Saturday, April 28, 2012

Catholicism > humanism, based on rigorous criteria

When you join the CMA you get a pin. Now I can replace the "Humanism in Medicine" pin on my lapel with the AWESOME Catholic pin which is not only bigger, but in color. Add a precious feet pin and I'm all set.

The coppery humanism pin has a picture of a heart-shaped stethoscope on it.
The CMA pin has a gold caduceus superimposed on a red cross over a deep blue  background,
rimmed in gold. It's practically a coat of arms. "Epic win" is now spelled "h-o-l-i-n-e-s-s."

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Banana fritters

Burnout with studying leads to cooking, because everyone wants to feel good and energized by something. The morning of the hardest exam of the block I made banana fritters with almond-flour batter seasoned with cloves, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Delish! It helps me get over the fact that my test grade (while relatively good) is lower than any I've gotten since August.

I realized yesterday that I was getting over a cold while fighting poor sleep  and the stress of three major upcoming events: a test on Monday, our CMA's White Mass on Saturday, and a former abortionist speaker coming tomorrow (that will at least a's a harrowing story). I cannot wait for the summer. @_@

Sunday, April 22, 2012

What my Patient Said

We were asked to write a response paper for another humanities class (Medicine in Literature). I asked to write something creative in response to Raymond Carver's "What The Doctor Said." Here is the original poem:
He said it doesn't look good
he said it looks bad in fact real bad
he said I counted thirty-two of them on one lung before
I quit counting them
I said I'm glad I wouldn't want to know
about any more being there than that
he said are you a religious man do you kneel down
in forest groves and let yourself ask for help
when you come to a waterfall
mist blowing against your face and arms
do you stop and ask for understanding at those moments
I said not yet but I intend to start today
he said I'm real sorry he said
I wish I had some other kind of news to give you
I said Amen and he said something else
I didn't catch and not knowing what else to do
and not wanting him to have to repeat it
and me to have to fully digest it
I just looked at him
for a minute and he looked back it was then
I jumped up and shook hands with this man who'd just given me
something no one else on earth had ever given me
I may have even thanked him habit being so strong
This poem describes a scene so loosely (as a sign of that, the author has used no punctuation) that zillions of interpretations are possible. I offer one.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Dante and Goths

No, not the Germanic tribe that sacked Rome in 410. The international subculture associated with deathly makeup and suicide attempt/cutting in half of its members.

Last week I listened to two pieces by Nightwish: "Seven Days to the Wolves" and "Ghost Love," recommended to me by my brother. My reaction was complex, owing to some familiarity with the culture and dress of this subculture in high school. I'd strongly rejected this part of my past as shameful and a little evil. (I think to myself, after all the graces you had received by Sacraments and the holy lives of your turned to that?)

I had to admit, from the first chord, that I liked the music (especially of "Seven Days"), but I winced as I watched the fan-made videos. They were filled with japanime of thin and pale people with black wings, lolita costumes, blood-stained flowers, and bizarrely-used traditional symbols (e.g. crosses). The figures are seldom modest, usually physically enhanced, and always lonely and drawn in cool colors.

Nightwish's lyrics also flitted across the screen. I was ready for lyrics that matched the pictures: overly-dramatic, depressing, unchaste, abusive of good symbols. I was ready to hate it. I was ready for it to blacken my day. But look:
The wolves, my love, will come
Taking us home where dust once was a man
Is there life before a death?
Do we long too much?

Howl! Seven days to the wolves
Where will we be when they come?
Seven days to the poison
And a place in heaven
Time drawing near us
They come to take us

This is my church of choice
Last drinks and death in last sacrifice
For the rest, I have to say to you
I will dream like the god
(And suffer like all the dead children)

This is where heroes and cowards part ways
Light the fire, feast
Chase the ghosts, give in
Take the road less traveled by
Leave the city of fools
Turn every poet loose
The Ghosts of Paolo and Francesca Appear
to Dante and Virgil (1855)
Something is missing, clearly. But there is much that is valid and present.

