Friday, December 31, 2010

Grandma's Eulogy

At my grandmother's funeral on Thursday, December 16, we were blessed to celebrate her life with many family and friends at St. Paul Armenian Church. What follows is the sketch of my Eulogy that I had the honor of delivering to our gathered family and friends about my amazing Grandmother. Wishing everyone a very Happy New Year - may 2011 bring more joy and happiness to all.

Tribute to Grandma

There are so many lessons learned from my Medz. Most of you knew her as the sweet woman with a kind smile, a stylish hand knit hat, and a cane (honking story) who sang off key and was about 8 notes behind the choir in church. But here are some of the amazing lessons I learned from her and why I lit up with immense joy every time I was with her:

  1. “MEDZ” didn’t talk much
    1. my opinion: she lived in a house with me – nobody can talk much
    2. her opinion: “my time to speak has passed”
    3. LESSON: Talk less, listen more OR just rock in your chair and smile

  1. Dentures aren’t necessarily a bad thing
    1. In the time it took me to brush, floss, gargle and rinse, she had her top and bottom teeth out with the seltzer cleaner and was in bed.
    2. LESSON: Removable teeth are cool.

  1. Diversity is a God-given gift
    1. 5 fingers on your hand are different so why should people be the same?
    2. LESSON: Accept every one. Don’t waste your breath gossiping or fooling yourself to think you are better than others.

  1. It’s ok to let someone chew their food 58 times…even ice cream
    1. I watched and helped my grandma take care of my grandpa. And even when he would chew his ice cream, she stayed calm.
    2. LESSON: patience is a God given virtue. Don’t let anything upset you.

  1. Red Radishes are a dangerous food. Very dangerous
    1. Let’s just say I understood what “diffusion” meant very early in life.
    2. LESSON: Do not eat red radishes before you go on a date.

  1. Grandmas are the best referees ever – they always side with the grandchild
    1. Mother’s Day Card: “Thanks for saying yes all those times mom said no”
    2. “Asor hed mee veejapaneer. Tbrotzuh sorvazeh veejapanootyoon. Kulookh ches gurnar yelal.” Translation: Don't argue with this one (in reference to me). He did debate in school. You can't win!
    3. 2 LESSONS: 1. The “oghlum” (child) is always right. And 2. Choose your battles. You can’t win them all and there are some not worth fighting.

  1. Be wary of anyone who says “No speak English”
    1. Andrea was guaranteed to make Medz smile and she is CONVINCED that Medz understood every single word she heard in English. Confession: it's true - she did!
    2. Gma spoke Spanish, too! Telenovela stories
    3. Some phrases - explain each reference (all in two’s): “Go Astoria?” “Goot, goot.” “Open! Open!” “Cold! Cold!” 
  1.  MY FAVORITE PHRASE: this one didn’t need to be said twice – once was enough:
    1. Me: I love you!! Medz: I love you more!!
    2. Summarize with the Bible verse above the altar: “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”

Monday, December 27, 2010

Grandma's ("Medz") Obituary

Tarafanda Mahdissian was a wonderful wife, amazing mother, doting grandmother, loving great-grandmother and an overall awesome person. She was born in Turkey around February 10, 1918 to Toros and Ossanna Kassabian. She completed an elementary education and worked as a seamstress until marrying Ohannes Mahdissian at the age of 16 in Lebanon. Her family was blessed with three children, Margaret Thomassian, Haigouhie Artinian and Hovsep Mahdissian. Later, she was blessed with six grandchildren (one who affectionately referred to her as “Medz”=grand) and two great-grandchildren.

Tarafanda was a model to her family of how faith can guide someone through the trials and tribulations of life. Her faith in God, caring demeanor, omnipresent loving smile and infectious laugh made a deep impression on all who were blessed to know her, to hear her advice, to listen to her stories and to laugh with her. She passed away at home early in the morning on Thursday, December 16, 2010 surrounded by her family.

Friday, December 17, 2010

C'est La Vie

My grandmother found eternal rest on Thursday morning, December 16, around 330am. The world and life will not be the same with out her. We are so grateful for the amazing time we had together and the lessons she taught us. We are thankful that she is no longer suffering and has rejoined her husband and parents and grandparents and all her friends who passed before her.

Funeral services to celebrate her life will be held at St. Paul Armenian Church in Fresno, CA on Tuesday, December 21 at 10:30am.

Thank you so much for all your support during this difficult time.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Thanksgiving Trip - Part 1: Buffalo

I only worked one full week - 5 business days - in the month of November. The first five days of November were all work days. But, the second week of November saw Thursday and Friday off for Veteran's Day and Furlough Day, respectively. Then, the third week I left for NY on Thursday, November 18, where I stayed until Thanksgiving now get the whole week off for Thanksgiving, so I wasn't ditching. "Not like in my day..." when only the day of Thanksgiving and Friday were given as vacation. Yes, November was great. The following series of posts over the next several days will document the awesome Thanksgiving week I had.

BUFFALO - 11/18-11/20:
I flew to Buffalo on Thursday and on Friday I met some incredible Doctors and Support Staff at the Women's and Children's Hospital of Buffalo - the only free-standing Children's Hospital in the region. It was an amazing place doing incredible work for the region's little people. I was most impressed by how kind every person was. It wasn't the fake "I'm tired but I will smile for you" kind - it was a genuine, welcoming kindness that made me feel wonderful to be there. After the interview, I was spending the night in Buffalo and had all afternoon to do something. So, with a potential future Residency colleague, we took the awesome advice of a Holiday Inn Buffalo Downtown employee to take the city bus to Niagara Falls. Forty-five minutes and $4 (the cost of an unlimited bus/rail day pass) later, we were dropped off in front of a huge Casino on the American side of the Falls. It was a pretty cold evening, so we got our obligatory Starbucks (thank God!) and walked the 10 minutes to Falls park. It would have been another 10 minute walk to the actual Falls, but we serendipitously came across a free trolley bus that made rounds around the park. It wasn't the walk we minded, it was the cold, so we got in the trolley. Three minutes later we were gazing at the top of the main falls - we couldn't really see the bottom of the falls because from our angle it was hard to see the inlet and there was a TON of mist...which at one point began blowing toward us and forced a quick retreat. But as always, the Falls are a majestic and amazing place to see - God's beautiful Hand in creation can't be denied here. We took the bus back to the hotel and about 60 minutes later, were seated at the Anchor Bar, anticipating our Buffalo Wings at the original restaurant that created the popular comfort food. It was yummy and a great way to cap an amazing time in Buffalo.

HOTEL: Holiday Inn, Downtown Buffalo. Residency Interview Rate $93.
  • PROs: Excellent location, awesome staff, free airport and local area shuttle.
  • CONs: Room decor and furniture is pretty outdated and shows wear. Housekeeping did an OK job, but there was definitely areas that hadn't been cleaned in a long time, both in the room and in public spaces.
  • Would I recommend this hotel to family and friends? Absolutely!
TRANSPORT: United Airlines (FAT thru SFO thru IAD to BUF)
I have to give United some MAJOR positive reviews here. I flew them to NY last week and back to FAT yesterday. I don’t know why all the United bashing goes on. I was supremely impressed! Every single employee I encountered was pleasant. Granted, every one of my flights left on time and arrived on time, if not a few to several minutes early. So I didn’t get to see them during irregular ops, but since the majority of the time they operate normal ops, they are doing a great job. The ticketing agents came up to help even at the kiosks. The gate agents did a great job of announcing up to the flights and every flight was boarded in a very orderly fashion so we didn’t have to all crowd around. And during the flight, I had some very kind, smiling, and overall pleasant and helpful flight attendants. I was blown away – United deserves some recognition for running a great operation. In fact, I am now seeking out United flights rather than trying to avoid them like the plague; they really made a great impression on me during this last trip.
Seating Tip: I got the sense that United is boarding its flights where those with window seats are in the higher boarding levels and those with aisles board toward the end, regardless of where in the plane your seat is located. So, if you want to make sure you are one of the first to board so you will have space in the bins for your luggage, choose a window seat. Otherwise, especially during the Holidays when it sounds like flights are going full, you may end up separated from any luggage that can't fit under the seat in front of you.

Stay Tuned! Coming Up in Future Installments:
  • Thanksgiving Trip 2010 - Part 2: Rochester
  • Thanksgiving Trip 2010 - Part 3: NYC

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Comings and Goings

I seem to find time to write on the blog when I'm sitting at airports, enjoying the people watching and ceaselessly repeating loops of the same news on CNN. Life has been pretty busy lately.

