Heart of a Lion, Hands of a Woman: What Women Neurosurgeons Do
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Monday, November 29, 2010

Venice: First Look

My Venice

I have just returned from a fabulous, relaxing trip to Lake Garda, Venice, and London.  As soon as I returned, I was stuck into the whole Thanksgiving Holiday and am just now coming up for air.  I look forward to writing about some of my adventures and the highlights of this very special journey.  For now, I thought I would tempt you with my photographs.
Venice Photographs

Monday, November 15, 2010

Traveling: Happy Thanksgiving!

For the next week, I will be traveling through Venice and the Veneto.  When I travel, I like to remove myself from the routine as much as possible and for me that also means my connection to computers and the internet.  SO I will return around Thanksgiving time.  To all my readers, I am thankful that you are there and take the time to read my musings.  I hope you have a joyous, warm, and peaceful Thanksgiving holiday.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Creating Balance

I recently addressed a group of enthusiastic medical students considering neurosurgery as a career.  I spoke on creating balance between a demanding career and home/life/family.  The following is a distillation of that address.

My mother told me I couldn't be a "superwoman", the somewhat pejorative term used for early generations of working women who were also moms and more.  Fortunately, I lived in a different era than my mother and my options for lifestyle choices were greater.  Those of you entering the workforce 20+ years later have even greater options.
Achieving balance requires:

  • Hardwork
  • Dedication
  • Creativity
  • Constant re-assessment
  • A little bit of luck
There are so many variables in every confluence of work/home/family that there is no one answer that will work for everyone.  That being said, those entering this world now need not re-invent the wheel-there are now many who have blazed the path and found creative solutions that may apply to others situations.  There is no magic, just real life people who have found there way in the brave, new world.

What are some of the greatest challenges/questions to those who wish to enter a career such as neurosurgery?

  1. If I become a neurosurgeon, who will take care of my children?  You have many options:you, your spouse, friends, nanny, au pair, or day care.  I chose to place my children in day care though when I completed residency and moved to NY, I found I needed to supplement that with a caregiver who collected the kids from daycare and started their dinner.  Of course, they soon became much more independent and soon needed more taxidriver than babysitter!
  2. If I am a neurosurgeon and have a family, how can I exercise and live healthy?  This can be a challenge but certainly eating healthy (packing your lunch, for example) takes no more time than the alternative and actually saves money.  Consider just walking 15-20 minutes a day until family life stabilizes and permits more.  We started walking with our children at a young age so the fitness of hiking became an important family activity!
  3. If I am a neurosurgeon and my spouse also works, can we find jobs together? Sure, this is a challenge and you may have limits on your choices but employers like stability and if two of you are connected to a job (or region/city) that is a big plus.  These days, many jobs (though not neurosurgery) allow work from home for all or part of the week.  There are many options.
Just a few more myths/truths:

  1. You can't have it all-TRUE! Even in an ice cream shop one must make choices!
  2. There is never a good time to have children-TRUE! But we try to choose better times and know that for generations, we have survived this challenge, too.
  3. Few go to their grave wishing they worked more/earned more money-TRUE.  I do know many who have regretted missing that school play, the birthday party, or sitting by the bedside of a loved one who will soon die.
  4. There is one right way for...marriage/parenting/career development-FALSE.  There are as many options and paths as there are stars in the sky!
  5. Working longer hours increasing productivity-FALSE.  Many studies show that those that structure their day and leave the office at a reasonably scheduled time outperform colleagues whose days stretch on for many additional hours.
Don't be afraid of change! Inertia can be your enemy in life.  Live, love, and follow your dreams!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Face of Opportunity Entry: Confronting Type-2 Diabetes in 21st Century

A colleague and friend of mine (and contributor to Heart of a Lion, Hands of a Woman) is trying to create the opportunity to build an educational medical community in her native Zimbabwe.  Please support her noble cause by voting for her submission!  She and I and many others thank you.
Face of Opportunity Entry: Confronting Type-2 Diabetes in 21st Century

