is a graduate student working on her PhD in Chemistry(and quite possibly soon switching to chemical engineering). She works on instrumentation(building and application), biotech, microfab,nanotech, nanoparticles, drug delivery, cancer research, medical engineering(med instrumentation, better contrast agents, faux tissues etc)
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Hello gentle readers… or something. So I know I have been very, very quiet as of late, on twitter, on labspaces, etc. Well, I have had a rough few months, and sort of reclused myself from the world to deal with it all. I had to put everything else on hold and take care of business. My physical friends have seen very little of me as well, but I think I have everything under control now, and have time once again to delve into the world. So here is the low down on my insane life:
I’ve been having a hard time in my lab group. Miss Jade has been more help than I could ever say; I owe her huge thanks because she has been a great sounding board for advice, and I am happy to say I took it and am in a much better place because of it. So first, things in my lab group were getting rough. I know there is snide politics everywhere, but - I wasn’t shielded from any of it (to put it lightly). The work became rather uninteresting, and my capacity as PhD student rode on the line of technician. Plus, we did all research on one instrument and there were 5 of us vying for time on it. No data could be done except on that instrument, and each experiment run to set up etc. would take between 8-12 hours… I am sure at this point you are seeing some of the problems we were having.
I started getting sick in March, and put off dealing with it, hoping it would just go away, because I had so much to do. Department was pushing me to take qualifying exams, I was sitting in on 2 classes, taking 2 classes, and still teaching during all of this as well. Needless to say, it did not go away, and finally after about 3 weeks I woke up with a fever, not being able to breathe. In all my wisdom, I finally went to the doctor. I had sinusitis, bronchitis, and fluid in my left lung. I was ordered two days bed rest, or else they would hospitalize me. I chose the bed rest. The antibiotics they threw me on kicked my ass, and I had a bad reaction to them on my last 2 doses... Let’s just put it this way: I turned yellow. Awesome. But I pushed on whatever. It was end of semester and my obligations were only getting steeper, and no one was giving me a break, so I pushed forward and eventually I got better. The antibiotics did their nasty work, and I cleared up. Yay! Even though I tried my best, I still fell behind in one of my very difficult classes and will have to re-take it. Also, the last week of school I fell into a mud pit on a hike while trying to keep a pug from drinking nasty water, pulled ligaments in my ankle and knee, and pulled a muscle in my hip. But now I am all healed up - it took about two weeks of bandages, and my little brother checking me out (he’s a physical therapist now), to walk normal.
So during all this I started looking for a new lab. Lots was going on that made me decide on this - some politics, etc - but I won’t whine and air dirty laundry. I wasn’t happy, and this wasn’t the place for me to become successful as a scientist. I needed to have some ideas though, before I decided to tell my then boss I was leaving. I had a co-advisor as well, and I couldn’t ask him for advice without my boss finding out. I needed to be certain that I wanted to leave and it wasn’t just the grass seeming greener somewhere else. I wanted to be sure of my decisions. A few more things were revealed to me during this time, and I really was sick of it all, so I finalized my decision and went to my co-advisor. He, frankly, wasn’t surprised, and set me up with 5 interviews with different professors, and all very good I must say. Glad he thinks highly enough of me to do that. I interviewed with all of them, and one really stuck out to me (and I did get job offers with all of them, I am proud to say). He is in the chemical engineering department, builds amazing instruments and does cancer research, and plays with nanoparticles. I grow giddy at the thought. He liked me and my weird background, and I liked him and his work, so we made a deal. I am now in his group, still getting all the paperwork together for it, but its official: I have my own lab space, desk, etc!
