I missed a message yesterday afternoon. I failed to take my pager to a meeting and returned to the intermittent beeping that warned me of two people trying to reach me. I also had a voicemail on my cell phone (it was keeping my pager company in my bag). I returned the first of the pages and talked to one of the doctors recruiting patients for Project X. I have not held out much hope that I’d ever get data, so I was crushed that I’d missed an opportunity to meet with a potential subject by being unavailable. I left a message on her machine, but didn’t hear back.
“My plan,” I told Friend as I drove her to pick up a newly-repaired car this morning, “is to call and see if she answers her phone. If not, I won’t leave another message – I don’t want to stalk the poor woman. So I’ll email the doctor again and mention that I’d still love to speak with her if he sees her soon and she's still interested.”
So I enacted that plan and spent the remainder of the morning despondently moving through piles of work. I had wanted to fix one part of X’s experiment, but if I missed the patient, there was no reason to hurry. I was momentarily cheered when I figured out how to run some old code. I found a page of notes tucked in my files, swore at java error messages, then remembered how to fix the problem (I tend to make the same mistakes over and over and over. Which means that if I can jog my memory, I can sometimes make progress). I quickly wrote myself a text file describing how to use the various files to do what I needed (because I'll definitely forget and make the same mistakes again). I should do that more often – include notes with packets of code.
My pager sounded just after noon and I scrambled to call within seconds of hearing it. In my email to the doctor that morning, I’d apologized for the earlier glitch and promised to return any page immediately. I was told that the patient was waiting to speak to me and after a thrilled announcement to my officemates ("I have a patient!"), I hurried – files and flyers in hand – to meet her.
We talked and she signed forms and asked a few questions. My initial euphoria – visions of data and publications (I was already drafting an introduction) – faded as I noticed she looked tired.
“You realize,” I said softly, “that this isn’t likely to provide any personal benefit.” I’d explained the premise and aims. Described all risks and inconveniences. She nodded along easily, her husband making conversation with me while she read the consent form. Working in a research institution, I’m familiar with many, many patients who participate in research studies to further general knowledge or deal with pilot studies that will be pushed to full scale in other populations. It’s a big deal - giving of their time and energy to help humanity. I find it - them - to be profoundly impressive.
She nodded, asked a few more questions, and we planned our next meeting. I’m torn, frankly. I want the data. Badly, actually. And it could help her – I’m flipping through ideas on how it might do so. But though I’ve worked with oncology patients before, I haven’t had nearly the contact that I’ve set up in these projects. I will obtain consent, deal with scheduling, answer questions, talk with patients before each experiment and serve as the primary research contact throughout the process. I’m wondering how I’ll cope with it.
I’m so sorry you’re sick, I thought as we talked this morning. I hope you get well very soon. And I very much appreciate you helping with my study. I only said the last part out loud.
There was, of course, the aftermath of relief. All the setting up, getting funding, practice datasets might actually yield something useful. I spent the afternoon covering details – both scientific and logistical. At 5:00, I sat at my desk and was completely exhausted. I had been tired all day – I’m a bit overwhelmed and though I can focus and tackle one thing at a time, I feel the pressure of everything I could be doing.
There were good moments – Boss proudly announced that more journals were being sent to us. He called and asked, which, again, I find terribly sweet. I had lunch with Friend, who also had a successful day. I flopped on the bed after taking off clothes (when I got home – I don’t prance around in undergarments at work), pajamas clutched in my arms, and was attacked by a cuddly puppy. So I laughed and fended of kisses and decided I'd get up and do some work after all. I was pleased to have solved some problems today – I felt strangely capable and positive, if very tired.
I think the exhaustion caught up with me though – I was weepy on the way home. Work is finally going well. Projects are picking up, there is writing that should be happening, I can figure out problems and learn new software with some online help. I’m pleased, really.
But alone. If I had cancer, I’d be sitting in the waiting room alone. No husband to sit beside me and listen to treatment options and research projects. No children to play with the toys scattered about. I’m grateful for my health – I really am. But as I write my novel, I recall that I was willing to walk away from this whole institution if I found someone who happened to live elsewhere. I’d leave research completely with a semi-compelling reason. I think I could be equally happy doing something else, especially if something else included a family.
So. I’m a bit sad, though I feel badly about that when my problems are comparatively miniscule. I’m generally pleased (and terrified) with how things are going at work. And I’m very tired. Very, very tired. But I made it through my stack of papers and have 3 more references to download. I’m sitting through a day of seminars tomorrow, carefully tucked by a back entrance, I hope, so I can respond to the summons of my pager if it plays its ‘bee-bee-beeeep, bee-bee-beeeep’ song. I just hope I can stay awake.