Thursday, September 28, 2006

Never is Enough

What, am I to wake up suddenly and then
Enroll at the local college,
earn me a degree
and I could work weekends?
If I work real hard
I could mow your backyard

The world’s your oyster shell
But what's that funny smell?
You eat the bivalve anyway, you're sick with salmonella
You get your PhD
How happy you will be
When you get a job at Wendy's
And are honored with employee of the month

It's almost Friday, so a little Barenaked Ladies is appropriate. I heard this on my mp3 player (it's a new toy--got a crazy good deal, and boy did I love it on the California trip!), and it made me think. What, exactly, is a PhD good for? Yes, if I choose to have one very specific career (academic science), it's perfect. But, if I want a job in anything else, does it put me ahead? Absolutely not.

I was thinking about getting a part time job (not at Wendy's, as the song suggests), but I just couldn't do it. The thought of having a college degree, having completed two years of med school and two years of grad school, and making $7 an hour at a store just kills me. Do they care that I have all this extra school? Heck no. Someone in high school can ring up clothes just as quickly as I can, if not quicker. I had a pretty good waitressing job in high school, so I thought about doing something like that again. And then I remembered how I got treated like crap. You think my customers care if I'm halfway to being a doctor-doctor? Think again. If anything, they'd probably tip me worse, figuring that at least I'm not going to be in this job forever.

So, for now, no part time job for me. It's probably better for my sanity, but man, my bank account sure would appreciate the extra moola.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Sorting it out

There's a lot of stuff I avoid talking about on this blog--that's why private journals were invented--but at the same time, I know it's stuff other people struggle with too.

I just feel so lost sometimes.

I feel like I don't have any answers, let alone the right answers, to some of the life questions I am facing. Some of them I don't need to answer right now. Like choosing a medical specialty. You wouldn't believe how I bounce around that one. Last week, I was convinced I wanted to be a radiation oncologist. It's decent hours, good pay, patient- and science-oriented, and a relatively humane residency. But, it's also crazy competitive, and thus I'm not sure I could get in. Or, if I did, I'd have to list a ton of places to match, which wouldn't give me control over where I headed for residency. And we all know how I am with giving up control.

Then today I was back to medicine with some sort of specialty, maybe cardiology or heme/onc. Why? Who knows! I know I have a specialist's personality. I think I just went back to medicine because it's the safe choice. It's (mostly) not super competitive, I could choose where I wanted to live, and I have another few years to decide about a specialty.

Then there's peds, and psych, and (extremely briefly) pathology. I like patients, which is why pathology didn't make the cut, but I don't know yet how much I like patients, or what part of patient care is the most interesting. And I won't know these things until I get back into med school, which is still probably years away.

And then, I don't know if I'll want to do research or not. This PhD has been such a terrible experience that I never want to relive it. I know I used to love research, and I know not all research is like what I've been doing, but I'm not sure if I'll ever be able to dissociate the two.

Add that all up and you get a whole lot of "no idea what I want to do."

I've got other decisions to make too. Some day I'd like to have a family, and while Tim and I both know that isn't in the immediate future, it is something we'd like to plan for. He'll be in school for his engineering degree until probably 2009 or so. The idea of having a small child while he has class four nights a week and I am on call for my clerkships screams "bad idea." We were thinking of waiting until my fourth year of med school at the earliest, and likely even waiting until residency, but I'm scared. I don't know if I'm capable of taking care of a small child while I'm in residency. Yes, they are small and likely won't remember that I was gone frequently, but the logistics are staggering. Call multiple times a week, probably in a city several hours from family, with Tim working? Yes, it's been done, but it's definitely not the easiest way to do things.

Then again, when have I ever done things the easy way?

Plus, there are some personal issues I am struggling with. It's that whole eating disorder-body image-healthy lifestyle thing again, and no need to beat that into the ground. I think whenever I feel like I'm losing control in other areas of my life, those personal things come to the forefront. It's all related to control and anxiety. I've been dealing with it long enough to know what it is and why it gets so bad sometimes. I'm just struggling with how to make it go away.

I do have moments of peace. Deep down, I know that none of this is the end of the world. I'm sure there are multiple aspects of medicine that I would be happy with. I'm sure I'd get good residency training at a variety of cities and hospitals--that's why the programs are accredited by a national board. Although having children at any time is a major life change, I'm sure that we could make it work.

I know this stuff. I know none of these questions have only one right answer. And deep down, I trust that everything will work out.

It's pushing the daily anxiety down and bringing that trust up. That's the problem that I really need the solution to. I know a lot of it is gratitude--being thankful for what I have now and taking the focus away from what I don't have. I also know that a lot of it is accepting things don't always have to be "just so." It's accepting that life isn't multiple choice. There's more than one right answer.

I am thankful for so many aspects of my life. For as bad as lab can be, for as lost as I feel, for as often as I wonder, "what did I get myself into?", there are so many opportunities that make me feel blessed. I have family and friends to support me, a (relatively sturdy) roof over my head and clothes on my back, an opportunity for education, and the health and strength I need to get through whatever obstacle I come up against. I know this.

It's just so easy to look past the big picture and get hung up in the frustrating little details.

But, I'm working on it.

Monday, September 25, 2006

How I missed boring weekends

This weekend, I did almost nothing. And it was awesome. I caught a cold on Friday that seemed to wipe me out more than usual, so I fell asleep at 7 PM Friday, slept till 8:30 Saturday, went back to sleep and slept till almost 2 PM Saturday, and then basically chilled the rest of the day. I guess I needed it.

Sunday was another relaxing day. I slept in, hit 12 PM mass, watched football/napped (since the only 1 PM game on was Chicago-Minnesota, which was boring), and then we headed to Tim's parent's for dinner. Now, the Browns were on at 4, so we were bummed that we'd miss most of the game. But his parents were nice enough to leave the TV on during dinner (they are SO non-sports people!). It looked promising, but as usual, the Browns choked at the end. Same thing we saw when we went to the Saints game. We don't have tickets again until the Broncos game, and that doesn't look good for us. Oh well. We've got tickets to the Tampa Bay game on Christmas Eve, so now that their quarterback is out for the year (he had to have his spleen removed after it ruptured during the game yesterday--ouch!) maybe we'll actually win that one. Or not.

So today it's back to the lab. I was planning to start my experiments today, but we've got the mysterious fungus back in the cells. Joy. So, it's plan B for now.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Quickest way to a heart attack..

I just got an email from the department secretary asking if I was still having my thesis committee meeting tomorrow.


Umm, I'm a pretty organized, anal, control freak, and nowhere on my calendar was a thesis committee meeting!!! I had one in July that was informal, and I thought we weren't going to have one for six months after that.

And by the way, way to email me at 4:45 PM the day before.

I emailed her back and explained things, and then Dr. B emailed the whole committee plus the secretary to say we shouldn't have one for 3-4 months.

And thusly, the committee meeting was changed to January 22.

But for about five minutes between emails, my heart stopped. There's my adrenaline for the day.

CA pics

Well, I thought I'd be more talkative, but I'm just exhausted. Maybe another time. In the meantime, you can look at the pics here. (They are in my yahoo photo album if the link doesn't work.) Most of them were taken out of a car window at 85 mph, so they aren't crazy terrific or anything. Life back in the lab is, well, lab. I'll chat again soon, I promise.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

I'm back!

Well, I am finally back in Ohio, after the long cross-country trek to California. I'm busy playing catch-up today, but sometime soon I'll give you the full run down. For now, here are my parting thoughts:

1. I no longer feel the need to drive cross country. Ever. Cross that one off the list of "things to do before I die."

2. Missouri is dead to me. There are now only 49 states in the US.

3. Don't assume you can beat the TripTik. In the past, if a map route tells me it takes ten hours to get somewhere, I can usually make it in 8 or 9. The first day was supposed to take us about 18 hours. We figured we could do it in about 15. It took 23.

4. Driving in the dark across Oklahoma and Texas is the creepiest thing. There are no lights on the side of the road because there are no cities--just vast, inky blackness. Thank goodness for semi trucks.

5. If I ever wanted to go out west, I'd fly to Albuquerque or Santa Fe and rent a car from there. There was absolutely nothing worth seeing until New Mexico.

6. Taco Hut=Taco Bell plus Pizza Hut in the same restaurant. The ineptitude was amazing.

7. St. Louis has the worst drivers in the country.

8. Those big red and white cargo planes? They are fire fighters. Which means that yes, that low hanging brown and white cloud is probably a wild fire. Just keep driving.

9. 75 miles per hour is a crazy high speed limit. It means semi trucks go about 90.

10. Thank god for time changes. Of course, if we would've been driving west to east, we would've been cursing the time changes.

Thursday, September 14, 2006


Things have been a bit crazy for me lately. I'm leaving tomorrow, along with Tim, to help my sister Amy drive cross country to her new job in California. We'll drive all day Friday (leaving at 5 AM), crash in a hotel in Amarillo, drive all day Saturday, crash with way-extended family in Arizona, take Amy to her gig in CA on Sunday, mill around, then head to the hotel near our airport Sunday night. We leave Monday, and we get back to Cleveland about 11 PM Monday night. Good times.

So, I've been trying to get caught up on everything this week. Lab's been a real beyotch. I've got a bunch of stuff going on, then I've got the student who's rotating (who doesn't seem to be understanding easy stuff, like cell culture, so I'm nervous when we get to the real difficult stuff. Plus, he's taking care of my cells while I am gone. That scares me.)

And, I've been a bit ticked off at my lab mates. Since the tech left a few months ago, we divvied up jobs, as I mentioned. Well, I do most of the ordering now. We agreed that whoever uses the last of something--actually, we said whoever uses something and leaves half, but that hasn't happened--is supposed to write it on the board. I usually go around and ask anyway, just in case they forgot to write it. Well, people (three people mostly, who shall remain nameless) have been using the last of stuff, not telling me, and then getting their undies in a bunch when we don't have any. Dr. B even reiterated how things should work, and they aren't getting it. So I get all the hostility.

And those same three people have been shirking the duties they were assigned and trying to pass them off on other people. Like just now, one of them came out of the cell culture room to ask who is responsible for maintaining the incubator humidity. Technically, that's Sriram's job, but since I check the water baths in the main lab (and fill the one in the culture room, since no one else does), somehow I should also be responsible for the humidity. Umm, technically, there's water involved in both humidity and water baths, but that's it. So, she came out and gave me that look like "You haven't been doing your job, so here's a lecture." And then she makes a big deal about, "Well, I'll do it for you, just this once." Umm, yeah, I was just here ordering your stuff, and it took you longer to come out and talk to me than it did to adjust the humidity. But whatever. And I did your jobs all last week because you "forgot", so don't get all pissy with me. Damn pregnancy hormones. She just needs to pop that kid out already.

Things have been pretty hectic both here at the lab and at home, hence the lack of posting. But I'm sure I'll have more stories after the cross country trek. And hopefully I'll be in a better mood. Really, I'm just testy today--I'm not crazy angry or anything. A few days away from the lab will be nice, even if it is just sitting in a car 18 hours a day.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da....

Life goes on.

Yeah, I can't sit here and wallow forever. As I stew about life, things keep moving. I still have to go to lab everyday, the house doesn't clean itself, and I lose more precious time being worried and anxious.

It ain't worth it.

So, today I am trying not to be so anal and obsessive. It's a new perspective. For instance, this house we went through way back in February is still on the market (for a summary, go here. It's the older blue colonial). It's not the super-nice, newer one we put an offer on three times. That guy sold in July for the asking price, and my sanity is thankful. The one we're contemplating is older and needs more work--but it's also a lot cheaper. It's been on the market now over a year. The people sound desperate, and the price is finally starting to drop accordingly. It's under 200k now, and I think we could get it for a lot less.

The anal me would scream: NO! It's not the perfect house, at the perfect price! And we'd still have to sell this house!

Now I say: what the heck. We can at least think about it, and nothing says we won't walk away again.

I realize now you can't have it both ways. We saw a nice colonial (although it still had its faults), and it turned out that we could have it if we were willing to pay the premium price. And we weren't. Yes, the housing market has been stinky around here lately, but that doesn't mean we're the only people keeping an eye out. Other people can smell a bargain too.

Yeah, so there's still a lot of ifs, and really I think we're more likely to not be interested than to actually pursue it. But I refuse to be all obsessive about it--thorough, yes, but not obsessive. We'll still have a place to live, no matter what.

It's the new me. I'm willing to think outside of my comfort zone and not get all crazy about it. We'll see how it works.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

The only thing I can control is me.

I'm a control freak. No shocker--I've been obsessive since I was little. I'm a perfectionist, and I hold myself to crazy high standards. No big deal.

The problem is, I'm tired of being a perfectionist. It's stressful and aggravating (and if it aggravates me, I can only imagine what it feels like for those around me). For instance, last night I laid in bed, thinking of all the things I haven't done yet on my to-do list, worrying about how far behind I am with house stuff, lab stuff, life stuff. I tossed all night long, and if I got two hours of sleep, I'd be surprised.

It was easy to be a perfectionist when I was young. The bar was high, yes, but it was very clear. Get the best grade in the class. Get straight As. Be overinvolved in everything, and be president of everything I was overinvolved in. Be first chair in the band, even if I hated solos. Be band president, newspaper editor, a teaching assistant, an RA. Get good test scores. Go to med school.

Done and done.

Now I'm out here, and I don't have clear defined goals. There's no bar. It's subjective--what is the best lab? How can I have the best experiments? It differs depending on who you ask. There's no grade. No class rank. No clear way to be perfect.

And I hate it. I hate floating through every day without a way to achieve some goal. My two years in lab have produced nothing. Sure, one of those years was lost when Frank moved, but this year in my new lab has nothing. There have been experiments and other things that fill the time, but what do I have in my hand? No papers, no thesis dissertation. Common knowledge around these parts says that the first year in a lab is sort of a waste. Well, I hate it.

And it frustrates me to compare myself to my classmates. Some of them fell into very good projects and will be done next summer. That kills me. For a few of them, they haven't struggled at all. Coming into work four days a week, less than eight hours a day. They have techs to help them and a well-established project. They'll get their papers and be done. And what to I have to show for it? Nothing, except an inability to pick good thesis mentors.

It's not just lab though. My whole life is lacking clear-cut grades. I'm an objective person. I need to know that once I make my pro-and-con list, a clear "best" answer will appear. It's not the case with life. What's the best way to be a doctor? Where should I practice? Is family or medicine more important?

There's no way to be perfect. Ask ten people these questions and you'll likely get ten different sets of answers.

I hate that. Subjective non-answers make me crazy.

What I want is for someone to come to my door and say: in order to be the most successful "you" you can be, here's what you need to do. Give me standards, set the bar. Let me obsessively do whatever it takes to excel. I need it.

I guess that's the problem. I've done whatever it takes to be perfect for so long that I don't know what part of my life is "me" and what part is the "obsessive perfection." I knew I liked music, but when I gave up the band in college, I felt relieved. I didn't have to be perfect in music anymore--I never loved it, it wasn't me. I didn't fit in with people whose lives revolved around music. It was liberating.

Sometimes (ok, most days) I wonder that about lab. I excelled in science in high school, so I followed it in college. I was torn between science and English in college, and when I knew I couldn't double major anymore, I chose. How different would my life be if I had chosen English instead? But then, science was superior. People thought it was harder. It led to more prestigious jobs. And I was good at it. Sure, I liked it. I still do--the constant learning and problem solving appeal to me. But was it the right choice for "me", or was it just the perfectionist's choice?

I really enjoyed med school, and I'm enough of a people person that I think medicine will suit my personality better than lab. I've at least learned that about myself. I wonder, though, what I would be like now if I had been in touch with myself; what if I had always done what suited me instead of what was perfect?

I'll never know, and I can't change the past. But, for my sanity, I know I need to get over the perfectionist mentality. It's not healthy, and it prevents me from being content with my life. And oh, how I want to be content. The perfectionist in me screams that it's never good enough, never perfect enough. To be able to let that side of myself quietly disappear would make so many parts of my life easier. Let's be honest: it's not just academics that bring out my obsessive inner self. That constant harping voice has destroyed my confidence, my self worth, my body image, and countless other facets of my person.

I've taken the first step: I've realized this is a problem, and it isn't how I want to live. But how do you conquer 26 years of perfectionism? One day at a time, I guess.

Friday, September 01, 2006

The most wonderful time of the year

I LOVE September and October. By far my favorite two months of the year. The crisp air, sleeping with the windows open under a blanket, changing leaves, comfy sweatshirts, football--it's absolutely perfect. Cleveland doesn't usually get this cool this fast, but it's looking like the weather is here to stay. We'll probably get one period of Indian summer--when it warms back into the 80s--but fall seems to be waiting on the doorstep. So awesome.

I have so many good memories of fall. Marching band was a big part of them in high school, and in college, fall was when you got to see your friends again without being burnt out on school work (as was the case in late spring). Plus, there's Halloween in October to look forward to (I am SO decorating this year, no matter what Tim may think!), and then you move into Thanksgiving and Christmas anticipation. It's not until January, when you realize that hey, it's winter, and there's no day off work until Memorial Day, that you get a little depressed. But in early fall, winter still seems so far away.

It's also the time when TV actually gets interesting again. This summer, the only show I've been watching religiously is Rockstar: Supernova, and I have to say, it's been a bit like watching a train wreck. Last year, there were a lot of singers that I thought could lead INXS. This year, there are a lot of singers I like, but I don't want them fronting Supernova. I think the band is going to suck. Gilby, Tommy, and Jason all have their own bands and have said that this is more of a publicity stunt than anything. And they seem to have a lot of love for two singers, Dilana and Lukas, who I think suck. My favorites have been Storm, Toby, and Magni, and I almost hope they lose, just so they don't get stuck with the band. I mean, these guys have basically said Dilana's it. I think she looks like she's 80 years old, and she sounds like she gargles with sharp glass. Could you listen to a whole CD of that? I couldn't.

So, that's the only show I've been watching. It'll be over in a few weeks too. Since we don't have cable or satellite, I'm trying to figure out what I'll want to watch. I used to watch Top Model. Unfortunately, after about the second or third season, it was apparent that they just wanted drama and not people who are actually good at modeling. I liked Alias, but that's gone. Last year, the WB had a new show called "Related" that I really dug, but that didn't get picked up. So far, there's nothing I really like. I never got into Lost or Desperate Housewives, and I get bored with the law and crime shows pretty easily. Grey's Anatomy hasn't really grabbed me, either. I think I'm just too ADD.

It'll probaby be better for my sanity if I don't have a show I have to watch every week. It'll get me out of the house. It is nice, though, to be able to curl up on the couch with a fleece blanket and some herbal tea, watching a favorite show while it's all chilly outside. Who knows, maybe we'll cave and actually get cable. I doubt it though--I'm way too cheap for that.