Saturday, February 28, 2009

Dental Emergencies

Yesterday I was nibbling on a fingernail (gross, I know, but it's a habit) and suddenly my bottom incisor crumbled. I looked at my finger and there were three or four chunks of tooth perched on the tip. My tongue involuntarily found the now jagged incisor, and my eyes widened with dismay. I took off to the bathroom and looked in the mirror to confirm the disaster. I had no idea teeth could do that.

Later that night we were babysitting three boys for a family I home teach. In my opinion, you're not being a good babysitter unless you get a little rowdy with the kids, so of course I didn't oppose them tearing all the cushions and pillows off the couch to dive into. Things were going fine until the four year old jumped onto the two year old and smashed his mouth. Within seconds he was bawling and I was trying to access the damage. His gums were bleeding a little, and the more I tried to help him the more he screamed. Just then his grandmother arrived, and hearing his screams, began pounding on the door and shouting his name. We opened the door and she rushed into the room shouting, "What happened?" and wrapping her arms around the unfortunate kid. This lady was something else. She was your classic social worker who probably needs a social worker, and she certainly didn't help deescalate the situation. She kept making references to his tooth falling out or breaking off, which only intensified his crying. "He's going to have to see the orthodontist or get a root canal!" she howled. My wife rushed to the store to buy some popsicles while I stayed with the lunatic grandma and child, trying to calm them both down. In the end the popsicles were an inspired idea, and the moment he got one in his mouth, the floodgates turned off and he said, "My tooth doesn't hurt anymore." Talk about theatrics.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Rock, Paper, Scissors

Last night I played the highest stakes game of rock, paper, scissors of my life. One of our residents needed a new bag for his colostomy. I rummaged through boxes in his room looking for one, but the only stocked bags had open bottoms and required a clamp. I ran all over the building looking for a clamp but returned empty-handed.

I asked my charge nurse what I should do. He looked me very solemnly and said, "You'll have to empty it, wash it out and re-use it." My eyes narrowed with incredulity, and we stared at each other for about ten seconds. The nurse could see my hesitation, and, with a little cockiness in his voice, announced, "I'll rock, paper, scissors you for it."

I laughed. Louder than I should've had at 2:30 in the morning in a nursing home. "Okay," I replied. "Let's go."

We faced each other in the hallway, and I assumed my best rock, paper, scissors stance.

1,2,3! My scissors beat his paper. 1,2,3! Both scissors. 1,2,3! His paper beats my rock. 1,2,3! Both rock. 1,2,3! I drop scissors, he drops rock.

It was a defeat which had a very particular smell to it.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Creation and Evolution

I attended a lecture today entitled "An Approach to Understanding the Purpose of the Creation Accounts." It's part of the series of lectures dedicated to Darwin's birthday (which is tomorrow). Many people, myself included, were led to believe that it would discuss evolution in the context of the Creation because the official announcement said the lecture was titled, "An Approach to Understanding the Creation." A subtle difference, but an explicit example of false advertising. My guess is they really wanted to fill the seats, and they did. Unfortunately not everyone left satisfied.

It was given by Terry Ball, Dean of Ancient Scripture at BYU. The room was totally packed, with people sitting in the aisles, on the floors and standing around the perimeter and out in the halls listening. Luckily I got there ten minutes earlier, anticipating such a crowd. Apparently everyone wanted to understand a religion professor's take on evolution. Unfortunately that wasn't the thrust of the lecture. Dr. Ball talked about the importance of understanding what kind of questions the creation accounts actually answer. He made it very clear that the accounts were given to answer the questions of "Why?" and "Who?" The earth was made for the children of God to inhabit, to keep their second estate, and it was created by Jesus Christ, and likely by others with Him. Of course I already knew the answers to these questions, but it was an interesting point.

At the end of the lecture Dr. Ball opened it up for questions. Finally the hungry wolves were loosed and hands shot up everywhere. It didn't seem like anyone could tactfully phrase their question well enough, because everyone sounded like the devil's advocate. Questions were asked about the vast time period required for evolution to occur, the Fall of Adam and whether the accounts were figurative. Dr. Ball sidestepped most of their questions and usually turned them into hilarious jokes.

For instance, when a man asked if Adam was really 900 something years old, Dr. Ball said, "We don't know for sure. Maybe he was, maybe he wasn't. If I was betting YOUR temple recommend on it, I'd say he was." That got a pretty good response.

One difficult question that he fielded was about the human pedigree. What are we to think of the fossils of primitive hominids that resembled men, which are dated several million years ago? He made it clear that the Church has one position on the origin of Man, and that is that we were created by God and in His image. BYU put together a packet back in 1992 to help biology students gain some insights into the Church's position, commonly referred to as the "Origin of Man" packet. This packet contains official statements from prophets, especially Joseph Fielding Smith, and the only time it actually mentions the word "evolution" is in a statement that "man is evolving into a god." He then stated his personal opinion is that there were pre-Adamite hominids, and that they had evolved from other species, but when God created Adam, he was creating a new species. However related to those other hominids man is by his DNA, he was still created by God and in His image.

