Search Results for "mother"

Mar 10 2016

More thoughts on my aging mother

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The sadness I feel when I visit my mother is often close to unbearable. But obviously, bear it one must. When I leave I often physically shake, like a wet dog, to shake off the feelings and move into the rest of the day.

But sometimes the feelings stay with me, like a burr on your sock. You know,  the kind that you notice because its got a small itch or irritation from the spines going through to the skin. You reach down and try and pull it off, but it won't come, because it and its 15 sibs are stuck tightly in the fabric of your socks. So you pull on them, and pull the sock away from your leg, and it seems better for about 10 minutes, and then that creeping little itchy irritating feeling starts coming back, gradually until you feel like you can't stand it any more.

Some days, that's how I feel after seeing my Mom. I am thinking about how she was, when intact (a very mixed bag indeed). I am thinking about what she is like now and what I can do to make it better for her (probably nothing, other than visit more). Sometimes I am thinking about how furious I am with my brother and sister who have effectively abandoned her. Yes they know that I am here, and I am watching and taking care. And if I wasn't, I believe that they would step in. Except, except.... the long cathartic paragraph I just erased about my sibs was best as a catharsis, and not necessarily entertaining for all of you.

So I write about my mother to honor her. I write about my mother to remove that burr from my sock so I can get on with my day. I write about my mother so that even if you don't know her name, her accomplishments, or just her, what she has done lives just a little bit longer.

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Oct 12 2014

Dreams and Mothers

I read a marvelous post by activist Deborah Jiang-Stein which is an excerpt from her new book. I don't want to give away the punch line, which is very powerful.

Part of that power was to make me think about lost children and lost mothers. No, not think, feel. I've written some about my mother, who was a powerful mentor to me from when I first thought I wanted to be a scientist. Aside 1: here is a difference between a boomer & a younger: My instinct is to say "when thought I wanted to be ..." and my junior colleagues would say "when I knew I was going to be...". Moving on.

My mother has end-stage Alzheimer's disease. When I moved to my new almost-MRU, I brought her with me. I had taken my last job at the old-MRU to be in the same city as my parents at the ends of their lives. My mother now needs 24-care, and I am extremely lucky that she saved enough money for this wretched end of life. Aside 2: anyone struggling with this issue who would like advice and suggestions based on my history, email me, we can talk. Right now, my mother is not the person who mentored me, fought with me, and over the years said many hurtful things. The person she is now is a different person. This is very hard for my sibs to understand, and they seldom visit her any more.

It's not entirely wretched. She has a little speech, but no language. She cannot feed herself but she loves ice cream. She smiles at me, sometimes. She gets angry, still. And she will occasionally kiss me, though she gets kissing and eating mixed up sometimes. And once when I laid my head down on her shoulder and started crying, she put her arms around me and made soothing noises.

One memory of her, of something that infuriated me at the time. Earlier in her disease, she'd have no time sense and call at all hours. She went through a couple of months where she'd call in the middle of the night and ask about the "little ones" or "my small ones". Sometimes she would be in a panic, not knowing where they were. I learned to say "Mom, I have the little ones. They are with me tonight. They are sleeping but they love you". Sometimes she would ask "are they safe?". Sometimes, she would say "that's good" and then just hang up. Now I hold onto this memory like a worn-out good luck charm.

I am friends with some of her friends, now in their 90's. Women of that generation at any MRU all knew each other. Most are sharp and insightful and a joy to talk with. They tell me stories about my Mom, and often those stories will trigger dreams. In my dreams my mother is intact, and talks to me. We fight a lot, which we did before. But she's there. She's talking to me. And that is enough.

Oh, one of my mother's best comments to me:

Get a PhD, not a husband. A PhD is more useful.


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Jun 23 2017

Criticizing people based on their age

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I object to the across the board, frequently negative, characterizations of "millennials" for a bunch of reasons, but they fall largely into three baskets.

In no particular order:

Firstly, I object to the whole damn generation thing on statistical grounds. See here.

Secondly, It's easy to find people who have negative traits or embody things you dislike or distain. You can probably find those characteristics in people of any age, and people with those characteristics at any point in historical time. Is it about the person or about the group? Do this trait appear more frequently in  a given group, defined by some other group characteristic?

