I can't believe its been over a week since my last update.
Each day, it doesn't seem like that much has happened, but looking back, it feels like ages ago.
Well, I had my first class at SFSU on Tuesday night, and I think it went very well. Things started out a bit rocky. I had spent the afternoon trying to get an ID so that I could access various campus services, an effort that so far has failed. At any rate, I was distracted by that and the pain in my back (more on that later), so I was a bit disoriented at first.
I introduced myself to each student who came into the classroom, and promptly forgot all their names. Every last one of them! Then I went through the enrollment to see who was there and who wasn't, and I still didn't latch onto their names at all. By the end of the class, I had maybe 3 of the 50 down.
After going through the syllabus (a deadly boring task, but one that must be done), we took a stretch break, and then the fun began. I asked them to get into groups of three people that they didn't know already, and asked them to write down on a piece of paper an answer to the question "In the broadest sense possible, what causes disease(s)?" and then give three specific examples. Then I asked them to compare notes within their groups and talk about whatever came up.
Within minutes, the room completely changed. From a row of mildly bored, even perturbed, faces sitting in rows all facing me, there was a riot of animated conversations. It worked!
I actually left the class for a few minutes to go get a drink of water. It was a great sound hearing the babbling of a dozen voices sharing and learning from one another. Brought a big smile to my face.
After that, I got them to come back to a more traditional setting, and we went through the room and discovered that with no formal training, they had already covered the main topics of epidemiology. The answers to the first question "What causes disease?" constitute epidemiologic theory. And we had begun to answer the crucial questions like "How do we know that X causes Y?", and "When should we trust scientists who say that X causes Y?" (causal theory and epistemology), which lead also into exploring various study designs, and beginning to thing about the role of bias and error in scientific investigation. So, in a half hour of barely structured conversation, they had laid out all the important principles that we'll spend the rest of the semester elaborating. I just put fancy words to what they already knew. That part was really fun.
Then, I wrapped up with a 10 minute lecture on who I am, my academic and professional background, and when the clock hit 6:55, released them like rockets off to various points around the city.
I was waiting for the MUNI M train to take me back home (it still doesn't feel right calling it that). A train came, but it was already packed with people, and with my back (more on that later) it was just going to be impossible to find a seat, at least a seat where I wasn't staring at three people's crotches. So, I waited for the next one, which seemed like an eternity, but was probably no more than 20 minutes. Anyway, good thing I waited, because at the next stop, a guy carrying a big box sat down next to me, and we just hit it off right away, he and his friend are Brazilian nursing students at SFSU, and we had the most pleasant conversation on the train. We talked about going out to one of the Brazilian restaurants in town, and I left my number, so we'll see what happens.
And speaking of my slowly burgeoning social life, I had dinner over at Paul's place (college roommate), which was a great deal of fun. We were going on non-stop for at least three hours. It was great to reconnect. And tonight, we're planning to get together again, at the Asian Art Museum across the street from my apartment (apartment, that sounds much more accurate than 'home').
So, my back.
Well, about eight years ago or so, I was biking home late at night, and when I started out across an intersection, a car raced through the red light, plowed through me, and sped off into the night. As it happens, there were several witnesses, but the car had had it's lights off, and nobody got the plate number. Anyway, my hip and elbow got banged up pretty good, and my hip has never fully healed from the accident (accident makes it sound unintentional, I wish there was a word in English that expressed the willfully reckless nature of the event).
As a result of having the hip injury, another injury has slowly evolved, involving the joint where the bottom of my spine connects to my hip. Normally, the ligaments in that joint have very little wiggle room, like laces on a hockey skate, but my joint has either loosened up somewhat, or gets inflamed for some reason, or something. Anyway, when this thing acts up, it is painful to sit. It is painful to stand. It is especially painful to walk, and it is painful to lie down. So relief comes in brief flashes that are hard to hold on to. The only things that don't hurt much are riding my bike, and lifting weights. Go figure!
Driving is no good for this injury, and neither is lifting lots of boxes. So, when I drove across country for 11 days, I took relatively high doses of naproxen sulfate, ibuprofen, and aspirin to hold things in check. That worked. I felt essentially no pain, and the swelling of the joint didn't have a chance to start up. But, because of all those drugs, I was not healing from minor bruises, and bruises were starting to show up on my body in places I didn't remember hitting anything. A considerable proportion of my body had a greenish cast. So, once the move was over, I went cold turkey off the pain killers. The bruises took a few days to go away, but in the meantime, the stresses and strains of moving began to catch up with me, and things got progressively worse, to the point that I started using a cane, taking frequent breaks at benches, grimacing and tearing up, etc. So on my second day at Berkeley, after walking from one office to another trying to get things set up here, I couldn't take any more, and found listings for a massage therapist. He gives a "Thai massage" which I'd never had before, but I was desperate to have anything, so I hobbled home, and then went over to his place. It was a very intense massage, and lasted almost two hours. It was at times painful for my back, but by the end, I was considerably relaxed, and actually felt well enough to stop at the supermarket to pick up some food to carry home on my bike.
In the week or so since, it has slowly gotten better, but there is still a ways to go. I'm trying to spend a lot of time stretching every morning, and I'm still trying to figure out how to access my health insurance through Berkeley, but no success with that, yet.
On the whole, despite the pain to my back, and the flood out of my wallet, I think it was the right move. Hearing those students babbling excitedly just made the whole thing worth it.