How does this relate to Dante? In his Inferno, the circle just above hell houses the virtuous pagan philosophers, who walk about in a dim but tortureless existence, their only pain being their loss of the fulfillment. They had their eyes set on the highest mortal things--but not on God. The next level (the first circle of Hell) is home to the ghosts of lovers in hell for loving each other more than they loved God. They whirl around entwined for eternity, lamenting their mutual calamity. But the most interesting thing about these lovers is their surprising place in hell: it's the least punishing level! The good they have chosen over God is the next-best one: other people (not non-rational animals or inanimate objects like money or food).

Nightwish in concert. (Observe cellphones.)
How does this relate to Nightwish? This song, which I don't hate, is full of serious and meaningful imagery. Like ancient ones, this modern-day pagan writer understands that our time is VERY finite and that something awaits us--in fact, he even asks whether there is life before this next thing. He correctly identifies the most important things in this life: love, sacrifice, death, heaven, the end of time. C.S. Lewis had an incredible article about this.

Nightwish is also like Dante's lovers: he chooses other people (highlighted best in his other song) as his saviors and icons. Perceiving the human state he longs for depth of love and gift; perceiving no other object for this than others and himself he pours his attention into these beautiful, poetic beings. Doing this, he is better off than some Christians and post-Christians, who choose lesser goods (e.g. contentment, wealth).

Now I see why people dress like that, act like that, and create art like that. (It's St. Augustine: every desire is a desire for God, Confessions VII.) It's imperfect but it's not malicious, just as Dante laid out. Ultimately, listening to a Goth band increased my ability to bear charity to myself and neighbor. Wow!

Repost: William Coulson and the LCWR: "We Overcame Their Traditions and Their Faith"

This morning I read an article by Kathy Schiffer. My recent Church history is very patchy, and this gave me a big piece of the missing chunk, explaining why consecrated life experienced such a decline between 1970 and 2000.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Miserere Me, Deus

Listen and believe that our God has brought Beauty into being so that we can return to Him.

Medical Ethics club on Abortion

A pro-life friend and I went to the bioethics club meeting on abortion earlier this week. There were eight students there, including the two of us. I had to leave early (halfway through the meeting) because I had to commute to another class, but my friend took notes for me. Everything in quotation marks is a direct quote.

First, the part I attended.
We began with a video from Al Jazeera (click right) about illegal abortions in Guatemala. The gist of the segment we watched was:
  1. Women are suffering the effects of illegal, unsafe abortions.
  2. Poverty is rampant, the fertility rate is unsustainable, healthcare is poor.
  3. Conclusion: abortions should become legal.
The meeting never discussed the beginning of life. We never mentioned conception or tissue or personhood. All we talked about was availability of contraception and abortion. My peers (excluding my friend, who almost exclusively sat and silently took notes) uniformly believed that abortion was a right. There seemed to be flexible differences between them about how abortion should be used (e.g. as birth control?). Even so, they were very ready to agree with one another.

The bulk of the conversation I heard was about the poor, who needed abortions because they could not afford the $10/month birth control. My peers admitted that some of these "poor" prioritize their money badly, sometimes buying cigarettes or cable before buying condoms. I piped up to ask how much birth control cost if a person was on Medicaid. I was told it was free, but that some of "these people" had just enough money so that they didn't qualify for Medicaid, and that this was really sad. They complained about the inconvenience posed to the poor in an abortion: taking off work, driving multiple times to the clinic, and saving up money for an abortion (which takes time, during which the pregnancy is progressing and the abortion, getting more expensive).

I had initially sat next to my friend, with a space between me and the next person. Trying to be friendly, I bumped over a seat, but this gesture was unappreciated. The girl who I was now next to did not face me or look at me, addressing her comments to the others in the room. I as if I irked her. Only after my friend debriefed me on the rest of the meeting do I see why...

