Science and True Love

William Goldman, author of the Princess Bride wrote in his book that “True love is the best thing in the world, except for cough drops.” That book I read in high school and the beloved movie (in which he ALSO wrote the screenplay 31 years ago) is all about true love. It never dies and you should never give up on it according to Wesley and Buttercup, “Not even death can stop true love—it can only delay for awhile…!”

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Ehhh what???

So corny! I ask myself: “What kind of syrupy love are they even talking about?” For a moment, I withdraw into the recesses of my mind to usher forth my definitions of love—to challenge this notion. One I constantly go back to is this one:

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away…So now faith, hope and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”  (1 Cor 13).

Hmmm perhaps these notions are not so dissimilar…

Whatever love is, it is an extremely abundant, overwhelming thing, and sustaining it in and of our own human strength seems pretty impossible. You can see this in relationships. You can see this in how we “love” people, things and what we do.

Whatever love is, it is not simply a feeling because feelings come and go. Modified by the weather, how busy we are or reactive to what someone says or does or doesn’t. THIS kind of love is active. It is alive and driven by decision, by choice. It’s more than a feeling *turns on song by Boston*

I’m thinking about love these days—not just because it’s February, but I’m at an odd place in many ways. Passionate and driven, I believe feelings and emotion are VERY powerful motivators. I love my calling to make an impact as a physician-scientist one day. But some days, it is just really hard. I’m learning that my motivation when it’s based on how I feel is not sustainable—even for something I like so much. SICKLE CELL RESEARCH IS THE BOMB. I know this.

I’m at this place in my research where I can see my constructed finish line–but not very clearly. I’m in Boston until August and have made decent progress on my project, but it’s just really hard right now to stay motivated. Especially when the standard now is: what can I put together for a paper? When does this narrative end? This entire prospect can be so overwhelming that it is hard to get out of bed sometimes—for a project I do know I care deeply about (note: knowing and feeling are not the same). No one cares more about my project than me, but I don’t have a squad of people motivating me to push it forward. It’s just me. Raise your hand if you’ve ever felt paralyzed about the amount of work left for you to accomplish/not quite sure how to go about it! It can be crippling, right?

After the highs of last year with ASH and all those meetings, it was a slower start to 2018, and I just feel like I’m beginning to find my rhythm again. I also am reminding myself that it was ME who decided to take two years away from medical school. I decided to love this, and I can keep on loving what I do. It’s really up to me. And honestly, by the grace of God, I’m encountering some joy that is giving fuel to the love I know I do have.

PERSONAL STATEMENTS. I’ve been applying for some summer funding, and it’s been a wonderful way to reflect on my journey until now. Here is an excerpt:

When people ask me what it is like to have siblings with sickle cell anemia and to also pursue medicine, I oftenrespond that I am compelled, inspired and excited to be the best hematologist possible. My introduction to sickle cell disease (SCD) was not academic—SCD appeared to me as a personal and seemingly mystical force. A force that can transform outwardly healthy-appearing and joyful people into those overwhelmed with pain and illness—a shadow of who they truly are and can become. Those who manage sickle cell patients understand this image entirely and have words to articulate what may be happening with their patients. As a young child, I lacked that vocabulary and sought to find the words to describe what I saw and the ability to
change it.

Sickle cell disease, like many other ailments, is the enemy of potential and wholeness. Over the years it has garnered some attention, but in my opinion, not enough as our exposure to it’s basic pathophysiology over the past century is inappropriately disproportionate to the number of therapies and cures generated and available for patients. As a future physician-scientist and leader in sickle cell disease, my goal is to investigate ways in which we can make SCD cures safer and more accessible for patients. Currently, my interest lies with the use of patient-derived stem cells for cell therapies.

Who is this passionate woman? Can I find her again?

WRITING A TEXTBOOK CHAPTER. Since the early fall, I have been working on a textbook chapter about sickle cell care in the intensive care unit with some other physicians at Boston Children’s and Dana Farber. This re-integration into clinical thinking was more than just a “thing to do” for me. It was a labor of love. I’ve had family members in the ICU for many of the problems I wrote about in my chapter. This was an opportunity for me to tangibly contribute to better care for people I love. It was also a wonderful way for me to once again consider why I do what I do from another perspective. It’s not just about publishing and the glory therein. It’s about making a difference. It felt so good to finish that chapter this month.

TIME WITH FRIENDS. Black Panther was everything. Read more about it my sister’s blog post. Seeing it with friends was a beautiful way to find renewed love for myself and people of the African Diaspora.

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Wakanda Forever

OPERA. If you know me or have read any of my blog posts, you KNOW I love the opera. I joked with my older sister once that to me, OPERA IS LOVE. And, this year I have been sharing this experience with the people I really care about. For my sister’s birthday, we saw Turandot, my favorite opera at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. For my friend Hana’s birthday, I took her to the Met for her first opera there. We saw Madama Butterfly, a tragic story about a Geisha romanced by an American man. He marries her, leaves her for three years and goes back to America. ROUGH. But the music? SUPERB. PUCCINI. #getontheboat #dontgetleft

My parents celebrated their 34th anniversary this January, and I am treating them this weekend to I Puritani  at the Lyric Opera. It’s also their first opera together, and I’m so excited for them to experience it. Their marriage is a testament to true love in spite of true hardship. It always overcomes.

Another song on my mind these days has been, You Give Good Love by Whitney Houston. Even when I may not *feel* for my work or for others in the moment. I have to remember— you have to remember that you can always give it.

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Jane Eyre: A Comparative Study

Originally published: June 24, 2014

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I am not talking to you now through the medium of custom, conventionalities, nor even of mortal flesh: it is my spirit that addresses your spirit; just as if both had passed through the grave, and we stood at God’s feet, equal–as we are!“ – Jane Eyre

Doesn’t that just give you chills?!

With a strong, female lead, complex themes involving proto-feminism, wealth, love, passion, propriety, hedonism, and purity, the gothic, 19th century romantic novel, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte,is my favorite work of fiction.

It is so layered and beautifully complex, and as a lover of both books and movies, it is only natural that I have looked for a good adaption. But, I must say folks. It is painstakingly difficult to adapt this book! And, there are so many! The most popular are probably 5 non-silent films from 1934-2011, 2 mini series from 1983 and the other in 2006, and a direct-to-tv movie from 1997.

In this blog post, I am going to simplify your Jane Eyre viewing experience. I will rate these adaptions in these areas:

capturing the spirit of the novel
accuracy 
the Jane
the Rochester
the cast in general
the chemistry between the leads

Lastly there will be best proposal scene, best/worst Jane and worst Rochester awards. Jane Eyre fans, are you ready?! Let’s go!

1. Jane Eyre (1934) – Starring Colin Clive and Virginia Bruce

Now, this was the first talkie Jane Eyre adaption! I have not seen this version (the only one of the ones I have mentioned) so I cannot rate it. Please go and see this for yourself and report back. I am not too interested in seeing this version because I have read that it has omitted several key parts from the book, and generally isn’t that great. Judging from this picture, the movie was all wrong.

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I don’t know what the standard of beauty was in 1934, but a major point in Jane Eyre is that Jane is PLAIN. This woman is beautiful! #confused #no. ONWARD.

2. Jane Eyre (1943) – Starring: Orson Welles and Joan Fontaine

Running time: 1 hour and 36 minutes.

This is a QUICK movie. Definitely the SparkNotes version of Jane Eyre, but I enjoyed it. It was adapted in part by Aldous Huxley (author of that book you read in high school) and based on a radio series of Jane Eyre. Great if you want to watch in a hurry.

On capturing the spirit of the novel : 4 out of 5 stars! This is a black and white motion picture, and I think that medium really captures the brooding, dark nature of the novel! My biggest issue with the movie was that there wasn’t more of it.

