I traveled from New York to California, attended an intense three day conference, had more social interaction and physical exertion than in the last two years combined, got to see some beloved friends in beautiful places, and traveled all the way back—and it all happened relatively without incident, illness, or injury. No one is more surprised by this than myself. I didn't even catch a cold? I'm still highly suspicious about this. 👀
Though I have mostly been asleep since I got home last Thursday night, and my current pain levels are... not pleasant (not that they ever are, but I thought that euphemism preferable to the string of expletives I'd really use to describe them right now), it was totally worth it.
I honestly did not know how my body would handle any of this. I even bought a flexible plane ticket in case I got so sick in California I would be stranded there. I hadn't flown in years—not since before I got really sick—and I hadn't flown cross-country in about 15 years, so it was a pretty big gamble. I just tried to plan as well as possible, and ask for help, despite my raging stubbornness. I got wheelchair transports through the airports, and assistance at every step with my bags.
There was so much planning that went in to making this trip possible, and that helped me survive the travel and increased activity. I planned the trip with tons of extra rest time built in to ensure as much recovery as is possible for me. I am so grateful for everyone who pitched in, with places to stay, helping me with luggage, and being understanding about my constant need to sit down and/or nap and/or disappear for an emergency nap with no warning. 🙏
I wanted to be one of those NY/NJ people that's all Okay, we get it California, you're beautiful, you can cut it out now... but it really was beautiful, and it really delivered on being very California in every way. I enjoyed it so much, it transcended my deeply entrenched east coast saltiness. I'm already trying to figure out ways for me to get back there as soon as possible. 😎
I started off my trip in Redwood City, recovering from my flight with a friend I've known for almost 20 years. It was great to see and spend time with her, and hear about her new life in California. She also has an apartment filled with lots of hilarious spooky things (and not just because it's almost October) that brought me joy at almost every turn. 👻
Stanford Medicine X, the reason I was in California in the first place, was out of this world. Stanford is very cool, and it may or may not have got me thinking again (rather impractically) about the possibility of pursuing a graduate degree. It's something I think about from time to time before I remember that I hated school, and could really do without the added student debt from a degree I may never be able to finish or use for health reasons. Regardless, I always love getting to surround myself with super smart people who are doing super interesting things. And MedX was three straight days of exactly that.
There were so many wonderful people and things and talks and workshops, and it was nothing short of overwhelming in the best possible way. I wound up not attending a lot of the talks in favor of wandering around and sticking my microphone in people's faces (with permission), which I found to be a much better way for my brain to interact with the conference.
One highlight of my MedX experience was the opportunity I got to take a journalism master class with Charles Ornstein, Senior Health Reporter of ProPublica. I took several journalism classes as an undergrad—I was even a "Digital Journalism" major for a little while, at a time in media and technology when that term didn't actually mean anything and mostly just confused people. This was a great opportunity to refresh my knowledge and approach to my journalism-adjacent endeavors, with someone's whose work I greatly admire. And really, if you're not following the work of Ornstein and ProPublica, what ARE you even doing??
Charles Ornstein also gave an incredible talk on patient privacy and HIPPA, and then hosted a great panel on the topic. During the talk/panel, Susannah Fox, Chief Technology Officer of the United States Department of Health and Human Services, was sitting behind me and I heard her gasp and cry, and that was very surreal. The weekend was full of moments like this.
Another big highlight of MedX was all of the wonderfully death positive conversations I got to have with other patients, advocates, nurses and palliative care physicians—some of which will be on the podcast! It might seem weird that this was not only a highlight, but I actually sought them out, and they were some of the best conversations I had. The funny thing about "death people" is that they're often more alive than anyone else I know.
Yoko K. Sen's performance to close MedX on Sunday afternoon was, for me, the ultimate highlight of the conference. The musician and sound designer was this year's Artist In Residence, and spent the weekend recording people's answers to the question of what sounds they'd like to hear as they die. She then created this amazing piece with music and vocal looping, projected images, lights, and sound clips from people's answers.
I'm getting chills just thinking about it as I typing this, it was transcendent. And completely impossible to describe with words.
Part of the ePatient scholarship that got me to California is producing some content for MedX. You may have already seen my Instagram project @bimpsegetsweird, but I created a curated gallery of images from the project, and wrote about my considerations, process, and insights from the project on the blog.
I'm also working with fellow ePatients and In Sickness + In Health Junior + Senior Uterus Correspondents, Charlie Blotner and Abby M. Norman, on a multimedia collaboration, called UterX. Charlie's episode of the podcast is up now, and Abby's will be available soon, with an accompanying feature on Ask Me About My Uterus.
You can find all of my projects for the 2016 MedX ePatient Storyteller Track right here!
I got to spend the next few days after MedX in Santa Cruz, staying in and adventuring with a dear friend from college. The only reason any of this trip was possible was because I was with people who understood and supported my limits. She even asked me if I needed to rest after putting on sunscreen 😍💕 (spoiler alert: yes, I did).
Knowing I wanted to see the sights, but wouldn't really have much energy, my friend picked small outings where I could mostly just see stuff from the car or other seated vistas. She took me on the backroads through the mountains on our drive from Palo Alto to Santa Cruz. Then the next day we drove up the coast a bit to Swanton Berry Farm for strawberries and coastal views. The following day we took a historic steam train into the mountains to see the redwoods (which were ridiculous, and I've seen some ridiculous trees), and then she drove us out onto the pier to giggle at the hilarious sea lion noises.
In spite of all the activity, we got in plenty of rest and delicious food. My god. The coffee in Santa Cruz was incredible everywhere we went. Also, the ice cream. I ate ice cream two days in a row because sometimes I like to live dangerously.
The whole experience was pretty ✨magical✨ I met some truly incredible people, and to see them all in one place talking about and working on problems that are very important to me was rather mind-blowing and heart-filling 💕 On top of that, seeing my old friends, my internet friends, and making tons of new ones... woo, what a week! I can't believe it was only a week!! It felt like it was closer to a month.
The podcast is still on hiatus, but we'll be back soon(ish)! There will be another episode as part of UterX, as well as a special episode about my time at MedX, and we'll be celebrating the podcast's first birthday at the end of October! After that, I'll be putting out some interviews I recorded earlier in the summer, and there's plenty more to come.
If you're already subscribed to In Sickness + In Health in your podcast feeds, you'll see new episodes show up there when they come out. You can also subscribe to our newsletter, which will notify you of any new episodes or updates, and you'll see them if you follow us on social media @InSicknessPod.