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Archive for April, 2010

My Birthday Was Plural

Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on April 18, 2010

Birthdays were never an egocentric event for me. My brother and I, although a year apart, shared the same birthday month, so my parents always combined the two into one party, one song. You know how people sing it, Happy Birthday to so-and-so? Ours were always together, Happy Birthday John and Terry. As a result, I think, I never thought of a birthday as a focus on me alone.¬†¬†This is a little odd, since some psychologists believe children under the age of 7 reason egocentrically, believing that their view of the world is the same as anyone else’s view.¬†¬†However, I at least saw that the world didn’t center around just me, but included my brother.
I remember much of my childhood, but not all.¬†¬†However, I can interpolate some things.¬†¬†I have no idea what my first birthday was like, although my mother was about to give birth to my brother, so I’m certain that weighed heavily on my parent’s minds.¬†¬†Knowing them, I assume they used the occasion to have family over for cake.¬†¬†What was my second birthday like? Well, I don’t know, but with John one year old, they might not have wanted people over so things stayed a little quieter.¬†¬†At that age, I wouldn’t have cared.¬†¬†I know we were a handful.¬†¬†By my third birthday, I’m sure the tradition got started to have both our birthdays on the same day.¬†¬†There were no other children as yet, and mom would have wanted to light candles and teach us to blow them out.¬†¬†The difficulty would have been in trying to teach us our numbers, because John needed two, and I needed three.¬†¬†She baked two cakes!¬†¬†By the age of four, John and I knew the drill.¬†¬†When October came around, and my mom started baking, we knew what to expect.¬†¬†We knew there would be a cake with four candles for me, and a cake with three candles for him.¬†¬†At the time, I remembered that previous birthday, my third, but that memory is long gone now.
You may well ask how I remember my fourth birthday at all, but I think it was the trauma of moving.¬†¬†I can’t remember the place we moved from anymore, but it had a long stairway outside the building.¬† I remember being forced into¬†a car, and driving a long way to the new place.¬†¬†The car was green, the rear sloped in a continuous curve from roof to fender. The inside had a cloth-covered ceiling.¬†¬†I remember that cloth, because in later years, it was loose, ripped, and always falling down.¬†¬†At the time, I didn’t pay it much attention, because I was more excited about where we had arrived.¬†¬†It was a small house, but it had a grass-covered front lawn.¬†¬†We had not had one of those before.¬†¬†My parents seemed happy about that, but, compared to the other lawns in the neighborhood, ours looked different.¬†¬†It hadn’t been mowed in a long time. It was wild and tall.¬†¬†I liked it, but, of course, no lawn is ever allowed to be like that for long.¬†¬†I suspect that is when my dad bought his first lawn mower, because by the time I was ten, we had moved twice again, my bother and I had the job of mowing, and that thing seemed ancient.
Those old push mowers were something else.  I delighted in the spinning blades, each one of which curved in a broad sweep, much like present-day wind turbines.  To my ten-year-old brain, the blades should have been straight, but somewhere along the line, people had figured out how to cut grass more efficiently.  Often the blades would be near-dull, and pushing that thing through the grass was not my idea of fun.  It was however, not something I had to do, but something John and I had to do.
