Journalism roundup

IMG_8285It’s been strange to be out of the clinical world for this long. Sometimes I find myself striving to remember the name of a disease or drug that would have been second nature to me last year. On the other hand, it’s been great to look at medicine from the outside in – it’s given me a perspective that is hard to achieve when you are mired in the thick of it.

Here are some pieces that I’ve recently published. Any thoughts, suggestions and comments are welcome!

  1. Flu shot story + podcast/slideshow
  2. An opinion column on the Affordable Care Act (aka “Obamacare”) and medical students
  3. Cost containment in dermatology. I got to interview the president of the American Academy of Dermatology! 
  4. Local forum on the Affordable Care Act
  5. Superheros at the children’s hospital!

In case you missed them: there are also a few pieces that I published while in IndiaIMG_4202

  1. Living with leprosy
  2. Unhealthy eating in college campuses
  3. Leprosy in the modern world

I like myself better when I travel

ImageI like myself better when I am living in a different country. ButImage I don’t think it’s due to some neurochemical reaction to foreign soil. Rather, it has to do with how I approach life when I travel. I thought that by dissecting it, perhaps I could import some of these attitudes. I can think of no finer souvenir.

I accept minor setbacks:  Somehow when I am traveling I find it easier to understand that the journey is the destination. When I am abroad, minor (and major) inconveniences of life become hilarious- part of the experience! But when I am home, they grate on me and try my patience. I want to remember that patience and a go with the flow attitude should not be exclusive to international travel. And while a delayed train from Penn Station isn’t as exotic as a lost rickshaw driver or a cow-related roadblock, it would behoove me to remember that life is not about rushing from point A to point B.

I am more accepting: I am also more inclined to be accepting of others when I Imageam a guest in another culture. Certainly I don’t believe in cultural relativism when it comes to “big” things like child abuse or domestic violence. But for the small tensions of daily life I endeavor to understand others instead of judge them. But a quote I once read said something wise: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle” (attributed, most thing wrongly, to Plato). And that is no less Imagetrue of what I consider boorish behavior in the US.

I am kind to myself: I am also more accepting of myself. I don’t know why this is. Perhaps because travel brings out what I feel is my best self? Or maybe I am too involved with immersion to be preoccupied with the narcissism of daily life? Or conversely, I am more introspective? ImageImageWhatever the reason, I find that negative self talk is minimized when I get off of the plane.

I am a “yes woman.” I am more open to new experiences. I am the consummate “yes woman” when I travel. Eat this homemade food? Read this book? Wear this dress? Meet your friend? Dance in front of a crowd? Try to cook this? Explore an unknown street? Have a cup of tea with you/your brother/cousin/wife/cow? Don’t mind if I do. This led to me playing an elaborate game of tag with a huge extended family outside a Jain temple, eating as the guest of honor with a Gujarati group at an ashram, dancing in front of a large group of Indian women during a holiday celebration and countless other memories.

I would do well to import this adventurous spirit and open myself up to new things even if they make me anxious.

I push myself. Similarly, this “yes” attitude leads to a commitment to squeeze the marrow out of my experience. I push myself to plan weekend trips, savor moments, take photographs, make new friends. Something about the experience being finite leads increased motivation to Imagemake the most of my time. But my time in any place is finite and there is no reason not to expend the same energy and create memories on US soil.

Learning to tell their stories: visit to a leprosy colony

ImageIn addition to my work at the WHO I have been trying to hone my journalistic skills. At this point, that means doing what I do best: talk with people. Rickshaw drivers, my colleagues, fellow train passengers, chai wallahs, doctors…anyone and everyone. I spent an entire 2 hour car ride this weekend discussing bribes and corruption in the healthcare system with our driver. Today I stopped someone for directions…and spent 15 minutes talking about healthy eating choices at universities. It’s great. Instead of just being a really friendly chatterbox I can now blame my verboseness on “journalism.”

In service of this, I headed out on assignment last week. I’m going to be writing a few stories for an Indian newspaper called The Hindu. My first article? Leprosy of course. I almost laughed when they told me- I feel like I’m finding a niche. In search of a new angle I met up with Meeta, a photographer for the paper who served as my translator, and the two of us went to a nearby leprosy colony. (note: because leprosy is fully curable with antibiotics, people who live in these colonies are usually persons who had the disease in the past- and may have suffered consequent deformities- and their families.)

We walked from home to home and finally found someone who spoke Hindi (as opposed to a more regional dialect). I don’t want to spoil my story but we found an incredibly kind, interesting, articulate gentleman. He welcomed us into his home and spoke with me for more than an hour. I was captivated. During the interview a rat crawled over his wife, it was hot, and I was tired from a full day at work beforehand. But I could have stayed there all day. I was struck by his story and his quiet insistence that leprosy-affected persons deserved the dignity of work, no matter how humble the job.

IMG_4275While Meeta set up her photos I was led around the colony by an impromptu volunteer tour guide- an older gentleman who spoke no English but insisted on taking me to every dwelling and had me take pictures of everyone, young and old. When he wanted to get my attention he would call my “name”…”eeeleee” and (Hayley is hard to pronounce in Hindi) and off we would go. When the “tour” was over he brought me to his home/small shop, insisted on giving me tea and a coke and refused any and all forms of payment. Remember: I was a complete stranger, coming into their community, asking them deeply personal questions and offering nothing in return. I couldn’t even communicate without my translator, relying instead on the universal currency of pointing, gestures and smiles.

