Category Archives: Healthcare

Boston Bucket List

A few days ago, I received an email with details about my upcoming graduate school orientation, and it hit me: this grad school thing is really happening (soon!!), and my time in Boston is running out.

Winter Weeping Willow. Boston, MA.

Winter Weeping Willow. Boston, MA.

I’m not quite done with Boston yet. In some ways, I feel like I am still just getting started. So, it’s time for a bucket list. I need help putting together a list of things to do, places to see (museums? landmarks? parks?), and food to eat (restaurant suggestions? outdoor eats?). What does Boston have to offer in the Spring? Who wants to get outside and explore with me? As winter slowly takes off its chilly armor, I look forward to seeing what’s been hidden underneath.

Blue sky and buildings. Boston, MA.

Blue sky and buildings. Boston, MA.

But back to that orientation… My graduate school program is small. In a couple of weeks I am going to meet the 30 other people that I’ll be spending the next three years with, studying like I’ve never studied before and becoming a Doctor of something (whoa)… together. It’s going to be the very beginning of another adventure, one that will take me into a new decade of life. Sure, I wonder if I’m going to make new friends and who those friends are going to be, what we’ll go through together, how much this program is going to challenge me… But when you’re almost 30 and it’s your first day of school, you’re kind of past worrying about that stuff. At this point, I really just want to show up, kick the door down, walk in, and get this grad school party started. I spent nearly a decade waiting to get to this door — I sure as heck am not going to hesitate to walk in now!

Snow piles. Blizzard 2013. Somerville, MA.

Snow piles. Blizzard 2013. Somerville, MA.

Ahh. As you can see, my mind is stuck between Boston and what I imagine will definitely be a hard place… But let’s keep the focus back on savoring the last few months in Beantown. Please tell me what I need to do/see before I leave. Winter made me a little less adventurous than I’d like to admit, so let’s get this show on the road before I once again hit the road myself.

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Filed under Boston, Healthcare, Life Stuff, Massachusetts, New York City, Photography, School, Somerville, Uncategorized, Winter

Science and Shoes

It was the fall after I graduated college, and I was feeling lost in a corporate dream job that, rather than inspiring me, made me question myself and what I wanted. I tried to wear the pencil skirts and the pretty shoes that all the stylish women wore around me. I tried to play the part of the working twenty-something in the sexy NYC publishing job because, for many reasons, I actually thought I belonged there, in that role, in that chair, in that office, in that skirt… But the shoes felt awkward and, while I did feel sexy in my carefully selected business-casual ensembles, sitting at my desk made me feel like an extra in a mediocre movie. As grateful as I was to be there (and as cool as it often felt, don’t get me wrong!) I usually felt more lost in that chair than found. And I wasn’t the sort of girl who could stay sitting through that feeling.

Bird over Beach. Cancun, Mexico.

Bird over Beach. Cancun, Mexico.

Without telling anyone, I decided to attend an information session for a career I knew almost nothing about. I didn’t even know what schools offered the degree, so I googled “Top Physical Therapy Programs NYC” and ended up at the NYU Steinhardt School, listening intently as the Doctor of Physical Therapy curriculum and the future of the evolving field were explained to me. After spending the previous few months heartbroken and confused, the two hours I spent in that information session brought clarity I hadn’t had in a long time. But when I walked out, things went back to fuzzy.

As reality would have it, I was as far away as anyone could be from “qualified” for the program I wanted to attend. I had 1 out of 12 of the pre-requisites required, I had not taken the GRE, and I had absolutely no experience in the field of physical therapy. My only explanation for how I had “suddenly” gotten interested in PT was receiving treatment for a crew-related back injury my senior spring. But I think I had always been interested in the field, I just didn’t know it existed.

Serpent head. Chichen Itza, Mexico.

Serpent head. Chichen Itza, Mexico.

I walked out of that information session in 2005 excited, invigorated, hopeful and, yes, overwhelmed. Having to complete eleven pre-requisites, from Statistics to upper-level Biology courses, seemed like an impossible boulder I could not remove from my path (which was paved with Spanish, Art History, and Archaeology courses). I tried to talk myself out of the excitement I felt, and attempted to channel it into trips and adventures around the world. Science was like those fancy shoes I wore to work; it was uncomfortable, somewhat foreign, and even in my size I wasn’t sure it was the right fit.

