Saturday, October 30, 2010

Halloween: Ghost Stories to "Get in the Spirit"

(Cupcakes from Whole Foods)

If you've read this blog around this time of year in years past, you'll know that I really, really don't like Halloween. At ALL.

This year I'm feeling a little less bah-humbug about it, though. Maybe it's all the Ghost Whisperer reruns I've been watching. Or maybe trying to focus on the creative aspects of Halloween (rather than the morbid and gory) is making it more positive for me.

Take food. All you have to do is browse through Halloween entries on to appreciate how creative people can be with culinary celebrations of Halloween. Inspired, I turned a quest to develop a moist, dense amaretto-laced cake into this Ghost Cake with white chocolate buttercream frosting. It was yummy.

Then there's music. NPR has this Halloween music mix and a list of "Tunes That Terrify" to get people in the mood, and a Halloween music puzzle that, I am horrified to admit, totally stumped me.

I don't like scary movies at all, but I've always enjoyed a good ghost story. In honor of New England author Mary Wilkins Freeman, who was born on Halloween in 1852, here's a list of spooky stories to enjoy on Halloween night or some dark, stormy night when you're curled up under a blanket and there's a fire crackling in the fireplace. Most of these are available online.

The Man Who Found Out by Algernon Blackwood
Mrs. Zant and the Ghost by Wilkie Collins
The Signal-Man by Charles Dickens
The Captain of the Polestar by Arthur Conan Doyle
The Lost Ghost by Mary Wilkins Freeman
Of a Promise Broken by Lafcadio Hearn
Pigeons from Hell by Robert E. Howard
The Lovely House and The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
The Monkey's Paw by W.W. Jacobs
The Whisperer in Darkness by H.P. Lovecraft
The Apparition and The Wolf by Guy de Maupassant
Four Ghost Stories and The Shadow in Moonlight by Mary Molesworth
The Black Cat by Edgar Allan Poe
The Body-Snatcher by Robert Louise Stevenson
A Ghost Story by Mark Twain
The Canterville Ghost by Oscar Wilde

Halloween gives us a chance not only to read about fascinating characters and other worlds but also to enter into some of those fictional worlds by becoming characters ourselves. That's one aspect of Halloween I like - the costumes. I enjoy seeing what my friends and family choose each year, and I have to admit I have a little escapist fun dressing up. How do people go about picking their costumes? Favorite books, shows? This year my daughter is pulling off a wonderful "Abby Sciuto" from the show NCIS. I saw some folks show up to a costume party as "rescued Chilean miners." I was boring and went to this costume party in an Indiana Jones hat, but I still had fun.

Finally, there's one more spirit-building treat I revisit each year: this addicting online pumpkin carving activity. Halloween. Love it, or hate it? Hope you can enjoy it this year, however you usually feel about it. HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

A 7-Word Game

I decided to write out this train of thought because it sort of came rushing at me in the last twenty minutes and I wanted to follow it through.

It began with me thinking about someone who left a comment on a website: what a loser.

Then I thought to myself, What do I mean by that? What's a loser? What makes that person, by your definition, a loser? What is your definition of a "loser?"

Pretty soon this led to these questions:

If you wanted to convey some idea of "who you are" to others by choosing words to define and then providing the definitions, which words would you choose, and what would your definitions be?

Would you choose the same words for other people to define (in order to get a better idea of them)?

I decided to do my own exercise and jot down some word definitions here just to see if I would learn something about myself. If you feel like trying this and sharing your results, I'd love to hear about it - drop me a line (or a comment)!


FRIEND - a person you can trust with your truest self, whose company you cherish, and with whom you share a reciprocal commitment to regard the details of each other's lives as things that matter

JERK - someone who has suppressed or obliterated his or her capacity for respect

LOSER - someone with no interest in learning

MATURITY - freedom from needy-ness, from thinking that everything's "about" oneself, and probably also from highly reactive anger

FAITH - an individual's way of understanding, viewing, and responding to the world and to experience

LOVE - a deliberate, steadfast, and solidarity-driven pouring of energy into recognizing, upholding, protecting, or restoring another's dignity, well-being, and/or worth

SUCCESS - peace with oneself

Whew. I don't know why I got all philosophical tonight but I had to get it out.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

How Will You Celebrate Ether Day 2010?

c. 1846 Daguerrotype by Southworth & Hawes of a re-enactment of Ether Day

Happy Ether Day once again, everyone!

Every year on this day I repost my original Ether Day post.

I'm also going to celebrate with a bowl of mussels, a glass of wine, and perhaps a slice of cake tonight. Someday I will have a cake like this one in the shape of an anesthesia machine (see this video of how it was made). Way to go, Charm City Cakes!

Friday, October 1, 2010

Sick II

One of my facebook updates this week on my private account was that I

"have a love-hate relationship with interleukin-6. Yes, macrophages and T cells, I know you are doing your job, but how many proinflammatory cytokines does it really take to fight this thing? What's that? Be grateful you guys are even working? Oh, all right. I'll shut up and eat my soup now."

Yes, I've been sick this week. It started brewing shortly before my overnight call on Monday, during which I worked till about 3 a.m., then tossed and turned till 5 a.m. unable to breathe due to nasal congestion, then got woken up by my beeper at 7 a.m. Rested Tuesday, then tried to go to work Wednesday morning but asked to be replaced by a moonlighter and went home. Called in sick Thursday. Was allowed to stay home Friday because of low case volume. This is rare for me. I almost NEVER take sick days.

The culture of medicine has bred me to think of them as a weakness. It has also hardened me somewhat to any intrusion of personal problems into professional life in general. I can't let exhaustion, home stress, or personal worries make me fail to do my job, on time, competently, with focus. It's just not acceptable. Not being "on our game" for any reason is sub-standard because patients' wellbeing is at stake. I find I get mentally impatient with people who make excuses - most of which sound lame to me - for not getting their job done. Medicine doesn't care if I'm planning a wedding or if I stayed up late taking care of my sick child. The job has to get done, and get done well. No excuses. I find myself thinking very harshly critical thoughts when people outside of medicine approach their work with softer standards.

But this week my body just couldn't function. On top of the nasal congestion, my least favorite symptom of a respiratory infection, I had a violent, productive cough that hurt my chest and kept my husband up at night, occasional chills, muscle aches, nausea, and fatigue. I was in bed for three days. The worst part of it was missing my family's hugs. "Air hugs" from my adorable children and the fear of infecting my loving spouse, who hugged me anyway, carefully, despite my illness, were poor substitutes for the tight bear-hugs we enjoy giving each other.

So I've been thinking to myself - because I've had time to do nothing but think and watch reruns this week - how lonely many patients must feel in the hospital, suffering with unpleasant symptoms for days, with only occasional visits and brief touches for human contact. I remember feeling a little lonely even when I was in the hospital for a happy reason - childbirth. Illness is more isolating, and the truth is so few people want to be around suffering for too long. I wonder if I've been forgetting to be present enough to people when I visit them on rounds. Sometimes unexpected time away from work, not because of vacation, is a good thing. Having the tables turned has provided a reminder, a chance to reflect a little on things I shouldn't be forgetting about. Like compassion for the sick.