Monday, August 30, 2010

Medical Mondays: Bread and Butter

Hi everyone!
So today starts a marathon 6 weeks of studying for my board recertification.

Which means very little blogging (Boo Hoo!) and no writing (Double Boo Hoo!). So I'm going to be posting less often and I apologize ahead of time about not checking your blogs regularly. I'll miss it!

In honor of my studyfest, in which I will drink massive quantities of tea and bang my head against nearby walls, I thought it would be fitting to hit a very basic topic in medicine (what we docs call "Bread and Butter" topics): Strokes vs Heart Attacks.

This question is inspired by some emails from Anne (Piedmont Writer).

In concept, both heart attacks and strokes are about one single problem—not getting vital oxygen to the point where tissue dies.

In heart attacks (also called myocardial infarction), it's caused by a sudden blockage in one of the arteries that supplies blood to the heart muscle itself. There can be small and large heart attacks, depending on the size of the blockage, which artery it hits, and how long the blockage lasts.

Symptoms include (but can vary widely): crushing chest pain, chest pressure, nausea, dizziness, shortness of breath, left arm and jaw pain. Fatal or dangerous arrhythmias can occur to make someone pass out.

In stroke (also called cerebrovascular accident, or CVA), two types can occur: hemorrhagic or ischemic. Hemorrhagic means a blood vessel bursts. As a result, some brain tissue can lose it's blood supply since it's spilling out, and the blood itself is irritating and can take up space. This can also be small, or large and devastating.

In ischemic strokes, the lack of oxygenation occurs from many causes: a blood vessel is occluded because either a clot flew up into one of the vessels of the brain from lower in the body (the neck vessels, for instance) or can happen spontaneously within the native vessels of the brain. Or, if there isn't enough blood to perfuse the brain (like in a very prolonged low blood pressure situation), or if there is a blood clot in the drainage vessels of the brain (venous thrombosis).

As for symptoms of stroke? There are a bunch. But in essence, they revolve around problems with the nervous system. So weakness, numbness, difficulty talking, thinking correctly, problems walking...these are the tip of the iceberg for stroke symptoms, and of course it depends on how big the stroke is and what part of the brain it hits.

So technical! Let's take a collective breath.

Wiggle your fingers and say "Ahhh!" Good.

Any chest pain? No? Excellent!

You're healthy! That'll be $500. Just kidding.

Now get back to work!

Please keep in mind this post is for writing purposes only and is not to be construed as medical advice! (See sidebar disclaimer)

If you've got a fictional medical question, let me know! Post below or email me at

All I ask in return is that you become a follower of my blog and post a link on your blog when I post. Easy peasy.

Also, don't forget to check out Mental Health Mondays at Laura's Blog!

Friday, August 27, 2010

How a Watch Proves I Have Writing On The Brain

So hubbie and I were window shopping last week. He's rather obsessed with watches, especially the mechanics of the movements. He showed me this one by Breguet (price tag $23,000.00. Yep, that's right. We won't be buying it. Ever.)

But see how the movement (gears) is so prominent, and the actual dial (face) to tell time is squashed up high? Well, hubs was quite impressed. It's a big deal to show the movement on the front of the watch, and so this piece is historic.

But for me? I laughed.

"It's all show, no tell."

I explained what I meant, how in writing this is usually a good thing, but in watches (for me) I thought it didn't work.

Hubs says, "Wow. I can really tell you're a writer."

So I ask you. Has your writing gone to your brain so deeply that you talk in writing terms sometimes? Or your perspective on things has changed because of your writing skills?

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Fear of Chapter 1

I've finished outlining my next WIP. I'm all set to start writing the thing. And of course, I want to start with Chapter 1.

But the problem is...

I'm afraid of Chapter 1!

So much has to happen. I am to introduce my MC, her world, the change that's going to tilt everything every-which-way, plant the seeds of subplots and twists and oh my...

I'm quivering with fear.


Have you ever been intimidated by something you haven't yet written?

Also, don't forget to check out this week's Sisterhood of the Traveling blog post on waiting, by Zoe Courtman!

