Wednesday, December 28, 2011

A word on Speedos...

Just wanted to drop in to remind you that it's Deb Salisbury's turn to see how she answers our Sisterhood of the Traveling Blog question for the month:

"Do you have any formal writing training, or have (or considered) an MFA in creative writing?"

As for me, I am still on a blog vacation until the New Year. I'm still reading (four novels down, more to come!) and am spraining my brain trying to delete images from my recent beach trip (go away Mr. Prancing Greased-Up Mohawk Man With Teeny Red Speedo. Ewwwwwww. Gag.)

There. Now he's in your brain too. Thanks for sharing my pain. Hooa!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Happy Holidays!

Welcome to all my new followers, and thanks to everyone who joined in the Deja Vu Blogfest last week--it was a huge success!

I'll be taking a blogging break for the holidays and will be back next week.

In the meantime, check out Sarah Fine's Sisterhood of the Traveling Blog post on Wednesday December 21st about whether she's had or considered formal writing training, MFAs, etc during her writing career.

Enjoy your holiday!

Stay safe.

Stay warm.

And most of all, stay entertained! (In other words, read a book!) I plan on reading three. ;)

Friday, December 16, 2011

Déjà Vu Blogfest: A Curse, and a Secret!

Hello and welcome to the Déjà Vu Blogfest! Hosted by DL Hammons, Creepy Query Girl, Nicole Ducleroir and yours truly!

Oh, but it was hard to pick an old post to recycle today. Though there has been good news to backflip over recently, and more good news, I've decided to share a little secret, via this Medical Mondays post from September of 2011. I was in the trenches then, studying for my Internal Medicine Boards.

Here we go!


Well, ha. This was inevitable.

I'm trying to keep myself in study mode, but I KNEW sooner or later I'd learn some factoid I'd feel compelled to share with you guys.

So I'm taking a brief break to tell you about
Ondine's Curse (also more correctly known as Congenital Central Hypoventilation Syndrome, or CCHS).

It's an extremely rare medical condition in which many sufferers can only breath voluntarily.

Meaning...if they fall sleep, they don't breathe and can die.

How can that be, you ask? Well, in the congenital form in infants, it can be fatal. It's so rare, doctors don't usually look for it. But in adults, it's caused by an auto accident, stroke, or neurosurgical complication to the centers of the brain that control breathing. They often need to use a ventilator machine to breath at night or an electronic device to zap their diaphragm muscle into helping them breathe.

The name Ondine's Curse comes from a German myth. Ondine was a water nymph in love with a mortal man. She gave up her immortality when she fell in love with him and bore him a child. He had promised, "
Every waking breath will be a testament to my love for you."

When he became unfaithful, she cursed him—if he ever fell asleep, his breath would be taken from him and he would die. Eventually, from exhaustion, the man did fall asleep. And he succumbed to the curse.


Why did I pick this for the blogfest? Well, after I wrote this post last year, I couldn't stop thinking about Ondine's Curse. I'd get short of breath imagining living life with this ailment. How a person would have such an odd relationship with air, and sleeping, and...existing.

So here's the secret: one of the main characters in my novel, The Fountain, suffers from Ondine's curse.

I originally started Medical Mondays to give back and share my medical skills with the writing community. I honestly didn't expect it to come full circle and inspire me in such a significant way.

Thanks for stopping by! I'm looking forward to reading all your recycled and awesome posts!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

University of Writer Blogs and Betas

This month's Sisterhood of the Traveling Blog's question is by yours truly:

“What formal writing experience do you have? (classes, degrees, major/minors). Did it shape your writing?Have you ever considered getting an MFA?”

  • I took a creative writing class in college. Most of the time, everyone got overshadowed by the one kid who could write an O. Henry ending like nobody's business.
  • I majored in Biology/Pre-Med, and minored in English. The minor was an excuse to pump blood into the right side of my brain, via Children's Lit and 19th Century English literature.

Ummmmm. That's it.

A few years ago, I started writing poetry and was tempted to apply for an MFA, but even the low res program was too time consuming.

Then when I started writing fiction, I figured I was too awful to subject myself to classes. I did join a writer's workshop for writers and doctors for a few years, but I wouldn't call that formal training.

Nope. I went to the University of Writer Blogs and Betas.

My amazing betas and crit partners taught me so much. Show vs tell, ratcheting up the tension, plotting, killing cliché name it, they taught me. And then there are all the writer blogs I've visited over the last few years. You guys keep teaching me, and I'm more than willing to keep learning.

So thank you again, everyone. Thanks for being my professors!

Laura Diamond posted last week, and Sarah and Deb will be up soon!

