Friday, October 29, 2010

When you wish upon a star...

You run the risk of being quickly disintegrated and undergoing fusion.
It sucks to be you, Pinocchio.

I have to say I still sympathize with the little guy. Building a trip to Taiwan as rapidly as my PI and I did was really a gamble. When we started the whole process, it was like walking into a casino and winning on ever slot machine you try. The better things pieced together, the more I was expecting Murphy's Law to kick in and shatter everything. I should emphasize that my PI shouldered a lot of the burden involved with planning it all. I helped when I could, but for the most part I was only responsible for figuring out how to pay for things and had much less reason to be afraid. However even now with only two months until we leave the feeling is the same. At least it's not entirely illogical because while almost everything has fallen into place relatively smoothly, all of my PI's and my effort might quickly implode upon itself with a single mishap. Now I just wish I knew what an example of such a mishap might be. One of the few solaces I have is that every passing day brings us one step further away from the destructive plasma of a excessive wishing star.

There's probably a reason I don't write for children.

Unfortunately, the passing of time often isn't as much of a respite from my fears. Early in the game of finding the funds for the trip, I found out after staying up most of the night working on an application for the Fullbright Scholarship that the deadline had passed roughly a year before. After that, I never forgot that the year was 2010, and finished my application to the Benjamin A. Gilman Scholarship in record time. It's partly due to a small neurotic issue I have with being late, but after missing one by a year I've got every other deadline locked down so hard they beg for mercy and leak red tape. However, even when I'm aware of how much time is passing, who or whatever is responsible for my mental health still plays games. About a month ago, my PI informed me that he was inviting other students to come on the trip as well. This was exciting, except that I knew the difficulties they were going to have finding sufficient financial support for the trip. At this moment, we have been approached by five or six students who then decided they couldn't manage to come. Thankfully, it now looks like the two young women who plan to join us might actually stick around. Even more worrisome is that I won't know the full extent of my financial support for this trip until sometime in early December. Hopefully I will be able to schedule a meeting with the local Chamber of Commerce and persuade/beg for them to support us, as that would be fantastic.

It all makes me dislike the phrase, "Time Will Tell", as the implication seems to be that "Time Will Tell How Little Sleep You'll Get Trying To Fix Things".

On that note, Happy Halloween-eve!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Shattered Expectations. In a good way.

The past few months have been really educational for me, although the lessons have only come indirectly from school. Most importantly, the importance of taking advantage of every opportunity life throws at me has been made very apparent. Surprisingly, even the ones that are disguised as week-long marathons of research and sleep deprivation can help illuminate possible paths in life. It's almost like natural selection, with the difficulties in life either molding us to better achieve the task at hand or making us cry like a two year old mad that it can't figure out something simple like walking.
Being blessed with the tendency to really only enjoy myself while running from one class/club/group meeting to the next, I've had my fair share of both molding and frustration. However, I don't cry. My face just leaks from time to time, and that's what spackle is for.
When my face is not leaking, I'm busy not having much of life anyways. It turns out that when you find things like comics, Chemistry, and Chinese entertaining, research is a great direction to go. You get to be surrounded by like-minded people who, just like you, also have no time for anything. It's surprisingly comforting, and the dividends of your investment are fantastic. I went into working with my PI's zebrafish heart failure model only expecting to get good resume fodder for my medical school application. It turned out to be some of the best learning experiences I had had throughout my undergraduate degree, and once I re-established which way was up it was a lot of fun. I didn't ever expect to get as involved in the work as I did, eventually becoming paid to research full-time during the summer as well as part-time during my final semester. Most of all, I would never have believed that I could travel to Taiwan for my research. The thought never crossed my mind until my PI asked me if I was interested.
Before going to Taiwan was even an option for me, I was simply excited to collaborate with researchers at the Chung Shan Medical College so as to tie up some loose ends from my summer research. I had been working on characterizing a compound (For I.P. purposes, lets call it "Coolstuff") that had shown great promise in the heart failure model, but there was evidence that Coolstuff wasn't working as well as we all originally thought. Basically, all of my work over the summer looked like it might be totally useless. While that is just how research goes sometimes, it would still suck. My plan was to hit up the researchers in Taiwan and ask for help using the antibody assay they had designed to detect Aristolochic Acid (AA) in traditional Chinese remedies. AA has been known to cause kidney damage in people who accidentally ingest it - thus the antibody assay. Our model depends on AA to induce heart failure in zebrafish embryos, using the anti-AA antibodies would allow us to to see exactly how the AA was working. More importantly, it would allow us to see if the AA was binding with Coolstuff. I had assumed they would just send us the antibodies if they wanted to help us at all and then we would go on our merry way doing science.

Now I'm really tempted to assume other things, because instead of mailing anything to us, we're going to them. Something has to be amplifying my assumptions, this all still doesn't seem real. I'm waiting to wake up on top of protocol sheets with a micro-pipetter stuck to my face.

