Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The path I’ve taken

It’s not straight.
The background is important, as it’s shaped many decisions, and I’ve come full circle.

UCSB – Political Science/International Relations major, because I wanted to be a diplomat (really I wanted to travel). Took Biology for non-majors in my 2nd year and decided I wanted to be a Biology major because I loved it so much. I did well in science in HS but was never really encouraged to be a scientist. I didn’t even know how one could be.

Beginning my 5th year, I looked at how much I had to finish that bio degree.  One more year of Physics and a couple of upper division Chemistry classes.  What did I need to finish the Poli Sci degree? Two courses. I switched back to Poli Sci and got my B.A.

Trying to decide how to use my love of science with my degree in political science and a desire to save the world, I discovered Public Health, particularly epidemiology. I applied to Yale’s School of Public Health.  I loved Infectious Disease Epidemiology, and the school’s focus on international research was the perfect fit. By the end of my first year, I decided that to do real work in this field, I needed a PhD.

I finished my MPH (incurring a lot of debt), and began the PhD program at Yale. I worked in vector biology – ticks, sand flies, mosquitoes, tsetse flies. While there, I travelled, ahem, did field work, in Costa Rica,   I took FOUR long years to finish my work on the molecular genetics of the Y chromosome, but overall, worth every moment.

Oxford, England (well, that was mostly lab work), and Kenya.

After my qualifying exams, for a variety of reasons (mostly personal but partly due to changing dynamics at Yale), I transferred to Notre Dame to “finish” my PhD. No coursework, but started over on a new project, this time on mosquitoes and malaria.

Having spent most of the last years working on the vector, the epidemiologist in me wanted to work on the parasite.  I started a post-doc on drug-resistant Plasmodium falciparum in Thailand. The position was based in San Antonio, TX, so I had a US  (NIH) salary, but spent most of my time on the Thai-Burma border. Amazing experience in so many ways – my experience learning about socio-political dynamics proved valuable in this crossroads of cultures, refugees, civil war, and fascinating people.  And the science was interesting too.

Back in San Antonio in between Thai trips, now in my early 30s, I met a rather nice Swiss physicist, just arrived for a two year postdoc.  As that progressed, no worries he said, he had no plans to stay in TX long term. Married at 34, in my last year of post-doc, I started looking for other positions in San Antonio. I had always assumed I’d build a lab like my mentors, a pseudo-family of scientists, mentoring young scientists. At the time, no viable academic jobs came up, and now married, wasn’t willing to move for a job (though I did look at some possibilities).  I settled on a second post-doc at the USDA in Kerrville working on ticks. Lots of people in my field do two post-docs. Great place in many ways, but I found myself sucked more into basic scientific research, and away from the real-world-disease science that my epidemiologist brain wanted to consider.

So when a position came up as a (poorly paid) epidemiologist with the city health department, I decided to leave lab-science. It wasn’t a difficult decision, as it seemed it had been coming on for some time.  My only hesitation was feeling like I was somehow letting down my fellow women in science, that I’d be perceived as “giving up for my husband’s career.” I didn’t feel like that, as he’d have supported whatever I wanted and if that required moving, we’d have worked it out. But I felt the weight of all the women scientists who had come before who helped me get to this point.

I knew once I left I likely could never go back, at least not into Academia. I was surprisingly ok with that. Mentally, I was ready for a new challenge. I had always referred to myself as an “epidemiologist in a scientist’s body.” Now I’d be a real epidemiologist. By chance, I became part of Public Health Emergency Preparedness and discovered a whole new world of emergency management and public health disaster response, thanks to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.  By default, I also became the local expert on influenza, disaster preparedness (giving hundreds of talks to local businesses and community organizations, as well as health care facilities). I began to say I was  “scientist in an epidemiologist’s body.” One of the only people with an advanced science degree in the department, that expertise singled me out.

On I went to work for DSHS (Region 8) as the Communicable Disease Program Manager, overseeing all communicable disease programs, and directly managing the TB and HIV/STD programs.  I learned to become the resident expert on those topics. Worked various outbreaks, including a massive TB investigation on the border. Then the flu pandemic, H1N1, first discovered in our region.  Technically, the CDC team did all the real work, my job was to oversee their work, ask them the right questions, and agree with their recommendations, then take that to the directors.

