Monday, August 25, 2008

Is global warming making my eyes itch?

I'd say I'm about as environmentally conscious as your average person, or maybe slightly more so. I try to avoid driving my car when I can walk, bike, or bus, and I stick to organic produce as much as my budget will allow. Additionally, reports of northward migrating insect vectors and their tropical diseases have me a little worried. Today, however, may be the last straw. I think global warming gave me allergies.

Before last year I had never experienced the joy that is itchy eyes, nose, and throat, combined with the non-stop sneezing that seems to tear out the back of the throat and sinuses. As much as I tried not to judge, I considered allergy suffers to deserve sympathy, but often asked myself how horrible could it be when it was a little plant causing the whole problem? Well, last year I discovered that it could, in fact, be quite bad. When I couldn't stop itching my eyes last August, I went online to investigate. I discovered that the timing of my eye-itching corresponded directly with when some grasses were releasing their pollen. I felt some remorse for having laughed at a friends grass allergy at one point...

This year, things seem to have gotten worse. Yesterday I was unable to stop sneezing, and I thought my eyes might swell shut from all of the sneezing, watering, and itching in which they engaged. As I did last year, I went to the drug store, bought some newly-available over-the-counter allergy medicine, and went home. I seem to have forgotten just how awful the stuff is, however. Aside from feeling vaguely out of it, as though there were a veil and a sound barrier of some kind around my head, I'm also dehydrated to a degree I can't describe. I've used almost an entire tube of chapstick for my dried out lips, and other little tub for my raw nose.

Recognizing that you may not wish to read my whining, I will get to the point. I heard a news story on Michigan Radio the other day about increasing levels of pollen due to global warming. I can't find the transcript, but it was similar to this article in content. The reporter interviewed someone who had looked into yellow-jacket stings, and found that numbers of people seeking treatment for stings had increased astronomically over the past few years. Additionally, he reported that allergy sufferers everywhere have had progressively worse and worse allergy seasons ovver the past few years. Apparently the warming climate favors the ragweed, and other weeds that are common allergens. The larger plants are able to release more pollen, making allergies not only worse, but more common as more people¿s thresholds are reached. This is terrifying. The ragweed is taking over the world.

I'm not too sure just how to fight back, as my 10 mg of loratidine doesn't seem to quite be doing the trick. Somehow, however, I must triumph over over the weeds. At this point, I can only hope that global warming will accelerate quickly and send us into another ice age, killing the stupid plants and (perhaps?) saving all of humanity. If you can retain any hope at all, however, then I urge you to attempt to combat the plants, and drive less, recycle more, cut down on consumption, and make decisions that will save our (pollen-free) home. If you don't have allergies yourself, then at least do it to cut down on the number of mind-numbing conversations you have with people on allergy medications who haven't figured out how to appropriately dose themselves. Please, do it for us all.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Getting out of town

Alicia and our bikes in front of the lovely St. Clair River.

Yesterday, on the recommendation of a free-book room find Road Biking Michigan, by Cari Noga, Alicia and I took a short drive (1 hour 26 min according to Google Maps) to St. Clair, Michigan. It's on the eastern coast of the mitten, right on the St. Clair River. The St. Clair River connects the Detroit River with Lake Huron, making it an important waterway connection. More important to us, however, was the fact that it is one of the most beautiful blue rivers around. We parked at St. Clair High School (again, at the recommendation of the fabulous book), and unloaded the bikes. With only a few turns, we were on Riverside, the unambiguously named street that runs along the river and through downtown.

We biked through St. Clair, and stayed along the river all the way up to Port Huron. This turned out to be 13.3 miles, a distance I'm quite comfortable with. We locked the bikes and headed into Quay Street Brewing for in-house root beer, a salmon burger (me) and a chicken sandwich (Alicia) on their patio. It solidified my appreciation of the road biking book, and my good opinion of cyclists the world over, all of whom seem to appreciate not only beautiful bike routes, but also good food and drink. (Being somewhat dehydrated already, and recognizing the need to get back on the bike, I elected not to try one of their beers. Maybe next time...)

After walking around to let lunch settle and move our legs differently for a bit, we got back on the bikes and headed south. The wind wasn't with us as much going back, but the route was quite flat, so I did pretty well. It took us about an hour each way, adding on a little bit on the way back because I thought the backs of my legs might fall off. I'm proud to have made it 26.6 miles on my bike, which is a personal best. I was less proud to learn last night that the Olympic women marathoners run approximately as fast as I can ride my bike, and for just as long. That aside, it was a lovely ride, and I'd highly recommend it.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Hanging in there

I've just returned from the annual MSTP (MD/PhD program, for those of you not in the know) retreat at the Ralph A. MacMullen Conference Center. (Okay, it's been a week, but cut me some slack here...) Affectionately called "the RAM", it's on beautiful Higgins Lake and offers large cabins with double rooms, a small beach, a lodge with a dining room, and an education center with projection facilities. It provides a beautiful setting for getting to know the new MSTPs, and reconnecting with other MSTP fellows I haven't seen since being up there last summer.

As I think I've mentioned on this blog before, although I occasionally gripe about having to take the weekend away, it's always a great getaway, though not the way you might think. The best part of being at the retreat is that everyone thinks 8 years is a great amount of time to spend in school. (That may be a bit of an exaggeration, but most of them at least consider it an acceptable and reasonable amount of time to spend in school.) No one there spends significant portions of a conversation pondering the hilarity of graduating at or after the age of 30. No one there wonders why on earth one individual would need so many degrees. No one there asks "Couldn't you just do that with an MD?" In fact, as much as griping about various aspects of the program is par for the course, most folks seem downright happy about their lives and their projects.

This year was particularly lovely, as we now have 3 MD/PhD students in public health. Although we are far from normalizing this path (as the other 70-ish students are mostly in the basic sciences, with the exception of a few in engineering and physics), it¿s really nice to talk to other people who understand at least some aspects of the field.

Apart from the science, of course (*cough cough*), my favorite part is the canoeing. I simply can't get enough of the water, and the lack is beautiful. I opted not to swim this year after reports of "the itch" (read: schistosomiasis) from swimmers last year, but couldn't resist going out in the boat. I also did yoga in the mornings in front of the lake, which was a wonderful and balancing experience apart from the swarming vicious mosquitos.

It's also incredibly motivating to see other MD/PhD students who are further along in their training. Seeing folks returning to the wards, and especially finishing the entire program, is really incredible. It's a nice yearly reminder that this will, at some point, become "real life" rather than "grad school" and I just need to keep hanging in there.