Assuming the fantasy is real, the work with the anti-AA antibodies is my main reason for going to Taiwan.

I think I'll start assuming that there are lizards under my couch, because I don't care about how much damage it will cause. A stegosaurus in my living room would be worth every penny of security deposit.

Monday, October 25, 2010

New Photos, Old Story. Absolutely Nothing to do with Medicine.

I went ahead and posted some of the pictures from my trip out to the West Coast this past summer. Mostly, it was to see how the slideshow gadget worked - and I have to say I'd like it to be a little larger. However, it was also a nice way to introduce some of the traveling I have done with regards to my future as an N.D. My wife-to-be and I drove out to Seattle, WA the week before fall semester started with the goal of learning more about colleges and general life in the area. The trip took almost two full days due to some car troubles, but luckily we were able to get things relatively fixed up in Wyoming. If we had hit Montana and the car broke down, I have my doubts as to whether I would be telling this story now. Somehow, the temperature was often in the 90-100 degree range the entire trip out there, which in Montana largely consisted of 50 mile stretches of road with no sign of civilization. Granted, Idaho would have been an even worse place to break down. In Montana the road gradually ascends the Rocky Mountains, in Idaho the road might as well be an asphalt fireman's pole. On the bright side, it's very possible to coast a car down the Idaho side of  I-90 and get some great gas mileage. It's just slightly nerve-wracking.

Morale of the story: Take the train unless you absolutely can't.Upon our arrival in Seattle, we found a great public transit system and seldom needed our car, except for when we drove to Portland to visit schools there.

We ended up arriving in Seattle some time around midnight and then collapsing in a heap. The following morning, we went to Pike's Place Market, which was great fun. If you're ever in the area and don't have time to do anything else, go to the market. You can find everything there, except for any kind of large store. The only chain that is allowed there is Starbucks, and that's because their first shop was at the market. Unfortunately, I don't have any pictures from there yet. You'll just have to go see it yourselves. Or wait a few years until I move out there and explode your screens and minds with the awesome that is Pike's place.

The pictures I did post are from the Seattle Aquarium, which is also fantastic. My lovely fiance' demonstrated her loveliness by getting us there on a slower day, which was very, very nice. A slow day at that aquarium is a lot like the first day of school - there were a bunch of people (young and old) who had no clue what was going on and did well just to remember what day of the week it was. If you can't tell, I have a slight aversion to crowds. I do not, however, have an aversion to the beautiful ocean and freshwater animals that were on display. I took as many pictures as I could without getting trampled by the herds of toddlers and exhausted mothers. The surprisingly large percentage of photos that were presentable are what you get to see.
 So far, my favorite animals at the aquarium were the otters, mostly because I never thought I would be able use the word "wriggly" to describe a mammal until I saw my first otter. The only downside is that all other animals are ruined for me. My 17 year old cat, while delightfully crotchety and annoying, does not wiggle. She only lurches, and neither she nor my apartments plants can crack open crustaceans on their chest with a rock. Yet.

Anyways, I promise I'll actually post something about Naturopathy, Taiwan, or something that's actually pertinent last time. The otters just needed to be shared.

Sunday, October 24, 2010


There are good ideas, and there are ideas that may or may not become good ideas. I'll let you decide which of the two this account is.

What I can tell you is that this will be where I post all the exciting and terrifying things I come across in my attempts to become a Naturopathic Doctor. I can also tell you that my upcoming research trip to Taiwan will be posted here as well. In fact, that may be the large majority of the content posted here for the next few months, as I am currently in my final semester of undergrad and will be leaving for a month-long stay in Taiwan at the end of December.

Along with another student and my research professor, we will be engaged in a broad spectrum of work during the trip ranging from drug characterization to drug discovery. Much of this work will be centered around the Zebrafish heart failure model designed by my professor, with the hopes of developing drugs for human heart failure. Alongside this work, we will be learning about traditional Chinese medicine through visits to local medicine shops, gardens, and even a couple of TCM schools. I am especially looking forward to this, hoping to get my N.D. as I am, but I'm also intrigued by the personal nature of this learning. My favorite example of this is that a good friend of my professor has agreed to show us first-hand how to prepare a medicinal meal geared towards fighting cancer. He learned these skills while taking care of his ailing grandmother. Now, in addition to opening his home to us for food and rest, he is passing on this healing knowledge. Honestly, I'm a dumbfounded by this level of kindness and generosity, particularly by its prevalence in the planning stages of this trip. It's very impressive, and I truly hope to reciprocate my gratitude.

Another great aspect of this trip is that we have planned many activities, but there is still some freedom for us to venture out on our own. I thoroughly plan to take advantage of this, as not doing so would be completely ridiculous. I haven't spent the last two months fighting to keep this program alive just to arrive in Taiwan and go with the motions. Along with my professor, this trip is very much a labor of love and determination - one that we hope to get the most out of. So pray that my memory stays sharp and my camera holds up while I'm there, because they're both going to be put through their paces.