Stories

Searching for Stories in Unconventional Places and in Unconventional Ways

By Shaharia Ferdus.

Ever since I was a child, I loved stories. My mother would read me countless bedtime tales when I was young, and after I immigrated to America from Bangladesh, I often found myself buried in a book because it was easier to get lost in fantasy worlds with fictional characters than to confront the foreignness of my new home or the faces around me. Now as an adult, I am proud that I am at least a little braver than I once was. Years of forcing myself to reach out and get involved in my community and later on campus have made talking to people less difficult than it once was. Unfortunately, the busier schedule now also means that the natural bookworm in me has little time to get lost in a traditional book like before. So, I’ve had to be creative and search for stories in unconventional places and in unconventional ways.

Not everyone is meant to be a writer, that much is true. But in my time as a nurse aide (albeit only eight months), I have come to find that some of the best stories are told by ordinary people. As I work in a rehabilitation clinic, it is always exciting to watch patients who previously could not move, walk on their own again in a matter of weeks, thanks to therapy, a supportive network, and their own determination and effort. Hearing from some patients as they work to regain their capabilities is always inspiring, and I strive to be just as hardworking and optimistic as they are. But for other patients, there is no recovery, no return path to normalcy.

For these individuals, I cannot do much but be present and listen. It is actually one of the most rewarding aspects of my job and a privilege I hold dear because I am aware of how difficult it is to be vulnerable around strangers. But I have also come to appreciate how comforting it can be for them to open up to someone. The few minutes I take to ask patients about their day and listen to them talk about their families, their goals, their lives beyond the hospital, is just me being friendly. Not everyone cares, but for some, my efforts make enough of an impression that they recall our exchanges fondly whenever I come to see them. So in between tasks, I try to make time to talk to my patients. Whatever their prognosis is, I am thankful to be there for them. Even if I cannot do much to improve their overall condition, I can at least listen, and that itself can make all the difference to a patient’s outlook on their recovery.

Here at UConn, I deal with a different kind of story – that is, the story being told, and now actively being written by me, through research. Switching out a pen for a micropipette and a library for the NCBI database, I coauthor a mystery in which I am a detective. The mystery: how does the gut microbiome affect liver health? It’s a question that has come to dominate my research experience ever since I joined the Blesso lab in the Nutritional Sciences Department sophomore year, and one I am not sure I have the answer to as I prepare my honors thesis, nor one I expect to know the answer to even after graduation in May. It’s a frustrating situation getting insignificant results and not knowing the answer; I’m not used to not getting answers as a student. But as my PI reminds me time and again, this is an open-ended tale. As more evidence is compiled by many scientists across the world over time, the story will build, but the mystery itself may never be fully resolved. I still cross my fingers hoping that sooner or later, I will encounter an exciting detail that furthers the field tremendously. But for now, I’ve learned to be proud of my involvement (however small) in the development of this global story of human curiosity and intellect.

Being an ambitious full-time student leaves little time for reading books that are not the required course readings. Even if I found time to travel to the library, most are closed now anyways, thanks to the pandemic. But that has not stopped me from seeking out stories and feeding my inner bookworm. Whether happy or sad, complete or incomplete, I want to hear them all. But more importantly, I want to be a part of building those stories – stories of human ambition and achievement. The future is unpredictable and unwritten, but I am my own author, and this story will have a happy ending. “The End” (for now…)