Week 16 – Medicine on Television

Ah, it’s finally here – that bittersweet last post for a class marking the end of yet another semester. This is it; the very last of my sociology blog posts! This week’s assignment consisted of watching a medical drama and analyzing it’s depiction of a disease it presents compared to the true nature of the disease. Of course, I chose to watch my favorite show – House, MD! I’d be lying if I said that I don’t know every episode of that entire series inside out. I decided to watch a show at random and I ended up watching one of my favorite episodes: “A Pox on Our House”. The disease addressed in the show ends up being something called Rickettsialpox; a condition that according to the show closely appears like smallpox.

The CDC presents rickettsialpox as an infectious disease caused by the bacteria of the genus Rickettsia. It is categorized as being similar to spotted and typhus fevers. The bacteria appears in rodents (typically the house mouse) and it leads to mites on the rodents to become infected with the bacteria. Rickettsialpox is passed on to humans if they receive a bite from an infected mite – not directly from the rodents.  There was an initial outbreak of Rickettsialpox, however it is not a disease that is even statistically defined. It is acknowledged on a case-case basis and all age ranges are effected by the illness equally. Again due to limited information regarding this disease, concrete statistics are not given regarding whether certain socioeconomic groups or races were affected more than others.

The greatest  contributing factor to the disease is environmental conditions. Travelers, people in refugee camps, those dwelling in urban areas, and generally people in areas with high exposure to body lice are at greater risk of contracting Rickettsialpox. In essence, people that are in close contact with larger populations of rodents and mites of any sort are more likely to be infected with Rickettsialpox than those that are not (although again, this infection is RARE).

The initial symptoms of Rickettsialpox are evidence of a bite that tends to scab over. The other symptoms are flu-like in nature consisting of fever, headache, nausea, vomiting. The most distinct feature of course is the rash. The diagnosis of this illness is based on recognition of clinical symptoms and serology. However, the CDC notes that Rickettsioses are difficult to diagnose even by experienced health care providers. The nature of the illness makes it easy to be misdiagnosed. Rickettsial pox is typically treated with doxycycline – although chloramphenicol is used in some cases with less effective results.

The patient in House is a young girl who comes in contact with scabs in a jar while diving with her family. She ends up getting cut when breaking the jar and soon begins to present with extreme flu-like symptoms and blisters that appear to House and his team to be smallpox. They are certain of their diagnosis due to information that the scabs supposedly belonged to victims of smallpox on a slave ship travelling to Bermuda. The disease is recognized as smallpox until the presence of rodents and an infected cat who lost his fur and died on the ship directs House to realize that she actually has Rickettsialpox. The show is obviously dramatic in nature but not a horrible representation of the disease. The symptoms and diagnosis process were reflective of the true nature of the infection. It is easy to misdiagnose and projects relatively vague symptoms. The rarity of the disease is also reflected accurately. The transmittance via an open wound and ancient scabs is not as conventional as a tick bite – but again is forgivable. Everyone’s perception of the disease would probably not be far from the actual nature of it.



Week 14: Observing a Hangout

Mayesha Alam


For this week’s assignment, we were essentially asked to go observe people hanging out. I always love these assignments where we’re asked to do something I – in a super not creepy way – love doing: people watching! We were asked to observe participants hanging out at a location of my choosing and take ethnographic field notes as well. I initially thought that I could simply go to the commons which seems to be everyone’s go to. Instead, I decided to find a location that was a little more small scale and relatively familiar to me where people tend to hang out. I ended up in the soccer field in my parents’ neighborhood.

Growing up, I remember coming to this soccer field and spending time with my family and neighbors. Needless to say, I definitely was lucky to belong to a tight-knit community. It was where the neighborhood formed their mini soccer teams and where the kids in the neighborhood would always meet. It had a bit of that “sandlot” vibe for lack of better words. After most of the kids in the neighborhood grew up and went off to college, the soccer field seemed to wither away. The nets on the soccer goals were basically gone and the field was just an empty piece of land in the middle of the neighborhood. Recently however, I’ve noticed groups of people hanging out in the soccer field on a relatively consistent basis. I never lingered long enough to watch what they were doing or to interact with them so I took this as a good opportunity to revisit a location vital to my childhood.

