Thank You, Science

Mom, Randi, and I.

Nearly 3am in the morning, and I am having trouble sleeping. I have had an emotional week, and insomnia reigns once again. Earlier in the week, I was fidgeting constantly and could not concentrate on my work very well. Honestly, I probably just worked a normal week instead of a crazy grad student week, but I felt so unproductive. I finally decided to put my model and data reduction aside for a few days and focus on some mindless labwork. I cut and photographed some rocks then picked carbonate crystals for a day-and-a-half while listening to Pandora. Sometimes, repetitive, mindless labwork is just what you need. This past week, such work was about all my brain could handle.

Why was I so upset and unable to concentrate this past week? My wonderful mom was in the hospital because of her diverticulitis, which is a common digestive disorder that is basically inflammation of the intestine. She was scheduled to see a doctor on January 20th to schedule surgery for early February, but her diverticulitis became so painful that my dad took her to the emergency room. When she first went into the hospital, she thought she might stay overnight or at most a day or two. Her intestine had other plans for her as it developed a nasty infection that resisted the first course of antibiotic treatment. She ended up staying in the hospital for 9 days and was just released home yesterday.

My first thought 10 days ago was to rush up to the hospital immediately. My dad (and mom) convinced me to stay at home and work on my thesis. My dad told me that while the situation was bad enough for my mom to be in the hospital, she wasn’t in any immediate danger. He suggested that I wait until my mom was released from the hospital to come up for a few days as I could be more helpful. I reluctantly agreed and did my best to focus on my work. The nurses and doctors could take care of my mom in the hospital, but my dad would really need my help once mom came home.

When we first made this plan, my mom was not supposed to be in the hospital for so long. She was finally released yesterday, and tonight after work I drove up to my parents’ house. I am relieved to finally be here and able to help.

Infections are scary. Really scary. I place much confidence in modern medicine, but truth be told many people still die from infections. More and more often these days, infections are resistant to antibiotics. For the present, my mom’s infection appears to be under control. She still needs surgery, so she’s not out of the woods yet. However, she is home now, resting and trying to regain her strength before surgery.

I would be devastated if anything happened to my mom. My mom is no ordinary mom– she is a skeptic extraordinaire mom. My mom has attended every single US Amaz!ng Meeting (1-8) and a few other JREF cruises and such. She writes for She Thought, she is involved with local skeptical groups, and she often volunteers for the JREF. Her favorite skeptic topic is alien abductions. She has– seriously– read hundreds of books about UFOs and aliens, both the scientific, skeptical ones and the wild world of woo ones. She runs a website (that is colorful and quirky, just like she is) called “Bad Alien” where she provides information about UFOs and alien abductions, mostly to help people who think they may have been abducted by aliens.

My mom encouraged and helped me apply to work for the JREF as an intern, which I did twice back in undergrad. When I graduated from college, my mom arranged for Phil Plait to send me a letter *and* a meteorite as a graduation gift. I’m extremely close with my mom– we talk by phone 4 or 5 nights a week. Some people find it surprising that my mom and I are so close. I’m not surprised. She’s pretty much the coolest mom ever.

My mom is cool for all sorts of other reasons as well– and she’s my mom– so I am understandably distressed by her recent health problems. My mom is still quite sick, but I have a few reasons to be thankful today:

1. My mom is alive today and will continue to remain alive– science willing– thanks to modern medicine and the care of many excellent doctors and nurses. A hundred or even fifty years ago, such an infection would probably have killed my mom. Scary thought. This is not the first time my mom’s life has been saved by modern medicine. She is also a double cancer survivor. To all the doctors and health professionals and medical researchers out there– thank you. Please keep doing your job and doing it well.

2. The skeptical community is wonderful. Most of my mom’s close friends are fellow skeptics. Over the past few days, many care packages and messages of support have been sent to my mom from her fellow skeptics. No one (well, among her skeptic friends anyway) has offered to pray for her. Instead, they have asked my dad and I “What can we DO for her? What can we DO for you to help you care for her?”

3. I am a graduate student and have a flexible schedule. I am going to stay here for a full week to help my mom (and my dad). I arranged with my advisor to work on reducing my X-ray diffraction data all week up here. Most jobs do not have such flexibility.

My mom really is a wonderful person and skeptic. Her one request from her skeptic friends when she was in the hospital? She wanted them to send her skeptical magazines that she could donate to the hospital. As she put it, the hospital magazines were all “Christian magazines, AARP, and Golf Digest.” Thanks to my mom, the waiting rooms in one New England hospital are now covered with skeptical magazines. When she goes back for her surgery, she is going to scatter even more skeptical magazines throughout the hospital.

I’m an atheist, and I don’t pray. However, I do feel thankful today. Thankful that I have such a wonderful mother and that she is slowly recovering. I don’t believe in any deities to thank, so I’ll say this instead:

Thank you, science and scientists, for saving and healing my mom.

Thank you, skeptics and other friends, for your support of my mom.

Thank you, mom, for being the best mom ever.


