Monday, May 08, 2006

More stories

Alaska Airlines
I don’t have a preferred airline – I mentioned that I make terribly inconvenient reservations, and it’s not even to fly any particular carrier. I just suck. Northwest left me stranded in Detroit for 4 hours, extending my trip back from Japan from 38 to 42 hours. I hate them.

I took BMI to England, and adored them. If I could marry an airline, it would be them. English accents, free gifts (a little pouch! With socks, one of those eye-covering thingies, a pencil, pen, paper and toothbrush! I never used any of it, but I loved that they gave it to me), juice before take-off, good food (comparatively – not like I’d enjoy it in a restaurant, but you have to understand the circumstances), lovely attendants, and video games. I spent at good 3 hours playing Dr. Mario and it helped with the sheer discomfort of the long flight.

But I flew Alaska Air yesterday and loved them a lot too. So though I’m married to BMI, if he cheated on me, I’d have an easy crush on Alaska. I read my book in a comfortable seat (and sitting between 2 people makes it difficult to call anything comfortable), gratefully ate the hot sandwich they provided, and saved my brownie and pretzel mix for later. I enjoy multiple beverage services – it gives me something to look forward to. I require entertainment on flights and watching people order complimentary beverages is enjoyable. So I highly recommend Alaska Air should you have the choice.

Not my stories, but stories nonetheless

“Look at her all young and skinny. I just hate her.” The older blonde attendant smiled down at those of us in the first few rows. She was pretty – friendly and sweet. I would have guessed she was in her 40s.

“I’ve been doing this for 40 years.” She confided to the gentleman in the first row. She had taken his coat earlier as we packed ourselves on to a full plane. “Started when I was 19.”

She shook her head. “We had to wear girdles back then. Can you imagine? Nineteen years old – best body of my life – and my boss felt me up every morning to check for a girdle. I got sent home once for not wearing one!”

She sparkled – so cheerful and lovely and younger than her years. Told stories constantly. It should have been irritating – it took much longer than it should have to complete the entertaining beverage service. But it was oddly charming to hear about the old woman who was concerned about flying so low to the ground when the pilot was using binoculars to look for elk in the 70s. And about how our attendant was trying to seat a man on a full plane, telling him to grab the first seat he saw as he followed her down the aisle.

“And he did!” She giggled, smiling down at the young woman across the aisle as she patted her bottom to explain.

“He grabbed you?!” The passenger exclaimed. “Weren’t you upset?”

“Ah, it’s more upsetting that nobody wants to do it anymore, sweetheart.” She smiled.

I thought she was wonderful – loved her job, was funny and sweet and beautiful. If I age half as well, I’ll count myself quite lucky.

Oh, believe me. I know.
Let’s say there’s a woman in my field. She works for a group that was located closely to mine in graduate school and wasn’t able to find a companion within her own lab. I knew some of what she needed to learn, and offered to provide some minor assistance as I was fond of the guy who should have taken her under his wing.

Minor assistance turned into a full-time job for several weeks. The problem? I didn’t like her. I thought she was a bit slow and boring. She thought she was brilliant and endlessly fascinating. I asked her to take some notes. She scoffed at the very idea. I stopped by her desk to help her with an “impossible problem” and found her doing crossword puzzles online instead of troubleshooting as I asked. I struggled against impatience with her, gritting my teeth and answering questions, encouraging her when I wanted to kick instead.

She sat in my room tonight and complained bitterly about the student she’s currently mentoring. How she’s lazy, doesn’t take notes, can’t apply specific examples to a more general idea.

“It’s just so frustrating!” She bit out, sitting at the chair in front of my hotel window while I lounged on one of the beds, working at my laptop to pass the time as she vented.

I just smiled, thinking that research - grad school - is a delightful cycle. And what goes around does, in fact, come around. And just like my little problem student turned into someone I’m exceedingly proud of, so will hers. The cycle works, despite some irritations along the way. So, with a fond smile, I told her she'd likely appreciate her student more as she matured. To have patience, remember that there were people who had offered help earlier in her career too.

"It'll work out." I concluded. "It usually does."

Ear update
I appreciate the sympathy and am pleased to announce that I’m mostly better. My right ear (the lesser of the 2 pains) is still a bit achy. I have, however, comforted myself.

I saw the prettiest pink purse last night on the way to dinner. Then I passed it on each of my trips to the convention center, barely stopping myself from waving to it in the window of the little shop, promising that I would return to purchase it.

The good news is that I can make it from my hotel room to the convention center (2 blocks and a flight of stairs away) in less than 5 minutes. It’s an easy walk which allows more time to sleep and get pretty in the mornings.

It’s bad because it’s intensely tempting to return to the comfortable and lovely room to rest or check email when I get sleepy or bored in sessions. So I walk back and forth a lot. Michael is the doorman until noon. Then David starts his shift. Both good guys.

“I saw it in the window.” I told the lovely older lady when she offered help after I stopped in the store on one of my many walks to and fro. I smiled lovingly at the bag, stroking the pink material. “It’s really lovely.”

