• People Talk and My Ear Bleeds


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    Wednesday, April 25, 2007

    Medical School Lecturers

    Liveblogging from neurology class...

    Today we're learning about language and higher cortical executive processes. Overall, one of the more interesting things to learn about in neurology. So why is it so boring? And why are there only 23 people, out of a student class over 240, here?

    Medicine is an interesting profession, because it constantly stives for the new -- new medicine, new procedure, new discovery -- while stubbornly and stupidly holding on to the old. This includes surgeons working billions of hours, and didactic learning.

    they grasp didactic learning like a cadaver's hand in rigor mortis grasps a broken tool
    At my school, we see this poignantly. Embracing modern technology, my school has wi-fi in every classroom and videotapes every lecture. This allows students to review the lectures from home, at faster speeds if preferable, or not go to class at all. On the other hand, my medical school stubbornly holds to lecturers in stand alone courses (biochemistry, neurology, etc.) instead of embracing a new, organ systems-based teaching model and moving away from didactic learning.

    Having taught ESL in California and Vietnam, and worked as a Teaching Assistant and tutor in college, I've taught my share of good classes and boring ones. Didactic learning, we all know, is horrible for teaching and retaining material. Having a lecturer stand and speak in monotone about brain hemispheres to many students does very little to help them learn.

    While researching ESL teaching methods and curricula when starting an ESL school in SoCal (at which Xanghe helped), I listened to many audio seminars and read books advocating the benefits of including the student in the learning process. Having students repeat things, connect thoughts, work in groups, perform, and create projects, in addition to using audio, visual, and tactile stimuli together in unconventional ways (songs and poems, demonstrations, props to pass around class) always result in better student scores, and greater retention (not to mention my own opinion of a happier student body).

    Nevertheless, my school is stuck in didactic learning. Slowly medical schools around the country are integrating classes into a systems-based structure, but they grasp didactic learning like a cadaver's hand in rigor mortis grasps a broken tool. Systems-based (organ-based) learning melds the biochemistry, histology, pathology, etc. together in one class as the student learns about one organ system. This makes sense, since a bacterial infection of the liver will influence all of those things--in the liver or circulatory system--and not, in normal cases, your big toe.

    In addition, some professors are gifted at teaching and others aren't. It makes no sense to get the most knowledgeable person on the limbus system teaching it if he or she is dry as the Sahara desert, monotone, speaks incredibly slowly, and repeats his/herself. It is logical to take the second or third most knowledgeable person, who is a much better teacher, because the depth of material we need is not great (we're doctors not PhDs) and overall learning and retention will be much better. Any questions too deep for the lecturer can always be forwarded to the expert anyway.

    Medicine is an interesting profession, because it constantly stives for the new ... while stubbornly and stupidly holding on to the old
    So if you're thinking about medical school, study hard what schools teach what ways, and if possible, sit in on classes. I feel I have regressed back to the stone ages in learning material coming from Brigham Young University to my current school. At BYU, I was mostly in small group classes, with professors that encouraged alternative learning methods. Some of this was my astute choice of teachers and classes that fostered that, and some of it was BYU's emphasis on teaching. Not every class was that way, but the percentage was far higher than the 0% of my current institution. And although my grades aren't horrible, they have definitely decreased.

    Medicine is a fun and exciting field, and the prospect of helping people each day drew me to it. I encourage any who want to help people, and be compassionate, to go for it. But beware the lecturer...the almost extinct beast whose last bastion of strength is the medical school. He may bore you to death.

    Monday, April 16, 2007

    The Heart Beats

    Today, amid all the sadness we've heard, I think I'll blog about a little bit of happiness.

    Today my wife and I saw the OB/GYN and heard the future blogger's heart beating for the first time. The nurse stuck the gel on my wife's belly button, and moved around her "magic wand," and wow! Thump thump, thump thump, thump thump.

    The heart was beating steadily and healthily at 165 beats per minute. FYI, that is normal. Adult hearts beat about 70 bpm, but fetal hearts and newborn hearts beat much faster.

    Some of my favorite quotes of the appointment:

    Me: Did you just go to the bathroom?
    Wife: Yes.
    Me: Why?
    Wife: I had to pee.
    Me: Why do you go to the bathroom every time you come?
    Wife: I dunno. They tell me to pee and I pee.


    Wife: There's life growing inside me!

    A Tale of Two Peoples

    "IT WAS the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way ..." Charles Dickens, Tale of Two Cities, pg.1

    Two weeks ago a Thai court overturned an extradition ruling for Ly Tong and made him a free man. For many people, they may say, "So what?" and they'd be right. Ly Tong is whom??