Accuracy: 3 out of 5 stars. They cut out when Jane goes to see her Aunt Reed again, and also the giant St. John Rivers subplot for time. If they included those parts, this may have been my favorite adaption. They kind of compounded the St. John character into a new doctor character at the Lowood School called Dr. Rivers, but he isn’t really a romantic interest for Jane. Key, passages from the book are retained in some of the dialog although the American accents kind of threw me off.

the Jane:4 out of 5 stars. I really like Joan Fontaine. She was a bit elegant for the role, but she captured both of Jane’s steeliness and also kindness.

the Rochester: 5 out of 5 stars. ORSON WELLES was bomb. Perfect! Possibly my favorite Rochester. Strangely (not classically) handsome and it grows on you. Thundering, deep, voice, brooding and a bit scary. Fabuloso.

the Cast: 5 out of 5. Brocklehurst was so delightfully wicked and ELIZABETH TAYLOR starred as Jane’s childhood friend, Helen. That woman was beautiful from the start.

the Chemistry: 5 out of 5. Look at this picture. The end.

OVERALL: 4.3 out of 5 (very good!)

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3.  Jane Eyre Miniseries (1983) – Starring Timothy Dalton and Zelah Clarke

Running time: nearly 4 hours.

Yes, James Bond was once Edward Rochester! With 30 min episodes, you can find this on Netflix or on YouTube. Great if you want the most complete version.

On capturing the spirit of the novel : 3 out of 5 stars! It’s in 80s color which is bit less charming. TImothy Dalton is WAY too good looking to play Rochester but he acts well.

Accuracy: 5 out of 5 stars. This version is super thorough because they have the time to do it.

the Jane: 4 out of 5 stars. Zelah Clarke is a bit boring next to Timothy Dalton to be honest with you, but at least she looks the part. She acts well!

the Rochester: 4.5 out of 5 stars. Timothy Dalton kind of steels the show with this one.

the Cast: out of 5. A bit forgettable.

the Chemistry: 4out of 5. It’s pretty good. Their height difference is a bit distracting, tho!

OVERALL: 4.08 out of 5  (good!)

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4.  Jane Eyre (1996) – Starring Charlotte Gainsbourg (whoo woman first billed) and William Hurt

Running time: nearly 2 hours.

Really beautiful looking movie! But overall, a bit meh.

On capturing the spirit of the novel : 4 out of 5 stars! Franco Zeferelli does a lot of the artistic design for Metropolitan Operas so he has quiet the eye for detail I think.

Accuracy: 3 out of 5 stars. This version condenses and eliminates major parts of the novel. It is generally accurate, though. It spends a lot of time in her childhood.

the Jane: 2.5 out of 5 stars. This Jane almost seems angry. A little too severe for me. I do like how she seems about the right age.

the Rochester: 4 out of 5 stars. Hurt is of the right age to play Rochester and definitely looks the most Rochester-esque in my opinion!

the Cast: 4out of 5. Good supporting cast. Anna Paquin was a great young Jane and her time in Lowood was well done.

the Chemistry: 3out of 5. Not too hot, but it works for them. Lacking a bit of passion.

OVERALL: 3.4 out of 5  (okay!)

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5.  Jane Eyre (1997) Made for TV – Starring Samantha Horton and Ciaran Hinds

Running time: 1 hour and 48 minutes

Least favorite! Too much time spent in Jane’s head. The language is a bit too modern.

On capturing the spirit of the novel : 3 out of 5 stars! Costumes and etc are on point, but the language and the removal of key lines from book are a bit confusing to me.

Accuracy: 3 out of 5 stars. Two major subplots are removed. Good job to them for making St. John good looking like in the book, but his characterization was all wrong. He was too amiable and not severe enough. So many important details were left out of this version.

the Jane: 2 out of 5 stars. Least favorite Jane. She is too mopey and feels a bit too sorry for herself. The thing about Jane is that she endures so much but does not give into self pity!!

the Rochester: 3 out of 5 stars. I like Hinds in general but that uggo mustache was not a good idea. He generally looked the part. He was a bit manic (which I suppose is like Rochester) but in bizzarre ways. He was also too nice to Adele (Rochester’s love child). I liked how Rochester sang in this version.

the Cast: 4out of 5. Good supporting cast! I loved Mrs. Fairfax played by Gemma Jones (she also plays Bridget Jones’ mother!) and Blanche Ingram was very good too!

the Chemistry: 3out of 5. Their proposal scene is a nightmare…don’t watch while eating or just after eating.

OVERALL: 3 out of 5  (basic) We have A&E to thank for this mess.

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6.  Jane Eyre (2006) Miniseries – Starring Ruth Wilson and Toby Stephens

Running time:  4 hours.

A definite step up from the last few! BBC knows what’s up.

On capturing the spirit of the novel : 4.5 out of 5 stars! Beautifully shot and more thorough.

Accuracy: 4 out of 5 stars. Pretty accurate but with definite bouts of artistic license. Some people like this, but if are a purist when it comes to adaptions, that may not be for you. For example: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6z6CAvY4_pA

the Jane: 5 out of 5 stars. Ruth Wilson is an excellent Jane! Pretty much how I imagined her. She actually makes you a bit teary!

the Rochester: 5 out of 5 stars. Evenly matched with Ruth Wilson, Toby Stephens is very charming although possibly too handsome to play the role.

the Cast: 4out of 5. I particularly liked (SPOILER) Rochester’s wife and the flashbacks. Adele was also pretty good!

the Chemistry: 5 out of 5. Some of the best chemistry out of the adaptions!

OVERALL: 4.6 out of 5  (very, very good!)

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7.  Jane Eyre (2011)  – Starring Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender

Running time:  2 hours.

Probably best feature film although I  enjoyed the 1943 version better.

On capturing the spirit of the novel : 3 out of 5 stars! Really beautiful film, although the end erks me a lot. SPOILER ALERT but Rochester is blind but regains his sight in the end! That is left out maybe to make it seem like some kind of tragic romance?

Accuracy: 4 out of 5 stars. Includes most important things while omitting others. It is hard to fit it all in 2 hour movie, which is understandable. I also was not a fan of having the movie kind of start at the end and then have flashbacks, but that’s a personal thing. I think Bronte wrote it linearly for a reason. This adaption is for those who have definitely read the book backwards and forwards and those who just wanted to see Michael Fassbender.

the Jane: 4 out of 5 stars. Mia really held her own again Fassbender (whom can really do anything). She is also the right age to play Jane.

the Rochester: 4 out of 5 stars. Fassbender is DEFINITELY too good looking and too charming to be Rochester, but he is so natural at playing brooding people that can’t be ignored. When I saw this in the theaters, there was a scene when he tells Jane to stay put and not go to her room or else he will come fetch he,  and an old lady behind me said, “He can come fetch me any day!” Need I say more?

the Cast: 3out of 5. They are a little forgettable even with Judy Dench as Mrs. Fairfax.

the Chemistry: 5 out of 5. It’s actually gorgeous.

OVERALL: 3.8 out of 5 (pretty good!)

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IN SUMMARY

I would definitely recommend: 1943, 1983, and 2006 versions. I would tentatively recommend 2011 version. I would say that die-hards should watch 1996 version and say that all should avoid the 1997 version like the Plague!!

