Tag Archives: faculty

What I was up to while M.I.A.

This has helped my recovery

This has helped my mental recovery

I’m back. You may not have noticed that I had gone… but it has been a relatively long time since I posted. I blame busy-ness. I would like to blame time business (too much stuff to do), but I know me, if I want to do something, I make time for it. Really, I have not been in a good emotional place for a while and that lead to a combination of (1) needing to sit on the sofa watching mind numbing TV at night and (2) feeling too raw to write my thoughts down. It is all past (passed? I never know which one to use) me now, so I feel OK to write about it. In a nutshell:

First, I did not cope very well with my MRSA surgery

Actually, that is an understatement. I turned into a giant baby about it. I still don’t know why, but I utterly fell apart over the surgery. It wasn’t even that painful. I will say that it was deeply shocking to me to go to the Doctor’s for some anti biotics, and to leave being told I needed surgery under a general anesthetic. It bought back a lot of the feelings I had going to the OR after birth, and the thoughts I had when I came around in ICU and was told I was not out of the woods, but they were doing their best. Of laying there, with my son watching me, discussing with Wes about who we would call to warn about possible impending bad news, rather than the great news of Sam. About lying there thinking of the people he was telling while he made the ‘phone calls, feeling bad I was wrecking their night (I remember telling Wes not to call Clio becaue it was 4 am in England, and him saying ‘she will want to be woken up Lekki!’) and all the time wondering how the hell we had gotten to this place so quickly.

Anyhoo, the surgery went fine, was a piece of cake, and I came around only slightly sore (I mean geez, a med student with a fish knife could have done it). So, really I should have been fine. I should have bounced back. Bouncing back is what I do. It’s my thing. Like when I weightlifted with a fractured elbow. Or negotiated the gym on crutches. Or finished my training plan with stress fractures. Or fell down a waterfall and climbed back up. Instead I let Wes do Sam’s night feed that night, and on Saturday took Sam to bed with me and refused to move, for the whole day. Wes was pleased, I think, but very shocked. He came and bought me lunch in bed, and seeing all my stuff around me said “Wow, you really are planning to stay here then?”.

Recovery Day!

Recovery Day!

Yes. Yes I was.

That was only the beginning of me starting to lose it. I went to the surgeon two days later to have my dressings changed. I expected to see a cut. A skin wound. I did not expect to see an inch long, and 3/4 in deep hole into my flesh. I did not expect to stare down into my flesh and see all the white and yellow and red and so on. In fact, I was so shocked I handed Sam to the surgeon and promptly lost my lunch.

The surgeon told me I had to pack the hole with gauze twice a day. I had to pull the old stuffing out, and stuff it with new stuff. I had hydrocodone to deal with the physical pain, but mentally, I couldn’t hack having a hole in body. I cried for 40 minutes when Wes told me that I absolutely had to change my dressing. I hid from him. I sobbed. I begged him to leave it. I ranted that no one should have to deal with this (while fully aware that people deal with far worse every day). I shrieked at him “You don’t get it! No one should have a hole in their abdomen! Not an every day person! I know you were an EMT and saw car crashes and dead children and far worse, but that is a whole different spectrum. That is a different scale! On the everyday scale no one should have to deal with seeing their flesh! It’s not at the acceptable part of the everyday scale! This shouldn’t have happened to me!”

A somewhat confused Wes dryly remarked “At least I didn’t marry someone really dramatic or anything”.

To this day, I have no idea why I flipped my lid so utterly. Wes thinks I have not processed everything from Sam’s birth, and that this was a reminder. That burying all my emotions about the hemorrage caused them to surface with this little surgery.

