Serendipity 

Being a science teacher includes teaching the scientific method. You know the whole hypothesis-plan-experiment-data-conclusion-evaluation thing? And sure, the scientific method has its place but there is another method which yields discovery. We call that method serendipity. It is basically good luck coupled with sound observation and an ability to connect the dots. This is how Fleming discovered penicillin. It was not the scientific method. No sir! His lab was a mess. His bacterial specimens were overgrown and then he noticed that bacterial growth was inhibited in a sample. He connected the dots et Voila! Penicillin! 

I like serendipity. The word sounds good and there’s something quite marvellous about being able to discover. Us humans love to discover.  I’m a scientist and have had my own bit of serendipity recently regarding my medication.

Things were at crisis point again. The crisis team could do nothing, again. I was left to my own devices and needed to do something that wasn’t going to be life threatening so I took 50mg of tramadol that I had leftover from an operation. It worked. My mood lifted and I slept in the kind of peace that I can’t even remember the last time I felt. 

Bearing in mind I have a degree in medicinal chemistry I researched tramadol further. I am always very wary of possible other drug interactions, dosage and addiction. I satisfied myself that I was ok to use this in an emergency and the next time a crisis hit (which wasn’t long after) I used tramadol again to avert me from doing something stupid. I was there, ready to do the stupid thing. I had what I needed and was sat crying trying to think of another way when I remembered the tramadol. It worked again. I slept and when I awoke I got rid of the dangerous things I had. My mood had lifted. I was ok. In total I’ve used the tramadol twice and both times have been a huge success. This made me wonder all kinds of things.

I found out that tramadol could increase serotonin – the very thing that the 3 previous antidepressants I had tried had failed to do. Although it’s more complicated than that I began to wonder: why can’t I just take tramadol? Anyway I could appreciate that it is an opioid and addictive so I spoke to Nora about this. I got nowhere. I continued to google to learn about tramadol and it’s use in depression so that I could have a more informed discussion. D’y know what I found out? Tramadol is chemically related to a very popular antidepressant called Venlafaxine (brand name Effexor). Serendipity.

I love molecule pictures. Look at these beautiful chemicals!


It was pure luck that I had tramadol in the house when that crisis hit (although the ectopic pregnancy that the drug was for was certainly not lucky). It was pure desperation that had driven me to take it. It was a pretty fortunate set of circumstances that I am trained in med. chem. That set of circumstances lead me to requesting to try Venlafaxine. The psychiatrist has no issues with it despite previously halting further trials of antidepressants. (See Let’s Talk About Meds Baby)  Ok let’s go! 

I found something that might help. When in that pit – that endless black tunnel – then any little ray of hope is welcome. 

It does seem a bit…I don’t know the word…weird? Weird that I had to have this strange serendipitous set of circumstances and had to connect the dots myself to access a very commonly prescribed medication. 

I’m on day 2 of my Venlafaxine. It’s 2 X 37.5mg. I’ve noticed some changes but I’m changeable anyway so trying not to over analyse it. (Haha! Believe that and you’ll believe anything!) .

Maybe it’ll work. Maybe it won’t but the scientific method says that I should try. Therefore right now I’m in ‘experiment’ then we’ll look at the ‘data’ and draw some ‘conclusions’ because even serendipitous discoveries benefit from a bit of scientific method.

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