(Psst. Does anyone think it's funny that MFA and LMFAO are, er, similar? Just sayin'. Having an immature moment here...*snort*)

Monday, December 12, 2011

Medical Mondays: Ancient Birth Control

Good Monday to you all. Today, Luanne Smith of Bards and Prophets has a fascinating question for her novel.

"My character (this is in a post-apocalyptic setting) needs to be able to prevent pregnancy without *ahem* abstaining. There was/is a ferula plant (Silphium) that was said to be used in ancient times as a contraceptive. Apparently plants in this group have high levels of estrogen-like properties in them.

What I need to know is how would a plant like this be prescribed? Assuming it was readily available, would it need to be ingested everyday like the pill? Also, what side effects might my character experience after taking something like that for an extended amount of time (besides pregnancy, of course)?"

I've always found the need to control fertility a fascinating historical (and contemporary) subject. I even did a research paper on historical methods of birth control in med school. (Stones as IUDs? Crocodile dung as a spermicide? That's just a tiny bit of what I'd found.)

Herbal medicine has long been used as a means of controlling fertility. In a futuristic scenario, it would be conceivable (*ha ha*) that women might have to turn back to nature for contraceptive means.

Silphium is actually a now-extinct plant that was used in ancient Egypt and Greece, amongst other places. In fact, the heart-shaped seed may be the origin of why the heart shape is associated with romance.
photo credit
Silphium probably belonged in the genus Ferula, many of which are called "giant fennel." Although in the same family as true fennel, Ferula isn't truly a fennel plant.

These plants grow in the arid climates of western Asia and the Mediterranean region. In ancient Greek texts, there is plentiful discussion of using the Silphium juice once monthly to both prevent conception and as an abortifacient as well. Silphium's popularity in the ancient world may have led to its extinction.

So which Ferula plant might be used in Luanne's story? Possibly a species called Ferula Asafoetida.
photo credit

Yes, you read that right. There is a "fetid" in that name. Some have called it "Devil's Dung." All parts of the plant have a pungent, fetid odor. However, the dried gum of the plant root, once cooked, has a more palatable onion/garlic flavor and it still used today in some kitchens around the world.

Medicinally, Asafoetida is a natural antiviral (it was studied as a treatment for H1N1 flu), aids digestion and reduces flatulence (maybe it should be marketed as Anti-Fetid?), as an asthma treatment, and an anti-seizure medicine.

Asafoetida is also a commonly known contraceptive and abortifaciant. However, I had some trouble finding out how it would be used as such. Silphium was taken once monthly. The juice of the plant (maybe half a teaspoonful) was enough to do the job. When thinking of how herbs are used medicinally, consider these methods:
  • Extract (herb soaked in alcohol, strong concentration of herb)
  • Tincture (herb soaked in alcohol, weaker concentration of herb)
  • Infusion (herb soaked in hot water)
  • Decoction (herb boiled in water)
  • Ingested directly. (In Luanne's case, the gum from the root of the plant was cooked and eaten with food. This is the most likely method used, but again, I'm just guessing.)
  • Applied topically (like in a poultice)
  • Boiled and steam inhaled
  • Burned and smoke inhaled
Since Asafoetida has been long used as a spice, likely there is no serious long term side effect from taking it continuously, but of course there aren't any studies on this.

One last thing. Ferula Asafoetida grows mainly in India, Afghanistan, and Iran. For contraceptive herbs native to North America, also consider:
  • Black Cohosh
  • Wild Carrot (related to Ferula)
  • Queen Anne's lace (also related to Ferula)
  • Smartweed (Polygonum Hydropiper)

Here are some references I used to research this question. Good luck, Luanne!

If you've got a fictional medical question, let me know! Post below or email me at
All I ask is that you become a follower and post a link on your blog when I post your answer. This is for fictional scenarios, only. Please check out the boring but necessary disclaimer on my sidebar --->
Also, don't forget to stop by Laura Diamond's Mental Health Mondays and Sarah Fine's The Strangest Situation for great psychiatric and psychological viewpoints on all things literary. :)

Now follow Medical Mondays on Twitter! #MedMonday

Friday, December 9, 2011

Author Spotlight: Dawn Miller

Welcome Dawn to our Author Spotlight. Her book, Larkstorm, just went live on December 6th. Here we go!

What advice do you have for people who want to self-publish?

Take things slowly and treat it as a business. I believe all writers – self-published or not – need to be familiar with the business side of publishing. Just like a business should never open its doors without a plan, a writer shouldn’t throw a book up on the internet without having goals and a plan for reaching them.