Rainbow in the Yucatan. Mexico.

Rainbow in the Yucatan. Mexico.

Now, eight years later, I am about to walk back into that very same building where that information session took place. It is a crazy feeling to say that — eleven pre-requisites, 10 grad school applications, and many years later — I will be receiving my Doctor of Physical Therapy degree from that very school. Eight freakin’ years, a few broken hearts, a couple trips to the hospital, 14 different countries, an almost book deal, a lot of soul-searching, and some serious soul-finding later, I am now on the other side — of a decade, of a chapter, of a journey of some sort… And I am so ready to walk back in there! It’s going to be another challenge-and-a-half, but if I’ve learned anything in these last eight years, it’s that I can handle it.

The only remaining question is: what shoes will I wear?

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Filed under Healthcare, Life Stuff, Mexico, Photography, Ruins, School, Travel, Uncategorized, wanderlust

Prepare for Landing

It’s funny how these things work. A year and a half ago, I was a travel writer with not a single science course under my belt. Nine college-level courses, a whole lot of hard work, some incredible new friends, and plenty of fun-sacrificing later, I’m hitting the “Submit” button on my grad school applications, the first of which is due Monday. What happens from here is somewhat beyond my control, but getting here… Well, I (somehow) did that (and it feels pretty cool!).

A little girl enjoys dancing in her pretty dress before a thunderstorm hits. Old Town Quito, Ecuador.

The thing about being a post-bacc pre-med student is, you’re generally older than most of the other students. But, what does that really mean? You look pretty much the same (for better or worse), your science is a little rustier, you’re less competitive with everyone around you, and you’re more sure of who you are, where you’ve been and where you’re going. In some ways, you have much less to prove, and in other ways — much more.

I guess I just wanted to write a quick post to acknowledge this moment, because I have friends on every side of it (and some here, in their own similar moment, with me). I spent my early- to mid-twenties soul searching to get to this place where I just knew what I wanted. (If you’ve read this blog before 2011 at all, you know what I’m talking about!) The idea of “knowing ” — not just temporary “maybes” — was a lot more intimidating than I ever imagined it would be. Those first twenty-something birthdays out of college had my optimism mud-wrestling my expectations. Nothing was turning out how I expected, and every time I got close to touching what I wanted, it seemed to disappear right in front of me. The story I thought I was writing for myself had to be completely erased and re-written. For the first time ever, I had no idea what words to put on the first page. At some point, I would have to learn a whole new language to be able to write at all.

Street, man, walking uphill. Old Town Quito, Ecuador.

The fact that I am here hitting send, clicking submit, actually fulfilling all the pre-requisites required to apply to Doctor-level graduate school programs after beginning with NONE really is a reminder to me, and hopefully to you too, that anything (or, well, many things) really is (are) possible if you are willing to work your ass off for them. I know we’ve all heard this before, but look — it’s for real!

My journey certainly continues, with even more academic mountains (actually, mountain ranges) to climb. I guess at this point, I leave the sherpa behind and trek through the rest on my own. I just hope that, if nothing else, at least one person out there has been following this journey of mine and realizes that if I can do this, so can they. The scariest thing for me has never been failing; it’s always been not going for it. That said, going for it can be pretty freakin’ weird and terrifying at times, let me just be honest here. I’ve felt totally uncomfortable at many points along the way, but now… I’ve found my little spot in the big science couch, and I’m slowly sinking into it, asking grad school to pass me the remote.

Walking to an incredible brunch behind a cute little Ecuadorian woman. Tumbaco, Ecuador.

Right now, even though applications are WAY more intense than I ever imagined, I’m just so thrilled and excited about where this might take me next. It’s still scary — so much is uncertain, as it always has been. In a way, I can’t believe I’m really here. It’s like traveling, when the plane lands and a trip you’ve anticipated so long has both ended and just begun… Suddenly, you smell a new smell, you hear a new language being spoken, and no matter how exhausted you are from the flight, you know that, in a new way, it feels like anything is possible.

