The last two months have been hectic. While traveling out of state in October, I experienced a medical emergency that sent me to the ER twice and left me with a concussion. I never had a concussion before and did not realize how debilitating they were. Things as simple as loading the dishwasher left me exhausted, and driving was out of the question. I was not able to leave my apartment by myself for two weeks.
Of course, this happened the month before the Entomological Society of America (ESA) annual meeting, which draws in hundreds of entomologists from around the world. This year, the meeting was even larger because it was held in Vancouver, British Columbia, in conjunction with the Entomological Society of Canada (ESC) and the Entomological Society of British Columbia (ESBC). There were also other entomological societies meeting at this conference, including the Entomological Collections Network (ECN) and the International Society of Hymenopterists (ISH).
Long story short, it’s a big deal for entomologists.
It’s an even bigger deal when you’re a student in the last year of your PhD and are looking to take the next step in your career. And when you’re giving a talk at the conference on top of that.
On my birthday, I got an appointment with a concussion specialist, who told me that I was in the minority of people who take longer to recover from a first concussion. This was not encouraging news, but there were still three more weeks until the conference. She monitored me as I improved, slowly but surely, and a week before the conference, she said that I was well enough to attend.
This was great news. Except that now I had only a week to prepare and make my presentation. And during this time I was still recovering from the concussion, because symptoms don’t just go away; they linger, sometimes for months afterward.
Something I learned from dealing with the concussion is that there’s a limit to how much you can do. You’re not going to be able to do everything you want to get done, so you need to prioritize, forgive yourself for the things you can’t do, and be proud of what you can do. My main priority was my presentation. I typically try to finish a talk a few weeks ahead of time and practice it, but that wasn’t happening this time. I wasn’t able to finish my talk before getting on the plane, but I got the majority of it done and was able to finish it in the hotel.
Fortunately, my hotel was connected to the conference center, so I could be back in my room in less than 10 minutes if I felt ill. I did spent more time in my hotel room than at the conference, but because I took it easy and rested instead of trying to be there the entire time, I was able to attend the talks and events that were most important to me.
Despite spending less time at the conference, I was still able to network and make some great connections that I hope will help me in the months ahead. And although I missed most of Sunday’s events, I was well rested and able to give my own presentation on Monday morning.
My talk went so well that I received an award for second place for best student talk in my symposium. Not bad for someone recovering from a concussion! I wasn’t able to do everything I wanted to, but I am proud of what I was able to accomplish and thankful that I was even able to attend at all.
This Thanksgiving holiday, I am thankful for my wonderful and loving parents, who drove over 5 hours to come pick me up and bring me home after my first ER visit, then stayed with me and took care of me when we still didn’t know what was wrong. I am also thankful for my boyfriend, Duncan, who drove me to doctor appointments and patiently helped me during my slow recovery. I am also thankful for my friends who wrote to me, visited me and brought me treats when I couldn’t leave my apartment. I'm so thankful to have so many good people in my life!