A True Survivor

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Now that we are all settling into a new normal with the global COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown, I’m almost thankful that I grew up in a poor household.  Because I saw my mom struggle to make ends meet as a single mother, I learned some valuable lessons about how to brave any storm.

As soon as the wave of panic and dread began to sweep across the globe amid COVID-19 concerns, my survival instinct kicked up big time. I began hunkering down, planning a strategy, a game plan.  I turned to my childhood comfort food, white rice (I limit my current consumption to a small amount of jasmine rice) to stretch out my meals, a trick I knew all too well from my childhood.

What really surprised me was how a number of extremely wealthy people I know completely buckled under the pressure, lost all their coping mechanisms, and allowed their businesses to evaporate because they didn’t want to think outside the box and re-strategize.  It was astonishing how the same people who used to intimidate me and make me feel inadequate were so quick to give up.  All the shiny things don’t matter when one suddenly has to think about how to keep a roof over one’s head and put food on the table.  Food, shelter, and essential items will always be more important than driving a fancy car or buying designer clothing.

Everything has shifted profoundly, permanently on this planet, and we are all being forced to pay attention and shift our priorities.  We miss the people we cannot see in person, which hopefully means that we will hold higher value for those friendships and bonds.  If mankind is being forced to reinvent itself, then let’s get this done!

How To Interpret Genetic Ancestry Reports

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Copyright : Ioulia Bolchakova

 

If you’re curious about your genetic makeup, and you are considering obtaining a DNA kit, don’t be surprised if there are some inconsistencies, especially if you order kits from more than one company.  Variations in sample populations are quite common, resulting from closely related genetic populations which may be lumped into one broad category.

The first kit I ordered was from 23andme, and the results were consistent with what I expected to find on my report.  It confirmed that I was pretty much 50% (49.6%, to be precise) Japanese, and the other 50% was mostly Hungarian, 5.6% Greek, 2.3% Italian, and1.8% German and French.  Several years later, I ordered kits from Ancestry and MyHeritage, which only served to complicate the picture.  Ancestry’s report was the most simplified, with 50% Japanese, 45% Hungarian/Eastern European, and the remainder scattered among Italian, Greek, and English.  MyHeritage reported 46% Japanese, 36.8% Eastern European (no breakdown for Hungary specifically), and the remainder broadly European with no breakdown for Greece, Italy, Germany or France.  Once I sifted through all three reports simultaneously, I was able to interpret my genetic background, but I could definitely see how some people might be thrown off by a genetic report which was too general or broad.

Genealogy Strand Genes DNA Research Genealogist Word 3d Illustration

 

One important and confounding factor to consider is that we don’t express all 50% of the DNA we get from each parent, which skews the DNA analysis even further.  The best thing to do when interpreting a genetic analysis is to take it all with a grain of salt.  The science behind genetic analysis, while mostly accurate, also has a margin of error.

If you are trying to decide on a company to use for your genetic testing, it really depends on whether your primary objective is to uncover your genetic makeup for your family’s genealogy, obtain health information, or to connect with lost family and relatives.  For those more interested in genetic health markers, 23andme constantly expands its testing, so you will get regular reports as new genetic markers are added to the list.  Ancestry and MyHeritage are both fantastic for exploring your genealogical tree, and both offer multiple resources and archived records to members.

Genetic Ancestry Tests And The Rabbit Hole

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If you are considering ordering and completing one of those genetic ancestry tests (popular ones are 23andme, Ancestry, and MyHeritage, all of which I have now completed), be prepared for the possibility that you might be on the crest of a journey down into the rabbit hole.  I’ve heard far too many stories of people who made startling discoveries relating to their genetic background and genealogy which at times resulted in conflict within the family.  Mysteries may unfold which leave you with more questions than you may have ever had about your family members or your ethnic makeup.

If we consider the phrase, going down the rabbit hole, we can enter said rabbit hole without thinking that the journey will be as long or as confounding as it can be.  That’s how it was for me initially, and now I find myself searching more than ever before for the puzzle pieces which could solve the many mysteries my biological father left when he died. Although I knew the circumstances surrounding my conception were akin to a soap opera, I never in my wildest imagination expected my story to unfold the way it has.

Before I dive into my own story, and wiggle through the proverbial rabbit hole, I’m going to share this passage from Lewis Carroll’s “Alice In Wonderland”:

“In another moment down went Alice after it, never once considering how in the world she was to get out again.

The rabbit-hole went straight on like a tunnel for some way, and then dipped suddenly down, so suddenly that Alice had not a moment to think about stopping herself before she found herself falling down a very deep well.

Either the well was very deep, or she fell very slowly, for she had plenty of time as she went down to look about her and to wonder what was going to happen next. First, she tried to look down and make out what she was coming to, but it was too dark to see anything; then she looked at the sides of the well, and noticed that they were filled with cupboards and book-shelves; here and there she saw maps and pictures hung upon pegs. She took down a jar from one of the shelves as she passed; it was labelled `ORANGE MARMALADE’, but to her great disappointment it was empty: she did not like to drop the jar for fear of killing somebody, so managed to put it into one of the cupboards as she fell past it.

`Well!’ thought Alice to herself, `after such a fall as this, I shall think nothing of tumbling down stairs! How brave they’ll all think me at home! Why, I wouldn’t say anything about it, even if I fell off the top of the house!’ (Which was very likely true.)