His research is right up my alley - utilizes all my strengths and skills, and teaches me some extra while building on my base, and pushes me further. One caveat that it looks like I will have to most likely do (due to my own interests and some politics) is switch my PhD to chemical engineering, which is fine by me. It’s more up my alley, and I am totally into application of science rather than research. I see nothing wrong in research; it’s just not my thing. I need to have a goal, and I need to use what I make. So here is where the bizarre workings of my life come in. I sit down with my then boss to tell him my final decision and what has been done, fully prepared to be fought, ready for god-knows-what to be thrown at me. I had literally snuck in at night and emptied my desk of all valuables (let’s just say that, given his reputation, he would not be above something devious like that). I sit, spill my guts, and he says okay, he will fill out all I want, and write letters etc - because no one knows (this hit my co-advisor really hard when he got the news, and when I left the room they were arguing, damn I wish I was there for it) that he, a tenured professor, is leaving the uni within 6 months. He is actually relieved at the news, because he wasn’t sure what to do with me, so he will help establish me in any lab, and do whatever he needs to do to make it smooth. My mouth gapes. I slowly shut it, thank him, and scuttle out the door. I know his amicability is synthetic, but whatever - we both come out looking good. I don’t look like the bitchy American girl that couldn’t hack it, and he looks like he didn’t leave his student high and dry. Good deal. This just recently happened, within the last 2 weeks.
So here’s the next big thing, and hopefully the last big event in my life for a LONG time. God I am tired. I had a meeting with a specialist, that took months to get to, and long story short I needed surgery. Ack - never had a surgery in my life, nor been under anesthesia, so I had a slight freak-out. Plus, it was dealing with my lovely reproductive system that seems to give me nothing but hell. I have very painful periods, and my new specialist (OB/GYN, very good in my neck of the woods) was very concerned that at my age nothing had helped me, and no one had done anything concrete except throw me the occasional pain killer script and try to prescribe me antidepressants… Which is obvious, right? I complain of pain; I must be depressed and crazy. Seriously, for at least 12-13 years doctors have been trying to send me to therapists and give me antidepressants. Not that I am against them and don’t think they are a valid treatment, but my point is that I came in complaining of severe pain and not a doctor took me seriously. The pain has made me pass out at times, and I have become severely dehydrated from it. I had one doctor try to explain that everyone felt pain differently, and my “bad” pain might not be so bad at all… Oh, yay. Birth control didn’t help, it just made me into a fat and miserable old bitch, and the periods kept getting worse. This past year I could feel how much worse they were getting each time. The pain would start a week before I even started to feel what I came to call “the big pain”. So, about 2 weeks out of the month I was in degrees of moderate to severe pain, and only taking ibuprofen because I do not like taking medications unless it’s really necessary. Plus, I had to function; as scientists, grad students, and researchers, we know that life doesn’t stop. Plus, who was going to take my girl troubles seriously? I have had people tell me to get over it, man up, whatever phrase… Oh, my favorite is “every woman has it, and they deal with it”.
Anyways, long story short, no one took my pain to be something as debilitating as it truly was. This past year it became unbearable. I could hardly function, and each month there was much trepidation because it was getting worse. My mum has a good friend, a top doctor in my state, who knew of a really good OB/GYN (who is also top in the state), and said she was sensible etc. She sent my name in, and I was able to get a new patient appointment with no questions asked. I went in, after a 2 month wait to get the appointment, and then things went fast. The usually conservative doctor wanted to do a laparoscope. She, of course, first did an internal ultrasound that was inconclusive really, then planned the surgery. Folks, I cannot tell you how hard to go through with it was. I tried and tried canceling it, but stopped myself just in time. I freaked out. I knew all the death and brain damage stats, I knew how unnatural this type of “sleep” was, and my control freak self had to give all control to 2 other people, my fantastic doc and the anesthesiologist. Holy shit balls, my biochemistry is weird in itself, and I was freaked out. I was given a sedative before my surgery (thank god); I became a crying mess, which is not usual for me, so I’m glad no one but the doctors had to see. I really thought I would not wake up.
