Radiologists: There’s More Than One Way to be Stabby!

Never again, Radiologists. Never Again.

Never again, Radiologist friends. Never again.

I woke up at two PM today after a very long day yesterday. Long, but also more pleasant than I’d anticipated, all things considered. I did, after all, have a date with a humongous needle.

The following post is a public-service announcement for radiologists, as well as anyone and everyone who needs to have an MRI Arthrogram on their hip in the near future, be you athletic, arthritic, or accident prone. My radiologist took a very different approach to the procedure. Instead of entering vertically, he went in horizontally. While I was initially skeptical (read: ready to bolt out of the room), his technique was much less painful than the standard method. I never want to have a “normal” hip MRA again.

I am NOT a radiologist, and I'm sure I have the angle wrong, but I also pay VERY close attention during these procedures. This is my best approximation of the approach that my Radiologist took.

I am NOT a radiologist, and I’m sure I have the angle wrong, but I also pay VERY close attention during these procedures. The blue line is my best approximation of the approach that my Radiologist took.

As I mentioned in my last post, the standard operating procedure for performing an MRA on the hip involves sticking a really big needle into the patient’s groin. This sucks for several reasons.

Even though your radiologist has magical x-ray vision to guide you, because she or he is entering vertically, their margin for error goes up. I once had a radiologist wiggle a needle that was a good six inches inside of me because he realized he hadn’t quite hit the spot he needed to.

By entering horizontally, the radiologist was able to do that guess work ahead of time. He had me lay on a “pointer.” Instead on manipulating a needle, he manipulated that pointer, until the x-ray showed that he’d found the right angle to get where he needed to go. After that, all he had to do was match the angle of entry laid out for him.

Standard hip MRAs also suck because…. you’re sticking a needle in a human being’s groin. If you had to stick yourself with a needle, would you rather stick it in your stomach or your arm? Answer’s pretty simple right?

I was worried at first that going in from the side of my hip would mean travelling through more muscle, and—since the tear they’re looking for is on the groin side of the hip—reduce the likelihood  of the dye actually illuminating the part of the acetabulum that needed seeing. The latter concern won’t be fully assuaged until I get my results, but the former… that was pretty instantaneous. A giant needle in the side of your hip is less painful than a giant needle in your groin, period.

Now that I’ve had this procedure done both ways, I can say with certainty that it takes longer to recover from the MRA if you enter through the groin. While this new approach caused a different kind of pain (a pain with which I was unfamiliar, and therefore unprepared for) it was easier to walk immediately following the procedure. Today, instead of feeling like I have a water balloon in my groin, I feel a soreness that, if unpleasant, is certainly more bearable. It just feels like my side is a little tender, a little swollen. It’s pain, sure, but it’s not exactly going to ruin my day.

I was terrified when I first realized I was going to be worked on by a “rogue radiologist,” so I asked him why he opted for this non-traditional approach. His response was very heartening. To paraphrase, when he began practicing, he realized that he’d only ever been taught by radiologists, and that there may just be other doctors out there who knew things he didn’t. So he sought out orthopedic surgeons and asked them at what point of entry patients feel the least pain, and changed his approach accordingly.

THIS. SHOULD. NOT. BE. AN. EXTRAORDINARY. STORY.

And yet it is.

No radiologist in their right mind is going to change the way they perform a hip MRA because their patient walks in holding a copy of my blog post, but I want to encourage people to circulate this post to their doctor friends, and especially their radiologist friends. If even one doctor finds themselves moved to have a conversation based on this story, than this post was 100% worth my time.

 

“The Six Million Dollar Scholar” is the personal blog of Andrea Milne, a Ph.D. candidate in modern U.S. History at the University of California, Irvine. To get the story behind the blog’s name, click here.

A Tribute to My Favorite Bulldog

I didn’t grow up in a family with money. We never went hungry, and I never went without anything truly important, but—especially now that I’m a bill-paying adult myself—I know that almost every month was a major struggle. Despite our financial challenges though, my mother (who, as I’ve mentioned before, is a living saint) never compromised when it came to my education. My mom taught me to work hard and value knowledge, and the two of us worked our butts off to make sure I got the best education we could beg, borrow, and steal.

(Okay, we didn’t steal… but I could totally imagine my mom robbing a bank on my behalf. Never for herself, but for me? Hand over the ski mask.)

As a result of our combined efforts, I had the privilege (and it really was a privilege) of attending a college preparatory academy from 7th-12th grade, and spending four life-changing years at Bryn Mawr College. I walked away from two incredibly expensive institutions with almost no debt, thanks to a combination of financial aid, merit scholarships, and college tuition support provided by my mother’s (then) employer. And it’s a good thing, because—shockingly enough—doctoral degrees aren’t cheap. I have all the debt I can handle right now, thank you very much.