Now for the part after I left.
I tried to leave congenially, explaining and smiling as I picked up my bag. No smiles back, which surprised me. I am normally the only first-year who even comes to bioethics club meetings and I get lots of smiles. I was also being very sneaky during the meeting and saying things that were rather neutralish and even ambiguous. However, I didn't camouflage very well that morning. (I was dressed like I usually am: in a skirt, with my crucifix very visible against a white shirt. The TAC dresscode is a hard set of habits to break, and I eventually stopped fighting them because the female Muslim students don't get flack for dressing modestly and I want to dressing worthily of my King at Mass every day.)

Source: PPFA via
The next day, my friend explained that the rest of the meeting included a discussion of Planned Parenthood. "Oh...I'm pregnant," quipped one, "well, got to go to Planned Parenthood." Others approved this with "good," and "that's great." (PP), opined my peers, is about patient education and prenatal care; most PPs don't do abortions. Do they know that 38% of PP's revenue is from abortions? And do they know that 37% of PP's revenue is from clinic incomes? What does this mean?

They also discussed the Komen events, which they dismissed as politics.

In our state, they said, the waiting period and mandatory ultrasound aren't useful--most women don't change their minds. Moreover, most women aren't traumatized by the event, just those who are already "sick."

They went into more detail about the hassle posed to abortion-minded women. Besides having to take off work and drive to the clinic, they are also harassed by protesters and their families (my friend wrote D**n protesters yelling at you, go to H*ll). The government makes them jump through hoops. But it's fine once they're inside, and they're "free" three hours later.

My friend asked whether the father of the baby was responsible for the decision. This was dismissed as off-topic. He should have to pay child support, but only the woman has a say in an abortion because it's her body.

Other chilling quotes included "the more [abortions], the merrier," and that pro-choicers are "always on the side of the woman's rights [and] morality."

But that was not all. Two more quotes my friend recorded showed me why I received such a cold shoulder and a stiff good-bye.

"'s illegal because of the Catholics."

"'s those evil people..."

The quotes were said separately (he didn't mention whether they were from the same person), but the message is clear. And (truth be told) when he gave me these, I didn't believe him at first, because they are so clearly the end result of relativism that I have read about for so long: the truth is called a lie because it refuses to accept lies as truth.

Well, So much the better that the credit for opposing abortion go to the right persons. And so much the better for a time of persecution; the Church always flowers during these. One more quote:
"Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and 
utter every kind of evil against you because of me." (Mt 5:11)

Forward this around! Everyone needs to know that the persecution has begun and our hope is now clearly only in Christ and his faithful Bride.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

United States Consecrated Women

This post, like the last one, starts with my evening in the hospital chapel. But this post, unlike the last one, is not long and nice and reflective.

Before Mass (which was only attended by the celebrant, four habitless Franciscan sisters who administer the hospital, and yours truly), the first part of Evening Prayer was prayed. However, we did not pray out of a breviary. We prayed from The Companion to the Breviary: a Four Week Psalter Featuring All-Inclusive Language (emphasis mine). The doxology was rendered:
Glory to you, source of all being,
Eternal Word, and Holy Spirit,
As it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen.
It was printed on cute little cards with sunny clip art and inserted as bookmarks into the Companion. I can think charitably about ugly architecture, but removing God's masculinity from one of the most necessary prayers is very different. Who would want to sterilize their Spouse? It is interesting to me that the culture of sterilization (i.e. Western civilization right now) does not exempt members of the Church.

But there is good news!
  1. Real Catholicism is winning.
  2. The Church is speaking with the LCWR.
  3. Update: I like Elizabeth Scalia's thoughts on this, more than anything else that has come out. I tend to assume the worst of habitless nuns, but she has a balanced perspective that ultimately emphasizes obedience.
I pray that women religious in this country return to their radical beginnings. Look to the thousands of years of strong and beautiful women saints!

(Right: Main nave of the byzantine basilica of Sant'Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna, Italy. The mosaic shows a procession of early Christian virgin martyrs, such as St. Agatha. Doesn't this beat sunny clip art?)

