Friday, July 28, 2006

Back in the land of the living

Wow--I'm really happy at how well my defense went, and the feedback I got from my committee and from the public part of the presentation. And I'm also wistful, because I'm moving on to a new stage in my life, and that's beginning next week, as I start to focus on publications and grants, rather than the degree.

Still, even with all that attachment to the last 6 years, it was a lot of fun last night to not have any immediate responsibilities waiting for me, and just to spend an evening hanging out and relaxing with friends. We went over to Emma and George's for Games Night, and they opened a very nice bottle of champagne that they'd been saving, serving it in crystal flutes. It was very good and smooth--Frank observed that it had an "apple" quality, and he was quite right. Just hanging out with close friends, not feeling the press of papers and research right at that moment--it was a most enjoyable evening of the type I've had to forego too often lately. I'm going to enjoy this feeling as long as it lasts.

Adam Schiff: "You got what you wanted. Take the rest of the week off."
Jack McCoy: "It's Friday, Adam."
Adam Schiff: "So it is. See you on Monday."

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The doctor twins

My committee sister Jill (we have the same doctoral advisor, and additionally we share another committee member as well) and I have been expected for some time now to finish our degrees at about the same time. Sometimes it looked like Jill would get her research finished before I did; other times it looked like I was pulling ahead, but it was clear that we were roughly on the same schedule.

We were negotiating dissertation defense schedules with our committees at about the same time, too. After past experience with trying to coordinate schedules among multiple people, I was pleasantly surprised how easily I proposed 10 AM 27 July 2006, and everyone instantly agreed to it.

Jill's scheduling wasn't quite so easy, as she had to coordinate with a committee member based in DC. It turns out that the only day he was available in Seattle was--you guessed it!--July 27. So she had to take 2 PM on that day, although she was very apologetic about scheduling it on "my day". I didn't mind, though, and I suspect our advisor was very pleased at the efficiency of graduating two of her students on the same day, and--as it turns out--even in the same room, when my larger room got pre-empted by a workshop.

So the ongoing question of whether Raven or Jill would graduate first finally came down to "Raven", but as it was only 4 hours, I consider that the same for all practical purposes. If we were committee sisters before, I think this makes us doctor twins now.

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Doctoral defense

Climbing up on Solsbury Hill
I could see the city light
Wind was blowing, time stood still
Eagle flew out of the night
He was something to observe
Came in close, I heard a voice
Standing stretching every nerve
Had to listen had no choice
I did not believe the information
(I) just had to trust imagination
My heart going boom boom boom
"Son," he said "Grab your things,
I've come to take you home."

To keep in silence I resigned
My friends would think I was a nut
Turning water into wine
Open doors would soon be shut
So I went from day to day
Though my life was in a rut
Till I thought of what I'd say
Which connection I should cut
I was feeling part of the scenery
I walked right out of the machinery
My heart going boom boom boom
"Hey" he said "Grab your things
I've come to take you home."
(Back home.)

When illusion spin her net
I'm never where I want to be
And liberty she pirouette
When I think that I am free
Watched by empty silhouettes
Who close their eyes but still can see
No one taught them etiquette
I will show another me
Today I don't need a replacement
I'll tell them what the smile on my face meant
My heart going boom boom boom
"Hey" I said "You can keep my things,
they've come to take me home."

"Solsbury Hill", by Peter Gabriel

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Monday, July 24, 2006

Race to the bottom

And I thought my parents were unsupportive when I told them I'd decided against medical school. Floyd Landis, who just won the Tour de France, can top that, though:

"They basically told me I was going to hell if I kept racing my bike," Landis says.

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Corvid morning

It's been a long time since I've posted; my doctoral defense is this coming Thursday, and I've been hunkered down, alternating between feverishly preparing my presentation, and curling up in the fetal position, whimpering. The way I've neglected everything else in my life, it's a wonder I still have any friends left at all who are still speaking to me. But I need to write down what happened this morning, so I can stop thinking about it, and get back as originally planned to prepping for Thursday.

Ever wondered what you should do if you find an injured or sick wild animal? That was on my list to find out about some time in the indeterminate future in case I needed it, until a crow catalyzed that particular information need this morning. Skipping to the punchline, if you're in Redmond or Bellevue, Washington, near Microsoft, take the animal to Aerowood Animal Hospital, on 156th Ave. SE, just north of I-90. They have an arrangement with Sarvey Wildlife Center to take care of the animal until Sarvey picks it up for wildlife rehab. A big shout-out to both those organizations for the work they do, on not nearly enough resources--if you care about wildlife rehab, you might want to shoot Sarvey a donation, here.

Here's what happened, and what I learned from it.

