Friday, October 30, 2009

Brain stimulation among other things...

Yesterday I was reminded of this crazy job I had once when I was in medical school. I worked at a place called the Brain Stimulation Laboratory, which was located (of course) a Psychiatry Hospital. I did this for almost a year, some while taking med school classes. It was a strange place. There was the mad scientist/inventor/manic doctor who ran the place. He was rumored to only sleep a few hours each night and had a CV that weighed about 10 pounds because he had so many publications and inventions. I had a desk in a room with two other scientists–one was a Israeli-Russian guy, Jewish, who happened to hate working with the other one–a Japanese women. They were in cubicles on opposite sides of the room, as far as they could be from each other, and the fighting exchanges between them were outrageously entertaining. My desk was of course located in the cubicle between the two, where I spent most of my time trying not to laugh when they lapsed into their forgein tongues to mutter curses at each other. Fortunately I was out of the room and down the hall in the lab most of the time.

We were working on something that the defense department was funding–an investigation into whether we could create a “thinking cap” to keep fighter pilots from falling asleep when sleep-deprived. I was just doing my part in the war on terror, ya’ll. What it involved: getting volunteers to sign up to be sleep-deprived for several nights a week (they were monitored in a wing of the hospital where I can only image the poor nurse poking them to keep them awake all night), and then instructed to fly a flight simulator program for most of the next day. While they were “flying” I directed either real or placebo magnetic stimulation (TMS) to a specific part of their brain. (We had previously used a fMRI to locate the area we’d target in each indivual). Lest you think that a magnet can’t stimulate the human brain, think again! For part of the set up of the procedure, I moved the magnet over the motor cortex until the subject’s thumb twitched involuntarily with each pulse of the magnet. Needless to say, we were not successful in creating a “thinking cap.” But the data we gathered revealed a whole lot of other stuff in sleep deprivation research, and people are still anazyling what we gathered and writing about it in professional journals!

Why this is sorta cool: scientists have to add me as an author any time they use the data I collected in their studies! So that means there are all sorts of studies that I get my name on without having to do any more research than I did that year in med school. Cool deal, right? I guess it works out well if you are building up your CV for all the hoops you have to jump through in academic medicine. So to all my med student friends: try to get in on the data collection or benchwork level whenever you can, since it’s higher yield in terms of the number of times you get your name put on stuff. Just part of the game, ya’ll.

So anyway, yesterday I got an email with another manuscript to review and sign off on that’s going to print. And I hardly lifted a finger!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Book Review: "The Contraception Guidebook: Options, Risks, and Answers for Christian Couples"

By William R. Cutrer, MD and Sandra L Glahn, Th.D.

This book was primarily written to discuss the specific ethical concerns Christians might have as they consider different birth control methods, written by an OB-Gyn/Theologian and a patient/theologian.

From the beginning of this book to its end, I was impressed with the humble attitude with which the authors approached these sensitive and controversial issues. Time and time again they acknowledged different perspectives in the Christian community with grace.

The chapter on “The Why of Sex” did a great job at succinctly summing up the viewpoints from two primary schools of thought that exist within the Christian community. The possibility that marriage’s (and thus intimacy’s) primary purpose being procreation is an idea commonly surfacing among Christians. Concerns I have heard from Christians are appropriately out of a humble desire to obey God fully, and the out of fear that treating intimacy in marriage as something that can be separated (by any method of birth control) from the possibility of procreation that would be in rebellion to His plan. I felt that this chapter made several good and helpful points concerning this matter, including the following:

-There are entire seasons in married life (after menopause, during pregnancy, etc) where married people are intimate despite the absence of potential for procreation

-The entire book of Song of Solomon is about the marriage relationship yet does not mention children.

