20 October 2014
In Summer 1995, I picked up a book in a bookstore in Keene, New Hampshire where I worked before heading home for the weekend.
I was enticed by the Stephen King blurb.
I lived nearly 180 miles north in North Troy, Vermont.
Now, I didn’t always start books right away, but this one I was really looking forward to. In its own weird way, it changed the course of my life. Two years later, I’d be working as an immunology software engineer, though I ultimately decided not to pursue the additional degree(s) needed for more work in that particular field.
“The first chapter of The Hot Zone is one of the most horrifying things I’ve read in my whole life—and then it gets worse. That’s what I keep marveling over: it keeps getting worse. What a remarkable piece of work.” —Stephen King
Richard, then my partner and later my husband (not to be confused with Rick, my husband of 14 years) marveled that I was able to read the book in bed, turn off the light, and go to sleep. And stay asleep.
It’s not that I didn’t find the book terrifying. I did. It’s just that, for me, those horrors were so much worse than what I’d imagined, my own fears began to subside.
Before reading The Hot Zone, The Coming Plague, A Dancing Matrix, and other related works, I was always very fearful and squeamish about things medical. I was the kid who ran and hid under the doctor’s desk when it was time to get a shot.
I couldn’t watch a surgery scene on TV or in a movie. Just couldn’t.
After Richard died, I found myself watching a show about organ transplantation, showing transplant surgery, less than a week after I’d donated his organs. My neighbor wanted to make sure I was really okay with it. I was, which surprised me. I still avoid surgery scenes in movies and TV, but I’m not as horrified by them as I used to be.
I’d taken astronomy and geology rather than biology so I wouldn’t have to dissect anything. In Vermont, I finally took biology and the only things they made us dissect that first term were black flies. I hated them so much by that point (nasty, painful welts from bites if you didn’t know), I looked forward to stabbing them.
Eventually, I realized it would be a really long time before I could get through a Ph.D. or an M.D./Ph.D. program, so I decided to focus on the Master’s degrees I wanted.
But still, that book changed the course of my life.