Patience Puzzle & Iron Maiden

As a kid, I spent my summers at Lake George. While sailing, swimming, tennis, and general rabble rousing filled up the sunny days; tavern puzzles helped us kill time on rainy days. The general rule of thumb I learned while doing tavern puzzles is that, if you have to force it, it’s wrong. I’ve discovered, that in my professional, academic, and even romantic aspirations, the tavern-puzzle rule still applies. I spent a solid year and a half in college convinced that I was going to be a political theorist, but when I stopped forcing myself to fake-love the intricacies of Locke, Rousseau, and Hobbes, I discovered something that was easier and far more logical (given my background): public health.

Now, several years later, as I dabble in HIT and social media, I realize that my interest in the intersection of technology and healthcare was set in place as an eleven-year-old osteosarcoma patient, when I agreed to pilot test a system called Starbright. A precursor to what is now Second Life, Starbright was meant for kids, who spent their days in hospitals, isolated from friends. Together with my chemo buddies, I spent hours playing on Starbright, making recommendations to the developers about how to make it “even cooler.” I met a girl named Vanessa from California, who had the exact same kind of cancer in the same arm as I did; in a year of treatment and surgery at a major New York City hospital, I had yet to encounter anyone else who had bone cancer, let alone in her dominant arm. Just a few short months later, I was seated next to Steven Spielberg and across from General Norman Schwarzkopf, helping them show off what Starbright could do for kids like Vanessa and me. I remember that day so clearly, partially because it was the first time in a year that I had gone outside in public, bald. Yet, it was the experience of meeting Vanessa and working on Starbright that I subconsciously retained. I don’t think that it is a coincidence that part of my job at JSI is advising on new media strategy. I think the groundwork for my social media interests was laid in place back in 1995, when I was figuring out how to use my right arm to move a mouse along a mousepad to explore a cave in a virtual world with my buddy in California.

A similar coincidence takes me back to the summer between sophomore and junior year at Brown. I stayed in Providence for the summer, interning for free at a start-up nonprofit. Always concerned that I not waste my time, my mother insisted that I take a course at Brown to “keep my brain sharp,” so I chose “Doctor-Patient Communication,” a public health course that sounded interesting-slash-relevant. As part of the course, we were asked to shadow a doctor at a nearby hospital on a weekly basis and write a research-based report as a final project. As it goes, the doctor I followed was one of the early doctors to use a computer in the exam room as a means of tracking health information. Having spent a significant fraction of my own life repeating my medical history to doctors, nurses, interns, residents, radiologists, anesthesiologists (I can keep going…), I thought it was brilliant. My study (and I’ll admit, it was incredibly rudimentary), gauged patients’ level of comfort with the computer in the exam room and whether they felt that it impeded on their relationship with their doctor. Having spent a few days learning about monitoring & evaluation at work, I cringe at the study itself, but once again, I’m thrilled that this seemingly isolated experience has come back to resurface in my work. Now, I’m utterly immersed in HIT, HITECH, and their implications fore revolutionizing the health care system (I could wax philosophical about that for hours), but it’s an interest that I discovered long before it was relevant to my work.

I’ll close with two quotations, both of which I return to during the more contemplative periods in my life.

“If there was some dial I could turn to fine tune the fuzziness of life, I’d tell you where to find it. But I don’t have a clue. And I’m not sure I’d want to know. There’s some magic in the way we remain mysteries to ourselves.” -JL

“I wanted a perfect ending. Now, I’ve learned, the hard way, that some poems don’t rhyme, some stories don’t have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment, and making the best of it, without knowing what’s going to happen next. Delicious ambiguity.” – G.R.