I started my new job in Fresno, teaching high school Earth Science. Well, I started it in August, but haven't really been moved to chronicle any story. Don't get me wrong, the kids are absolutely amazing. They dazzle me with their unique and fun personalities every day. I'm still trying to figure out some of my kids and what makes them tick, but the majority of them are so sweet and lovable and you can't help but want to work hard for them. Most of them. And my colleagues are a lovely bunch, too. Not as outgoing as my Baltimore colleagues and certainly not as much "hey let's go out" in the bunch, but they all are hard-working and have a great team spirit.

My school administrators know that I am technically only staying for a year. I wanted to be totally up front about that so there wouldn't be any uncomfortable questions about why I have to miss a couple days of school every so often to go on residency interviews. They hired me nonetheless and I like to think they are incredibly smart - they know a damn good thing when they see it. And, just as I suspected when I wanted to join the school where I'm at, they have provided me lots of support and encouragement, but more importantly, once they realized I knew what I was doing, they haven't smothered me with needless stuff. At many "failing" schools (I hate that label because the school/teachers ARE NOT the ones failing the kids) they require so much ridiculous paperwork and documentation. It doesn't improve teaching - the opposite, actually because it takes time away from the teacher to plan and meet with students so they can finish the paperwork that SAYS that they will meet with students and create a plan to help students succeed. Silliness really.

In news from the Doctor front, it has been OK. I  have a few interviews for residency...and lots of rejection emails. They all read the same way: "You are a great candidate, blah blah blah...We had so many candidates apply, blah blah blah...We can't invite you for an interview, blah blah blah...We wish you success in your career." I feel like screaming at the computer screen sometimes as it delivers its almost daily dose of negative news. I've basically stopped hoping that I will get any more interview invitations. When I get the "noreply" emails in the subject heading, I have almost resigned myself to another rejection. It's maddening, really, the dichotomy between the education field, where I'm loved and sought by countless school leaders, and the medical field where I'm apparently a black mark that nobody wants to touch. HEY GUYS - I FAILED A TEST. ONE TEST. ONE...FRIGGIN'...TEST. Many of the folks in charge of residency programs today would have failed the exams we have to take today, too. (The exam was much easier back in the day). Not trying to make excuses, but sheesh - look past the tests every now and again and look at the person, would ya? You will find some hidden diamonds.

And in family news, my grandma fell and hit her head a few weeks ago. That means a trip to the ER and a CT head. There was nothing wrong, but her blood pressure wasn't behaving so she got admitted. That turned into a 4 day stay. Since then she has been at a rehab hospital trying to regain her strength...but in much pain and discomfort. I keep praying for God to either fix her completely or take her Home with a capital H. So far, He hasn't really listened or else He is very busy right now or else I'm not on the priority list.

At the moment I sit at gate 86, watching them board a Boeing 777 for the flight that also goes to Dulles an hour before my flight to Dulles (I connect there to get to Buffalo). The CNN buzz is acting strangely like a gentle white noise that is relaxing my senses but also putting my thoughts in overdrive. My sleepy meditation is only jarred every so often by the comparatively very loud "Now boarding Executive Platinum, Gold, Silver, Bronze, various other medals that make you important, 100,000 mile flyers, First-Class, Business Class, Priority Lane. Anyone who paid extra to board early. HEY!! YOU!!!! PEASANT WITH AN ECONOMY TICKET!!! STAND TO THE SIDE! The Red Carpet is for IMPORTANT PEOPLE ONLY!"

Some day I'll be important. Until then, I'll keep waiting in line for a seat.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

ATL and Med School in my Six. MD Full Steam Ahead

"This is your Captain speaking. Hope you enjoyed your time in Atlanta - our flight to Los Angeles should take approximately..." It is August 3rd and time to go back home.

During the Week...
I have had an incredible time in Atlanta. Between my own travel itinerary and Captain K and family taking me to some amazing and less-touristy places, I have seen many awesome things. I stayed at the Holiday Inn Express by the airport (which I highly recommend because it is cheap and has breakfast and really nice employees). I saw the Coca-Cola Museum, The ATL Botanical Gardens, an AMAZING Aquarium (by far the coolest one I have ever seen), the MARTA (ATL Subway system, similar in experience/design to Washington DC), Confederate Park AMAZING Laser Light Show (sponsored by Marriott), the Westin Hotel Peachtree Plaza (still undergoing renovation from the Hurricane many years ago and still smells like dampness/mildew inside - not pleasant), the CNN Center (where I met Dr. Gupta - the person who currently holds my future job!), and I even went to the Varsity (where the food leaves a lot to be desired, but it IS an experience you must have really, just once). Talking about food, I experienced some delicious places in ATL. For starters, Capt K and NK took me to The Porter in an eclectic part of town. It is an old train depot and the decor still has luggage and is super cool. I had some awesome fish 'n chips there. I also went to Rays in the Town during Restaurant Week (sponsored by BofA) and had a salad the likes of which I have never experienced before. It was a Shrimp with Feta cheese and watermelon in a lemon sauce. This was the most amazing combo of flavors I have ever experienced in a salad. I loved it. And I got SUPER excited about the main dish, thinking it would be similarly awesome. Unfortunately, my Parmesan-encrusted flounder was both uninspired and unmemorable. It was actually just cafeteria quality food. Too bad, because if it was like the salad I would have come back forever. Another cool place I ate was called Tap. Billed as a "gastropub", it captured my attention with a grilled/roasted grapefruit - definitely something worth trying. Your mind can't decide whether you are eating fruit or BBQ; and that is a pretty cool combo for your mind to be confused about!

Other than the humidity, ATL was super cool and I'm so glad I got to experience it! Thank you to ASA for giving me an opportunity to interview and meet some awesome folks at their company, also. (And for those of you wondering, yes I was offered a position, but no I was unable to take the offer because of family commitments back home).

One Week Prior (July 28)...
I didn't sleep much last night. I had been anticipating this day for months - actually, a whole year, from the first time I took the exam and missed passing by a few points. A year ago, it was like my whole life was thrown upside down - again - as I sat in the Yaldizzle's home staring at a screen that showed what I had been dreading - I hadn't passed. I thought I couldn't be seeing it right - I HAD to pass! In the hospital, I knew what to do almost every time - what the hell happened? But no, the screen wasn't lying and my eyes weren't playing tricks on me. This time, however, I had a different game plan. I reviewed the material like my life depended on it and I went into the exam ready to do battle. Usually, results came out in 3 weeks - so I had my heebie-jeebies last week waiting for results. But they never came. And today, I was flying to Atlanta for a week! I was interviewing with a regional airline for a flight attendant job and was super excited about that; but also excited that I could explore Atlanta, a city I had not yet seen. But my scores just HAD to come out today and I was anticipating, finally, becoming a Doctor, officially.

The only solution was to hand over control - something I continue to work on and improve on. So, thank God for AA who graciously offered to take my password and look up my scores. Afterwards, she would describe the same pulse-racing, heart pumping out-of-your-chest, palm-sweating, head-hurting feelings I felt the week before. Surprisingly, I didn't feel that as much this time - probably because I was on an airplane at 35,000 feet when Andrea looked up the results. But until I got on the airplane, I think AA was ready to kill me because my texts to her started at 5am. AA is generally pleasant...unless you wake her up. Let's just say I'm alive today because she gave me a TON of leeway today. When we landed in SLC and I hurriedly turned on my phone, the very first text I received was from DA: "congrats Doctor" was all I saw on my preview screen and I lost it. There, in a metal tube, as we taxied to the gate in SLC, I broke down and released the tears of joy that had been suppressed for over a year. The stress of a year finally was instantly released and I felt so light. And God placed the best flight attendant on that flight that day, who gave me a reassuring look and a tissue. But interestingly, she didn't ask what is wrong - she instead asked "what happened?" A minor detail but it seemed like people knew that this was good news (perhaps the tears juxtaposed with the huge friggin' smile on my face gave it away?)

And SA was right about chocolate - eating it during the exam raised my score significantly.