On Thursday evening (11/19/15), I visited my parents and walked down to the soccer field. There was a good amount of people there so I was able to blend right in without being singled out as the person who was there with no one. I quickly noted that the majority of these people seemed to know each other, yet a lot of them didn’t even belong to the neighborhood. Most of the people were teenagers and a group of them seemed to be part of a hip hop – ballet esque dance team. The others seemed to be smaller groups that knew each other. Looking around at everyone, it was hard to physically pinpoint similarities between them all. They weren’t all the same age, the weren’t doing the same things,  and they didn’t generally appear the same.

Just as I started feeling out of place, someone approached me. Quickly I realized that I knew this person; we grew up together and I hadn’t seen him since we went off to college. I started talking to him and his reaction to how the soccer field was suddenly packed again like old times was similar to mine. We both noted how there were all kinds of people there – similar to the crowd in a public park in the city. With my old friend with me, I began to mingle with the crowd. The crowd had begun to die down by now and people were leaving. I was able to speak with one of the dancers, Julian, who told me that he went to Midlothian High School and that he was a senior. Him and his friends had recently formed a competitive dance team and they practiced in the soccer field because they could lay down wood mats and dance while having the soft ground to land on. He said that they were the first ones to start using the field and eventually a crowd had formed and people began coming there more often. Another girl, Taylor, informed me that she was there with her girlfriends just to have somewhere to hang out.

Nobody really had a specific reason to be at the soccer field it seemed. They were all there to sort of do their own thing. Ironically nobody was there to play soccer. Some people were there to just get some fresh air while others were practicing dance moves. I overheard some of the older crowd talking about a possible bonfire. I definitely got nostalgic throughout this process but I realized that the field served the same purpose that it did back when I was younger – it was just a safe place to congregate. It was just a place where we all found what we needed.

Week 13: Family through Film

Mayesha Alam


This week our assignment was to watch a movie that depicted family dynamics. The movie I decided to watch was “Stepmom” featuring Julia Roberts. To be completely honest the reason I ended up watching this film was  because my mom happened to see the list and asked me what it was for and once I told her, she decided we would be watching Stepmom since it was a Julia Roberts movie she hadn’t seen. Before we began watching the movie, I quickly looked up what it was about and learned that it was about a family with divorced parents, two children, and Dad’s new soon to be wife. The biggest focus in the movie is on the mother of the children, Jackie, receiving news that she has cancer and keeping it from her family while learning to accept that when she’s gone, the father’s new fiancee – Isabel – will become responsible for her children.

The movie addresses the issues of divorce, a new parental figure, and the inevitable death of a parent. First of all, the parent’s divorce is clearly changing the dynamic of the family and the children are constantly going back and forth between parents. The addition of the father’s new fiancee stresses the situation even more. The children are having to get to know a new parental figure in their life. In light of the situation, Jackie keeps the news of her terminal disease to herself throughout a lot of the movie. She shoulders her own situation by herself while coming to terms with the fact that she will essentially be replaced by a new woman that she hardly knows. Her emotions get the best of her and she sabotages her children’s relationship with Isabel.

Isabel attempts to connect with the children by finding common interests and ways to be there for them. The younger child, Ben, clearly senses that Isabel is not used to being a mom. It’s evident that he has difficulty trusting her when she’s late picking him up from a birthday party. The older child, Anna is at a coming of age stage in her life and is tried with troubles such as boys and teasing. Isabel finds a way to help Anna that Jackie seems to disapprove. Isabel and Jackie’s relationship becomes strained while Anna becomes more dependent on Isabel making Jackie feel like she’s already losing her daughter. The hostility between the two women breakdown only when Isabel finds out that Jackie is terminally ill. Jackie confides that she feels as though she will be replaced – an idea that Isabel quickly dismisses by telling Jackie that she could never replace her. The family comes to terms with their situation and the movie ends with a family portrait of the parents, the kids, and Isabel too.

