Tuesday, January 12, 2016


About six hours into the first of many flights from San Francisco to Bangalore, India a few weeks ago, my left calf started to hurt. By the time we arrived at G's cousins' home in Bangalore, the pain had spread from my knee to my toes, which were now numb. Instead of easing, the pain continued day after day. By about day three, I decided to call my mom. She quickly offered advice for icing the leg (my calf to be precise), keeping the leg over my heart, and using heated compresses. But what I really wanted to know was if leg/foot pain and numbness was something she usually encountered when traveling long distances. Despite her own foot pain, my mom is an avid traveler. She didn't think this was a normal occurrence.

So things didn't seem to be quite right. I had not experienced this level of pain while flying before. And it didn't seem to be easing up anytime soon. While at lunch on day four, the pain was so acute, I didn't know what to do. Fortunately, the restaurant was above a hair salon. Down in the salon, we convinced the pedicurist to massage my calves and feet. But nothing seemed to help. Where could I find a foam roller, my usual go to cure for leg cramping and pain? Surely Bangalore had its fair share of gyms and yoga studios. Maybe I could talk my way in? But then I thought, maybe at this point I should just leave the calf alone and try to enjoy India.

(this man definitely seems to be enjoying Bangalore)

Still writhing in pain, unable to sleep, I came out into the living room (where I got wifi signal) at about 5am on day five. Just then my phone began to beep. A lot. The messages started coming through. Mom had talked to dad (a doctor) and it seemed to them that I had a common traveler's condition: a deep vein thrombosis, or blood clot. I had all the symptoms. And I was taking a medication that additionally put me at risk. It seemed to them to be a no brainer: get to a hospital and get a doppler (ultrasound) of my left calf. But I'm in Bangalore. This is a lot easier said than done.

I called my mom. She started to tell me that I needed to seek medical attention asap. "This must be serious," I thought. My family has never been one to actually go to the emergency room or even the doctor's office. I basically have to be unconscious before having myself checked out my a medical professional. And then mom started telling me about all the people she knew about who had blood clots and died. Friends of friends. Friends of friends' children. Even famous journalists. Do you remember David Bloom? He died of a blood clot. Each name pushed me further and further into panic mode.

I immediately woke up Rama and Neetu. "I need to get to the hospital," I said. "I might have a blood clot." We jumped into the car for a quick (by India standards) ride, eventually walking into the Emergency Room of Apollo Hospital at a little past 6am. I walked right up to a Doctor. "I need to get checked for a DVT," I said. Then I sat down on a bed. I put on a gown. And I immediately spoke with two very sympathetic doctors. They ordered an EKG and a doppler.

Making the best of a scary situation

The key to the doppler (ultrasound) is to compare legs; one in significant pain against one without pain. The tech rubbed the wand up and down my leg, taking photos. The assistant positioned my leg for the tech and did as he said. When the tech first said "compress" the assistant squeezed my thigh. When the tech again said "compress" the assistant squeezed my calf. I immediately screamed out in pain. I'd never felt pain like that before. The assistant looked at me. "What happened?" she asked. I was speechless, trying to mouth the words. "The reason, I'm here...the pain...is here...don't squeeze...the pain...is here." She gave me a quizzical look and continued on. "Oh well," I thought, "at least the photos will be accurate."

A copy of the doppler ultrasound of my legs

In the end, there was no blood clot. I would be in and out of the hospital in less than three hours. There was no admission to the hospital during our vacation; no damage to my heart, lungs, or brain. So why the pain? Why the unending, un-ignorable pain? No answer. The prescribed treatment for my pain? Ibuprofen. Plus a referral to see a neurologist back in the US. Because the pain is most likely neuropathy related.

After checking out of the hospital, handwritten intake forms in tow, I stopped by the pharmacy for yet more ibuprofen. "How many do you want?" the pharmacy tech asked me. I pointed to the sheet of six pills in her hand. "5 rupees," she said. I handed her a 10 rupee note. When I went to take my change, she began to hand me a handful of candy. "No change," she told me. I was quick to reply. "No candy," I said. "I'll take six more pills." So she handed me five more pills and a piece candy. India, where you get change in the form of candy.

That night, before going to bed, I quickly checked my email as I usually do. In my inbox sat an article "sent from mom" entitled, "The legacy of reporter David Bloom - News." It's actually an interesting read.

Thanks, mom.

To see more of our non-hospital related photos from a somewhat epic journey to India, they can be found online here.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

pass the test

The Bechdel Test (est. 1985)

  1. Two female characters (named),
  2. Who talk to each other,
  3. About something other than a man.

A few weeks ago I found myself telling a new acquaintance about a film I had just seen (it was Bridge of Spies and it had been about 3 months since I'd seen any movie). Instead of telling her about the film, or whether or not I even liked it, I told her it failed the Bechdel test. Of course she had the same response any normal person would. The what? The Bechdel test. What's that? Oh, you don't know the Bechdel test? Let me tell you about it...

