Musing on Coincidences

We’re waiting for another state road map cribbage board, this one is Wisconsin. If you’ve seen the cribbage game video we made, “Pegging Around Iowa,” you get the idea.

We’ve been to Wisconsin, briefly. It’s a complicated story. It was roughly 13 years ago. We moved to Madison so I could make another stab at private practice psychiatry.

During the lunch break between interviews, I read The Onion for the first time. It was set up as a college newspaper in which none of the stories were factually accurate—and wildly satirical. I thought it was really funny. It started back in 1988 in Madison, Wisconsin. It’s now based in Chicago. They published a large paperback book entitled The Onion Book of Known Knowledge: A Definitive Encyclopaedia of Existing Information.

I’m pretty sure none of the information was true. I owned a copy, but the print was so small, I couldn’t read it without a magnifying glass. It either got lost in one of our moves or I got rid of it.

Scott Dikkers was one of the originators. Coincidentally, in 1993 he was interviewed by a columnist for The Daily Iowan, the University of Iowa college newspaper. Scott also wrote a cartoon called Jim’s Journal. This is another coincidence because I kept a sort of diary in between blogs for a while a few years ago. I called it Jim’s Journal. Back in 1993 I wasn’t paying attention then to The Onion or much of anything else except surviving my first year of residency in psychiatry at Iowa.

The Onion was one of my favorite reminders of Madison. We loved living there, but unfortunately, I disliked private practice. We moved back to Iowa, but not before doing a lot of fun things in Madison and places nearby.

Another coincidence that is admittedly minor is that, several years ago I accidentally walked into an auditorium ready to present my Grand Rounds lecture to a crowd. The only hitch was that it was the wrong crowd. I had arrived early and the previous group was still in the auditorium. That was embarrassing. When it was time for my performance, I sort of ad libbed a series of jokes about my blunder. This got me an award from the residents—Improvisor of the Year.

I think I also blogged about the experience and used a feature image of myself with the caption, “And now for the juggling of produce,” a reminder of my clownish performance at the Grand Rounds. If you look closely, you can see one of the produce items is—you guessed it, an onion.

Years later, I happened to find a video of older people being interviewed on their 100th birthday. They were in Madison. I left a comment saying I thought it was a gas. I still do. Coincidentally, I worked at St. Mary’s Hospital, albeit briefly. I left that comment in 2012, about 3 years after I returned to Iowa.

And, coincidentally I found another video that sends pretty much the same message, pertinent to our times. It was taken for a January 2021 news story about a lady named Mary Gerber who was celebrating her 100th birthday who had volunteered for 33 years at St. Mary’s Hospital and got her first Covid-19 vaccine. 

These coincidences happen only occasionally, but continue to reverberate in our lives, even to this day. I think of the 2002 alien invasion film, Signs. In it, the lead character is Graham Hess, a local pastor who has given up being a minister because he’s lost his faith related to his wife dying in a car accident. He and his brother Merrill are discussing the many lights in the sky (UFOs) that have been seen recently. I think of what he says,

People break down into two groups. When they experience something lucky, group number one sees it as more than luck, more than coincidence. They see it as a sign, as evidence, that there is someone up there, watching out for them. Group number two sees it as just pure luck. Just a happy turn of chance. I’m sure the people in group number two are looking at those fourteen lights in a very suspicious way. For them, the situation is a fifty-fifty. Could be bad, could be good. But deep down, they feel that whatever happens, they’re on their own. And that fills them fear. Yeah, there are those people. But there’s a whole lot of people in group number one. When they see those fourteen lights, they’re looking at a miracle. And deep down, they feel that whatever’s going to happen, there will be someone there to help them. And that fills them with hope. See what you have to ask yourself is what kind of person are you? Are you the kind that sees signs, that sees miracles? Or do you believe that people just get lucky? Or, look at the question this way: Is it possible that there are no coincidences?

Merrill answers “I’m a miracle man.”

I’m not sure yet what group I fall into. Things happen sometimes that make me hope there are miracles.

Rattlesnake Hat vs Hornet’s Nest Snoot Flute

OK, so this should have been in yesterday’s post but I don’t care. You remember I mentioned the guy who wore the live rattlesnake on his head while strolling down State Street in Madison, Wisconsin? Well, in Iowa we have The Sitting Man who wore a hornet’s nest on his nose. It’s all about style points.

Beat that, Wisconsin.

Random Thoughts on the Iowa vs Wisconsin Football Game Today

OK, I know it’s in the books. Wisconsin won the football game with Iowa today, 27 to 7. Anybody can have a bad day. Iowa quarterback, Spencer Petras scored the only touchdown for Iowa. We hope the best for Wisconsin player Clay Cundiff, who had to be taken off the field in an ambulance after a leg injury. You know the game is over when the announcers start chatting about things like Wisconsin player, Braelon Allen, who can squat 610 pounds, and Halloween candy. I’m not going to tell you how early that chatter started.

Actually, I learned something new about the Iowa head football coach staff. It was from a trivia question during the game. Kirk Ferentz and Hayden Fry have been the only head coaches for the Iowa football team since 1979. How many head coaches have the other 13 teams in the Big Ten conference run through in the same time period? The answer is 94 (about 7 per school). Are there 13 or 14? I don’t know but 13 is how many the trivia question mentioned. Details.

How’s that for continuity of leadership? I’d say that’s a win.

Anyway, we tend to have a soft spot for Wisconsin. We visited a couple of times a dozen years ago before moving there briefly so I could try private practice psychiatry. My first vivid memory is of some guy walking down the middle of State Street in Madison wearing a live rattlesnake on his head. I can think of safer hats. But a rattlesnake says something more about you than your fashion sense. I’m just not sure what.

We also visited the Henry Vilas Zoo, where we saw, among other things, a real live badger. It doesn’t look like much. I guess the reason why the Wisconsin football team adopted the name of that animal is that it’s said to be totally fearless.

Madison is a not a huge metropolis but there’s a lot of interesting to see and do. I put on a little weight there from all the great food.

Iowa is a great place to live, too. Where else can you see a huge sculpture of a sitting man on the side of a road?

Ten Month Countdown to Retirement

Starting this month, I’ve got a 10-month countdown to retirement. I was reminded of that when I got a brochure in the mail for the University of Wisconsin 7th Annual Update and Advances in Psychiatry. It’s scheduled for October 11-12, 2019 at the Monona Terrace, which is the usual location.

I’ve received these announcements in the mail every year for longer than 7 years. I’ve never had the time to make it to a single of these meetings. I’ve always been on duty. I’m not sure why they are advertising them as though they started only 7 years ago.

I can remember getting an announcement in 2009 in which the title of the update was Nontrivial Neuropsychiatric Nourishment from Noble Notable Nabobs. How’s that for a sense of humor? There were several like that prior to 2009 but I never kept the brochures. I haven’t seen any brochures like that for the last seven years.

I don’t know who came up with the humorous titles. I wonder if it was Dr. Jefferson. I noticed this year’s brochure had an In-Memoriam notice about James W. “Jeff” Jefferson, MD, who has been a luminary of psychiatry for decades. He was also a major presenter at these psychiatry advances meetings. He was active in psychiatry for over 50 years.

And me? I’m retiring after a much shorter career, by comparison. I’ve been running all over the hospital as a Consult-Liaison Psychiatrist during the busiest time in academic medical centers everywhere–July and the early part of August when senior medical students become full-fledged resident physicians. Newly-minted doctors tend to request many psychiatric consultations. On average I’m putting close to 4 miles and 30-odd floors on my step counter (with C-L psychiatrists, maybe it’s not the years but the miles that count—literally). I’ve not taken vacation during the past 2 years of my current phased retirement contract—and don’t plan one for this final year.

That reminds me of time in 2012 when my wife, Sena, and I went to Madison, Wisconsin on a vacation, the first in a long time. The residents were wondering when I was going to get away. Madison is a great place to visit and we lived there briefly when I took a stab at private practice.

We stayed at the Monona Terrace, which gives a great view of Lake Monona. We loved Olbrich Botanical Gardens. We rented a couple of bikes at Machinery Row Bicycles and rode all the way to Olbrich. The rental bikes were a far sight more affordable than a lot of the ones you could buy. Many were priced at several thousand dollars.

And I found an old copy of Robbins Pathologic Basis of Disease at Browzers Bookshop on State Street. I used that book as a medical student. My class used the nearly 7 pound red 3rd edition containing 1,467 pages. This book is hailed as an outstanding foundational text, which it is. Dr Stanley Robbins has been eulogized as an exacting editor who championed writing of the type espoused by Will Strunk in The Elements of Style.

Not to be picky, but the book contained the phrase “not excessively rare” in reference to some process or disease which I can’t recall. I do recall that a majority of our class howled about this verbiage, which seemed the antithesis of what Strunk tried to teach.

You could see a lot of interesting sights on State Street. During a previous visit, we saw a guy walking down the middle of the street with a rattlesnake coiled on his head, wore it like a hat.

We had a lot of fun in Madison. It’s that kind of relaxed, good time that I want to retire to. Ten months to go.

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