Friday, February 29, 2008

Living in USA - Part 6

Time travelled fast. Soon spring was here. If all these while everywhere we went, we only saw leafless trees, spring brought something that we had been missing - colour. Only the beautiful and magnificent Magnolia tree behind our apartment was still standing with leaves even in the coldest part of winter.

Within a short time, trees started blooming. Flowers were everywhere, yellow, purple, red, blue, and a variety of other colours. Fields and vacant places by the roadsides and railway tracks were now alive with all sorts of flowers. The university campus turned to be a really beautiful garden.

Birds were plentiful too in spring. Red cardinals and the noisy Blue jays were my favourites. With their bright red colour, red cardinals were the ones that normally caught our eyes as they were busy courting, hopping from a branch to another.

In spring too, birds would be busy building their nests. Knowing that they would not be disturbed, a pair of Robins even laid their eggs in a broken fire host box just next to the door of our apartment. Four beautiful green eggs were also clearly seen in a simple nest on a tree in front of the apartment.

Squirrels and chipmunks were seen almost everywhere, either chasing each other or busy gathering seeds and cones. So approachable were they that Syazwan was always tempted to give them a chase thinking that they would make adorable pets. Of course they were just too fast for him.

With spring came hay fever! Pollens were everywhere. When I said everywhere, I really meant everywhere. They were on cars, floors, window, and even on our eyebrows and heads. Floors of our apartment airways would be yellow from the accumulation of pollen.

I was sneezing most of the time when I was outside. My wife seldom ventured out of the apartment in fear of getting asthmatic attacks. For the children, nothing bothered them. The cool weather was a bonus for them for then they could come out without having to be in thick clothes.

Around Athens there were a few places worth visiting, especially in spring. They were the beautiful botanical gardens, the zoological park, and the various recreational parks. The rose garden was my wife’s favourite place during our free times in the evenings. We would spend many hours just admiring roses that came in various colours and sizes.

The herbal corner was also an attraction to us. We could not resist ourselves from ‘stealing’ some bay leaves for our daily use every time we visited the place. At the zoological park, the children enjoyed the sight of the friendly raccoons, wise old owl, proud peacocks and the lazy bears.

With spring too, came fourth graders field trip. Diyana had been trying her best to convince us that it was safe for her to go to Rock City. She even asked her teacher, Ms. Johnson to talk to me and convince me in letting her go. Knowing that she would be taken care of and would be in good hands, we agreed. So, Diyana went to Rock City in Chattanooga, Tennessee and learned a lot about geology from the trip.

We were glad that her classmates accepted her. In fact everybody loved her. Her good manners (from their point of view, I presumed) made her Ms. Johnson’s and Ms. Seymour’s pet student. According to Ms. Johnson, her good manners had a great influence on the general behaviour of her classmates.

Being accustomed to Malaysian way of life, she stood every time she wanted to say anything in the classroom. This polite behaviour continued throughout her stay despite Ms Johnson’s reminder that it was not necessary for her to stand up every time she wanted to ask or answer a question.

Academically, she excelled in most subjects. For that she was awarded a certificate of Academic Excellence, which was personally signed by Bill Clinton, the President himself! As a Malaysian, I was proud of her achievements.

She was also active in extracurricular activities. She was elected as a patrol (comparable to a prefect in our school here) member. Syafiq, on the other hand, though did not perform that well in academics he was learning fast and was very popular to with his classmates. He even got his Citizenship award for his good behaviour!

It was also in spring that Dr Bounous and I began discussing my Master’s research project. Knowing that I was sent to US to do something about avian pathology, we had planned it in such a way that I had and would be taking a lot of avian courses besides the normal pathology courses taught in the department. For that I had to commute daily between the departments of pathology and avian medicine.

It was finally decided that I would be doing a research project on coccidiosis in chickens, something that was more practical and would not involve too many laboratory works. Dr Danforth of Maryland kindly supplied the Eimeria maxima oocysts. My academic committee members included Dr. Denise Bounous, my major Professor; Dr. Mark A. Goodwin, an adjunct Associate Professor from Southeast Poultry Laboratory in Oakwood, and Dr George N. Rowland, a Professor at Poultry Research Disease Centre, Avian Medicine ( I was told that he passed away recently). All of them were great human beings, always ever ready to give me a helping hand whenever I needed them. They were also generous with their knowledge and ideas and were forever willing to share them with me.

It was in spring too that I was first assigned to necropsy duties. I chose to be on duty for a full week at a time. There were a lot of cases to do. On the average there would be three to four carcasses to be necropsied. They came either from the university clinics or from private veterinarians around Georgia.

Sometimes I received weird animals such as chameleons, ostriches, snakes, sea horses and even molluscs for necropsy. Though I knew almost nothing about the anatomy and histology of these creatures let alone their diseases, it was still fun and interesting for me as they were really a pathological challenge for me.

To widen my pathological horizon, I even volunteered to do fish histopathology under the guidance of Dr Howerth. Doing necropsies and interpreting gross lesions were not really that difficult for me. It was the histopathological slide readings and interpretations than bothered me a lot.

Just imagine since leaving Universiti Pertanian Malaysia that was way back in 1981, I had never touched, let alone read and interpreted a microscopic slide. At times I felt like a fool, especially so when I was describing the normal things in a tissue section.

For a newcomer, even very little things in the slides seemed to be very significant. However, the pathologists on duty were always encouraging me. Instead of ridiculing me for my mistakes, they kept on saying that it was all right and I could be better with time. When I was right, they would always complement me by saying well done, an excellent job. All these encouraging and motivating words helped me a lot in going through the tough, sometimes mind-boggling works as a resident pathologist.

As far as I could remember, all throughout my two-year-stay in the department, I was never ridiculed even when I made silly mistakes. For them, even the word ‘good’ or ‘fine’ was not good enough as a complement. I wished bosses back home would do the same.

Besides the routine necropsies, I also had to get myself, like the other graduate students, involved in Tuesday’s slide seminar. Almost every Tuesday, a speaker would give a short talk on any pathology topic. In each session, he or she would normally present three to four glass slides of tissue sections for graduate students to describe. The glass slides were distributed to students three to four days before the seminar. On the seminar day, a student would be called in an arbitrary manner to describe a slide.

It was not so much the case that the slide was very difficult, but the stage fright could sometimes make you fumbling around looking for the right knob on the microscope. To show the most significant lesions that you saw previously, on the television monitor was no simple matter.

On many occasions I ended up by saying, “Well, I hope you all will trust me in that the nuclei of many hepatocytes contained large, basophilic inclusions”. My Malaysian accent too, at times, made me very difficult to be understood, especially by a few lecturers who had never gone out of Georgia.

A few of them said that I spoke too fast, but I guessed all they wanted from me was for me to speak the way they all did. I never changed the way I spoke throughout my stay in US.

An Australian graduate student once told me that many Americans wanted us foreign students to speak the way they did. To him, that was ridiculous. They did not know that they were the ones that were missing a lot of things in life as a result of their attitude.

He used to say that: “A person who speaks three languages is said to be trilingual. A person who speaks two languages is called bilingual. Then what about a person who speaks only one language? An American, of course!”

I saw there was nothing wrong with my English accent. All these made graduate students disliked Tuesdays. At times, we began to question the seminars for we would always feel or made to feel like a fool in front of all the pathology experts, but in return, no grade was given for all the efforts. Despite the fact that nobody among us graduate students liked the Tuesday seminars, with time and experience, I somehow found it beneficial at least from the point of view of learning pathology!

To be continued

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