Down, down, down. Would the fall never come to an end! `I wonder how many miles I’ve fallen by this time?’ she said aloud. `I must be getting somewhere near the centre of the earth. Let me see: that would be four thousand miles down, I think–‘ (for, you see, Alice had learnt several things of this sort in her lessons in the schoolroom, and though this was not a very good opportunity for showing off her knowledge, as there was no one to listen to her, still it was good practice to say it over) `–yes, that’s about the right distance–but then I wonder what Latitude or Longitude I’ve got to?’ (Alice had no idea what Latitude was, or Longitude either, but thought they were nice grand words to say.)”

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Thanks to 23andme, a half sister I had never known about contacted me at the end of January with the startling news that we were indeed siblings.  Three days after our initial contact, another half sister surfaced on the site, and we slid down the rabbit hole even farther.

It took some time for the other half sister to respond to our connection requests, but we three are all now in communication with each other.  I have met one half sister and was even able to help her celebrate her latest birthday in February.  The other half sister is lining up a visit so that we can all three see each other face to face and forge the bond we never got a chance to develop as children.

We also have a half brother whom we are trying to locate, but there are numerous barriers, including the fact that we don’t know his name or birthdate, are unaware of which country he currently resides in, and the fact that he evidently is the type of person who would not welcome the news that he has three half sisters.  I have known about this half brother since our father’s death in 1997, but he never signed up for genetic testing analysis, which means we don’t have the convenience of a genetic testing service to do make the connection for us.

We want to find out more about our family tree, but it will be difficult at best to ferret out such information because I have limited knowledge of our father’s mother tongue (Hungarian), and I have no idea who would be privy to such information.  Our father’s place of death is also a mystery, which also means that it will be challenging to discover where he was interred.

Curiouser and curiouser, indeed.

Neurological Disorders and My Loved Ones

It seems like neurological disorders abound with my loved ones. My aunty Alice developed cerebral palsy after contracting an infection during infancy. My uncle Katsutoshi fell into a persistent vegetative state after an unlocked construction crane fell on his head and back. My uncle Harumi experienced several strokes, as did my aunty Carol and my dad. My mother sustained a subarachnoid hemorrhage (aneurysm rupture) along with senile dementia. My dear friend and meditation teacher Rob was diagnosed with an aggressive brain tumor, a glioblastoma multiforme, which took his life within five months.

My favorite aunt Jean was diagnosed with the sporadic form of amyotropic lateral sclerosis (ALS) in early 2016, adding yet another neurological illness to an already large list. The disease was so aggressive that by October, she was unable to speak, so my calls consisted of me making awkward small talk while she grunted in response.

Considering the fact that I had a keen interest in neuroscience since childhood and believed that I would become a neurologist even in my final year of medical school, I find it ironic that so many people who have been near and dear to me have fallen victim to so many neurological maladies, ranging from cerebrovascular events, to neuromuscular disorders, to traumatic brain injury, to neoplasm. Despite this, my fascination for the neurosensory system has not abated. I just hope my favorite people don’t keep getting struck by ailments which afflict this system.

A Funny Story My Favorite Aunty Shared

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Aunty Jean was my favorite aunt on my mother’s side of the family, and she made a tremendous impact on my life from a very early age. I remember meeting her for the first time during my first visit to Hawaii at the age of three. My uncle Tadashi had suddenly died of a heart attack, so my mom flew us both out to Hawaii to pay our last respects.

From the moment I set foot on Hawaiian soil, I was mesmerized by the islands and felt immediately at home. It certainly helped that I was able to meet my mother’s extensive family, and was greeted warmly by them. Jean was especially doting, and spent a great deal of time with me during our week on Oahu. She engaged me in arts and crafts, took me to the garden in the backyard to teach me about tropical fruits, and spoke pidgin English, a weird combination of Japanese, Hawaiian, and English which delighted my young mind.

Aunty also let me tag along and watch her cook. It was on one of those days during which I was watching her that I exhibited behavior which she thought was peculiar and brilliant, and went so far as to share the incident with other family members. The strange thing is that I barely remember the incident, but she remembered it vividly and loved retelling the story.

Aunty was standing in front of her kitchen sink, cleaning a whole fish. I stood next to her on my tiptoes, peering over the sink’s edge to watch her scale the fish.

Then I said, “Aunty, take one eyeball out.” She was alarmed.

“Why do you want one eyeball?”, she exclaimed.

“Please, Aunty, can I have an eyeball?”

She looked at me, impressed by my determination. “Well, okay, but I don’t know why you want it.” She proceeded to enucleate the fish on one side. “Okay, now what?” She looked down at me expectantly.

“Cut it in half.”

“What? Why do you want me to cut it in half?”

“Please Aunty.”

“Okay.” She shook her head in wonder and then cut the eyeball in half. “Now What?”

I held my hand out, palm up. “You can give it to me. Both pieces.”

Aunty obliged, placing two half-orbs onto my palm.

“Thank you Aunty.” I smiled at her, then looked down at the cross sections, studying their anatomy, bringing my hand to eye level to get a closer look. Once I had the anatomy lesson in my hand, I no longer paid attention to the full fish corpse which Aunty was cleaning.

My aunt found my fascination with a sliced fish eyeball completely odd, and was overcome with the strong sense that I would become either a scientist or a physician when I grew up. How right she was. During my entire grade school, high school and college years, I was in large part a science nerd, and when dissections, science experiments or surgeries on small animals were presented to me as class assignments, I dove in with feverish enthusiasm. At one point during college, I held a major in science illustration (I later switched to exercise science and obtained my Bachelor’s degree in that field). Eventually, I endured the rigors of medical school as well as three years of family practice residency, and I have enjoyed a career as a board certified physician for 13 years.