Shabbat Shalom, Social Media

In many ways, I’ve never felt more fired up about issues of diversity and inclusion than I do now. I believe in the power of active resistance. But, in other ways I’m completely overwhelmed and burnt out by the new administration. And we’re only a couple of days in.

I’m shocked that Sean Spicer stood in front of our country and boldly lied about a trivial issue. Who cares how many people were at the inauguration? But, this is a symptom of something bigger. My grandmother always told me that someone who will lie to you about something small can’t be trusted to tell you the truth about something important. I’m more shocked and appalled that the media outlets didn’t immediately and forcefully denounce what he had done. We trust the media to not just report facts, but to tell us the truth. A headline that says “Spicer reports inaugural crowds were record-breaking” is factually correct, but also misleading and not truthful. “Sean Spicer lies to reporters” would have been factual and truthful. It scares me that not only is the White House not to be trusted, but the media may also not be trustworthy. We may all need to renew our subscriptions to Teen Vogue.

Trump has opted to retain his own security force, in addition (as as a replacement for?) his secret service detail. My dear husband Strange reminds me that the SS in Nazi Germany began as a private security detail that provided security at party meetings.Is that where we’re going?

My continuous focus on this isn’t good for my mental health and I am trying to take lessons from my mixed faith household in how to deal with this. Strange is a member of the tribe and I was raised Catholic. Still, I think my own spiritual beliefs have begun to align with his Spinoza-ist views of a higher power.We try to celebrate the positive aspects of both of our faiths in our home. One of my favorite practices has become the observance of Shabbat. I like being together on Friday nights. Breaking bread, lighting candles, and giving thanks for the gift of wine is spiritually nourishing for me. I’ve gotten into learning more about Shabbat, where the greeting “Shabbat Shalom” translates to “peaceful sabbath.”

It’s made me more motivated to make it a priority to guard peace for a defined part of the week. Those that are more observant of Shabbat eschew work and potentially even electronic devices. This week I decided to try to incorporate that into my life, in an effort to gain some peace from the hurricane we’re all in. Friday to Saturday will become an electronic-free time, and a break from news and social media, where we focus on self and family. I’m looking forward to this time as a period of personal growth.  Strange and I enjoyed an electronic/social media free day this past weekend and it was wonderful. We forbade the use of the words “Trump” and “Obamacare”. Instead we spent time together, went to Costco, went running, made a lovely dinner and sat in the sauna.  It was nice to refill my energy stores.

And then when we’re recharged, we can return to the fight.

Shabbat Shalom, social media.

 

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Clip Wallets, Two Step Authentication, and Squirrels

I understand that two step authentication is supposed to be more secure. The idea is (allegedly) that by requiring a password *and* a phone verification or push notification to log onto a website. My banks have it and several of the websites at my academic institutions have it. I get the point, but it makes me feel like…

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My phone is dead at least 12 hours of any 24 hour period and I am clearly not grown up enough to manage to keep it charged. Without my phone, I can’t authorize the second step of two step authentication. I feel like I want a standing ovation for at least being able to keep my computer charged. I can’t be expected to manage the phone too. But, without the two step authentication, I can’t access stuff. Trouble is, this isn’t motivating me to improve my interactions with technology. It motivates me to realize I don’t need so many complications in my life.

I suspect my complete inability to handle two step authentication is emblematic of a recent trend in my life – a return to the analog. I’ve been writing about how one of the recent Strange family missions has been to get complete control of our finances. We went from more than $50K in debt between us to being on Steps 4, 5 &6 of Dave Ramsey’s Baby Steps, which I wrote about here. We are completely consumer debt free (this doesn’t include a mortgage, but still makes me weepy to think about), we have 3-6 months of expenses set aside for emergencies, we’re funding retirement, and we are building college funds for our 5 children. We got there in two ways – we lived on absolutely nothing for a while and we live on a written budget that we spit shake on every month. Our budget is a written contract between us.

clips

My clips, tucked into the wallet. At this point in the month, the clips are filled with mostly ones.

