Saturday, January 12, 2013

New Blog


That's my new blog. I spent so much time thinking on what it should be about, but in the end I just decided to write about things important to me. Hopefully, they're topics important to you too. I named it interspiral because of the way seemingly unrelated things in this world tend to interconnect and spiral together. Most of the time it just becomes a big messy tangle. I think everything leaves a ripple effect. While I'm interested in medicine and science, I know that I can't forget about sociology, poverty, literature, politics, or even the weather. So, I'm going to write about it all. Hopefully, you'll join in what will be an interesting, and perhaps controversial, ride.

Monday, December 17, 2012

New Blog coming soon...


For those of you who subscribe to this or happen to check it out of the blue, I want to give a heads up that I'm developing a new blog. This blog was great for me. I loved posting to it and having an outlet for a lot of issues that touch me very deeply, but it is too raw to keep going. Now that I'm back in America, that style of posting would just be too volatile and I'm not ready for strangers to start leaving mean comments about things I really care about. I've wanted to be a "Blogger" for a long time now, but I also love writing off the cuff. This new blog will be my first attempt at blogging with a preplanned theme and actual editing before publishing. Maybe I'll even be a bit tech savvy and include photos, videos, and links (yea that crazy stuff). Tentatively the theme will be science-y things in our daily lives that we never think about. How important is that baby toe of ours? How does a person run?

Fun fact: The running/walking motion we're so used to thinking is a "voluntary" action can actually happen without any brain control. We can control it, but we really don't need to for it to happen.

I'm hoping that with all the crazy awesome things I'll be discovering in medical school next year that this blog will be at least a once a week affair. Stay tuned...

All the best (and Happy Holidays!)


Friday, October 12, 2012

I'm in America. What?!

It's been quite a while since I've written and I hope you all know that I'm no longer in Cambodia. I managed to finish service with all my limbs intact though my liver did take a beating from dengue. Now that I've been back in the states for about a month I see more clearly the value of changing your surroundings and of blogging about it. Going from country to country and culture to culture forces you to compare and contrast both your own actions and others. By blogging about it I take events that particularly strike me and process it through the written word. The reason I bring it up now is that this process hasn't stopped and I think I'm going to keep writing about it.

When I first arrived in Cambodia everything was difficult and everything was new. I spent a lot of time taking in new information and trying to process it. I kept trying to understand it all using the set of social rules that I learned growing up in America. As time past, I began to compare it going the other way. Why do I do certain things when they don't really make any sense? This has only gotten more prevalent now that I am back in America and so many things that Americans take as normal are just odd to me.

For example, why are we so obsessed with cleaning?! People in America HATE finding a single stray hair in their food. Hair is not that dirty and it's just a strand of protein. Also, each human being loses tons of hair everyday. Think about all the places that you've been in the last few hours. I guarantee,  unless you're completely bald, that you've left hair and dead skin in every single place. I understand the need for sterility in medical locations or research labs, but finding a hair in your food is pretty normal. It's only unusual because we take pains to make sure it never happens.

We're so obsessed with being clean that we don't realize what we're actually doing to ourselves. People reflexively use industrial cleaners, hand sanitizer, strong detergents without actually thinking about the consequences down the line. Is exposure to bleach on a regular basis worth killing those few bacteria that your body can easily fight off worth it? On top of that is killing all those regular,normal bacteria worth it? Believe it or not they play a role in fending off other illnesses. Think of it this way. You're living in the forest and there are a lot of animals. Monkeys, birds, raccoons, tigers, etc. Normally the tiger hunts the other animals because it's natural and easier. Maybe some tigers are even killed by some animals or illnesses, thereby making you safer. Now imagine you cleaned the forest so all the dirty animals and bacteria are gone. The only things left are you and the tiger. The tiger is going to eat you because there is nothing else between you and the tiger.

This might be an extreme and unbelievable analogy, but the point is that our obsession with cleaning is killing an ecosystem. We are built to live with bacteria and bacteria live within us. Most of us even have a few viruses (think chickenpox). This is the norm. But, society tells us to clean clean clean!

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Was it Worth It?

I think this is one of the most common questions I get asked and I’ll probably have to answer it a hundred more times. I think throughout my service and now that my service is done I have always answered YES. That is the simple answer. Was the last two years of my life worth it? Yes.