I don’t know… there may be some truth in that… I don’t know. I do know that having hardly spoken about it (heck, I didn’t even really blog about it), I have the urge to grab people by the lapels and go “Do you know what I went through? Do you know they told my husband that they didn’t think I would make it? Do you know they told me that? Do you know what it is like to lie in bed, with your baby watching you from a friggin plastic box, while doctors just look sorry and worried, and use vague phrases like ‘you are not out of the woods’ and lie there dealing with the guilt that your nearest and dearest are hearing about this because you can’t make yourself better? What it is like to hear about a difficult birth and want to be sympathetic, but want also want to yell “you were carrying your sweet kid home, in your arms, with your partner so proud, before I was allowed to be in a room alone with my son, and while my body had failed and I had let everyone down and was just lying there in that stupid state?”. But then I remember that from everyone’s super kind emails to me.. yeah… they do know that, and it is only me who doesn’t 🙂

All that is left from surgery

All that is left from surgery – super recoverer!

On the upside though, (1) I am processing all that as best I can; (2) all the self pity has ended, and (3) the MRSA is totally gone and I am all healed. My surgeon (who is 75! – 75 – !) was so shocked at how quickly I healed, he did a double take. I have no pain, and just a little scabby scab. Sure, my lucrative bikini modelling career is prematurely halted, but I can deal with that.

Me before my MRSA surgery. No, really.

Me before my MRSA surgery. No, really. It was that bad.

So, I dealt with it by sitting on the sofa watching Grey’s Anatomy.

Second, work has been stressing me out. I set myself a number of goals for my first year as faculty: submit an NIH grant every cycle, and apply for one other grant each cycle. There have been 2 cycles, I have submitted 5 grants – boom. I also wanted to submit three first-author papers – done, collaborate with the ARIC group – done and get my student through her exams – done. So I did everything in 9 months not 12, but instead of making me feel good, it made me freak out.

I had my annual review. I understand that when you go for these things, you are supposed to pain a picture of ‘yes, I am awesome. See? I am a wonderful member of your community, worth far more than you ever have realized, and I have identified this tiny, surmountable weakness which when I conquer will make me even more invaluable to you’. Me? When my Chair said “So – how do you think you are doing?’ I had a meltdown and said that I had lost all my time management skills, that I was not only not working to full capacity but barely putting in 9-5, that my motivation had changed and I no longer cared about papers and prestige and that nothing I was doing was sustainable long term and I had been busy but not useful. Then I said ‘it is lucky my annual review was not last week, because I was crying about all this back then. Now I am just stressed about it’.

Ha. Luckily for me I have an awesome Chair. He said that my changing priorities (less about papers, more about advancing Science) was just a sign of maturity and made me a more welcome person in his Department. He said that time management after a family was incredibly hard – that he has struggled with it, but solved it. That he could not solve it for me, but was sure I would solve it on my own, if I just gave myself time and space and patience. We talked about ways of making my research more sustainable.

I also received an email from a dear friend / mentor / surrogate sister who pointed out that I had undertaken marriage, new job, new city, new baby, serious health problems.. all within 16 months. It was OK to lose focus a bit at work. To not have the energy to feel passionate about it. To feel like work and success are the not most important things. To feel that Sam, and our home, and my family are more pressing, and need to be clung onto more dearly.

And my mentor at UT put it most succinctly when she said “I told you not to give yourself a hard time until a year after Sam’s birth! In 9 months, you can give yourself a hard time. Until then: NO.”

So, I chilled and yes, I was very busy getting 3 grants in in Feb, but I was also very busy drinking Chocolate Stout on the sofa. Good times.

(3) I was not quite as chilled about giving up breastfeeding as I had thought. In fact, I didn’t want to give up, so I have kept on pumping, only to the following rules: no more than 3.5 hours a day & no stressing when my supply is weirdly low (think 1.5 oz after 45 mins). I just focus on getting Sam some of the antibodies and microbiota and stick at what I can give. However, it was a hard adjustment. And when I had to go from pumping 8-10 and feeding at night to 100% pumping & dumping and 100% bottle feeds, Sam decided he was not going to take the breast at all anymore. He still prefers the taste of breastmilk to formula, but even when he is super sleepy at night, he won’t drink from me, or even suckle. Little rat (lovable rat). It broke my heart.

