Friday, December 30, 2011

The least bad parenting win

There have been a couple of parenting lapses in Chez PTR recently.  I won't reveal who is accountable for what, but I'm interested in your feedback on which lapse is more irresponsible.  Once you've read the descriptions, please vote in the poll to be found for a limited time only to the right of this page.
  1. Allowing the Hatchling to grab a steak knife off the table whilst distracted by one's own dinner.
  2. Allowing the Hatchling to eat dead bugs off the floor whilst distracted by the cricket (not the bug, the sport) on the television.
Please encourage your friends to vote.  If I end up being less irresponsible I will buy myself a coffee mug saying "World's Greatest Dad".

Thursday, December 29, 2011

It's just not croquet

Gee I miss Peter Roebuck. 

Not personally of course.  For those of you scratching your heads, he was an Australian cricket analyst of English extraction who flung himself to his death out the window of his hotel room in South Africa a month or two ago after he was questioned by the police regarding an allegation of sexual assault.  A sad story - and who knows what really happened?  Not me, that's for sure, but he was a great cricket writer and for that I miss him.  He tended to write sprawling articles reflecting on the events of the day and how they may enlighten us to the struggle inside the players' heads, and thus inside our own.

After the annual Christmas gulag I've finally allowed myself to relax enough to sit back on the couch and listen to the Oz summer of cricket on ABC's Grandstand.  The Hatchling seems a bit bemused by it all but she applauds along with the crowd whenever there's a dismissal.  She keeps me busy enough that I miss a fair bit of the action, so I have to check the scoresheet online once she's gone to bed. 

And in the morning, I get up and look at the Sydney Morning Herald website to see what Peter Roebuck made of the day's play.  But he's dead.

I would have liked his opinion on the latest shenanigans involving the Decision Review System, which has been blocked by the Indian voting bloc and would have avoided a couple of howlers by the umpires already in this Test, versus, ironically, (or is this just Alanis irony) India.  There has been some interesting discussion on the radio about it but I feel like everyone so far is missing the big picture, and perhaps Mr Roebuck would have been able to sit back and ponder the big issues to my satisfaction.

I feel that everyone is obsessed on the idea of "getting it right".  We have the technology to find out what really happened so we should use it to ensure that the game reflects as accurately as possible the "true" battle between the two teams without the shadow of the umpires eclipsing the brilliance of the performances. For example, they are shocked at the idea that in one country the DRS might have 150-fps cameras whilst in another only 30-fps cameras.  This inequity cannot stand, they cry.

And if this was medicine, I'd agree with them.  It's important to get medicine right.  Or stopping an airplance falling out of the sky.  That's important too.  Or even designing a voting system for the Americans so the less adept of them can actually vote for the person they intend to.  Those things matter.  But cricket is - gasp! - a game.

I'm pretty sure that cricket players would scoff if the ballroom dancing fraternity insisted on using high-speed infrared cameras to figure out who had the "best" tango.  They would point out, I am sure, that in cricket there are rules that clearly define the circumstances of whether someone is in or out, and we should strive to use all the investigations at our command to ensure the game follows its natural course.  They would say that ballroom dancing is subjective and that the judge's decision are interpretive, whereas cricket is all about hard facts and numbers and is thus amenable to technological intervention.  To which I would reply that to a man with a hammer every problem resembles a nail.

My opinion on the matter is that this is a game, a.k.a. a sport, and human error is what it's all about, for the umpires no less than the players.  Variations in umpiring from country to country, from game to game, or from day to day have as much relevance as the weather, which is to say that they are hugely important and help to make the game as interesting as it is.  High-speed cameras and remote bowler-assassinating drones are all well and good for spicing up the viewing experience for the audience.  But please, please, leave them out of the game itself before it gets sterilized and vaccuum-packed, like every other part of Western culture.

Vale Peter Roebuck.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Christmas jeer

My Aged Mother said to me this morning, "You know, PTR, we do pretty well at Christmas, don't we?  A lot of families just get totally drunk and get into beating each other up but we're not like that."

Part of me feels proud that she's right, but the other part of me feels sad that our threshold of success is so low.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Investigative phrenology

My parents had a small phrenology bust sitting on the mantlepiece in the seldom-used dining room, where the shiny table, uncomfortable chairs and musty lounge-suite also lived.  I was poking at the lumps and bumps in the Hatchling's head and wondering what the significance of them might be when I started wondering if perhaps the entire scientific bulwark of phrenology might be undermined by interpersonal variation in the character of each region of the skull.

