Wednesday, November 28, 2012

MedSFL: Pain.

I spoke with a recent acquaintance in the anatomy lab the other day. She is a secular humanist and recently attended a MedSFL event, where she very articulately questioned/opposed everything the speaker was saying. In lab, she told me frankly that she thinks everyone should have to bring in speakers on both sides of any "issue like that," to avoid misinformation and bias and to allow people to make their own decisions. She also spoke about how she was very upset about all the intolerance she saw in her classmates.

I was surprised that she could imply so bluntly that my event (a presentation by a pro-life doctor on abortion) was misinforming, since there was no one who held the contrary position. I was surprised that she could so unabashedly speak about intolerance. Because of my surprise, her words felt like a slap.

This isn't the first time I've been "slapped" in MedSFL. (For the record, I don't count angry emails from strangers as slaps, since they're much less in-your-face and they're to be expected.) A few months ago while I was planning the meeting the secular humanist attended, I contacted two women who I knew to be pro-life. They agreed to meet with me before the next event to talk about it. To my complete and sharp surprise, they sat me down and bluntly told me they both felt the same way: "Let's be clear: I don't do this pro-life action stuff." I am ready to attest that they had good intentions, but the approach left me seared and begging to ask them, "if you agree with me, why put me through such a wringer? Couldn't you just email back and say nicely, 'no, I can't help with the meeting, but I can come,' and leave it at that?"

At this point, I am really the only person in the group. The attitude of these two women, whose discernment I can admire, seems to be the attitude of others as well: "I already do other things. I don't want that label, 'pro-life.' It interferes with the way I live, the way I interact with others, and what I want to do (or think God wants me to do)."

Happily, one of the undergrads at this institution, a former officer in the undergrad pro-life group, is coming here next year and I can pass the torch to her. I'm so ready to be out of's emotionally exhausting.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Penultimate Anatomy Lab and Human Dignity

It's been a long time since I've been in the anatomy lab for the peer teaching program I took up last year. (I was off by my request in September because I knew that Cardio was an intense block and that I had a big MedSFL event then; my October lab was cancelled due to a campus emergency/evacuation.) I went in last week for the dissection of the triangles of the neck (this is the front and sides of the neck). It was a remarkable experience for several reasons.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Reading the Catechism is awesome.

I signed up for flocknote's "Read the Catechism in a Year." We're now on day thirty-something and I am SO glad I signed up. At first, I expected that I would get behind and let the daily emails pile up in my inbox like all those 40 Days for Life messages and other action group mass-mails.

But happily, that hasn't happened. I've missed a day here or there, but it's simple to catch up and (honestly) it's really interesting reading. And it's going to get even better: I looked at the Table of Contents in the CCC I have on my phone, and this book has it all: the Trinity, angels, hell, morals, Mary, saints, apologetics.... I can't wait.

I had a few vague expectations when I signed up for this. Mostly, I thought, "I've always wanted to do this and it seems like something I should do." I had no idea how important a thing I was doing! Since I started reading the Catechism, I've realized at least two very important problems in my spiritual life.

Problem One: I think of the Holy Spirit more as a creature than as Creator. Somehow, in my imagination or thoughts, He is not as much God as the Father and the Son. Probably, this is a combination of several things, like:
  1. His name is less concrete. In our materialist culture (which I can't escape), what is "spiritual" or not a human being isn't real.
  2. He is always described last and often negatively or by exclusion.
  3. He is pictured more often as not human. A dove is more like a symbol than a person.
  4. My spirit-of-Vatican-II catechesis invoked Him so strangely that I've kept my distance since.
As a result, I think of the Holy Spirit as I do of grace (a creature), when in fact he is fully Divine.

Thank goodness I am reading the Catechism, which brought this mistake to light. I'm now working to erase this mistaken way of thinking by praying the Litany to the Holy Ghost (because I'm renewing my Total Consecration) and calling to mind his Divine power and personhood.

