to that excitement, is the fact that I recently found a new place to live (in the ‘Burgh), which means…it’s time to get ready for the big move. I, as many, am anti-moving…the packing, the unpacking, bleh…but it’s for a good cause (i.e. my livelihood) so in the spirit of moving forward, I’m embarking on the “Deep Clean 2012.” Today has largely been spent in my office, surrounded by four years of notes and textbooks…though I stumbled upon a folder entitled, “Georgetown Papers.” It was here that  solid hour was lost, as I reread some of the things I wrote 5 years ago (WHAT?! 5 years already?!). The first paper I pulled was a stream of conscious piece, modeled after Virginia Woolf’s “Mrs. Dalloway,” the surprising part though, was that it was about medicine (admittedly I shouldn’t be surprised, but I was…when I realized what I had written). In any event, I know I’ve been putting up stuff that was written in the past, but this is really a blast from the past…a CMcD original from 2006…(again, keep in mind, this is stream of conscious)

“Insides”

   There was something serene in the sound.  The black tubing connecting inside to out, the ultimate penetration: this is what we all strive for, she thought, knowing what was on the inside.  She saw the skin recoil as the cold metal was lifted and replaced (moved a little to the left).  There was a different sound now, not the quiet swish of air, but a steady rhythm of pounding blood.  The sudden clasp of closing valves and the ensuing surge were like waves gently lapping against a dock.

    In silence they carried the shell to the water.  The sharp (wood-covered) fiberglass dug into lean shoulders, but no discomfort was perceived.  Raising it high above their heads, it was a smooth roll to the dock, a soft noise only as they let her gently rest on the surface.  Sneakers were removed and tossed into a Rubbermaid tub.  Rainwater from the previous night seeped into her socks – this was the beginning: three months ago the ice had lung to cotton, holding it tight for warmth.  She stepped cautiously onto the deck and unwound the oarlock, slid the oar in and tightly secured it.  Facing forward she waited for the command, then lowered herself into the boat.

   It hadn’t always been this easy, the complexity of the motion had threatened to challenge her even on the old machine.  She made it hum like the others, but her legs still jerked up a millisecond too soon, and her arms still pulled with just a little too much force.  But she’d always remember the day it worked, the day that all eight of them were perfectly aligned.  She watched each stroke of those two thousand meters in the wall-to-wall mirror.  She watched them all make the steady, yet forceful change in tempo.  And she felt the acid fill her legs with each push in the third five hundred.

    They had built for this moment, months on the machine keeping track of numbers, every second making a difference.  Spring break had brought endless hours of tuning dynamics and honing team chemistry.  Each race to this point had merely been a practice, a test to ensure their unity and desire. Her heart beat faster than any time before, and the acid in her stomach made a forceful attempt at expelling itself, but she remembered, “mind over body.” She breathed deeply to the sound of “Attention!” It seemed so distant.  She looked at the body in front of her, the “C,” the shoulders, the slight shiver of anticipation. “Row.”

   Their oars slapped the water in perfect unison.  They had done this a thousand times, but they had each only been here once.  The oarlocks snapped harshly with each continuous motion, everything was gone, only motion mattered.  It was simple really, just the one repetition she knew so well, the one motion they had to execute. “Breath” – she had almost forgotten, but the command was loud and firm, she sat up straighter.  A momentary glance sideways saw a black tip edging toward her seat in the next lane, “Push harder on the next one,” she thought. “Up in two.” This was it, the final move, as intricate as chess but requiring unparalleled strength.  It was a fight for consciousness.  The pain no longer mattered, the sounds were no longer heard, only eight breaths, eight minds focused on one thing.  The oars slammed down and with one final propulsion she pushed. 

    Labored breathing ceased as they grabbed hold of each other.  She could feel the steady but rapid flow, the paced pumping.  The sheer exhaustion filled with elation, the nervousness yielding to excitement. 

    The girl coughed.  She was reminded that this little one was not filled with excitement: her rapid heartbeat was sheer nervousness.  She reminded herself to smile, and to warm the metal next time. 

Revisiting the Past (Part I)…

March 31, 2012

I readily admit that my blogging has fallen to the wayside. Life happens…and in the fourth year of medical school, Match Day happens, and that only means one thing: weeks of anxiety mitigated only by boxes of Girl Scout Cookies and daily (almost hourly) social events.  This is all to say, I’ve been rather neglectful of this project. But, I have a peace offering (to any of you out there who still check back once in a while)…I found this “essay” while cleaning my computer files, and so I submit it to you as a place holder until I jump back in this saddle:

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall…(written in April 2009 – as a 2nd year Medical Student)

Days. At least. Well, hours at the very least.  She had practiced and rehearsed it.  She had watched herself in the mirror, watched as her lip quivered less and less with each repetition.  She had anticipated the line of questioning, the chastising tone of her inquisitor.  She had bolstered herself against the onslaught of “you should be’s” and “you could do more’s.” She had shrugged off her mother’s words of encouragement, the kind awkwardness of an adult who is so close and yet…so far.  As she was ushered into the room and handed a clipboard, she knew this was hers to have.

