Monday, May 23, 2011

don't worry, be happy now

Oh Bobby McFerrin, how mesmerizingly you sing my counsel...

I've been abnormally exhausted the last few weeks.  As proof, I slept like a rock until 10am this Sunday.  It's stress, I'm sure, which shows glaringly in my consistently burning and bloodshot eyeballs.  It's stress, I'm sure, from work.

The day of my departure creeps ever closer (yes, with two months to go I'm already panicking), and my colleagues slash successors are not easing my nerves with their competence.  Ever aware of my capacity for excessive worry, I am trying to be the patient observer and not accuse anyone of , well, amateurishness.  This is increasingly difficult for me to do.  The urge to approach my boss and request the authority to tell my protégés that they are doing things totally wrong and that I refuse to pass on my legacy to them unless they change things is throbbing in my brain.


My internal monologue to my inveterate coworker goes something like this:
It is one thing to consistently force the colleagues with whom you share equipment to clean up after you.  That's just disrespectful on a peer level, like the time (last week) I mentioned your error, and witnessed its repeat no less than four hours later.  But when your neglect of expensive and sensitive apparatus results in its corrosion or other damage, you're disrespecting your boss and unnecessarily costing him many monies.  These monies should be on reserve for actual screw-ups.  The equipment is plenty capable of doing this on its own, thanks.   
When I leave, there will not be anyone to clean up after you before IACUC or the VMU folks drop by (or to forget to do so, for which mistake my ass has been burned several times).  Frankly, I've enjoyed that you are prompt with coffees and homemade treats to share in apology, but I urge you to bribe yourself with these things, for I will no longer be around to play the forgiving role, and you will have to take the heat from the higher-ups for your own mistakes.
In addition, I'm sorry to say, consistency of timing does indeed play a crucial role in behavioral data collection.  Specifically, if you begin testing a subject at 9am one day, you cannot then begin testing others in his cohort at 3pm the next round.  Hormones, circadian rhythms and neurotransmitter levels alike are in play here.  It is clear from your conduct that you may have forgotten this, despite your ten years of experience and self-touted expertise in animal research.  So I remind you and beg your to be cognizant of these variables in future.  
Please, please take to heart the things I am teaching you.  This research cannot afford for you to defy my every word to satisfy your ego.  I know you've been in the business much longer than I have, but I have been mastering these things which are new to you, and I will humbly argue that my experience with them gives me seniority.
To my new colleague/trainee:
If I may be so bold, it has come to the point where I can no longer tolerate your arguing with my methodology and telling me that every explanation I give you is wrong.  Lookit, bud; I have spent four years developing my techniques, optimizing and expanding them.  I am no idiot, and as much as it pains me to be arrogant, I do take ownership of this.  Having published five manuscripts based on my research and my techniques, written by my own hand, I'm pretty sure that the scientific world has at least begrudgingly accepted my analyses and interpretations.  I have been respectful of your questions, praising of your intelligence and encouraging of your perspective.  I had hoped that my example would be enough to convince you that it is ideal to respect your mentors and peers and their experience, but it seems that subtlety eludes you and I must take measures to be verbal... but not too verbal. 
Chill.  It'll make you a better scientist.  There are reasons that I do things a certain way, and, similarly, there are reasons that I do not do things certain other ways.  I am open to suggestions -- part of science is constantly optimizing and when I leave you will certainly improve upon what I have developed.  You may contest or challenge my rationale, but you may not blatantly tell me that I am wrong and you refuse to do it my way but that you have no idea why.  Sorry, bud.
Please, please take to heart the things I am teaching you.  This research cannot afford for you to defy my every word to satisfy your ego.  I know that you are fresh out of undergrad and think you know everything and the world is your oyster, but I have been mastering these things which are new to you, and I will humbly argue that my experience with them gives me seniority.
I stress because I worry (perhaps selfishly and egotistically) about my legacy collapsing when I leave --I hope that this is an exaggeration of the circumstances.  Mostly though, I stress about the amount of my work that is being passed on to my boss -- yes, my PI -- because my colleagues are not capable of learning the skillz.  Seriously.  I do not want to leave my boss in a situation where he is too overwhelmed to function.  The man is the reason I have any shot of being a good scientist.  He provided me with every opportunity under the academic sun, and I do not intend to leave his research teetering on a cliff.

Deo volente, I will refine these thoughts and project them in the upcoming weeks... ...

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Food of the Day: i drink coffee for my liver

I have trouble justifying my typical 2-4 cups of coffee a week.  No matter how diluted with rice milk, whether regular or decaf, there is no denying the less-than-ideal effect of the acids on my tummeh.

However, my average 36 oz of coffee a week has other benefits.

