Wednesday, April 27, 2011

how Crohn's made me a better scientist

Many people are able to recognize their type-A personalities early on in young adulthood.  Type-A folks always make better scientists, we all thought.  Not so with yours truly.  I spent much of my responsible years thinking that I couldn't possibly be type-A because my memory was not terrific and I habitually make small-to-moderate sized mistakes.  Not long ago, I realized how type-A that thought was.

There were other signs: I always wanted to be the group leader because I didn't trust anyone else to get 'er done, but I was very conscientious of bossiness; I needed to have an organized schedule, but it didn't need to be the same day in and day out; I am only ever early or on time, but never late.  Ultimately, the driving force of these tendencies is actually Crohn's.

needing to know where the nearest restroom is...

scheduling things perfectly so that there is always room for a five minute Throughput break... or an hour long retreat to a hidden spot to wait for the pain to go away... or doctor appointments...

scheduling time for food prep... bringing food to places where I know I wont be able to find edible things...

These things necessitate the very efficient scheduling of experiments and juggling of multiple procedures, and allow me to transition "easily" between technical mode (bench) and theory mode (grants and manuscripts).

However, I try to remain flexible.  Science is anything but predictable, so when things go wrong or results are totally unexpected, I thrive because my particular type-A-ness is most enthusiastically channeled through trouble-shooting.  Or, H.K. and I often plan trips that turn into spontaneous (mis)adventures, which I love.

Interestingly, this does not cross over into the more irritating "things that go wrong": for instance, my gripe today is that Dr. Derm "jumped the gun" in diagnosing my Staph-infected psoriasis last week, and found out this morning that "the rest of the culture" showed that what I have is in fact resistant to the antibiotics he prescribed me.  I'm soo glad to have already taken 5 days of unnecessary antibiotics that make my gut hurt on top of everything else.  So glad.  And extra happy about not getting refunded for my doctor's eff-up.

Someday, I hope to trouble-shoot these most irritating instances of being screwed over more efficiently. (although I must say, my little cry over the ant horde last night helped my ceaselessly-bloodshot eyes immensely!)

Grumble.  Rediscover the terrible music I listened to in high school.  Move on.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011


I effing hate ants.  This afternoon marks a peak incident in the rising number of the pests who have over-ridden my bathroom, living room and kitchen each morning and afternoon for the last several weeks.  Maybe it's because I worked a very long and labor-intense day.  Maybe it's because I had coffee this morning and am still on-edge.  Maybe it's because I'm tired of planting spiders in various corners of my home and willing them to gorge themselves (yes, I actually do this and spiders have become so my friends through Spring that I do so with my bare fingers).

Maybe it's just because I came home and walked into my kitchen and stepped on a two-inch thick trail of ants leading from behind the fridge to the [sealed] garbage and recycling bins (it is of note that the traps that I set in the crevice between the fridge and wall were totally desolate).  Perhaps it has something to do with my being startled into jumping for safety to an ant-free zone and looking down to see that I had skipped onto yet another trail of ants -- headed, seemingly, to my dishwasher.

I would even go so far as to speculate that it has something to do with my spending 25 minutes (yes, I clocked this shit) vacuuming up ant trails, taking out the garbage and recycling and Lysoling every inch of linoleum.  This was precious energy that I so carefully preserved throughout the day, and which I had hoped to use to run this evening after a long day of standing at the bench and staring into hours worth of statistical manipulation.  It could, however, also be because when I re-entered the kitchen with emptied/Lysoled bins, the two-inch thick trail of ants had entirely replenished itself...

It could be because of any of the above reasons that I am now feeling totally defeated, exhausted and not chillaxed.  However, I think it was walking out of my kitchen feeling that I had finally won the battle, plopping heavily onto my couch and seeing that my living room carpet was alive with tiny black beasts that ultimately did me in.  I just gave up and cried into the couch pillow.

In a history of 9 houses/apartments, I have never seen anything like this.  I cannot wait to move out of this miserably maintained crap hole.

Nothing like a little H.K. humor and some garlic broccoli to  lighten a girl's heart.  Isn't it something that I am more likely to be undone by ants than by Crohn's?..

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Just another serenader

What am I going to do in three months when I can't cure my ails with days like this?  I do love to be in the ocean, truly, but nothing revives like a PNW river.