So I get to the hospital, freak out, and then the anesthesiologist comes and talks with me - a no nonsense woman who could direct a very scary German army - and she calms me right down. Someone must have tipped her off that I am a chemist because, thank the lord, she spoke my language. She talked to me about chemicals monitoring systems, and how I would have a handy dandy mass spec reading every particulate I breathed in and breathed out. Mass spec was the right thing to say; I trust that damned technology. Then she told me about the cabana…place…with boys… I would go to. I was sold. My fantastic and very Italian doctor gave me the pep talk of a lifetime. She said “You are like me, and must always have control. But you need to get over it when it comes to doing what’s best for yourself. This is what I tell myself in the mirror: ‘Paolo, stop being silly and let go, it is what is best.’” And she hugged me, and I let go. I woke up to the best OR nurses a gal could ask for, poor ladies… I apparently peed in a bed pan for all to see. They wouldn’t let me get up, and I had to pee, so I had the bed pan and had no shame. Good thing the C-section lady hadn’t made it in my room yet. I did end up having a horrible reaction to the anesthesia, which made me sea sick. I couldn’t sit up without the world spinning. Think of your worst hang over, and multiply it by ten. Other than that, the surgery was a success.
So results of what they found were rather incredible. The doc said she had no idea how I could function, or even stand up, due to the painful side effects of what she found. First, my abdomen was filled with endometrial tissue, which explained the new symptom of back pain starting in. It was pressing on organs, bowels, etc. Then the kicker - and she said she had never seen anything like it before, so my insides may end up in a medical textbook near you. My whole ureter was covered in an ulcerated bleeding bundle of tissue, basically a big bleeding tumor (benign of course, but growing, because it was composed of endometrial tissue; I will have more info after my post-op appointment). She said it was like having a gaping wound inside of me. She said that alone should render me incapacitated. Blah. So she cleaned me up, and did the best she could on the ureter - but because of the location, it’s a rough spot. She said if I had waited any longer, the possibility could have been a crushed ureter. Yeah. We both were so angry that it took almost 15 years for someone to help me and take it seriously. I mean, I have even had doctors laugh at me. Hysterical depressed woman my ass. Now we have to do very aggressive treatments to slow the growth of the endometrial tissue. Ideally it all needs to come out; the longer I have my reproductive parts the more dangerous this becomes. I will have to have another surgery. For now I will be staring a regimen of Lupron, which will put me essentially into menopause for 6 months at a time (any longer is dangerous to bone health etc). So I will cycle each year months on and 6 months off. I have about 5 years to make reproductive decisions. After that I need to know whether I will be trying for progeny or not. I am not decided right now, and don’t feel ready to make that decision for myself, which is why I am keeping my lady bits longer.(And had an IUD placed)
Everything is managed, so it’s not terrible. I am glad I have time to make that decision, and that I CAN make that decision. It’s scary when you think it’s being taken away, even if you didn’t think you would have kids. So now I am recovering, which also sucks ass. I hate being so helpless, and I want to do stuff but cannot. No lifting objects over 10lbs, and no moving around too much. Today is my first real day back to work, and I’m leaving early. Luckily there’s very little running and jumping involved in the land of research. Basically I am allowed to carry my laptop in. I am excited to be in a new department, and have amazing work to do. Very happy with how everything is going and how everyone is treating me. Future is looking good. New lab, new wonderful projects, new PhD direction, new health outlook, less pain and new peace of mind. Plus I have a pretty awesome scar coming out my belly button. :) Thanks, all, for your patience, and you will be hearing much more from me. I apologize for the silence.
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That's an exciting and scary half of a year! Good luck in the new lab.
I've heard similar horror stories along the same lines as you experienced with doctors telling girls that their pain was all in their head and they were just depressed. However, you'd think that after 15 years of you telling doctors the same thing over and over again that they'd send you to a specialist to get everything checked out. Its very sad that you had to deal with that for so long.
Like I said before, you've given me the push to have my ladybits checked out, especially since my periods are not only a source of pain, but anger and depression ... and I cannot take the drugs that make the pain go away. It's seriously been like that for half of my life, and indeed I've had doctors laugh at me. Douchebags. Thanks for posting and I am so glad a lot of the nasty stuff is out of the way. From here up. Thanks for sharing! Glad you're doing better in so many ways :-).
