Friday, May 31, 2013

You can steal?

So, a few things. Won't go into too many revealing details (I hope), but I've tipped my hand too far before, and in vino veritas, so why not?

Arvind Mahankali: Very, very deserving winner this year...none more so. Major kudos and respect to him.

Last few words: As per usual, slightly arbitrary. First "cyanophycean" (as a noun, no less), then two words later, "knaidel" to wrap it up? (Not quite on the level of "luge," but we've been blessed with tougher winning words over the years. Obvs, not Arvind's fault.)

German: Finally pwned. "Jugendstil" and "schwannoma" - and for that matter, the whole German language - can eat it. I only wish Arvind had said so before he launched into "knaidel." It would have been poetic justice. But there's ice in that man's iron veins. (And yes, I said man. His voice dropped like an octave over the past year.)

Pranav Sivakimar: Very deserving runner-up. Confidence in spades...and the goods to back it up, too.

Sriram Hathwar: Very glad to see him back in the finals where he belongs. Great showing. Watch out for him next year.

Vismaya Kharkar: Holy root knowledge, Batman! She was AWESOME. Even (or maybe especially) on her last word, she showed nonpareil navigation skills...and was still ruthlessly felled by the almighty schwa. Major respect to her.

Vanya Shivashankar: Charming, adorable, and totally in her element. Or as she puts it, simpatico. Arguably the crowd favorite. A future title is inevitable. (I mean, c'mon...her older sister, a former champion, is her coach! Yowza.)

Amber Born: LOVE LOVE LOVE. The other crowd favorite. She wants to be a comedian or a comic writer? Consider her career begun. I can already see agents offering her contracts...and she hasn't hit high school yet. Oh, and yeah, awesome speller, if that wasn't obvious.

Grace Remmer: Awesome, awesome showing, felled by a tough one. Props to Arvind for having the class to say on ESPN he would not have known her word, either.

And now, for the un-PC, potentially offensive portion of tonight's broadcast...(read it while you can, may be taken down at some point)

I'm thrilled that the bee this year recognized awesome talent, as it always does. And I have no question that, as I stated above, the winner and runner-up - and all other high placers, for that matter - were very deserving. Obviously, there's a lot of talent from Indian-Americans. (And I feel comfortable saying that these are mostly, if not all, first-generation Indian-Americans, too...all of their parents have moved from India or points close by, and speak with a pronounced accent.) At least as far as spelling goes, a major line has been drawn. Both last year and this year, the top three were Indian-American; this year, only 2 out of the top 9 were not Indian-American. Folks, these are observations, nothing more.

And now for the judgments. I think that the Indian Americans I've seen in action and have worked with are doing something really right here. They have their heads screwed on right. (Maybe a bit too right in some cases, but their ambition is admirable, and their hearts are in the right place.) In contrast, a few months ago, my mother said that a family friend's daughter had made it to the oral rounds in the state bee. I offered up my services...well, via proxy, at least...but my mother shot my offer down, saying, "Oh, you're probably out of their price range." Really? I know these people...if they're family friends, they're not hurting for money. (This is the rarefied air my parents and their friends inhabit.) Besides, I've been working with kids whose parents are actually hurting for money, yet they still somehow find it worth their while to scrounge up the money to pay me to further their kids' education. And I very worthwhile, tangible ways that will pay off tremendously for years to come.

The potentially racist part? I'd like to see a bee that doesn't act as a kind of surrogate North-South Foundation bee. (This is the bee series that is only open to those of Indian-American descent and similar. Think Sri Lankan or perhaps Bangladeshi.) At some point, I'm certain the kids up there are thinking, "Hey...this is just like the bee that will take place a few months down the road!" The non Indian-Americans need to step it up somehow. And I don't mean this in a "beat the Indians" kind of way. But Indian-Americans, as I said up above, are doing great and in many ways, setting the standard nowadays for academic excellence. And this bleeds into excellence in many other areas of life. Why can't the rest of the populace do the same?

Count 'em: Four (nah, five) kids are waiting to work with me for 2014. Two Three Indian-Americans (including a brother-sister combo), one Asian-American, and one...damn, can I actually say two? Caucasians are wanting to work with me to prepare for next year's bee. So maybe that's six. Maybe I'm a, I'll own it. I'm quite biased, but seriously? This competition teaches a hell of a lot more than just memorizing words. Want to learn how to conduct yourself gracefully under pressure? How to think on your feet? How to behave appropriately when you have microphones shoved at you by reporters wanting that perfect 5-second sound bite? These are all extremely applicable skills in life. Sitting in class won't teach you these things. Speech will. Debate will. Drama will. Performing arts will. Journalism will. Many sports will. But many (not all) of those experiences take place in high school, after the realm of the spelling bee. Want a really, really awesome head start? That's where rare folks like me come into play.

I have more to say (vocabulary, anyone?), but this will suffice for tonight. Bed, bed, perchance to sleep...


( we can add another motivated brother/sister combo to the list, as of a few hours ago. Make that a full EIGHT kids. I've worked with them before and adore them, and no, their parents are not swimming in money, but boy, do they have their hearts in the right place. Maybe I should contemplate quitting my day job and just become a full-time coach or something.)

Monday, May 20, 2013

Shit just got real.

(To be submitted for consideration for the most groan-worthy blog title of 2013.)