We had a heart to heart last night, H.K. and I.  He's scared, which puts the situation in a startling new light for me.  The process of decay is not easy to hide, nor do I consistently give it my best effort in front of H.K., poor thing.  It was necessary for him to express his worry, I think, for me to remove myself from brooding and take initiative (read: wait more optimistically for my GI appt. at the end of May).  This is not an unbeatable foe; it requires only the cooperation of my physicians and a plan of attack that can be undertaken successfully within three months, because hell if I'm going to be thrown back into the darkness of 2009 before the move south... and hell if it's going to make me put off school for another year.  It's hard to keep in mind that I'm not a unique scenario, just another serenader... on lots of antibiotics.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Perspiration stains and varicose veins...

Manuscript accepted.  Data collected; results surprisingly awesome.  Small miracles.

But at the end of the day, no matter how it sparkles, I wind up in front of the bathroom mirror for twenty minutes massaging and inspecting brittle bones and applying every kind of imaginable medication to my various districts of rotting flesh.  Throughput is a background distraction. 

New developments this evening: yet another cavity creeping up from below my gums on that one tooth that is barely standing and cost me a fortune to keep and cap (whom I have dubbed FitzMolar, as he has proven wholly illegitimate), and "pretty severely" Staph-infected scalp psoriasis.  Thank you Universe for that call just prior to supper -- although, it probably saved me from my deep immersion in #scimom blogs and the depressing daydream of what a magnificent father H.K. would be and what a terrible idea it is for me to consider engendering spawn.

Funny how quickly all the glory washes away and I crawl into bed seriously contemplating dentures and the removal of my uterus. 

My eyes look shot, my belly's got a pot and there's a pimple on my nose...

I am the Entertainer

I luvs nausea-free mornings.  I luvs them.

Today is Behavior Day, which marks the highly anticipated culmination of five weeks of therapy for my most venerable participants.  It also means that for the next ten hours, I will sit down perhaps once, juggle a protein assay whilst crunching data between behavioral tests, and probably not eat until supper.  I might even present said data to my boss before attempting to toss together an abstract to submit to SfN 2011 before the deadline in two weeks.  Maybe.

And I will most definitely be checking in on Wiley to see if my most recent manuscript re-submission has been accepted.

One must take advantage of days like this.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Crohn's, Parkinson's and hypochondriasis

Typically, I post research reviews in HWAH, but today's report involves a degree of hypochondriasis which I deem too personal for the "professional" demeanor of HWAH.

The first article that I read this morning was a report on two case studies of young women who developed Parkinsonism (PD) after adalimumab (Humira) treatments (there was, of course, mention of a similar case associated with Infliximab (Remicade)).  Wouldn't it be funny, I thought, if my Crohn's treatments lead me to develop the disease whose study launched my research career?  I decided that it would be ironic, but not funny.

Naturally, only MRI scans and Unified Parkinson's Disease Rating Scale (UPDRS) scores were reported.  No biomarkers, no longitudinal coverage.  I do appreciate case studies and understand their valuable contribution to biomedical science, but it always bothers me that they feel so incomplete.

The causal relationship was primarily based on motor symptoms developing after 7 mos. (Case 1) or 11 mos. (Case 2) of Humira therapy.  The cited Remicade case showed symptoms only 1 week following a first treatment.  And though Parkinson's cannot be ruled out in the first two cases, many studies of early-onset PD are associated with the Parkin gene mutation, good response to levodopa therapy, and slower progression compared to late-onset PD.  This suggests to me that since no biomarkers were reported in the current study, it is equally possible that early-onset PD was already en route to phenotype and possibly exacerbated by the TNFalpha blockers.  In defense of this hypothesis, both case studies responded well to Carbidopa/levodopa.

Who says that only medical students get Medical Student Disease?  With all the allergy symptoms that I've developed over the last six months, why not add potential PD to the list?  Granted, I've been on Remicade for 18 mos. now with no perceivable motor impairments, but what's to say that it wont manifest later on?  After all, my allergy symptoms were comparatively delayed.  If I weren't moving and beginning graduate school in the next few months, I would drop Remicade and experiment with supplement and diet maintenance.  The reason that this is a bad idea is that I will likely relapse as I have so often done on supplement and diet plans, make miserable the 22 hr. drive down to Southern Cal, and cause me to fail out of school within my first term.  So plz, PD, stay away until I'm at least 60.  Thx.
Ha AD, & Jankovic J (2011). Parkinsonism and dystonia associated with adalimumab. Movement disorders : official journal of the Movement Disorder Society PMID: 21495070

Sunday, April 17, 2011


Spring has sprung.  It is still mostly gray, rainy and often sleety.  It is still invariably no more than 55 degrees at the warmest parts of the day.  But... the ants are out.  A sure sign of Spring.

