Sunday, September 28, 2008


Excuse my un-fucking-lady-like language, but I'm still in shock over my recent personal experience with the health system at Hopkins. As mentioned, I've been sick. (I'm all better, now, thank you. Just hacking up some remaining phlegm. Mmmm). So, on Friday, after my last two midterms, I decided to go to the student health clinic to make sure I didn't have a bacterial infection, and if I did, to get some drugs. After walking to the outskirts of the Hopkins Medical campus, way far away from the hospital and School of Public Health, I found the clinic tucked away in a weird strip-mall like setting. I went in and told the woman at the front desk that I was sick. I was feverish, coughing, soar throat, etc. She asked if I had an appointment. "Nope. Just a walk-in." After not being able to find my insurance information in the computer, and making several phone calls to make sure I actually was on the Hopkins plan, she told me that there was no one there who could see me, that they were about to go on lunch, but I could make an appointment for Tuesday to see my assigned primary care doctor. "Let me get this straight: I'm sick, I'm in a clinic, I'm the only patient here, and there's no one who can see me, and I'm at Johns Hopkins, the '#1 hospital in the U.S?'" "Right. You can make an appointment for Tuesday or go to the Emergency Room." After further statements of disbelief, I left and hoofed it back to the School of Public Health, getting angrier and angrier with each sweat-, fever-, and cough-inducing step. Up the street, they were teaching me about the problems with access to health care, how it's a waste of resources to go to the E.R. when it's not an emergency, but how so many people do because they can't get to regular doctors... and the student health clinic at Johns Hopkins Medical Institute is sending me to E.R? Are you kidding me?!!!

Delirious from anger and fever, I went to the student affairs office to find out if there was anywhere in between the clinic and the E.R. where I could go to see a doctor and get a prescription, if necessary. Then, I went on a similar feverish rant as above about the school's hypocrisy of teaching one thing, but doing the exact opposite. The coordinator of my department was there and took pity on me (or maybe it was fear). She called the clinic again, which told her the same thing: Tuesday or E.R. Then the coordinator walked me to the E.R. to find out how long the wait was going to be. I was reluctant to go, was ready to give up and go home, take some Tylenol PM and get under the covers, but she was insistent and ridiculously kind.

It turned out there was only one person in front of me at the E.R. ("Good thing you didn't get sick on a Friday night, otherwise, there'd be a much longer wait due to the imminent gunshot victims." Awesome.) Even with only one person in front on me, there was a three hour wait. It turned out there were many more people in front on me, just further down the bureaucratic line in other unseen waiting rooms. Finally, after three hours, I saw one of the nicest doctors I've ever encountered, especially in an emergency room. He examined me, he listened to me, he sat and explained to me everything that could be wrong, what I could do and what to expected, and when I told him I was a student at the School of Public Health, put things in an epidemiologic perspective. It made me realize why the hospital is ranked #1. But seriously, actually getting to that doctor was short of a nightmare and there was no reason for me to go to the E.R.

I'm on a mission to bring this to the attention of the higher-ups at the school of public health. Do they even realize their health clinic is sending people to the emergency room? The whole experience was completely absurd. I later found out there's a clinic that would have seen me at the main campus, a shuttle-ride away. But not at the medical campus? What?! This needs to be fixed. Stay tuned for my adventures in attempting to change the system.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Experiment

