slow-fast recovery, and the best internet friends ever

A week after my last post, I feel… almost normal?! What?! Really!

I mean, I’m still sore. It still hurts to stand up from sitting, to sit up from laying down, and I can only sleep on my back. I still can’t push, pull, lift, or carry heavy things (and my definition of “heavy” has also been redefined). I’m still easily tired. My appetite and digestion aren’t back to normal yet, and I’m 8lbs smaller than I was last Sunday. I’ve discovered that I can’t eat watermelon, of all crazy things.

But.

I’m cooking and baking, washing dishes, folding laundry, sweeping, taking care of the pets, sitting at my desk for hours at a time, and generally getting things done. The lingering dizziness from the anesthesia, which really did plague me for a solid 9 days after I came out of it, has finally gone, meaning that once I’m up and moving, I’m almost at my usual breakneck speed. For all intents and purposes, I’ve gotten back to a mostly-normal life already. Tomorrow I’m going to campus for the first time since July 6, because I have a thesis committee meeting (eek!) and I feel like I can handle it. (Though, to be on the safe side, I’m taking the rest of the week off, and next week remains on a “wait and see” basis too.)

i've even made progress on Mariposa! halfway through chart 6 out of 7!

i can knit again! i’ve even made progress on Mariposa! halfway through chart 6 out of 7!

My recovery has felt like slow torture at times, probably because I’m usually so active. Mom kept reminding me, “minor incisions, MAJOR SURGERY,” to help me maintain a little perspective on what happened to my body. Even routine gallbladder removal is still REMOVING AN ORGAN FROM YOUR BODY… and mine wasn’t routine, what with that infection and the swelling and all. So the idea that I’ve recovered this much in, essentially, a week (hey, a week ago, I could barely dress myself) is… pretty damn crazy.

What also helped keep me sane, other than Mom? The internet.

First and foremost, there was information. Every time I fretted about pain or some other symptom, Mom was on the case, looking up (valid) medical information on what to expect, what’s normal.

But beyond that, there was my little community of friends on here and Google+, which was more helpful than I could ever express. Because, you know, even the Mayo Clinic suggests that you can go back to work “a few days” after laparoscopy, and that was absolutely NOT my experience. So I worried, of course… until I started hearing stories about “not feeling normal” for weeks after the surgery, or a coworker with a similar infection who couldn’t return to work for a solid 5 weeks. I didn’t feel alone anymore, and most importantly, I stopped worrying so damn much!

Then there were the helpful tips, like the “cough pillow” that was suggested more times than I can count. And advice like, “Don’t plan on carrying a backpack/purse/tote for a few weeks,” which I never expected, and certainly would have regretted on my first day back!

After all of that, which was priceless, it seems almost trivial to mention that there were get-well, cheer-up presents. FROM PEOPLE I’VE NEVER MET. But there totally were.

toorie_patternphoto2_web_medium2-horz

I was gifted with the pattern for Toorie, a fabulous hat by Carina Spencer that’s been in my queue-and-wishlist for years now. I wanted to cast on immediately (well, okay, after I felt well enough to sit up and knit!), but I don’t have yarn that works for it. As if reading my mind, I was also gifted with a Knit Picks gift card! So now I just have to decide on a yarn and color…

But really, this entire ordeal has taught me two very important things.

1. I am completely impressed by my body’s ability to heal.

2. I am surrounded by more love and support than I truly understood.

It wasn’t a stretch to expect that my mom would travel from New York for my surgery, but I never expected that she would stay for 10 days (while her house was being renovated!). I didn’t expect that she would wait on me hand and foot, and I definitely didn’t anticipate that she would scrub my house from top to bottom, do all of the cooking and dishes, and otherwise make sure that (a) I wasn’t even tempted to overdo it, and (b) Michael didn’t have to worry about anything except how I was recuperating.

and on top of ALL THAT, she and jay bought me flowers!

and on top of ALL THAT, she and jay bought me flowers!

