Saturday, September 17, 2011

In this house we celebrate the Saturnalia!

Frair Aguousto: Italians take the month of August off. I’m sorry, I meant to write ‘ Italians take the MONTH of August OFF’. They don’t ‘take it easy’. Or ‘go on vacation’. OFF! The trash will pile up in the streets! If there is a gas leak, lord help us all! The fire department takes the month off! I’m sorry, I meant ‘ THE FIRE DEPARTMENT TAKES THE MONTH OFF!”. Trash in the streets! Gas leaks! No Fire Department! It would be mass hysteria in America, but here? A languid and enviable calm.  My new goal in life is to be able to do this. And I’m making my own holiday.                                                                         A bit of history: to make Christianity go down smoother with the Romans, a popular Roman holiday was tweaked and Christmas was born. If you read the bible, Jesus was actually born in Spring… something about lambs suckling and sheep grazing, anyways. The holiday was the incredibly popular feast of Saturn (Saturnalia), a mid-winter festival of drinking, debauchery and foodstuffs held around the first two weeks of December.  December 25th was a date chosen out of ecumenical politics. So, my new goal in life is to be happily married with a few kids and then just friggin’ opt out for two months of the year. Ideally, December 1st I will wake up, put on a toga, crash on the couch and watch Star Trek while my kids figure out how to make their own lunches and get to school. IF they want to go. We celebrate the Saturnalia in this household! Do what you feel! And as for driving them to soccer practice in August? Listen, if I’m not worried about the gas leak, I’m certainly not worried about you practicing your side-pass kid!

Life in Italy

It’s the little things that remind me I live in Italy.

The base grocery store also sells furniture which they set outside under the awning with big yellow price tags affixed. Local Italian nationals take advantage of the luxurious free outdoor seating and have their coffee while acting as living advertisements for a plush new sectional couch. The management doesn’t particularly like them breaking in the furniture, but what are they going to do?

I will be running specimens to the Hospitals lab and walk over the glass-topped excavation of a Roman well. Sometimes (if Cancer results aren’t on the line) I’ll just stand on top of the glass and look down at something older than Jesus. This happens roughly once a week.

The Neapolitan dialect is said to notoriously different from regular Italian. I have a theory: Naples actually pre-dates the Roman Empire as a bustling metropolis. Naples here in Italy is called “Napoli”, which is derived from “Neopolis” or “New City”, which is what the Greeks called it when they founded it. I think chunks of Greek are leftover in Neapolitan and that’s why it’s peculiar. Point: To say ‘half’ in Italian is ‘metta’. In Neapolitan it is ‘messa’. “Half” or “between”/”middle” in Greek is ‘mes’ (see: ‘Mesopotamia’= ‘the place between the rivers’). Not that I can speak one friggin’ word of either of these fine languages.

I wake up every morning to Mount Vesuvius outside my window. Ominous? Only if you dwell on the thought of Pompeii.

We all need a lesson in Italian self-esteem. Is an item of clothing tight? Is it shiny? Is said item an offensive color (Neon Yellow? Screaming Eggplant?)? Is it sheer enough to see one’s undergarments through it? Yes? They will wear it. Their belly paunches will stick out. Every cellulite ridge will clear its throat and demand attention. And they walk out the door thinking (insert big smile and double finger-snap here) ‘I look goooood!’. Sun-blotched d├ęcolletage will be flaunted. Cracked, dry feet will be on display in precarious open toed heels. And you can see bras and underwear quite clearly. A true story/lesson: At my favorite outdoor market, there are heaps of random clothes piled high on tables you can pick through under a sign that says “1 for 1 Euro”. In an attempt to dress more “flashy” (re: Italian) I picked up an offensive Neon Yellow, stretchy, sheer (yes you can see my underwear through it), and revealing dress that looked about 2 sized too small. Whatever. It’s ONE Euro! Why not? I bought it as a joke. Took it home. Washed it. Tried it on for the first time. FELT LIKE A SUPERMODEL. Maybe confidence is something they weave into the fabric here? 60% Cotton, 30% Rayon, 10% Girl, You Look Good!

