Category Archives: Medicine and Health

My Granddad with vascular dementia

He remembered I was in med school, asked me how it was going. Usually I have to remind him. He reminded me of how he was a medic in the Navy during the Korean War, forgetting he had told me this story more times than I could count. I loved hearing about his life though and listened intently. We talked about how we were the only two people in our family with any background in healthcare. I said to him, “In a little less than three years, I’ll be Dr. Cobb, how crazy is that?”

He looked up from his lost gaze and said “I hope I’m here to be able to call you that,” and for the first time in my life I understood that he may not actually make it that long, that he was dying. Continue reading My Granddad with vascular dementia

Weight loss isn’t simply a math problem

I used to cite the simple math of calories in<calories out=weight loss as an argument for the ease of weight loss. I’ll be the first one to admit that I’ve believed and said some extraordinarily stupid stuff. It sometimes takes me a while, and I may never learn, but I have to get over my insecurity of admitting I was wrong and admit that this claim about weight loss was fundamentally naive. Continue reading Weight loss isn’t simply a math problem

Anatomy last day

Note: It’s taken me a while to post this because it was a very overwhelming experience but I do feel it is worth sharing.

The trademark medical school class will be over in less than a week. I’ve learned every piece of wiring, tubing, and structures of the human body, what else is there to learn? But really all I’ve learned is how the body is supposed to be, how it is supposed to look. In the elderly cadavers that predominated in our anatomy lab, we only learned of a handful of ailments: cancer, obesity, heart disease. Next semester we will continue to study the proper functioning of the human body with still some minor correlations to medicine. But second year we’ll learn the bulk of what goes wrong and a glimpse of how to treat it. Continue reading Anatomy last day

Anatomy lab first day

Note: This is a post I wrote at the beginning of medical school last fall describing the experience I had in anatomy lab for the first day of medical school. Having just finished my first year, I felt it was appropriate to share.

The tension was visible in all my classmates faces. This was big and we knew it. We had all lifted the stainless steel covers, unzipped the tarpaulin bags, and revealed our cadaver for the year.

Our donor, an elderly lady, lay on the table in front of us, a shell of the life that came before. She was scarred, from the sun and the chores of life and with each sun spot and freckle I could see age, wisdom, and love. Looking at her worn hands and feet I couldn’t help but imagine where those feet had been, who those hands had touched, what work they had accomplished and the infinite influence her life had on the world around her. What knowledge did she possess that no one else did? What stories did she tell that will never be heard again? Continue reading Anatomy lab first day

Alternative to what?

“You know what they call alternative medicine that’s been proved to work? -Medicine.” -Tim Minchin

I hate alternative medicine. Absolutely despise it.  I hate it not because of some belief that our current system of treating patients is flawless, nor because of a belief that medicine should be defined by pharmaceuticals, nor that all our current treatments are evidence-based and all-encompassing. No, the reason I hate ‘alternative’ medicine is that it implies a separation where there absolutely is none. It’s a meaningless, confused misconception that splits a common goal into two ambiguous non-categories. The goal of physicians is to care for patients and no concerned doctor is going to deliberately exclude any evidence based treatment at the risk of harming a patient. Continue reading Alternative to what?

Explaining the backpacker’s diet

I realized after my recent post on backpacking diet that I did a great job outlining some of my diet choices for my fastpacking trips and a poor job of explaining why I chose the foods I do. I wanted to do a write-up explaining the backpacker’s diet so people could better understand what purpose it serves and how a diet loaded with empty calories is not unhealthy granted the context.

Typical 2.5 day diet
Typical 2.5 day diet

My backpacking diet serves a very specific purpose and addresses the most immediate concern: starvation. It focuses on macronutrient intake and finds the densest foods to obtain the most calories. Anything beyond that is fluff.  Continue reading Explaining the backpacker’s diet

The hallmark of a healthy diet

Since I was a kid, my dad would inform me of the recent dietary trend, from entire dietary restrictions to minor single food alterations. He would read about it in Men’s Journal and then tell me, “Oh, avocados are very good for you,” or “bread is very bad for you,” with no explanation further than that. It could have been attributed to the most recent journal article on the subject, some undergraduate run correlation study, or it could have just been the musings of a physician who overstepped their authority. I used to think that the reason these adjectives, good and bad, bugged me so much when applied to nutrition because they oversimplified things, but recently I realized that it’s because it massively overcomplicates nutrition. Continue reading The hallmark of a healthy diet

The unseen effects of belief in alternative medicine

There’s always a cost. In the case of ginseng as an herbal remedy, the largest cost is very likely not its symptoms to the user. I read an article earlier on NPR about the effect of wild ginseng harvesting on our National Parks, highlighting the effect it has on ecology, the risk of American ginseng extinction, and the impact of its poaching on individuals and communities. Ginseng is selling for ridiculously high prices in Hong Kong, up to $20,000 per pound. For the poacher here in the eastern United States, that can mean selling their prize for over $200 per pound, a healthy income for some in rural Appalachia. But it can also mean 5.5 months in federal prison in the case of Billy Joe Hurley who was convicted multiple times for ginseng poaching. The reason for the high selling price for american ginseng is not that it is a culinary treasure over in southeast China, instead it is viewed as an herbal remedy for many ailments and diseases. And the reason that it isn’t simply cultivated is that the delicate forest ecosystem is difficult to mimic and mechanize. With ginseng selling for such a high price and having a tremendous impact on people’s lives and the ecosystem of the Appalachian Mountains, I wondered whether this is all worth it. Continue reading The unseen effects of belief in alternative medicine

Acute mountain sickness, hell on earth

I wanted to believe it wasn’t happening again. I lied to myself, I lied to her, lifting my face up from the mud “just some mild altitude sickness” as I lay on the trail. I held my hand up with my thumb and index finger just an inch apart to emphasize “mild”. She rightly didn’t seem convinced and set her pack down. She was waiting for her husband and decided some ibuprofen may help me. I returned my face to the ground and lay curled up just off the side of the trail. Just before she had arrived I had drank several liters straight from a creek launching down from the alpine snowfields. Liter after liter I guzzled the snowmelt like my life depended on it. In reality, my life did depend on it, but more so it depended on my body’s ability to accept it. Continue reading Acute mountain sickness, hell on earth

Medical school personal statement

This is my medical school personal statement that I wrote for my application. I wrote about an incident that occurred while I was working the Luray Triathlon last year but didn’t feel comfortable publishing it until now. I’ve since been accepted and will be attending Eastern Virginia Medical School and am thrilled about the future and the beginning of my career in healthcare. So here it is, my medical school personal statement:

For children, health means the ability to play and explore. It means fun at school with friends versus a day at home in bed. Throughout my childhood, this is the definition that health assumed. But with the last breaths of a dying man, health adopted a new reality. Health is life itself; it is the ability to observe and exist on this planet for another day.

I was working a triathlon in the Appalachian Mountains in Virginia in late summer. At the swim finish a tall, large man, wearing just a swimsuit and goggles stumbled out of the water and with help he made it up on the beach to sit on the cool sand. Within moments, he laid down, his breathing stopped and his heart along with it. Knowing only basic life support, I stayed out of the way and let the paramedics take over, but standing just a few feet away, seeing color in his skin, the life still in his body, I believed there was still hope. I remembered a story of another triathlete last year who was revived from a similar situation and this memory brought me hope. Continue reading Medical school personal statement