After four years and two rounds of Hepatitis C treatment, how do I reset my life?
In 2009 I enrolled in treatment round #1 for Hepatitis C. I was a subject in a drug trial. As it turns out, I received standard of care: Interferon and Ribavirin. This didn’t wipe out the virus, but did wipe out my career. Between the emotional, psychological and physical melt down, my performance at work never recovered. In fact my performance began to slip a couple of years before that. Depression coupled with anxiety along with tiredness from hep C, career and school left me mildly catatonic. Oxymoron?
After round one, from which my career never recovered, I retired early. I was that rare bird, a person with a retirement package, and I wanted to keep it. This was in 2010-11 when pharmaceutical companies were reducing employee numbers by 30-60 %. If sales aren’t up, expenses must come down. Employees are expensive, especially when you think quarter to quarter. Human Resources (Man Power in my early days) would never say it, but a disproportionate number of older/higher paid employee positions went away. A vague yet popular term was “you are not on board” meaning you are not 110% aligned with new management thinking. Your resistance to any part of process is slowing us down. Younger business/science professionals with a great deal of ambition and no scientific historical perspective are cheaper and quick to get “on board“.
I agree, I was not on board. The new direction was not science. The new direction was “scientific marketing”. WTF is that? BTW, I used to love my job, absolutely love it. I had the good fortune to work with AZT, the first HIV drug and with Ritonavir the first antiretroviral for HIV. I saw people begin to live with HIV. Ritonavir is now being studied for hepatitis C. I worked with the first oral anticoagulant that didn’t require blood monitoring ( this drug didn’t make it to launch after millions of dollars in research) and the first proton pump inhibitor for GERD. I put teams of field scientists together in both Hemostasis and Infection. I developed their individual and group skills. I was good at it. I wasn’t as good at managing up the ladder once science got squeezed by sales. So why can’t I just get on board elsewhere? Because I have to live with myself. Whew, too many I’s in that paragraph. I am trying to learn to relax and live with the debt bomb that will gobble up my little anti wolf money.
When I was nine, Dad would drive 70 miles to Indianapolis at 3 AM and pick up fresh produce, then back to Al Monger’s fruit market. I remembered that name because Dad called my dog a mangy mongrel. I pictured Al Monger as a hound dog (Mom lost my dog later while drunk. I cried about that dog for years). Dad’s pay in part was produce. He and I would drive through “rich” neighborhoods in an old pick-up truck and peddle watermelon from the back. We cut plugs from a melon for house wives. When one turned up her nose, he would say “That woman doesn’t know what trouble is” And I thought yeah, be poor like us, then turn up your nose at a watermelon. At day’s end we took the rest home. It was July and Mom was pregnant with my brother. She ate watermelon all night long. We lived in an apartment upstairs with pink lace plastic curtains and no screens. I knew we hit a low. She always looked down on plastic curtains and she even had them tied in a knot.
On really bad broke hang-over days, Dad would get a pint of aluminum paint and a pair of cheap gloves. He made a handle from a coat hanger and ran it through his belt. We drove through rich neighborhoods and picked out a rusty TV antenna. We parked on the curb, not the drive. I sat in the truck looking out the window. He always had a smoke on him while talking to the homeowner. He told the lady of the house he could save that antenna. After the first one, he convinced neighbor ladies. For $5 he climbed the wobbly three-sided antennae and painted up and down streets. That night we would be “rich” and he would look like the Tin Man from the shiny paint. One time he said “I sure am thirsty, you want a root beer?” Are you kidding, heck yeah. We got ice-cold mugs at the A&W. I had to gulp it down.
Laughing, he said he had places to go and people to see. We’d stop by the store for bread, bologna, milk and Camels. Maybe Hellman’s too. A little jar. Everything we bought was in the little jar,tube, bottle, box or scoop. I suggested to Mom once that we could save money by purchasing bigger quantities. She straightened me out on that thinking. Only rich people could afford to buy big tubes she said. I figured out later that her “rich people” were the middle class. I watched “Leave It To Beaver” and wished I was in that smiling rich family. The hedges were trim, mom vacuumed and dad came home on time every night sober. It was like we lived in a place called Pooristan.
If bill collectors came to the door, Mom would push me to tell them she wasn’t home while she hid in the hall. They looked straight at me with eyes that said “You are lying little girl”. We shared that moment. I swore that I would never have the wolf at my door. I determined to get a good job, maybe teaching, and get a used station wagon, maybe red. That’s why I am on my 3rd red Volvo. Maybe. Never did get a station wagon. Still love watermelon. Grew my own this year.
From about age six, I collected pop bottles for pennies. I went to Cozad’s Grocery and anguished over what candy to purchase, favoring slow treats like a Sugar Daddy. If other kids collected bottles, I would cash them and take a cut of the money. I had the corner on the market. Other kids weren’t even allowed to leave our street. From age ten, I took in ironing, babysat brat kids while parents worked second shift, cleaned houses, anything to get money for school clothes and saddle oxfords. Of course in my house I washed dishes, cleaned house, did laundry, then hung it out. There was nothing wrong with that, my mom worked in a factory everyday.
I babysat my brother every summer from age 11 when he was two. In exchange Mom would get me “something nice” at the end. Once it was my cousin’s used record player. I couldn’t believe my good fortune. I went downtown on Saturdays and spent the afternoon choosing a 45 rpm record. It was 45 cents. I played Motown non-stop. When I was fourteen I got a blue Princess Phone, which was good because Dad always pulled the house phone out of the wall when Mom tried to call the police on him. Phones didn’t plug in those days, the phone man had to come and repair it.After a lifetime of pushing myself to do better, the wind stopped blowing. Now that I spent my life getting out of Pooristan, can I enjoy retirement or will I fear the wolf at the door? I have been thinking a lot about that. And I’m only 4 months past treatment number two for hep c.
I did the craziest thing today, in response to a head hunter’s call, I sent in my resume for a position as a Medical Affairs Director (managing a team of liaisons and of course managing up). It is a small biopharm company that focuses on orphan drugs (rare diseases). What was I thinking? I don’t want to work that hard or long. IF I talk with them, I’ll price myself out of the market. A former colleague contacted me last week about some part-time project work. After talking with him, my skin crawled from all the business bullshit slang.
How would I give back to the world if I could do anything? I got all this education and pretty good team management skills, but low tolerance for bullshit. That rules out about everything. I would like to help kids in difficult circumstances, but I remember the church ladies trying to help. No thanks. My childhood stuff isn’t completely in the closed file. I wouldn’t mind making a little money but that isn’t the “it”. Suggestions?