Running a Race

I’l probably expand upon this when I have more time, but I’ve given some thought to an analogy that describes my current life this semester:

It’s like the show from the late 2000s (and apparently back called Wipeout. The goal is to run the course as quickly as possible while avoiding obstacles, many you can see and plan for, but some might pop-out unexpectedly.

The race I’m running is to get in at least 1000 hours of patient contact time so I can apply to most of my choices for PA School (one I am considering actually only requires 500 and a few more). In theory I can apply BEFORE I finish the hours (most allow programs you to apply as long as you’ll have enough before the end of the year). That said, I’m not content to say “Oh ok, I barely squeaked in 1000 hours”. Nope, I want them NOW! I’m getting there.

The obstacles are my classes. I pretty much know when tests and quizzes will be, but I have to plan my schedule around them. And then I have my IT work which mostly I can shift around the workload, but occasionally something pops up that needs fairly immediate attention. These are the obstacles I can expect, but not when.

Fortunately, come May, I’ll be down from 3 classes to just 1 over the summer and things should get easier.

But in the meantime I’m running as fast as I can, trying to avoid wiping out! And that’s one reason my weekly blog posts have been shorter and later than in the past.

To Sleep, perchance to Dream…

Ay, there’s the rub.

As I mentioned last week, I’ve been putting in a lot of hours in the ED. Between that and my school schedule, sometimes sleep is at a premium. This is the one area where I most recognize my age. When I was less than half my age I could easily pull an all-nighter and then be raring to go the next day. Now, not so much. Now I need to make up that sleep.

Fortunately, with my school schedule and consulting schedule, I’m allowed that precious time known as “a nap.” Sometime in our youth we start to resist naps. I suspect because we don’t need them and there’s too much of the world to see. Then at some point we look forward to them. Or at least recognize the need for them. For me there’s still too much of the world to see and things to to, but alas, I need my sleep.

I’m also fortunate for an ability I’ve gained over the years, even if my family at time will laugh at me for it; the ability to fall asleep almost anywhere at almost any time. I’m at the point where if you put me on a plane, it’s Pavlovian and I’ll fall asleep before pushback.

So yes, sometimes I’ll work until 3:30 AM and have class at 9:00 Am, but fortunately I can squeeze in some makeup sleep later in the day. And I’m glad for that.

I am curious to see how things will be once I’m in PA School. But that’s for another time.


But I would walk 500 miles
And I would walk 500 more
Just to be the man who walks a thousand miles
To fall down at your door
The Proclaimers

Ok, I haven’t quite walked 500 miles, though a few days it’s felt like it. But I have reached sort of a milestone. I’ve worked over 500 hours as a tech in the Emergency Department. The PA programs I’m looking at require some sort of minimum number of “patient contact hours”. One only requires 750. The primary programs I’m looking at require 1000 hours. This has been the biggest single worry I’ve had in meeting my prerequisites. While there are a number of classes I need to take (and I’m almost done with those), this is the one that would take the most amount of time and was the hardest to line up.

But here I am, at the end of January and I’ve hit the half-way mark. This means that I’ll be well on my way to hitting the 1000 hours long before applications are due. So that’s good.

But, there’s more than that. Honestly, I’m loving it. Yeah, there’s a lot not to love. There’s cleaning up after patients. There’s being stuck in a zone with very little happening. One can get tired of doing their 20th EKG of the day and 17 nasal swab. But overall, I’m really liking it. And I think I’m getting better at it. I even “gave an order to a doctor” the other week.

Ok, let me be clear. Techs really don’t “give orders” to anyone. Sure we can ask another tech for help or even ask a nurse for help. But typically we’re the one being asked to do things. And we have no medical authority to “put orders into the system.” That said, we’re often closer to the patients and what’s going on with them than the doctors. This makes sense. We see the details, they see the big picture.

In this case though, several of us, including one of the residents, were cleaning up a patient that soiled herself. As I wiped, I noted she was raw and said she couldn’t feel when she was urinating, which meant she’d wet herself again without warning. This would only make things worse for her. When we were done, I turned to the resident and said, “I think you need to put in an order for a Foley (catheter).”

