Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Twenty-First Century Festering Wounds-7

Armed with the knowledge of genetics research, I felt ready to cure Sam Vespucci.
The real question that needed to be answered to get to a cure, was what on earth I was supposed to do with the knowledge of the gene that had crippled his ability to clot properly. Coagulation was the key, but really how did knowing what was wrong do us (and more importantly, Sam) any good?

I wanted a few months to mull these thoughts over, maybe present these meetings at a high-impact science conference, so that I could formulate the best way to be there for this dying soul, but such a luxury was not mine to be grasped.

I had to take this basic understanding and convert into some sort of life-saving elixir, and do it fast. But was such a thought impossible, left to the mythical worlds of alchemy and magic?

It was not clear, but there was only one thing that was clear to do, and that was to try to apply this knowledge. The WASP gene is critically important for clotting and other forms of cellular skeleton building, and Mr. Vespucci had lowered his expression of this gene. Could I turn the gene on somehow? Replace it with some other factor? Perhaps something artificial? Nothing sounded like a logical, or at least possible solution.

As my mind raced from option to option, it was clear that my tools in the laboratory would not suffice. Would I only be able to tell Sam why he was dying, without telling him of a way to avoid his demise? I hoped and yes, I even prayed, that he would survive thanks to some insight that I could provide. I hadn't slept in days, pondering literature on WASP as a molecule, but it didn't make sense. It's not as though he was born with a clotting problem. What happened to this guy to make him so unable to clot?

Greg Kim, my M.D. friend, gave me a call. It was the call that I had dreaded since I had started this project.
"It appears that Sam is in full shock. His wound has been infiltrated yet again, and this time it looks like it may go systemic. His whole body will be a crawling bacteria incubator in a few moments. If you have made any progress with how WASP could be important, now is your chance."

I started stuttering, wanted to say something, but nothing would satisfy our question. Nothing intelligible left my lips, except for the clear message that I was unable to give an answer.

"You don't know, do you? Well then, I'm wasting my time on the phone."

The phone hung up on the other end, as Dr. Kim doubtless had to go off to attend todo all that I could, but I was still hopeless. What could I do with my knowledge? If it was merely kept up in this storehouse of facts called my brain, it would make for interesting party conversations, but without any ability help someone it would have been better to have never known what was wrong.

Like the man on death row who knows the date of his doom, had I merely told him the composition of the chemicals in the lethal injection? Would he even come out of the sepsis that poisoned his body and mind? Would I spend the rest of my life knowing that I had come close to a cure but had faltered at the end? I needed to see him at least one more time, perhaps that would help.

Leaving my office, my eyes wavered from side to side through the halls of labs, hoping that some clue would open my eyes to the way to apply my knowledge, but to no avail. I might as well have looked at a blank slate. Nothing came to me.

Pulling into the hospital, I parked in the temporary area. Parking tickets and car towings could come and go, that was unimportant. What mattered most was to not let this chance to see Mr. Vespucci at least one more time slip away.

When I crossed the threshold to his room, I remembered the first day when we met. The odor that first knocked me to the floor had worsened to new heights, or should I say depths. He was unresponsive but still alive as a team of medical technicians used that frighteningly harsh cleansing apparatus to remove the bacteria from his wound. Hopefully that would stop the constant flow of new bacteria into his blood. But would his body be able to clear the bacteria that was there?

His temperature had surged to 103.8 degrees Fahrenheit, and it seemed that nothing would stem the tide that swelled waves of death into this room. I was so powerless, that again, I could not help but cry out to whatever god may have been listening at the time.

The team took a break from swabbing the wound in his thigh, and the once pristine webs of plastic fabric had so much blood and pus that you would never have guessed that the apparatus was once man-made. It looked like some sort of pulsing alien life form.

As I kept the contents of my stomach deep within by trying to take my mind off of the gore that was so repulsive, I asked the resident M.D. a question that may be the most important question I have asked while walking the face of this earth.

"Um, excuse me, but who is the vendor of these surgical swabs?"