I might have gotten a dozen diseases, had thousands of awkward moments, been frustrated, angry, victimized, bored, and tired--so so tired. But, I also came away with an overwhelming sense that one person can change the world. I’m not saying that I have and I have also learned so much about how horribly good intentions can go wrong, but I have worked with some incredible and passionate people. It’s not that one person creates all the change, but passion is contagious and the world needs people who can be responsible leaders. Often, a community just needs a catalyst-- that extra push to galvanize the people. The hardest part is to identify what that catalyst is. Sometimes it’s a person who doesn’t give up and holds themselves to a high standard of responsibility. I really see that now and I am going to work my hardest to become that person. 

Friday, August 31, 2012

My Epic COS Adventure (Part 1)

Here are some highlights: giardia, dengue, medevac, Thai sweets fest, Thai dairy fest, 5 star hotel-hospital, hit and run.

End of July- Going away parties

I threw a going away party for my students. We all gathered at my house and I made a Chinese dish (tomato and eggs) and an ‘american’ dish (pasta). They all brought me presents and food and we had a huge feast with lots of picture taking of course. Some highlights, one girl had her aunt make me an elephant out of leather. It looks sort of like a paper puppet, but definitely one of my favorite gifts. Everyone loved the tomato and eggs, I guess its just a combo no one has ever tried before here. They all also tried to use my party as an excuse not to go to class (though it is summer vacay), but I made them all go anyway.

The second party was thrown for me by my health center. My director and Khmer tutor were in cahoots and invited all the village health volunteers. It was good to see everyone one last time and take  pictures. I got a present from the HC which was an Angkor Wat snow globe, a shirt made from a pashmina scarf, a handbag, and an apsara dancer statue. Of course they made me change on the spot into the shirt so we could all take pictures, I also had to hold my new handbag(see picture below). The most important part were the certificates. I got two certificates. One from the health center and one from my khmer tutor. For those of you that are unfamiliar, a certificate of completion or congratulations, or whatever is extremely revered in Cambodia. Nothing is complete without a certificate. So, it was really touching that they thought I needed them before I left.

july 31-Aug 2

I left for Phnom Penh on July 31 2012. My host family all got up super early to send me to the bus station in Siem Reap. I hugged one of my aunts goodbye and she almost cried which is a big deal because Cambodian adults almost never cry. I’ve even had a person ask me once if I was embarrassed that I cried in public (one time and they’ll never forget it). All the kids, my host parents, my other aunt, and I all got into the car and we left at like 6am. I was supposed to meet Kurt and I knew he wouldn’t make it until 10am.

Luckily we stopped in Pouk which is the big district town halfway to Siem Reap. Everyone got out and had breakfast at a restaurant! That is a big deal because we never eat at restaurants. And they kept wanting to get me coffee so I relented even though I knew it was probably not a good idea before a 7 hour bus ride. We get to Siem Reap around 8am and it’s a little awkward because I know they don’t want to wait until 10 and they don’t want to leave me. But I insist that they go back. Watching little Hoy, the 3 year old, waving goodbye to me from the car as they drove away almost made me burst into tears at the bus station. That’s probably the last time I’ll ever see them again.

Leaving site is a mixed bag. On the one hand, my village drove me crazy sometimes. Eating Cambodian food all the time and craving American/Chinese food all the time. The lizard that keeps pooping in my bed. The constant mosquito bites. Nothing ever happening on time. Always having to be careful about what I wear, what I say, what emotions I show. It wears on you. But, at the same time I have met some amazing people, worked with some really inspiring students, and my host mom is second to none in terms of hard working strong women.  She pretty much raised her children on her own cause my host dad was in the army and she never stops.  Cambodia can also be very beautiful. There have been so many days where I just sit and stare at the sky, amazed at how far I can see and how beautiful the clouds are. I’m really going to miss the tropic weather and the landscape.

Ok. So Kurt and I finally meet up and it’s a bit of a struggle to get two mountain bikes, a trunk, plus everyone’s bags in the bottom of the bus, but we make it work (as we always do). When we get to PP it’s late evening already, but we wanted to get there because Saeed is making us dinner! Saeed is one of my closest friends in Cambodia. We were neighbors all through training and I’m sure I drove him crazy. He is extending for a third year and I’m so proud of all the great work he’s done. As part of his third year, he moved to PP and got his own place, which is huge for  PCV in Cambodia. Many of us have no choice in what we eat, when we eat, or where we eat. We have no choice in our room. If I need to go to the bathroom at night I have to leave my room, walk through another room full of people, open up a bolted door which wakes everyone up, walk out to the back, and hopefully there’s electricity for the bathroom light. Saeed can now just walk to the bathroom.

It’s us, Andrea, Justin, Alan, and Garrett. A great group of PCVs to eat delicious chicken curry and rice together.

