Wednesday, December 27, 2006

DJ in the USA

"As I write this I'm thinking how my time there may just end up being the best years of my life, in a way. I wouldn't trade what's going on now and I'll never go back (I prefer to remember it the way it was) but it was sweet. If my life now is like a good meatloaf sandwich - solid, wholesome productive and satisfying - life then was a plum - sweet, good for you in a different way, and gone in 5 minutes."
--Paul Bollyky, MD

My closest medical school friend sent me that email about a month after I arrived in Oxford, and even then I could tell that when the time finally came for me to come home again it was going to be a dramatic change. When I set foot on American soil for the first time in Logan Airport, I wasn't struck so much by how Boston had changed as I was how I had changed as a result of leaving everything behind for six months. I could fill several volumes with the impact the experience has had on me both personally and professionally. It is almost like I'm a different person.

I could go on explaining what it feels like to be home again, but I know that I don't have to because anyone who's reading this has experienced exactly what that bittersweet emotion is like. Maybe it was after you left home for the first time to head off for college. Maybe it was after losing a loved one who had lived a long and good life. Maybe it was after reaching the final episode of Band of Brothers and listening to Major Winters talk about the heroes he served with in the 101st. Or maybe it was after moving on from a relationship that had lasted longer than most. Or for those of you who actually made it to page 1018, maybe it sounds something like this:

At last the three companions turned away, and never again looking back they rode slowly homewards; and they spoke no word to one another until they came back to the Shire, but each had great comfort in his friends on the long grey road.

At last they rode over the downs and took the East Road, and then Merry and Pippin rode on to Buckland; and already they were singing again as they went. But Sam turned to Bywater, and so came back up the Hill, as day was ending once more. And he went on, and there was yellow light, and fire within; and the evening meal was ready, and he was expected. And Rose drew him in, and set him in his chair, and put little Elanor upon his lap.

He drew a deep breath. ‘Well, I’m back,’ he said.

And with that I conclude my career as a blogger. With the return of American cell phone service, the busy schedule of surgical residency, and the private nature of my major life decisions that are about to take place with the interview season approaching, I will have to return to the old school approach to keeping in touch. If anything truly earth shattering takes place, I'll try to post it on Until then, I'll look forward to chatting with you all in person!

Tuesday, December 26, 2006


"We come from the land of the ice and snow, From the midnight sun where the hot springs blow."
--Led Zeppelin

Many of you will be surprised to see a post from this location showing up on my blog. Well let me tell you that nobody is more surprised by this than I am. When I booked my return flight with the travel office, I was primarily focused on two things: spending Christmas with my family and making it back in time for work on the 27th. So when they emailed me the itinerary, I compulsively checked both of these details several times. I verified the airport, the terminal, the time of departure, the airport of arrival (my car is actually near Dulles at the moment), the time of arrival…there was no question that this was going to be a smooth trip. So when I arrived for a layover in Reykjavik, I pulled out the email with my flight information to see how much time I had to make my connection. You can imagine my horror when I discovered that the answer to that question was somewhere in the neighborhood of 17 hours. I noticed that my 2 bags had also turned up on the conveyor belt (weighing approximately 75 kg), so I asked one of the Icelandair representatives for some advice on the best course of action. She explained that the last bus was leaving immediately for downtown Reykjavik and that there was a good chance I would be able to find a hotel down there somewhere once I got there. This might sound like a no brainer, but I honestly had to give it some thought. If I missed my flight, I would undoubtedly face serious consequences back home since so many people were depending on me being back to work by 6 am on the 27th. If I stayed at the airport, though, I would be heading back to work having already pulled an all-nighter in addition to the jet-lag which was about to ensue. I knew from past experience that I could only carry my bags about 100 yards without falling over. So here I was after midnight on Christmas in the middle of Iceland, and thinking that in the worst-case scenario I would be stranded in the middle of the tundra and get eaten by polar bears or something.

