Monthly Archives: May 2011

White Noise

As I sit here at my new desk, in my new room, in my brand new SoHo apartment, I’m thinking about the noise around me. I’m living, for the first time, on a busy NYC street and on the lowest floor yet (3rd, after fifth-, fourth-, and seventh-floor apartments). Every time a bus rolls by, my apartment shakes like there is a minor earthquake. Whenever a truck goes by, I hear the aggressive screeching, rattling and clanking that distinguishes it from any other vehicle. Cars whiz by in a relative whisper compared to these big gas-guzzling monsters, and even motorcycles add a loud chuckle and spit to the busy background sounds that will now become my new New York white noise.

Like the traffic outside, things are moving quickly. I just spent my first few nights in SoHo, and what can I say? It takes a couple weeks to get settled into a new place, but I think I’m on my way. Here’s what the past week has been like:

On Monday, I woke up really early to spend four hours sitting at a sterile, isolated computer desk while people all around me took important, possibly life-defining standardized tests. There was a palpable sense of stress in the air that seemed to parallel the weather outside, where humidity condensed into the blackness of a summer-like thunderstorm. From the 17th floor of a high-rise in midtown Manhattan, I watched the rain crack down from the sky like it was never meant to be up there in the first place.

I was taking the GREs. The first hour was rough, unfamiliar, and uncomfortable. It had been twelve years since I took a standardized test, and the security measures of the facility were a bit over-the-top (I was not allowed to wear long-sleeves!). But at about the halfway point, I got into a groove and felt comfortable. In a sick way, I was enjoying myself; there was a certain nostalgia to the whole test-taking experience, and I found myself sinking right back into the experience of it, like sitting in the same nook of an old smelly couch you haven’t sat in for years.

Stillness at sunrise on Isla Floreana, Galapagos Islands. Ecuador.

After celebrating my completion of the exam with several beers that evening, I found myself a bit dazed and burnt out the next morning (ok, fine: hungover) when I was supposed to be packing for my final move into the new digs. (I had postponed the move because I realized I was focusing way too much on the apartment and not the GRE-studying, so decided it was wisest to focus on my exam, and move in immediately afterwards). On Wednesday, I loaded the last things I had at my parents’ place into a taxi and headed downtown. Finally, I was home. Sort of.

Home is an empty word when you haven’t lived there yet. The apartment needed a lot of things, and I wanted to take care of the odds and ends before the weekend. Thursday, I spent most of my day running errands around the new ‘hood, with a quick stop in ‘Dash, the Kardashian’s store because I couldn’t resist (just to look and see if they were there, while pretending to admire sparkly mini-dresses and $75 tank tops. Mmhmm… not so much what I’m going for these days!).

The afternoon was spent at the famous wedding dress mecca that is Kleinfeld’s. This was a pretty wild experience for me. I went to help my sister’s girlfriend/fiance find a wedding dress for their wedding this August, and let me just say: WOW. Like, WHOA. I have never been surrounded by that many brides-to-be. It felt like I was in some diamond-encrusted bubble of beaded silk, embroidered organza, satin, chiffon, charmeuse and lace. Needless to say, I felt out of my element.

But, there was something slightly fantastic about it all too. I mean, this was a bizarre place for ME to be in, and yet, it only takes one moment surrounded by racks of designer wedding dresses to get you in the mood. My mom, future sister-in-law, and I began plowing through the dresses. These weren’t just dresses, they were GOWNS. Not to get all GRE on you, but here is a quick multiple choice analogy question:

Kleinfeld wedding gown: dress

a) carrot: vegetable

b) stiletto: flip-flop

c) Kobe beef: hamburger

d) limo: bicyle

e) diamond: dirt

(The best answer is C.)

It didn’t hurt to have the cast and camera crew of “Say Yes to the Dress” all around. The experience was somewhat thrilling, and at the same time, confusing. I am not one of those girls who fantasizes about their wedding, but there is something to say about the whole experience when you see some of these dresses. I mean, my mom CRIED (like, actual tears behind the leopard print eyeglasses) when a girl she didn’t even know walked by in what appeared to be seven layers of dresses in one. I was like “Mom, are you crying?! You don’t even know her!” as she, the same woman who told me to play in the traffic as a kid (jokingly), struggled to coherently say “but that DRESS! It’s just so, so, exquisite! It’s beautiful!” Shit, it was true. But I will NOT get choked up for a wedding dress that is not mine! Every time I made a comment about a dress, my mom would laugh at me and say “but Rachel, it’s not YOUR wedding” and I would bite my tongue and take the scathing bullet that I didn’t even think would hurt. Obviously I didn’t care. Right? I really wasn’t there thinking about me at all… And yet, why did that hurt just a little? Probably because, as we all know, there are layers and layers of depth to a comment like that.

Blue feet: dare to be different. Blue footed boobie. Galapagos Islands, Ecuador.

