Sunday, June 30, 2013

container garden!

Just wanted to share some pictures of my awesome container garden that I planted just over 2 weeks ago. It is doing really well despite the fact that it is in a narrow alley and doesn't get very many hours of sun. I guess the fact that it is direct midday sun and that it is so nice and hot here in oakland in the summer is making up for it somehow.

Here I am standing  with my newly planted herb garden

My little carrots that sprouted a few days after planting them

Zucchini, morning glories, tomatoes, and herbs

Beans on top and argula/spinach on the sides

The avacado plant I sprouted in the last weeks with a baby spider plant
Baby arugula coming up!

In the middle - the big brother avacado tree I sprouted many months ago

It is so much fun to come home every day and water my plants and see what is new -- it really does change every day!

Also, I wanted to share that I hired a really awesome woman to help me get the right supplies and plant things the right way. Her name is Asha and she works with another really awesome guy named Spira to run a business called Rhizome Urban Gardens. If you are in the bay area and want some help starting a garden or want to hire gardeners to plant and maintain it for you, I highly recommend them.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

And the run is over!

Photo of today's race on Golden Gate bridge from SF Gate

Well I did my half marathon today, and I have to say it is amazing what training can do. Two years ago I messed up my knees (my IT bands to be precise) while training and could only swim to train. Race day was the first time I had run in months, and while I finished, I couldn't walk for a few days afterwards.

This time, I managed to keep my IT bands happy and trained pretty well, so I was hopeful this would be a much smoother day, and indeed it was. The route was beautiful, starting at the ferry building, running along the Embarcadero, through the (hilly) Presidio, across the Golden Gate bridge and back, and then through (hilly) neighboorhoods down to Golden Gate Park for the finish. And even though today's race was waaaay hillier than the one I ran 2 years ago, I felt much better the whole time and though I'm sore for sure, I'm walking without a limp already!

Wave 7 with the Bay Bridge in the background
I always thought I ran at a 12-minute mile pace, so I signed up for that wave, but somehow I ended up running at a 10-minute mile pace today, so I spent most of the time weaving in and around people to pass them. And there were a LOT of people running, so it was actually kind of a challenge, but kept things interesting I suppose. It is always fun to run with so many people at once, and see people of all different ages and paces and running styles. Quite a few people struck up conversations with me about my crazy 'toe shoes' that I run in, which is always fun.

At the finish line!

I ended up finishing in 2 hours 12 minutes, which is a 10:07 minute mile pace. I feel pretty proud, although I was barely in the top half of runners, haha, and I didn't do a whole marathon. Maybe someday!

And the real success is the over $3,400 we raised for Clinica Martin Baro!!! Thank you so much to everyone who contributed, I really appreciate it. If anyone still wants to donate, its not too late, you can use this webform.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Half marathon training, or how I ended up running 7 miles in a mini-skirt

Ten days from now I'm doing my half marathon for Clinica. My start time is 5:30 in the morning so if all goes well I'll be done around 8am and I'll have the whole rest of the day ahead of me. Crazy way to start a day! There are four of us doing the half, and a couple others doing the 5K, and between all of us we're hoping to cover Clinica's rent for the year. We're doing pretty well, having raised $2275 between all of us -- we need another $2000 to meet our goal.

If anyone has been meaning to make a donation, there is still time to do so using this webform.

I wanted to write a post about all the fun, exciting, crazy, and sometimes painful adventures this training process has brought. So here they go:

Brady passed out on the floor after one of our runs
#1: Scrubbing my dog Brady down with dishsoap. While home in Stoughton, WI, I went on a few training runs with my mom's dog Brady, who is a great companion but loves swimming too much for his own good. We can never take him off the lease because everytime we have, he chases rabbits, ducks, and geese for miles before we can track him down again. We were running on a floating pedestrian bridge over a little river when Brady up and jumped over the side, happily swimming alongside the bridge on his lease all the way to the other side. "River" might have been a generous term for the swampy water we were crossing, so when we got home I knew Brady needed a serious scrub down before coming in the house. After a bunch of hose water and some dishsoap, he was good to go.

A Google Streetview shot of Broadway Terrace
#2: Leaping off the road into landscape shrubs. Today I thought it would be fun to investigate Robert Sibley Volcanic Regional Park, only 3 miles away from my house as the crow flies, and the nearest point to me of the epic Bay Area Ridge Trail. Unfortunately, as the roads go, the way from my house to Sibley Park involves going through crazy switchbacks up on a road called Broadway Terrace through a very affluent neighborhood. I did my best to always run on the side with the best visibility and move off to the side anytime I heard a car coming, but a couple of times I ended up flinging myself into the landscape shrubbery in front of a house as a car came around a blind corner. I'm never running on that road again.