Marketing is an absolute necessity because you can write the most amazing book ever, but if no one knows about it, then it’s not going to sell. Selling on the internet, we don’t have the luxury of the casual bookshelf browser – we need to let people know our books exist.

How do you manage to do so much in 24 hours?

I don’t sleep. At least that’s the rumor. In reality, I wake up around 4:30 or 5am everyday and either go for a run or go to the gym. I home school my oldest son – a 5th grader – while my other two boys are at school. My afternoons consist of carpools, sports practice, homework and dinner. I put my children to bed at 7pm and typically write until around 11. Since I have an iPhone, I do much of my social networking and email on the go.

Is there a different genre you might like to try and write someday?

Larkstorm is a dystopian fantasy crossover, and while I love writing those genres, I wrote a contemporary boy POV romance I hope someday sees the light of day. I also ghostwrite a commercial contemporary YA series and absolutely love it. So, short answer: I’d like to write contemporary.

What is something about yourself that most people don’t know or would be surprised to know?

I’m dyslexic and have a difficult time reading out loud. I stumble over words and struggle with simple pronunciations. But, like I tell my son who is also dyslexic, that doesn’t mean we can’t write, or tell stories, or speak in public. We just have to work harder. And I think that makes success all the more sweet.

In the years following the destructive Long Winter, when half the world’s population perished, the State remains locked in battle against the Sensitives: humans born with extra abilities. 

As one of the last descendants of the State’s Founders, seventeen-year-old Lark Greene knows her place: study hard and be a model citizen so she can follow in her family’s footsteps. Her life’s been set since birth, and she’s looking forward to graduating and settling down with Beck, the boy she’s loved longer than she can remember. 

However, after Beck is accused of being Sensitive and organizing an attack against Lark, he disappears. Heartbroken and convinced the State made a mistake, Lark sets out to find him and clear his name. 

But what she discovers is more dangerous and frightening than Sensitives: She must kill the boy she loves, unless he kills her first.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Book Buying Budget

I just bought another book.

I'm feeling both elated (Ooooh! New plucky protagonist! Shiny new cover! Squee!) and guilty (What about the library? Hmmmm? Haven't I spent enough money on books this year? Is this habit tax deductible yet?).

Sometimes I've borrowed from the local library, but I'm always worried about crumbing in them. The books, that is, not the library (I have a terrible habit of snacking and reading). Or not being able to borrow what I really want, when I want it.

Every time I get a new book, that same swirl of emotions surrounds me. Excitement. Guilt. Glee. Embarrassment.

True, most of the bad feeling disappears when I open up those crisp pages and inhale the new world at my fingertips.

So I'm curious. Do you have a book budget? Or do you blissfully ignore the bottom line when it comes to reading? Maybe something in between?


Don't forget to drop by Laura Diamond's blog today where she answers this month's Sisterhood of the Traveling Blog question: Have you had any formal writing training? Ever thought about getting an MFA, or have one?

Also, don't forget to sign up for our Deja Vu Blogfest for December 16th! It's right around the corner!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Medical Mondays: Münchausen Trifecta!

Today, Laura Diamond, Sarah Fine and I are tackling a topic together. It's called Münchausen syndrome.

It's a psychiatric, factitious disorder whereby people fake illnesses for attention and sympathy.

Ever heard of it? It's named after Baron Von Münchausen (1720-1797), who told many fantastic and untruthful tales about his adventures. His stories were later told in a novel by Rudolf Erich Raspe, and also in a 1988 film, The Adventures of Baron Von Munchausen. (Remember Uma Thurman as the Goddess Venus?)

Sarah Fine is going to tackle Münchausen's by Proxy, which occurs when parents sicken their own children to get attention as the "concerned parent."

Laura Diamond is going to tackle the psychiatric aspects of Münchausen's syndrome.

And I'll tackle some of the medical aspects of Münchausen's.

First of all, Münchausen's is different from malingering.

Malingering is when people fake their illness for secondary gain. Secondary gain can include money (for a lawsuit), getting out of military duty, getting out of prison for the "nicer" environment of the prison hospital, getting out of school (see Ferris Bueller's Day Off), getting out of prison ("I swear I was crazy when I killed that guy!"), getting prescription drugs, etc. Also, see my vomiting chicken blood post.

It's also different from Somatoform Disorders, when people have physical symptoms without any overt abnormalities on tests. These people aren't faking their suffering.

In Münchausen's, the person fakes an illness because they find the attention of medical personnel and the medical environment comforting and pleasant. From the doctor's side of this, it can be extremely frustrating.

Here's a story that I heard when I was a medical student.

A man came to the hospital with excruciating abdominal pain. He was at a party the night before when he clinked glasses with guests. After drinking his champagne, he realized his glass had broken during the toast and splinter-sized shards were at the bottom of his glass. He was convinced he'd swallowed some splinters.