Then I had my second kid. I was 40, finally paid off all my debts. My husband was travelling a lot, and my job was requiring me to travel on a moment’s notice. My work was becoming increasing all about HR  and less about projects. I was good at management but frustrated to not do the real “science/public health” work. Something had to give, I decided to become a SAHM. Yes, with a PhD. Again I worried that I’d be perceived as sacrificing for my husband/kids, but I didn’t feel like I was. It was the best decision I ever made.  I did all sorts of stuff over the next year, had fun with my two kids, got involved in projects locally.

When my husband was diagnosed with cancer I was so glad I wasn’t working full time, but also decided I needed to participate in the workforce at least somewhat, to stay connected, should I ever need to support our family. So an adjunct teaching offer came up at UIW. Perfect timing, and I loved teaching. The pay was pathetic, barely covering my childcare costs, but I was good at it and loved it.  A couple of years into it, a friend who worked with the state Lege sent me a notice for a consulting job with an immunization focused non-profit.  Their mission is advocacy of science-based policy, support of best practices, and immunizations education. I took that on, while teaching.  I was the “Subject Matter Expert” and local rep for the organization, with the intent to build the program in my city. At the same time, an article I wrote about education for a local news website led to a semi-regular freelance gig writing on health and science topics. 

Around that time I reached out on behalf of the immunizations program to the director of a group who did emergency management/disaster response. We wanted his sponsorship of our conference.  He said, “Where have you been! We need you.”  They pulled me in to their Incident Management Team and I spent some time working on infection control procedures for Ebola.  I’ve been called up for other events (outbreaks in immigrant shelters) but haven’t had time.

Eventually, something had to give so I dropped the teaching and started working more hours consulting, and am now on salary part time.  I considered diving into science writing full time, and participated on a panel at the recent science writers conference.  But I think I’ve decided not to invest in science writing as a “real” job, and just stick with my freelance gig. I’ve been pulling back on that though, as my NPO – Immunizations work kicks into higher gear.  My current position has morphed, but I am currently working on two CPRIT grants with UT, in an area more services-research focused than lab based, but again as the SME with my academic background, I’m the bridge between the UT researchers and our organization. I'm also working on developing a local immunizations advocacy network to support science based policy.

So not what I planned when I was 27 doing my PhD. I miss traipsing across the tropics doing field work, I miss some of the discovery of research, but it doesn’t fit with the life I’ve created. And I like the life I've created: scientist, political activist, health educator, mentor, parent, spouse, community activist.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Alexander Hamilton!

I so rarely update this page, but this one deserves a mention.  I first played the Hamilton CDs in the car a couple of months ago. Immediately upon hearing the songs, Angelina was singing along. More importantly, she started to ask questions about the American Revolution and all the characters involved. She wanted to study history and learn more.

Then she wanted to sing. So she gathered a group of friends together to perform the opening number for her school's talent show.  They worked hard for a week, but mostly, they had fun rehearsing (which involved a lot of trampoline play time).

"Pride is not the word I'm looking for. There is so much more inside me now."

Here's the video of the performance.


Wednesday, December 09, 2015

What no one told me

People told me many things about becoming a mother, but no one told me that every year, when my kid's birthday came around, I'd relive every single moment of his labor and delivery.

That I'd relive the excitement.
That I'd relive the nervousness.

That I'd relive the amazement.
That I'd relive the moment of sharing this all with my older child.

That I'd feel again the physical act of this creature inside of me, one with me, become his own separate person, yet still attached.

That I'd relive the intense, over powering emotion of ecstasy, of love, of pure joy as he came into this world.

No one ever told me that I'd laugh. And I'd cry. And I'd smile.
No one ever told me that I'd look into his eyes, big brown saucers they are, and see my own soul.

No one ever told me that I'd love my kids' father that much more with each passing birthday.

As my soon to be six year old has been reminding us every day for the past month, his birthday is nearly here. It's a celebration of him, of his life.

For me, it's my celebration of his birth, of the moment, after 38 weeks he grew inside of me, that he became himself. 

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

A Memory

On July 14 two years ago, I saw the news that Cory Monteith, star of Glee, aged 31, had died of a suspected drug overdose the night before.  I was filled with anger, but in a small apartment with two families while on vacation, I bottled up my emotions, not wanting my kids to see me cry and not being able to explain why. As a high school kid who loved music and dancing but couldn’t sing, I was the glee club groupie of my day. So, many years later, I naturally loved the TV show, and its star.  A life cut short is always sad, but why did the death of this stranger send me to the bathroom to hide and cry my eyes out?

Because, 24 years before, there was another 31 year old at the top of the world, full of life, the kind of person to make everyone laugh and smile.  He was the kind of person who, when he walked into a room, you knew the party had started. There’d be song and dance and joy. He was the kind of person who would give you the shirt of his back, who would rush to your side to help you up. He was also the kind of person who also had a darkness inside he couldn’t overcome, whose pain was so unbearable he turned to cocaine to numb it.  He was my big brother.

The first emotion is anger – why would someone be so selfish as to turn to drugs? Don’t they know they have a family who love them? Friends? Fans? (And believe me, my brother Albert had fans!) Sometimes it takes years to get over that anger, and sometimes it comes back, like each time a well-known person dies in the same way.  Sometimes the anger is directed at ourselves – why didn’t we do more? Why couldn’t we fix it? Why couldn’t we love enough? What did we do wrong?

But the other emotion one recognizes over time is one of sympathy, if not quite understanding.  Depression, real depression, is a powerful demon, not easily controlled. It’s not about “feeling blue.” It’s about being brought to the depths of despair and feeling like there is no way out.   People in that place find a way to numb the pain.  I’m not sure I’ll ever fully understand it, but I recognize that it’s not so easy to toss off. 

Sometimes, a loved one can help pull them back up. Often, they can’t. You can love someone completely, you can be there for them, you can give them your hope, but you can’t save them. 

In June of 1989, when my brother hadn’t returned my calls for a number of days, I got worried. I went to his apartment and he wasn’t there. I found an open window and climbed in. On the counter I found a steno-pad with notes about cocaine: what it does to the body, how the body reacts physiologically, how the brain reacts.

Then he walked in.  At first relieved he was ok, I then worried he’d be furious to see his 19-year-old kid sister snooping, but he was calm, peaceful.  He told me that he’d not only been off cocaine for many months, but was working on understanding it so he could learn to counsel kids about drug use.  We talked for hours that night. Finally, I went home, content that he was well into recovery.  A young man full of so much promise, so much love and hope. A man full of laughter.

Two weeks later, in a particularly dark moment of despair, he reached for the one thing he knew could numb the pain, cocaine. And it did. Forever.

[edit: I'm being an armchair psychologist. To my knowledge, he was never diagnosed with depression, because I don't think he ever sought out psychiatric help. But knowing what I know now, the manic-depression-drugs cycle is very obvious. I use addiction and depression interchangeably, because for him, I think they were linked. ]

Friday, March 27, 2015

My first airplane trip

Summer of 1985, my sister, Denise, was 12 and I was 15.  Not quite a kid, but hardly a savvy world traveller.  My brother Tim lived in St. Croix, USVI and my sister Theresa lived in NYC. My mom decided Denise and I should visit (how exactly they came up with the money I don’t know, but it was bargain basement air travel…). My only experience of airports had been picking up visiting relatives.

Denise, getting ready to board
One-way from LA to NYC on People’s Express for $100.  Uneventful. Theresa and her friends met us in NYC, we took our first subway ride, had a blast. The next day she delivered us to JFK for our flight to San Juan, Puerto Rico then onward to St. Croix.

When Denise and I arrived in San Juan, we had to change airlines to a small puddle jumper. Though PR is a US territory, it’s definitely a Latin American place and, despite growing up in a very Hispanic area of Los Angeles, seemed foreign. So, dragging our bags, we searched the airport for the airline counter and couldn’t find it.  Eventually we noticed the sign for that airline, but no one was at the counter. I asked the people in the counter next to it and was told “Oh, they went out of business.”  

Now would have been a good time to freak out, but I guess when you’re clueless, you don’t realize you should be freaking out.  

So what did that mean? The folks there had no idea, except, the airline no longer existed.
Tim and Denise at Grassy Point, East End, St Croix 

Somehow, I found a pay phone and called my brother. He had been notified of the airline’s situation and managed to arrange an alternative flight. So we trudged over to the new airline and made our way to St Croix.

First crisis over.

On the way back, our flight into JFK was delayed. We arrived in the international terminal (not sure why as we came via PR) to a crush of people pushing on the barricades. That was overwhelming, having never seen such a sight.

