No thoughts of near-death experiences here, though I have some tales to tell. Rather, with the close of December on the academic calendar, I am just one course away from earning a Master of Public Health specializing in epidemiology. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel!
Or maybe it is an oncoming train.
When this learning journey began over three years ago, it was clear that my slow, deliberate pace would take almost four years to complete the program and have me graduating just after my fiftieth birthday. I would be become the main HIV-positive figure known personally by dozens of students and faculty. My time and capacity would be stretched to their limits by adding the demands of school again on top of work, home life, and community service; and tough tradeoffs would ensue.
In the eyes of many, David would become “a dull boy,” though my mind might be racing with ideas for improving the world -- even just one little corner of it -- particularly for people living with HIV. In a search to better understand social conditions unlike my own, I would also travel over 9,000 miles with a dozen students less than half my age and return with a host of new friendships and concepts for collaboration.
Traditional classroom learning actually ended for me last spring, with the summer and fall occupied by an internship experience on top of working full-time. I had the privilege to work for four months with the hospital epidemiology service at the NIH Clinical Center where I have been a research subject for several years.
At the very onset of the experience, we were beset with the realities of having to prepare the facility and its staff for welcoming and treating suspected and actual cases of Ebola virus disease. What could have been 20 peaceful weeks of a couple independent projects and shadowing the routine work of surveilling, controlling, and reporting various infections suddenly connected with life-and-death matters across oceans. In the midst of this unexpected change, I was constantly reminded of the outrageous treatment in hospital endured in the “old days” by people suffering from HIV and related opportunistic infections. Still, from a learning perspective, I could not have asked for a more enriching experience: real-world epidemiology is often months of humdrum punctuated by crisis and learning and doing on-the-fly.
In between me and my degree now stands a Master’s thesis, or maybe we’ll be calling a “project” with a scaled back scope but many of the same goals. In the process I’ll meet up with lots of hoops and hurdles of the administrative variety, most of which I would prefer to skirt, not navigate. It’s difficult to drop an activist’s urgency when proposing research that is novel and meaningful regarding people living with HIV. However, I’ll have faith in the processes and in my advisor to help me do work that pleases me without risking my sanity.
50 will be my new 25, and I would like to get there will minimal frustration in between.