30 January 2007

Not-so-dead language

This morning I was told that I would have to be at work at 6:15am tomorrow morning in order to do the research part of a pre-op research MRI.

This generally involves preparing the MRI suite by stocking the bed with hot packs, warm blankets, assorted pressure cuffs and blood gas syringes and programming the monitors for a neonate (baby less than 28 days old). Then, if all goes well (it's about 7am), the baby is brought down from the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) to the scanner by the anesthesiologist who will participate in the baby's impending heart surgery and the baby is placed in the scanner for an hour. I spend most of this hour recording vitals, sedation doses, running blood gas samples and results slips back and forth to the cath lab (catheterisation lab) and, of course, eating donuts. Then the baby goes off to surgery and I go back to my usual job (it's now about 8am).

Later this afternoon, however, the scan was called off because we couldn't get consent from the parents. They were not unwilling, so far as we could tell, but unfortunately no one speaks their primary language and I honestly haven't the faintest clue where to get ahold of a translator that speaks Aramaic. Yes, that's right, Aramaic. As in, lanuage commonly believe to be the one Jesus used and is generally thought to be less prevalent than Latin. I mean, how many high school Aramaic clubs have you heard of?

In the few hours that I was seriously pursuing the idea of getting a translation made of our consent form, I learned a little about the Aramaic language. It is, rather logically, an Afro-Asianic, Semetic language whose status is not actually "dead" but "endagered". It is the original language of the books of Ezra and Daniel and is the primary language of the Talmud. 400,000+ people speak modern Aramaic, mostly Assynians, though the communities are small and geographically scattered. It is frequently confused with the Ethopian language Amharic (also a Semetic language).

In case you are curious, the baby needed heart surgery for a transposition of great arteries (TGA), which is exactly what it sounds like. The pulmonary artery is joined to the left atrium and the aorta is attached to the right atrium (in a healthy person it is the reverse). The net effect is that the blood in the pulmonary (lung) circulation does not get to the body and the systemic (body) blood doesn't get to the lungs to be oxygentated. There is a small amount of mixing, facilitated by the ductus arteriosus (a small duct between the two arteries) that is artificially kept open through the administration of prostaglandins.

29 January 2007

A rock and a hard place

I am at the point in the get-into-medical-school process that requires the most commitment, the greatest resolve. I am taking the MCATs. Well, more precisely, I am studying for the MCATs so that I may take them on May 11th. I'm also in Organic Chemistry II, which I honestly wish would just fade into the background because I don't want to bother with it. It just seems so much less important to do well there than on the Big Exam except for the teeny tiny caveat that I've asked my organic professor for a recommendation.
I have realised that assuming I could do the above while continuing to work full time was a tad ambitous. And yet, I also have the nagging suspicion that if I were somehow to be more efficient, it woun't feel like such a burden. The thing is, I like eating with my books closed for a few minutes. I like taking a couple of hours on Sunday to eat pancakes and watch Meet the Press in my PJs. It keeps you sane - giving it up for one week, no problem, giving it up for a whole semester while you burn yourself out like a roman candle - yes problem.
Managing my time and shoveling knowledge into my head, while stressful, are not the biggest reason this requires resolve, however. No, the hardest thing to stare down is my opportunity cost - what did I give up to do this? I gave up New York City, no small thing as it's the only city I get homesick for and I've never had roots or a "home" in the classic sense. I gave up a really nice salary and all the comfort that buys. I gave up any semblence of a social life, although to be fair my job limited that too, though to a lesser extent.
I gave up the life I always thought I wanted, grew up aiming for, because I didn't want my boss' job. Or her boss' either. On some days, maybe after a hard organic quiz, I wonder if it was all a little drastic. If sacrificing the rest of your life for a little engagement at work is really such a great trade off? I'm living to work and I'm pretty sure that takes 10 years off my life-expectancy and doubles my risk of heart attack. I would love to say that stepping into the hospital makes me remember why and sometimes it does. I wanted to do something that allowed, if not forced, me to be a perpetual student and I've found it.
Maybe what I'm really feeling now is not the cost of what I've done, but more simply, reality settling in. No one job is going to make my life perfect and all the possibilities cost something. I have chosen to be happy at work even if that means sacrificing much of my outside life. Staying in finance would have meant a comfortable life but long hours at job I loathed.

I have this whole conversation with myself pretty often and I find it comforting that by the end I always conclude I did it right. Hating what I did turned me into a person I didn't want to be and even now, even with the MCATs looming I am generally happy and optimisitic. I don't have an overwhelming certainly that this is what I was meant to be or that I couldn't be happy with another profession, but that doubt makes this real. If there are no doubts, you didn't think hard enough. It's like the MCAT verbal questions: you rule two out and then go with your gut.