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Inspid Chapels

This was not the hospital chapel, but it captures some of
its qualities.
Yesterday I went to Mass at the local Catholic hospital. As soon as I opened the door to the hospital chapel, I groaned. The hospital chapel is a hexagonal multipurpose room with a slanted roof. A stone altar, wavy stained-glass windows (of St. Francis with birds and of the Holy Family with eyeshadow), a lightweight lectionary, chairs (no kneelers), and an off-center tabernacle complete what I’ve mentally termed the insipid chapel.

My usual reaction to insipid chapels is annoyance, injury, loathing. Badly proportioned rooms offend my Euclidean mind. Misarranged and temporary furniture imply hastiness and miserliness. Ugly altars, ghastly stained glass, Picasso tabernacles, and Puritan decorations make me want to scream. All these, associated with twenty-minute Masses and liturgical “freedoms,” make me boil.

But as I prayed before Mass, I thought about this reaction. I recalled that I recently learned that there are laws prohibiting things like permanent furniture (e.g. pews) in some of these chapels.

I discovered this at Notre Dame when I was struck by their dedication to consistent architecture. ND’s newer buildings have very similar external architecture to older ones (high-pitch slate roofs, warm brick, stone molding, gothic arches, and statuary). However, chapels in the older buildings are charming, tiny versions of ND’s central gem, the Basilica of the Sacred Heart (below: the basilica's altar); in contrast, chapels in the newer buildings are variations on the insipid chapel. When I observed this to a fellow participant in the Vita Institute, I was told that chapels built into buildings designed for other purposes (e.g. office buildings, hospitals, or dormitories) are restricted. At any time, these chapels must be able to be deconstructed so that the room can used for another purpose. (We will not rant today about such laws; it’s off-topic and I don’t know enough about them.) Certainly this doesn’t excuse everything about these chapels, but it does give me pause.

Once I had the occasion to reconsider my crusade against insipid chapels, I realized that they have their beauties. I saw an example in my high school experience of an ugly chapel that helped me grow in grace. My high school had an insipid chapel (before it was converted into a math classroom). It was a small room and the long axis of the room was parallel to the altar. This meant people angled their bodies sharply to face the priest or the Eucharist. The tabernacle was an undecorated octagonal prism of whiteish marble that rose starkly from the ground to the far right of the altar. Above it (in the angled ceiling) was an awkwardly-placed skylight. The sanctuary lamp stood beside it, having nowhere else to hang or rest.

Don’t groan yet! I had not yet experienced real architectural beauty, so I was pre-snobbery. Blissfully unimpeded by the architectural imperfections, I used to go to this chapel to pray the rosary in the mornings. I knelt in front of the chair immediately before the tabernacle, not more than three feet from our Lord.

My imagination transformed the scene. The monolithic tabernacle became the foot of the cross planted in the barren ground of Golgotha. The rest of the cross as well as Our Lord’s body was beyond my physical sight, lit up in sunlight and bathed in mystery. I could only see it in my mind’s eye. The sanctuary lamp, standing beside this cross and placed between me and Christ, became Our Lady. I began to understand the tilt of her head in icons, the place of our Mediatrix in our lives.

Remembering that insipid chapel, I realize something about my attitude toward all ugly chapels. I only stand to gain by receiving others’ works (like their chapels) with meekness.

Important: The “I don’t care what a chapel looks like” attitude is bad. If the house we build for Christ repels, how can we attract others to Him? Moreover, our art reflects our loves; if we love Beauty, we will endeavor to fill our lives with it. If it were in my power to improve an existing chapel or design a new one, I would pour extraordinary beauty into it. I would try to remember the advice of Dr. Thomas Dillon: shortly after the dedication of the Chapel and before his death, I complimented him on the beauty of TAC’s chapel (left, while under construction in 2008). In response, he simply told me that “we should give our best to God.”

However, my attitude of militant dislike or righteous whining may lose me graces, like the understandings I gained about Our Lady’s place in salvation history I received, praying in my high school chapel.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Suture clinic

Recently the OB/GYN interest group hosted an extracurricular session to teach M1's to suture and give M2's a chance to practice (and learn a few fancy stitches, like the horizontal mattress). We also had practice gloving and using laparoscopy instruments. And, for those interested in OB/GYN, the older students took out the models of cervical change during labor, for us to see whether we could guess the dilation and effacement. Everything was cool!

We we also had lots of expired suture and we each had a suturing kit and either a pig's foot or a cow tongue. I love suturing, am decent at estimating centimeters, and love the tactile/visual challenge of laparoscopy. I enjoyed it so much that I took a partially-sutured beef tongue home to my freezer. Then, my roommate and I used it to practice! Pictures below the jump are of cow tongue being sutured, so don't explore if you're not intrigued.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Surrendering means Victory

I've observed before that the readings the Church gives us amazingly correlate with daily life. One could say that this is no surprise: I am trying to become conformed with Christ and this is what Scripture is all about.... But sometimes, I'm amazed. For example: today and yesterday [For reference: readings from April 13, readings from Apr 14; courtesy of USCCB].

A unique problem for the first-year medical student is "what should I do this summer?" This is the only summer she has to put something on her résumé for residency applications. She thinks, "ah, I have to do something cool and shiny, like a preceptorship or research." (A preceptorship is several weeks spent with a physician practicing physical exam skills on that physician's patients, like M3's and M4's do. It's a step up from shadowing and it's nice to hone the physical exam and become less uncomfortable with patients. Research is a necessary part of a résumé for competitive specialties like dermatology or radiology. It's either basic, in a lab; or clinical, in a practice.)

Also on the medical student's mind is money. She is living off of loans, and loans only come during the semester. So how will she eat if she doesn't get a paid internship? So she applies frantically to things. There are plenty of opportunities.

I applied for three research programs and a preceptorship. Yesterday afternoon I found out that I was not accepted into any of these.

And my summer-plan failure was dramatic. I had put effort into two of the research program applications and was reassured that I would, in fact, get into them. For one, I spent half a day commuting to a different town to meet my potential preceptor; for another, I contacted three or four physicians by cell, email, and office only to receive no news, not even a "we're not interested." This made me very confused and disappointed.

The readings were eerily relevant, especially the Gospel:
Simon Peter said to them, "I am going fishing." ...So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. When it was already dawn, Jesus was standing on the shore; but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, "Children, have you caught anything to eat?" They answered him, "No."
I was like St. Peter: when it came to the summer plans, I decided myself that I was going to do something that measured to my own standards. This was a human decision; God's will was not really part of it. (I only ever see that my decisions exclude God in hindsight. I need to get better at discernment!) I said to myself, "I'm going to apply for some research programs," and off I went, without really consulting the Master of my life.

But I was reassured, because the Gospel continued:
So he said to them, "Cast the net over the right side of the boat and you will find something." So they cast it, and were not able to pull it in because of the number of fish. ... Jesus said to them, "Bring some of the fish you just caught." So Simon Peter went over and dragged the net ashore full of one hundred fifty-three large fish. Even though there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, "Come, have breakfast." And none of the disciples dared to ask him, "Who are you?" because they realized it was the Lord. Jesus came over and took the bread and gave it to them, and in like manner the fish.
So, not to worry. When the Lord sees fit, He will instruct me to my benefit and, if I hear and obey, I will find something (153 somethings, to be exact).

This morning, I reflected on why He went to such lengths to prevent me from doing something this summer. I remembered that my summers during college were chaotic times where I stopped praying regularly and got really stressed. Suppose the failure of all my attempts this summer is Christ saying, "this summer, I want you to live your vocation, not regret that you haven't." How kind of Him! He wants to prevent me from grief and lost graces. I went from confused, sad and stressed to confident and victorious.