I expected family to set aside personal differences for my sake for a few days. I never expected those differences to completely and immediately vaporize, more or less a non-issue. Mom lived here with us for 10 days, and there was no awkwardness, only laughs and love. I didn’t expect to have fun with Mom here, which means that I didn’t anticipate how much I miss her now that she’s back home. (As soon as I’m feeling better, a trip to NY is in order, methinks.) I think it’s natural to take the love of family for granted, a bit, but it’ll be a long time before I get to that point again.

I knew Michael would be wonderful, but the level of love and doting and pampering (and picking up where Mom left off, taking care of me and not letting me overdo it) has been beyond even those high expectations. My husband is truly the best. <3

I wasn’t surprised when I posted a quick update about my surgery on social media, and got an outpouring of well-wishes from friends and family. I didn’t expect that same level of support (or more!) from people I’ve never met. I also didn’t expect texts and phone calls from coworkers, with offers of help and words of support, and near-daily “status check” emails from my boss.

The gist of this ramble is that I’m blessed, and if you’re reading this right now, chances are that you’re part of what I’m so grateful for. My recovery wouldn’t have been so smooth and worry-free if it wasn’t for you. THANK YOU! <3

always an adventure over here

Last Saturday (June 27), I started having upper back pain that seemed vaguely like my gallbladder-passing-stones pain from years ago. But I emphasize “vaguely”; the other symptoms never happened. So I assumed that it was years of lugging too much crap to campus, finally catching up with me, and I switched bags again.

By the following Saturday, the pain hadn’t subsided. By Monday, it had gotten worse, and by Wednesday morning, I couldn’t sleep or eat. So, off to the local clinic I went.

They sent me to a hospital for an ultrasound. I hadn’t even left the hospital yet when my phone started ringing: go back to the ER and get some bloodwork done.

I was waiting for the bloodwork results when this happened.

IMG_20150708_154326

As soon as the cocktail flowing into my arm included morphine, I texted my mom and my husband and said, “I’m not going home tonight.”

It wasn’t just a stubborn gallstone that refused to pass. It was a massively inflamed, infected gallbladder packed with stones and sludge, including the one big pain-causing one that couldn’t pass.

This was my first surgery and my first hospitalization, and it was maybe not the smooth experience it could have been. Every step of the way was punctuated by some lack of communication, and dumb things happened because of it. Like, sitting in pre-op for 4 hours, waiting for the surgeon. Or the fact that the surgical team ordered stronger painkillers, an anti-inflammatory, and more antibiotics post-op, and those orders never made it to the nurses, so I never got them. Or, even before that, when I waited a full day, with no food or drink at all, only to be told, “Sorry, we didn’t have time to operate on you today.”  What?!

Oh yes, we got a patient advocate involved, and I’m sure that the letter my mother sends to Boston Medical is going to make eyeballs bleed.

my "not amused" face

my “not amused” face

But I think it all worked out for the best. I went under the knife Friday night. On Saturday, the surgeon came to talk to me, and said that – even after 2 days of antibiotics – my gallbladder was so bad that he was almost unable to do it laparoscopically. Had I gone in for surgery the previous day, I almost certainly would have had to be opened up. And if I hadn’t waited 4 hours in pre-op for that surgeon, I might also have gotten one with different limits for lap surgery, and he could have decided to open me up regardless. Either way, I’d still be in the hospital.

As it stands, I am not; I’m at home, recovering, doted upon by both my mom and Michael. I’m in pain, but it’s slowly improving. And since that is the case, I’m trying to push the chaos out of my mind. (Let’s face it: I’m a worrier, so ending up at the grittier BMC vs. the shinier Tufts made me IMMEDIATELY concerned that I wouldn’t be getting the best care, and the lack of communication didn’t help. But my nurses were all awesome, the surgeon was great, and I don’t have any real reason to keep doubting my care, so…)

Anyway.