Four Weeks Prior (June 30)...
Today was the big day - I was staring down 350 questions and 9 hours at a computer. I was ready. This exam was NOT going to defeat me. I would prevail. And through each block of questions, I kept thinking about what SA had told me - she raised her score about 13% by eating chocolate and she claims there is a study about this. Ya ya, we'll see. (My chocolate is ready in my locker to eat inbetween each block.)

August 4:
It has been a long week and I slept quite well last night after I got home from ATL. Today, I will celebrate with family and friends. I feel very blessed to finally be, Doctor.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Does Education Matter?

In terms of dollars and cents, but more importantly, in terms of personal health and happiness, study after study has shown that getting a solid college education matters immensely. In an article in the NY Times recently, economist David Leonhardt shows just how much a completed college degree can matter.

"The median college graduate now makes about $25,000 a year more than the median worker who attended college but didn’t graduate."
It is not just about money, however. It is about personal wealth, health, happiness and achievement. Obviously, not everyone who is rich required college. Many can point to even high school dropouts who are now filthy rich as examples of why they may not need college. But this argument, in today's new global society and changing job market for US citizens, is irresponsible. It is similar to when a patient who smokes tells me she doesn't have to quit because her granddaddy smoked and he never got cancer and he lived to be 89. That is an EXCEPTION, folks. We know that the rule is much dire. The rule is that you expose yourself to ridiculously higher risk levels of cancer (lung, mouth, lip, stomach, etc), COPD, hypertension, cardiac artery disease, deep venous thrombosis, chronic/peripheral arterial disease, and even other more obscure diseases.

Every person has to make their own decisions in their life and nobody can force them to do otherwise. We can't force someone to make right decisions, we can only give them the tools and knowledge that can guide them toward success - but ultimately, we all live our own lives.

But man, this is some compelling evidence. Click here for the full article.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Quickies: Delays, Tests Results, Delays, Night in Vegas, Hope, (Updated Below!!)

 UPDATE ON JULY 29: I have arrived in ATL. I made the red eye flight from Vegas, had a great aisle seat next to a lovely couple, and got to the hotel without a hitch. I then promptly fell asleep which is why I didn't let you all know I had arrived sooner. But yes, I am alive and well and enjoying the lovely countryside where everyone, but EVERYONE, says hello as you pass by. I could get used to the South, yes indeedy. Except, somebody forgot to mention to God to layoff the heat/humidity at 6 in the morning! I can say that getting off the plane to that mess of weather at 6am made me realize how great we have it in Fresno - our nights are incredible.

1. Delays: Every other time I have taken the USMLE, results arrive in three weeks. Hence, last week Tuesday I was beyond nervous all afternoon and evening in anticipation of my arriving grade. I felt in my heart I had passed, but you just can never tell. I waited and my heart pounded. I awoke at 4am and started checking the computer. Every email message that would arrive in my inbox made me nervous - was it the one?! But around noon, well after results usually arrive in in-boxes, I realized there was to be no results. Another week of waiting and anticipation was the only result to be had.

2. Test Results: So, I waited another week, spending a lot of time working out and swimming in the pool to relax my mind and take it off of the test. My family and friends, God bless you all, did an amazing job keeping me distracted. But there was still no guarantee results would arrive today. The USMLE states not to bother them until it has been at least 6 weeks - they definitely under promise and over deliver, a good thing. However, if it were to arrive today, I was planning on flying to Atlanta for an interview and would not be able to retrieve the results early in the morning. Hence, God brought AA into the picture; I gave her my log-in information and this morning she checked and when I landed, my heart beating way too fast and my nerves a hot mess, there was the text: "Congratulations Doctor!!"

3. That brings us to my trying to get to Atlanta. I'm flying there for an interview with an airline and they are flying me "Non-Rev" - that means they aren't making revenue off of me and I fly stand-by. The flight from FAT to SLC, which was the one we were all worried about, went without a hitch. SLC, however, was a completely different story. Flight after flights that went to ATL was overbooked. From 830am until noon I watched flight after flight leave without me. Then, I was to be rebooked on a flight through Vegas that left SLC at 140pm. However, when I went to board that flight, there was some sort of problem with the ticket. Res Agents on the phone said they couldn't do anything to fix it because I was still listed as not having flown at all. Weird, I must have teleported from FAT to SLC. Res told me the Gate agent could handle the situation. Not true. The Gate agent said there was absolutely nothing she could do - I had been locked out of the system. Great. Stuck in SLC with a bunch of proselytizers and no way out! In the end, the AMAZING lady at the place I'm interviewing was able to intervene and get the ticket fixed. With 20 minutes before the 340pm flight to Vegas, we got my ticket fixed and I am in Vegas now, waiting for my 1130pm flight to ATL.

4. When in Vegas, rule number one is to live it up. So, I took a $6 shuttle from the airport to the Strip and walked up and down the strip. I'm exhausted quite frankly! I got to enjoy the views both in day time and night. I used $20 to gamble, which I promptly lost in about 30 minutes and that was it for the gambling. Besides, I was more interested in one thing: the Bellagio water fountains. I spent almost an hour and a half there. It was incredible. Relaxing and rejuvenating. I'm now back at the airport as I write this, using the amazing internet connection (and it's free!). FYI: on top of everything else, the Salt Lake City internet sucked!

5. Hope: Romans 12:12 says "Rejoice in Hope, be Patient in Tribulation, be Constant in Prayer." One of the most challenging periods of my LIFE has just ended. I can't say I enjoyed it and I most certainly won't say I would consider doing it again. But, now that I have arrived at the end, it feels great. I feel accomplished. The hope that I had, but more importantly, that my family and friends had for me, that never diminished and certainly never extinguished, has been amazing and carried me through. God bless you all.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Elderly and Disabled Put At Risk by DUMB Government Ideas

California recently decided that one of the ways to cut its budget deficit is by slashing money to home health workers. These include nurses, health aides, meals on wheels deliveries, and other individuals that go to the homes of elderly and disabled citizens and provide them with care to ensure that they can continue living independently, in their own homes. When I first heard that California was going to reduce the wages and benefits to these home health workers, I found it to be an incredibly STUPID idea - another example of our government leaders acting EXTREMELY DUMB (something they have proven time and again that they are adept at!)

Why is this decision dumb? Because while it may cost $1500 a month to provide home health services to one person, it would cost the government nearly $6000 a month to cover the costs of a nursing home for this same individual! Some may argue we should cut that expense, too; if the elderly can't afford to pay for home health or nursing homes on their own, then they should just have to deal with it, some might say. I puke a little at the thought that people like this exist in our world. But I can show why that is an incredibly stupid argument as well. If we don't provide any care to these individuals, guess what - 911 is three numbers away and the hospital is a short, but expensive Ambulance ride away. The cost of the ambulance and even a short hospital stay can then skyrocket upwards of $50,000 for the individual - multiplied by the numerous times these folks will end up going to the hospital for falls, lack of nutrition, and other chronic diseases of the elderly. Someone on fixed Social Security benefits without savings is not going to be able to pay for these expenses and they will end up right back on the taxpayer.

There is an incredible New York Times Article on this topic that you can read and see further examples of why this is such a stupid idea. Just click on the link:

It is very sad to me that in our rich nation, we continue to see policies that cut the nose off to spite the face. We see this in other aspects of government ideas, such as education. Rather than spend the money upfront for quality early education and K-12 programs tied together with access to housing, healthcare, jobs, nutrition, etc, we instead run a threadbare operation...and ultimately end up spending MUCH more money on prisons down the road. It costs A HECKUVA LOT MORE MONEY to house a prisoner for a year than to provide excellent opportunities early in life!!

I am really beginning to question whether dumb people outnumber smart people in our society. And if so, why haven't we smart people done something about the dumb people? We have all come to feel so powerless to stop stupid policies that, in a way, we have just come to quietly acquiesce and accept them as inevitable.

Lord help us!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Teaching for America

 "Just passing through."

"A threat to public education."

"Just building their resumes before moving on with their lives."

There has been a lot of debate about Teach for America, lately. The NY Times covers Teach for America quite a bit, I'm guessing because the NYC corps of Teach for America members is the largest in the nation. But, in almost every article I read, there is a general pattern that is followed, almost exactly, every time.

It goes like this:

1. Teach for America is in the news for another amazing accomplishment, like TFA teachers raising test scores in their classrooms more than other traditional teachers.

2. An explanation of what TFA is - a corps of stellar recent college graduates who work in some of the most difficult classrooms in America. Invariably, these days, there is mention of how incredible it is, in this economy, that almost 20% of the top graduates at many Ivy League schools are applying to Teach for America instead of Deloitte and Touche.

