A baby gestates for nine months.

(With some variation.)

Published in: on April 30, 2010 at 10:40 am  Leave a Comment  

I think this is appropriate for today.

The song that went through my head whenever I felt particularly good about med school:

I always felt like the yellow robot, grooving it out, side to side.

Published in: on April 30, 2010 at 5:21 am  Comments (2)  


We have ten toes.

Published in: on April 29, 2010 at 10:39 am  Comments (4)  

Tools for the Toolbox: Boobquake Edition!

So apparently some ignorant douchebag somewhere told the poor people who have to listen to him that immodest women are the cause of earthquakes.

Even though everyone knows that ignorant douchebags are really what cause earthquakes.

Actually, that might not be the case. Earthquakes would be far more common if it were.

But anyway, the blogosphere answers today with Boobquake. Today, women everywhere will be showing a little more cleavage than usual in an order to scientifically expose this theory for the misogynistic bullshit it is.

And, being a uniquely internet-based entity, here’s the only way I could think of to contribute.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you…THE MAMMARY GLANDS!

Ah, mammary glands! Those fleshy sacks of exocrine tissue that drive men wild! (And some women! And not all men!)

So what are they?

Well. They’re the means by which a woman becomes a food source.

No. Not like that.

Come on. You know what I mean.

Wow. It took three tries.



Here’s the way breasts work.


A breast is composed of a collection of lobes, the functional unit of the mammary gland. Like many other structures in the human body, a lobe looks a lot like a tree:

This is what a lobe of the breast looks like under a microscope.

(Side note: They look a little like alveoli, the air sacs in the lung, don’t they?)

The round structures at the end are exocrine glands (glands that stay connected to the surface that they developed from; for practical purposes, that usually means that they secrete material through a duct). These particular glands secrete milk when a woman is lactating.

The glands of the lobe are connected to each other by a series of ducts, called lactiferous ducts. (lacto = milk, fer = to bear or to carry) You can see the ducts in the picture above; they’re those branch-like structures. As the lactiferous duct gets closer to the nipple, it dilates into a pouch called the lactiferous sinus. You can see it in this picture:

And then all of the lactiferous ducts have an open end at the nipple, where the secretions of the lobes can be expressed to the outside of the body.

And, you know, feed a baby.

These structures are suspended in fat and connective tissue.


Breasts are cool and unique, because they aren’t fully formed at birth, and they go through a number of changes in response to reproductive cycles.

Both men and women have a duct system in their breasts. During puberty, a woman’s breasts begin to form lobules at the end of their terminal ducts. Her breasts are very responsive to changes in her internal hormonal environment, particularly the influence of estrogen and progesterone during her menstrual cycle.

These pictures show the Tanner stages of breast development. They can be used to determine a girl's progression through puberty, as well as help diagnose a number of different hormonal disturbances.

A man’s breasts will not develop in the same way, unless he has a hormonal disturbance which causes his breasts to grow. This is called gynecomastia. Some causes of gynecomastia include liver cirrhosis, drug use, steroids, and testicular tumors.

Bob from Fight Club suffered from gynecomastia.

Functional role

If a woman becomes pregnant, her breasts will respond to that hormonal environment as well; they will undergo even more changes to prepare for the eventual feeding of her baby. When the baby is born, the breasts produce a substance called colostrum, which is high in protein and immunoglobulins. After about a week, the colostrum changes to milk, which has a higher fat and calorie content.

In addition to providing the perfect food balance for the baby, breastmilk is also very important to the development of the baby’s immune system. Breastmilk contains IgA, a protective immunoglobulin that is found in the secretions of the body, as well as a number of other components that help support the baby’s own developing immune system.

And all of this happens without anyone having to think about it too much (in the absence of medical problems, of course). All mom and baby have to do is bond with each other, and let the breasts do all the work!

Aren’t breasts awesome?

In conclusion

These fabulous structures are what separate mammals from the rest of the animal kingdoms. They’re cool, they’re important, and they will probably be a little more visible today than usual.

So hooray for breasts! Hooray for empowered women! And hooray for the fact that I live in a society that allows women to show or not show their breasts AS THEY CHOOSE FOR THEMSELVES!

I don’t know about you, but that sure rocks my world!

Happy Boobquake, everyone!


Robbins and Cotran. Pathologic Basis of Disease. 7th edition. Elsevier, 2005

Junqueira, Luis Carlos; Carneiro, Jose. Basic Histology: text and atlas. 11th edition. McGraw-Hill, 2005.


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If you use this as if it were real medical information, you will cause an earthquake. So just don’t.

Published in: on April 26, 2010 at 10:20 am  Comments (5)  
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Other writers have cats…

About a week ago, I was very, very sad.

Phil, my “pet” philodendron, had been ailing for a number of months, losing leaf after leaf. It had gone from a lustrous bunch of waxy, green leaves to a single vine. And one by one, the leaves on the vine turned yellow and fell off.

