Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Pictures

Ok, here a a few newer Sophie pics:

5-7-085-17-08
5-23-08
5-31-08
6-3-08
6-13-08
6-21-08

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Little things

Things are better today. Not in like a permanently better way, although I am hopeful for that too. In a day-to-day better way. I've had a few really sweet emails that remind me that there are people in my life who care. I tend to withdraw into myself when things get tough--I've never been any good at asking for help. And one of the hallmarks of an alcoholic dysfunctional family is the shame. I've got to work on that.

And sometimes, I feel like the universe drops little reminders into our lives that things work out for the best. I had one last night. Tim's parents watched Sophie for a bit so I could run out and get some baby items (actually, I wasn't going to go out, but they insisted). I went to Wal-Mart, just to kill some time, and I was wandering around the baby section when Tim called from Richmond (he's in Virginia, not North Carolina, this time. I can't even keep it straight!) He was regaling me with his car rental woes when I stopped dead. I had wandered to the very back corner of the store, and there in front of me was Sophie's blanket!

I have to tell you why this is a big deal. Tim's mom bought Sophie a pretty pink silky-furry blanket before she was born. Well, she attached to it. And for 8 months we've been looking for another one. The original came from Target, and while they carry a similar one, it had embroidery and other designs that Sophie's doesn't (and couldn't easily be removed without ruining the satin). We've checked every store, brick and online, and I scour eBay regularly. And I've checked Wal-Mart--even this exact Wal-Mart--several times before. No blanket.

And the day care wanted to keep Sophie's blanket there, just for safekeeping. I'm sure I could've asked for it, but between the hectic first day pickup and me not wanting to make waves, it slipped my mind until it was too late. I stressed all last night about how Sophie was going to sleep without her blanket.

And there it was, right in front of me. At that moment, I just felt a sense of peace and calm. And I knew it was a gift.

It's little things like that. Things that make each day more bearable. And it is those things that fill my spirit. Notes from family and friends and gifts from heaven--little things that bring me out of my fortress of anxiety.

And I know I promised pictures, but I'll do it tomorrow. For tonight, I am going to try to go to bed before midnight.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Treading lightly

I'm not entirely sure how to write about what is going on. I'd love to just spill my guts, but I need to tread lightly. I made a promise to myself about 3 years ago that I wouldn't post anything that may hurt another person that I care about. I didn't like the waves made by a particularly personal post, and I felt even worse about how it affected someone I care about. I don't want to make that mistake again.

Having said that, this is an issue that affects me deeply. And it likely will continue to affect me deeply for a long time. It's made its own ripples in my life, and those are things that I will have to talk about. But where is the line between my issues and someone else's?

Actually, the issue of boundaries is an appropriate one at this point. I'm learning all about personal boundaries. I'd love to spout off my opinion to many people in my life with no thought as to how they might take it. But that's not an option. I'm reaffirming that I can take care of my issues, and that's all. Everyone has to take care of themselves.

So, on that note, I am going to leave out as many of the gory details as I can. I'll just bring you up to speed quickly: an incident occurred last week that took me completely by surprise. In hindsight, maybe I should've seen it coming, but I was completely dumbfounded when it happened. The result was that I stayed home Thursday to call day care centers, Tim and I toured one over his lunch, and Friday we committed to a day care center. Sophie started today. It was all very sudden and stressful, especially for an OCD planner like me. Our decision was basically made for us though--I called over 20 day care centers in the area, and only one had an immediate spot for an infant. Some of them had waiting lists until fall of 2009. Those children haven't even been conceived yet!

Tim and I visited the place on Thursday. It's very close to our house, convenient for both Tim and I, and very busy. It's a chain with a good rating by the BBB. Everyone was friendly, the place was impeccably clean. And yet it ripped my guts out that I have to leave my baby there. But back to that later.

Oh, and it's expensive. Want to know how expensive? $924 a month. That's more than our old mortgage payment. And that's for one child. And, that's middle range for the centers I talked to. Now I understand why people hire nannies. If you have more than one child, you come out cheaper in the long run! I can't imagine what it is in bigger cities. Kim was telling me that in Boston, it runs 1800-3000 a month. Unbelievable.

I'm still in shock at how suddenly everything happened. Wednesday was the impetus, Thursday I stayed home, Friday Tim's mom watched her, and today she's in day care. Unreal.

