Friday, 2 August 2013

Playing Catch Up

It seems that in the past week and a half since being back from Europe, I’ve been doing a lot of catching up. Catching up on sleep, catching up with friends and family, and catching up with paperwork for med school. And now I feel an obligation to my blog followers to catch up my blog, too.

The day after my last post at the end of June, the boyfriend arrived in Geneva to spend two glorious weeks adventuring around Geneva and Switzerland, biking through Geneva wine country, enjoying the famous Chocolate Train tour through Gruyeres (tour of a cheese factory and the beautiful Gruyeres castle) and Broc (tour of a chocolate factory and the consumption of utterly too much chocolate), attending the Montreux Jazz Festival on three separate occasions and going back stage with BadBadNotGood, enjoying the many parks and beautiful waterfront of Lausanne, spending a hot, sunny summer day on a paddle boat in Annecy (in France), and good byes at the WHO before leaving for ten days of vacation.


We traveled to Nice, and from there visited Monaco and Antibes (my favourite being Antibes) for some fun in the sun and beach-filled days, and then flew off to Paris for our final five days of vacation. We explored the Louvre, did a boat tour of the Sienne, went to the Moulin Rouge, and even caught the final stretch of the Tour de France (a real highlight), before flying home.



I’ve been home for a week and a half, but already Europe and the big vacation seem like so long ago! As soon as I got home I had to get together a lot of paperwork and administrative stuff for med school, which involved a lot of appointments, at the doctor’s office, bank and police department, and now I have possession of the new house I’ll be moving into with 4 other first year med students, and I could not be more excited to begin preparing for the big move. It really has been a whirlwind since being home, but I’m looking forward to the next 3 weeks before med school starts, to prepare my new house for my fresh start, reflect on my summer and everything that I’ve learned from my experience abroad, and to mentally prepare myself to begin this new, challenging chapter of my life.

More posts to come soon! 

Friday, 28 June 2013

A Weekend in Photos: Interlaken & the Swiss Alps

This past weekend a friend and I spent in Interlaken. We spent an afternoon and evening exploring Interlaken, which is a beautiful (and tourist-filled) city, and then spent a day hiking in the Bernese Alps (part of the Swiss Alps). We took a cable car from Grindelwald to First, and enjoyed a somewhat snowy hike (despite not having proper snow-hiking equipment at all!) from First to Bachlapsee. We had a wonderful time admiring the view and breathing the fresh mountain air. The story of our weekend is best told in pictures, so here are the links to my tumblr photo posts from Interlaken and the Swiss Alps.

Some thoughts on work retreats...

I spent a couple of days this week at a work retreat in Gex, France, hashing out a paper that will be submitted for publication hopefully before my internship at the WHO ends. Perhaps the idea of spending 48 hours with colleagues working on one single project can sound exhausting or intimidating, but I found it refreshing to be out of the office in a beautiful French village and working with young colleagues like myself. The four of us worked well together, and I found the mix of being focused and productive, with being silly and relaxed, made for a very successful retreat. I’m new to the whole work retreat thing, so I have little to compare it to, but I must say that two things stood out for me which made it an enjoyable and productive experience:

1. We spent a considerable amount of time making and enjoying each meal. The combination of cooking the meals together and then enjoying lingering conversation when meals were done was a very nice way to break up the day and focus our energy on work when we needed to.

2. We went for a late walk through the village on the Monday night, and this time physically away from the house we were working at, as well as the peacefulness of exploring a new place in the calm of the night, was an incredibly successful way to unwind after a long day of working.

I feel quite lucky to have had the opportunity to have had such a positive work experience. Now it’s down to the grind to finish off the paper and submit it for first review by this afternoon, eep!

The view from the balcony, in Gex, France

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

A New Perspective

I've had diabetes for 10 1/2 years and have kept up with d-blogs and diabetic literature, and never have I come across an individual who views their diabetes in such a way as Sean Busby, founder of Riding on Insulin and Olympian in training. In this article, Sean describes his relationship with his diabetes:

"I try to think of my diabetes as a best friend, meaning that until a cure is found my diabetes is always going to be there—just like a best friend.  Sure we may have occasional arguments (just like you do with any friend) but no matter where I go, my diabetes is going to keep on sticking to my side.  If I choose to be friendly back, then we will get along much better and I will be able to do whatever I want to do."

