Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Trying to Get a Leg Up

This post may make you uncomfortable.  You’ve been warned…

Last night I found myself leaving work after a 13 hour shift that I originally thought was going to be a normal 8 hour day.  This has become a normal occurrence for me at work – partially because I like my job and partially because it’s healthier than going home and being a bum.  I’m not talking about the kind of bum that lies on a couch, sleeps, and eats.  I’m talking about the kind of bum that gets home, throws belongings randomly in places they don’t belong, cooks but doesn’t do the dishes, parties but doesn’t clean up the mess, and other general irresponsible habits I picked up from college – I love being a young professional but I’m pretty sure I can’t count myself as one because of my lifestyle.  Have no fear, though, I choose this path every day I decide to be a bum and I am thoroughly enjoying it, save for those one or two days a month where my housemate and I decide that we live in such filth that it is time to organize everything and deck-scrub the floors.  Anyhow this post is supposed to be about work so let me get back to the task.

So I get home from work last night with just enough time to make a rapid dinner (barbecued chicken and mixed vegetables), practice playing beer pong for an upcoming tournament (I did tell you I was irresponsible, right?  Well I’m not – I practiced with water…. ;-)   ), and get to sleep in time to wake up early for work.  I did not, however, have time to reflect on the last hour-and-a-half of work.  The end of my work day yesterday adequately describes why I love my job, why I am weird (or at least one reason), and why you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. Yesterday I volunteered (why I can’t complain about long hours) to help a coworker get a cadaver leg scanned.  Oh yeah, I just realized that I haven’t yet told you all that I work with cadavers all day.  That’s right folks, DEAD PEOPLE.  Fortunately I don’t deal with whole people and have to experience the emotions attached to that.  Unfortunately that means I get parts to deal with.  I’m currently working on 3 knee projects (meaning that I see a lot of dead legs), an elbow project, and an index finger project.  The job is definitely not for the queasy as it often involves pushing or pulling on these parts with mechanical testing machines, performing dissections, drilling holes, and, sometimes, breaking bones. So yesterday I had a whole leg to work with – we’re talking femoral head (the part of your leg that inserts into your hip socket) all the way down to and including the foot.  This 20 lb leg was strapped to two 2x4s; one was short to hold the foot at 90 degrees to the leg and the other was a bit longer than the length of the leg.  CT scanning for specimens doesn’t happen in the building I work on, meaning that the leg has to be transported up 2 blocks in the Upper East Side in Manhattan, New York.  To paint the mental picture here, imagine a leg-sized cardboard box stuffed with a leg and styrofoam jammed into a long duffel bag and then slung over my shoulder like I’m carrying a circus tent.  I proceeded down the elevator and out into the crazy world that is New York City.  Wall-to-wall traffic, pedestrians covering the sidewalk, dog walkers, joggers, and the elderly all stood a good chance of bumping into me and this unshapely package I was carrying.  I was a tad nervous about the strap breaking followed by the zipper popping followed by the cardboard giving-way to the leg as it crashed onto the sidewalk with a wet thud - but that never happened.  So I got the leg to its destination – a 2 million dollar imaging machine that took 1,164 images in less than 2 minutes, giving me a digital 3D xray of the leg and internal parts with a resolution on the order of .01mm (10 microns to those in the know).

So next time you see someone walking on the Upper East Side with a large container be sure to steer clear.  You never know what surprises may await!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Something to Keep in Mind

