Monday, June 30, 2008


Okay - so some of you have contacted me asking me to provide further explanation of what my lecturer meant.

He had had some students in his office because they had failed all their exams. But he wasn't going to have me in his office because I failed all my exams. Why? Because I didn't fail all my exams.

Think of it like this - I thought that what he said was equivalent to "Because PTR has failed all his exams we won't have him in our offices". Whereas he thought that what he said was equivalent to "Because PTR has not failed all his exams we will not have him in our offices like all the people who are in our offices because they failed their exams."

Here's another way to think of it: linky

Let us never speak of this again.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

The Inner Mollusc

Last night our house was attacked by ferocious space aliens, who shot a ray-gun through the walls and into our brains and turned us into lethargic, pudding-like creatures so primitive we were incapable of getting off the couch except to get more food. It was astonishing.

We ate ourselves into a bit of a stupor because my Smaller Half had impulsively bought an enormous bag of mussels at the markets that morning. Of course, they had to be cooked and eaten that night otherwise they might have gone funny. She poached them in a chilli, tomato and chorizo sauce, then dumped the whole lot over the top of an equally enormous pot of pasta. Delicious.

The funny thing about mussels is that they taste great but they are really really ugly and they make me feel a bit nauseous if I think about them at all. So I have to extract them from their shells and hide them inside a twirl of pasta and act as if nothing at all unusual is going into my mouth. Then it's fine. But if I start thinking about them, if I start wondering what all the funny bits are inside them that seem to be all different colours and shapes, then all bets are off. I will soon be trapped at the table chewing each mouthful 412 times because the idea of swallowing makes me want to vomit. Which is annoying for something so yummy. For this reason I actually prefer scallops - the Chicken McNugget of the sea.

Scallops: am I the only person in the world who thought that they were made out of potatoes until they were surprisingly old? (Man, since I wrote that post about parsing sentences wrongly I keep looking at my writing and seeing all the ambiguity. Like that sentence above - I meant that the scallops were made of potatoes, not me. And it's me who was surprisingly old, not the scallops. Or the potatoes.)

Saturday, June 28, 2008

No animals were harmed in the writing of this entry

Cat wrestling. Ain't it grand? As a result of our Secret Cat's recent trip to the vet, we have some tablets to give her.

[Total sidetrack here - when the vet rang up he told me that he hadn't been able to detect any worms in her poop sample, but he'd like to give her some antibiotics which would also be effective against giardia. At this point I had a moment of pure nerd-like enthusiasm for my study, since I knew that he would almost certainly be giving her metronidazol, an antibiotic which is effective against anaerobic bacteria in the gut and against giardia! I was so happy when I checked the side of the vial of tablets and I was right!]

You need to know at this point that our Secret Cat is very small. She weighs less than 3 kilos. (Not sure what this is in imperial measurements, but it's roughly 12 furlongs I think) She isn't emaciated or absurdly lean or lacking any body parts, she's just scaled down. Think of the most beautiful Burmese cat you've ever seen. Now imagine looking at that cat from a distance. That's what our cat looks like.

Anyway, the reason it's important that our cat is very small is that these tablets are very very large. I think they would be uncomfortable for ME to swallow. They are about a centimetre across at least (that's eight-twelfths of a dram for you Americans). Maybe these things are designed for horses, but it seems grossly unfair to expect a cat to swallow something roughly the width of her neck.