And thirdly, which is really an extension of secondly, when someone does or says something you don't like, it's easy to paint with a broad brush and attribute it to their group membership. It's ok to do that with age groups (both young and old) these days, but we've sort of come to our senses about doing this when the group is race, religions, gender, orientation, and maybe a few more. (Note, this is different from Political Party Membership, which is much more of an active choice, but still, one needs to stop and think).

Now, maybe the thing they said or did or didn't do or didn't say that was objectionable to you was because of their group membership. But maybe they're just an asshole.  When you start making group generalizations, you run the risk of characterizing people who you might like, who you might find as a friend or an ally, who might help catalyze your growth, as being just like the asshole.

So why write this now? There was a comment on this blog, and it was considered rude and wrong and horrible by many people on the tweets. I'm not going to censor the comment, nor unfollow because of some very strong tweets. The discussion has had many good points that have made me think, and made me take some actions to support and defend young people, where I have the power to do so.  But I'm not interested in that broad brush that says "discount all the oldies". Discount me, because I'm ignorant or selfish or dress inappropriately. Unfollow me, because I'm a jerk, or insensitive or I like coffee too much. But because I'm old? It won't matter to me, but it might matter to you.

My mother, the gerontologist, was a life long democrat. She worked for Adlai Stevenson (ok, go read the link, I've made it easy for you) in the 50s and Civil Rights in the 60s. When Ronald Regan ran for office, there was a lot of talk about his not being able, because he was so old. She was furiously opposed to this line of thinking. "Criticize him because he's wrong. Because his policies are selfish. Because he's not too smart. But leave his age out of it. What if the guy you really liked for policy reasons was that old?".


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Jun 22 2017

Is it really 99.9% drivel, and how do you know what the other 0.1% is?

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In the post on "genius" and publication rate, someone remarked on the "the incremental drivel that populates 99.9% of journals today".

Nope. Nopity-nope-nope-nope.

Here's a better model than genius and drivel: explorers/pioneers/settlers. I won't guess %'s because I suspect it is a constantly evolving thing, with %settlers increasing over time.

Explorers sometimes find things and sometimes don't. Its hard to be a full time explorer today. Even for older, funded people, because its tough to get money to support exploration. Pioneers follow where the explorers found a hint of something, a suggestion of something. Pioneers can get money, sometimes. Settlers come after the Pioneers have done some land clearing and make a living there.

Now, one thing that can happen is that Explorers find a New and Exciting! method. Pioneers often find an application for the method, but the progress in science doesn't happen till the Settlers get there. Sometimes. Sometimes, you need a lot of Settlers, collecting a lot of data, till a larger pattern emerges, with New! Ideas!  We can all think of examples. PCR? Xrays?

Now as for incremental drivel? We can do basic science/evolution/ecology. We can do medical research. Lots of that incremental stuff is important. It may not be as exciting to the BSD's of this world. It may not get the headlines. But it's absolutely necessary.

Let's think about evolution for a moment. Or even Ecology. Finding fossils, describing distributions of plants,  may fall in a social category of exploring, but its often damn incremental work in terms of the science. It is the basic data of what tests theories and drives new ones. Heck, even doing population genetics can require a lot of tedious, incremental bench work. Let's not forgot that Mendel raised peas for years before he got to genetics. Darwin studied worms and corals as well as finches.

The tedious work of documenting ecological networks is often done on a set of species by set of species projects. It can be years in the making, and Image result for polyalthia rogstadyoung folks, heck old folks, publish a bit of it each year. What if you have a set of 10 species in a genus? They exist in sympatric (living in the same place) groups of 2-4 across a very large region (say, Thailand through Malaysia, Borneo, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea). How did closely related species evolve in the same place? How did they get to be different? How did evolution work in this case?  One may be able to visit a country or two a year. One must first show they are distinct species: cross breeding experiments? pollen distinction? different pollinators? differences in flower morphology (anyone who has taught or taken multivariate stats knows Fisher's famous Iris flower dataset)? I'm sure documenting the differences in 3 species that are found in Sumatra, Java and Kalimantan would count as "incremental". The person doing the research did. But after 2 or 3 or 4 years of data collection, and having reviewed, published, (validated?) the differences, to find out how distinct species can be right next to each other, tells us something about the ecology and the evolution of this (possibly obscure) set of tropical rainforest trees. They don't have much commercial value (they are small, and the flowers not spectacular). But we've learned something about how evolution works. Someone else does a similar project with small mammals, and small lizards. And one day, either the researchers get together and put it out together, or someone else sweeps in and organizes it, but A Big Picture Emerges! And we learn how this ecosystem works, together, with its diversity. And maybe some poor soul has been laboring to do the same thing in high latitudes, and they put it together, but their together is different from lowland tropical rainforest. That may be a Big Deal. But dammit, it couldn't be done with lots of incremental stuff.