I was struck by terrible news today.  While at work one of my college buddies messaged me to let me know that one of our old classmates passed away of natural causes this past weekend.  I should start this by mentioning that I did not know Bobby very well.  He was one of those college peers who shared the same major, appeared in many of my classes, and was randomly assigned to a group with me to work on class projects every now and then. What I did know about him, however, is that he was a very hard working 24 year old PhD candidate, president of the Biomedical Engineering Society, integral member of his research lab, boyfriend, son, brother, and friend.  Six months ago he and I were standing in front of our class dissecting a journal publication about tissue engineering with the intentions of educating the next generation of biomedical engineers on how to focus their efforts to help sick people recover.  To my knowledge, Bobby was neither sick nor injured.  For all I know he may not have experienced any warning signs that he was in any danger, given that he was working at his job when complications set in.  This hit me as a very clear message that I am not indestructible and as a reminder that the only guarantee I have in life is the present.  It is incredibly important to take time to appreciate the here-and-now and (I know it's cliche) live each day to the fullest.  There is no more blatant reminder that life is a gift than when one gets taken away. I don't mean this post to be morose or negative but I do want it to serve as a reality check! Death is something we shouldn't live our lives running from but just accept as the inevitable end and choose to live accordingly.  We all have so much talent and so much promise individually but, more importantly, we all mean something to so many other people.  Bobby would not have called me anything more than an acquaintance yet I feel so much anger and frustration with his passing.  I am fortunate enough to have had very few encounters with death thus far in life that I literally cannot imagine what his close friends, and family are going through. Bobby is greatly missed and his passing commands everyone to take some time to appreciate those who care for them and those who they care for. At the end of the day, what more do we have than each other and the memories we have created together?

Monday, October 10, 2011

Alone in a Crowded Room

It happened.  I mean I guess I knew it would eventually but I never anticipated what it would feel like when it did.  This morning I felt completely alone in New York City.  I was having an excellent morning up until I got on the subway to trek into the working world for a few hours. After pushing my way into the crowded car the tone rang and the doors slid shut like they always do. Something was different this time when the car started moving - I was looking around at all the people and felt an overwhelming sense of loneliness. I wanted to go back to the world of the weekend where I got together with close friends and met a few more.  From the buzz of the beer garden on Sunday afternoon, randomly meeting people who are feeling equally as carefree and fun-loving, to the sleeping in, ordering out, and all-around laziness that comes with few commitments I had more than enough social and personal time to stay happy. I can't explain where this feeling came from but it really hit hard. I love my new life and the independence that came with it and this post is not a complaint but, rather, an observation.  It is so interesting to me that you can feel isolated when surrounded to the point of physical contact with people who are (mostly) around your age. I have had plenty of opportunities to make friends in the city and I have been having a great time.  The real truth of the matter is that, in a city so large, nobody belongs more than you do.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Finding a Purpose

At my college convocation, Rudy Giuliani excitedly explained to my class that we were about to embark on the greatest adventure yet - that of finding our contribution to society.  Finding that niche in which we can, individually, make a difference to improve the future of society. Making the discovery that you can add unique value to your profession is a goal that I hope to hold on to throughout my life. It must be so empowering to wake up daily and know that the work you do changes lives (current or future). My experiences over the past 2 months at my new job have been gradually solidifying my convictions about where and what my contribution will be. Its an enlightening process and it forces an excited smile when I think about my future and the potential I have to make a contribution. I think its a journey that never really ends and probably goes through several evolutions as you experience everything that life has to offer whilst you climb the age tree. It is easy to fall into the mindset that you go to work on a daily basis to meet your basic needs (making money to support yourself and your family).  Try not to lose sight of the fact that your effort and productivity make a difference - realizations like this can make the difference between waking up happy and just waking up. I believe everyone strives to make a difference and create a legacy to be proud of.  Well, there is no better time to start than right now so get out there and make it happen!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Guaranteed Fun

There are always those friends in life that you can rely on no matter what.  The kinds that you can go months with no contact and then pick up exactly where you left off without missing a beat.  The friends who show up on a whim and, with no plans or preparation, turn a weekend into full-blown vacation.  The friends who are there for you before you ask for help.  The friends that are really more like family.