I've certainly never thought of my diabetes as a friend, let alone a best friend, and I am not sure I'll ever be able to have that sort of attitude towards it, but I certainly appreciated the sentiment. I've spent the entire 10 1/2 years that I've had diabetes thinking about it as the enemy, as something that has happened to me but not as something that is me, and my is it refreshing to see it portrayed in such a constructive light. 

Diabetic or not, I think everyone can learn from Sean's attitude: if there's something about your life or yourself that you resent or dislike, how liberating is it to make it your own, and to view it in a positive way?    

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Voices of Type 1 Diabetes

I came across this article today, Voices of Type 1 Diabetes: Doing My Best Each and Every Day written by the International Diabetes Federation, intended to profile the stories of type 1 diabetics from around the world. I always enjoy reading stories about other type 1 diabetics, but I was particularly taken aback by the story of the 24 year old Indian woman, who's history and attitude toward diabetes has an incredible likeness to my own. In particular:

"I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when I was 12 years old. I was in 7th grade, and before diabetes, I was a happy go-lucky girl. I was active, and did well in school and sports. After my diagnosis, I took my diet very seriously but in truth, I hated the painful injections I was required to take each day. I worked hard on overcoming social fears, keeping appointments with my doctor, checking blood sugars regularly and eating well. Fortunately, when I graduated from university and began working, I understood the importance of informing friends, and office co-workers about my condition, especially about the risk of hypoglycemia and what happens to me during low blood sugar episodes. I dislike pity and my co-workers understood this about my nature and supported me."

I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at 11 years of age, in 6th grade, and was similarly an active, high achiever (for more on my own story, see Why I Aim for Average). It has also taken me a relatively long time (through high school and university) to overcome my own pride when it comes to diabetes, and to more openly inform my colleagues and friends.    

Living with a chronic condition sometimes feel very isolating, and at times it is frustrating to think that nobody quite understands the intricate, and often subtle, daily struggles of living with type 1 diabetes, both physical and emotional. This article was a small reminder that no matter what you're experiencing, and no matter how it makes you feel, you are never alone in your experiences in this big ol' world. 

Monday, 17 June 2013

66th World Health Assembly: Self discovery, long days, and free food

I had the incredible opportunity while interning at the WHO to attend the World Health Assembly. The World Health Assembly takes place every year at the Palais des Nations (United Nations Headquarters), where all the UN member states convene to discuss the health agenda for the next year. In addition to the main meetings, there are many side sessions that happen during lunch and in the evenings, which are usually organized by specific country’s delegations, by NGOs or UN or WHO departments.
My duty during the week of the WHA was to man my department’s booth (The Alliance for Health Policy and Systems Research). Although this may sound rather boring, it was actually quite the opposite as I had the chance to speak with individuals in the field of health policy, from around the world, about their work and the challenges their countries face. From Ministers of Health to researchers to students, I learned from each individual I conversed with.
Photo-op at the Alliance's booth, with co-workers
The side sessions were the other highlight of the WHA for me (and not just because of the free food, although interns are notorious scavengers of free food during the WHA, probably because of our non-existent pay cheque). As a future medical student (!!!!) already thinking about the path towards becoming a physician, and the responsibility and challenges that lie therein, I think I approached the WHA differently than I would have otherwise. One particular side session that stood out for me was organized by the International Federation of Medical Students’ Association on the topic of ‘Health of the World’s Girls- The missing link in the global development agenda?’. The topic was incredibly interesting, as the panelists discussed how child health and maternal health are common demographic targets for health initiative, but youth are often forgotten. The event was the first youth-led side session ever held at the WHA, which in itself was exciting, and I was further energized by the possibility of becoming involved with the IFMSA and their many global health initiatives. But more importantly, it made me realize the need to fight for not just women’s rights, but girl’s rights as well. For many girls, particularly those living in LMIC, the time between being a child and being a mother is vulnerable but crucial, when education and empowerment can make an incredible difference. As someone living in a society where education and empowerment has been slowly pushing the age of motherhood back, I find myself in a very liberating time of my life, when I am obviously no longer a child (or teen!) but will not be experiencing motherhood anytime soon, and so have the power to chase my own dreams and experiences. I wish for all girls the opportunity to experience that freedom.