Problem Two: my faith is not very robust. I know it's not a sin to have difficulties, but about once a month I have a spasm of secular humanism that makes me think, "wait, Jesus is truly present in the Eucharist?" I wrangle with the thought, trying to bring out proofs and helps to bring my intellect back in line.

We had to take some online courses through the Institute of Healthcare Improvement open school (which, parenthetically, I highly recommend) and one of them was on workplace safety. A hospital/clinic that has a strong culture of safety, the module said, permits a janitor to say to the chief of surgery: "did you wash your hands?" Certainly, often the chief of surgery does the right thing and, in fact, does great things. But in a workplace that is really interested in the good of the patients allows the lowest, simplest person can say to the most senior and qualified, "don't forget the right thing."

Similarly, the highest powers in me (my intellect and will) often do right and great things, like studying theology, obeying my conscience, and loving others. But if I have a strong faith, then the "lowest" part of me (the little Catholic woman with her simple faith) can say to the highest (my intellect or will), "don't forget, God's existence is incontrovertible and He cannot lie."

I realized that my approach to the secular spasm is off: a woman of strong faith will simply say to those doubts, "Yes. Jesus is truly present in the Eucharist. There is no room for doubt." The Catechism helped me realize this by quoting Bl. John Newman's Apologia:
Ten thousand difficulties do not make one doubt.
So, if you haven't signed up for flocknote's "Read the Catechism in a Year" it is time. You can catch up with the past month or so here and sign up here.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Living with the Poor

At a recent Christian Medical Association meeting, the speaker spoke about how to help the poor who are close to us, which is a very very very important topic to me.

Speaking as a "mainstream" Christian (i.e. non-Catholic or Protestant), he noticed that most Christian doctors don't live in poor neighborhoods. He related results of informal poll he'd done: he'd asked his Christian colleagues why they lived like typical doctors, when Christ lived among the poor and preached poverty. His colleagues told him that they'd been encouraged by pastors to use their gifts and acquire wealth to glorify God.

I almost fell out of my chair when he said that. I cannot imagine a devout Catholic priest saying that to a Catholic physician. To be charitable, I know that many non-Catholic Christians are also shocked at this sentiment (why else could the CMA speaker make us aghast during that meeting?), but the Catholic Church seems particularly immune to it, especially in her saints.

Even the saints who are wealthy, and our contemporaries who are in typically wealthy orders like the Order of Malta or the Order of the Holy Sepulchre, place explicit emphasis on dispensing wealth for the sake of the Church and the poor. (On an unrelated note: I just discovered that there are five knights/dames of the Holy Sepulchre at the parish where I attend daily Mass. They came in all their regalia to a special Mass recently and I was so excited.)

The happy news is, I'm Catholic and there are many non-Catholic Christians who are like me at least in this: they want to imitate the Catholic saints (whether they know it or not) and serve the poor without concern for themselves.

Practical suggestions from that speaker included living among the poor (to find out where to move, visit the Oval Project). Since my third and fourth years will be located in a different and larger city (in fact, my home town), I mapped it out and am looking for places where there are short ovals.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Can't I just stay in here?

Marc Barnes has said that his general feeling of fighting the culture wars is a vague bleaugh....

Yesterday I went from bleaugh to WAAAHAAHAHAAA! and I guess I just talked with one too many firmly convinced, articulate, faith-and-reason-are-opposed and I-can't-force-my-beliefs-on-my-patients secular humanists.

I don't want to fight any more. Can't I just stay inside my safe place and pray and grow in holiness away from the war zone? Do I have to be a force for quiet conversion, a challenge to the dominant worldview, etc, etc?

Yeah, I know the answer seems obvious, but it sure seemed like a difficult question to answer yesterday. Pray for professional students.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

First OSCE

Yesterday I had my first objective simulated clinical encounter (OSCE). This means I went to the simulation center (pretend clinic/hospital) that is built into our medical school and saw a simulated patient (a normal person who's trained to act in a certain way to make it seem like they're sick). It was really awesome, for lots of reasons.