In any case, our cat is extremely averse to taking tablets. My Smaller Half and I really struggle to get anything into her. Among previous adventures are:
  • Her biting through my mother's thumbnail when my mother tried to demonstrate how easy it was to get cats to take tablets. (This is even more amazing when you remember that the Secret Cat has only three teeth, none of which oppose each other in the mouth)
  • My father being unable to administer a tablet despite his agricultural certainty that no animal would defy him (I think my father had a 30-fold weight advantage, although the Secret Cat outdid him in volume, going up to 11 at least).
  • Us totally chickening out and taking her to an emergency vet so the vet would make her take the tablet. The vet vanished into the back room and came back in about 3 seconds, assuring us that it was very easy! What!!?? Maybe the vet misunderstood and took the tablet herself! Or maybe she thought it was a suppository? Hmm...
But these days we use the Tripartite Method suggested by my sister, who is a vet. The three arms of the Method are:
  1. Wrap the cat in a towel so it can't fight back with its claws.
  2. Coat the tablet in butter so it slides down the hatch easily.
  3. Once the tablet is in the cat's mouth (ha ha, he laughs hysterically, it all sounds so easy) hold the cat firmly and leap into the air several times, causing the cat to reflexively swallow.
And it works! Astonishing!

Although to be honest it does require a few extra steps, such as:
1a: Take off your expensive woollen top which has just had all the threads pulled out of it and wrap the cat even more firmly in the towel.
2a through 2j: Pick the tablet up from where cat just spat it and start again.
2k: Resolve argument with partner about exactly how the cat should be restrained, and exactly what is the best way to pop the tablet into the cat's mouth, and why the person currently responsible for performing said task seems to be so inept at it.
3a: Wash your wounds thoroughly and apply pressure to quell the bleeding.
3b: Apologise profusely to the cat and promise to never do it again.
3c: Repeat for 2 weeks.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

...he's failed all his exams

I was at uni today for a meeting of a committee I sit on. When I walked in, there were only two other people there yet, both of them being lecturers of mine from last semester. One of them said hello to me, then said casually to the other, "Well we won't have [PTR] in our offices because he's failed all his exams".

At this point my heart stopped beating. The other lecturer must have seen the look on my face because he started laughing and said, "Too many negatives in that sentence!". It turns out that I had parsed the sentence incorrectly.

I heard this:
We won't have (PTR in our offices), because (he's failed all his exams).

Whereas my lecturer meant this:
We won't have (PTR in our offices because he's failed all his exams).

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Oh, and one more thing

I passed my exams. Hooray!

And he clicked his ruby red slippers together...

... and I'm back to normal again. Phew!

Caught a tram into town today to go to the bookstore to buy an impromptu present for my Smaller Half. I bought her Shaun Tan's Tales From Outer Suburbia. It's a kids book, but entertaining for adults too, if you don't mind the whimsical and fanciful. I now have my eye on another of his books, The Arrival. It has no words at all. Yes, it's a picture book, but let's call it a graphic novel for young readers.

While I was in the bookshop I ran into one of my Esteemed Colleagues who had recently read some of this stuff I spew forth. She was kind enough to say complementary things about it! Thank you Esteemed Colleague! And may I also say thanks for carrying me through the first half of the year - your expertise in tutes was invaluable. Anyone who can diagnose agammaglobulinaemia right off the bat is okay in my book.

Then this evening we took our Secret Cat into the vet because she'd produced an unpleasant bloody mess on the floor. I was going to post a picture, but ... yuck. Of course all the alarm bells ring, but at this stage I am hoping she just has worms. Poor little thing is 16, equivalent to an 80 year old person. The vet is very good. He listens carefully and you never feel like he is trying to rush you. He may have picked up that we were both in some kind of health field because he started talking about tumours and euthanasia and so forth in a very matter of fact way. Not brutal or careless, but respectful of our intelligence and ability to understand what he was talking about. (He was saying that the bad outcomes are still unlikely at this stage. Fingers crossed)

Anyway, as we were about to drive off a little old man appeared at the window of the car. It gave us both a nasty surprise. If we lived in L.A. I would have just shot him dead and driven off, but here in Adelaide it's not the done thing, so I got out to help him. Turns out he was a little old Italian gentleman in his 70s or 80s and his car had been sideswiped by a truck, peeling off the right front corner like a banana skin. He was a bit thrown I think, as he seemed a bit overwhelmed so I took him into the vet clinic and asked to borrow their phone, we called the police, I had to do most of the talking because he was so very deaf, then I waited with him until the police came. He couldn't see very well in the dark and he was worried that the police wouldn't find us, but they did. His wife clasped me by the hand and told me what a lovely man I was, and they insisted that I give them my phone number. So sweet. Turns out he came to Australia back in 1952. He was a stonemason in Italy, but couldn't get much work there because it was always raining in summer or snowing in winter where he lived up in the mountains. So he came to Adelaide! I hope it all worked out okay in the end. His car was pretty banged up.

