August 21, 2007

(Kind of) Political Commentary

Posted in Commentary at 3:52 am by Iram

I have been struck once again by a lapse in productivity, and my personal muse is begging me to release some of the mental writing that I sporadically compose without any form of audience or springboard. Nothing incredibly creative comes to mind though, and I find myself focusing on some of the more disturbing events I have been following in recent news, both local and international. Thus, I shall spend a few moments declaring my personal thoughts on some of the more prevalent issues, in no particular order.

1.Iraqi Women Forced into Prostitution
CNN published an interesting piece a few days ago regarding Iraqi women who are being forced by poverty and starvation to sell their bodies as their only means of providing a household income by which they can feed their children. There are probably many opposing views out there when it comes to what can be considered ‘forced.’ I have already heard some individuals argue that even though these women may have been provoked to take such extreme steps they are, in the end, acting of their own free will and thus cannot be considered forced in any way. On the other hand, many of these women were originally forced or coerced into performing sexual acts against their own free will, and after that initial incident have felt that sex-work is the only type of work of which they are worthy. Whatever your views on this issue, I think that everybody would be hard pressed to argue the fact that this war has simply taken too many lives. Too many innocents are being affected by the ongoing dispute in Iraq (and let’s not forget Afghanistan): widows, orphans, parents who have lost their children, civilians who are now unemployed and unfed. Unfortunately, all of these categories apply not only to the countries that hold the battlefields but also to our own great nation. There is no end in site, and nobody has been able to provide a feasible strategy by which guns can be lain aside and diplomatic reasoning can preside. I am personally familiar with many of the problems that will prevent countries such as these from establishing democratic states that meet the criterion of the United States, and I can only hope and pray that there is enough tolerance and understanding on both sides of the bargaining table when the time comes so that this series of unfortunate incidents can end in a peaceful negotiation, and soon.

2. Access to Healthcare in America
Healthcare has been a headlining topic over the past few months, from Michael Moore’s notoriously illegal stint in Cuba while filming his documentary ‘Sicko,’ to the raising of the issue in recent political debates for the upcoming presidential elections, to a recent news article detailing the plight of an elderly man who killed his wife because his pension and social security payments could no longer cover her increasingly costly healthcare expenses. As a future physician, healthcare is an issue that is very close to my heart, and one that I have studied exuberantly through various medically-focused sociology and economics courses. I am very proud of the fact that in the US those individuals who have sufficient resources have access to the best and most innovative medical treatment available across the globe. Our system of internal competition in addition to rewards for creativity and ingenuity have allowed research and development in both the basic and clinical sciences to flourish, creating a foundation for experimental medicine and ongoing discovery of new treatments and approaches to diagnoses. At the same time, however, the fact that most healthcare is in the hands of private companies has raised prices exorbitantly as these entities understandably function as big businesses that care about one thing and one thing only: the bottom line. The worst part of this situation is that it is hurting those who are already less fortunate; the people teetering at the edge of the poverty line are in double jeopardy, because not only can they not afford healthcare but they also constitute the population that is most at risk for many of the health problems pervading common society today.

We are currently sitting at a very interesting cross-roads, where we can choose to pull healthcare under the wing of the public sector and make it more affordable – but in the process inevitably lose much of the incentive for growth in the field – or we can choose to ‘subsidize’ the private sector in order to defray some of the costs from the consumer. I personally believe that the latter is the better choice for this nation. Providing universal free health care like many of the European Countries and our Northern neighbor introduces too many problems to an already troubled system, including the economic issue of Moral Hazard, the question of how our already overburdened and disorganized public management system will be able to handle such a drastic addition to its priority list, and the ever-important issue of who will pay for the inclusion. On the other hand, if the government were to create its own insurance company that could in a sense compete with the existing private insurance companies, the bulk buying power would allow the governmental institution to negotiate with healthcare providers and lower the price of healthcare paid by consumers, while in addition inducing the downstream affect of lowering insurance premiums and incidental costs incurred by those who elect to maintain coverage by private companies. I envision this as being structurally similar to the way that the U.S. Postal Service competes with UPS and FedEX. This way, the private companies still exist, and they maintain their ability to generate profits as long as they maintain the desire and the drive to develop innovative methods of management and structure that would allow them to cut costs and remain competitive with the governmental agency (I believe I read somewhere that more than half of the check you hand to your doctor funds bureaucracy and red-tape). As long as the private companies, which will always function as private independent businesses, exist, there will always be incentive for growth in the healthcare field that will keep our R&D department at the top of the world.