I've decided that the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health is a giant experiment and we are all guinea pigs. Why have I come to this conclusion? Because I'm sick and I'm pretty sure I got it from being at school. The school is a petri dish being studied by all the top researchers. I knew there was a reason they needed students here. As I've mentioned, I take a shuttle (school bus) to school every day. They pack the bus beyond capacity. Think: the 6 train at rush hour. But at least on the 6 train, there's ventilation. Otherwise, it'd be a major public health hazard. But, nope. Not on the shuttles to the School of Public Health. No ventilation. Just a lot of stressed students and doctors (who no doubt are carrying tons of diseases on them) coughing and breathing on each other. Yesterday, in my 8:30 am Epi class, all I could hear was the symphony of sneezing, sniffling and coughing (aching, fever, runny nose) going on around me. Hard to concentrate. I could almost feel the various bacteria and viruses landing on me. (Luckily, I've got my integument system! But the nasal passage... that's a whole other story. My anti-bodies can only handle so much). You would think with midterms this week, I'd be stressed and that stress was wearing on my immune system. But to honest, I'm not really that stressed. I just spend my days in a giant petri dish in a giant lab... in Baltimore. And therefore, I'm sick.

Speaking of not being stressed, I should probably study.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Mid Mid-term Week

For all two of you who read this blog, forgive my lack of posting recently. I have midterms this week. Today I had my first of three-- Biostats. And to be honest, it wasn't that bad. Who knows though? I may have made several careless mistakes. Next up are my Epi and Theory midterms. I really don't like Epi all that much, so I'm putting off studying for it and blogging instead. And seriously, learning about masses of sick people isn't all that appealing when I feel like I'm coming down with something myself.

While I was taking my Biostats midterm, something else was happening from my former life today, three thousand miles away. The final episode that I wrote for Clean House taped today. I'm sort of sorry I couldn't be there... mostly because the studio is at a house with a pool. Not that we're really supposed to go swimming in the middle of the work day, but it's still nice to be at work while poolside. Plus, there's free food. But no, I'm here in Baltimore, getting sick due to the damn seasons that everyone on the East Coast loves so much. And worrying about how I'm not at all worrying about my Epi midterm.

Okay. Back to the books. That's all for now, two loyal readers.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Twelve Hours of Biostats

Today I spent twelve (aka 12, XII, 6x2, 24/2, 2*3!) thinking about and doing biostats. Thursdays are supposedly my easy days. I have just one class on Thursdays: Biostats. And that's it. At my last biostats class on Tues, my professor announced that the problem set originally due today could be handed in tomorrow, Friday. I started it this past weekend with the intention of handing it in today, but as soon as she gave us another day, I couldn't not take it. But it was more than just this problem set that kept me and Mr. Gauss so tight all goddamn day long.

First, I had my one and only class, biostats, from 10:30am to 12 PM. (The professor went over by 10 minutes). Then, I went to the super sweet reading room to finish my biostats problem set. I spent about 2 hours thinking about one part of one problem before I figured it out. If I had wanted, I could have gone to the 2 biostats help sessions (there are 2/day! That's 10 times a week!). But, I decided to sit and struggle and ponder until I figured it out. Perhaps a waste of time. From noon to 5:30, I worked on the problem set. From 5:30 - 6:45 I went to the biostats review session for the midterm next week. How I have a midterm when I just started class practically yesterday, I don't know. (WOW. This is uninteresting). Then, I came home and finished my biostats problem set at 10:30 PM. Twelve hours! But, wait, I did watch "Project Runway" from 8 PM-9. So, really I only spent 11 hours on biostats today. Thank god. I thought for a second I might be a loser, or "out" to quote Ms. Klum. Whew. Close one.

Auf wiedersehen!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Sushi for Dinner. Carrot Cake for Dessert.

All this talk of hurricanes has been making me hungry. Specifically for sushi. My all-time favorite sushi place is a tiny restaurant in LA called Sushi Ike. Pronounced EE-Kay. Now every time I see Hurricane Ike in print, I read it as "Hurricane Ee-kay" and think of Chef Ike and how much I miss his delicious creations. Since sushi has been on my mind lately, I suggested to my Saturday evening dinner companion that we get some. We went to what he claimed to be "one of the better sushi places in Baltimore" but unsurprisingly it left much to be desired compared to my beloved Sushi Ike. I've been missing LA a lot recently, especially the weather, maybe even more than the sushi. It's been 100 gazillion percent humidity here lately. The kind of humidity where as soon as you step outside, you start sweating. Or at least I start sweating.