So, my advice to you if you're feeling down is to give someone else a present, get complemented unexpectedly, be given help by someone, and give help to someone else who needs it. It turns the world the right way up again!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008


In short, in a foul mood. Hope you weren't expecting anything interesting. I almost decided not to post, but in the end decided that if Clever, Happy, Funny and Interesting have a place here, why not Angry, Irritiable, and Dopey too?

Inexplicable. No good reason for it, though of course when I am in such a foul mood it is easy to cast around and lay blame on whatever is nearby or whatever I have been doing recently. But to be honest with myself, no - it's not really any of those.

Maybe it was something I ate.

Has something I ate EVER put me in a foul mood before? Not to my knowledge. On the other hand, things I've eaten have certainly elevated my mood before (eg: very strong coffee, dark chocolate, my smaller half's cooking), so the inverse is not out of the question.

The really annoying thing is that it's made me really question what the hell I am doing trying to be a doctor. Why aren't I working? Earning money? Having free time? Having friends? What's REALLY pathetic about me right now is that I'm in the middle of a two week holiday. You'd think I'd be relaxed and happy.

Tomorrow is another day. Let's see what it brings...

Sunday, June 22, 2008

The best time of day

The best time of day is dusk. Although to be honest maybe it's more specific than that. For me, dusk means the whole thing between when the sky goes red as the sunset begins, and when it's cold and dark. My favourite bit of dusk is the hour or so after the sun has set, and the sky goes deep blue, or sometimes green, like the colour of the ocean.

Funny thing is, I usually miss the best bit of the day, because I am inside. Inside, you can't appreciate it at all. All you see is your own light reflected back at you from your windows. All you see is yourself, and all your stuff, in your house. Outside just looks black, like it's not even there.

If you're outside, you can sit for ages just staring at the sky, watching it get deeper and deeper but somehow not be dark at all. Then you walk inside for a moment to get something, maybe a camera to photograph it, and when you come out again it's gone.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

New poll

I took the above photo at the local polling station on the day of the federal election last year. Go democracy!

Thanks for all seven of your votes in my previous poll. Oh wait, I voted twice somehow, so thanks to the other 5 of you. Unless there's really only 1 of you and you're just really enthusiastic. Anyhoo, it seems that you all shared my confidence that I would pass my exams. When I find out if I did I'll fling something up here.

In the mean time, I find myself at a sudden loss for what to write about. So to the right there is a new poll seeking your feedback on how I should focus my mind. Vote soon, vote often! That's how democracy works!

Monday, June 16, 2008

I like gravel

Done! Sorry for the delay in posting. By my reckoning I've been asleep for about 70% of the total time since last Thursday lunch. The last exam was fine. Although there was a section worth 25% of the total on refugee health issues that I hadn't done any study at all for because I forgot about it. Whoops!

Was sitting in the sun today thinking to myself how awesome gravel is. Think about it - you reach down, pick up a piece of gravel (is there a word for a piece of gravel apart from "rock"? There should be) and chuck it a bit further away from you, onto some other gravel. You can still see it, right? Now look away for a few seconds, then look back. The piece of gravel you threw is gone. Indistinguishable from the other gravel. It seemed so special, but it was all an illusion.

Maybe people are more like gravel than we like to think.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Almost there...

Two down, one to go. Tomorrow is the consolation exam. The Clayton's exam. It's not really, of course, but it's difficult to avoid thinking of it like that. Unlike the previous two, tomorrow's test is not science-based. It's on cultural awareness and health psychology. Well, I suppose you could argue that psychology was science based ... if you were a psychologist perhaps. Snort! We kept getting these strange slides with circular definitions like, "Stress is the condition induced by a stressor. Stressors are the things that induce stress". Or, "The problem with the allostatic load theory of stress and disease is that there is no empirical evidence for it". Hard to take that too seriously.

