Seat-mates and the Zombie Apocalypse- putting my public health work into practice

Sunset in New Delhi Airport where I met scores of interesting people

Sunset in New Delhi Airport where I met scores of interesting people

Sometimes being friendly and non intimidating can be the worst- you get roped into weird conversations that seem to go on forever. But sometimes it really serves me well. My journalism school friends have observed that I can get pretty much anyone to talk with me. This is clearly a boon for a reporter or a doctor. I’ve also exploited that skill for fund raising, networking but also just for fun.

Sidebar: On the plane back from LA a few years ago I was seated next to Tony Shalhoub (actor in the TV series “Monk”). He struck up a conversation after seeing my college physics textbook (wow am I glad not to be a pre-med anymore). We ended up talking the entire flight about life, acting, germaphobia and Martha’s Vineyard. Turns out he has a daughter my age. We shared an Emergen-C and he gave me his email in case I ever needed a place to stay on the vineyard. Random but very fun.

Fast forward to now: Flying back from the Tropical Medicine conference on Sunday I ended up with the trifecta of airline badness: middle seat, last row, close proximity to crying baby. Curse the fates! But I was seated next to a young air force engineer/pilot who was making hysterical wisecracks about our flight delay. We ended up talking the whole flight and he taught me to play Candy Crush (still don’t understand the appeal) and helped me with my Crosswords. The flight flew by. On the second leg of my journey I struck up a conversation with my seatmate who literally could not have been more of an Oregonian- he was friendly, wearing a plaid shirt and had a hipster mustache with waxed ends. I was just waiting for him to pull out a banjo and some sort of artisan pickled food item. He was reading World War Z so we started talking about zombies and he casually mentioned that the CDC has a plan for the zombie apocalypse.

If you're ready for a zombie apocalypse, then you're ready for any emergency.

I was so excited to go home and research this. Turns out that he is right: the CDC absolutely has published materials delineating how people should brace for the zombie apocalypse. I guess it helps encourage basic emergency preparedness. Turns out people are more willing to prepare for the zombie apocalypse than, say, a natural disaster (sigh). Suppose I shouldn’t be surprised given that there is apparently a commercial market for a $24,000 zombie apocalypse survival kit.

Get A Kit, Make A Plan, Be Prepared. emergency.cdc.govSo how does one prepare for the possibility of a siege by the un-dead? According to the CDC everyone should have an emergency preparedness kit and plan and stockpile basic necessities in your home.

From the CDC website:  “As it turns out what first began as a tongue in cheek campaign to engage new audiences with preparedness messages has proven to be a very effective platform. We continue to reach and engage a wide variety of audiences on all hazards preparedness via Zombie Preparedness.” Dr. Ali Khan, Director of CDC’s Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response, agrees: “If you are generally well equipped to deal with a zombie apocalypse you will be prepared for a hurricane, pandemic, earthquake, or terrorist attack.”

On the site is a virtual comic book, posters, a novella and even a lesson plans that uses the idea of a zombie apocalypse to help teach kids about pandemics.

Love the idea of making a public health message a little more fun. BRB gotta go stockpile some water, a flashlight and maybe some kind of zombie killing laser. If I had never sat next to the Oregonian guy I would never have known. The things you learn on planes.


Tanning and Skin cancer on the Rise

Among white women of college age, one in three visited indoor tanning salons in 2010 according to the CDC.

Oh my pale skinned ladies! What is becoming of us? I thought that the one upside of that whole “Twilight” thing would be a resurgence of appreciation for porcelain skin. Alas, it looks like indoor tanning continues to be a scourge that will take more than hormonally crazed vampire fans to overcome.

This is a really important message and one that seems to fall on deaf ears. I think that it can be very hard for young adults to delay gratification for an abstract gain later in life. We are, after all, the YOLO (you only live once) generation (shudder). Even aesthetic reasons aren’t compelling: “I don’t care if I look like a prune late in life” is a response I get when informing adolescent patients about the consequences of sun exposure. And cancer risk? It hardly seems relevant and gets filtered out with the rest of the fear-based assault by the media and heath professionals.freckles

Despite efforts from many dermatologic organizations and dedicated sunscreen wielding parents (we call my mom sergeant sunscreen), the incidence of melanoma (skin cancer) has increased fourfold since the 1970s for women under 40. Egads!

I don’t know what the answer is. Before I left, I was trying to start a program at my med school where med students and resident physicians would visit sorority houses and answer their questions about skin care etc with an emphasis on sun/UV safety, specifically indoor tanning. For example: many people feel that a base tan is actually protective- what they don’t realize that any suntanned skin is de facto sun damaged skin. In this way, we could treat these college students like the adults that they are and simply answer their questions without shoving information down their throats. Plus, I think that having people close in age might make the message feel a bit more palatable and relevant. But in truth, I don’t know what the best methods are for this intervention.

And I won’t pretend that it’s limited to women in adolescence or very early adulthood. In fact, I am hardly a role model of great sun protection. Even with all education and dedication to dermatology- I too have fallen prey to forgetfulness when it comes to sunscreen: witness my freckles on the right hand side. But I continue to try to be vigilant in my crusade against the sun’s harmful rays even while enjoying my time in India and Thailand. And I’ve learned to accept my paleness- it’s what makes me who I am. Meanwhile, I will try not to sigh every time I see someone’s comment on a friend’s facebook photo: “you look so tan and healthy!”