That day a week ago, the very last leaf turned brown and died.

To understand how devastating this was to me, you should probably know that this plant is much older than I am. It’s a cutting from a plant in California, from when my parents lived there even before my older brother was born. This cutting was entrusted to my care at a relatively young age; I actually can’t remember a bedroom I’ve lived in where Phil wasn’t a fixture. For a person who moved around a lot, that’s actually kind of important. Phil moved with me from home to home. It came with me to college. It came with me to med school. And I was sure hoping it would survive to come with me to residency. So when the last leaf started paling into yellow patches, it was a very deep disappointment.

I mean, there are other cuttings of the same philodendron from California. My mother has the greenest thumb of anyone I know; our family house is just bursting with cutting-clones from the original plant. I could blame med school for Phil’s demise, easily replace it with an essentially identical cutting, and start again.

But there was just something so depressing about that idea. I guess the continuity of the whole thing is the important part.

I guess you might be able to understand that I wasn’t quite willing to throw my version of Phil into the garbage can when its last leaf died. After all, the stem was still green, right? I was avoiding the final defeat, for as long as possible.

And today…..Phil has dug deep inside its philodendron-y soul and found the strength to start pushing a tiny new leaf spike out of its still-green stem.

You have no idea how happy that makes me.

I never thought I’d be so emotionally invested in a plant. But Phil is a beautiful philodendron, and if I have to be emotionally invested in a plant, I can think of no better plant than Phil.

You just can’t keep Phil down!

This is not actually a picture of Phil. But it looks an awful lot like Phil did when it was healthy.

Published in: on April 25, 2010 at 7:05 pm  Comments (9)  

Best Medical Word Ever:

Borborygmi (bor-bor-ig-me): The sounds made by your intestines as gas moves through them. Also known as stomach growling.

Singular: Borborygmus.

This has been: Best Medical Word Ever.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled surfing.

Published in: on April 24, 2010 at 1:53 pm  Comments (2)  
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This Post Is Only About Marbles.

When I was a kid, my brothers and I had one of the best toys ever invented. It was a brightly-colored plastic marble run kit.

We just called it “marble madness” (but we didn’t know about the video game). We had a huge bag of marbles, and we spent a good amount of time building the most fun marble mazes that we could possibly come up with!

We would plan contests to guess which foot piece would hold the most marbles by the time the run was over. Or, each of us would build a run off the same beginning track, and see who got the most marbles by the end.

Our marble runs always began with the funnel piece, for maximum random distribution of marbles and thus maximum fairness.

My favorite thing to do was to put a bunch of straight runs together one below the other. The marbles would zip right down them, one after the other, and get to the bottom almost immediately.

My least favorite was the peg maze. (The one in the video is red. It is also behind a cat. Our peg maze was blue, and was never behind a cat.) The marbles would always slow down as they navigated the pegs. And if you poured enough marbles into the marble run, they’d start backing up behind the peg maze.

Sometimes it backed up so far that the traffic jam would block my track completely and send all the marbles down my brothers’ tracks! So not cool!

The contents of this site, such as text, graphics, images, and other material contained on. . .



That’s it? That’s your post?

Um, yeah. Read the title. It’s only about marbles.



On a blog whose subtitle is “A Writer’s Guide to Diseases and Injuries, and How to Use Them Effectively in Fiction”.


A subtitle, which, by the way, is completely and utterly clunky and inelegant.


You went to all the trouble cobbling together a clunky, inelegant subtitle for your blog, and then you write a post about marbles.

Um, yes.

It has nothing to do with diseases. Or injuries. Or how to use them effectively in fiction.

It’s only about marbles.

I don’t believe you.

Seriously? After all we’ve been thorough together?

Um, ESPECIALLY after all we’ve been through together.


So what was this post really about?



Only marbles! I swear! Read the title!

If it’s about anything other than marbles, you owe me an upside-down recitation of Jabberwocky.


As many times as it takes.

Fine. You have a deal.

I have a feeling we’re going to get an upside-down recitation of Jabberwocky on this blog in the near future.

Dude. The post is about MARBLES! ONLY MARBLES!

Methinks Dr. Grasshopper doth protest too much. What think you, friends?

Published in: on April 22, 2010 at 12:13 am  Comments (13)  

Dear Interwebz….

Why has my traffic doubled in the past week?

I mean, I’m not complaining or anything….

I’m just confused. It’s a happy confusion. But…it’s still confusion.



Dr. Grasshopper

Published in: on April 21, 2010 at 11:08 pm  Comments (6)  

Lessons From Dermatology: Examination

Via the lovely and wonderful Ashley:

If you don’t know what it is, don’t touch it.

If you do know what it is, you don’t need to touch it.