This weekend I decided to be the politically active student I never was in college and go to Virgina to canvass for Obama. It was even hotter there. I got sunburned for Obama. I sweat for Obama. So if he doesn't win, I'll be pissed. Going door-to-door in a condo complex outside of Fairfax, I met some very nice people, a lot of whom are undecided. I have no idea how anyone can be undecided between two complete opposites. It's like saying "I can't decide who I like better: Donovan McNabb (good) or T.O. (evil)" (I'm currently watching the Eagles/Cowboys game. Multi-tasking!). Or it's like not being able to decide between a delicious slice of carrot cake and a plate of shit. How can anyone be stuck weighing the pros and cons of the two? They're opposites. I heard today that people who say they're undecided now will most likely vote for McCain, but are afraid to admit it for fear of coming across as a racist. Not that they actually are racists, but they're afraid they may be pegged as such. If that's the case, it's extremely disheartening, since I encountered so many undecideds in the swing state of Virginia. Hopefully my appearance at their doors made a bit of a difference in swaying them toward the carrot cake. Or the even more obvious choice of Donovan McNabb... Now back to my Eagles.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Seven Years Ago Today

As I have every year on September 11 since 2001, I woke up this morning thinking about the day, remembering the sound of the first crash from my Brooklyn apartment, and bracing myself before I turn on the TV to watch the memorial. This morning I turned on the Today Show to find no mention of 9/11 in the five minutes I had it on. Instead, Dr. Nancy Snyderman, the Today Show medical chief was being interviewed about vaccines, about how there's a measles outbreak due in large part to parents opting out of vaccinating their children. She even mentioned "the herd"-- a percent of the population that needs to be vaccinated in order to protect the rest-- a concept I learned about in epidemiology class just last week. What was going on? How did the decision come about among the NBC execs not to mention 9/11? I turned the TV off and then back on again a few minutes later to see if there was any coverage of the memorial. Nope. Just an interview with DeNiro (even he didn't mention of 9/11) and Pacino about some new movie they're in. But what did it mean for me that instead of 9/11, there was a public health segment on? Maybe it didn't mean anything, but it made me think about my own life and how far I've come since 9/11/01.

Seven years ago when I heard the first plane hit one of the towers, I was in the middle of writing an email to an agent I had met the week before at the MTV movie award after-party. This agent was helping and encouraging me to submit to SNL. I was 23 and gung-ho that I was going to be Tina Fey, even before Tina Fey was Tina Fey. I never finished writing that email. Instead I went outside to see what was going on. I heard sirens and smelled an odd, burning scent, but different than anything I had ever smelled before and have ever smelled since those first few weeks after the towers fell. It was the smell of burning flesh and a burning city. I saw smoke above and figured there was a fire somewhere, but it was oddly quiet on the streets of Brooklyn. It was a Tuesday and my roommates had already left for work while I was home doing my first of many freelance writing gigs. I turned on the TV and watched the news. I called my aunt to see if she was okay, since her apartment was across the street from WTC. She wasn't able to get in touch with my uncle, for what turned out to be the rest of the day. As I was on the phone, I heard from the news that a plane had hit the Pentagon. I told my aunt who reacted, "We're really under attack." It was a scary realization. And probably the closest I've come to feeling helpless and unsafe in this country. My roommates eventually came home after being stuck on trains unable to get past downtown and for the next 3 days, we sat and watched the news. It was unbelievable. The trains weren't running and so we stayed in Brooklyn, watching on the news what was happening across the river. Eventually, we walked down to the Brooklyn Promenade, which has a perfect view of downtown Manhattan. A memorial had formed, people milled around carrying candles, but mostly people sat and stared at the new skyline and the smoke and soot that still was wafting eastward into Brooklyn.

