Flu Tip

Some myths about the H1N1 from the guys of Mythbusters.

The Toilet Man

When I walked into my office building today, I thought it was going to be like any other day. Go to my office. Drop off my bag. Take out my lunch from my bag and go to the pantry room to put it in the fridge. Fill up my water bottle. Get a cup of coffee. Go back to my office. And really begin the day.

Of course, that all changed when I got out of the elevator and heard my boss yelling out my name.

A few weeks ago, she emailed my department asking for volunteers for an internal training video that they were doing on hospital room infection/contamination. I replied late and said that if they were in a bind and were up for my William Shatner-style of acting, then I’d be down. Never heard back from her, so I figured I wasn’t selected – which is fine. It adds to my growing number of audition rejections that includes MTV’s Real World and a Kaiser Permanente commercial ad.

Well, apparently they were in a bind. They were shooting the video this morning and needed someone to play a male patient. My boss asked if I was free, so I checked my schedule and I was. Within an hour, I was taking the bus down to the main hospital campus and went to the hospital room where they were shooting the video. They gave me a hospital gown to put over my work clothes, taped an IV tube on my arm, and gave me my directions.

My role was a male patient who had gone to the bathroom. My directions were to flush the toilet, move my IV unit outside the bathroom door, wash my hands as I talked to my nurse, and then go back holding the IV unit. The point is that I had contaminated the IV machine with my unwashed hands and that the nurse contaminated herself by touching the same spot afterwards. Seemed simple enough, though I did ask what my motivation was. I also asked if they wanted me to go to the bathroom for real. There was no scripted dialogue either, so I was allowed to improvise and say whatever came natural to me. They were in trouble for doing it.

We ended up doing something like 8-9 different takes of the scene. As a side note, this should only be like a 1 minute scene. There was a lot of discussion about the angle they should shoot the scene. There was even a debate whether or not I should flush the toilet. After getting through 2 complete takes of the scene, it was a wrap and they moved on to the next scenes. I changed back to my work clothes and soon after, took the bus back to my office building. And it was just about when I got to my office and saw my office-mate, when it hit me.

I am now the Toilet Patient of the hospital. Or at least to those who see me in the video for whatever training purposes they are using it for. What a way to start out at a new place, eh?

The Quarter Life Crisis

Most of us have heard of the term “mid-life crisis” before, but I think the more appropriate term that most people at our stage in life can relate to is the term “quarter-life crisis.” Now how does one define this syndrome? Well, it’s simple. It’s a period in your life, I would say anywhere and anytime during your 20s although it could occur earlier or later, when you ponder about the most basic question, “what am I doing with my life?”

Then, you freak out.

Have you experienced it before? Are you experiencing it now? Will you experience it in the future? Chances are that you have or will be afflicted with this at some point. The severity will vary depending on the person. And that’s okay. You’re not alone.

I am reminded of this phenomenon after talking to a friend of mine, who probably introduced me to this term – jokingly of course – a few years ago. We’ve been friends since undergrad and every so often, like good friends do, we just talk about the future. Our goals. Our visions. Our aspirations. Of course, many of those ideas like starting my own film company or creating a reality show called “Idiotic or Genius” haven’t quite gone into fruition yet, although you never know what tomorrow brings. But others have.

For me, my freak out moment wasn’t just one isolated moment when everything clicked. It was a series of events starting with just my experiences working at a very small non-profit mental health center. I was doing community outreach workshops for ESL refugees for an entire year. And when I graduated, the program was terminated. Done. Over. Those ESL refugees? They didn’t get any of the programming that we provided them. While things like this happen in the real world, I was just more shocked at the price tag for my program. The only payment I received was a subway stipend, which amounted to about $150 a semester. We didn’t charge the refugees for the workshop. Someone deemed that paying $300 a year to help about 15 patients wasn’t going to be worth it anymore.

About two years later, while working at a very large non-profit mega organization, I began to experience back pains. While I joked about how I was getting old, the real reality is that no 20-something year old person should be experiencing back pains at work and that something was wrong. My department sent in an ergonomic consultant and after some examination, it was determined that my chair was always broken and was causing my back pains. They sent me to the chair department (I am not kidding), whose job is to order chairs for people. I tried a few out and ultimately I chose a chair that gave me the sense of power. And by power, I really meant the ability to swirl. The department lady said she’d take care of it and I asked how much it’d cost. $600.

