doc w/ pen

a journalist becomes a doctor before your eyes

Month: May, 2010

Montessori Method at Work

Catenin … adhesion junctions … cadherin … p120 … tyrosine … kaiso …
I stared blankly at Dr. David Wei, who was presenting the latest research on, well, um, I think it was about the role of a protein called p120 in the “adhesion” of cells – their ability to stick to one another. Yeah. I’m pretty sure that’s what it was about. 
Olga had invited me to the weekly Thursday lab meeting. I was thrilled to be included. Rich Minshall (the lab director) introduced me to the other half-dozen or so people I hadn’t met yet, and asked me for a summary on what I’d learned so far. Everyone seemed impressed with the depth and breadth of what I’d accomplished in a mere three weeks. So far so good.
And then David began his presentation. Nothing against David – he’s an incredibly talented, intelligent anesthesiologist and budding research scientist. But he could have been speaking Greek as far as I was concerned. And the slides he was showing looked like hieroglyphics to me. I simply don’t know the language of laboratory science. 
Slowly, as the 45-minute presentation went on, I began to catch on – a few words here, a concept there. By the end, I had a vague idea of his main idea. And I had picked up some new words along the way.
I’ve been in foreign language contexts before. In college, I studied abroad in South America (although I am nearly fluent in Spanish, so that isn’t a particularly good example). A better example: In high school, I went to China for a school trip. The words, spoken and written, all around me bore absolutely no resemblance to the language I had grown up with. It was humbling. To have to ask lots of questions, to have to learn from the ground up, to have a hard time saying “hello” because of the use of intonations (vocal inflections), which we don’t have in English.
My dad has told me over and over that the first two years of medical school are basically spent learning a new language: the language of medicine. I got a small taste of that Thursday. A flood of technical language, technical diagrams, the expectation of rapid absorption and understanding of new material. There will be no coddling, no hand-holding, no “let-me-spell-this-out-for-you.” Catch on, and catch on quickly, or you fall behind every more quickly. 
Fortunately, I have a gift for languages. When it comes to grammar – whether it’s Spanish verb conjugation used in conversation, or Latin prefixes and suffixes used in medical terminology, I am quick to grasp the concepts. I also know how to memorize: vocabulary (words and phrases), linguistic rules, and exceptions to those rules. This is how I breezed through high school and college Spanish, and through a semester in Chile living with a Spanish-speaking family. This is also how I will learn to communicate in medi-speak.
And one of the greatest things about working in the lab right now is that it is proving to be sort of an immersion experience, which is, really, the best way to learn a language. I am exposed to terms, concepts, processes, substances, etc. that I have never encountered before. I hear about them over and over. Sometimes someone will tell me, specifically, what a particular thing means or does. Other times, I have to figure it out on my own, over time and through numerous exposures in different contexts.
Basically, it’s the Montessori method: experiential-based, curiosity-led learning at one’s own pace. And it’s joyous. 

My Research Project

It dawned on me Tuesday: I may not be doing an official research project per se, one involving my own hypotheses and experiments. But my own research, as I see it, is to understand the “why” behind the “what” I am doing with Olga. To see the bigger picture, to understand the purpose and uses for the techniques I learn and practice. 

While I may not get published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal, I am still publishing my results on this blog. It serves as a record of what I have learned, as well as a tool to encourage me to reflect on my experiences. It also forces me to truly understand what I am talking about. It’s one thing to say you “get” some complex concept; it’s another to try and write about it. You have to know something inside and out to be able to explain it in writing. Which is why, in addition to what I learn in the lab from Olga, I have been doing extensive reading and research on my own time on the Web. Scientific articles (albeit the more simple ones), encyclopedia entries, online tutorials about scientific and laboratory topics – these have filled many of my afternoons and evenings. That may sound odd, and rather boring to some. But the more I learn, the more interested I become. 

Every day, between my own research and what I absorb from Olga, that “why” behind “what” we’re doing becomes a little clearer. And that’s what every research scientist likes to see: results.