But, one of the most important changes I made is that I switched to cash. It’s easier to keep track of spending when your money is in your hands. It’s harder to overspend at Target when you have a finite amount of cash in your wallet. Carrying around little cash allowances has saved me hundreds of dollars a month because I see my expenses every time I open my wallet. I started with Dave’s envelope system – I carried letter sized envelopes around in my purse with each one marked. I had envelopes for food, gas, kids’ expenses, and personal expenses.  The envelopes worked great, but they got tattered in my purse. They became quite the conversation piece.

This Christmas Strange bought me the new wallet that Dave’s daughter Rachel designed and I LOVE it! My love of this wallet is unhealthy. Rather than having envelopes now, I have different colored binder clips. I wrote little words on my colored clips to help keep them straight.  The wallet itself is gorgeous. It’s leather, comes in adorable colors and has the right number of pockets. My clips are a conversation piece at the market like my envelopes were, but now they’re a higher end conversation piece. There’s a debit card and a Costco card in the wallet, but there’s no credit card. Just cash.

I’m also trying to get my students to appreciate a return to the analog. There is a time and place for technology, but I am struck by the data that show that students learn more when they put pen to paper.  I’m trying to encourage students to read and write more to support their learning – not simply rely on Powerpoint. I’m not convinced that technology helps students in physiology. As we develop the technology to push a button and make a measurement, students lose the basic principles of how the measurement is made. Theseget-offa-my-lawn are my Get Off My Lawn moments.

The first assignment I gave them, to encourage them to look at course materials, was to ask them to read the syllabus. It sounds like a simple thing, but getting students to read the syllabus is also something I’ve struggled with. I can’t remember where I heard this idea – it might have been Twitter – but I told them I’d give them a point if they read the syllabus. I also told them they’d know how to demonstrate this to me, by reading the syllabus. I embedded the following short phrase in one of the statements of university policy:

Please email me a picture of a squirrel when you read this.

I now have an inbox full of squirrels. They were creative in their squirrel picture and I have been chuckling at their squirrels over the last 24 hours. These are the kinds of assignments I like. They amuse me and they hold the students accountable.

Part of our financial freedom has been eschewing some of the technological tools that support the bank and serve to separate us from our money little bits of a time. Now, academically, I want to continue to move our students back to the basic fundamentals of physiology. Writing equations, applying equations, building things. I’m starting with just reading the syllabus.

An Open Letter to Iowa’s Lawmakers: The Proposal to End Tenure is an Immediate Threat to the Health of Iowans

professor.pngThe perception of the college professor is mixed. People know great teachers who teach great stuff. But, then there are the “other” professors. Slovenly folk with elbow patches, teaching our nation’s youth completely useless skills. Or, not teaching at all because they’ve gotten tenure and can spend their time pondering another scholar’s recent writings on another scholar’s writings on another’s interpretation of someone long-dead. All of this in the midst of an enormous student debt crisis and underemployment of our nation’s youth. If you think that’s who college professors are, I can see how you might be upset. I find the student debt upsetting also. I only recently paid off my own student loans. It’s a problem we need to fix.

In the middle of last year, the State of Wisconsin passed legislation to reduce tenure protections in the public university system. This month Iowa and Missouri followed. I love Iowa, and am proud to be an Iowan, and this bill makes me terrified as a citizen. Allow me to explain…

Nestled among the University of Iowa’s faculty are physicians. These physicians treat patients, but they also are expected to devote their time to scholarly activities. They do biomedical research, they invent new treatments, and they investigate how to make healthcare better. These physicians are so incredibly important. Tenure gives them the protection to take on the highest risks projects – the ones that might not work but, if they did, would have an enormous impact on people’s lives. They often trade a higher salary to be part of the research enterprise. These doctors keep our medical school at the cutting edge. They work in our state’s only nationally recognized children’s teaching hospital. They keep our state’s healthcare innovative. They are the leaders in healthcare. And, without them, there is no medical school.

Why is this a problem for Iowa? Missouri and Wisconsin have private medical schools. Our public medical school is the only MD-degree granting institution in the state and tenure is an important tool in recruiting talented physician teachers and scholars. Without the University of Iowa, Iowans will have to go to other states for state-of-the-art healthcare. Beyond recruiting talented physicians here, it will also  become more difficult to keep quality physicians if the medical school is hurt. Physicians who train in Iowa often stay in Iowa. They become community doctors. Students who leave Iowa to attend medical school are less likely to come back.