Tim and I both met up to take her into the center this morning. It was so hard. We got there just as the other infants were being put down for the morning nap. We put Sophie right into her crib, and she just looked so confused. We gave the instructions to the teacher, said goodbye, and then left her room. I was just heartbroken. For as nice as everyone is there, my baby went from being the only baby in the house to one of three or four at the center.

The day care called me at about 11:30 or so to get some more information on her schedule. I asked how Sophie was doing. The teacher said that Sophie had cried for about 15 minutes, but after the teacher held her and calmed her down she laid her down in the crib to sleep. Sophie cried for a minute or two and then went to sleep about 10:20. She was just waking up at 11:30, so she got a pretty good nap.

Now, that sounds fine, right? All I was thinking was, "She cried for 15 minutes? Poor baby!" Never mind that we let her cry it out in 10-15 minute increments at night until she falls asleep. No, somehow her crying for me is better than her crying for them. I'm paying them money so she is happy and won't cry! Well, not really, but that is how I think of it.

It's been a rough few days. There was the day care issue, dealing with the issues that precipitated day care, Sophie was a teething maniac all weekend (but still so cute when she cries with her little mouth open! I feel so bad for her!), Tim gone all day golfing Saturday, me going into work on Sunday (and saving my cells yet again from a crappy incubator), Tim going into work Sunday, and then me making a visit to deal with the issues Sunday night. I didn't get to bed until very late last night, and I feel it today.

And on top of that, Tim's leaving today for another business trip in North Carolina. I'll have help this time around--Tim's mom and my sister Jen both volunteered to keep me company--but it's still tough to do the day care routine alone. Mornings and evenings are very stressful times anyway, and even more so when it's just Sophie and I. But, we made it work two weeks ago, we'll make it work this week, and we'll make it work again when he goes out of town in another few weeks. He'll have been gone 9 of 27 days--that sucks hard core. But, we'll cope somehow.

And of course, lab is not letting up. The CO2 tank went again over the weekend, but I caught it Sunday in enough time to save the cells (I hope). Does the lab have the money to fix the problem? Heck no. And so I cope.

Oh, and did I mention that we now have a roof leak at our house? Yes, the house is 7 years old, and we have a leak.

Honestly though, I am doing better than I expected. Saturday was a tough day. Tim was gone, Sophie was in the peak of her teething, and the other issues had come to a bad place. I was really stressed and anxious. But it is amazing how things work out. The homily at mass on Sunday was "Be not afraid." It was all about how fear is the opposite of faith, and in order to truly have faith and be at peace, you have to let go of the fear and anxiety and trust that God has control. I needed that, and I got it. I felt like there was a big neon sign over the alter, flashing "Listen up!" I hear ya, loud and clear.

I also went to my first Al-Anon meeting today. Through another amazing coincidence, my school had sent out notice on Friday that there was an Al-Anon meeting held in the hospital every Monday. My school has been sending out these daily newsletters for years. This is the first time Al-Anon was ever mentioned. And right when I needed it.

The meeting was...good. I didn't know what to expect, and I didn't know what to say. There were 6 women plus a leader, and it was the first or second meeting for three of us. The leader talked about resentment today, and it was an eye opener for me. I don't have any resentment directed at the alcoholic in my life--I understand that alcoholism is a disease. I do have resentment towards the way other people treat the alcoholic in my life, and that is something I need to work on. I resent people that I feel have abandoned her, I resent people that I think would judge her if I told them what was going on. I resent that I can't be open about what is going on in my own blog because I am sure there are people reading this that don't know her story, and they will judge her. And I resent that I have to spend so much of my already stressed-out life worrying about other people.

I've already accepted that I can't make her change. I've known that for a long time. I've accepted that yelling, laying on the guilt, bargaining, crying, and punishing her will not make her any more sober, and they may make her worse. I've also accepted that, although bargaining does not work, there do have to be consequences for her drinking. It's not punishment. It's to help her want to change. If there are no consequences, if everyone fixes everything for her, then why change? Having said that, I've also accepted that consequences need to be fair and consistent.

And, I've also accepted that I am only in charge of my own attitude towards her. That is the hardest part. No matter how hard I am willing to work, no matter how many Al-Anon meetings I go to, no matter how many books I read or journals I write, I can only change me. And changing me isn't enough. If she comes home to the same environment she left, how can you expect the results to be different?