But… it is all good now. I pump a reasonable amount and just supplement. I offer Sam my breast, he spits it out. I hug him a little tighter while I bottle feed him. It’s all good, but that also contributed to me need to sit on the sofa and eat Whole Food’s Pear and Almond Dark Chocolate. Yum.

Why wouldn't you do this anymore Sammy-Sam? Rat bag.

Why wouldn’t you do this anymore Sammy-Sam? Rat bag.

So, sofa + Grey’s Anatomy + Chocolate Stout + Pear and Almond Dark chocolate, with my puppy, has been pretty sweet. And very restorative. But, I have not done nothing…

I finalized and submitted a paper, which is now under review at Atherosclerosis. I got 3 grants in, and made a clear plan to my R01 submission (in 1.5 – TWO years – long term). I got my student a good plan to make sure she is productive and successful (that worries me a lot) and I wriggled in some quality time with my son – even bringing him into work if I had been working late and so missing his playtime all week.

Sam with Shine Chang - a very eminent Professor at MD Anderson. He doesn't know how lucky he is!

Sam at work with me, with Shine Chang – a very eminent Professor at MD Anderson. He doesn’t know how lucky he is!

I have also been doing paper crafting (fancy word for making cards!):

Birthday card for Wes

Birthday card for Wes

Baby shower card

Baby shower card for Bing

Good bye card for my OB practice

Good bye card for my OB practice

Thank you card for me WONDERFUL OB who is sadly moving :(

Thank you card for me WONDERFUL OB who is sadly moving 😦

(including some not pictured things on their way to friends in the UK – yes!)

AND, because the other thing making me sit on the sofa and sniggle Walter is my OB leaving (yes, the lovely Dr. Boswell – of to do community work! Sob), I mad some cookie monster cupcakes to say goodbye to her:

P1010675

I also hung out with friends, and ate excellent Dim Sum (which I have not found since I left the UK!):

Mmmmm.... Dim Sum...

Mmmmm…. Dim Sum…

So… it has been a time of just processing and chilling, and looking after my son and myself. In that time, little Samuel has turned 4 months! So, I will write a post on that next.

Sorry for the brain dump. Feels good though.

Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary…

How does your garden grow? Well, as this post will tell you, very well. It will also chart, in far too much detail, my weekend, before segueing off into some random thoughts about where I want my career to go.

My little garden

I am amazed, and excited: my watermelon seeds have actually sprouted. I spent today thinning them out and hoping the seedlings I left will survive (I probably should have let the plants grow for more than a week before doing that, but hey – I was excited).

Little watermelon seedlings

In the corner of the top picture you can see my banana pepper, which is a bit of cheat as it is not grown from seed. Inside things are not too shabby, either. My roquette and tomato seeds are doing well, and there are three tiny purple tomatillo shoots coming up. I have got to decide how on Earth to thin these out… The tomatoes I am thinking just pull 1/2 out and plant the plot, the roquette I am thinking divide in half and repot all into 2 much bigger pots?As well, just for funzies, as my favourite cut-flowers are gladioli, I planted those and they are winning the growth war by a long way.

Roquette spelled wrong harking back to a joke between my first ever boyfriend and I

Hidden in there is the tomatillo sprout

Woah gladioli, you’ve only been in there a week.

Not doing so well is my herb garden 😦 Except for sweet basil:

Nothing… yet

Mmmmm…. basil…. I spy caprese salad on the horizon.

Next up, we have cantaloupe planted today, some green bean seeds (well… beans…) soaking and some cherry seeds ready for their 90-day chill. And an experimental attempt to grow seedlings outdoor in the punishing Texas heat, not in my little indoor greenhouse.

See you in three months little stones

Leaving this outside and seeing what survives.

This weekend has been fun 🙂 And, importantly, relaxing. Saturday involved saying goodbye to Wes’ car and picking up a new, family-friendly one. Wes’ cars are the epitome of his Lekki-orientated sacrifices. He gave up his beloved Jeep Cherokee to be able to get me a truck, while he rode around in his terribly beat-up BMW (that often smoked on the road). Then he traded that in not for a cool car, but some 4-door Nissan with hatch back (dog / grocery room), good mileage and an excellent safety record. Poor lad. I however kept my fun, but child-Unfriendly purple truck.