Back at my apartment, after a few days of watching the news, seeing the same family-members over and over on the screen asking the public if they had seen their loved-ones, we decided we couldn't take anymore. So, we watched Sex and the City. Episode after episode. It was the perfect escape to be watching happy New Yorkers in a happy New York. It was candy and it was exactly what I needed. And it made me realize the power of entertainment and escapism. Critics of television claim that it desensitizes audiences from their real lives. What's wrong with that? Real life isn't always so fun.

As far as where I am and where I've come since 9/11/01, I'm here, in Baltimore, after living in both New York and LA twice in the last seven years. And I've come from being a naive 23 year old just starting out in the entertainment industry, thinking I could land a writing job at SNL without any comedy experience, to a slightly less naive 30 year old with actual experience but the desire for something bigger. Escapist entertainment with a message? Maybe. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

It's Okay to Laugh. Really.

I thought handing in my first biostat problem set today would be a relief (and another reminder that I really need to start AND finish them earlier in the future). But oh no, it is just the beginning. Today's class was nearly incomprehensible. Alas, reading about biostats is probably almost as boring as writing about it, so on to another topic...

I dropped my Entertainment Education class after I was once again shot down by professor. As I mentioned, the final project is to write 13 episodes of a TV or radio drama. (Each episode is supposed to be 15 minutes. What one does with a 15 minute TV episode, I have no idea). Anyway, I said that I wanted to write about health insurance, the uninsured and underinsured and make it a comedy. My professor told me that I had better be Shakespeare if I wanted to write a comedy about a serious issue. Shocked, I tried to explain that I wanted to attempt to make the complicated health insurance problem in this country more accessible through a comedy. "No. People don't take comedies seriously [duh] and therefore, comedies are not to be written about serious issues." ARE YOU KIDDING ME? Grrr... Um, I recall a movie that won the freaking Academy Award that was a comedy about the Holocaust and I don't remember Shakespeare writing the screenplay. I can go on and on with more examples of comedies about serious issues, but that would be preaching to the choir. The choir being everyone in the world EXCEPT for that professor. Also, after telling me and the class last week that we could not use cartoons or puppets, she read one of Aesop's Fables as a great example of a story with a message. Adios to that class. Done and done. It's a shame, because ideally it could have been a great class. I also feel justified since I am one of many who dropped the class. Not to mention, she taught the same lesson two classes in a row. I felt like I was at the Learning Annex, not Johns Hopkins.

I was mildly worried about losing those credits, but fortunately I'm picking up a few doing work/research for my advisor on what seems to be a very cool project. So, it all works out. I think... except that I told my advisor I knew Excel. I mean, I know of it. Like it exists. I've even used it once or twice to make databases, but I don't really know it know it. Guess I'll be figuring it out soon enough.

While I'm on the topic of figuring things out, I figured out that maybe it's not okay to blatantly point out obvious sexual connotations of a health brochure in a lecture class (although my classmates didn't seem to mind). My theory professor (ahh, theory... it reminds me of Wesleyan) put up this slide to show how changing the color and image of a brochure was more culturally appropriate for the audience the brochure was trying to reach-- Latina women. The message-- get breast exams:

Well, while everyone was talking about how cooking together is how Latina women commonly interact, spend time together, talk about important issues, blah blah, I was focussed on the obvious fact that these women are inspecting fruit. Fruit with nipples. I raised my hand and asked if I was the only one who noticed that there's a bowl full of breasts in the picture... that they were giving the fruit Los Mamogramas. My professor said something like, "Well... it it fruit." Um, sure, professor... "But it's also clearly breasts. With nipples." Anyway, people laughed, the professor said we were all getting punchy, the lecture ended and a friend told me I had a dirty mind.