PROPOSALS RANKED  (in order of awesomeness)

1. 2006 (comprehensive, romantic, and beautiful): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dRPszu5loaA

2. 1983 (because it’s done properly): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lyTpzvElJck

3. 2011 (FASSBENDER. A bit too short, tho): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ard8hElhUY4

4. 1943 (nice and eerie): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0PI8GcRW79s

5. 1996 (meh): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=47eTkbpfe68

6. 1997 (they kiss like alien sea monters): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_lHKxDq33_g

Best proposal: 2006/ Worst proposal: 1997

Best Rochester: Orson Welles 1944/ Worst Rochester: Ciaran Hinds

Best Jane: Ruth Wilson (close runner-up: Mia Wasikowska)/ Worst Jane: Samantha Horton

I’m still waiting for an adaption to have it all, but this has been fun! Watching them all has really enhanced my appreciation for my favorite book! What do you think? I encourage fans to watch the adaptions and decide for themselves! What is your favorite book? Has it been adapted? Go and make a comparative study of your own.

If any film makers read this post, please remember to be thorough, avoid stream of consciousness (major blunder in 1997 version) and cast Benedict Cumberbatch as the next Rochester!!

Thanks for reading! 🙂

2017 Was The Best Year of My Life

…thus far!

I mean it, and I did not expect it. When the year began, I found myself in a general sadness about the state of the world as well as many aspects of my own life. Hurt and disappointed by the tail-end of 2016, I almost could not hope for things to be better. So many people helped me through this time–(shout out to my DNA group at Heart Change Fellowship!)

2017 has gotten a bad wrap. It almost seems unfashionable to look at this year with fondness, but I cannot help but do so. What I have learned is that even when things are dark, there is always space for joy to see its way in.

This past Sunday at church, I heard a sermon that really struck me.

A year is an arbitrary demarcation that appears real. It is only real because we have ascribed meaning to it.

There is nothing new under the sun.  Also see the 1st law of thermodynamics.  Matter cannot be created or destroyed.

But not everything that is real is made up of matter. Our minds and our souls–these things are real, and they can be renewed.

So a new year cannot truly be new, unless we are.

JANUARY 

I decided that month to not really have a new year’s resolution but a change in mindset. I had to change. I decided to make 2017 my year of yes! To go for opportunities and create moments I had been afraid of pursuing.

It began with a crazily amazing and beautiful trip to LaBoheme at the Met, visiting the new Smithsonian African American History Museum in DC, and visiting the HHMI Headquarters.

I had lunch with Irv Weissman, the father of hematopoiesis and also participated in the Women’s March in Boston.

FEBRUARY 

At the Daley Lab Retreat, George asked me about staying on for another year, and I was forced to evaluate my commitment to my project and say YES to an amazing opportunity to stay for another year.

MARCH

I saw, Get Out, one of the best films of the year, celebrated Match Day with two of my wonderful old housemates, had Emi visit me, and celebrated Scott & Amara’s wedding!

APRIL 

In April, I celebrated my dear friend, Linda’s thesis defense and presented my research at the American Society for Clinical Investigation meeting in Chicago! I also visited Cleveland as well as had my friend, Melissa, visit me! Jen also joined the HHMI family!

 

MAY

As you already know, I’m a huge opera fan. So I was ELATED when I won tickets to see Marriage of Figaro at the Boston Lyric Opera with my friend, Otana AND Don Giovanni with Soton at the Met! Emi also graduated in May, I ate my first full lobster at the Stem Cell Retreat, saw my friend, Hana get her master’s degree, learned how to ride a bike and watched the Sleeping Beauty! May was a fantastic month. Bike riding was huge for me as I had always wanted to do this, but somehow thought it was too late to learn for a good long while. Something changed in 2017, and I did too.

 

JUNE 

I have climbed a few mountains figuratively, but Mt. Monadnock was my first literal mountain I hiked! Soton and Monika visited as well. I attended my first ISSCR conference and turned 25. This was the first birthday I was not excited for. 25 — solidly in the middle of my twenties– gave me a little bit of a quarter life crisis. I thought about what I have accomplished but also experiences that I was still waiting to happen. It was bittersweet at first but then became sweet with the involvement of many dear friends. Also of note, I SAW JOHN WILLIAMS IN CONCERT.

JULY 

My summer was taken to the next level when I went to Paris, Split, Barcelona and Lisbon with my sisters. I knew I would fall in love with Paris, and I did. Lisbon was a wonderful surprise, and Split (aka Meereen from GOT) was so restful!

I was had a wonderful article written about me and my research which was really flattering, made some hilarious GOT recaps, and saw Hans ZIMMER in CONCERT!!!

AUGUST

August  brought a dear friend to Boston, Motolani. More hiking in Acadia, Maine (first time in that state!) and an interview for a new documentary on CRISPR.

SEPTEMBER

In the fall, I began to question a lot of the data that made me feel comfortable taking a second year off to do research. Some confirmations from a hematopathologist filled me with gusto, and things began to look up. I wrote a grant and it was FUNDED! First time! Woo! Lost my wallet in Longwood and it was FOUND. And, I gave my first real talk at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. 

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Wallet restored!!!! I appreciate the little things and the big ones! 🙂

OCTOBER

In October, I entered what I called, “Meeting Season.” Over the course of 2017, I have attended at 10 meetings–the majority of them fell between October and December. One of the most exciting moments was attending the International Achievement Summit in London as I detail in this post.  I also presented at the New York Academy of Sciences’ “Towards Transformative Therapies for Sickle Cell Disease” meeting and received the F1000 “Outstanding Presentation Prize”! It was the first award I have received for my presentation/research . My friend, Jason, also visited and housemate, Lu, defended her thesis!

NOVEMBER 

This month, I spoke at another meeting in DC attended another in NYC again (a real treat!) and MOST IMPORTANTLY PARTICIPATED IN THE ROCKY RUN!!! (Huuuuuuuge Rocky fan here!). Soton joined me in NYC as well as Philadelphia for the race. Chloe also visited this month!

 

DECEMBER 

December brought me back to the HHMI headquarters to present my research once more, the Boston Ballet for the Nutcracker with many friends, and to ASH to give an oral abstract presentation.

Presenting at the American Society of Hematology (ASH) annual meeting was an honor. I did not think I would receive this honor for a few years, and it was an  amazing testament to God’s faithfulness. I always feel uncomfortable when I think about my achievements or share them. I still fight the imposter syndrome I experienced when I joined my lab over a year and a half ago. I question my success, and if I am worthy of it. But, then I have to remember, that I did not get here by myself. My successes are not an accident or mistake. I give God all the glory for these things. I may not be worthy, but He surely is worthy.

FORWARD 

I’ll be honest, I’m apprehensive of 2018. 2017 ended so well, and I’m afraid that 2018 will bring some harder, challenging circumstances. Every time I experience a good moment, I always wonder: how long can this last?  I need to stop thinking this way. As I wrap up my time in Boston and return to clinical training in 2018, I must remember that true joy, a state much more profound than happiness, matures even through hardship. Joy creates positive circumstances. It is not only born out of them.

Last year I said “yes.”

This year, I choose joy.

Keeping it Together: Dealing with Actors, Scientists, Diplomats and other Intimidating People

I’ve been on the go since October. It’s been enormously eventful, exciting, tiring, and very educational. London, New York, Washington D.C, and Philadelphia have been cities where I’ve had the opportunity to interact with celebrities and scientists, and they are quite an intimidating bunch.

I learned a lot of things during the International Achievement Summit, but perhaps the most practical and immediate lesson was how to stay calm when mixing with very intimidating people. You’ve got to keep your wits about you!

Before getting into the meat of this blog post, I wanted to share that this trip was absolutely amazing- the “trip of a lifetime” (as cliche as that sounds). The International Achievement Summit is a special event held by the Academy of Achievement. The goal is to unite people who truly excel in what they do with younger people hoping to one day make a substantial impact in the world. The youngsters are nominated to take an all-expense paid trip to London to stay in Claridge’s Hotel or the Connaught (FIVE STARS. MICHELIN STARS. MOVIE STARS). I was able to see a remarkable group of people on this guest list:

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There were also plenty of other “Golden Plate” winners from past years like Peter Jackson, Jeremy Irons, Bill Clinton, Anthony Romero and much more. My fellow delegates were also quite extraordinary–from Rhode and Marshall Scholars to young politicians, musicians, and professors.

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Claridges: one of the poshest hotels in the world and home to the oldest elevator in London as well as temporary home to celebrities of all sorts!

I’ve never been taken care of like I was at Claridges. There were literally people in the bathroom whose job was to open the faucet for you. Need I say more?

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Delegates with Wayne & Catherine B. Reynolds in the front
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4 of us HHMI Medical fellows attended this event along with other young people (Rhode and Marshall Scholars, young politicians, investors, professors etc)
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I tried to not photograph celebrities during my trip, but just so you can know it was real, here is Bill Clinton. I did a decent job of staying calm over the course of the Summit, but seeing him there was a complete shock and I definitely froze when he passed me in the hallway!

What do you do when you are trying to eat your breakfast and Jeremy Irons comes over to your table and asks if he can join you?

You treat him like any other person and say, “Yes you may,” introduce yourself, and keep eating your breakfast.

“Important” people are used to having others freak out, but honestly, they put on their pants one leg at a time just like anyone else. I’ve been learning slowly after arriving at Harvard last year (lots of fan-girling) that it’s okay to admire people (despite people often being more disappointing in real life), but it’s also important to keep your wits about you. To engage and be in the moment. Fan-girling can happen separately on your own.

For example, at that breakfast with Irons, a Rhode Scholar a Oxford studying English literature sat between us. Of course she literally melted when joined and monopolized him/fan-girled. They were talking about Keats and English things. I love speaking English and reading books, but I am just not on their level, so I decided to finish my eggs and listen.

Eventually, the conversation shifted to young people and communication, and I chimed in and told Mr. Irons about my struggles with up-speaking and sounding confident. In science, like most other areas of life, it’s so important to sound like you know what you are talking about. It gives people the encouragement to actually pay attention and listen to you. It’s such a battle to get people to listen. Irons then paid me a nice compliment by saying that I do not “up-speak” and speak “Rather well. I have an ear for these things.” Then he turned over to the Oxford student between us and said, “You might talk too much.”

SHADE.

She just loved you, Jeremy.

Kind of rude of him, honestly. For her, I’m sure it was a moment when you realize your heroes are not morning people.

You do not have to always be the first person to talk. It’s okay to be quiet and feel things out at first.

TIPS FOR INTERACTING WITH INTIMIDATING PEOPLE

  1. Say your name clearly! First and last! This may sound obvious, but it can actually be difficult. People will immediately stop listening to you if you do not say who you are. Who you are is worth knowing. Speak up.
  2. Everyone is insecure, and you in fact may be a little intimidating. This was almost tangible when I had to have lunch with Dr. Luke (yeah, him). He and his entourage were clearly a little on comfortable talking to scientist/medical student people. At one point he tried to argue with me about primate senescence. Awkward. You never know how you might appear to other people. That famous person may not be that smart or kind…or worth your time. 
  3. Treat them like normal. Once you become a fan, the wall is up and an unnecessary mystique forms. Just get to know them and be yourself. 
  4. Be nice to/include everyone. That random person around them may be their spouse/partnerThis is a good rule for life, but at this summit I talked more to the spouses of super famous people than the famous people themselves. Examples include Steven Rosenberg‘s wife (who was a nurse and LOVES CASE WESTERN STUDENTS! She said I should always be proud of that and treat nurses with respect! here here!) Brian Kobilka’s wife (who introduced me to Tony Fadell) and Justice Gorsuch’s wife (who is suprisngly British, and asked me some crazy personal questions about sickle cell disease). Eventually, when you talk long enough to the spouse, the famous person will circle around and say hello too! Also, their spouse may actually be 500x more interesting than said famous person. 
  5. People can be awkward. Brush it off. Do not stand around having an awkward conversation with a snobby person. You can talk to someone else. If you wouldn’t tolerate it in real life, why in this kind of setting? Remember, it’s always real life, and those are in fact real people. 
  6. Normal people. Abnormal achievements. At a certain point, you can just let what you have done speak for itself. I have found that people enjoy being around accomplished people who also can connect with others. You do not need to show off. 
  7. You are the expert on you. Come up with a quick blurb about yourself and what you do. Prepare! There is like a 20 second window when these people try to figure out if you are worth engaging with.
  8. You are there for a reason. Be confident. A mayor of Ithaca, NY and the youngest member of the Israeli parliament were co-delegates with me. It may be very easy for you to understand my confusion on how I was selected to attend this Summit. After about 20 hours, I realized that my insecurity is not important. What matters is that I was given an opportunity to be there, and it’s up to me to make the most of it.  It’s up to YOU to make the most of it. There is no time for imposter syndrome. 

I have had to return back to these rules when I presented in New York shortly after this summit for a New York Academy of Sciences Meeting, in DC for the American Physiological Society Meeting, and the numerous times I have to talk with potential collaborators and other scientists about what I am doing.

Keep it together because you can. Keep it together because one day people will be fan-girling about meeting you.

Connection is a Choice.

As someone who feels quite comfortable at conversational speaking, it amazes me how difficult it is to engage in public speaking.

If I could go back in time, I certainly would have done two things:

  1. Ran track in college
  2. Done speech/debate in high school

Parents, put your kids in theater and things NOW.

What happens when we go from a one-on-one situation to a one-on-100 conversation? Why do we freeze? Why are we afraid?

At my second HHMI Kick-Off Meeting last week, I spent a lot of time thinking about this with staff from the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science.

As soon as we get on the stage we forget about the most critical component of communication: CONNECTION.

In a conversation, we generally worry about whether or not the other person can understand us, they are with us. We use words we hope they will understand, we are looking into their eyes and are trying to connect.

On the stage, we forget about the personal connection between the speaker and the audience and fixate on how we feel. What words will I say next? What’s my line? I’m so nervous. What if I mess up? What if I don’t sound smart enough?

Scientific speaking has been hard for me, but my time thinking about this has really helped me to unearth what the fundamental issue has been.

Instead of thinking about HOW I feel and how nervous I am, I should consider how the audience is feeling, are they with me? Am I telling a story?

This all seems daunting until we remember a pretty important detail: CONNECTION IS A CHOICE.

Moreover, CONNECTION is something we as human beings are hard-wired to do.

I’ve been able to hear some great scientific storytelling in the past few months.

Shortly after my last blog post, I went to the American Society of Clinical Investigation meeting. There, I heard many awesome talks. The ones that stuck out to me, however, were those by  Eric Kandel, Robert Lefkowitz and Laurie Glimcher.

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Robert Lefkowitz (Discovered GPCR and yeah, got Nobel for it) addressing 2016-2017 HHMI Med Fellows

Kandel and Lefkowitz are both nobel prize winners who had very casual, conversational ways of speaking and giving the talk. People just seem so unphased and comfortable and that’s because they actually are. Instead of “performing” they were communicating. Dr. Glimcher was badass and clear. She also has done some pretty incredible things to help women post docs balance lab work and family commitments.

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Nobel Laureate, Eric Kandel answering one of my questions (His contribution to science? letting us know that neurons store memory)

At the International Society for Stem Cell Research meeting in June, I heard my PI, George Daley, Doug Melton, Shinya Yamanaka and many others give very comfortable, conversational talks. Even though the content may be complex, the manner of speaking was remarkably relaxed.

This time at the HHMI kick off meeting, I approached the communicating science portions with much more focus and determination. The need to represent my thoughts well and coherently seemed much more immediate this time around because of the impending talk I had to give at the first annual Progenitor Cell Translational Consortium at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital (just this week).