By now I should be used to this amazing generosity. During the International Leprosy Summit in Thailand I met Mr. V Narsappa, the chairman of a national advocacy group for leprosy affected persons.  He was diagnosed with leprosy at age 9 and was kicked out of his house at that time. He too spent hours talking with me about his experiences. At the end he asked only one thing of me: “write something that will help people affected by leprosy.” His injunction is one that I take seriously and it reminds me that be it medicine, journalism or public health…with great privilege comes great responsibility.

The generosity of my impromptu tour guide, the gentleman I interviewed, the leprosy patients I met at the hospital last month is so intense and humbling. They make me want to be a better person- more generous, more optimistic, more hospitable. In the meantime, however, I will just try to take advantage of this incredible fellowship so I can learn to tell their stories.

Travels in Thailand Part 1


I can’t believe how derelict I’ve been in chronicling some of my adventures. I went to Bangkok for a week for a conference  and took 2 days after to explore. It was one of my all time favorite trips but it will be too boring to describe in detail so I will give you the highlight reel: 


1. International Leprosy Summit/photojournalism.  I went to help with the International Leprosy Summit. My not-so-secret dermatology nerd was immensley pleased to marry my twin passions of derm/infectious disease with global and public health. The meeting was a great success and I was so excited to see that a photo I took was used on a giant poster that will also be distributed internationally and was used in international newspapers!

2. Bangkok/street food: I stayed in a budget hotel right next to one of Bangkok’s night markets, Patpong,  in an area called Silom which boasts some delectable street food. I am not a foodie by any means (my “cooking” is more along the lines of eating raw veggies and trader joe’s frozen dinners with the occasional sauteed spinach or brussel sprout/stir fry/kale chip thrown in) but WOW the food in Thailand was good. 

Street food in Thailand is safe, hygienic, delicious and very cheap so I availed myself of every opportunity. Some favorites: the fresh fruit, lod chong, sum tum and BBQ street meat. I had a fabulous experience near one of the temples where a som tum vendor took a shine to me (I had tried to entice some other tourists into trying her amazing dish) and gave me all sorts of free food.


Image3. The joy (?) of being a solo traveler. I was hell bent on taking advantage of this work trip and seeing a bit of Thailand. Problem? I didn’t have anyone to sightsee with as my boss was ill and the rest of the people at the meeting were honorable ministers of health etc. Solution? Strike out on my own! One thing I am amazed by is power of the internet (please read that sentence a if it were said by the people in this video …”what is internet?”).  I used TripAdvisor and other message boards to figure out the best (read: cheapest) hotel to stay at, where to change money for the best rate, how to navigate Thailand’s public transportation and which attractions were a must see. To get to the temples, for example, I had to take the skytrain to a river port and hop a local public boat bus and figure out which station to get off on. The bonus about traveling alone is that you meet all sorts of amazing people and in my experience people were kind, generous and eager to help. The best part was when I asked directions from 2 women, one Thai and one American. “I’m from Bangkok but I live in the US now- we both do,” the Thai woman explained. “Where in the US?” I asked. “Boston,” she replied. “No way! I grew up in Boston!” I exclaimed. “Well, not really Boston, we live in a small town outside of Boston called [she named the exact small town outside Boston where I grew up].” “ME TOO!!!” Seriously, what are the odds? Gotta love it. 


Hey Laaadies!

ImageSo one of my favorite things about New Delhi thus far is the incredible metro system.  It’s sleek, has incredible signage, the trains come around every 5 minutes and it has a very convenient smartcard system. My commute to work takes around 30 min and costs 13.6 rupees (around 23 cents). This metro system has totally spoiled me and I am dreading my return to the US and its sub par public transit.

But probably my fImageavorite thing about the New Delhi metro is the Ladies Car. Not women’s car- ladies car. Because all the women in New Delhi are ladies for some reason. Only three years old, this is a part of New Delhi’s initiative for women’s safety that feels appropriate in the wake of horrible gut-wrenching acts of violence against women that gained international attention.

So the first car of every train is marked by pink signs and reserved for the fairer sex. It’s less crowded and FAR less smelly than the rest of the metro. Image

It’s very hard, however, to refrain from shouting “hey laaaadieeees” ala Outkast every time I get on the train. But I already get enough stares for being white and having blue eyes so I don’t think I need to add “crazy psychopath” to that list. But we all know that my inner filter is shoddy at best so you never know…

But what if I’m a lady in New Delhi and have to run to catch the train and/or can’t find the ladies car? Fear not, fellow female traveler. There are provisions for you in the regular cars as well. Signs and periodic announcements remind male passengers to kindly give up their seats for “the elderly, physically disabled or women.” Because, you know, it’s all kind of the same thing, right?

This ladies only concept has proved very popular and is very much appreciated by this lady.

ImageNow to end I would like to introduce you to my favorite subway sign creature: a be-snouted, afro-sporting, skirt and clog wearing man(woman?)-bear-dog hybrid: enjoy.