I am grateful that our bug infestations in the PNW exclude scorpions, bed bugs and brown recluses.  However, I can't bring myself to be at peace with waking up on the couch to a horde of ants crawling up my afghan and in my hair.

Neither can I abide waking up in the morning and coming downstairs to a kitchen that seems to be alive with an entire anthill.  Not a crumb of food or dirty dish to be seen, mind you.  The entire counter space, stove top and empty sink were crawling.   (and it is of note that the fruitbowl on said counter space that held two ripe bananas was devoid of any Hymenoptera).

Thank goodness that Sunday is Adventure Day.  We wiped out the horde, hopped in the car and headed north.  Lego store, bit of hiking, and Phở.  Standard.  Phở is always good for H.K.'s sinuses and my nausea.  The exercise is not so much, although as I think I've mentioned, that will hardly stop me.  The nausea is settling into its Springtime routine; it swells after I've eaten [anything], when I have forgotten to eat [anything] for more than five hours, and is exacerbated when my sinuses flare.  Bring it on -- I'm armed with Phở, Netti Pot, five kinds of nasal spray and even more variations of antihistamine.

We arrived home to find that the counter tops had been resurfaced with a fledgling ant colony 1/3 the size of what we encountered this morning.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

in which ambition is met with not so positive reinforcement

The PNW continues to sweep the skies with both effulgent blue and hail.  And it makes me think I have special powers or some such chimerical baloney.  This afternoon, feeling especially accomplished after a long day, I came home and ran.  And felt great about it.  And lasted for a whole 2 miles.  And then collapsed on the couch like a dead tree.  A repulsive dead tree untouched even by organisms of decay, and with a coelom full of turbulent sea water that has no business being there.  Nausea, heartburn, colon spasm; the whole gang came to partay.  I can't even keep tea down right now, but at least my fatigue feels warranted.  I may not eat for a day or so after this one.

Why is it that I am most motivated to exercise, or run errands or do chores when I feel [physically] most miserable?  It's almost as if when comfort sets in I'm perfectly happy to just sit back and enjoy it.  Then, when the rotten feelings come I feel an extra push to run myself into the ground in order to beat them at their own game.  Except most of the time I don't feel better for it afterward.  Or maybe the ambition is just a side effect of the sunshine... In any case, despite this [not so] positive reinforcement that now has me desperately pinned to the hard, flat, motionless couch cushions, somehow I don't think I'll be deterred from running again tomorrow afternoon unless an icy storm hits.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

publishing misnomers

Some may recall that last year when I got married I put an excruciating amount of thought into changing my name, both legally and professionally.  I ended up deciding to publish as Name Initial Maiden-Initial Last.  It has since become apparent that I made the wrong decision.

With this new outpour of publications and grants, my family has realized that they are substantially upset that since my maiden name is represented only as an initial, I am not recognizable as their kin.  I have that distinctive maiden name where I'm related to everyone else in the world who has it, and my family is very upset that it is not represented.  They didn't care nine months ago before I had published or been awarded anything, but feelings change with press coverage...

The obvious solution to this is to scrap Name Initial Maiden-Initial Last and use Name Maiden Last from now on.

A brief refresher on why I did not do this in the first place:
1) Publishing with two last names (and no, Maiden does not pass for an obvious middle name) confuses potential "referencers" who would proceed to cite me incorrectly.  This leads to a dual body problem: one "Last, NameInitial.MaidenInitial." and one "Maiden-Last, NameInitial."... and being two people is not ideal;
2) Publishing with two last names confuses potential bosses who would proceed to not figure out how to administer my paychecks and W2s correctly;
3) I can't hyphenate because I don't legally have two last names, and hell if I'm going to go through that legal name-change bullshit again to do something that I didn't want to do in the first place.
Although all these points remain totally valid, I may have to throw all caution to the wind and change my publishing name.  Indeed, the very thing I thought I had avoided with my previous reasoning.  When I first changed my name, I had no publications yet and it didn't matter.  But now, I'm wrapping up revisions on my fifth manuscript, and I have two (publicized) fellowships.  Good thing that in five years no one will remember my first five manuscripts and two fellowship awards anyway?...

Monday, April 11, 2011

blue skies, hail, nausea and wine

Monday mornings never sink me like they do many people in my midst.  Usually, I'm excited to begin whatever needs beginning on Mondays.  This morning has not been my average Monday.