Alison Bechdel's comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For, 1985, explained "the rules" that have come to be known as the Bechdel test.

I went on to tell said new female acquaintance how a story passes the test. Two named women, onscreen at the same time, speak to each other. Oh, and it's about something other than men. And really, the characters cannot be mother and daughter. I then told her one of the best known examples of an award winning film that fails the test. A film that, a few years ago, brought the Bechdel test into the mainstream for a while. That film is Argo. IMHO, it fails the test. On this, you can trust me. Or you can go watch it and see for yourself.

So what? Whether or not a film passes this test has no bearing on whether or not the film is good. Or great. It's a separate entity. So why do we care? First, I'd like to state the obvious. We don't care. We go to the movies to be entertained. We don't ask any questions about what we see. Was the movie accurate? Who cares. Was I entertained? Well, for $12.75 I had better be.

Yet, I still think about the Bechdel test. Maybe it's because I'm a feminist. Because, well, I am a feminist. But I'm also an avid fiction reader and film goer. As someone who likes entertainment, I happen to like seeing women on screen. Together. Being complex and dynamic. And having deep friendships with one another. And so, as such, I do think that the test evaluates the depth of the female characters. And what's wrong with a little depth in our movies? 

Not long ago, I heard something interesting on a podcast. In all honesty, it was a Gilmore Guys podcast, where two guys talk at length about each and every Gilmore Girls episode. As someone who has loved the show forever (and owns every episode on DVD), this podcast is enjoyable. So when one of the hosts mentioned the Bechdel Test, I was intrigued. He commented that though many episodes of Gilmore Girls pass the Bechdel Test with female characters, the show tends to fail considerably with the male characters (aka the reverse Bechdel). And admittedly, men aren't the focus of the show. On any given episode there may not be more than one man on screen at a time and this man may never speak to another man (that we see, anyway). 

So what does this mean? I don't know. Does this mean something to you? Or is it just something to talk about at a cocktail party to appear intelligent? I'm not sure yet. Since the Bechdel test doesn't indicate a script's quality, what does it do? I've heard it increases gender bias awareness in Hollywood. But is this supposed awareness doing anything to make the situation better? Is it closing the wage gap? Only time will tell. But right now, I'd say no.

So in the meantime, go out and watch a film. Any film. And ask yourself, does it pass the test? Why? Because you can.

If you're interested in what others are saying about the Bechdel test, check out:

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

my dark day

For the many of us who have lost someone special, there are certain days of the year that make it hard to keep on moving forward, to keep on growing old. The deceased's birthday or the anniversary of the day he/she died is almost always harder for us than all other days in a given year. But since losing my older brother, the hardest day of the year for me has always been MY birthday. That's right, my own birthday. I still recognize my brother's birthday, the day of his diagnosis, and the day of his death. I light a Yahrtzeit candle. My family goes to the cemetery. We mark these events the same way everyone else does.

But the hardest day of the year, for me, is the day I turn yet another year older. Older than my big brother. From my perspective, he stopped aging at age 30. The day I turned 30, two and a half years after Dave passed away, I was a mess. But then I was okay. I was surrounded by good friends, who raised money for Brain Tumor Research. Well, I thought, I finally caught up to you big brother. Thirty's not so bad. 

But then I turned 31. I had officially outlived my older brother. I didn't do a single celebratory thing that day. I think I ate Taco Bell and went to bed early. I just didn't want to be around anyone else on my "dark day."

So last week, when I turned 35, I just felt awful. Turning another year older, I always feel awful. I'm used to it now. I can see it coming. And I do my usual ignoring of the inevitable, "what are we doing for your birthday" texts.  Because, let's face it: I'm now 35 and my big brother is 37 still 30. 

I know Dave would never want me to sit at home on this special day and wallow in my sadness. I don't do that (anymore, at least). I go out to dinner. I try to run a race or be outside. I try to learn something new, or travel to a different location. But I know this day is still going to be excruciatingly hard. And often the days leading up to the birthday are even harder. 

Sometimes I just disappear off the grid for a few days. Frequently, I try to ignore the darkness that I know is inevitably coming. Other times I just let the sadness envelop me and sit at home and cry. Mostly, though, I've learned to be honest with people. I find myself saying more and more to my close friends and family, "you know, my birthday is just a really hard day for me." They don't have to know why it's my dark day. They can just nod and move on. Knowing that the next year they will still ask me what I'm doing for my birthday. Because that milestone will come, whether I like it or not.

