I have been out in the wilderness of New England this week, experiencing what has (to me) become fondly known as “science summer camp for grown-ups” — a conference at a remote location, where a medium (100 to somewhat less than 200) people camp out in college student dormitory rooms together and spend a week immersed in a single topic of scientific inquiry. The brilliant thing about this format is that the science bits are in the morning and evening thus leaving the afternoons free for other forms of entertainment. Which sounds lovely, except that this week has been more of an adventure than I bargained for.
The science bits were great, I should start with that. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed myself and written more than 20 pages of A4 notes. Which is amazing in and of itself–I’m sufficiently old and jaded that I don’t often have that much to write down. One of the afternoon social events was brilliant, it was a beer tasting at a local swanky brew-pub complete with a hilarious brewmaster with a sharp wit, an English degree, and lots of audience participation. There were lots of shot-glass-sized beers to drink, and everyone left happy but not sloppy. But Tuesday we went hiking, and had a spectacular time. Except it was hard going. And I’m clearly not as young as I used to be.
Step back, the group was two of us “senior” colleagues (at all of mid-thirty-something) and two very junior (young twenties) colleagues. We older folks (ugh) were scrambling to keep up with the two youngsters. And it was not pretty. I got my foot caught in a gap in the rocks and I’m pretty sure my left pinky toe is busted (again… it’s happened many times before) and my compatriot experienced some sort of bout of food poisoning and was rushing down from the summit while I was limping. I was literally doing the bridal half-step except leading with my right foot every time I had to descend vertically, such that the pressure would not be on the left pinky toe. Fun. But the views at the top were awesome.
I thought this particular hike (fun and picturesque as it was) was but a distant memory, until I woke up this morning, aware that what I thought was just a mosquito bite on my leg was actually sort of strange in shape and appearance, looking nothing like a normal mosquito bite on closer examination. Fast forward a few hours, and the thing just kept growing and growing, until it was about 3″ across by the last scientific session of the evening. At that point, I had noticed steady growth in the thing over the last few hours especially (not to mention the itching) and realized I had to do something about it. So I left the last scientific session of the evening mid-way and went to the tiny-town New England ER because I had the background to realize it might be serious, and at least worth a look by someone more qualified than me in the medical milieu. I spent a lovely hour as the only patient in the ER of a tiny town New England hospital, chatting with the lovely doctor, who happens to have a son studying for a PhD in my field. I could have predicted what the doctor would recommend (broad-spectrum antibiotics for a longer-than-usual time) which he did, but at least it was a pleasant medical experience.
I now have to get up early in the morning to get an antibiotics prescription filled in the local pharmacy before heading out to my next meetings in Boston. I have a disgusting bulls-eye rash on my right shin, and I can scare people with it. There’s a medical bill careening towards my parents’ house in Minneapolis, because that was the easiest way to handle the emergency non-resident healthcare scenario. I was happy, I was treated. I had a triage EMT, a nice nurse and a chatty MD. I got a first dose of anti-biotics and a prescription for 2 more weeks, which is a big deal when faced with this sort of skin penetrating rash. But I have no idea what it cost, and I will be eagerly anticipating the numbers. I did not need as much time as they gave me, or as much high-level effort as they gave me. I have an obvious rash with an obvious cause.