Toronto


Left: view from my balcony looking West along Wellesley Street.  You can see Queen’s park and the University of Toronto behind it.
Right: You can sort of see the CN tower looking south along Bay Street from my balcony.  The CN tower is to south in Toronto what the mountains are to north in Vancouver.  When I’m lost I look for it.

I realize it has been some time since I last created an entry.  This trend, sadly, is likely to continue.  The amount of material that I have to learn in the next 9 months is truly daunting.  The notes alone are a stack of double-sided pages almost a foot high, most of which is material that has to be memorized.  This is only the tip of the iceberg: there are numerous textbooks which are “recommended reading”.  One of the second year students told me that by the end of the first year he could pick up any issue of the New England Journal of Medicine and understand any article in detail.  That’s a lot to learn.  It begins tomorrow when I begin dissecting my first cadaver.  I hope I don’t make a fool out of myself by fainting.

I’ve had a good time during the past six days of U of Toronto med orientation week.  I’m exhausted from 6 straight nights of going out, but I’m happy that so many of my new classmates were so into going out and having fun.  I’m generally impressed by the quality and maturity of my classmates.  I’m optimistic that I’ll make many good friends that will last over the next four years of medical school and beyond.  I’m amazed that I’ve already met 4 other people with PhDs in neuroscience.

The road trip from Vancouver to Toronto was fun.  I was very happy that Derm came along for the ride to keep me company.  I wish I had time to blog the entire trip because there were some interesting stories/incidents along the way.  Hopefully I’ll get to some of them soon.  For now I’ll have to remain satisfied by recounting the highlights of the trip in pictures (below).


The first day we drove from Vancouver to Calgary where we stayed with Ryan.  On day 2 we went to Lethbridge and spent the night with my parents (Susan and Walter), who adopted Derm as one of their sons (above left).  It was great to spend time with my parents and eat home-cooked steaks.  Derm and I ended up playing crib and drinking beer until about 3 AM.  It was a bit of rude awakening to get up the next morning for the 13 hour drive to Winnipeg on Day 3.  The day ended on a high note however when we were treated to a nice sunset in Saskatchewan (above right).  Saskatchewan is also where we experienced a run-in with Farmer Joe.  One day I will tell this story.

In Winnipeg we stayed with Phil (above left), who was a great sport by not only waiting for us to get in at about 2 AM, but also plying us with beer once we arrived.  He also took the next day (day 4) off work so that we could go golfing.  The golf was cheap and the course was great.  My game was a bit off, but it was nice just to be out there.  Who knows when I’ll get a chance to golf again.  That evening we went to folk-a-rama and went to the Belgian, Carribean, and Chilean pavilions.  I had no idea Winnipeg had so much culture.  We ate and drank a lot.  The Drive from Winnipeg to Chicago on day 5 was the longest segment of the trip at about 15 hours.  In Chicago we stayed with Adam Stocker, whom I befriended in Puerto Rico when I spent the summer of 1999 doing tropical neuroethology in San Juan.  I hadn’t seen Adam in 7 years so it was cool to hang out with him again.  It was trippy to see that he hadn’t changed a bit since I last saw him.  In fact, I think he may have been wearing the same shirt.  There’s a cool little bar just around the corner from Adam’s place that was open until 4 AM, and we took full advantage (above right).  In the morning, we stopped by Wrigley field, which is only a couple of blocks from Adam’s place (below left).  We arrived in Toronto on day 6, where we stayed at Adam Bodnar’s place.  He was another good sport to wait up for us to arrive at 2 AM.  We were able to persuade him to “work from home” on friday so he could stay up late with us and drink beer and go for breakfast in the morning.  Friday was Derm’s brother’s birthday so Derm and I celebrated again on Friday night.  Do you think Bobby is an older version of “lil Dermy”? (Below right).
 

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More Farewells

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Top: Brian MacVivar (my supervisor)
Bottom Left: Sean and Dustin
Bottom Right: Ning, Chao, Xin, Francisco (Frank), and Roger.