First, a silly reason: I got to introduce myself as "student doctor so-and-so," and it was thrilling to hear myself say the word "doctor" before my name while introducing myself.

Second, I knocked on the door, interviewed someone, and then stepped out and charted on the encounter. In preceptorships, there's not much documentation that medical students to (at least, not in my experience). But here, I got to pretend that I alone was responsible for the medicolegal documentation of what that patient had and needed. Cool, eh?

Third, I got to use my (still embryonic) clinical acumen to decide which questions to ask the patient, and what parts of the physical exam I should do. Even though during my feedback session I discovered that I'd missed some things that were important, I still listed a good differential diagnosis.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The War of World-Views

Last week I arrived early for Case-Based Learning so that I could sit in the empty seminar room and quietly study. I found a Muslim classmate already in the room, seated on the other side of the small table. I greeted her and we chatted briefly before we both resumed the never-ending task of studying. Before long, another classmate joined us. She is a "none," but very politically conservative. She is the prototypical virtuous pagan, so we agree on many things and I like her a lot. She sat down next to me amiably.

Shortly thereafter, a third classmate came in. He identifies himself as a Christian, but does not do anything that would give him that title. He is the prototypical post-Christian apathete. He sat on my other side, because we've been in a few classes together.

Somehow, the virtuous pagan and the apathetic post-Christian got into a discussion of what makes good movies good. She said that it was virtue in the characters; he said it was the CGI, the action, and the entertainment. It was an incredible conversation because it reflected two different world-views. I felt like I was watching Apathy and Virtue in a Greek play.

"300 was about truth, goodness, and beauty. It's even reflected in the lines...." Virtue insisted. She'd already made the point about Pride and Prejudice.

"Are you kidding? It was about a bunch of ripped guys goring each other with awesome CGI," Apathy said. While he didn't say exactly the same thing about Austen, it was close. Because Virtue is a very choleric person, the conversation escalated.

Apathy. Src
Virtue. Src
"Psh, there's no need to get upset," Apathy said with a superior tone and without raising his eyes from his computer screen (one of the large ones meant for gaming).

"I'm not upset," Virtue countered evenly but strongly. "I'm passionate. This is what passion looks like."

"Whatever." Then, after a pause:

"We can't be friends," Virtue said shortly to Apathy. "We're classmates, I'll be nice to you, but we can never be friends."

This knocked the wind out of me! A Catholic could never say that; although I might not like people, I can never move away from them, especially if they're in great need of the truth. Forgetting that she was not a Catholic, acting on the one-of-seven-children instinct, and victim of the I-am-trying-to-study-guys-please reflex, I said to Apathy:

"She's kidding."

"No," Virtue said to me firmly. "I'm not."

I became decidedly uncomfortable. Luckily, more classmates began to trickle in at this point, and the play was ended deus ex machina

The conversation has given me a lot of food for thought. Three of them:
  1. Probably, I should hold my tongue next time two world-views clash. I'm less likely to be singed and I'll be more polite.
  2. More seriously now: my classmates captured two world-views, both of them pagan. The post-Christian apathy is far from Christ's burning desire for the Baptism of the Cross. And the virtue of the pagan who desires excellence for her soul and the political sphere but cuts off those with wrong-headed ideas is far from Christ's love for us "while we are yet sinners."
  3. How other-wordly and amazing true Charity is! By it, we love other souls like our own, so that our desire that they be saved is just like our own hunger for heaven. This is beyond Aristotle's highest form of friendship, and we are to have this for every human person, by the grace of God. I'd forgotten how unknown this is to the natural order. Wow!
  4. It's interesting that the Catholic got involved in the pagan discussion and the Muslim did not. I don't want to read too much into this, because my Muslim classmate may not have known the other two well, or may have just been trying to study. But I have noticed that the desire to battle errors and fine-tune the truth is had to a unique degree in the Catholic Church. Glad I'm in it.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Quick notes

Blogging time has been restricted by time crunches, so I'm resorting a seven-quick-takes style today. I can't call it seven quick takes because I'm not sure there will be seven, and I cannot assign it a day of the week, either, since I've been meaning to type this post up for two and half weeks.