3. Of course, "there are critics" who criticize Teach for America because, as I put some of the quotes at the top of my blog post here, we are just passing through. We are not committed to the cause of teaching. We are just rookies using these hard to staff schools as a social experiment. We are not possibly as great as a veteran teacher. We should be ashamed of ourselves for just using already poor and disadvantaged students just to build our own resumes.

4. The article will usually finish by summarizing the amazing accomplishment that they originally wrote the article about in the first place.

I have never been asked to contribute to these articles, but I figure I have a blog with a readership of 6 people who I can vent my frustration to about this topic. And for full disclosure, I was a Teach for America teacher from 2004-2006 in the Baltimore City Public School System.

Here's how my article would be written:
1. Teach for America teachers THROUGH OUT AMERICA, placed in some of the hardest to staff schools, are accomplishing amazing things with their students.

2. Teach for America is a corps of recent college graduates from schools THROUGH OUT AMERICA, with diversity of ethnicity, culture, personality and opinion not seen in the traditional teaching pool. Individuals come from amazing schools, including small liberal arts schools like Whittier College (my college - nope, it's not an Ivy League, but frankly, I too am frustrated that TFA is branding itself more as a bastion of the Ivy Leagues, instead of pushing the fact that the majority of its greatest teachers come from Colleges like mine. In fact, my first year teaching, one of my housemates was from Dartmouth - he couldn't hack it. Funny, the small liberal arts school kid - me - was awarded Rookie of the Year that year by my school.)

3. There are critics - insert the oft-repeated and tired quotes that I have above. But, let's add that the very schools that they criticize Teach for America for abusing are certainly NOT being inundated with the veteran teachers these nay-sayers demand to see in those classrooms. Additionally, not even the majority of traditionally trained teachers who dedicate their lives to the profession are interested in staying at these difficult schools for their whole career. But nobody who is criticizing Teach for America - usually Professors in Colleges of traditional Teacher Preparation - is offering a better solution that is also viable (and, most ironically, most of them wouldn't dare go teach in the schools Teach for America places at, either!) Either put your money where your mouth is, or shut up and move out of the way so that those of us who would rather do instead of just say can get stuff accomplished!

4.  What other articles often fail to recognize or state is that Teach for America, at the heart of its mission, includes for the very fact that not every individual attracted to the program will stay in a classroom for over two years. Solving the problems of educational inequity - the so-called "achievement gap" - won't be accomplished if we only attack the problem within the field of education. What these big-mouthed, degree-laden education professors seem to be continuously missing is that we NEED people in our nation who worked in a school for a few years to get a better grasp of the problems faced by our students, so that they can then present plausible and solid solutions in whatever field they ultimately decide to dedicate their lives. Someone who has seen the challenge first hand can then make decisions in the arenas of housing, nutrition, healthcare, transportation, etc more effectively. THIS IS THE POINT!

5. My article wouldn't end with a summary of the amazing accomplishment - most people have pretty much figured out that Teach for America is a good thing. I would end, instead, with a plea. My favorite colleagues at the school I worked at in Baltimore, were my favorite because they were supportive, provided helpful hints and feedback through those challenging first months of teaching. They neither put me on a pedestal nor disdained me merely for the fact that I was a Teach for America member. They treated me like they would any other colleague - once I earned their trust and respect, we were a solid family. If we hope to raise our profession, we can't just sit idly and wish things stayed the way they were 20 or 30 years ago. We can't propose "solutions" that sound great but are not feasible, like super monetary incentives to get veteran teachers in these difficult classrooms - especially in this current economy! We must stop blaming and putting each other down. Rather, we should be the ones dictating the discourse for the future of education! We should not be allowing people who haven't ever been close to the front lines to be dictating teacher contracts and prescribing solutions. WE should be at the forefront of the positive changes necessary for our children. Ultimately, it must stop being about the adults and start being about creating amazing, life-changing, unforgettable educational experiences for the children we serve.

And the very last sentence in my article would challenge the biggest assertion by critics. I would include this quote from Donna Foote, author of "Relentless Pursuit: A Year in the Trenches with Teach for America". She writes, "there are much easier ways to burnish a resume than a two-year commitment to hard labor in some of the crummiest classrooms in America." Indeed.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Time Softens the Heart

I have taken a shower with a water bottle. I didn't go into the bathroom with the intention of doing that, but halfway through lathering up with soap, the lights went out and the water shut off. I was thrust into basically pitch blackness (there was no window in our bathroom) and the first word that came to my mind can't be published in a public forum. I found the emergency water bottles we kept by the bathtub (since this had occurred to my roommate on another occasion) and as I sparingly used them to get the soap off, I hated life. I hated my decision to go to the Caribbean for medical education. I SWORE I would never return to that retched "rock" lest hell freeze over AND pigs fly on earth.

But time has a funny way of taking memories like that and turning them into a very comic recollection in the mind. Family always used to tell me to appreciate the opportunity I was given to "live in a beautiful tropical place". Opportunity?!?! I used to think incredulously. YOU try come living in this place while simultaneously trying to cram macro amounts of information in micro amounts of time. Because while my power and water go off regularly, you are frolicking around in the resorts when you come to visit me, with their fancy schmancy generators and water tanks.

Despite this, I now find myself at the end of my medical school career. God willing on July 21 I will receive my passing score and a few short weeks after that, I will officially be Doctor A. And for those of you with the insight to have known 4 years ago where this very blog post is going - yes, I want to go back to the island. Now, I'm a practical person so I don't want to just visit St. Martin. When I spend money to travel, I like to see places I haven't yet been. So again, for those of you with insight four years ago to disagree with me when I said I not only hated St. Martin but the whole of the Caribbean, yes you were right again and I was wrong. I would love to go lay on the warm beach, frolic in the warm, calm Caribbean sea, and doze off to the sound of steel drums while sipping on a fruity Caribbean drink.

I indeed had the opportunity to live in paradise.

Video produced by AUC filmmakers recently. Some of my favorite places are shown. Enjoy!

Friday, July 2, 2010

Let Your Life Speak: The Prom

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." -Margaret Mead
I enjoy finding positive news. CNN does a great job of sharing inspirational stories of ordinary people doing extraordinary things. I wanted a way to have them all in one place, so I am going to start putting them on my blog. I hope you find some of these stories as inspiring as I do!

The first will be about a young man who organizes a free prom for adolescents with life-threatening and sometimes terminal disease. Amazing what human will can accomplish.

The video is below and you can read the rest of the story by CLICKING HERE.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010


The "big day" starts in almost 9 hours. I'm currently going through some nerves, but luckily loved ones are helping me keep them in check and keep everything in perspective.

Believe! I can! I WILL!

There are two very special stories I will keep close to my heart tomorrow, to help me through this thing. The first comes from a movie, although I didn't know that when I first read it. I was given this quote almost a year ago, on a post-it in the bathroom mirror (next to another post-it that told me to clean my side of the mirror), when I sat for this test the first time, by CY, a dear friend.

"You can wish in one hand and crap in the other and see which one gets filled first!" 

I love this quote because it forces us to recognize that ideas only work, if we do. I didn't follow its advice, however, until reality hit me - hard - with a Fail. So, I have stopped wishing. I stopped wishing I had passed. I stopped wishing I had made different decisions in life. I have stopped wishing and finally, FINALLY started acting like I want to be a Doctor. Like I really, really, truly, more than anything else in the world, want to be a Doctor. I'm not wishing anything for tomorrow - I am KNOWING that with God's help, I will be successful.

And speaking of God, in the Church bulletin this past Sunday, there was an excerpt from C.S. Lewis that spoke directly to me. God always seems to know what we need and even though we all go through moments of doubt in Him, He always fills our souls with the strength we need. I will forever in my life cite this excerpt as an example of our amazing Lord trying to help me GET IT - speaking directly to ME!

C.S. Lewis wrote - or I should say, God spoke to me through C.S. Lewis by saying:
"At the end, I know, we are told an angel appeared 'comforting' Him. But neither comforting in English nor Greek means 'consoling.' 'Strengthening' is more the word. May not the strengthening have consisted in the renewed certainty - cold comfort this - that the thing must be endured and therefore could be?"