Finally, tenure track faculty teach the students that feed the physician pipeline. Pre-med students are all trained by tenure track faculty at the undergraduate level. Our state’s best undergraduate programs are in the public universities. If we lose talent because faculty are recruited away and students don’t feel they are being well-prepared for professional school, students may choose private or out-of-state universities. This doesn’t help the student debt problem. An education at our state’s public universities is still a bargain.

I understand the anger and frustration over student debt, but tenure is not the problem. We need to empower our students earlier to think about how they will pay for college and what they hope to gain. We need to get them, and their parents, thinking about how they will pay for college earlier. Right now, it sneaks up on them and many see student loans as their only option. I would propose that, instead of gutting an important state asset, we invest in teaching our K-12 students the foundations of personal finance. Put college on their radar early and encourage them that they need to consider cost-benefit and prepare sooner. We need to change our culture to believe that it’s not reasonable to fund an education entirely with student loans.

As a citizen, I am grateful for the fantastic healthcare I receive in our state and I hope that my fellow Iowans give careful thought to the potential implications of eliminating tenure here.

 

Insomnia, Marriage, Writing, Returns on Investment, and Gratitude

It is the middle of the night and I am awake. I’m frequently awake in the middle of the night, and have had middle of the night insomnia for years. My insomnia is the worst when there is something weighing on my mind and lately there is a lot weighing on my mind. Over the last year, I’ve spent a lot of nights awake. I really love this country, but recent political events remind me of the South American dictatorships my grandmother used to tell me about.

[From here, about  1960s Ecuador] Even Velasco’s own vice president, a Guayaquileño Liberal named Jorge Zavala Baquerizo, turned into a strident and vocal critic. Cabinet ministers came and went with astonishing frequency. This political impasse soon combined with the fiscal and balance-of- payments crises, which by now had become customary under the spendthrift habits and administrative mismanagement associated with each of Velasco’s terms in office, to spawn a major political crisis. The turning point came on June 22, 1970, when Velasco, in an action known as an autogolpe (self-seizure of power), dismissed Congress and the Supreme Court and assumed dictatorial powers.

Velasco subsequently decreed a number of necessary, though extremely unpopular, economic measures. After devaluing the sucre for the first time since 1961, he placed tight controls on foreign exchange transactions and then decreed a number of new tax measures, the most controversial of which raised import tariffs considerably. Velasco attempted to compensate for his lost prestige by baiting the United States, seizing and fining United States fishing boats found within 200 nautical miles (370 km) of the Ecuadorian coast. The intensification of the “tuna war” inflamed tempers in both countries; Ecuador dismissed United States military advisers, and the United States withdrew almost all economic and military aid to Ecuador. Such nationalistic adventures were of only momentary value to Velasco, however. In 1971, amid mounting civic unrest that verified the extent of the opposition, he was forced to cancel a scheduled national plebiscite in which he hoped to replace the 1967 constitution, with the charter written under his own auspices in 1946 the Constitution, Velasco argued, made the president too weak to be effective.

The president’s autogolpe and his continuance in power were possible because of support from the armed forces.

These self-interested dictators come into power on the wave of populist movements, and then destroy the people that lifted them up.  It makes me feel afraid for our country because so many around me truly believe that these sorts of things can’t happen here. So many more truly believe our new orange overlord is going to make their lives better. Our new leader is a bully and a tyrant. He cares little for policy and law and I am literally losing sleep over the future of the country that I love.

But my fear of the future is counterbalanced by a sense of security in what’s to come. Last week Strange and I gathered our 5 children and ran off to Belize to get married.  We had a lovely little ceremony on the beach and then some of the kids (and Strange and me, let’s not kid ourselves) jumped in the nearby pool in their wedding clothes to get drinks from the pool bar. It’s strange to be Mrs. Strange, and yet not at all strange at the same time. We’ve both been married before, so co-habitation is nothing new. We’ve also been slowly merging our lives over the last six months. Coming back, I don’t feel like a newlywed, but I do feel happy. Basking in the glow of a new marriage is different when you are chasing children and trying to keep up with a busy career.