We were sidekicks.¬†¬†From birthdays to work, we did everything together.¬†¬†Hell, we even got punished together. My father, discovering something broken or missing, would confront us. If neither one of us owned up to it, he said we would both be punished.¬†¬†Punishments ran a wide gamut then, from standing in a corner, to no dinner, to slaps on our butts, or the dreaded leather strap, which hurt like hell.¬†¬†One time, John owned up to something neither of us had done, just to get the interrogation and slapping over, and so we wouldn’t both be punished.¬†¬†Odd to think that our parents thought we’d ever do anything deliberately bad, knowing the consequences, but I guess they thought we wouldn’t ever do anything bad again if they punished us hard enough. Boy, were they wrong.
Running through the yard, we accidentally trampled mom’s azalea bush.¬†¬†You’d have thought we went outside just to destroy that bush from the way my dad carried on.¬†¬†We took our clothes off one time, and went out on the porch roof, climbing out the second story window.¬†¬†A neighbor saw us, so that didn’t go over very well.¬†¬†¬†We also thought it was fun to throw small stones out that same window at passing cars, since the porch roof kept us from being seen from the street.¬†¬†We thought we were pretty clever about it, trying to determine the exact time to throw a stone, so that it would hit a car while we ducked down.¬†¬†We could hear the thunk on a car roof or door, and one time a car squealed to a sudden stop, and backed up to our house.¬†¬†That we had to see.¬†¬†Of course, that meant we were seen. Well, it was not fun anymore, as the driver got out and walked up to our house.
Then there was the time John and I built a small fire in an empty lot behind our house.¬†¬†We tried to build it up with stones all around it, but we were too young then to know to clear the entire area of combustibles.¬†¬†It spread, and we couldn’t put it out.¬†¬†We got on our bicycles and rode for our lives, afraid we’d get caught, and we were. A neighbor had seen us, called the fire department, and called our mother.¬†¬†She made us march out to the firemen and apologize.¬†¬†They were incredibly nice to us.¬†¬†They smiled at us.¬†¬†I didn’t know what to make of that, because we had been scared to death to go out there and tell them it was our fault.¬†¬†Our parents made sure we knew the danger of fire, and read us the riot act over that one.¬†¬†I doubt we could sit down without wincing for days after that.
John and I were a class act though.¬†¬†One time, investigating a construction site nearby, my brother and I and Eddie, a friend, were dropping rocks into a pool of muddy water in the incomplete basement of a new house.¬†¬†There was a hole in the first floor where the stairs would eventually be. We didn’t question why the basement walls and the floor of the first floor were built, yet the concrete for the basement floor hadn’t been poured yet.¬†¬†It was just fun to have a huge puddle far enough below us to makes big splashes.¬†¬†Three boys, a hole, a long way to fall; what could go wrong?¬†¬†I fell in, but Eddie went for his parents, and John found his way down to me.¬†¬†I was laying face down, out cold, in the water.¬†¬†He turned me over, saving my life.
Years later, we had ridden our bikes miles away from our house, and were investigating a sewer drain outlet.¬†¬†All the storm water from the street above flowed out into a small creek, and beavers had built a dam on it.¬†¬†It was just too damn fascinating to leave alone.¬†¬†However, the concrete around the storm drain outlet was green and slimy.¬†¬†John fell in.¬†¬†The slime was everywhere.¬†¬†He couldn’t grab hold of the edge to pull himself back up; he kept slipping back into the water.¬†¬†It was deep there, over our heads.¬†¬†We didn’t know how to swim yet, and the water was dark and filthy.¬†¬†In retrospect, I think he was panicking, because he thrashed around like crazy.¬†¬†I got on my stomach.¬†¬†I reached out my hands and yelled at him to grab them.¬†¬†He did. I was able to pull him far enough so he could climb out.¬†¬†We rode over to a nearby house and knocked, explaining what had happened.¬†¬†John was socking wet, and reeked.¬†¬†¬†My dad drove home from work and took us home.¬†¬†He was, shall we say, upset, but also happy that we were OK.
