Imagination in health and medicine? 11 fresh ideas from the TEDMED stage

Some day I’ll be here on-stage!

TED Blog

Nassim Assefi hosted TEDMED2014, Photo: Sandy Huffaker Jr. Nassim Assefi directed the stage program for TEDMED 2014, a conference which brought out unexpected ideas in medicine—like how one can help cancer patients with a pink tutu. Photo: Sandy Huffaker Jr.

Prosthetics as sculpture, the maternal benefits of breast milk, Cuba’s radical approach to free medical education. These are just a few of the subjects tackled at TEDMED 2014: Unlocking Imagination, hosted last week simultaneously in San Francisco and Washington, DC, with a stage program directed by TED Fellow, physician, novelist and activist Nassim Assefi. On two stages over three days, 2,000 conference-goers and 80 speakers and performers gathered for an idea exchange on a vast range of subjects relevant to innovation in health and medicine.

A medical edition of the TED conference that was founded in 1995 (it’s now independently owned), we asked Assefi what made this TEDMED different from those in the past. “This was the most diverse TEDMED conference…

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Day 3: First Class

I woke up without alarm again, this time at 6:30am. Its great to see how passion can rise you up, motivating you to move and run your marathon with the best of attitudes.

I put on pretty clothes (plain grey shirt, flare black and white shorts, Roxy yellow and grey hoodie, black sandals and accessories), wished Tina a Happy 17th Birthday, and headed to Annenberg for a sugary cereal breakfast. I sited with two random girls that seemed nice enough, but got bored as conversation did not arouse but stumbled awkwardly, and I did not really feel like starting a topic. One of them told me she was taking Introductory Biology, just like me.

After breakfast I headed outside, and as I still had about an hour left until my class started, I used my time to look at the activities to register. I discovered my credit card was not working, and so I could not suscribe to any paid activity. I admit I did freak out. No cellphone first, no money now…

The lecture is taught in Hall C at the Science Center, a big room with at least two hundred chairs ordered in a half circle and like a stairway. I rapidly made my way into the center row, but all the seats near the stage were taken. Although, I found a middle center seat that pleased me enough, and seated along Sabrina, a nice rising senior who had failed Biology in her school. In the row in front of me, I heard a girl say her name, and her tone sounded too familiar to my ears. I stared at her for a while, and was just sure she had to be chilean. After a while the girl turned back and asked me my name, and apparently she had my same name, and was in fact chilean and sharing the same class with me! Such a coincidence.

The professor introduced himself to the class of barely fifty students, and introduced us to what was expected from us, the laboratory rules, the topics we were going to touch and how those were going to be evaluated… a general overview of the course. Fixsen, the professor, has a Phd in Molecular Biology, and has teached the Introductory Biology course for over twenty years. He also participated in a project that won the Novel Prize. It was really frightening how he talked about how complex and time consumign the course was, that if we did not study everyday then we were going to get behind (and that it was impossible to get back once you had got behind), that we had to hopefully read every chapter before the actual lesson (the book has over fifty chapters), that the final test had around fourteen pages, and so on… I watched in horror the perspective of possibly failing the course, but tried to give myself hope.

The lesson was great. We talked about general chemistry and how it was applied to biology. I understood all the terms he used and explained, so it was quite easy. I am looking forward for the challenges the other classes will be to me.

After the class I tried to present myself to the professor, but there were simply too many people and they f¡nally lead us out of the class because the next one was starting. I then headed to lunch with Rebekah, another girl I had met in the biology course. We sitted with other guys and girls from General Chemistry and Biology, but no one showed real interest in me, so I got pretty bored with my salad.

I rushed out of the dining hall to search for a TV, in order to watch Chile’s soccer team play vs Nederlands. I ended up in a random cafe some Starbucks worker in the Science Center had told me about, with some people around me, and the lonely me cheering for my country without words. The play was quite slow and motionless, but Bravo did really great, although Nederlands ended up striking two goals. We now pass the first base, but we have to deal with playing vs Brazil.

I ran to Au Bon Pain and bought a pretty red velvet cupcake for Tina, and rushed back to my room to join with Paige, whom I had decided to meet in the afternoon. We went out together and headed to The Coop to buy our textbooks for the corresponding classes. Mine was totally sold out, and I had to make a reservation and pay almost $300 dollars in cash for it. I felt so desperated, lost and alone.

Paige left and I went to Urban Outfitters that is right beyond to calm myself down. I found a cute and really useful sheer white lace brallete, and a plain jean dress I had been wanting. Without thinking twice I bought both, so there is about $100 dollars less into my account.

Then I came back to my room and spent all my afternoon organizing and checking for activities, as fortunately my mom called me via Skype and we could talk about the problems I had conserning my stuff. She finally gave me her credit card information and so I could sign up for activities!

I went to eat dinner alone (finally) and then went again to UO to buy Tina a present. I bought her a light blue nail polish that thought was perfect for her style.

Already at night Tina, Ana and the other nice guy arrived with chinese food, and I gave Tina her present. We laughed and had a great time, and ate “chinese fish” with too much sweet salsa that tasted like oily rancic chicken, greasy spring rolls, and yummy wontons. I ate too much for having already eaten dinner, and really too unhealthy.

I want to go running tomorrow! Hope I can wake up fine. It is too late to finish my course study, so I will make that tomorrow for serious.

Day 2: Social

To wake up, without alarm or rush, on a beautifully sunny Sunday morning, in a bed that is not your own, but is at the same time; in a place you do not know, but have always treasured deep down; beneath a sun that, although you have seen it before, feels different, like a tender stroke that cares for us while we are away, fulfilling us with a warmth that strikes beneath our surface. That is to wake up in your own little room in Harvard University, if you are as thrilled as I am to have the opportunity of being (everything that word includes) here.

I got up of bed and took a fast shower without delaying a minute. I put on pretty clothes (crop top peplum black lace shirt, jean shorts, black sandals) and headed to Memorial Hall aka Annenberg Hall aka Great Hall of Harry Potter with Tina, my Chinese roommate. The walk along campus was nice and refreshening.

Breakfast was… big; USA big. It consisted of a buffet continental brunch with tons of food varying from glazed wheat cereal (omg this are amazing), to Harvard Granola, to rice and chicken, to yellow apples and waffles… TOO much. I took my average fruit, a glass of skim milk, and a piece of whole wheat bread with blueberries on top, and a lemon herbal tea.

Tina talked to me about high school in China, and it was simply mind-blowing. Their school starts at 7:30am and ends at 10:30pm. How crazy is that? Is it even crazy? I think I am the crazy one right now. They also take only one placement test that literally decides your entire future, and some kids who fail just suicide themselves. She too talked about how streets were eternally crowded and you simply could not walk outside your house. Apart from that, we met other girls and it was real fun! 

I am impacted by the amount of food people eat, and frankly horrified by the amount of food people do not eat and just throw away. In terror I had to deal with seeing full, perfect apples go right down into the trash bin with the rest of the food scraps. Fortunately, in the Harvard Green Tour we took later on with Tina, Ana (my colombian roommate), and Alejandra (a colombian girl we made friends with), I asked (because now I know how important it is to speak up) to the guide what happened with the food wasted at the dining hall, and she made me clear that all of it was transformed in compost, which is a relief for my plant mind. Apart from that, I learned Harvard University is actively searching to better its sustainability properties, produces 70% of all its energy (including the hot water we use to shower, which is great news for me), serves mostly organic food, plants its grass in organic compost earth, has solar panels in each trash can (that is always besides a recycling can), promotes reusing of dorm items, cannot put solar panels in building because of them being historical buildings, and most appealing to me, offers a summer club on sustainability.

Later on, I went with Alejandra to the ice-cream social event going on in front of the Science Center. I chose vanilla and coffee flavours and sprinkled assorted nuts in it; it was glorious. 

The whole point about the event was to socialize with the rest of the summer school students. At first we were very shy and we just standed there in the middle of it, but shortly after we decided to just sit on a random table and simply introduce oursleves.

Oh, the faces I have seen, the people I have talked to. Amazing.

We made friends with a texas girl currently living in Angola who was going to apply for the chorus, a blonde curly guy (that I am pretty sure had some degree of autism) from South Saudi Arabia that had already attended the SSP before, a preppy and gorgeaus wide eyed girl from some state in USA and her friend from Egypt, and two girls from Saudi Arabia that dressed in expensive clothes and that the Prince of their country that owns their school had payed their study trip to Harvard. Incredible.

We talked about everything: cute boys, cellphone mania, school uniforms, women’s rights and their repression in African countries, courses of interest, hobbies, countries, and simple nonsense too. Espectacular. I now see through eyes that are not mine.

After that we had a meeting with our Dean and Proctors in the Science Center, where they explained us the basic rules about SSP. Then we headed to our Proctor’s (Esther’s) room and just revised the rules again and presented ourselves to the other guys in Wigglesworth Hall D. We then got out to buy some cards, soap and a salad with my roommates and a guy from the other dorm. He was very funny and nice! We headed to our room and the other guys came over. Played “Bullshit”, rapped, sang and joked around, that pretty sums it all up. Had a blast!

Now it all ends up on going to sleep and wait for tomorrow to be even more amazing!


Day 1: University?!

Esto de instalarse en un dormitorio (en el ático) y compartir pieza con compañeras de todos los rincones del mundo. Esto de estar a solo metros de la más gloriosa biblioteca, entre el bellísimo parque interno que es Harvard Sq, y la Mass Av (que da directo al metro), en el mismísimo centro de Cambridge. Esto de que sea verano y los días eternamente luminosos y cálidos calcen perfectamente con mi estado de ánimo (la vida es mejor en shorts). Esto de que la maravilla onírica durará casi dos meses, que hoy es solo el primer día y las clases aún no han empezado. ¡Me queda todo un mundo por recorrer y toda mi humanidad está lista para emprender el viaje! ¡Me siento todo y aún apenas he puesto pie en el camino!

March 22, 2014

6:00 AM – “Hey Brother” playing out-loud at the other end of the bedroom and me hurrying to shush it, even though I know I have to get up. Big day today (as every other).

TOEFL test coming up ahead. I had been polishing my English class’ memories from vacation dust for the last two weeks and so. Well, I took it easy in that matter, I never really thought of me doing bad in the exam judging by my understanding and current practice of the language. I admit to have lol a few times while seeing all these “intensive courses for advanced level students”, but its just me being ignorant and silly.

7:00 AM Breakfast: excessive and obsessive (damn you high-fiber whole-wheat bran-cereals).

7:30 AM – 8:00 AM Ride: no-english, no-internet, no-gps taxi cab that did not know where to go. Plus nerves.

Place: Chestnut Hill and Newton are truly beautiful scenarios! The New England style is predominant in architectonical structures, and the forests that surround the areas create a silent and reflective environment that I had not seen before, but fantasised about. I felt adventurous and curious while watching through the windows of the cab as we drove through. I would have loved to walk down the passages with the before-raining warm breeze that was blowing at the moment.

9:00 AM Test: First one to finish! That is something new. Reading comprehension and listening sections were easy; writing too, but I found myself rushing; and speaking… not as much as a disaster, but quite incoherent and embarrassing.

1:00 PM Lunch: I ate organic tofu with cherry tomatoes and assorted greens for lunch. It was according to my “semi-vegetarian diet” I am currently exploring, until my stomach asked for half-a-breast of chicken and I turned in.

3:00 – 4:00 PM Stuck in the T: Government Center T Station’s closure is not a good idea. I cannot believe the principal station that connects almost every line is closing its doors for two complete years! The fairytale-like squeaking of the rails can be a plausible reason to renew the station, but I cannot imagine what will they do in two full years of repairs. I hope that when I come back (I hope I come back), I will have the luck to see the work done.

Meanwhile, for those of us who still need to get there, we have to explore the unknown parameters of the colored lines. Orange line is cold and ratty, not to mention a bit crazy. 

4:00 PM Aquarium: At last! Where I had been longing to go since we arrived in Boston two months ago (added to the oh-so-many other places). 

Hahaha, my mom’s face when she noticed the entrance was twenty-five dollars each. We definitely do not have money to eat, but we have to buy tickets for the aquarium!

Precious water-living beings. Bright colors and patterns diving their way through the salty water and the curious eyes. I felt blue, recalling my “safari” experience at Disney World’s Animal Kingdom. Such beauty coldly imprisoned in naked, but immovable frameworks. At least we got to drive away some irrespecutful spectators that tapped and flashed what was already wrong.

With camera on hand, as always, I scooped a space for myself and my three eyes in the front seats of every aquarium glass wall. I tried my new 2x magnifying camera filter and it was awesome for detailed close-up shots of my fellow fishies. 

My favorites: Seadragon hypocampus, mega turtle and yellow eel (I do not know their names), jellyfish.

6:00 PM The breeze was exquisite when we got off (were obligated to go) out of the aquarium! The air slapped my face and messed my hair in a fun way.

Faneuill Hall: Eye-shaped sterling silver earrings! We definetly do not have money to eat, but we obviously have money to buy cute earrings!

*Random crazy guy trying to convince me to go with him and who most probably wanted to steal my camera, yup.

8:00 PM Deserved dinner.

Wanted to call a friend through Skype but apparently she was not home. Instead scrolled through tumblr and watched inspirational videos.

00:50 AM I should be sleeping by now hahaha.

I guess the turbulences I am currently experiencing in my never-so-steady life flow have moved me to-finally- inaugurate a new, personal (open), daily/weekly/monthly journal featuring my insights and doings (and that hopefully wont end up as its long-lost, unsuccessful cousins).

So, what to do next?