“Oh, you think so?”

“Yes, she can’t tell when she needs to urinate and ends up urinating without warning which ends up getting her skin irritated.”


Sure enough about 30 minutes later a nurse was putting in a Foley.

I’ve said we often do the scut work. Which is true, and a few people have thought that I was saying that as a complaint. It’s not. It’s an observation. We’re doing the little stuff that needs to be done that the nurses and doctors don’t have time to do or often won’t notice. That said, actually they often do notice. A nurse will go in to do something and see the well stocked IV cart and thank one of us. Or they’ll ask for something and we’ll already have it in our hand, knowing they’ll need it. Again we’re thanked.

Last night for example, I spent probably close to two hours restocking IV cabinets. I’m not sure the last time that day they had been restocked, but some were pretty barren. When I was done, it felt good knowing that the next time a nurse went into the room to start an IV or do some other procedure, they’d have the tools they needed right there.

Then of course, there’s the big stuff. Helping out with a stroke page or a “leveled” trauma. This is where the experience comes in and I’m definitely 500 hours more experienced than I was just over three months ago. I still don’t have my “red badge” so I can work trauma’s on my own, but I’m getting the experience. And it feels good.

All this is a means to an end, getting the required hours to apply to PA school. But it’s also been great. I’m very grateful I’m getting the experience in an ED where my day can vary from restocking carts to handling not one, but two trauma patients in the same evening. And that was just one shift. In other shifts I’ve helped with multiple traumas.

Hopefully not just the quantity of hours, but the quality of the work will help my application. But no matter what, I’m still enjoy it.

Disclaimer: my works do not in any way reflect my Standard Disclaimer: my writings do not reflect the views of my employer, the Albany Medical Health System. In addition, any errors in the above descriptions are my own and nothing here should be taken as medical expertise or advice.

“Ok, Push the Roc…”

This isn’t a story about Sisyphus, but rather something very different.

There’s a saying in the EMS field that “Air goes in and out, blood goes round and round, any variation on this is bad.” It really reduces medicine to a very critical base level. If those things aren’t happening, your patient is in very bad shape. They may have broken bones, be in acid ketosis or have a variety of other major medical issues, but if they’re not breathing or don’t have a pulse, none of that matters. I’ve mentioned CPR previously and plan on writing a longer post on it in the near future (especially in light of Damar Hamlin’s collapse on the field). But today I want to talk about something that can only be done by experts and that’s intubation.

Before starting as a tech, I was aware of the general concept of intubating a patient, but had never seen it done, let alone assisted in any way. At a VERY general level, a patient is sedated and essentially paralyzed while a tube is inserted through their mouth and into their trachea. Once this is done, the patient is either ventilated by a machine or by the use of a bag-valve mask (BVM).

A patient may be ventilated for a variety of reasons, for example, they may be unable to maintain a patent (open) airway and the ability to breath on their own, or in a very recent case, the doctors made a decision to sedate a patient who was moving too much to be placed in the CT scanner. Given his risk factors, this meant that he’d probably lose his ability to maintain his own airway, so he was intubated as a precautionary measure.

I mention all this because there’s something important to to understand. Once a patient is intubated, basically the medical folks are breathing for them. The first few times I watched or assisted, this fact didn’t really register with me. Since then I’ve come to realize how important of a factor this is. In the recent case, the decision wasn’t made lightly. The patient actually was breathing fine, but the doctors couldn’t evaluate for other, possibly life threatening, injuries until he had been scanned. So they made the decision to basically take away his own ability to breath for a short period of time. That’s a pretty heady decision.

Roc is short for rocuronium, one of the common drugs used to help temporarily paralyze the patient. Its name sticks out in my head. There’s generally at least one or two other drugs all administered in a very short sequence (basically to relax the patient and then inhibit things like the gag reflex) period of time, generally under a minute and then the doctor has less than a minute to get the tube in. Once the tube is in, then either a BVM is temporarily attached to the tube, or a ventilator is attached immediately. In either case, we’re now breathing for the patient.