I originally started with a list of 5 issues that I planned to discuss in this post, but I have already dedicated numerous keyboard strokes to these first two issues and it is time for me to return back to my neuroanatomy atlas. Perhaps at the next bout of cerebral exhaustion I can give my right brain a bit more exercise.

July 9, 2007

The Personalized Movie Quote Generator

Posted in Randumb at 1:02 am by Iram

No, it is not dangerous to confuse Iram with angels.

Which movie was this quote from?

Get your own quotes:

June 12, 2007

A stroll down memory lane…

Posted in Randumb at 10:48 pm by Iram

At a friend’s wedding I had the welcome opportunity to catch up with some of my old Rice buddies. While we were chatting, we somehow ended up on the topic of random songs we used to sing down in the Dungeon during Protein Lab in order to entertain ourselves and I was reminded of one in particular…Bill Massie’s rendition of American Pie with lyrics written to suit the nature of our experiment. I have included the lyrics below for everyone’s entertainment…

(the 1st verse is to the tune of the 1st verse of “American Pie;” the 2nd verse is to the tune of the last verse of the song)

A short, short time ago,
I can still remember how old Jon made the E. coli lyse
And we homogenized the tongue
Then centrifuged and everyone
Then went and put their samples on some ice
And SEC gave us purer
Enzyme and it made us surer
That we were on the right track
Cause there’s no time to turn back
The next few steps entailed that we
Do dialysis and AEC
Spec.’s made sure that we could see
That we had our protein

Hey, hey, now just what do you say
Can E. coli make the native form of mouse ADA
Can its enzyme work in the very same way
To take that old amine group away
Take that old amine group away

Our messed-up gels gave me the blues
So I asked TA’s for happy news
“Well that don’t matter anyway”
I went and did kinetics runs
Though I knew that they would not be fun
And I made the tables to see what they’d say
And in the next lab we were staining
While outside the sky was raining
We heard not a raindrop
The dungeon makes the world stop
Then came the time we’d longed for most
We ended lab with hopeful toast
“May your paper grade let you coast
Your way through protein lab”

(Refrain: repeat twice)

May 22, 2007

Just a thought…

Posted in Randumb at 10:44 pm by Iram

In studying parasitology I have come across one bug in particular that has sparked my interest: Schistosoma. Schistosoma is a water-borne blood fluke that ranks second behind malaria in terms of socio-economic and public health importance in tropical and sub-tropical areas. Its importance is highlited by these two pieces of information:

1. It is believed that Napoleon’s army in North Africa was not defeated by the enemy but by infestation of his soldiers with schistosome infections.

2. During World War II, General Douglas MacArthur stated that he lost more of his soldiers to this disease in the Philippines than he did to enemy fire.

So many people forego their own so-called unalienable rights, or the opportunity to restore rights to another individual, with an excuse that belittles their potential contribution. After all, what impact could a single individual possibly make, right? Wrong! If a bug that is no larger than two centimeters in length can change the course of history, just imagine what a single human can do.  Think about it….