Sean’s last day in the lab was Friday.  I am happy for him because he’s leaving to take a faculty position at the University of Saskatchewan.  I hope they realize how lucky they are.  It felt a bit weird to shake his hand and say goodbye after seeing him almost every day for the past six years.  Science is a gig where the most unlikely combinations of people are assembled in close proximity for a few years.  Then, just as quickly as they were thrown together, they are torn apart.  I am glad that I am leaving at the same time as Sean because the lab will feel strange without him around.  I’m not sure if he even realizes how much of an influence he’s been.  He’s experienced so much in his life that wisdom just oozes off him.  I will always remember one day in particular: we were eating lunch outside in the park and Sean said to me: “You’re stupid not to go to med school.”  The seed he planted would eventually lead me to Toronto to begin another odyssey.

I had a hell of a lot of fun as graduate student, but I learned a lot as well, and not just about science.  (Actually the only thing I learned about science is that I really don’t know anything about science.)  I’m going to miss my lab mates.  I wouldn’t have my PhD if it weren’t for Frank, a post-doc who came along at the perfect time to teach me what I needed to finish my project and give me a good shot of motivation to boot.  Not only is he an excellent scientist, but you also couldn’t ask for a better friend.  Congratulations on your faculty position at the University of Saskatchewan.  You and Sean are going to make one hell of a team.  You’ve been ready to be a principal investigator for a long time now.  I wish you all the best.  I’m sure you’ll be extremely successful.

I’m going to miss Friday “lab meetings” with the gang.  They were always entertaining.  How lucky was it that everyone had such a dark & crude sense of humour?  It’s also funny (in hindsight) when a certain individual falls off the table.  Or when he falls asleep on the floor under a desk.  Or when he gives the boss a purple nurple.  Or when he wrestles a bouncer to the ground (alright that wasn’t at a lab meeting).  Ahhh, I’ll miss the MacVicar lab.

I stopped in at Brian’s house this evening to say goodbye and give him a bottle of 16 year old Lagavulin as a token of my appreciation for everything he’s done for me.  I couldn’t have asked for a better supervisor.  His love of science and his enthusiasm is contagious.  He has always supported me, even when my experiments weren’t working or when I was stricken with a mysterious illness that kept me out of the lab for a prolonged period of time.  His support of my career and my application to medical school means a lot to me as well.  Thanks Brian.

Day 3 (July 12) Big Sur to Oakhurst

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I think life is precious.  I do not want to leave this planet.  Do I fear death?  Not any more than anyone else, maybe even less so.  What I fear is opportunity lost.  There is so much more I want to do with my short time remaining here.  Let’s face it: life is short.  I do not believe in an afterlife.  When I die, I will cease to exist.  All my experiences will be swallowed by Oblivion.  That’s why I think the purpose of life is to enjoy every minute of it.  I enjoy life.  Yes I experience stress (at times crippling stress).  Yet I derive satisfaction from continually challenging myself.  That’s why I immerse myself in learning new skills.  Whether it’s playing poker, snowboarding, exercising, riding a motorcycle, doing a PhD, or going to medical school I feel a sense of reward from improving myself.  I foresee so many more opportunities to not only improve myself, but in so doing make a positive contribution in this world.  Like Willy Loman, I do not want to leave before I’ve left my thumb print.  Death is so final.  When life is gone it is gone forever.  That’s why I am so shaken by near misses.  Brushes with death leave me almost paralyzed.  I feel light-headed and can’t concentrate on anything.  I get butterflies in my stomach and feel shell-shocked.

I had a near miss as we entered sweltering Los Banos in the late afternoon of day 3.  I am still here because Tom saved my life.  He gets uncomfortable talking about it, but it is what it is.  He does not want me to feel like I owe him anything, or feel indebted to him.  I don’t feel indebted.  Can you put a price on life?  I am simply happy to be alive and grateful that he was quick witted enough to anticipate, and prevent, a certain disaster. 