When I woke up at about 2 am, I took down the decorations from the Christmas tree (a chore which had been nagging at me) and then sat down with my computer to work on a grant. I opened a previous application to snag an aim I had written last year and was really struck by it. Not because of how good it was, but because of how different the voice in the writing was. It was really amazing to me how much and how quickly my own writing has evolved.

Last night I got an email from one of my clinical collaborators about a manuscript we have in the works. I really adore this guy. He’s smart, funny, kind, works like a machine and collaborating with him is  one of the highlights of my career. As an aside, I am very lucky to have some amazing collaborators. My collaborator lamented in his email about how much he hates writing, and he doesn’t understand how scientists do it regularly. I wrote back that I love it, and I think I really meant it. When I left graduate school, I hadn’t publishing and I was painfully aware of my “poor productivity.” I received a postdoc fellowship my first year, but was reminded by the reviewers that my productivity was poor. I wrote a paper from my graduate work in the first few months of my postdoc and it was an unbearably painful process. I had no idea what I was doing. I have no doubt that I abused some overly kind reviewers who took pity upon me and told me how horrible my writing was, but still let me revise my submission. I started my science blog at about this time, still feeling incredibly overwhelmed by the process. I was terrified of writing.

The real message came when I wrote my K99 application.  I got the reviews back and had 1’s and 2’s in most of the major categories – except the investigator. In that category, I got 9’s.   I met with one of my mentors at my postdoc institution about the grant and he told me that the reviewers were sending me a very clear message – my ideas were good, but I wasn’t productive in the ways that mattered. I had no scientific currency and I needed to write some damned papers. I told him how much I dreaded it, and we talked about ways to improve my writing. He asked me a question that, at the time, I didn’t understand. He asked me who my favorite writers were. I rattled off a list of some big name scientists in our field and he responded, “No, not scientists. Who are the people whose writing you admire?” He told me to look at what they do and write like them.  He was telling me that I needed to read more, for both content and style, and that I needed to write more. It changed everything for me. Another mentor told me to write like a blog. That helped too many made me wonder why the blog was so easy, but manuscripts gave me night sweats.

Everything I read – fiction, non-fiction, blogs, journalism, etc – became a lesson in style for me. The message the universe was sending me was, stop developing anxiety about the minutiae of the process and just tell a story. I started asking everyone I knew about their writing process. I had a couple of mentors who let me watch how watch how they wrote their papers, and I wrote a now defunct blog post about how to craft a scientific paper. Perhaps some day, I’ll re-write and re-post it. I  harassed everyone I knew for help. The techniques I learned were solid. I also got really angry about being called “not productive” and made a goal to stamp out that perception. I locked myself in my office and wrote everything I could get my hands on.  If you look at my publication record (said as non-douchily as one can say that), it’s obvious exactly when this all went down because, in the following 12 months, I published 12 papers and have kept up a decent pace since. Immersing myself so completely in writing is one of the most valuable things I have done for my career. It’s the area I have seen the most improvement, in relation to the amount of work I have put in.  I received the reviews for a grant that was funded yesterday and both reviewers remarked that I was a “highly productive” investigator. My challenge as a mentor now is, how to convince my students that writing is their currency and that it pays dividends. I’m grateful for the lessons I’ve learned, but not how painfully they came.

The alarm in our bedroom just went off. Strange didn’t even flinch and I’ve been awake for hours. I’m realizing that I need to find some sort of strategy to survive the next four years. There has to be a way to counter-balance the sadness I feel for what’s going on around me. My next investment may need to be in gratitude. For now, I am going to try to be grateful for these sleepless nights that give me time to meditate and write in peace. And, I am going to be grateful for all the people that taught me to write, whether they know they helped me or not.

 

Why We Need a Mr. Rogers

Still thinking about communicating science to do, and really what we’re trying to do with communicating science.

This morning I find myself thinking about Mr. Rogers. I grew up with Mr. Rogers and was part of a generation that trusted him as our neighbor. So, when Mr. Rogers testified in front of Congress to defend funding for public television, he had a tremendous amount of credibility and ethos with the American public. Sometimes I watch this video when I need to be reminded that it’s ok to care about things.

Astronomers have Neil DeGrasse Tyson and physical science folks have had Mr. Wizard and Bill Nye. People that have earned the public’s trust and now can advocate for science.

