Sunday, February 21, 2016

Blessed are the Cheesemakers

"Blessed are the meek. Oh that's nice, I'm glad they're getting something, they have a helluva time."-The Life of Brian

I keep trying to wrap my brain around gravitational waves. Take a minute and watch this video: (which I like to call) a brief history of physics for idiots like me.
The only thing I must disagree with in the video is the assertion that Earth, Wind and Fire (and Air) are "hooey".

There is a weird thing that happens with age, or at least it is this way for me. I am both less able to believe in anything and more open to the fact that anything could happen at any time. I can give concrete examples:
When I was 14 I believed the only thing I needed to beat Suzy Favor in a cross country race was guts. Turns out this was false. I mean, she could outrun a guy with a chain saw. I do not know what I was thinking.

Today, some number of years later, I woke up not believing I could run even a step, and that the only reasonable thing to do on my last day of vacation was to stay in bed. Yet, I ran. 12 miles, which is something like 14000 steps. Anything can happen, at any time.

Back to gravitational waves. One interesting thing to me is how they were heard as a sort of rising chirp. This could've rose to any one single tone. But it did not land on a sexy note, nor a particularly unusual note. It landed on middle C.

For those that escaped piano lessons (it is never too late, by the way!), this is the note your piano teacher will have likely introduced first, and one that you will always come back to like a well-worn teddy bear or a favorite novel.

I am not saying middle C is any better or any worse than any other note. But what does it mean to be the theme song for a ripple in the space-time continuum? I just don't know.

In the meantime, there was another shooting spree today, this time in Kalamazoo, MI, where I spent many a summer holiday visiting cousins, aunts, uncles, and the matriarchal Oma of our clan. Kalamazoo for me is the ice cream truck (creepy, but delicious), Aunt Teddy's cooking, and sleeping in my sleeping bag next to the grandfather clock which comfortingly chimed the hours. How can the very same species that allows scientists to study something as outrageous as the theory of relativity with laser interferometers (which, let's face it, not too many of us, even those of us that believe education is important, have a clue what that means) also believe that freely carrying guns meant to kill other human beings is acceptable?

Maybe it gets to that thing about youth versus experience with life: you can believe many things despite the evidence as a youth, and yet doubt the subtle brilliance of scientific breakthroughs or that finding love again is even possible. With a tad of experience/age, you actually start to disbelieve that which has been proven wrong again and again and again (guns make us safer). But you can hope for a better world, as you suspect there are some smart cookies out there with compassion and, in the case of this whole gravitational wave thing, pretty decent grades in physics class.

Statistically speaking, the use of statistics never convinced anyone of anything, unless they had an open mind in the first place and also had a healthy dose of nerd in the fabric of their being.

I used to believe people were born to be good. Be a peacemaker, and your children will figure that is a good idea too. Have a sense of care for your community and it will care for you right on back, and you won't have to go to church or the grocery store or elementary school or restaurant or ride Uber with fear in your heart. I have been accused of naiveté more than once and I suppose I will be again. And therein lies the subtlety, the openness to the potential of compassion and forgiveness. Go ahead and laugh, I am used to this, being a bald, eyelash-less mother of 3 teenagers who has an autoimmune skin disorder and a very goofy sense of humor and an olympic-level standard poodle (in the burping competition) and the audacity to suppose I actually belonged in Osler's days of medicine rather than the present, with its "meaningful use" and dysfunctional EMRs and complete denial of death as a part of life. Also, I once ran neck in neck for almost a mile with Suzy Favor. You shoulda seen the look on her face!

The think about gravitational waves, automatic weapons, long distance running, education, Dr Osler and the vocal range of Philip Bailey (see above, Earth Wind and Fire video, yeah let's hear you try that), is none of it matters unless we show compassion to each other. I don't mean to get preachy here, but I am, after all, a Pastor's Kid. Also the niece of 6 pastors, and the granddaughter of yet another one. Plus some cousins. My father made Bernie Sanders look slightly conservative. He preached compassion and peace and was willing to keep his head held high, even when people threatened him for his views. Once I received a phone call from a man threatening to come and shoot my Daddy dead, in regards to something to do with homosexuals (though I am sure he did not use that nice of a term). I was maybe 8. I was already unimpressed by the grammar, but also remember this moment as the first time it dawned on me that there were some real whack jobs out there, and they had guns.

