Tag Archives: chemistry

Answering The Unasked Questions

Death sucks.

Yes, I realize that I am courting the obvious there, but I thought we needed to restate where we stand on the issue. Sure there are some occasions, some deaths, where the cessation of breathing is cause for celebration and I would not try to argue that.

For the most part, though, people who die don’t want to die.

Again, blindingly obvious, but stick with me. I do have a purpose to this.

See, we as civilians only have to deal with death on a fairly irregular basis. It’s not like we see it every day as part of our job. Because we, as civilians, are not doctors.

Shara Yurkiewicz is a fourth-year medical student at Harvard Medical School where she’s learning what it takes to become a physician. She’s taking classes about anatomy, about chemistry, about diagnosis of disease and all of that.

However, it’s what she’s going to learn outside of the classroom that will determine how good of a doctor she becomes. My wife, known to many as She Who Must Be Our Best Chance, also is a doctor. She’s an OB/GYN and she’s one of the best doctors I’ve ever met. Not only is she a dedicated physician, who continues her medical education every day, but she’s also got a tremendous stirrup-side manner. She connects with her patients as people, as sometimes friends.

And patients appreciate that. She didn’t learn that in a classroom, but it’s a big part of why she’s such a great doctor. Shara Yurkiewicz has plenty of time to work on her bedside manner, but, right now, she’s still learning some powerful lessons.

Thankfully, she shares a lot of those lessons with readers of her Scientific American blog “This May Hurt A Bit,” which follows her trials and tribulations as a medical student.

In a recent column, Ms. Yrukiewicz transcribes a conversation she Diversity can be accomplished with tiny, little steps and it's not all that hard, now, is it?had with a patient following his hip-fracture repair. It offers we civilians a gripping view inside the real-world learning medical students must go through to become effective doctors.

She thanks the patient for allowing her, a medical student, to watch as the surgeons worked to fix his hip. It’s a relatively bland conversation and I began to wonder why it was in her blog. Until we neared the middle and things — through no one’s fault — began to go downhill.

Very badly downhill.

I watched as they kept your eyes shut and handled your body just as gently as they had a few hours ago.

I listened to the final zip of the body bag. I don’t know who had the time to switch off the radio, but I’m glad they did.

I listened as the nurse asked God to rest your soul.

I watched you leave in a different kind of bed, to a different place. I’m not sure where.

You can learn a lot from watching. Thank you for letting me watch.

We fixed your hip, sir.

The operation was a success, but the patient died. It’s not an oxymoron, but a notice that physicians must understand the different values for success.

To become a good doctor, medical students need to understand that patients are not simply a presentation of diseases and symptoms. They are people, with lives and loves and desires all their own.

What Ms. Yrukiewicz doesn’t mention in her post is the next most important lesson a good doctor must learn: How to learn everything you can about what happened so it doesn’t happen again and then move on to the next patient, fully confident that the surgery will be a success and the patient will survive.

Her blog provides an interesting look into the world of student physicians. I’d recommend you dudes and dudettes go and give it a read. It’s always interesting to learn what the person on the other side of the white lab coat is thinking.


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He Blinded Me With Science

I don’t know where I went right.

For some reason, our youngest dude, Hyper Lad, is an experimental fiend. And that’s a good thing.

He loves to do scientific experiments on his own. Well, I say on his own, but I mean he comes up with the idea and we work together to find the ingredients and I’m there as the nominally adult supervision most scientific experiments require.

Together, we’ve learned to solder and then put together a digital watch that actually works. We’ve also created “ninja sticks” that required wood staining, drilling, leather work and wood burning tools.

Working on his own, Hyper Lad has destroyed an abandoned microwave and taken apart a non-functioning iPod. Yes, those last two are destructive, but they were controlled destruction to see what was inside, rather than merely destroying to destroy because he could.

This one, though, surprised me.

He came downstairs, asked if we had milk, food coloring and some dishwashing soap. And, yes, we did. Then he went about this that follows.