With the Lord in the driver's seat tomorrow, I know I can make it. I know I will be wildly successful. I have studied extensively and done what I need to do to be successful. Therefore, with the peace that one can only get from trusting in the Lord, I will go to sleep now.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Five Finger Prayer

Continuing on the theme of Five, my mom #2 just sent me this email and I found it lovely and most definitely worth sharing. My test is three days away, the weather is projected to be nice (especially since Fresno is dry and not humid), and my brain is on overdrive - ready to go! God has set up a beautiful day for victory!

1. Your thumb is nearest you. So begin your prayers by praying for those closest to you. They are the easiest to remember. To pray for our loved ones is, as C. S. Lewis once said, a 'sweet duty.'
2. The
next finger is the pointing finger. Pray for those who teach, instruct and heal. This includes teachers, doctors, and ministers. They need support and wisdom in pointing others in the right direction. Keep them in your prayers.

3. The
next finger is the tallest finger. It reminds us of our leaders. Pray for the president, leaders in business and industry, and administrators. These people shape our nation and guide public opinion. They need God's guidance.

4. The
fourth finger is our ring finger. Surprising to many is the fact that this is our weakest finger, as any piano teacher will testify. It should remind us to pray for those who are weak, in trouble or in pain. They need your prayers day and night. You cannot pray too much for them.

5. And lastly comes our
little finger - the smallest finger of all which is where we should place ourselves in relation to God and others. As the Bible says, 'The least shall be the greatest among you.' Your pinkie should remind you to pray for yourself. By the time you have prayed for the other four groups, your own needs will be put into proper perspective and you will be able to pray for yourself more effectively.

Thursday, June 24, 2010


Five seems to be a marquee number in our lives. It is a nice, round number that we use as a benchmark to celebrate various occasions. Five year anniversary. Five year reunion. Five days in a week. Count to five in kindergarten. First Five in California to get kids prepared in their formative years. APGAR score in the first five minutes of life (if you are interested, ask and I will explain this one). There's even a really delicious Italian restaurant in Fresno, aptly named 5.

I would venture to guess that we like whole numbers - we all still remember the sing-songy way we learned 5-10-15-20-25-30-35-40-45-50 etc. in elementary school - because they give an air of finality. When we reach that milestone, we must have accomplished something.

Therefore, today I celebrate five days left until victory. Technically, as I write this I still have 5 days and 23 hours before the start of the test. But, you can't count the day of the test as a study day. So, I have less than 6 days left to study. Put another way, in the more comforting and celebratory way - 5 more days to go. The countdown is on. I have reviewed, rereviewed and rerereviewed. Pancreatitis, cholecystitis, hepatitis, and any other itis is well preserved in my brain for showdown on Wednesday, June 30.

I don't enjoy testing the Gods or inviting fate to bite me in the ass; so, with all due respect and reverence, I say BRING IT! I'm ready. Let's roll.

Sunday, June 20, 2010


Every year the New York Times writes a special article that shares with the world what graduation speakers at various commencements in the United States shared with the graduates. I find many to be inspiring and a great read. Enjoy!

John McCain
United States Senator
Commencement: Ohio Wesleyan University

"You might think that I’m now going to advise you not to be afraid to fail. I’m not. Be afraid. Speaking from considerable experience, failing stinks. Just don’t be undone by it. Failure is no more a permanent condition than is success." 

You can read advice from other speakers by clicking here for the article.

Friday, June 18, 2010


Congratulations to the Los Angeles Lakers!!

My championship game will be played on June 30. It will last 9 hours, through almost 360 questions. And about 3 weeks after that, God willing, I too will raise my trophy (the coveted MD Diploma). And the award for MVP through all this? My amazing mother who has cheered me on, financed my education, and never given up on me.

Tonight we celebrate the Lakers! Their win energizes us all...especially those of us going for our own championships.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Quickies: Test Date, Party and Travel Ideas

Test Update: I have scheduled THE test for June 30 here in Fresno. I'm excited because this is my time. I will be passing and I can't wait to feel the success and achievement, finally. And with passing, will come official graduation and my joining the ranks of medical doctors throughout the world.

Party Central: Many have asked about my graduation. The official graduation day for my school passed last week - CONGRATULATIONS TO NK who did participate in the day in St. Martin. I, however, never had plans to attend. Even if just my mom and I were to go, the airfare, hotel, food, and incidentals would approach $2,000. Therefore, instead I have wanted to throw a big party here in Fresno. I should find out I passed on or around July 21 so I'm thinking a big hoopla in August is in order. Let's get everyone together for some food, dancing and fellowship.

Travel Ideas: I am going to have a ton of free time after I pass my test and before residency starts. And trying to find a job right now is proving to be impossible! Research places want someone with experience. Teachers are losing jobs left and right. Airlines aren't hiring. I may be able to get a job at Starbucks, but many places like that keep saying I am "overqualified" - who knew there was such a thing. Therefore, I want to travel and explore new places. If you have any great suggestions for American or international destinations, hit the comments and share!

Back to studying for now!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Home Sweet Home

Medical school is over. Four years of lots of studying and long nights; well, the lots of studying and sleepless nights aren't over, but paying tuition is over. I arrive home Wednesday night. That's right, this Wednesday night (May 12), I return to Fresno. I have checked the weather and it looks like it is in the 70s. For some reason, the weather here in NYC decided to go south the last few days of my stay and we have been in the 50s. That's not totally bad, though, since this is a walking city and I sweat like stink when the weather gets hot.

For now, I return to the land of getting in your car to go 100 feet, 108 degree weather, but most importantly, loving family and friends who I have missed over the last 4 months. What the future holds after June, however, is an open question and I'm excited about the possibilities.

Fair warning: I will be somewhat of a recluse for the next 6 weeks as I spend every moment studying in preparation for the test. Let me ask for forgiveness now if I don't really hang out or do a good job of keeping in touch for a few weeks.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Happy Mother's Day

After Christmas, my favorite holiday is the one where I get to celebrate the wonderful women in my life who have helped shape who I am today.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

We Will NOT Be Deterred

There are those among us in this world who hate us. It is a powerful word that every religion (almost) vehemently argues against, but yet, here we are with news of another possible terrorist attack. And it is in one of my favorite spots, Times Square.

I just received a text from NK asking if I was OK. I hadn't thought about it until he texted and then I realized that I am really, ridiculously, outrageously ANGRY. How dare someone be so awfully selfish as to think it OK to attempt to kill what could have been 100s or 1000s of people. Whether this is a homegrown terrorist or one from another country, if you are so pissed off at America and what we stand for, then please do us all a favor - either take a gun to your own head, or if you are too cowardly (which I suspect you are) to finish your own damn self off, then do us all a favor and move to a faraway place and be a hermit. But LEAVE US ALONE.

I love hanging out in Times Square. I'm there often and by the Grace of God this bomb did not detonate. But the mental stress is still there for the very reason that this could happen and it is totally fathomable that I could be there. But let's be clear: you cowardly terrorists will NOT deter us. We will hunt you all down and protect the freedoms that we have successfully fought to protect for over 2 centuries. And while we hunt you down, we will continue to live our God blessed lives to the fullest possible, appreciating all the gifts that God has bestowed upon us, not least of which is the freedom to go to Times Square.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Quickies: Where, What, When, Who

1. Where Have You Been?
I apologize for the lengthy wait between posts. Lately, I have just felt more enjoyment from spending all day at the hospital learning and then going to Manhattan and exploring, versus sitting inside and reading or typing up a blog. When you have no idea what the next steps in your life will be, it somehow puts all the wonderful "here and now" moments into clearer focus and you try to embrace and enjoy every moment. In other words, when you have finally stopped thinking 5-10 years into the future, what's happening now - right now - finally can fill your brain. And quite frankly, it is amazing how much of our lives we miss when we are constantly filling up our heads with what we will do next. I imagine this is what happens to a person when they receive devastating news about their health. Granted, in my case the issue is nowhere near as serious or grave, but the benefits are tangible nonetheless.