Though normally glass should be seen on an X-ray, tiny shards might be missed. He had an endoscopy, which revealed nothing. He was ready to have an exploratory surgery to remove the possible glass shards from his gut when my attending (who I believe was a rotating resident at the time) said, "Hey. You look very familiar. Didn't you come to the ER at another hospital with the same problem last month?"

The patient immediately left and never came back.

Yes, he was willing to have an unnecessary, major surgery. And needle pokes, and endoscopies, and radiation. But he also got a load of concerned doctors, nurses, and staff who thought, "This poor man! He needs our help!"

Here's another one.

A woman came in with fevers and signs of a blood bacterial infection gone out of control. After antibiotics and an ICU stay, she recovered. There was no obvious cause for the infection, and doctors were confused as to why several types of bacteria grew in her blood. (Normally in blood infections, there is just one bacteria involved.)

After a second bout of sepsis with multiple bacteria, the hospital staff suspected Munchausen's. The patient was then observed surreptitiously injecting herself intravenously with a liquid mixture made from her own feces.

And on, and on, and on. There are thousands of stories like these, sadly. People injecting themselves with insulin to get hypoglycemic; people rubbing dirt and spit into their wounds to prolong a hospital stay...sounds impossible? It's not. I've seen a bunch of them myself.

Many patients with Munchausen's will go to several doctors and/or hospitals for treatment ("doctor hopping"). They may move to different states so they can do it again, or change their names. And they're willing to undergo unnecessary, even dangerous, evaluations to do so and put their very lives at risk.

From the medical side, the key to finding out someone has Munchausen's is part science, and part luck. Doctors have an obligation to make sure there truly isn't a dangerous medical condition before they blame something on Munchausen's--because that kind of accusation is extremely serious. But when the data doesn't add up (like the multiple bacteria in the blood, above) or suspicious behavior is found, then we suspect Munchausen's. I have heard that video cameras can be used to prove cases of Munchausen's by proxy, but I'm not sure about regular Munchausen's.

It can be particularly difficult to diagnose if the patient already has real medical problems, and/or has educated themselves about certain illnesses--how they present, what "alarm" words to use to make doctors sit up and take notice.

Can you imagine what's it's like to have Münchausen's? Can you imagine having one of your characters with this syndrome?

If you've got a fictional medical question, let me know! Post below or email me at
All I ask is that you become a follower and post a link on your blog when I post your answer. This is for fictional scenarios, only. Please check out the boring but necessary disclaimer on my sidebar --->
Also, don't forget to stop by Laura Diamond's Mental Health Mondays and Sarah Fine's The Strangest Situation for great psychiatric and psychological viewpoints on all things literary. :)

Now follow Medical Mondays on Twitter! #MedMonday

Friday, December 2, 2011

Fairy Tale Plotholes

Hey all!

You know, once you get better at writing, doesn't it seem like somebody hands you a pair of Plot-Hole-Seeking-X-Ray glasses?

I love fairy tales, but once in a while, they bug me. Like, imagine if Snow White was written like this:

Once upon a time, there was a vain Queen who wanted to be the most beautiful woman in the land. Her magic mirror told her, "There is another who is the fairest than thee, O Queen. Her name is Snow White."

So the Queen goes to her dungeon and brews a powerful liquid, TOPF (Tincture of Pizza Face). And thus, beautiful Snow White was afflicted with the worst case of incurable acne even seen in Fairytale land.

The End.

Have your writing abilities ruined a few stories for you?

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Members Only

No, I never had a Member's Only jacket in the 80's. Not sure if that makes me cool now, or a dweeb then.

Lately, I've been part of a closed writers' forum on Facebook. I'm also part of a locked forum on Rallystorm. Though I'm also active in the Querytracker forums, there's something nice about being able to celebrate/complain/babble on a private forum.

It's been both a stress reliever as well as a place where I don't have to worry about asking stupid questions.

Do you belong to a locked forum online? Where do you go when you need to vent privately about writing, without the universe listening in?

Monday, November 28, 2011

Medical Mondays: Step into Outer Space

Today, I'm tackling Fiona L's great question from a few weeks ago:

"My fictional scenario has to do with space. Or generally, when you take oxygen out of a room. What will happen to the person? How long will it take for them to realise they can't breathe? What symptoms come first and how long before they kaputz... And out of curiosity, why oxygen? What's so special about oxygen that we need? Why not any other types..."

Oxygen. How I love thee, let my brain count the ways...
See this formula?