I am growing celery. It's fun to have a little greenery in the room.

After a certain event in September, I whined that I would never host another event again. This was ridiculous, as I was already planning to host a family practice doc to come and talk for MedSFL and two more CMA-SS meetings were on the books. The MedSFL event and one of the CMA-SS meetings are happening next week, on successive days. Oops!

I am shocked and slightly embarrassed at the hatred that radiates from people who disagree with me. Things I wish people knew:
  1. Disagreement isn't the same as hatred.
  2. Religious people can have intellects.
  3. People who have not had the same life experience as you can have valid things to say.
  4. Dialogue can focus on one issue at a time (restated: just because I hold one position that you disagree with, does not mean that I also hold another, or that want to talk about another).

Turning the other cheek and being polite is so hard. I want to be all things to all people, simultaneously never lying or withholding the truth out of fear. Someone liberal on Facebook can sling mud on Romney and say "I hate him," but I must only politely point out that Obama's policies aren't working, or draw attention to little-known facts like his support of inaction if a botched abortion results in a live fetus. 

Or, in comboxes: someone can lay a thick layer of Red Herrings, Ad Hominem, and Internet-Disinhibited Judgment on me, and I must truthfully and meekly answer for their good and the good of future readers. Humility in the face of misunderstanding; gentleness in the face of accusation; short replies in the face of diatribes. Basically: the second greatest commandment? Not cake.

I am in a group at the Catholic student center here called "Samuel Group," and it is put on by some religious sisters here and meant to teach youth, over day-long meetings throughought the academic year, how to discern. The requirements include monthly (or more frequent) spiritual direction, regular reception of the Sacraments, daily prayer, and restricted use of recreational television and internet.

We began with working to increase our trust of God, then looked over our life to find his providence in it (even those terrible, hard times that you never want to think about and think something must've gone horribly wrong with God's plan) and discover how we can magnify Him. Tomorrow is the third meeting and we will work on detachment.

The Respiratory block is over and we are now in the final block of the semester: Renal. This block is notoriously laborious because of all the physiology involved. Bring it.

Yesterday I learned how to intubate, put on casts (I casted someone in a short-arm cast for practice, and it looked like the one at right, although it had a final layer of deep blue, and I thought it looked amazing), take off casts (terrifying because you're sawing into someone's arm with the same kind of saw we used to cut bones in anatomy lab), do vascular and thyroid ultrasounds, and...

deliver a baby!!!

Although the "mother" and the "baby" were both mannequins, I thoroughly enjoyed it. In my small group of medical students learning together, I was the only one who had ever seen a vaginal birth, and the teaching resident had me explain what I thought of it for the other students. I told them that it was a surprise (there's a head coming out of where??) and a delight (this is a new person that no one's ever seen with their eyes!).

This is sort of what our L&D model ("Sim man") looks like. She breaths and pushes out the baby, who can present in any way. She also has a placenta, cotyledons of which can be "retained" so that you have to manually scrape them out. Our workshop only focused on normal deliveries, though. Source.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Picture of Our Country

Our patroness is watchful even as we're razed nearly to the ground. 
Pray to maintain your hope, then pray for the nation.
Jesus, we trust in You!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Where I Belong (Praying for the Holy Souls, the Culture, and the Election!)

I've noticed a strong happiness and fulfillment, as if I'm in my proper place, whenever I'm...

...praying for the souls in Purgatory.

