Tuesday, November 19, 2013

blog as you are: kim miller

Kim Miller has frequently been the only entity standing between me and a full hypochondriac breakdown. She lives a few blocks away from us in Highland Park, but right now she's at a melanoma conference in Philadelphia, which is how the medical jet-set rolls. Here's how she spent a recent day there:*

Kim, her daughter Bea and a chicken wearing a monocle, I think.
7:00 AM: My iPhone alarm goes off, set to Digital—the sound that most captures how I feel in the morning, disoriented and robotic.  I’m at the Philadelphia Marriott, room 1244, in town for the 2013 Society for Melanoma Research Congress. I have two scientific posters on melanoma prevention in the conference, one of only 4-prevention focused posters (and the other two are from my research team).

7:50 AM: Sonia, the 4th year med student who I’m sharing my hotel room with, and I head downstairs for the pre-conference breakfast. We’re moving fast because breakfast ends at 8 AM. We manage to snag some food and coffee and sit down at a table. A sleek woman sits down next to us and introduces herself. She’s a fellow in medical oncology from New York. She asks me what I do and I realize I’m not sure exactly what to say. “I, uh, am getting my Ph.D. in Preventive Medicine, or Public Health, or Health Behavior Research.” None of them seem quite right, but all are true. We’re late for the opening panel so we don’t really talk much more than that anyway.

8:30 AM: We enter halfway through the first presentation which is about putting sunscreen and protective clothing on mice and exposing them to ultraviolet radiation. It seems protective clothing works better to prevent the mice from developing melanoma, as sunscreen offers only partial protection. His talk will be the last I understand, because after that it’s all about MAPK (ERK) inhibitors and oncogenes and whatnot. One researcher acknowledges his mice, which is nice.

But the verdict is still out on rats in hula skirts.
10:00: It’s coffee break time, but only for melanoma! I’m guessing the sign is intended to  deter risk managers, who are having their own conference down the hall from us, from stealing our coffee. But I don’t think they need to, because I am pretty sure they can afford their own coffee.

Coffee better not cause cancer. IT'S ALL I HAVE LEFT.
12:00: Lunchtime. Sonia and I grab food from the Chinese buffet and stand at a table to eat. A kind-faced German researcher joins us. He introduces himself and asks us about our work; he studies adverse reactions to immunotherapies. An older bearded American man comes over to our table and immediately engages the German, ignoring Sonia and me. He brags about the transcription pathway he named in the 1980s to impress the German, and basically turns his back on me but gesticulates near my face while I'm trying to eat. I’m like, WTF, and move closer to Sonia. The German tries to include us in the conversation but the bearded American is too dominant and the German gives up.

2:00: I’m back in the hotel room to rest and do some work. I write emails, send some texts, and work on my structural equation modeling term paper. I’m super-tired and contemplate taking a nap, but that’d be crazy, right?

3:00: I’m semi-napping and get a flurry of emails from my Principal Investigator about a new potential study he’s all enthused for us to do. I realize that conferences give him Ideas, which then gives me more Work. Not sure that's so great.

5:00: Poster time! They are having an evening poster showing reception. The presenting author is required to stand next to the poster and desperately try to engage anyone within radius in conversation.

I bet that New Kids on the Block poster you had when you were twelve couldn't prevent cancer, could it?
5:45: No one but members of my research team have spoken to me about my posters so far. Finally, a man comes over and is interested in the work we’re doing with melanoma prevention and kids. He has a 7 year old. We talk about kids…and a little about our study. I feel desperately grateful for his attention.

6:00: An actual Swedish person is interested in my poster! She reads it in depth, asks several questions, and asks for my contact information. Maybe I can go to Sweden!

6:30: I have a long talk with the health economist who has the poster next to mine. She’s sweet and we compliment each other’s work. She gives me her card and tells me that any time I need a health economist to give her a call. That actually is a lot more useful than it sounds.

This little piggy did not eat roast beef. Because eating red meat contributes to cancer.
7:00: My PI comes over and tells me to go talk to poster #115, who turns out to be my Australian doppelganger, a woman from Perth who is doing population based research on melanoma. She wears the same kind of eyeglasses I do and we have one of those animated talks full of shared references, hand waving, and brainstorming. My colleague Loraine calls her Australian Kim. Maybe I can go to Perth!

8:00: Sonia, Loraine, and our PI find a restaurant with sufficient beer choices to please our PI and proceed to drink, gossip and jibber-jabber in the way you do when you’re in a strange city with colleagues after a long day. 

11:00: Three hours more of working on my term paper and I really should go to bed. Tomorrow morning begins genomics, and more incomprehensibility for basic-science-challenged me. Sonia flies back to LA tomorrow to work a 7-7 ER rotation and I’m heading in the evening to my cousin’s in Philly to spend two days with family.  I’ll miss the liminal conference space. Apparently next year the congress is being held in Switzerland, but my PI has given me a pretty clear indication that’s not going to happen for me.

Yeah, but does Switzerland have a signature sandwich? (Swiss cheese steak?)

*Guess what? The Blog As You Are Project is an ongoing thing for as long as you good people care to send me write-ups of your day. Just email them, with a picture, to cheryl.e.klein[at]gmail.com.

4 comments:

joewon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
joewon said...

Cheryl, really. A million heartfelt amitabuls and inshalas and amens and all the other things of the similar kind to "Coffee better not cause cancer"!

joewon said...

Sorry Cheryl, for making a mess here. I was going to fix a word but the whole thing got delete(boohoo). Conferences can be fun but always so tiring and disorienting... Bah to the bearded American, and yay to all those interested in your poster. If you head out to Sweden or Australia, Kim, I'm tagging along!

Cheryl said...

Seriously, Joewon, I think for every cocktail, donut and piece of cheese I give up, I substitute one cup of coffee. Or I watch an hour of stupid TV online. My body/brain has some kind of vice quota it must meet.