Dr. Ava

During our simulation lab trainings in nursing school, we use real equipment to take care of high-tech mannequins. The copious amounts of medical supplies that never touch a real human but end up in the trash have always made my environmentalist spine twitch. So, I took to using urine catchment cups for salad dressing in my sack lunches, and Foley catheter bags to substitute for camel backs…  Then I learned that my niece had started playing doctor after a recent hospital visit. I rescued some of the safe and clean land-fill destined medical supplies and loaded them into a small black leather handbag from a thrift-store. I can’t lie. It was her favorite birthday gift.

I may not have influenced this little girl to be a doctor instead of a Disney princess when she grows up, but I do take pride in the fact that she slings a doctor bag over her shoulder when she heads out to the ball.

Here are some pictures of us playing together over Christmas:

The above collage is from my sister’s website

Fake skin recipe:

I made some flubber out of Metamucil and water, and we pretended it was skin in order to do some surgeries. Here’s the recipe for flubber, which can be made in about 10 minutes on the stove or in the microwave:

  1. In a saucepan mix about 1/2 tablespoon of Metamucil (or generic substitute) with 1 cup water. The quantities can easily be doubled or tripled. Add food coloring. I didn’t add any coloring so it would most closely resemble skin. Remember this is totally edible, so you could add a little powdered drink mix or flavored gelatin for color and flavor.
  2. Bring mixture to a boil, stirring continuously. Reduce heat to medium-high and continue stirring until it becomes thick and rubbery and is no longer sticky. The longer you cook it, the more stiff and rubbery it will become.
  3. Carefully pour (or flop) the hot flubber onto a plate or cookie sheet to cool. For skin, use a spatula to spread it into a thin layer while it is still hot.
  4. Let it cool before playing with it. Ideally it should not be sticky at all. If it is still sticky, plop it back into the sauce pan and cook it down a little more.
  5. Now you are ready to create tumors and moles and fake skin. Let the abdominal surgeries begin!
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poinsettia are not poisonous

I’ve been admiring the uniqueness of poinsettia flowers, and wanted to share some botanical Christmas cheer.

Poinsettias have been associated with Christmas since the 16th century: the leaf shape is reminiscent of the star of Bethlehem, and the red crown reminds us of our Savior’s blood sacrifice.

Euphorbia pulcherrima flowers are a bit unexpected. To find the flowers, you must look past the large red showy things, which are technically modified leaves called bracts. Bring your nose in close, so you can smell its earthiness. At the heart of the little saplings (which, if given the opportunity, will grow into a full-sized tree…which you can see later in this post) you’ll see a cluster of green bulbous heads, each with a tuft of red spikes topped with yellow powder. Each of these radical hair-dos is actually a full bouquet of flowers. The botanical term for this type of flower grouping is cyathia, which is Greek for cup. Each staminous spike projecting from the cup is really a single flower with it’s own ovary and stamen. That dusting of yellow powder is pollen, akin to tiny plant sperm.

In my photo, one of the lower-right cyathias has one mature flower projecting out of it. Its ovary has grown too large to remain inside the floral cup. My favorite morphological features of this plant are the luscious yellow lips, oozing with honey. These are nectar glands. Usually individual flowers have their own nectar gland, but in the case of poinsettia the whole grouping of flowers shares the pot of gold with the lucky pollinator.

I spent some mindlessly mesmerizing time at work pasting pins onto business cards. The little glue dots reminded me of poinsettia nectar.

Another thing the glue dots and the poinsettia have in common is that they are both relatively non-toxic. I admit that I’ve more than once joined in the rumor that these Christmas plants are highly poisonous, but some recent research reveals it’s just not true. A study of 849,575 plant exposures by the American Journal of Emergency Medicine showed no know fatalities from the plant. Another study predicted a 50 pound child would have to ingest 500 bracts before any toxicity would result. It is true, however, that the plant has a milky latex-like sap that might cause some mild skin irritation. So, if you have an allergy to latex you should probably fore-go the poinsettia rub-down this year. The toxicity misconception probably arose because poinsettias belong to the genus Euphorbia, which contains some truly toxic species.

Even though I don’t have a latex allergy, I likely won’t be serving up poinsettia saplings for Christmas dinner. I just want to prevent anyone from freaking out if they catch a child or pet gnawing on a bract.

Cheers to Euphorbia pulcherrima, and Merry Christmas to you.


Bananas to the Rescue!

When I heard about this recent discovery on NPR today I shrieked for joy. The University of Michigan Medical School published a study this week revealing that a chemical naturally found in bananas is just as potent as two already-existing anti-HIV drugs. It’s exciting because it’s a potentially cheap source, it’s mode of action is pretty efficient in that it blocks the viruses’ entry into the body (and does this well enough that it will hopefully take many mutations for the virus to get around the trick), and it gives me one more reason to love this fruit.

I went through a banana-crazed stage many years ago. I gave a speech in my freshman English class about “the perfect ripeness of a banana”, I learned the entire Chiquita Banana song (see below), I wore the fruit to school- wrapped into an elaborate bun on top of my head, and I convinced my high school cross country team to design our yearly t-shirt after nature’s golden beauty.  It was the first fruit for which I memorized its sticker number: 4011. Finally, I thought I’d died and gone to heaven when I first visited Ecuador and ate red ones and purple ones and tiny ones and huge ones fresh from the garden. In honor of these happy memories and the happy news of the day, enjoy the Chaquita banana’s original commercial: