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Experiments in Life

I just started reading The Guinea Pig Diaries, by journalist A.J. Jacobs. He thinks up an experiment (as in experiments of living life), carries it out, and then writes about the results. He outsources his life to a team in India, with hilarious results. (His wife must really love him.) He disguises himself as a movie star and goes to the Academy Awards to find out what it feels like to be famous. After practicing a month of Radical Honesty, he decides that complete honesty is not always the best policy, especially to your boss, wife, and the guy whose wife has just died.
This humorous book reminds me of my next-oldest sister, who has an inquisitive mind and the courage to do her own social experiments. As a child, she fed our younger sister cat food on toast, to see if she would eat it. (She would. But my younger sister hated us for a while.) While doing dishes as a teenager, she convinced us to try sword fighting with butcher knives (the results of which were (for me) numerous stitches and a phobia of knives.) Once while at college, she asked the question, ‘What if I were blind?’ She bandaged her eyes for a week and had her roommates take her to classes. She found that people were generally kind, life was a lot harder, and that she really, really appreciated being able to see.
During nursing school, she pretended to be an unwed pregnant teenager and entered the Social Services program in order to find out if unwed mothers were treated fairly. Suffice it to say, when the authorities found out, they were not amused. She was put on academic probation and threatened with expulsion if she ever tried anything like that again.
When my sister realized that the nursing students in their final year of education at the hospital were not allowed time off during holidays, but instead had to work shifts and had no time set aside to prepare for exams, she decided to do something. She organized all the student nurses for a peaceful protest and personally called up several prominent radio stations to report on the situation. When the story and interview were aired on a national radio station the morning afterwards, the Director of Nursing almost drove off the road upon listening to the report. My sister was forced to retract the story or be expelled. Eventually, because of her actions, students nurses were granted time off for holidays and to prepare for exams. The Director of Nursing thanked her for having the courage to stand up and enable change, as the director had been trying to change those policies for a long time. My sister also learned important lessons about following protocols.
During her thirty years as a nurse, she developed a great compassion for others. On one occasion she stood up to the Chief of Orthopedic Surgery to enable a patient in excruciating pain to have surgery in a timely manner. Today, as a university professor, she uses her creativity to teach entertaining, thought-provoking, and sometimes life-changing lessons. Her students come away from her classes fired up to be better people and better nurses. She has presented papers in various countries and has come up with a new theory of learning. She has crossed mountains in her life that would make weaker people give up, yet she still manages to keep her sense of humor. She reminds me that even in hard situations, there is always something to laugh about or something to learn. I am proud to call her my sister.

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