Isn’t that cool? It took me a while, but I finally went and figured out why it does what it does.

To do that, I went to Steve Spangler Science, which has a whole bunch of cool experiments for kids to perform. And me, so I guess adults are included as well, which is a good thing.

Anyway, here’s what it says there:

The secret of the bursting colors is the chemistry of that tiny drop of soap. Dish soap, because of its bipolar characteristics (nonpolar on one end and polar on the other), weakens the chemical bonds that hold the proteins and fats in solution. The soap’s polar, or hydrophilic (water-loving), end dissolves in water, and itshydrophobic (water-fearing) end attaches to a fat globule in the milk. This is when the fun begins.

The molecules of fat bend, roll, twist, and contort in all directions as the soap molecules race around to join up with the fat molecules. During all of this fat molecule gymnastics, the food coloring molecules are bumped and shoved everywhere, providing an easy way to observe all the invisible activity. As the soap becomes evenly mixed with the milk, the action slows down and eventually stops.

And so my verbal fumbling during the video was partially correct. It did have something to do with the chemical properties of the soap. I just couldn’t articulate why. Of course, that’s like saying, “It’s going to hurt.” when a rock’s going to hit your head, but not understanding that it would miss if you stepped out of the way.

Now that we’ve discovered this experiment website, I have a feeling Hyper Lad and I will be having a lot more science fun in the future.

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Christmas Changes

Depending on the age of your little dudes, Christmas is a vastly different experience.

In general, the younger the little dudette, the earlier you get to awaken on Christmas morning. I used to be able to count on no more than six hours of sleep between Christmas Eve and Morning, if I was a very lucky dude, mostly because I had to stay up a little later to make sure and “help” Santa distribute presents and stuff stockings.

In the mornings, we’d hear the pounding of little feet racing back and forth in the hallway upstairs and one little dude ran to the bedroom of the next little dude, who ran to the next. And then they all tried to sneak downstairs with the subtlety of a meth-crazed elephant putting out flaming ducks*.

As they get older, things. . . change.

Since the youngest little dude now is 14, an official teenager, we’re not faced with such appallingly early wake-up times most days. In fact, my wife, known to me as She Who Must Be Getting Her Beauty Sleep If I Know What’s Good For Me, and I were able to get up on our own around 8 in the morning, walk the dog and still sit down to share a bit of that instant Christmas classic: Breaking Bad. (Because nothing says Christmas like the story of a milquetoast chemistry professor turning into an ego-crazed, blood-soaked methamphetamine dealer with delusions of grandeur.)

Instead of racing down the stairs, the young dudes stumbled downstairs, slowly, peering around with sleep-clogged eyes, running hands through tousled hair and croaking through coma mouth in a ritualistic, “Ugh. mumblemumble-orning mumblemumble.”

I won’t say the young dudes actually took their time opening presents, letting each person go in turn, remarking on the wonderful way Aunt Someone took the time to pick out just the right shade of puce for the sweater she knitted each of them. Still, there were occasional pauses in there that didn’t come from them accidentally inhaling a floating piece of impromptu confetti drifting through the air.

Christmas coming right before the end of the old year and the beginning of the new, offers the perfect time for reflection, for considering how things have changed. I’m not one to focus on the past, to talk about how things were always better when I was younger, or when the young dudes were, in fact, young, but it is interesting to see how they have adapted to the passing years.

It’s taking these moments of reflection that enable parents to come to terms with the fact that, while they’re horrifyingly impersonal as gifts, teenagers really do want gift cards so they can get exactly what they want for themselves. I wish it weren’t the case, but there it is.

Time, as is its wont, passes. The black pencil writes and, having writ, passes on. Stuff happens.

And you will not be able to stop it, so you’d better find a way to enjoy it. The sooner the better, dudes. The sooner the better.

 

*Why do ducks have flat feet? To stamp out forest fires.
Why do elephants have flat feet? To stamp out flaming ducks.


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