The movie effectively addresses the complexity of divorce and the toll it takes on a family.  A stepmother and a terminally ill mother also introduces a dynamic that is probably far less conventional and situational at best.

Divorce and remarriage are concepts that are stressful on everyone involved in the situation. It heightens social and psychological stress and for the longest time studies have supported that those with divorced parents are more likely to get divorced themselves. We’ve been socialized to accept that divorce is as common as couples that remain married. However a recent article in the New York Times depicts, “Divorce rates reached their peak in the 1970s and 1980s and have been going down—not up, and not holding steady—ever since. Some 70 percent of folks who got married in the 1990s made it 15 whole years together, a 5 percent increase from the previous two decades. And nearly 75 percent of marriages from the last decade are going to make it to death” (Annotation by Jezbel.com). People seem to stay together more often these days due to getting married later in life, social acceptance of having children before marriage, and marrying for love in the first place.

Week 11: Real and Fake News

Mayesha Alam


This week’s blog focuses on deciphering between “real news” and “fake news”. In current media, news is presented in professional formats as well as comedic ones. In essence, they both tend to depict the same things – however the manner in which they are presented socialize the viewers in different ways. The show that I decided to focus on was The Daily Show with new host, Trevor Noah. Now, I’ve personally been a dedicated viewer of The Daily Show and have become an even greater fan due to the comedic charm of the new host.

The Daily Show eerily resembles a traditional network news program. The set up and staging of the show is rather convincing. There’s a backdrop with a map on it along with a professionally dressed host discussing current and trending news. There are news headlines, interviews with “experts”, and just a general layout that mimics that of a traditional news broadcast.

The specific episode that I chose to watch was The Daily Show : October 22, 2015 – John Harwood. This specific episode focused mainly on the Benghazi hearings and also the announcement made by the Vice President that he would not be running for president in the upcoming election. It should be noted that the Daily Show does indeed focus on real events that are occurring and addressed by traditional networks and it even features clips used in other broadcasts. Regarding the Benghazi situation, the show does indeed present the events – however the majority of the discussion was based on forming references to pop culture and lightening the blow of the situation such as referring to the hearings as episodes of “House of Benghazi” ( a parallel formed from the popular Netflix show – House of Cards). The show progressively adds a comical perspective to situations that are generally addressed in a serious manner. Biden’s decision to not run for president was presented as being given too much importance by traditional news networks. Essentially, the news that is presented isn’t so much as “fake” as it is analyzed in a comical manner that softens it’s blow.

A viewer or audience would be able to tell that the news depicted is not analyzed in a “real” way due to the comedic nature of the broadcast. Also, the news is depicted with emoji-esque graphics and is very clearly lacking professionalism at points.

While the news on the Daily Show is essentially “fake” and satirical in nature, it does still consistently project the main idea of the current news. The biggest points are addressed and the takeaway message is that traditional news networks and political domains tend to hype up news that is actually simple.

Being a dedicated viewer of the Daily Show, I can say that by watching the show a few things are accomplished. For people who aren’t easily enlightened by traditional news broadcasts, the Daily Show effectively keeps me up to speed with current events. However, the satirical nature of the show prevents me from taking a stance on issues and also conditions me to think that official media and the government are useless. This proves to be in some ways beneficial and in others harmful to society. “Fake” shows have the ability to socialize viewers in ways that hinder progress.

Finally, just because traditional news networks broadcast and analyze things a certain way, doesn’t necessarily make them any more accurate than the Daily Show. In the end, each station filters out what it wants to and analyzes events how it deems fit. It’s each of our own responsibilities to figure out what is true to us and the best way to go about this is to expand the platforms through which we obtain current events.

Week 9: Race and Ethnicity

For this week’s post, we had the option of writing our own poem or speech. I’m gonna write something in between – a poetic speech if you will.

