So I had brain surgery on Monday at 8 am. By 2 pm I was awake and alert and (the nurses assure me) making very funny jokes. How crazy is that?? Just a few hours ago they were in my BRAIN!

I couldn’t help but feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude, for the doctors at Northwestern, for having great insurance, for having an amazing wife who has taken care of me despite how busy her own life is, for parents who have been emotionally supportive, and for having a PhD advisor who has been patient and understanding during all of this.

That being said, it feels weird having any positive emotions while the world burns. There are already lots of COVID restrictions in the hospital (Shaina basically could only drop me off in the waiting room the morning of surgery). On top of that there were restrictions around the hospital due to the George Floyd protests. And I feel so badly for the protestors and rioters.

People only riot and protest when there are no other outlets available. Legislators and law enforcement have failed to protect those communities for hundreds of years. When those systems fail, and you’re staring down the face of poverty and starvation, what options do you have left?

As I was lying there, recuperating so well on Day 1, with nothing to do, it made me think about my life. One of the worst feelings, for anyone in any situation, is powerlessness. And one of the reasons that I know the outcome of my surgery was so good was because of the world class care I received, from doctors to great insurance coverage. But for a huge proportion of the country, neither of these options are feasible.

Which made me think about my PhD research (I know I’m under strict orders not to do any work!) But I can’t help it. My plan was already to study computer-mediated communication (CMC), which includes everything from texting a friend to engaging with a chat bot. But what if I study these interactions specifically within a healthcare context, to make them more efficient and effective?

What if a chat bot could answer a medical question really well, because they had a better understanding of the person asking, which would save that person an expensive and time-consuming trip to the doctor? What if a text help-line could understand the true intentions of a person, hidden beneath the actual words they were using? As a result, they can provide the type of answer the person was actually seeking, even if they didn’t/couldn’t express it?

All of this would go some way bringing down the cost of healthcare, and increase the spectrum of people with access to it. It’s a small step, but a step in the right direction at least.

I am lucky. But I am not an inherently better or more deserving person compared to a randomly selected human. For that reason, there is no reason we shouldn’t at least give every person the same opportunities and possibilities. Perhaps this is a first small step I can provide to help improve access to information for those who currently don’t have it.