Things are tough at the moment, but (and I say this with great trepidation, because I don't want to tempt Fate) I think I've reached stress saturation. That's not to say that things can't get worse--things can always get worse--but I don't think I can be any more stressed. I'm sure my cortisol and adrenaline are off the charts. But I'm almost zen about the whole thing. You go into survival mode--you have to prioritize, and your mind can only focus on one thing at a time. Have I had time to wallow in self-pity that my experiments have been for crap? Heck no. I've been doing new ones and trying to move ahead instead of looking back. I've got to move forward.

Tim thinks I am this strong person, that I pick everyone up and carry them on my shoulders. I disagree. I'm strong on the outside, but on the inside, I'm too scared of what happens if I'm not strong. If I let in a little weakness, where does it stop? I've felt so close to crumbling for so long now. This last year, with all of its major life changes and stresses, has worn me down. I honestly don't know what happens if I let my guard down. And god forbid I let myself be vulnerable or deeply honest with myself. I've built this persona, this life, these goals and plans for myself. I'm not ready to start over. And until life calms down, I just can't think about it.

So, I'm not strong, I'm weak. I'm too weak to be honest and vulnerable. I've got to be strong, to get through everything, to come out on the other side. I'm not just Bridgette; I'm Sophie's mom, Tim's wife. I'm a daughter, a sister, a student, a co-worker, a volunteer, and a (pretty crappy) friend. I don't have the luxury of just stepping away for a few weeks and sorting myself out. I've got people who depend on me.

I firmly believe that everything happens for a reason. I don't know why I am being tested, but I have to believe that it will help me in the future. Not every year will be like this past year. And even in the midst of the drama of the past year, I've been given the greatest gift I could've ever asked for: my daughter. If all of the pain and suffering I am going through now was for her, it's worth it.

I apologize for the vague tone of this blog. I really would like to get into the "issues" that I keep referring to, but I don't think now is the time. I've got things I need to work through, and many of the people I love most have their own issues to go through. I'll do my best to be honest with you. There's no point in being dishonest, but please understand if there are things I can't talk about yet.

And I promise, the next post will be happy. And with baby pictures. They are a surefire way to lighten the mood.

Friday, June 20, 2008

The crap has hit the fan

Well, that other issue I was alluding to? Things blew up this week, and it forced action on my part. Things are still resolving, and I don't have the time or the energy to get into it right now, but I promise a full update as soon as I can manage.

Never in my life have I said, "Well, at least things can't get worse." And this last week/month/year has been proof of that. I seriously don't understand why I am being tested, but I have got to believe that everything happens for a reason. If I stop believing that, I just may lose my mind.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Still here

I didn't want to leave such a stressed-out post up forever, but I am too crazy busy at work to really post anything deep. Makes sense, right?

Anyway, lab is still extremely stressful, and I don't see things changing in the near future (or at all for that matter). But, I've accepted that my remaining time in the lab is going to suck, that my boss is not interested in helping me succeed, and that ultimately I am going to have to make this happen on my own.

I am trying to find positive spots outside of the lab. I've started volunteering with the therapeutic riding program again. It's a bit stressful in the scheduling sense, especially with how much Tim has been traveling. But the actual volunteering is good for my spirit.

Tim's going to be traveling a lot more, and that sucks. He was gone three days last week, he'll be gone three days next week, and then he's traveling again shortly after that. Having Sophie on my own at night is tough. I honestly don't know how single parents do it on a regular basis (or do it with more than one child). She is wonderful, but completely draining. And we are very close to crawling, so you have to keep an eye and a hand on her at all times. By the time I get home, feed her, play with her, bathe her, put her to bed, and make sure she's asleep, it's usually after 9 PM and I haven't even eaten yet. And I still have to clean up the house, get things ready for the next day, and try to get some work done. It's absolutely overwhelming.

Sophie is so worth it though. I can't believe how much of a little person she's becoming! She definitely has her own personality. And she's just so radiantly happy most of the time. Really, she's a handful, but she's easy as far as babies go. I have new pictures somewhere, and the next time I have five minutes, I'll try and load them (so look for them in a year or two:)

I really do like having Sophie around, but I had absolutely no clue how tough things would still be after nearly 8 months. If you had told me when I got pregnant that I wouldn't have a full night's sleep for a year and a half, I wouldn't have believed you. But it's absolutely true. I'm a horrible sleeper anyway. And being constantly alert, listening for her, keeps me up. Plus, when I do get up with her, it takes me at least an hour to fall back asleep. I'd say I average 3-4 hours of sleep a night, if I'm lucky. It has totally taken a toll--I'm pretty much a walking zombie today--but at least I'm ready for residency :)

Anyway, just wanted to drop a note to say I'm alive. And as I alluded to before, there are some other issues in my life that are currently percolating. I may get into them eventually, but I don't have the time to devote to it at the moment. Ah well, back to lab. Someday, I'll get a vacation!