He told me the company, which was famous for making various hi-tech swabs out of forms of polystyrene that were touted to be the best in the business, far superior to any soft cotton-based swab. Realizing this, my heart sank precipitously, before it rose into the heavens. For at that moment, I realized what was wrong with Sam. You see, I had called the swab frighteningly harsh, and by that all I had meant was that it must hurt like the worst torments to have one's wound cleansed. Such soul splintering pain would be the worst case scenario for you or me if we had to have the same procedure done on one of our wounds, but we were not dealing with a festering wound on your leg or my leg. We were talking about Sam Vespucci's problem, and after all, his mutation in WASP made things not just painful, but maybe it had made him unable to clot by the mere force of our procedure!

The expression "the cure is worse than the disease" usually speaks of some strategy that is fundamentally flawed. In this case, I wondered if that blood and pus-covered swab had been the perfect cure for your standard 21st century wound-a wound that would be healed by cells that had enough WASP to do the job. And maybe Sam never had a clotting problem before because he had never had a polystyrene based swab rubbing his cells to the point where they could no longer work. It was all so clear!

The resident had opened a fresh swab to finish the job, and as my mind raced a mile a second I jumped up from my science-inspired dream to grab his arm.

"I've got it, I've got it, I've got it. You are killing him by saving him. Put that damned tool down this instant!" I sounded like a raving lunatic, and if I hadn't worn my lab coat (which I almost never do) he probably would have punched me in the face.

"Greg, Greg, get over here!" Greg Kim rushed to the room, looking at me and his exasperated resident. My words were jumbled and I tripped over myself, but in a frenzy I was able to convey the general idea that the technologically advanced swab was just too much for his WASP-mutated cells to handle.

"Calm down Andrew. I don't think that you're right, and even if you were, I think the patient won't survive this episode. But let's give it a shot. Johnston, you heard the man. Get us some soft gauze, the kind that we used to use when I was training, and let's see if you can get that wound cleaned up."

I let out a deep breath and knew that this could work. Even if it didn't I would never have another shot at understanding how this one gene could weaken his cells so.

It wasn't clear that Sam would live long enough to see whether my hypothesis would work. I tried to watch his vital signs near his bed, but I had no energy left after all of this literature searching and pondering. I fell asleep, and as I lost consciousness I sincerely prayed for the third time in my life, and like the other two prayers, they were all uttered on the same day.

Monday, November 26, 2007

21st century festering wounds - sextus

The results were in, the experiments were done. We had found that in Samuel Vespucci's cells, several genes were somehow lowered in their expression. And for whatever reason, all of these genes were lying in a straight row on the X Chromosome.

But which gene was to blame for this strange malady?

I could not figure it out.

I surveyed the list of genes that came up as strange on the gene chip, with no strong clues.

However, as my eyes scanned neighboring genes, the picture became clear to me. The proverbial moment of clarity is sometimes depicted as a light bulb going off, and I had had times in my life when it seemed like I had grasped the experience of a true epiphany. But that was all washed away in comparison to this moment.

For at the moment, the bulbs flashed, the scales fell from my eyes, all of these metaphorical bursts of epiphany were true at the same time.

WASP!!! WASP!!! WASP is not expressed properly in Samuel!!!

I could not stop shouting and screaming the word WASP, as my colleagues looked at me with befuddled jaws gaping.

"Come on, you don't know WASP? It even has a wikipedia entry on it. Look it up as Wiskott-Aldrich Syndrome, not the insect or White Anglo-Saxon Protestant.....This is it!!!!" The gene wasn't on the list that we got from our experiment, but it was wedged right between some of the other genes that we found on the X-chromosome. It was as clear as day to me now, but not to my student.

Who could blame these poor cellular biologists, whose worlds revolved around Dictyostelium discoideum, the slime mold that spends most of its time as a single cell? Studying this molecule in such an organism is not as logical as studying the other molecules that we prefer to work on, but as far as humans go, WASP is definitely worth studying. Humans who lack this gene completely develop serious diseases, and many times this manifests itself by problems with, yes, clotting.

My graduate student and her friends from the lab next door listened to my tirade as they looked up more info on WASP, and I knew what I had to do to bring about a change. I was sure I could save Sam. I just needed to get to him in time.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

21st century festering wounds - cinco

I have been involved with science as boss or worker for 17 years now.

