Outreach while recovering (or why I should stop volunteering for stuff)
I got bullied into it. Okay, maybe I felt guilty. I don’t know! Whatever the reason a few weeks ago my school-PI emailed several of us asking if we would be willing to do a virtual outreach event today. Somehow, despite just having surgery, I am the one doing it. Since this blog is just as much for me as it is for all of you, this is a cautionary tail and a reminder to myself to just say no sometimes.
It’s not that big of a deal, thankfully the event is just an hour long, virtual, and I can chill at home while I give the same talk I normally do. It’s the talk about how I ended up where I am now. It’s the same talk I use when I’m doing Skype a Scientist talks (A GROUP I HIGHLY RECOMMEND FOR ANYONE WHO WANTS TO DO OUTREACH BY THE WAY!!), so in the big scheme of things it was minimal effort for something that makes me look good (despite looking like crap from surgery) and that’s not a terrible thing. So let’s start at the beginning and talk about how I even ended up in this situation to begin with.
Like I said, an email went out to a handful of us from my school-PI. There was an outreach event happening today that he couldn’t do himself because he is a busy PI who has a lot of other projects going on. Not a huge deal, but he specifically emailed five of us from the lab asking one of us to do it. Two of the people are leaving the lab and moving out of state, so both of them declined because they needed to pack/move/etc. Which leaves three of us to take the job.
Well I didn’t want to outright say no, so instead I explained that I was having surgery just a few days prior to the event. However, if no one else would be able to do it, then I could take it on. That right there, that was my mistake because no one else bothered to reply to the email. What I should’ve done was explained that I was having surgery and I would like the time to recover. Instead I had to be a huge idiot (not the first, nor the last, time) and say I could do it if no one else was available.
Regardless, one week after the email went out I got a follow up email from my school-PI saying thanks for taking on the event. It turns out I’m a perfect fit for it. There’s a short talk section, then a project for the kids to do at home. Each of the people participating today will have a whole kit of stuff to work with supplied by the event coordinators to do at home and I get ~20 minutes to talk and ~40 minutes to watch the kids do their thing..
Now, I spent most of my career building robots and prosthetics. Heck this blog was originally a way for me to find people who needed a prosthetic. The project the kids will be doing is basically making a prosthetic hand out of pipe cleaners, string, tape, and a bunch of other miscellaneous stuff. At the beginning of the year I literally made an outreach video for another event doing something incredibly similar (when I made a video the hardest way possible). So I was a perfect fit and out of everyone in the lab that could’ve taken the slot I just happened to have the skill set that most closely matched with what the kids would be doing. I don’t believe in fate, but damn it if some universe shenanigans wasn’t occuring.
Since I am giving the same talk I normally do, I have very minimal prep that needs to happen on my end. I actually spent my morning doing something I’ve been meaning to do for a few years now and that’s make an honest powerpoint slide show out of my presentation. Normally I float around using photos to tell my story, but this will help streamline everything and I created powerpoint sections so I could bounce around (which is super handy if you give powerpoint talks that aren’t exactly linear, I recommend it!) and it took me literally less than 10 minutes to do since I have all the images organized by topic anyway.
Now for the fun news. I don’t know if I spoke on the surgery I had or not, but it was a sinus revision surgery. There was some issues with the previous one, my nose was basically non-functional, so they took a graft from one of my ears to rebuild the cartilage inside my nose. When I explained this to one of our participants in an experiment I had to do yesterday he kindly mentioned seeing something like that on the TV show “Botched” which made me feel a whole lot better about my VA health care.
In any case, the point is this, I still look like I have two black eyes, I cannot breathe through my nose until the splits come out so I sound really weird (at least to me), my left ear is packed with material to help it keep it’s shape (sutured in place), it’s sitting very far away from my head (almost perpendicular to how an ear should sit), and it looks like it’s about to fall off because it’s all sorts of colors an ear should not be. Oh and I cannot hear out of it because it’s packed full of material to help it keep its shape. Basically I look like a mess. When my hospital-PI saw me (virtually) he immediately cancelled the rest of the virtual meetings and told me to rest. Now I do feel incredibly tired most of the day, but mentally I feel fine and physically (for what was done) I feel fine.
I’m not on any pain medications and I may turn this into a longform post eventually, but the truth is I’ve never found a pain medication that actually did anything for the pain, nothing, zero, might as well take a placebo. So I don’t normally take anything or if I do it’s because I’m hoping this time will be different. I’ve tried dozens of medicines and none of them did anything, not even side effects, it was like I took absolutely nothing. All but one medication.
I’m allergic to codeine of all things. When I say allergic, I mean weird ass side effects too. It did nothing for the pain, but it made me incredibly dizzy and extremely angry. Not upset, I mean angry, I almost jumped across a counter and tried to kill a coffee shop employee and if I hadn’t caught myself and said what the hell is going on, I would’ve done it. Seriously, I couldn’t figure out why he was making me so angry and it worried me. So I went home, checked the rather large info sheet they give you for the prescription and under very serious, but rare side effects is “agitation.” That is putting what I felt mildly, but I immediately stopped the medicine (especially since it didn’t do anything) and since that day, I warn everyone to not give it to me.
Guess what the VA keeps prescribing me after surgery? Yep, I got (yet another) bottle of codeine. I don’t even know why I bother listing things I’m allergic to if the VA doesn’t seem to care. It’s on my charts, the doctors asked me half a dozen times about drug allergies, but somehow I still keep getting sent home with it. For those who don’t recall, the last surgery, almost a year ago exactly, I almost got sent home with codeine again, but I caught it that time. Mostly because I got admitted to the hospital overnight because I couldn’t stop vomiting.
Anyway, way off the point, but the thing is I’ve had double digit surgeries, 13 if my count is correct. I’ve yet to take anything for pain after the fact. On the sliding scale of most painful surgeries, this doesn’t even break the top 5. It might actually be the least painful surgery I’ve had. It’s also one of the most “obvious” surgeries I’ve had, if not the most obvious. Although I did walk around with a wound VAC for three months so that was pretty obvious that something had happen too.
Yet again off topic!
So I have my outreach event today and I look like something the hobgoblin dragged in. As our lab coordinator pointed out, it is the season to scare little kids so I’m set for the part! In all fairness, it doesn’t look that bad today, but it will still be pretty obvious to anyone who sees me.
And that’s the story of how we ended up here. It won’t be that bad, but it would’ve been nice of someone else in the lab had volunteered for it. Just one more reminder that I can (and should) say no more often.