I went into Redmond to run some errands this morning, and on the way back, I noticed what I thought was a dead bird in the turn lane of the busy street I was driving on. As I drove past it, though, I saw something funny out of the corner of my eye--did that dead crow just cock its head at me? That impression rubbed at me enough to where I had to turn around and go back to check it out. And it was true--the bird was lying calmly in the turn lane, cocking its head and opening its mouth, but not flopping around or anything. There was no safe place to park, so I pulled my car up on the sidewalk and got out.

This part of the story was wrenching for me--the bird was looking at me and cawing, and I couldn't get to it without wading into heavy traffic. And nobody stopped (with one exception, that I'll get to in a moment). I feel sorry for everyone who passed by and was so time-bound that they couldn't even stop to see if they could help. It would have made a huge time difference for the bird if someone could have helped me watch out for traffic and make sure not to get run over while I tried to rescue it.

Anyway, it was not to be, and so I had to try to do something on my own. Fortunately, while I was waiting for traffic to thin out, no one ran over the crow. We had to wait quite a while, though, before it was safe enough for me to wade out there with the only equipment I could dig out of the car, a walking cane and an old computer box to put the bird in.

When traffic slowed down, I went out in the road, and--using the cane---pushed the bird to the side of the road. That's when a motorcyclist stopped, and blocked traffic enough to where I could get the bird out of the road (thanks, motorcyclist, whoever you were!). He flopped around when I moved him, clearly unable to walk or fly, and it looked like a nictitating membrane came over his eye from time to time. I don't know whether crows have that membrane, but that is what it looked to me like was happening. I got the bird in the box, and then, not knowing what to do, took it to my cats' veterinarian.

That's where I learned about the arrangement Sarvey and Aerowood have--my cats' vet tech called ahead to let them know we were en route, and we set off for Aerowood. On the way, I told the crow that if he would just hang on long enough to get to care, I'd promise to see him through whatever it took, even if that meant taking care of him myself if he were unable to be released into the wild. Then I shut up, on the grounds that a large predator making unintelligible sounds while transporting it in a box is probably not reassuring to a stressed-out bird.

The bird was alive but definitely not doing well when I handed him off to the staff at Aerowood. I'll call Sarvey tomorrow to see if he made it. I probably won't end up having to take care of him, as I promised--he probably won't make it. If he does make it, he may be well enough to release into the wild, after he is rehabilitated, or he may be too badly hurt, and have to live in captivity. If he lives in captivity, he may end up living out his life at Sarvey or a similar rehab center as a wildlife ambassador for educational outreach. So the chances of my ending up with a pet crow are very low, but if it happens, I'll live up to it and learn avian care. And since I promised Mr. Raven I won't bring home any more cats or dogs until we move to a bigger place, I'll be keeping that end of my bargain as well.

Mr. Crow, I hope that, despite the odds against you, you make it! And as promised, here's what I learned from this morning.

Project Crow Rescue evaluation:

1) I was very ill-prepared for trying to rescue an animal, having only a laptop box and a walking cane in the car, and that only by chance. Time to invest in (at the very least) a sturdy container/carrier, a pair of heavy gloves, and an emergency leash to be kept in the car at all times. After Thursday, I'll track down whether any of the rescue organizations have a more structured list of emergency prep for the car, as well.

2) I lost time taking the crow to my vet; I hope that that time was not fatal to the crow. If I had known in advance where to take the crow, I could have saved about 20 minutes. Now I know where to take any wild animal if I find it in Redmond or Bellevue; after Thursday, I'll investigate the corresponding pickup sites for other areas where I spend a lot of time.

3) As opposed to losing time unnecessarily on 1) and 2), I lost a lot of time necessarily trying to secure the scene and not getting run over. One of the first things any good first aid course will teach you is not to become a victim yourself in trying to help someone. Securing the scene is always top priority. If the bird dies because I lost so much time trying to get to him, that is a sad thing, but unavoidable. Never get yourself hurt or killed trying to rescue a wild animal; if you can't secure a scene, don't do it.

4) I have to confess that my mammal-centrism played a role in not being willing to touch the bird--fur is safe and familiar, feathers are unsettlingly different. So I slid it into the box without touching it directly. Nevertheless, I still asked the vet staff whether I needed to know anything about taking precautions against wildlife-transmitted diseases, and I washed my hands very thoroughly before leaving the clinic. On my way to the clinic before I even dropped the crow off, I could already feel the tickle of West Nile virus starting in my throat, which should tip you off to what a phobe I am (there is no way I could be coming down with something that fast; I'm just extremely suggestible).

Tomorrow, I hope to find out if the crow made it, and I'll let you know. Now that I've gotten this out of me, it's back to work on my defense presentation.

UPDATE, 7/25: The crow didn't make it. He died at Aerowood before Sarvey could pick him up, of head trauma and dehydration--probably he had been hit by a car, and lay there in the sun for a long time. Bugger. At least he died safe, for what that's worth.

UPDATE, 7/25: I've verified that crows do, indeed, have nictitating membranes, so that is what I saw go back and forth over the eyes on this crow.

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