First of all, it magically suppresses nausea.  Secondly, it helps me to stave off hepatic cancer and chronic liver disease (Johnson et al 2011*).  And as anyone who has ever taken steroids or 6MP or been on chemo/biologic therapy knows, this is a handy dandy organ.  Specifically, Dr. Johnson and colleagues report that of their coffee-drinking cohort participants, those who drank 3+ cups of coffee per day on average had a 44% reduced risk of develpping hepatocellular carcinoma compared to those who never drank coffee.  As clinical studies go, 44% is a pretty big deal.

There are other reasons to drink coffee, such as its recent implication in protecting against prostate cancer, and the age-old [read: 6-year old] claim that coffee can protect lymphocytes from toxin-induced DNA damage (Steinkellner et al 2005Bichler et al 2007).  Suffice to say, there is ample support for moderate coffee consumption.

Folks, I needed an excuse to get my French roast fix.  Or Brazillian roast, or fair trade Guatemalan... really, it's whatever is being served at Journal Club.
* Johnson S, Koh WP, Wang R, Govindarajan S, Yu MC, & Yuan JM (2011). Coffee consumption and reduced risk of hepatocellular carcinoma: findings from the Singapore Chinese Health Study. Cancer causes & control : CCC, 22 (3), 503-10 PMID: 21258859

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Food of the Day: seaweed
It may or may not be apparent to most of my readers that it has been quite some time since I've blogged on a Food of the Day.  The reason is that, well, there are only so many foods a Crohn can eat [read: admit to eating].  Since I'm diving most enthusiastically into this fiber fest, it is time to give some hard-won and well deserved attention to seaweed.

Seaweed, to me, has always seemed a benign and healthy food for two reasons: 1) it is an algae, and algae is generally purported to have excellent mineral benefits, and 2) because seaweed makes Sushi more chopstick-friendly -- nigiri is very complicated because it is a 2-3 bite endeavor, and sashimi is too expensive to eat as often as I eat sushi.

I was, therefore, thrilled to learn that types of seaweed have direct benefits in both in vitro and in vivo models of IBD.  Fucoidan (brown seaweed extract), specifically the Cladosiphon okamuranus Tokida kind (collegially, Mozuka), has been shown to protect against the development of intestinal tumors in rats (Yamamoto and Maruyama 1985).  Even more exciting was that Mozuka inhibited interleukin-6 (IL-6) activity and down-regulated  NF-κin a model of colitis (Matsumoto et al 2004).  IL-6 and NF-κB are two of the primary triggers of intestinal inflammation.

Yet another study suggests that Mozuka inhibits the adhesion of Helicobacter pylori to an in vitro human gastric cell line (Shibata et al 1999).  Reports on the effects of Mozuka against H. pylori are, in fact, numerous: Shibata et al 2003, 2000; Nagaoka et al 2000).


But as you might imagine, Mozuka, being brown seaweed, is not sushi seaweed Nori.

Nori (stolen from -- read her awesome post!)

Nori saeaweed is rich in minerals such as calcium, zinc and iron (Shaw and Liu 2000) which are typically lacking in Crohns or persons with any digestive dysfunction.  Shaw and Liu also suggest that Nori helps the intestine to absorb minerals from other sources such as the Crohn-coveted magnesium.  It is also an excellent source of soluble fiber.

There are many other benefits of various seaweeds, but as you can see, this post is already quite orange.  I will continue to ingest my moderate portions of sushi, roasted nori and Wakame (in soups = nom!) without fear.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

fiber and loose ends

This post being about fiber, I thought it fitting to tie up -- or at lease re-lace -- a few loose ends (tehe...).

The ants have been Terminixed into oblivion (or scared away for the moment).  The rotting flesh has relented just enough to inspire the hope that it will one day be gone (I now have a sexy little bald spot -- fortunately hidden -- which I dare to dream will be refilled in the happy future).  And finally, my zest for experimental cooking has been reborn and outrageously fiber-themed.

In truth -- there was a day where I ate an egg, a kale and apple salad (uncooked... wtf?) and grilled asparagus.  It's like wishing for death by intestinal rupture.  But I've been on a good streek...

 That's not my beer.

The fear that I might have to resign from Remicade in the near future sparked a desire to reintroduce as much fiber into my diet as possible while I still can, and perhaps get to a point where I can rely on it for maintenance.  I have long been jealous of the folks who are able to maintain a level of comfort through the Simple Carbohydrate Diet, which I have never been able to do without catapulting into a flare or exciting a collective of food allergies.

