Saturday, September 30, 2006

A long time 'comin'

Wow. Life goes fast.

Otis Redding--Change gonna' come
PHIN 2006
This year's conference was a good one; the sessions were better than ever and the initiative at CDC has had a lot of time to mature so discussions are less obtuse. Its much easier to understand how data collection and processing is going to be handled, what the expectation will be the local level for implementation.

I made several really good contacts including one guy who had deployed the same line of tools for data collection at the National Center for Infectious Disease that we're hoping to purchase for our CATI project. I think that brings the total number of public health entities with this system to 2---so we imagine lots of opportunities to support and collaborate with one another.

What else? Lots of catching up with colleagues---funnily enough, PHIN is the one time each year when I can be sure of catching up with the Chief of Surveillance for the state of Maryland--fairly odd since his office is about 22 miles from mine and we used to work together and we really get along well and have similar visions for public health practice. And then I always get to see my first mentor from Florida who used to be my boss as well as Rob's. So despite having not had my FAVORITE professional buddies on hand, I stayed quite busy after hours with colleagues old and new.

That part of the trip didn't go so well. I was dropped off at the airport by Rob and the girls at about 5:00 pm for my 6:00 flight. I forgot my knitting in the car so I had to call Rob and ask him to come back. A good thing, too; as it turned out my flight was delayed until 10pm. I knitted, fairly content, until I ran out of yarn for one project and switched to the next... And then, because the Atlanta airport had been closed for so much of the day and was absolutely slammed by incoming flights when it reopened, it took me until about 1:30 to get my bags, and I waited for an hour for a cab. I actually got to bed at 3:30 am. Even more of a drag since the only session I knew for sure I couldn't miss at the conference was in the 9:00 am slot so I couldn't sleep in.

Upon arrival for the return flight home, I discovered I had misplace my [brand new] driver's license. Oh, sure,you can travel without an id but the TSA takes it as a personal challenge to their inspections protocols---EVERYTHING gets scrutinized. I purchased a few little trinkets at the Coca-Cola store only to find that one of the guys working security is a total meanie and wouldn't let me bring the cola bottle/opener I had just purchased onto the plane---there goes that seven dollars and the first stocking stuffer purchased for this year. Sorry, Rob.

So then the departing flight was delayed for two hours because of some difficulty getting the flight crew ready. I was actually pretty unhappy because I had reached a point in my knitting beyond which I couldn't progress without the directions and I hadn't brought along the pattern as I'd planned. I finally decided to unknit what I had done and simply redo so I'd have something to occupy myself with. Suddenly, this woman came and sat right by me. I was a little put off by it since there were plenty of other empty seats where she wouldn't have had to be right next to a person. But soon enough I discovered she had a plan. She had been watching me and decided to she should show me how to knit---you know---the "right way". So in spite of the fact that I don't speak Russian and she didn't speak English, she took my knitting and with plenty of eyebrow raising, "DA-ing" and "O!"ing, she did actually manage to show me a more efficient way to knit. I'd actually be using it now if it weren't COMPLETELY backwards from the way most people knit. I can't figure any way to make it work using most printed knitting patterns. But it was an amazing bit of time spent with her. She was very sweet and not at all concerned about interacting with a person who didn't speak her language. I found myself thinking about the kind of confidence that takes. It really is remarkable, don't you think?

It also made me think about how approachable I might have appeared to be. If I'd had my earphones on, for instance, or been talking on the phone, I doubt she would have approached me. So I wonder how such things play out in the larger scale---what kinds of interactions do people miss out on that would make the world feel like a more friendly, accomodating place if we all limit our interactions to the people on the other end of our contacts list or restrict the things we hear to the items in our mp3 players? Are we missing something? Something that might be important?

Home again
I was greeted warmly by husband, dogs and daughters. Its great to be back home. One of the wonderful thing about conferences is the crap that vendors give away; I came home with totebags full of flashlights and pens and assorted trash for the girls. They are in heaven. And Rob was really so glad to see me; I think it was more than just solo-parenting for a week, too.

I loved the first evening of being on my own: the clean room, the quiet space, the being self-determined. After that it was too much work in an unfamiliar place. I took the MARTA to Lenox Square one evening for a bit of shopping and nail grooming. That was nice. But I'd still rather be home.

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