So it continued over the years, through accident after accident.  We even shoplifted together; that was a mess of trouble.   Always we survived, and both of us have all our parts.  We even fought each other.  Sometimes only one of us got into trouble at a time.  We balanced everything out by being Altar boys and Boy Scouts. We served mass and camped together.  We were a team.
High school changed everything.  I went first, leaving John behind.  John developed new friends.  Rather than follow me to the same high school, he went to a religious school in another state for a year.  It was the sort of pre-seminary school you go to if you plan to be a priest, but before you go to an actual seminary.  It was strange not having him around.  Stranger still, he changed his mind and came back after that first year.  Instead of hanging out with me however, he had other friends.  He told me about discovering masturbation.  I had discovered that on my own.  He also knew girls. He did end up going to the same high school as me, but we never saw each other.   He was one of the popular kids.  He found a part-time job after school working on an assembly line for printed circuit boards.  I rarely saw him, and he never told me how to get a job like that or what he did.   He had money, bought himself a leather jacket, and combed his hair out and down and over his face, unlike my greasy pompadour.  He was as different as he could be.  I stayed after school myself, joining various clubs: Science, Computer, Drama.  When I was home, I had to study, usually two to three hours, just to keep up.
John and I didn’t have free time anymore; no time to waste riding our bicycles randomly, exploring, getting into trouble.¬†¬†I stayed to myself. He thought I was weird.¬†¬†I didn’t have friends, I didn’t date.¬†¬†Well, I took my cousin out a couple times, but that didn’t go anywhere.¬†¬†¬†By the time I graduated high school, John and I were like strangers.¬†¬†There were no more joint birthdays.¬†¬†I got a job and left home.¬†¬†He graduated the next year and got married.¬†¬†I went to his wedding, dressed in a funky double-breasted suit I’d picked up for myself. It reminded me of my grandfather’s suit.¬†¬†I looked and felt out-of-place around the family.¬†¬†I tried to look and act mature. I had even bought a packet of Tiparillos, small plastic-tipped cigars.¬†¬†I thought they’d make me look sophisticated, but when I tried inhaling one at the wedding reception, I thought I’d choke my lungs out. Clueless.
John invited me over one time after his daughter was born , a year later.¬†¬†He’d always been the skinny one, but he’d put on a lot of weight. His wife cooked a lot.¬†¬†They had certain meals on certain nights, same thing every week.¬†¬†I asked him about sex, and he whispered to me, “Tonight’s the night.”¬†¬†I thought, “What, once a week? Are you kidding?” Clueless.
I however, was very involved with anti-war activities.¬†¬†I’d been arrested.¬†¬†John thought it was a joke, that I’d gotten arrested for the hell of it.¬†¬†Neither of us had been drafted, but I was caught up in a counter-culture, one that distrusted the family unit, authority, the draft, wars, and law itself.¬†¬†I liked marijuana and tried LSD a few times.¬†¬†Dropped out of school, lost my job.¬†¬†I moved away.¬†¬†I had many lovers.¬†¬†Sex was my favorite drug.¬†¬†I was a drifter and a carny.¬†¬†I settled on the other side of the country, poured bronze, worked as a hod carrier, then found work in a cancer research laboratory at a University.¬†¬†I took free classes there, got a degree.¬†¬†¬†I got married and divorced twice.¬†¬†I retired.
I still miss my brother.¬†¬†His 40th wedding anniversary is coming up soon.¬†¬†I think I’ll go see him.¬†¬†¬†We’re so much alike.