All of this is to say I know exactly how valuable my education was, and just how blessed I have been and continue to be. Sometimes, though, life decides to give you little reminders. Today has been one of those days.

I woke up this morning to an email informing me that my high school debate coach (we’ll call her Mrs. H) is battling leukemia. She was my English teacher in my senior year of high school, but I’ll always remember her as my coach, the woman under whose watchful eye I spent so many hours training, travelling, and competing.

The news that she is sick knocked me on my ass.

A la Susan Sontag, I really hate the use of military metaphors in discussions of the human body, a sentiment that I imagine Mrs. H would be proud of, as she’s devoted her life to helping young people develop critical thinking skills… and figure out what metaphors are. However, if anybody could be described as “battling” leukemia, I truly believe that it would be Mrs. H.

When I was in high school, I frequently referred to Mrs. H as a bulldog (behind her back, of course). She demanded commitment of energy and time that I wasn’t always prepared to give. She expected excellence, and didn’t give out participation trophies. Her debate kids went to nationals, and they placed. I…. was an alternate for nationals. Twice. She didn’t ever make me feel bad about it, but I knew that SHE knew I could have worked harder, given more time, been more successful, etc., had my heart been 100% in it.  I LIKED Mrs. H, but she was the teacher under whose critique I was most likely to whither. I’d heard from other students that she’d quit a very lucrative corporate job to become a teacher, and always assumed that her direct approach to dealing with her students was a holdover from the days when she commanded an army of employees.

It’s been almost ten years since I graduated high school, and oh how my perspective has changed.

Today, if you asked my students, I bet a great many of my students would describe ME as direct. I demand a commitment of energy and time that THEY aren’t always prepared to give. I expect excellence, and I do NOT give out participation trophies. I genuinely believe that most of my students like me, but I’m also sure some of them wither—or at least wilt a little—as a result of the ink I spill on their papers. I believe I am a good instructor, and change I see in my students after working with me seems to support that assertion. I also know that I can be a bit of a bulldog.

There are many reasons that I am the instructor I am today. Part of it is the fact that I know exactly how valuable an education is, and refuse to give my students anything less than my best effort. My sense of what one should expect of oneself academically is undeniably conditioned by the fact that I’ve never been in a learning environment that wasn’t incredibly rigorous. However, I’m also the instructor I am today because I learn by example.

For four years I watched Mrs. H turn shy kids into nationally-known orators. I watched her find and cultivate skills in students that they didn’t even know they had, through sheer force of her personality.  I watched her prove to students that YES, they had something to say, and YES, what they said mattered, and YES, that people were listening. She taught us to act like champions, and within a couple years of starting our school’s debate team, we needed another trophy case. If that’s what bulldogs do, I want to be a bulldog too.

Thank you Mrs. H. I don’t know who I’d be without you. You are loved immensely. Get well soon.

“The Six Million Dollar Scholar” is the personal blog of Andrea Milne, a Ph.D. candidate in modern U.S. History at the University of California, Irvine. To get the story behind the blog’s name, click here.

 

Nude Models, Pot Brownies, and Frankenfoot: A Tribute to My Grandmother

I’m back in Florida with my family, decompressing after an incredibly productive and fun—but exceedingly stressful—week of archival work. Unlike previous trips, I am actually excited to keep researching. The one major impediment to continuing research is my present location, which is approximately 3,000 miles away from both my home and the majority of my archives. Thing is, I’m really happy here, and reluctant to leave. I’ve found that happy medium between work and family, and am loathe to give it up. That feeling is even stronger today, because today would have been my grandmother’s eighty first birthday.

The last photo I have of myself and Granny.

The last photo I have of myself and my grandmother.

My grandmother—I always called her “Granny,” which drove my mother up a wall—died seven years ago. She died in her sleep, the death she’d always wanted, at the age of 73. I was in college 800 miles away, attending Bryn Mawr. It was a matter of personal pride for her, because, despite growing up mere miles from the campus, she always told me she never would have gotten in, on account of being an Irish Catholic.

By the time she passed away she’d been living with my family for over a decade, and was equal parts my third parent and my responsibility. I drove her to her doctor’s appointments, she taught me how to knit. I brought her food when her foot got run over by a Buick (that actually happened… she broke six bones and developed a serious case of “Frankenfoot” as a result), and she laid in bed calmly agreeing with me whenever I needed to rant about something parent or high school related. I took her to the craft store, and she did my laundry. She told me I would “start an argument with a brick wall,” and I mocked her relentlessly. She was a fixture in my life, and—as is the case with most fixtures—I took her for granted. And then suddenly she was gone, and for the first time in my life I found myself besieged by grief.

I was besieged, but my grandmother had long ago been broken. Granny moved in with us shortly after the death of one of her three daughters, and was never the same. By that time she was also dealing with the early stages of dementia and other medical problems that limited her in ways I am only now able to understand. She had an incredibly difficult life, and given my age, I couldn’t really appreciate the gravity of her physical and psychological challenges.