This honestly felt like my first real science talk. It was. Yes, I’ve talked in front of my lab or even at the ASH Minority Awards Reception, but those instances seemed different. I was not being compared to post docs, PhDs, MDs and PIs. Much to the booklet’s misinformation, I am very much a “no doc,” but my PI gave me the opportunity to share our lab’s progress on modeling sickle cell anemia—a project I’m driving on my own (with the support of other amazing people!). In the audience this time we had the likes of my PI but also people who first isolated human embryonic stem cells (Jamie Thomson etc) or successfully curing sickle cell anemia with lentiviral gene transfer (Punam Malik).

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Currently I am a “no doc.” What’s this “PhD” all about?

I was nervous. So I converted that nervousness into 2 things: 1) prayer 2) preparation.

I live in a community with a ton of science/health folks and had a bunch of them listen to me practice my talk. I had mentors in my lab and outside of it listen as well and give feedback. I skyped with friends too and practiced with them.

On the day of, I waited in minor agony until 4:30 pm for my time to shine.

And I think I did! I started off with a joke about not being a PhD, the crowd softened. I connected and the rest flowed. I pretended I was talking to someone right in front of me instead of an army of senior researchers at the top of their fields.

Afterward, I received plenty of compliments and even a potential collaboration request. It seemed like my passion for sickle cell made a lasting impact, and I had the opportunity to talk with one of the men who was in charge of the clinical trials that enabled Hydroxyurea to be given to patients with SCD (the only drug in last 20 years to treat SCD) as well as a man who worked with the NIH on a task force for how to encourage patients to enroll/participate in clinical trials. They asked for my opinions!

It was such an encouraging atmosphere, and I’m leaving Cincinnati feeling as though I have made a personal breakthrough.

Spin the story. Hook the audience and hook them early. If the fictional heroine Scheherazade worried more about her nerves that capturing the attention and telling a good story to the Sultan, 1001 Nights would have been probably much shorter. Yikes!

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Scheherazade & the Sultan by Iranian painter,  Sani ol molk (1849-1856).

 

Think less about performing and more about connecting. Not just in speech making but in your everyday life.

We are not all meant to be actors. It’s really hard, and it’s so much easier to just be yourself.

On Deciding to be a Second Year HHMI Med Fellow

This has probably been the longest hiatus I have taken from blogging since I started this a few years ago.

The time between February and today has been intense, wonderful, stressful and fun. March was hard. April was better, and May is off to a good start.

Without further ado, how I decided to be a second year HHMI fellow.

The Dark Times

Since the start of my fellowship year, I have known that I could be in the program for one or two years. The thought of two years away from medical school sounded crazy, but at our kick-off meeting in September, I definitely wanted to pick the brains of the students who had decided to do that. Their reasons often took the form of “promising projects” and “prolonged curiosity.”

To be 100, the beginning of my research year was pretty difficult. Learning finicky iPS culture was challenging, but the interpersonal aspects—including technical support/help with my project was even tougher. Honestly, I came right off taking Step 1 (definitely most draining standardized test prep I and many ever experience. MCAT is really cute in comparison), was exhausted, a medical student pretty used to being told what to do—not driving her own research project. I have been curious about sickle cell anemia and the iPS system since the very start but curiosity is not enough to get things done.

So when I saw those second year fellows, in love with science and their projects, I wanted to be them, but just did not feel like I would get there.

 One of my neighbors asked me once what it would take for me to stay another year (very early in the year). I broke it down for her like this:

  1. My project is going well, and I see a publication on the horizon.
  2. An amazing man fell from the sky so I want to stay in Boston longer.
  3. My PI asked me personally to stay.

I definitely thought that number 2 was going to be the most likely option actually. In hindsight, I chuckle. But seriously, I thought 1 and 3 would be VERY unlikely. Especially number 3.

My lab experience really changed course in November 2016. The people in my lab responsible for this know who they are, and I am so grateful to them. Right before my first lab meeting, I remember them staying with me so late to help me squeeze out the last bit of data I could, and I remember just feeling so supported. I felt a part of a team, and that people actually cared about the science that I was trying to do. Moreover, I felt like they cared about me.

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Boston shut down for the February snow storm but not the Daley Lab. Indian food to warm our frozen souls.

A Pot of Risotto

As winter rolled along, I gained more confidence but there was definitely some large barriers I had to making RBCs from iPS cells that could actually model sickle cell anemia. I won’t get into that here but just believe me. After the January HHMI Investigators meeting, my HHMI program officer reached out to me about something and asked how lab was going.

In short, I told her that it has certainly been one of the best years of my life so far, and that is actually saying quite a lot given how difficult it was in the beginning. I love what I am doing. I told her that sometimes I think casually about a second year in the program but since my PI became HMS dean, I was not sure if another year in the lab would be ideal for everyone.

February happened.

My lab has an annual retreat in New Hampshire. There, all of us in the Blood group had to give 15 minute talks. After SO MUCH affliction (think the 7 plagues of Egypt) facing my cell lines (mycoplasma, bacteria and bad luck), I was feeling pretty insecure about my presentation.

Later that evening, I along with a few other lab mates were helping my PI make dinner for everyone in lab. He actually does this, and is surprisingly a good chef! At one point, I had the task of stirring the risotto and for 3 minutes or so we were alone in the kitchen.

And then the most unexpected thing happened. He asked me if I would like to stay and told me he would support me in it! My project could benefit from another year of work he said, and HHMI actually CONTACTED him saying that they would love for me to continue in the program.

I was already a little warm stirring that gigantic pot but was legit sweating after this.

I did not have an answer for him. I did not know what I wanted, and I honestly never thought I would find myself in this situation.

I told him I would get back to him, and I really did not have much time. For one, the intent to apply notification to HHMI was due a week from then (March 1). The application was due April 1.

I needed to decide and SOON.

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Risotto

Soul Searching

A second year will be important in how I market myself as a physician moving forward. Do I want to be a physician-scientist? Do I think I actually could be? Should I even worry about it? True indecisiveness is painful for a very decisive person!

I called my program officer and messaged another fellow just to get a sense about why this may be a good idea again…?

First thing, I knew my parents would give me some push back. They are physicians so they obviously have very informed opinions about careers in medicine. However—not as much academic medicine. My parents want what is best for me. They are immigrants who definitely prioritize, security in regards to career. Delay in anything (I remember I wanted to take a gap year between undergrad and med school and that was not…welcomed) almost appears to be a question of doubt and being unsure. I know what my motivations are in medicine and life, but as parents, they just want me to get that MD as soon as possible so I can stand on my own two feet, and they can worry about me less.

Taking a year off in the first place was a little challenging with them, but it being at Harvard seemed to be very helpful…!

I was the most nervous about telling them about this development. There was some pushback: “what does this mean for your loans?” “Would your PI recommend this to his own child?” “You will be behind.” “You will forget what you learned in your first two years” “what if he asks you to stay another year again? Would you?”

That was difficult, but then another amazing thing happened—I received an email a few days after my first convo with my mom about this from HHMI. I learned that they had nominated me to be a delegate at the the International Achievement Summit. I’ll probably talk about that more in the future, but it’s a big deal. It also gave me a bit more peace. HHMI is an amazing organization, and the people who run my program take a special interest in me and my success. It is very clear. I was accepted as a delegate and will be going to London in October! 🙂

When I told my parents about this, they were excited as were visibly less apprehensive about everything. Truly a wonderful gift to myself as well as to them.

I then talked to my Urban Health pathway advisor from Case Western. You can read more about her role in getting me to HHMI here. But in sum, she is the reason. Out of the blue she called me to ask how I am, and I told her everything. It is almost as if she knew. So much about this decision mirrors what happened over a year ago before I reached out to my PI. Seriously a hint of destiny in everything.

I ask my American Society of Hematology career development mentor and he approved! I also consulted a hem attending at Brigham/Childrens who is so wise (her gut was for me to do this) too. My neighbor, a radiation oncologist also told me she took two years off at my stage in medical school and winded up a-okay.