Paramo Hike. Papallacta, Ecuador.

Everything about this process has been intimidating — from the amount of school required to the amount of money (oh god, let’s just skip that conversation), and of course the amount of science everyone ELSE knows compared to me. I’ve never been in such a constantly competitive environment (well, besides my entire childhood… HA! Just kidding just kidding. One-of-five-kids Syndrome strike again!). But I’m telling you: nothing — NOTHING — feels better than being sure. It took my entire twenties to get here, so forgive me if I give myself a high-five.

Lying out on top of the catamaran, watching birds fly overhead as the boat cruised from one Galapagos Island to the next… One of those moments when life just feels right, and you never forget it. A picture tries to capture the feeling of freedom… Galapagos, Ecuador.

Maybe — even after so many world travels, and soul searching around the globe —  it took me way longer than I ever expected to feel sure about where I want to go, and maybe I’m the oldest kid in the classroom these days… But I’m here now, and despite everything I’ve learned, I’m still learning. The plane has finally touched-down on the runway. I’m not fully in that new place just yet — the door is still shut, but the flight is over, and the next adventure is closer than ever.

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For more information on Arms and Sleepers, visit: www.armsandsleepers.com.

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Filed under Healthcare, Life Stuff, School, Travel

Shipping Up To…

…Boston?!

I guess I should explain myself.

As many of you know, I am currently enrolled in the NYU post-baccalaureate pre-health studies program (AKA the NYU post-bacc). Most post-bacc programs are designed to implant out-of-college students into all the pre-med pre-requisites for med school (bio I, bio II, chem I, chem II, phsyics I, physics II, calculus, English/expository writing, orgo I, orgo II, an advanced bio/chem, etc.). Unfortunately, as a pre-DPT (a rarity in the post-bacc program, but becoming more normal) I have slightly different pre-reqs than a pre-MD. This has created quite the headache, I must say. And this headache is what has indirectly led me to Boston.

ARE YOU BORED YET?! (Here’s a blue-footed boobie doing an awesome mating-dance move to lure you back!)

What, lists of pre-med pre-requisites aren’t fun to read?! Look, this has been my life for the past year (you’re lucky I’m keeping the colligative properties and earthworm anatomical features out of this post). It has not been very sexy to read about, I get it. There has been no sipping of pisco sours in the sparkling evening light of a colonial plaza, no deciding which bikini to pack for my next travel adventure, no plane rides, no tans, no dancing all night in the sand, and certainly no snorkeling with hammerhead sharks (already checked that off the list!).

Rather than the usual rainbow of adventures, this past year has been, well, a couple shades of grey (in terms of adventure — no I am NOT referring to that book!). I’ve traveled so little this past year that the idea of going to Boston is actually thrilling! But don’t you go thinking that I didn’t get something out of the past year…

Maybe wandering down exotic cobblestoned streets was replaced with a repetitive 15-minute walk to Washington Square Park. Trips to Argentina were replaced with trips… to the library. My world shrank from everywhere to a few drab science buildings on the NYU campus. Part of me spent the year in withrdrawal from my cold-turkey life change, and part of me was too busy to even catch my breath and miss anything.

The good news is, I’ve (almost) made it through year one! It’s unreal. The difference I feel now compared to those first few weeks in Biology and Chemistry with a bunch of (echem, 800 of them) AP Bio and Chem kids is amazing. To say I sat there and had absolutely NO idea what the professors were talking about that first week is a major understatement. I felt like I was taking pre-med classes in Swahili. And, this might be news to you, but I don’t actually speak Swahili…

I went from feeling like a complete impostor pretending to be one of “them” to being the first one to grab a knife, cut open a fetal pig’s thoracic cavity, and pull out its heart. This transition has been weird and awkward, like becoming a teenager all over again, but somewhere along the course of the year, I began to feel right at home in my lab coat and goggles.