I had the pleasure of spending time with some of my close friends this weekend.  6 of them came to visit me in my new apartment this past weekend.  I appear war-torn, battered, and bleary-eyed but I wouldn't trade in the experience for the world.  In 2 days we've collectively visited all 5 boroughs of the city (some on accident), tested the durability of my new furniture (so far, so good), drank everything from single malt scotch whiskey to the cheapest beer we could find, smoked imported cigars, toured bars and a beer garden, ate meals from all corners of the earth (after raiding all the food in my fridge), caught up on life stories, walked the equivalent of a half-marathon,  and basically escaped reality for 48 hours!  ....And we are already trying to plan a next time!

When you are with those friends you lose all sense of time and concern - nothing matters and you enter into the realm of pure enjoyment and entertainment.  They can make a foreign place feel like home and can turn a mundane trip to grab a gallon of milk into a nonsensical, sidesplitting adventure.  They can call you mid-blog post and keep you on the phone for half an hour .  They can make you feel secure, confident, and loved.  I am so thankful to have friends like this and I hope my value for them is never underestimated.

We encounter so many people on our journey through life.  The paths and twists and turns (expected and unexpected) can take you to places you never dreamed of experiencing.  Its the familiar faces and the warm smiles that can turn nearly any environment into a comfortable one.  A book I'm reading written by a retired professor states simply that life is mostly about making memories.  Make those visits and trips with your friends worth remembering!

Sunday, July 31, 2011

All Moved In

Whew!  In just a few days (with help from some college friends and my Mom) my room transformed from just a space into my space.  Its not complete yet but it is so nice to have my creature comforts!  I am so glad to have friends and family so dedicated to helping me out - this would have all been much more difficult without them and it surely wouldn't have turned out so nice.  I now struggle with the excitement of exploring the city versus staying inside and enjoying the quiet - the awesome part is that either option is only ever 30mins away!

My Mom just left this morning after coming to help me move in (and carting most of my belongings across NY state). I'd say she had a great NYC experience - crazy traffic on the way in, car got towed for parking too close to a hydrant, double-decker tour bus trip for 6 hours, grocery shopping, subway rides, a traffic jam, dinner in Chinatown, a beer at an Irish pub, a seaweed salad in a Japanese sushi restaurant, and a brief stroll into the M&M World building. Its funny but I already understand the expression "a New York minute" - you can get so much done in almost no time - but so much happens in the same short timespan. 

I've filled out all my HR paperwork and start my new job tomorrow!  Soon I'll be used to the daily subway commute with its delays, construction, transfers, and locals.  I can't wait to walk around and feel like I'm a part of the city but it's difficult to believe that I may one day take for granted the beauty and magnificence of my new hometown.  My thoughts and feelings seem to just be all over the place!  There is so much stimulus and everything in my world is new, exciting, foreign, and intimidating.  This is one of those short-lived transition periods where you gain perspective from time to reflect on the past and look ahead to the future - those times when you are in-between major commitments and feel like you've come up to breathe the air, see how far you've traveled, and change your course if you choose.  I welcome these times because I feel that in the rat race of today's society (especially under the pressures of friends, family, and advisors) these are rare opportunities for you to check yourself and your path through life.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Hold me Tight - Just Not THAT Tight

I haven't spent much more than two weeks at home with Mom, Dad, and Sister and now I find myself packing bags 4 days till launch.  Its one of those bittersweet realizations when you are actually going out on your own and have broken free of the parental death-grip. I put it in such affectionate terms because I believe that my parents worked so hard at protecting me and insulating me from external pitfalls that now I may not recognize some when I see them!  I know all their recommendations and advice undoubtedly came with my best interests in mind (or their ideas of my best interests). I am so fortunate to have parents that care(d) as much as mine but sometimes I wonder if it was too much!  I liken it to a toddler's feelings upon realization of what it means to have taken its first steps.  "Holy crap!  I can go wherever I want to go now!  This is wonderful!  I don't have to be led and carried around by -   *THUD*...... WAAAAAAHHHHHHHH..... Somebody come help me!" Okay so maybe a toddler doesn't have the reasoning or the foresight to fear the upcoming falls but go with it.