Yesterday I went to gain a plenary indulgence for the souls in purgatory, since we are in the Octave of All Saint's Day. As I walked among the headstones, I had the strong sense that each stood for one or two people and that I was really but imperceptibly walking among a crowd of my fellow men. (This sense gripped me especially as I passed the infant graves, where headstones were closely packed and one stood for a pair of twins. The dead are like the living: some are young, some are old.)

In truth, the souls do not ordinarily linger on earth and so cemeteries are not crowds of souls, but the mental image or perception swelled to tremendous strength for my benefit. I realized that the only difference between me and the dead is that my soul and body are together and the souls of the dead are gone either to their eternal place, or to Purgatory. Except for this accident, we are alike. 

Those souls still exist, and those in Purgatory were doubtlessly aware of me as I walked on earth in prayer for them. Praying for the souls is a great (some say the greatest) act of charity, since they are very (or most) helpless. I became acutely aware of this yesterday, as I realized that the crowd I was surrounded by was hungrier than any starving person, more captive than any earthly prisoner, and more desperate and naked than any poor person. They are so holy and close to God, yet cannot slake their thirst for Him yet!

This isn't to say that we should ignore the hungry, poor, imprisoned, and naked on earth. It is only to say: do not forget the Holy Souls, if for no other reasons than (1) that you are not so far from being dead, and (2) because their need is so desperate.

Today I went again. Please visit a cemetery today to pray for the dead.

...hacking at the root of the Culture of Death.

Coming back down to earth: the excitement of fighting the good fight is an enormous high. I'm up to my eyeballs in it, with CMA-SS, MedSFL, 40 Days for Life, NFP apologetics, and (most recently) starting a 1flesh chapter at the university associated with my med school.

I'm fighting a war on half a dozen fronts (you might say I'm completely surrounded). Because I have the Truth, who is on the Cross, it can be very motivating and also extremely discouraging. Sometimes I want to fight, and other times I can't bear the thought of it.

...praying for our nation.

It doesn't look good, the morning of election day.

Eight years ago, too young to vote, I watched an election map progress through the evening on my laptop, bargaining with God that if He let the incumbent win I would spend the rest of my life fighting the pro-life cause (sheepishly admitting that I would also do that if the other candidate won). Bush won.

Four years ago, I voted pro-life, but I watched in a hazy apathy as Obama was elected. I didn't think he would be able to do much damage. To be honest, I don't know the severity of the damage he has done, since I cannot find a source that simultaneously avoids demonizing him and avoids worshipping him. I do not doubt, however, that he is the most liberal president we have had and that he has done damage to the country, especially in areas of fiscal responsibility, international catastrophes, and social/sexual issues.

This year, I avoid both of those attitudes by trusting in Jesus, in whose goodness I am firmly confident. My prayer is that Mr. Romney will be elected because I perceive fewer souls will be placed in danger under his leadership. But I am aware that my King is Mercy and whatever we will undergo is not only "okay," but wonderful.

Friday, November 2, 2012

New Look because I'm Feverishly Procrastinating

I am desperately avoiding the impending doom of studying for my comprehensive Respiratory Block Exam. I have a take-home quiz to complete, plenty of First Aid practice questions to go through, and HOURS of lecture to review but I am choosing instead to twiddle the knobs on Blogger's template editor.

I like the new background image of vigil lamps hanging in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Old Jerusalem, taken by Guillaume Paumier. I found it while searching for the below image (a painting entitled The Vigil by John Pettie, better resolution here) which I love because it reminds me of Crusades and St. Joan of Arc and Adoration and surrender.

Look at the knight's expression, and how formally he holds and presents his sword! It's clear to me that he is vowing allegiance, or perhaps even exclusive love, to his Lord. And look how the artist hints at the monstrance, yet piously declines to depict the Host. Perhaps Pettie prefers to depict the majesty of the Eucharist by the grave, yet loving expression in the eyes of the knight...after all, this is often the way we experience the majesty of God: through the devotion and virtue of others.