The next few days are a blur of getting paperwork signed and checked off. By Aug 2nd I have, on paper, COSed and become an RPCV. The only thing I’m waiting for now is Midnight on Aug 3rd, the official date.  So of course, we go out dancing. I can’t drink any alcohol because I was diagnosed with Giardia and I had to take the meds that night, but dancing with everyone was a lot of fun. Kurt and I get back around 2am and fall asleep right away. We have a 7am bus to catch the next day.

Aug 3rd- Dengue

I wake up at 6am and start packing. I feel really tired and nauseous, but I figured that was a combo of going dancing and giardia meds. Last time I took giardia meds I felt extremely nauseous and the next two days I had really bad stomach pains. So, I thought nothing was out of the ordinary. The bus ride up was hell. We had the back seats in a speeding van so I felt every bump and turn.  An hour or two into the ride I was curled up in the fetal position trying to sleep. I thought a benadryl would help. It did help me sleep. By the time we got to the hotel, around 1pm I could barely stand. I took my temp and it was pretty high. Unfortunately, the reason we rushed back to Siem Reap was to meet Kurt’s parents who were coming to visit. I was really looking forward to it and going back to Angkor Wat one last time. I did manage to meet Kurt’s parents under my fever induced haze and what little time I spent with them was great. But, the next day I got my blood tested at the hospital and it came up positive for dengue. I almost convinced the doctor to let me stay in Siem Reap instead of sending me to PP which is the usual since the PC docs are in PP. But in case of emergencies I needed to be in PP so I could be medevac’ed, which is exactly what ended up happening.

So yea, on Aug 5th I had to take that excruciating van ride back to PP and this time there was no Kurt to take care of me so I had to rely on the internet and the kindness of fellow PCVs. Brian Peterson brought me some much needed food and some of the most delicious oranges I ever had. Vaughn is a great conversationalist even when you have dengue.
*Did I forget to mention that the van I was in hit a person while driving on the highway? Yea, apparently it was a mentally ill homeless person who stepped into the street. Of course, we didn’t stop and the guy is probably no longer alive due to the large amount of blood pooling out of his head. Surprisingly, the phnom penh police actually pulled the van over. Probably the first time I’ve seen the police do their jobs quickly and efficiently (or at all).  Unfortunately, usually little or no justice will be served to anyone. But, probably someone will make a lot of money off of this.

On the 7th, I was sent to Bangkok. If you can believe it that commute was way worse than the bus ride. First, I had to lug my stuff to the office, pay attention to instructions, and then I had to wait 2-3 hours until I could get a ride to the airport. Then at the airport I could barely manage to push my cart to the check in counter. And my flight was delayed. Except, none of the airline staff bothered to tell any of the passengers that it was delayed. There was zero communication. When I get to Bangkok, I go through all the check, get my luggage, walk to the taxi stand and from then on I don’t walk a step. I literally go from taxi to wheel chair to bed to another bed. By the time I’m in my hospital room it’s a bit past midnight. Keep in mind that the entire time I am super nauseous. I was so close to throwing up all over these two guys in suits while we were in the airport shuttle. Somehow I made it to the hospital room before I threw up.  This was all sort of expected. In a way a very characteristically Cambodian end to my time in Cambodia.

Aug 7th to Aug 16th- Bangkok

Let me tell you, if you are ever hospitalized you want to be hospitalized at Bumrangrad Hospital in Bangkok. It is a 5star hotel combined with an excellent hospital at a price many Americans can afford. The most expensive part will probably be the flight to and from Thailand. This hospital was pretty much built for medical tourism. They even extend your visa for you. Medical tourism is when foreigners go to another country for medical care. Often they do this because the quality and price combo beat anything they can get in their own country. And it was a wonderful experience besides the dengue.

The first three days in hospital were bad. I was super tired all the time and I had to lug around this IV which is a lot harder than it looks. Especially cause mine was automated and had all these wires, which is pretty hard to untangle in the dark in the middle of the night in a dengue/just woke up to pee haze. Also, IVs make you want to pee a lot.  I was also woken up by people showing up in my room like 20 times a day/night. Temp, bp, food, taking away food, customer service, food menu, restocking free tea/water, changing IV, consulting doc. It was a lot. I’m so lucky I had Kurt to help me. He came on the 8th and he was familiar with the hospital area since he had visited another PCV when he came for his GRE.  He got to stay on the couch in my hospital room for free the entire time.