* * * * * *

Day in and day out we have had already begun to see the office as just another room…something of an appendage.  It is an extension of ourselves, rudimentary scripts and a burgeoning muscle memory guide us effortlessly (well, at the moment, effortfully) through the myriad of questions, auscultations, palpations and special tests.  Like our patients, we have practiced and rehearsed – many of us in front of our own mirrors, in the shower, while cooking dinner, with each other, on each other – exactly how our visits will go, all in anticipation of not completely losing it in front of a patient, or even worse, screwing up so badly that they know we are a fraud.

On this particular day however, it wasn’t just me who feared being unraveled.

* * * * * *

What she hadn’t calculated, was the middleman…and in this case, there were two.  “Just, um, just be gentle with her okay? She hasn’t had a good week, and this is really weighing on her.  She doesn’t need you to beat her up over it, and it might be nice if you said something encouraging, something to lift her up a little bit.  I just don’t want her to hear the horror stories…okay?”

Nodding with matronly affirmation, the doctor responded, “Well, I don’t really believe in sugar coating anything…if it’s really something we need to worry about then I’m not going to tell her all is well…you know?” And with that, Mom was sent back to the waiting room.

“So, Jessica, how are you?” “Fine.” Typical sixteen-year-old answer, right on par for the, “you-said-I-have-to-be-here-so-I’m-here-now-let’s-get-this-over-with-so-I-can-go” attitude. Indifference – check. School, friends, sex, drugs and rock-and-roll later, it had finally come to the one thing both parties had been dancing around: “Do you have any questions or concerns for me?” There it was…the opening…if she wanted it…if she could muster it up.  Silence. “You’re Mom said you’re concerned about your weight.”

Done deal.  She hadn’t known that simply hearing the words – even in one of their most benign forms – would set her off.  All of that time, all of the pressure…wasted, wasted as her lip quivered and her eyes blinked furiously to dam the coming flood.

“Do you have concerns about your weight?”

Silence.

“Jessica, I know this is hard for you, but you need to talk to me.”

Silence…and a hiccup…her hands wiped both cheeks, her eyes continued to be fascinated by nothing on the rug.

“Okay, let’s take a look at the chart.”

* * * * * *

Sometimes we have a difficult time figuring out how to best convey our scientific and medical knowledge to the people we are caring for.  I suppose the fortunate thing for me, at this point anyway, is that I don’t really know enough to get lost in the jargon…but I can only hope that as I purchase more books and make more study guides, I don’t lose the ability to speak my native tongue.  Needless to say, sometimes our need to look at numbers and graphs and tables obscures the fact that there is a person sitting in front of us, and certainly, the “How Fat Are You?”[1] chart is no exception.

* * * * * *

“You’re weight is creeping up there, it’s not dangerously overweight, but it is overweight.”

Forget it…composure: lost.

Pride: out the window.

Hating life: certainly reached a new level.

Tears streamed and even a box of Kleenex wasn’t enough.  The worst part? No words…after all the time spent saying it to herself, she couldn’t say what she needed to say…it just hurt too badly.  And so, as the doctor continued to speak for her, to talk about the ways in which she could modify her diet and her exercise, and how sometimes it’s just the “luck of the draw, I mean, clearly I struggle with it too,” Jessica sat, in what I can only imagine was disappointment, shame, anger and spite.

* * * * * *

It is probably a lot to assume the things I have just described…and it is probably unfair to speculate about the emotions of a high school sophomore girl.  But I don’t think that such conjecture is for naught – sometimes I just need to know what it feels like. I wonder though, in trying to feel what my patients feel, if I don’t do myself a bit of a disservice.  Am I then too connected, too into their story to be able to effectively manage their health? Will I be able to get to the heart of the matter when the subject gets tough?

I have managed to figure out (at least most of the time) how to dissociate during emergency situations – distancing myself enough to get the job done (okay, so my “emergency” experience has been admittedly limited, but every little bit counts, right?).  I have not, however, developed the best way to do so during a benign, yet emotional circumstance.  I know that I have a great deal of practice to look forward to, and as there already has been, a great deal of rehearsal in front of mirrors and in showers. And, like Jessica, I suppose that I will have many (valiantly) failed attempts ahead of me, before I get to that one moment, in which it finally clicks.


[1] The “How Fat Are You Chart” refers to the development charts (height, weight, BMI)

Embarrassing Moment #42

February 2, 2012

Embarrassing moment #42 (in brief)  while on my pediatric infectious disease elective:

While discussing the finer points of PO ciprofloxacin versus IV zosyn, my hair gets caught in Dr. X’s fellowship diploma frame…and not only that, the frame falls of the wall.  With my cat-like reflexes I manage to both yank my hair from the frame and keep the mahogany from eliminating the precious few IQ points I’m trying to keep safe.  Once freed, I leave to go, well you know, see patients, and upon my return, Dr. X remarks, “you know Cristin, I think some of your hair got caught in my frame…there were like strands hanging down…I had to take them off, it looked like a serial killer had been in here.”

Thank you very much hump day, thank you very much.