Tuesday, March 13, 2012

She Blinded Me With Science


It's poetry in motion
He turned his presentation to me
As deep as any ocean
As sweet as any harmony
Mmm - but He blinded me with science
"He blinded me with science!"
And failed me in biology

When I'm listening close to him
"Blinding me with science - science!"
I can smell the chemicals
"Blinding me with science - science!"

He blinded me with science
And failed me in chemistry

A lifetime ago I decided that I wanted to be a doctor, at least for a while. Now, this was after I ruled out policeman, fireman, musician, and all the other cool things young boys wanted to be at the time. I'd seen a few doctors in my time and they seemed like normal people with a good memory and lots of reference books. With a little smarts and a lot of confidence, I told myself it could be done.  It all made sense until...He Blinded Me With Science.

As high school faded and college became a reality, my Dad reminded me that sooner or later I had to choose a major. Before the days of the Internet it was tough to find good information about majors so I did a little research and threw a few darts on the wall. Business? No, I'd have to wear a suit everyday. Education? Perhaps, as long as I did not have teach kids like me. Computer Science? What would I do with that (ha)? Medicine? Well, of course, that’s the job for me!

So off I went getting ready for life as a doctor. I read a few articles about medical school, talked to a few professors, and even began to schedule my classes. The first was an advanced Biology class, which was challenging, but came easy to me because I enjoyed it so much. Biology seemed to be all around us so connecting to the subject matter was easy. Then came Chemistry. I was never a big fan of the topic, but if I was to become a doctor I had no choice but to climb that mountain and conquer it.

If you know anything about mountain climbing, you know walking up to Mount Kilimanjaro one day and proclaiming, "Bring it!” is not a guarantor of success. Rather, you need to get the right gear, take a few climbing classes, start out at smaller mountains, and progressively improve your skills until you are ready. Somehow this didn't enter my mind when I signed up for Chemistry for Majors.  You see I did not complete any of the prerequisites. Not only had I not taken Chem. 101 like I was supposed to, I never even bothered to take Chem. in high school. Looking back I am not sure how I got into the class, but I do remember how I felt shortly after it began.

On day one, the professor introduced himself and immediately began to cover the chalkboard with a series of phrases and calculations I had never seen before. Rather than raise my hand and ask a question, I decided to look around and see if anyone else looked lost. Unfortunately everyone else was smiling, writing away, and nodding with acknowledgement. I felt like that scene in the 80's movie "Better off Dead" when everyone except John Cusack seemed to laugh at the math teachers jokes and to race at the chance to answer the first question. I was clearly outnumbered and in the wrong place.  The teacher had just Blinded Me With Science!

I continued on with the course, eking out a passing grade and learned a few things about bravado, preparation, and hard work. When it was done, I reviewed the course load ahead and determined that this was just the start.  There would be many more classes including the dreaded Organic Chemistry ahead of me. It was then that I decided that this medical thing wasn't for me. So, off I went in another direction and over time forgot about that chemistry teacher and that class until a recent visit to CHOP.

This visit to CHOP was unlike those we have had before. It was not for the girls’ check-up or treatment. This was for a Grand Rounds speech by Dr. Barry Byrne of the University of Florida. Grand Rounds is a formal meeting where doctors and residents discuss the details of a clinical case, sharing findings and discussing options. Today, Dr. Byrne had the honor of speaking about his Pompe disease research. What made this day so special was that he had asked us if the girls could support him by answering questions at the end. Donna and I were honored and the girls were thrilled!

We met up with Dr. Byrne, Dr. Finkel, and the head resident before the talk.  We shared some stories about the girls, our experiences at CHOP, and the research studies Emma and Maddie are participating in down at U of F.  Once we were done with the small talk, we entered a big conference room filled by close to two hundred doctors all wearing lab coats embroidered with impressive titles.  As I sat down and looked around, I realized this room looked strangely familiar. It was a bit more comfortable and definitely more high tech, but it looked just like my Chemistry for Majors class.

I eased into my chair remembering that this time I had no test to take and no class to pass. I was here as a guest.  My girls were the important ones. My job was just to listen and listen I did, and confused I became. Dr. Byrne began his speech with a few jokes and then began to lay out one long technical term after another with ease.  He showed charts I could not understand and graphs I could not comprehend.  I began to sweat.  I began to panic.  Before I knew it, I was back. I looked up at the others to see if they were as confused as I, but everyone else was smiling, writing away, and nodding with acknowledgement. Oh no!  Dr. Byrne just Blinded Me With Science!

At the end of the talk, he invited the girls up on the stage to tell their story and answer questions. I stood on the side of the stage for support, as this was their show. I could tell that at first the experts weren't sure what to do as they looked at these sisters on stage. Should they ask questions or just respectfully listen and then clap? Rather than let the quiet set in, Emma kicked it off saying; "I do a lot of speeches at school so I’m not afraid to answer questions.  Please go ahead." That opened the floodgates and off they went. 

Question after question rolled in and Emma and Maddie fielded them with the ease of a Major League shortstop. They ranged from “what is it like to have a sister with the same disease” to “how do kids accept you at school” to “did you see the signs”, etc. I felt a rush of pride. Here were the same little girls who once sat in tears over their diagnosis, standing in front of a group from one of the best Children's Hospitals in the world, answering questions like it was a day out with their friends. Their grace, their poise, and their passion humbled me.

And then just when I was feeling my best, in rolled a question that went something like this. "Can you explain why your body experienced elevated liver enzyme levels even though you did not have a liver condition?" I glanced over at Dr. Byrne and we both realized that maybe he ought to save them on this one. However, just as he approached the microphone, Emma looked over, and waived him off. She then looked out into the crowd and replied with, "Creatine Kinase is released from your muscles when they are stressed or overworked thereby increasing the CK level in ones liver.”  I stood speechless.  

Just when I felt like I belonged with the scientists, my own daughter set me back. When I least expected it…

She Blinded Me With Science!

Keep studying,
Matt

Credit to: Thomas Dolby, "She Blinded Me With Science"


Dr. Byrne with the girls