Physiology doesn’t have a Mr. Rogers. We need a Mr. Rogers.

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On Communicating Science and Going for Broke…

I’m thinking a lot tonight about communicating science and why communicating science is important. This morning, I left Dr. S., Little I and Tiny Diva behind in our corn and soybean field-covered state to travel to our nation’s capitol to talk about these things. I’ve been talking about talking about science in my own cryptic way for a long time. Almost 10 years. Almost 20K of you watch me talk about science, or my life, or shenanigans in some way or another, but I’ve never really articulated why any of this is so important to me.

It’s important to me.

Sometimes, after he’s been on attending service, Dr. S. comes home and little glimmers of what he’s seen shine through the cracks in his facade. Honestly, I don’t know how he does what he does. We have five children between us. Still, after spending a day with some of the sickest patients I have ever seen…a day with people who die agonizing deaths after receiving agonizing treatments…he still has the heart to bounce Tiny Diva on his knee, or take Little I to look at comic books, or play video games with Mini S, or harass Kid 2 to clean her room already, or text Kid 1 about whatever ephemera is on her mind, or just spend a quiet night snuggled up with his family. Sometimes my heart breaks to lay next to him and think about the burden that must weigh on his soul.

There are people that are on the front lines with these patients and there are patients that are suffering. Seeing that leaves a mark. So, when I realized recently that my lab might have some technology that could help some of these people, I made a promise to do everything we could to help. I’m not the sort of person that can work on the esoteric boundaries of science.  I became a physiologist because I could see the translation from the bench to the bedside.

Some of my earliest work was in understanding how air pollution impacts the lung. I was tickled when I saw that the EPA was using our work to advocate for clean air standards. It meant that what I was doing was going to be used to protect someone – and the population I was initially interested in protecting was children. They are some of the most vulnerable to poor air quality.

I was really lucky to get a postdoc fellowship in pediatric critical care medicine. I didn’t have the foresight to see how much this would change my life, so stumbling into this opportunity was fortuitous. Still, it changed me. I met some of the most incredible people I’ve ever known – a physician who take cares of little people in the most intense(ive) situations with so much care, another who spends his spare time making sure his patients’ bike helmets fit, another who is driven to try to fix birth defects of the heart and lungs, and another who wants to help babies that are born far, far too soon. And, I watched the teeniest, tiniest of their patients, born months too soon, struggling to breathe, with paper thin skin. I saw their parents and my heart was really changed.

I tell my students that our mission is to come up with strategies to help treat some of the most life threatening challenges these babies face and to understand what’s going to happen to them when they grow up.One of the publications I’m proudest of is about a single little girl. We were working on something in the lab, and it helped her. It’s hard to communicate a mission to people unless they really feel it, but sometimes we’ll come across a 600 gram rat and I’ll ask them if they realize that it’s  the same size as the babies we’re trying to help. Sometimes their eyes light up with the realization. When they make that connection with their impact beyond the science, their commitment changes.

But, marketplace medicine scares me and I worry that now, more than ever, we need the public to be our partners in this. When you add up the dollars and cents of caring for a premature infant, how would they fare in the free market? But, if you could look at someone, show them a 600 gram something, show them the mother that is suffering, and ask them to help, I think you could really get somewhere.If you could show them how far we’ve come and where we’re going, and how invested you are in making a difference, you might be able to truly develop a partnership. You might convince them that funding these lines of research is more important than building a bigger bomb.

Sometimes when I listen to NPR, I hear ads for the John D. and Catherine T. McArthur Foundation. They are always the most memorable to me. The voice over actor says that they are “committed to building a more just, verdant, and peaceful world at macfound.org.” That’s an incredibly lofty goal. I want to believe that we could do those things. Then I remember how lofty our goal of climbing Everest or reaching the moon was, and I wonder if we could convince the public that achievement on that scale is possible again. Not that scientists are academicians who can’t be engaged, but that some of us are committed to going for broke to solve these problems. This stuff keeps me up at night.

How do we make the public dream with us again and believe that we might be able to solve problems together?

