Monday, October 25, 2010

The Irony of It

Anyone who has ever attended Northwestern College (at least in the past 10 years) is familiar with the term "vocare." As burgeoning little freshmen, we were told that God does indeed have a plan for our lives and that during the next four years we, through our liberal arts education, ICLA classes and required chapel activities would begin to discover what that plan was. Vocare, we were told, was not simply a career choice, but the place where our deep passions met the world's deep need. It was a way of life, a calling, a holistic approach to serving God and serving people (and, of course, loving both). We sat in chapels and listened to seniors speak about finding their vocares, about life-changing missions trips, study abroad experiences, and divine direction. We were excited, brimming with naiveté and hope.
And then we, or at least I, reached senior year. And when I did, I still had not found my vocare. There was no divine direction, no evident application for all I had learned in the classroom. I was a writing major with psychology and youth ministry minors and no idea of how I would use any of that after graduation. I had no deep passion. The world's deep needs were too numerous and insurmountable for me to meet. The millions of dollars that Eli Lilly and his foundation provided for NW's Vocare program were wasted on students like me.
Students like me graduate, have a few "life experiences" (I spent 4 months doing mission work/volunteering in England), and then sit at our computers and wonder what to do next. Students like me take jobs in bakeries and restaurants and meat markets. We go into retail and hate it, but we don't really know what else to do, and unfortunately "seeking your vocare" is not a paying occupation. It's sad really, that such an investment (over $2 million) would not have a return.
I want to have a conversation with Mr. Lilly; to apologize to him. I want to say "I'm sorry Eli, but your hard-earned millions have not moved me toward finding God's call on or in my life." I would knock at the door of his palatial home, walk into his sitting room (a room the exists exclusively for sitting), sit down on his overstuffed suede couch, take the cup of tea offered by his adoring wife and have a heart-to-heart over some chocolate chip cookies. "I'm ashamed to admit this," I would confess, "but I have a four-year degree in rhetorical studies and I spend my days reading through lab documents, reformatting amendments to protocols, inserting commas, deleting hyphens and ensuring that "postdose" is one word and "time point" is two.
And then I would take a look around Eli's house. I would see the desk erroneously placed in the room exclusively reserved for sitting, and on that desk I would notice a pen labeled Lilly. I would see notepads for Gemzar, Prozac and Cymbalta. And then I would see a mailing from a company called Chorus and I would start to connect the dots. Because Chorus is the company for whom I just finished reformatting a protocol so that they could begin to test CXV-2333D on the rats that were ordered from Charles Rivers Labs. You see, Eli Lilly is not only concerned with the vocations and futures of young liberal arts students, but also with the toxicity of the compound CXV-2333D and its effects on the reproductive capabilities of the Sprague Dawley rat. The fact is, if it weren't for the reports that were published stating the results of the tests that were run on the rats whose lives furthered the production and success of pharmaceuticals, the students at Northwestern College would not receive $2 million to further their quest for God's call on their lives.
I would turn to Eli, ready to bemoan my empty employment at the preclinical laboratory, but would shut my mouth before the words could escape my lips. We would instead, exchange a knowing look, and I would understand that in Mr. Lilly's eyes, this is my vocare. This is what I do to meet the world's great need.
Eli and I would finish our cookies and possibly sip on another cup of tea. I would thank him for his time as I rose from the couch. And as I moved toward the door he would head to the desk and pick up one of those pens that read "Lilly." He would hand it to me, thinking himself clever for understanding that I am a writer and as such would appreciate the gift of a pen. I would thank him with feigned gratefulness, walk down the drive and get into my '93 Pontiac Grand Am. I would drive back to Kansas City and my job at the testing facility, and as I did I would wonder if the freshmen at Northwestern still came to chapel with hope in their eyes.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Inbox of interest

I am continually amused at some of the things that pass through my inbox and cross my computer screen on a daily basis. Maybe it's because I'm new, or perhaps because I don't think scientifically or haven't spent the past 5-20 years of my life immersed in lab tests and results or blood-bourne pathogen training.
Whatever the reason, I do not cease to smirk at the following:

I've read a lot of protocols and reports. Tox (i.e., toxicity) studies exist to gauge toxicity of a substance. In order to do so, study directors must examine the organs of the animals, which consequently requires that the animal die. I'm used to reading about necropsies, and yet I can't really get past the line "At each necropsy, gross observations will be made..." It isn't that the necropsy bothers me, but rather that I find the term "gross observations" so terribly appropriate. Clearly I was not cut out to be a scientist.

The other day I received this in my inbox:

Hello everyone:
The radioactive waste pickup has been pushed back to Wednesday, 13th October. Please transfer all radioactive wastes (lab waste, carcasses and radioassay vials etc) to the waste collection area (Room 222) as soon as possible. If you have any question, please let me know. Thanks
I was sure to have all carcasses out of my office and in Room 222 in time for collection.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Life passes before my eyes...and my computer screen

It's strange to me how quickly I become desensitized to something like death. When I first started working as a copyeditor for a laboratory, it bothered me to know that countless (or rather carefully counted and calculated) animal lives were being sacrificed on a daily basis. Reading through documents that read "Examined parameters will include clinical observations, mortality and moribundity checks, body weights (for dose volume determinations), and twice daily colonic body temperature measurements (a.m and p.m)," wasn't so bad. It was the "On Day 2, five animals from each dose group will be sacrificed," and "On Day 10, the remaining five animals from each dose group will be sacrificed," that got to me. Sacrificed. Day after day after day.
And then it was my second week of work, and then my third, and at that point it didn't really bother me any more. "Dogs will be euthanized." "Animals will be sacrificed." "Rats will be terminated." That's just the way it is. The portion of the report labeled "Animal Disposition," does not refer to the personality of one's pet, but rather the disposal of the aforementioned study animals. Sad. But true.
The other day I started wondering if this is the same process that occurred during the holocaust. I don't mean to equate the value of a human life with that of a lab rat, but the desensitization to death, the way that what was once disturbing has become routine, the tattoos and cage numbers, it all seems a bit creepy. But maybe my perspective is being influenced by my reading of the graphic novel Maus in high school; a piece of literature in which the Jews in concentration camps really are depicted as animals of the rodent variety.
Day after day the tests continue. The reports come in flash up on my computer screen. I read them. I edit them. And off they go, evidence of tests that have been run, and animals that have been sacrificed. I keep telling myself this is contributing to science, that it's allowing for less harmful pesticides and safer drugs that may save lives. But once in a while I think I'd rather be ignorant of what it takes for a substance to be FDA approved.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Going Parking

During both of the four-month stints that I spent in England I acquired a number of habits - drinking tea, using the phrase, "Cheers", spelling color with a "u" and recognize with an "s," letting my voice rise when asking a quetion, and taking long walks in the park (usually on the left side of the footpath). Ever since England I can't seem to get enough green space (slightly ironic seeing as the US is so much larger and younger than the UK and as such ought to have more available green space). In the past few weeks I've been on a quest to discover the parks of Kansas City.

After spending most of the day in front of a computer, I find my eyes and spirit are hungry to see something natural. During my lunch breaks I drive to the Overland Park Arboretum and fill up on peculiar flowers, tri-toned leaves, a strange assortment of "outdoor art pieces," winding paths and man-made water features. It's a visual snack that ties me over until after work, when I "go parking".

My first stop was Roanoke Park, which is just off the interstate that takes me to and from my job everyday. I was hoping the open green space would be good for walking, thinking and exploring. Turns out that most of the park has been dedicated to frisbee golf. I was not deterred. Despite the fact that I had no disks to speak of and was still sporting a trench coat and heels, I trapsed across the course, hoping I wouldn't be hit by the post-college crowd. Aside from disk golf and a baseball field, the only other feature of the park was a playground, complete with slides, swings, a merry-go-round and large plastic climbing features. I sat down in a swing and decided to read for a while. As I did a little girl with short blonde hair came up beside me. She looked me over, sat down in the swing next to me, left my world and returned to her own. A handful of children ran up to the play area and began climbing the large plastic features. I watched them for a while and tried to remember what it was like to play with such single-mindedness.

The next day I pulled off at Rosedale Park, which is more of a hill than a park itself, but green and covered with trees, so still acceptable. I followed the road round and up the hill of Rosedale, passed the Rosedale Elementary School, and found myself at the Rosedale Memorial Arch. That's where I met Jim. He was wearing an old pair of jeans, a faded blue button-up and a baseball cap. His face and hands were tanned and wrinkled, evidence of years and experiences past. I had been taking notice of the 34-foot arch, dedicated to the Rosedale residents who served in the first world war, when I turned around and Jim caught my eye. He wasn't looking at the arch, but was faced toward the city. "Real nice, isn't it?" he offered. Then, with a wave of his hand, "Come over here." I approached the picnic bench on which he was perched and joined him in standing and considering the trees and taking in the skyline. "Not many people come here," he remarked, "but it's a real nice spot. Far enough away from the noise, but you still see the city itself. I know it's not much compared to them big cities, but it's a city in the Midwest and that's something special." Jim went on to explain that he'd been coming to Rosedale for years. "I got a relative's name's up there on the memorial. I like to come out and pay my respects. And it's such a peaceful place." He was right about that. Removed from the city, uphill a fair distance from the busier streets, Rosedale is something even I might call special. "I get off work and I just like to come here." Jim told me a bit about moving around the states, traveling to places where he could get blue-collar work. He had returned to Kansas City to settle for a while, and today was just another day. "It's even prettier in the fall when them's leaves get to changing," he said as we looked out at from the table. "I'm sure it is," I replied, wondering if I'd see Jim again later in the season. "It was a pleasure to meet you, " I said. "My name's Amanda." I shook his hand, hopped off the picnic table and headed back toward my car.

The following week I continued to seek out parks - Loose being one of my favorites with its elaborate rose garden and duck-peppered pond. On my first visit there I came across three different photographers and their respective subjects. The first was pretty evidently doing an engagement shoot. The couple posed for a shot on the bridge over the pond, they unnaturally sat down in a patch of tall grass, and as they gaze into each other's eyes I wanted to roll mine. I'm sure there were the classic hand-holding shots, and several attempts to capture the perfect kiss. If I weren't so jaded I probably would have found it sweet. The second photographer was shooting a girl who looked to be about 16 and was dreadfully underdressed for the fall weather. I'm surprised she could sit in her skin-tight black micro mini skirt. But sit she did, on the high-backed oak chair with plush teal cushion that was pulled from the back of dark SUV. And if that the chair in the park and the girl in the cap sleeves didn't seem out-of-place or just a little ridiculous, add to it a small brown purse dog, strategically placed on the teenager's lap. I'm ashamed to admit I followed them for 8 minutes, before rewrapping my scarf and returning to my car.

On the weekends I like to run along the rivers (both Kansas and Missouri), or as close to them as I can get. While I was training for my half marathon I found the smaller of the two riverside parks presented on Google. I was following the path that I thought would take me to the larger park when I ended up at the Isle of Capris, a casino located along the Missouri River. I'd never been to a casino before and was a bit hesitant to enter in my racerback and shorts, but I was rather loss and after 6 miles of running I really needed to use the bathroom. I walked in, crossed the plush carpets and was overwhelmed by the flashing lights and perpetual movement. I took in my surroundings, located the bathrooms and then found a security guard and asked for directions. That part of the quest didn't prove very successful. I exited the building and after another mile or so of misguided jogging, returned to the route I'd taken to get there.

I've also taken to running along the country roads after work. It's the best way to make the most of the limited daylight. At first I was reluctant to drive 30 miles to and from work each day (putting over 300 miles on my car each week), but after running alongside horses and ponds, large sprawling houses and miles of open space, I'm quite happy to have some time out in the country. It's not the fields of Iowa, but it's close enough to feel like home.

I'm not sure what I'll do when winter comes and the weather keeps me from long hours outside. Perhaps I'll invest in warmer running gear. Or I may just find a coffee shop with a good view and large windows.