Cultural awareness, on the other hand ... where to start? Perhaps by saying that I think that this subject is very important and trying to learn it rather than experience it seems futile, and trying to assess it by exam rather than assignment or clinical practice seems perverse. Nevertheless, I am sure that these sorts of issues have been considered by the faculty, and I realize that things that seem obvious and practical to an individual aren't necessarily easy to arrange for a class of more than 130 students. Oh well. I've resigned myself to writing a mediocre essay in the exam and passing. To be honest one good thing that came out of this subject is I actually bothered to read a book on the recommended reading list for the first time in my approximately 10 million years of formal education. It was a great book and I highly recommend it to anyone who hasn't read it.

Read it if you think you don't understand the cross-cultural issues between mainstream Australia and Indigenous Australia. Read it if you think you do understand. It's down to earth, to the point, written by someone with years and years of experience of dealing with this stuff. It's called Why Warriors Lie Down And Die by Richard Trudgen.

As for health psychology, hmmm. Read Influence by Robert Cialdini. It's a beaut. No substitute for not turning up to lectures obviously, but much better for dinner party conversation.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The Studyingest Student

Today's been a real up and down day for me. Exam in the morning. I opened up the paper and was ... not happy, but relieved that it all looked manageable. I had about 5 minutes of panic when I started writing and out came gobbledegook because I was trying to write everything I was thinking at once. So I stopped, took some deep breaths, took some more deep breaths, realized I was about to start hyperventilating, stopped breathing for a while, then started drawing some diagrams on my scratch-paper. That helped a lot because I am predominantly a visual thinker so I was able to unclog my thoughts a bit. After that it was mostly fine.

I say mostly fine because there was the odd moment when I got confused over something being (for example) stimulatory or inhibitory, so I'd cross it out and correct it, then come back to it later and cross it out again and uncorrect it, and so forth. As long I got the parity of my corrections right I'll be fine.

So I'm sure I passed that one. Phew!

Went off to have lunch with my smaller half as part of my patented post-exam relaxation period. Great lunch at Boho on Unley Rd. I really like this place, especially their half-price lunches. Even better, they were playing jazz rather than pop-crap so it was a very relaxing atmosphere.

Which makes this afternoon somewhat inexpicable. For some reason I became overwhelmed with negativity regarding my exam tomorrow. It seemed completely unassailable. I tried to work, but alas, I couldn't. I wiggled my brain. My brain just wouldn't. I fell on my books. I fell on my face. I fell on myself all over the place.

I slept. Didn't work. I ate. Didn't work. I came and read my notes and thought, "hmpf" a lot. Played some scrabble. Played some chess. Hmpf. I slept again. That worked a bit. Came back out and read notes again. Started to feel better. Thought that maybe if I just had a good old fashioned whinge on my blog I would feel heaps better.

And I do. Thanks! On with the study! 13 hours to go until Immunology...

Monday, June 9, 2008


A brief haha - I kept re-reading this sentence in my notes that made no sense to me. "Only unionised drugs will be absorbed from the gastrointestinal tract." What?? How can a drug belong to a union? Is there a picket line? What are the fees? What impact did Work Choices have on pharmacists across Australia?

Then I realized that what they meant was "un-ionised" drugs - ones without an electric charge.


T minus 13 hours and counting

Tomorrow! Tomorrow! I love ya Tomorrow! You're always a day away!

At 9 am tomorrow my first exam starts. I'll be fine. Unless the exam focusses on the urea cycle in which case I'm in serious trouble. But if it does, I reckon about 95% of the class will crash and burn with me, so I'm not really concerned about it.

I single out the urea cycle because I was just looking through some past exams and there was a question about it. I looked it up in my lecture notes because I hadn't covered it yet - and it was complex enough that I immediately went "pfft!" and decided to skip it.