And if you missed the other posts, check out mine, Laura's, and Danyelle's!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Medical Mondays: Of Bulging Neck Veins and Contest Winners

Hey all! Well, I'm back from vacation and I missed you guys!

First of all, a few prizes to give out. The random number generator picked the following lucky winners!

Nicole Murray

Laura Pauling

Ann from Inkpots and Quills

Congrats Ladies! Email me at MedicalMondays (at) Gmail (dot) com and send me your contact info for your prizes!

And now, onto today's Medical Monday question.

Patti Lacy wonders what in heck are those ropy things that bulge out from your neck when you're mad?

Great question! And for fun, I'm going to tell you why it happens too.

Surely we've read (and seen) some furious people who look like they'll pop when they're mad. The face gets red. Ropy things in the neck bulge out. Their eyes bug out. Fists clench.

Well, it turns out there are physiological explanations for this pre-bubble-bursting phenomenon of anger.

One "ropy thing" that may stick out is the sternocleidomastoid muscle that connects the jawbone to the clavicle. When you are tense, this can bulge out a bit. So there's one possibility. (Thanks Alesa!)

Another is the neck veins that return blood from the head back to the heart. This can be caused by:

1) The fight-or-flight response. It's a natural response your body has to extreme stress. In the old days, it's what you felt when a saber-toothed tiger was about to nibble your leg. You got ready to flee, or fight. And one result of that is your body shunts your blood where you need it--your muscles. Your heart rate and breathing increase. And the blood vessels in your neck may bulge because blood is already pumping through your body at an accelerated rate.

Nowadays, the Amex Bill causes the same reaction. Or a driver who steals your prime parking spot at Target. (Deep breath!)

2) The other mechanism of bulging veins is the Valsalva Maneuver. It's a fancy term for increasing pressure inside your body by holding a breath against a closed glottis.

I hear a lot of blank stares in the crowd. Yep, I can hear that.

You all know what the Valsalva Maneuver is! Yes you do! I'll prove it.

Imagine you're trying to push a 12 pound baby out your teeny, weeny pelvis. Push! Push! Push!

There you go. That's a Valsalva. It also occurs in the bathroom, if you catch my drift.

AND it can sort of happen when you're very angry. Angry people tense their abdominal muscles, may hold their breath and clench their teeth. Increasing your internal body's pressure by this maneuver causes your neck veins to stick out like giant worms. Groovy.

Please keep in mind this post is for writing purposes only and is not to be construed as medical advice! (See sidebar disclaimer)

If you've got a fictional medical question, let me know! Post below or email me at

All I ask in return is that you become a follower of my blog and post a link on your blog when I post. Easy peasy.

Also, don't forget to check out Mental Health Mondays at Laura's Blog!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Contest reminder!

Do your hands long to smell like the herb-infused hills of the French countryside?

Then enter my contest below!

Quick now!

Why smell like chicken fingers when you can be odiferous as lemon verbena?


Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Sisterhood of the Traveling Blog: The Waiting Game

Hi all! Just a reminder to check out this week's traveling blog post by Danyelle Leafty!

And if you missed the other posts, check out mine and Laura's. Next week will be from Zoe Courtman!

Oh, and did I mention I was having a contest? If you haven't had a chance, then come enter!

Monday, August 16, 2010

300's Contest!

So, I am on vacation (smiles), which means no blogging for a whole week (frowns).

But I've figured a way to ease the pain. I'm going to have a contest now that I've made it to over 300 followers!

I have three lovely gifts to give out:

A set of three gorgeously scented, French-milled soaps from L'Occitane.

A ceramic version of the ubiquitous paper coffee cup found in every New York City coffee shop and corner stand.

And last but not least, a $15 Barnes and Noble gift card to buy a little late summer reading!


To enter, you must be a follower and leave a comment.
Feel free to win extra entries:
+1 for posting on a blog sidebar
+2 for Tweeting
+3 for blogging about it!

Winners will be chosen by random draw and announced on Monday, August 23rd.

See you then, and have a lovely week!