Friday Night Thoughts on Tenure…

It seems to me that the advice to pre-tenure faculty to not let yourself be seen as riding the success train of more senior faculty is in direct opposition to current trends in NIH funding. Sure, we all want to show what good, independent, senior author scientists we all are, but it is extremely difficult to secure a  grant (R01 equivalent) without the support of a senior collaborator. It is very hard to get tenure without a grant.

Wash, Rinse, Repeat.

Scientists Don’t Have Hopes and Dreams…

I feel like I am channeling the world famous grant writer @igrrrl this morning, as I edit research proposals. If you don’t follow her, you should. Her writing advice is generally gold and the nuance of words that she appreciates is brilliant. So far, I have written statements sort of like the following:

  •  The goal of a study should never be to understand a phenomenon. That is not an attainable goal in the amount of time you have to complete your project.
  • Don’t hope that your study will show something. Scientists don’t get to have hopes and dreams. “Expecting” is the closest we get to come.
  • We know that “previous studies have shown”. You cited them.

I still make these mistakes all the time in drafts and have to go back and find them and destroy them. I like to think the frequency of these grammar bombs is decreasing though. And, I haven’t used a semicolon since 2007.

Speaking of scientists having hopes and dreams, I am really starting to feel why the pipeline leaks. A house with two, demanding academic careers and small children is no joke. I feel like I am constantly running to the next thing, but the time for cooking healthy food and actually running has been sucked out of my life.

I am le tired, Donald Trump is Time Magazine’s Person of the Year, and it is -100F outside.  We cannot hope to understand any of this because it is not an attainable goal; or so previous studies have shown.

There’s a Problem with Ben Carson…and it’s Not Ben Carson’s Problem

I may be one of the few people in my social circle that likes some of what Ben Carson has to offer. I think everyone has their strengths and weaknesses and while Ben Carson has his share of weaknesses….

All_Gizah_Pyramids.jpg…he also has a lot of strengths. I appreciate that he is openly reflective about his struggles as a young man. He became chief of pediatric neurosurgery  at 33 years old and is a world-renowned, well-published academic surgeon. That is to say, while some of his views may be too extreme to make him a good president, he has gifts and strengths that could certainly be used to benefit the American people. It makes me wonder if we shouldn’t be trying to capitalize on people’s strengths for the benefit of our country. I mean, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. His Scholar’s Fund has awarded 6,700 $1000 college scholarships. Surely, this guy’s got some things we could benefit from.

What I am completely, utterly baffled by is why he would agree to be Trump’s HUD secretary. Trump has been horrible to Ben Carson. He questioned Ben Carson’s temperament and fitness during the primaries. He equated Carson’s self-described former”pathological” temper with being a child molester, saying:

That’s a big problem because you don’t cure that … as an example: child molesting. You don’t cure these people. You don’t cure a child molester. There’s no cure for it. Pathological, there’s no cure for that.”

So, if you’re Ben Carson, how can you possibly agree to serve as HUD secretary under Trump?  How could you work for someone who implied that you were incurable? And if you’re Trump, and you truly believe that someone has a pathological trait that puts them on the same plane as a child molester, how do you consider hiring that person? And how do you consider hiring them into a position that serves some of our most vulnerable citizens?  If I’m going to make that sort of claim about someone (which I can’t see myself doing), I’m not going to turn around and hire them. What does this tell you about Trump’s sincerity and judgment?

I worry that this appointment says a lot about Trump’s views on race and class in America. See, every time Trump mentions the “inner city” he follows it up with “African American”. While there are certainly intersections of class and race, living in the inner city and being African American are not mutual. It creates a boundary around minority status that is hard to overcome – that the only African American issues are inner city issues. I suspect that African Americans outside of the inner city might have issue with this. It also excludes the experiences and needs of other minority groups, both inside and outside of the inner city.

Given Trump’s rhetoric around poverty and race, I suspect that he lacks any understanding of the nuances of these issues and has not intention of addressing them in any meaningful way. His selection of Ben Carson, putting a black man in charge of housing and urban development, is a hand wavy and trivial gesture that will in no way win over the part of the electorate for whom these are important issues. And that’s a damned shame because I suspect that, given the opportunity, Ben Carson could actually have a lot to offer.

