I know I wrote this story before on the old blog, before the dark days of my exile, before evil overtook the earth. Okay, so evil didn’t overtake the earth, but I did get exiled from the “blogosphere”. “But, Ren, you’re here now, how?” you ask.
Easy. When you let go of the fear to lose that which you love
the most somewhat, you go back to being happy. Those of you who have been reading my rants know what happened. I’ve moved on. Those of you that don’t know what happened, well, you’ll just have to live without knowing. As they say, ignorance is bliss. (Or you could go read the “About” page and get a glimpse of what I’m talking about.)
So allow me to get back to this “trilogy” of posts of how I got to where I am and the stuff that happened along the way. Telling you of my “beginning” into the world of science is a good way to begin this blog again, for the very first time…
I was about five or six years old when my grandmother and I traveled from Juarez to Chihuahua (Mexico) on a passenger bus. The bus lines were, and still are, the best way to get around in Mexico, short of your own vehicle. Because at one time, believe it or not, I was small enough to fit between the seats and play with my toys on the floor of the bus during the five hour drive, I got to “meet” a lot of people. One of those people I met was a younger man who told me he was in medical school to be a pathologist. I asked him what a pathologist was and if it had anything to do with ducks. (“Pato” is Spanish for “duck”.) He explained to me that pathologists looked at what was wrong with people and tried to figure out how to help them. He said he used a “microscopio”, a microscope, to look at the cells of people, that the cells told stories of what was making people sick.
Of course, I had no idea what he was talking about, but my parents will tell you that I’m very inquisitive. So I asked my mom about it later. Mom bought me a microscope at a garage sale. I remember it well. It was not a toy, but more of a starter microscope. It came in a blue, sturdy box where it fit into the moldings inside. It also had a few glass slides that I’d reuse over and over again to look at different things. In fact, I remember the first thing I looked at, a leaf.
I remember it vividly because, quite frankly, my life changed at that moment. I understood that all the living things around me had their own tiny living units within them, and that it was the same with me. I came to understand, after looking at my skin, that I shared a lot in common with plants and animals. Seeing that I was very interested in biology, mom bought me an encyclopedia set for kids. Those books explained more in detail what I was seeing in the world around me. It was great.
That love I acquired for biology did not die when I accidentally scratched the lens inside my microscope. If anything, that incident stoked my hunger for more knowledge. So I continued that pursuit in school. At the age of 14, I became the apprentice to Dr. Ricardo Ortiz and Daniel Chavez at the small medical lab they ran in Juarez. Every chance I had, I would make the trip from El Paso over the border and into Juarez to learn from them about drawing blood, collecting specimens, and running tests on them. I learned about the Gram stain procedure, and I would never see infectious diseases the same way again.
Those were some trying times for me because, as a teen, I wanted to have fun socially. However, my thirst for knowledge kept me going back to the lab and missing out on fun times on vacation or with my friends and cousins. Also, I was not born into a family with money, so there was an expense in me taking the bus back and forth and not having a full-time job like many of my uncles suggested I did. Dad, however, saw the value in my education, so he worked hard enough so I wouldn’t have to worry about money. It was tight, but it was comfortable.
At the age of 16, I graduated from high school and went on to college. I’d check in with Dr. Ortiz and Daniel once in a while, but college took up all my time. I was enrolled in the medical technology – later to be the clinical laboratory science – program. My last two years of college were all about clinical rotations at different laboratories in El Paso. I learned even more those two years, perhaps the most I’ve ever learned about science, biology, and medicine. It was great, and, up to that time, I owed it all to two forward-thinking parents, an old pathologist who allowed me to be his lab apprentice, a younger biologist who took me under his wing as well, and a pathologist-in-training who didn’t get too annoyed with some kid who was running around inside a bus on a 5-hour ride.
When I graduated from college, it was time for the Ren to begin his adventure in, as I put it, “saving the world”. That has always been my intent. But dark days would come… And that story is next, later, whenever I feel like it.
Coming soon, “The Dark Ren“.
René F. Najera, DrPH
I'm a Doctor of Public Health, having studied at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.
All opinions are my own and in no way represent anyone else or any of the organizations for which I work.
About History of Vaccines: I am the editor of the History of Vaccines site, a project of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia. Please read the About page on the site for more information.
About Epidemiological: I am the sole contributor to Epidemiological, my personal blog to discuss all sorts of issues. It also has an About page you should check out.