The second side session that really stood out for me was organized by the Costa Rican government and the United Nations Sport for Development and Peace department, and was called ‘Physical activity, sport and noncommunicable diseases’. Well here was an event that had, right in the title, three things that I am incredibly interested in, and it did not disappoint. The event was not run as smoothly as some of the other events I had attended, and some of the speakers were subpar, but despite the quality of the event, it was by far my absolute favourite of the week. I felt so at home in a room full of athletic individuals who are very passionate about using sport and physical activity to tackle pressing problems associated with noncommunicable disease. And simply being present at the event, surrounded by these people, I realized that perhaps my initial interest in sports medicine, that first motivated me to pursue medicine, still exists in a very real way. Throughout university, while taking many biology courses, I always felt that if I went to med school and learned more about all the amazing ways in which the human body works, I might find sports medicine to be less interesting than other fields of medicine. But the side session made me realize that it is important to look beyond the textbook, and consider what in my life is powerful enough to ignite passion and a familiarity that makes me feel at home in a place that I have never been, and to pursue that passion with curiosity and zest.
There were so many exciting and interesting moments from the WHA (such as when Director General, Margaret Chan, crashed the event and sat beside me for about two minutes before making a quick speech and dashing off to another meeting, leaving me rather embarrassingly star struck), but I chose to share two specific moments because I have a feeling they will stick with me long past when my days at the World Health Organization are done.
My co-worker and I checking out some of the other booths at the WHA

Sunday, 16 June 2013

A Weekend of Falling in Love, Again

The sun shone this entire weekend in Geneva which makes me happy to say that we have finally turned the corner into beautiful, hot summer weather. On Saturday, a new (intern) friend and I went to see the Geneva Sailboat Regatta, but were a bit late heading out the door and ended up by Baby-Plage instead, enjoying the sun and watching some young kids really kill it water skiing on the lake. Seeing everyone out in bathing suits and summer dresses made me incredibly happy- finally, some summer weather! My friend, who is from Nigeria and has lived in Rome the past five years, found my enthusiasm about the heat rather amusing. I suppose that’s what happens when you live in a climate where you get only two, maybe three months of summer heat every year. Your excitement when you can finally wear that new sundress you bought at the end of last season, so many months before, becomes a bit overwhelming. And having spent the last three weeks in rainy, cold Geneva weather, I had lost the energy and excitement that comes from living in a new place for a summer. But this weekend, amid the sand and sweat and sun, I found it once again and fell in love with the city all over again.
Carousel by the lake, and so many people enjoying the sun!
Today I went for a run, mid-day, in the wonderful, sunny, heat. The heat doesn’t make for an easy run, but it definitely makes for a rewarding one, and I’ve always preferred running in the heat to running in the cold (sorry Canadian winters, but you just don't cut it for good runs). Over the years I’ve fallen in and out of love with running too many times to count, but running along Lac Leman today reminded me of all the reasons I love to run. I even enjoyed the hill at the ¾ mark of my run, though painful and sweaty, because I’ve always felt it is in the most uncomfortable moments on runs by myself that I am reminded of my own independence and power.

What will you fall in love with this week?

Friday, 14 June 2013

A Dream Come True

The week after my adventures with Big Hair, Big Science, I received life changing news. It is with so much excitement, anticipation and passion that I am proud to say that I was accepted to medical school in Canada. The program I was accepted to is a three year program, that runs for 12 months of the year (with only about 9 weeks of vacation in total across all three years!), so in three years time I will be an M.D. I still cannot grasp the reality of this incredible life change.

My path towards medicine began at a fairly young age, when I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. I was very ill when I was diagnosed and spent a few days in the hospital, and throughout my stay I always felt rather comfortable at a hospital, perhaps a strange thing for an eleven year old to feel. It’s not that I loved being there or loved being a newly diagnosed diabetic, but I never felt frightened by the hospital, only curious of the noises and sights and sounds. I did not make a big fuss when administering my first needles, or pricking my finger to test my blood sugars. However it was only after my release from the hospital, when the true sorrows and triumphs of living with a chronic illness began, that I discovered my passion for physiology. When my blood sugars were high or low, I had an immediate physical reaction, and I was always curious to find out exactly what was happening inside my body. On the outside I might be shaking, or sweating or feeling grumpy, but I always wondered what was happening at the cellular level?

It took me awhile to place this interest and curiosity in my diabetes into the context of a possible future profession.  But one morning when I was in grade 11, I had a revelation. I would be a sports medicine doctor. It seemed the perfect profession for me, as it combined by passion for athletics with my interest in physiology and my desire to help others.