The same thing can happen in medicine, the incremental improvement in chemotherapy drugs. Those increments can mean a lot to you, if it is you, or your mother, or your sister, or your daughter, who is dying. My friend, my beloved friend, who had Stage IV breast cancer is now, 18 months later, free of cancer. Yes, she has many sequelae and will live with a range of health issues. But she is alive. Five, ten years ago, she would be dead. I thank those unknown-to-me settlers who improved the drugs so that my friend is here.

I suspect we'd all like to be explorers, or pioneers. Maybe that's the dream we had when we were 10 or 15. And maybe we can hang onto that dream as we slog through the reality of grad school and being a post-doc cog in someone else's dream machine.

But to call that "incremental" work drivel is to truly miss the point. There is good work there. You may not know it. You may not recognize it. But there is work there that moves science forward. There is work that saves lives. How dare you denigrate that.



5 responses so far

Jun 14 2017

Words on Alzheimer's disease

I get the updates from the Foundation for Biomedical Research, a group that supports animal research in biomedicine. They sent a link to a recent post they had, which talked about "Still Alice", the book and movie. There is a quote from the movie (I believe) that just tore at me:

“They’ve been doing all these tests, and I’m really scared,” she said. “I know what I’m feeling. It feels like my brain is dying and everything I’ve worked for in my entire life is going. It’s all going.”

And that is the fear. The fear my mother had, the fear that I now have. We are scientists, and the thought of our brain dying is about the most scary thing, for us, that we can think of.

For my mother, and her working class origins, her brain and her hard work were her ticket out of poverty and illiteracy and the endless soul destroying labor of her parents. She could never admit her illness, never admit she was losing her brain.

Just those words! "losing your mind". They are loaded and painful and mean so much more than just Alzheimer's disease. I do not want to lose my mind. But now, it is something that is there, lurking in a corner of that mind I want to keep.


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Jun 12 2017

Grant Proposal Submission ProTip

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Always ask to see a copy of what is being submitted. If it's a program (like Coeus), you can do it online, on your intra-net (NOT on the NIH Era Commons website). If its using the pdf-package, try ask figure out what it takes to see it more than 2 hrs before it must go in. Of course, this requires you to get it to the office by (at the absolute outside) the date the Grants Office requires (often 5 business days before the NIH deadline).

Do not assume the Grants Office will do the right thing. It's your proposal. Of course, this requires you to know what the right thing is. Here are links to help you:

NIH on how to apply is here. Read the various sections. Boring. yes. Tedious. yes. Essential, ah yes.

Ignore the image of the chirpy young scientist for the video. She's obviously not pushing the deadline to submit. She obviously has much more under control than I do.

Also? The big red box on the "how to apply" page that says: Important: Access forms through the funding opportunity announcement? Here's a link to NIH Guide for Grants and Contracts or, places where you can search for announcements. There are parent announcements for generic FOA (funding opportunity announcements) - R01, R03, R15, R21, etc, as well as various training (F, K or T) awards.

As for me right now, I am reminded of one of my mother's less delicate jokes about the Sisters of Perpetual Beauty or Something. The joke is long, but the punch line is "you've just been screwed by the Sisters of Perpetual Beauty".


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May 04 2017

Research for credit, adjuncts and abuses in academia

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A comment to a previous post said:

I did lots of research for credit, and always found it ironic that I was paying tuition to essentially volunteer. In some ways, research for credit is MORE problematic. Welcome to academia, where we vastly underpay people for their work (think adjuncts).

I responded that I think there are situations in which credit/no pay is appropriate: When there is teaching going on, when the student is doing a project that teaches how to do research, when it is not just washing bottles or cleaning animal cages. I think one diagnostic feature is that the teacher/prof is putting significant (more?) energy into teaching the student, than end product that comes out.