Everyone outside of my lab, was “Go for it!”

Those inside my lab were less enthusiastic. They wanted me to flee, because they know exactly how hard it is to work with the iPS system and how long it takes to get published. Their opinion really mattered because it was actually the most informed. The project just was in a really tough spot and they knew.

But every time they pushed back, I felt bad because I wanted to stay. And, it was then that I realized what I actually wanted.

More than anything, however, I wanted to have peace about my decision to stay and have a plan just in case the project failed.

I met with my PI to discuss my concerns, and he did a pretty good job putting me at ease.

 However, it was a few  fundamental advances in my project that changed everything for me. Modeling SCA, still a lofty goal, came a bit more down to earth. It became possible. I had hope and more support from my co-workers. The stars aligned and I submitted my application (after a few legit all-nighters).

What makes this story beautiful to me is that I kind of took a step out in faith with the decision to stay. I decided aka told my PI before the magical data happened. And, that made the process that much more meaningful. And, I learned more about a passion I had for what I was doing that I didn’t even know was there.

I am so excited for the year ahead. What do I lose? Graduating earlier than expected, will not see some good friends next year. But again, the real friendships stay alive even with the distance. I realized that when I visited Cleveland in April. Super busy third year friends came out of the woodwork to see me, and it really was comforting. Our friendships matter.

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What I can gain with this year is a mystery. I will learn more, I will engage with a question that still intrigues me, and will continue to be supported by a lab environment and medical institute that shares some of my goals.

I’m already off the beaten path. Might as well keep on it.

If I would have left, it would have been about fear. And, I am pretty sure I would have always wondered what this opportunity would have been like. Medical school is there (my deans are super stoked that I’m doing this and so supportive). I sincerely look forward to my return to medicine.

But right now, I want to keep doing this. I enjoy the work, and I’m getting PAID to be curious. PAID to explore in a setting that is safe.

TLDR

It is curiosity that brings scientists to the lab bench and passion that keeps them there. When experiments fail (as they often do) or contradict one another, a scientist must reflect on her internal commitment to what she is pursuing. My commitment is unwavering because my connection to sickle cell anemia is literally in my blood.

I want my work with patients to inform my research in profound ways that will benefit them in the future. The first fellowship year provided me with the intangible gifts of being in a research setting: learning how to troubleshoot, design experiments, ask questions, and actively seek mentorship and support. Completely new to stem cell biology, there is so much I had to learn in this year from culturing iPS cells to using the flow cytometry machine independently. As grateful as I am for the opportunity to grow in critical ways, I am ready now to produce something tangible for the field.

I want to see sickle cell anemia as only a pediatric disease safely cured via hematopoietic stem cell transplant. I hope to dedicate my career medically and scientifically to improving this process for not only SCA patients but also those with other diseases requiring this procedure. This is where I hope to be an expert, still taking care of a panel of patients with hemoglobinopathies while actively engaging in science. Another year learning as well as publishing in a top stem cell laboratory will increase my expertise as well as credibility in pursuit of this goal.

Feel free to ask more questions in the comments if you like! Check out the press release here.

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So much more to update on: especially ASCI meeting! That’s coming soon!

A Saturday Exploring the Ethics of Medicine

Ethics is about making choices using reason.

From 8 AM – 5:30 PM this Saturday, I attended the Abigail Adams Institute Medical Ethics Seminar. I heard about it from my neighbor who is a palliative care researcher after a talk I attended on physician-assisted suicide (or death). The talk was pretty horrible so he suggested this seminar. It was led by Farr Curlin, MD, a professor of medicine and humanities at Duke and Christopher Tollefsen, PhD, a professor and philosopher at University of South Carolina. I had actually met Dr. Curlin while at University of Chicago once about 3 years ago, and he remembered me! Good memory on his part.

After about 6 months in Boston, I feel less of a medical student than I did when I started. I am this wannabe researcher trying to find her place in this weird year of uncertainty, growth and discovery. Therefore, it was an interesting experience to engage the following ideas.

The Purpose of Medicine 

It seems pretty obvious doesn’t it? To make people healthy. But, what does it mean to be healthy? Is health relative? What if you cannot restore that person’s health?

Physicians have gotten rather angsty about their roles in medicine because we can do so much more than we used to do in let’s say 1935. In 1935, doctors could treat trauma wounds, remove diseased organs, do c-sections, blood transfusions and prescribe some early anti-psychotics. Health was so much about survival.

Today, health encompasses the preservation of life (ex. dialysis), beauty (cosmetic surgery), the alleviation of pain, the control of reproduction, the preservation of social functioning (from gender reassignment surgery to anti-depressants), and the end of life.

We can do so much for patients today to the point in which we may question, should we do this? Like Leon Kass, Curlin and Tollefsen posit that conflict arises when we pursue the tenants of health above first instead of HEALTH as a whole. Health defined as, the “well-working of the whole organism.”

Natural Law Foundations of Medical Ethics 

I was told natural law is meant to “uncover what is constitutive and normal for a flourishing life.” One of the big points I took away from this discussion was the fact that there is something lost whenever we make any particular choice. Some “goods” or principles discussed were:

  • health/life
  • knowledge
  • friendship
  • aesthetic experience
  • play
  • integrity
  • religion
  • marriage –> “the state of being married”

Tollefsen suggested that these goods are incommensurable. It’s not like currency where we can say that one is worth more than another by an x amount.

Another point discussed was that sometimes constraining what we WANT to do FREES us up to pursue things/achieve specific aims.

For example, I really love watching films. It’s one of my favorite ways to spend time, and I consider myself a movie buff. It’s relaxing and good fun for me. But, if I pursue this so much, it will certainly limit my ability to engage in other things I want to do. SAYING NO does not mean being LESS free. Sometimes denial is what brings about freedom. 

The Doctor-Patient Relationship 

Definitely relevant and central to medicine. This relationship was broken down into three types:

  1. STRONG PATERNALISM: doctor gives an order and the patient complies 
  2. PATIENT SOVEREIGNTY: patient requests and doctor provides 
  3. PHYSICIAN-PATIENT ACCOMMODATION: doctor proposes and patient consents

There are some benefits to the paternalistic model, the biggest of them is efficiency.  Things are just easier sometimes when people just do what you say and you do not have to think for yourself and just obey. This model also makes physicians the major bearers of responsibility regarding the patient’s well-being. However, it devalues patient autonomy and induces patient passivity.

In the model where patients are sovereign (in my opinion the worst), it is positive that patients have more control of their care, but it also reduces physician responsibility as well as increases physician demoralization. We become technicians, afraid to offer our opinions which are often sugared with experience and years of acquiring knowledge. Sometimes this really can do a patient a disservice.

The last, physician-patient accommodation, I think is the best model. In it, people fall into their appropriate roles. The doctor’s job is not to control her patient. It is to provide her best care which the patient consents. With the physician proposing ideas for the patient’s care, responsibility falls back on her to use wisdom and experience instead of having the patient do their own job. And, the patient is not controlled by his physician. He gives consent if he finds the doctors proposition appropriate. This provides what was described to be enhanced autonomy. 

If you come to a decision you feel certain about, and then can be reasoned out of it, perhaps that was not the best choice for you to make. But, if after given all of the information on what to do about a health decision, as well as your physician’s opinion, and you still hold your position or shifted it slightly, you have autonomy still but it is enhanced in that you have thought more deeply about why you have made your decision. You can make a decision not just informed by facts, but on your physician’s own experiences. If you disagree with your doc, you have still had the opportunity to consider and grapple with your own personal motivators.

DIALOGUE is HEALTHY.