A few days after my birthday, I saw a former Business school classmate celebrating her 30th birthday. With a giant party. And a huge close-up photo of the stitches in the side of her head. And an announcement that, after eight years of beating her tumor, her brain tumor (just like Dave's) had morphed into the dreaded Glioblastoma (GBM 4 for short). She referred to her tumor as terminal and at that point, something changed inside my head. No, not really. I can't change my whole temperament that quickly. But I did have a bit of a reality check.

This lovely young lady is actually the true definition of a fighter. She will forever remind me of why we (I) need to celebrate life. And never give up. Regardless of her diagnosis, her words are always filled with hope and I love seeing her smiling face when we meet up in Golden Gate Park for the Brain Tumor 5K (almost every year). Next year, I will complete the race for her. But I know she will still be here to ring in yet another birthday, to complete yet another milestone. And she will once again remind me that it is not about feeling sorry for myself. It is about celebrating the gift I receive by being able to turn yet another year older.

#curegbm #greymatters #curebraincancer #braincancerawareness

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

working for the weekend

Lately I have been inundated with certain ground-breaking announcements. This just in: working over 60 hours a week is not productive. Actually, it can become counter-productive. So stop working so much overtime. Don't give up your personal life for more billable hours. Take control of your work addictions. Step away from the phone...

All of which is not really a problem for me. I'm happy to work my 30ish hours per week (many of them from home) and call it a success. That is, until I was asked to work over the weekend. Because, well, there was a mix up. A mistake. And a 50 page report that had yet to be completed. It needed to be compiled and written already. But it didn't quite exist yet.

So, at 4pm on a Friday I finally accepted my future; because there would be a report by Monday. And I would be the one to create it. I looked at my weekend calendar. I cancelled everything. I started to drive home from work, ready to get started on the report. But first, I stopped to go for a run.

Because that is how I work best. I need time for me. I need to calm down, to breath, to step away and come back to whatever I am working on with fresh eyes. I need to know that before I spend 80+ hours doing something for someone else, that I did something for myself. Plus, if I go for a run first, I'll do a better job in the end. It's just how it works for me.

When I finally got home Friday evening, I got to work. I printed hard copies of instructions, spread out in the living room, organized my emails and documents, and read up on what I needed to know to get started. Then I started organizing my thoughts. Hours flew by. Once I couldn't see straight, I knew it was time to stop for the night. So I went to bed.

I woke up the next morning and went to a class at my gym. Yes, I had an insurmountable amount of work to get through. Yet I still needed a little bit of time that day for me, an appearance of weekend. I had already cancelled all my other Saturday plans, but not this class. It was over before I normally get out of bed on the weekend and I was back home, back to work, before I knew it.

I worked until the sun went down. I ordered myself a pizza. It tasted amazing. I ate it over the computer screen. I worked and worked and again once my eyes started blurring the type, I set aside the computer and went to bed. I was making progress, but I had so much more to write.

This isn't a lesson in complaining about having to work. Or about how much more I work than anyone else (we all know that isn't true). It isn't even about how I manage to work every weekend. It's about how something good came from something that at first seemed completely awful. At first, I was afraid to tell my friends what I was up to that weekend. I immediately thought they'd judge me and my job for letting it control me and dictate my life.

But this couldn't be further from the truth. My job is amazing. The best job I've ever had. It's a treat to do my job, to go to my office on a beautiful college campus, to work with brilliant and caring individuals, and to help send low-income students of color to college. It's a privilege. Sometimes it just becomes like every other job; too much work and not enough employees or time. It's rare, but it happens.

Except that I've just learned it doesn't much happen in San Francisco. I'm shocked about this. When I did tell a few people I was working all weekend, they complained. No one around here works weekends. I thought that was crazy. Of course they do. They go in to the office on Saturdays. They work from home on Sundays. They are always checking their work email throughout the weekend.

But that's in Chicago, not in San Francisco. The last time I checked, almost every single member of my family works weekends. My dad, as a doctor, worked every weekend of my life. My brother, as a corporate lawyer, most definitely went into the office on Saturdays. My sister, as a lab tech, works a Saturday shift every week. My cousins and aunts and uncles all do this as well. They work during the week. And then on the weekend they work some more. Whatever it takes to get the workload done. To get the promotion. To get the recognition.

Except that it doesn't need to be done. After working 22 additional hours in one weekend I did get a promotion (I got a bonus). And yes, I did get a ton of recognition. But I also got the best gift of all: permission (and funding) to hire another staff member. In response to the "great jobs" I was receiving all around for my (to be honest) kick-ass work, I was able to say, "let's make sure it doesn't happen again" to people who are now making sure it doesn't happen again. Because I am not my best at 90 hours a week. I'm just not. And thus my organization is not. I don't know anyone who is their best self at that rate. 