May 4, 2007

Revolutionary Dreams

Posted in Randumb at 9:52 pm by Iram

i used to dream militant
dreams of taking
over america to show
these white folks how it should be
i used to dream radical dreams
of blowing everyone away with my perceptive powers
of correct analysis
i even used to think i’d be the one
to stop the riot and negotiate the peace
then i awoke and dug
that if i dreamed natural
dreams of being a natural
woman doing what a woman
does when she’s natural
i would have a revolution

~Nikki Giovanni

April 12, 2007

Tu Guardian

Posted in Randumb at 5:06 pm by Iram


Duérmete pronto mi amor
Que la noche ya llegó

Y cierra tus ojos que yo
De tus sueños cuidaré
Siempre a tu lado estaré

Y tu guardian yo seré
Toda la vida
Si un dia te sientes mal
Yo de bien te llenaré

Y aunque muy lejos tu estés
Yo a tu sombra cuidaré
Siempre a tu lado estaré

Y tu guardian yo seré
Toda la vida
Esta noche
Te prometo que no vendran
Ni dragones ni fantasmas a molestar

Y en la puerta de tus sueños yo voy a estar
Hasta que tus ojos vuelvan a abrir

Duérmete mi amor sueña con mi voz
Duérmete mi amor hasta que salga el sol
Duérmete mi amor sueña con mi voz
Duérmete mi amor que aqui estaré yo


February 20, 2007

Refuge Services – The (semi-)Obligatory Plug

Posted in Iramville at 12:19 am by Iram

This past Friday I paid a visit to Refuge Services, a 501.3(c) organization here in Lubbock that is doing some work that I am more than happy to support. Refuge Services advertises itself as “a public, non-profit organization that provides services for the whole person: body, mind, and spirit. (They) provide hippotherapy, therapeutic riding, and equine-assisted psychotherapy, serving over 75 clients per week.” In other words, they use horses to provide therapy to individuals for whom most other means to achieve wellness have failed.

In my opinion, one of the best services that Refuge offers is equine-assisted psychotherapy for children. By matching each child with a horse that mimics the child’s own personality, the program forces the child to overcome his or her own weaknesses in order to successfully ride the horse. One success story that was related to me was of a 6 year old boy who had become so introverted that he no longer spoke to anybody. Refuge Services matched him up with a docile horse that had a similar personality and no will of its own. If the boy wanted the horse to go anywhere he would have to learn how to be in charge and how to have enough confidence in himself to give orders to another. It was only after equine-therapy allowed the child to regain his confidence that he was able to admit the cause of his silence – he was a rape victim.

I have also experienced first-hand some of the programs the Refuge Services can offer to various institutions. At their open house they held a demonstration of a team-building exercise that they offer to corporate groups and other teams. For the exercise, a group of random individuals was selected from amongst the audience and put in the arena with three horses. There was a jump bar in the middle of the arena, and this group of strangers had to pick one of the three horses and coax that particular horse to jump over the bar. There were some rules involved, of course: nobody was allowed to touch any of the horses in any way, shape or form; bribery was forbidden; nobody was allowed to feed any of the horses; if anybody in the group broke one of the rules the entire group had to climb the arena fence in punishment. It was a simple list, but one that proved to be quite extensive when Ranger (the chosen horse) refused time and time again to jump over the bar.

At the beginning of the exercise, all of the group members tried to discuss their different ideas and plan out exactly what steps they wanted to use to convince Ranger to jump over the pole. They tried to lead by example by jumping over the pole themselves (Ranger’s response was to role around in the dirt after lazily watching their attempts), and when that didn’t work they tried other methods including scare tactics, sweet-talking, and even begging. After about 30 minutes with no success, personalities of the group members began to show through. One of the women tried to take charge of the group, taking the initiative to gather everybody together to regroup and figure out a strategy. When this didn’t work, though, the group members began to split off into two factions, each working fairly independently to convince Ranger to jump over the pole. In addition, the gentleman of the group (a lawyer by profession) began to take an indifferent attitude towards the rules and picked up a stick to ‘push’ Ranger over the pole. When he was reminded that this was still against the rules (to which his very lawyer-like response was that the stick touching Ranger did not count as him touching Ranger), all of the other group members climbed the fence for the punishment but he did not. It was interesting to note, however, that he did not pick up that stick again, leading me to believe that he agreed that using the stick was against the rules, but still considered himself above consequences.