Do you think that sounds too slack? I've become what I thought I would not become - a student focussed on passing exams rather than learning things. I am tempted to say, "Next semester it will be different!", but we've all heard (and said) that before, haven't we?

Nevertheless, I think in the last 17 weeks I have learned more, faster, than I ever have before in my life. It's easy to be hard on myself and say that I should have done this or that, but in reality I worked pretty steadily all the way through (with the odd exception here or there). And even with the odd exception, I have worked hard to make that ground up.

This has lead me to be in a strange position now. I don't really know what to study anymore for tomorrow. I've kind of covered everything I want to. Maybe I'll spend the evening watching Blade Runner err I mean reading over my notes one last time. Can't hurt I guess, and I'd certainly feel like a dill if I didn't, and something went Terribly Wrong.

By the way, if you haven't voted yet in the poll to the right, please do. I'd like some moral support.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Weeks 6 & 7: Why you are fat

Weeks 6 and 7 were for me the hardest weeks of the semester. We plunged deep into the brambly ravine of biochemistry. I was separated from the party when I dropped back to get a rock out of my brain. Night fell. I wandered cold and lost, far from home. There was nothing to eat except glucose and lipids. Oh, and some ketones, but not until all the lipids were gone and I was starving. Sharp thorns from the palmitoyl trees scratched me as I stumbled blindly through thickets of triglycerides.

Enough dramatics. Just let it be known that this is not my strong point. I'm planning to go into the exam and write things like "Insulin makes you fat! Glucagon makes you thin!", for which I will get zero marks, because it's patently untrue. But don't all falsehoods carry within them a germ of truth? Hmm? Maybe if I write that I'll get bonus marks for insight.

It's really not as bad as all that. I have actually done a fair bit of work on this stuff. I know how glucose is used, how glucose is made, how the body absorbs, uses, and creates fat, I know what insulin does, what glucagon does, and the names of the major enzymes in all these processes. I'll be able to answer the exam questions on this stuff.

But I won't like it.

Week 4: Respiration, Week 5: Drugs

I really got stuck into my study yesterday - got heaps done. It was mostly focussed on respiration (which is what breathing is all about) and the principles of drug action. Actually, these were the topics I was most at ease with because I worked reasonably hard on them when they came up during semester.

Initially I was pretty freaked out by the whole TCA cycle thing, and also the electron transport chain thing, since it was radically different from anything I'd ever seen before, and seemed just bizarre. But in the end it's all pretty straight-forward. Well, it's not actually, but when you're shooting for 51% you can afford to take a few shortcuts. The secret for me was to stop being afraid of the crazy long names of the enzymes and products, and learn to love them for their eccentricity. Like my favourite, phosphoenolpyruvate carboxykinase. He's like the Dutch kid at school that never gets called by his full name, and when he does, it's pronounced wrongly. But he doesn't let it get him down, he still turns up every day to convert oxaloacetate to phosphoenolpyruvate, and he does it with a smile, knowing that's he's the one who's really in charge of gluconeogenesis. We all knew someone like that, right?

The principles of pharmacokinetics were pretty easy too, but that's because I'm an engineer. As soon as the topic started and they began throwing equations up on the board, I knew I was safe. They're not really even equations - they all look like A = B * C. Yeah technically that's an equation, but come on - where's the calculus? Where's the group theory? Where's the projections? It was all pretty manageable for someone like me whose favourite joke is this:

Q: What's a polar bear?
A: A rectangular bear after a coordinate transformation.

Ha ha ha! Laughter really is the bed medicine. It's certainly a good way to remove stitches in the mouth.

The time of my life

Last night I had either a minor blowout or some well-deserved downtime, depending on your personal level of study fanaticism. Since I come from the holistic, big picture, broad-brushstrokes, less-is-more school of study discipline, I think I well and truly earned it. Plus I think if I had slogged away long and hard into the night at the books I would have woken up this morning with a head the size of a peanut and today would have been a write-off.