Speaking of home, let’s get back to the whole Boston thing. Here is the bottom line: my lease is about to end (moving tomorrow, in fact… I should definitely be packing), NYU does not offer a few of the courses I need, nor does it have space in some classes for non-matriculated “special students” like me. For better or worse, the allied health profession courses (pre-vet, pre-physical therapy, pre-phsysician assistant, nursing) are overflowing, and there are a limited number of dead creatures to dissect, so you can’t just squeeze extra students in. That, in addition to the whole NYC thing…

OK, this is going to come as a shock to many of you because I am the girl who was born and raised here and loves NYC to its core but… something has changed and it’s not NYC; it’s me.

Do I still love NYC? ABSOLUTELY. I always will. But do I hate it a little right now too? … Yes.

Being a student in New York is much crueler than even I imagined it would be. The rents are so astronomical, it’s hard to explain them to non-New Yorkers, and hard to justify them to myself. And it’s not just that; the whole apartment-hunting process is a NIGHTMARE. You can’t even start looking at apartments until you’re one or two weeks away from losing yours, and then you have to visit a bunch of crapholes (ok — that is my case since I am a student… echem) with a check-book in hand, because if you don’t put the first month’s rent, last month’s rent, security deposit, application fee AND broker’s fee (usually a pretty terrifying total) up front within a couple hours, you will lose the apartment.

I can’t live like that! Not to mention, I have this inner domestic side that has come out and is screaming for mercy. I want more space, more peace and quiet, maybe even a porch! But, I can’t give up city living completely. NYC is a tough town in general, but add being a long-term student to the mix and it is like choosing to live in the shitty basement over a beautiful mansion. I don’t need a mansion, but I do need and want more space, and more bang for my very small buck. The reality sunk in this year: I just can’t afford to be a student in this town. I hate to leave my family, but I can barely enjoy all that NYC has to offer. Even if I leave NYU (a necessity given the fact that I can’t complete my pre-requisites here), the other NYC options — Brooklyn College, Hunter, CCNY, Pace — are also overwhelmed with students. Sure, a few of those are a bit cheaper, but they require an application, and then, once accepted, that would make me a non-matriculated, non-post-bacc student, which basically gives me the scraps of course availability. I’d be registering AFTER everyone else, and after talking with admissions/bursars office representatives from each and every one of these schools, it became clear that this means I probably would not get into the courses I need… And I’m not wasting any time here. Let’s get this ball rolling!

And then there is the Harvard Extension School. I thought about this place way at the beginning, but after just moving home from Quito, Ecuador, I didn’t want to be anywhere but NYC. Funny how things change in a year.

To wrap things up, let me just say that — after years of telling myself I had absolutely no interest in living in Boston — I am now SO looking forward to this move. My dad is from Dorchester. He’s a real Boston guy, from Boston Latin School to Harvard… He’s still got the accent and the sports loyalties… I definitely have a little New England swag in me. In a way, Boston already feels like home. But now I have to make it home. The hard work begins in JUNE!

OK — I have a TON to do today. Let’s just end by saying I’m ready to pahk the cah in Hahvahd Yahd. That said, you can take the girl out of NYC, but you can’t take the NYC out of the girl… I don’t actually have a cah, so I’ll have to do without. It is now your job to tell me about your favorite bars and restaurants in Boston so I can enjoy the heck out of Boston the only way I know how.

Life is crazy. Another whirlwind year, another apartment, another city… Time to roll with all the changes once again. And here’s to hoping there is a little more adventure in the next year… in any form that takes on because, as you can probably tell, I don’t “do” boring well.

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Filed under Healthcare, Life Stuff, Uncategorized

Bull in a Classroom

A new semester has begun.

You know when those horses bust out of their gates at the beginning of a race, the jockeys whipping them with a crop, screaming and kicking as the horses’ legs spring from the dirt like it’s lava they don’t want to touch? That’s kind of how I feel (except I am both the horse and the jockey in this case, I think). The gate has flung open and it’s all systems GO now. Back to school for me!