Personal issues became more apparent as well. The mother of a three year old boy kept comparing Ranger to her son, and drew a parallel between Ranger jumping over the pole and her son listening to her instructions. The task of getting Ranger to jump over the pole represented a different difficulty to each of the individuals involved, and as the conversation between the group members continued the on-lookers were able to uncover more and more personal issues behind the behaviors of the different volunteer individuals. If one person was a natural born leader who was able to bring the group together to plan out a scheme, another person was a shy individual who needed the support of the rest of the group to convince her not to give up on Ranger. Throughout the demonstration, Patti (the owner of Refuge Services) talked us through the benefits of this type of exercise, and explained to us how similar exercises could be used to isolate different personal issues that would then be discussed in clinical therapy sessions.

In the end, the volunteers did get Ranger (and his two other horse friends) to jump over that pole, but not before exposing themselves to the rest of us in the audience. After seeing the entire process unfold, I have no doubt that the programs offered by Refuge provide great benefit to their clients, and would greatly encourage anybody looking for a tax-deduction to support this organization (tax day is just around the corner!).

February 11, 2007

Why your heart is like a toilet…

Posted in Randumb at 1:38 am by Iram

Everybody’s heart functions in the exact same way – an electrical impulse induces a rapid depolarization that travels down the heart and stimulates a muscular contraction that pumps your blood to the rest of your body. The electrical impulses used to stimulate your heart, and for that matter to stimulate every other muscle in your body, are called action potentials. You can find this information in any biology or physiology textbook. So why am I telling you about it? Because the one thing you cannot find in any textbook is the explanation for how these action potentials are exactly like your toilet:

1. Both toilets and action potentials have thresholds. If you don’t give them enough of a push, they will not flush (errrr….propagate).

2. The flush is all or none. You either flush or you don’t. Do I have to get any more specific?

3. Both your toilet and your action potentials have absolute and relative refractory periods. What happens when you try to flush twice in succession without waiting in between for the tank to fill? The darn thing doesn’t work! And that is the exact same mechanism that your heart uses to keep its heart rate steady.

*Inspired by Dr. Nathan and the upcoming cardiovascular physiology exam. Wish me luck!

February 5, 2007

Naseeb dot com

Posted in Commentary at 11:09 pm by Iram

As the cyber world is growing, so is the number of portals designed with the specific purpose of networking in mind. Everybody has heard of Facebook, MySpace, and Friendster, and now there’s another one to add to the list: Naseeb. Though not new, Naseeb was very recently introduced to me by a friend who has managed to make some very close friends using only her high speed cable modem. Intrigued, I signed on and spent a few hours in front of the computer hoping to recover from a bout of boredom that was preventing me from engaging in my other favorite pasttime – studying. Well, I think entertained would be a severe understatement for what I felt while I chatted with random people on Naseeb via the network’s instant “Nassenger”. Aimed largely at the growing young Muslim population, Naseeb seems to have become a hideout for Muslim women seeking men and Muslim men seeking women – a glorified matchmaking site. And while it does a fairly decent job of bringing the community together, I was definitely brought up close and personal with some members of the community with whom I hope to never have any interaction again. On the positive side, though, I have electronically managed to “meet” (if you can call it that) a few individuals that I know for a fact would have become very close friends of mine had I met them in person. In this case, though, only time will be able to tell if the same outcome is reached via the Naseeb platform.