I got on the bus. When I arrived at the only hotel with any vacancies, I learned that the price would be about 8,000 IKR. That seems like a lot of money, and at this point I still have no idea how much I paid for a night’s sleep and a warm shower, but after getting a quick tour of Reykjavik I’m back at the airport where they have a very sketchy wireless service. So far it looks like my flight to Boston will be on time…


"But the fact is, Greg, with the knowledge you've been given, you are now on the inside of what I like to call... 'the Byrnes family circle of trust.' I keep nothing from you, you keep nothing from me... and round and round we go."
--Robert DeNiro

It’s definitely true what they say about how there’s no place like home for the holidays. While I will probably always consider that house off Rockford Road in Plymouth, Minnesota to be my home, I have to say that this year it was a special treat to spend the holiday in the home of my ancestors visiting my relatives in Renhold. The All Saints Church where my family has worshiped for at least six generations was decorated beautifully, and although there wasn’t any snow the lights on the trees all over town looked like something from a Hallmark card. Since many of our American Christmas traditions originate in England, it was a lot of fun to actually experience the holiday the way it was meant to be celebrated. No matter how long I live, I will never forget my relatives bringing out the figgy pudding, watching the Queen’s Christmas address, taking communion in the style of my great great great grandfather, and opening gifts with my English relatives—I was given a wonderful present this year: a book called “1000 Places to See Before You Die.” After all the traveling I had done in the last six months I thought I would be able to check off quite a few of them. Not so. I only managed to hit about 10% of the places in the UK, and have not even made it to the one place in my home state that is featured in the book—the Boundary Waters. I suppose the only thing that would have made it a better Christmas would have been getting to see the other three members of the Joyce family “Circle of Trust.” I guess that will just have to wait for next year…

Friday, December 22, 2006


"I drive a hybrid. Tipper and I got a Lexus hybrid. And we have a couple of Priuses in the family with our children. And I encourage people to make environmentally conscious choices because we all have to solve this climate crisis."
--Al Gore

We made it to St. Anton's, only to find out that it has been over 1500 years since it was this warm in the alps. We decided to give it a go anyway and were severely disappointed to find a base of 0 inches with just about the only snow being man made. I quickly discovered how dangerous it could be to ski under these conditions, when I got the bright idea to head off the trail on what appeared to be some nice powder. Before long, I had descended below the level of the trail and it started looking like a long hike to get out of it. I was just about to take off my skis when I thought to myself: "Wait a minute. I'm rental boy #2. I can do this!" (Sorry for those of you who weren't in Salt Lake in 1998 and have no idea what I'm talking about at this point). To make a long story short, the folks at the ski rental office were very forgiving and didn't even charge me extra for the large chunks that I took out of the bottom of my skis as I was scraping across the gravel.

After one day of that nonsense, we decided enough was enough and got in the car and headed for Innsbruck and Salzberg. At this point, we had also met up with my friend Jackie, who had joined Sam and I on our very first trip to Slovenia and Hungary. It was the perfect bookend for what has been a whirlwind 6 months. We're in Salzberg now, which of course brings back numerous memories of our last trip here 18 years ago when we were accompanied by Beatrice Storch, who later became a Joyce family icon as our nanny. Trixie left an unmistakable imprint on each of our lives. I'll never forget how she reacted after proofreading my 3rd grade school report on Austria. In discussing Austrian religion, I commented: "92% of Austrians are Catholic. The rest are prostitutes." I honestly had no idea what a protestant was at the time, any more than I understood the significance of what I had actually written. Trixie also taught me many German words which I have now completely forgotten, as well as the difference between a eucharist and a uterus (which I have retained after four years of medical school). Sadly, she joined the peace corps or the Air Force Special Ops, I can't remember which, and we haven't heard from her since.

In any case, tonight we went up to Berchtesgaden, which was unbelievably my first Band of Brothers site visit. So much for my intentions of seeing every battlefield of the 101st during my six months here. Amazing how fast time flies. The view from the Eagle's Nest easily rivals the goldmine in Montana for the most beautiful scenery in the world--especially with the Christmas lights and bells ringing in the town below.

Monday, December 18, 2006


"Cherish them. Both of mine are dead. Well, my dad's not dead, but in a home, so good as."
--David Brent

Having completed my rotation in Oxford, I now have exactly one week before I return to the nightmare that awaits me in Baltimore, where I will be returning to the Cameron service within 8 hours of landing in Dulles, followed by three long months at "Guantanimo" Bayview Hospital. I am absolutely thrilled to be enjoying this last trek through the continent with the two travel companions from whom I have learned everything I know about living a life of adventure: Lyle and Tina. After doing lunch and a quick tour around South Kensington, we headed to the airport to launch off for Munich.

