Around this time a year ago, my husband, Ben, and I were looking for a place to live in Nashville. We were saying good bye to Detroit, Michigan, a place we had both lived our entire adult lives.
Nashville. Not exactly a town that was ever on my radar when I frequently proclaimed to my fellow Michiganders, "I’m plotting my escape from Detroit.” In high school, I always joked that I was going to run away to Portland, Oregon, grow my hair out, add some dreadlocks, and live a green, hippy lifestyle, while coasting on a vintage cruiser.
But in actuality, Detroit is not as awful as the media makes it out to be. There are very picturesque neighborhoods and not-so picturesque, like any city. And of course the Detroit River and Lake St. Claire are terrific bodies of water.
My first gig as an ophthalmic imager was at Henry Ford Health System. My first day on the job, I was overwhelmed with mixed emotions. I remember thinking to myself as I watched a coworker draw up a fluorescein, "Just try to make it a year here - ok, try to make it six months here!” Honestly, I wasn’t sure if I would become interested in the field or survive working in it for longer than a few months. Previously I had thought if I were to going to utilize my BFA from College for Creative Studies in Biomedical Photography, it would be in a morgue where the deafening silence of the dead seemed more my wavelength.
Thankfully, through the passion of my coworkers at Henry Ford, I became more and more interested in ophthalmology. I learned all I could about OCTs, ICGs, FAFs, FAs, CRAs, IOLs, HVFs, AREDS, DARC, DRCR, to name a few acronyms. After my one year anniversary with the hospital rolled around, I was surprised at having made it that far and being completely head-over-heels for venipuncture and performing FAs. Learning that skill alone and being one heck of a shot, gave me more confidence in my professional and personal life.
(Photographer: Elaine Lok)
The winter of 2011 turned out to be terribly cold and snowy in Detroit. Ben and I were ready to say good-bye to three decades of Michigan winter and head either south or west. I started looking for ophthalmic imaging positions that June and saw Vanderbilt University Medical Center was hiring. After an interview and some time at the negotiating table, a deal was made. Nashville here we come.
"That’s a red state,” warned a friend when we shared the news that the LokMohlenhoff family, consisting of my husband, our two cats, Cosmo and Mr. Mao, and I, were moving to Tennessee.
So last August, we found a house on a top of a very large hill, about 15 minutes west of Vanderbilt. It’s as middle-of-no-where as you can get within the city limits of Nashville. Our house sits next to a pretty sizeable forest with hiking trails that meander towards the Harpeth River and is home to tall kinds of critters including deer and turkeys.
Moving to a completely new environment has been so eye-opening. I get to perform B-scans here, though it’s mostly through corneal opacities, dense cataracts and vitreous hemorrhages, not melanomas. But hopefully one day I will get the chance to measure intraocular tumors – a girl can dream, right?
(Photographer: Elaine Lok)
We also have a Heidelberg Spectralis here, which is my new best friend! The fast capture time along with the various imaging capabilities, make it the most interesting machine I’ve used in a long time! And the choroidal detail is just beautiful. Not to mention I get my own desk and work station. When I travel to offices outside of Nashville, I get paid for my commute!
After I had settled into my new home and office, I did start missing my friends, family and former coworkers. It’s especially hard after a trip home or when someone comes to visit.
My new coworkers are still getting used to my sense of humor. "I just dropped this patient,” informs a tech.
"Did it hurt?” I deadpan and receive only blank stares.
In addition to the new things I’m learning at Vanderbilt, I’ve been doing things that I never would have done in Michigan. So far, I’ve been hiking, kayaking, trapshooting, rowing, four-wheeling, wrecking a four-wheeler (which I’m still sore from), and horseback riding. Next month I’m going to become a certified yoga instructor. Also, a new Nashville friend has invited me to go to Portugal with her – I’ve never even been to Europe before!
It’s really been an adventure.
Elaine Lok is a native of Detroit, Michigan. She began her career as an ophthalmic photographer in 2007 at Henry Ford Health System. She is currently a photographer at the Eye Institute of Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, TN.
(Photo by Laura Bufalini)