Some days have passed leisurely, because a big paper from my group had come out and I knew that was a guarantee that I'd make the next promotion or get the next grant. At other times I was unable to sleep before I heard whether our latest hypothesis could be backed up with reliable data. Naturally, this was especially true when funding was bad.

But all of that was rubbish compared to this current matter matter of Samuel Vespucci. With every passing hour I was so thankful to the gods or Buddha or the blind forces determined by Newton and friends that I was not an MD.

To be a medical doctor would have caused me to die of a heart attack or some other stress-induced malady. There's something about my mind that makes me able to project my mind into the body of someone in pain. Call it extreme empathy, or whatever you call it, it was so unsettling for me to have seen Sam have another break in the bacterial colony that had spread from his leg back into his bloodstream.

My good friend Dr. Kim was handling that with severe treatments reserved generally for cancer patients--small molecules called "cytokines" were added to Sam's i.v. that provoked his immune system to get to work and kill the bacteria had bought Sam some time, but we all knew that if he lost consciousness, he would be gone. The DNR was signed and none of his family could convince him otherwise.

And so I got to the lab a bit earlier than usual, and hoped we could find something.

As it happened, my graduate student Karen had already been working on analyzing the genes from Sam.

To do this, we used some powerful technology where every gene in the body can be identified in terms of whether it was turned on or turned off. This was done using a small chip, hence the name gene chip.

She was sitting at the computer with a frown. Turning to me, she said, "I'm sorry Andrew, but I think our gene chip has a problem. If you look at all of the genes, they are all pretty consistent between the healthy patient sample, but it seems like a bunch are a bit lower in expression. I think there was some sort of a smudge on the chip that made Sam's cells look like genes were turned off."

"Yeah, but all we have to do is look at the chip and see if that's true. And what do you mean, a bunch? And didn't you run replicates to be sure things like this didn't mess up your experiment?"

"Oh yes, yes, of course", she replied somewhat defensively. I had trained her well enough to do this but things seemed so odd that I had to ask.

"Ok, well, can I see this list of genes, and see what you mean?"
There were over 30,000 genes in the study, and they were listed in terms of how much they were expressed.

This was the list on the screen that she showed me that day:

In every instance, Samuel's cells had for some reason lowered the amount of expression of these genes. It was like those genes were somehow muted compared to cells from you or me.

"So Karen, you think these chips, which run several thousand dollars for each one, were all smudged in the same spot?? Come to think of it, where are those genes on the chip? Are they even in a row????"

"Hm.....let me see." She took the list of genes and organized them based on where they were on the little chip, and suddenly the grouping was lost.

It was then that we realized that those genes weren't in a row on the piece of plastic used to measure them.

"Wait a minute--I'm going about this all backwards....what if you sorted based on location in the human genome?"

With a few clicks and a few more seconds, we realized what was wrong----
The chip wasn't broken, affecting the genes in one row---to our shock, the genes were all in a row, if you looked at where they actually were on one part of one chromosome.

