No way! It’s November

It’s been longer than I intended since my last blog post, in part because I’ve been doing more traveling, but I also got sick for a week.  This covers my time from October 31st through now.

The only medicine I was told to take while I was sick was acetaminophen, and since I promised to go back to my neuroscience openers, I thought I would share some of what I learned about acetaminophen (known in the US as Tylenol®). Apparently, it is referred to as paracetamol internationally, or at least in Israel. This caused confusion for a little bit. The brand name in Israel is Acamol®. 

Now, there is an enzyme, cyclooxygenase (COX), that produces prostaglandins, which are lipid molecules that are involved in generating fevers, increasing pain and inflammation, and decreasing blood flow. There are two main types of COX: 1 and 2. Acetaminophen/paracetamol blocks COX2 (active primarily in the central nervous system, skin, and joints) and therefore decreases prostaglandin production. This results in decreased fever and pain.

Ibuprofen (Advil®), on the other hand, blocks COX1, located in the stomach and blood system primarily. So, it decreases fever, pain, inflammation (which is a dilation of blood cells) and thins blood making it flow better.

Now that we know a little bit about two of the drugs we take a lot, here’s what I’ve been doing in November!

October 31st-November 3rd

I went to Paris, France last weekend to meet up with some friends from Wake Forest who are also studying abroad this semester. I had an 18 layover in Bucharest, Romania, which gave me enough time to get a feel or the city. Unfortunately, it was a bitter cold and gloomy day. I took a taxi to a park where there was a free walking tour. I was early, though, so I walked around, got some food, and went into a Starbucks to warm up (continuing my record of visiting a Starbucks in every country!). 

On the walking tour, I met a group of Israelis who were there for a bachelorette party. I was glad to have a chance to practice my Hebrew! 

The tour itself was pretty cool, we went into some old churches and learned about the history of Bucharest (though it was definitely too cold for me to truly call it an enjoyable experience). Apparently, Romania was communist around the same time Bulgaria was. Romania was communist from 1947 to December 1989 and held elections in 1990. Now, they classify as socialistic Democrats. Some of the stories I heard are wild to me, most especially there only being heat two hours a day (once in the morning and once in the evening)—it was FAR too cold for that.

After the tour I went to a dinner place called Taverna Covaci! The soup was delicious! It was some creamy, lentil chicken soup, that went great with the flat bread provided. From dinner I went to a really impressive bookstore. It had a cafe, miniature art gallery, a gaming/video section in it, and a gigantic earth model hanging from the ceiling.

After spending some time there, I walked through this park called Cismigeiu Gardens to get to my hostel. I think it would be really pretty during the day time, but that night it was wet and kind of creepy. I did see some kids dressed up for Halloween, though, which was a nice reminder of home!

As I got to the hostel, I checked in and made my way to bed because I had a 3:30AM wake up call. Unfortunately, the area where everyone hung out was right outside of my room, so I didn’t fall asleep until close to 11:00PM.

The next morning, I took an Uber to the airport, got some breakfast, and boarded my flight to France! I landed at the Paris Beauvis airport, which apparently isn’t the main one. I found this out by texting a friend to ask where he was and we discovered I was about 40 miles away from him! We planned to meet up at the Rodin museum, so I took a bus into the city, found some food, and met four friends in the sculpture garden! It was a good museum, and we got in for free which made it even better!

After the Rodin museum, we walked to Napoleon’s tomb and got some lunch. The tomb is gorgeous! It’s in a gigantic church that also holds the tombs of many other French war heroes. The ceilings were decorated with beautiful paintings, and there was a magnificent golden structure (perhaps a crypt?) that led to the downstairs entrance for Napoleon’s tomb. 

After spending some time there, the five of us went to meet up with three other Wake Forest students at the Picasso museum. We got there early, though, so we went into the gift shop where we met some Israelis! Naturally, I practiced my Hebrew a little, and by that time our friends were arriving so we went inside and enjoyed! There was a special exibit about Picasso’s Magic paintings, which are mainly heads and figures set in the artist’s studio. There’s a lot of metamorphosis that I saw throughout the collection, and it was a great exposure to his work. 

From there, we walked around the city (I ran into a Starbucks!) and found some dinner at a cafe. I had some snails and a classic chicken dish with a virgin lemonade mint drink!

After that we went to the hostel and relaxed for a little bit before going out to see some Parisian nightlife! I was pretty tired, though, so I came back early and went to sleep.

The next morning, we woke up and went to find some crêpes for breakfast (I got a baguette, too, on the way). From the crêpe place, we went to the Louvre, which was amazing. I waited in line fifteen minutes to see the Mona Lisa (smaller than I expected), then went to the Roman and Greek art, Egyptian wing, history of the Louvre (it was a fort apparently!), and French decor/paintings. I wish I had more time to spend there, but now I have a great incentive to go back. 

For reasons that elude me, the group voted for going to a Chipotle…in Paris…for food…so we went! It was a nice taste of home (America), but I still would’ve liked some more French food. We did get to see this guy make the guacamole, though, which was cool, and are pretty sure we have their recipe (it starts with a sink full of avocado. Feel free to email me if you want more details). While we finished up, I made a pit stop at the Apple Store, which was definitely the most beautiful one I’ve been in. There was a wide, open layout, with lots of trees and glass, and of course the new iPhones (those cameras are amazing)! 

From there, we went to the Eiffel Tower, where I went up to the top with one friend while the rest went to a nearby park to hangout. The line to get tickets was about an hour, which was really unfortunate because of the cold and wind. Nevertheless, we made it up, exploring the first and second floor stops (eating some amazing macarons along the way) and taking the elevator to the top! It was pretty cool, but it would’ve been better with nicer weather. I also happen to prefer the view from the Empire State Building, though I can’t articulate why. 

After that we meandered back the hostel and split up into two groups to get food. My group opted for a little French cafe where I had some homemade pesto-pistachio gnocchi (I know, that’s not actually French). It was nice, but not a lot, so I went to get some shawarma from a nearby place before going back to the hostel. Then it was off to bed before a 5:15AM wakeup call!

My friend Alison and I took the subway together on the way to our airports, which was a nice way to say goodbye. Less lonely than taking the subway by myself. At the airport I bought some AMAZING macarons (chocolate and pistachio). They were larger than the ones I had at the Eiffel Tower, which was nice, and I complemented them with a croissant (my first one)! 

I then got to my gate, after eating my way through the other terminal (more macarons and a sandwich) and got on the plane. Unfortunately, there was some mechanical error, so we ended up getting delayed. That was fine because I had scheduled about a 5-6 hour layover in Bucharest, but I ended up not having enough time to go into the city. Alas, I stayed in the airport, watched TV, read, did some homework, and ate more food! An afternoon well spent.

When I got back to Israel, I had to wait in line at the passport station for over an hour, which was brutal. When I got through, I almost ran to catch a bus towards the city center of Jerusalem. I ended up taking a circuitous route home (after taking the wrong bus). Around 2:15AM, though, I finally made it to my apartment and went to bed!

November 4th-7th

Monday and Tuesday were pretty mundane, though still nice. I believe I got dinner Monday from this amazing restaurant nearby (French Hill Falafel), went to the gym, and on Tuesday had some thought-provoking conversations. The first involved the purpose of life from a religious, scientific perspective. 

The Thrive leader, Mo, simply asked me “What is the purpose of life?”I argued that there isn’t necessarily a purpose of life because a purpose has to be defined by someone, or something, outside of the framework in question. Inside the framework, an individual may have a goal. For instance, the purpose of school, as a parent (outside the institution) might explain to their child is to learn information to get into college! The purpose, according to a teacher, might be to learn information for information’s sake (though my previous teachers might disagree, I didn’t actually ask any).

Either of these may be the purpose of going to school for a student, though their individual goal may be to learn about Neuroscience. Likewise, my goal in life—at this point—might be to get into a good graduate and/or medical school so I can learn the necessary skills to have a fruitful career developing medical technologies to improve peoples’ lives; however, that’s not necessarily my purpose in life. 

That night, I also had a discussion with Thrive members about Lashon Hara לשון הרע. Wikipedia says Lashon Hara is a term for derogatory speech about a person, though it differs from defamation in that it is truthful speech, rather than lies, for a wrongful purpose. What I learned in the Thrive discussion was that it involved not speaking ill words or gossiping about someone. I always thought it simply meant one shouldn’t gossip, but Thrive says it’s more than that. For example, if I say that my girlfriend has wonderful tastes in clothes, and she’s not in that conversation, that’s not allowed because it could (as I understand it) invite negative comments. Personally, I think the ideology takes it a little too far. 

Regardless, moving on from the philosophical conversations, I went to a concert Wednesday night with a few friends. It was nice, but far too loud, so after sitting way in the back for a little bit, I went back to the dorms with a friend. She told me about mindfulness meditation which I’ve heard a lot about regarding extending telomere length. 

Telomeres are the protective sheaths on the ends of your chromosomes that may be responsible for aging. You can think of them like the aglets on your shoelaces. As the plastic wears down, the laces get frayed. The same thing happens with your chromosomes, so as the telomeres shorten and chromosomes are exposed, your cells become senescent as a way to protect against DNA damage. This leads to aging!

Anyway, I’m excited to try meditation with her and plan to go soon! That will have to wait for the next blog post, though. Now, I want to share about my weekend trip to Mitzpe Ramon! 

November 8th-9th

We woke up for a 7:00AM departure on Friday where we went to the Ramat Negev Ecological Center. This was basically an agricultural research center that focuses on helping farmers improve their output and make new agricultural innovations.

While there, we watched a video showing the relationships between researchers and farmers in the area and then went to some of the greenhouses where they tested different methods of growing crops. We got to sample (by pulling off from the plants) cucumbers, strawberries, and spinach! They were very tasty, but the best food I tried was the cherry tomatoe.

Apparently cherry tomatoes were first grown in the Negev in Israel, using brackish (salty) water from an aquifer. The guide said that the salty water triggers a compensatory mechanism in tomatoes to maintain equilibrium, so it produces more sugars at the expense of size. Hence the sweet cherry tomatoes! And they were by far the most incredible ones I’ve eaten, so yay!

From the agricultural center we went to an area that has three solar power plants. One plant used photovoltaic cells to directly capture and convert sunlight to electricity. The other two were thermo-solar plants: one was an expanse of parabolic shaped mirrors that concentrates the sunlight and brings oil stored in special tubes to 390 degrees Celsius. That oil is in then used to generate steam through a heat exchanger, which rotates a turbine generator to produce electricity. The other is a gigantic tower with 50,600 mirrors at the top that have special sensors to track the position of the sun and reflect its light to heat up oil, again resulting in steam to rotate a turbine generator to produce electricity. The whole complex generates approximately 2.5% of electricity used in Israel. 

After leaving the research center, we went to speak with a Bedouin on a hill (not sure why we went to a hill) and then to a Bedouin village for lunch (which was in a tent!). We learned about the Bedouin people while eating; while I don’t recall everything, from my understanding, the Bedouin people are historically nomadic throughout the Middle East countries. I got the impression that they are essentially considered second-class citizens in Israel. They don’t have mandatory conscription into the army, nor do they have a lot of formally recognized cities. That said, I believe they are able to serve in the military and there are a few recognized Bedouin establishments. I regret that I didn’t pay more attention to the speaker.

From there, we went to the hostel where I took a nap before going to dinner and a fun game night activity. When we first arrived at the event, we had to give the counselors (that’s what the Hebrew word translates to, but trip leader or student life directors might be more accurate) a random object we brought from home. I gave them my Chapstick, which I immediately regretted when I heard what we were doing. 

We split into five groups of approximately ten people and had to grab two objects at random from the collection and turn them into a product for presenting on Shark Tank. It was a fun event, and there were a lot of creative ideas. My group had a stuffed mouse and an M&Ms box, so we marketed it as a mouse trap that transformed any mouse into M&Ms. 

The second task was a version of antique road show where we took two more objects, from which we chose one, and had to sell it as a priceless family heirloom. We had some glasses so we pretended they were from an alien abduction by our great-great-aunt someone. In the middle of the presentation I was supposed to come out and wipe everyone’s memory like Men in Black, but I came out too soon and it wasn’t the best…oops (sorry Lily!). In hindsight, “wiping” everyone’s memory doesn’t make sense because then they wouldn’t realize how valuable our group’s heirloom was. However, now that I’m writing about it, I think it would’ve worked had I said it was worth five million shekels since immediately after the memory is wiped, people are suggestible, at least in MIB.

The last task was to pick one random object and keep coming up with new uses. The groups who ran out of ideas lost. Not to brag, but we basically won. We had a bottle opener/pocket knife gizmo and kept coming up with the best ideas. For instance, the corkscrew was actually a brain extractor for mummification (still thinking of Egypt, oops!).

Anyway, after the game night (don’t worry, I got my Chapstick back and no one used it!), we all went back to the room and hung out. I played cards with a few friends and then went to bed!

The next morning, we woke up and began our four-hour hike through the Ramon crater. It was really beautiful. The crater was enormous. It took us over an hour to descend into it, and there was a variety of rocks in different sizes, colors, shapes, and—I’m assuming—chemical composition (I love rocks—in another life I might be a geologist)! 

Though I had some great friends to chat with along the way, I actually preferred the Ein Geidi hike from a month or so ago. That area was more ecologically diverse and the water in that area contributed to its prettier vegetation.

Regardless, this was a very nice hike! Afterwards, we all went to lunch (smelling wonderful), took showers and napped. When I woke up, I went to sit on the edge of the crater and relax. I spoke with some friends as the sun was setting, and it was really peaceful. After that, it was time for dinner and then Havdalah before heading back to campus.

As I was packing my bag, I hit my head on the top of my bunk bed in the hostel. Unfortunately, I have a history of concussions and was really worried I had one (I started having a headache right after I hit my head). This gave me a wonderful introduction into the medical care system of Israel. Let’s begin (after some pictures):

November 10th-17th

I slept about fourteen hours Saturday night and when I woke up I wasn’t feeling well, so after calling a few people to see where I could go with my Israeli insurance, I went to this clinic called TEREM. It’s essentially an urgent care office. After waiting for a little bit, I saw two doctors.

There was a language barrier with the first one, but we communicated relatively well. The second was born in America (!) so we communicated perfectly. He said it was unlikely I had a concussion but take a couple days off and rest, don’t do any strenuous physical activity for two weeks, and follow up with a family physician the next day. So, I went home and rested (stopping at Marzipan’s to get some Rugelach because it’s amazing and I wasn’t feeling well). 

The second day, Monday, I went to the family doctor and that was interesting. It took me a while to find because it was in a shopping mall, but once I got there, it was—from what I could tell—individual doctors sharing space and equipment. I think they all paid rent or something. I don’t think it was a practice like you have in America and they’re all employees, though. It was kind of weird. Anyway, when I got called up (in a very little amount of time!), I went to the doctor’s room and it was a little exam area with a curtain separating his desk. He said I was fine, too, and to go home (which I did with another pit stop at Marzipan’s). 

The third day, Tuesday, I was feeling a little better so I met up with a Thrive leader to continue our discussion around noon. We talked about belief in G-D. He had an interesting question/viewpoint: if there was a perfect pile of coins lying in the street, a dime stacked on a nickel stacked on a quarter and you had a $100 to bet whether someone put it there or if that arrangement was random chance, which would you bet on? Logically, it makes sense to bet on someone putting it there. That’s how he can say it makes sense that G-D created the world.

Logically, for everything to work out this perfectly, for humans to be alive on (what as far as we can tell is) the only planet that supports life, someone—or something—had to put us here. I find that an interesting point and I have some reflecting to do on what that means for my views. But I don’t remember much else from that conversation other than my rebuttals involving evolution and the law of large numbers (how, given enough time and enough chances, that perfect stack could happen just as we could happen).

Moving back to my week of misery, around 5:30PM, my head got a really acute pain and my stomach started punching itself from the inside. So, I went to TEREM again, and this time there was a language barrier, but I communicated well enough and showed them my last charts. He said I should go to the ER for a CT scan since I was getting worse. So, that’s what I did. 


The ER was a really interesting experience. Luckily, one of the Thrive leaders helped me get in because there was far too much Hebrew involved for me. It was very weird, though. The “waiting room” was full of nurses bustling people around with IVs and it was more of a hospital corridor. There were a lot of people and not enough chairs. Some curtained beds, sleeping people, and one guy who was yelling in Arabic A LOT (two people next to me said it was good that I didn’t understand him). 

Anyway, my whole experience was waiting for three and a half hours while I watched an intern (doctor) sit behind a desk looking around at people, nurses talking with one another (though some did a lot, to be fair), and me bundled up in a chair in pain. Finally, a surgeon came to speak with me as she was followed by a gaggle of residents making rounds. I never figured out why there was only a surgeon there, but when she examined me, I was essentially told to go home. She said my symptoms weren’t severe enough for the ER. When I said that I was only there for a CT scan she said “Oh. I don’t think you should get one.” She went on to explain it’s a lot of radiation and if I’ve had so many concussions then I shouldn’t get it, and I said I only had one CT scan before, and then we just went back and forth until I didn’t get a CT scan and left. 

That wasn’t fun. The next morning, after not sleeping because I was in so much pain, I went to the family doctor who basically said I have a virus (woohoo!). So, good news: it (most likely) wasn’t a concussion. Bad news: I had a virus. 

And let me tell you, this virus kicked my A$$. I am now writing Sunday Evening, November 17th, after lying in bed (except for doctor’s visits and making rice twice) for a week. I’m still not 100%. I will not go into any medical details, however, if someone wants to look up the purpose of the area postrema, I will say that mine was highly active.

Conclusion:

This blog went from a one-week recap to basically a three-week recap. I’m sorry about that! I have skipped over the mundane aspects of my time, including some school work (I do go to classes!) and the roughly eight hours a day I spent watching Netflix this week. Regardless, I hope you have enjoyed hearing about my November thus far. Since next week is Thanksgiving, I want to wish everyone who celebrates a wonderful holiday! May you gobble til you wobble! 

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