When I arrived at university, my determination to pursue medicine wavered. Surrounded by intelligent, wonderful, high-achieving individuals in my program, I questioned my own ability to get in to medical school. Something I grappled with continuously over the four years of my undergraduate degree was the notion of what makes a good physician? Each medical school has a slightly different preference in who is accepted, and it always left me wondering, which was the right preference? And who has the right to decide what qualities make a good physician? I still have yet to answer these questions, but I think perhaps, in the broad and varied field of medicine, there is no single set of qualities that are needed to be a good physician, because the field calls for a variety of people with different ambitions, skills, emotions and backgrounds. Yet my own questions about the medical field left me wondering if it was the right field for me. In my senior years in university, I worked at a health policy hub and received an undergraduate fellowship (which is what landed me in Geneva, interning at the WHO for the summer), and I toyed with the idea of pursuing a career in the field of health policy over medicine. But I realized that the long hours of reading and researching, and the lack of individual, one-on-one human contact with others did not satisfy me. I have not completely abandoned the idea of continuing in the field of health policy in some capacity, but I know that for the time being, studying medicine is exactly what I want to be doing.

It has been exactly a month since I found out I was accepted to medical school, and I am not sure I have really grasped the reality of it. Having a dream come true that I have been wanting and grappling with for years is a surreal experience. I am sure once I am back in Canada and settling into my new place, buying my textbooks and preparing for a challenging and rewarding three years of intense schooling, it’ll feel more real, but for now it is an overwhelming little thought in my head that can elicit happiness, excitement, nervousness, relief and determination, all at once.

Have you ever had a dream come true?

Doctor Syntax: The Doctor's Dream By Artist Thomas Rowlandson, English 1756 - 1827

Sunday, 26 May 2013

Big Hair, Big Science & Emily Explore Geneva

Although Geneva will be my home for 2 ½ months, the first week here I was 100% a bona fide tourist. I think that’s something you must do when visiting a new place, get all the touristy sites out of the way at the beginning so that you can pretend to be a know-it-all local for the weeks to follow. I was also lucky enough to have a long weekend the week after I began my internship, and a good friend visited from Croatia (who will from here on forward be referred to as “Big Hair, Big Science”, a descriptive moniker). Together, we hit up enough of the Geneva’s main tourist attractions, and took enough pictures (over 800 between the two of us) to make a children’s story:

“Big Hair, Big Science & Emily Explore Geneva”

On a warm spring day in Geneva, a young adult named Emily waited excitedly on the terrace of her apartment for a friend to visit from Croatia. As a taxi pulled up, she squealed with excitement, and out came Big Hair, Big Science (first spotted by her hair). Their big embrace marked the beginning of a four-day long journey, filled with excitement, disappointment and giggles.

The first evening was spent exploring the Geneva waterfront. Walking from the train station to the waterfront, the friends noticed that Geneva upholds the two main Swiss stereotypes – Swiss chocolate and Swiss watches – as the streets were lined with watch shops and chocolate shops. How delicious, and prompt! 
As they neared the waterfront, the first site was spotted – Geneva’s famous Jet d’Eau. Descriptively named, the Jet d’Eau is a big fountain that shoots out of Lac Leman (or Lake Geneva as it is known to foreigners). Oh the excitement over a stream of water!

 Next Geneva’s other famous and not overly exciting site was spotted, Horlage Florale, or the Floral Clock. The friends realized the Swiss greatly enjoy descriptive names for their tourist attractions. Hooray for Swiss watches (and for the random man who got in the picture).

The next day, the friends had a tightly scheduled day. First a trip to the Palais des Nations, the UN headquarters, for a tour at noon, and then on to the Old Town to explore and visit the Patek Phillipe watch museum, concluding with a dinner at La Plancha, a nice restaurant in the middle of the eatery district. But when the friends arrived at the Palais des Nations, they were greatly disappointed. Despite being twenty minutes early, the tour was already full! And their tightly packed schedule did not allow for waiting around for the next tour which happened two hours later. Instead, the friends spent some time taking pictures of the UN from the outside, and of the symbolic Broken Chair located outside the UN. Would Big Hair, Big Science have the chance to tour the UN in the two short days she would be in Geneva? Only well-scheduled time would tell.