Friday, November 23, 2007

High Koo's --------- j

how soft your embrace
so anxious to meet anew
and stay in your sight

how soft your embrace
the treasure that changed my life
by ending my life

it has been too long
so anxious to meet anew
each second endless

i'll do all i can
to make you smile, never turn
and stay in your sight

High Koo's -------- i

measure resentment
pound by pound it buries you
and spits on your grave

measure resentment
in the way you won't reveal
the hollow inside

the weight has a toll
pound by pound it buries you
suffocates your breath

eulogy of shame
he tells your life as it's not
and spits on your grave

High Koo's ------- h

cold distance between
the span of my fingers and
your lonely gazes

cold distance between
a heart might not see at all
but sense what is lost

i'd call your face close
the span of my fingers and
the fear that lingers

i remember how
we looked away and turned to
your lonely gazes

High Koo's ------ g

pour out a prayer
screaming silent in your arms
yes, your soft reply

pour out a prayer
and wait for what he answers
hope no matter what

trials of my patience
screaming silent in your arms
i can't wait anymore

why do they suffer?
is justice merely unseen?
yes, your soft reply

High Koo's ----- f

a trace of your care
will not sustain this poor child
you left while i cried

a trace of your care
leaves my heart waiting for you
i need your return

the feigned harmony
will not sustain this poor child
he craves a real hope

you won't stay i know
i can't stand to say goodbye
you left while i cried

High Koo's ---- e

vices do not halt
as selfish plots will thicken
and his schemes unfold

vices do not halt
affairs rise as the soul dies
he has sold his self

the mire tastes so good
as selfish plots will thicken
the day grows darker

nightfall hides his hate
the lies are told to gain lust
and his schemes unfold

High Koo's --- d

her smile is enough
to melt me when i'm frozen
awaken this heart

her smile is enough
soothing the deepest anguish
bringing this sweet joy

dawn, come to bring life
to melt me when i'm frozen
crush my last goodbye

stuck in this late eve
with no strength i am drowning
awaken this heart

High Koo's -- c

anchor it fast child
you never can let it slip
then will peril flee

anchor it fast child
before the times grow hard
don't lose hope again

the cycle turns on
you can never let it slip
await the day of strength

growing to full strength
the youth prevails to flourish
then will peril flee

High Koo's-a

soft you swindle me
grasping for the one to come
homesick i leave home

soft you swindle me
the flatters crush my sight
as pride ends this life

broke the iron gates
grasping for the one to come
this fire won't be stopped

the porch light was cold
speaking pages in silence
homesick i leave home

High Koo's - b

my tears have all dried
waiting for the night to come
you could not answer

my tears have all dried
and left the stain to smoulder
i hid them, each one

i bundle my hopes
waiting for the night to come
but dawn seems so far

i will always knock
pleading reason for your heart
you could not answer

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

high koo's -- prefatory address

I wrote these about 10 years ago, but I post them now because someone quizzed me about my poetry, asking me if I knew the author. I realized he had a copy of one of my epic poems that I will refrain from posting here (or elsewhere).

At any rate, these haikus were written at Koo's Cafe, though never performed there or anything approaching such levels of pretension. I had a lot of fun using repetition to provide structure and establish an overall theme in each one. Enjoy or don't, but I'll at least feel nostalgic.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Nominative No-Nos

One grammatical error that really bothers me is the abuse of the nominative.

Oh the accusative--that precious jewel neglected by so many youth in favor of that noxious nominative.

As young children, most of us were taught that we were wrong to say things like,

"Me and Joey want to play Nintendo, mom!"

or even worse

"Why can't me and him play Nintendo, mom?"

[Parenthetically, every time I remember how much time I spent playing Nintendo/Commodore/Apple games, I make a mental note to be more lenient.]

Clearly those sentences are grammatically grotesque, and so we were taught to say,

"Joey and I want to play Nintendo, mom!"


"Why can't he and I play Nintendo, mom?"

This was a great rule to make sure the nominative is used when it is supposed to be used, but of course that raises another question:

What is this elusive nominative; that word that I've been abusing in its own right, as a means to bother you who have forgotten or never learned it?

Put simply, it is the form of a pronoun that is the subject of a sentence. Put even more simply, when you have words like I/me and he/him, we see that both I and me and he and him refer to the same person.

In these two sentences, we see what is intuitive to most of us:

I hate him.
He hates me.

In the top sentence I am doing the hating, while in the bottom he is.

Thus, I and he indicate those that are the subject, indicating them to be nominative pronouns.

Perhaps it is the egocentrism of a child's mind that puts themselves as the subject of every sentence, but as a general rule, saying "he and I" is correct as long as you and this fictitious he are the subject. But if you are the object, our amiable amateur the accusative approaches the arsenal.

For the accusative case means just the opposite--it comprises the object of the sentence.

Returning to our small sentences, "him" and "me" refer to those who are being hated in the two sentences, so "him" and "me" make up the object of the sentence, which we call the accusative case.

So as children, our teachers were right to tell us to not say "me and Joe", as long as this counsel was specific to a situation where "I" was the subject. But if the sentence is about "me", of course we should have used "me"!