The case of Naseeb has brought up some very relevant questions in my head, though. As people grow more and more connected via the internet and other electronic sources, it appears that these very same people are losing their innate ability to communicate in person. I know countless individuals who are very eloquent in writing, but are completely unable to communicate their thoughts clearly when speaking with somebody in person. Is this a consequence of electronic communication? Are we becoming so dependent on the internet to meet and communicate with new people and old friends that we can no longer perform the same functions verbally? I know I see this trend in myself sometimes – I often find myself choosing to email or text message something rather than just picking up the phone and dialing a number. It is a scary thought, especially as I continue through medical school and hear no less than ten times a day that one of our most important strengths as future doctors will be our ability to communicate effectively and sensitively with our patients. While there are times that textual communication is more efficient than verbal there must be a limit to how much of our lives are spent typing instead of speaking, or the next thing you know people will be walking around with keyboards attached to their hands typing messages via bluetooth to people as they pass by them on the streets (yes, I know this is likely an exaggeration, but I can still visualize the mental image). My two cents…

January 30, 2007

Get in my head!

Posted in Randumb at 10:58 am by Iram

I have been sitting in a conference room for the past four hours unable to study. All sorts of thoughts are running through my head: random comments made by friends, memories that have not been stirred for years, sad moments of my life that I would rather forget but cannot seem to, recollections of strange dreams and experiences. The one thing that absolutely will not run through my head, though, is the material in chapter 2 of the cardiovascular physiology book that has been sitting in front of me this entire time. I don’t know why I can’t study; I just can’t. Stare as I might, the information simply won’t get in my head. The lack of concentration and motivation is disturbing, but after realizing that no matter what my brain will not succumb to my will to study today, I began to give in to my introspective side.

I have not yet taken neuroanatomy as that is the first class that we take in the second year of medical school, but despite this shortcoming I feel like my experiences since this past August have enabled me to draw some conclusions about my brain. Some of these conclusions stem from the confirmation of suspicions that I have held for some time now, and some of these were newly formed here in Lubbock based on my observations of myself and others, but either way I just felt like I should share them with the public:

1. The human brain has an expiry date. Everybody’s expiry date is different, but do not be fooled: one does exist. You can’t see it because it doesn’t show up on your head as if somebody knocked you on the skull with a block of ink when you were born. No, it is simply ingrained into the very material that makes up the mass of your neurological system. After a certain date it will all stop working. Mine expired after graduating from Rice and has been in enforced retirement ever since, working only for overtime pay and punishing me for every minute by forcing my mouth to say things that I swear I never meant.

2. The human brain has a set number of all-nighters programmed into it. After you reach your limit, you can no longer function for days on end without sleep. Try as you might, you simply will not last at that all-night sleepover or study party because your brain will in fact shut itself down without asking your permission first. Luckily, I have not yet hit my limit of all-nighters, but I know I’m getting pretty close because with each subsequent night without sleep my brain turns another portion of itself off. If you have hit your limit – and you know who you are – you must respect your brain for its limitations or your friends WILL post pictures displaying your dearth of all-nighter energy.

3. The human brain will only accept a certain number of work hours in a day. It’s the age of civil rights people. If we can limit how many hours residents are allowed to remain on call, and how many hours students are allowed to spend per week on clinical duties while on rotations, why in the world should your brain be held back? It too demands a work-time limit. Study for too many hours and it will rebel using weapons such as Facebook, AIM, and the ever-dangerous You-Tube. And if you confiscate the computer, your brain will only make your life even more miserable by forcing you to think thoughts that you never want to think while you try to make it study. It’s not a very fun situation, so take the time to understand your brain and learn what limits it has set for you.

4. The human brain loves sugar. Have you ever felt that rush in your head after chugging down a bottle of high sugar soda with plenty of high-fructose corn syrup, or after eating a whole plate of triple chocolate fudge brownie with ice cream and chocolate syrup on top? That’s the evidence. Your brain loves sugar. Keep it well supplied with its favorite substance, and it will keep you well supplied with witty comments, energetic spontaneity and from time to time even an A on that upcoming exam.

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