Friday, August 13, 2010

The Chasm of Hopelessness and...Vacation

There is reliable window of time where, in this writing business, I lose hope.

It's usually after I've finished a WIP and have started querying, and before a new idea has jelled in my mind.

In that bit of space, I flouder.

I lose hope.

And then...the ideas start to roll and hope once again gushes like an open spigot. (See above. Sorry, I am quite scientifically minded--I see things in graphs sometimes. (*shrugs*)) you have particular nadirs where hope is concerned? How do you get over it and yank it back through the window it's flown out of?

On that note, which sounds hopeless BUT isn't really, I'm on vacation starting today!

I am yanking the USB connector from the vein in my arm and tossing it aside for a week. Ouch!

So I apologize ahead of time for not commenting on your blogs...I will be back! In the meantime, I'll have some other things to occupy your time here at my blog next week!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Sisterhood of the Traveling Blog: The Waiting Game

This week, it's my turn to tackle how I deal with waiting.

My writing life waxes and wanes in intensity. But usually, after a rewrite, or a first draft, after I've sent it off to betas for a good microscopic throttling, or waiting on an agent submission, this is what I do.

1. I go to Paris. I love Paris, and I'm an expert in ignoring the French disdain for my nationality. I just stuff myself silly with good cheese and baguettes, feigning deafness every time the words "Zut alor!" pop up.

2. I have a full-body, platinum-treatment spa day. Because there's nothing like having ten women working simultaneously on polishing and buffing my poor, tired body after weeks of writing.

3. I have a gourmet cook specially prepare a nearly-death-by-chocolate concoction that I eat all by myself. It usually takes two days to finish it. And of course, there's a mound of home-made hot pretzels on the side because I love the sweet with the salty. You betcha!

4. I cash in my Lotto ticket that I keep forgetting to turn in. Money is SUCH a pain.



What do I really do?

1. I file away the massive stack of bills/statements threatening to sink the island in my kitchen.
2. I clip my toenails. I forgot I had toenails!
3. I get particularly goofy and silly with my kids, who look at me thoughtfully and say, "Oh. I thought the laptop was PART of your body, Momma."
4. I sleep. A lot.
5. I stress out about whatever I'm waiting on, and attempt to channel my energy into visiting blogs I haven't visited in a while.

So there you go. But really, I would like to go to Paris!

Don't forget to visit Danyelle's post next week, and if you missed it, here's Laura's post from last week!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Medical Mondays: Why Imagination is a Muscle

Hello! I've been wanting to do this post for a while, but I've been getting so many awesome questions lately I had to put it off.

I want to talk about muscle.

It's meaty. Sometimes it's buff and toned and large; sometimes it's thin and atrophied. Why?

I'm grossly simplifying here, but there are two main reasons why healthy muscle is, well, healthy.

1) Use it or Lose it. Muscle needs work. It's true. Have you known someone with a broken bone that got a cast? After the limb gets out of the cast, it's much smaller than the healthy other side, right? The atrophy is from lack of use. It's the same reason why a paraplegic will have wasted looking legs. Without the nerves shooting signals for the muscles to contract, those muscles waste away.

Muscle needs to be challenged in order to maintain a certain level of functionality.

2) Substrate=Food. Muscle needs nutrients--a healthy balance of minerals, vitamins, and protein keeps it going. There's a reason why people who are starving look so thin. If the body doesn't get enough nutrients, it's going to suck them from our own bodies. And thus, our muscles can wilt.


Why is a writer's imagination like muscle?

1. "Use it or lose it." I can remember clearly a time when I thought, "I could never write a book. I can't imagine anything interesting!" I was a wimpy and weak in the imagination department. Well, one day I had an idea. And I worked on it hard, in ways my scientific brain was unused to. And then, a whole world opened up. I saw ideas in everything.

Once I started using that atrophied imagination muscle in my brain, I saw more and more.

2. Nutrients. You need to feed your imagination! This can be literal (chocolate). It can literary (lot of reading). It can be other things, like being well rested, keeping your stress level healthy, or making sure you balance in life is good. Maybe it's expanding your horizons by going on vacation to a new place, or learning about something completely alien to you.

