September 27, 2010 11:46 AM
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Enlarge Image Cancer researcher passionate about work -
There are many cliches concerning the frustrations of research.
One says it’s like taking one step forward and two steps back. Another likens it to walking up several alleys to see whether they are blind.
I am a clinician. Every time I see a patient, I have as many questions as I have answers. That is the mark of an academician.
I am plagued with wondering about the prevalence of disease patterns, the virulence of particular organisms, or the etiology of any given pathology over time. But academic curiosity and a career in research are really two different beasts.
Research often involves a lifelong search for the answer to one or two questions about a single disease process. What keeps these researchers going?
A few months ago, I treated a middle-aged, soft-spoken researcher at the Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital. He came in with his wife after developing an irregular heartbeat.
We felt that we could get his heart straightened out then and there with little risk to the patient. Our hope was to avoid the complications of excessive strain on his heart and the pitfalls of having to place him on blood thinners.
After a brief discussion, we agreed to sedate him and give his heart a little jolt of electricity.
The method of sedation we chose acts primarily as an amnestic, wiping out the patient’s memory of the procedure itself and usually cleaning the memory for minutes before and after the procedure as well.
The specific agent we chose also acts a bit like a truth serum. Handsome residents, when administering the drug, can get marriage proposals from their patients. Fears, dreams, desires, dislikes and prejudices are offered up without hesitation.
As caregivers, we try to ignore these peeks into the subconscious, instead focusing on the medical mission at hand.
But as we sedated my patient for the procedure, I was surprised at the peek we all got into his subconscious. This quiet, unassuming man began to speak with urgency and passion.
His focus was singular. He spoke only of leukemia.
He spoke of a unified cellular theory for the origin of leukemia. He spoke of desperately needing to find the answer to this disease. He spoke of being on the verge of discovery, of just needing to work harder to see the picture more clearly.
As his voice rose, it was clear to his caregivers that he was overcome with the passion of a career driven to find the answer.
The procedure went well. After he awakened, his wife joined him in the room, and we told them the procedure was successful. I did mention that I had never heard a response like his after sedation.
Neither seemed surprised. What else would he talk about? What else was the major focus of his life?
I think about his drive and determination every time I see a patient with a blood disorder now. I think how lucky we are in medicine to have researchers who not only ask the questions but also seek the answers and will not give up until they find them.
My deepest thanks to Dr. Guido Marcucci for allowing me to recount his story.
Dr. Diane Gorgas is an emergency physician at Ohio State University Medical Center.