Am I alone here? Have I been corrupted by working in television for too long? (And when did I get the balls to raise my hand in a lecture class and bring up the topic of breasts and nipples?) Does public health need to be so serious? I spent an hour in stats lab today (sorry, can't help it) doing a problem that had to do with the probability of Nepalese girls dying in various situations. Morbid, but also really funny! One of Colin Quinn's few aphorisms, which I always keep in mind was "nothing is sacred." With that in mind, I look at what's absurd, even within a serious topic. Is there something wrong with that? I didn't think so, but I'm learning in public health school, there may be. Time for change. Me and Obama. Here we come.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Biostats Blues

Time to take a break from my biostats homework and blog on this rainy Saturday in Baltimore. I think the Counting Crows put it best when they sang "It's raining in Baltimore." How do they come up with such gems??? (I'm not knocking the Counting Crows. I love them. I just listened to that song and it's quite good and fitting: "Three thousand five hundred miles away...", "I need a raincoat." It's so true! I do need a raincoat. I left mine in my friend's baby stroller.)

Waking up to the rain is among my top ten favorite things of all time. Especially on a weekend morning. But unfortunately, this morning wasn't quite perfect as I was out of coffee. So, instead of sitting with my hot cup of coffee in my nice dry apartment watching the rain fall, I had to venture out in the rain to avoid a caffeine headache. Not my ideal rainy morning. The closest coffee place was closed so I had to walk up the hill to the second closest one (well, third... I haven't returned to the communist cafe yet). By the time I got there, I was wet despite my trusty umbrella-ella-ella-ella. But even worse, I was sweating, so I opted for iced coffee. Meh. The first month in Baltimore we had great weather, so I forgot how oppressive humidity can be. If 100% humidity is being underwater (I'm assuming), then it's definitely 99% humidity today. Just barely breathable. I should get a scuba tank or something.

Why am I writing about the weather? Because I don't want to write about biostats. And weather and biostats are the two major things happening in my life today. Here's a little something that is becoming more solidified with each day of biostats: I really don't like it. I sat in on a lesson on how to use the computer program that we need for this class...the kind of program where you have to input commands by hand (I'm using keys I've never touched before, like this one: ~) ... it's bad... and as I was sitting there in the class, I was thinking "Why? Why am I here learning this computer program?" I have absolutely no interest in doing this particular thing after I graduate. I really don't. It isn't even interesting to me. In college, I forced myself through Organic Chemistry and Bio, etc. for a reason (a retrospectively pointless one)-- to become a doctor. It was even interesting, but also hell, which is why I became an English major. So I could read books. Something I enjoy. Now I'm in grad school by choice and I really don't see the benefits of learning this computer program to the extent that I am required to. (I also don't like having it on my computer. Is there anyone else out there who has Stata and Final Draft on their computer? If so, I'd like to meet them). Everyone says you can make a lot of money if you know how to do these programs. But, the chances of me taking a job where this is required are slim (remind me to remove this post when I end up applying for biostats jobs next year). I know having new skills is important, blah blah, and at least Hopkins is more hands-on and not entirely theoretical, but seriously, I'm over it.

Enough complaining. I like my other classes a lot (well, the Entertainment Education is a maybe so far), so I'll hang in there with biostats. And the other day my Epidemiology professor told us that we'll have a guest lecturer next week because he'll be in Geneva at a measles meeting. A measles meeting! Awesome! I do love some things about public health.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Shot Down

Yesterday I made it through my first Wednesday of classes. My class schedule for Wednesdays this quarter is hell. I start at 8:30 AM and go straight through until 6:30 PM with a half-hour break at 5 PM. It's tiring. But, fortunately it only happens once a week, will only happen seven more times, thanks to the eight-week quarter, and is followed by a blissfully easy Thursday with only one class at 10:30.

Why am I divulging my schedule? I have no idea. But now all my stalkers know where to find me. My point is, I had a bunch of first day of classes yesterday, one of which I was most excited about as it's pretty much a main reason why I'm at this school, and why I'm in grad school in the first place. Entertainment Education. I've got the entertainment part, now I'm here to see about the education part. The class could potentially be great. Our main assignment is to write a 13-episode treatment for a serial drama (or comedy) targeting a specific audience about a specific health issue (suggestions appreciated). Well, that's what I want to do for my career! Perfect. I can be creative and do what I want! The problem is, the professor has very clear ideas about what she wants and I'm afraid our ideas are going to clash. Why do I think that? Because they already have.