A small amount of experimentation on myself involving three D-batteries, a wire coat-hanger, and a couple of largish gramophone needles enabled me to map out the contours of my own cognition.  A fascinating GAAAAAAAARRRGHH process indeed.  Since I'm not much of a artiste on ye olde computer I googled up a numbered version of the phrenology head (pictured above), which you can correlate with the list below:
  1. Pride
  2. Envy
  3. Corduroy
  4. Love
  5. Depth perception
  6. Embezzelment
  7. Puns
  8. Man-o-wars
  9. Beft
  10. Musicality
  11. Vengeance
  12. The Spanish civil war
  13. Chocolate
  14. Slip-slop-slap
  15. Soviet monuments
  16. Running writing
  17. Writing running
  18. Willpower
  19. Blogging
  20. Chronic condition self-management
  21. Batman
  22. Fashion
  23. Sex
  24. Arithmetic
  25. Taxidermy
  26. Comparative religion
  27. Black powder
  28. Bacon
  29. Architecture
  30. Flattery
  31. Insolence
  32. Procrastination
  33. Politics
  34. Fatherhood
  35. Erbium
What I find fascinating GRAAAAAAAGHH is the fact that every single experience, thought, emotion and memory that I ever have had or will have can be expressed as a combination of items from the list above.  For example, last week when I graduated with a medical degree and stood proudly on stage as a doctor, that experience was basically 1 + 18 + 23 + 26 + 28, or more descriptively, Pride + Willpower + Sex + Comparative Religion + Bacon.

You should try it yourself.  It could change your GAAAAAAHKK life.

Monday, December 19, 2011


It's funny that more people aren't named after insects.  Insects are pretty common. If a person can have a colour as a surname (Black, White, Green, Brown, etc) which is a pretty abstract and subjective notion, why can't they be named after insects?

The only insect surname that I can think of right now is Slater.  It's a good name.  But why not Millipede or Cockroach or Ladybug?

One day I'll write a novel and all of the characters will have insect surnames.  I think it'll really be big.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

True story

I have an unquenchable thirst.

For power? Knowledge?

Friday, December 16, 2011

Bloody Oath

I'm a doctor.  *boggle*

At the qualifying ceremony we all had to stand up and read out this thing called the Physician's Oath.  As Physicians we had to promise to be good guys and to always do our best and where-ever there's injustice, you will find us, and so forth.  Unfortunately it wasn't the pithy old Hippocratic Oath in which you vow solemnly to put African wildlife in boxes.  No, this was lengthy and sounded like it was written by someone with a Diploma in Public Health and a shiny pair of pants. 

As a result, my mind wandered.  I started thinking - which is always dangerous.  I thought to myself, Hey!  Hey Self!  You've got this degree: Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery.  Is that two degrees or just one?  And how come you know a little bit of medicine but almost no surgery.  And how come I'm taking this Physician's Oath but not a Surgeon's Oath?  Maybe nobody has written one!

Ladies and Gentlemen, in the red corner, may I present...

The Surgeon's Oath


I am honoured to make this declaration in front of such of my family and friends that I still have, my colleagues whom I have not yet backstabbed, and teachers and mentors that I have been sucking up to;

I commit myself to practising surgery with speed, speed, and ... um ... speed;

My relationship with my patients will be built upon masculine slaps upon the shoulder and brisk promises to have them back on their feet in no time;

I will value all aspects of my patients - cash, credit, and other convertible assets;

I will not permit considerations of gender, race, religion, political affiliation, sexual orientation, nationality or social standing to influence my duty of care - but I should mention that if I do you on my private list I can get it done next Thursday even though the public waiting list is chockers until September 2013;

I will work with my patients to enhance their quality of life and provide support both in times of suffering and well-being - unless it's outside my specific area of research interest in which case I'll just expect the intern to handle it.

My commitment extends to the health of the community, valuing the diversity of people within in it as valuable providers of novelty ethnic food and taxi drivers to/from the airport;

I will support my colleagues working in health care, and treat them with honesty and respect, if they are both senior to me and within earshot; otherwise - shrug...

I will contribute to a work environment that fosters learning and cooperation.  I commit myself to passing on my loudmouthed opinions on topics of interest to me such as luxury watches, sportscars and Fascist politics whenever I have a sharp instrument in my hand, as have those who have gone before me;

I will acknowledge my limitations and mistakes, should they ever occur, preposterous as that may seem to all of us here today in light of my obvious talents;

I will strive for satisfaction and enjoyment in my work but reserve the right to brutalize those in my power should I be having a bad hair day;

I will maintain balance in my life, drinking both red and white;

May these affirmations guide, strengthen and inspire me in practising the art and science of surgery.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Hypothetical awards for which I coulda been a contender

  1. Most destructive relationship with clinical supervisor.
  2. Most adorable baby.
  3. Most patient wife.
  4. Most prolific blogger.
  5. Least sociable.
  6. Most consistent seating position in First and Second year.
  7. Lunch.
  8. Fewest appearances in theatre during a surgery rotation.
  9. Most arty tie.
  10. Least kempt.

Assault and pepper

Here in RrrrrrAdelaide! there is a well-known restaurant that specializes in serving big thick steaks to big thick men.  The kitchen has a window that abuts the footpath so that passers-by can peer in and marvel at the juicy cuts.  Cuts, I say, cuts.  There is something compelling about it that causes everyone to stop and look, even people like me who don't eat much in the way of enormous slabs of meat anymore.

