Saturday, October 24, 2015

"Window on Death Row" Event Response

This Thursday, my class had the opportunity to attend an event called "Windows on Death Row" with USC's Vision's and Voices program. The event was a lecture by Sister Helen Prejean on her experience working to abolish the death penalty. She first got involved a couple of decades ago when she became the spiritual advisor to a prisoner on death row, and the inhumanity of the whole process got her interested in fighting to abolish it. Throughout the event, she discussed how prisoners were unfairly given poor lawyers not interested in helping them. I was pretty shocked to find out how there was only one person on death row in Colorado as compared to 750 in California. She also talked a lot about how many prisoners are wrongfully convicted and put on death row in solitary confinement for years on end. Another on of the speakers was actually a former prisoner who spent 20 years on death row and another 8 years embroiled in actually being released from jail after it was determined that he was wrongfully convicted. He talked about how he turned to painting and art to distract him from being all alone and to channel his emotions into something productive. I think that with the death penalty, the punishment is not so much actually being killed (as horrible as that is), but the psychological impacts of being alone in a confined space for years on end with no human contact. Biologically, humans are social creatures, and even introverts thrive on contact with others.

While I appreciate all of Sister Prejean's experience and the work she's doing, I felt that at times, the discourse did was a little too biased toward the problems with the death penalty. I know that I don't know enough about both sides of the debate to have an opinion, but I felt that the information was presented a little unfairly. I felt like they focused a little too much on innocent people sentenced to the death penalty, which has nothing to do with the death penalty in and of itself. Rather, it is a failure of the justice system. It's horrible that innocent people were sentenced to death and had to spend years in prison, but that's because of a justice system built against them. I'm definitely interested to see how this will play out in the 2016 elections in California, since the death penalty was almost abolished in 2012.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Thoughts on Code Black

Last week, I had the opportunity to watch Code Black, a medical documentary about the emergency and trauma center at LA Country Memorial Hospital. Years ago,  there was a room in the emergency room called C-Booth, which, to any outsider, looked like total chaos. Whenever a case came in, there were dozens of doctors, nurses, and medical personnel surrounding a patient who was obviously in danger of dying. It looked incredibly chaotic and I couldn't understand how anyone could ever get anything done there. People were yelling at one another to get different medical supplies without saying who should get it, and somehow, everyone got the supplies they needed, and the patient was treated.
I'm a huge Grey's Anatomy fan, and even though I know that it's in no way an accurate portrayal of hospital life, C-booth almost seemed like a Grey's episode. I loved hearing what the surgical residents had to say about their experiences because of how much they loved it. They talked about how great being in the ER made them feel, and how it was so worth it, even with the mountains of paperwork.
I was pretty confused as to why the hospital didn't have adequate technology to manage all the paperwork. Honestly, buying 20 iPads or tablets isn't that expensive, and autofill capabilities would make it a lot faster. Although it's not particularly groundbreaking, simple changes like digitizing paperwork would speed up the process and allow the emergency department to treat patients more effectively. Another thing we talked about in class was biometric fingerprint or retina scanning to log into the computer, instead of having to manually sign in every time.
I definitely enjoyed this documentary overall. It made it seem like the huge mountain of schoolwork I'm putting myself through -- the polyatomic ions in chem and memorizing every animal in the tree of life -- it's all worth it to be able to go out there and make people's lives better. 

Sunday, October 18, 2015

More Thoughts on Dreamland

Last week, we finished reading Dreamland, by Sam Quinones. Dreamland is about the opiate epidemic -- the black tar heroin trade, specifically -- that has taken over America during the last two decades. Overall, the book was really interesting to me because of the normality of it all. The heroin trade wasn't some scary back alley transaction in hostile New York City, but rather something seen in suburban side street with middle class high schoolers.
The scary part was that these kids weren't deviants who grew up fighting, surrounded by all kinds of negative influences, and considered unlikely to go to colleges. These were kids who studied hard and got grades, played a sport, tutored on the side, spent time with their friends. Kids like me. (Yes, I know I'm not white, but I too had a middle class upbringing). It was sad to me that the towns with places that were once considered worthy of the name "Dreamland" were now defined by shoplifters at Walmart trading their stolen goods for heroin. Everyone knew someone that was addicted, dead, or was addicted themselves. Kids who had the potential to live real, successful lives were dying from heroin overdoses. This wasn't some weird alternative reality movie. This was real life. The black tar heroin epidemic is not isolated either. The epicenter may be Portsmouth, Ohio, but it's in Portland, Boise, the San Fernando Valley -- almost every big city that isn't already over run by drugs (i.e. New York, cocaine in LA). The business wasn't run by some crazy thugs either. The drug sellers were just honest young men from Nayarit, Mexico looking to make some money to send home to their families. They never used the drugs, possibly because they saw how debilitating addiction would be, and seemed to come from a never ending supply of other honest young men.
The book also focused on the rise of prescription pill abuse, and how doctors would literally set up clinics with the sole purpose of prescribing pain relief opiate pills to make money. One physician in particular, David Proctor, set up several pill mills that took fake medical records and papers, large sums of cash, and sent people home in 5 minutes with hundreds of pills. It was really horrible to me that doctors would use their credentials to hurt people, not help them. Being pre-med, I talk to a lot of people who want to become doctors, and everyone I've talked to says something along the lines of "I like science and I want to help people." Never once have I heard "I want to make a lot of money," or anything along those lines. Believe me- there are easier routes to go if your primary objective is money. I realize (from my vast experience watching Grey's Anatomy and Private Practice) that medical ethics is not black and white, but pill mills are 100% unethical and just plain wrong. Getting people addicted to, and in some cases, ultimately killed by prescription drugs, is a horrible thing.
Overall, I really appreciated how Quinones told the story from multiple angles. This provided a more complete picture of the opiate scene in America, and showed how blame is never easy to assign. It was hard to blame the Nayarit drug dealers, who were just trying to make money for their families. They realized that it was near impossible to succeed doing things the right way (this also frustrates me to no end), and so they played into the system. It's hard assign blame to addicts, because while they made the choice to do drugs in the first place, they were then surrounded by people encouraging them to go down the wrong path. Even when they were trying to get clean, the dealers would come by with "gifts" of free heroin balloons. The police were doing the best they could, but were taking away someone's life and livelihood. Just like everything really important, this is so vastly complicated.
I'm a sucker for happy endings (maybe this is why I have a stuffed Olaf on my bed and cry incessantly when a patient dies on Grey's), so I was glad to see at the end that Portsmouth has become something of a haven for addicts in recovery. I know that it's not going to be all happiness and roses, but it gives me hope for the future.
That's all for now!

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Four Year Plan

Hi everyone!

Long time, no post. Now that the second round of midterms is over, I finally have some time to breathe and catch up on things like sleep and this class! Over the last few weeks, I've been thinking about what I want to do over the rest of college, and I have a tentative 4 year plan.
I'm currently a neuroscience major, pre-med, but in trying to build my plan, I've realized that it's just so many units. I wouldn't be able to pursue much else outside my major, which is disappointing because I'm interested in so many things. Even worse, I wouldn't be able to study abroad, which has been my dream in college since watching the Lizzie McGuire movie in elementary school.
(not going to lie, I definitely felt like Lizzie when I was in Rome this summer)
Because of this, i'm contemplating switching to a Health and Human Sciences major with a natural sciences minor to fulfill my pre-med prerequisites, because I want to stay pre-med. I also want to do an education minor because I'm honestly super interested in education, but I don't know too much about it yet, so I'm planning on taking a general education seminar on education next semester as an intro, and i can decide if I want to do the minor from there. My current writing 150 class is on education, and I absolutely love it.
Also, I realized how much I miss Spanish from high school, even though I passed out of our requirement here, so I think I'll take it at a higher level. I want to study abroad in Madrid, so this'll be helpful then. Anyway, here's what I'm thinking.

I know that this will likely change as I go, depending on if I want to stick with Health and Human Science, or pursue either of the minors further. We'll find out, but I'm excited to see how everything turns out :)

xo, Hima