But the issue with adjuncts is more complex than this.

So to start:  I do not think that academics are particularly underpaid. I was just speaking with a physician friend, who view on academic physicians was quite nuanced. When I was in a clinical dept at MRU, there was quite schizoid views on the "job" of physicians. Many wanted to make significant amounts of money, which is by and large not compatible with doing  research. My friend said that she thought physicians needed to make a choice: to be academics, take the salary offered, and teach and do research and basically accept that you're not going to get all the perks of a private practice. And that if you did want to get "rich" you should eschew the academic route and just devote yourself to those private patients. The problem of course, is that people, physician people, wanted both.

The punch line from my friend was apt: I get paid plenty, and have what I need, as an academic physician. It is the psychological need or compulsion to have "More" that creates problems. Relative to private practice peers, academic physicians can/sometimes perceive they are not paid enough. I hear my readers laughing at "not enough" for people making > $100K/yr.

Which brings me to one of my favorite (attribution unknown) quotes: who is rich, and should be taxed more? Anyone who makes more money than I do.

Are adjuncts underpaid? If you asked my grandmother, who worked for pennies a day, less than minimum wage in today's dollars, she'd say you're crazy. You ask an adjunct who looks at tenure track people doing similar, if not the same, work for lots more, they would be adamant that yes, they are underpaid. It's relative.

But this comes to the question of why do positions  called "adjunct" exist? From the Administrator's perspective, adjuncts are cheap, very cheap, easy to justify to the bean counters  and make a difference to over all productivity. From an adjunct's point of view, it's a way to stay in the system and hope things get better. From an economist's point of view: adjuncts exist because there is a job offered at a particular wage, and there are people willing to do this work for this wage.

And so once again we return to the mouths at the trough problem. If there were a shortage of professors/teachers / people who could and would teach college courses (supply) relative to the number that need to be taught (demand), then wages would rise. But there is an oversupply of teachers. There is a supply of people who will do this job at this wage. They may get used up and quit, but right now there is a near endless supply of such people. Universities are churning out of PhDs who are willing to do that teaching at that price, so from the administrator's point of view why offer more money? (yes, there are arguments about quality, about commitment, about long term development, but they can be countered,  we are not trying to persuade administrators at this point, and this post is already too long). There is similar logic for postdoc salaries, but see previous parenthetical comment.

The solution seems obvious: stop training so many PhD students. Or be honest with the ones you do take in. Actually, it's more than being honest: think about exponential growth. If jobs for professors are in a "replacement" mode at best (ie no growth in positions), then within a lifetime, a prof should produce ONE replacement for themselves. If a prof produces even two, and those two produce two each, in 10 generations there will be a thousand (2 ^10 = 1024). And if all those people are writing one NIH grant a year, let alone one every cycle, then of course the number of submissions is going to go up exponentially.

So to come back to the beginning: are academics underpaid. If you want to make lots of money, academics is probably not for you. But everyone in the system now has a responsibility to understand the implications, the long term implications, of their actions.

18 responses so far

Mar 15 2017

Why I write (elderly support edition)

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I've written a lot about my Mom, her dementia, my caregiving during the process. I've gotten lots of support here, for doing so. I thank you all for that. I feel like this community understood what I meant, and to a large extent what I felt.

Of course, not everyone. I've gotten some good & well meaning suggestions about how to deal with dementia. I've also gotten some stronger, and I suppose equally well meaning if I could get past the instructions on what to do, suggestions.

Here is from a comment I wrote to one of the obviously well-meaning bits on taking care of the elderly:

As for this post, it is about the feelings I have had while taking care of my mother, while watching her die . None of us [who do what I did] is looking for, expecting, or hoping for things to be different. We are telling our stories because that is how we cope.

We are telling our stories because that is how we cope. We read each other's stories so we can learn each other's coping strategies. Please, I don't need instructions on how to be a daughter. I've had plenty of experience.

13 responses so far

Mar 14 2017

Marriage and divorce and women (scientists & otherwise)

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I started a post this morning about generations and anger and the world at large. As I thought back on what it felt like to me, when I was a sprout, a particularly strong memory came to me.

