HUMAN SHIELD

At the early lab job in cardiology as a pre-med, I used to go into meetings with Dr. Stone and his post-docs. The post-docs would generally invite me to come along with them when it was time to present their data from the experiments they’d done that week. As a student, you’re never supposed to refuse any educational activity, and in any case, it was fun and interesting to watch a great scientist critique his lab members’ work and discuss the next steps to take.

The only problem was, I realized I was getting asked into these meetings more than all the other students combined. That seemed like an honor, but it took enough of my time that I was concerned that I wasn’t getting my share of the work done, that other students would have to do it. We couldn’t work overtime as students, and everything that happened in that lab ran on a tight schedule.

The other students weren’t upset with me— they understood that it wasn’t really my choice to keep leaving my work— but I wondered how long this could go on.

One morning, when I had a pile of work to do, one of the post docs came over and invited me to attend his meeting with the lab head.

“Gosh, I’m sorry, Ahmed” I told him, feeling guilty for rejecting an invitation, “but I promised Dr. Stone that I would get all this done by noon. I’ve got to keep working.”

“Please?” he asked with a pleading expression.

I looked at him in utter confusion. “Ahmed?” was all I managed to ask.

“Don’t you know?” he exclaimed. “Dr. Stone won’t blow his stack in front of you.” Ahmed had had a tough week in lab. None of his experiments were working, and he looked a bit desperate.

“Do you mean to tell me you’ve all been using me as a human shield?” I asked incredulously.

“Yes,” he said in a totally unembarrassed tone, and with an expression of mild surprise that implied, You go to a tough university, I thought you were smart, what gives? Then he returned to his hunted look. “Well?”

I liked Ahmed, so I went and just did my best to work double time after that. It all worked out: Ahmed escaped with his head still attached, and I still managed to get everything done.

What can I say for myself? I was eighteen. And though I was tougher to shock than I looked, I guess I looked more likely to faint than the other students. And Dr. Stone was every bit the southern gentleman, not one to yell in front of ladies and especially not a lady who was barely more than a girl.

I never put “human shield” on my resume after that, but it was tempting.