Upon arriving in Munich, we were met by my good friend Sam, whom you will already know quite well if you have been reading this blog. Since this is officially my last European adventure with Sam, I have to take a minute and get a little choked up about what an awesome opportunity it has been to enjoy his company on nearly every one of my journeys during the last six months. If you don't know Sam, I can only put it in perspective for you by telling you that even Frodo Baggins didn't have a friend who would always bring an extra rain jacket for him, just in case it started to storm during their hike through Mordor. Many tales will be told for years to come around the campfire at the XZ about some of the close shaves we've seen over the past few months, and if you want to get his perspective on things, just go to and you can read all about it.

We set out first thing Sunday morning for Nuremberg, where we beheld the world's most spectacular Christmas market. It turns out that Christmas was practically invented over here, with traditions such as the Christmas tree, advent calendar, "Silent Night," and those little wooden pyramid things that spin around when you light the candles all tracing their origins to Germany. The food was better than the best funnel cakes and footlongs you ever ate at the Minnesota State Fair, and the music has been brilliant--particularly the Bach performance we watched inside the main cathedral.

After getting our fill, we moved on to Rothenburg, where we spent the night and enjoyed more Christmas festivities early this morning. We then took the "Romantic Road" to Fussen, where we will spend the night before touring King Ludwig's and Neuschwanstein castles in the morning to round out the German leg.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Baby, It's Cold Outside

"Happy, happy Christmas, that can win us back to the delusions of our childish days; that can recall to the old man the pleasures of his youth; that can transport the sailor and the traveller, thousands of miles away, back to his own fire-side and his quiet home!"
--Charles Dickens
The Pickwick Papers, 1836

In England there are 12 Days of Christmas, and this year I was fortunate to be able to spend half of them with my friend Christie, who came to visit from Dallas. Having a visitor over was a great excuse to take one last spin around my favourite stomping grounds before bringing this song of mine in three-quarter time to a conclusion with the coming of the New Year.

Dinner parties have become a Thursday night tradition with my friends at the JR, and the SEU ball at Trinity College was the dinner party to end all dinner parties. It was the last time when all of the house officers would be together before all of us went our seperate ways, so I could think of no better way to see everyone off than at a black tie Oxford high table dinner. The food was simply magnificent.

Friday I made my last pilgrimmage to Stratford Upon Avon to see the Winter's Tale at the Swan. Standing right next to the RSC actors on the stage was definitely a new way to experience theatre, and I enjoyed every minute of it--even if the bear did look a little phony.

Having failed to secure broadway tickets for Saturday night, I was a little nervous that we would end up getting standing room obstructed view tickets for Dirty Dancing. As it turned out, we miraculously scored returns tickets for Sound of Music, which is huge over here right now. The lead role was cast in a reality BBC show called "How do you solve a problem like Maria?" with Andrew Lloyd Webber serving as one of the judges. The production was as good as anything I've seen in New York, and our seats weren't too bad either--10 rows directly behind Tony Blair.

Sunday we did the London walking tour and then hit Harrods for some holiday shopping. Met up with some friends at the All Souls carol service.

Monday we went ice skating at the Somerset House, where they had turned the courtyard into a rink with a big Christmas tree at one end. I was very impressed when Christie started busting out the Dorothy Hamill moves after reportedly having only been ice skating four times in her life. Even more impressive was when she followed that with a spot on Bonnie Blair impersonation.

Tuesday we drove the "Romantic Road" that winds through the Cotswolds. Unfortunately several factors worked against my expectations for this venue, including the fact that it was dark as pitch, pouring rain, I was driving a Fiat Brava that is now missing part of the drivers' side bumper, and my iPod doesn't contain any Barry White.

Sunday, December 03, 2006


"I have something here for you. Your father wanted you to have this when you were old enough, but your uncle wouldn't allow it. He feared you might follow old Obi-Wan on some damn fool idealistic crusade like your father did. It's your father's lightsaber. This is the weapon of a Jedi Knight. Not as clumsy or as random as a blaster, but an elegant weapon for a more civilized age. For over a thousand generations, the Jedi Knights were the guardians of peace and justice in the Old Republic. Before the dark times, before the Empire."
--Obi Wan Kenobi

This past weekend I met up with Sam and Greg in Tunis. We arrived at the airport late Wednesday night and crashed at Greg's place. As I got off the plane, I realized that this was my first time inside a country that doesn't use the real alphabet. Lucky for Sam and I, Greg is all but fluent in Arabic. As a matter of fact, at one point in the trip he even went so far as to explain to our desert guide the process whereby American scrub nurses perform instrument and sponge counts after performing a circumcision on an adult patient. But I'm getting way ahead of myself...