Cholera in Zimbabwe

Friday, November 5, 2010

Journey Back-Poland 6 (Wroclaw)

Wroclaw Flower Market

From Tyczyn, the drive on to Wroclaw was long and arduous.  Despite significant growth and modernization, the main road of southeast Poland remains just two lanes with multiple lights and intersections.  As we approached the outskirts of Krakow, the road finally became highway and the pace picked up considerably.  As late afternoon arrived, we finally left the main road and navigated the usual bedlam of the old city.  Our hotel (Art Hotel), was just a 1/2 block from the Rynek where we headed once we had dropped our luggage and parked the car (no small feat in a teeny, underground lot).  Unlike most of our prior stops, Wroclaw-while enormously historic-had no specific, personal poignancy.  The city is the main city of Lower Silesia and is situated on 12 islands in the Oder River.  The city was part of Germany for much of its history (known as Breslau) accounting for architecture distinct from much of nearby Poland.  After WWII, the city was re-inhabited by Poles, many displaced from eastern Poland which had become part of Ukraine.  During the 1980s, Wroclaw was central in ousting Communist rule from Poland, orange graffiti gnomes were both secret communication and symbol of the revolution.  Today, small, nearly hidden gnome sculptures dot the streets in tribute to this past.
Wroclaw Gnome-symbol of resistance
Adjacent to the main square is Plac Solny (originally where salt was traded) which has become a colorful flower market surrounding a stunning fountain.  From there we wandered through the old city, across many bridges and through the streets of the historic university.  Some of the joy of the city was turning a corner and encountering an unusual piece of local art.
Wroclaw Civic Art

It was restorative to have a few hours to just wander and not concentrate on family or Holocaust history and the streets of Wroclaw were a perfect balm.  To rest our feet, we stopped at an outdoor cafe and sipped cool, local vodka and beer while watching the locals stroll by.
Wroclaw's amazing Rynek
After dinner, we couldn't resist the opportunity to return to the Rynek and we weren't disappointed.  The soft glow of the lights only highlighted the unique architecture and the brilliant fountain.  Some call this the Venice of Silesia...I can't really comment as I have not yet seen Venice (stay tuned as I am scheduled there in mid-November) but I can say that it seems a lively, vibrant, modern city steeped in history, science, education, and architecture.  A welcome respite.  The next day we would head back into Germany, following in my grandmother's footsteps.

Wroclaw Rynek at night

Monday, November 1, 2010

Neurosurgeon Foodie

Last week I was finishing up my pre-operative routine with a lovely woman suffering from a recurrent brain tumor when she stopped and inquired whether she could ask a strange question.  I know this patient and most of her family well so I figured, sure, why not? I nodded and she continued-I was seeing my podiatrist the other day and I told him I would soon be having brain surgery. He asked who my doctor was and when I mentioned you he grinned and said, "She makes the best butternut squash soup I have ever tasted."  I laughed and my patient continued, he wants to know how much heavy creme you use?  Now I could really smile, "None, and it is all vegetarian, too."  Her extended family immediately asked for details.  For them and for any of you who may want to enjoy this fall favorite of mine, here is the recipe.
BrainDame's Butternut Squash Soup

1 medium butternut squash
1 medium to large white onion (peeled and diced)
1 tbs cumin (toasted and ground)
1 tbs aleppo pepper
1-2 quarts good vegetable stock or bouillon
Salt and pepper to taste

  1. Cut squash in half lengthwise and place face down on greased pan, bake at 350 until flesh soft.  Cool.
  2. Scoop seeds out of squash (save if you want to roast them), then scoop flesh away from skin and save pulp.
  3. In a large sauce pan, sauté onions in small amount of oil until soft.
  4. Add toasted cumin and pepper and stir.
  5. Add prepared squash pulp and cover with stock.
  6. Simmer for at least 15 minutes.  Adjust seasoning.
  7. Puree soup (in pot with hand held device or in blender) and adjust consistency with additional stock if desired.