 

 

And Then That Happened…

I have a lot of empathy for students who have major family tragedies. I have colleagues that have joked about how grandmothers tend to die around major exam times, but I’ve also had a few students experience the death of someone close to them over the last year and my heart just aches for them. I lost my own mother as a sophomore in college and it really threw me for a loop.

Mentors aren’t excluded from tragedy and, just as we hopefully show mercy when our students experience tragedy, we often have to look to them for understanding when our own families are touched by death and illness. This last month has been a real doozy (I admit I had to google the spelling of that) for my family. About a month ago (I think), my children lost their great-grandmother. This was Mr. I’s grandmother and my children knew her well. My heart hurt for the loss of this special lady and Mr. I’s loss, and hurt harder for how deeply my children have felt it. It’s not easy to see your children hurt and know that you can’t fix it. Just hug and snuggle them.

Just after that, I tweeted that a member of my family was hospitalized. He’s a type I diabetic and my dad came home and found him unconscious. He spent a week in the ICU, on a ventilator. My heart broke for him, his mother, and my father, and it broke at the thought of having to tell Tiny Diva that he was so sick. Tiny Diva adores him. It broke at the thought that he might not wake back up and she’d have to face that. The anxiety of worrying for him and my own selfish worry ate away at me. Thankfully, he recovered and is doing well.

Last night I came home and spent most of the night away from social media. The lab was on a marathon of abstract submissions, I spent time with the kids, and we watched the debate. Little I fell asleep on the couch and Tiny Diva and I went to bed and snuggled. We woke up and I took the kids to school. Then my dad text me that his partner died last night. So matter of factly. Just that she was dead. I assaulted him with a barrage of texts, trying to figure everything out. He remained matter of fact, in typical dad-like stoicism. He came home from work and found her dead on the floor. And, she was a recovering addict.

Dr. S. is away seeing his kids. Tiny Diva and Little I are with Mr. I tonight, and I’m just here trying to untangle my feelings. Sometimes my dad’s stoicism is more painful than raw emotion. I got a glimmer of what was inside when my mom died, and I know it’s there. Yet, either because he’s so private and has experienced so much tragedy in his own life, or because he feels some sort of duty to not show his emotion, he keeps his emotions very close to his chest.

The result is, not only does he not share, but he also doesn’t invite sharing and I feel so distant from him. I know what I’m feeling, so I can only begin to imagine what he’s feeling. I’ve never lost a significant other. He’s lost two. But, we restrict our interaction to the brief.

“Are you ok, Dad?”
“Yup”

Dr.. S. reminds me via text message that my father is not the only one in our family with an “event horizon.” A radius beyond which emotion and intimate thoughts do not pass.  I’m more like my father than I care to admit, but only because the idea of sharing raw emotion and private information with most people makes me uncomfortable. Maybe it’s why I’ve always written a blog.

My head is also swimming with thoughts of how to tell my children. Little I is the opposite of my family. He feels everything so deeply and wears his heart on his sleeve. I love that about him. The last time we were at my dad’s house, Tiny Diva and my dad’s partner made oreo cheesecake bites together, painted pictures and watched fireworks. She adored her. I can’t even imagine how words will come out of my mouth.

“Are you ok, Dad?”
“Yeah. I went to the funeral home with her parents. They wanted to make arrangements.”

So, I’m going to watch hunker down, watch Chelsea Handler, and try to let this wash over me. I think I’ll take a day away from the lab and be with family. Get the insides of myself back together.

Addiction is really a hell of a thing. This is an unformed, stream-of-consciousness thought, but I have played it over and over in my head that, as I was watching the debate last night, my dad was finding the woman he loved, dead in their home. One of the candidates blames an entire group of “others” for the crime and drug problems in our country. These things happen in the “inner cities” The thing is, people from a different country aren’t necessarily responsible for the deaths in my family, and they don’t all happen in the inner cities. Addictions like those originate from the tip of a physician’s pen or the easy conversion of over-the-counter medications to an addictive substance.  They touch all kinds of people.

When I had shingles last year, my doctor sent me home with 60 oxycontin. I took 3. My dad’s partner had surgery a couple of weeks ago and got a small nation’s worth of pain meds.

It’s easy to blame people that look different for our country’s addiction problem, but the cause of our pain is so much closer to home – in our careless management of our pain.