So, what made me feel so bad was my extremely inflamed liver. Apparently, it was so inflamed that they thought I had Hepatitis. Which I didn’t. Dengue is a systemic disease so it mucks up pretty much everything. For a while my platelet count was also plummeting and I almost needed a transfusion, but I began recovering before that was necessary. I think I was probably discharged on the 11th or 12th and moved into the hotel across the street. They wanted to keep me around for blood tests because my liver was still pretty bad, no alcohol or certain medications for a couple months. Also, when I told the doctor I was going to India he sort of didn’t want me to go, but I eventually did go. I think I’ve become a bit more stubborn about things since being in PC.

Over the next couple of days Kurt and I just went around Bangkok. I wanted to get moving so I could begin recuperating for India. Too bad having Dengue left me as weak as a newborn lamb. On the first day we walked around to a park and having walked for 3 or 4 hours I almost fainted . Normally, walking for 3 or 4 hours is no problem. I think I recuperated by watching Brave and eating 7eleven. One of the perks of the hospital was nausea medication, but now that I was out I didn’t have it anymore and heat/tiredness also makes me nauseous. After the park we sort of took it easy. We went to a sweets festival and  dairy festival.  Both had many delicious free samples, but I think we probably had to take 5 different forms of transportation to get to them.  Over the course of 4 or 5 days, Kurt and I took taxis, tuk tuks, boat, public bus, railroad, MRT, BTS,  and walked. Bangkok is pretty awesome. Also, the food is so much better...

By the 16th, my liver function tests were pretty much normal and I was feeling good because, not only was it my birthday, but it was time to fly to INDIA!!! I have pretty much wanted to go to India for the past two years and not even dengue could stop me from going. Also, Kurt gave me an awesome camera to replace the one that broke earlier so expect some crazy pictures soon. At around 3pm, I landed in Delhi dengue free and ready for an adventure.  

Friday, July 27, 2012

Last Day of Work!!!

Wow, these past few weeks have gone by so quickly. I had my last day of class yesterday in which I admitted that teaching these kids has been my absolute favorite part about working in Cambodia. I'm pretty sure that without them I wouldn't have made it through my service. We're having a small get together this afternoon. Originally it was supposed to be a lunch thing. I had bought pasta and sauce from Siem Reap and I was going to make it for them. I'm still doing that, but for some reason they didn't understand that it replaced lunch. Instead this will be second lunch for them...

As going away presents for most people I printed out a couple of pictures and I've been giving them out slowly each day. Just like each day my room gets a little emptier, but somehow manages to look just as messy as before. It's weird going around and thinking that this might be the last time I bike to the health center or almost fall face first in a pile of mud and cow shit. Yes, I even miss the slippery muddy ditch filled roads because I know that New York City won't have anything like it.

I've been pretty busy these past few weeks which is why I haven't been updating so much. I submitted my application to matriculate into medical school in August 2013. That was about 2 months ago now...and since then it's been a furious race to write and revise essay after essay. The way applying to medical school works is that you spend months/years preparing for the MCAT and the AMCAS application. The AMCAS is considered the primary application which you must submit to all the schools you're interested in...this year it cost 160 for the first school and 33 for each successive school. I applied to 16.

Once that's done you wait for about a month (I submitted June 5th the first day available). Around the beginning of July schools start sending you secondary applications which cost between 70 to 120 dollars each to submit. On average it's 100 bucks a pop. In addition to all the money you're giving them you also have to write all these essays. It wouldn't be so bad if the schools coordinated and set similar word limits or questions, but each school just has to do their own thing. One school might ask a typical question such as "What did you do after you graduated?", but they would have a 300 word limit whereas another school has a 2000 character limit and another has a 100 word limit. It just drives me batty trying to keep track of it all. Especially, since at the peak I had about 5 drafts being written and revised simultaneously. I definitely couldn't have survived this without Kurt helping me revise almost every essay and my other friends who came in when I needed a new perspective. It's really really hard to find people to help your writing when you're the most fluent English speaker around for 16km and people in America are super bad at replying to emails.

I think something that I didn't expect to happen was how much more I value face-to-face conversations. Even if it's just to make a simple request I really prefer to do it in person because email and telephone just exacerbate the breakdown of communication. I've also realized that the majority of people don't know how to listen and they don't know that they don't know. It's also much harder to ignore someone than to ignore an email. I understand that sometimes you save an email for later, but so many people just forget. If I came up to you in person you'd give me an answer right away. Unless you're extremely rude, I don't think you turn away and mumble to yourself about saving it for later and then forget about me. That's why there are some people I almost never email and if something needs to be a done a phone call or personal visit is the only way. I think for those of you that knew me before Cambodia you can tell from this preference how much I've changed over the past two years.