C6H12O6 + 6 O2 + 38 ADP + 38 phosphate → 6 CO2 + 6 H2O + 38 ATP

In non-chemistry speak, that means "sugar + oxygen = energy."

This is one of the many equations for why we're alive. Without oxygen and glucose, you can't live.

And out of curiosity, why oxygen? Why not nitrogen, or helium? (See the Botanist's great comment below--well said!) Without getting all Carl Sagan-ish on you, basically, that's how life on earth simply is. Life is based on carbon building blocks (like sugar, and protein, etc) and oxygen as the means to make it run. Perhaps on another planets or systems, things could evolve to run on other elements? I'm sure a chemist would laugh at me for saying that, but it's fun to imagine.

When you take oxygen out of a room, what will happen to the person?
So your body needs oxygen, particularly your brain. When it doesn't get enough blood supply (meaning the delivery of oxygen), it stops working = you pass out. In an oxygen-less environment, that might take a minute, more or less.

What Fiona's question is dancing around, though, is what about if you were in a vacuum? Like in outer space? That doesn't mean a room without oxygen, or even a room with a Hoover. It means a room without ANYTHING, including pressure and air.

If a person took a foolish, naked step off the Space Shuttle, they'd encounter the following:
  • no oxygen
  • no pressure
  • extremely low temperatures

Living on earth means we are in a tightly pressurized cocoon of oxygen and other gases, courtesy of our atmosphere, which sticks to the earth because of gravity. At or above the Armstrong limit, around 62,000 feet above the earth's surface, the lack of pressure will cause oxygen dissolved in human blood to form bubbles. Yeah, that's boiling blood.

Now, at 62,000 feet, your body's tissues and skin are tough enough to keep up the pressure within the body so you don't explode, but you will start to have serious symptoms of altitude sickness, caused by these forming bubbles in the blood and tissues. Also, if it's a sudden exposure, the symptoms are worse.

In space, what would happen?
  1. Without a spacesuit and with full body exposure to space's vacuum, you'd last maybe with 15 seconds of consciousness.
  2. If they could get you back on the shuttle immediately, into a re-compression chamber and with intensive medical care, you might survive.
  3. Before you passed out, you'd notice your saliva boiling off your tongue (this is not "hot," temperature wise--it would be the sensation of liquid quickly bubbling and vaporizing away), fluid/blood frothing in your lungs, mouth and eyes, and maybe the extreme cold temperature (well below zero).
  4. Soon, your heart would stop (asystole, or "flat lined" at the 2 minute mark, or probably earlier--see my comment about the Soyuz 11 disaster in the the comments section), and the entire time, gas bubbles would expand in your body. Blood vessels would pop through your skin as your blood vaporized into space. Some of it would coagulate on your skin or air passageways. Your lungs would suffer from popped air passages filling with boiling and/or coagulating blood.
  5. At the five minute mark, your heart and brain are permanently damaged and frying away. And yes, at this point, you're probably very dead.

A fascinating, if not ewwww-ish topic for today. Thanks Fiona!

There were a few references I used to research this topic.

Can you survive space without a spacesuit? This is a good one. In the sci-fi movie Sunshine, a guy takes a spacewalk with a suit and survives. This article explains how it might have made sense.

Ebullism at 1 million feet: The human struggle with altitude. There are examples of people surviving explosive decompression above the Armstrong limit. I did not make up the boiling saliva comment, it's from this reference.

If you've got a fictional medical question, let me know! Post below or email me at
All I ask is that you become a follower and post a link on your blog when I post your answer. This is for fictional scenarios, only. Please check out the boring but necessary disclaimer on my sidebar --->
Also, don't forget to stop by Laura Diamond's Mental Health Mondays and Sarah Fine's The Strangest Situation for great psychiatric and psychological viewpoints on all things literary. :)

Now follow Medical Mondays on Twitter! #MedMondays

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Interview! Neuroses, blogging, silliness, oh my!

Hi all! Laura Barnes over at Laura B Writer kindly invited me for an interview.

I shall discuss things such as my eleventh toe and its dubious existence, cold fusion, and Elvis, amongst other things.

Oh, and real topics, like blogging, writing, and momming. (Yes, I made up a new verb, just for this interview! What fun!)

Friday, November 18, 2011

Looking For Solace

I like to joke that I can somehow squeeze 25 hours into my day, but lately it seems more like 26 and I'm still not getting everything done.

I recently joined The Lucky 13's blog of 2013 debut authors, which I'm thrilled about. There's a new (and exciting) project at work. Then there's family. And exercising. And errands. And blogging. And finishing my MG novel. And starting on the sequel to THE FOUNTAIN. And the upcoming turkey I'm going to kill (metaphorically, as in, burn into a bird-shaped charcoal briquette). And those unplanned, Most Highly Inconvenient Viruses that like to settle into our household. (Yes, I capitalized that. They deserve that kind of respect, the little monsters.)