Unfortunately, we understood the fear of the accusative as some sort of immutable law, and we ended up neglecting poor Mr. Accusative.

How does this manifest itself? I'll put a quote from a friend's blog, that shows how we can turn our grammar minds off for fear of offending the overly simplistic teacher/parent that taught us to never neglect the nominative.

"earlier this week ****, who is four, was looking at a picture of he and i that was taken when he was a little over a year old."

Now I'm sure this particular friend would not make this error all of the time, and it was probably a mistake which slipped out due to busyness etc., but the point is that this mistake slips out quite frequently among many modern Americans. I would argue that this is due to a primordial fear of using "him" "me" when conjoined to another pronoun. Maybe it also comes from a fear of being branded an uncultured individual, clasping a Coors saying, "Me and him done loved that NASCAR race!", but that is another layer worthy of considerations at some other point in the space-time continuum.

At any rate, here's another way to challenge one's grammar, which I am sure is familiar to some:
If we take the errant sentence and isolate the two pronouns, the error becomes much easier to see.

Keeping the first pronoun we have:
"earlier this week ****, who is four, was looking at a picture of he that was taken when he was a little over a year old."

Keeping the second pronoun we have:
"earlier this week ****, who is four, was looking at a picture of i that was taken when he was a little over a year old."

None of us would ever use the nominative in place of the accusative when it's just one word on its own, and I would argue that this is because we were drilled so thoroughly on the specific matter of how to avoid the accusative.

So let us all shake our primordial fears and embrace "me and him" as we should.

That's what me and him said about I and he, at least.

I kid, I kid (though mostly to myself).

Thursday, November 15, 2007

21st century festering wounds-IV

Samuel Vespucci walked out of my door to use the restroom. I was still puzzled over the apparent disconnect between what I had told him, that I was confident we'd be able to find a cure for his festering wound, and how he had responded to such a claim. What was wrong?

I for one would be happy to hear that there was a new way to possibly cure me. But then again I'd never had more than a broken nose, so what did I know of true illness?

I thought I had done the typical scientist thing of using too much jargon, but then again, I said things as simply as possible.

Suddenly I realized something else was amiss, when I heard another crashing sound in the halls. Samuel had fallen to the ground and was clutching at his wounded thigh.

With words that I dare not repeat for fear that some day an innocent tongue would see these words that I write and be as blemished as a "sailor" like myself felt, he belted out cries of anguish. It was horrible.

My hands fluttered and fumbled as I started dialing on my cellular phone for Dr. Kim. Fortunately, another professor in the department was an M.D./Ph.D., and she came to the rescue while we waited for an ambulance.

I was not permitted to board, so I got into my car and followed.
"So this is what ambulance chasers do."

As I arrived I parked in a visitor lot but had no patience to get my parking permit from the kiosk. I proceeded inside to try to find Sam, and maybe my friend Dr. Greg Kim.

Dr. Kim was there to meet me.

"Hey Greg-how is Sam?"

He looked at me with the sort of a smile that only a doctor could produce at a time like this. Sincerely processed to ensure maximal comfort, he said, "We're doing everything we can, and I hope that means he will stabilize. But I'm not ready to state that that is the prognosis. How are things on your end?"

"Um, about that, I just got the samples today. He dropped them off and then a few minutes later he fell to the ground. So, no, no progress yet."

"Well, Drew, you can go in and see Mr. Vespucci."

I entered the isolation room in the ER, and while conscious, Sam looked even feebler than before, almost childlike.

"Hey Andrew, looks like I got to your office too late. I thought you were like House MD--that guy and his cronies usually start by thinking they cured the patient and then realizing they were wrong. You didn't even get a chance to be wrong."

I tried not to frown, but realized I was cringing. "I know, Sam, I know. Just hang in there. It's not too late for us to make a breakthrough."

I tried to muster words that would frame a convincing argument, but as my countenance greyed with doubt, Sam interjected.

"I've signed it, Andrew. The DNR--do not resuscitate. If I go under one more time, I don't want to come back up. I've come too close to death too many times to have hope that this won't be just another palliative treatment. You know that word, right?"