Reproductive Ethics (in this case, “Abortion”)

To start, Professor Tollefsen disclosed that he believed that abortion is wrong/unethical. He then took us through the “personhood argument” as to why.  It’s interesting to me in these kind of settings for a leader to disclose their opinion from the start as well as for a person with a differing opinion to not also share the floor. But, perhaps this was transparent and an honest way to proceed.

His questions/answers:

  1. What are we essentially? Human Beings 
  2. When do human beings begin (developmentally)? Fertilization
  3. Which beings deserve fundamental forms of respect? All 

He described that persons begin from fertilization and that the right of every person is that of fundamental respect (ie not to be intentionally killed). Although, this perspective is certainly not held true in the world (many people are thought to be underserving of this right to life after they are born/many fundamental respects).

It is very clear to me, that the organism of human potential, the fertilized egg, is alive. It is life.

What if this issue is not about whether or not developing embryos/fetuses etc are human beings? 

If we cannot bring ethics into the real world, it is useless. When a woman decides to have an abortion, I think she is entirely aware of a person developing in her uterus. She knows it’s alive. Trying to convince her it is a person and because it is a person has a right to survive may get her to change her mind in some cases, but perhaps not. People have abortions, I think, because in that moment, her right to not have that life supersedes the right we may impose on the fetus to survive. What we are dealing with is an issue of rights of the woman v the right of the fetus and a battle for control.

Is it ethical for the government to block a woman’s choice to choose life or death for her fetus?

How can we discuss this without examining why a person may make this choice? Can we have an absolute, unwavering perspective on the ethics of abortion or is this fluid (is it wrong in every case)? Whether it is a matter of “inconvenience,” unwillingness to have a “sick child” or inability to raise that child in a financially comfortable way, there are real reasons why women make this choice. Unless we grapple with these reasons, it will be difficult to have a practical conversation about it. Abortions are at their lowest in the US since Row v Wade was enacted. Less abortion, is probably linked to increased access to contraception or increased difficulty in accessing abortions. If we live in a world where a woman has a choice to choose yes or no to life for her fetus, and we want her to say yes more, we cannot just say that abortion is unethical. We have to work towards a world where it is easier for her to do this.

The healthiest world, in my opinion, is when a woman becomes pregnant when she wants to be, and when having a child is not a burden she alone must bear.

Clinical Challenges to the End of Life 

This was the original reason for me attending this seminar. What are the arguments for and against physician-assisted death or suicide?

Two cases were presented with young patients with inoperable brain cancer (glioblastoma multiforme).  They both are/were in the twenties and had a prognosis less than 6 months. You do not want this cancer.

Brittany Maynard chose when she wanted to die. She died with her idea of dignity intact.

JJ chose to stay alive for as long as he could. He is still living.

Both of their stories are very much worth listening considering. And, I honestly respect both of their choices. Is PAS absolutely and unwaveringly, unethical? I am currently leaning to the position that like most things in life, it is circumstantial.

Professor Curlin offered, “There is a difference between with holding treatment and making someone dead.”

Palliative care, which entails making someone’s dying process, as comfortable as possible is perceived as an alternative to “making someone dead.” Nonetheless, this is difference is not black and white. Increasing a patients morphine dosage may “hasten death” a very little bit.

This session more than anything, challenges developing physicians to consider their own opinions and what they think to be right. Dr. Curlin calls for solidarity between doctors and ailing patients. The solidarity being the physician attending to her patient’s needs and the patient allowing her to practice medicine that does not violate her commitments as a physician.

I think this looks different for each doctor-patient relationship. In the end, I think we should always return back to the idea of enhanced autonomy. NO physician should make a decision that they believe is unethical. If that situation is presented, it is on them to remove the patient from their care and place them in the care of someone else that can fulfill the role of that patient’s physician. If a patient consents to hearing our opinion on the matter, we should be entitled to share it, but the patient must consent.

At the end of such a day, seldom does anyone leave with more answers than questions. Ethics is about making choices using reason. Often our reason is determined by things that may defy reason like faith, circumstance and experience. These contributors can ebb and flow.

Our conscience judges the moral quality of our own decisions.

 

Saying Yes to 2017: Opera, HHMI, DC, and Marching

What a fantastic January thus far. Truly.

Shonda Rhymes, creator of Scandal, Grey’s Anatomy and more, released a book last September called, Year of Yes. To be honest, I have not read it, but I know the premise. She coaches her readers on how to “say yes” to more of what they experience and how it will really take life to the next level.

When I went on a little dinosaur fossil excavation in college with paleontologist, Paul Sereno and other classmates, his word of advice for us was, “never say no to a good opportunity because you never know where it will take you next.”

I’m going to get real for a moment.

I am an EXTREMELY cautious person. Usually before anyone convinces me out of something, I have already convinced myself out of it already. Because of this, I am pretty wise and deliberate in my choices and have avoided a lot of mess. Perhaps, this is due to my very strict upbringing by busy parents. I’ve learned when to pick my battles and to assess when things really were not worth asking for.

For example, I REALLY wanted to take ballet classes when I was 6 or 7. At that time, my parents were both in residency, and even though I didn’t really know what that was, I had a sense they did not have time to take me. So I just never asked.

But, who knows, if I caught them at the right time, maybe they would have?

Instead, I decided to read the books on ballet my older sister checked out from the library for us. (This is truly a symbolic beginning of my general theoretical knowledge vs experiential knowledge on most things in life…!)

I have mixed views on New Years Resolutions, but I usually try to move into the year with an intentional mindset. For 2017, I want this year to be my year of YES. And, by saying yes to more things–big and small, perhaps the life I live will be more courageous and beautiful.

First Test: La Boheme 

I LOVE opera. My love of opera really began with Cher’s Moonstruck.

This operatic romantic comedy is centered around a woman’s scandalous relationship with her fiancé’s younger brother and the music of La Boheme. When a young Nicholas Cage and Cher finally consummate their passion, O Soave Fanciulla plays on a record player. It was sweeping. Passionate. Dramatic. Powerful. Provocative. And, like that scene, Opera is entirely all of these things. 

In the movie, Cher and Cage see La Boheme at the Metropolitan Opera, and since seeing that film, I have always wanted to do the same! It had been showing at the Met this season since I had moved to Boston, but I kept on putting off until I realized at the end of December that it would be ending the second week of January. I kept thinking: “Wait, who will come with me? Will they like the opera? Where will I stay in NYC? How much should I spend?”

But something happened. When 2017 started, I just decided that I wanted this. I could make it happen. YES.

I bought a ticket to a Friday performance, packed one of my old homecoming dresses and got on a greyhound by myself! It was everything I had wanted. A dream had come true.

I had a whirlwind trip to NYC and returned that same night back to Boston. A few days later, I was off to Washington DC to present my research at the January HHMI Investigator’s meeting.

HHMI Investigator’s Meeting: Poster or Not to Poster? 

This is a really fantastic opportunity presented to us Med Fellows by HHMI. At these meetings you have the chance to meet absolute STARS in science, hear them discuss their research and much more. The meeting was outstanding. Leading up to it, I was not sure if I wanted to make a poster, however. I was worried about not having enough to present so I just put the thought out of my mind until one of my co-fellows suggested we make a poster together. After reflecting on how hard it is to make one by yourself, I figured it may be even harder to combine two projects especially since we don’t work together. And, I really should just say YES to this opportunity to grow/learn.