Again we had to change airlines for our onward flight to Ohio, where we’d meet the rest of our family and drive back to California.  Knowing we had very little time to make our connection and having no idea how these things worked, I told my 12 year old sister to get our luggage while I ran over to the ticket counter to tell them we had arrived and told her to meet me there.

At 12 years old.  In JFK. In the International Arrivals area (having since spent many hours in this area, WHAT WAS I THINKING?!)

And then Denise didn’t show up.

I waited. No Denise.

Finally the agent said they had to let the plane go, meanwhile I’m thinking “Holy crap! I sent my 12 yr old sister into the bowels of a crowded airport and I am responsible for her and what if something happened?”

Now’s an ok time to freak out.

And then she showed up, dragging our bags. I had never been so happy to see my sister in all my life.  Denise wasn’t the least bit scared, or worried.

Just pissed off. And calm, in her very-Denise way that involved looks of shooting daggers deep into my body.   

The US Airways agent, nicest man ever, then spent the next 2 hours trying to figure out how to get us to Cleveland, Ohio, where my other sister, Michele, would meet us.  My sister wasn’t in NYC at that time, so we couldn’t go to her place. There were no more flights out of JFK to anywhere in Ohio.

Finally, he found a flight out of La Guardia, leaving in less than 3 hours, but that required getting there. We had little money, no credit cards, no cell phones (it was 1985).

So we took a bus. In NYC.  The kindly agent said “HURRY!” So we rushed, and got on the wrong bus.

My brother Chris with Malinda and Ronnie's son, Scott.
Finally got on the right bus. Somehow made it to La Guardia in time, checked in, and got on our flight, arrived safely in Columbus, Ohio where our cousins Malinda and Ronnie picked us up and eventually delivered us to the rest of the Rohr Clan.

A lake in Holmes County. Buckhorn?

That was our first every trip via airplane.

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Measles and gratuitous cute kid pictures

I haven't updated this blog in ages. The kids are growing and are as cute as ever.

But here's a timely topic: Measles. Fortunately, neither of our kids have it. And as they're fully vaccinated, their risk is very small. MEASLES

As a public health professional, my job is to worry about everyone's kids, not just my own. If you haven't been vaccinated, please do so.

Monday, August 18, 2014

This. Just this.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

My Village

I just read an article entitled “I miss my village.”  I read it while folding pool towels, preparing for an onslaught of neighborhood kids and their parents to come over for a summer afternoon. The only reason I was “preparing” was that, after so many impromptu neighborhood gatherings, I decided we had to limit them a little bit so we could plan other activities. (The house is still a mess, but that’s ok because I know my fellow villagers don’t care)

See, I live in The Village. That village where your neighbor’s door is open and your kids freely wander in. Ok, not so freely, my neighbor put sleigh bells on her back door so she could hear when my kid wandered in, as often she’d turn around, startled, to find a stealthy 4 year old looking up at her. 

A neighborhood where, when my husband was diagnosed with cancer and faced multiple surgeries, before I could blink my eyes neighbors planned childcare for our two kids, planned and delivered meals, even offered to clean my house.

The village where, when I must write down the responsible adults who may pick up my child from school, the newcomer at the school thinks I must be nuts: I have at least ten names down. Then a teacher steps in and says “I have to explain to them about ‘the neighborhood.’”  Because, at any given time, if I’m stuck across town, or having a sleeping baby I would rather not wake, or was in the middle of a home project, I could call and ask “Can you get my kid from school today?”

The village where, when I had to go out of town for the day, I could rally a tag team of five families to pick up and deliver my kids from different schools to different homes until I could get back.

The village where, when I need a wine opener, I can walk next door and borrow one, then share the wine. Ok, I’ll be honest, usually it’s my neighbor asking for the wine opener because I’m well stocked, but we still share the bottle.

The village where, after yet another pool party, the gathering will morph into dinner and movie watching with multiple families (this one planned, because, we know by now it’ll happen anyway).

The village where I can chat with my female friends, some other moms, some without kids. The village where I can chat with my male friends, some dads, some without kids. The village where my childless next door neighbors are honorary grandparents to my kids. The village consists of all types of families, not just those with kids. 

Our village is urban, and while we have trees to climb, there are streets to traverse, which mean we can’t just let our four year olds run to their friend’s house a few blocks away (as much as he may think he can).  There’s enough traffic that I don’t let my kids play in the street, but they can walk down the sidewalk to the neighbors' houses. We have what one neighbor calls "Walkpooling" - she'll pick up anywhere from five to ten kids and walk them home from school. 

Our village has multiple layers.  The layers include two major neighborhoods and another smaller one, but still, all One Village. The layers include families with small kids, families with grown kids, childfree families, and singles.  One Village. 

I don’t miss the village. I live in The Village. We even have a flag. 

Saturday, July 05, 2014

And this is 8!

I haven't updated in awhile, these kids keep me on my toes.

I can't believe our first born is now 8! How did that happen? Wasn't it just yesterday she was a tiny baby? Now she's a gorgeous, fiesty, smart, curious, fascinating girl. No surprises there.

Monday, March 03, 2014

Dad, Opa, husband, uncle, friend

Martin H. Rohr made an impact on everyone he met. Having lived 81 years and giving his family and friends a lifetime of stories, he died peacefully on Friday, Feb. 28.

Marty was born on Nov. 24, 1932, the tenth of 14 children of Elmer and Helen Rohr and raised on the family farm in Massillon, OH.  Joining the US Navy in 1951, he reported for duty at the US Naval Training Center in IL, where 63 years later, his grandson would also report for duty.  Serving through the Korean War, it was while stationed in San Diego that he became friends with Charles (“Carlitos”). Far away from his own family, Marty happily tagged along to the large Mexican family gatherings of Carlitos’ extended clan in Los Angeles.  It was at these events he met Elaine, who would become his wife after his honorable discharge in 1955. Together they raised eight children in Baldwin Park, CA.

Always a hard worker, Marty was a milkman, a meter reader for the electric company, and worked in various construction jobs before founding Martel Rebar, later to become Rohr Steel.

He gave a lifetime of service to others.  He was a continual presence at the schools his children attended:  St John the Baptist in Baldwin Park and Bishop Amat High School in La Puente. From moving bleachers, to conducting parking at football games, to setting up for festivals, he was always ready to lend a hand.

As Scout Master of Boy Scout Troop 695 in Baldwin Park, he taught the boys (and some of their sisters) how to tie knots, led camping and hiking expeditions and served as a role model to a generation of boys and girls.

Most recently, he was a very dedicated member of the American Legion Post Charter Cove 755, donating many hours of his time and expertise to the Post. He considered his fellow Legionnaires family. He will long be remembered by Legionnaires, friends, and family alike standing over an open fire making his famous Mojo potatoes and telling stories.

The many friends of his eight children knew him as “Dad Rohr,” the man who drove the 1963 Ford van filled with teenagers to football games, visits to the mountains, and trips to the beach.  Marty was a father figure and role model not just to his own children, but to all their friends and neighbors, to his many nieces and nephews, to his grandchildren and to their friends who also called him “Opa.”  Indeed, when remodeling the small 3-bedroom house in Baldwin Park, he said his goal was to make the house so that all friends and relatives would feel welcome and there was always space for one more.  

A strong believer in the importance of education and known for giving the shirt off his back to someone in need, he donated his body to UC Irvine Medical School, so he could continue to be of service and to foster education.

Preceded in death by his son Albert and granddaughter Camie, he is survived by Elaine; his children and their spouses: Tim and Leone; Theresa and Paul; Loretta and Bruce; Chris and Debbie; Michele and Steve; Cherise and Frederic; Denise and Kurt, and 25 grandchildren. He is also survived by his siblings Cletus, Ron, Gerrie, and Helen Ann, and more than 60 nieces and nephews.

The family is especially grateful to those who assisted in his care in his final years at Claremont Place Assisted Living and to our cousin, Susan, who always brought a smile to our dad’s face.

Marty leaves a legacy of service, of laughter, and celebration. A Catholic Mass in celebration of his life will take place at 1:30 pm on Saturday, March 8, at St Joseph’s Catholic Church, 925 N. Campus Ave, Upland, CA, 91786. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to St John the Baptist School Youth Programs, c/o Noreen Ebiner, 3870 Stewart Ave, Baldwin Park, CA 91706. 

The short obituary in the Daily Bulletin (Inland Empire) can be found http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/indeonline/obituary.aspx?n=martin-h-rohr&pid=169984031>here
 and the http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/indeonline/obituary.aspx?n=martin-h-rohr&pid=169984031>Massillon Evening Standard 

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