    I would bet that most people in Vietnam don't know who he is. I would also bet that most older Vietnamese in America do know who he is. You see, Lý Tống has made a life trying to get the Vietnamese to rise up and throw off communism.

    This message reverberates through Vietnamese-American communities. Most of the adults -- the older generation -- came to America as refugees after 1975. When they talk about Vietnam today, there is still sadness, a tinge of bitterness and invective, when refering to the current government. Over ten states and numerous communities in America have recognized the "Vietnamese Freedom and Heritage Flag" as the official flag of Vietnamese-Americans.

    Also,organizations use it in their logos.

    So you can see, that the war, democracy, and the hurt from years of fighting and exile from your homeland is still very much ingrained in the lives of Vietnamese-Americans today. I remember visiting a house of a man who had a big picture of Lý Tống on his wall and the words "FREEDOM FIGHTER" printed above it -- and I didn't think anything of it.

    the exact poster he had on his wall

    But this is a "Tale of Two Cities" so to speak. Before my first trip to Vietnam, I'd never been out of America except to the border towns across the Rio Grande in Mexico, and they don't really count. My only Vietnamese experience was with Vietnamese-Americans, so I naturally based my expectations on that prior experience. In other words, I half expected Vietnam to be a poor country where everyone lived in fear of the government, rushing to and fro quickly, speaking in hushed tones, and hiding as the police rode by.

    In Ho Chi Minh City, I saw a different Vietnam--a Vietnam where people really came and went as they pleased. It was markedly more open than in the North, and NOTHING like what my naive brain had envisioned before I left America. The Vietnamese in Vietnam don't know or care about Lý Tống because they are satiated with what they have. Those in the North fought for the communists. They will not go against it. Those in the South are too happy not worrying about bombs, or standing in long lines for handouts, being in "reeducation camps," or buying things on the black market.

    Economic prosperity has quieted the masses. People are happy because of the foreign investment, the jobs, the opportunity, and the paychecks. Ultimately, the human mind has a very short attention span, and in a world of "what have you done for me lately," the communist government has done quite a lot.

    Foreign investment in Vietnam

    My wife still bristles at seeing that yellow and red flag flying. It isn't her flag. Her flag is the red field with the single yellow star. To her, that is not communism, that is Vietnam--her country, the country she loves. Her feelings mirror most of the other young adults and youth in Vietnam today. They are happy for the progress Vietnam's made, excited about the future. Some are level headed and wish for better, but the majority are quieted by the relative opulence that Vietnam now enjoys.

    And so it is truly a tale of two cities--two peoples. The Vietnamese look at the Việt kiều as another nationality, because in a sense they are. Although they call themselves "Vietnamese" in America, they are at most Vietnamese-American. Their culture has become wholly different. Their history is different (after 1975). Even their language is different (speaking half Vietnamese, half English or "Viet-glish" and using Vietnamese vocabulary circa 1975).

    And in Vietnam you have a new young population that doesn't remember war and food shortages, and who's youthful optimism is buttressed by economic progress and growth of a new middle class. They are learning English as a second language, working for foreign companies, and worried more about the new CD by Mỹ Tâm than the latest actions of Lý Tống. In many of their minds, it truly is "the best of times ..."

    Friday, April 13, 2007

    New Edition to the TBE Family

    As I mentioned in my last post, Vicissitude, life is a series of ups and downs, circling constantly back around on itself. It really is a series of stages of awareness--to self, others, God.

    Along the way, we enter into the vicissitudes of humanity, contributing consciously and without effort, to the upswing in the wave and the downswing. It is a matter of debate whether or not the wave circles back on itself--whether "history repeats itself." It is a greater debate whether we, as individuals, can affect the outcome of humanity on a macroscopic scale. I believe it does repeat itself, and I believe we can change that.

    So, back in January I learned that I was joining humanity as it repeated itself. My wife came yelled at me from the bathroom while I was studying.

    Anh! Come see this!
    This is what I saw:
    "Am I pregnant?" she asked.

    "Well, when are you supposed to have your period?" I replied.

    "This week," she answered. "I haven't started yet."

    "Well then you better wait. The second line is faint. Maybe, maybe not."

    My lovely wife did not heed my advice, quite usual in our family, and used another test the next day.

    Again, I told her to wait.
    "Em, usually the female body does not make that hormone unless you are pregnant, however, I don't know how sensitive the tests are or your specific hormonal makeup, so just wait a week and do it again. It won't change anything." I cautioned.

    Obviously, that did nothing to calm her curiosity--I mean who wouldn't want to know right away if there's a life growing inside them?--but this time she waited (it also helped that she had no more test sticks). On the other hand, I knew pretty well that those tests are 99.99% accurate, and a healthy non-pregnant body should have NO hCG hormone. In all likelihood she was pregnant. That 0.01% wrong is usally a false NEGATIVE, not false positive.