Grizzly Peak Boulevard (from Google Street View)
#3: Going over instead of under the Berkeley Hills. To avoid running back on Broadway Terrace today, I took Grizzly Peak Boulevard, which is a well-established bike route and much more pleasant to run on. It also took me directly over Hwy 24 as it enters the Caldecott Tunnel, which I will be traveling through twice a day every day to get to work (and not so infrequently waiting in a long line of cars to enter). Only we were so high above it and the day was so foggy, I didn't even realize we had already passed the tunnels until way too late. I'll have to come back another day to get a bird's eye view of these Tunnels that will be such a part of my life for the next 3 years.

My running route from today
#4: Surprise, going 11 miles! As a result of #2 and #3, my little jaunt to check out the park that is 3 miles away form my house turned into an eleven mile run. I walked bits of it due to steep hills, scary blind corners, and a few side stitches, but I ran the vast majority of it and it makes me much more confident that I will indeed be able to do these 13 miles ten days from now.

#5: Running 7 miles in a mini-skirt. On my last day in Madison, I knew I'd have a few hours downtime in the city so I packed my running stuff -- my "toe shoes" that I run in, sports bra, shirt, waterbottle, even a backpack to put all my other stuff in and have my brother watch it for me. I was all prepared -- except I forgot to take my shorts out of the drier. I wasn't about to let those hours go to waste, so I thought desparately about creative solutions - running in my underwear (its just like a swimsuit bottom, right? no one would care in madison), or in my jeans (not the most comfortable and they'd be super sweaty afterwards, but better than not running). In the end I realized I had a second shirt with me, a plain black tank top, so I put it on like a skirt and went on my run. I'm sure I was getting funny looks, but I got my run in!

#6 Running in Zion National Park at Altitude. I only got to do one run while hanging out with my family in Utah (after the first one I came down with cold) but it was pretty spectacular -- running on a dirt trail along the Virgin River through Zion National Park. Here is a picture of the river and trail from someone else's trip there. So beautiful and solitary, mostly I just startled mule deer out of their slumbers.

And a couple last photos to share, that have nothing to do with running, except that doing this painting has made me see the trees and their trunks, branches, leaves, and how the light hits them so much more intensively when I am out running. They are of the mural of a birch grove my mom and I painted during the six days I was home with her in Stoughton.

Saturday, April 6, 2013


Sayidat and I in Uganda in 2010 when I met her
Sayidat is heading into her final semester of nursing school. She is studying hard and doing very well, I am so proud of her! I need to send her $600 for tuition and room/board sometime this month, if anyone wants to contribute, it would be very much appreciated. I am so grateful to all of you who have contributed over the last few years -- what an amazing thing to have enabled her to finish nursing school together!

If you feel like contributing, you can send me money by paypal to or by check to my address (which is in the email version if you are on the update list, if not, write to me by email and I'll give it to you).

New Beginnings

March 15th was match day and across the country medical students opened envelopes at exactly the same time saying where we have been sent for residency. Its an intense process, as all of the other scenarios, possibilities, and opportunities vanish out of the realm of possibility in one instant. Couples and families suddenly contemplate separations or cross-country moves, or experience the relief that all those worst case scenarios that a moment ago were possible, now will not come to pass.
my match letter
I matched at Contra Costa Family Medicine Residency, an amazing program based in a county hospital about an hour outside of San Francisco. I'll be working hard, probably harder than I would have at most family medicine programs, but I'll be training in an environment where family doctors literally run the hospital, and I will learn to work in the Emergency Room, deliver babies, do cesarean sections, and take care of hospitalized patients and patients in the intensive care unit. And it is an amazing group of really caring, inspiring people that I will be working with. I couldn't be happier.
To add to the good news, Mozzi and I have decided to take advantage of this close proximity and live together in Oakland.

Mozzi and I on the beach in San Francisco as we contemplate the move across the Bay

The keys to our new place!
We actually just signed the lease (on my birthday) for a really cozy apartment surrounded by an incredible amount of flowers in the walkway and the backyard. We are both incredibly excited about our new place and this next step in our lives. Less exciting is the reality that I will, for the first time in my life, have to commute to work. Those of you who have known me since high school know that I've always vowed I'd never own a car, preferring to navigate Madison snow and San Francisco traffic on my bike. I'll be buying a car (as a small part of me dies inside) and driving about 30 minutes each way to work. I know this is actually a pretty normal or even short commute by American standards, but it is still taking a lot for me to process and come to terms with it. But I am really happy and excited about all that lies ahead. So many new beginnings!

