Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Horror

A recently tenured young professor at my university (not in the school of public health, but in a closely related area) was stabbed to death by her boyfriend this week. News reports indicate that she had confided to her friends that she was "worried" about him. In this state (or perhaps county, I'm not quite sure of the level of the regulation), you cannot get a restraining order unless there's been a previous incident...well, it's easy to see that sometimes, like in this case, you can be killed in that first incident. This state constantly ranks in the top 10 for most  murders of women.

What will it take for this to change? It's a widespread, heartbreaking problem. I have ached as my former students have told me about the violence and abuse they've experienced from their former partners. These young women inspire me in so many ways- as African-American women, as single parents, in having the courage to leave violent relationships and fight for their education, for a better life for themselves and their children. Unfortunately, the risk of being injured or killed by a violent partner increases when you leave that person - they've lost their control over you, and you've lost your ability to observe, and know what they're up to. "Just leave" is not the answer.

And yet...this is intensely personal. I didn't know this woman, and I can't begin to imagine the pain felt by her friends, family members, and students. I know the university intensely feels this loss- the loss of a scholar, mentor, friend, teacher. We are a community that works to prevent intimate partner violence- by trying to teach men and women a healthy perspective on what masculinity is, by trying to create a culture that refuses tolerate violence, by raising awareness of what happens on this university and in the state around us. To lose one of our own this way is devastating.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Admittedly....

it's a little scary. What started out as a normal visit at student health turned into a referral to a gastroenterologist, and perhaps a cardiologist, depending on how the nurse practitioner feels at my next followup visit. 3 appointments later, and all I know is that no one knows what's wrong with me. It's been a week of tests, and there are more to come. That first visit at student health I weighed in at under 110 lbs, for the first time since 8th or 9th grade. I've been sick for a long time, and it's probably been a month since I've slept through the night. I want to be well, but the simple approach of "rest, and let my body fight off whatever this is" is obviously not going to work.  And, y'know, when a doctor says that what I thought was just me aggravating a high school injury looks like rheumatoid arthritis to him, well, that's scary too. Particularly when he follows that statement up with a barrage of tests he wants run, including one that's normally done on people TWICE my age.

And then there are those other questions...questions that result from being a US citizen, in a time when healthcare reform is not yet completely realized. What if this turns out to be some chronic condition, requiring treatment for the rest of my life? What would that do to our ability to pay for health insurance? I've planned my entire education in a way that prepares me to work in the foundation/nonprofit/NGO world. A chronic, serious illness would make that impossible (Yes, I'm also a pretty darn capable social science researcher, but believe you me, academia is not some place I want to be if there are other options).

One of my girlfriends who's been through something similar (and is doing GREAT now) remarked on how humbling this sort of thing is. "Humbling"- I wish I'd thought of that word. It's remarkable...that no matter how educated I am, no matter how educated and smart the healthcare professionals I'm seeing are...there's no way to know how long it will take for me to get better. I'm more or less confined to the couch these days when I'm home. I'm giving class my best shot, and trying to work on GA stuff, but it's different. I usually work at a furious pace, but right now I take a lot of naps. It's remarkable when you come face to face with your limitations.  I shouldn't be allowed to wax melancholy or insightful right now- I haven't been sick long enough, and I'm hopeful that in another 2-3 weeks, I'll be back to 100%.

But we do a fair amount of whistling in the dark here these days, and a whole lot of laughing at my decrepit duck waddle.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Sickness

This is my momentary pity party.  I'm presently facing a rather unpleasant health challenge which has culminated in: two trips to student health this week, a round of antibiotics, 4 separate bloodwork orders (3 trips to the lab), and a trip to a specialist, who tentatively scheduled me for a colonoscopy next week (about 20 years early). I'm exhausted. I have 100s of pages to read, writing assignments to complete, and students to find service learning placements for.  It feels completely unfair to get hit with this at the start of a demanding program, when I need to be building momentum and making progress (and getting things out of the way before the semester becomes completely unmanageable).

If you know me in real life- please keep this bit of information to yourself. I've shared it with exactly: 2 classmates/colleagues, 1 friend, and 1 family member (in addition to my husband). I'm trying to not turn into "the sick girl," especially when new doctoral students are starting to get to know each other and are at their most competitive. I also don't think it's any of my professors or supervisor's business until it starts interfering with work.

Which is neverending, and I need to return to it, rather than wallowing.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

decisions

In January of 2009 I moved here and enrolled in an MPH program, in Health Promotion, Education and Behavior. I didn't really have a clue what I was doing, except that I had to do something, and it had something to do with this. I was scared, unfunded, gutsy, terrified. Social science wasn't an easy transition. It's fascinating, and I love it now, and I think "heath decisionmaking" will ultimately be the one overarching theme through my body of work. But at the beginning....I would have told you there was no objective way to measure things like that, and people who thought they could describe/influence those processes were crazy and arrogant. I vaguely remember saying that "qualitative research" was an oxymoron - that qualitative work was the necessary, preliminary work people did as a precursor to real research, which is controlled and experimental. When I started, I didn't know what would happen, how long I'd stay, what degree I'd get (MPH, MPH/MSW, MSPH, Dr.PH or Phd. There's a lot of choices!). I knew I couldn't stay where I was, and I wanted to make the world a better place, and I had a sense that was what public health did- especially this university and this department, and good things happened here. That wasn't so vague. I did scour the school's publication and funding record and stared at faculty CVs for hours, looking for something to verify whatever force was pushing me here.

I landed. It was a disaster, in the worst way. An assistantship did not materialize (though my department did, slowly, take action to ensure that I was charged instate tuition) Schedule got deleted, loan funds got returned. I missed a week of my online class because I had been dropped from Blackboard and had to chase down all my professors in order to re-enroll in classes. It was exhausting. It was lonely. It was life.

Months passed. I got to know my cohort- the group of ten or so of us who started in January (not a common choice). Then those who had started ahead of us in August, and those who followed along afterwards. I made two amazing priest friends (sadly, one now lives on the other side of the country) and started hanging out at a student ministry. I went to Belize (and fell in love).

I came back, and took harder classes. Got the hang of looking for money here, and either had a whole bunch of crazy responsibilities dropped on my head, or some wonderful opportunities fall in my lap (TA, qualitative program evaluation, virtual women's center, PTSD research, helping an academic program through the institution-required self-study, instructor of record). I acquired a graduate certificate in Women's and Gender Studies, fell in love (with my now-husband!) and went back to Belize, to do my own beautifully planned (less beautifully executed) primarily qualitative study. And, y'know, got married.

So I'm here. Still. Beginning again. For more quantitative reasons this time- I have a husband with degree in progress, and the public health job market is hideous in this state. I can't guarantee that I'd find a job in commuting distance (or, that I'd find a job at all). With two graduate student stipends, things aren't great, but we won't be living under a bridge. There's a skill set I have and want to build on- program planning and evaluation, developing and carrying out interventions, working with community partners. And this program is the best way to do that. I want a terminal degree one day, and the "rights and privileges" that confers -expertise, authority,independence. There is no guarantee I'd be able to replicate the mentoring and community (and funding sources!) I have here at another institution at another point in time.

I'm here. Surrounded by new faces, when most of those (students) I care about most have left- for Texas, for Iowa, for a job at the Historic Black University on the other side of town. I love it, and this is my home. This lovely 210 year old campus, with its hideous parking and oppressive heat, and  most particularly a building with lead-soldered copper pipes, mold, peeling paint, asbestos insulation, and a freezing computer lab. I'm walking these halls surrounded by people who have not slaved, laughed, and cried in them the same way I have. It is familiar, and it is lonely, and it is where I need to be.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Irony

I'm in the kitchen, spreading basil from the pots on the front porch onto paper towels to dry in the oven (my hope is that by starting to harvest + dry basil early, I'll encourage the plants to produce more, and there will be enough to share with my husband's mother and grandmother) and hovering over the washing machine, to dump vinegar (fabric softener) in as soon as it hits the rinse cycle, while my husband is assembling the particle board "organizers" we picked up at Target. After perusing thrift stores in the area, it became clear that our graduate student income wouldn't stretch far enough for secondhand furniture.

We do our best- cloth napkins and cleaning with vinegar and baking soda. I've successfully grown a couple herbs for cooking, and removed pretty much all phosphates and sulfates  from my daily hygiene routines. We don't cook with meat- not so much because I don't believe in eating it (though I do believe everyone should incorporate at least one meatless dinner into their week), but because we can't afford the meat I do believe in (local, SC farmed, or shrimped). And local, organic produce? I love our farmer's market, and we're lucky enough to have a small corner market that's sourced from local farms. But probably less than 10% of the produce we eat is local or organic. I get what mass production is doing to the world, but yet I've not figured out how to manage without it.