I’ve decided to take on this spring semester like a bull in a bull fight (uhoh, analogy overload?). I want so badly to conquer this semester, to keep my focus on the red cape, to attack it, to charge through it, so I’m going to do everything in my power to make that happen. Sometimes I feel more like a bull in a china shop flailing around trying to control this science thing, breaking lots of dishes along the way instead. But, hey, at least I’m going into the shop as a bull and I’m coming out a bull — no flimsy china can change that.

Bull in my path. Cotopaxi Province, Ecuador.

This whole post-bacc pre-med thing is HARD! (Oh right, I’ve mentioned that about 50 times already — but it’s worth repeating!) I hope to have more control over the material now. Last semester, I learned more than just science; I learned how to be a student all over again — a different kind of student than I had ever needed/wanted to be. Everything I knew — about studying, about what matters in a classroom, about how to do well, about how to be a top student — was all quickly thrown out the window a month or two in. The small class sizes I had experienced my whole life were suddenly replaced with 700-person lecture courses on a subject I knew the least about. Class participation now means nothing. Who you are as a student means nothing. Only numbers count. I am a student ID number, not a person. My grades are computed by a computer. Every test is multiple choice, filled out with #2 pencils in a new class room every test. Until last fall, I had never been in a class with more than 50 people — ever, and usually there were fewer than 25. I use the word “classroom” loosely, as all our biology and chemistry lectures take place in NYU’s largest theater, with the professor on stage, attendance taken by remote control devices called iClickers that we must bring to every class (both to click in and to answer multiple choice questions throughout the lecture, which appear on a spreadsheet for the professor when he/she gets to his/her office), and we have to grab black boards to rest on our laps so that we have a surface upon which to take notes.

Every week, there are at least three quizzes — two of which are online (laced with exasperating technical problems), one of which is during our Chemistry recitations on Friday mornings. You can never sit back and relax. You can never feel on top of the material because this place is like a factory set at a very high pace, and if one link in the sequence hits a snag and slows down, the whole contraption will fail. If you ever want to get ahead, you must teach yourself the material. In fact, most of my studying is trying to teach myself material. I’ve never experienced an academic environment like this, but apparently it is the pre-med way! I’m used to being taught. I’m used to asking questions as I go, having the material explained, learning piece by piece. This is all so different — it’s on YOU to learn. It’s on you to get help. It’s on you to do well, and even you (oh, I mean me) don’t ever feel like you have total control over that part of the equation. But somehow, in this giant system, there is a chance to do well if you can find a way to grab the golden ring while the Merry-Go-Round of science spins you in circles… and I’ve got to go for it.

Galapagos Hawks. Galapagos Islands, Ecuador.

When I began Chem I and Bio I in the fall, I can honestly say that for the first three weeks, I had absolutely no idea what was going on (particularly in biology). It was a horrible, disarming, humbling feeling. The amount of material that was referenced and breezed over because I was “supposed to” know it already (like the rest of the fresh-out-of-AP-Bio-pre-med-freshman surrounding me — the real ones) was beyond my expectations, even though I anticipated it would be this way (but not to the extent that it was!). Taking on my least-studied subject at this level at this age has clearly been an uphill battle from the start, and it took me weeks — even months — to find my footing in this new world of science that I had been dropped into like ET on Earth (without a cute kid feeding me candy), but I think I’ve finally found that footing.

All I can say is that the learning curve has been steep! But, here I am, ready to take everything I’ve learned — both about science and about being this new, different kind of student that I have to be in order to succeed in this foreign pre-med world — and apply it to this new semester. Such is life, no?

The look of determination.... on a giant tortoise in the Galapagos Islands.

Every week, when I leave the spinal injury rehab and brain trauma rehab centers of my hospital volunteer job, after working with brand new paraplegics who are learning things as basic as how to get back into their wheelchair if they fall out, and brain trauma patients with staples across their entire scalp whose toughest question every morning is what is their own name, I am reminded of how much I want to do this, of how much I want to learn the skills to be able to help these people, and of how much learning is still (always) ahead.

For now, I’m just happy to have something red to charge towards.