Friday, June 06, 2008

I don’t know if I can do this anymore. The last three weeks have been so bad, and things are only looking to get worse. I haven’t blogged about them, but I think a little bit of backstory is important.

I’ve known for some time now that the lab was going down. It used to freak me out, and then eventually things were so bad every day that I became immune to it. A few months ago, we lost all of our money, completely (we haven’t had a funded grant in over a year, and we’ve been living off the scraps). The lab is down to Kim and I, who are both paid off of a departmental training grant, and Ming part-time. As time went on, we were told that the lab would exist until maybe December 2008 or so. I guess the medicine chair could pull the plug any time, though, so we are at his mercy. December 2008 was supposed to be fine because Kim was done then, and I was planning to go back to medical school in November. And my training grant appointment was up in September, so we’d only have to find funding for two months.

Then all hell broke loose. I was having difficulty registering for the summer. I emailed the physiology secretary to ask about it on May 15. She told me that she had given me the wrong class, and since I was off the training grant as of June 1st, I should register for this other class.

Wait, what? I thought I was funded until September.

Dr. B was at a conference, so I couldn’t compare notes with him, but I emailed the secretary and asked if she had any info. She didn’t.

So Dr. B was back on the 19th, and I told him what the secretary had said about my appointment. He was surprised, as was I, and said we’d figure something out. That afternoon I met with one of my thesis committee members to ask if she had any ideas about what I could do to get my project working. Basically, things have been horrible since I got back from maternity leave, and without the funds to buy all new cells and start over, I’ve been forced to try and finagle with what I have. It’s not working. She gave me some ideas. I also told her about the funding situation, and she told me that it’s Dr. B’s job to figure that out, not mine. That gave me some hope.

Well, as soon as I got back from that meeting, Dr. B came to find me. Instead of trying to find more funding, he suggested I find a plan B. He gave me this long speech about how it’s ok to change my mind, how it’s difficult to have a family and a career, and it’s natural if I want to quit. He asked me if I knew what would be involved in quitting the PhD and going back to med school. I told him that I was pretty sure I’d have to pay my way, and I may even have to reimburse the MSTP a little for things like my computer, etc. I wasn’t 100% sure, and he asked me to talk to George and find out. He asked me if I wanted to continue in science, and I said that after everything I’ve been through, I still like science. I don’t think I was to do 100% bench research, but I still get excited by new ideas and seminars and papers. I was hoping that I’d be able to combine the clinical and bench work a little more. But I wasn’t ready to abandon it completely. He told me that I could always come back to it later. He told me to consider what was best for my family.

I was flabbergasted. I was hurt, angry, upset, defeated, and completely shocked. What was best? Why would I kill myself over a crappy project I didn’t even want for four years if I wasn’t willing to finish it? I’ve got less than a year to go, and I am going to quit now? Why would I do that? If I stick it out, I go back to med school for free, finish up with an MD/PhD from a good program, and leave myself open to options. If I quit, I pay $40,000 a year for med school, no longer bring home a stipend (small though it may be), have to explain for the rest of my life why med school took me four years longer than usual with nothing to show for it, and potentially have to start the PhD all over again if I ever wanted to get that degree. Am I an idiot? (caveat: if I were not near finished, I would have taken my papers and walked that day. I should've walked three years ago. But I'm too close to the finish line now to just walk away.)

I was completely crushed. Part of me knew this was coming from the idea that if I quit, Dr. B didn’t have to figure out how to keep me going. He’s given up completely. And it’s more of a hassle for him to try and find me funding (and space, now that it looks like I won’t be done on schedule) than if I just left. Then I wouldn’t be his problem anymore.

I emailed my MSTP director, and this is what I said:

Hi []. I know this is probably the worst time to try to meet with you, but I am in a rough spot. Dr. B has run out of funding, and I am also ending my two years on the Physiology T32 training grant. Dr. B and I had thought that the training grant support ran until September—I was notified last week that my appointment ends on June 1st. I talked to [other director] via email, since he is on my committee, and he states that there is no way to have additional training grant support because of the MSTP limits. So, I am out of funding.