We were on the lookout for Harley Davidson stores so Tom could buy gifts for his sisters and girlfriend.  We were stopped a good distance from a red light in a long line of traffic after slowing from highway speed.  We noticed a Harley store off to the right.  Tom was a bit ahead and to the left of me.  We had to change to the right lane, which was empty.  I checked my mirror and looked over my shoulder.  The lane looked clear.  I looked ahead again to see where we had to go.  I started to move into the lane when Tom shot out his arm in front of me.  It was a clear signal to stop.  I didn’t see why I should stop, but I slammed on my brakes anyway.  At that moment a minivan sped past in the right lane in the very space I had been about to enter.  I was shocked.  I had been sure there were no oncoming vehicles.  I had a horrible image of my bike, with me on it, getting ground into the pavement as it was crushed by the front end of the van.  I could hear screaming brakes and twisting metal.

I was in a daze when we got to the parking lot.  I just wanted to get off the bike.  My intention was to back her into an empty stall.  I turned my wheel and all of a sudden the bike went over.  In an instant I had dropped 750 pounds of machine.  In a panic, I tried to get her back up, stalling her.  Sitting on the bike, my leg wasn’t strong enough to right her.  Tom parked his bike and came over to help me push Shelley II off the ground.  My head was spinning.  A guy from the Harley store came out to ask if everything was ok and I couldn’t even speak. 

It would take a few hours before I returned to normality.  We were trying to get to (or near) Yosemite National Park that night.  By the time we were leisurely cruising through scenic countryside on the 140 east of Merced I was thoroughly enjoying myself again.  When we hit a nice long, slightly downhill straightaway, I confidently followed Tom up to 100 miles per hour, the fastest we had managed thus far.  It is a bit of a rush to feel the wind at that speed.  I had even more fun after I made a breakthrough on cornering.  By moving wide before entering turns, I was able to see further around corners.  I could also cut off some of the turn, reducing the overall sharpness of the corner. 

That night in our hotel room in Oakhurst we played heads-up Texas Hold’em tournaments and drank Coronas until the early morning.  I think I lost just about every game.  I didn’t care.  I might have had no luck at cards but my luck had been with me when it counted.  How lucky was it that Tom had read that I intended to move in front of a van?  What if he hadn’t been paying attention or had been looking somewhere else?  What if it had taken him longer to react?  It was good to know that Tom was watching my back.  Thanks mate.

Farewells

An era of my life is coming to an end very soon now.  On Saturday August 12th I will get into my car and drive away from St. John’s College, UBC, Vancouver, and many of the best friends I’ve made in my life.  On any other day I might be getting into my car to go pick up some groceries.  But this time I’ll just keep driving east.  My life is about to change dramatically and it still hasn’t sunk in yet.  My friends pulled a surprise farewell party for me last night.  I’ve been to a lot of farewell parties since arriving at SJC, and it seemed surreal to me that my turn has come already.  A good friend of mine told me last night that when you move into SJC they don’t tell you that you’ll have to say goodbye one day.  He thinks it should be in the pamphlet.  I agree. 

A number of former Johanneans, some of whom are already scattered across the planet, have told me that the time they spent at SJC was the best time of their lives.  I feel the same way.  I have enjoyed myself everywhere I’ve lived, but I wouldn’t trade the time I spent at SJC for anything.  It is tough to leave, but at the same time I am looking forward to the next adventure.  I hope to return to Vancouver one day to either do a residency or practice medicine, but that is still up in the air.  And even if I do return, it will be a completely different experience because most people will have moved on, both geographically and in the stage of their lives. 

There are a lot of things that I don’t know about the next stages of my life.  Where will I live?  Who will I meet?  What kind of medicine will I practice?  But one thing I do know is that my SJC friends (and you know who you are) will always be welcome, wherever I end up.