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.

Friday, January 1, 2010


I wish everyone a wonderful new year - hope 2010 is the awesomest ever!!