When Worlds Collide

This year, it just so happened that the dates of the annual College of American Pathologists conference overlapped with the Sonoma County Vintners pouring events.  I’d already committed to presenting at the pinot noir seminar in San Diego and could accumulate Continuing Medical Education credits on the same trip.  Serendipity. In my prepared pitch for the pinot seminar, I joked that I’d abandoned my career in surgical pathology to pursue my true passion.....yeast.  “Pathology and winemaking are closer than you’d think,” I remarked.  But then I never expected to get medical credit and expectorate in the same afternoon.  As I rode the escalator to the top of the San Diego convention center, I mused just how closely they’re intertwined.

A month before the path convention, I’d rode a nearly identical escalator, in a parallel universe, at the Sacramento Convention Center.  There, I queued up behind an undulating train of wine trade professionals.  Choo-choo.  First floor: registration.  An unhelpful employee checked me in, scanned my badge, and directed me back to the escalator.  Choo-choo.  Second floor.  I floated up and into a grand hall, outfitted with glorious stainless steel tanks, state of the art de-stemmers, and tradesmen promoting hoses, fittings, and irrigation supplies.  I’d finally made it to Unified, one of the largest tradeshows for winemakers.  Only their jars of gratis Hershey kisses and logo key chains looked identical to the medical conventions of my past life.  Just try to sneak a Red Vine before some sales rep seduces you with an awesome digital microscope or automated slide stainer.

When two different cancers metastasize to the same place, we call the result a “collision tumor.”  In fact my first published paper reported a collision tumor in a lymph node.  An unfortunate gentleman with both bladder cancer and prostate cancer was now stage 4 for both.  The slides showed discrete patches of malignant cells from each cancer.  But in certain spots, the scary, blue cells just blurred together, indistinguishable in origin without special stains.  How can I separate my medical doctor past from my current identity as “doc winemaker?”  A guy at the consumer tasting in San Diego asked me why I didn’t put “M.D.” on my Bruliam business cards.  Most Bruliam fans know that I used to be a doctor.  But my old pathology buddies are unaware of my professional reincarnation.

I have never regretted leaving medicine, but attending the pathology conference left me surprisingly wistful.  I wandered thought the poster presentations and lectures on high alert for my old colleagues.  I’d trained at UCSD Medical Center and was certain I’d run into my old resident pack.  But I didn’t recognize anyone.  I checked in with the orientation desk to see who’d registered.  “Do you have a Chris XX?”  “No ma’am.”  Then, “How about an Angelique XX?”  “No ma’am.”  I gave up after the fifth name.  This was not how I envisioned it would happen.

Per my imagined script, I’d be riding the escalator up to the Gastrointestinal Short Course when I’d bump into our old program director or the handsome neuropathologist we all adored.  “Why Kerith, is that you?” he’d inquire.  “I haven’t heard from you in ages.”  My reply was polished.  “Well actually I left pathology a few years ago.  I have a new career.”  (dramatic pause).  “I’m a winemaker.”  Then he’d smile and drown me under a tsunami of congratulatory hugs and questions about my sexy, new job.  Who wouldn’t want to be a winemaker?  Answer: all of the pathologists attending the CAP convention.

My drama concluded with an unsatisfying denouement.  I was just another anonymous convention goer.  Only this time I was the interloper, a poser schlepping a 700 page syllabus in a Leica microscope swag bag.  I idled by the computer station and abused the free wifi to check my Bruliam Wines account before heading off to pour some pinot noir.