As a tech, obviously I’m not the one pushing the drugs or inserting the tube (I’ll get to that in PA School) but I’m often involved with squeezing and releasing the BVM to provide airflow. I also get to watch all this.

As for the actual placement of the tube, it’s definitely an acquired skill. Since Albany Medical Center is a teaching hospital, often it’ll be a resident or similar attempting it the first time around. Only once have I seen a failure (which was very quickly followed up by a success by a more experienced provider). Even this part is fascinating since they will use a tool known as a Glidescope. This is essentially a curved plastic piece with an LED light and camera at one end. This goes in first to help restrain the tongue and epiglottis. The image is displayed on an LCD monitor. Once it’s in place the actual tube is inserted. All this can be watched if you’re standing in the right place (which often I am.) I have to say it’s rather amazing to see all this. And to watch an experienced provider do a tube is amazing. They do it so quickly.

In any event, I have to say, it’s pretty amazing to watch as the providers take over the “air goes in and out” part.

In a future post I’ll cover the “blood goes around and round” part, which is something any of my readers can (and should) learn how to do anywhere they see someone in cardiac arrest.

Standard Disclaimer: my writings do not reflect the views of my employer, the Albany Medical Health System. In addition, any errors in the above descriptions are my own and nothing here should be taken as medical expertise or advice.

Freedom House

A little over two weeks ago I was leaving the ED after a 12 hour shift. It had been a particularly grueling one. The drive home is often a time I’ll put on the radio for background noise and get lost in my thoughts. This drive started the same way but very quickly I started to listen more intently. I had heard the words Freedom House.

Now as some of my friends, and perhaps some of my readers know, I’ve had a keen interest in the history of paramedicine. I had watched Emergency! growing up and loved it. It wasn’t until years later I started to learn some of the history of it and how it mirrored the development of paramedicine in general. Later I learned of what’s know as “The White Paper“. This was a landmark 1967 report that among other things concluded a soldier in Vietnam who was shot was more likely to survive than someone shot in a city inside the United State.

Back then the idea of an ambulance was often the local police, or even the undertaker, simply transporting the patients to the hospital as fast as they can. (An undertaker may seem like a strange choice until you realize they had vehicles designed to onload and unload people in horizontal positions, such as tied to a stretcher.). Actual treatment until hospital arrival was often a quickly tied bandage at best. If the patient was lucky someone on the ambulance might have had a first aid course, but that was it. There were no standards and a definite lack of equipment. Beyond that, it was a matter of how fast they could get the patient to the hospital. And to say that what little quality in service did exist was very likely based on the area of the city lived in would be an understatement.

This was the state of emergency medicine on the streets in most places until an interesting confluence of events in 1967 happened in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania.

There a doctor, Dr. Peter Safar, the father of CPR, Phil Hallen, the head of The Falk Fund, which among its goals had one to create employment opportunities for African-Americans in Pittsburgh, and Jim McCoy, the head of Freedom House, a grass roots organization in the Hill District that among other things delivered food to locals, were all in the right place and the right time. Initially Hallen approached McCoy with the idea of a basic ambulance service similar to what was in existence elsewhere at the time, but this one run and controlled entirely by folks from the neighborhood. Basically an African-American run ambulance service for African-Americans. But, when they collaborated with Dr. Safar he had far bigger plans. Combined with a grant from the DOT of all places (because of their interest in reducing deaths due to highway accidents) they started with two ambulances and a 300 hour training program. Thus began Freedom House Ambulance Service, the first real modern paramedic program in the United States.

I had known they were “among the first” I didn’t realize they basically were the first. And I didn’t realize in how many ways they were first. Dr. Safar literally designed the first modern ambulances as a current EMT/Paramedic would recognize them and created the first training program. And these men (the first few trainees were all men) were the first paramedics.

The NPR radio program I was listening to was an interview with Kevin Hazzard who was talking about his book, American Sirens. I knew I had to order the book as soon as I got home. In fact, I ordered two copies, one for myself and one for a close friend who is a paramedic. I started reading it as soon as I got a copy.

