Thursday, January 31, 2008


It recently occured to me, that, as is often the case when I leave home, Mom doesn't know how well I'm eating, if at all. I suppose she should be put at ease, because I did tell her that I've sent down peanut butter and honey, and she knows I should be able to find some fruit somewhere, but I figured I'd incorporate into a slide show the reasons she needn't worry about my health. First up on the menu? Oatmeal. When we were running around Costco in Miami, it somehow seemed as a good idea to grab a box of Quaker Oats. the funny thing, is that I'd never been a huge fan of oatmeal before - not the instant, anyway. Nevertheless, it was fitting fuel for the lecture this morning, which was more interesting than most; we got into some chromosomal abnormalities and all of the nondisjunctions and translocations that can result in things like Edward's Syndrome (Trisomy 18 - if occuring in a male, written as 47,XY+18), Klinefelter Syndrome (47,XXY), and Turner's Syndrome (45,X). I've never been big on genetics, but since things like the Genome Wide Analysis Studies are continually finding genetic origins in everything from bipolar disorder to Type 2 Diabetes, it's certainly something that's going to factor very heavily in medicine in the future.

Next up on the menu is seasoned rice, a banana, and passion fruit juice. Other days, I grab some spicy chicken to go along with it, but I figure that this, in addition to my multivitamin, more than fullfilles my fruit needs for the day. Funny story: so our nutritionst, at orientation, told us that when people went to the Shacks (the little local food places near the exit to Ross) and came out with diarrhea and GI distress, it may not be the food - maybe it's just that they've gone for a large passion fruit and mango juice, and some oranges and guava - all very high in fiber. After lunch, we sat and listened to two lecture - one on fetal alcohol syndrome, and one on sickle cell anemia. The FAS lecture was one of those things they ought to show kids in high-school - it's so easily preventable, and offers the 100% guarantee so elusive in medince: don't drink, and your kid won't get FAS.

As soon as that was over, we ran over to James store for some groceries. I'd called Momt to get her recipe for Jamaican Rice and Peas - the delicious dish you see before you now. It's not as good as hers, but I spiced it up a bit by tossing in some cubed turkey ham. Not bad for the first meal I've cooked on the island! (So there you go, Mom -three balanced meals, plus coffee and the obligatory protein shake). After that, it was back to school to go over today's lectures before the first anatomy TA session. Those are going to be incredibly helpful, but I'm really enjoying anatomy - it looks like it'll be something I have an easier time forcing myself to do than, say, enzyme kinetcis. We went over everything we've done so far - bony landmarks and muscles of the back; the spinal cord and dural sack; and the suboccipital triangle. I don't know...maybe there's a surgeon in me somewhere.... Although, if there is, he really has to step up his game; I've decide that I'm going to know every dissection so well, I know it better than the people who actually did the cutting.

After that, I went to the gym. During orientation, they went out of their way to let us know that we ought to keep up with the exercise - some students come and throw themselves into their studies with such manic vigor that sleep and exercise are cast aside like hindrances. That tends to get folks out of whack; balance is necessary in everything. I've known since before MERP that I'd no longer be able to spend two and three hours in the gym like I used to, and so I've had to condense those workouts down to 45 minutes. It's like a reward, now; what do I get for studying hard? I get muscle aches!

All joking aside, this balance has only just begun to show up in my studying. The first week was all anatomy; then there was a stint of biochemistry, then it was cell bio, then back to biochem - I tend to spend the lion share of my study-time going over the topics I feel the shakiest on. However, the fact that we're doing different things in class every day - and getting a new professor about every 3 days - is making me realize that I need to just stay on top of everything, all the time. I have a list of things I need to get through, but I tend to either (1) focus on the things I like and blow off the boring stuff, or (2) focus on (not read too closely) the things I don't like and blow off those with which I feel a bit more comfortable. I've got to get better at scheduling things, managing my time - it's a little difficult since I've had no quizzes or tests, but hopefully I'll be on top of it.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Ambling along

The entirety of my weekend was spent with my nose in a book. Actually, it was spent typing out notes on cell biology and DNAreplication/transcription/translation, but you get the picture. I'd spent a lot of time handwriting them - which is great for my learning style, but absolutely terrible for time management. I've heard it said that the difficulty in medical school comes not in the form of the conceptual difficulty of the topics, but rather the volume - it's like standing in front of fire hydrant, having someone open the valve, and trying to take it all in. One can't drink slowly, so I'm going to have to figure out a better way to get it all down. I'm going to try to type everything out, print it up, and then just go over it - staying on top of all of the reading is a task in and of itself.

To perhaps make these posts a tad more interesting, I figured I'd share a few things that I'd learned each day (so you'd believe I was really becoming a doctor and not a beach bum). I don't want to bore you with the kind of rote memorization I've gotten myself shackled into, so you won't see anything about eEF1 or 2 (elongation factors in protein synthesis) or tiny ligaments (like the transverse one that holds the odontoid process in place against C1), but rather, I'll try to pick out the cool stuff. This is kind of diffuclt, because, here at the beginning of the basic sciences years, there's little of clinical relevance. I'll say this, though - any disease they throw out to us make it easier for me to pay attention to the myriad names of enzymes. That being the case, Tay-Sachs disease is a deficiency in the enzyme Hexosaminidase A, which breaks down glycolipds in lysosomes. It's prevalent among populations of Eastern European heritage, and is characterized by rapidly declining mental functioning, paralysis, and eventually death, manifesting after the first few years of life, and marked by rapid decline.