That cost value always stuck with me, especially after I applied to public health schools in epidemiology. One chair at this company would equate to about two years of outreach programming at the other company. Pocket change to one company would mean a lot elsewhere. However, a larger issue is that even if that mental health center had the money, would they make the most out of it? To me, efficiency problems and the lack of skill set was going to sink the center regardless. For every dollar they had in the bank, they would only really get 10 cents out of it. But why not 30?

To me, it didn’t seem right. Another friend of mine always joked that when you leave Berkeley, every student has a “save the world” complex. Well, while fixing these inefficiencies wouldn’t necessarily save the world, it was a step in the right direction. It will make a difference. And this vision is what led me to leave my job, leave my interest in research/epidemiology behind, and pursue health management so I could learn the vocabulary of that world and hopefully go back to institutions like that mental health one and make a difference. It felt right to me.

Now, a little over two years after I made that decision, I find myself with a MPH degree, over a month into a new job at a hospital, and living in a city that I never fathomed being in since I hate their baseball team so much (still do). I have no idea whether this career path that I’m on now is the final career path of my life and my calling. I don’t even know if hospital administration is my thing, let alone carrying a Crackberry around (my gut says that this is not). But I think the key thing is you have to figure out your overall interest and then take chances to see if the environment, work, and lifestyle can help you develop that interest further. For me, I know health care is where I want to be. In what capacity remains to be seen, but going back to school was how I addressed my quarter-life crisis and made what I call a “life course correction” in order to get on the path that I wanted to be in… which was to do something that mattered to me.

I have thought a lot about my friend who introduced me to the “quarter life crisis” term as she is going through it now. She mentioned the frustration and pressure she feels given her perception that everyone she knows has it together and is focused in their lives while she feels that she is not. I have thought about the stories I’ve heard from friends I’ve made in the past two years at school. Some of these friends are going through similar issues and questioning whether the path they took in going to grad school was the right decision. One is looking at other options. Another is handling the disappointment that comes with realizing that the career and job they thought they would do isn’t right for them.

The point I mention these stories is this. It’s impossible for most of us to really answer that question, “what am I doing with my life?” What’s more important is putting yourself in a position to see whether you can answer the questions, “do I like what I’m doing and do I see a future in this?” And if you can’t, it’s time for a “life course correction.” This is one path towards getting out of that quarter life crisis funk. That or a lot of heart to hearts with friends over the phone, coffee, IM, e-mail, etc.

Either way, if you’re in a funk like this one, you’re not alone.

Tweet, Tweet, Tweet

I first “discovered” Twitter about a year ago during my internship. I was looking at conventional and unconventional ways of how companies improve their customer service relationships when I stumbled upon this blog entry about how JetBlue was using Twitter. I thought it was pretty fascinating and not just because the article started with a William Shatner reference. I found it interesting because it begs the question, were companies like JetBlue and Comcast using Twitter to help improve customer service or were they using it more as a PR/marketing gimmick?

And most importantly, could Twitter even be used in health care?

At the time, I concluded no. To most people, when I said the word “Twitter” at the time, I was met with blank stares (until recently, I also got this while saying “Star Trek”). No one really used it or even heard about it. “What the hell are you talking about?” was the comment question. Yet, as I searched through “Tweets,” I couldn’t help but be impressed by the vast number of users out there and the significant number of entries about their health care experience. Yet, I wondered how health care organizations like hospitals could use Twitter? Could they even interact with patients this way? I’ve taken way too many HIPAA “training courses” to know this may be a bit dicey.

Of course, what a difference a year can make. I think Twitter has definitely made a foothold in popular culture, with celebrities, news reporters, and even law makers writing Tweets regularly. It’s even helped build community on the information superhighway.

In health care, Twitter has been used in some conventional and unconventional ways. At the health IT conference I attended, various attendees tweeted their experiences at the various panels. For a friend of mine in NYC, she was able to follow along the Tweets with the general highlights and news of the conference without actually attending and being there. Children’s Medical Center in Texas recently earned the distinction of tweeting a kidney transplant live in order to bring awareness to the condition among children. And even politicians are adding to the healthcare tweeting dialogue, especially in the smackdown arena.

