The Similarities Between Me and E. coli

Submitted for Contest #43 in response to: Write a story about transformation.... view prompt

21 comments

The lab instructor claps to get our attention. “If you’ve read your lab manuals, you know that today we’re performing transformations.”


***


According to biologists, transformation is the act of introducing foreign DNA into bacteria.


I am a biologist.


At least until I get into med school.


***


Step 1 in a transformation is to retrieve the competent bacterial cells from the -80oC freezer and thaw them on ice. “Competent” here means that our E. coli cells have been treated with calcium chloride to make them pliant and more likely to uptake foreign DNA.


***


According to college essay consultants, the experience of immigrant children is a cliché.


I am a cliché.


Because I am one of many children lucky enough to have an extraordinary father who braved an ocean, a language, and a society. Whereas I am too cowardly to even go against the wishes of my father. And I am too guilty for contemplating such an act in the first place.


You do not repay sacrifice with demands for more.


***


Step 2 in a transformation is to add one microliter of the DNA containing your gene of interest to the tube of thawed E. coli cells. Step 3 is to incubate the tube of cells and DNA on ice for thirty minutes.


***


According to everyone, my cousin has always been the smart one in the family.


I wholeheartedly agree.


“Your cousin already knew imaginary numbers by 5th grade. You can’t even deal with real numbers!”


“And how is your child doing? Mine just won the debate competition at state level, and I’m so proud.”


“Your cousin was president of three school clubs and had a 4.0 GPA!”


“You should try a little harder, hmm? Feel free to ask my child for advice.”


“Your cousin was accepted to Harvard Med School! You haven’t even finished your college applications!”


“Your father said you’re attending a state school, congratulations! At least the tuition will be cheaper – but of course, my child won a full ride to MIT.”


It is good that I have an older cousin and not a younger one. Otherwise, these comparisons would be even more embarrassing. Both for me and for my father.


Sometimes, it is hard not to feel resentful.


***


Step 4 in a transformation is to heat shock the cells in a 42oC water bath for 30 seconds. The heat shock makes the bacterial membrane more permeable, allowing the bacteria to take up the foreign DNA. This step is time-sensitive. Too much heat shock, and your cells will die.


***


According to my father, being a doctor yourself is the only way to avoid being duped by doctors, which is why I must be a doctor.


I am not a doctor.


Yet.


But I have sat in enough doctors’ offices to know that what he says is true. To know that some doctors are condescending, most are stressed, and all are just plain busy. To know that immigrant patients are already at a disadvantage because of the linguistic and cultural barriers. To know that, when you walk out of the office at the end of the visit, you often never fully understand what’s going on.


My father never walks out of the O.R.


***


Step 5 in a transformation is to incubate the cells on ice for 2 minutes. This allows the cells to recover from the heat shock.


***


According to the pre-medical advising office’s incoming freshmen presentation, shadowing is an important part of an application to med school.


I take meticulous notes.


After many Google searches and cold emails and almost taking the wrong bus (my father was able to board a plane for the first time alone), I show up at the local hospital to shadow a surgeon.


I nearly don’t go in. (Did my father hesitate coming off the plane?)


But I do.


Only, as I follow the surgeon on his rounds, against my will I unearth a feeling I’ve long suspected myself of having.


I hate this.


Because in every patient’s face I see an opportunity for disaster. I see questions that I cannot answer, that the doctor cannot answer (though he must give a verbal reply), that no one can answer, because we are not God, we are not Destiny, we are not the Fates who so callously cut our puppet strings. I see failure haunting every examination room, and it haunts me.


Dad, I don't think I can do this.


***


Step 6 in a transformation is to add 400 microliters of SOC medium to the cells. Step 7 is to incubate the cells at 37oC for 30 minutes while shaking at 225-250 rpm. This allows the bacterial culture to grow and produce antibiotic resistance proteins.


***


According to my roommate, the children’s hospital is seeking volunteers, and wouldn’t it be great and convenient if we could go together?


I fill out the form online.


Volunteering is an important part of an application to med school, after all.


And in the children’s hospital, I find more reasons to be guilty. I am healthy. I can walk. The only deadly thing in my future is the all-nighter I’m planning to pull for my exam. I am not them, and yet I am still complaining.


I would walk away immediately from this emotional downpour if it were not for one thing.


They have no expectations.


So I stay.


And I keep staying.


***


Step 8 in a transformation is to spread the mixture of cells on LB agar plates with the appropriate antibiotic and then incubate the plates at 37oC overnight. If your transformation has been successful, you will see colonies on your plates the next day.