Rite of Passage

A few days ago, Olga told me she’d thrown out a flask of fibroblast cells. What?! I couldn’t believe my ears. Didn’t we need those cells for … um … something?
Every day, I learn new techniques. But sometimes I get caught up in the “doing” and miss the bigger picture. Monday, though, I got some clarity. The “doing” and the “bigger picture” came together.
Olga and I are taking care of two types of mouse lung cells: fibroblasts and epithelium. Up until Monday afternoon, I couldn’t keep them straight. 
Monday morning – before the clarity – Olga had me work with 10 plates (round plastic dishes) of fibroblasts. For five of the plates, Olga instructed me to aspirate (remove) the high-calcium media (liquid they grow in) and pipette in low-calcium media. Simple enough. Aspiration, pipetting, easy stuff (which feels really good to say!). I wasn’t quite sure why I was replacing high-calcium media with low-calcium media, but Olga was busy setting up another experiment so I went ahead with her instructions.
Once I was done with that, Olga told me that we were going to “passage,” or split, the other five plates into 10 plates to give the cells more room to proliferate. Basically, we wanted them to grow more, and they needed space to do that. That’s all well and good, but I wasn’t quite sure why we needed so many fibroblasts … we already had a lot, and had more in the freezer; why keep so many in the incubator? A question for later, I decided.
The first step in passaging the cells was aspirating their media. Then I washed the plates out with PBS, a sterile buffered saline solution, to remove any traces of serum from the plates (serum is one of the ingredients in the media). After aspirating the PBS, I added a solution of trypsin and EDTA to the plates, one by one, to detach the cells from the bottom of the plastic plates. Trypsin is an enzyme found in the digestive tract, and it literally “digests” the proteins that help the cells stick to the bottom of the plates. Olga and I then waited a few short minutes for the cells to detach, then pipetted in more media to inhibit the trypsin (to keep it from completely breaking down the cells). 
I then sucked up the cells with a pipette, put them in a centrifuge tube, and ran the centrifuge machine for a few minutes. The result was a tube with a “supernatant” – layer of light pink liquid on the top – and a “pellet” – solid collection of cells on the bottom. I aspirated the supernatant, leaving the pellet at the bottom (this is a bit tricky – you have to be REALLY careful not to suck up the pellet, because then you’ve lost all your cells and you’re screwed). Next step was to “resuspend” the cells in new media and divide them into 10 plates (remember, we started with five, so we’ve doubled the number of plates). Because they have more space, the cells will spread out and grow more until they reach “confluence” – saturation. 
OK, I get all that. But why did we do all of that to the fibroblasts? And what about the epithelium? 
Olga explained: we want to grow as many fibroblasts as possible (hence “passaging” the fibroblasts from five into 10 plates so that they will proliferate more) because fibroblasts produce the “food” that epithelium need to survive. And the epithelium are the cells that we are interested in looking at, from an experimental point of view, but we can’t cultivate them without also growing fibroblasts. 
Basically, when you put fibroblasts into low-calcium media (as I did with five of those plates Monday), the fibroblasts produce what are called “growth factors” that epithelium need to live. Olga threw out those flasks of fibroblasts a few days ago because she had gotten what she wanted from them – the growth-factor-filled media to give to the epithelium – and the cells were no longer any good (i.e., capable of producing more growth factors). 
Ah-ha. That’s why you ask questions. To discover the “why.” To give your activity context. To provide you with a goal.

Biochemical Babysitting

“What are you doing?”
That was the question I kept waiting to be asked as I was in the lab on Monday. With Olga (my mentor/supervisor) around, I feel confident and secure. Like I belong there. But she is in New Orleans at a conference this whole week, so I’m on my own.
And not only am I on my own, I’ve been entrusted with the care of three flasks and one plate (kind of like a petri dish) of live mouse lung cells to care for. Basically, I’m a biochemical babysitter. 
Olga trained me well last week for what I have to do – change the cells’ media, which is the liquidy stuff that they live in (think diaper changing and feeding). But I’d never done it without her watching over my shoulder, coaching me, encouraging me, making sure nothing went wrong. 
I arrived at the lab around 3:45 p.m. Monday afternoon. My first task: go into the “cold storage room” – which is literally a giant walk-in freezer, the kind you see in restaurants or meat packing plants – and get the bright pink media that Olga had prepared last Friday. It was sitting in a styrofoam cooler full of ice to keep it preserved. Prying open the lid, I found that much of the ice preserving both Monday’s and Wednesday’s batches of media had melted, but that the media seemed to still be cold enough. Well, I hope so. For the cells’ sake, and for mine.
My second task: warm the media in a machine-controlled water bath (it’s a big box with a lift-up plastic lid and a layer of about 2 inches of water in the bottom), up to 37 degrees celsius, the temperature at which the cells live. Once the tube of media was in the water bath, I had to wait for about 20 minutes. (And as my husband will attest, I’m not so good at waiting.)

To kill time, I decided to look at the cells under the microscope. To my pleasant surprise, I got the thing to work, and was able to focus in on the cells perfectly. Each flask and plate looked quite good. Well, I think they looked good. Nothing seemed dead, at least. (See picture at left for an example of what lung cells look like. The picture is of human lung cells; however, Olga and I are working with mouse lung cells.)    
A few minutes before the media was to be ready, I fired up the hood, which is a protective and sterile area where you perform experiments and procedures. Working under a hood is like working through a partly open window – you have 8 inches of clearance between the  top of the hood’s opening and the hood’s table top surface. And you have to reach in quite a ways, because the first few inches of the table top area aren’t sterile because that is where the air blows through. It’s a bit of a challenge. I rehearsed what Olga had taught me: turn on the blower, open up the screen (the window), and then switch from UV to flourescent light. OK. Ready to go.
So I pulled the two small flasks out of the warming unit – which looks like a mini frig, only  it keeps things warm rather than cold, and pumps 5 percent of carbon dioxide into the air inside to keep everything healthy and happy. I brought the flasks over to the hood, sprayed my gloves with a 70 percent solution of ethanol (to help with sterilization) and got down to business.
I took an aspiration pipette (see picture at right), which is a long tube of glass that is needle-thin on one end, and attached its wider end to a plastic tube connected to a vacuum unit. After unscrewing the flasks’ lids and shoving them to the back of the hood, as Olga had showed me, I stuck the aspiration pipette into one of the flasks and watched as it slurped up all of the liquid, about 5 milliliters in all, that was inside. I did the same with the second flask, then tossed the aspiration pipette into the glass receptacle. Then I took a regular 5 milliliter pipette (see picture below left), which is much wider and longer, and filled it with 5 ml of the pink media solution, and then spat it back out into the flask. (It’s pretty cool how you get the solution in and out of a pipette – you use this hand held device that looks a bit like a gun, called a “pipette filler,” and one of the “triggers” causes liquid to fill up the pipette, and the other “trigger” causes the liquid to be released. You can, of course, push the triggers very slowly, and stop at any time, to control how much you take in or let out. See picture below right of a pipette filler.) After that, I put the flasks back into the warming unit, and repeated the process for the bigger flask and the plate.

Then it was time to go refill the styrofoam container with fresh ice to keep Wednesday’s media fresh, and then go home.

At the end of it all, I was able to tell myself: “See, I know what I’m doing. I do belong here. And no one can tell me differently.”

Stem cell research: In on the ground floor

When it comes to research, stem cells are where it’s at. And I’m in on it.
Already an established treatment for bone marrow transplantation, stem cells are thought to be (possibly) capable of treating spinal cord injuries, traumatic brain injuries, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and even baldness, among many other things. 
Basically, stem cells are cells that can differentiate into a range of specialized cell types and therefore regenerate tissue. For example, bone marrow stem cells (also called hematopoietic stem cells, or HSCs), once transplanted into an person without HSCs, will produce new blood cells and immune cells.
What Olga is trying to do – and I will be trying to help her with this summer – is to prove that the mouse lung epithelial cells she has collected are indeed stem cells. So far they have some of the indicators of stem cells, but proving that they are is more complicated. (I will get to that later.)
The implication would be that if those cells were re-injected into another mouse, one with damaged lung tissue, the stem cells would (hopefully) be able to differentiate into the needed types of cells and therefore regenerate the lung tissue.
So how does one go about proving that cells are, indeed, stem cells? Well, there is a complicated answer and then there is a complicated answer. I will try to simplify it as best I can (with my limited but expanding knowledge of biochemistry and genetics).
What you need to do is prove that your cells contain certain “stem cell markers.” These markers are used to (obviously) identify and isolate stem cells. 
So what is a stem cell marker? Good question. Here is a good answer, from the Web site
“What are stem cell markers? Coating the surface of every cell in the body are specialized proteins, called receptors, that have the capability of selectively binding or adhering to other “signaling” molecules. There are many different types of receptors that differ in their structure and affinity for the signaling molecules. Normally, cells use these receptors and the molecules that bind to them as a way of communicating with other cells and to carry out their proper functions in the body. These same cell surface receptors are the stem cell markers. Each cell type, for example a liver cell, has a certain combination of receptors on their surface that makes them distinguishable from other kinds of cells. Scientists have taken advantage of the biological uniqueness of stem cell receptors and chemical properties of certain compounds to tag or “mark” cells. Researchers owe much of the past success in finding and characterizing stem cells to the use of markers.”
So what Olga and I are going to do is test for these stem cell markers in her batch of cells. But how do we do that? Another good question, and one I don’t completely understand quite yet. But I’m getting there.
What I do know is that we will be using a technique called “gel electrophoresis” to study the gene expression of the RNA that Olga and I isolated earlier this week. (When genes are expressed, they produce proteins – hopefully, the stem cell marker proteins that we are looking for.) The first step is to use “reverse transcription” to turn the RNA into cDNA. Then you load your cDNA into little wells (holes, really) in a sticky gel matrix which sits in a plastic case. After that, you run an electric current through the gel matrix. The current causes the cDNA molecules to move through the matrix at different rates, determined largely by their mass. After completing the electrophoresis, you can stain the molecules to make them visible (and see which ones, if any, were expressed in your reaction). 
(See the picture below for an example of what the staining looks like. Note: the contents of this picture have nothing to do with what we’re researching; this picture is just for illustration’s sake.)