Evelyn is a geologist, writer, traveler, and skeptic residing in Cape Town, South Africa with frequent trips back to the US for work. She has two adorable cats; enjoys hiking, rock climbing, and kayaking; and has a very large rock collection. You can follow her on twitter @GeoEvelyn. She also writes a geology blog called Georneys.

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  1. Thanks Evelyn for one of the best posts I’ve read on Skepchicks. Heart felt and a great example to everyone who has a loved one going through a tough health issue.
    Many years ago my Mum was saved by modern science as well and I still write to that surgeon and give him updates. Mum is 87 yrs old now and loving her life.
    In 1980 I was involved in a car crash that should have claimed my life, but thanks to a recent development in surgery and the skill of the surgeon, after 4 operations not only had I lived through it but also retained the use of all my limbs. People talked of miracles regarding my recovery, but I know it was the advances of modern surgery and the skill of Mr Roger Coates and his team that kept me alive .
    I’m with you Evelyn, thank science for scientists, more power to their arms.
    Wishing continued good health for your Mum.

  2. I took a look at your mom’s Bad Alien site. As best I can tell, that’s exactly the way the matter should be handled.

    BTW, Randi is beginning to look disconcertingly frail. On the other hand, he’ll probably have a sharper mind on the day he dies than I’ve had at any time in my life.

  3. Hi Evelyn,

    Thank you for writing this–it’s exactly what I needed to read. I’m also a grad student, and my mother will be going into the hospital soon for surgery for her uterine cancer. And I consider myself so lucky that my job is flexible enough that I can work all this weekend so I can take a week off to go home and take care of her after her surgery.

  4. So glad your mom is stable. We’re all wishing her the best.

    The title of this (excellent) post is the exact phrase I was thinking of when I had a recent fantasy for an ad campaign: Thank You, Science.

    I imagined posters with pictures of people who were alive because of modern medicine, who wouldn’t be here without it. (I am one of these people, btw.) There would also be quotes, describing how science saved their life.

    It might be a nice way to remind people that we are all very lucky indeed to live in the time we do.

  5. Evelyn, I met your mom on the Amazing Adventure 4 cruise,my 1st TAM event,and she an awesome and lovely person.I wish you both the very best.

  6. I had the pleasure of meeting your mom at a Granite State Skeptics event, and wish her the speediest possible recovery. I also remember she spoke with great pride about her daughter, but at the time I didn’t know the skepchick connection. I like the magazine crusade idea, and will try to plant a few at the next waiting room I encounter.

  7. Great post Evelyn.

    Your mom also spoke at one of our Houston Skeptics gatherings. She talked about art, and then about aliens. It was really cool.

    Pass along my best wishes to her.

  8. Yea! to your Mom. As the son of my own mom, I will argue as to who is the coolest mom ever, but I am really happy that she has science on her side in this.

    Best of wishes for a full recovery.

  9. One out of three on the magazines isn’t bad but I’m assuming your mom’s not a golfer! Thanks for the update and I’m happy to hear science is doing it’s part and your mom is making progress.

  10. I am happy your mom is doing well. Yay medicine!

    “Nearly 3am in the morning”
    Which is totally not 3pm in the afternoon.

    Just being a dork.

  11. Evelyn, Very nice. Beautiful article and congrats on being a grad student. Don’t ever leave academia.
    Can you post the information about where magazine donations should be sent? I’m glad to send skeptic magazines, but sometimes just plain old science sells itself– every doctors’ office should at least have Scientific American.

    Best wishes to your mom, and to you too.

  12. Her site is fantastic! Thanks for sharing it, and the story of her awesomeness. Best wishes to her (my sister’s adoptive mother died of an infection) and I hope she recovers quickly.

  13. Infections suck. My nephew just got out of the hospital after spending a week fighting MARS (I think-something close to that, anyway) that started out as an ingrown nose hair. Damned near killed by his own nose hair; what’s THAT about?

    George Carlin, even though he’s dead, has agreed to pray to Joe Pesci for your Mom. Best of luck to her.

    Edit: Actually bothered to look it up; MRSA, not MARS. Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus.

  14. Speaking of scientific medicine, there’s a wonderful smackdown of Wakefield and the anti-vaxers on the episode of Doc Martin that aired tonight on WSBE (Rhode Island PBS station.) The episode is called City Slickers from 2007, there are a couple of subplots about vaccination and lack thereof, and the doctor gets pushed too far about 18 minutes in. It is an argument from authority, but it’s competent authority.

    The ep airs a couple of more times this week, if you’re within range. (Most cable systems in southern New England seem to carry the station.)

  15. I hope everything goes well for your mother. This does brings to mind a particular pet peeve that I have and that is when modern medical science and extraordinarily skilled and learned professionals skillfully help someone and it’s called a miracle. It ain’t no miracle it’s hard work it’s hard one skills and it’s science.
    Once again, I hope everything goes well for your mother.

  16. So glad to hear your mom’s doing OK. I had to rush my dad to the hospital when his diverticulitis infection burst. The doc said another hour and he would’nt have made it.

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