Since the insane kale asparagus day, I have backed off somewhat, eating raw veggies only occasionally and always buffered by starch of some sort (yeah, the gluten-free thing didn't last too long either thanks to dear and shamefully neglected GERD), or Tofu.  Grilled julienned zucchini and seaweed is my new favorite lunch kit -- small, fast prep and consumption, filling enough.  The Lab forces me to eat healthier lunches anyway because I have this compulsion about not eating finger food between bench runs, and sometimes have to neglect my meal midway through to make time-sensitive sample transfers or solution adjustments.

Unfortunately, fiber -- particularly insoluble fiber, which is the star of this new dietary whim -- also leads to very unpleasant bus rides to and from work.  The kind of bus rides that I have mentioned before (so many times, in fact, that it should really be its own tag term).  The kind of bus rides that elevate anxiety and provoke daydreams of flowing off of public transit in a deluge of... well, let's keep this PG-rated, shall we?  Fiber alters [read: lengthens] my schedule in order to accommodate new time slots between meals in which it is safe to travel.  The starch buffer helps to a degree.

Yes, that is an ice Lego minifig in my BenchFly mug of diet soda (allow a woman some indulgences...).

Is it worth it?  Are the long-term benefits of eating healthier foods during this pain-free window going to have efficacy?  I like to think of the inconvenience as analogous to a woman who wears anti-ergonomic heals despite the arch aches and blisters, and to hope that I wont later appear to myself as ridiculous as she does to me.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

why I blog

It appears that this blog, which I have always thought to have pretty low readership given the specialization of its topics, has received some recognition.  The Nursing School Blog has recently listed How We Cant Eat Anything in their "Top 40 Blogs for Crohn's Support".  How cool, and how humbling to receive such recognition!  It inspired me to expatiate a bit about why it is that I blog.

When I first began How We Cant Eat, it was intended to be a source of support and humor (amidst myriad complaints and woe-is-me's, of course) for other Crohns.  In particular, I had hoped to reach out to other Crohns and anyone with AI  Sidekicks (autoimmunity, not to be confused with artificial intelligence) who were pursuing a similar career path to myself; that is, Science.

During my period of darkness which began in August of 2009 (see archives), I had scoured any and all resources for proof that it could be done, this juggling of chronic health tempestuousness with the scientific research and graduate student lifestyle.  I found (at the time) no such accounts, and decided to create my own in the hope of attracting protagonists of a similar vein.  The accounts I did find, however, have been -- and remain -- extraordinary comforts and testimonies of empowerment (see "Crohnies and Foodies" and "Science Coterie" blogrolls, and here).

Today, my reasons for blogging have evolved slightly.  First of all, I'm actually about to enter into that mysterious land of pre-doctoral scientific research, and will be equipped to comment on the maintaining of balance.  Twoly, I hope to continue to contribute to the discussion of tips, successes and failures, keeping hold of a proactive state of mind and body, and obstacle negotiation methodology.  It has been hugely beneficial to me thus far, and I can only hope that readership and discussion will continue to grow.  Perhaps this recent link love from The Nursing School Blog will not only buffer readership of  How We Can't Eat, but through doing so connect its humble narrator to many more such catalogs of the journey of balancing AI Sidekicks with successfully (at least sometimes) chasing one's passions.

I love to write, I love science, and I love trouble-shooting.  The latter is a large part of my ruminations on Crohn's disease as well as research, and wh'ver the twain shall meet.  How We Can't Eat is also a juxtaposition of my entirely science/media oriented blog, How We Are Hungry.  I write in that blog purely for the pleasure of deliberation, to develop my scientific voice, and (pardon the blatant allusion) out of hunger for any extraction from the intricate puzzles of universe through the scientific lens.

Afternote: Please plug your blog if it does not already appear on either of my blogrolls!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011


See those 2.2 red lines in the left hand document?  That is what I've accomplished today.  Somebody shoot me in the foot.  Do it quick so I can have an excuse to go outside and recalibrate.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

pleasant surprises

It doesn't surprise people that I was a gymnast and dancer for most of my life.  I have a gymnast's short, thick build.  You can tell that I had muscle definition once.  My thumbs by default fold in slightly when I walk, and I do that thing walking downhill where my toes point outward and the ball of my foot hits pavement first, which weirds people out.

The person it does catch off guard is me.  Every so often I remember that I once was a ball of energetic artistry.  I chose to remember today.

The last several days I have felt myself plummeting into a frequency of sporadic depression.  The PWD kind (previous posts on which I have not tagged --denial--).  Somewhere between half-watching that masterpiece of theater and screenplay, Vertical Limit, while reading yet more horribly depressing articles about the aftermath of Osama, I decided that enough was enough.

So today, I dove whole-heartedly into protein assays and the first sections of my next manuscript, came home and paid homage to my Once Self.

I pumped the Reggae and broke out one of the hip hop warm-up routines that I used to teach to intermediates.  On the treadmill.  Win.