Monday, February 15, 2016

If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you

The cast of characters by which I'm surrounded here each day of my medical school career seems to be slowly but surely parting with its rather tenuous (my favorite word of late) grasp on reality. It's like a reality show except that no one gets kicked out or kicked off anymore; we're past that. People just slowly but surely lose their marbles a few at a time until they're saying or doing truly bizarre things, even more so than when these people first arrived, and most of them were more than a few centimeters off-kilter in one direction or another even before they got here.

To put things in perspective, Matthew is probably one of the saner people here. I know I disparage Matthew about as regularly as I clean my ears, and my ears are cleaner than most. To be fair, Matthew's been a bit challenged in terms of raw intelligence for most of his life, but he hasn't necessarily been crazy. There's a difference, as I'm certain you can appreciate.

One of my high school teachers told a story that illustrates the difference.  A man had a flat tire, so he pulled over to change the tire. The spot where he was stopped was just outside the fence of a home for the insane, criminally or otherwise. One of the residents watched the man as he changed his tire. The man jacked his car and removed the flat tire. Before he could replace the flat tire with the spare, all for of the man's lug nuts rolled down a curb gutter and beyond his reach.

Not quite sure what he should do next, the man stood idly while pondering his fate until the loony bin inmate calmly suggested, "Maybe you should take one lug nut off each of the other three wheels. Put those three lug nuts on the wheel with the spare tire. That should keep all the wheels in place until you can get more." 

Not having a better idea, the man did just as the inmate had suggested. Then he turned to the man and asked, "If you could think of that so easily, why are you in there?"

The inmate replied, "I'm crazy. No one ever said I was stupid."

I don't think there's anyone left here in my cohort who is stupid. Some are brighter than others, but no one (even Matthew) is bona fide dull-witted. I cannot assert with equal veracity, however, that no one here isn't just a bit touched. 

Germophobe behavior is so common here that it's practically mainstream. I've heard from some of the doctors in the family that germ-obsession is off-the-charts among medical school students in general. Most though not all of  of them will eventually get over it to some degree. My cohort mates are certainly holding their own in this regard. Several cohort mates wear nitrile or vinyl gloves the entire time we're together. Considering that in the lecture halls we're more or less limited to note-taking, such would seem to be a bit extreme. One of my fellow med students carries a container of antibiotic facial tissue with him everywhere she goes. If anyone sneezes or coughs, he gets up from his seat to distribute exactly three tissues (never one, two, or four, but always exactly three) to the sneezer or cougher. He wears a facial mask at ll times. He used to wear the facial mask just to school functions, but the word on the street is that he now wears it everywhere. I have no clue as to whether or not he wears a mask in her own apartment, and I don't intend to find out.

Other quirks I'm seeing in my peers are not quite so easily explained away as is the germ obsession. One guy has to sit where he can see all doors in whatever room we're convening. This is a bit weird but still basically fine as long as we're in a room that doesn't adjoin another room with doors. If we are in an adjoining room or hall, he sort of wanders as though he's patrolling. Some professors are less bothered by this than others are.

Corinthe (I'll leave you to guess whether or not that's her real name), who is my closest friend in med school other than my brother, has begun to think about one of every two males she sees looks just like Jim Jones. I'm not certain from whence her fixation with Jim Jones sprung. He and his band of followers were six feet under long before she was born. No one among her extended family or circle of friends had any association with his cult. It started when she was, for some reason known only to her, watching a Bertie Higgins music video on her computer while waiting for a lecturing professor to medicate himself because the poor guy could barely get through a sentence without practically asphyxiating himself in cough spasms. (We were all amused by the irony that the guy was lecturing about the ineffectivity of traditional cough suppressants -- both over- the-counter and high octane, as compared to their homeopathic counterparts. Yet when the disparager of Dayquil and all its neighbors on the pharmacy shelf was forced out of commission by the mother of all coughs, to what did he resort? Codeine laced phenergan with a side of 10/325 hydrocodone / acetaminophen, more commonly known as Norco. I have good reason to believe we're being taught by a team of junkies. They may preach homeopathic remedies, but when push comes to shove, they'll reach for the opiates every time.) 

Anyway, Corinthe was killing time and for some reason to which only God and Corinthe are privy, she stumbled upon the video of Bertie Higgins wailing that godawful song about having it all just like Bogie and Bacall. I must assume the song was the only Bertie Higgins hit. He was probably banned from recording in studios everywhere after the fiasco that was "Key Largo." In today's world, it wouldn't stop anyone. They'd just record their trashy works on their cell phones and become bad Internet sensations. Back then, however, such was not an option, and the world was thus spared from further musical degradation at the hands or voice of Bertie Higgins. I looked at Corinthe's monitor when she called my attention to Bertie Higgins' supposed similarity in appearance to Jim Jones. To be perfectly honest, I could see the resemblance. (Higgins probably sang like Jim Jones as well. That was probably part of the musical problem, though only a small part. Bertie Higgins was too great a musical debacle to be blamed solely on Jim Jones or on any other single entity.) Since then, she's pointed out at least thirteen other guys as well as two women who, in her estimation, look a whole lot like Jim Jones. None of them look any more like Jim Jones than you or I do. To say that Corinthe has Jim Jones on the brain is an understatement.