    A week later, she grabbed another box of sticks and tested herself again. The results confirmed my suspicions.

    Needless to say, we were very excited. My wife immediately started dreaming up ways to paint my study room into a nursery, and looking at maternity clothes. I just stared at the wall wondering how I'm gonna do school and be a dad. She didn't want to tell anyone until we saw the ultrasound, but after about one week she broke down and told my mother.

    Then, the second week of March, we went to the doctor and saw the little blogger for the first time. Here is the new edition to The Bleeding Ear:

    The doc forcasts his/her first blog to be about October 22, 2007. We find out the gender in June-ish. (You can see at the bottom of the ultrasound, the new blogger is currently 1.69cm long, at the 8 week mark, and the computer's due date)

    And so, I am now filling the role my parents went through some 28 years ago. My life is definitely on the upslope of the wave. Ah, the vicissitudes of life!

    Tuesday, April 10, 2007


    I was walking with my companion, Thuan, when he stopped suddenly. I turned, a couple steps ahead of him due to my slow reflexes, and noticed him reading a poster. Here in Little Saigon, glossy posters covered with famous Vietnamese faces and advertising everything from plays to Paris by Night were commonplace--more than commonplace. On this particular wall the poster melded into a sea of posters, all taped up with clear packing tape, one right next to--and sometimes on top of--the other.

    (example of the posters I'm talking about)

    For the most part, we ignored the ubiquitous posters, but this time was different. Thuan had found a word he didn't know. We searched are pockets for our faithful "girlfriend Kimmy" (electronic dictionary). "Những nỗi thăng trầm của cuộc đời" or "The vicissitudes of life."

    Vicissitudes...I have never forgot that little moment, and it is just those times that make language live. At that moment on Bolsa Ave. "vicissitude" gained a second meaning outside of the dictionary--that memory.

    The other day, while reading a post on Virtual Doug, I realized one more time how life moves in circles. However, after finishing Block III exams, I realize it's more complicated than that. It's like photons--at once both a particle and a wave.

    Everyone in life deals with vicissitudes while at the same time circling back to where we were before. It's like a wavy circle, if you can picture it. For me, a medical student's life runs in four-week waves. The first week (this week) is very low key, because you're exhausted from the exams you just finished. You sleep 8-10 hours a day, and your schedule is malleable. The second week starts the dip. You start to focus, and play catch-up on what you missed during week 1, because studying is immensely difficult. Week three is near the bottom of the wave. By this time you're in your last week of studying, so every minute is spent looking at a notecard or memorizing some random fact that could be on the test. Sleep has now dropped to four hours a night or less. Time spent with the wife is even less than that. You have a blood caffeine content of probably 0.05%, and you've got sharp headaches from the tension built in your shoulders from reading constantly.

    Week four is actually on the upside of the next wave. You see, taking the exams is horrible, but it's mitigated by the fact that you're now knocking them off one-by-one. No more juggling time to study for every exam--just spend all day on the next one up. Then it's over with and out of mind. Once Friday evening hits, you're back to the top of the next wave, and coincidentally, you've made a circle back to the beginning of the cycle.

    Take a deep breath! You've gotta do it again...

    Sunday, April 01, 2007

    Google's Free Broadband

    Is it real?? I dunno. At first I thought, "cool!" but then I noticed it was after midnight, and that made it ... April Fool's Day.

    So what is it? Well, Google has announced free broadband internet. You sign up and they will send the stuff out to you. Sound too good to be true? Well, maybe not. It's been talked about for a while that Google is doing internet. Something about free wi-fi in San Francisco. They actually actualized (is that grammatically legal?) the plans by providing free wi-fi to everyone in Mountain View, CA at the end of August, last year.

    So, giving out free internet isn't too much of a stretch...

    ...which also makes it the perfect April Fool's Day joke.

    If they had stopped there, they would have had me. But they didn't. I clicked on the install link at http://www.google.com/tisp/install.html. That took me to a page showing me how to install the internet -- THROUGH MY TOILET.

    Awesome. Instead of crappy internet, I can get my internet crappy.

    Sorry .... it's late and I've been studying hard.

    So, in case you think we might actually get super fast internet for free, it's all a joke. You're stuck with the junk we have from our cable companies or DSL providers or AT&T, who all want to charge us an arm and a leg for slower connections than the Japanese and Koreans have, and have the audacity to want to start making the internet a tiered system by preferentially charging websites for faster access by surfers.

    Unless you live in Mountain View, that is.