Never a dull moment over here.

june

I started this post on July 6 – I was in too much pain to sit still long enough to finish it. NOW I have all kinds of time and good pain drugs, so…

june was a little crazy, temperature-wise.

june was a little crazy, temperature-wise.

I’m getting worse and worse at actually knitting my 2-rounds-a-day as they happen. I started knitting June on… June 27? I think? Something like that. The part that makes it silly is that June wasn’t even that busy of a month. Thanks to fixing others’ mistakes, waiting for assistance from another lab, combined with the fact that our lab is in transition, June essentially consisted of zero research. Nada. Zip. None. Just a whole lot of sitting around, chatting with the summer intern about science and life.

it's pretty impressive, full-length.

it’s pretty impressive, full-length.

Which would be a welcomed, relaxing summer, if it wasn’t for the fact that the intern is on an schedule. We’re at a point now where she has about 3 weeks to finish something that hasn’t really been started yet, and even though it’s out of my control, it’s stressful for me. I mean, I’m her mentor, and I feel terrible that she’s had nothing meaningful to do.

I came home every June night exhausted and drained, mostly from worrying about what to do with the intern. Being exhausted and drained isn’t really conducive to knitting.

Now, of course, I have some forced downtime, but I’ve felt too crappy to even want to knit. Pre-op, I was in so much pain that I couldn’t sit still and focus. Post-op, my incisions hurt and I can’t sit upright for very long. The scarf has gotten so long and heavy that it’s kind of a nuisance to work on in less-than-ideal conditions (like laying down). As for Mariposa…

20150615_115322sm

I’m a little further along than this, but not much – probably not surprising. Laying down isn’t conducive to following charts, either.

Maybe in a few more days…

40, belated, and onward from here

Sometime during the dismal winter from hell, I heard that my favorite band ever – Rush – was doing a tour to mark their 40th anniversary. Although the show was months away, I told Michael that tickets to R40 were pretty much THE perfect birthday present for someone who’s also turning 40. And because he’s the best ever, he not only made that happen, but he made sure to get comfy club seats for the occasion.

i truly wish my phone didn't take such shitty low light photos.

i truly wish my phone didn’t take such shitty low light photos. on the other hand, i felt justified to just bliss out and enjoy the show, rather than fight to get anything better than this.

I spent my Tuesday evening having my mind blown, again. Just like the last time I saw Rush, I don’t even really have words for what an amazing experience it is. They say they won’t tour again; there’s also rumors that they will. I hope it’s not the last time I get to see these virtuosos work their musical magic on a laser-lit stage. But if it is, as my husband put it, I could be content with what I’ve seen, because that show was BREATHTAKING in its awesomeness. Just… wow.

(For fellow Rush fans – and posterity – a setlist is at the end of the post.)

And the belated-birthday fun didn’t begin or end with the epic show (though it certainly could have – seriously, what a show!). After weaving our way through the hordes leaving the Garden, we stopped in Quincy Market for a nightcap and a delicious flatbread pizza dotted with prosciutto and figs. The evening began with, among other things, a dozen of my favorite bivalves, at a cute little joint called Rabia’s, in the North End.

20150623_175933

mmm, mollusks

I’ve spent the past 2 years researching CRISPR-Cas systems in Enterococcus species. Since I’ve decided to stay on for a PhD (OH YES I HAVE), my focus will have to shift along with our new funding, and I’ll soon be working with oysters. Yep, oyster microbiology. Because there’s these nasty little bacteria you may have seen popping up in the news – Vibrio parahaemolyticus and Vibrio vulnificus, cousins of the bacterium that causes cholera – these bugs can kill the oysters and sicken the people who eat them.

(Also, if you have a sensitive stomach, do not Google V. vulnificus. It’s been nicknamed the “flesh-eating bacterium” for a reason.)