Another cohort mate who sits near me during most lectures is developing some sort of obsession with the rate at which people blink. You can see in his eyes that anytime he looks at someone, he's calculating the person's number of blinks per minute. He doesn't seem to do a whole lot with the data once he's gathered it, though I'm not sure what could be done with it, anyway. I've heard that some people blink more frequently when they're lying than when they're telling the truth, but since there's not really any major incentive around here for anyone to speak untruthfully on a regular basis, it's probably not a major causative contributor to the statistical phenomena. I say whatever floats the guy's boat is probably harmless if it's so out in the open. (If he were hiding cameras in restrooms to gather data of a more private or insidious nature, I'd be the first one to protest.) A few of my cohort mates, however, aren't so laissez-faire and are beginning to be freaked out by someone staring at their eyes. I admit to sabotaging his collection of statistics by staring for seemingly impossible intervals.

We're dealing with digesting a whole lot of very important information in a relatively short period of time, and we all have our own ways of breaking down the information, of making sense of it, and of storing it in places that will make it easy for us to access the information when needed.

One lady who sits three rows ahead of me and two my left for most sessions is a flutist. I've never seen her with  flute, and she's never spoken to me about it, but I can see that she places her hands in front of her and  moves her fingers in the configurations to play flutes scales when she's trying to process information. I've never played the flute, but my mom plays it, so I recognize fingerings. 

A girl who sits in the same row as I but to the far left of me takes notes on her laptop as do most of us, but the very key points of any lecture she writes with Sharpie marker on her left arm. Her left arm is often very red from having been scrubbed so hard to rid it of each day's notes. I don't understand why she doesn't switch to an easier-to-erase marker than a Sharpie. Then again, perhaps it's the erasing and not the writing that locks the information into her brain. By the time I'm helping people to justify such odd behavior, I'm probably just about as screwed up as the rest of my cohort is.

I'm not going to go into every quirk of every person who attends lectures and other class sessions with me, or at least not in this particular blog.. Suffice it to say that no one has ever noticed that I don't touch the arm rests of the auditorium-style chairs in which we're almost always seated and that no one thinks anything about having to check public restrooms for goons or bad people before I am comfortable going in myself.  Even if I didn't have a good excuse (for the latter, anyway) my quirks are so insignificant that they fail to attract even minuscule attention. I'm normal to the point of being boring by comparison to my medical school peers.

One of my cohort mates who shall remain nameless (he's been mentioned) made a proposition of sorts. He suggested that when he's through with his residency and I'm finished with mine, if neither one of us is in a significant relationship, we should perhaps contemplate looking each other up at that point. I told him that when the time comes, I'll think seriously about considering it. Thinking seriously about considering contemplating looking someone up in five to eight years IF we both happen to be unattached is about as serious a commitment as I'm willing to make to anyone at this juncture of my life.


  1. Sounds like your days are about as weird as mine are. I laughed out loud when I read your comments about Bertie Higgins. There's a blast from the past!

    Follow up "Key Largo" with a rendition of "I've Never Been To Me" and you have quite the 80s era sapfest.

    1. Yep, would be an 80's extravaganza. I had managed to forget that "I've Never Been to Me" existed. Charlene and Bertie should've teamed up for a duet. Maybe it would have made both of them two-hit wonders.

    2. They should have guested on Solid Gold the same night! Talk about blockbuster entertainment!

  2. Sounds like med school inspires a special kind of paranoia. Hang in there!

  3. until now, I never knew Bertie Higgins. Thanks a lot. laperla

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  6. To sum up all the above, you are so wonderful.

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  8. Very intelligent people seem to have stranger quirks than "average" folks. This may be only anecdotal as very intelligent people are more often in the spotlight, but nearly everyone has some slightly different behaviors, except you and me. They are always a source of entertainment, however.

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  10. I analyze and treat maladaptive behavior for a living, so this was both interesting and amusing.
    Your high school teacher's story should be included in public relations communications targeted at destigmatization of mental illness.

    Re your cohort mates:
    I used to play piano and violin (although at nowhere near your level) and have also found myself doing fingerings during a few emergencies. It's healthier than clenched fists. Hasn't held me back in decades of practice. In my peer groups over the years there has been a significant correlation between musical achievement and a high degree of ability to process and reprioritize information in rapidly changing situations.

    You'll probably see a lot more arm writing from others once clinicals start. As long as there is no evidence of infection this is harmless unless the intent is self-injurious.

    Often context is everything. Your behavior makes sense in light of events in your life.

    The only one who concerns me is the mask wearer. Perhaps it is explained by immunocompromisation, be it the mask wearer or someone in the household. The other likely alternative is obsessive-compulsive disorder, which too often delays or terminates medical careers. I hope the faculty is monitoring this. A year and a half of med school is too precious to waste.

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