While describing the final project, about how we have to find the emotion of the story, the professor subtly slipped in that we couldn't use cartoons or puppets for our script. Fine. But I wanted to know why. So I raised my hand and asked. The response I got was something along the lines of "Because you cannot evoke the same emotion with cartoons or puppets as you can with real people." "I disagree," I responded, "and you can do a lot more with cartoons and puppets than you can with real people." "Maybe so, but they are intellectually and emotionally inferior to real people" (or something like that). "Okay. I still disagree." (dude, they're made by real people). "Fine, we can discuss this later at length if you want." Um, no thanks because I have 10 freaking hours of class today and you already pissed me off. But, hello! If cartoons can't evoke emotion, why did I cry at Wall-E?

The worst part was that this interaction came immediately after her diatribe about how children need to be free to learn, how our education system tells kids what they have to know and when and how to think and how we need to cultivate free thinkers. And then she shot down my opinion.

I also made the mistake of mentioning that I was a TV writer when she asked if anyone had ever written a script or a 13 episode treatment ("Someday Maybe" and "Zelda"! I've the first seasons plotted out! Well, sort of. Anyone? Anyone?). After I said I was a TV writer, she said that in that case she and the rest of the class should grade and judge me harder. She said it as a joke, I think. Although I'm not so sure she meant it as one.

There are a bunch of other reasons why I'm skeptical about this class. For one, it seems disorganized. They ordered the wrong books at the book store and two of the three books we need to buy are-- surprise, surprise-- written by the professor. Okay, maybe she's the expert. But I'm not yet convinced. Nor am I impressed by the 800 different places she's lived and traveled to in Africa, by her ambassador husband, by the 50 children's books she's written, by the fact that she has a British accent and not her native Australian one because she was once upon a time a news broadcaster-- all of which she made sure to tell us about on the first day. Eh. I chose Hopkins because the professors seemed brilliant, but humble. Oh well. I just hope she likes AIDS jokes.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Thirty Nothing

Here I am, back to school once again, but promise to refrain from using that as the title of this entry. I'm starting this week of school with a new sense of excitement, owed completely to the events of this Labor Day weekend. I kicked off the weekend with my 30th birthday on Friday. It started off with 8:30 am epidemiology class in Baltimore with people I barely know and ended with dinner in Philly with my family (well, really with a weird aloe vera cocktail with my brother and others at a bar, but still). Being in a completely new city, school and field brought up even more "what the hell am I doing with my life" thoughts than most birthdays do for me. It didn't help that this one ended in a "0". Nor did it help that I heard this depressing new Aimee Mann song on the radio on my way home from dinner. (Okay, it's a year off, but still quite apropos). Oh, and seeing my high school boyfriend in the NY Times wedding section this weekend-- yeah, that didn't help either.

The next day I went to New York and hung out with some of my closest friends, most of whom I hadn't seen in a long time. Spending time with people who know me well and are for the most part in the same place in their lives as I am was exactly what I needed. It was totally comforting and reassuring that what I am doing, this change, is the right move. In fact, as it turns out, almost all of my friends are going through their own career changes these days. Some are thinking of switching completely, some just got laid off, some are starting to apply for more school and some are tweaking their current careers. And the friends who are still in entertainment all seem to have the same doubts I had when I was working in TV. Since I left LA, I haven't really been around friends who are dealing with the same career changes as me. Aside from-- and maybe even more important than-- the fact that I could relate to my friends on the career-change level, it was just so nice to be able to drink and relax and laugh and make fun of people with some of the most important people in my life. It made turning 30 nothing, which is exactly how it should be.