-The very design of the human body also points toward purposes beyond procreation, and specific examples are given

In the beginning of part two, the authors detail methods of more “natural” birth control. I was impressed with his mention of newer and more sophisticated methods used by couples in tracking ovulation, specifically the use of urinary hormone monitoring at home. After recently hearing questions from several people about these methods, I did an extensive search of the medical literature regarding this practice in particular. Specifically it seemed that the ability to predict ovulation by hormonal changes several days prior would make it much more reliable than simple calendar-based plans. I found very little research had been done using home urinary hormone monitoring other than at Marquette University, and was impressed that he was aware of their technique (using the Clearblue fertility monitor) , though I would have liked to see a website for it listed in the back for readers to learn more, given the reliability of the method.

Another strength in this book is the straightforward and clear way in which he describes the female hormonal loops and their feedback. I wish I had read this back in medical school before getting into the more complicated texts. This is a useful section for laypeople, and necessary before they enter the section on specific types of hormonal contraception.

The chapter “Do Birth Control Pills Cause Abortion” was perhaps one of the most helpful parts of the book. I have talked to many women who have concerns about this issue, and rightly so. The authors again wisely handles this section with the grace to allow readers to make their own informed decision regarding it, yet without compromising concerning the sanctity of the life of an embryo. He described all angles of the issue in an easy to understand way, which I believe laypeople would be able to follow easily. The section of the chapter called “Is Any Risk Acceptable” did a good job of putting the concerns in perspective. That we do not routinely sequester pregnant woman from the risks of being out in public where they would possibly contract an illness which would cause fetal death, for example, is a good example of a risk routinely taken in pregnancy, as small as it is. That the best pro-life scientists differ in their views on how to use the information since we don’t exactly know the risk helps me personally dispense grace to Christians who evaluate the information and come to different conclusions.

He also discussed balancing intent with the weight of knowledge. Using the example of a person backing their car up without looking yet not intending to kill a neighbor was poignant. I think of previous generations that didn’t have the same kind of access we have now to information. With the internet and thus latest research being so readily available, we have an obligation as Christians to keep up to date with the latest findings in this area, and I appreciated him reminding his readers to keep up as new info comes out. I truly hope that more research is done in the near future that can provide us with the needed clarity to make better decisions about it.

He continues in his book to cover the other hormonal methods of birth control helpfully and then to discuss the surgical options for more permanent sterilization. From my knowledge of these techniques and procedures, he summed up the information and concerns for each technique quite well.

I found the chapter “The Future of Contraception” to be quite interesting. I had no idea some of these ideas were in the pipeline.

Part Three covered the biblical view of family and its purposes. He again addressed these issues with grace and biblical insight. The idea of having a huge family being something of an idol in some Christian circles was an interesting point. I have occasionally noted the unsaid implication that somehow the large family is more obedient. He discussed this in the context of Gen 1:28. I do wish, however, he’d spoken into the concept of evangelism as a way to obey God in this.

All in all, this was an incredibly well written guide for the Christian family, which I would recommend to friends, family, and patients.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Freedom through Homemaking

I recently ran across a reference to this essay by G.K. Chesterton on Domesticiy, and simply had to post one of my favorite parts here:

She should have not one trade but twenty hobbies; she, unlike the man, may develop all her second bests. This is what has been really aimed at from the first in what is called the seclusion, or even the oppression, of women. Women were not kept at home in order to keep them narrow; on the contrary, they were kept at home in order to keep them broad. The world outside the home was one mass of narrowness, a maze of cramped paths, a madhouse of monomaniacs. It was only by partly limiting and protecting the woman that she was enabled to play at five or six professions and so come almost as near to God as the child when he plays at a hundred trades. But the woman's professions, unlike the child's, were all truly and almost terribly fruitful;
This sentiment rings so true with me! Sure, I enjoyed becoming a specialist and being able to develop a sense of expertise in the field of adult medicine. But now that I've been a homemaker for a little while, I'm really coming to realize how beautiful the spectrum of what I can do here is. I can nurture my "twenty hobbies" without feeling the need to become an "expert" or professional in each of them. For instance, I can play the violin for my daughter as she pounds on the piano next to me, and do it well--even play in friends' weddings, without making it the only thing I do all day every day. I can create complex recipes from my Julia Child cookbook to suprise my husband and broaden my cooking skills without having to enter a competition or write a cookbook. I can advise family and friends in medical issues, checking the latest evidence, without the confines of hanging a shingle. I can paint a landscape inspired by the waves of the ocean or the vast marshes to brighten a corner of our home, and develop my skills as a painter, without setting up shop in a gallery downtown. I can do all of these things without having to compete in the marketplace to become the very best at any of them, and find fulfillment in the way in which I can glorify God in them, without turning them into my vocation! This is a taste of freedom, not the imprisonment modern feminists would call homemaking.