In fairness—both to myself and to my grandmother’s memory—she was also totally cuckoo bananas. She was quite possibly the world’s worst driver: from a hit and run at the public library to the time she ran into our local Wachovia, every trip with her was a hair-raising adventure. She was a truly heinous cook who gave herself E. coli at least once. She got jelly on the newspaper every single morning. She had a cat named “Cooter.” She routinely told my brother and I to “bugger off, dear,” and taught me turns of phrase that to this day make me sound like I come from another era. I always described her to my friends as the eccentric old lady who lived in my basement, and to this day I stand by that description. What I didn’t fully appreciate then, and wish I could tell her now, is that she was so much more than that.

My grandmother being nutty as she was wont to do.

My grandmother being nutty, as she was wont to do.

My grandmother was basically the coolest person ever. This is a blog post, and Granny deserves a book, so to those of you who knew her, please excuse my brevity. For the rest of you, strap in. I’m about to list all the reasons that my granny was cooler than your granny:

  • Both of my grandmother’s parents were artists, and she used to talk to me about coming home from school—in the 1930’s and 1940’s—to nude models posing in the living room. Growing up with a bunch of artists, she never tried to compete in that arena, but as she got older she started to indulge her creative side. By the time she lived with me, she was remarkably crafty. Knitting, needlepoint, drawing, painting… you name it, she probably did it, and made sure to expose me to it. She made beautiful things, and by the end of her life was especially into quilting; I would be remiss, however, if I didn’t mention that she occasionally sewed pieces of fabric to her pants legs. Nobody’s perfect.
  • Granny dedicated herself to her studies and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a degree in English. She remains one of the most well-read people I’ve ever met, the type who’d re-read War and Peace over the course of two or three days, just because. She studied Elizabethan England and the Civil War in her free time, and introduced me to many of the best books I’ve ever read.
  • While in college, my Granny—an Irish Catholic girl from a suburb of Philadelphia—fell in love with an Indian man. My great grandparents told her they would never approve of a mixed marriage, but that they wouldn’t actively prevent the wedding from happening if she went to India and lived with his family for several months… their logic being that she’d never be able to stand living in such a dirty and barbarous country. Long story short, my grandfather had to drag her back to the United States, as she would have gladly spent the rest of her life in India if given the choice. She married my (brown) grandfather in Pennsylvania in the 1950’s, and she did it in a sari. Because she was a total badass.
    My grandmother and grandfather posing for a highly improbable wedding photo.

    My grandmother and grandfather posing for a highly improbable wedding photo.

    My granny, getting married her way.

    My granny, getting married her way.

  • Approximately a decade later, Granny ran off to Mexico to divorce my grandfather. She returned to the US a newly single woman determined to raise her three small (and half brown) children on her own. Imagine for a moment the kind of courage it would have taken to become a single mother of three biracial children in the early 1960’s. Granny had some serious ovaries.

    My grandmother and grandfather with the first of their three daughters.

    My grandmother and grandfather with the first of their three daughters.

  • During the “Mad Men” era, my grandmother started working in corporate/commercial real estate. She bought properties that companies used as tax shelters, which… doesn’t happen anymore. She was very good at her job, but as is so often the case, found herself making a lot of money for other people. She had an encyclopedic knowledge of a very complex industry, and managed to stay alive through decades of swimming with the sharks. Just as she rose to the top of the totem pole, tax shelters were eliminated and the industry in which she made her name disappeared.
  • In the days when she did have cash, my grandmother made good use of it. She and her best friend—also a successful, single business woman—took trips to faraway places like China, unaccompanied by men. Because why not? She was utterly unafraid of the unknown, because she’d kicked the unknown’s ass so many times already.
  • When my aunt became ill with a very rare disease, my grandmother became her caretaker. My aunt—who will have a blog post of her own someday soon, as she was a pretty cool lady too—had a fierce advocate in my grandmother. When my aunt was in chemotherapy so bad that it was almost worse than the disease she was battling, my grandmother did what it took to get her hands on some marijuana. She’d bake up pot brownies, and bring them to the hospital. Because she was amazing.
Granny with one of my cousins. Which one, I haven't the foggiest.

Granny with one of my cousins. Which one, I haven’t the foggiest.

So yeah, basically, Granny was the world’s coolest grandmother. She only spent seventy three years in this life, but what a life she had. Hell, she even died the way she wanted to… if that isn’t a mic drop I don’t know what is. The last conversation we had was about a summer internship I’d received; she told me she was proud of me. I’m proud of her too, and I really hope she knows it. Happy Birthday Granny.

 

“The Six Million Dollar Scholar” is the personal blog of Andrea Milne, a Ph.D. candidate in modern U.S. History at the University of California, Irvine. To get the story behind the blog’s name, click here.