“It’s designed in Scotland.” She told me. “The company used to make luggage, but has started making handbags.”

“They’re wonderful.” I told her, looking briefly at the red and orange versions before loyally returning my gaze to my little pink friend. It wouldn’t be fair to take her away from her beautiful family perched on a lace tablecloth. She needed a companion of her own. So the wallet came with us, and we’re going to be very happy together.

There’s something perfect about hearing a scientist accept an award at the opening ceremonies. When he talks of his accomplishments, his great appreciation for his colleagues, compliments the society for providing such opportunity to interact with great minds.

Then almost makes me cry when he nods at the pivotal paper cited on the screen to his left. He wrote it in 1997, but says his greatest moments arrived a bit later in life – 2.3 years and 6 months ago, respectively. Proudly replaces the paper with a picture of his 2 young boys and says they’re always in his heart but are physically with their mother, who he leaves him "awed."

I wanted to applaud every time I saw him today. He’s a brilliant man – one who is bright enough to recognize the beauty in family.

And ewww…
I was enjoying room service, settled into my hotel room after shooing my former little student out the door. I was starting to do some work (OK, fine. It was 7PM local time and I was going to sleep. I’m not proud of this, but it’s true. I was tired.) and my phone rang. I blinked a couple times, patted the nightstand for my glasses and smiled when I remembered my phone was in my pretty new purse.

“Thank God you answered.” Said a friend from undergrad.

“What’s up?” I asked around a yawn, shaking my head in dismay when I noted it was still light outside. I’m struggling with the meager 2 hour time change, folks.

She’d been having a chronic medical problem and had gone back to her doctor for a 6 month check. Since she’d shown no improvement, her doctor wanted her to do an invasive test. On Thursday. In front of other doctors. While they tested a new machine. That would only be there for one day.

I was waking up as I grew more concerned. This just sounded weird to me. A one day opportunity? With a special machine? That only 2 patients would use during the machine’s visit? What was happening here?!

So I started to ask questions. Symptoms? Options other than invasive test? Why was her doctor so insistent?

“She’s trying to save me money.” Rachel said. “It’ll cost up to $1000 if I wait. If I do this demonstration for the other doctors, they’ll cover the costs that insurance won’t pay.”

I was grateful the phone couldn’t convey my expression of horror. I was seriously scared and pulled the laptop closer to start googling my little heart out. I listened as she talked, unwilling to talk her in to or out of any specific decision.

But when she neared tears and asked what I would do, I told her I wouldn’t have the test until I had more answers. What exactly would the cost be? Who else could I talk to regarding my options? What happened if the test was positive? Was it a treatment available only under specific diagnoses? She didn’t want to take drugs – wouldn’t some physical therapy be available without such an invasive diagnostic procedure?

“You need more information.” I told her firmly. “Get online. Make a list of questions. Then call your doctor tomorrow. And if you feel intimidated or uncomfortable, either stand up for yourself or find a new doctor.”

She didn’t answer.

“You’re just going to sleep, aren’t you?” I sighed. She expressed her fear and said she’d likely just do the test. So I spent an hour looking up websites, composing questions, listing what seemed to be options. So we hung up with a reasonable plan and she’s going to get back to me.

Does this sound weird to anyone though? Did I overreact and make the doctor out to be evil? I like MDs! But this just sounded menacing to me.

More later
Now it’s actually dark here so I believe I’m free to sleep. My purse and I will have more adventures tomorrow, I’m sure. And I'll update you on my friend's medical situation as well.

If I made errors, blame the time change. I'm too tired to give this another read right now. Sorry about that.


post-doc said...

I just realized you've been kind with the comments lately - I'm likely getting more than I deserve for my irrelevant little stories. But thank you - I love to read them! And when I'm not so tired (freaking time difference - I like my central time zone!), I'll start commenting on your blogs again.

In the meantime, thank you for talking to me! :)

ceresina said...

I thought of myself as you were telling the story of the difficult student. Except I don't think I'm brilliant. Endlessly fascinating, maybe -- why else would I leave you a comment all about me? -- but not brilliant. (Maybe that will save me from bothering people & therefore being annoying.)
I think it's probably wise that you convinced your friend to look into future details first. It's one thing to cover a test because it's a demostration, it's entirely another thing to stick the patient with the recovery costs.

post-doc said...


I agree! You're endlessly fascinating, which is why you should update your blog more often, yes? :)

You should bother people - even annoy them as needed. My strong opinion is that part of graduate education is training and guiding newer students. It's an important learning experience for more senior group members and pays back the help we've already received from other people. It's an absolutely vital part of the process in my mind. But there's something to be said for appreciating that help, being conscious of making progress and respecting other people's time. But that takes practice too. And there's a small chance I'm more impatient than most. :)

I'm still concerned about my friend and her tests. I wish she knew more and hope she got the appropriate information before deciding. I'll talk to her tonight.

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