MPH Cupid

Heart and Blade

My name is Karel and I am an Internet dating failure.   Yes, I have met a few nice men on OK Cupid for the requisite coffees, drinks or dinners and “nice meeting you, good-bye.”  There of course have been the fascinating respondents who live in “New York, New York” but only write back at 2:00 AM and have no idea where the George Washington Bridge is.  The men who live in suburban apartments who had very lavish life styles and were very financially successful, but “lost everything in the divorce.”  (I don’t know which planet these men are from since, having been divorced myself, I happen to know first hand that wives definitely do not “get everything” as these men claim was their judicial fate.)   There was the very attractive somewhat familiar looking man who was wearing an Eddie Bauer shirt with the logo prominently displayed in every photo; nicely scanned from the catalogue.

My profile remains on OK C and I check in from time to time approximately once a month because though not an enthusiast, I am sort of academically interested in the process, maybe even a little bit hopeful.  And recently to refresh my memory, I checked in few times before writing this blog.

Of course I have heard the various urban legends of a cousin of a friend of someone’s sister-in-law who found true love, got married and had five children and lived happily ever after with a man she met on eHarmony. Or the neighbor of a woman in yoga class who is engaged to a man she met on Match.  There was even an article in the New York Times “Weddings” about two people who met on OK Cupid.  Read it, Believe it!  If it is in the New York Times it must be true.

Alas, I have not even come close to this experience, although I suppose it would help if I updated my profile from time to time (I went to St Petersburg, Russia two years ago.)  Maybe I need to add something really compelling like my broken ankle last winter with a photo of my scar.  Kind of makes me think of Ben Stiller’s Walter Mitty trying to get a wink on eHarmony, although I actually have been to the Himalayas and Iceland.

In spite of this failure to find true love on my computer, two years ago I met David and since then we have exchanged I am sure hundreds of emails, photos, ideas, feelings, thoughts, plans.  We have written sometimes several times in one day.  About year ago when I wanted to set up a meeting, he disappeared for over a month and I thought it was over.  I was pretty angry.  And there have been times when he has been angry and critical and seemingly very demanding.  But still we continue and in fact I just received an email from him this morning.  “Good morning,” he wrote.  “Thank you for your humble reply.  We have much work to do.”  David lives in Uganda and I live in New York.

David and I didn’t meet on a dating site.  We met on the Global Health Forum of LinkedIn when I posted my MPH thesis in 2011.  Over the two years we have been working together to establish Holistic Care for Mothers, a project of the Makindye Rotary and soon to be an independent not for profit registered with the Ugandan government.  I am more than academically interested; I am hopeful that we can make some positive change for women and girls.

This is not my only Internet relationship.   Early in my thesis process at New York Medical College, probably around 2008, I found the Birthing Kit Foundation and Dr. Joy O’Hazy.  Joy and I have written to each other over the years about the distribution and efficacy of birthing kits,, but also about her travel, her singing and dancing; her wisdom and experiences.  There are often long gaps in our correspondence, but I always feel a connection to her and every day I look at the beautiful appointment book she sent me last year with her photographs and poems.  It was Joy who was my contact to the Foundation that yielded the donation of birthing kits to Holistic Care for Mothers that David has distributed in rural Uganda.

I met Kirtiman Tumbahangphe in Nepal, the director of  MIRA, Mother and Infant Research Activities and after many emails and exchange of phone numbers, Kirti and I did meet in Hetauda where I visited several women’s projects out in the beautiful lush mountains of southern Nepal.  We talked about maternal mortality in Nepal and the very successful MIRA project using women’s empowerment, peer health education and community leadership.  Kirti and I even had dinner together at the Hotel Avocado and Orchid Resort where I stayed.  We said goodbye in the parking lot and he rode off on his motorcycle.

Diana Nabiruma is a health writer for the Ugandan newspaper The Observer.  I was researching health in Uganda when I found one her articles about violence against women and girls.  Thinking she might be interested in Holistic Care for Mothers I sent an email to the address in her by-line; an arrow shot into the cyber dark for sure, but she wrote back.  She was interested and interesting and funny and smart.  And, she interviewed David and Dr. Sarah Nkonge.  And….she did indeed write an article about maternal mortality in Uganda, about the Holistic Care for Mothers. The%20Observer%20-%20No%20more%20%E2%80%98labour%20suites%E2%80%99%20in%20banana%20plantation.html

And then there is Mike Cook who is one of the most amazing Internet contacts I have ever had.  I was thinking about how razor blades in birthing kits might be replaced with natural, local sustainable materials.  I thought about repurposing broken glass bottles; could blades be made from glass? So I searched “GLASS BLADES.”  And there was Mike Cook.  His website states, “Hi I am Mike Cook and I was born to be a flintknapper.”  Mike lives in Portland, Michigan and has a company called Art of Ishi He in fact makes blades from glass and stone, but not the kind of glass I was thinking of.  He uses natural volcanic glass, obsidian, flint, chert.  Take a look at his website and you will be totally astonished.  You can watch his videos about how he makes these blades.  For those of you who are not faint of heart, watch him shave with a blade he strikes off of a hunk of  obsidian  All I can say is “DON”T TRY THIS AT HOME.”  So I wrote to Mike.  Generous, thoughtful and expressing interest in birthing kits, Mike sent me a few of his blades.   I have them on my desk (although I have not used them on my legs,) and there is the possibility of natural blades to cut umbilical cords safely, cleanly, sustainably.  Thanks, Mike.

These are some of my Internet relationships.  I don’t think any of them will lead to a date for New Years Eve, dinner on Valentines Day, not even the cup of coffee or drink.  I have not found my one true love, but I have found passion.

As I, a la Joseph Campbell follow my (Internet) bliss, I think of a web perhaps not so different from our www in Walt Whitman’s “A Noiseless Patient Spider”:

A noiseless patient spider,

I mark’d where on a little promontory it stood isolated,

Mark’d how to explore the vacant vast surrounding,

It launch’d forth filament, filament, filament, out of itself,

Ever unreeling them, ever tirelessly speeding them.

And you O my soul where you stand,

Surrounded, detached, in measureless oceans of space,

Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing, seeking the spheres to connect them,

Till the bridge you will need be form’d, till the ductile anchor hold,

Till the gossamer thread you fling catch somewhere, O my soul.

There is No Finish Line

 Who could not be absolutely in love with Gabby Douglas? With Alex Raisman, Jordyn Wieber, McKayla Maroney, and Kyla Ross…the Fab Five who won our hearts and medals at the Olympics?  Along with so many athletes we are watching intently, cheering for, sighing for, disappointed with and celebrating with, they are paragons of health, of beauty, of achievement, of competitiveness, of winning.  Even when they fall short (literally off of a balance beam) we know they are at the Olympics because they are the best in the world.

As I watch night after night in my bed, my bedroom being the only place I have a television (very small) and air conditioner (very noisy), I find myself wondering what it is that these young women and the other athletes at the Olympics have that has made them the great athletes they are.  Is it exceptional physical abilities, a drive and commitment to their sport, parents who devoted themselves and their children to rigorous training, some unknown Higgs Boson-like God particle that they were born with? (

I did a little very non-scientific research on “what makes athletes great?”  Here are a couple of results.  The first is from a New York Times blog for junior high students. This is an answer from a 13 year old:

 Okay a lot of things make athlete storng and those things can be by eatting good and also by trying there best.but most importantly is when they never give up

This one is from an article in Shape magazine from a couple of days ago:

In my opinion, it’s not just the amount of medals you win or how many events you compete in. There is definitely a lot more to being an Olympian than that. I believe athletes like Wilma Rudolph and Jesse Owens epitomize what it means to be an exceptional athlete. Rudolph was born prematurely and spent the bulk of her childhood in bed. She suffered from double pneumonia, scarlet fever, and later she contacted polio. After losing the use of her left leg, she was fitted with metal leg braces when she was only six. However, years of treatment and determination to be a “normal kid” worked, and Rudolph was out of her leg braces at age nine. She went on to become a basketball star before taking the track and field world by storm and ultimately went on to win three golds and one bronze at the 1960 Olympics in Rome. From there, she became the fastest woman in the world and the first American woman to win three gold medals in one Olympics.

Never giving up and overcoming difficulties seem to be favored ingredients, and certainly we have seen that night after night.  Gabby Douglas actually did fall off the balance beam and got back on; she didn’t win a medal in that competition and she knew she wouldn’t win, but she got back on that narrow strip of hard wood and jumped and tumbled and vaulted off.

Two things were going on in my head as I was watching event after event and pondering the question of what makes these athletes great: they were perhaps more subliminal than rational thoughts.  One was the often-played snippet from the Phillip Phillips song, Home.

Just know you’re not alone, Cause I’m going to make this place your home

And there they were accompanied by the song: the women’s gymnastics team, the audience cheering, the parents, the coaches.  The Karolyis and Liang Chow literally going to the mats and challenging Alex Raisman’s score to secure her bronze medal on the beam. Win or a fall, you are not alone.

The other had nothing to do with the Olympics.  It was an article in the Sunday New York Times Magazine section from July 29 that I kept getting distracted from and kept being pulled back to.  The picture on the first page of the article, titled Hope in the Wreckage, was of two women who could not look less like Olympic athletes.  Claudia Cox, a visiting nurse is pictured kneeling on one knee at the bed of a women dying of bone cancer at home.  “Just know you’re not alone,” the lyrics seeped into my head.  But it wasn’t just the photo. Claudia Cox works in Jackson, Mississippi a place with some of the worst health outcomes in the country.  Sixty-nine percent of adult Mississippians are obese or overweight: at least 25% of the state’s households do not have access to healthy foods, adequate grocery stores being up to 30 miles away.  The article notes that many of these families buy their groceries at gas station convenience stores. Mississippi has the highest teen birth rate and Human Rights Watch calls the state “the epicenter of the H.I.V. epidemic in the United States.”  Tragic human wreckage indeed. So where was the Hope?  The Hope is Claudia Cox working for an organization called HealthConnect which was founded by Dr. Aaron Shirley and Mohammad Shahbazi, a professor at Jackson State University, based on the community outreach and very personal home care in a program in Iran. The Iranians founded “health houses,” local huts that contain exam rooms and sleeping quarters for community health workers in rural areas to reach the population living in more than 60,000 villages outside the urban areas of Iran.  The community health workers who are all from the villages themselves, “advise on nutrition and family planning, take blood pressure, keep track of who needs prenatal care, provide immunizations and monitor environmental conditions like water quality.”  The services of the health houses lowered rural infant mortality by 75% and substantially lowered the birth rate, two benchmarks of overall improvements in the health of a population.  Dr. Shirley, impressed with the positive impact on health outcomes in Iran, adopted many of the same services, mostly local community members/health workers establishing close personal relationships with patients, encouraging them, counseling them, advocating for them. In one year the services of HealthConnect cut the rate of admissions to Central Mississippi Medical Center by 15%.

I have seen these same health strategies and relationships in the home visiting programs in Costa Rica, in Resource Mother projects in Norfolk, Virginia, in the MIRA project in Nepal.  Community health workers, peer educators, home visitors teaching, supporting and advocating which all comes down to what the best coaches do for the best athletes.

The positive differences in any of our lives are often the results of coaching.  I will never play tennis at the Olympics, I am not even seeded and I don’t play at an exclusive club, but I do have a coach.  Bill is the best; he knows just how to keep me improving and “playing up,” without my getting frustrated (although he occasionally slams one past me just to keep me humble.)  He is also a person who has been there most weekends through many of my life’s changes over the past 7 years.  I missed the opening ceremonies for the Olympics because I was out with two of my other coaches, my yoga buddies Lauren and Julie who have also coached me as friends and guides.  My daughters Kristin, Kierra and Alex keep me balanced and let me fall and are there to get me back up or just sit on the floor with me for a while.  Carol has been coaching me since I was 5. Heller An who is a triathaloner knows good coaching.  I am fortunate to have many wonderful coaches.

Sure we all have our gifts, we all have our challenges, our abilities and disabilities, and some very exceptional people to dazzle and inspire us in Olympic events.  They show us what can be.  So does Claudia Cox.  So do each of us when we refuse to give up, when we open ourselves to being coached and when we assure others that “you are not alone.”

Home Phillip Phillips


Hold on, to me as we go

As we roll down this unfamiliar road

And although this wave is stringing us along

Just know you’re not alone

Cause I’m going to make this place your home

Settle down, it’ll all be clear

Don’t pay no mind to the demons

They fill you with fear

The trouble it might drag you down

If you get lost, you can always be found

Just know you’re not alone

Cause I’m going to make this place your home

Settle down, it’ll all be clear

Don’t pay no mind to the demons

They fill you with fear

The trouble it might drag you down

If you get lost, you can always be found

Just know you’re not alone

Cause I’m going to make this place your home