It's only the third week of class, but I feel I haven't really gotten into too much that's new - I saw so much of this in MERP, but I guess that medicine builds on medicine. The information is just going to go deeper and deeper, and It's my job to keep up with the nit-picky detais doctors may never use. I've put together a high-energy play list to pump myself up when I'm writing/typing notes - it helps keep me in the zone (although, when I'm actually studying, I need serious quiet and concentration). The point, though, is not only to get it all stick, but to make all of the pieces fit together so that the human body - and what can go wrong with it - make sense to me. Where I stand now, I have a few pieces of the puzzle - but as I stand in front of that fire hydrant, those pieces should beome clearer, and I'll be better able to see how they fit. Somewhere down the line, I'll see what DNA replication, Gap junctions, apoptosis, and the suboccipital triangle have in common.

I've got to say that, thus far, it feels like they're getting us off to a well-rounded start. Sure, I spend most of my time staring a a screen or a page, attempting to fit little words and numbers into my neural folds. However, that time is broken up in the anatomy lab - where I actually get my hands inside "my first patient" - what used to be a person. I thought it was going to be a bit more....uncomfortable than it was. Granted, I've been a party to the dismemberment of various game animals since I was knee-high to a pollywog, but this is still a person. Though we're working on the back, there is a face on the other side. Nevertheless, I feel comfortable and a little bit excited as I'm peeling back fascia, muscle and bone - it's like I'm finally visiting a country of which I've only seen maps and travel brochures. There's something refreshing about finally setting foot upon that one-time distant shore, and no longer looking at the splenius capitis in pictures, but holding it in my own hands. The geographical analogy seems to fit very well - the first thing they had us to was find bony "landmarks" - the inferior angle of the scapula denoting the level of T7, etc. Rohen, Yokochi, and Lutjen-Drecoll are my new heroes (and the editors/dissectors of my anatomy atlas).

In addition to the books and bodies, we've begun cell histology this week. It's not only important for me to be able to recognize chemical reactions on a page, or the dorsal rami - I've got to be able to recognize microscopic structures, and call them by name. I like this well-rounded start they've given us - I really can't complain. Teeny cell types, while interesting, are not the primary peers I wish to surround myself with - I don't think I'm being called to a lifetime in a laboratory.

In other news, today is the first day I'm actually getting my laundry done since leaving Texas on the 2nd of January. Maybe I shouldn't have waited so long - everything takes forever here on the island, and if this laundry thing isn't done today, I'm down to wearing scrubs to class.
Today's going to be a big reading day - hopefully we'll take some of those facts and make them stick. Later on, I'm going in to watch group C demo their dissection of the suboccipital triangle.
I miss the bookstore.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

God Bless America

When I started this blog, I did so in part to keep up with family and friends. I did so out of a desire to record my feelings and experiences as I begin this new journey. And yes - I admit - I did so, in part, to complain. I'm generally pretty resilent, but I also have the somewhat comical trait of moaning and groaning when things aren't really that bad at all, and I tend to exaggerate the little things for the sake of sarcasm. Now - if I were to say this out loud, some people would really get offended; some folks might not get my meaning (which may be more clear than I think it is) - but Dominica makes me proud to be an American.

On Monday, I noticed that the bowl protecting my ceiling light had somehow filled with water. Hmm. See, in the US, I've never had to drain my light. So I took down the bowl dumped out about a quart of water, and just left the bowl on the floor. Later that night, Nicole and I went to print out some lab notes. First, her log-in wouldn't recognize the pen drive. Then my log-in wouldn't work (and I say log-in because we both tried about 3 computers each). So, we went to try to just buy a copy card - but guess what? No copy cards. So we had to sit and wait while the library attendant printed them all up for us. This wouldn't have been so annoying were it not for the fact that it happened somewhere around midnight. Then, yesterday, I went and told the front desk that I needed the light taken care of. It's still off.

The big hoopla Tuesday was the arrival of our barrels, which resulted in not a whole lot of studying getting done. Nevertheless, it was loads of fun - see how big they are? Nicole actually fell into one back in Miami when we were packing them, but I missed it when I went into the office to take care of business - so, she kindly put on a one-time encore performacne. It's great to finally have all of my utensils, and here is a brief list of some of the other things we sent - don't laugh: 10lbs of honey, 6lbs. of protein power, 10lbs. of peanut butter (each), 10 lbs. of coffee and 10 lbs. of creamer (each, since they don't have any coffee on the island), 3 bags of trailix, flashlights that run on kinetic energy, something on the order of 30lbs. of canned chicken breast, 10lbs. of frijoles negros, sheets and hangers, bug spray and batteries, somewhere near a gallon and a half of extra virgin olive oil, pots and pans, cups and plates, cosmetic stuff, and, yes, 50lbs. of rice. Because we don't have that on the island. I've been joking that, if we'd had more time, she'd have tried to cram some sunshine and sand in between the toilet paper and soap just never know what's down here....

Wednesday was the one I was really looking forward to - my first day of dissection! I'd been SO excited to finally get my hands dirty. I started reading the first dissection instructions, which covered the superficial back muscles, but, lo and behold - I was in the second group. So no cutting open the back (the thought of which had been making me salivate) - but instead, my group was scheduled to do a laminectomy. This is a procedure in which the spinal column is cut off at the lamina of the vertebrae, exposing the spinal cord. Grant's Dissector called for chisels and mallets and 45 degree angles - but I'd heard rumors of bone saws. Does it GET any better!?
I got to the lab 10 minutes early, all dressed in my scrubs - only to find that the lamina had already been removed.

Needless to say, I felt cheated, but looking back, I suppose I can understand - here's a room full of people who've probably never had their hands inside someone before, and you're going to ask them to do the equivalent of serious orthopedic surgery? I guess I can see their point. They just had us identify the imporant little pieces ( Dura, arachnoid and pia mater; spinal nerves, denticulate ligaments, and the filum terminale). The cut was made from about T3 down to L2, so we didn't get to see the cervical enlargement, but it was interesting nonetheless. One of the parts of the lab organization that I really appreciate is the demo - after each dissection, the group who got their hands dirty demonstrate the dissection and explain the clinical relevance to the other two groups. Folks kind of trickled in and out whenever they wanted, so over the course of about an hour, I explained the whole thing about 6 times. Another interesting part of this process was that, after each dissection, the group has to make a short video, explaining the actual process and identifying the salient structures (not quite as in depth as the demo).

You know, my serious thinking about medicine has always kind of been directed to psychiatry - I was a psychology major in undergrad, and I read psychiatric case-files like some people read romance novels (crazy people give me a warm, fuzzy feeling). However, in recent weeks, I've realized that I may not be happy with psychiatry - I think I'm going to need something in which I get to work with my hands. Now, I've never really given too much thought to being a surgeon, but I've got to tell you - I love this anatomy stuff!

On Thursday, nothing too terribly interesting happened; I went in around 8 at night and reviewed the cadavers.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Wierd little things.

The term "lazy Sunday" was clearly coined by someone who had no intentions of being a doctor (or, at least, of being a very good one). Of course, there were some people who lounged out by the pool today - and I myself am guilty of an afternoon study break/quick splash in the Caribbean Sea - but it was a hard workin' day. It's only the first week, and I'm seeing my hours sluggishly pass by the windows of this study building I now call a second (third?) home. Mingled with trying to learn the information is the unclear expectations from some of the classes. There are posted objectives, but even those hold on to a certain amount of ambiguity. I generally know what I should know - my problem is that, sometimes, I'm just too lazy to get there (It's not enough to just learn the things I like - here, in this intense craziness that's only just beginning, I've gotta know it all). It's only the first week - how much do I need to know about the back? How well should I understand the basics of biomolecules? I guess the answers to those depends on whether or not I want to be at the top of the class, or just floating somewhere in the middle. (In case you're wondering, that's the Philadelphia chromosome seen in chronic myelogenous leukemia.)

It's wierd getting back into this right at the beginning. By the end of Merp, I knew how the professors tested, how they wrote questions, and what they expected me to be able to pick out from the readings and lectures. It was a good system, and we all had it down - in addition to that, we'd covered so much information that we were able to answer a high percentage of questions from the various review books available. It's different now - back at the beginning, there's a sense of aimlessness. Part of me feels that this nebulous disconnectedness will dissipate when I finally get my hands on the cadaver this week - but if that happens, it will only be for anatomy, and even then, just for the lab part. I'm going to have to work extra-hard to master biochemistry in the same depth that I'l be able to reach in the subjects I'll enjoy. I've already been over all of this information several times, but i know that I should know it better. It's comforting to know that MERP alum traditionally do exceptionally well here, but that doesn't mean it'll be easy.

It's only the first week. That's no excuse to take things easy (which I am by no means doing), but there are still a few days to get things figured out. I need to figure out how the different professors are going to ask questions (pardon me if this post devolves into my thinking out loud - I kind of need to plan a bit right now), so it might be a good idea to stop by their office hours before I need any help. I need to figure out how much time I need to spend on everything, and I need to figure out how best to memorize it all. They won't hold our hands here like they did in MERP, and I've got to figure out how to do it on my own. Another thing I need to figure out is what this thing is. I've never seen one before - it was so wierd looking that I thought it was fake. It must be some kind of unholy Caribbean caterpillar - what on earth is it going to grow into? This thing was about 6 inches long, and, I suppose, based on its coloring, either poisonous or absoutely wretched-tasting. Every day is wierder than the one before.

Make no mistake: this is a third world country. My power went off yesterday (through no fault of my own this time), and I finally got it turned back on, befriending yet another security guard in the process. It's just too bad that my power probably went out because a half-gallon of rainwater (I think, it might have come from some pipes somewhere) collected in the bowl surrounding the light on my ceiling. I' a loss of words on that one, but at least I had hot water today.

But I digress. if I were to be brutally honest with myself, I'd say that I should get back to biochemistry (show me a surgeon who gives a flying fart about ions, and I'll show you someone who should chew on my mystery caterpillar).

Saturday, January 19, 2008

White Coats and Whale Watching

I'm officially done with my first week of medical school! They eased us into it, but we sure hit the ground running - it's not going to be easy, but I'm loving it so far. The biochem is bearable (direct quote from the textbook - I kid you not: "Enzymatic catalysis is like sex - it requires close physical contact"), the microanatomy/cell biology professor is fantastic, and I can't wait to get my hands dirty in the anatomy lab. I know that we're learning everything because we'll have to know how to be well-rounded doctors, but some of it just feel less, well, doctorly - I really don't care for biochemistry (although this professor's book might make me like it); it doesn't really feel medical - just scientific. However, on the other hand, studying anatomy makes me feel like I'm really here - this is the human body, this is what I want to learn about. We dive in next week with superficial back anatomy.

At the end of the week, we participated in our White Coat ceremony - our official welcome to medical school. From what they told us, the ceremony was instituted in part to refocus medical education on compassionate patient care, in a time when an impersonal understanding of science had become the goal. Now I'm not big on ceremonies (I was ready to skip my high school graduation, but I was forced into it), but this one in particular had a very solemn, very important feel to it. We sat through the presenting of the Dominican colors, the entrance of the President of Dominica (His Excellency Nicholas J. Liverpool - mostly a figurehead selected by the real man in power Prime MinisterRoosevelt Skerrit - the youngest prime minister in the world, ever), the singing of the national anthems of The CommonWealth of Dominica, West Indies and, surprisingly, the United States of America, and were welcomed by our deans and president of the school before receiving an inspiring address by prominent Ross alum (a gentlman who, basically, is public healthcare in Atlanta). Then, we were lined up, and a member of the Ross University School of Medicine faculty symbolically dressed us in our white coats and handed us a pin, and then we altogether read Maimonides' Morning Prayer of the Physician.

Today, Nicole and I went whale watching. Now I don't even like the sea (ocean motion is equivalent to reverse peristalsis for me), however, (1) we'd picked up some bonine, and (2) I didn't want to be a spoil-sport, so we got up this morning to go find us some whales. First off, we were in the wrong place at the wrong time - due to a lack of organization on the part of the organizing groups, we were at the library at 8:00 in the morning, instead of meeting in front of our hotel at 9:00. Nevertheless, we took advantage of the blip in our schedule to pick up our library barcodes, and run down to James' Store for some ground Trinidadian coffee. The boat was late anyway, so we made it back with plenty of time, but the woman we'd paid in the student goverment center had neglected to check us off as having been paid. However, we were allowed onto the boat - both of them. The dock here ends halfway, so we had to pile into a little dingy and motor our way over to the catamaran through a chilly morning rain. The surf was choppier this morning than I'd ever seen before (in my wide and varied experience with Caribbean tides and ocean currents), so I was set on looking for a place to lie down, instead of whales.

We got out to the open sea, and the first noticeable thing was that the Caribbean Sea is a color of blue I'd never seen anywhere else - it's this cobalt, almost electric blue, that isn't quite discernable from the island proper. Now, maybe it's just because the Texas Gulf coast is a sickly shade of seafoam green, but I'd always thought "the ocean blue" was merely a poet flexing his literary muscles. This was a deep, warm blue - I've never seen it in any other ocean, and we I don't remember seeing it as we were flying in. I guess I kind of imagined the sea to be blue - it's easy to accept from far off, but this blue was up-close and personal. So we were moving out into the Caribbean sea, dropping microphones and looking for whales, when I began feeling queasy, and had to go lie down on the nets. Eventually, we sailed out from under the heavy rainclouds and into direct sunlight - something that didn't help the nausea.

Maybe I'd taken the bonine too late - because after a while, I got to feeling better. The green nets were stretched out between the hulls of the catamaran - exciting vantage points for sea-watchers, I suppose. We circled around for a few hours, not seeing or hearing much. I wasn't too involved in the whole matter - I don't get along well with boats. I became violently ill while fishing in the Gulf Coast off of Tampa a few years ago, and the same nausea seemed to pop up when I went fishing off of the Texas Gulf Coast about a year ago (I can handle bay fishing, but that's about it. My sea legs must have been amputated in a previous life). I didn't get sick, but we didn't find any whales either. I managed to get some great pictures of the island from the sea, and then I came home and fell asleep.

I got to check out Ross' gym this week - it left much to be desired. I'm a big bag of muscle aches right now, though - after not having really done anything physical except for hiking a few weeks ago, I went overboard and somehow managed to squeeze in something every day this week. Can I get three cheers for lactic acid buildup? Yeah....didn't think so...

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Down to Business

I don't think I'll hold your attention unless I throw in pictures, so I'll try to throw in a little something every now and then. Since classes have begun, I won't be able to include the same kind of amazing landscape shots you've grown accustomed to, but I'll do what I can. The accompanying image represents my new best friends - the companions whose company I'll indulge and at times hate, often late into the night. They are my ball and chain, but they are also my lifeline - it's an ambivalent, love-hate parasitism (because they don't really get anything from me). Although, honestly, most of the learning will probably come from notes, anyway. Much of yesterday was spent in a delightful little study space just across the way, going over those notes - especially those of biochemistry and the gross anatomy of the spinal cord.

This morning's lecture in biochem was a little dry - not only did the professor seem to overcomplicate things, he also went out of his way to stab at the Intelligent Design argument. That may be what everyone believes, but I take issue when a theory is passed off as fact. Honestly, the whole argument reminds me of two children arguing in a sandbox - neither of whom have any real proof (But I digress - I probably shouldn't start a rant. Noet yet). Not off to a great start there - I dislike stereochemistry enough as it is. I'll just put my nose to the grindstone and treat it like prison -keep my head down, do my time, and get out.

Anatomy, on the other hand, looks like something I'm just going to love! I read through the backbone stuff yesterday, and it looks like the text goes into much greater detail than the lecture. I'm looking forward to getting my hands dirty. That won't happen until next week, though - this week is all introductory technique and such.

After a lunch of 2 bananas, passion fruit juice, and some seasoned rice, I sat in on another anatomy intro - palpations and terminology (dorsiflexion, ab/adduction, etc). Good stuff; it'll all be relevant when we get to the anatomy lab and the exam room. Unlike biochemistry. After that, there was a cognitive skills discussion - it's all stuff I've heard before, but it was worth sitting in on, because this is definitely the most intense study I've ever done. I need a routine, I need to manage my time better - I'm still getting back on the horse. My difficulty comes when I'd rather study the information I like, instead of what's difficult and dense.

Fine then. Biochem tonight.

Monday, January 14, 2008

The First Day and the Island Tour

This post was begun yesterday - I didn't get the chance to finish it, but I'll still tell it like it is.

Today is the first day of class, yet I shall spare you the gory details (and gory they are indeed - one professor remarked "Biochemistry is a clean science. Unlike anatomy, there are no cadavers, or brains floating in formalin. So we won't have labs.") Much of the beginning few minutes was spent introducing the class to our audience response units, during which time (I'm sure) a few IT guys in a dark, little room somewhere were typing like mad, trying to work out the bugs. They threw us right into a little back anatomy and biochemistry - I think that part of the reason I enjoy medicine is that I enjoy big words: Transversospinalis, etc. It wasn't anything amazing, but then again some joke that "Ross" stands for "Rely On Self Study", so I figure that the meat and bones'll come from the time spent with my nose in a book anyway.

As we were packing our barrels, I forgot one of the coffee makers, so I had to pack it in my checked luggage when we came to Dominica. Big surprise that it got banged around, right? So the actual water container leaked fiercely for a few days (I had to sit it in a pan and keep refilling it with our precious drinkable water - the Pur filters have yet to arrive). Anyway, despite the fact that there are no outlets in my kitchen or bathroom, I was able to fix it with a little of Nicole's clear nail polish. Now I can turn it on from bed!

After that, I went to make sure all of the financial stuff for my loans was all worked out. That's what I get for waiting until the last minute - it's always like that. So my tuition will get paid on time - I guess that's all that matters. Nicole and I hung around for a mindfulness orientation, put on by the associate dean of students. There was a lot of mediation, and it was actually quite relaxing, sitting there on the lower deck by the sea. However, first of all, I didn't learn anything new - it was all the same kind of relaxation I'd done. Second, I probably should have waited until I was actually stressed - when I left, I was so relaxed I was ready to go to sleep. After that and picking up some snacks at Jame's Store Grocery, I squeezed in quick workout - some pushups and dips, and a quick swim in the ocean (since the gym is now unavailable). Then Nicole and I went and studied some anatomy and biochem in this big, emtpy study space down the way. And there was evening and morning, the First Day.

Perhaps far more interesting, though, was Sunday's Island Tour. After the long day before, I didn't particularly want to get up for it, but I figured it was worth a shot, especially before classes got into full swing.We loaded up these little 20 passenger buses, and headed south - our first stop was Trafalgar Falls. Moreso than the Cabrits, this was a serious hike through the rain forest (so of course it was raining). We hiked down and actually climbed over the rocks to get just below the waterfalls and managed to get some excellent pictures. Interestingly, whenever I stop and gasp at some rustle in the leaves, Nicole knows to get out of the way quickly - it's probably some creepy-crawly thing she won't like. It happened all the time in the Cabrits with the galliwasp and even one snake, and in the Trafalgar Falls area, it happened again. I heard the rustle and saw some movement, and pushed her ahead of me so I could get a better look. After a few moments, this fierce little crab popped out, pincers at the ready. I'm enjoying this country more and more!
Before arriving in Dominica, I'd planned to pick up some waterproof sandal-shoes, but just never got around to it. Nicole came with a pair, so, when we both slipped into the springs at the same place, she dried off notably quicker - and I had to slosh back to the bus, wring out my sock, and stuff a rolled up towel into my tennis shoe. Thankfully, the next stop was a tad drier.
We drove down the coast, through the capital city of Roseau, and stopped for lunch at an old, converted sugar mill. I didn't particularly feel that the buffet of chicken, rice, vegetarian ravioli and fruit cups was worth my $35Ec, but it was better than starving. We stopped at a bluff overlooking the capital city, after driving through the botanical gardens. I kind of wish we'd gotten a chance to stop, but I think I've firmly decided that, one day, I will have Century Palm trees in my yard. I found out later that the reason they'd moved the island tour from Saturday to Sunday was because there were several cruise ships docked in Roseau, and the higher ups didn't want to put us through the annoyance of jostling with all of those cruise-goers for the same attractions and facilities. We did surprisingly little there in the capital - it was basically just a lunch stop. At this bluff overlooking the city, (there's also a huge Cricket stadium, donated by China, not seen in the picture). Just behind where I took this picture, there was an ackee tree - I was the only person on the bus (other than the driver) who even knew what one was. A few had burst open on the tree, and I guess someone somewhere right now is enjoying ackee and saltfish.

Next, we made our way to Scott's Head - the place where the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea meet at the southern tip of Dominica. That little strip of beach was particularly rocky, but some folks decided to swim anyway. We were cautioned to stay on the Caribbean side (there on the left), because the Atlantic currents were a bit stronger. I'd be particularly looking forward to this part of the trip; I'd hoped that the "Caribantic" would be marked by a clear demarcation of the meetings of two significantly different bodies of water. Thus, I made up my mind to hike to the top of the hill and tempt my luck - climbing down past the wall that marked the very top so I could steal some pictures that others might not get. However, I didn't really see much of a difference - I snapped some pictures from the very point where the land ended, but it was all cold, and salty, and blue. Look closely - perhaps you can pick up on something I've missed. So here's the view from the top: not as great as I'd hoped. Waking up this morning, I didn't think that there would be anything that would be better than some of the pictuers yesterday, and I guess I was a little perturbed since I was so tired. After this, we went to the sulfure springs, which weren't that interesting anyway (so I'll spare you the pictures), and then got home after a ten hour excursion. It would have been nice to relax on the final day before classes, but I guess I'm glad I went. Honestly, looking back though, I think I enjoyed the galliwasp and passion fruit a bit more. I think I also enjoyed the previous day more than this one because it was just Nicole and me, hiking through the Cabrits, and the Island tour was a swarm of people. (I'm being social - honest; I'm just also very glad that I can get away from them all).
After getting back from the tour, I waited about an hour for a pizza, and then collapsed into a deep, deep sleep.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Dirtfish and Alien Snot Placentae

It's 6 in the evening, and I've been awake for 13 hours - today has been one of the longest in recent memory. In Portsmouth (the city in which I now live), there is a weekly farmer's/gatherer's market, some say beginning on Friday night, but definitely ending by around 8am Saturday morning. I've been told to get there incredibly early, but one of our security guards told me that it would be alright to show up before 8 - afterwards, all of the good fruits and veggies would be gone. So this morning, Nicole and I got up at 5am, and decided to walk the mile or so into Portsmouth. I was excited to get going; the few-hour night I'd had wasn't that bad. After stopping by Ross to fill up our water bottles, we headed down the twisty road to Market. About 4 or 5 busses/vans (they're all van sized busses here on Dominica) stopped to ask us if we were headed to market, and if we wanted a ride - but we're troopers; fearless, intrepid explorers - we had our minds set to walk that whole mile and a half. We had to ask directions, but eventually made it. One peddler was right when he said it was all organic; some of the produce looked like they'd just scooped it out of the ground. The prices were absolutely amazing - I've already explained the $USD/$EC exchange rate, yet I was still surprised to walk out with 20 lbs of fruit at only a $15EC price tag - five American dollars. I picked up a bag of tomatoes, some grapefruits as big as my head, starfruit, and passion fruit, while Nicole picked up some carrots, green beans, Valencia oranges, sorrel, and a shell bracelet. Satisfied with our conquests, we wended our way home, looking forward to a fruit and Trinidadian coffee-filled breakfast on her balcony (because mine doesn't have a table) overlooking the Caribbean Sea (tough times - I know you understand). So we dig into the fruit, and here I must digress quite a ways in order to better explain our.....surprise. Before mahi-mahi had that name, it was called dolphin fish - and sales in restaurants fell flat upon customer's unwillingness to chew on Flipper. So, they changed the name. Rapeseed Oil was changed to Canola Oil, because, once again, the name made it undesirable. My question is this: what on God's green earth - what the hell did they call Passion fruit before? It must have been something along the lines of Alien Snot Placenta. Look at the damn thing. Need I say more?

After I called my parents to ask what exactly I should do with a passion fruit ( they didn't know either), Nicole and I headed out to hike the Cabrits. A picture on my first blog post depicts two mountains out in Dominica's Prince Rupert Bay that bear an uncanny resemblance to a whale -that is the Cabrits. An 18th century British military fort that has been turned into a national park, the Cabrits was our destination for the day. On the way, I asked the bus driver how exactly he would eat a passion fruit. He said that no one eats them (much to my relief), but that you have to put the viscous fruit-seeds into a blender, throw in some water and sugar, blend nicely, and then strain. Good man. Anyway, we hit the bottom of the Cabrits, and decided to take one of the more rigorous trails. The view from the top was breathtaking, and ironic - upon first seeing the red-roofed fort from the Portsmouth Beach Hotel on our first day in Dominica, I turned to Nicole and said "That doesn't look very defensible". Please note the rather large cannons.

We continued up the trail, eventually reaching a point of breathtaking view (once again), at which point I realized how much it really must have sucked to have had to drag tons-heavy cannons up mountains. Now, though, I have to introduce you to what is perhaps the coolest thing I've seen thus far in my Dominican stay. Since landing on the island, I've been a little disappointed with how different it is. The birds look familiar, the people are easy to get along with ( must be my Jamaican blood), and the fruit (with the exception of the untruthfully named passionfruit) are relatively familiar as well. That being the case, I was on the lookout for something of particular awesomeness as we ascended the Cabrits. There was a rustle in the leaves beside the trail, and I looked down, expecting a lizard of the kind I'd seen moments ago - but what I saw was infinitely more interesting. There was what appeared to be a fat, legless lizard swimming through the leaf litter! Cross my heart - they didn't scamper and scurry like other little reptiles, nor did they do the hipless-serpentine shuffle (like the one snake we actually did see) - they had this sinuous, piscean wriggle I've only seen in large schools of silvery tuna on the Discovery Channel. Thus, I call it The Dirtfish (more scientifically known as the Galliwasp. Thanks, Google).

That was the highlight of the Cabrits - I don't care what anyone else says. We hiked around the ruins of the commandant's quarters and ancient batteries, and took some amazing pictures from areas that we probably shouldn't have been allowed into. There was much more to explore, but I'm glad that we went up and did some fun/touristy things before class began. The island tour was supposed to be today, but for some reason it was moved to tomorrow. Somehow, I doubt whatever happens tomorrow will be able to compare to the Day of the Dirtfish and the Alien Snot Placenta. After coming back down from the Cabrits, we stopped in Portsmouth to pick up big ol' Dominican Flag beach towels (sorry Mom - none from Jamaica), and then we went home and sat on the beach for while, until it started to rain. Then we sat on the balcony, eating oranges and watching rainbows.

The day seems so much longer when you're up before the sun - but I don't plan to make it a habit. Yesterday wasn't like that at all - we sat in on more professionalism lectures. I'm feeling something of the Devil's Advocate on this - the higher-ups are calling for a zero-tolerance policy on academic dishonesty. The moderator took comments from the class, and I said that it was a difficult place to be in - having gone through undergrad away from home, we have come to see our peers as extended family, and, per that culture, loyalties run deep. No one wants to be responsible for ending someone's career. However - we are also paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to be allowed the chance to hold ourselves to a higher standard - perhaps one of the highest known to man. The most salient point that our moderator made was that getting to that standard is a process - something we'll have to seriously work on. After the brief session and the scavenger hunt to pick up the first week's packets, we went to pick up our books and supplies! What I mean, is that we walked back to our apartments to retrieve our large rollerbags, and used them to ferry home $1500 worth of medical supplies and books. See my new suit? It's eerie to see myself like this - I can almost taste it. As the trendy student shirts say "Trust me - I'm almost a doctor". Instead of ordering the dissection kit they suggest, I'm going to use my father's - my name is already on all of the instruments! Class begins on Monday - go time.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Just another day in paradise

I'd had all of these grandiose plans to write an "insider's guide", encompassing the last days leading up to my departure for the Island, the actual trip from the US to where I was going to live, and the first few days on the island. Well... you know what they say about the best laid plans.... Anyway, I figure I'll throw together a hodgepodge of things (especially the things I can take pictures of). That being the case, one thing anyone should know about Dominica is that the currency is East Caribbean Dollars (EC), and that $1 USD is roughly equal to $2.6 EC. Thus, it would seem like our big, fat American dollars would go much farther here than back home - which they tend to on occassion. However, let me also say that ECs go fast. It doesn't feel like I'm spending that much - "$24 EC? That's like, what - 8 bucks, right?" EC still flies like the wind. Another funny thing, is that these shopkeepers are smart - they'll stock the local products I've never heard of, and right next to it, they'll sell Old Spice deodorant for $22.50 EC a clear stick. I don't know about you, but I'm not used to spending 7 bucks on a stick of deodorant. Tricky.

We spent the morning in more orientation, and then broke up to go to mini orientations. The Foods of Dominica lecture was the most interesting, in part because it was the most novel. A clinical psychologist gave his argument for preventative medical care. It's good advice, but he came across as arguing for preventative care, instead of surgical interventions - dangerous advice.

I'm going to complain a bit - that's kind of what this is for. They're fixing the water downstairs, so last night we were out of cold water - that's right, we only had hot water. So it was too scalding for anything but washcloth wash-down and a tepid rinse from a water jug. You know, this is the Caribbean, and I know I shouldn't complain - but when it's this hot and I'm covered in bug spray and sweat from walking around, I kind of look forward to that shower. Hopefully it'll be better today. Oh, and another thing - I don't have any outlets in my bathroom. So, if I want to use anything other than a cordless shaver, I have to use it on the other side of my room: cutting my hair will be very interesting.

After those little sessions (IT, wellness, library resources, etc), we had our Welcome BBQ. They offered hamburgers, chickenburgers, and veggieburgers - and since they don't really have a huge meat industry on this island, I figured I'd grab what might be my last taste of beef in quite a while. I'd been planning all day to take pictures of the foods of Dominica (a chance I missed at the morning's lecture), but have just decided to push it off until tomorrow - I'll have to ask permission, and we were in a rush anyway. I also want to take some pictures of the people of Dominica, but that may have to wait. The sunset here is fantastic! Here's a picture taken from the end of the hallway on my floor. It's a little surprising to me how few students are running around with their cameras - it's just me and Nicole really. I mean, are these kids used to it already? Maybe they just don't appreciate it as much. Sometimes, sitting in those sessions, I feel like this is freshman year all over again, and I don't like it at all. Perhaps I shouldn't go into this deciding not to like people, but that's just something I need to work on. At least tomorrow's early registration will leave most of the day open for something fun!

Tuesday, January 8, 2008


A mere formality. I know there's a lot of genuinely useful information, but I honestly feel like these "orientation" things are mere formalities, instituted in part so that the school can feel like they're somewhat organized.

First of all, we're in Ross' Annex. This lovely, bulging structure is about a five minute walk uphill from the actual campus - which would not be a concern, were it not for the fact that it was only supposed to be a four minute walk (not a ten minute stroll). However, I really can't complain; they're running shuttles back and forth.

They started us off yesterday all cheery and happy, with loads of welcomes and well wishes. Then, today, we got down to the nitty gritty: grades and promotions. I'm not concerned, since among MERP alum there's a 0% attrition rate - while the rest of the student body enjoys a 30% rate.

There were, however, some interesting issues raised - we're going to have to start digging up and examining our long-held beliefs on ethics and honor. Seeing as how we're going to be doctors, things are going to have to change with some folks around here. What should be done about cheating colleagues/peers? I feel like most people either don't want to be responsible for ending someone's career or really getting someone in trouble; or they don't want to be seen as a snitch - someone untrustworthy with under-the-table information. Does it surprise you that I'm considering running for the honor council? I'll drop the hammer on 'em!