The focus of the book is on several of the key players, the ones mentioned above as well as Paramedic John Moon who started in the program after a few years and survived the end of the program and Dr. Nancy Caroline, who literally wrote the textbook on paramedic training: Emergency Care in the Streets.

American Sirens is well written and easily accessible by anyone. You don’t need a medical background to appreciate it. It also answered a question I had had about Freedom House since I had heard about it; namely what happened to it?

I’d love to say it was still around and thriving and that it had a strong name recognition among modern paramedics and EMTs. Sadly that’s not the case. From its start it faced opposition from the local police and politicians. In 1975 it was facing a complete shutdown due to underfunding when Dr. Safar convinced the mayor to fund it one more year and brought in Dr. Caroline. But the writing was on the wall. Within the year, it was replaced by a city-run, city-wide ambulance service staffed almost exclusively by white paramedics, all who had far less experience than the Freedom House Ambulance Service paramedics and who had taken classes developed by Drs. Safar and Caroline. Dr. Caroline was initially brought over as Medical Director with the understanding that all Freedom House paramedics would be brought over and given jobs. And initially they were, but very quickly racism raised its ugly head and they literally were often left holding the bags while their much less experienced team members took over.

Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, in 1972, Jack Webb (also of Adam-12 and Dragnet history) had created the show Emergency! which was a fairly fictionalized, but also fairly accurate, portrayal of the development of the EMS/paramedic program in Los Angeles. One can’t underestimate the impact this show had on popularizing EMS in America. I know a number of folks who got into paramedicine because they watched this show. It deservedly has a place in the history of EMS in the US. However it’s just one part of the history. Sadly a key part literally has been white-washed. As of the late 90s, 98% of the paramedics in Pittsburgh were white.

I wrote a few days ago that I wanted to read more this year. Well this book is the first.

For anyone interested in a more complete understanding of the history of paramedicine in the United States, including the racism if faced, I highly recommend this book.

2023 A Year in Preview

Another quick post because another day where I have to be in the ED acting as a tech.

As I mentioned yesterday, I need a minimum of 1000 hours of patient contact time to apply to most of the PA schools I want to apply to. I’m literally hours short of 1/3rd of that. I’ll pass the 1/3rd mark today. This is just over 2 months. I’m confident I’ll make the deadline and add many hours to spare.

  • So that’s goal 1. Getting enough patient contact hours to apply to PA school. I’m well on my way!
  • Next, is finish my academic prereqs. I had to add a class to my list. I had taken Microbiology as an elective for my undergrad. In fact, it was my final exam of my undergrad career. However, to save money (since I was paying for this class out of pocket) I elected not to pay for the lab. Well, the professor made it clear he expected us to show up for lab anyway. So, I’ve done Microbiology, including the lab, but the transcript doesn’t show the lab portion and I need that. So I’ll retake micro. I’m OK with that. It was a fun class after all.
  • I’ll definitely keep working on my TOTS class I want to present at the NCRC. We’ll see how that goes.
  • Continue Blogging: I’ll continue my switchover from a focus on SQL and IT related posts to PA/ED Tech type posts.
  • Biking: We’ll see how my schedule works. Perhaps only 600 miles this year, not 700 as a goal. Ironically, one benefit I get at work is a secure bike storage area. Sadly, my shifts end at 11:30 PM so I don’t think I’ll be biking home much, so it means I won’t be biking to work much!
  • Hiking: Since my schedule is every other weekend on, it also means every other weekend off. I hope to squeeze in some hiking.
  • In fact: I expect to slowly wind down my IT work over the coming year so I can focus on applying to PA School and focus on other skills. Honestly, two big reasons I’m continuing my IT work is that it pays much better which helps since I’ll need the money for PA school and other expenses over the next few years (goal is to avoid as much debt as possible) and also because I do have some commitments to existing customers I want to fulfill.
  • Read more: I’ve found myself for a variety of reasons reading less in the past two years than I’d like. So I resolve to get books off my reading list. Right now I’m reading American Sirens, which is basically a history of how the paramedic service started in the US. I highly recommend it.
  • Speak at least once in the coming year. I’ve got a great talk in mind. But I won’t drop hints just yet.
  • Get Accepted into PA school. This of course is the big one. It’s what I’ve been working towards for the past 12 months. I’m confident that with my background and the experience I’m gaining I’ll get in someplace. It’s just a matter of where and what if any aid they’ll add.
  • See friends: Again, with that every other weekend off, I’m hoping to travel to see more friends. (That said, my schedule currently has me working every Friday, which I’m hoping to change so I can ensure a 3 day weekend.)
  • Get our new septic system in. Yeah, I didn’t mention it before, but the old one has basically failed (though not horribly so) so it’s time.

