Friday, January 06, 2006

Sunstroke: Hot off the Presses

Mark my words--Jesse Kellerman's name will soon be staring up at the world from many a nightstand around the country. Playwright by education, murder mystery novelist by genetic probability, Jesse's first novel--a thriller, in characteristic Kellerman style--was released into the bibliosphere today. The big debut was held at the 22nd St. Barnes & Noble, at the street-corner corner of the store, with an impressive audience turnout for a 27-year-old guy's first novel. The location enabled passersby to cast Jesse in occasionally comical relief as they peered in through the glass, registered him standing at the podium reading excerpts, then gazed further into the room until they reached us, rows upon rows, seemingly gazing right back at them--at which point they invariably shrunk back, embarrassed, onto the sidewalk.

Some people asked questions. Like "was the book based on any real life events?" (it was) or "how do you develop your characters?" (complex organic process) or "do you have any other family members who write?" (he deflected that one with a touch of embarrassment or annoyance, I couldn't tell which).

It was like my college reunion, six months early. Quite a few people I haven't seen or spoken to in years--it's crazy to me that at my age, you lose touch with someone for just a few months--really, that's barely enough time to gather enough fodder for the next catchup conversation!--and then next thing you know, she's round as a berry, due with her first next week! Things can sludge along without change for years, but boy when they do change, hooey!, watch out!

We all got our books signed. And then we trekked out to the West Side in an attempt to find sustenance. It proved harder than one might anticipate, but we finally settled down at a diner (which we quickly overtook) and toasted our man Jesse for the start of his sure-to-be brilliant writing career.

I read near half of the book on the train ride home. So far, it's the kind of brilliantly organized, cleverly written, thoughtful plot moving book that makes readers rejoice, everywhere. Including me. I can't wait to read the rest--though I'm already sad that I'll have to wait a year for the next JK thriller. After I finish (I give myself no more than 48 hours, if that), I might just have to read it again.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006


I just started my neurology rotation today, after a luscious month-long hiatus from the hospital. I was going to say that it was a hiatus from being a medical student, but I somehow managed, while "on vacation", to (1) diagnose a non-displaced fracture of the radial head (aka broken elbow) by x-ray, (2) evaluate a cluster of acute onset extraorbital pustules of probable insect origin, (3) appreciate a 5/6 systolic ejection murmur radiating to the carotids likely attributable to a congenital bicuspid aortic valve, and (4) dispense various bits of unguaranteed "advice" on various health and medicine related topics. Ok, I didn't just "somehow manage"--I was almost ashamedly excited to try my new knowledge and skills on my family and friends, and they just happened to have some rather acute issues while I was visiting. I also successfully nursed my own nasty bruises from my first (of many, I hope) snowboarding adventures. But more on that another time.

So today, I saw two patients, both of whom were suffering from strokes that have left them aphasic. Meaning a loss of language. But what exactly is lost and what remains is, as neurologists like Oliver Sacks have long noted, quite curious. Why is it that patient #1, we'll call her Mrs. George, could carry on what seemed like a normal conversation--hi, how are you, I'm fine, where do you live, oh hamden, do you have kids, yes three, are you in any pain, oh no I'm feeling fine--until you held up a pen in front of her and asked her simply to name what she saw.

"Mrs. George, do you know what this thing is that I'm holding in my hand?"
"Oh, yes!"
"What is it?"

Patient #2 did sort of better, in that when she said she knew what "it" was, she delivered.

"Mrs. Weiss, do you know what this is?"
"What is it?"
"What's that?"
"It's love?"

Well, there you have it folks, Mrs. Weiss has discovered what love is. It's a pen.

But I kid. Ischemic events are no fun anywhere in the body, and certainly not in the brain, where they can--as instantly as a "stroke" of lightning--wipe out a person's ability to walk, talk, identify objects, feed themself....

Hmm...see, that's what's so fascinating. Just a week ago, I was down in Savannah blissfully spending time with my newest little cousins, and marveling at the facility with which my 2-year-old cousin Jessa has adapted to life as we know it after just 24 post-womb months on the planet. She can now walk, talk, identify objects, feed herself... Show her a pen, and she'd say "it's a pen!" In fact, forget the pen--Jessa can name everything from eyebrows to stethoscopes! She spontaneously comes out with responses like "No, I have plenty" and "I'll cooperate". How does she do that??