Words of wisdom from the meeting:

Dr. Charles Sawyers on deciding to be a physician-scientist
I asked him what was the time between him being a history major and his post doctoral time he decided to pursue a career as a physician scientist and what general advice he had for us as we were engaging with this idea. To this he said it has to be a, “conscious commitment to get of the usual track.” We have to be comfortable getting of the train heading in the usual direction. Sometimes that may involve turning down a clinical leadership position during your post doc to instead focus more on your science. Whatever we decide, it has to be an intentional decision instead of coasting.
Dr. Vivian Cheung on mentorship
The Med Fellows had a lunch with her which was really structured and got us to think critically about the differences between a physician and a scientist. She stressed the importance of mentorship and having the right people in our corner to help us protect our lab time when we still have to see patients etc. “You need someone who will pick up the phone and advocate for you.”
Dr. Len Zon on assessing your weaknesses
He told us about how he mentors his trainees. He writes down a big flaw each one has that he thinks will hold them back, and they work on a plan to improve together. Then, we all talked about what we thought could hold us back. Mine was my fear that people would one day discover that although I am passionate about what I do, I am just not as good at the science.
He advised me to act more confident than I feel and that this insecurity is what many feel and something he has struggled with. He said to let it fuel me and motivate me to be the person I want to project to others.

 

I also had the opportunity to visit old friends as well as see some memorials/museums in DC! It was a fabulous trip. The museum of African American History and Culture was a particularly powerful place for me to visit.

Yes to Marching

As wonderful January has been for me personally, it was a very sad week for many of us as a new era of American politics began. This will forever be a stain on our history, and I decided to be a part of the women’s march. I will preface this with, yes I know that 53% of white women in the country voted for Donald Trump. I will not forget that, but as a black woman, I know where I stand. As a Christian black woman I know where I stand.

I choose to stand with the marginalized and to grieve with them and fight with them.

I chose to have my body be one of the 125k bodies in Boston and over 3 million around the world demonstrating that she would NOT tolerate a president like Donald Trump.

I considered staying in and sleeping a bit longer. I hoped that some friends of mine could join me, but they could not for their varying reasons. But instead of waiting and saying, “no.” I decided to say “yes.”

You do not need people to come with you.

You can say yes.

You do not need to be affirmed.

You can say yes.

Do what is right for you. Do it in wisdom.

2017 will be my year of yes. How about you?

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“That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness” – The Declaration of Independence

 

 

2016: THE YEAR OF JAMES NORTON

With 2016 nearly over, I now take it upon myself to share the highlights from this crazy year. In 2016, the impossible became possible for better or worse. I don’t remember if it was the year of the cat or dragon, but it certainly has been the year of James Norton.

I FINISHED MY SECOND YEAR OF MEDICAL SCHOOL. This now seems much less exciting as this was months ago, but it’s amazing to think how much I knew of brainstem anatomy about a year ago. I was stressing about tests and examinations, and I can really tell you, med school is no joke. Happy to be done with the first half, and waiting patiently in the suspended animation that is a research year for the journey to continue.

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I SPOKE AT FOOD FOR THE SOUL ON RACIAL AWARENESS & IDENTITY IN AMERICA. You can read more about it in my older posts, The Stuff in the Basement and The Day I Became Black. 

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Photo Credit: Randy Blackford

2016 WAS THE YEAR OF JAMES NORTON. From War & Peace to Happy Valley to Grantchester, 2016 was the year of James Norton for me and many others. Also it inspired me to read Tolstoy for the first time. I suppose I do have time now at days… This actor is one to watch! How can one person play a dashing Russian prince, a sadistic ex-con, and vicar all so convincingly? Well done, sir! Oh and I highly recommend Poldark with Aidan Turner and Eleanor Tomlinson. It has definitely taken over my life and a lot of my emotional energy. Please join me in both obsessing and commiserating. As you can see, I LOVE period dramas.

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I GOT THE HHMI MED FELLOWS AWARD! I have since been on a very excellent adventure in Boston. I talked more about my road to this opportunity in an older post.  Check it out if you are considering a research year.

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I WENT TO THE COLOSSEUM AND RUSSELL CROWE WASN’T THERE. All jokes aside, traveling to Italy was amazing. I share more photos from my April adventure here. The trip was too short, and that is just fine. It just means I have to return once again.

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Colosseum!!

THE DIVERSITY FOCUS GROUP WAS BEST GRADUATE SCHOOL ORGANIZATION. I was so proud of the group I co-led last year for all of our efforts.

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“The group selected has provided and exemplified an inclusive, involved, impactful organization that has committed to the difficult work of pushing institutions and peers to hold themselves to a higher standard. In 2014, this group created the White Coat Die-In, an event to demonstrate solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement and speaking out against structural racism and bias in medicine. They brought the program back in 2015 to again, stand together and call for increased access to medical care for all people, regardless of race, sex, gender identity, economic status, or sexual orientation. They have also sponsored potluck events and lunches to encourage students from all backgrounds to come together and talk about how to make Case Western School of Medicine a more welcoming place and finally they have implemented several reforms to the first-year medical student curriculum. It is my pleasure to award the The Diversity Focus Group from the School of Medicine as the 2016 Outstanding Graduate Student Organization.”

I WENT INTO AN UNDERGROUND BUNKER TO STUDY FOR STEP 1. It was pretty miserable except for study buddies and Game of Thrones. This was a dark time. Not much more to be said on this front.

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I MOVED TO BOSTON. STOOD IN THE OCEAN AND MADE A LOT OF NEW FRIENDS. This is ongoing. 

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HOME. 

I ROLL AROUND MEETING HEMATOLOGY CELEBRITIES. Everyday in Boston I am constantly challenged not to fan-girl.

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THE OLYMPICS WERE THE BRIGHTEST SPOT OF THIS VERY DARK YEAR. My inner 7 year old and external 24 year old were filled with pride after watching all the black excellence at the Olympics. Note to self: Simone is a great name for a girl…

I HELPED COORDINATE AN HHMI KICK-OFF MEETING. Perhaps a bit more stressful than fun, but undoubtedly very rewarding to be a part of such an amazing community.

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I LIVE IN THE SAME STATE AS HANA ERKOU AND TOLANI CAME TO VISIT ME. Let it be known that my blood relatives still haven’t visited me in Boston…

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Few things are as wonderful as reuniting with dear friends. 
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Lovely ladies in the North End. 

SICKLE CELL DISEASE WAS A KEY FEATURE OF ASH, AND IT WAS BEAUTIFUL. This meeting was dope. Can I just be a hematologist already?

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I PLAYED SANTA WITH MY COMMUNITY. My housemates and neighbors pooled our resources to get gifts for a low income family in Boston that struggles to meet their basic needs. Sometimes I really get fed-up with the angst of buying presents for people who don’t really need them and white elephants and gift exchanges. It really was awesome to instead get things for people who really need them/cannot afford to get much. Hopefully this can be come a tradition for my community as well as yours. Learn more here about Action for Boston Community Development. 

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Delivering presents has never been so much fun. 

2016 has been a year of broken hearts and dreams and also mended and new ones. Go Cavs!! Ugh, go Cubs (I know I was like the only person cheering for the Indians). THE SIMONES. The election…ALL THE PEOPLE WHO DIED. #RIPCarrieFisher

How I feel when people say, “Ghetto” inappropriately.

In this year, the Year of 2016, the most important lesson I have re-realized is that I cannot control the choices others make. The more I do this, the more miserable I am inclined to feel. I am responsible for what I choose, how I live, and what I can do with myself while I am adventuring on planet earth. This world can be so nasty, but instead of complaining with no action, I can do something about it. Sure, let’s lament over the things that stink. That is healthy. But, let’s be brave enough to choose what is right for ourselves instead of waiting for others to do it for us.

The world collectively mourns the trials of 2016…from Haiti earthquakes (can that island catch a break, Lord?) to the election…to the continued unrest in Syria. But, what makes us think 2017 will be even better? I cannot know this.

But what I know is that I can make choices for myself to better the world I live in.

Has your heart been broken in 2016? It will mend with time.

Have your dreams been yet to been realized? Keep pushing on. 2017 may be the year. And who knows, maybe there will be better dreams.