Saturday, August 8, 2009

Depression and the Nobel Prize

It was an irresistible title. I followed the link to the New York Times and found the October 21, 2008 story by Tara Parker-Pope, about Dr. Douglas C. Prasher, a biochemist whose early work contributed to what would later lead to a Nobel Prize -- for somebody else.

Prasher has recurrent major depressive disorder. Today he drives a courtesy van for a car dealer. He says there was more to his departure from science besides his depression, lack of funding, family obligations... But that is part of the story. Depression doesn't help you find funding and meet family obligations. Depression can turn tying your shoes into a challenge. Parker-Pope wrote, "I find Dr. Prasher’s story to be a notable reminder of the toll depression can take on the lives and careers of many brilliant minds."

I told the story to Helen this afternoon, ending in my most dramatic mode, "I coulda had a Nobel Prize!" She didn't let me laugh it off, "Well, you coulda had a PhD. You coulda been bishop of... or rector of..."

She keeps the list in greater detail than I do. I try not to go there. I appreciate Dr. Prasher's response, “There are other people who would have deserved it a whole lot more than me,” he says of the Nobel Prize. “They worked their butts off over their entire lives for science, and I haven’t.” He is smiling in the picture, standing next to the courtesy van. I consider my own checkered resume and think, that's not such a bad job.

Then Helen continues my story, "Instead, you are sitting here, with your afternoon tea and biscuits, surrounded by all this." Surrounded by Costa Rica, our casita, watching the colibri
flit through our papaya, and the ladies holding their umbrellas as they ride their bicycles past our house in the rain.

No moral. It just is.
photo by Helen Keefe, used by permission

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