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Two Years of TwT

Two years. Two freakin’ years. Exactly one year ago today, I wrote this post: One Year of TwT. I was in Ecuador, unsure of (but excited about) everything, hurting from a couple of my most major heartbreaks, and trying to navigate my way through a dream job that didn’t necessarily answer my questions or quell my secret wish to be in healthcare. Two years of learning, of risk-taking, of leaps-of-faith, of putting myself out there (and yes, I’m a little sick of myself too, don’t worry). Travel writing was still a dream job in many ways, but one that I was realizing more and more may not have been my dream job, afterall.

Over 15,000 ft up, atop Ruminahui Peak with Cotopaxi Volcano and interns Allison (L) and Emily (R) in Cotopaxi Province, Ecuador. October 2010.

When I started this blog, I felt wholeheartedly like travel writing was going to be my escape route from a life that was feeling a little too mediocre for me — maybe even not me at all. I needed za-za-zoo in every form. Travel became a passion to replace passion, and writing became the support that replaced support, but how could I say that even the two together were not enough? I had to dedicate myself entirely to one dream in order to know whether or not it was going to last.

Sometimes I can’t believe all that happened in the past year — coup attempts, the Galapagos Islands, the World Cup, Juan the Amoeba (grr!), quitting my job in Ecuador, moving back to NYC, applying to post-baccs, switching careers – first, in theory then it actuality, going back to school, and all the people in between. To think that I have even the slightest chance of capturing all this in book-form (pray to the publishing gods, please) is unreal, unbelievable, and yet it makes absolute sense to me right now. But, the important thing is: I lived a dream. No other way of saying it. And yes, the dream turned out to be imperfect, but it came true. (I just happen to have more dreams!)

View from the Cathedral overlooking Old Town Quito, and clouds. Summer 2010.

I am writing from the other side of my first college course since…err…college. I did it.

Yes, I learned a lot very quickly, I made new friends, and I even managed to submit my final sample chapter to my literary agent (double YAY), but the work is only intensifying right now. The hunt for an editor/publisher begins (anyone out there?! haha. OK sorry, had to.). Two days into my second semester-condensed-into-six-week course — Statistics — I am realizing that this is going to be even tougher and more time-consuming than the first course. I’ve even gotten to use a calculator for the first time in ten years (and I figured out, all by myself, how to calculate standard deviations with it). While Developmental Psychology may have wiped the dust from my brain, Statistics will hopefully grease the wheels.

You’d think, logistically, that it might get easier every class… But no. While yes, there are correlations (see, I’m already talking like I understand statistics) between Developmental Psychology and Statistics, these seem to be two very different beasts for my brain right now. And then, come fall, I will be doubling up with Chem I and Bio I (plus labs, obvi), a workload that promises to be, um, challenging for a girl who hasn’t thought about either subject in 12 years (to say the least).

Leaves in the cloud forest. Mindo, Ecuador. Summer 2010.

Meanwhile, summer keeps on glowing. I’ve spent weekends by the pool upstate, as planned, and weeknight with the occasional glass (or maybe shared bottle) of wine (but, really, mostly doing homework or studying for exams, which I will have every Monday for the next six weeks — OY).

Today, in a fruitless quest to find a dress for at least one of the four weddings I somehow plan to attend during the remainder of this summer (did I mention I’m also a maid of honor for my sister’s NOW LEGAL wedding in August!?), I tried on a way too short and tight sexy little thing because I couldn’t resist its sparkles. It was totally inappropriate. I’d be lying if I said that I am not still covered in glitter after taking it off. Only now, it feels celebratory and appropriate, like I’m my own TwT party’s confetti. But, the reality is, I’ve got to get to bed because I have my first Statistics lab in the morning.

Two years ago, I was in NYC starting this blog with a heavy heart and no clue where I was going with it. One year ago, I was in South America living a travel writing dream that made me wonder if it was enough. This year, the whole plan has shifted and I’m back in school doing pretty much the opposite. I promise I’m not insane — I’m just a very active participant in this life thing.

All of this began when I started TwT, unsure of all that would unravel in my life around it. Now, it continues with TwT. And, hopefully, all of you.

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Filed under Ecuador, Healthcare, Life Stuff, New York City, School, Travel

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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