So what did I do with my well-earned study break? I slouched on the couch and watch Dirty Dancing with my smaller half. Now before I get accused of being some kind of smooth-chested metrosexual, I'd like to point out that this was not my idea, it's not my DVD, I was forced to watch it, and although it was a good film, it's not like I'd seen it before and knew all the songs and moves or anything.

My smaller half had gone to buy cat food in the afternoon and had disappeared for several hours. I was going to start calling the local hospitals when she finally returned, having embarked on an impromptu shopping expedition deep into the heart of bogan land. When she returned, she had new shoes, a cool new top, and three DVDs. The first one out of the bag: Dirty Dancing. Oh no! I cringed. I knew I was going to forced to finally watch this. Agony. But in her wisdom she knew that I would be resistant, so the next one out of the bag: Bladerunner. The deal is if I watch her film, she'll watch mine. Awesome. Perhaps this is how I finally get her interested in the paranoid ramblings and deep insights of Philip K Dick. And the third film: Pulp Fiction. She bought this because she had to buy three discs to get the special deal, so it was actually saving money, not spending it.

Anyway, I didn't plan to watch Dirty Dancing last night, I was only going to watch the first fifteen minutes, make a few snide remarks, guffaw a few times, then retire to my desk. But I was ambushed! Ambushed I say! I was so startled by the appearance of a youthful Jerry Orbach from "Law and Order", and by Newman from Seinfeld, that I forgot to leave.

It was no Strictly Ballroom, but in the end I quite enjoyed it. But please don't tell anyone.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Week 3: Nerves and things

Hmm, didn't get much done today. On the plus side, this morning I met up with four of my Fellow Victims and went through a previous exam paper. It was quite reassuring because although I wasn't able to whiz through and do it all with the greatest of ease, most stuff I just needed to be reminded of rather than have explained to me in words of few syllables.

Unfortunately, one of the areas I was pretty much clueless on was Week 3: Nerves and stuff. For some reason (probably because I didn't bother to learn it properly in the first place) I really couldn't remember anything. Even more unfortunately, I didn't realize for a little while how much I had forgotten so I kept chipping in to the group discussion with "helpful" comments that turned out to fundamentally wrong. Sorry guys.

Still, it was a Valuable Learning Experience. So this evening I sat down and learned it all. It's actually all very straightforward and easy, I can't imagine why I stuffed it up so badly when I first came across it...

I'm now feeling somewhat stressed because I know I have a lot of ground to cover in the next four days. On the other hand, since I am shooting for a mark of 51%, I can afford to race along pretty quickly and only learn the basics. Bring on the holidays I say! Next semester I'll work much harder. No really, I promise.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Week 1: Cardiovascular and Week 2: Fluid balance

It's been a thrilling day today!

Got off to a great start when we discovered that our secret cat had pooped on the floor. We discovered this when we noticed poopy footprints all over the house after we'd walked through it. Better yet, we discovered it when we were on the way out the front door, already running late. So after a long and sometimes trying day at uni, we were able to come home and relax by chiselling dried excrement off the floor and cleaning the house. As usual.

If you own shares in Unilever, sell them, because they're going downtown. How do I know this? Because I love green apples. And after using a green-apple-scented cleaning product to help chisel excrement off my floor, and inhaling the heady scent of green apples and poop, I never want to eat a green apple ever again. Pretty soon the apple growers of the world are going to sue the cleaning product producers of the world for everything they own. I guarantee it.

Uni was okay. Highlight was an eccentric professor who answered all of the questions we asked him with long and tangential answers that would end with, "but we really don't know why". It's all very well for him, but I've got exams next week and that sort of thing really won't cut the mustard. (Where on earth is that phrase from, and what does it mean??? Who cuts mustard? And why?)

Tonight I went back to square one. I've made good progress though, knocking over the first two weeks of the year. Admittedly there wasn't a huge amount to do, but I felt it was important to do it thoroughly as a kind of morale boost for myself. Now I feel like I am really on my way from misery to happiness. Unfortunately that road passes through weeks 6 and 7 which concern the metabolism, and that will be ugly indeed. But I'll club that seal when I get to it.