We will be looking to see whether particular stem cell markers – which will be evidenced in the staining by the bands we see (or don’t see) – are present in our cell sample. The stem cell markers we are looking for include SOX9, SOX2, and GATA6, among a few others (I mostly remembered the SOX ones because I used to be a White Sox fan … go figure).
I’m still a little fuzzy on some of the details – not because Olga didn’t explain them to me, but because my background in biochemistry and genetics is just slightly lacking – but I’m beginning to get the picture. What we’re doing is part of the infant stages of stem cell research, and won’t likely have practical applications for some time to come. But when it does, the potential will be earth-shattering. Pretty exciting stuff for someone who had never worked in a research lab before this Tuesday, eh?

Magic, or science?

Science isn’t magic. It’s, well, science. Hard work. Long hours in a lab. Sometimes tedious procedures done over and over. Often times, frustration. But hopefully, some meaningful results.
From the Latin scientia, meaning “knowledge,” science is the “systematic enterprise of gathering knowledge about the world and organizing and condensing that knowledge into testable laws and theories” (from
OK, that’s pretty obvious. But when you don’t know how science works, it might seem a little like magic. Or at least, it has sometimes seemed that way to me.
But yesterday, Olga showed me how to do something that I never imagined I’d see, or have the chance to do (she wants me to try it for myself soon): isolating RNA from cells.
RNA stands for “ribonucleic acid.” RNA is similar to DNA (I won’t go into the structural differences; it gets pretty technical). RNA is very important for protein synthesis (making proteins in the cells), as well as for regulating which genes are expressed in a cell. 
RNA is tiny, tiny, tiny, as you can imagine. Our mission was to separate these tiny nucleotides from the rest of the bits of a group of cells that we collected. 
Before yesterday, this procedure seemed like magic to me – I had no idea how it was done, and I imagined it happening in a hugely high-tech environment with all kinds of machines and things. Lots of complicated stuff, way beyond my understanding and capability. But Olga and I (well, I watched) did it rather simply – with some plastic tubes, bottles of buffer solution, pipettes, a syringe and needle, and a few spins in the centrifuge. 
Of course, understanding the mechanisms for how the RNA was being separated from the cell, and why we were doing it, is quite advanced. But the procedure itself was rather simple, in terms of technology. No magic here. Science: patience, time, and hard work.
The kit we used was called “RNeasy,” and was designed to make the process just that – easy. First you pipette your sample into a special tube, which contains a silica membrane that will eventually trap the RNA. Then you lyse (break down) the cells using a special solution. Then you homogenize (blend) the particles using a needle and syringe, sucking them up and squirting them out several times. Then you add ethanol to them to help them bind to the silica membrane. Then you use buffer solutions to wash away the contaminants, centrifuging in between the washes. The RNA is then eluted (extracted) using water. (At least, I think that was the order of things …)
Olga glided through the process with the grace of a professional ballet dancer. Of course, just remembering all the steps, properly pipetting (without contaminating anything), using the centrifuge correctly, and so on – much less doing it all quickly – isn’t easy for a beginner, such as myself. But I am slowly grasping these techniques, and building up speed.
Most importantly, I am learning the science behind science. And that is a lesson I will not forget.

The new lab rat on the block

I’ll be the first to admit that I know absolutely nothing about working in a research lab. Pipettes? I vaguely remember them from high school chemistry lab. Bunsen burners? I know they burn things (Captain Obvious), but don’t ask me to light one. Petri dishes? I know you grow cells in them, but anything beyond that is beyond me.
So it was with a humble heart and spirit that I entered the pharmacology lab at the University of Illinois’ College of Medicine building at 1853 W. Polk St. this past Tuesday.  
Research lab positions are coveted among pre-medical students, as medical schools look very favorably upon them. But getting a research job – especially if you don’t have any experience – is a difficult matter. It’s a catch 22. Without any experience, you can’t get a research lab job. But you can’t get any experience unless you get a research lab job to begin with.
I, however, networked my way into this position. Several months ago, I decided to try and contact some local physicians and ask to shadow them. But if you ask just anyone – someone who doesn’t know you – they’re more than likely to say “no.” So I turned to my alma mater’s online networking group (kind of like Facebook or LinkedIn, but for UIUC alums) and messaged several Chicago-area MDs. One, a pediatric anesthesiologist named Dr. Richard Berkowitz, got back to me. He agreed to meet with me at his office in Munster, IN. We talked about medical school, residency, all kinds of things. When I asked him what I should be doing to prepare myself for medical school, he mentioned the obvious – community service – but also brought up research work. He put me in touch with a former colleague, Dr. Gina Votta-Velis, an anesthesiologist and researcher at the University of Illinois-Chicago. After meeting with her, and her research partner in pharmacology, Dr. Richard Minshall, they agreed to let me come on for the summer as a volunteer.
Tuesday morning, I timidly poked my head into lab E420, looking for Olga Chernaya, the post-doc researcher who is my supervisor (and mentor). Luckily for me, Olga is friendly, funny, gracious, and patient – and a good teacher. 
But rightly, she was also a bit wary of having a completely untrained pre-med student poking around her cell cultures and taking up her precious time.
“Do you have to have your own project?” she asked me. Apparently, some students who come into the lab need to work on their own research project and write a paper about it within eight to 10 weeks – not much time to get much done, especially if you don’t have any prior experience working in a lab.
“No,” I told her. “My goal is to stay out of your way, to be helpful, and to learn as much as I can.”
“Wow, that’s rare,” she said.
The tension lifted.
From the beginning, Olga included me in what she was doing. That first day, Tuesday, we looked at her fibroblast and epithelial cells under the microscope. That might sound simple, but I hadn’t used a microscope in years, so even focusing the microscope was something she had to (re)teach me. I felt a little embarrassed, but her patience eased any of those feelings. 
On that first day, She showed me how to use pipettes. She showed me what kinds of cells she grows in petri dishes. (We haven’t gotten to bunsen burners yet, but I’m hoping that will come soon.)
The second day, I got to try things for myself. I used suction to draw out the high-calcium media (the liquidy stuff cells grow in) from flasks of cells, washed the flasks out using pipettes and a sterile solution of DPBS (phosphate buffered saline), and then replaced the high-calcium media with a low-calcium media solution, again using pipettes and suction.
What would have taken Olga 15 minutes probably took me 45, but it was a learning experience. And Olga must have been satisfied with my progress, because she’s leaving for a conference Friday afternoon and she wants me to “babysit” the cells while she’s gone – replacing their cell media twice next week, this time all on my own, no supervision.
It feels like a huge responsibility. And I’m nervous. What if something goes wrong? What if I forget what to do? What if I break something? What if I contaminate the cells? What if I – gasp – KILL them?
Then I remind myself that she wouldn’t ask me to do this if she didn’t think I could handle it. And really, it’s not that hard, once you break it down: Suction, pipette. Suction, pipette. Suction, pipette. Suction, pipette. That’s basically it (and try not to contaminate anything while you’re doing it). 
Someone else believes I can do this – this is an opportunity for me to practice believing in myself, too.

You Gotta Play the Game

When I was in high school, it was practically a mantra: “Take A.P. Take A.P. Take A.P.” 
This referred to Advanced Placement classes, designed to teach the same concepts as a first-year college course. At the end of the school year, a standardized exam was offered to test your proficiency of the material. Based on your score (on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the highest possible), you could receive college credit for the course.
Those of us students on the so-called “honors” track heard this mantra from teachers, guidance counselors, parents, and even other students. And so we bought into it. I bought into it, taking A.P. Biology, Chemistry, Spanish, U.S. History, and Calculus throughout my junior and senior years. I scored well on the exams, and earned enough college credit so that when I entered the University of Illinois in the fall of 1999, I was technically a second-semester sophomore – not a freshman – in terms of credits. I was able to bypass introductory courses and take more advanced (and smaller) classes, which was a major advantage at a huge university such as UIUC. 
Pretty sweet. Or so I thought. 
It turns out, however, that medical schools do not look favorably on A.P. credits. They want students to have taken the courses at a university. Which means that I will have to retake Calculus. Which, in my mind, makes no sense. It’s not that I’m afraid of Calculus – I got an A in the course the first time, and scored a 5 on the A.P. exam, so I am clearly capable of mastering the material. No, what doesn’t make sense is that I have already mastered the material and have to prove it all over again. And spend several thousand dollars (and dozens of hours of my time, and god only knows how much pencil lead and calculator juice) doing so, just to have that line item on my transcript. 
So my A.P. credit is worthless. I busted ass – and when I say I busted ass, I mean BUSTED ASS, because Calculus isn’t easy – for jack. No, I shouldn’t say that; not for jack, because I did learn the material, and it’ll be easier the second time around. 
But then is the whole A.P. thing a sham? A waste of time, a way for the College Board (the institution that sponsors the A.P. exams) to make money, a way for Cliff’s Notes to make money on review books, a way for schools to tout their students’ success, a way for students to boost their GPAs (many schools offer an extra GPA point for honors and A.P. classes) and to claim superiority over others who take fewer A.P. courses or who do not score as well on the exams? 
Perhaps A.P. courses – and credit – are worthwhile for students who enter less competitive fields, or who do not intend on completing graduate level work. But apparently they are worthless for those of us who intend on entering medical school. 
Which is frustrating, since taking A.P. courses was, in high school, the indicator of success and high achievement. And that’s what – I thought – medical schools wanted. 
In an ideal world, medical schools would accept A.P. credits. If they have issues with the A.P. curriculum, they should take that up with the College Board. But this is not an ideal world, obviously. So it would be helpful for high school guidance counselors to let students know that taking A.P. credits doesn’t necessarily guarantee that you will get to skip out of that class in the future.
If I had to do it all over again, I would still take A.P. Calculus in high school. I learned a new way of approaching math, and when I take this course again this fall, I will be ahead of the game. But I’ve also learned that to get into medical school, you have to play their game. And it’s a frustrating one.

The Immortality of Memory

I started this blog with the intent of writing about my journey into the world of medicine. I want to write not only about my intellectual journey, but also my personal one. That means detailing the lessons I learn both as a student, and also as a ser humano – a human being. And no lesson hits closer to home than one you learn through your own family. 
As some of you may know, my Grandpa died recently. Learning about death – so clearly a part of life, and especially part of the life of any doctor – is not pleasant. But we have no choice. 
I do not pretend that I have figured out how to deal with the grief of losing someone who meant so much to me. What I do know is this: there is power in sharing our memories. I will paraphrase one of the ministers at my Grandpa’s service: “As long as we remember, [that person’s] life never ends.” Because we keep that person alive through our memories. (To those of you who know me well: YES, I actually agreed with a minister on something. Shocking, I know.) 
Turns out I believe in immortality after all. Of a sort.
Along with a handful of relatives, I had the privilege of sharing one of my own memories of Grandpa at his memorial service. I will share that memory here:
Two things that Grandpa really impressed on me were the importance of giving, and the value of education. When each of us grandchildren was born, he and Grandma set up a fund for us. He wanted us to use the money to pay for our education. He was very firm on this. In fact, he basically said that the he would disown the first grandchild who used that money to buy a car. So, as the eldest grandchild, what did I do? I used that money to buy a car. And he must have loved me a lot, because he didn’t disown me. 
Now, I did not do this to spite him – I bought the car after I graduated from college, and I had gotten a lot of scholarships and help from my parents to pay my tuition, so I didn’t need Grandpa’s money for school. What I did need was a car. And what his money allowed me to do was pay for my nice little Honda Civic – I named her Zippy, because I probably drive a little faster than I should – in full, in cash. No loan payments, no interest – something very fiscally responsible, which I think Grandpa would’ve approved of. 
I still have that car, which I bought almost seven years ago, and it’s taken me a lot of places, from commuting to work to cross-country roadtrips. And starting this fall, I’ll be using my car to take me to and from school, since I’m returning to college pursue another degree. So in a way, I’m using the money to further my education after all. Which I know would make Grandpa proud. And Grandpa, when I get in that car, I will think of you. I love you and will miss you very much.
You can view my Grandpa’s online memorial and obituary by clicking on this link: