Saturday, July 23, 2011

Hard work pays off.

So my first round of exams didn't go so well. I was in a really funky headspace at the beginning of the semester with absolutely no motivation to study whatsoever. I phoned in my exams and it reflected in my scores. I failed two of them and passed the rest with Cs, except for Parasitology where I got a B+ and an A on the first two midterms. In Physiology II I failed the first exam but passed the second and third midterms and the professor curves quite a bit, so I am still passing that class with a C+. Immunology hit me the hardest with a 64 on the first exam (remember that below a 70 is failing) and only two midterms before the final, so up until yesterday afternoon when we got our scores on the second midterm, I was officially failing that class. I studied my ass off for the second midterm, making myself nauseous and exhausted in the process. The night before the exam I got about 3 1/2 hours sleep and took two caffeine and B vitamin pills to give me a boost before the exam.

It paid off. I got a 94 on the exam. I missed two questions out of forty. I now have a 79 in the class, which I'm just gonna go ahead and call a B because I can (and because I only need an 81 on the final to have a B and if I study half as hard for it as this exam it's in the bag).

I'm back! No more fear of failing out and having to repeat. Second semester claims a lot of souls. I'm gonna pull myself together and make damned sure mine won't be one of them. My grades this semester won't be anything remotely resembling last semester's, but it'll be a kick in the ass to do better in 3rd.

Any firsties or future Ross students reading this, here is your advice for surviving second semester: if you're a Reich person, great. I am not. With Reich it's pretty much an either/or thing. For his exams you can understand the material perfectly but if you don't understand him or how he thinks, don't expect to do well. You pretty much just have to know the material inside and out and pass each exam with a C and then he'll curve the class so that hopefully you'll have a B. With Gyimah it's the exact opposite. If you know the material, you WILL get an A. But knowing the material doesn't mean reading through it once or twice. He is incredibly detail oriented and expects you to know every teeny tiny thing in the notes. So read through them at least three times, study the TA notes and make yourself some flash cards. If you do that, you'll ace his class.

Saturday, July 16, 2011


My Puerto Rican friend introduced me to breadfruit a few weeks ago. She made me tostones, which can also be made with plantains, and are basically a twice-fried potato cake-like snack. They were delicious! Imagine the best french fries you've ever had.

Some tostones I made a couple of weeks ago.

Since then I've been buying breadfruit from the lady who runs a produce stand with local fruits/veggies at the bottom of the hill where I live and making tostones pretty regularly. I've become pretty addicted. I went to see if the trees could be grown anywhere in the U.S. maybe in southern Florida. Nope! They can only grow in sub-tropical conditions where it is at least 65+ degrees year round and high humidity.

Looks like I have yet another reason to attend the annual Caribbean vet conference that's hosted here every year once I've graduated. Most students here become addicted to Ting, a grapefruit-based soft drink that's similar to Fresca in the U.S. but less sweet and more tart. We make jokes that they come back for the Ting. In my case it's beaches, Ting and breadfruit!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

That doesn't mean what you think it means.

Today I bought a cheap bottle of lotion to keep in my purse that has a fragrance that isn't terribly offensive so I can apply a teeny bit when leaving anatomy lab and smelling of dead, preserved horseflesh. I quickly glanced through the ingredients and found placenta extract listed. It made me raise an eyebrow but ingredients like this aren't put there for people like me. I read that and say to myself, "Nice marketing gimmick." The average woman reads that and says, "Oooh! How exotic!"

I decided to do a quick Google search on the supposed skin health benefits of placenta extract and opened up a whole new world of woo and lulz. My particular favorite is quoted below.

"Placenta Extract contains proteins, coagulation factor, erythropoietin, polysaccharide, lecithin, vitamins, enzymes, various types of amino acid and growth factor. Medically tested and proven, the skin cells become more active after use, which in turn enhances the immunity of the skin."
 Wow, okay. Let's take this step by step, shall we?

  • Proteins, polysaccharide, vitamins, enzymes - The only way this could be more vague is if they'd smacked a label on the bottle that read, "This lotion contains macromolecules." Enzymes is a particular favorite buzzword of mine in the world of woo. Woosters use it for all sorts of stuff, be it skin care, dietary supplements, and on and on. Tell someone something will "boost their enzyme activity" and they'll gobble it up faster than you can keep the product on the shelves.
  • Coagulation factor - Which one? Prothrombinase? Thrombomodulin? Fibrinogen? Leaving that aside, why on earth would I want to rub something on my skin that causes blood clots?
  •  Erythropoetin - This one cracks me up. Erythropoetin is a hormone that regulates red blood cell development. Let's assume, purely for the sake of argument, that the entire hormone could be absorbed through the skin and enter my blood. Why I would want to suddenly have a huge influx of hormone that promotes red blood cell production? Doesn't that actually sound kind of dangerous, as something that could potentially cause a thromboembolus or stroke?
  •  "...the skin cells become more active after use, which in turn enhances the immunity of the skin." - How? Explain this mechanism, please. How does increasing the "activity" (another vague, generalized term) of skin cells help them to better maintain the mechanical immunological barrier your skin provides?
Stuff like this makes me laugh and depresses me beyond belief every day, because as silly and ridiculous as it is, people buy into this crap! Companies love to throw out science-y sounding terminology to confuse and enthrall the general public. Unfortunately it's very effective, and not just with things as unimportant as which lotion to buy, but also with much more serious issues such as whether to vaccinate your child. We see it in vet med, as well. Particularly with things like pet food.

During a lab in my nutrition class last semester a student asked me what an ingredient was on one of the food labels we were supposed to be interpreting. It was Lactobacillus acidophilus, one of the "pro-biotic" bacteria that naturally occurs in your gut. It was in powdered form and in a dry dog food, which means that it was dead dead dead and completely biologically inactive. She asked me why it was in the food, then. I guessed that it was probably because a gullible owner would read that and say to themselves, "Oh, I know that word! It's in my yogurt! If it's good for me, it must be good for Buddy!" But I said that I couldn't be sure and perhaps there was some beneficial effect of a destroyed bacteria that I was unaware of, so we asked the professor. Guess what his answer was? It provided nothing to the diet and was there for ingredient recognition purposes in order to sell more food.

Think critically, people. Don't accept everything you hear. As one of my professors loves to say, "Thiiiink about it!"

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Things are looking up.

It's official. The awesometastical resort apartment is mine. The lease is signed by both parties, the deposit check cashed and my official move in date is Sept. 1! Although they'll give me the key the week before to start getting my stuff moved over.

This combined with finally getting the radiator in my car replaced, and thus ending months of pouring coolant into an overheating car only to have it leak out and the needle all the way over in the red by the time I get home, has me in high spirits. Even with another 12 days from hell with 4 exams lined up my mood is considerably lighter than it's been since the beginning of the semester now that two, huge weights have been lifted off of my shoulders.

Now I'm just focused on passing all of my classes and looking forward to seeing my family in August. I'm excited to get to share the parts of the island that I've fallen in love with with the people that I love. I can't wait to show the island to my mom, especially. She's always been one of those people who is a natural optimist and takes joy in almost anything, so when I plop her smack dab in the middle of a tropical paradise it'll be like watching a kid win a $100 spending spree in a candy store. She's going to love it here.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

I can breathe underwater!

Today I had my first closed water dive on my way to becoming open water scuba certified. It was pretty sweet. I've been in water pretty much my whole life, from my grandpa's boat when I was a kid to various swim clubs and teams throughout middle and high school. Swimming comes as second nature to me as breathing, which actually makes learning to scuba dive kind of difficult. You have to unlearn a few of the deeply ingrained skills you've been using for years, like holding your breath or breathing out through your nose when you're underwater. Overcoming those instincts can be stressful at first.

I did really well for the most part, except on the last two of the three mask clearing exercises. Exercise one is clearing a partially flooded mask where you go under, breathing with your regulator, and lift up the corners of your mask and let it fill 1/3 of the way with water. Then you take a deep breath through your mouth with your regulator and exhale forcefully through your nose. The bubbles in your mask force the water out. I did great on that one. The other two - clearing a fully flooded mask and taking off/replacing your mask while underwater - required me to close my eyes, since I wear contacts, and at that point I started to panic a bit. A small, visceral, reptilian portion of my brain started screaming the second my eyes were closed under water. Took me by surprise, actually, since I wasn't anticipating any of the exercises to actually scare me. I still completed them on the first try, but the dive instructor could tell that I didn't like it one bit and told me we'd practice them again next time to familiarize me with them and get me to a point where I'm comfortable doing them. I think I'll do better next time since I won't be doing them for the first time just minutes after taking my first breath underwater.

I've never had any interest or desire to scuba dive personally. My husband had a particularly bad experience with a horrible diving partner, though, and since I'm a control freak to the 1,000th degree and was losing my mind waiting over fifteen minutes for him to reemerge after everyone else had arrived back on the boat and felt completely powerless to do anything about it, I decided that it wasn't so much about want and more about needing peace of mind. If I'm down there with him, some negligent asshole can't kill him. After getting down here and seeing how gorgeous the reefs are, my interest has piqued slightly. I still think I prefer snorkeling to diving, but we'll see once I actually go out on a dive.

Last but not least.

Dolly's been adopted! I'm actually really happy with the result, because now both Amelia and Dolly have found homes with two of my good friends down here. I can visit them whenever I want and there's been talk of arranging a playdate/reunion at some point.

Mama's actually taking it remarkably well. When Roman and Amelia left she called and searched for them for days afterward. She did a little of that last night, but the most notable change is that she's become much more affectionate. Back to how she was while she was pregnant. I'm happy for it to just be Mama and me again. Kittens are adorable, but they can be frustrating and exhausting at times

Bye bye, Dolly!