***


The lab instructor claps again at the end of class. “Once you’ve plated your transformations, place them in the incubator behind me, and then clean up your benches before you go. I’ll email you guys the pictures of the plates tomorrow, and lab reports are due next week!”


I turn in my labeled plate and pack up to leave.


In my backpack, I carry my father’s expired passport and a Kaplan’s set of MCAT prep books that I bought from my cousin. I carry my father’s passport because it is one of the few photographs of him that I have. The MCAT prep books – well, they’re self-explanatory.


I hope to go into pediatrics.


***


According to biologists, transformation is the act of introducing foreign DNA into bacteria.


Dad was a biologist.


So I was always meant to transform.

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.

21 comments

I really liked that with every step of the biological transformation, your character was thinking about something! Sometimes when I'm baking (that also has steps) my mind wanders to other things... just like your character. Great job, keep writing!

Reply

D. Holmes
20:01 May 26, 2020

Thank you! I'm glad the back-and-forth of the thought process was believable!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Ollie Octopus
21:51 Jun 03, 2020

I love this story! I have never read anything like this. Great job!

Reply

D. Holmes
00:58 Jun 04, 2020

Thank you! I'm glad you enjoyed it!

Reply

Ollie Octopus
04:13 Jun 04, 2020

You're welcome!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
02:37 Jun 01, 2020

Intriguing choice to balance the father's and child's experience against one another. I would definitely be interested to hear what happens to this student at the end of school, if he sticks with it or not. I guess transformation has multiple meanings!

Reply

D. Holmes
16:50 Jun 02, 2020

Thank you! I wanted to combine the week's prompts of transformation and parent-child relationship, and I thought why not a physical transformation as well as a mental one. And then I ended without revealing the results of either transformation, because you never know :)

Reply

20:51 Jun 02, 2020

You're welcome! More like real life that way, leaving the transformations open ;)

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Serine Achache
15:41 Jun 22, 2020

"I hate this. Because in every patient’s face I see an opportunity for disaster. I see questions that I cannot answer, that the doctor cannot answer (though he must give a verbal reply), that no one can answer..." "So I stay. And I keep staying." I cannot believe just how much I relate to this. Every single time I walk in those halls, this is exactly how I feel. And I keep staying... I loved this story sooooooooooo much I can't even begin to describe how much. Everything about it is so unique. Thank you so much for the effort you have cle...

Reply

D. Holmes
15:33 Jun 24, 2020

Thank you for reading! I'm so glad you found it relatable. If you are applying to enter (or in) the medical profession, kudos, and good luck!

Reply

Serine Achache
23:23 Jun 24, 2020

I'm already a medical student, fifth year. And thank you so much! Best of luck for you as well!

Reply

D. Holmes
01:59 Jun 26, 2020

Impressive! I hope you're taking care of yourself during this difficult time with COVID. And thank you!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Laura Clark
10:26 Jun 18, 2020

Wonderful work! I was waiting to see what the payoff from the fact interjections was and the final few lines connecting the biological process and the protagonist and his father brought it together beautifully. I loved the tone shifts throughout too that showed the difference between character voices and instructions. It made the distinctions between them very clean. I really enjoyed this!

Reply

D. Holmes
21:38 Jun 19, 2020

Thank you! I'm so glad you liked the relationship between the biological transformation and the character's transformation!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Des Feller
17:42 Jun 16, 2020

I love the grief that your main character is feeling. Like, they're grieving this loss of freedom to choose, loss of a father, of a motivation, loss of an answer. Beautiful work

Reply

D. Holmes
02:03 Jun 26, 2020

Ah, apologies, I missed this comment. Thank you for your kind words! That's exactly what I was trying to convey with my character - I'm so glad it came across!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
02:11 Jun 15, 2020

This is a really clever interpretation of the prompt and exploration of the different meanings of transformation. The character's internal struggle was fascinating too. Their mixed feelings about going to med school and following the life that's been planned out for them are really realistic! I've definitely felt that way about school, jobs, etc.

Reply

D. Holmes
17:03 Jun 16, 2020

Thank you! It's reassuring to know that others have felt that way as well - a lot of times I feel like we boil down major decisions into multiple steps when it's really not that linear.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Writers Block
17:53 Jun 12, 2020

I enjoyed the breaks between fact and fiction.

Reply

D. Holmes
22:53 Jun 12, 2020

Thank you! I'm glad you enjoyed the different sections!

Reply

Writers Block
23:11 Jun 12, 2020

It's neat to see how everybody formats their stories. . . .and the stories themselves.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply