Wednesday, August 31, 2005

This is our debate

Driving to a friend's house last night, I saw a news advertisement on the side of the road that read "KATRINA: THIS IS OUR TSUNAMI." Firstly, I was suprised to see such widespread coverage of the hurricane here in South Africa. Before the storm, this was a story only followed by American news sites. But yesterday and today, the story was covered on the front page of several South African newspapers. So Katrina certainly made it to South Africa in the form of news coverage, if only amidst the aftermath.

I found an article in the Daily News (a Durban newspaper) and learned that the author of this quote was mayor AJ Holloway of Biloxi, Mississippi (I have since found it in many international newspapers). I thought about it a moment, and recalled the unimaginable death and destruction that occurred with the Tsunami that hit countries in the Indian Ocean in late 2004. Over 100,000 deaths, millions who were already poor lost everything they owned. I do not at all want to detract from the very dangerous hurricane that struck the Gulf Coast, but really, there is no comparison as far as sheer numbers are concerned. Sure, they both were both tragic natural disasters that resulted in flooding and devastating high waters. But in my mind, this is like comparing Hiroshima and Nagasaki to September 11th. They were both deliberate events, but are vastly different when you compare them on a scale of death and destruction. Not to mention the fact that those in New Orleans were well warned about the hurricane and had ample time to evacuate while Asian islanders were struck by flooding with absolutely no warning at all.

I worry that this is an example of some American's view that when it happens to us, its so much more important and dramatic than anywhere else in the world. Its a thought I have had lately, but dont know how much stock to put in a concern like this. It seems like every one is guilty of this accusation, including myself.

So while I feel nothing but genuine concern for those who lost their homes, their loved ones, or even their pets in Lousiana, Alabama, and Mississippi, this was no Tsunami. And I would feel the same if Katrina had flattened my home in Galveston.

Ok, I am getting potentially political here. I fear the backlash of someone who might have been affected by Katrina (and if so, I apologize in advance). I hope I havent offended anyone. But I would be curious to hear what others think. Is the devastation caused by Katrina comparable to the recent Tsunami that struck India, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Indonesia? Is it appropriate or disparaging to make such comparisons? I dont necessarily know the answer the these questions, but would like to hear your thoughts. Please feel free to leave rational, respectful comments.

Flight to Fight in Durban

Believe it or not, there is actually something worse than a mailbox full of junk email. Its weblog full of junk comments. I woke up yesterday to find comments on my weblog made by lawyers looking for clients who have mesothelioma from asbestos. Could there be anything more insulting to a medical student? Apparently people with automated comment generators leave thousands of mindless, useless comments on weblogs all over the world in an effort to generate business. These people are worse than those who flood your mailbox with emails informing you about purchasing Viagra online or the wealthy relative of yours who died overseas and needs to leave you a million dollars if you just reply with some banking details.

As my good friend Blake sarcastically put it: "I was looking for a good accountant in India and an online college degree. Thanks to the comments section on Cully's site, I found both. Yeah capitalism!"

These people are whats wrong with the world and if any of you (and you know who you are) happen to be reading this right now, I challenge all of you to a fight. Just meet me in Durban, and its on (you must obviously use your dirty money to pay for the flight).

I changed the settings once again to request word verification when leaving a comment. Word verification requires you to type those funky-shaped letters into the webpage when signing up for things online. Since it takes an actual person to read the letters, automated programs cant do it. We'll see if this helps. If not, I may need to change it so that only registered users can leave comments. But hopefully, this will do the trick.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005


So Katrina certainly took its toll on Louisiana and New Orleans last night. There were apparently thousands huddled in the Superdome for shelter. But even the superdome, in all of its 1980's concrete glory couldn't stand up to Katrina. Big chunks of the roof apparently flew off. I found most of these pictures from No word yet from the first year medicine resident I mentioned in the previous entry, but I received this email from a 4th year med student at Tulane who was no where near the hurricane. Still, I thought he sent a hilarious email, though many of his emails are:

"Actually there was a mandatory evacuation of the city and I went with some friends of mine to atlanta (I've spent the evening sitting in a hottub drinking margaritas). Apparently 80% of the city left. My roommate, who stayed ( he decided that since he had a
dog, the extra large pack of nutterbutters and a hunting rifle that he was prepared for staying) , is an idiot but I am secretly jealous of, since he has earned bragging rights for staying in NOLA during the worst hurricane in a decade. He's told me that the streets are full of water and there are a bunch of old uprooted oaks in some of the nicer neighborhoods. The poorer neighborhoods are underwater (some of the levys were breached) as are a bunch of the suburbs and a good chunk of the gulf coast MS and AL. They say that parts of the city will be without power for two months, and you have to boil the water before drinking it. I'm going to try to get back on wed, if the roads are OK and NOLA itself is clear enough of trees to drive around. I figure going without electricty or water for a few days will be like camping

So, now its back to following things here in South Africa. Sorry to deviate from what this weblog is really supposed to be about, but I am a little obssessed with hurricanes and storms, especially since I have moved to Galveston. More exciting news like "What my New Apartment Looks Like" will undoubtedly top any story generated by a category 5 hurricane striking the most vulnerable city on the Gulf Coast.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Underwater Residency

I found this guy's weblog who is ferociously covering Katrina. He gets updates from people on cell phones that have decided to wait out the storm. Likely more up to date reports than many of the news broadcasters. Especially as he seems to post about every 10 minutes.

Then I discovered the plight of a Tulane first year resident working at Charity Hospital in New Orleans while Katrina ravages his city. He seems to think its an awful thing to happen to a guy. Personally, I think I would see it as about the only good reason to remain in New Orleans and watch the storm.

Regardless, keep all those along the coast of Lousiana and Mississippi in mind. There are still thounsands who stayed behind. I've read that several thousand alone are camped out in the Superdome. Wouldnt be my first choice, but probably better than the French Quarter.


Latest image of Katrina taken from NOAA. This is a very big and dangerous storm and I worry about all those along the coast of Louisiana and Mississippi. Also see the National Hurricane Center.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

The Comment Box

I just changed the settings so that anyone can leave a comment on this weblog. Previously, you had to be a registered user to leave comment. Still, leave a name so I can track you down if I dont like what you say. Either way, now you can all inform me about grammatically erroring and incorrect word userness.

Near Miss(issippi?)

So Katrina likely wont be heading to the Texas coast. Will be yet another near miss. Regardless, its a scary thought that a category 5 hurricane will directly hit New Orleans. Very dangerous storm for a very vulnerable place.

Katrina still managed to stir up some good waves for those surfing the Texas coast. I stole this shot from the Surf Specialties Surf Report. I am jealous of Sheldon, TJ, Jake, Jeff (Cone, that is), and anyone else that will be enjoying this swell without me (I would love to hear about it guys). Yes, I know, I live in one of the world's greatest surfing cities. But there is something exciting about surfing hurricane generated waves in the gulf. Everyone gets excited and I get pummeled by breaks much taller than myself. Still, its a cool time to be near the beach in G-town. Even if you dont surf, I highly reccommend heading down to the seawall to take a look.

Speaking of the beach, check out this guy doing some sport that I dont even know the name of. Maybe its like kite skiing? Kylie and I sat at a beach side cafe in Umhlanga Rocks (pronounced oom-shlonga). We drank beers and coffee and watched kite surfers sail up and down the beach in front of us. Kite surfing has to be one of the coolest (and probably most difficult) sports there is. Then, we saw this guy sliding down the beach on sand skis. Not quite as exciting as the kite surfers, but certainly original. You obviously cant see it, but he is being pulled by a giant kite. Even the local South Africans looked perplexed.
So, I do actually do more than go to the beach and get my haircut here in South Africa. Monday I go back to work and will do much less exciting things like collect sputum and examine rashes. Important activities, but not exactly picture worthy. Its strange how much of my life revolves around sputum these days...

My Haircut

Yep, its shorter.

Yes, I am aware that: 1) I am posting picutres of myself on the internet 2) I am doing so while living in an exciting, exotic country 3) That there are much more intersting topics on which to write about 4) That the Loreal ad in the background gives away the fact that I actually went to a salon 5) That I should have left it long.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Hurricanes and Springboks

Much thanks to everyone who has responded so positively to my over-zealous email campaign on Friday. It was great to hear from so many of my close friends in the states and it was encouraging to hear such a positive response about this weblog. I hope to write emails back to all of you soon. You are all great and I appreciate every update, response, encouragement, and snide remark you send to me over here.

This morning, we watched the South African Springboks loose a heartbreaking match to the New Zealand All Blacks in the Tri-Nations Rugby World Cup (link to story). The Tri Nations is an international rugby tournament innvolving the 3 big teams in the Southern Hemisphere: New Zealand, South Africa, and Australia. I have harbored allegance to all 3 teams at various times, having lived or traveled in each country in the past. But today, I was all for the Springboks. Mainly because if they won the game today, they would win the entire tournament. But the All Blacks managed a try in the last few minutes of the game to keep the tournament going. Final score was 31-27.

Rugby is a big deal down here. There was a time back in the day when it was a big deal to me as well (I played for 3 years in college, and spent a semester playing for Murdoch University in Perth). There is something very exciting about international sport. It takes on an emotional investment that is often lacking in pro sports in the states. Could you imagine if the USA played Canada in football, and it was a close game? That is what these tournaments are like for most in these 3 countries south of the equator.

In news that might relate to those of you in the Lone Star State, hurricane Katrina currently has a 14% chance of hitting my beloved Galveston Island (Katrina strike probabilities). She has been gaining strength in the gulf and is heading west right now. They predict that Katrina will head NW into Louisiana, and I hope they are right. Not only because I want my UTMB friends to be safe, but because I have been waiting for a hurricane for 3 years now!!! So I leave the country and NOW one is heading our way!?!? I want to be there to surf the swell, enjoy the hurricane parties, and stand on the Flagship at a 45 degree angle while 100 mph winds keep me from falling forward! While I do love a good storm, I hope Katrina is a mild one and doesnt cause too much harm to anyone.

So much more to write about. Plus some cool pictures of kite surfers I took today. Should be posted soon.

Friday, August 26, 2005

The Anxiety of the Mass Email

So I just sent out emails to well over 200 people telling them about this weblog. Somehow, I worry that the product will not reflect my massive marketing campaign. If you are let down, I apologize for dragging you here. If you like what you see, leave a comment and I will be more likely to keep writing and posting.

Not to metion the fact that people who may not have heard from me in years just got an email from one estranged Cully Wiseman. I have mixed feelings about this. Anxiety being the dominant feeling. I sent that email to ex-girlfriends, medical school professors, my high school chemistry teacher, and many people that are much cooler, smarter, and more creative than me. Oh crap, what did I do? What will they think of me?

Ok. Relax. This is the anxiety that comes with sending an email to way too many of your friends, family, and high school teachers (most of whom are still cooler, smarter, and more creative than me). So here is my log in all its mundane glory. Maybe it will grow into something more significant than it already is. I hopefully will someday move the whole thing to its own webpage but for now this is what I have to offer.

This is Vulindlela, CAPRISA's rural AIDS treatment center. Its located about an hour north of Durban. I go there once a week to hang my laundry on this barbed wire fence in the sun (I only had these 4 items this week). Its a long drive, but well worth it for dry clothes at the end of the day.

Kylie and her new friend give high fives to their respective imaginary friends.

A few weeks in

So I have been living in Durban a few weeks now. Its been great. The first week was spent racing around Durban in our crappy little Ford Sapphire. We stayed at a hotel ( that was located on a rather precipitous hill. This hill had to have been at a 45 degree angle and was heavily occupied by angry Durban drivers. Imagine me, pulling out into traffic BACKWARDS, shifting gears with my left hand, trying not to shift into first, stalling, rolling backwards into the enthusiastic honks and complaints of oncoming traffic. This was my nightmare every morning. I have some experience driving a stick on the other side of the road (they obviously drive on the left here), but its still a shock to have to jump into this with no practice. Luckily, Kylie was there to laugh at me everytime I stalled the Sapphire.

After much debate and discussion. We settled on a small studio apartment in a really nice suburb of Durban. We live in one of the few places in town where it feels safe to go for a stroll at night. Our apartment is actualy attached to a much larger house, that is likely nicer than any house I have ever lived in. Monkeys raid our backyard once a week (see picture below). Kylie's favorite thing to do there is sleep on the big comfortable purple couch. She occasionally cooks and talks to me as well.

I think when a lot of people hear South Africa, they only hear the Africa part, and imagine mud huts, spears, and natives. My favorite response is "Oh really, which country in South Africa?" The big South African cities are nothing like what most people would imagine. Durban is a cosmopolitan city of over 2.5 million people. There are beaches, squatter villages, museums, slums, yacht clubs, and night clubs. What is fascinating about this place is the contrast. For exampls, our neighborhood is quite nice. Imagine a trendy residential area of San Francisco right next to a strip of bars and restauraunts. However, you can drive 5 minutes and be amidst some of the most profound poverty in the world. In a sense, its why I am here. You can live for a year in an exciting, interesting city and yet work with some of the most ill and overlooked people on the planet.

I am working at an organization called CAPRISA ( which stands for Center for the AIDS Programme of Research in South Africa. SARLAH (South Africans really like acronyms here). I spend most of my days at a the CDC (Center for Comminicable Diseases), a large tuberculosis treatment center in the middle of the city. This place is located smack in the middle of the aformentioned dangerous neighborhoods. You dont want to go walking here at night or even the daytime for that matter.

CAPRISA has their own side building to this very large TB clinic that treats the HIV/TB coinfected patients. That is really what I am here to study. All those coughing, sick patients coinfected with the two most important diseases of our time. Right now I see patients and enroll them into our studies.

I like this because 1) treating patiens with HIV in South Africa is such a phenomonal thing. They are sick, there is medicine that can help, and we get to give it to them. Its a privelage and its one of the many reasons I chose to work with this group. 2) CAPRISA is really trying to answer some fundamental questions about how to treat patients with HIV and TB. Most of the burning HIV treatment questions were addressed by American researchers in the 90's and antiretroviral therapy became more prevalent. But now, as ARV gets out to the millions of Africans who are currently effected, many more questions arise. One of these is the question of how to best treat the TB/HIV coninfected patient.

Ok, that is probably a little too much information, even for those come from a medical background. How about we stop, I'll post some pictures, and then I will actually get to work for the day (it is 9:05 afterall).

More to come.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

I took this picture from our bedroom window early one morning. A group of monkeys storm the area about once a week in search of food.

Here is the consumed wine collection so far. Not bad for our first week... Posted by Picasa

Bus full of South African kids. Posted by Picasa

Kylie looking at the Valley of 1,000 Hills outside Durban. Posted by Picasa

Cully and Kylie at North Beach in Durban. Posted by Picasa

Here is what the vast majority of South Africa looks like. Posted by Picasa

This is a valley in South Africa where the government promised to build houses for the homeless. The last time I was here, they had run out of money, and the houses were nothing more than foundations. It took them a while, but now people actually live these 2 room brick houses, most actually have electricity and water. Posted by Picasa

What am I doing here?

It’s a question some might be asking of me at this point. It’s a question I find myself asking at various times myself. Why would a 26 year old medical student who is one year away from doctorhood leave his friends, his family and move to a place where most of the country is poor and sick? Some people totally understand. They might even be excited and wish that they could come along for the ride. Its always nice to run into those people, and it’s the way most of my close friends have reacted.
For other people, its often a conversation haulting realization. They ask what I do, where I am in medical school. I tell them I am actually taking a year off to do AIDS research in South Africa. Then they look at me with a sense of confused pity in their eyes and say “Oh, right… so, like, what are you doing that for?” This comment often comes from those corporate types who realize that there is obviously no money to be made or career advancement to be had in treating poor ass sick people in South Africa. Several weeks ago when I was in DC for my training, I just stopped telling people who I thought wouldn’t understand. I went out with group of friends from Vanderbilt. The people who knew me well from college understood why I was going. It was their friends who seemed to almost feel sorry for me, as if this were something that happened to me, not something that was actually sought after and competed for. Its like I was telling them I had cancer, or just got sentenced to a year in prison. I would love to explain why, and have them understand, but I typically dont try. So thanks to all of you who do understand.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Kylie not so happy after flying over the Atlantic to London.  Posted by Picasa

Happy Kylie in New York (to be contrasted with tired Kylie in London. Posted by Picasa

Kylie, Lisa, and Cully just before the flight from NYC to London. Posted by Picasa