It was familiar to me, but having focused on cellular biology I could not place its exact definition. As my mind searched, Vespucci began chanting a rote quote, apparently from the dictionary.

"PALLIATIVE: ALLEVIATING PAIN AND SYMPTOMS WITHOUT ELIMINATING THE CAUSE." The words were so bitterly recited that I couldn't help but feel pity in a new way. What I thought pity before at times such as funerals was no longer pity to me. That emotion was merely a bit of smug sentimentality. This new depth of sorrow was something I had never experienced, and would forever more be pity to me.

He went on, "That's all this is, you hear me? And if that's all you can do, I don't need you people."

His face cringed into a look reminiscent of a fearful animal, as he broke into tears, and at that moment, I could not blame him.

All that I could do was hope to save him.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The original Sopranos?

I recently finished The Winter of Our Discontent, one of John Steinbeck's last novels.

For all of its alleged (but unproven) literary faults, in terms of rambling soliloquies and other venial scribal sins [which actually put a timeliness and reality to the narrative, but I'm digressing again], the way morality is treated puts a striking parallel between this work and my favorite 21st century program, The Sopranos.

Of course, this is not to say that these are both gangster stories--instead, I am speaking on a deeper level of the moral themes--how morality is perceived and practiced, and how we as the observers are left scratching our heads as to whether we want to root for a given character, or whether we hope they get it.

Even superficially, there is the character of Alfio Marullo, whose Italian background leads people to question whether he is "connected". Even deeper, Marullo's integrity is ambiguous. Is he noble man, or is he not?

There is the East Coast town-nestled on the Atlantic Ocean, I am reminded of the Sopranos again, because the portrayal of the area used to seem so foreign to me as a Californian. Now in my Maryland-soaked life, the pages and screens are more alive than ever.

Then we have the actual protagonist, Ethan Hawley-in some senses he is a nobody, but in other senses he is American royalty. The friction between these two realities leads to a universally American portrayal of what it means to succeed in this country.

And as the Sopranos ends, so too does this novel.

But, since one of my few readers is a Steinbeck fan who has yet to read this, I will say no more.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

21st century festering wounds-tertius

I was sitting in a seminar watching a new researcher present their findings. Clumsily, sloppily, forgetting the background and assuming we all cared about every detail this person was working on, I did what I always dreamed of doing--I blurted out and screamed, "What is your problem?!?!? Do you think we really care about your meaningless experiments that will probably never even be published???"

He looked at me, lips quivering because he knew I would be evaluating his performance at his Ph.D. defense, and started to cry.

Suddenly I was standing on a beach with the head of the lab that competes directly with me, and she softly whispered, "It's ok--we'll get off this island some day. I'm sure our loved ones are doing everything they can to find us."

Twelve minutes after hitting the ground, I awoke to find my senior graduate student standing over me, repeating my name. My hopes of silencing the bothersome chatter of an annoying student, and my fears of being stranded with my scientific archenemy were all that--dreams, nightmares, aspirations, and worries. Where was I? Oh yes, back in the office, dealing with the wound that would not heal itself.

Poor Samuel Vespucci was speechless, but not as unnerved as I had been from hitting the ground. Regaining my equilibrium was difficult but manageable. To think, I hadn't even seen the wound whose smell had knocked me off of my feet! It was then that I realized that another aspect of my personality that had kept me from medical school; that is, that seeing real people in pain was far too much for me to tolerate. It's much better to speculate about death and disease on the molecular level, after all.

Nonetheless, I apologized for such the interruption, and took as deep of a breath as possible as to feel calm, without imbibing the strong stench of the wound.

"Mr. Vespucci. You must forgive my weakness. I see you are carrying a styrofoam box. Presumably this contains the biopsies of your cells and the bacteria that are growing around them?"

He nodded, hands still trembling, and set the box on my desk. I did not fall to the ground this time. No, the excitement of starting a project that would put my knowledge of the cell to use had me as giddy as a schoolboy, or so the saying goes. Personally, I was never giddy as a schoolboy, but that is another story.