We got up early Thursday and set out immediately for the south. We drove all day, stopping only for lunch and a quick viewing of the Roman Colosseum in El Djem. By dinner time, we had arrived in Matmata which is just north of Tatooine. We spent the night in the Hotel Sidi Driss, which you will recognize in the photo above as THE Lars homestead. Yes, my friends, for 19 dinar you can sleep in Luke Skywalker's actual bedroom. The place hasn't changed a bit since 1977, and you can almost just imagine our excitement to be eating dinner at the same table where Aunt Beru said: "Luke's just not a farmer, Owen. He has too much of his father in him" to which Uncle Owen replied: "That's what I'm afraid of." When you're sleeping over at Luke Skywalker's house, you almost can't help but relive all the immortal whiny lines of Mark Hamill. For example, it is impossible to tell my sister Laura that something is impossible without her replying: "It's not impossible. I used to bullseye womp rats in my T-16 back home. They're not much bigger than two meters." And let me tell you that when you're sleeping in a moisture farm, saying to your buddies: "But I was going to go into Tashi station to pick up some power converters!" never stops being funny no matter how many times you quote it.

We broke out Friday morning and joined a caravan headed south to the Sahara. We arrived in an oasis where the campsite was located, grabbed a quick bite to eat, and immediately saddled up for a desert camel ride out among the sand dunes. After dismounting to explore some Roman ruins in the middle of the desert, we rode back to camp with the sun setting behind us. Our plans to call it an early night were interrupted by a slightly inebriated member of the staff who showed up in our tent and invited us to join him as he built a campfire out in the middle of the desert. With the moon full enough to read by, the stars only partially obscured by several cloud formations, and the embers of the fire crackling in front of us, I couldn't help feeling like I might as well be on a different planet. Things were so different from anything we have back home.

Saturday morning we had made plans to see the sunrise on horseback, and watching the mist clear off the sand dunes was no disappointment. Our guide had promised us that if we rented the three Arabians from him, he would give us free rein (so to speak) to take the animals as fast as we felt comfortable. We were thrilled at the prospect of galloping through the Sahara on horseback, until it became clear that these animals only knew one speed and none of us knew how to say "spurs" in French or Arabic. Fortunately, once we were turned back toward the camp at the end of the ride they managed to kick it out of low gear briefly. Saturday night we made our way back to Tunis and enjoyed a birthday party for the five-year-old daughter of one of Greg's friends.

Monday, November 27, 2006


"We back it up."
--Shannon Sharpe

I have to confess that if there's one thing I miss about America, it's the sports. It's the only area of life in which the European version bears no resemblance to the stuff I was born and raised on. At no time has this been more obvious than Thanksgiving weekend. Instead of watching Romo score 5 TD's in Irving, I found myself in High Wycombe trying to understand the contest that was going on between the Leicester Tigers and the London Wasps. Rugby is great, but all I could think about the whole time is what it would be like to actually field an American team for the World Cup. I mean can you imagine?

If I were coach I would start the game with only three players on the field: Ray Lewis, Champ Bailey, and Vinatieri. After the first half, it would be a pretty even game with Vinatieri hammering drop goals one right after the other from midfield and the defense containing their 11 opponents apart from one or two scores. By the start of the second half, I would bring out the "B" squad: Terry Bradshaw, The Mailman, OJ Simpson (just for the controversy of it), Kathy Ireland, the fat kid from "Old School," Jake the Snake (the wrestler, not the former starting Denver QB) and John Kerry. Things would start to get a little rough for Team America, and the fans would be starting to get nervous and start heckling me. I'd think about calling up Mike Richardson from the bench but would hold off, knowing that the mastermind Parcells-approved plan was about to unfold. And then with 5 minutes left in the game, I'd unleash American athletecism at full strength. LT. TO. Randy Moss. Deion Sanders. Sha Sha. Romanowski. Chris Carter. Emmit Smith. And of course: John Elway. After running up the score by triple digits, the world would be reminded once again of the immortal words of Ricky Bobby: "If you ain't first, you're last."