Wow -- you've been through quite a lot lately! I'm glad to hear that you've gotten yourself a new productive lab, and hopeful that you've got the worst of your medical issues sorted out.
Some doctors can be real jerks! My wife has had chronic problems and had even specialist doctors who were discounting her symptoms as psychological, though they never came out and said it. I encouraged her to look for a new doctor, because at the very least a doctor should be willing to treat your concerns with respect and assume first and foremost that you have a genuine problem without automatically assuming its nothing.
Anyway, best wishes and glad to hear (read) you again!
Wow. Sounds like you're on an upward trend though. Hope it continues ;)
@Brian Yeah its been a crazy few months things seiem to finally be settling, will be much happier pnce my body is recovered
The doctors said a couple time begrudgingly that they could do a laprascope for me if I wanted but find it unnecessary I am too young to have real problems. Not someone I wanted touching me ever. It was crazy. This was the first doctor that said your pain is unatural and I wil find out why you have it no matter what it takes. Wow. So i truste dher she was ooking out for me and not scoffing at me and telling me to suck it up.
@27andPhD I am so happy my story helped, if one person can benefit from this I am more than happy.Go get it checked and find a doctor you trust and that believes you, and that you are comfoortabe with. Its so relieving to finally be taken seriously and the worst is sometimes i felt maybe I was crazy you know.
@Dr. SkySkull thank you much for your support. Its good to be back. So much craziness and relief to see my problems were valid. I am sorry your wife had to go thru such a time as well. Its frustrating. Its about doctor patient relationship as well. You have to trust your doctor and believe that they have good intentions for you as well. If a doctor doesnt believe you its harder for them to treat you. I hope things resolve for her and good luck. Thanks again!
@Psycasm Thank you much!
I'm really glad the lab situation was resolved. It's great to be excited about work again and to not have any additional drama over changing. As for the medical issue, that's too bad it went on for so long. I'm glad you are finally on the road to getting better.
And that picture is awesome!
Thanks Jade! The lab drama is down to nill which his so refreshing, no wtrying to get myself situated and working. Glad you like the picture I took it hiking last summer. Beautiful hikes in this area. Take care!
What an incredible time you have been through, and are finally able to begin working out of. Both of these major events are things that the part of me that is not in denial is terrified will happen to me when I enter my graduate program this year. I know what it is to be in pain most of the time, sometimes excruciating, and you are dealing with it brilliantly, which is its own form of being in control. My personal thanks for sharing this intimate experience, because it is immensely encouraging to know that it can be done.
Warmest regards as you continue to beat the beast and revitalize your passion for science.
1) You are one tough lady!
2) I can understand why doctors might have a vested interest in thinking something difficult to diagnose is not real. I can't undersand laughing at a patient though. GRR!
Wow that was a tough few months - I feel bad about being such a baby about my period cramps! (they last no more than a day and are not really more than mere discomfort). I'm glad everying is working out and wish you all the best in the future. I have never met anyone who has swtiched labs and regretted it.
@ragamuffin its rough I dealt with it so long it was part of life i was scrambling two weeks working till I dropped because I knew the next two weeks I would only be able to do bare minimum. There is a point that you can't and it eats at you. You are very welcome, I hope it helps you so your experience gets better noone should have to live in pain. And thank you very much for the kind words.
@Becca Thank you much! I agree with you and its scary for doctors if they cannot help a patient, I don't think they knew how bad it was because I kept functioning and I know some were scared I was med seeking etc. I just get upset when the pain made me pass out and I literally was dehydrated from it and ended up in the ER, and still. I don't know I get some of teh reactions but the snarky comments and laughter pissed me off.
@Dr. G Any pain is ok to "whine" about :) Doesn't matter its not fun being uncomfortable. Thank you for the support and kind words. I am not regretting it one bit yet. I love the work I am doing!