In Edith Schaeffer's book, The Hidden Art of Homemaking, she touched on this philosophy a bit as well. I read it late last year and it inspired me with the affirmation that I can use even my weakest gifts to create beauty in ways that edify. But lately I think I'm really beginning to look at this new vocation of mine as the canvas upon which I can paint with each of my hobbies and talents in ways that will build up my home and bring glory to God. The bredth of unique challenges faced in my daily calling brings opportunity for growth in so many areas.

Just some quick thoughts...
Now on to develope my handyman skills in fixing my dryer!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

On Devouring Books

I can't really describe how much I enjoy reading. Maybe that's why I don't remember a time I was ever bored. I mean, there is always something to read or something to think about. So today I added the area on the blog where I list what I'm currently reading, with the intention of briefly reviewing them as I go along. I can't possibly imagine catching up with reviews of all the books I've previously read in the past few decades, but over time I'll post a list of my all-time favorites on here.

Generally I read any number of books at the same time, opening up one or the other depending on what mood I'm in. So perhaps I'm inquisitive one day and want to read ethics or philosophy. Or perhaps I'm on the beach and want to read a novel. (Don't scoff fiction--you can actually learn things through reading fiction, and there can be redemptive qualities in many narratives, i.e. there is fiction that edifies). Frequently, as my husband can attest, the pile on my bedside table grows until it collapses onto the floor without warning (even in the middle of the night when my pillow bumps it in my sleep, taking my thick eyeglasses with it!) Hopefully I notice the glasses before I trample them in the morning in a sleeply haze.

So a current problem in our home is the fact that we have run out of bookshelves for all of the books! Our daughter has her own little bookshelf which is short where she can reach it, and she just seems to be getting more interested in me reading her books about the alphabet and numbers, so we have it well stocked for her to get to at her leisure. And we have filled the bookshelves in our study to the brim, with the unsightly placement of books in every crevice including lodged sideways and on top of the once neatly arranged line-up. When we moved into this house I arranged all the books topically, so all the medical ones had a place, all the Bible commentaries had another place, all the biographies another. And my husband's WWII books had their own entire bookcase. In addition to these crowded crevices there are now stacks of books in the corner of the study. I've neatened them as best I can so that the titles are visible and accessible, but still. And next to them are the growing stack of hematology and oncology journals that my husband reads. I still stifle a laugh that one journal is simply called "Blood."
We also have several stacks in our bedroom. I'll admit sometimes I read in a bubblebath (only once did I drop a library book in --a collection of short stories by Brett Lott that was excellent. Don't worry I replaced it at the church libary with a new one and they even offered me the now-dried-wrinkled one to keep. ). So anyway, there is a stack by the bathtub as well. Downstairs in the family room I've tried to stash books we are currently reading here and there. There isn't room for a bookshelve in that room so I've found some places to line a few titles up between bookends out of reach of the baby and without making the room look cluttered--like on top of the upright piano and at one end of the mantle. In the kitchen the cookbooks (which I also like to simply sit and read at times) are in one of the cabinets, taking up precious space that pots and pans would probably prefer to occupy.

So, needless to say, I've got to find more shelves, and recently undertook a hunt for affordable glass-fronted bookcases. I really hate books getting dusty (especially given how how it makes my eyes water and sneezing to occur when I pull them out), so I've been poking around antique stores with my eyes open lately.