2. Where Are You Going?
OK, I suppose answering this question is fair, at least for the very short-term. I return to Fresno on May 12, arriving at 945pm on American Airlines (of course!) I become somewhat of a recluse for 6-8 weeks, retaking my USMLE Step 2 exam sometime in late June. I emerge victorious, and finally claim the title of Doctor (MD) and go celebrate somewhere. Vegas? DisneyWorld? Rome? That can be decided later by the folks who will inevitably (hopefully?) join me in my celebration. You know who you are. And then, I either, 1) find a job doing research for a year and try to Match into a residency position again, or 2) find a job doing research for half a year and enter a residency position mid-year if anything opens up, or 3) I sleep in every day for a year, get a part time job with American Airlines and travel the world in my free time. Point is, I don't know what comes after passing the exam, so please don't ask. The Armenian phrase for I don't know is "chem keeder" - embrace the phrase "I don't know" because sometimes it is truly the best answer.

3. What Have You Been Doing?
NYC is an amazing place to explore. Here are some more great places I have seen (as much as I can remember, since it HAS been awhile since my last post!)
  • Broadway: Been to Jersey Boys (which I felt basically took a $20 CD of music by the Four Seasons and recast it into a $60 minimum ticket "show" - in other words, didn't like it). Also been to La Cage aux Foilles (like the movie The Birdcage, this show is hilarious. It involves the audience - if you get a orchestra seat - and keeps you laughing the whole way. A must see!)
  • Eats: NYC is up there with the gastronomic greats of the world. And I'm quite convinced it has no parallel when it comes to the diversity of eats available. We have had brunch at a restaurant run by Tom Collichio (the dude from Top Chef), Balthazar's for Brunch is also an amazing place that must be savored (and you should TRY to RSVP for weekend's otherwise you have at least a one hour wait). Some of my other favorites include Karam (a place NK's brother, AK, also loves) - the Lebanese owners of this place make Kebab and hummus and tabouleh as close to the way my family makes it as I have found. The irony is that I love treating myself to Tabouleh ($5) every now and again - but I joke that when I get home, the QUEEN of Tabouleh (my mom) will make it everyday and I will again grow tired of it :)
  • Parks: What NYC lacks throughout the city (trees, greenery, open space), it makes up for in some pretty amazing parks. The most well-known and possibly largest of these is Central Park. Every time I go there I discover something new! But when the weather is nice, there is a big green lawn that many New Yorkers love to go lay out on, play some soccer or frisbee or football, and rid themselves of the NYC "tan" (that amazing whiteness that Hanes does well in t-shirts, but should not be the color of human skin!) Indeed, there was a day a couple weeks ago when the temperature hit 87 degrees. Yes, I had the unfortunate case of gastroenteritis that day and couldn't go to work. The only problem was, I didn't plan on my newly acquired tan giving me away the next day.
  • Subways: A whole year's salary (when I finally earn one again) says that I will get into your car in California and within the first 5-10 minutes, make one of the new automated subway announcements that you hear on the trains here. "This is a Northeast Fresno bound 1 Express train. The next stop is, my house. Stand clear of the closing doors, please. Ding-dong." Embrace it, it is one of the quirks you all love about me. (And note, this is not a real bet - no I will not give anyone a whole year's salary. Ever.)
  • School: Even though this blog post makes it seem like I am gallivanting around the city all the time, the truth is that the majority of my time is spent in the hospital. Actually, this should be past tense. I just finished my Neurology rotation in Staten Island - it was up there as one of the rotations I enjoyed quite a bit because the Attendings were totally focused on education and helping us learn the nuances of Neurology. Now I have two weeks of Dermatology at Brooklyn Hospital. I finish on May 7 with rotations. In other words, the only hurdle left between me and my MD is passing Step 2. And that will happen very soon.
I'm sure there are things I have forgotten, but this post should keep you all happy for a little bit. And by you all, I imagine the 4 of you who check everyday, multiple times a day - thank you :)

See you all on May 12.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

What's Next? I Don't Know

In medical school we are often told that it is OK, as a medical student, to say "I don't know". Follow it up with a little "I will find out" and a sprinkle of smile and you are all good. This practice works well when a patient asks you about how the moon's position around earth could affect her health and well-being. However, you can't say "I don't know" during the big bad exam and expect to be given a pass. As such, as most of you know, I missed passing Step 2, again, by about 3-4 points (I've blocked it out of my mind and can't remember whether it was 3 or 4).

While failing is a disappointment, this time, it was almost freeing. I did the best I could, the absolute best. I studied, did practice questions, and worked on trying to finish the test on time since I am a fairly slow reader. When I opened that score sheet, however, I still managed to miss passing by a hair. But, I discovered peace from it.

For the first time in my recent memory, I have no plans. Well, sort of. I DO plan on taking the test over again in June, but it is too late to make the "Match" for a residency starting this summer. In other words, I won't be starting the next phase of my "Doctor" training in lock-step with my previous "plans". I will have, essentially, nothing to do! And weirdly, rather than be terrified, I'm quite excited about it!

When I finished 8th grade, I already knew where I was going for high school. When I finished high school, I had a couple months but then it was straight to College. When I finished there, I literally had a week or two to pack up and move to NYC for the summer and from there to Baltimore. When I finished teaching, I shipped my stuff home, packed up, and moved right again to the Caribbean. Got home from there and these last two years I have been a vagabond, living in basements, other people's bedrooms (thank you Yal's), hotels, and even friends' living room pull out sofas (thank you NK). I have explored Queens, Staten Island, Fresno, Los Angeles, Grand Rapids and now back in Brooklyn.

My entire life, when people have asked me what I'm doing, I have had an answer for them. And now I won't and I feel so liberated!

I know God has a plan for me and somehow all these trials and tribulations fit into that plan. I am being made into the person He needs me to be for whatever He needs me to do to make this world, or my sphere of influence within it, a better place. And I do know that at some point, I will pass this test and the test that comes after it and I will do a residency somewhere that teaches me superbly and I will make an excellent Physician and help my patients holistically.

But in the meantime, if you want to know what's next, the answer is I don't know. I don't know! But whatever it is, I'm gonna keep enjoying this crazy and wild ride.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Grand Rapids Fun

I have been working hard here in Grand Rapids. I spend close to 11-12 hours at the hospital everyday, do a 30-36 hour call every 5-6 days and see more viral bronchiolitis than you can count on two hands. But, there has been some time to explore this very fun city with a great and vibrant downtown. Here are some things I would recommend if you are planning a trip!

1. Where to Stay: Courtyard Marriott
There is a strip of Marriott properties downtown - the Courtyard, the JW Marriott, and the Amway Grand Plaza. The latter two are super expensive and other than more plushing in their mattress, won't offer you more than the Courtyard. In fact, they offer less because internet is included here at the Courtyard. Perhaps because they are all owned by the same group, the staff here at the Courtyard is better than any 5-star property I have ever seen. The front desk staff is always exceeding my expectations and doing great things for me - like the birthday surprise they put together for me (see previous blog post). Stay here - you won't regret it.

2. Where to Eat:
There are lots of great local eateries here that use only local ingredients that are fresh and delicious. One of my favorites is called Cygnus 27, a restaurant on the 27th floor of the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel. The food is not cheap, but not ridiculously expensive, either. And if you go just before sunset you can get a gorgeous 360 degree view of downtown and the Chicago River as the sun's light evolves the colors over the city. And ultimately, when the sun is set, you can enjoy the manmade lights around downtown. And the food is amazing. I had one of the most moist and delicious salmon dishes I have ever enjoyed. Ever! That said, explore all the local eateries - they each have a niche market and great service.

3. Where to Visit:
Downtown is full of fun places to spend a couple hours.
  • Art Museum: It is small and cozy with a pretty small collection. But, the architecture of the building is really cool and they do have some beautiful paintings. The $8 admission is pretty hard to justify, in my opinion, so I won't return - but it is cool for a one time visit.
  • Symphony: Hands down a beautiful concert hall and a beautiful sounding orchestra. I enjoyed tremendously their interpretation of Concerto in D Major for Violin and Orchestra, Opus 61, by Ludwig van Beethoven. And the Grand Rapids crowd is amazing - we gave an almost 10 minute standing ovation at the end of the performance, with several curtain calls. It was well-deserved and a wonderful display of appreciation for a great orchestra. If they are playing when you are in town, YOU MUST ATTEND!
  • Gerald Ford Presidential Museum: I haven't been yet, but plan on going.
  • Grand Rapids Museum: Haven't been, but plan on going.
Overall, this is a truly vibrant city and I have been having a wonderful time enjoying what it has to offer. If you are ever in Chicago or Detroit, which are 3 hours away, it would totally be worth a weekend trip, or even an overnight trip, especially if the Symphony is playing.

