Getting my head examined

Photo by Quang Nguyen Vinh on

“You’re crazy … you should really get your head examined!”

How many times have I heard that in my life? More times than I would like to admit. I suppose I’ve said some zany and unexpected things over the years, causing someone to criticize or complain about me. Not crazy, “cool” like some enviable hip slur, but crazy like “you’re weird”; that kind of crazy. I’ve been admonished many times for sure and when young I let it get to me. Growing up and being told I’m crazy was one thing, but at my age today, it doesn’t bother me anymore. I’m crazy, … so what? Your opinion is just that – an opinion. Not fact.

So I’m finally doing it … I’m getting my head examined. Earlier in the week I had a brain scan. The doctors are finally looking under the hood to see if there’s anything in that noggin of mine that shouldn’t be there or is causing some trouble.

Aside from this medical matter I’m becoming a subject in other ways as well. I’ve sought out research studies and become a paid volunteer subject. Being a subject is pretty neat in my opinion. It certainly makes the day a lot more interesting, being a subject in a well-conceived scientific or clinical research study. Vials and vials of blood submitted, along with questionnaires filled out, measurements and vitals recorded and under the auspices of Institutional Review Boards (IRB) is my way of helping brainy PhDs work towards developing new therapies that rid the world of debilitating ailments or diseases. My contributions are all anonymous of course.

The older I get the more mysterious life seems to be and the greater appreciation I have for it being so. And to try to understand the fundamental building blocks of the secrets of life holds even more wonder and more awesomeness about science and scientific achievement.

Just a drop of blood holds all kinds of secrets, and a few ounces of salvia holds enough DNA to map out one’s genetic profile. A year after I was born (1953), Watson and Crick discovered how instruction for building every cell in every form of life were encoded by the four-letter sequences of DNA: Adenine, Thymine, Guanine and Cytosine, or (put them all together and what does it spell?): ATGC. Deoxyribonucleic acid or DNA is the repository of genetic information that transmits inheritable transformations. Getting to know DNA means to also get to know the mysteries of heredity. But it is RNA, DNA’s close cousin (another nucleic acid) that does the real work. Like DNA, RNA is a chain of nucleotides, but unlike DNA, RNA is found in nature as a single strand folded onto itself – not a paired double strand you may be familiar as being a helix.

You may have heard of RNA. RNA molecules began to be understood in earnest in the 1970s, and became the molecular system that helped develop vaccines against coronaviruses a couple of years ago. That’s because many viruses encode their genetic information using the RNA genome.

A couple of weeks ago I donated eight vials of my blood to a study at a Boston teaching hospital in hopes of developing a diagnostic test for a particular ailment. I was one of thousands of volunteers and I received a token cash payment which I immediately used it to pay for dinner for two at a trendy Thai restaurant in Chestnut Hill.

I’m not likely to give away one of my kidneys nor am I willing to subject myself to a painful invasive spinal tap, but as long as the giving of myself, be it my blood, bone, tissue, saliva, urine or otherwise is there for the taking, I’m all “in”.

I’ve also been on a tear lately giving away my thoughts, perceptions, opinions and beliefs through online focus groups and discussion groups. I’ve been a subject for focus groups for years.

Many years ago I was in one organized by my alumni relations office to learn why certain class graduates did not participate in alumni activities. Another time I drove into Newon, looked at several print ad mock ups from Fidelity Investments, citing my preferences for this one or that one and why. At the end of the evening, I was handed two crisp uncirculated $100 bills along with a parking voucher.

Last week I participated in a 75 minute digital only focus group sharing my views and opinions about environmental conservation and messaging for a prominent Massachusetts-based non profit. I received a $250 gift card for my participation. I like these discussion groups because there’s no one right or wrong answers; they are only polling for opinions, likes and dislikes from a qualified consumer base.

Fortunately, none of the research scientists asked if I had ever been called “crazy”; instead they sought me out as a suitable candidate who happened to be the kind of human being that’s just right and appropriate for their studies. I don’t have the brains for being a scientist but I share with many others the wonders of nature and the joys of discovery made possible by those who do. I’m glad to be a small part of any scientific endeavor that may lead to transformative breakthroughs. In my career, most of my time was spent in high tech hardware and software start ups in the digital world, and in my later years as a paid volunteer, I’m doing a very small part in the sciences working to more fully understand the code of life.

Published by Richard Halpern

Retired (but busy) after a lengthy career in business marketing, communications and research. Worked at four start-ups and one turnaround. Now volunteer doing prospect research for a climate activity and social advocacy non profit, amongst other things.

One thought on “Getting my head examined

  1. Richard,

    I loved this off the hook! You are one of the least crazy people and I thrilled to call you my friend.

    I wish I could participate in that study, but my MeMe (grandmother) duties doesn’t leave me much time or flexibility.

    I’m so proud of you!



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