Thursday, November 30, 2006

Beam Me Up

The light box thing came. It’s pretty funky. I got the desk lamp version, partly because it was listed on the sheet my doctor gave me and partly because I thought I might be able to pass it off as, you know, a desk lamp.

Not a chance. This thing looks like it was left behind after an alien visitation. Everyone who’s stopped by my office has skidded to a stop and said, “WHAT is THAT???!!”

Though when I confess it’s a light box, they all say, “Ooooohhhh ... I want one!” So I guess there are more dorks out there than I suspected.

I’ve only had it for two days, which is a little early to expect results. It definitely feels different than a regular lamp. It doesn’t seem all that bright—until you switch it off, at which point the room seems to have been dunked in essence of gloom. So after spending the recommended half hour with it beaming on my face like a Gro-Light on a happy pot plant, I move it way over to the corner of my desk and point it down. I don’t know if this will cause a mania-inducing overdose, but a little hypomania wouldn’t be such a bad thing. This has been a really tough month. I don’t feel depressed, exactly; no hopelessness/helplessness/inability to imagine a better future, etc. I just feel melancholy. And yes, that’s normal, but it’s no fun, and it’s affecting other people. I’m avoiding posting, because I can only think of gloomy topics. I’m like a sullen, disaffected teenager. I seem to see only the sad facets of every situation. For instance, one of my students has a deformed thumb. So what, right? It obviously hasn’t harmed her success in the world thus far. But every time I see her, I find myself mesmerized by it, hardly able to focus on anything else. I’m afraid to comment on others’ blogs, for fear of focusing on the deformed thumb.*

Before I sign off, I do have one piece of happy news. One of my colleagues has been going through infertility treatment for a looong time (during which five different women in the office got pregnant, two in an “oops” manner). She underwent multiple interventions, including seven IVFs. Then she thought that she must be going into early menopause, because she hadn’t had her period in a while. You know where this is going … she’s fifteen weeks pregnant now. So how’d it happen? Did she “just relax”? Nope. She and her husband had a fight, followed by makeup sex, and ta-da! Her RE was like, “You got pregnant by having sex? Eww!” So now I have an irritating story to tell people who are trying. “Just have a fight with your partner! You’ll be pregnant in no time! I know this person …”

*Not to imply that anyone else has deformed thumbs, or deformed blogs.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Rage, Rage Against the Dying of the Light

I went in for my quarterly tune-up with my psychiatrist recently. I think he’s a little bored of me; he hasn’t had to tweak anything for ages. This time, though, when he asked the usual questions about how things were going, I answered, “Fine, I guess, though of course it’s always especially hard after the time change in the fall.”

He perked right up.

“Why does that bother you?” he asked.

“Well, because it gets dark so early,” I answered.

Which is how I found out that it’s not entirely normal to dread the autumnal equinox and to count down the days until the light starts to grow again. I’d never understood how anyone can say fall is their favorite season. I’m used to my mood taking a swan dive in the fall, reaching its nadir about the end of December. It always creeps back up, but the prospect of the weeks and weeks of darkness stretching out ahead of me is tough.

So now I’ve got a light therapy lamp coming in the mail. I will set it up on my desk at work. I am going to look like a complete dork. Rather, I will be revealed to be a complete dork. But, I hope, a cheerful dork.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Scurvy of the Soul

Medical school is full of “That’s how that works?!!” moments. One I remember especially clearly was when I learned about scurvy:
Scurvy is a disease caused by a dietary deficiency of vitamin C (ascorbic acid). The disease has occurred with regular frequency throughout human history and prehistory in populations lacking fresh foods … Deficiency of the vitamin causes a breakdown in the binding function of these tissues, producing a series of characteristic signs and symptoms: weakness, lethargy, irritability, anemia, purple spongy gums which bleed freely, loosening teeth, the reopening of healed scars … and hemorrhaging in the mucous membranes and skin. In severe cases the mortality rate is high.
Up until then, I’d believed that scars were stronger than regular skin. When in fact they're weaker. Maybe this was something most everybody else knew, but it really shook me up. The mantra “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” is so satisfying. “What doesn’t kill you leaves a scar that may weaken and rupture again if stressed” is kind of scary.

I got to thinking about this recently when I was doing a computer search to see if a paper I’d had published recently was showing up yet. Only one other person with my last name is published in the medical literature, so it was quickest to type in just my last name to look for my papers.

But it turns out that they’ve been slowly working backward in time to put medical articles into the citation system. Which is why the last time I entered my name into PubMed, two articles written by my father appeared.

My father was a statistician who collaborated with medical researchers, so it’s not surprising that he had some papers published under his name. But he died when I was five, and all I knew about his job is that it had something to do with computers. Seeing his name pop up without warning like that was painful; a reminder that he’s not here, and of how much he has missed. I had never even thought about the fact that we could have talked about my work.

People often say that you never get over a loved one’s death. When I was much younger, I hated to hear this. I spent a long time trying to convince myself that my father’s death didn’t really have an effect on me. It happened when I was so young, after all. But things did sneak up on me. When I was driving down a street one day I caught sight of a little girl learning to ride a bicycle, her father running behind her, his hand on the back of her seat. Suddenly I was so upset I had to pull over to the side of the road. Then I remembered that my father had just started teaching me how to ride a bike the summer he died. After he was gone I had to do it myself: there was a big pothole in our driveway, and if I climbed on the bike at the top of it and rolled down, there was just enough momentum to get me started. I did it over and over again until I had it.

Once glimpsed, the knowledge that a person who loves you and takes care of you can disappear in an instant never goes away. It can teach you to appreciate people, but it also makes you very wary.

The truth about what happens when something wounds you is that first there is pain and bleeding. Then you start to heal, and a scar forms. A scar is vastly better than nothing; at least the acute pain goes away, and you don’t bleed to death. But it’s never the same as it was.

I think that human interaction is like vitamin C for the soul: get too little, and your psychic wounds can reopen.

I guess that’s why I keep blogging.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

I Didn't Mean Right NOW

I got a call from the Medical Examiner's office that one of my patients was found dead. It was the woman I saw the other week, the one who couldn't stop drinking, the one I called a drink-yourself-to-a-miserable-death alcoholic. The cause of death was clearly alcohol-related. She was found by her daughter, who had stopped by with her newborn baby. I didn't even know she had a daughter.

I spoke with the daughter on the phone. She talked about how the alcohol was the only thing that mattered to her mother; she only ever called her daughter to scream at her. The daughter seemed incredibly nice.

I haven't got anything profound to say about this. I'm just trying to imagine what it must be like to care more about getting drunk than about your daughter, or your brand-new grandchild, or your own life.