Italians, or at least Neapolitans, LOVE fireworks. I cannot overemphasize the Italian zeal for colorful shit that explodes high in the air. There were fireworks my first night here and I won’t lie, I felt like they were for me. The ones two nights later were still for me. And the ones a week after that. Around Labor Day is when I realized that this was a trend before I arrived here and not dependant on my mood (they seemed timed to punctuate my emotional state… sheer coincidence… or IS it, hmmmm?). The fireworks that “kicked off Labor Day” (more on the quotations in a minute) were spectacular! A 40 minute display of the largest, highest, loudest, brightest fireworks I’d ever seen! 3,000 years ago, the Chinese invented fireworks for the sole purpose of exquisite culmination on this night in Italy: the beginning of the American holiday of Labor Day! Now, about those corkers actually being for “Labor Day”? Nope. I live in Italy, they don’t know or care what the hell Labor Day is and if they did know they would celebrate the Italian way by taking the month off. Another coincidence. Fireworks here are used for everything from celebrating a sweet-16, to blessing a harbor to forever have bountiful clams (not kidding), to various pillars of the community (Mafia crime lords) getting released from jail (again, not kidding). So every time I stood on my balcony and enjoyed the show, someone was either coming of age, ensuring a good haul for next year, or getting out of prison. As I write this, there are fireworks outside my window. Not kidding.

Monday, May 9, 2011


So this is how it went:

1630: Return from full day of clinicals

1645: Take Quiz in classroom

1650: First student done with quiz goes to turn it in. Promptly returns to classroom and announces that no one can leave. We’re picking orders!


1651: Student Leader passes word from Instructor’s Spaces to “not get too excited. The orders are not what they thought they were. No overseas billets. 5 FMTB (with the Marines) slots.”
1652-1734: Mass texting and facebooking about getting screwed over again by the Navy. Many “F^%k our lives” and “Do you think Virginia is nice this time of year” posts go up. We wait for nightcrew to come back from clinical to pick with us.

1740: Nightcrew comes back. Instructor comes in to classroom and shares updated GPA list with us. IMPORTANT as we pick by GPA.

1750: Instructor begins to write Orders on the board. Looks like this:

Okinawa, Japan (2 billets) Great Lakes, Chicago (1 Dental billet) Bethesda, MD (1 billet) Guantanamo Bay, Cuba (1 billet) Yokosuka, Japan (2 billets) Iwikuni, Japan (1 FMF/Dental billet) Pensacola, Florida (1 FMTB billet) Naples, Italy (1 billet) USS Roosevelt, Virginia (1 billet) Lejune, North Carolina (1 billet) Lejune, North Carolina (2 FMTB billets) USS Mercy, San Diego (1 billet)

1800: I pick first. Naples, Italy.

In my head, I hope my life there is something like this…

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Not even that big of a deal

I like my job. I like the fact I do fancy things like Total Knee Replacements, Bilateral Percutaneous Tenotomies, and other impressive medical words made into sentences that denote me getting suited up to cut someone open. See below.

I do find it a bit unnerving that after only 3 months, the WOW factor has abated.
I was doing a bowel resection where all the intestines had to be taken out and slopped into bags hanging off the side of the OR table. It was then my job to put my hands into these gut bags (yes, they are called that) and look for perforations. So here I am, literally elbow deep in bowel, and all I can think about is that I could really go for a nap. And a snack. I'm pretty sure there's an X-Files episode like that.
Oh well.


I see you shiver with antici..................................pation

Sometimes in life, there are these thrilling moments: The day we brought Axle (my horse) home. Opening my college acceptance letter. The day I left home. The commonality amongst them is change and the fulfillment of a long-term goal (one of my favorite things!).
We pick orders in less than two weeks and frankly, the anticipation is killing me! The excitement in the air is palpable. We see the class ahead of us, who have already picked, high fiving, hear their congratulatory exclamations, and smell the celebratory libations on their breath. The thrilling part? WE’RE NEXT!!!
Picking orders is a culmination of lots of hard work, a momentous change and no small amount of faith that the Universe has a plan for us. We may not get what we want, but many of us feel that wherever we wind up- that is where we are supposed to be. Call it a coping mechanism. Call it acquiescing to God’s will. Whatever it is, the sentiment remains that we all did our personal best here and now it’s time to move on.