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A Tale of Two Cats

Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on April 3, 2010

Hey Charlie boy, strange furry little child of mine. You want to go out, do you? Here you go, I said. Charlie, a tiger-striped short-haired domestic tabby, lept out the now open cat door. Why they waited like that puzzled me.¬†¬†Charlie and his other half, a black and white short-haired domestic tabby, come and go as they please. Sometime they stay out all day, sometimes they pop in for a bite and pop right out again. Sometimes one or both sleeps on my bed all day. In summer they sometimes don’t show for a day or two. I never can figure them out. They don’t need me to open the cat door, but if I’m in the room, they sit or lay patiently until I notice them, and wait for me to hold the flap up so they can leap through the hole.
There’s cat litter in the house, but they rarely use it.¬†¬†I hardly ever change it anymore. I can pull out the occasional piece of dried shit.¬†¬†I can often hear them running around over my head. They love the flat-roofed houses around here.¬†¬†There are six houses connected together, so they often run full tilt across the roofs, sounding like herds of miniature horses.¬†¬†Cats and horses, of course, have exactly the same gait, moving both legs on either side in unison, alternating from one side to the other as they run.
Often they wait outside the clear plastic door, waiting patiently for me to notice them. I let them in. Sometimes they eat, sometimes they want to be petted, sometimes they are just looking for each other. Sometimes they want to go right back out.
If I’m too slow to notice them, they start scratching the small throw rug by the door.¬†¬†There’s a small rug by my bed that they do the same thing to, if I’m too long in bed in the morning.¬†¬†Charlie sometimes meows at me, but the other one, Kilala, just scratches like mad.¬†¬†Sometimes they want food.¬†¬†Charlie has a high-pitched meow he uses when he’s hungry, so I always know just what he wants. If he wants attention, he simply jumps up on my lap, or on the desk if I’m at the computer.
Kilala doesn’t ever jump up on me. She likes to rub her neck on all the corners of the walls, and likes me to pet her, mostly just around her neck and head. She was the feral one, showing up out of the blue one day.¬†¬†Charlie was barely a year old when she showed up; I had raised him from a kitten. His mother had camped out in the yard, and dropped her litter.¬†¬†I fed them every day.¬†¬†Since this was the second time a cat had dropped a litter there, my wife insisted I get rid of them quickly.¬†¬†Before I did, I heard one of them mewing and crying away from inside the fence I had recently put up.¬†¬†There were pickets on both sides, and he must have fallen in from on top.¬†¬†Fortunately, I had used deck screws to put the fence up, and I undid the screws on the plank closest to the crying.¬†¬†It was the little striped orange cat I’d later call Charlie.¬†¬†I took him over to his mother, petting him all the while.
After a few more weeks I went to Animal Control for a trap.¬†¬†I set it up early, and put their bowl of cat food inside.¬†¬†Later on, I found the mother and most kittens inside.¬†¬†That made my wife happy.¬†¬†She was glad to see them go.¬†¬†It was the second litter I’d had to get rid of. I’d kept the mother of the first litter, after leaving all her wiry, well-trained mousers at Animal Control.¬†¬†They were such lively, healthy animals.¬†¬†I’d watched the mother train them in mousing, bringing them a field mouse to learn how to catch.¬†¬†I hated to see them go, but my wife insisted, and she wasn’t interested in waiting for people to come by and take them.
I had the mother fixed; no more kittens for her.  She was a gentle cat, obviously a runaway, as she was well used to people, cat food and houses.  But, one day a few weeks after she been spayed, she died in the garden.  My wife noticed while she was watering.  I was sad. I never knew what killed her: complications from her spaying operation? insect poison on the garden?
But, next spring there was another female, another litter.  That was the litter Charlie came from.