The fluid balance stuff is actually quite interesting because it is convoluted in its complexity. For example, if your blood pressure falls, your heart tells your brain, which tells your kidney to produce renin, which converts angiotensinogen from the liver into angiotensin 1, which goes to the lungs and gets converted by angiotensin converting enzyme into angiotensin 2, which makes your adrenal glands produce aldosterone and also makes your pituitary release vasopressin, which together make your kidneys stop making so much pee so your blood pressure doesn't fall any further! Just as you always suspected, right? I just love it that all these random parts of your body chip in with their own opinions. If I don't get asked a question about this next week I'm going to be very very angry.

I'm off to bed now to dream sweet dreams of renin.

Homo Universalis I ain't

Slammo! Today I whammed right into a brick wall, study-wise. Hugely unmotivated.

Had a three hour tute this morning for which I had done exactly zero preparation. So I just sat there and contributed the odd factoid that I'd picked up, but mostly I just ate the Tim Tams and tried to keep a low profile. Fortunately the Good People in my tute group are not only tolerant of me, they also know lots of stuff about genetics so I actually learned quite a lot.

This was followed by a lecture about hypersensitivity, for example anaphylaxis and various auto-immune conditions. It was given by my favourite lecturer. She's my favourite because her slides have very few words on them and she says things like, "If you remember nothing else from my lecture, I want you to remember histamine". So my brain remembers histamine. And then its work is done for the day.

Unfortunately, that's literally true. For the rest of today I've been sitting around twiddling my thumbs. Well, only metaphorically. Literally I have been playing chess online, playing scrabble online (very pleased with myself, played cwms today, an awesome vowel-less word. If you remember nothing else from my blog I want you to remember cwms), reading the newspaper online, browsing Wikipedia on such topics as:
  • notable world war 2 flying boats, such as the Sunderland and Catalina,
  • sinaesthesia in its various forms,
  • the RNA-world hypothesis that postulates that life originated with RNA-based lifeforms that used RNA instead of both DNA and proteins,
  • the Australian contribution to the Iraq War,
  • the spleen,
  • Alexander Luria, the Russian neurologist,
  • Salvador Luria, the Italian-American microbiologist,
  • emoticons, especially the infamous OGC, and
  • how ribosomes work,
and generally goofing off.

As you can imagine, this is all really interesting stuff, and will one day be either very useful to me or really annoying to someone I am playing Trivial Pursuit against. But it won't really help me in my exams next week (except maybe for the thing about the spleen). Focus! Focus!

On the plus side, at about 11:30 pm I got fed up with trying to make myself learn new things and just reviewed some stuff I did over the weekend. And lo there was Good News! I still remember about 60% of it! That's great! 60% is enough to pass.

Good night and good luck.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Week 12: The Adaptive Immune System

This is really interesting stuff to learn. It's a real pain in the backside to study though, because there are lots of areas of uncertainty and cross-over between topics and crazy crazy amounts of details that I probably won't (I hope) need to know.

The problem I have with studying this stuff is that there isn't really any basic or fundamental starting point. In order to understand something (which is one of my patented techniques for learning it), I first need to understand 2 other things. And so on. Which rapidly escalates into an exponentially self-referential circle. Yuck.

So I wasted a lot of time today reading everything to try to figure out where to start. It just did my head in in the end and I had to walk off to the shops and drown my sorrows in a carton of chocolate milk. (This is stuff of true drama, is it not??) I came back and decided to start at an arbitrary place learning arbitrary things, and slowly but surely I figure it all out. Phew!

Oh, I forgot to mention what the adaptive immune system actually IS. Well, it's a whole bunch of crazy little different types of cells that sail around in your blood just waiting their whole lives for the one specific thing they are primed to recognize. Kind of like a traffic cop who sits by a road checking if people are speeding, but there are millions of them and they'll only pull you over if your car has the special number plate they've been waiting for. And when they find it, they really go to town on you. The traffic cop splits into millions of copies like that guy from The Matrix, and generally opens up a can of whup-ass on you. (Apparently the thymus is very important for this. I didn't know I had a thymus until two months ago.)