Finally, I realized I should have done this yesterday, but I want to thank EVERYONE who has given me encouragement and support in the past year. It’s meant a LOT. From blood family, to #SQLFamily, and NCRC family and others, I’ve had more than a fair share of folks say they believe in me and support me. It’s given me a lot of confidence. Thank you.

And with that, now time to shower, get into my scrubs and head back into the mix.

2022 in Review

It’s that time of a year again to look back. This will probably be a shorter post than I might want to write, but that is in part because of the good things that did happen this year.

First a link back to my preview I wrote on the first of this year.

  • I had said I was going to keep writing for Red-Gate. Turns out, that didn’t happen. Too many other things were going on to really write any articles. I did keep my Friends of Red-Gate status and helped talk my largest client into adopting many of their tools.
  • I talked about premiering a new NCRC class called “Tip of the Spear” (TOTS) for medical folks. Again, this didn’t happen and probably won’t for 2023, but the team and I are making progress and I hope to make more this week on developing the curriculum.
  • Continue Blogging: this I definitely did. I may have missed a Tuesday or two, but I also had some extra posts, so I think I probably hit 52 in the year anyway.
  • Travel: Other than 2 trips to Washington DC to see friends, nothing really happened here.
  • Biking: I had hoped to break 700 miles again this year. I’m 38 miles short. And ironically most of that is because I was 33 miles short of my goal in September. That said, I did buy a new bicycle, so I’m excited about that.
  • Hiking: definitely didn’t happen.
  • Caving: I did get in a few new caves thanks to the Week-Long cave rescue class in Clifton Forge, Virginia, but I didn’t get into any new ones locally. I’ll call that a win.

So on one hand, it may sound like I didn’t manage to reach a majority of my goals, but the reality is, it’s been a very successful year. As noted in the post at the start of the year, my primary goal was preparing to apply for PA School. I had given some initial thought to completely all my requirements so I could apply sometimes in the 3rd quarter of the year for entry in January of 2023 for completion in 2025. After some thought, I realized that just wasn’t practical, so I reset my goals a bit. My plan is to apply to several in 2023 for entry in 2024 and completion in 2026. It’s a far more realistic goal.

So, in January I started with 3 classes a the local community college:

  • A&P I – one of my favorites. I love learning how the human body works
  • General Psychology – an interesting class and the professor was good, but psych isn’t my future
  • Biology I – two different professors, one for lecture, one for lab.

I’m proud to say that I got As in all of them. I felt like I was off to a good start. My undergrad grades weren’t great, so I need some wins here.

Over the summer I took an accelerated version of Organic Chemistry that I wrote about several times. I had hoped to eek out at least a C, given the horror stories I heard while at RPI. And honestly, in some ways it was one of the hardest classes academically I’ve ever taken. But, the professor was great and I learned a lot and managed to get an A.

For the fall I slowed down a bit and only look A&P II and Biology II. The tread of keeping my 4.0 continued. It does help that both classes sort of build on each other.

But the biggest change, and consumer of time was finally getting a position as an Emergency Department Technician. For the primary school I plan on applying to, I need at least 1000 hours of “patient contact time”. I had delayed applying long enough that I was starting to get nervous I might not get a good enough job in time. But, as they say, fortune favors the bold, and I got fortunate here. The first seven weeks were spent in orientation. Since then I’m a full-fledged “Blue Badge” tech and I’m working on getting my “Red Badge” so I can be a lead tech on Level 1 and 2 traumas. I’ll write about that more in the future.