The other issue is that Dr. B is slowly closing the lab. I do not know how we are being supported now, but there are only two of us left (me and a pediatric endocrine fellow supported by a training grant). We have enough money for basic supplies, but the lab will likely be closing down soon, possibly as early as this summer but likely in December (when the fellow is done).

In addition to funding and lab closure, we’ve hit a major hurdle in my project. Our antibody has suddenly stopped working, and we need it to finish up a series of experiments that would be the crux of my paper. We are trying everything to get the antibody issue fixed, but without it, there is a large gap in my project.

I have resubmitted my first original paper that I wrote in Frank’s lab and finished after he left. I will hopefully hear something on that soon. I need another first author paper to graduate according to the physiology requirements, and that is what I am working on.

Seeing as how everything is falling apart at the same time, Dr. B asked me to consider a Plan B. His idea of a plan B is for me to leave the PhD phase and go back to med school. He stressed that this would be worst case scenario, but that it may not be a bad idea to plan for it, just in case.

I do not want to quit the PhD, and I would like to finish as soon as possible. If we could get the antibody working again, I would hopefully finish experiments in a few months and finish the paper. I had initially hoped to graduate with the PhD before November, but that is getting less likely by the day. I personally don’t have an issue if I can’t graduate until next year, but my funding/lab situation may not make that possible.

So, in order to be fully informed, I would like to know what would happen if I need to quit the PhD and thus leave the MSTP program. I understand that I would lose funding and be responsible for medical school tuition for the third and fourth year. What other issues would it entail?

Let me stress again that I do NOT want to leave. I am actually heartbroken about the entire situation. Although I have had an extremely rough series of situations in the PhD, with Frank leaving and then basically having little to no option in choice of lab or project after he left, I am still interested in science and hope to pursue it in some fashion once I graduate. If there is any way to stay in the program, I’d like to explore that first. But if there are no other options, better to be prepared.

If there is any time in your schedule to meet to discuss options, I’d appreciate it. My next committee meeting is on June 3rd, and I’d like to be able to have some options ready for my committee. This has all happened rather suddenly, and I am scrambling to get as much information as I can in a short amount of time.

I know things are very hectic with you, so I will make sure I can meet with you any time you are available.

Thanks so much []. I hope we can get something figured out.

The director responded that he couldn’t meet now, but he included the other director on the email. He and I met, and he said again that although MSTP didn’t have any actual money to fund me, they would put pressure on physiology to work it out. Again, I was told that it was Dr. B’s job, not mine, to work this out.

Easier said than done. Dr. B did not make a single phone call or email on my behalf. I talked to the training grant director, the finances secretary, and a whole list of other people to try and get information. Dr. B would ask ME if I heard anything.

I talked to the director of my physiology program as well, about both the funding issues and the experimental issues I’ve been having. He was fairly upbeat and told me to hang in there. I was actually a bit shocked by this—he was the one at my last meeting that was being really nitpicky. But he told me that the endgame is always the hardest, and I should just work as hard as I can to finish up.

By this time, I was freaking out a little bit less. I had talked to enough people that said they were going to make it work. I knew I was in for a $400 a month stipend cut coming off the training grant, but getting paid some was better than not getting paid at all (or having to pay them $40,000 a year).

Wednesday, June 4th was my committee meeting. It was supposed to be Tuesday the 3rd, but at the last minute Dr. B couldn’t do it because he is gone every Tuesday (meanwhile, I knew that, and I had been reminding him for MONTHS of the date because I knew we’d either have to change it or he’d have to cancel clinic). Wednesday I already had a meeting from 12-1 and another from 3-5, so we sandwiched in my meeting from 1:30-2:30.