Today's missal explains my feelings. Today's responsorial psalm:
Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good,
for his mercy endures forever.
My strength and my courage is the LORD,
and he has been my savior.
The joyful shout of victory
in the tents of the just
The feeling of victory comes with becoming just. I was just because I surrendered my summer to Him (as I might have done at the outset), admitting my proper place and His. Finally, the feeling of security comes with being safe from my opponents (the rejection from the opportunities, my mental image of an empty-looking résumé, my financial worries, my drive to do something big and flashy). One who belongs to Christ cannot be punished, like Ss. Peter and John are undefeatable in today's first reading:
After threatening them further,
they released them,
finding no way to punish them....
May we each have the strength to accept the victory we are offered! If you read this, please pray for my test on Monday, the biggest test of the four I have left before May 18 signals the beginning of this marvelous, mysterious summer.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Abortion in lecture

We had a lecture on teratogenic viruses last week. Our professor's presentation listed each virus, the birth defects associated with it, and the relevant prevention or treatment. As I previewed the lecture the night before, I read about congenital rubella syndrome (CRS). I was in my usual medical student study-mode (loading information into my brain via conveyor belt) when the conveyor belt suddenly stopped:
slide on congenital rubella syndrome
slide on effects of congenital rubella syndrome
 this slide shows treatment options for CRS: there are really none (besides vaccinating women before pregnancy), so the slide advises abortion.
And the next day, my (mild, talented, knowledgeable, personable) virology lecturer taught us to advise abortion. He said,
Typically, the medical recommendation for first trimester infections [is] abortion, therapeutic abortion, because most of those babies would never have a  functional life [or] existence.
And when summarizing, restated
...therapeutic abortion is the standard recommendation for first trimester rubella infection...
Between lectures, I struck up a conversation with a peer about it. I knew he was a Christian, but I assumed he was pro-choice (I was correct). I mused aloud that abortion was like a deliberate miscarriage. He agreed. And I further mused that a miscarriage was the death of a baby. He agreed again! Then, I wondered whether there was any reason to cause a miscarriage if that was the natural end of many CRS pregnancies. I felt like he kept repeating the words "option," "beliefs," "have to," and "if you were the only one" in various combinations, and when lecture began we stopped talking.

I thought about linking this with Good Friday and editorializing about redemptive suffering, mercy, and persecution; but I'm too tired. (Probably should've made my "normally-sized meal" a little more substantial.) Since you can probably make the connections yourself, I just say: this has been your report on the status of the U.S. medical school. Please pray for us.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Beauty of Espousal to Christ

Quickie post before I buckle down to studying...just in case you think the exterior beauty of consecrated life does not exist (as I am tempted to when I see nuns in suits), think again. Today I found the website of the Adoratrices du Cœur Royal de Jésus-Christ Souverain Prêtre. And my mouth dropped open to see photos of our rich and ancient traditions exemplified as
  • This sister professed temporary vows (scroll down and look at her face!) in 2011
  • These two postulants became novices the same year
I found the site because a TAC alumna became a postulant last year as well. Deo gratias!

Sunday, April 1, 2012


In a brief weekend that isn't before a test, I can post about food!

I made some applesauce with a few (mealy) red deliciouses, spices (cloves, nutmeg, ginger, and cinnamon), and berries.  In the pictures below, the apple almost looks like granola, since it's beginning to oxidize.

The finished product has a deep color and visible raspberry/blackberry bits. I haven't tasted it yet---it's coming home with me for Easter as a treat--but I'm sure it's delish.

It's nice to use different muscles--add some labora to ora and some recreatio to lectio.

applesauce with berries and spices, before cooking in a crockpot. apples were chopped with a food processor.

applesauce with berries and spices, before cooking in a crockpot. the berries were bagged and frozen.

And earlier, I made my own craisins (because cranberries are so sour, they don't really taste good any other way without copious amounts of sugar). Unsweetened, they added a nice punch to almonds.

 homemade craisins; chop, place on baking sheet, and dry at 200-400 degrees Farenheit (depending on your patience) until dehydrated. homemade craisins; chop, place on baking sheet, and dry at 200-400 degrees Farenheit (depending on your patience) until dehydrated.