When I trapped them, Charlie was the only one who hadn’t gone into the trap. So I kept him.¬†¬†My wife wasn’t enthusiastic about the idea, but as long as the menagerie was gone, she was OK with keeping one.¬†¬†Charlie was almost feral himself, still very young.¬†¬†He stayed away from the house, but showed up every day looking for food.¬†¬†While he ate, I petted him, and it must have imprinted, because, to this day, he often waits by his food until I pet him.¬†¬†He’s the only animal I’ve ever seen who will allow himself to be petted while eating. He even purrs as he chomps away.
I think Kilala was no more than six months old then she showed up.¬† I never knew if she’d stay, so she was just “Girl” for the longest time. She was incredibly thin, but then I noticed her belly hanging down. Damn, another pregnant cat.¬†¬†She took to Charlie right away.¬†¬†They hung out a bit until she had her kittens, then she was often missing.¬†¬†One day I found her with her kittens in a small pit under an old, low-slung bench in the garden area.¬†¬†She grabbed one of the kittens and ran to the fence, vaulting it like a champion despite the bundle in her teeth. Later on, I noticed she had taken all the kittens, probably in the same manner.¬†¬†As they got older, they needed more food than Kilala could provide, so she brought them all over to the bowl I had Charlie’s food in. She had eaten there before, so now she was teaching her progeny where the food was.¬†¬†I had to put a lot more out.¬†¬†I was happy again to see the kittens playing, fighting, running around the yard, but my wife insisted they could not stay. Again, I had to round ’em up and take them away.¬†¬†I kept Kilala of course. She was a great companion for Charlie.¬†¬†¬†I can’t stand to see animals kept by themselves.¬†¬†Most animals, especially cats and dogs, are very social creatures. An animal locked up by itself, in a house or yard, is the cruelest kind of life, I think.
Charlie had already been neutered, and I had Kilala spayed.¬†¬†I kept my fingers crossed, and was very happy to see that she survived.¬†¬†Eventually I coaxed the two of them into the house to eat.¬†¬†They had a ball investigating all the rooms in the house, and chasing each other through them.¬†¬†They didn’t, however, like it when the outside door was closed.¬†¬†They loved running out and in, and out and in again.¬†¬†Whenever I could I left the sliding glass door and screen open.¬†¬†In winter, when I couldn’t, I had to open the door every time they wanted in or out.¬†¬†They never ran away. Even if they were out all day or night, they waited by the door for me to let them in again.
My wife hated the way I catered to them.¬†¬†I couldn’t see just leaving them outside, or confining them inside, so I became their doorman.¬†¬†I didn’t mind.¬†¬†They are affectionate to me and each other, although, just as people do, sometimes they fight with each other. Often they mate, even though both are fixed.¬†¬†It is always funny to watch them, curling together like a Yin and Yang painting, then suddenly fighting, or chasing each other around and biting and hissing.¬†¬†But always, they return and sleep curled around each other.¬†¬†¬†They remind me so much of married couples, with one exception: they stay together.¬†¬†Either one could leave, but they never do.¬†¬†No matter how much they fight, they end up licking each other’s face, and cleaning each other’s fur.¬†¬†And always they like to sleep together.
Not like humans.¬†¬†My wife is no longer with me. We grew apart, without much affection passing between us anymore.¬†¬†I loved her, but she seemed, to me, to be cold and hard.¬†¬†Perhaps it was all in my mind.¬†¬†I told her once, after she’d been away, and she kept insisting, drunkenly, that¬†I tell her, that I hadn’t called her because I hadn’t missed her.¬†¬†I had actually enjoyed a little time away from her. I meant nothing radical.¬†¬†It just was nice to have the house to myself, with peace and quiet, without the constant noise of the TV and her nagging, once in a while.¬†¬†I hadn’t meant more than that, but she wouldn’t talk to me anymore, wouldn’t listen to me.¬†¬†She made me leave, and, of course, I took the cats.¬†¬†The cats went with me kicking and screaming, but they adjusted to the new place, and they stay with me. I never heard from my human companion of fourteen years again.