Sunday, February 14, 2010


People often comment that I have the coolest birthday day since I was born today, on Valentine's Day. True, while nobody forgets my birthday day, it is difficult to get them to come out and celebrate on the actual day. Many forget that getting into a restaurant on this day is near impossible (unless you tell the Hostess that you had, in fact, made reservations for a party of 8...not that I ever did, I mean would). It is also difficult to gather your many married/relationship-tied friends to come out because they want a special evening for themselves.

The difficulties aside, however, there are many wonderful things about having a birthday on Valentine's Day. For starters, I get to share my day of birth with a Saint who made it his life's mission to bring people together in love and celebration of each other's beauties. Some call this a "Hallmark Holiday" but nothing could be further from the truth - in the ancient custom, today was a day to actually write hand-written notes of passion and love to somebody you were smitten with or just somebody you thought needed a little encouraging. The only reason Hallmark makes a pretty penny off of this holiday now is because we have lost a bit of our passionate and personal side in today's society.

On a more personal note, my mom never forgets my birthday - since 2000, I have been somewhere else on my birthday every year. For four years at Whittier College, my mom sent a cake each year (which usually got shared with my swim team friends because my birthday fell about a week before our final meet; and at our final dinner, they would always get something for me, too!) Then, for two years in Baltimore, somehow my mom, who has trouble turning on a computer and still doesn't carry a cell phone regularly on her person, would find some company to send me a cake at work. In St. Maarten, she wasn't able to find a cake delivery, but I always got a card - and don't worry mom, NK, SA, MR, GC and others made sure we went to a delicious place for dinner.

And that brings us to today - year 28 of my life is kicking off. This is the year of my life when I will pass my board exams, when I will walk into a patient's room as "Doctor" and hopefully leave as trusted friend, when I will drink a little more lemonade and not stay up so late, cry a little less and laugh [a lot] more - why wait until 30! (For those of you who didn't get this allusion, please speak with anyone who knows country music). And again, somehow my mom worked her magic this year. And with the help of a truly awesome hotel because of an awesome STAFF - they put together what you see in the picture up top. The restaurant treated me to some delicious desserts, the front staff put together a yummy goodie bag with various and sundry edibles, and they somehow found balloons from somewhere I will never know because I haven't seen any balloon shops nearby! A shout out MUST go out to somebody named Barry - an amazing, kind, make-you-feel-at-home type of person who works the front desk; he got me the good deal to stay at this hotel for a month as well as putting me in a great room and always giving me great recommendations for places to visit; indeed, if ever in Grand Rapids, do not stay anywhere else; come to the Courtyard Marriott. The service here is truly 5-star and better than you will find at places way more expensive.

Today, I like to think people are celebrating my birthday (and Valentine's day, as an aside :) Therefore, while I see great things happening in my life this year, it is my birthday wish that awesome things happen in the lives of everyone else, also. As my friend CP shared on her blog, from author Susan Ariel Rainbow Kennedy, let yourself be truly seen so you can be truly loved. I would add that I hope we all put out in the universe that which we hope to achieve, through hard work, faith in God, knowing that He wants great things for us, and a focus on improving ourselves in order to improve the world around us for everyone. I think that would make St. Valentine a very happy Saint, indeed.

Happy Valentine's Day.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Veni, Vidi, Vici

In the coming weeks, there are lots of decisions to be made about my future. Many of those decisions are tied intimately with me actually passing USMLE Step 2, which I took last Thursday (1/21/10). I spent nine hours at the testing center answering 352 multiple choice questions in about a minute and twelve seconds each; and the whole time, I kept hoping my mom was continuing to recover and hoping that I could pull this off - that I could pass and bring joy and RELIEF to her and to many family and friends who have been rooting for me through this whole struggle.

The last few months have been particularly challenging, even within the scope of the last almost four years of struggle through medical school. I wouldn't want to go through all this again, but now as the light at the end of the tunnel is growing stronger and I feel more like a "Doctor" each day, I feel a renewed sense of vigor and excitement that there are so many possibilities that await in the near future. I have been humbled and have experienced failure - and yet, here I am, still standing on the other side. And I freely admit that I stand because there have been many along the way who have helped pick me up when I have fallen and felt like giving up.

Granted, I am not out of the woods yet. But I take solace in two Bible passages that I feel are worth sharing today:

"Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer." -Romans 12:12
"I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." Phillippians 4:13

I am not always constant in prayer, but I continue to work on it. And I continue to hope that we will be victorious. It does take a village to raise a kid and to support him through life's trials. I truly believe we weren't meant to go through this life alone, trying to overcome challenges by ourselves. At the very least, the Lord will always be there to carry us and make us strong enough to handle the situation at hand. We should all be there for each other, also. Together, we can and will conquer all obstacles.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

How's the Hotel: Comfort Suites Downtown - Buffalo, NY

I recently was in Buffalo on business and had the opportunity to stay at the Comfort Suites Downtown. To sum up the experience in one word: phenomenal.

Check-In: B-
Room Functionality: A+
Bed: A+
Bathroom: A
Fitness/Pool: A for Fitness; No pool.
Location: A+
Recommended: YES!!

If I tried to book a room in New York City like the one at Comfort Suites in Buffalo, it would have cost me hundreds, if not thousands of dollars. This was a top-notch suite! The hotel apparently just finished renovations and they did a smashing job - I was beyond impressed. The suite was a true one-bedroom suite with a living room/work area and separate bedroom. The living room/work space was large and also included a nook with fridge, microwave, and coffee/tea maker. All the counters were marble and the room had nice earthy tones that made it feel very relaxing. There was tons of functional work space as well as relaxation space on comfortable chairs/sofas.

The bedroom was superb. It was connected to the living room via small french doors. The bed was very comfortable with a nice comforter. There was also a little sitting area that connected you to the bathroom. You could also access the bathroom from the living room via separate door.

Both rooms had TVs, which I was pretty surprised were OLD SCHOOL when I walked in. They worked, but they didn't fit with the rest of the ultra modern and chic decor. I asked about this and it turns out US Customs has held up the shipment of flat screens. Some rooms have flat screens, but the remainder were held up for lack of paperwork. That stinks because those TVs are the final link to a complete and very VERY well-done renovation that had me wishing I could stay at a Comfort Suites like the one in Buffalo everywhere I travel!

And the BEST part was that this hotel was inexpensive. It was the cheapest I found in downtown that still offered free airport shuttle and even breakfast (a delicious buffet with eggs, ham, cereal, waffles, juice).

My only recommendation for improvement is the airport shuttle. It was OK, but my main gripe is that they were not on time. They picked me up almost 20 minutes late and on the day I returned to the airport, left almost 15 minutes after the stated departure time. This is not OK; it is way too cold to be waiting outside for a shuttle at the airport for that long. And on the way back to the airport, I had left plenty of time, but if I was cutting it close, those 15 minutes make a big difference. I would recommend the hotel work on this - the shuttle should really run like clockwork.

Would I stay here again - most definitely yes!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

What I Talk About

A good friend from college, AS, used some fancy schmancy computer program to make a collage of terms that I often used in my recent blog postings. I say recent because the words seem to be from the main screen and not from earlier posts that talked more about education, etc. It is no surprise to me (or to anyone who knows me), that all things having to do with flight and flying feature prominently in the collage.

Monday, January 11, 2010

How's the Hotel - Four Points Sheraton Bakersfield

I love to travel. In fact, I love the journey as much as the destination, so I'm always talking about flying and hotels and various details that most normal people find almost no interest in. And since, in the coming months, I'll be doing lots of traveling for school and staying in quite a few hotels, I figured I would add a feature to my blog called "How's the Hotel" since my friends always ask me that (since they know one way or the other, I'll probably work it into a conversation anyway!)

My first hotel review will be on the Four Points Sheraton, Bakersfield. It was easy to write because I already wrote a commendation and sent it to the folks at "Corporate" because I feel like hard work should be recognized. As you read it, let me know in the comments if there are other things you want to know so when you are planning your travel, you can check if I've already stayed at the place!! That's right, I'm going to turn my blog into a one-stop shop for all pieces of information that most people don't need! :)

Check-In: A
Room Functionality: A
Bed: A
Bathroom: A-
Grounds/Pool: A
Overall: A
Recommended: ABSOLUTELY!!