Another interesting question he answered was related to the Garden of Eden. How can one simultaneously believe in evolution as the engine for Creation and the Garden of Eden, in which nothing could die? Evolution and speciation can't happen if animals aren't dying.

Of course he couldn't give a definitive answer to this, and he made it very clear that Church doesn't have an official position on it. He said that there are two prevalent theories that circulate throughout our church and among other Christians. One is called the "It is good" theory. It basically states that God created the first organisms and let them evolve to a point that He thought, "It was good," and then He placed the Earth in a paradisiacal state, including the Garden of Eden. Then Adam and Eve were placed in the garden, and the rest is history.

The other theory is called the "40 acre" theory, which basically states that the Garden of Eden was an isolated patch of paradise in the midst of a world that was still evolving. While they lived in the garden animals were reproducing, dying and speciating. When Adam and Eve fell, they were expelled out into that lone and dreary world. Both are compelling to me, but I'm more inclined to go with the latter theory.

When all is said and done, however, we really can't figure it out on our own. If God ever wants to reveal the hows and whats of the Creation, He'll do it through His prophet. I personally don't think we'll learn this mystery till we're resurrected. Dr. Ball agreed and made the remark that we'd learn it all in Godhood 695 R. "It is an R class," he said.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


The Office of Research and Creative Activities sent me an e-mail yesterday saying I was awarded a grant for a proposal I submitted back in November. The total award is 1500 bucks, but I'm splitting it with a lab buddy who also worked on the project. He came up with the idea, and I wrote the grant proposal. Today we joked around that he paid me 750 bucks to write a grant for him, and I said I bought the idea from him for 750 bucks. Whatever the case, neither of us actually thought back in November that we'd get the money. Our professor required us to submit a proposal as part of the overall research process. I was brand new to the lab, and a little frantic because I had no idea what my research options were. My fellow labster came up with a decent idea, which my professor helped flesh out, and I offered to help write the grant for it. It turned out I wrote the whole proposal (and it was pretty good, if I say so myself) and we turned it in. Assignment completed. I'd totally forgotten about it and last week they contacted my buddy to get some of his personal info. We got all excited and waited nervously as they continued moving back the date of announcing grant recipients. And then, BOOM! Yesterday I checked my e-mail, and there it was.

Now how do I spend 750 bucks? You'd assume that I would spend the money on research. Our lab is already plenty funded. My professor is an expert proposal writer and gets us money from National Science Foundation and all over. He tells us if we get a grant, it's "pizza money." I don't think I could stomach 750 bucks worth of pizza, but I have considered buying 750 onesies for my unborn child, or 1500 cans of soda. When it comes down to it, though, I'm sure it'll go to the nebula I call savings.

Sunday, February 8, 2009


Last night marked another wonderful graveyard shift at the nursing home. For the last few weeks they've been putting me at the west nurse's station, which is the rehabilitation unit. Most of the residents there have acute issues and are usually recovering from surgeries or respiratory illnesses. This makes for a much more alert and coherent crowd, and that keeps the call lights ringing all night.

I've been trying to finish up A Farewell to Arms, but over the last month or so I've been averaging about ten pages a shift because the residents keep me busy. For whatever reason, I wasn't super swamped last night, and I found time to finish the second half of the book.

When my charge nurse saw me reading A Farewell to Arms, he started to harass me. "Please tell me you're reading that for a class! Why would you ever read Hemingway?! I can judge so much about your character just by the fact you're reading Hemingway." This from the guy who listens to School House Rock and Bloodhound Gang on his i-Pod.

"Why don't you like Hemingway?"
"He's sooo depressing! Think of the most miserable unhappy ending to any plot, and you've got a Hemingway story."

True, most of Hemingway's stories are filled only with drinking, smoking, somber dialogue and failing relationships. I guess that's why they call it the Lost Generation. Something about his writing, however, is still very engaging and enjoyable. It's a unique style of prose, and sometimes the inebriated conversations are quite insightful.

My charge nurse hadn't read A Farewell to Arms, but he insisted that I come up with the worst possible conclusion for the book, and that would be the actual ending. With 50 pages to go, I predicted the death of Catherine's baby. I thought it would be a little over the top to predict Catherine's death too, and I was holding on to a shred of hope that she'd survive the book.

With 4 pages to go, the Catherine's nurse explains to Henry that the baby is stillborn. No surprise there. Surely, I thought to myself, with 3 pages to go, Catherine will live. Imagine my dismay when on the second-to-last page, Catherine suffers severe hemorrhaging and dies in the matter of a paragraph. You've done it again, Hemingway. And there's my charge nurse, dancing to Wolf Creek Pass, and gloating at the fulfillment of his prophecy.

Saturday, February 7, 2009


I've been writing a paper for my Writing Fellows class about how I learned to write. An absurd topic to be sure. Essentially the narrative goes like this: I learned to write. The end. I'll be sure to insert amusing anecdotes about the first "adult" book I read (Congo) and the crooked finger of the infamous Nona. The overall theme of the paper will parallel my own writing discovery process with the evolution of man. A neanderthal desires creative expression, invents tools, learns to control fire, and develops agriculture. Lost? Well the paper will be awesome.

This raises some interesting questions for me. I recently subscribed to Scientific American, which is a pretty dang good collection of recent scientific breakthroughs and cutting-edge discoveries. As the upcoming week is the celebration of Darwin's 200th birthday, this month's issue is all about evolution, and is aptly named the "Evolution of Evolution." It features several articles about the science behind evolution, the ramifications of Darwin's theory, and of course, a little snippet about the Human pedigree. It was the latter article that gave me the idea for my writing assignment. Flipping through the timeline of man, as supposed by science, is very fascinating. The article itself declares the facts as if little doubt exists, and to be honest, in the scientific community, there is no doubt. We evolved from apes, end of story. This can be supported by countless DNA analyses, which reveal that our DNA is essentially the same as a chimpanzee's except where they have two chromosomes, we have one, likely the result of a chromosome fusion. The only real difference between our genes and those of our charming animal counterpart is the timing in which they are expressed. But when it comes down to the A's, T's, C's and G's, we're practically identical.

As a biologist, I'm very tempted to accept this. Clearly there are some major connections between humans and apes. But to accept that we descended from them, as Darwin later published, would be to deny that God himself created man and placed him on the earth. It's a difficult concept to reconcile, and requires a degree of faith, or blindness, as scientists would call it. Is it possible that God allowed man to naturally evolve, using the laws of science to bring about His plan? This would fall in more closely with the idea of Intelligent Design, which suggests that there is a higher being at the helm, a Creator who is also the Supreme Scientist. I'm more inclined to this latter theory, but it still doesn't jive completely with LDS doctrine.

In high school I was converted to the idea that evolution is real. It's really undeniable. Natural selection really does motivate the development of divergent species. You can see it everywhere in the world around us, and to reject this clear occurence is not only blind, it's just plain ignorant. The fact that DNA mutates and some mutations result in favorable traits propels the engine of life. But how do I understand where the creation of Man comes in? I've always assumed that the rest of the life on earth did evolve, gradually, but that Man, the crowning achievement in creation, was placed on the earth last, in the midst of the evolving animal kingdom.

Once in the biology lab I was discussing with my lab supervisor various evolutionary biology projects going on at BYU. There are several professors engaged in the Tree of Life project, which is trying to sequence the genomes of all animals to create a super phylogenetic tree which shows how life evolved on earth. This struck me as a bit odd, that BYU professors would be involved in this kind of project, and I asked him, "How do they reconcile that with the Gospel? Do they really believe that we evolved from primordial soup, from a one-celled organism?" He responded, with a hint of disdain in his voice, "Well I'm not LDS, so I don't have to worry about that." He said, with a little bit of incredulity, that of course he believed we evolved from prokaryotes; he's an evolutionary biologist, for crying out loud! I felt truly defeated and more than a little embarrassed for assuming that everyone thinks like I do.

This upcoming week at BYU several renowned professors from around the country are coming to speak about Evolution. I'd really like to attend some lectures to gather more perspective and information about the subject, to formulate my own opinion. My lab mentor, a distinguished evolutionary biologist, regularly suggests that the ideas of evolution can be reconciled with the gospel, but he never elaborates on the idea. I'm hoping this next week will shed some light on the idea and close the gap of confusion for me.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

A Fresh Start

When I was a freshman, I started a blog. It seemed like a cool thing to do. I wrote pretty avidly throughout that year, and what remains is a fairly good account of what happened that year. As I reviewed the 90 or so posts from that era of my life, I was a little disturbed by how much of them were about girls. Granted, I was not married and my love life was of great concern to me. It's pretty normal to write about what occupies your mind, so I shouldn't be surprised. Now I'm married, however, and lots of petty entries about this girl and that girl don't really seem like an appropriate piece of history to lug around anymore. It's okay to let those kinds of memories fade away, because they don't really contribute to the future. So I'm cutting off that anchor and pushing off to open waters. I don't guarantee that I'll suddenly write about things that matter. I sure hope not, anyway. I'll write about significant events and the truths that life has taught me. And I'm sure I'll share a lot of stupid stories.

Archie has graduated.