My closest friends have always told me that my parents have too much control over me and that its time for me to break away from it.  Well I have done it now - not an easy step - but it does feel liberating.  It was a surprisingly simple and short-lived process.  I just adopted the mindset that I no longer had interest in them 'controlling' me and made sure to remind them that I was taking their advice into consideration but that they shouldn't expect any sort of outcome or response because those are for me to decide from now on.  This is one of those reflection points in my life where nothing noticeable changed in my day-to-day actions but everything feels changed because I have a fresh attitude.  This topic may be a tough one to turn into something worth reading (unless you are me) but I suppose it could stand to offer some perspective.  Maybe you are that controlling parent (I did say I appreciated it, right?), maybe you are a controlling friend or spouse, maybe you are the one being controlled.  My words here are, in no way, to be used as a guideline or a solution; they might open your eyes, though.

I suppose a good take-home message is this: Be cognizant of your influence on others and the influences you accept for yourself.  Don't let them rule you or define you - just let them influence you in as much or as little as you agree with them.  Don't try to rule or define others, either - respect their individualism and ability to look out for themselves - offer advice, not ultimatums. Gosh sometimes I feel like the last few weeks have been so philosophical for me but I honestly feel like I am learning these life lessons for the first time!  I had been warned about them and had them explained to me (from my parents, of course) but now I feel as though I understand them!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

A Breakup, a Job, an Apartment, and Other Extreme Sports

Starting a blog has been a long put-off idea of mine and now I think its time.  I've changed a lot of things in my life recently and organizing my thoughts in a way that others could understand is like a form of therapy for me.

So let's rewind the tape to a snapshot of my life in early May 2011. I'm a soon-to-be graduate from the Biomedical Engineering masters program at Cornell University. My girlfriend of three years and change and I are planning on reuniting after two years of long distance via me moving to her city. The job prospects are far and few between but I have a tendency to be able to make ends meet in almost any situation - a fact about myself that I've recently learned not to take for granted because it sucks when things don't work out. Sounds like a good position to be in except I'm continually vetting my situation and have been for 2 months. There is a plethora of confounding details, not to be divulged, that shake my confidence in making the commitment and taking the leap. The need to make the 'right' decision consumes my thoughts, my logic becomes circular and confused, and I lose touch with myself.

The reality of the situation soon caught up with me and, fortunately, I had the sense to spare myself and get away from all of it. I broke up with my girlfriend and moved back home to Mom and Dad and the comforts/discomforts of home.  Before I had abandoned the plan and committed to not moving I had stumbled upon a job opportunity that nearly made my jaw drop. I knew that I had to apply to the position just on principle of being eligible and having discovered it. This twist of fate/chance event/divine intervention (belief pending) has turned out to be my saving grace.  I landed the job and now find myself one week away from moving to the Big City into an apartment that I signed the 12 month lease for only 3 days ago! I never figured I'd live in the city but I suppose this is the perfect age, mindset, condition, and attitude to go out and experience it. I have a housemate in a similar situation - new to the city and excited to experience it - and I am certain that we are going to have a blast exploring the city!

I have felt so many emotions over the past few months on the behalf of others that I welcome the opportunity to be on my own, focus on my self, do things my way, and live my life! I am sure I will think about what things would have been like had I followed the plan but I don't believe I will regret giving myself this experience. I have tried so hard in life not to disappoint others but I lost sight of being sure not to disappoint myself. In a week I start a great new adventure into exploring myself, the world, and all the opportunities in between. I realize the sacrifices I have taken in getting here and acknowledge that others are impacted by my actions but for now that focus takes a backseat. One day - maybe tomorrow, maybe 20 years from now - that may change, but not today. I smile, laugh, and relax more now than I have in a long time and I have fallen in love with being happy!