About this time four men I knew, professionally, at work, were getting divorces. One was my dept chair, one was a person with whom I wanted to collaborate, and the other two were co-teachers in then large and topically integrated first year med school class that was my teaching assignment. White privileged men, but all took some interest in mentoring me, and helping me. The dept chair had been very much responsible for me getting the job I did (when most of the other candidates were significantly senior, and already had tenure track jobs, I was just a postdoc at the time). But, in today's climate, let me be clear, there was no inappropriate behavior or pressure. It could be that they were honorable. It could be that I have always given off bristly signals, and have not, am not, and do not give off traditional female signals. No body has ever accused me of being sexy, let alone attractive.

I did not really know any of the wives, having met each once or twice at social things. I was kinda used to this by now. I had been the only women in several programs I had been part of it, and was used to the awkwardness of work related social situations. But mostly these were wives and mothers and women who had given up careers for being wives and mothers (most were Silent Generation, and some early boomer generation women). When I was younger I was more dismissive of women who were not professionals. I'm older than that now. I knew two of them and they struck me as being not very nice to me, but this is through my memory and thirty years of growing up.  The other two were just frosty the figures, no one I would want to marry (not that same sex marriage was remotely on the horizon even then).

But the memory that is strongest is something along the lines of: while I wouldn't want to be married to any of the women, I certainly wouldn't want to be involved with any of their husbands. It made me glad to be where I was (at the time) in terms of my life. Of course, in retrospect, there was not a lot of "work/life balance" in my world at that time. You did science/research/medicine or you did not.  But looking at these men & their lives, set up some major cognitive dissonance, as these were men I (sorta kinda) admired in the professional arena. Yet, they were pretty much schmucks in their private lives.

It was one of my early lessons that people can seem different in different contexts. People *are* different in different contexts. These men tried, a little, to protect me from the only other woman in the department, a toxic senior woman (to whom, in memory, I try to be more generous, her road was likely harder than mine, but really, she was evil).  They helped me to get funded, to start my career, to help me a success. I'm still glad I wasn't married to any of them.



But the


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Mar 10 2017

Taking care of our elderly

Last weekend I had breakfast with one friend, and dinner with another. They both are caregivers for their Moms. Both, however, have recently moved their Moms from home to assisted living/Alzheimer's units. The medical conditions are different in these Moms, and the personalities were different before the disease.

Yet, dementia brings on changes in personality that are as tough as they are predictable. Some is a loss of executive function, and the ability, nay desire, to say whatever enters your head. I remember "You can't be my child, because I don't have so many horrible genes". Some is anger at loss of function, or bluster for covering up mental lapses. One parent of a different friend became sweet and kind and charming. But that's the only one I can recall that the changes were perceived as an improvement.

My friends are women I've known for a while, the three years since I moved to almost-MRU. They've listened to me go through the pain, yes the pain, of watching my mother slip away. We've talked about this over the years. One friends mother is just in the beginning stages, and the other about a year behind my mother. The emotion burden is huge. And I will admit to feeling some relief when listening to them that these particular stages were over, for me.

One of the moms is angry. All the time. Painfully angry. Demanding people who are gone. Demanding the presence of my friend, all the time. It is hard to leave your crying mother, whether she is angry or emotionally bereft. I know this feeling. The only thing worse is when they forget to ask you to stay, just a minute more. Or when they can no longer scream at you, demand, plead.

The other mom has lost language. At first, language loss, albeit with speech, still, seems a relief. No more harangues, no more ridiculous requests, no more crying for people who have been dead for 20 or 50 years. But quickly,  for children caring for parents, this becomes a new loss. One of the things about AD is that you lose your parent or spouse or friend over and over and over again.

Each stage, each change is a knife in the heart. Some days, leaving my mom, coming home, I would look down at my chest and expect to see blood seeping through my clothes. I would think: this is the worst it can get. My mother was no longer crying for specific people, but tears and tears and tears for unknown sadness beyond words. There is often no way to comfort people with AD. They are angry, and then worse, they do not know you want to comfort them.


My friend, whose mother no longer has language, who is drifting into that twilight where neither mother nor daughter can see anything, showed me a picture of her mom. Here it is, with my friends permission. I took one look, and knew that it was the same picture I had of my mother. Our mothers, who remembering nothing else in their lives, remember being a mother.


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