I am an outsider. I come from several places – but I belong to none. My name is Mayesha; a name found in small quantities across many cultures that in Arabic means bright star, gentle, or alive and well. My name is Arabic, but I am only part Arab. I am equal parts Bengali, Arab, Persian, and Egyptian. My ethnicity is rooted in countries that are predominantly Muslim, but I am only part Muslim. I was raised in Islam and Catholicism and I don’t specifically identify with either. My skin is labeled “spiced sand” which is ironically perfect. I’m the color of caramel and upon first glance you would think I was from the Indian subcontinent. Suddenly you make me blush and realize I have the reddest undertone and you’re confused as to where I’m from. My hair is long, loosely curly, and dark. It looks like Persian hair- but what’s that? It’s the brightest red in the sunlight. Where does that come from? Well gosh, I don’t even know. My eyes are Egyptian but slightly catted out so maybe they’re actually Arab. My lips aren’t thin like you’d typically expect. They’re full and red and genetically dissociated from every average quarter of my ethnicity. Of course, I’m also like 5 feet tall and overall tiny. I look just like a Bengali – but not quite. I look just like an Arab – but not quite. I look just like a Persian – but not quite. I look just like an Egyptian – but not quite. I speak the languages they all speak. I can dress in ways they all dress. I eat the same foods and I have the same cultural influences. I am just like each and every one of them – but not quite. I am parts and pieces of a whole. I am an ethnic blur and racially “other”. I fit in all these cultures, yet none of them have a claim on me. I am the jack of all trades, master of none. I am cultured and mixed. I was born in Texas, raised in RVA. My family is “white-washed” yet as stereotypically foreign as can be. I am well versed in every part of me. I neglect none of it. I am holistic and I am open-minded. I am the double-take. 

I am an outsider. I come from several places – but I belong to none. 

The concepts that I attempted to address in my “poetic speech” were rather simple. I talked about ethnicity of course. Ethnicity is predominantly based on cultural factors and nationality. For me my parents are both mixed and my brother and I ended up even more mixed. Contrarily, race is often more dependent on physical characteristics and genetic basis. I look like each part of my ethnicity, yet I look like none of them at all. I’m a melting pot of sorts. Identity is one of the things that I have struggled the most with in my life. I have always “sort of” belonged to a lot of things. It’s as if I’m a part of everything, yet a part of nothing at all. Of course, there are others like me – but we don’t congregate. I lack solidarity due to where I’m from and how I look, yet at the same time I couldn’t possibly have a greater sense of solidarity. I’m able to form connections with people from all over the world who speak different languages and look completely different from one another. It’s easy to feel like an outsider in my shoes. However, the truth is I’m a person – just like you are. I’m bits and pieces of a whole.

Week 7 – Deviance

Mayesha Alam 10/2/15

For our blog this week, we were asked to look at deviance and how it’s presented in media – particularly a TV show. The TV show I decided to analyze was House – a show about a brilliant doctor who solves his cases in the most questionable ways.

I believe that the intended audience for House is teenage/young adult to a more matured age range. I say this because the show does have a rather strong medical basis with heavy concepts and terminology. Some of the issues are also directed toward a more professional/mature audience such as substance abuse and trying relationships. I personally chose to analyze this show because of the main character, Gregory House. His brash and arrogant behavior towards his boss and his patients seems to be a pretty good example of deviance. Having already ended, I was able to re-watch the last few episodes and examine how his behavior throughout the show played out for him.

We are socialized to behave and do things a certain way – a way that is “culturally acceptable”. When something takes a detour from these norms, it’s considered deviant. The show, House, presents deviance in the forms of unethical practice of medicine and just general day to day  unacceptable behavior. Gregory House – more widely referred to as just “House” expresses several kinds of deviance. As a doctor, he is often disrespectful and overly direct with his patients and he often conducts unauthorized treatments. In the hospital setting, he often damages equipment and plays childish tricks like setting a chicken loose in the halls. He encourages his team to be deviant as well by directing them to break into patients’ houses to collect information and often promoting them to not listen to him as well. On top of all of that, he happens to be a junkie due to leg pain and abuses Vicodin and writes himself unauthorized prescriptions under other people’s names (often his best friend, an oncologist named Dr. Wilson). As if his behavior wasn’t deviant enough, House also interacted with people in relationships in unacceptable ways. His most notable statements were “everybody lies”, “the most successful marriages are based on lies”, and “You want to know how two chemicals interact, do you ask them? No, they’re going to lie through their lying little chemical teeth. Throw them in a beaker and apply heat”. While throughout the show, House’s character develops profoundly and his deviance is often tried, the last few episodes focus on how it all plays out.