Pupusas and Harry Potter in Cuba

The river valley of La Estancia
After the marathon of clinical rotations of third year and the endless lineup of tests, applications, and interviews that dominated the first half of fourth year, the freedom of these last few months has been incredible. No tests, no grades, no pressure, just time to do anything we can convince the school to give us elective credit for. For me, this was my chance to go back to Latin America and recharge the other half of my soul. I spent the month of February in El Salvador, living and working in a rural community called Estancia in Morazán province (in the Eastern half of El Salvador, near the border with Honduras). I went through an organization called Doctors for Global Health, who partners with a local community organization called Campesinos para el Desarollo Humano (Farmers for Human Development).

Dr. Juan Carlos Martinez and I
The doctor I was working with in the clinic is named Juan Carlos. He grew up in Estancia, and as he tells the story, one of his high school teachers said to him "you are smart, you should apply to this scholarship to study medicine in Cuba." He applied, got the scholarship, and went off to Cuba at 17 to the same school where I studied, the Latin American School of Medicine (ELAM). He graduated three years ago and has been working as the doctor in his community ever since. It is such an amazing, classic story of ELAM, and after spending so much time with students just like Juan Carlos from communities across Latin America, it was incredibly moving to work alongside him and imagine the future that my friends will have and what amazing work they will be doing for their home countries and communities.

Meggie with our drawings of vaginal infections
During my month in Estancia, I worked in the clinic with Juan Carlos and a couple other medical students, taking care of anyone who came in the door for any reason - parents worried about a one month old baby with diarrhea, children with cuts and scrapes and rashes, adults with joint pains, asthma, or high blood pressure, and eighty year old great grandmas who had walked two hours in 100 degree heat to get some Tylenol for their back pain. The clinic is well stocked with the most common medications, so we could give most patients everything they needed right on the spot. If not, we wrote them prescriptions to an outside pharmacy and if needed, filled the prescription for them and had them come back to pick it up. We also did a lot of house visits, when someone had fallen or was too sick to navigate the mountainous terrain in the hot sun, we would pack a little bag and hike off to their house and do a clinic visit right there. And finally, I also did quite a bit of health promotions, working with another medical student and the local health promoters to give outreach sessions about women's health and cervical cancer. 

As you can imagine, I absolutely loved the work, and really got a sense of what it would be like to be a rural community doctor. You can bet I'll be coming back!  

Sunrise from the top of Pelon, a mountain near la Estancia

On the top of Pelon

After my too short month in Estancia, I bused back to San Salvador and flew to Havana. I hadn't been back to Cuba since 2nd year of med school, and now all my friends were 4th years and in their clinical years at hospitals across the country. I hung out for a week with the US folks that I started the program with four years ago, and had such an amazing time. I cannot even express how warm a welcome I receive each time I go, how we fall back into such comfortable friendships it is like I never left. We did a lot of cooking -- homemade pizzas, hummus made by smashing garbanzo beans by hand with a cup, curries and Iranian stew. Each day was a glorious combination of familiar and new experiences. Some things never change, like when I went to buy vegetables at cuatro caminos and one of the vendors, a friend from four years, recognized me and walked across the market to give me a hug and some ginger tea. Other things were new - more formal signs and official food vendors, novel fashion (the union jack is the latest fashion and is blazened across shoes, pants, t-shirts man-purses, any clothing surface you could imagine) and new musical hits.
My amazing ELAM friends!

Sunrise over Cayo Coco
I also got to travel more in Cuba than I ever had before. I took a 7 hour bus ride from Havana to Ciego de Avila, which is around the middle of the island and spent a couple of nights with my friends from Mexico who are studying there. Ciego is a great little town with very few cars, almost everyone has a bicycle and uses it as exclusive transportation, although there are some horse drawn carriages around for hire when you find yourself without a bike. Especially at night, the bicycles totally rule the road and riding and it was so idyllic to ride around the town plaza, park, and pond, right in the middle of the road with only other bicycles to avoid! The next morning after I got there, we got up at 3:30 in the morning to catch a ride out to Cayo Coco, a couple hours away, and got there just as the sun was rising over the ocean! There were some significant mosquitos so we submerged ourselves in the still-cool water, but gradual the sun came out and began to warm the fine white sand and light up the crystal clear aquamarine water. It was heavenly! These are the sorts of places that tourists come to Cuba for, although they probably don't pack spaghetti and mayonnaise for lunch like we did to avoid buying expensive food in the restaurants and hotels along the beach.
With my friends Maritza and Rocio on Cayo Coco

A pupusa topped with curtido and salsa
After Ciego, I went back to the other side of the country: Pinar del Rio, where two of my best friends from El Salvador are now in their 4th year. I had actually been able to visit each of their families for a night while I was in El Salvador, taking tons of pictures and collecting letters and gifts from their family members. It was a real treat to be able to bring these treasures to my friends, as well as spend a wonderful weekend in Pinar. The highlight was definitely making Pupusas -- a typical Salvadoran food that is essentially a stuffed corn tortilla. I brought Maseca (dried corn flour) from El Salvador, since it is impossible to find in Cuba, and we had a blast making bean and cheese pupusas along with the smooth tomato salsa, and 'curtido' (shredded cabbage and carrot with vinegar and oregano) to top them. They came out incredibly well, just like in El Salvador.

