Wednesday, May 28, 2008

In Which She Reports In And Goes Overboard With The Links

For most of us medico types, there is a love-hate relationship with zee conference. On the one butt cheek, there is the familiarity of sitting and have someone drone on and on about some esoteric disease topic. It's how we were raised, so to speak. Sort of like returning to the womb.

But on the other butt cheek, after the first several hours or after the first day if it is a very good conference, you realize why you were so very eager to get away from learning by lecture and so gleefully dived into trial by fire.

So, it was with a combination of up front eagerness and yet lurking tedium that I hopped in the car early Wednesday morning and headed south to the First Annual Agricultural Occupational Health Training Conference.

It's always good to go with a buddy to sit in the back with, eat meals with and make snide remarks to. I was fortunate to have at my side, C, one of the two nurse practitioners in the occupational med clinic that I am to lead at some point in the hopefully far-distant future. In addition to being a fun person to hang with (and a damn good practitioner), C had lived in Springfield, IL, where the conference was held and theoretically could co-pilot me through the roads with the help of the set of Internet directions, which feel that having the correct information 95% of the time will get you an "A".

We respectfully disagree and point out that substituting a "left" for a "right" will, in fact, lead one way the hell off in the wrong direction and get one rather hopelessly lost.

But, we made it, thanks to leaving extra-early, along with the other 30-40 of us, to the small building that is the administrative offices and classroom space of the School of Nursing for Southern Illinois University. As an added bonus, they served lunch before hand! As a special added bonus, the lunch was not only edible but really quite good, with brownies (very small but tasty) at the end. Charles and I often shake our heads over the difference between the fare of the education conference and the medical conference. I definitely chose the right field.

I settled in for the duration of the afternoon, prepared to enjoy the first 15 minutes of the novelty of sitting and having someone blither at me rather than being the one to blither for a change. And, damn, if the whole afternoon had me with my attention riveted to the speakers. I mean, really, hardly a daydream of wandering the shops or taking a nap. Unheard of. I mean honest-to-God, chin in hand, elbow on the table, eyes blinking less than usual, attention riveted on the speaker for the whole 2 +1/2 days. And the stuff I learned: The various risks of old vs new tractors (here's a hint--a covered cab WITH a roll-bar is a handy thing if you are fool enough to operate such a machine. Also--mowing the ditch with your beast of a tractor? Bad idea. They tend to roll over when used at a 45 degree angle (duh) and the odds of surviving a tractor rolling over on you? 25%. And your health benefits as a farmer? Oh, let's all laugh at your $10,000 deductible unless you're lucky enough to have a spouse with an outside job with insurance. ) And silos? "Silo" is the Russian word for "Certain Death Should You Venture Inside What With The Silo Gas And The Sucking Down Into The Grain Where Death Awaits You In Less Than 2 Minutes Plus Your Rotting Buried Corpse Won't Make The Grain More Nutritious For The Cattle And Will Be A Burden On Your Family So Don't Be A Stupid Git And Stay The Hell Out Of The Damn Thing". We won't mention the multiple deaths as a result in unsafe exposure to the manure pits under the CAFOs (Confined Animal Feeding Operations) where the hydrogen sulfide gas waits for you to succumb in 4 (yes 4) seconds and then pick off your buddies as they try one by one to rescue you. Bad that. No matter how you feel about such factory farming practices, I think we can all agree that it's best that the humans don't die, yes?

Oh, and the amputations and mutilations! 3 solid hours on this topic the second day, spanning lunch, with picture after picture, enlarged on the projection screen, of the most horrendous injuries and what to do. Oh, and the auger accidents. Seemed that 2 out of every 3 horrific injuries was due to the various damn augers catching a piece of clothing and pulling the human into the enormous machine. The lucky only lost body parts (which are sometimes re-attached, if not too mangled and are able to be retrieved and brought in with the rest of their owners within 4-6 hours). My favorite was the guy who lost 1/2 his hand (the distal 1/2 with all the fingers) that they fashioned a working limb with his two 2nd toes as transplanted digits that worked as a sort of a pincers so he could grip a bit with them.

I've the pictures in the syllabus. I've all the pictures in the syllabus. You know, just in case I need help with dieting some day.

And the Anabaptists? (The religious groups including the Amish, the Mennonites and the Brethren) Seems that while they don't have the tractor and auger injuries (as they don't have tractors and mechanized augers), they've got plenty of problems, what with being kicked and trammeled by the livestock they use in place of the wicked machinery, and, yes, the damn silos, and their natural distrust of modern anything. So that's what's up with the Anabaptists. Nice folk but leery.

And then! After the first 1/2 day, (which started out with us all going around the room and introducing ourselves, the horror!) we then all re-convened at a rather good bed-and-breakfast for no-bed-and-dinner and cocktails and appetizers and conversation and damn if we didn't come together and become friendly and start to chat together as acquaintances and not just isolated, anonymous strangers at a conference. C and I fell in with a nurse from Missouri and a Veterinarian from Illinois and ended up having dinner and walking around the town the next night together as well as walking the mile to the conference together the next morning, all gabbing like old friends.

They even had us all sign the official First Poster of the Red Barn AND had us all assemble for a group photo. As C said, "I think they'll be having us back for a 10 year reunion." It felt like that.

And it was good.

And it was so very interesting.

And we get to go to Part 2 in a few weeks.

And we can't bloody wait.