Alas, watching my sister’s fiance prance around in these actual wedding GOWNS was a fun, out-of-body experience for me. Every now and then, I would catch myself noticing dresses that I liked for me (how could you not?!), and I’d have to quickly look at a mirror, see my jewel-less style, my blue plaid flannel shirt, and my dark circles under my eyes to jolt me back to reality.

But hey, my reality aint so bad! Yesterday, I had my NYU post-bac pre-med orientation. I met some awesome people along with whom I will be spending the next couple years struggling through hard sciences. It was so cool to be with a bunch of other people whose friends and families think they are kind of crazy for doing this, and to commiserate over the fact that we are all in our mid-t0-late twenties and even thirties, starting something new, and excited as heck to begin.

Among my new classmates: a couple professional musicians, a published novelist, a Marine, a Navy pilot, a twenty-two-year-old who just graduated early from NYU and already wants to get back into school, a bio major who has to retake all the pre-requisited because they’ve expired, and… me.

In a couple hours, I will be heading to Connecticut for a high school friend’s wedding — the first of six (give-or-take what I can actually swing) this summer. On Monday, I have my first class. It all starts to happen. I bought my first textbooks yesterday, and am standing in the gates, waiting for the doors to break open so I can fly through. I’m going back to school hungry, and the time has almost come to take my first bites.

But first, I will toss back a little champagne and get my dance on at an old friend’s wedding to celebrate the important stuff and the amazing friends that happen along the way — the calming white noise that will counter the loud cacophony that is about to become my new life as a student. While, as has been the case for a few weeks, I feel a bit in-over-my-head, everything is under control at this point.

On Monday, I begin. Right now, I pack. And, in case anyone was worried, the writing won’t stop. TwT is along for the ride.

Here’s a little rock and roll for you, coming from an uptown (North side?) turned downtown girl:

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Filed under Life Stuff, New York City, Uncategorized

20,000 Hits Under the T, and Joe

You, me, and TwT have made it to 20,000 hits. The blog was started twenty-two months ago with no certainty of where it might go. During this time, I think I took about 20,000 hits myself! OK, maybe that’s a bit melodramatic, but a lot of shit happened – let’s be honest. Yet somehow I made it here, to another turning point between one set of life decisions and another, past the 20,000 hits and onto the next ones.

I’m in the eye of another storm – a pleasant but slightly stressful one (as I’ve mentioned before, I’m not very good with change, even though I invite it constantly). Things are chaotically being thrown all around me, and I’m just trying to keep centered and hold on to my Panama hat. For starters, as we all know, I’m moving from the Upper West Side to my first non-UWS home in NYC: SoHo. You know, it’s funny moving downtown. It’s like moving to the opposite side of your hometowm – mine just happens to be NYC (and it’s the only hometown I’ve got). I’m about to take the GREs, which I thought I’d never ever have to do and would somehow get away without every seeing a standardized test again. The hardest part was realizing what happened to all that math I studied so hard throughout high school and during my freshman year of college. As I was telling a friend yesterday, my brain really feels like an out of shape muscle right now. I got it from a slow walk to an awkward jog, and now I’ve got a reasonable pace, when it comes to my math abilities, but I’m definitely not in sprinting form yet. Hopefully I should be there by the fall.

This is how my brain felt when I started studying for the GREs. Sea Lion on the shore of Isla Espanola. Galapagos Islands, Ecuador.

Speaking of, I’m about to go back to school for — if all goes according to plan — what will be five straight years of intense classes without A SINGLE summer vacation. Brutal, right? No more rendezvous in Buenos Aires whenever I want. No more last-second trips to sleep on a friend’s floor for a week in Brussels, or hop on a plane to a friend’s family’s home in Kona, Hawaii, or convincing anyone to fly to Central America for a week or two, or being a “YES” person when it comes to trips and expensive meals. But you know, I really am excited for this “other” path I’m on now. Thank goodness I got all those trips and international romances out of my system, because only now, after experiencing more than I would have ever imagined I might in my early twenties, am I ok with giving all that up.

Some of you might not know this, but since January, I have been volunteering at two different physical therapy/sports medicine and rehab facilities here in New York. I signed up partially because I needed some volunteer hours for my eventual Doctor of Physical Therapy application, and partially because I wanted to be 110% SURE that this investment of time and LOTS of money (breathe Rachel, breathe!) is going to be worth it.

I’ve got to say… I walked into the volunteering with only a vague idea of what to expect and what I might get out of it. I was nervous before the first day, realizing that there was ever-so-slight-a-chance I could still change my mind, and I didn’t want to. But I hoped, if anything, my volunteering would at least confirm everything I was planning to do.

Well, it did more than that. Not only did I become more certain than ever that this is what I want to do, career-wise, but I got even more excited and more motivated. I love it. I’ve said this before, but it’s so funny how different and foreign the whole healthcare thing is from what I’ve been doing since I graduated, and yet how right it feels to be involved in some way. Working with people is fascinating, fun, exciting and inspiring. Through my PT Aide jobs, I have encountered such incredible and fascinating people! There’s been the professional female volleyball player, the ballerina who her PT describes as “the Black Swan” equivalent, the gay Irish speech therapist, the Argentine guy with back problems, the Polish man with a frozen shoulder, the teenager who wears totally inappropriate things to her PT sessions, the attractive male athletes, the marathon runners, the pregnant woman with backpain, the adorable arthritic Ecuadorian lady who speaks Spanish with me and bakes us zucchini cake every week… the list goes on and on!

Lonely George. The last remaining turtle of his species. Charles Darwin Center. Galapagos Islands, Ecuador.

And then there’s Joe (*not his actual name). One thing you learn quickly in PT, and I’m sure in other medical fields, is that everyone has a different response to pain and treatment — both physically and psychologically. The way each person deals with his/her injury on both those levels can vary incredibly. Much of my job has been working one-on-one with patients, either getting them ready for their treatment, helping them after their treatment, or showing them how to do certain exercises and self-care measures for when they are on their own. I deal with ice, heat, e-stim, laser probes, foam rollers, mats, BoSus, thera bands, exercise balls, ramps, weights, and all that good stuff all day long (in case you were wondering). But one thing that always changes is the individual, and you have to adapt to each one as you go. For me, that’s one of the most fun parts of this job: just seeing the way people are different, and making sure each one feels comfortable, safe, strong and hopeful.

A lot of the time is spent motivating the patient to push themselves, get through their exercise challenges for the day, and/or generally measuring their progress and capabilities (while having conversations over just about anything – so fun!). Everybody has such an interesting life story, and they always want to know mine. It’s funny, because when you talk to people, you really get to see that everyone has been through SO much… Ups, downs, loves, frustrations with the world… Most people are also willing to open up very quickly, which I respect and appreciate. I get lots of unsolicited advice about life, actually, which is great (hehe), and I surprise people when I tell them that I am not fresh-out-of-college, that I’m changing careers, and that I have traveled to a lot of different places. They are also intrigued by my family’s background, which is fun to talk about.

But the best experiences are when you get to work with people like Joe.

Joe is 82. He is about 6’4”, totally grey and old in some ways (on the outside), quiet, respectful, and sweet as can be in that silent, reserved, peaceful sort of way. He is a musician and an orchestra conductor (the office I work at is right by Lincoln Center, so we get lots of performers). Joe is also an avid runner and has been his whole life.

I see many patients just out of surgery, with crazy scars (I love scars!), swollen joints, extreme pain, and a list of complaints. Joe had both hip and ankle surgery on the same day. He aces every single exercise and strengthening activity I give him, and he never complains – not even a little bit. Not only that, but some people take months or even years to get back for a run after a surgery, and Joe took weeks. In addition, he runs every day. He is 82, I repeat. And, without a negative comment, a complaint, or a frustration, he tackles every challenge ahead of him and succeeds with flying colors. He has an incredibly strong mind, and he is determined to get back to running 8-10 miles per day.

Joe is an inspiration to me, and to the other patients. He is one of those people who –without trying to be an inspiration at all– quietly shows everyone else that we are capable of whatever we set our mind to (at least with the proper preparation and care). After working in PT for a few months, you finally get to see patients make extreme progress and take steps towards a new chapter — the one that begins after their pain has ended.

At first, I loved the PT Aide-ing because I was finally able to be useful and work with people in some helping capacity, be trusted in that way, be an authority (at least they think so!) on how to help. But when you see a patient who can barely lie down on the treatment table on day one riding the stationary bicycle so hard you have to slow them down on their last day of treatment, you realize what it’s all about; that feeling, that smile, that moment when you witness someone who has overcome a difficult experience… THAT is what makes me so happy and so excited to suffer through all the science classes I’ve got ahead of me right now.

Joe is one of the reasons I cannot wait to be a part of this field. I knew I would feel this way, and for years I tried to brush it off because who wants to spend five years without summers in school when you’re supposed to be getting married, thinking about having babies, buying a house and making a great salary (allegedly)?! Well, my work with Joe is done, and I’m about to begin school. But the other day, Joe’s physical therapist told me he was asking about me. He told her that he wanted to thank me, because my work with him really helped and he felt great and was running 8 miles a day again. What did I do?! I’m not sure I really deserve the thank you, but that gesture, that thank you, is why I’m doing this. The truth is, Joe is the one who should be thanked.

A large wave off the coast on my last morning in the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador.

But where am I? This weekend, I’m moving, for real, into my new apartment. I take the GRE in ten days. I go back to school in two weeks. Everything is uphill right now. Nothing feels easy.

Then I remember Joe. And if Joe can run 10 miles after hip and ankle surgeries at age 82, I think all of us can, in our own way.

Cheers to the next 20,000 hits. And THANK YOU for the first 20,000.

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Filed under Healthcare, Life Stuff, New York City, Physical Therapy, Uncategorized