If working this much is your life, I won't judge you. Maybe you have to. But maybe you don't. Maybe you work this much because you let yourself work this much. It's okay to push back every now and then (if you can). And it's absolutely okay to do something for yourself every day (if you can). For me, this is mandatory. Because in the end, it will make you happier, more balanced, and simply more pleasant to be around. And that will pay off in spades.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015


A few months after I first got up on stage and told the sad story of the accidental death of my precious first pet, my cat Bella, I found myself yet again wanting to open up to a group of strangers regarding a second sad, yet slightly less accidental, animal death story. This story will ultimately become my next NorCal Story Jam story.

Once upon a time, in a Honduran village far far away, two chicks hatched. My very generous host mom named each chick. The first was mine; she was named Karen. The second was my site-mates'; she was named Jason. My host mom took care of these chicks, feeding them along with all the others. She told me that when our chicks grew up they would ultimately become ours. And the eggs they would go on to lay would be ours as well. It was a really sweet sentiment, while also saving us from having to purchase eggs, an integral part of our daily diet.

My host sisters showing my chick, Karen, to my brother

 As Karen and Jason grew they became teenagers. Then they became full fledged hens. Jason hardly ever lay eggs, while Karen, on the other hand, laid her fair share of eggs. She was just very particular regarding her egg laying habits. She would lay eggs only deep within the grass. She would leave the confines of my host mother's yard and lay her eggs in the grass across the street. She was particular in this respect. But I received her bounty every week. And she continued to lay eggs. Until one day she didn't. 

It quickly became apparent that Karen had just stopped laying eggs. There didn't appear to be anything wrong with her; it was as if her eggs had run out. So the question was raised as to what would become of Karen. Because my host mom continued feeding  her (at a cost) and no one was reaping the benefits of having a hen, I went back to spending my money on store bought eggs. Keeping Karen around no longer seemed like a benefit; she was now simply a cost.

Meanwhile Jason, the human Jason, was in the middle of a crisis of conscience. He had just announced that he would no longer eat meat, unless he killed the animal himself. While I'm a fan of knowing where your food comes from (that's farm to table, right?), I thought his rantings a bit extreme. However, it gave me an idea. I would kill Karen myself. Then I would cook her up. I know it seems morbid, but it's the circle of life. I realized that I too shouldn't eat any animal I wouldn't be willing to kill myself.

Well, willing is one thing. Actually doing is another. But, I thought  now might be my one and only chance to learn how to kill chickens as my neighbors did. It would be cultural bonding at its best. I felt like a true Peace Corps volunteer.

My host godmother, Marleni, prepares to teach me how to kill my chicken

So I took Karen (the chicken) over to my host-godmother's home. She would show me the ropes. The first step? To wring Karen's neck. How was I supposed to do this? I wasn't exactly sure. I do recall taking the neck and wringing it, waiting for it to snap. But it didn't work; there was no snap. And I couldn't tell if Karen was dead or not. So I was worried. I didn't want to her suffer. If she did suffer, I didn't think I could eat her. And then I would have killed my namesake for nothing.

So my host godmother, Marleni, quickly grabbed a bucket. She laid the chicken on the ground, turned the bucket over with the rim of the bucket crossing the chicken's neck and stomped down. Hard. I heard the crunch. Karen was dead. And I was horrified. Marleni had just completed one of the dirtiest chicken killings I could imagine possible. It was gruesome. Poor Karen.
 How could I explain to Marleni and her family how horrified I was? Her family had to eat. I felt that I had no choice but to pick up Karen, pluck her feathers and cut her up. Marleni needed to make her in to tamales for her entire family's dinner.

That's when I learned yet another Honduran custom. Not the one about using every part of the animal. I had seen that before. But the part where my host family argued over who would get to eat the tamale with the huevos in it. Even though Karen had long ago ceased to put out eggs, she still had her own ovaries. And apparently they, along with the rest of her internal organs, were considered delicacies. I then watched my godmother stealthily set the eggs aside and make herself a special tamale. I could barely stand as I watched her feast on Karen, huevos and all. But she had done the dirty work. She deserved the caviar of chicken parts in her tamale.

Yum, nacatamales de Karen

At that point, I had to get out of the kitchen for a few minutes. And in the end I didn't eat a Karen tamale. I'm not really a fan of nacatamales, a traditional Honduran food. Plus, Karen's death had been a bit too horrific for me. But she was enjoyed by all. And I suppose that's what really matters.