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The Future is Backwards

Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on April 3, 2010

my indigestion, my yellow teeth
pain in my feet, pain in my back
or is it my sacroiliac?
all the times I’ve come to grief

they add up over time
these aches and pains
the body slows, stiffens
joints pop and squeak

The mind wanders though time
dull painful memories
sharp happy ones
the future is looking back

Posted in humor, Life, love, My Life, rambling, Random Thoughts, rants, relationships | Tagged: , , , , , | 3 Comments »

A DNA Vignette

Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on April 2, 2010

The synthesis order from Dr. Jella’s lab was taped to my lab door when I arrived, even though I was early. Science marches on, without regard for working hours.¬†¬†After flicking on the lights, I dropped my lunch bag on my desk in the rear of the lab, under the sealed windows that let in light, but no air.¬†¬†I turned my PC on.¬†¬†I wanted a cup of coffee. I wanted to sit quietly for a few minutes, playing Solitaire.¬†¬†But, I had unfinished orders from the day before, as well as these new orders.¬†¬†I’d be lucky to synthesize all of ’em by days end. A long day ahead of me, probably ’till 7:00 pm.
I typed the first sequence into the machine: ACGCCCTATTACGACGAAGTTAC.  I could synthesize four pieces of DNA, or RNA simultaneously.  It would take almost four hours for the DNA Synthesizer to complete four oligonucleotides, then I could start the next four. Hopefully, they would finish in time to let me start another four before I went home. Those would run overnight.
I finished entering all the code letters for all of the syntheses, checked the level of the liquid reagents at every bottle position, and started the Pre Run.¬†¬†Solenoids clicked on and off as current was applied to each one, moving a magnetic rod back and forth to allow the flow of gas or liquid for each step of the syntheses. Click, click-click, click, click-click, click, click, click, and occasionally the whoosh of gas as regulators adjusted the pressure of ultra high purity nitrogen that pushed all the liquids around.¬†¬†After all the lines were purged of air and old liquids, and fresh liquid flowed from each reagent through all the lines, I started my first batch of the day.¬†¬†I was happy that I’d had the machine upgraded from the original two-position one.¬†¬†I’d never have been able to get this much done so quickly.¬†¬†
I went for coffee, brought it back and sat idly in front of my PC.¬†¬†I took a few sips while I stared out the window at a clear blue New Mexico sky, then got to work.¬†¬†I entered the sequences I was making into my database, so I could keep track of them for billing purposes.¬†¬†My lab was not directly funded by any grants or stipends.¬†¬†I had to bill each researcher for the work I did, and then they paid me out of their grants.¬†¬†It wasn’t a hard job.¬†¬†The machines did most of my work, synthesizing DNA, or occasionally some RNA.¬†¬†The RNA was tricky, as it required careful handling and sterile conditions.¬†¬†There are enzymes that destroy DNA and RNA, but of the two, the RNA enzyme, RNAase, was the worst.¬†¬†If contaminated with RNAase, the RNA I made would be useless, experiments ruined.¬†¬†Time and money would be wasted.¬†¬†I would lose credibility.¬†¬†I was very careful in my work.
Besides the work synthesizing, I had other jobs: two of which were either synthesizing proteins or sequencing them.¬†¬†In sequencing, the machine took each protein apart, one amino acid at a time and pumped it past a detector to identify it by its characteristic wavelength.¬†¬†I didn’t have any orders for protein synthesis today, fortunately, because the process consumed a lot of time, and required constant monitoring. The final step in protein synthesis involved the use of a dangerous, highly corrosive acid in gaseous form: HF, or hydrogen fluoride.¬†¬†HF is used to etch glass. Due to its insidious nature, it can splash undetected on your skin, and slowly eat its way to the bone. I hated working with HF.¬†¬†People using it had lost arms, eyes, lungs and some had died.¬†¬†I had to prepare a super cold bath of dry ice and methanol to cool the gas into liquid form for use.¬†¬†¬†When I opened the valve on the HF bottle, everything had to be ready: I wore a special apron made of acid resistant material over my lab coat, and wore similar gloves.¬†¬†I had a special clear shield over my entire face, and the apparatus for using the HF gas was shielded behind a glass-sashed fume hood.¬†¬†In theory, the gas flowed into my collection vial, liquefied, and cleaved my synthesized protein off of the glass beads it was attached to as part of the synthesis protocol.¬†¬†Then it flowed through a trap of strong base to neutralize the acid.¬†
The first time I had tried the procedure, my boss at the time had worked with me. Dr. Latif was from an Arabic family, but had grown up in Trinidad, been educated in England, and had worked for the Mayo Clinic.¬†¬†He was an interesting guy, full of stories about his parents and Trinidad.¬†¬†Oddly enough, we were the same age, and liked the same kind of music, rock ‘n’ roll and Motown.¬†¬†I needed music playing to get me through the day.¬†¬†In today’s world, an iPod would have sufficed, but in those times, the music came from my radio/tape player and coworkers needed to like the same music for that to work.¬†¬†Dr. Latif and I were suited up in our protective gear, and we switched on the gas.¬†¬†All looked well at first.¬†¬†The gas was cooling into liquid form, and flowing through the simple apparatus.¬†¬†Suddenly the plastic container of strong base began to implode.¬†¬†It made no sense.¬†¬†We had followed all the instructions perfectly, and the pathway of gas was clear.¬†¬†For some reason, it was back flushing, collapsing the trap.¬†¬†We couldn’t just shut the gas off, because we feared the trap would either backflush into our protein mixture, or worse, rupture, spreading gas and caustic base all over the place.¬†¬†Without losing our cool, we increased the pressure of a secondary gas, simple nitrogen that also flowed through to help keep the HF moving.¬†¬†We opened the exhaust stopcock all the way. Success.¬†¬†The plastic trap re-inflated.
After the experiment was over, we both let out of sighs of relief.¬†¬†The danger had been very real.¬†¬†We laughed too.¬†¬†We were the only ones who knew the danger.¬†¬†If the HF gas was released, and even if we’d gotten away safely, that floor of the building would have been in danger. Likely the entire building would have to be evacuated and sealed off.¬†¬†We’d have needed a HazMat team, police and firemen.¬†¬†It would have been a mess and created havoc.¬†¬†¬†We worked out our own procedure after that, and never had any further episodes.