I invented a fun pastime last week which involves strolling up behind the people ogling the thick steaks and interjecting in their conversation.  The game is simple: every time somebody makes any reference to the meat, you must say, "No, that's one of the chefs."

Here's how it unfolded:

Stranger 1
Oh my god, look at the size of those steaks.

No, that's one of the chefs.

Stranger 1

Stranger 2
Is it all just steak?

Stranger 1
I think there are some lamb chops up the back there.

No, that's one of the chefs.

Stranger 1

Stranger 2
Look they also have chicken.
No, that's one of the chefs.

Stranger 2

Stranger 1
I don't even think I could finish something that big.

No, that's one of OW!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Worth it

As usual, my Aged Mother asked me today whether I thought that it was a good idea to study medicine and be a doctor.  Normally I brush off these questions with a glib answer in order to avoid losing my mojo.  Let's face it, dwelling on whether you've made a really really bad decision to throw your career away is not fun.

But now that I am halfway there, in the sense that I have studied medicine but not yet actually worked as a doctor, the question made me sit back and wonder.

Had I known four years ago how much work still lies in front of me I don't think I would have ever started.  But now I'm here I'm glad I did.  The work is actually enjoyable.  It's interesting.  It's fulfilling.  It's rewarding.  It's a shame though that the medical uber-institution, by which I mean the grand total abstract "church" of medicine at whose altar we are apparently expected to sacrifice our lives, takes itself far too seriously.

Here's a great quote from Thoreau that I read yesterday:
"The youth gets together his materials to build a bridge to the moon, or, perchance, a palace or temple on the earth, and, at length, the middle-aged man concludes to build a woodshed with them."
The upper ranks of medicine are heavily populated by people who burned up their youth trying to build that bridge to the moon.  I honestly don't know if they believe they succeeded or if they know they failed and hate the world because of it, but I often get the feeling that they look at older students like me, just trying to achieve modest goals, and get angry that I'm not trying to emulate them.

Back in first year, one of my tutors once said to me that being a doctor is not a calling, it's a job.  At the time I thought he was just being a cynical old bastard (despite the fact that I was actually older than him).  Actually, I still he think he was being a cynical old bastard.  But even stopped clocks are right twice a day, and in this case I have grown to appreciate his words.

I don't deny that for some, medicine IS their calling.  They will devote themselves entirely to it and will achieve incredible things.  They will spend their lives making an amazing contribution to other people and I admire them greatly for it.  But it's not for me.  Not anymore.

I'm not prepared to make medicine my life.  Maybe that will make me a bad doctor.  But I think it will make me a better person.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Care factor

So that's the end of medical school I guess.  Looking back, by far the most useful classes I got were the tutorials on taking a medical history from somebody.  I'm not sure if it's true that 80% of diagnoses can be made on the basis of history alone, but it certainly is true that if you can't take a good history you'll look like a idiot at least 300% more frequently.

In those classes we were also given a few other useful tips.  The one I have made best use of is how to handle the inevitable questions that you start getting from family and friends as soon as you start medical school, asking for medical advice.  The advice was to simply say, "You should talk to your doctor about that."  Not only does it absolve you of responsibility for serious illnesses, it also avoids getting entangled in dull discussions of minor ailments.  In fact, it can be used in a wide variety of contexts, even non-medical ones!

Here are some real-life examples:

Friend: "I have this terrible rash in my crotch, what do you think it is?"
PTR: "You should talk to your doctor about that."

Friend: "I'm incredibly thirsty all the time and I've been losing lots of weight."
PTR: "You should talk to your doctor about that."

Friend: "I have crushing central chest pain that radiates to my jaw and left arm, shortness of breath, nausea, sweating, and a feeling of impending doom.  Aggggghhhh the pain!!!!  The pain!!!!  Hhhhhh ... can't ... breathe ..."
PTR: "You should talk to your doctor about that."

Supervisor: "You're the worst medical student I've ever supervised."
PTR: "You should talk to your doctor about that."

Mechanic: "Looks like you've blown your head gasket."
PTR: "You should talk to your doctor about that."

Try it tomorrow, you won't be disappointed!

All Australians are thieves

The Hatchling was just over a year old when I first caught her shoplifting.  She was in the pram, we'd done a circuit of a shop, nothing much had really caught my eye, so we'd moved on down the road to another store.  En route I looked down and saw that she had a bright green toy bird in her hand that I had never seen before.  She looked very pleased with herself too.  She must have just reached out and grabbed it without me noticing.  Very light-fingered.

I took it back to the shop and asked if they sold birds like this.  They did.  I explained that my daughter had stolen it.  They complimented me on my honesty.

I've spent the three days since trying to get her more interested in Omega watches and black truffles.  No progress so far.