After spending a considerable amount of time exploring the beautiful old town, a very silly Emily was freezing because it was raining and much too cold for a dress, so the friends had to make the tough decision to skip the watch museum and head home to get changed, before heading back into town for dinner. But not before taking some fun pictures of the famous Reformation Wall!
Dinner that night was perfect, the food was delicious, and Emily was finally warm. The friends also decided upon a schedule for the next day that would allow them to still visit the Palais des Nations, see Big Hair, Big Science’s number one attraction, CERN, and go to the Musee d’histoire des sciences for the Nuit des Mussees that was happening in Geneva that weekend.

The next morning the girls awoke early to make it to the Palais des Nations for 10am, to ensure a spot on the 10:30 tour. The tour was quite worth it, as the friends learned about the symbolism of the artwork and architecture of the Palais, and had a sneak peak into some of the impressive meeting rooms. The tour also made Emily feel like a baller, because her WHO badge got her in as a “staff” for free! Three cheers for interning!

 The end of the UN tour marked the beginning of the best few hours of Big Hair, Big Science’s life. A visit to CERN. The excitement could not be contained within her big hair (and actually caused a headache later in the day once the excitement had subsided). Just check out this smile:

And this one:

And this one:

After a few magical hours at CERN, the friends went back to Emily’s apartment for dinner and to relax a bit (ahem, allow Big Hair, Big Science to cope with her excitement), and then headed out to the Musee d’histoire des sciences. But first, an unexpected stop on the way! The girls stumbled upon Les conservatoire et jardin botaniques, Geneva’s botanical gardens! Here they discovered a large beautiful park, with so much waterfowl (including flamingos and a black swan) that it was Emily’s turn to be overly excited.

When they arrived at the Musee d’histoire des sciences after their short detour, the girls found out it was a 10chf admission fee, but that Sunday was free (so naturally they decided to go back on Sunday). Instead they admired the Pearle du Lac park, and took some romantic pictures during sunset.

The next morning they visited the Musee d’histoire des sciences. What an interesting old building it was, with some pretty nifty artefacts.

And with the end of their morning in Geneva, it was time for the friends to part. A quick goodbye, and Big Hair, Big Science was back on the train to the Geneva Airport, and Emily was back on a train to her apartment in the suburbs. The wonderful weekend of laughter, excitement and friends was over and had left the girls with heartwarming memories, and 800 photographs. A true success.

Saturday, 25 May 2013

A Summer Abroad

Bonjour blogosphere! Although it has been almost a year since I last posted, I have high hopes that this entire summer will be well documented, even though I am already into the third week of it. But I will retrospectively document the last 3 weeks over the course of this next week.
From The Beginning
This past academic year I held an undergraduate fellowship at the McMaster Health Forum, a health policy hub based in Hamilton. As part of my fellowship experience, I was given the incredible experience to travel to Geneva, Switzerland this summer for a 2 ½ month internship at the World Health Organization. As I recently completed my final undergraduate year at McMaster University, I could not have been more excited to have an opportunity to spend my summer between undergrad and grad school travelling Europe. I’ve never actually been to mainland Europe before, only Iceland (which always seems to shock and surprise people).

The Internship
I am interning in the Alliance for Health Policy and Systems Research at the WHO. I am working on a number of smaller projects, but the majority of my work is dedicated to conducting key informant interviews and co-authoring an original research paper on conference evaluation.

In terms of activities outside my internship’s terms of reference, the intern community in Geneva is incredibly well organized and large – with interns from the WHO, UN and International Labour Organization, to name a few, filling up the city in the summer. There are weekly drinks organized, gym classes, weekend excursions and lunches organized, meaning that nearly any day of the week the intern community is up to something.

The Accommodations
Finding housing in Geneva, especially for only a couple months, is notoriously difficult (and expensive!) but I lucked out in finding a beautiful, two bedroom, two bathroom apartment in a suburb just outside Geneva, with a wonderfully helpful and cheery roommate who also happens to be an employee at the WHO. And I have a bike to use while I’m here. Lucky? Definitely.

The City
Geneva is the tenth most expensive place to live in the world, according to The Economist’s Worldwide Cost of Living Report 2013, has a population of 194, 245, and is home to CERN, The Palais des Nations (UN HQ), the World Health Organization HQs and a whole bunch of watch and chocolate shops (more on that to come in future posts).

The Plan
So I am about 1/3 done my internship at this point (that is terrifying, so much work left to do!), and once it finished in mid-July, I have plans to travel to Montreux for the Montreux Jazz Festival, and then I’m off for a romantic couple of weeks in Nice and Paris with my man, before heading home to good ol’ Canada, eh.