But has it really been leveraged as best as it can be? Does Twitter have more potential in health care? Have we not used it to the best degree in our field of work? I don’t know. But there are a lot of possibilities.

As I walked by a Metro newspaper stand in NYC, I noticed the front page headline: “Study: Twitter’s Close to Completely Useless.” Do you agree? Do you Twitter? Feel free to discuss!

(And now hear what Conan thinks of Twitter at the 5:13 mark…)

The Krispy Kreme Challenge

I saw this story on ESPN a few weeks ago about the Krispy Kreme Challenge that they have at UNC. It made me think: is this the best charity run ever or perhaps a public health disaster in the making?

Discuss amongst yourselves…

My Last Academic Paper

It was a huge moment for me. I had spent the last few days writing this paper, diving into the details, and combing through articles and books on the subject matter to help bolster my argument. The subject was something I thought about using as a topic a few weeks ago, but it wasn’t until I tried writing something different that I decided to go back to this original topic idea. And there I was in the music library, re-reading the paper one last time and making sure the paper passed my “read aloud” test for clarity when I realized something. My last academic paper that I’d write for this master’s degree was not going about improving health care quality, leveraging health informatics, or even anything directly related to health care.

No. My last paper was about monsters and beasts, specifically those that appear in Jaws and Cloverfield.

I’ve always been interested in film and I seriously think that if it wasn’t for health care, I’d probably be involved in it in some capacity. When I was searching for a fifth class to take this semester, I decided to look outside the school and try something a bit different. Around this time, I discovered this seminar on U.S. Cinema from the 1960 to mid-1970s. I decided to check it out.

During the first class, the professor made us write an application essay explaining why we belonged in the class and how it related to our field of study. Students with the most convincing essays would be allowed into the class.

Now you may be wondering, how did I manage to pull this off? Well, the argument is simple. In brief points, I described in my essay:
– My introduction to social activism/revolution from my undergraduate experience at Berkeley.
– How these themes were pivotal and inherent within the era studied in the class.
– How films reflected a lot of these sentiments and so studying these films indirectly highlighted the history during this time.
– How social activism and revolution are important philosophies within public health.
– How media advocacy is an important driver to guiding public health principles.
– How film is one area that could be further developed as a tool to guide advocacy within public health.

Based on these points, I concluded that learning and analyzing films from the 60s-mid 70s will allow me as a public health leader to learn how it was done in the past in order to guide me in the future. And the result of this essay? Well, I got in.

So how does Jaws and Cloverfield help me as a public health student? Well, think about it. Jaws is truly about environmental science and threats caused by a shark. After a series of attacks, the movie is about how a group of men try to prevent further attacks. Sounds like a public health message to me! And Cloverfield? Two words: disaster-preparedness.

Including shot illustrations, this last paper came in at 22 pages. One of the final lines in my paper is, “These elements heighten the chaos, confusion, and fear caused from the monster.” The word “monster” appears 57 times in my paper. Oh, what a glorious way to wind things down.

Wait ‘Til Next Year


After a 4-1 regular season, the YSPH Outbreak softball season ended this afternoon with a first-round loss to the Balco’s Finest (Biomedical/Bioscience Science) team. While the loss today was admittedly disappointing, there are still many things to be happy about based on the season.

Among the highlights of the season:
– The 4 wins from the regular season marks a 300% increase from the previous season. That in itself is statistically significant!

– A brand new marketing campaign that included guilt-tripping people to play, YouTube videos (video1, video2, video3), and debuting the new, spiffy Outbreak uniforms. The picture below is our new model/batboy Dean Cleary posing with his new uniform at last Tuesday’s happy hour.

– The ability to grind out the season despite the many injuries that the team faced, from bruised ribs, strained hamstrings, and line drive-related injuries. Despite all this, we still fielded a full team each and every week, played hard during every play, and carried an intensity unmatched by any team that we faced (to the point where people ran away from us).

With the smooth transition of the team to some brand new leadership and captains, Outbreak softball is positioned to be a strong contender (and team to beat) for this upcoming fall semester and beyond.