Today, my first four oligonucleotides were finished synthesizing, and I took them off the machine; they would require a minimum of five to eight hours heating to be ready for purification next morning.¬†¬†I was readying the machine for the next set of orders when Dr. Jella rushed in.¬†¬†He looked anxious. He wanted to know if his DNA was ready.¬†¬†I almost laughed.¬†¬†Even if I had synthesized his orders first, it would still require heating and purification.¬†¬†¬†I told him that I could put his order ahead of the others I was about to start, and explained the time constraints.¬†¬†He was so anxious looking that I told him that if it was for a critical experiment, and he needed it right away, I could stay late, even work all night to have it ready for him by morning.¬†¬†He thought about that for a bit, but shrugged his shoulders, saying, “No, that’s alright. I can wait until tomorrow. It’s not, uh, not for anything real important.”¬†¬†Turns out it was, but he didn’t want anyone to know what he was working on.
Later, I found out that reporters had been cold-calling various researchers, pumping them for information for a story.¬†¬†¬†Dr. Jella was working on the newly hot disease: hantavirus. The disease had flu-like symptoms, and people in New Mexico had died within days of showing symptoms of what everyone thought was a cold or flu.¬†¬†A test for hantavirus was needed as soon as possible.¬†¬†Researchers were working across the country to develop such a test.¬†¬†Dr. Jella had the idea of creating a kit, using synthetic fragments of single-stranded hantavirus DNA.¬†¬†If he had told me what it was for, I’d have gladly worked overnight. As it was, research is a highly competitive business.¬†¬†Researchers across the country, especially at the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta, GA, where also racing to develop a test. Whoever developed an effective test first would not only get recognition, but would be able to grab new research money to continue their work.¬†¬†Dr. Jella didn’t want word to get out of the specifics of what he doing.¬†¬†Someone else could take that information and receive the credit, not to mention future grant money to research other diseases.¬†¬†Basically, his job and life’s work was on the line.¬†¬†¬†
I arrived for work an hour early next day, and purified Dr. Jella’s oligos first.¬†¬†Needless to say, he was at my door soon after.¬†¬†“Are they ready yet?” he asked, somewhat breathlessly, like he had run up the stairs.¬†¬†I told him they were synthesized, and purified, but I would need another two hours, at least, to dry them down. A lot of water is used in the purification protocol, and I used a freeze-drying apparatus to evaporate all of the liquid. That made it easy to reconstitute the DNA to the desired concentration for experiments.¬†¬†He looked very disappointed, but I promised him I’d bring the DNA to his lab as soon as it was ready.
Later, I found out that he was using the DNA I had synthesized for the hantavirus kit. It worked, and his kit is now used to detect hantavirus.  I got a mention in the paper he wrote describing the experiment.*  That was unusual. Most of the work I did went unacknowledged. Sometimes the lab itself was mentioned.  Most of the time, I went about my days synthesizing, sequencing, analyzing, purifying, and running the lab itself, buying materials, and billing the researchers. They paid me.  It was a good living.



*(Rapid and specific detection of Sin Nombre virus antibodies in patients with hantavirus pulmonary syndrome by a strip immunoblot assay suitable for field diagnosis).

Posted in 2000s, medical, My Life, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

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