My decision to start grad school in Hawaii was more a function of location than actual academic ambitions. I got accepted into my program of choice and was rewarded with some tuition assistance, so it really took little thought on my part — go back to Wisconsin and suffer the winters or go to Hawaii where there’s no word for “winter” in Hawaiian? Decision made.
One of the first things I did when I arrived in Hawaii was meet my academic advisor. He was a professor in my department whose office walls were adorned with degrees and certificates. I sat there and listened to him talk about the program and what the courses would entail. Then he mentioned there would be field trips and I stopped him there.
“One thing about the field trips. I have muscular dystrophy so it can be difficult for me to climb around and do stairs. Do you think this will be a problem?” I asked.
“Well…yes…I am sure we can figure out a way around this. But can I ask you, what exactly is the problem with your muscles?”
I gave him my regular blurb about what muscular dystrophy is and how it affected me which was met with a blank, if not frightened stare.
“Is that contagious?” he asked.
I am not quite sure how high my one eyebrow raised up at this statement but I’m pretty sure it was leaping off my face in astonishment.
“Uhhh…no…it’s genetic.” I replied. A split second later I realized I should have said, “Yes, it’s contagious and I forgot to wear my face mask today so you might want to wash your hands after this meeting!”
Not imagining I could be asked a sillier question, he stated, “Do you know they have DNA pills you can take? You should try that!”
I somehow summoned-up the ability to reply without laughing and said, “Ok, I will check that out.”
Needless to say, I couldn’t take the guy seriously for the rest of the meeting. Unfortunately he was also the instructor for many of the classes I ended up taking. But when it came time for me to decide whether or not to continue my studies or take a full time computer programming job, I had no problem making up my mind.
And now back to my computer programming.
But seriously, at the time I did find it astonishing that someone with so much education had no idea that muscular dystrophy is a genetic disorder. This encounter made me realize that unless someone has experience with muscular dystrophy, they may not know that it’s a genetic disease and they can’t catch it. So I forgive my advisor for not knowing all the details and I also remember to make sure I bring up the fact that it’s a genetic disorder when people ask me about it.