Friday, April 04, 2008



I work at a cancer hospital in Boston. It's not great secret which one it is and it's also no great secret that for the past three years I've had a torrid love-hate relationship with my job. In general this job is "a living" - it's nothing dramatic, it's nothing extraordinary, it's something I do that keeps me out of trouble. I have had some incredibly humbling experiences since working here that have made me grateful simply to have the strength to step outside in the sunshine and take a breath of fresh air, but I credited the Institute itself for those experiences - I've never really given my job itself that much credit. Why? Because for the most part it is rather dull. I sit in front of two computer screens for most of my days, abstracting medical records into a database which tracks non-Hodgkin's lymphoma patients' diagnoses, treatments, and outcomes, as well as a slew of other data. I mean it's interesting at times, and I'm up on most of the latest lymphoma treatments out there. I've learned a great deal about the human body too, but for the most part, the work day drags and I only feel relief when I step outside, flip on the iPod and start making my way home. I dreamed of the day I'd walk out of here forever, not to return unless donating platelets or (heaven forbid) if I or someone in my family became sick. That was until last week, when my former project manager came to present her thesis defense to our department. She had earned her PhD and was now looking to get published. I always enjoy heme onc presentations since so much of my department is focused around things such as end-of-life care, palliative care, outcomes, etc. When she came to the methods section, the presenter explained that her data came from the database. MY database. My ears perked up. As she continued to speak, she gave the details of what the database collects. My heart swelled with pride. "That's my data," I thought. For the first time I saw the real deep and true value of what I do. Then I started thinking about how this has been my project for three years, and I felt myself getting almost emotional about letting it go. As a control freak, this project has been a perfect fit, I now know I'll have a hard time leaving it behind, even though when I go, it will be time to go!

As for courtesy, I'm going through one of those phases where the level of rudeness I observe on the T every day is reaching maximum capacity, and I feel like I'm going to snap and do something extreme or rude (and by "extreme" I mean throw the paper someone just threw on the floor back in their faces and by "rude" I mean push back or say EXCUSE ME really loudly. Nothing violent or anything!) Yesterday I was on the green line and started to fall, because I got shoved into that annoying spot where you can't reach a vertical pole, and you're too short to reach the horizontal pole, and you just have to balance with like, two fingers barely touching the vertical pole. All the people sitting just stare up at you as that stupid train bounces you around. Of course the Heath Street train is particularly offensive given that it is so overcrowded. As I was trying to balance the other day, we took a hard turn between Arlington and Copley and I lost my balance, something I hate because it makes you look so spazzy. So I start to fall backwards. The lady on my left was really cool in that she tried to catch me, she actually made a grab for my coat, which I appreciate. The women on my right, instead of sticking a hand out and just pushing me back, MOVED. Yup they moved so I could fall backwards and they could watch. I regained my balance at the last minute and stepped on one of their feet. I felt really bad, but then again they did just let me fall. I mean you don't see a person collapse and move so they hit the deck unless they are far away or too big to help down gently. While that is very very mild in terms of the usual rudeness that I see, I will still sort of all down about my fellow humankind and their willingness to help each other. Sigh. I did see something nice today though to restore some of my faith. This lady was trying to jet out of the Red Line at South Station and she kind of took out a woman, also exiting the train, on her way out. I figured she keep walking, but instead she stopped herself, turned and said "I'm sorry. You go ahead." Wow. There is hope!

So today is the 40th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr's assassination. Since I was a little kid, I had this odd fascination with MLK. I don't know why exactly, but I must've found his words inspirational, because as a second-grader I memorized part of his "I have a dream" speech for fun and recited it for my teacher. I remember I used to get chills when I got to this part: "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character." I thought it was beautiful, even though I didn't understand the full meaning of it all until I was older. Since I am only 25 - well 26 in 12 days (wow. time FLEW) I obviously was not alive in MLK's day, and don't truly understand the times and the struggles of the times, the tumultuousness that filled the United States, and I don't think anyone who didn't live through that can really understand what it was like. I listed to the words of Dr. King and I am so puzzled as to why people were scared of what he said - his words were so beautiful, so full of hope and determination. Listening to them today, I wonder what he would think if he were still alive today - or rather what he would think, were he to return, as I think his continued fight for equality would have made the nation a very different place. While I don't think MLK would be overjoyed to see some of the things that are happening in this country, I really think that he would not write us off as hopeless, not just yet. Why? Because I hear his words echoed in the words of another man, you know, that guy who keeps calling for change, telling us "Yes We Can." I'm not going to plug B-rock obnoxiously as I usually do, but I really think that 40 years later, we need to revisit the teaching of Martin Luther King. We need to read his words, we need to think about the things he said and the vision he had for this country...and I'm not talking about reading his speeches and saying "oh segregation? it's done, it's over, we're good now." I mean getting in there and reading his words and thinking about how far we still need to go, that we must, we must, we must change.

"With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day" MLK

"We know the battle ahead will be long. But always remember that, no matter what obstacles
stand in our way, nothing can stand in the way of the power of millions of voices calling for change.

We have been told we cannot do this by a chorus of cynics. And they will only grow louder and more dissonant in the weeks and months to come. We've been asked to pause for a reality check. We've been warned against offering the people of this nation false hope. But in the unlikely story that is America, there has never been anything false about hope." B-rock

Stepping off my soapbox now, the air up here is thin ;)

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