I like to think that I’m pretty smart. Not amazingly smart, just modestly smart. I can tackle certain solutions, then sit confounded at others. I’m average. And that’s ok!
The problem is my boss doesn’t seem to think its ok. Science demands more calculated and precise thought. Of course I know this, but when I’m put on the spot and have a furious boss waiting for an answer, I do the human thing. I panic. Or I lie. Depends on which area of the brain my mouth chooses.
I had a training session with my boss. It centred on diagnostically deducing bacterial meningitis and bacterial sepsis from culture plates. This is usually straight forward, except, along the way, there are calculations. Now, any normal person would reach for a calculator. In panicked mode, I attempted to calculate it all mentally. But in my defense, I hate being put on the spot. Staring back, I have no words and stutter.
“So do you think extra work should be done on this cerebrospinal sample? It has 19,680 red cells and 44 white cells.”
“Yes, I believe so”
“Because it exceeds the normal ratio of 500:1”
“Are you sure?”
“What’s 19680 divided by 500?”
“um, um, roughly 40?”
“Are you asking me?”
“Roughly isn’t an exact number”
“Nor is um. It’s actually, 39.”
This situation made me feel like I let down my entire profession. At that moment, I felt like I wasn’t fit to wear the overly snug lab coat I had on. I felt like black folk everywhere must be looking at me and saying: “Can we get rid of her? Seriously, you’ve let down your race!” In that failed mathematical moment, I felt like I needed to get onto the nearest street rocking an Angela Davis afro, a dashiki, a fist in the air and handing out pamphlets with horrible over political sayings like “There is Black Unity in Maths!” to prove my worth. Or Something.
I should have gained the courage and said something to save me. But instead, I took a verbal lecture, and then sulked. I went home and read like tomorrow was “Pop Quiz Day”. By the time I got into work the next day, I felt confident and heck, I rocked my afro. In my train of thought, if I felt great and confident, then the next barrage of questions won’t have me tripping and sliding into embarrassment.
“Come here, what do you think this is? It’s a mitral valve with bacteria growing only in air and CO2.”
Crap. It could be anything!
“One of the HACEK group?”
“Yes, your right. What would you do next?”
I got one question right, and the rest, I handled a lot better. I wanted to get on a podium and with a stern knitted eyebrow: “Brothers and Sisters, we have a breakthrough. We have seen the challenges and we have broken through!”
I was feeling great for the rest of the day. Hand me back my Science card. Heck, pat me on my back and watch me celebrate like Sally: “Yes, Yes, Yes, Yeeeeessssss!”
I still hate being put on the spot though.