Thomson came to Vertex "in a very angry sort of situation" and "determined to make a new start." But after a smooth beginning, his troubles resumed. He met another woman, but she left him for Jeff Saunders, a Vertex chemist who had become Thomson's closest friend, in a reversal that many others at Vertex apparently knew about before Thomson did. Blaming himself for the breakup of his marriage and his stalled career and now feeling mocked and betrayed, Thomson began drinking heavily. On a night in early November, he got drunk, climbed on his motorcycle, and roared off from an east Cambridge bar on his way back to Vertex. He went most of a block on one wheel before skidding on a puddle and careening out of control.
Thomson totaled the bike and tore up his hands, but his rage was undiminished. Three weeks later he went out drinking again with another chemist, John Duffy. This time Thomson drove his car. "I got s--tfaced," he recalls, "real rip-roaring drunk. I don't remember leaving. I don't remember the accident at all. I just smashed into another car head on. I went through the windscreen, smashed my face up, and totaled the car. I was looking through my eyelid."
Thomson was taken to Massachusetts General Hospital, then to the neighboring Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, where doctors sewed up his eye and removed dozens of glass slivers from his face. "I remember waking up," he says, "and saying, 'I need to call someone at work and tell them I'm not coming.'" Two days later he was back at the bench, resuming his pursuit of FKBP and seeking redemption, as Faust had, in the one thing he hadn't destroyed -- his work. His right eye was swollen and bandaged behind his Ray-Bans, and his vision was blurred. For months afterward, through his ever-longer sieges in the lab, he continued to pick pieces of glass from the stigmata on his face. He avoided all but perfunctory contact with most others in the lab, keeping to himself.After reading that, one wonders how Dr. Thomson escaped issues with the law. (I assume he did not, and that wasn't covered by Barry Werth.) I'm happy to read that Dr. Thomson is still with us, and still with Vertex, it sounds like.
But we all know someone who is brilliant, who works really, really hard and "lives life on the edge." I wonder if there's something about science that drives us to these releases or people who become scientists are just drawn to really crazy challenges, like isolating milligrams of protein from 25 lbs of calf thymus.
Well, it's the weekend. Take an afternoon off, would you? Readers, how did you blow off steam in grad school? How do you do it now?