Sometimes I wish I could be here again:

Temple of Dendur
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC
(photo credit)

Back in college when I felt melancholic in that emo sorta way that only college kids can, I'd go here with my journal (STOP LAUGHING AT ME) to write and sketch.

I loved the silence. I loved the beauty. I loved that self-imposed isolation.

Don't get me wrong--the craziness of my life is actually a blessing. I'm very, VERY lucky to have all these First World "problems."

But sometimes, I'd love to transport myself hundreds of miles in a blink, just to spend a few hours in that Temple. No iPhone, no laptop, no pager, nothing.

Okay, maybe a good book. :)

How about you? Where do you go for solace?


I'll be taking a blogging hiatus for a week to spend time with family and analyze the best way to denature a Meleagris gallopavo just so (aka, cooking a turkey).
In case you missed it and want to sound all smarty-pants at Thanksgiving, check out my Medical Mondays from last year on Turkey and Tryptophan.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Déjà Vu Blogfest!

Hey guys! DL Hammons had this great idea for a blogfest, and together with Creepy Query Girl and Nicole Ducleroir, we bring you...

The Déjà Vu Blogfest

Ever feel like you know you missed that one kick-ass post of a favorite blogger somewhere, somehow?

This is your chance to do some major catching up, and re-post a favorite blog post of your own that NEEDS to see the light of day one more time.

All you have to do is click on the Mr. Linky below to sign up. Please spread the word with our blogfest badge above!

And on December 16, re-post your favorite/most informative/most life-changing announcement/most ANYTHING blog post you want to re-share with the world.

Don't let a great post fade away into the ever-expanding blogosphere without one more shout-out!


Aaaand, don't forget to stop by Sarah's blog where she answers this month's question of "Are you NaNoing? Why or why not?" Check out previous answers by Laura and myself, and stay tuned for Deb's answer next week!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Medical Mondays: Foxglove: Pretty. Helpful. Deadly.

I've had a fascination with herbal medicine since before I was in medical school. Isn't it interesting that a pretty flower in your garden could also be on the shelf of your local pharmacy?

Case in point--Digitalis purpurea, or Foxglove. Also known as:
  • Bloody Fingers
  • Dead Man's Bells
  • Fairy Folk's Fingers
  • Lamb's Tongue Leaves
  • Lady's Gloves
Foxglove is a beautiful, ornamental plant with pointed, oval leaves that are slightly hairy. The leaves, flowers and seeds all contain the compounds digoxin and digitoxin, which affect the heart.

It was first reported in medical literature by William Withering in 1785 as a treatment for irregular, fast heart rates (most likely atrial fibrillation) and dropsy, which was an English term for leg swelling that often accompanied congestive heart failure. Historically, it may have also been used to treat epilepsy, though this has since been proven to be ineffective.

Today, it's still used to treat both atrial fibrillation and congestive heart failure under the names digoxin, digitoxin, Crystodigin, and Lanoxin. It has not been proven to reduce mortality in these illnesses, and is currently being used less and less frequently.

Digoxin/digitoxin also has a very narrow therapeutic index. Too little of the drug and it doesn't help; too much causes serious toxicity. The window between these two thresholds is very tiny.

Toxicity can cause:
  • death
  • loss of appetite
  • nausea, vomiting and diarrhea
  • jaundiced "yellow" vision
  • blurry vision
  • dangerous arrythmias, including slowed heart rate
Here are some interesting factoids about "dig" (pronounced "dij,"as we call it in the medical world.)
  • Vincent Van Gogh may have been treated with digoxin. Some theorize that his Yellow Period was due to digitalis toxicity, and the blurry stars of "Starry Night" might be evidence of toxicity as well. (photo credits)
  • In 2003, Charles Cullen murdered 40 patients by administering fatal doses of digoxin while he cared for them as a nurse.
  • The antidote to dig toxicity is called Digibind or DigiFab, which is an antibody that binds to digoxin.
  • Reports of poisoning have occurred after children drank the water from a vase being used to display foxglove.
  • The plant is toxic to cattle, dogs and cats.
  • Poisoning has occurred in people brewing tea from foxglove leaves after they mistook them for innocuous comfrey leaves. Both plants have similar appearing furry leaves.
  • Foxglove was one of the many herbs used in the prehistoric Clan of the Cave Bear books by Jean Auel.
Neat huh? Next time you see Foxglove in a garden (or need it in a novel) remember this post!