Muscles and imagination are very complex entities, and we need to keep them healthy!

What have you done lately to take good care of your imagination?

Please keep in mind this post is for writing purposes only and is not to be construed as medical advice!

If you've got a fictional medical question, let me know! Post below or email me at

All I ask in return is that you become a follower of my blog and post a link on your blog when I post. Easy peasy.

Also, don't forget to check out Mental Health Mondays at Laura's Blog!

Friday, August 6, 2010

Stealing From Your Day Job

I'm going make a huge assumption that most of my blog readers have a day job.

Working in an office, online, or taking care of kiddos (yep--that's a job too!)—whatever you do, do you steal bits of inspiration from your day job and apply it to your writing?

I'm fascinated by the history of medicine and pharmacology. I can't seem to resist putting a bit of that inspiration in my writing.

What have you stolen from work that ended up in a WIP?

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Please Confer

I have never been to a writing conference.

SCBWI just recently had their big conference in LA, and RWA just had theirs in Orlando.

I really wish I could have gone.

Honestly, I think I'd just spin dizzy at a conference. All those other writers! Panel discussions! Pitching to agents! ARCs and book signings!

It would be amazing, like visiting a world where everyone is more or less from the same crazy place--the world of writers and publishers.

I'm probably going to attend the virtual writer's conference WriteOnCon. It's free and there's no traveling involved. Can't argue with that!

So. Going to any conferences? Been to any good ones? Or are you like me, never been, but wanna go?

Also, don't forget to check out this week's Sisterhood of the Traveling Blog post by Laura Diamond on Writing and Waiting!

Monday, August 2, 2010

Medical Mondays: Meet Phineas Gage

Hello! This week's question is from Jessica, a.k.a. the Alliterative Allomorph. She asks:

Is it possible to be shot in the head, survive, lose all long term memory, but still function like normal, and retain all short term memory from rehabilitation onward?

Well, in researching this answer, I found Phineas again. I'd learned all about Phineas Gage in medical school, but his case is so extraordinary (and relevant to today's topic) that I thought it was high time you all met him.

Before reading, I must warn you THERE ARE SOME REALLY GROSS THINGS COMING so if your stomach is weak, look away my friends.

Here he is. Isn't he handsome?

Phineas was an American railroad worker. In 1848, the 25 year-old was doing his usual job of tamping down explosives into a hole with his iron rod when he neglected to add the buffering sand between the explosives and his rod. As a result, the explosion shot the iron straight through his skull as in the diagram above.

The 13 pound iron bar landed 80 feet away. Amazingly, he was able to sit up and talk. He was conscious all through the examination by the physicians later. He did, however, vomit once, and in doing so, a half a cup of brains leaked out of his skull and fell on the floor.

Sorry. I had to add in that gross-out. I didn't learn that one in med school.

Anyway, after spending over a a month in coma as his brain swelled and became infected, he eventually recovered and was able to work. He died 12 years later from complications of a seizure disorder (epilepsy) due to his head trauma.

So. How does this relate to today's question?

Well, in penetrating head injury such as bullets and knives, the mortality is incredibly high, well over 90%. But, as in Mr. Gage's example, people can indeed survive.

Gunshot wounds to the head are particularly traumatic. The higher the velocity of the missile, the worse the damage is. Not only do they destroy brain tissue as they tunnel their way through the skull, but they also cause shock-waves and often destroy tissue in areas well beyond the simple path of the bullet.

As for memory problems? In my earlier post on amnesia, we learned about anterograde and retrograde amnesia.

For this character, they'd need loss of long term memory but retention of short term memory. This is definitely possible. This person would have retrograde amnesia, meaning loss of memory before the accident. The can remember things after the accident, but even then, may have problems converting short term memories (lunch with a friend today) into long term memories (a week or year later, no memory of that lunch).

The great thing about memory loss is that different combinations of memory loss can occur with severe injuries. In the world of fiction writing and head trauma (which seems to be a common occurence!), you have plenty of room to make it work out for your character the way you want it to.

Hope this helps, and hope I didn't gross you out too much!