Tuesday, February 20, 2007

You know what bore me? Lungs.

The only good thing about lungs is that they keep me from dying. Other than that, they do squat. These enormous tissue-balloons take up way too much space in both my chest and my textbook. In an ideal world, they would plod on with their horrible, Sisyphean fate of inflating and deflating and inflating and deflating without impinging on my consciousness. Alas, I was forced to learn all about these monotonous windbags for the last week and a half. The highlights (of which there are precisely TWO) are as follows:

1. During one particularly painful lab session, some 12 of us were forced to watch one student breathe awkwardly into a computer monitored spirometer. While that was happening, Byron and I sat on the other side of the room and watched an episode of 30 Rock on NBCs website. Sure, we couldn't watch it with any sound, but it was still a much better use of our time than watching readouts of lung function flutter up and down across a computer screen. And that Tracy Morgan is a CARD.

2. Shortly after our computer session came to its riveting conclusion (it turns out, Max's lungs both inflate and deflate), we moved on to a significantly more entertaining lung function lab. To be accurate, it was more of a lung "non-function" lab - maybe that's why it was fun. The dozen of us shuffled out of the computer lab and into a lecture hall. There, we were asked to time each other while holding our breath. It was like med school and third grade summer camp all rolled into one.

After holding our breath, we calculated the changes in the various blood gasses in our circulation. Oxygen levels would drop, carbon dioxide levels would rise - makes sense. It was interesting to note that the sensors in our body that tell us we're suffocating would be, in this case, going berserk due to the high carbon dioxide levels rather than the low oxygen levels. In order to hold our breath for even longer, we'd need to somehow depress the level of carbon dioxide in our blood.

So we hyperventilated for a while before holding our breath. And voila, it worked. After blowing off all that carbon dioxide, we could hold our breath for much longer. Then we ran through some more calculations to discover that, this time, it was the low oxygen levels that compelled us to breathe again. So we decided to see how long we could hold our breath after first hyperventilating then finishing off with a few breaths of 100% oxygen from a tank.

Up until this point one of my classmates, Curtis, had demonstrated a particularly prodigious ability to hold his breath. He went almost two minutes on his first try, then about three minutes after hyperventilating. Curtis drew tremendous attention from the rest of the crowd due to both his lung capacity and his showmanship. Each time Curtis took his final, pre-breath-holding inspiration, he would close his eyes and drop to the ground. There he would sit motionless with his head down until he took that next breath minutes later.

Though there were only a few of us, this session was held in a large auditorium that could seat over a hundred people. As this final chapter of the experiment was about to begin, we all gathered around Curtis at the front of the room. He was hyperventilating and holding an oxygen mask in one hand. When he was ready, he brought the mask to his mouth, took five deep breaths of pure oxygen, closed his eyes, and dropped silently into a seated position on the floor.

As if that were their cue, two doctors in white coats strode into the room. They approached our instructor and explained that there was a developmental biology seminar being held in this lecture hall in a couple of minutes. They looked disapprovingly at Curtis sitting cross-legged and silent beside the lectern. Our instructor told us that we wouldn't have time to calculate the blood gasses for this particular experiment, and that we should pack up our stuff and prepare to leave. So we did. And as the room quickly filled with more and more white-coated, developmental biologists, Curtis remained silent and unmoving at the front of the room.

After about 3 minutes the seats in the auditorium were full. I, along with the other med students, had put on my backpack and moved to the periphery of the hall, leaving Curtis alone at center stage in front of an audience of strangers. And there he sat silently for over seven and a half minutes before finally taking a gasping breath and opening his eyes to a crowd erupting in applause.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Cleanliness, Godliness, and... Terror

Recently, Miya and I came home to find piles of furniture wrapped in plastic wrap on our sidewalk. Hooray! Right? Free crap! Right?

Wrong. Never forget to look a gift horse in the mouth. There might be bedbugs in there.

That’s right. This furniture came covered with signs denoting its infestation with bedbugs, which, as we all know, are awful. Unfazed, Miya and I continued into our apartment building and dared those vermin to climb five flights of stairs just to eat us in our sleep.

The good news is that our apartment is still bug-free. The bad news is that our neighbor’s bedbug infestation corresponded almost precisely with our laundromat’s decision to try out a new detergent. So when Miya and I woke up the next morning with irritated bumps and rashes on our arms and feet, we immediately ran out to buy a vacuum cleaner, bed risers, and double-sided carpet tape to begin our war against the bugs.

The good news is that our war against the bed bugs involved a thorough washing of all of our sheets, towels, and clothes with good ol’ Tide. Our skin is no longer irritated, and we have yet to see any bugs in or around our apartment. The bad news is that Dexter is terrified by each of the following: vacuum cleaners, bags filled with anything, frenetic cleaning, leisurely cleaning, and anything being lifted into the air. Sufficed to say, that was a pretty tough day for him, and 24 hours after it had finished, he had still eaten virtually none of his food.

We weren’t all that worried about Dex. He’s a finicky eater with a sensitive stomach, so going a day or only grazing at his bowl is expected on occasion. The previous weekend, we’d watched the Superbowl at our friends’ apartment with our friends’ new kitten, Mukluk. As we all watched the game, Mukluk never once took his eyes off Dexter. Perched safely on his carpeted shelf, the only time the kitten moved at all was to shift slightly to one side to keep Dexter in view whenever he sauntered towards the kitchen. Then, shortly before halftime, Mukluk unleashed an intensely foul, room-clearing stream of kitty-vomit. So I figured, if Mukluk could develop a rancid ulcer during only a couple of hours of football, then Dex’s stomach certainly could have been sufficiently turned during a day of unrestrained cleaning, lifting, and bag-filling.

After about a day and a half of watching Dexter eat only snacks on his walks and Kongs filled wet dog food, Miya – my better, smarter, and more compassionate half – took action. As poor Dex sat on his mat, staring forlornly at his full bowl of food 15 feet away, Miya went to the closet door beside his dish. She opened the closet, pulled out our new vacuum cleaner, and carried it (terrifyingly) to be stored in the other closet, far from Dex’s food.

Dex finished the entire bowl, and a second helping, in a matter of minutes.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

What the internet should know about Dexter's penis

Almost two years ago, during a trip to Humacao, Puerto Rico, my friend Bailey found a tiny, five-pound, fungus-ridden mongrel under a car. Smitten, she took a picture and emailed it to Miya with a message that read something like, “you want this?” Miya, smitten, wrote to me. Miya knew that adopting Bailey’s Peurto Rican street mongrel was a terrible idea. She needed me to be the strong one. She needed me to say, “listen, we’re about to move across the country, and finding an apartment in San Franciso is going to be painful enough without jobs. We certainly don’t need to try to find a place willing to house two unemployed twenty-somethings and a mangy fungus incubator.” But that’s not what I said.

Down in Humacao, Bailey went to a vet who administered the pup’s first distemper shot and wrote a note that gave the general impression that, if we’re lucky, this dog is only covered in fungus and brimming with worms. Apparently, that note was good enough for Delta, who let Dexter fly home on Bailey’s lap.

Though Miya and I fell in love with him right away, there were some immediate concerns about his overall health and - because Miya wanted him to look sharp in a handbag - his aesthetics. Dex was so malnourished that when his puppy hair fell out his adult hair didn’t grow in. So we believed we’d adopted a mangy, bald dog. Though, on the upside, four different vets assured us that Dex would probably grow up to be about 20 pounds, and that’s a perfectly reasonable size for a handbag.

Our boy is now a well-nourished, handsome, happy, 60-pound dog. But, his misspent youth has left him no stranger to disease. So I wasn’t too concerned when he started peeing all over himself.

Well, I was a little concerned. But mostly for our comforter.

Here we were, in the weeks leading up to Christmas, with a newly incontinent dog. He didn’t seem to mind that he was piddling all over the place. He was totally unmoved by my motivational taunting. “Oooh, did you pee on the floor again, you little baby?” No reaction. “Do you need a nap in your crib, stupid baby?” Nothing.

We took him to the vet, whose blood and urine tests were equivocal. She decided to put him on an antibiotic to treat a urinary tract infection, mostly, it seemed, because there wasn’t much else to do. As we waded into the new year, Dex’s puddles were smaller, but hadn’t been eliminated. Back at the vet, there still weren’t any good options. She suggested we wait for the antibiotics to wear off, then catheterize him and get a urine sample from his bladder. The vet admitted that this was unlikely to turn up anything new. Though I know nothing at all about sticking tubes up dog penises, I don’t think this particular procedure would qualify as a “good option.”

So we went home and waited. The antibiotics were metabolized and we never called the vet back. Dex still didn’t seem like he was in any discomfort. For a while we assumed that his peter must be bothering him, because he seemed to be constantly licking it. But we soon realized that he was more frequently licking his leg, stomach, and the comforter beneath his peter. He’d be relaxing and unconsciously dribble a little pee on his leg. Then his anal retentive nature would kick in (it’s hard to believe he’s not my biological pup), and he’d frantically try to clean up the dribble.

So I set about diagnosing Dexter myself. For any reader unfamiliar with my diagnostic regimen for assessing all illness, I typically begin by determining the patient’s humoral composition. Hippocrates believed the four primary humors to be blood, phlegm, black bile, and yellow bile. I think it confers no disrespect on that great physician to modernize his theory. Accordingly, I assert that the body exists as a dynamic equilibrium between the following four elemental fluids: orange juice, coffee, beer, and water.

If we haven’t already established that a major in English and a stint teaching first graders in the Bronx doesn’t qualify someone for admission to medical school, let’s all declare this to be an unequivocal truth right now.

Back to Dex. It would appear that, in this case, his diagnosis would be easy. To my knowledge, Dexter drinks water exclusively. One might claim that this would throw his humors completely out of whack. If one believes that, one’s an idiot. We’re talking about a dog, kids. This isn’t a person. Dogs don’t drink coffee or orange juice, so clearly this schema is applicable only to people medicine.

I began to think harder. I mean really hard.

And then it came to me. Dexter started leaking only when the weather started getting really cold. Being an island dog for generations back, Dexter was not equipped for the kind of sub-freezing misery that accompanies a New England winter, so we went out and bought him a snazzy coat to keep him warm. If he’s neurotic enough to lick up any drops of pee in our house, it’s perfectly likely that he would go to great lengths to not pee on his gorgeous new coat. Thinking back, Miya and I remembered that he didn’t leak at all during our trip to New Hampshire for Christmas. During this time, of course, we were too embarrassed to show our loved ones that our dog wears a coat, so it stayed in the suitcase.

Poor Dexter unfortunately gained control over his small bladder problem at precisely the same time that his dad developed this completely nonsensical, dog-psychology-based hypothesis for his condition. So our poor pup, snatched from the beaches of sunny Peurto Rico, now wanders the streets of New York City protected from the winter elements only by his God-given fur.

In conclusion, if anyone knows the helpful gentleman on 10th street who told me yesterday that I was irresponsible for not putting a coat on my short-haired dog, could you give him a swift kick in the nuts for me? It’ll really hurt, so you may need to follow it up by giving him a pint of beer and a half of a glass of OJ. Thanks!