California / Science

One of the happiest moments

of my life happened in the fall of 2008. It’s not in the top ten for sure, but it was one of the places I look back and can still feel the excitement and possibility of anything-could-happen-now-and-it-could-all-be-good. Of course that didn’t quite pan out, but the feeling has stayed with me.

It was when my cells became infected* with hepatitis C virus.

I got the call from my coworker at Starbucks. I had asked him** to add my tissue culture cells to his set of testing for the day because I was taking the day off to spend time with my mom, and she loves Starbucks. Forty-eight hours earlier, I had been sitting in windowless tissue culture about to shock the crap out of some unsuspecting cells so that they’d accept some naked viral RNA.

Viral RNA I had made.

Viral RNA that had taken me a year to figure out how to make.

An entire year of my life trying and failing repeatedly. When you do the same thing over and over again for a year, hoping that you’ll get different results, you start to feel a little stupid. Maybe I wasn’t cut out for science***. Maybe the abrupt life and career change hadn’t been such a great idea. I was discouraged and disappointed in myself.

But then, sipping my Americano (no cream, no sugar, please), he called: “You have hepatitis C.”

“Oh my gosh, mom, I have hepatitis C!” I joyfully exclaimed across the coffee shop, eventually noticing the group of firefighters and EMS workers sitting nearby. They were not happy for me. In fact, they look quite concerned.

*okay, okay, the real term is transfected because I didn’t actually have a virus at that point. Raw DNA or RNA is not the virus. It’s the instruction manual for the cells to make the virus.
**my coworker was and is possibly the most awesome person you’ll ever meet.
***I wasn’t but not because I wasn’t good at it. That’s a whole ‘nother story.
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