Thursday, January 31, 2008

Mom's Home!

The CT did show "some pneumonia," but I don't think it showed anything else. I'm not positive about this, since Mom doesn't ask medical questions or tend to retain medical information. She's been referred to her primary-care doc for follow-up, and she has to have some more scans in a month or so, but I think maybe they were scheduled anyway.

In the meantime, though, she's home, and glad to be there, although she's feeling exhausted and very disoriented.

Thanks to all who've been thinking of and praying for us; please keep that positive energy coming!

And in other news, the bishop's visiting our parish on Maundy Thursday, when I'm scheduled to preach; so I may get to preach for him again, unless he wants to preach this time. I've also been asked -- by someone in our parish who's on our Commission on Ministry -- if I'd be interested in team-teaching a Preachers-in-Training course. I'm a little cautious because it's a three-year commitment, and it's not like I don't have enough else to do, but it would be fun, and I think it's only one class a month. So I've said that I certainly wouldn't rule it out, but that I want to get more details.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Inching Forward

Mom finally had her CT today -- hurrah! -- although of course we have no results yet.

Meanwhile, my super-duper-glaucoma test (all two hours of it, with dilation) has been scheduled for March 17. The doctor I need to see is only in on the days I teach, so I just hope the dilation's gone down to something like normal before my first class.

More news as it transpires.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Meet the Beatles at Grand Rounds!

This week's Grand Rounds is up! The ever-energetic Kim has organized the edition around a Beatles theme, and I'm delighted to be included.

Happy reading!

When Medicine Gets in its Own Way

As of this morning, my mother's still in the hospital, still waiting for the barium to leave her system so she can have the CT scans she needs to diagnose what's wrong. I guess they'll keep trying every day, but in the meantime she has to stay there: and once she has a diagnosis, she'll have to stay long enough for them to treat it.

The irony here is pretty obvious: the test she had the day before she went into the hospital, and which had nothing to do with the apparent cause of her hospitalization, is keeping her from being treated promptly. The efforts of one set of providers to care for her have stymied another set of providers, who also want to care for her.

I wonder how often this happens, how often medicine trips over its own feet, so to speak. We all know about the most horrible cases: thalidomide given for morning sickness causing profound birth defects, for instance. But I wonder how often there are quieter, more personal stories like my mother's, seemingly insignificant ones that don't make the news. Of course, if Mom's condition is really nothing worse than pneumonia -- as serious as that is -- the delay will be nothing but an annoyance. But her doctors are trying to rule out a cancer recurrence. In someone my mother's age, cancer spreads slowly, but in a younger person, could an annoying delay because of a previous test make a significant difference in treatment outcomes?

When I was talking to my father the other day, he mentioned the recent news about possible links between CT scans and cancer:
A new study in the journal Radiology points out that the radiation from a full-body CT scan may actually raise the risk of cancer as it's trying to detect it. They looked at people who were exposed to radiation from atomic bombs in Japan during World War II in amounts equivalent to a full-body CT scan.

They estimate that one full-body CT scan at the age of 45 increases the risk of cancer by one in 1200. Not a huge risk. But if that same person gets the same scan every year until age 75, the risk of cancer goes up to one in 50. That's a big risk.
Mom was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1987. In 1992, she had a stroke. In 2003, she was successfully treated for Stage-1 lung cancer. Last year, she had surgery to repair an abdominal aneursym, following a series of scans to track the increasing size of that aneurysm.

I'm not sure how many CT scans she's had, but she's had a lot. And they've done what they were supposed to: she's survived cancer twice, and the AAA was repaired before anything awful happened. Her doctors caught the lung cancer at Stage 1 -- when it was still treatable entirely with surgery -- specifically because they'd been scanning every cell of her body every year since her breast cancer. (Breast cancer as blessing: who knew?) If she hadn't gone in for a routine scan, we wouldn't have known about the lung cancer until it was too late.

She's benefitted enormously from medical technology, but now I find myself wondering if there are ways in which she's been harmed, too. And in the meantime, we're waiting for that stubborn barium to go away, so she can finally have, yet again, another CT scan.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Doris' Shawl, with Feline Seal of Approval

Here's the shawl I just finished making for Gary's mom, who's had some health issues lately: a simple 63-stitch cast-on in Paton's Shetland Chunky, with three different colors (her favorites) and three different textures. As always, click on any of these thumbnails if you want more detail. The beige outside panels are k3 p3 (trinity stitch); the second and fourth panels are variegated brown yarn in k9 p9, and the center panel is solid orange in straight garter stitch. Gary likes it, so I hope Doris will too! She sounded genuinely touched when I told her I wanted to make it for her.

And the cats like it a lot. As you can see, Harley and Bali wasted no time climbing on the shawl and snuggling into it. It's a machine-washable acrylic/wool blend, but they don't appear to mind the fact that it isn't 100% natural. Come to think of it, the piece of yarn that Bali ate a few weeks ago -- with no untoward effects, thank goodness! -- was 100% acrylic. He's obviously not a yarn snob!

Bali spent most of his time on the shawl napping, but -- by dint of lots of whistling and finger-snapping -- I did manage to get this shot of him with his eyes open!

Of course, the cat thought I was crazy, but that's nothing new. All cats know that humans have lots of problems, but they take pity on us and our bizarre ways.

As you can see, Harley was sorely tempted to go the nap route too, but he managed to stay awake! We have a relatively inexpensive camera with a slow shutter speed -- not ideal for taking photos of perpetual-motion pets -- so I was very pleased to have gotten this shot.

If you're wondering about that bald spot on his right leg, it's where the vet set up an IV when he had his teeth cleaned. No, he doesn't have mange!

Harley ("that's Sir Harlequin the Magnificent to you," quoth the cat) was very annoyed that I'd captured him at such an undignified moment. Here he is giving me the Haughty Cat Glare to reestablish his royal reputation.