So how does one move forward? One step at a time. And make sure you are wearing your fitbit, Garmin, Apple Watch or have one of those apps on your phone recording it so you get credit for every single step.

Also, laugh. And don't pick your nose.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

God Bless the Child

"God bless the child that's got his own."-Billie Holiday

I am thinking of writing a book on parenting, as I am an expert. Or as much as an expert as any other fool out there who thinks they can tell everyone how to properly raise children. I have three children. One biological, 2 adopted. Adopted from abroad, adopted from here in the USA.

Adopting children requires a long process of meetings with social workers, writing essays about parenting techniques, having background checks, getting physical exams by one's physician, and sometimes travel. If you are lucky, you get to communicate with the biological parents.

Birthing a child requires sex, a uterus, some luck (or lack thereof, depending on your perspective I guess), a high pain tolerance, and lifelong access to hemorrhoidal relief.

Raising a child requires showing up.

There! My book is written. I'm gonna sit back and wait for the royalties now.

What, I wonder, defines success in parenting? In the ancient times, or even the first half of the last century, this would be defined by your kid living to see 18. Now we would probably (at least here in the US) see this as the bare minimum. If you go by what they say in the doctor's lounge, success is:
1) your child winning the state science fair, and pretty much being a shoe-in for the next Nobel prize
2) your child attending an Ivy League college and having a dazzling smile and being the state champion in their chosen (or forced upon them) sport
3) your child being a doctor when they grow up, but a richer and more successful doctor than you

Surely I jest. Because as anyone who knows me knows, no one could be richer or more successful than I.*

I take care of elders, as a doctor. And what strikes me is that even the oldest of old continue to think and worry about their children. Parenting is a lifetime gig. Sometimes, the roles reverse, as frailty and dementia can turn the relationship all cattywampus. And this must be hard for the children, as they want their parents to be in charge. They want this, except for that time between age 12 and 20. Because, as we all know, parents are idiots during those particular years.

I will not divulge the secrets of my children here. I love them dearly and wish for them the best. The very best.

Billie Holiday was, I believe, tongue in cheek with her God Bless the Child song. I think it meant to say that
1) the bible talks about love and justice for all, but no one seems to want to actually follow that part of the bible
2) "my Mom really pissed me off"  (maybe this is apocryphal, but the story suggests she argued with her Mom about money, and this song came out of that)

So what is the very best, in terms of hopes for children? And what the heck does this have to do with redwoods and running? Well, to answer the second question, I am a better Mom when I run regularly, and I raised my children among the mighty redwoods. I strongly believe that they will always find themselves rooted in the strength of those trees.  To answer the first, this is my hope for my children:

1) Leave the world a better place than you found it.
2) Don't do drugs. Not even pot.
3) Do not smoke cigarettes, as they will surely make you miserable in the long term.
4) Read a lot of books. They make you better able to understand everything, and they make good company when you are bored or lonely.
5) Follow your passion.
6) Please do not put me in a nursing home.
7) Eat vegetables and fruit as often as humanly possible.
8) Travel as much as you can!
9) Call or write or text. I like to hear from you.
10) Exercise daily

#10 may be the most important of all.

My parenting advice?
Don't take yourself too seriously, and always make sure your kids get enough sleep.

There, that's the sequel to my bestselling parenting book. Now I can retire and follow #5 of my 10 hopes as noted above.

My passion? Running, piano, love. Well, to be honest I kinda like the whole doctoring gig too.

Take it, Ms Holiday:
*I am neither overly successful nor particularly rich, but I do like rich food and I twice broke 3:30 in the marathon.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016


"You cannot play it fast until you can play it slow" said every piano teacher ever. I tell my medical students and other healthcare students the very same thing. Because it is true. Do not rush through the physical exam when you are still learning. Take your time, starting at the head and noticing every little thing, normal and abnormal from head to neck to chest to thigh to knees to toes.