Sure, that's not how it's explained in text-books. But when you're sick and you see a doctor, this is what he's thinking about. He's thinking about traffic cops, number plates, and The Matrix. And your thymus. No wonder he looks distracted.


Week 11: Inflammation

Yeah yeah, it's all been said before. Inflammation. It's bad for you. Blah blah blah. I am pretty much over inflammation now. If it comes up in the exam I'll just write that a bunch of cytokines get released and things just go to hell from there. I'll get part marks.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Week 10: Haemostasis

Aaah. Life is good. I have made excellent progress this afternoon. Just finished reviewing week 10: haemostasis. Haemostasis is an innocent word used to describe a scary concept. Consider this: if you cut yourself, you will hopefully stop bleeding because a clot forms. So clots are good. Unless they form inside you, in which case you will suddenly fall down dead from a heart attack, stroke, or pulmonary embolism. Then clots are not good.

So from day zero we walk on a knife edge, forever balanced between too much of a good thing and not enough of it. It's a crazy system, with dozens of different chemicals all acting on each other in complicated feedback loops to maintain the same kind of dynamic stability that you sometimes see in the mall when that guy juggles two chainsaws and a cat while riding a unicycle.
Fortunately, it's all very easy to remember because the chemicals involved have highly descriptive names. NOT! Ha ha, the old "not!" joke. In fact, the chemicals have bureaucratic names like Factor VIII (if you lack this, you have haemophilia) or protein C (not to be confused with C peptide, C-reactive protein, or protein kinase C, which are obviously very different things!). Oh sure, they have other names but they don't help either. For example, Factor XII is also called Hageman factor because some guy called Hageman didn't have it. Okay.

As I said up front, I've made good progress today. This is because I've been covering things that I worked pretty hard on when I first ran into them. Now the trouble starts. Next up: inflammation. You may remember that I previously posted on this topic out of sheer frustration. Let's see if it's any clearer in hindsight...

Week 9: Anaemia

Yep, so I've just finished Week 9, which is to do with anaemias of various kinds, and also the process of haematopoiesis. Haematopoeisis is a Greek word meaning "too many vowels". If your haematopoiesis goes out of whack, you may get vowel cancer. Boom boom! No, actually haematopoiesis (I'm typing it this many times so I can learn to spell it) is the process of blood cell growth and maturation. It's fascinating in the way that only truly incomprehensible things can be.

I've also learned a bunch of stuff to do with why folate and vitamin B12 are so important and what the significance is of various abnormalities in the size, shape, and colour of red blood cells. I also learned what the spleen does. The spleen is like a huge oil filter. It munches up red blood cells that are too old and need to be replaced. Don't get punched in the spleen, especially if you have malaria. It is soft and squishy and bleeds easily, and the Knowledgeable Doctors will probably have to remove it to stop you bleeding to death internally. And don't eat it either. It's just gross.

Why did I lurch straight to week 9? Well, week 9 is the first week of the second module we did. I'm doing this one first because the exam is second. Okay?

Relevant film of the week: "There will be blood".

The blog's the thing

For the next 10 days I will be busting my gut studying for my upcoming exams. The problem I am having is that I find it hard to focus on one thing at a time. Oh, and although I can learn things pretty quickly, I tend to discount the things I have already learned as being easy or unimportant, whereas the things I have not learned yet are crucial and difficult. To help me manage my own study, I have decided to add updates to this blog each time I have finished reviewing one week of work, so I feel like I am making progress.

This may not be fascinating for you to read. Tough luck, princess. It's all about me from now on. But if it helps mollify you at all, try to think of this as a blog-within-a-blog, a modern version of Hamlet, if you will. Hopefully we won't all end up dead at the end. Some may call it self-indulgent crap. I call self-referential literary po-mo art.

Read on! You may at times be educated, horrified, impressed, amused, or bored. That's life.