As the number of students taking physics who go on to major in physics is vanishingly small– something like 3% of students in introductory physics take even one more class– physics departments end up serving a number of different constituencies. There are students majoring in other sciences, future engineers, and then there are the pre-meds.
For reasons I don’t pretend to understand, the MCAT includes a section on physics. As a result, everybody who wants to go to medical school needs to take physics, so we teach a lot of future doctors (along with a lot of people I devoutly hope never to look up at from a stretcher). This is one of those situations that tends to make everybody involved unhappy: the students don’t understand why they need physics, and so resent being made to take it; the classes for the MCAT’s are generally algebra-based survey course, which are sort of awkward to teach in the best of circumstances; and many pre-meds are so obsessed with their grades that they end up driving the faculty nuts. (I used to proctor the MCAT’s for extra money in grad school, and I swear, those people were so tightly wound, you could hear them vibrating from the stress…) Doctors are just about the worst people in the world for Physics Face.
Of course, some of them have found a diabolical way of getting back at me for their bad experiences with physics… (After the cut, to build suspense and hide whining.)
A little back-story, here: about a year ago, I had some problems with acid reflux, which were taken care of with a little bit of medication, and some minor lifestyle changes. Not long after that, I started having allergy problems that manifested as really bad hives, which led to a referral to an allergist. At the start of this year, I decided to make a concerted effort to lose weight, after which I started having severe heartburn, which has led to a referral to a gastroenterologist, and my present incredibly boring diet.
The allergist was the first to hit on the way to drive me insane. The key word in the diagnosis is “idiopathic,” which is Greek for “fuck if I know.” He calmly and cheerfully said that he has no idea what’s causing the hives (which are too active to do the skin test that might determine the cause), and he wasn’t particularly concerned about that. He wrote me a couple of prescriptions (for Allegra and Zantac, which apparently is chemically similar to antihistamines), and said “We may never know what causes it.”
If you want a sure way to drive a scientist insane, this is it: present them with a phenomenon with no apparent cause. It’ll drive them to superstition every damn time, as they keep looking for a pattern in the random scatter. I’ve come up with half a dozen different theories as to what’s causing the hives, and none of them have panned out. It’s absolutely maddening, but at least the Allegra works.
And then, there’s the gastroenterologists… The heartburn problem was really bad, so they had me in for an endoscopy a couple of weeks ago. I had the follow-up appointment last Friday, and I’ve never come closer to throttling a medical professional.
Following the procedure, my stomach actually started to feel better (this probably had something to do with the fact that they doubled my daily dose of Nexium), so I started phasing some foods with flavor back into my diet. Thursday night, the night before the appointment, it started to act up again, and was bugging me when I went in for the appointment.
“Well, what did you eat for dinner?” he asked. “Chicken breasts,” I said. “How about lunch?” “Leftover stir-fried pork.” “Well, there you go. Stir-fry contains oil, and oil will aggravate your stomach.” I explained that the word “leftover” meant that I had eaten the stir-fry the previous couple of nights, with no ill effects, but he waved that off. “It can be a cumulative thing,” he said.
So, not only am I presented with a huge list of foods that might cause problems, I can’t even rely on the observation that any particular food has failed to cause a problem– I might be able to eat something twice with no trouble, but the third time will fuck up my stomach for three days. Which means I have essentially no information, and no easy way to get useful information.
The capper here is that the endoscopy showed absolutely nothing. They saw nothing wrong in my stomach, and they didn’t even see anything that looked like it might be worth taking a biopsy for further study. There’s no apparent cause for the problem (which, again, has me taking double the normal dose of acid reducing medication), leaving me with speculative babble about how some people are just particularly sensitive to stomach acid (the fact that this started suddenly about two months ago, after thirty-odd years of eating any damn thing I pleased is apparently not significant). The only treatment is to continue taking large doses of medication, and to eat incredibly boring food for at least a month before trying to introduce anything with, you know, flavor.
My opinion of the medical profession has really never been lower. It’s a good thing I’m not teaching any pre-meds this term…
(A little Googling turns up various sites offering “heartburn-free” recipes (another is here). I’m deeply dubious about some of these, but at least it’s something halfway constructive (as in “here’s something you might want to eat” rather than “whatever you do, don’t eat this.”), which is more than I’ve gotten from the doctors. I may try some of them in a week or so, but given that any slip apparently requires several days to recover from, I’m sticking with plain rice and vegetables for the moment.)