Throughout the show, House’s behavior is often condemned – however his brilliance behind his behavior is never doubted. He is the epitome of the concept of “be good or be good at it”. His arrogance is substantiated with his ability to in the end save his patient. However, the last few episodes focus on a patient that House is unable to help and ends up with inside of a burning building. House’s methods are questioned and his medical license has repetitively been questioned due to his drug abuse. The truth is that although the show entertains the way the brilliant doctor behaves in the most deviant ways, it does not celebrate the deviance. In the end House’s best friend is dying, the love of his life isn’t his, he isn’t able to save a dying patient, and his future as a doctor is unclear. In fact, the show concludes with House faking his death and walking away from (or int his case, driving away from in a shiny corvette) society with his dying best friend. In the end, he doesn’t get everything he wants and he knows that it’s his fault. The show elaborates that there are guidelines for a reason and although brilliance is valuable, breaking societal norms in such ruthless ways has difficult consequences.

The show as a whole was full of humor, harsh realities, lies, touching moments, and life lessons. I enjoyed the show because of the well developed characters, relationships, and story line. They way it depicted how life came around full circle was also intriguing.

I think that the show is generally watched for entertainment purposes as just another medically based TV show, but the deviant behavior is also intriguing to the audience because of the simple concept that it’s not normal. We love to stare at what isn’t everything else.

I think that holistically, the show reinforces societal norms. Misaligned behavior pays its price in the end. However, individual episodes often celebrated deviant behavior and made it seem like it was okay to do things in a brash manner as long as it was right.

Week 5 – Impression Management in Action

Mayesha Alam

This week’s assignment focused on how we come off, behave, interact, etc. in different scenarios. The hardest part of this assignment for me was to find two different groups of people where I essentially leave different impressions. The biggest thing people tend to notice about me is that I’m consistent. Generally speaking, I don’t come off any more or less reserved whether I’m talking to my group of friends or talking to a professor. I remain equally respectful, playful, and witty. So I ended up deciding to focus on situations that were far more personal in separate ways by analyzing my interactions with the two of the most important men in my life: my best friend and my big brother.

My best friend and I have been friends since the beginning of high school. We’re the kind of best friends that everyone sort of knows will end up getting married someday. Wherever we are, we behave the same way. We have no boundaries and we’ve never fought for longer than about 15 minutes. With him, there is no front that I have to put up; there’s no certain way that I have to behave. I don’t watch what I say and sometimes come off painfully honest.

Just earlier today, we met by the benches beside the ram horns like we do everyday and I sat down without even saying hey. It wasn’t disrespectful, our relationship was just that simple. Neither of us are morning people and we just sat there with my head on his shoulder in an oh so casual manner. We both sat there silently people watching and giggling at the same things. To people watching us, we probably came off rather odd. We tend to do that. We have that kind of chemistry that someone on the outside won’t always comprehend. As we went on through our day, we talked about everything from religion to robotic cat-shark hybrids. We threw around a few jokes – but both of us tend to avoid cursing. There was no front or back stage to our interactions. Nothing was held back and everything was just thrown out there. The personal front that I bring to our relationship and our encounters everyday is my undeniably glorious wit. This works perfectly with his level of sarcasm – to the point where he’s not even sure he’s kidding anymore. My body language, facial expressions, and etc. are definitely less restricted with my best friend. We give each other “funny looks”, we glare, and we always seem to be intertwined in some way. I’m about a foot shorter than him so I’m often involuntarily utilized as his arm rest. As a whole, our interactions were informal, filterless, and floating in absolute comfort.

My brother and I are extremely close. In fact, he would easily be my other best friend. Our interactions are rather different from those between me and my best friend. Typically, I’m extremely casual with my brother. However, there is a level of extreme respect and boundaries present between us. I’m witty and playful with him, but he is a lot older than me and is easily the person I look up to. Due to these factors, I tend to be just a bit more reserved with my brother. This past week, he came home and I noticed several things about how we interact. At home, my brother and I behave like we’re still little. We don’t have to be responsible since our parents are in charge and we just spend our time reliving our childhood. We stay up all night watching movies and playing video games. We tend to be relatively open and I easily play the role of the baby sister by whining to him about random things and demanding he get a puppy for me. Outside, I put up a far more mature front when interacting with him. My brother’s a respected Neurology resident at Wakeforest and people around that area are familiar with him. To maintain his professional demeanor, we both behave maturely in public. Suddenly we both have manners and I treat him more like I would a teacher or my dad. The front stage region of our relationship is how I come off so open with my brother and how we share secrets. The backstage region in the situation is the personal feelings that I excuse my brother from knowing. I won’t tell him certain things about my life like the cute boy I like or how someone hurt my feelings. We’re close, but he still is the overprotective big brother. My brother and I are apparently clones of one another according to everyone that meets us. We apparently do everything in identical ways. My facial expressions and body language are described as comfortable with my brother. We listen to each other and express how we feel.

The things I noticed the most were that my brother and I behaved differently together depending on where we were. Contrarily, my best friend and I remained constant in how we behaved regardless of where we were. I watch what I say to my brother sometimes whereas I basically share a mind with my best friend. Generally however, they are two of the closest people to me and I share a level of comfort and respect with both.

Culture Shaping our Clothes

For my post this week, I chose clothes to be my necessity. Let the records show that I think cars are far more necessary and my fashion sense is limited to whatever clothes my hand touches first in my drawer. However, cars are not necessities that are nearly as culturally defined as clothes are. I mean sure I’ve modified my car’s engine and thrown in cold air intake among other things – but I like to think that’s more about me liking fast cars than because Cosmopolitan or Vogue said I should.

Why do we wear clothes? I mean why do we really wear clothes? It’s to keep ourselves protected from the elements and harmful things, it’s to keep ourselves protected, etc. However, going through several magazines, the Cosmopolitan app, and various Pinterest links on my phone, not a single article or pin was about the true purpose of clothes (although to be fair, that would be kind of odd) – instead it was plastered with how to quickly lose weight and fit into the perfect skinny jeans. Several articles were about fashion trends ranging from revealing clothing with the tagline “Show more skin this summer!” and ways to “recycle” clothes. Recycling clothes generally seemed to be cutting out pieces and making sweaters look like swimsuits.

I didn’t see much specificity to certain clothes being more popular in certain areas. Most of the magazines and apps were obviously nationally based and  girls all over the country read the same things and typically seem to wear the same things as well. However, I came across several links on Pinterest directed towards Muslim girls who wear hijabs.  While the vast majority of the clothing consisted of greater coverage it was also associated with taglines such as “Looking Sexy in a Hijab”. Having been exposed to various religions, I found this rather ironic and misleading regarding the purpose of the hijab itself. It would seem that although different kinds of clothes were portrayed as “sexy” in different subcultures – the end goal was to make girls specifically in this case look nicer.

Collectively, the various forms of media are all geared towards forming certain constructs on what kind of clothing is right at what time. Every article seems to talk about celebrity outfits and what’s currently trending on the runway. I look at these high fashion posts and honestly, I would never wear any of these clothes. There are certain tips on how to dress in the office and how to look good in bikinis. While I’m seeing more acceptance for body types, it’s more about how to make your body type look good in clothes that are typically designed for photoshopped models. Different brands cater to different kinds of clothing. There are high fashion companies like Armani and Boss while there are companies geared towards athletics such as the new athletic wear line, Fabletics.

Various forms of media breakdown outfits that runway models will wear and the description will have options on how to get the original piece and splurge or find an “cheaper” option and steal. While the concept is placing less value on the super high end item, most of the steal items are still far out of most of our budgets. The clothes that we are expected to wear are far more expensive than they could ever have possibly taken to make. It’s all about the designer and the label and places incredible importance on material wealth. The cool kids wear clothes from Hollister and have Northface jackets with Uggs while others wear off brand clothing. Ironically the clothing all looks the same – except for the label of course, but they’re perceived completely differently. It makes it seem that there’s more value in how we look and appear and the money we spend on our clothes to do so. It’s like the articles list out exactly what to do then end with “add your own personal touch” and then proceed to tell you how to add your own personal touch. The sad part is that we believe that society will view us a certain way if our clothes don’t conform to these impractical predetermined constructs based on the rich and famous.

Having looked at articles addressing people in different cultures, it would appear that different cultures have different social constructs on how someone should dress and what makes them look good. American culture is reflected in our magazines with the wide variety of looks and styles that are all accepted in their own way. While constructs still exist, there is more liberty in what is okay.

Looking at the content in these articles honestly didn’t phase me. This is probably because while I see my favorite hoodie as a necessity, I don’t feel the need to conform. This doesn’t mean that I’m not constantly made aware of certain clothes being culturally defined as more appealing. When I wear a dress and some heels, I’m suddenly flooded with compliments from people who saw me the day before in a t-shirt and jeans. Buying clothes out of a Vogue or Cosmo article would benefit the companies and all associated manufacturers of course – but I could see how it would benefit people with lower self esteem striving for greater acceptance as well. I’m aware of these cultural values, but not affected by them. I guess I’m more of a car girl anyway.

*warily takes off glasses and awkwardly notices the Vogue logo it displays*


Research Assignment

A few days ago, I was cleaning through my old music stuff and came across my very first instrument – a fifty-something dollar 3/4 electric violin. While music used to be a very important part of my life, I all of completely cut it out when I decided to turn down several music schools and completely reroute my life. Essentially, I hadn’t touched my baby violin – or really any instrument – in about two years. It appeared rather foreign to me, but in a wave of nostalgia I picked up the violin, plugged it in, and tuned it. Picking up the bow and placing my fingers on the strings, I began playing the Pirates of the Caribbean theme song. Initially, I cringed at how rusty I sounded. Then, I played it again and something incredible happened – I was playing as well as  I had two years ago. I was throwing in my own improvisations and when I was done I was amazed. I knew muscle memory was a thing, but the way my fingers remembered exactly where to go – it was like I didn’t even have to think about it. I was completely caught off guard at how well my ability was retained without use.

Thus, my initial research question was born (disclaimer: this changes as I begin to do research): How is muscle memory retained without stimulation and repetitive use of the muscle in the same manner? I began looking up things such as “muscle memory retention” on Google to get a general idea of what I would be looking at. As I read different things about muscle memory, I came across concepts shedding light on how handedness influences how well muscles create “muscle memory”. I began thinking about how I was fully ambidextrous – being able to do things equally well with both hands including fine motor tasks such as writing and drawing. In that moment the focus of my research changed completely and I began researching ambidexterity. Several documents talking about ambidexterity being associated with mental instability and hyperactivity came up and I was absolutely intrigued (Ironically, I’d gotten so distracted from my initial question – that I decided upon something completely different). My actual research question became: How does ambidexterity relate to attention-deficiency and hyperactivity? 

I utilized the library online database and began to research ambidexterity and its association with hyperactivity and attention-deficiency. A researcher at Shiraz University of Medical Sciences concluded that left-handedness was not associated with higher parent-reported levels of hyperactivity and attention deficiency (Ghanizadeh 2013). However, a separate study supported that “… ADHD is associated with anomalous laterality, but also indicate that non-righthandedness is not an adequate characterization of this relationship” (Reid & Norvilitis 2000). Essentially, while the first study says that there is no relationship at all, a parent-reported study is not the most reliable for data. The majority of data found implies that ambidexterity and handedness is clearly correlated with hyperactivity although no direct or genetic evidence is found for the association to depict some form of correlation. Based on this data, it is hypothesized that a correlation exists between ambidexterity and hyperactivity/attention-deficiency but, one is not a characterization of the other. 

The methods used to conduct research on this subject are limited. Being factors that are not able to be manipulated, surveys are the most effective research method in this situation due to the tedious and biased nature of case studies. To address both sides of the situation, people with ADHD or general hyperactivity and attention- deficiency could fill out a survey regarding their handedness and similarly people with various handedness could be subject to ADHD tests and other similar diagnostic criteria to see if trends matched on both sides. Trends on both sides would strengthen the association between the two, whereas discrepancies would lead to a paradigm shit of sorts. Essentially, are people with ADHD type disorders more likely to be ambidextrous or are ambidextrous people more likely to have ADHD type disorders? 

Ghanizadeh, A. Lack of association of handedness with inattention and hyperactivity symptoms in ADHD. J Atten Disord 2013;17:302–307.

Reid, H. M., Norvilitis, J. M.Evidence for anomalous lateralization across domain in ADHD children as well as adults identified with the Wender Utah rating scale.  Journal of Psychiatric Research. 2014. 32 (4-5); 311-316.

Analyzing Everyday Life: Doing Nothing

I specifically waited for today to be the day that I optimize my people watching skills. See, I’m one of those people who loves to just sit and watch people. I love being the observer in any kind of situation. On Thursday nights/ Friday mornings,  I shadow different trauma surgeons at VCU Medical Center (free tip: don’t call them MCV – they’ll basically hand you a lecture on a silver platter).  This means that I spend an extended period of time with surgeons that are constantly being paged in  to address high profile urgent care situations along with constantly checking up on patients that are in critical situations in the Surgical Trauma Intensive Care Unit (STICU). The sensitive nature of the environment makes it rather different from your average “busy public place”. While ideally I wanted to  creep on – er I mean observe – patients in the STICU or the ER, I would basically be violating about a trillion privacy laws. So, I decided to take a seat in between the waiting room of the STICU and the hallway leading to other parts of the floor and continued to watch the people around me.

The first thing that I noticed in the hall of the waiting room was that there was an insane amount of people both waiting to see their loved ones in the STICU and walking in the hallway around it. There wasn’t a single calm moment the entire time that I sat there watching life pass around me. The general expressions of the people waiting in the waiting room were fear. I wouldn’t say that they expressed obvious signs of stress or anxiety – but rather they looked scared and sad. For a little while I looked at people as a whole without specifying my attention. People in scrubs would walk by quickly and often would walk right back a short amount of time later. Where were they? What were they doing? Often they’d walk too fast for me to read whether they were doctors, nurses, medical students, technicians, etc. Yet, they were all there – all giving off the same rushed demeanor and all constantly being needed somewhere.

A few minutes later, I began noticing people on a more individual basis. There was a woman who sat in the corner all by herself with nothing but a stuffed animal in her hand. Soon after, a teenager got off the elevator and walked toward the woman. As soon as the woman caught sight of the teenager, she burst into tears and he followed soon after. I didn’t know them and I didn’t know what they had been through – but I knew where they were now. They had lost someone they’d loved. The pain of being hopeless and the pain of having nothing left to hope for are different. As I’m forming these thoughts right now, I realize that the only reason I know this is because I’ve been in their place. These people were strangers when I observed them. At the time I simply violated their most trying moment, now I’m someone who has shared their pain.

It seems like ten minutes isn’t a very long time, but it’s enough time to witness the end and beginning of several lives in the very building that I stood in. Being in a hospital, the vast majority of people weren’t surprised or bothered by my silence. Conversations weren’t constantly occurring; just a few hey’s and how are you’s. Several people threw me a nod and smiled. Others that I was familiar with waved and made small talk before walking by. The entire experience was a little different for me than my usual people watching. See, I’ve done the whole sit there and do nothing and watch as life passes by around you. This time, I realized more – these people that I was observing were living there lives as I was standing still for a moment in mine. All around me there were people that were constantly going places, and I realize now that I’m one of them. I was laughing at the guy running and eating a sandwich, but he probably saved someone’s life that day. I run between these halls myself tethered to my responsibilities. I sat in the same place reacting the same way as the woman who was clutching the stuffed animal.

There were a lot of people that walked by me as I sat there taking a break. We don’t know each other’s stories – but we share the same pain and happiness; we’re constantly going somewhere and doing something.