I am a SPG (Starwood Preferred Guest) Member for a variety of reasons, not least of which is the fact that great hotels like the Four Points in Bakersfield are usually offered for around 4,000 points. I have stayed at this location 3 times now when I have business in Bakersfield - twice with points and once through Priceline for $37 (plus tax, of course). I usually like to write reviews after I have stayed at a place a few times to make sure great service is consistent - at this hotel, it truly is their modus operandi. In a word, I find this hotel STELLAR. While I can't compare it to other hotels in the region, I can compare it to other hotels worldwide and I would recommend it highly and without reservation or condition.

1. Front desk: always efficient, courteous, and receptive to needs or wishes. Per my request, I have stayed in the main building every time, in a King room on the 2nd floor somewhere near the main entrance - every time.
2. Room: I have always had a room that smells good, looks fresh, is clean, functional, and pretty large. Nice bedding, good bath products, all the necessities for a business trip (including fridge, microwave and free internet that works well). And even a bottle of water is included.
3. Grounds/Pool: The grounds of the hotel truly are beautiful. They have a creek and waterfalls that, after a hard day, are nice to meander through and let your mind relax. The pool, although too cold to use on my January visit, is awesome in the summer. Large size and well kept, with towels readily available and plenty of places to sit/lay out.

CONS (only one minor!):
1. Desk: The desk in the room is a bit awkward to use because the chair doesn't quite fit due to the armrests and there is a bar near your feet that you will likely bang your leg on a couple times. It definitely looks like a remnant from the 80s. However, it is clean, smooth surfaced and usable.

If you need a place to stay in Bakersfield, do yourself a favor and choose the Sheraton. And to top it all off, there is an In 'n Out and Starbucks (thank God!) nearby along with a variety of other shopping options.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Mid Week Laughter

During my first semester studying on "The Rock" (St. Martin), NK and I used to take study breaks every so often by watching The Office. Well, I've been studying hard the last several weeks, so as a study break, I watched some clips online. I found one in particular that compiled some of my most favorite Office moments and thought I would share it so we can all have some mid-week laughter! Enjoy it! I will be in my car this evening driving to Bakersfield for my final exams in OB/GYN and Psych. I'll be back Friday.

PS: If you go to minute 7:29, you will see one of my all time favorite moments on the show!

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Part 3 - A Tale of Two Airlines: Delta Airlines = Lovely

This is Part 3 of my series on "A Tale of Two Airlines". In parts one and two, I chronicled the unpleasant booking experience on US Airways. In this post, I'm going to ring in the new year with a positive THANK YOU to Delta Airlines for providing their product in a clean, efficient, friendly, and pleasant manner.

Part 3: Delta Airlines - A Very Pleasant Flying Experience

For my 4th year of medical school, I have had to do quite a bit of traveling. I left NYC last June 23 for Fresno, where I spent the summer doing Pediatrics. Then, I was in LA from end of August to October 25. I flew to NYC on October 25 for 6 weeks for OB/GYN and returned to Fresno on December 4. What follows is the story of my pleasant flying experience on Delta Airlines, both to NYC from LA on October 25 and returning to Fresno from NYC on December 4.

A couple days before departure, I received an email from Delta entitled "It's Time to Check-in". That email included my flight itinerary and a link to check-in for my flight:

Sunday, October 25

Flight:Delta 78
Departs:7:30 am from Los Angeles, California
Arrives: 4:20 pm at New York - Kennedy, New York
Seats: 29D
Meals:View menu options

Saturday, December 5

Flight:Delta 703
Departs:8:10 am from New York - Kennedy, New York
Arrives: 11:45 am at Los Angeles, California
Seats: 24D

Flight:Delta 7446 Operated by American Eagle using their equipment
Departs:1:30 pm from Los Angeles, California
Arrives: 2:30 pm at Fresno, California
Seats: 06A

October 25: Pre-Flight
Check-in online was a breeze and Delta gives you a $5 incentive to check-in online (they knock off $5 from the price of each checked bag if you check-in online instead of at the airport.) I arrived at LAX for my 730am flight to JFK at around 6am and the Delta counter was a zoo! In fact, this is the only part of my trip that I had a problem/minor complaint about. I had checked in online assuming this saves time, but then you have to actually physically check-in your bag and the line snaked around a few times and took a good 20 minutes. When I finally did reach the counter, my bag weighed 56 pounds and the agent said I had to remove items or pay for overprice bag. OK, I took out a couple items and put the bag on a different scale (my agent made me move to the side to help somebody else) which read 50 pounds. Awesome. My agent saw this, but still made me put my bag on her scale, which registered 52 pounds. She then insisted that I remove more weight. I declined and pointed out that the other scale said 50, which means one of the scales is wrong and I think I should get the benefit of the doubt for two pounds. She said no - take stuff out. I said no - fix your scales. We stared at each other for a second (and I felt as though we had met the alter ego of each other because neither one of us was about to back down). She again pointed out that she will have to charge since my bag is overweight. I said I wanted to speak with a supervisor. Couple more minutes passed - supervisor arrived and I pointed out the discrepancy in the scales. He apologized, put the bag tag on my bag, and sent it on down the carousel and wished me a nice flight. I thanked him, wished him a wonderful day, and proceeded to the security line, which although long, was moving pretty efficiently. Made it to my flight just as boarding was starting around 7am.

October 25 - In Flight:
This is where Delta really shined, in my opinion. A NICE, smiling, non-ice-picking flight attendant greeted every passenger as we entered the plane. Then, half way down the aisle, another kind, smiling flight attendant extended another greeting to me. I know most people don't think twice about this, but I find such greetings really set a lovely tone for the whole flight and put you in a relaxed, comfortable mood. My flight was on a Boeing 757 that Delta has updated to have leather seats with comfortable recline and TV screens! The touchscreen offers movies, games, TV shows, music and a moving map. The product is similar to Virgin America's, except you can't order food from your seat with Delta's. However, at least for now, I preferred the Delta product because it was all free! Virgin charges for movies and certain shows, but everything on the Delta screen was free. So, of course, I watched myself a couple movies and one or two TV shows. They also served a pretty yummy Almond butter and jelly sandwich ($7 - pretty steep I thought, but I hadn't had breakfast and it WAS yummy). The flight was uneventful. The flight attendants did their job extremely well and with a smile and just enough personality to make it seem like they were enjoying themselves. We landed almost 45 minutes early and I waited a total of 5 minutes before my bag arrived. Overall, everything ran like clockwork after my initial check-in and I was totally pleased with what Delta is offering its customers.

December 5 - The Return Trip
My experience in NYC is for another blog post - or actually, I can sum it up as follows: very, very long days! But fast forward 6 weeks and it was time to return to Cali. For the first time I used the JFK AirTrain service that NYC offers. You take the E train to Jamaica station and transfer to the AirTrain. The service is super efficient and pretty darn quick...and you avoid traffic! But beware: if you have a few bags, I wouldn't recommend the subways because you gotta lug that stuff up and down quite a few stairs! The Delta terminal stop on the AirTrain is a bit confusing. The signs say to go to the international terminal for check-in for LAX flights. I did go there and there was no wait - super efficient and open space (unlike LAX!!) And while those agents were kind enough to check me in, after security the "gate" is actually a bus stop that drives you over to a different terminal for your flight. I wasn't quite sure why I couldn't just check-in at the other terminal where my flight actually was, but it was fine since I didn't wait in any line!

Just like my flight 6 weeks earlier, we started boarding on time, closed the door on time, and departed (with the middle seat next to me empty this time) on time! Flight attendants were there to greet, smile, and make you feel welcome. Personal screens worked like a charm and I watched a couple movies, slept a little, snacked a little, and just enjoyed the flight overall.

I DO want to point out that American Eagle played a role in getting me home on this trip. Delta works with American Eagle for flights to Fresno and sure enough, I took a small bus from the Delta terminal to the American Eagle satellite terminal (always a fun trip because you get to drive pretty close to some amazing airplanes!) The AE flight was nothing spectacular - they did their job well - on time and efficient. What I DO want to acknowledge AE for is their incredible ground service in Fresno lately. Fresno has been notorious the last several years for ridiculously slow baggage claim times. One time I waited the same amount of time for my baggage as my flight took from LA! Unacceptable. But, this is the second time where luggage from American Eagle has ALREADY arrived on the carousel by the time you walk to baggage claim. And Fresno is NOT a big airport. I find this incredible and therefore want to commend the ground service employees at Fresno for a job very well done.