While we were cooking, in one of those moments of global interconnectedness, the Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban came on Cuban TV, shown like all the Sunday movies in Cuba straight through with no commercials. We half watched it as we cooked, everyone intrigued by the British English and whether I could actually understand it. I was left marveling at how different a place and time and moment I was in compared to the first time I saw that movie at home in Wisconsin during high school. And yet it is all part of the same world, and the worlds within it are connected in the most mundane and profound ways. 

Monday, August 2, 2010

Health Coach Training in Uganda

I have uploaded a couple of pictures here:

Check out this video I made about VHT Trainings in Uganda:

Since I arrived in Uganda a month ago I have been wondering how such a dry place could have such richly green vegetation. By the end of my half-hour walk into the office each morning my clothes, skin, face, and mouth would be coated with dust kicked up by the trucks. We remarked how the weather was perfect -- hot but not too hot during the day and cool but not too cool at night, and an occasional sprinkle one or twice a week at the most, not enough to even wet your clothes. I could not understand how a place that seemed so dry could sustain a sort of jungle vegetation not so different from the rain-forests of Ecuador.

The paradox was resolved three days ago when we were walking home from the office for lunch and the skies opened up in a downpour, turning the dusty dirt road to wet clay and mud. This event has repeated itself at least once a day since then, and brings the days activities to a halt each time. It is on such a rainy morning that I take advantage of some remaining battery power in my laptop to write this.

The program that I am working with here is a remarkable one -- a local NGO called Volset is partnering with a US NGO called OmniMed and the local government to train "village health teams" with one community health worker for every 20-30 families. After a week's worth of training, these "VHTs" go back to their villages and start visiting the homes of their neighbors to collect information about the health status of their communities (how many families have latrines, handwashing places, plate drying racks, how many children are immunized, how many cases of malaria there are, etc). They collect this information to give to the local health centers but also work to educate their neighbors and encourage them to fill in the gaps in order to prevent disease and promote health. It is interesting to be a part of a program in this stage of "scaling up" and interesting to see the tradeoffs of training more and more VHTs versus ensuring good support for the ones who already have been trained.

Most of our time here involves working directly with the VHTs -- training them and following-up with those who have already been trained. And these VHTs are amazing, inspiring people, who do all this work with absolutely no reward except the knowledge that they are making a difference in their communities. They are all proud to tell us about how they are seeing their neighbors boiling water, building latrines, taking children for vaccinations. But it is not easy work. How do you insist that an old woman with several young grand children to take care of dig a latrine? How do you tell your neighbors to go to a Health Center when they are sick when more times than not a person will go to a health center, wait through a long line to see a doctor, be told that they have malaria, or TB, but the health center will have run out of medications so they will have to go to a private pharmacy to buy them. The result of this, of course, is that people begin to go directly to the private pharmacy, where they buy medication based on a self-diagnosis or the diagnosis of a nurse who runs the private "clinic" and save all the time and transport cost that a visit to a health center entails.

Which brings me to the bigger picture -- how can a country like Uganda, with all of this foreign aid, a stable government with strong US support not have medicine in their government health centers? People talk about how most of the money stays in the government for internal workings / kick-backs, which I am sure is a big part of the problem, but there is also a greater context. Most obviously and importantly is the legacy of colonialism which shapes so much of the way people think and the way things work. Then there is the fact that the Ugandan government spends so much money on security (sound familiar?) -- both for defense forces within Uganda and the troops they have sent to other countries like the Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, and Somalia. I actually wound up talking about all of this late at night by candlelight with one of the VHTs in his house. Under a roof made of papyrus and sheet plastic, this man listens to the BBC on a radio powered radio and gets a Kenyan newspaper once a week to stay up on what is going on in the world. He explained that the reason that Uganda has been intervening militarily in other countries is that the United States is using Uganda.

Crazy as it seems, I actually have less than 3 weeks left in Uganda. It is always a sad moment to realize that my time is drawing to a close and that I will be leaving behind all the friends I have made here. I do want to stay in touch and involved to the extent that I can, and one thing I've decided to do is find sponsors for one of the amazing young women I have met here, an 18 year old named Saida, to go to nursing school. I'll be going to Kampala with Saida tomorrow to visit nursing schools and find out all the details, but I think it is going to come out to about $100 a month for tuition, room and board for the three years of nursing school here. A substantial amount of money, sure, but it will transform her life and give her the skills to make a real difference in her community. Let me know if you or someone you know might be interested in contributing.