Tag Archives: looking back

Amanda Beard and lessons for young women?

9 Apr

So says this article.

Amanda Beard was my swimming hero growing up.  For as long as I was in swimming, she was the top of my best event.  What she went through with isn’t completely unheard of in swimming, but it’s just so surprising to be reminded that it can happen to anyone, even if you’re at the top.

I don’t normally like to read comments sections, but (trigger warning in the link) Jezebel’s article on Amanda Beard‘s book has some interesting comments, from trigger warnings to the nature of swimming and how the timing of swim careers with body’s natural development make for a complicated relationship with the sport.  I’m reminded of my mom’s genuine concern with my “compulsion” to swim and make it to practice, of my shared laments that “normal people” just don’t seem to understand it’s more than a sport.  Looking back now, after some time away from it, I still remember how emotional it is, but I’m still not sure what to make of it all – whether it was  completely justified or not.  I learned a lot of lessons and my character is largely shaped by the whole experience, but still I’m not sure if I would put my own kids through the same.

Blind mole rats and my first citation

22 Jan

I published part of my MSc research last April. It was my first and only paper, and had taken about an extra year or two after my MSc finished to wrap up all the revisions, run new experiments, write and revise again. I remember being in a hotel room in China during my time on a cleft-lip surgical mission, writing scripts and starting programs on Brian’s computers back at Mac. It passed through three rounds of reviewing and on the final round, one of the reviewers still didn’t agree that the findings made sense but s/he also didn’t seem to understand the experiments. Thankfully, the editor of the journal stepped in and told us it was accepted anyway. It’s tough writing about population genetics and computational biology. It’s like explaining math without using numbers.

So once in a while, I like to look at how many times the paper has been downloaded. Ya, nerdy and kind of self-absorbed, but you’d do it too. After all, many people google themselves (I do that too, but thanks to a Singaporean pop star it doesn’t satisfy my ego), and many others start personal blogs (ahem). Good thing there’s such a fuss about stopping internet censorship because how else would we find out so much stuff about ourselves?

Instead of studying Pharm, I checked on my paper’s views again. And my paper has been cited! The paper citing me is called “Is Evolution of Blind Mole Rats Determined by Climate Oscillations?”. Oh academia. Bonus points for it being a paper about climate change (my paper had nothing to do with climate change).

Not exactly…

25 Nov

Thinking back to memories from Year One back in the UK, and when I was helping the Global Health Committee host Dr.Paul Roux for a Global Scholars Lecture Series on Pediatric AIDS in South Africa.  A great talk.

One of the best quotes from the night was from a pre-lecture chit-chat with Dr.Roux and the rest of GHC.

So why does Grenada need so many doctors?


October 25ths in review.

25 Oct

Blow your mind. At year’s end you should look back at your thoughts and opinions twelve months before and find them quaint. If not, you probably didn’t read or explore or work hard enough. (Come to think of it, this is not a bad rule for life.)- Chris Blattman

2007: Turning 22.  No pants party.

Sums it up. Start of a wacky wild year.

2008: Turning 23:

Family time. End of a wild year, start of a reflective one.

2009: Turning 24.  Biking in Thailand.

Post-MSc, biking along rice paddies in Thailand.

2010: Turning 25.  Boat cruise on the Tyne.

180 1st year med students on a boat.

2011: Turning 26. Studying for exams in Grenada.

Remnants of the S-cookie

Frond's reflection in the fridge, making breakfast.

Basophil Breakfast: eggs, peas, corn and carrots.

Amazing popcorn results. Frondly hand on CPD notes.

Studying for exams, view from the library. Thank you Grenadian Thanksgiving ceremony for reminding me of the sunset!

It’s not funny.

18 Oct

During today’s 8am Clinical Skills and Physical Diagnosis lecture, the professor was demonstrating various gaits and the class would guess which gait he was performing.  There was the hemiplegic gait (one foot sweeps out and around, kind of like a dragging on the floor), the Parkinsonian gait (stooped over, short shuffling steps), the paraplegic gait (scissor gait, criss-crossing legs) and the sensory ataxia gait (i.e. drunk gait, wide steps as if your feet are magnetized to the ground).

Maybe it was because it was 8am and a poorly attended lecture.  Maybe because we all looked disinterested and he was feeling desperate to get us to pay attention.  For whatever reason that seemed good to him at the time, after demonstrating Parkinsonian gait he joked “It looks kind of like a retard. Do I look retarded?”

My grandma died the winter before I started med school from complications of Parkinsons.  It was a slow but dramatic decline that spanned over a decade.  I remember my mom and my aunt arguing with my grandma about why she needed to take her medications.  My grandma didn’t want to because she was afraid of the side effects.  I sided with my grandma because she seemed so upset, and told my mom maybe she should leave my grandma alone because she really didn’t want to take the drugs.  I was about 11.  When I was in high school I went with my mom and brother to see my grandparents off at the airport to Hong Kong.  My grandma was put in a wheelchair for the first time and my grandpa told me and my brother in Cantonese that they loved us.  It was my first time hearing that from them.  They never came back to Toronto.  We finally sold their house this year.  For the last few years before she died, my grandma could no longer shuffle “like a retard” and was completely bedridden.  Her mind was still sharp but she spent her days staring at the ceiling of her bedroom or choking on food during meals.  She had told my mom she wanted to die, and had nightmares every night – another complication of her Parkinsons.  After my masters me and my brother and my mom visited my grandparents in Hong Kong, just as she started bleeding profusely from her GI and was hospitalized.  We spent our mornings and evenings sitting in her hospital room with masks on.  Sometimes she chanted Buddhist prayers under her breath and waved her skin-and-bones arms, sometimes she stared at the cartoons flickering on the TV in the corner, but mostly she slept.  They went in to scope her GI and found food and crushed up pills stuck in her oropharynx.  My grandpa, with his OCD tendencies, could barely get himself to visit her in the hospital because he was so afraid of germs.  She died with my mom, cousin, uncle, grandpa and my grandpa’s secretary in the room.  Me and my brother were outside joking around on my mom’s computer.  I was making a cartoon about him.  My mom came out and said “Paw Paw died.”

She was totally different when I went in to see her, just a body.  I was so acutely aware that her life was gone.  It was scary to look at her.  I thought she might jolt up, zombie-style.  I kept thinking “This is now an object.  We are just objects.”

Ten minutes after calling the Parkinsonian gait “retarded” the prof made a joke about Schizophrenic patients wanting to tear up and eat a sealed and stamped envelope, rather than mailing it like a reasonable person (part of the mental assessment test for judgement) and people in my class who are studying to look after people of all illnesses mental or physical, laughed.

I visited my grandpa last summer, just me.  It was my first time visiting him without my mom there, and he opened up to me about my grandma’s death.  He told me how she was the love of his life, that they were together for 80 years and that she had dropped out of high school to marry him when the war started and he needed to move to Macau to run the family factory.  He told me after she died his heart has been broken and he thinks about her every hour, 24 hours a day.

When school hits reality

13 Oct

One of the things I struggled mentally with in first year med school was how abstract the idea of a “patient” was.  It’s this body, barely even, more like just a presentation.  A patient was a canvas that you could toss any collection of signs and symptoms and lab findings onto, and then you owned the patient and you owned the diagnosis.  But patients don’t really exist, that’s just an idea and label that dissolves away in the real world.

In Microbiology Epstein-Barr Virus has come up a couple times.  It’s found in almost all nasopharyngeal cancers, which has a higher than average prevalence in Asian populations and males.  See how textbook this can sound?  And we’re encouraged to talk this way, to use our anatomical terms and multi-syllabic words that mean simple things like “it’s hard to poo”.  I understand the need to have a scientific grounding and vocabulary with precise definitions and a professional context but at least during the Basic Sciences years (for most schools, the first 2 years of med school), we get used to seeing a patient with nasopharyngeal cancer as nasopharyngeal cancer and not as a person.  It’s when we do cover a condition where you know someone who was deeply affected by it, that you get a reality check and realize that this study of signs, symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, prognosis is someone’s reality.

A good friend of  mine and fine arts grad did a series called “Cancer” which brought me to tears when I first saw it.  Growing up I had heard so much about her dad from her, my parents, and my family friends but had no memories of him.  He died when we were 7 maybe 8 years old from nasopharyngeal cancer and complications of.  In her photoseries, Victoria really brings home what med students need to be reminded of daily: that behind these definitions and X-rays there are fathers, husbands, people who have touched countless lives, who have said silly things, gotten angry, been scared, traveled the world, and have reflected on life.

But yes, feel free to use it however you choose – and just for reference sake (not that you have to mention it), the X-ray imagery is of my dads head scan when they found the tumor in his sinus cavity (he had Nasopharyngeal cancer, I believe), and the photo is of my dad in the delivery room holding Juliet when she was born in Oct. 1990. – V.S.

Today we covered pancreatic cancers.  To illustrate how terrible the prognosis is, the prof posted a picture of a little guy struggling against a sumo wrestler. I remembered visiting my Auntie Grace, such a vibrant woman, 3 days before she died in the hospital.  At her wake she looked so yellow and her face bloated.  I remember thinking the mortician did an awful job “preparing” her because she didn’t look herself; I thought they had stuffed her with cotton balls.  But the yellow was jaundice and the bloat was edema.  I remember so well when she was getting her diagnosis of pancreatic cancer from my mom, with her husband (also a doctor who must have known how terrible the prognosis was) in the room.  I had no idea what was going on and was impatiently waiting outside the office room for them to finish so my mom could take me to swim practice.  Anxious that I’d be late again and get in trouble, I knocked on the door and told my mom angrily that I was going to be late.  Auntie Grace and Uncle John felt so badly for making me late, and my mom was SO PISSED (rightfully so) that I had been such a brat when someone else was basically hearing their death sentence.

Medicine vs pancreatic cancer

I swam for a swim team last year while in the UK.  My swim coach had just received a diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis a few months before I started swimming.  As we learned about it in class, about the gradual course of blurry vision, then paralysis, total body shut down, I thought how hard I would find it to have so much information available about something that is happening to you, but no way to stop or slow it.  It was my first time feeling, as I’ve felt many times now through school, that this job although I’m sure it will be rewarding, will be really hard emotionally as well.

Clean an inbox, accept a change.

7 Oct

The National Stadium

Grenada is really great!  Although.. I haven’t had as many opportunities to leave the area around campus since August.  School has picked up quite a bit since I first arrived in June (from now until December they say is the heaviest part of the coursework) so most of the time I’m indoors in the cranked up AC (they say it’s to keep mould out but it seems ridiculous that there are students wearing coats and sweatshirts here) surrounded by stressed out North Americans.  Now that I’ve been here longer I’ve had more time to experience the less favourable parts of living in the tropics (humongous cockroaches and invincible mosquitoes) but once in a while when I’m walking down the hill on campus I’ll get a view of the green hills and colourful houses or pink sunsets and be reminded of how nice it is here!  I’ve been playing some soccer with a group of girls here, just a practice once in a while.  Last week we played against the Grenadian National team (not joking!) at the national stadium as an exhibition game to open for a men’s team tournament.  We thought we’d be clobbered but we actually won (2-1)!!  We didn’t even have a goalie going into the game, but luckily their substitute agreed to play for us and was really amazing.

How are things going in the lab? I hope you are enjoying the fall time (I miss it!)
– Steph

On 6 October 2011 16:23, ex-MSc Supervisor wrote:Sure … I have removed that.

Still have you done for jobs.

What is Grenada like or are you still in England?

MSc Super

On Thu, Oct 06, 2011 at 03:15:15PM -0400, Stephanie Sun wrote:
> Hi MSc Super!  Hope all is going great.
> Just a quick message that I’d like to change my settings to the mailing list <that was relevant to my previous life as a grad student when I was about to graduate but not sure where to commit myself and strangely even though I’ve started medical school and picked a different path I’ve been willingly filling my inbox with the messages because I like looking back on new opportunities for a past part of my life and sometimes those opportunities still excite me and make me wistful for those days when I was scared and excited about how I didn’t know where I could end up and what I could be doing> to be removed from the grad student positions message list.
> Thank you!
> – Stephanie

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