And why can't all the conferences be like this?

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Tuesday, May 20, 2008


I know, I know. I suck as a blogger. I've been AWOL from visitin' and commentin' and all that. The digging and planting and weeding is nearly done. Well, sort of. Over half done. For now.

But! I'm off again for more conferencing and learning bold new things. Things like the human hazards of pesticides and herbicides and what to do if a farm worker inadvertently spreads some on a sandwich. And farm animal-to-human illness. And special farming community issues like what's up with Anabaptists. (I had to google 'Anabaptists'. Didn't know there were special farming issues with them. Still don't. Guess that's why I'm going to the conference.) And it's to be in glamorous downtown Springfield, IL!

A step up from Lisle, IL, I'm sure.

So, anyway, I'll be back around as soon as I can, probably this weekend, and I'll read every single word that you've all written, and leave finger-up-my-nose comments; but for now, I'm off for 2 nights and 3 days of fun and farm frivolity that is the agricultural medical conference!

Come on, admit it: You do wish you were me.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Can't Talk, Digging

Sometime during the past several days of aerobic gardening, something decided to siphon some of my blood, leaving a large, red, itchy welt right over my external jugular.

I sincerely hope he has a large case of indigestion.



Tuesday, May 06, 2008


There's this back bathroom in our clinic, away down the end of the long physical therapy/chiropractor hall and around the corner past the tiny excuse of a break room. The advantage of that back bathroom is two-fold: First, it's away from a passing hallway, being at the bendy-end of the passageway, next to the emergency exit door (to be kept locked at all times on pain of hairy-eyeball of our practice director). It's a good place to go for some 'private time' with one's bowels, should the office coffee be a bit too much. It's also something of a game of Russian roulette with the toilet seat, as there's someone in the clinic who likes to anoint it and not dry it off. If you've a brain in your head, you check the seat every time before you place your cheeks upon it. If you've left your brain elsewhere as you nipped down the hall for a quick deposit, then approximately once a month you find your buttocks all wet and saddened as you've once again fallen prey to the scourge of toilet seats. (Fool me once, shame on you; fool me 43,892 times and counting, shame on me.) Actually, I don't think it's urine, I think it's water. God knows why someone would repetitively cover the seat with water and not wipe it off. I know who I suspect but it's not something you can just go up to someone about (especially this Someone) and demand that if they're going to wash the seat that they have the common decency to dry the damned thing off afterward (and while we're on it, why the hell are you washing the toilet seat?????).

Anyway, it's a small price to pay for privacy.

But the second reason to use the far-back bathroom is that a few times a year, there's a show. The bathroom abuts the outside wall of the clinic and about every 3 months during the non-frozen season, these tinytiny ants use the bathroom as their landfill.

It's fascinating.

I was thrilled to find that his week marked their spring return. Usually, their public works are partially hidden by the wastepaper basket in the corner, but this time it's been moved to the space between the sink and the toilet, so you can sit and watch the tinytiny ants tote them barges and lift them bales. Today, they were expelling grains of dirt, each the size of 1/2 their heads (the ants, themselves are about 2 mm long) and and! trying to get these two round white things (?? small donut sprinkles?? Who would eat a donut while using the crapper??) twice the size of their heads out of the bathroom and through the tinytiny crack between the vinyl baseboard and the floor and, presumably to their kitchen so they could dine upon them for dinner (it was past breakfast and lunch). 2-3 ants at a time would try over and over to get the sprinkle-balls through the crack, only to get stymied at the end and have the sprinkle balls shoot out of their grasp and pop back into the bathroom, flying about an inch (a whopping 25mm, such a vast ant-distance, just think) each time.

I have no idea what happened in the end, whether they finally found a wide enough crack or if 1 of the 3 workers said, "Fuck the rest of them, we've been doing all the work and we deserve a little tiny-sprinkle snack right here. Bob, Tina, grab a sprinkle and dig in." In any case, by the end of this afternoon, the ants and the tiny, white sprinkles were no where to be seen. Just small piles of tinytiny dirt grains at each break in the baseboard vinyl.

For some reason, they made me think of the manufacturing plant some of us went out to visit last week. 'Twere clean and well run as a factory goes but I was struck by the mind rotting tedium and the workers who didn't seem to mind their minds being rotted by the tedium. The plant pays well for standing and running a machine 8-12 hours a shift, 5-7 days a week (overtime pays well and most work at least 6 days a week). It was loud in many areas (ear plugs required), so no chatting possible. Many of the machines were fed every 10 minutes to every hour or so, and the rest of the time was spent staring and standing, perhaps tending another machine in the interim. The worst of the jobs (as seemed to me) were the 2 women chasing each other in a 6' (2m) circle as they moved small pieces of metal from station to station, washing and oiling and assembling the small parts for tractors and other heavy machines. Loud, dull, smelling of oil and metal. The lives of the ants seemed more full of interest. And these factory jobs, being both well paying and not requiring an education past high school, are in this town highly sought after and diminishing in number. I don't know what's worse: Having one of these jobs or wanting to have one of these jobs and losing it.

I am so lucky to love what I do and to find it endlessly fascinating.

Anyway, sadly, someone (the cleaning service?) will eventually notice Bob, Tina, Lou and the rest of the ant crew and spray neurotoxins and clean away the tiny grains of debris and all will be back to dull toileting, but until then, I'm only using that loo, wet butt be damned. There's worse jobs than being an ant.

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