Anyway, I work with people who have sworn off eating the mollusks they study. I know others who steadfastly stick to the conventional wisdom of only eating oysters in “R” months (colder waters = fewer vibrios).

I, on the other hand, like to live dangerously and deliciously.

After all, throwing caution to the wind seems to be my MO. I see opportunities, and I think, “Why not?” Five years ago, I ditched my life, drove 900 miles to Boston with a pair of screaming cats in the backseat, and my crazy life has never been better. This latest opportunity became more and more tantalizing, the more I thought about it, even though it means a complete change of focus, and even though it also means that all of my work for the past 2 years “doesn’t count,” in a sense.

So, here’s to crazy new adventures – can’t wait to see where this takes my next 40 years!

——————

Setlist for 6/23/2015 in Boston, MA:
Continue reading

I GET IT NOW.

On a much lighter note…

I have largely dismissed the mason-jar-lunch craze as the domain of over-enthusiastic environmental zealots. I think I can be forgiven for that. There is an awful lot of fuss about plastics, most of which I ignore because, well, I’m lazy. If you talk about toxic things leaching into my food, you’d better also hand me something scientific to back it up (or I will lump you in the same category as people who refuse to eat corn, sugar, or gluten, for no reasons other than some bullshit they heard on The View). I spend an awful lot of time in my 7 days/week looking up microbiology-science, and what little time I have left is generally not spent looking up any other kind of science. You know?

But I love to eat, and you can get my attention very quickly by promising to improve the quality and/or convenience of my lunch. I like salads for lunch, but you just cannot pack them ahead of time, because everything goes wilty, soggy, or slimy. And, like I said, I’m lazy. Who the hell wants to go through the work of making a fresh salad every single morning?

Somewhere – I can’t find it now – I read that I could pack my salad in a mason jar, and it would stay fresh all week. What?! Really? Intrigued, I bought a pack of pint-and-a-half jars, and I filled them with a simple veggie salad: celery, radishes, cucumbers, snap peas, grape tomatoes, and a mix of baby kale and spinach.

kinda pretty, actually.

kinda pretty, actually.

That was last Sunday, June 7. I had a weird week of not feeling great, and so I still had one salad left yesterday, a full week after they were packed.

How did it hold up?

pardon the shitty phone pic; i was far more interested in eating the salad than taking photos of it.

pardon the shitty phone pic; i was far more interested in eating the salad than taking photos of it.

I had to throw out one leaf of spinach. That’s it. The greens were still crunchy, the tomatoes were still firm, the radishes had not turned everything pink – even the cucumbers, which I’ve had go slimy in salads within a couple days, were totally fine.

So, color me converted! Viva la mason jar! Now my head is a-whirl with other possibilities – will they keep cut fruit fresh for a week too? Is this a better food storage option for leftovers, in general? I mean, it’s not like I don’t have 64925693462 half-pint canning jars kicking around, from back in the day when I used to actually have time to preserve things.

What other nifty ideas have I dismissed as dumb fads?

this should never have happened, but…

By now, most likely, you have encountered at least one account of scientist Tim Hunt, who referred to his female counterparts as love-hungry crybabies. He later apologized for offending people, but not for being a chauvinist a-hole. Unsurprisingly, he also doesn’t acknowledge that he got a Nobel, at least partly, thanks to the work of women. (Clarification: He thanked said women in his Nobel acceptance speech, but seems to have forgotten about their contributions in the 14 years since.)
CHTpkO9WEAA8PMO

I’ve been on the internet since 1997. I’ve said a lot of dumb things to a lot of people. But it took me referring to a Nobel laureate as “a disgusting prick and an embarrassment to science” on Twitter to finally get my very first troll, who reminded me that I have accomplished nothing with my life, and told me to “Get. A. Grip.”

I get a grip every day, babycakes… on a pipettor, in my lab… teaching and mentoring some of the brightest young women I’ve ever met. These girls are not swooning and crying. They are studying what turns bacteria into pathogens, and sequencing viral genomes. These girls are badass and, someday, they’re going to save your life or improve your planet.

Yeah, I probably should have picked a more politically-correct descriptor of Sir Tim Hunt, and I hope that doesn’t bite me in the ass someday when I’m trying to get published or tenure or whatever. But trust me, what I called him was very tame compared to what I was thinking.

I have been in this lab since January 2013. In that time, myself included, we’ve had 13 lab researchers, 9 of whom have been women. This is no “affirmative action,” no conscious effort to include girls in STEM. My PI uses his undergraduate course as a screening tool, picking out the best, brightest students to be in his lab. (That’s how I got there.) It just so happens that those students are predominantly female.

I have directly mentored 11 of them. The women have been highly motivated, conscientious in the lab, obsessively precise in their analyses. They are driven. We demand a lot, and they never complain. They work hard, pulling 10-hour days, giving up nights and weekends for research. They take criticism in stride. They motivate and inspire me with their dedication to getting the project done, and done right.

So, I thank Tim Hunt for being a sexist asshat (in front of journalists who promptly made sure it went viral), because it was a perfect reminder of how fortunate I am. My PI, and my university, believe strongly in encouraging good science, regardless of the gender of the person performing it. This has not only given me the opportunity to do my science;  it has also provided me with the honor and privilege of guiding other awesome women to do their science. I take all of that for granted, and I should not.

It all could have been very, very different. Sadly, there are a lot of Tim Hunts in this world, and in science.

If you’d like to see the brilliant response of scientists to these blatantly idiotic comments, check out this summary, or the hashtag #distractinglysexy on Twitter.

A P.S. to my troll: In case this was TL;DR for your wee little third-grade brain, I am a scientist who, in addition to my own work in pathogen evolution, trains other scientists, men and women. I may never win a Nobel, but one of them very well might. What have you done for the world lately?

wrapping up may

20150531_133718sm

summer colors! pity they didn’t last.

Another month down… and only 3 months to go! The scarf is 3/4 finished! Part of me is shocked at my own self: I never would have imagined that I’d last this long on such a monotonous project. Then again, I suppose that mindless knitting has been perfect for the past 9 crazy, hectic months.

Although we had a few hairy moments (like discovering the day before the poster was to be printed that we’d made it the wrong size), one of the students I mentor finished up her project, presented her research, and graduated with honors.

20150526_110318sm

Lab material completely graded, lab grades calculated and sent to the professor, all that was left was proctoring and grading the final exam. That was an unexpectedly positive experience, thanks to the “gimme” question that the professor tacked onto the end of the exam.

if 2 students out of 19 thought that i did a good job, i feel like i probably really DID.

if 2 students out of 19 thought that i did a good job, i feel like i probably really DID.

I even managed to ace that microbial ecology class.

With all of that done, I’d earned a few blissful days off – Wednesday through Sunday, to finish off May. Miracle of all miracles, even the weather cooperated, so I got my first beach day of the year.

20150529_174827

I spent most of the 5 days simply laying around the house, though, honestly. It just felt so damn good to be doing absolutely nothing. I didn’t even think about science.

And on Monday – a barely-50-degree, rainy June 1 – May over, break over, back to campus, and “summer” begins.

ahh, the first scientific failure of the summer!

ahh, the first scientific failure of the summer!

University-wide, the summer internship programs started on Monday. Our intern is – how is it put in Mary Poppins? – practically perfect in every way? Yes, that would be her. She’s responsible and willing to work, she’s genuinely nice, and she’s had so much prior lab experience that, on Day Four (today), she’s already working in the lab unsupervised. Bonus? She knits! I mean, as a mentor, how can I get any luckier?

Being completely serious, she’s making my job very easy this summer, and that’s always a welcome thing. Maybe I’ll even have time, energy, and focus to knit more! (Right!)