It's beautiful outside, with a classically PNW combination of blue skies and hail.  It's very fitting with my acid jazz and manuscript-writing ambiance.  What doesn't fit is this biting maelstrom of nausea and acid reflux that I've had since last week (boosted, indubitably, by Boardgame Night's over-the-top partaking of 4 glasses of wine Saturday evening.. oops).

The manuscript is in the "accepted pending revisions" phase, as I choose to interpret it.  So in a mish-mosh of protein analysis, scoping and drug administration, I'm finalizing my fourth first author paper.  It's not that I don't enjoy this kind of day, sans the physical irritations, but I want nothing more than to sit at home in my calmly lit reading chair with a huge pot of tea and my book about George, Nicholas and Wilhelm and the events leading up to WWI, pop a promethazine and wait for sleep to catch me before emesis does.

But I will resubmit this manuscript first.

It's a Moondog kind of day.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

fellowships and grants -- pre-graduate

You know that feeling you get when people give you money?  Like, real money?  The kind of money that supports three years of research (read: three years of stipend) and makes your resume look really pretty?  Well, I do now.  Two months ago I was awarded a Fellowship from the graduate program at which I will be starting in the fall...

This morning, along with monstrous cramps and nausea, I received an email from NSF congratulating me on receiving a prized NSF GRFP grant.

...say what?

Please understand:  I wrote this grant before being admitted to a graduate program.  I did NOT expect to receive it.  I was hoping with all of my might that I would get onto the "honorable mention" list.  I am totally blown away.

Though I was not yet in a graduate program during the application process, I was very fortunate to have my boss' input as well as guidance from a former NSF GRFP applicant and awardee.  Below are the primary points which guided my application:

Research Proposal
1.  Format:
Two to three Specific Aims described with experimental approach
Brief conclusion describing implications
2.   Specific Aims #2-3 cannot depend on the outcome of Specific Aim #1

3.   Do NOT emphasize clinical translation; NSF is not interested in funding biomedical work.  For example, if you are proposing to study a model of Parkinson's disease, write about "neurodegeneration" or "stimulating neuroplasticity".

4.  Give brief, clear descriptions of things specific to your project very early on.  Your reviewers will be familiar with your field (e.g, Neuroscience), but do not assume that they will be familiar with specifics (e.g., substantia nigra, tyrosine hydroxylase).

5.  If you are an undergraduate, or an RA, write about a project that you would like to do.  In my case, I proposed a project based out of my boss' lab on the off chance that I would stay here for graduate school.  Because I ended up entering a program at a different institution (and have yet to even begin rotations), the project will change.  The GRFP understands this and is more interested in funding the scientist than the project.  As long as you submit your updates to them, and acknowledge NSF funding in abstracts and publications, you are set.

Research History
1.  Don't try to be too creative.  NSF is interested in anything you have ever done in scientific research, and how those things have brought science to the broader community.

2.  That's... that's really about the gist of it.  Find further suggestions at Philip Guo's blog.

Personal Statement
1.  Two thirds of this essay was paraphrased from my graduate school statement of purpose.  Communicate who you are as a budding scientist.

2.  The final third of my essay talked about my leadership experiences and how they had impacted the greater community (e.g., climate change activism, national affiliations and how they have influenced my scientific collaborations thus far).

* Happy to email out pdfs of my essays to anyone interested in a sample.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Remicade, and other stories

In a striking turn of events, I feel like a bag of bones today.  A very nauseous, very tired, ever so slightly irritable bag of bones.

My umpteenth Remicade infusion was Saturday, and I left the hospital feeling ill, which typically does not happen.  Full disclosure; I did enter the infusion clinic preemptively concerned about having developed Remicadibodies and having an allergic reaction.  This manifestation stemmed from my sort-of-recent hyper-allergenic condition (read: psoriasis, dermatitis, new mouse allergies, hives).  While there was no immediate reaction to be seen -- bummer -- I did not feel well for hours afterward.  In fact, I did not feel well for any part of Sunday either.  And, in case reiteration is necessary, I do not feel well today.

It is highly unlikely that this is more attributable to Remicade than to the gluttonous amounts of [cooked] leafy greens I've been eating of late.  I would even stretch to suggest it might be a result of the increased carb-heavy (read: salty, sugary, processed) foods whose ingestion I have defended on the basis of not being able to chew anything with much of a texture (potentially making the leafy greens an even more obvious culprit).  Thanks to Remicade, I'm not in very much pain, but those manifold side effects are aggregating.

And yet, this bag of bones was here at work promptly at 7am processing tissue samples and simultaneously probing nitrocellulose membranes.  This means I have what it takes to survive six years of this work load ten fold in graduate school, yes?..