After that, Nicole and I went out for lunch at Perky's Pizza. Surprisingly we actually managed to get all of our chores taken care of (groceries at Tina's, fruit from Miss Dees). I haven't been eating particularly well, so I'm trying to make sure we get some serious fruit into our diets, and I haven't worked out in a while, so I'm going to try to see if the temporary gym is open today (they were supposed to be finishing up construction on the main gym, but they randomly decided to add a third floor. Now God alone knows when it'll be done).

After lunch, I don't remember much; it must not have been that important. I know there was something about financial aid and student health. Here are a few things I might look into, just because it would be stupid of me to think I'm too smart for help:

1. Peer tutoring - a previous semester's student who has all A's will tutor those of us trudging through a particular subject. This sounds like an excellent idea, because it reminds me of the SI sessions I attended at MERP - nearly all of which were very helpful.

2. Mindfulness - This almost sounds like a guided meditation thing, but focussing and being really intentional when I pay attention in class couldn't possibly be a bad thing. I focus much better when I pay attention - go figure.

Those are just a few of the things I'm considering. This weekend, Nicole and I are going to the Caribantic - the place where the Caribbean sea meets the Atlantic (I'll be sure to take tons of pictures!) . Hopefully it won't be that bad; it's an all-day affair, but I haven't done any tours yet, so it'll be fun.

I'm going to be a doctor. Studying is going to be really interesting. But you know what? I'm all over it.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Blog: The First

For Christmas, my mother gave me a beautiful, leather-bound journal, and I promised to write in it diligently. I'd journaled all through high school (and loved every written word), but then sort of fell of in college. I got sucked into the livejournal craze, but ended up using that for some manipulative, semi-backhanded sniping, and I'd prefer to not return to that. Thus, I'm stealing a friend's excellent idea and finally setting up a blog, where I can kill many birds with, perhaps, slightly fewer stones. I can journal and keep my experiences straight, while still letting the folks back home know that I'm safe and sound. Here is the e-mail I sent my mother:

"Hey Momma! I'm here on the island and have finally gotten almost everything set up and squared away. On the first day we got here, Nicole and I just relaxed and checked into our rooms. Then, on the net day, we went and took a bus (price: 1$ EC) to the next town (to a shop called Grand Bazaar) to buy transformers, since most of the island is on 220v current, and all of my stuff is on 110v. Shortly after getting the transformers back to the rooms and plugged into the wall, I promptly shorted out my surge protector - and with it, the lights. I should have known better, because we did the exact same thing to Nicole's earlier, but I figured it was worth a shot. That was Saturday evening, but I didn't get my lights back on until Sunday afternoon, when I caugh the attention of a maintenance man. Later on that day, Nicole and I stopped in Tina's grocery store for some provisions (read: peanut butter, jelly, pita bread, toilet paper - etc.), and then walked around to James' Store to get a surge protector for her. After that, we went out to Perky's pizza, and downed a whole large pepperoni between the two of us (we figured we'd get business taken care of before eating). Then, we went back to the PBH bar for a few rum punches, and walked down the beach to socialize a bit at the Ross bonfire.

Yesterday, we didnt' do too much; we took in our laptops to be reconfigured to the school's network, and took a tour of campus. Since it was Sunday, most places were closed, but we found one little roadside shack that was open. Miss Dees (her real nme is Dawn) sold us some grapefruit, pineapple, and, since Nicole wanted one, a basket. I figured that the fruit was a good idea, since we'd been subsisting on Nice Biscuits - which were something like $4.00 USD for twelve packs of twelve. Nicole and I sat on her balcony eating our fruit salad and enjoying the sound of surf. It's interesting here - all of the electricity is prepaid, so we're going to have to be very careful with how we use our AC. That is, perhaps, the reason that I sit here at Ross' upper deck, overlooking the sea as I write to you, instead of back in my room (Portsmouth Beach Hotel 395). The cell phones, of course, don't work this far out of the coverage range, and though Nicole and I had purchased international phone cards, this little country doesn't accept them. At all. So, today, after spending two hours in line to open up our bank accounts (read: Farley's Offshore Bank Account), we went and purchased island cell phones. They're little nokias, and the rates are somewhat agreeable, but it'll be better if y'all call me (1-767-295-1221).

There's been a lot of walking, and I'm sure there are some things I've negleted to mention - like how at home I am here on the island, but overall, I'm really enjoying it. I knew coming in that things were going to be very different here; island time applies everywhere. No matter where we go, it seems like we wait twice as long, but you know what? That's ok with me - I don't really have anywhere to be. And since I've got that island blood flowing through my veins, the locals seem to be a bit nicer to me than everyone else around me. I'm sure that's going to come in handy, because I'm sure I'm going to have a lot more questions and concerns, and I'll appreciate all the help I can get. Orientation starts at 6 today, and we'll get down to business. I love you all very much - give dad, Stef, Bug Bug, and Grandma Cissy my love. "
Rest assured, I've got much more to write, as well as some backtracking to do. For example, Nicole came down and spent New Year's with my family, and got to experience the Neasman's Fireworks Extravaganza (as well as Mexico), and I'm probably going to want to record my experiences with Tropical Shipping in Medley Florida. Sooner or later, I'm going to have somthing to bitch about, and I'm glad that I now have an audience.