That day, I got back from my lunch meeting at 1 and was rushing to get my computer and everything ready for the meeting. Dr. B comes by and says he’s been looking for me since yesterday afternoon (again, I’ve been going to the VA clinic every Tuesday afternoon for SIX MONTHS). He pulls me aside and tells me again that if I want to tell my committee I want to quit, he would support me. He tells me he knows how hard it is for women scientists because he did a sabbatical with a woman scientist. Even though she was the star scientist, and her husband was just ok, she was the one that always had to leave when the baby was sick. He said he had no idea how she did it. He also told me a story about how, in the 60s, when he was a med student at Hopkins, the dean approached him and asked if he wanted to join their new MSTP. He had done a lot of research and seen how people killed themselves in the lab, so he said no. Plus, he was on full scholarship, so there was no financial incentive. He said he hated how time dependent MSTP programs are and he didn’t think it produced good scientists. He said that ultimately he finished med school, and during residency he decided to get his PhD the old-fashioned way. He said I could do that too if I wanted. He said again that maybe this wasn’t for me and maybe I should just quit “for my family.”

I had finally gotten to a place with all of this where I had basically blown him off. For almost two weeks I had worked to move past the first time he told me to quit. And now, ten minutes before my meeting, he brought it up again.

I could feel myself starting to become emotional again—angry, sad, hurt, etc. I tried to push it down, and I went to my meeting. Committee meetings usually start with a 5-10 minute session where the committee meets without the student, then the student gives a 15 minute presentation, then there’s a discussion, then a period where the committee meets with me and not my advisor. Well, that initial 5 minute session without me turned into 35 minutes. I could feel my anxiety growing with each second. I was standing in the hall, waiting so long that a nice woman asked if I wanted a chair or a glass of water. How sad is that?

When it was finally time to give my talk, I could tell that the committee didn’t want to spend a lot of time on it. I had talked to all but two of them individually, so they mostly knew my situation. I did spend some time on some of the specific experimental issues I was having. As is usual, Dr. B was questioning my rationale more than my committee was. I expected that, and I had answers to his questions. I got a little bit of help from my committee as far as brainstorming for specific trouble spots.

At the end, I was asked an open-ended question, something along the lines of “Where do you see this going” or “how do you think things are going.” I said that, with every passing day, my goal of going back into medical school in November became less and less likely. I said that I didn’t care so much when I went back, but I was worried that anything past November may not be an option. When someone asked me why, I said, “Because I may not have a job.” By this point, I was choked up but forcing myself not to cry. When someone asked why I may not have a job, I decided to not go into all of the issues (as recommended by several of my committee members prior to the meeting—they all said not to talk about it). I said that it was well known that the lab was closing and that the money was gone—Dr. B even verified it. Again, they told me that as long as I was making progress, they would find a way to fund me.

That was supposed to make me feel better, but it didn’t. That whole making progress part is one big loophole. I feel like I have made no progress since I’ve been back (not for lack of blood, sweat, and tears). And like I told my committee, what happens if another three or six months goes by without things working? What then?

Since my committee talked so long without me at first, we didn’t have time to talk without Dr. B there. They just suggested that either I email them and let them know I got the antibody to work, or we meet in six weeks and game plan. In the meantime, they want me to go through a bunch of projects in the lab that never got published that I worked on secondary to someone else and include them as chapters in my thesis. It’ll be tough—Sriram’s stuff is a mess, but I’ll give it my best. They also said to let them know what happened with the paper I submitted from my old lab.

After my thesis committee meeting, I had to dash over to another mandatory meeting. I got back from that about 4:15, and I was filling Kim in on my meeting when Dr. B came by. He told me I did a good job, and he took my hand. I had said at the meeting that I was panicked about my project. Dr. B told me, “I knew you were concerned, I didn’t know you were panicked.” At this point I started tearing up again, and Dr. B actually gave me a hug.

That was a light bulb moment for me. I realized that he’s not trying to be a class-A jackass. He generally thinks he’s being supportive. I do think some of it is that it is easier for him to get rid of me, but I think that he thinks he is giving me an out. He doesn’t realize the financial or professional ramifications of quitting the PhD with less than a year left. He thinks he is helping me.

This doesn’t make the situation any easier on me, but it does make me feel differently about him. I think he’s clueless, not mean spirited. He has no idea what is really going on. And he thinks the simplest answer is to walk away.

Since my meeting on Wednesday, things have gone from bad to worse. I heard back yesterday on my paper with Frank’s lab, and it was bad—even worse than the last place we sent it. We had rewritten it to try and circumvent some issues, but in fact we made it worse. Part of the problem is that we are refuting a finding seen only in vitro, and our in vivo model doesn’t agree with that. Issue is, it was a big-name lab that made the initial finding. But we have multiple methods that come to the same conclusion, so I think we are right. We may just have to keep sending it out until someone believes us.

And then, this morning, I found out that my cells are contaminated. This has been a long and drawn out issue—cells I had in the liquid nitrogen would grow, but not make antibody. So we bought new cells. And the day after we bought them, the CO2 tanks in the culture room went out and every single cell we had growing died. So I had to call and beg for new cells, since I hadn’t gotten to split and freeze my newly ordered cells yet. Those cells came Wednesday. Today I was ready to split them to freeze some, and they are contaminated with yeast (Dr. B thinks it is mycoplasma, but you can’t see that at 10x magnification, and you can see this). The water in the incubator was contaminated, and it got into my cells. So I had to sterilize everything, and now I am trying to decontaminate my cells. It’s $400 to order new ones, and we don’t have it. So I’ve got to try and get this to work.

It has been the most frustrating few weeks of my life, and it doesn’t look like it is getting any better. Thank god we sold the old house. Losing $400 a month in stipend and still having two mortgages would have killed us. It’s still going to be extraordinarily tight (like parking a 30 minute walk away so I can save $75/month in a parking pass). But at least it won’ bankrupt us like it would have with two mortgages.

There’s been another issue brewing the last several weeks as well, but that’s for another entry. I can only emotionally do so much at one time.

The synopsis is: for now, they are going to try and fund me. No one has talked about what happens after November when I can’t go back to med school yet. I think they are in denial. I don’t know how long I have this funding, or what the definition of progress is, but I know I will be at work every minute I can spare until I am done. And that sucks, because I really hate being here. But I hate being here so much that I will do everything in my power to be done. I just hope that’s enough.

It’s just been so hard for me. And when you hear something enough, you start wondering if it is true. My entire life, I’ve been groomed for science, and I’ve been told that I am good at it. Now, I have someone who is supposed to be my mentor telling me that it’s not my thing, and maybe I should give up. The first time I heard it, my stubbornness came out. I thought, “I’ll show him! I’ll go out and have my own lab and be so successful!” Then I thought about how I really don’t want a lab, and I began thinking that maybe I should quit. I wish I would’ve quit when Frank left—I would’ve only lost a year, and I’d be in residency now. But now, to be so close, I just want to show that I can do it. Maybe that isn’t the best motivation. And I know that finances shouldn’t be all of it either (although come one—even if it is a year of pain to stay in the lab, it saves me $120,000 before loan interest). I know that I should have that drive to WANT to do research.

It’s just that my entire PhD has been a battle. My first project was at least clinically relevant in Frank’s lab, but then he left. I never wanted to join Dr. B’s lab, and I definitely never wanted this project. But here I am. And I’ve done everything that’s ever been asked of me. I’ve tried my hardest, but sometimes things don’t work. And this isn’t working. Personally, I don’t think it’s fair that people who are handed projects and finish their PhD in 2.5 years (it happens—there are two in my program) or people who only need to submit, not even publish, one paper to graduate (common in other departments at my school) are awarded the same degree. I’ve learned so much, but I don’t have a lot to show for it. Does that mean I’m less ready to be a scientist? Absolutely not. If anything, I’ve had to brainstorm and troubleshoot, which makes me more prepared. But here I am, still struggling, still no graduation date in site.

I’m just so emotionally drained right now. And nights like last night, where I get home and all hell is breaking loose (we had a flood from our freezer last night. At least I rescued the frozen breastmilk) make things so tough. I feel like I have no part of myself left to give. I know it sounds trite, but I feel like lab kills me a little more every day. I hate coming home and being drained. Sophie is such a joy—I want her to have the best of me. But I have so little left to give. And Tim’s been trying so hard to fix things. Him having no control over this wears on him too.

I just feel like the universe is crapping right on my head. We are healthy and alive, which is good. But the last year has been taking such a toll on me. Kim in the lab thinks I am jinxed. Just when she says at least things can’t get any worse, they get worse.

I am really trying to look on the bright side. I am an optimist at heart, and stubborn as a mule, and those are both qualities that have been completely necessary to me not jumping ship a long time ago. I just really hope things turn around soon.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Ready to talk, not sure what to say?

I am ready to talk about what's been going on with me lately, but I'm not quite sure of what I want to say. It deals mostly with what's been going on in the lab, but it's expanded to encompass so much more than that. Give me a day or two, and I'll fill you in, I promise. I'm just feeling a bit emotionally overwhelmed at the moment.

Soon, I promise. Soon.