"OK, Mr. Vespucci--we have everything we need to get this search started. Our goal here is to identify any cellular or genetic anomalies that may underlie....sorry sorry sorry, I do that all of the time with laypeople. This is what we are going to do, Sam. We can tell when a cell looks strange, and we can tell when a gene looks strange. If anything is the matter, we are the ones to find it. I know exactly what a happy healthy clot should look like, and all of the cells that work on building that clot. We don't know who is not doing their job, but when we get to it, we will. You hang in there, and I'll get back to you as soon as I can. Now, do you have any questions?"

"Yes, um, where is the bathroom?"

With that he left, and for some reason, it was clear that he did not share my enthusiasm about the chance to find out what was wrong.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Using "while" to contrast things

Well, my grammar-minded amigos, I am glad to say that I'm back with some food for thought on the English language.

I've been quite busy trying to employ it in my trade, and have found myself quite lacking in what is needed to succeed.

One vignette worth sharing is the use of the word "while".

I was writing about different things that I discovered in my research, and when I wanted to compare two scenarios, I often would choose to write "while".

To give a mock example:

"While test tube A was blue, test tube B was green."

What I have learned is that this is verboten, as while denotes a chronological perspective.

Thus, one should abstain from "while" when making contrasts. "In contrast" works to replace it, but if the two scenarios are not so opposed to each other, "whereas" will also suffice.

So put the "while" down while you are writing contrasts!!!

21st century festering wounds-part the second

I live the typically atypical life of a scientist. Focused on a few molecules out of the staggering myriads that comprise life as we know it, I delight in connecting minutiae to diseases and the minions that deal them to the innocent and the guilty alike. Because of my delight in unraveling such mysteries, my path crossed Samuel Vespucci's one unusually cold summer day.

As I said before, Samuel was getting tired of the same unsettling procedure of having his leg wound literally scrubbed clean. He wasn't sure if he could take another treatment, but was not quite suicidal enough to let apathy take its course.

Because of this unending anguish and frustration with the status quo, it was then that he came to me.

I was working on my latest grant and faxing yet another form regarding my newest publication, when a human came to the door.

"Who could this be? Too old to be one of my students, too young {and definitely too poor} to be a rich codger with goodwill and a plan to donate our institution money." I thought this and similar thoughts to myself, and then noticed a strange gaping curve going into one of the man's legs.

With the graceless demeanor you would expect from someone in my profession, I continued mulling the possibilities over as he stared at me blankly.

Suddenly, it hit me. My latest attempt to connect my work on the bricks that make up a cell (called cytoskeletal proteins by nerds like me) to human diseases was staring me in the face! I remembered a strange e-mail I had received from a friend from college. Gregory Kim had gone on the road towards success, and saw the light that somehow flew past me by enrolling in medical school. Instead of slogging away for little pay, studying an organism that most people have never heard of--have YOU heard of Dictyostelium discoideum???----Greg was helping people directly, and being paid far more directly than I was as a junior faculty at an albeit prestigious institution.

And this was important to me on that cool summer day because I remembered Greg was part of the team that was baffled and befuddled by our friend Samuel Vespucci.

He had contacted me because I had been the guy to go to when a problem was strange. Call me a real-life House, M.D., without the limp, but when a zany answer was needed to solve an even zanier problem, I had a knack for finding the right answers. Perhaps that is why I opted to take the lower paycheck and stick with science.

"Andrew, you've got to drop everything you've got--we have a case unlike any other. Persistent infection with no signs of healing. Laceration was eaten away into a subinguinal..........."---Greg's frenzied voice called me one morning a few weeks ago, telling me all about Samuel's condition. He described the case in more detail, but it would sound like repetitive drivel to the non-clinician, so I will spare you the gory and droll details.
"Look Andrew, I'll e-mail you a reminder, but you've just GOT to see this Vespucci case for yourself."

All of these experiences of my youth, career choices, and current dedication to try to solve this mystery were playing and replaying in my head, as suddenly the world went back into focus and I remembered where I was---standing in my office on a cold summer day, starting at Samuel. As I began to introduce myself, the smell from Samuel's wound introduced itself to me.

It was then that I instantly vomited and lost consciousness.