I’m still holding out for Naples, but it’s a long shot. A rundown of orders available to the first class is as follows: Mainland Japan, Okinawa, Guam, San Diego, Florida, and South Carolina.  Slim pickin’s. Throw in the fact that those who picked Japan (Okinawa included) are being placed on hold here INDEFINITELY! With that factored in, I almost want to pick San Diego over Japan because if you keep up with my facebook, you know I can’t stand it here.
Facebook profile quote: 
 “This wallpaper is killing me. One of us has to go.”
                                             -Last Words of Oscar Wilde
   Replace “wallpaper” with “command” and you have my life here.
So perhaps San Diego? Who knows. It's a fun ride just waiting to find out where life will take me.

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” - Mark Twain

"A ship in harbor is safe-- but that is not what ships are built for." - John A. Shedd

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Making Friends with the Residents

I work in the OR. Rule number one in that world: Make the Surgeon happy. They can be mean and scary. They will throw instruments and curse at you. They live by a pecking order and if you don’t rank high enough, they will make your life miserable.
Being in the medical field in the Military sets you apart from the regular caste system of the Hospital pecking order.  Normally, it looks something like this:
Being in the Military sets us apart. I can say with honesty I’ve never been yelled at, belittled or pushed around… AFTER I tell them I’m with the Navy. Before, I got a lot of “Who the Hell are you and why are you in this Operating Room?”, “Hey Asshole, are you new?”, and who could forget “NO, NO, NO, NO, NO, NO, NO! You are so wrong!”.
Now, when I walk into the OR, the first thing out of my mouth is “Hi, I’m in the Navy and I could very well be deployed to Afghanistan to work on blown-up Soldiers and Marines so I’m going to need you to be extra nice and explain everything to me like I’m four. Also, it’s my first day.”
The mood in the OR immediately shifts. The surgeon is delighted to have me. “Please, retract this Hepatic Artery and get a good look at the Duodenum, you’ll need to know these things when you are saving lives in Afghanistan, what is it like in the Navy?, How long have you been in? Aren’t you a little tall to be on a ship? Ha ha ha!”

Because I am no longer a target for the Surgeon’s rage, it turns to one place and one place only. His Resident. Because the thing about the Hospital pecking order is, it actually looks like this:

They are treated worse than a Boot-Camp Sailor with a speech impediment. They are always wrong. They are trash. They are worthless. I feel bad for them. My friend Boddy was working with one and he dropped an instrument on the floor. Boddy apologized immediately. The Resident? He said “It’s OK. I’m a piece of Shit”.

Spring Reading

Much of Navy life revolves around a “hurry up and wait” mentality. We had literally thousands of pages of information to absorb to get through Corps School in the allotted time. Same here at “C” school. But we only get the material when we “class up” (start class), so when we are stuck on hold for months at a time it’s hard to shut down that section of your brain that’s responsible for mass information input.
When not actively in class, I kept my brain occupied by reading. A LOT. If you are looking to pick up a book, below are some recommendations.
A good read, but a bit high-brow for me. You’ll like it if you’re the literary-critic type, you can pick apart the symbolism for days.
Read it if you like: Family Ties, Horses Who Know When They’re Being Tricked, Blue-Eyed Babies Who Lift Curses, Poison That Runs In The Veins Of A Plant And The Veins Of Your Kin, The South, Magic, Teen Pregnancy.

Another amazing book. I liked World War Z more, but only because it was about things I already liked (International Relations, Complaining About the Military). Regardless, it’s still a five ! out of five ! book.
It is NOT an easy read! It’s dense and no lie, the author is a weird guy. He goes on strange tangents.
I would recommend this book if you like: Complaining About the Military, WWII, Nazis, Code Breaking, The Philippines, Computer Hacking, Gold Doubloons, Navy Officers Who Are Idiot Savants,  Going Back And Forth In Time, Computers.