One advantage of being out of orientation is I can pick up extra hours (at a higher rate which is nice). And so, after just over 2 months of effort, I’m at over 30% (i.e. over 300 hours) of the way towards my goal of 1000 hours. I fully expect to far exceed that 1000 hour metric long before the application deadline. And in fact, will be 1.2% closer by midnight tonight. And that’s why I can’t a better blog today. Time to jump in the shower and head to work. This will be my 2nd of 3 12 hours shifts in a row (my schedule for now is a 12 hour shift every Friday and then every other weekend (giving me 24 hours a week). But I also picked up a bunch of work earlier this week so I’m well over 40 for the week. Right now, I’m getting hours when I can. And so with that, I’m off.


My life lately has been dominated by numbers. There are good numbers. There are bad numbers. There are less than ideal numbers and there are holy-shit numbers.

It may seem crass at times to reduce a patient to their numbers, but there’s a certain effectiveness to it.

First, there’s their medical record number. I honestly don’t care about this other than the fact that for parts of my job (such as recording an EKG) they need to have a bracelet on them with their name and medical record number on it. I’d call this a neutral number.

Then there’s a number like 130/80 for a blood pressure. Generally this is a good number. But context can matter. Was it 180/120 a few minutes ago and is continuing to drop? If the next reading is similar, great. If the next number is 100/60, the nurses and doctors are going to start to get a bit concerned. If it was 100/60 before and now has risen to this and stays here, they’ll relax.

Even a number like 170/120 might not elicit much concern if the patient is otherwise stable. Yes, your cardiologist might be concerned long-term, but for short-term if it’s stable, the nurse will consult with the doctor, but won’t be rushing around too much.

60 is another number. Are we talking pulse or blood sugar or respirations? In the first case, that’s a pretty good number. In the second, it’s a bad number and again will get folks moving a bit. In the final case, that’s a very bad number!

346 is another number. If it’s a blood sugar, then we’re starting to talk holy-shit (to the point where the hand-held monitor I use to measure it will require an extra notation in the recording.)

When I was learning my wilderness medicine and later started teaching it, I developed the idea of what I call “Sesame Street Medicine”. This was not a knock at all at what we were doing but more on an approach to take. There’s a lot to be learned from “One thing is not like the others”, just like in Sesame Street.

In the cases here, other than blood sugar, which I suspect most of my readers have never looked at theirs, one can often rely on their own experience to get somewhat of an idea of whether a number is good or bad. This can be a useful guideline when looking at numbers. Consider your own numbers. Consider numbers you’ve heard from friends. Now compare.

Now, obviously a trained medical person can definitely glean a lot more information from the numbers than a layperson can, but that doesn’t mean as a lay person you can’t look at some of the numbers and start to think, “that seems less than ideal.”

But yes, in the end, we look at numbers. A lot. In context they can have a lot of meaning. So no one wants to reduce a patient to only their numbers, but numbers can be a good start.

Death Does Not Take a Holiday

Content warning: death and depression follows. But also hope and happiness.

Disclaimer: Events are also a bit fictionalized in time and details

Yesterday I felt a man’s life leave his body.

Today, I felt the life course through a man’s veins, a man who had been dead moments before.

One dead. One alive.

I know my time in the field has been short, but I don’t think I’ll ever fully appreciate the difference.

One dead. One alive.

In another room a woman dies while her family still is on their way. Too late to say their goodbyes.

In another room a man comes in on the worst day of this life, but leaves alive.

One dead. One alive.

Later a man, who had wished for death, comes in and now fights the nurses trying to keep him alive because he fears they’re there to kill him. He survives to fight another day.

One alive.

In one of my favorite episodes of M*A*S*H, Hunnicutt, Hawkeye, and Houlihan fight to keep an injured soldier alive at least long enough so they can record his death on the day after Christmas, rather than Christmas Day itself so the soldier’s children don’t have to think of Christmas Day their father died. In the end, they can’t do it and end up falsifying the records in order to cheat death.

Despite the title of the episode being “Death Takes a Holiday”, the truth is, death never takes a holiday.

In my very short time working in the Emergency Department I’ve seen people die and I’ve seen people live.