If you've got a fictional medical question, let me know! Post below or email me at
All I ask is that you become a follower and post a link on your blog when I post your answer. This is for fictional scenarios, only! Please check out the boring but necessary disclaimer on my sidebar --->
Also, don't forget to stop by Laura Diamond's Mental Health Mondays and Sarah Fine's The Strangest Situation for great psychiatric and psychological viewpoints on all things literary. :)

Friday, November 11, 2011

Author Spotlight: Jessica Bell!

I've known Jess almost since the day I started blogging. This is a woman with so many facets to her talent, she's practically a walking disco ball, but way cooler. :)

Today is THE day to help Jessica Bell's debut, STRING BRIDGE, hit the bestseller list on Amazon, and receive the all-original soundtrack,
Melody Hill: On the Other Side, written and performed by the author herself, for free!

All you have to do is purchase the book today (paperback, or eBook), November 11th, and then email the receipt to:

She will then email you a link to download the album at no extra cost!

To purchase the paperback:

To purchase the eBook:
Amazon USA

To listen to samples of the soundtrack, visit iTunes.

If you aren't familiar with String Bridge, check out the book trailer:

Rave Reviews for String Bridge:

Jessica Bell’s STRING BRIDGE strummed the fret of my veins, thrummed my blood into a mad rush, played me taut until the final page, yet with echoes still reverberating. A rhythmic debut with metrical tones of heavied dark, fleeting prisms of light, and finally, a burst of joy—just as with any good song, my hopeful heartbeat kept tempo with Bell’s narrative.
~ Kathryn Magendie, author of Sweetie and Publishing Editor of Rose & Thorn Journal

“Poet and musician Jessica Bell's debut novel String Bridge is a rich exploration of desire, guilt, and the difficult balancing act of the modern woman. The writing is lyrical throughout, seamlessly integrating setting, character and plot in a musical structure that allows the reader to identify with Melody's growing insecurity as her world begins to unravel…
String Bridge is a powerful debut from a promising writer, full of music, metaphor, and just a hint of magic.”
~ Magdalena Ball, author of Repulsion Thrust and Sleep Before Evening

Jessica Bell is a brilliant writer of great skill and depth. She doesn't pull back from the difficult scenes, from conflict, pain, intensity. She puts it all out there, no holds barred, no holding back. She knows how to craft a scene, how to develop character, how to create suspense. This is an absolutely brilliant debut novel. I look forward to reading her next novel, and next and next.”
~ Karen Jones Gowen, author of Farm Girl, Uncut Diamonds and House of Diamonds

Connect with Jessica:

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Contest Winners & A NoNonsense Nod to NaNo

Thank you all for participating in my giveaway and spreading the word. After hitting the button on, I'm happy to announce the winners!

Nicole Ducleroir: $
20 Bookstore Gift Card
Julie Dao: $15 Bookstore Gift Card
VB Tremper: Lauren DeStefano's
Meredith (@ Fairytales and Cappuccino): Jennifer Donnelly's
LC Frost: Jackson Pearce's
Sisters Red
Carol Riggs: Franny Billingsly's
LisaAnn: Jandy Nelson's
The Sky is Everywhere
Rachel Searles: Query critique or first five pages critique

Congrats, and thanks to everyone for participating. I'll be emailing the winners with more deets on the prizes. :)


Let's move on to this month's Sisterhood of the Traveling Blog question from Laura:

"Do you do NaNoWriMo? Why or why not?"

NaNo and I don't mix well. Kind of like drinking orange juice after brushing my teeth. It never works, no matter how often I think it might be okay. I mean, brushing teeth is okay, as is orange juice. But the timing is just off.

Every November, I'm always either revising (remember NaNoRevMo?), or outlining, or nearly finishing another project.

This year? I'm doing all three in the month of November.

So I tip my hat to you NaNoers. Or, since hats look profoundly stupid on me, I'll do my NaNo nod (akin to a bobble-head puppy). Good luck guys!

How about you? Do you NaNo?

Check out Laura's answer from last week, and Sarah and Deb's in the next weeks!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Medical Mondays: Traumatized into Blindness

This week's Medical Mondays question comes from Margo Berendsen, who asks:

"Can you explain how a person might go blind after a severe trauma, rather than by disease?"

Excellent topic. What used to be called
hysterical blindness is now more correctly called conversion disorder, which is a subset of somatoform disorders, according to the DSM-IV.

In order to be considered a true case of conversion disorder, the person cannot be deliberately faking it and the symptoms cannot be explained by a known medical/neurologic illness. There is usually an associated trauma that is linked to the symptoms, sometimes many years prior to the onset of the symptom. This trauma could be a conflict, stressor, or other severe emotional trauma.

