I’ve probably told you this story before, but here it goes. My grandmother and I were riding a bus from Juarez to Chihuahua. It was a four-hour ride, and I was bored. Grandma would let me walk up and down the aisle and interact with people. Right in front of us was a young man reading from a book. I asked him what book it was and he said it was from school. He told me he was a medical student and that the book he was reading was on “pathology.” I asked him what that meant. He explained to me that it was the study of things that go wrong inside of people. He then showed me a picture of a cell.
I was about six or seven years old, and I remember the conversation pretty well because it was something so new to me. I had no idea that there was this entire universe inside of us, so I was in awe of him explaining to me that the picture was a picture of something so tiny that I couldn’t see it with my own eyes. I remember asking him if it was tinier than a grain of sand. When he said it was, I could feel my mind being blown. A few years after that, mom bought me a microscope at a garage sale after I begged and pleaded with her to buy it. A few years later, I stared the medical technology program.
The rest is history.
Have you ever wondered about the people that you will inspire though the tiniest of interactions with them? The bus trip lasted four hours, but my grandmother grabbed me from talking to the med student and told me not to bother him anymore. So our interaction was cut short… Yet it lasted a lifetime.
I’d like to think that I myself have inspired one or two people here and there to become something in their lives that makes them happy, benefits others, and makes us all better. It also makes me wonder if those moments of inspiration came at a time when I was being mean to them. See, there is this doctor out in California who once wrote a scathing op-ed about influenza and how we epidemiologists had no clue on how to predict the flu season. He made several mistakes in what he wrote. I pointed them out in a blog post and had the audacity to email him a copy and ask for his opinion.
When I preemptively apologized for my “insolent” blog post, his response was this:
“I don’t consider your comments to be “insolent”; I think “snide” would be more accurate. It’s the kind of over-compensation that one often sees from people who have master’s degrees but were not able to obtain doctorates.”
This was at a time when I didn’t have a doctorate in mind, but it did get me to think about getting one. After all, maybe this doctor and many others might listen to me if I had a doctoral degree? Maybe. Then again, it wasn’t just him that inspired me to apply for and get into the doctoral program. But there were plenty of negative interactions that made me want to push harder to go for it.
So I hope even my negative interactions with some people inspires them to be better.
René F. Najera, DrPH
I'm a Doctor of Public Health, having studied at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.
All opinions are my own and in no way represent anyone else or any of the organizations for which I work.
About History of Vaccines: I am the editor of the History of Vaccines site, a project of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia. Please read the About page on the site for more information.
About Epidemiological: I am the sole contributor to Epidemiological, my personal blog to discuss all sorts of issues. It also has an About page you should check out.