(Also: NOT for the faint of heart or queasy of stomach, this one.)

I have a relative who has been dealing with an on-again, off-again case of C. diff., a form of chronic diarrhea, the likes of which (when you get past the ickiness of that concept) is truly a public health issue, and a scourge for many people, particularly the elderly and immunocompromised. (C. diff. is an abbreviation for Clostridium difficile...a bacteria that is so-named partially because it is so difficult to eradicate.) Dehydration, inability to be more than a few steps away from a bathroom because you have to go NOW goddammit, low energy, imbalanced electrolytes -- the likes of which cause you to fall and smack your head on the ground, then send you to the hospital to get checked out by a cardiac team and placed under quarantine -- these are just a few of the annoyances that C. diff can cause. And -- knock wood -- these will remain the only annoyances said relative must deal with. But I'm dubious.

A year or two ago, I read about an experimental therapy that on paper, sounded so disgusting, so repulsive, that I had a hard time wondering how anyone in their right mind would even consider it. (And believe me, I immerse myself in the realm of the strange and unusual medical practices. The validity of things like maggots for safe wound debridement and topical honey for diabetic ulcers fascinated me, and -- beyond that -- has been proven in repeated studies.) But then I stepped back, put on my I'm-in-anatomy-lab face -- the one that you have to put on when faced with the reality of being a medical student and being freaked out by a preserved specimen of the human body is simply not an option anymore -- and considered the therapy. Hmm...maybe it could work. Theoretically, it might make sense.

Then I read the studies done with said therapy. And all I can say is that if any drug company could promise a 90%+ success rate with eradicating a disease that is a public health scourge with a single treatment, without any side effects whatsoever, that company could sell off all its other piddly little drug offerings, mark up that one treatment, and exist comfortably till kingdom come. Because people? There is no such thing in the drug world.

But apparently there is such a thing that...ahem...exists within us all.

One study done with this therapy was discontinued prematurely because the study designers deemed it unethical to deny any of the study subjects this therapy, when it had proven so effective so quickly and uneventfully. Everyone got the therapy, everyone went home happy.

So at the hospital today, while I was visiting said relative (who, it must be said, looked exhausted and in rather bad shape), the supervising gastroenterologist walked in. So I got to ask him about the possibility of...yep...all together now...fecal transplantation.

He had to tell me that if I had asked him 2 weeks ago, he would have heartily agreed. As it is now, the FDA has put a stop on all fecal transplants unless a doctor really wants to go through a mind-numbing set of bureaucratic hoops, tons of paperwork, and waiting a minimum of 30 days to be approved. In which time a patient for whom antibiotics aren't working, could possibly suffer an infection to the colon and instead need to get a colectomy. (Sorry...told ya this could get tough in here.)

I'm still not sure why the FDA is preventing this sort of treatment right now. Legal stuff? Trying to establish a standardized protocol? I understand the need for that. But in a case like this, you don't stand on the cliff and wait to get your wings right before you fly. You jump off the cliff and build your wings on the way down. Because in the latter case, you're saving lives and helping others to become dramatically better with a single treatment. And in the former, you're basically being unethical, to put it rather euphemistically.

So now we sit and wait and hope and pray that yet another round of antibiotics -- probably months' worth -- could somehow get this flare-up under control. (Me myself, I doubt it. If a month-plus of vancomycin and Flagyl didn't eradicate it entirely last time, when this poor woman was a bit younger and a bit healthier, why would it work this time?)

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Meow! Meow!

Oh, my legions of followers, I had to jump on the bandwagon. For the two of you with internet access who have yet to see this, set aside a leisurely 20 minutes to watch it. Then like a good thriller you can't put down, you'll be compelled to watch the second 20 minutes.

Folks, there's some major pathology there. Yes, obvious. Unrepentant delusion, solid and impermeable to reason as a concrete wall, is hard to come by even in this age of rampant mental illness. But these two nutjobs take the...uh...cake. (I did not mean to go there, I swear.) Halfway through the show, I was muttering to myself, "God, these people are a homeopathic case just waiting to be taken." And ten minutes later, I was all, "Oh HELL no." Who'd want to deal with these fucked up fantods?

Incidentally, I've known about the link between cats and mental disease in humans; it was, I believe, brought up in med school lo these many years ago. Or perhaps sometime later. (It's not that farfetched, really. Eccentric cat ladies, anyone? Anyone ever seen Grey Gardens?) And lots of research actually substantiates this now. It did not pass my observation that these wackadoos own three cats...and referred to them as their kids in cat costumes. And how the wife actually began meowing during the show? A big hint that she's not all there - if the unjustified aggressive attacking of their diners didn't tip you off to that before. I wonder how long the two of them have been this way, and wonder if there's a correlation between when they got their cats and when things started spiraling downhill. I mean, at one point, they did garner some rave reviews for their restaurant, but that was five years ago.

I'd be so curious to see if, indeed, these folks are infected with Toxoplasma, and if so, how an antiparasitic protocol would work for them. But don't expect me to be the one to either suggest the link or to recommend therapy. If it were to result in a restaurant turning around and succeeding, it might be worth a try. And if this is a confirmable case, I suddenly have much more pity in my heart for these two (I really hesitate to say "compassion" after seeing how they treat everyone around them) and much less incredulity.