Bye bye Beamer-Beater

Then we had lunch while we were out, and found an awesome Mediterranean buffet (link included for other Houston peeps). Buffet food is always going to be mass produced, but here there were stacks of salads (pasta, fatoush, tabbouleh), different grilled veg and meat, and then LAMB SHANKS all for $12. We were most pleased. Stuffedm we wended our way back home, I dyed my hair one or two shades closer to its natural colour now (baby steps… baby steps…)

By the time Firework gets here, I aim to be free of the chore of hair dying 🙂

and out to see Moonrise Kingdom – one of the funniest films Wes & I have seen for a while. The characters pulled of their quirkiness in away that was utterly bizarre, yet completely hilarious. Murray was a gem, and Bruce Willis impressively understated. But, I think the kids stole the show. Think: Napolean Dynamite meets Amelie. (Although I hate Amelie).

Sunday we went back to Life Pointe church, to hear a sermon about treating those you love with kindness and respecting their God-given uniqueness to help build them up, not break them down. It was another great message from a church Wes & I are so far very happy at. Grocery shopping (boo), work (double boo – I always save my boring tasks for the weekend) and then Sunday is chef’s (Wes’) day off, so I made meringues and spag bol for for dinner. For the first time in America, my meringues turned out perfectly: gooey and light, chewing down to a sticky gooey ball, and holding their shape in the oven to a perfect ‘nest’. Whoop.

Nests of perfection

Tonight I have one review to do (boo) and then it is settling down with my new book. They didn’t have the third in the ‘Dragon Tattoo’ series (just finished the second one) so I took a chance on:

Didn’t like the TV series (but that may be because I kept falling asleep – chicken and egg problem) so we’ll see how this goes.

Then an early night before off to UT 🙂 The first week went well. It was frustrating to be finishing up UAB work that I thought was done, but good to be shifting that into the realm of ‘submitted’. I spent the week talking to people, learning the structure of the institution, the things people were working on, the available data. I feel I am at a cross roads, and have to decide whether to (1) do my own, utterly independent thing or (2) fit into the workings (and data and analysis) of the very successful groups already at UT. Tough call. I was brought in to do 1… but that is much riskier than 2 when one thinks of tenure and promotion and not getting kicked out, grantless in 3 years. I’ll write more soon on how much I decide to burn the boats, follow my heart and my passion, and how much I play it safe.

Hmmm…. sounds like the answer is pretty obvious there 😉 But for this week ahead, I am just looking forward to meetings with both my mentors, and to continuing to count opportunities at UT, and to feeling blessed.

I, as yet, have only one tip for new faculty. Walk up to everyone (even if you have to go into their office), hand outstretched, and just say “Hi, I am so-and-so and I am new faculty in the department of X’. I have met so may people this way, and learned so much. I think changing institutions challenges you in a ways you both could and could not imagine – but then again, from the greatest challenges come the greatest growth 🙂 You are, I guess, playing off ‘papers and grants’ progress against ‘developing as a Scientist’ progress; and I know I am glad I picked the latter – it was right for me. More papers would have been wonderful (man, would it have been wonderful), but I think I personally would feel less fulfilled. I guess that is why I was glad I made such a radical departure for my postdoc, and and why I am glad I have done it again for my first faculty position. It is scary though: to be alone, to trust in your ideas, to follow your (Scientific)-heart. None of the relative safety of incremental Science (I found X to be associated with gene Y, so I am going to deeper sequence Y / sequence another region of Y, or look in different populations, or switch drug X for drug Y in my analysis). Incremental Science has the highest chance of success – we need it for sure. It is just not for me. I’d rather fail at my hypothesis than support the current one.

But again, ask me in 3 years when I am failing to feed my family. Speaking of which, got to go and finish my ‘Daddy’s night off duties’…

 

Daddy’s night off