You notice things when you run slowly. Your weaknesses. Your breath. The color of the dirt under your shoes. The little flower abloom in February in the crack in the sidewalk, which still freaks you out, as you are from Wisconsin, and blooming flowers in February is miracle material.

When you run slowly, you can run forever, or so it seems.

When you run slowly, you lose races.

A doctor in practice, a musician on the stage and a runner in races must go at the appropriate speed. We call it the tempo. Which is the relative speed, derived from Italian for "time" and Latin "tempus". Like tempus fugit (time flies). The temporal lobe of the brain is involved in memory, speech, perception and language. Tempo runs, per Hal Higdon, are the "thinking runner's workout." Run fast, building up to like a 10K pace, and feel some pain. That is my personal definition of a tempo run:"Feel some pain."

How much pain is involved in developing speed in any particular endeavor that is important to you? Well, I suppose that depends on your :
1) talent
2) guts
3) tolerance
4) perception

Which is to say, the temporal lobe, genes, stupidity, and physiology has a lot to do with your tolerance for a good, hard tempo run. And a good, hard race.

When you run fast, you notice what hinders your speed. Today, it was some large rocks that threatened my recently sprained ankle with another nasty turn. Also, a deep lake-like puddle with a squishy mud path along the edge. There was traffic and curbs and hills and potholes and self doubt. Speed is complicated, because we do not want to fall, physically or mentally. We do no want to fail. We do not want to have our Strava feed look pathetic. We have secret goals and when we declare them publicly, people might laugh or scoff. Scoffing might be the worst human attribute ever. Along with taking Donald Trump seriously and lack of compassion toward others. Which, come to think of it, may be one and the same.

I have this patient with Parkinson Disease, who has adapted to the spastic and frankly frightening movements the treatment for their disease has caused. Imagine having your limbs flail everywhere at once while you are just trying to sit still or take a few steps here or there. Imagine the outrage of fellow humans watching you flail. They wonder if you are OK. Are you insane? Are you about to fall down? Should I assist you?

Speed of movement is the saving grace of this patient, even if it scares the rest of us half to death. Speed is a bad drug, v=d/t per Galileo, this and success, in the old terminology of Godspeed.

Once, years ago, I was riding bikes with my eldest child. She is a Zen Master, if ever there was one. She was pedaling along, and I finally lost my patience with the slowness of her progress. As I sped by her, she called to me "Mommy! Just remember, slow and steady wins the race!"

It does, it does not. We are creatures of swiftness, and we are not.

The best runners have the slowest resting heart rates. The fastest way to a demise is to go to quickly on a path you do not understand or revere. Speed with reverence. Speed with respect. Speed with understanding. The only way to success. When you realize nothing is lacking, the whole world belongs to you. Or something along those lines per Lao Tzu.

Steve Prefontaine died at age 24. He is reported to have said : "The only good  pace is suicide pace, and today looks like a good day to die." Is this suicidal ideation or striking fear in the heart of competitors?

For a 46 year old doctor, mother of 3, working full time, overweight, with an autoimmune disease and utter lack of confidence, what does speed mean? You would think being bald and almost hairless would offer some kind of advantage, speed-wise. You would think the discipline gained in practicing piano 8 hours per day and being on call for 48 hours at a time would offer some kind of advantage, strength-wise. You would think that being surrounded by what my daughter has describes as a "book moat" and being the chair of an ethics committee would offer some kind of advantage, wisdom-wise.

All I can say is I keep trying to show up. I find inspiration in the feats of others-local, regional, nationwide and internationally. I would like to find some kind of inspiration from outer space, but my telescopic lens is limited. My imagination is endless though. It sees beyond my physical and mental and emotional and age-bound limitations. I would really like to run a sub 3 hour marathon before I die. Go ahead and laugh at me, because it is a truly ridiculous goal.

And why do I care? "No trophy, no flowers, no flashbulb, no wine". Just going the distance, and going for speed.