But this shift, the eve of Christmas Eve has been especially poignant and has hit me a bit harder than other shifts. The death of a loved one, especially an unexpected death can be hard. I think so doubly so during the holidays.

But also, as I said above, I saw a man who was dead come back to life again because of the efforts of all those around him, complete strangers doing their best to give death a holiday. This time the succeeded.

Today and tomorrow, I’ll be giving my family an extra hug. I hope you can too.

Disclaimer: my views do not represent my employer: Albany Medical Health Systems or Albany Medical Center.

Closing Out the Semester

Editors note: I had planned on posting this last week, but realized 1/2 the class had not yet taken the lab. I hope by now they have. So all times are relative to last week, not this week.

Technically I’m a week or two early depending on how one counts, but I consider this close enough. Final exams are next week, so I’m not technically done until after Wednesday next week. In the meantime I have the following: yesterday an A&P practical (more on that in a minute), a Bio II Unit 4 exam tomorrow, an A&P Unit 4 exam on Friday, and then next week, both on Wednesday, an exam in each. And this coming weekend I have at least one 12 hour shift, probably two. And in a few hours, I start a 12 hour shift. So this should be an interesting week.

It started with the A&P II practical yesterday. Our practicals are, in my mind, fairly simple. The professor lays out models or pictures on the lab benches, labels 40 parts, and then we enter, pick up a keyword sheet and an answer sheet and fill in the blanks. The focus is knowing the parts of the body and where they are, not necessarily on spelling. Occasionally it can get tricky. Last semester for example while I had focused on pictures showing the muscles of the upper leg, the practical used a model and as a result of where the leg model ended, trying to pick out the pectineus was harder to do than expected. At one point I was holding up two different labeled models doing a “compare and contrast” of labeled muscles to figure it out by the process of elimination. It ultimately worked. (for those who are more curious, because the model didn’t show the origin of the pectineus and the insertion is under other muscles, all I had to go on was a small fan-like piece of it showing at the top of the model.)

Yesterday though was a bit different. We were supposed to cover the urinary system and reproductive system. Honestly, I thought it was pretty easy to study for. But when I walked in, two of the labels confused me. Internally to the kidney are structures known as the minor and major calyxes. Basically minor calyxes drain into major ones. So I’m standing there looking at label number 36 which has two lines on it. I can’t quite tell, but it appears to me that they’re pointing to the minor calyxes. So I put that on the answer sheet.

Then I get to label number 17 (because there are 10 stations and multiple students, you don’t necessarily encounter the labels in order). It’s sitting on top of what appears to be a minor calyx. Now, I know the professor well enough to know he’s not one to try trick questions like having the same body part appear twice on the practical. So I’m stuck. At times like this often I’ll pick up the model and walk over to him to ask. But I didn’t want to pick up two different models and bring them over. For one it would have been a bit unwieldy and for another, it would deprive other students of two stations to work at.

So I tried to reason it out. I figured since station 36 had lines pointing to the minor calyxes, that station 17 must be a major calyx, even though it really looked like it was sitting on top of a minor one.

Anyway, I finished, confident about my answers except those two. I waited outside the classroom to talk to a couple of my other classmates. At least one other admitted the same confusion. This actually made me feel better, that I wasn’t completely confused or misunderstanding the labelling. As we waited for our final classmate to finish up, the professor popped his head out the door. So I asked him which was which. I was impatient. I didn’t want to wait until he corrected them. “Well, the lines on 36 show the flow into the major calyx, so that’s the major one and 17 is the minor.” When I explained my confusion he had a stricken look on his face, went back into the lab and peered at station 36. I saw him quickly pull out his sharpie and update the label. He then came back out, “You’re right, I didn’t actually show the direction and I can see how it would be confusing. Don’t worry, I’ll make sure you all get credit for it.” The other class section has their practical on Thursday, so with the updated labels, I think they’ll do fine.

But now I wish I had asked while taking the practical itself. It might have solved the confusion earlier.

An addendum, turns out by the time he corrected the practical he had forgotten to credit us and I had to go in and get my grade updated.