Published in: on April 17, 2010 at 8:50 pm  Comments (3)  
Tags: ,

A Roseola By Any Other Name


If you’re working in a fictional environment, I’m solidly in favor of making up your own diseases with their own names. This holds even if they’re loosely or even tightly based on real diseases. Here’s why.

The name of the disease has power over the perception of the disease.

-You can tell SO MUCH about a disease or condition by its name.

Disease names tend to be self-descriptive. Osteoporosis. Pancreatitis. Cholecystitis. Very-long-chain acyl-CoA Dehydrogenase Deficiency (VLCADD).

This is one of the reasons I’m doing the “How To Talk Doctor” series of posts. The way you name a disease can really affect how your readers think about it. This operates down to the root of the word. For example: Would you rather have rosacea or necrotizing fasciitis? The first starts with something that sounds like “rose”; the second starts with “necro-“, which means “death”. See what I mean?

You can use this to your advantage. When you’re naming your disease, use word roots that suggest the severity you’re going for. Use visceral-sounding roots like “necro-” and “sarc” (flesh) for scary diseases. Et cetera.

Here’s a fun listing of a lot of roots that you can throw together to imply exactly what you want to say. Go crazy!

Exercise #1! Pick out three or four roots from the above link, and invent a disease name. Go to the comments section and tell us about the disease: Who gets it, What happens, When do they get it, Where is the disease most likely to arise (in the world and anatomically), Why do you get it, and How does it first present? Give each other constructive feedback, but for the love of all that is bloggerly, be polite and respectful! I reserve the right to come down hard on anyone who poops in my sandbox.

-Locking onto a known disease means you’re locking yourself into playing by nature’s rules.

For example, in my current YA novel, I needed my infant character to suffer from a disease that would slowly destroy her body but wouldn’t have any effect on her brain. I thought it could be Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, because the symptoms that it creates seemed to be what I needed.

However, it’s very, VERY rare to see DMD in females, because it’s a genetic disease with an X-linked recessive transmission. I would have to go through ridiculous gymnastics of genetic justification if I wanted to make it plausible. I probably could have used it anyway and gotten away with it, but I try to have more respect for my readers than that.

So I eventually settled on giving my “muscular dystrophy” a completely made-up name. This would have worked, though I later stumbled across a real disease that actually does what I need done. This was good, because even though my setting is science fiction, it’s near-future enough that I’d like as many ties as possible to the real world. Which brings me to my next point:

You can’t win if you don’t play.


Naming has HUGE payoff, worldbuilding-wise. You agonize over the name of your MC and the place-names of your setting; why not something like this?

The name of your disease says a LOT about the world your characters live in. The names the characters use can tell you a lot about where they live and the backgrounds of the populations they’re a part of.

If you’re working in our world, by all means, use a real disease name. Just do some research. It’ll definitely help ground the story in our reality, and give you a little more wiggle-room for any less-plausible fictional elements.

But if you’re using a fantasy or science fiction world that you’ve made up? This is a jackpot for quick world-building!

Does the rash the disease causes resemble the scaly flesh of the dragons that plague the village? Does the rash the disease causes resemble the scaly flesh of the dragons that protect the village from the constant space-pirate attacks? I’d argue that the same disease, in these two separate circumstances, would have two very different names. And the names would tell you a lot about the circumstances.

Exercise #2! Think about your current work-in-progress. What is your main setting, where most of the action in your story happens? What is most likely to make people sick in that location? What contributes to the development or progression of the illness? Now name it! Head to the comments section, and tell us about it! Give each other constructive feedback, but for the love of all that is bloggerly, be polite and respectful! I reserve the right to come down hard on anyone who poops in my sandbox.

-Character Development

Diseases often have multiple names. Which name a character uses can tell you a lot about who they are, where they were raised, and how educated they might be. This was used to grand effect in The Stand, by Stephen King. A few names for the disease that wiped out most of humanity: “the rales,” “Tube Neck,” “Captain Trips,” “the superflu,” “Project Blue,” “A-Prime.”

The name your character uses for the disease can tell you a lot about who they are.

Who would call your disease “the thrice-damned gut-rot”? How would they be different from the person who calls it “acritobacter pumago”? Would the same person call it “the jam-squirts”, as long as they were drunk and the company was less formal?

Exercise #3! Go to the comments section and tell me about a character, based on the name they use to describe Stephen King’s superflu. Now, change the name they’d use, and describe how any qualities of the same character might change based on the new information. Alternatively, give me some alternate names for the illness that you’ve developed for your own work-in-progress. Who in your world uses which name? Give each other constructive feedback, but for the love of all that is bloggerly, be polite and respectful! I reserve the right to come down hard on anyone who poops in my sandbox.

This is such an easy way to drop in a LOT of development, in very few words! Don’t let it pass you by!

I’m looking forward to reading what you post!


Published in: on April 15, 2010 at 1:11 am  Comments (3)