Besides blindness, other types of symptoms have been observed, such as:
  • inability to speak (aphonia)
  • paralysis
  • numbness
  • siezures
  • fainting
  • loss of hearing
  • movement problems (like getting stuck in a position, or having a tremor)
Often, these symptoms can be treated by identifiying the traumatic cause, with treatment of any associated anxiety or depression, with psychological and psychiatric therapy, as well as physical therapy.

Thanks Margo for the great question!

If you've got a fictional medical question, let me know! Post below or email me at
All I ask is that you become a follower and post a link on your blog when I post your answer. This is for fictional scenarios, only! Please check out the boring but necessary disclaimer on my sidebar --->
Also, don't forget to stop by Laura Diamond's Mental Health Mondays and Sarah Fine's The Strangest Situation for great psychiatric and psychological viewpoints on all things literary. :)

Friday, November 4, 2011

Author Spotlight: Maranda Russell and her Ravenclawish Tendencies

Weeeeelllllccccommmmeee! (Hmm. I sound like Mrs. Which from A Wrinkle in Time.) Say hello to Maranda! Isn't that a great picture? Where can I get a hat like that? Should I stop asking questions so we can get on with the interview? Yes? Okay.

1. If you decided to self-publish, what was the final push that allowed that decision?
I have been published traditionally and more recently, done some self-publishing. I think the reason I decided to do some self-publishing is because I like having full control over the process. I like getting to decide what goes and what stays, what the graphics look like, and how much it costs. Self-publishing wasn't very practical when it was so expensive, but now that ebooks can be self-published for free, the only investment you have to make is your time, hard work and the ability to market your books yourself.

2. How do you juggle your personal life with writing?
It is a challenge sometimes. I used to work as a substitute teacher, take care of foster kids and write. Now I have had to cut back on the teaching and focus primarily on my responsibilities as a foster parent and on my writing career. Writing and foster parenting are what I am most passionate about, so it doesn't feel like such a sacrifice when I have to go above and beyond the call of duty for either.

3. Do you snack when you write? And what is that snack?
I do snack when I'm writing, especially when the words aren't coming easily or I get stuck. When I am in the flow I can get so carried away I even miss meals, but that only happens occasionally. My favorite writing snacks are definitely sweets: candy, ice cream, cookies, sugary cereal, etc.

4. Which Harry Potter House would you be sorted into?
Probably Ravenclaw.

(I'm going to interrupt for a *squee* moment. I think I'm a Ravenclaw too!)

I'm not courageous or always hard-working, in fact I can be downright lazy. I can be ambitious, so maybe Slytherin, but I am more intellectual, so I figure Ravenclaw would be the best fit. I am in love with Severus Snape though, so I definitely wouldn't mind being placed in Slytherin!
Kaley Jergins loved her life. She had it all, the perfect family, good friends, and the talent and passion to be a great ball player. However, when tragedy strikes and the person she loves most of all is no longer there, will she ever be able to play again?

Told with warmth and feeling, this story comes from an author who knows what it is like to deal with loss at a young age. Nothing is ever the same after a tragic loss, but maybe life can go on. Includes an afterword by the author about grief and how to deal with it in a healthy way.

Available on AMAZON

Find Maranda at her blog and on Facebook!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The EPIC Giveaway of Maximum Splendiferousness

I couldn't think of a post today. What do I do when I have blog writer's block?

Give some stuff away, that's what.

I have two things to celebrate (oops, I almost spelled that "celebart" which sounds like something I don't want to eat, smell or purchase anytime soon):

Reaching 1000 Followers and selling my book. Time to share the happiness!

What's up for grabs?

1. $20 Gift Card to a bookstore of your choice.
2. $15 Gift Card to a bookstore of your choice.
3. Lauren DeStefano's Wither
4. Jennifer Donnelly's Revolution
5. Jackson Pearce's Sisters Red
6. Franny Billingsly's Chime
7. Jandy Nelson's The Sky is Everywhere
8. Query critique or first five pages critique--as gentle or ruthless as you'd like.

The contest rules:

1. Leave a comment on my blog with your email addy
2. Let me know if there's something in particular you want to win, or not win
3. Extra points for blogging>FB/Google+ >sidebar>tweeting. Let me know what you're doing, and I'll throw lots of extra points in. I'll even do the math for you.

Contest ends on Tuesday November 8th at 6PM. Winners will be announced Wednesday November 9th.

Spread the word like it's the most contagious rash you never want to get.

Because I want to give some stuff away!


Okay--also, don't forget to check out Laura Diamond's Sisterhood post on "Are you NaNoing? Why or why not?" Next week, I'm up!