By the way, the print in the background is by my friend Terri Windling, who's an amazing artist (she's amazing in any number of ways, but that's one of them). I wanted to buy it from her, and instead she gave it to me! It's a very dramatic piece, and Gary and I both love it.

While the other two cats were luxuriating in the new shawl, Figaro stayed in the special sheepskin-lined kitty box in the family room. Obviously, he is a yarn snob: only 100% wool will do!

Pity, too, since he'd look particularly lovely on Doris' shawl. The colors would be perfect for him. But I'm currently working on my friend Alex's shawl, also in earthtones, and that's pure wool, so maybe I can coax Figgy into posing on it when it's done.

More Interesting Weather

When I woke up at 7:00 this morning, it was snowing really hard, and we had an accumulation of several inches. I got Gary up so he could shovel the driveway so I could go to church, but then a friend called and said that church was cancelled because of weather.

Ten minutes later, the snow had stopped and it was brilliantly sunny. I'm assuming that I would have gotten another call if church were reinstated; at any rate, I stayed home.

We're expecting another storm front to move in later today. I'm going to try to get to the gym and swim before it starts snowing again.

Medical Updates

Mom's in a hospital room now, on the cardiac unit because they want to make sure her labored breathing isn't putting undue pressure on her heart. They still don't have an exact diagnosis: everyone thinks that part of it is pneumonia, but that there are other things going on too. She had some sort of neck scan this morning, although she couldn't tell me exactly why anyone considered that necessary (apart from the rather vague, "A lot of things can go wrong there"). She's waiting to have what sounds like a full-torso CT scan, but the day before she went to the ER, she'd had a test that included barium -- part of a GI series -- and the barium's still in her system, and they can't do the CT until it's gone. So she and her providers are both kind of frustrated right now, although at least she slept better last night than she had the previous two.

Meanwhile, both folks here and my eye doctor have confirmed that the "several hundred thousand dollars" referred to the OCT equipment, not the test itself. Thank goodness! I'm still waiting to hear about when that's scheduled, but as I said before, I'm not particularly worried. I'm sure it will turn out to be nothing, like all my other expensive tests!

Note to Ken: Gary doesn't have glaucoma; he has congenital nystagmus. But overall, he's far healthier than I am, even though he's older than I am.

Thanks to everybody who left comments and sent e-mail with good wishes. I really appreciate it!

Friday, January 25, 2008

Mom Update

The ER staff told Mom she has pneumonia -- bacterial, according to one of her nurses -- but two respiratory doctors said they aren't sure about that diagnosis and want to make sure her cancer hasn't come back.

Either way, this isn't great news.

She's on two antibiotics plus steroids, and she'll be given insulin because the steroids wreak havoc with blood sugar. When I talked to her, she sounded worn down from very little sleep; the ER's quiet, evidently, but of course people were waking her up every two seconds last night to do tests. They're working on getting her a bed upstairs.

Her voice cracked a little when she mentioned the cancer possibility. I really, really hope it's just pneumonia. ("Just" pneumonia: oy!)

Gary's shoveling our driveway, since it snowed here last night. I'll be leaving shortly to swim and then go to three meetings at work. This is one of those times when I'm grateful for cell phones, because I can stay in touch with Mom and Liz.

I just realized that today's also the anniversary of her sobriety: she's been sober for forty-four years. My mom's a trouper!

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Lotsa Medical Stuff

1. My ER is going to have social workers again. Woo-hoo! This is absolutely excellent news!

2. On the less positive side, last week I went to the eye doctor for a routine check-up (and new glasses, which turned out to be very pricy, but which I like a lot). The pressure in my left eye was slightly higher than in my right, although still within normal limits; since I have an uncle with glaucoma, my eye doctor decided to give me a special visual field test -- also pricy -- which showed some random desensitization. He was puzzled by this because it didn't fall into the conventional pattern for glaucoma or anything else, so he said they'd retest me when I picked up the new glasses.

That happened this morning. The doctor was busy when I finished the test, so his assistant said he'd call me to let me know the results. I assumed they'd be normal, but he called me this evening from his car to tell me that the same desensitizations showed up this time. They could just be from my severe near-sightedness, but given the family history and the slightly elevated pressure, he's worried about incipient glaucoma (or low-pressure glaucoma), so he wants me to have another test, called OCT, for optical coherence tomography. He has to refer me to a specialist for this, so he wanted me to check to see if the two people he's thinking of are on my plan (both of them are, luckily). I also have to call my insurance company to see if he can refer me directly, or if it all has to go through my primary-care doc.

The number he mentioned was "hundreds of thousands of dollars." At the time, I thought that was the price for the test; now I think (and hope!) that I misheard him, that he was telling me how much the equipment costs by way of explaining why he doesn't have it in his own office. He did say the test will fall under my major medical, not under my vision plan: good news indeed, since my vision plan has been deteriorating even more quickly than my vision.

He enthused at some length about the wonders of technology that allow us to catch glaucoma early, about how silly it would be to wait on this if we can head something off now, about what pretty pictures the OCT produces. All I could think, I'm afraid, was Yeah: for several hundred thousand dollars, it had better produce pretty pictures!

The thing is, I've had visual-field weirdnesses before. Last time, they told me it might be a brain tumor and sent me for a brain MRI. Everything was normal, and the weirdness went away. Ditto with the vague abdominal symptoms I've had for years: I've been poked, prodded, scoped and scanned six ways from Sunday, including exploratory surgery, and nothing's ever shown up.

I'm the queen of vague symptoms that turn out to mean nothing. I'm 99% positive that that's what's going to happen this time, too -- but since that 1% involves potential damage to my optic nerve, I don't want to take any risks.

So I really, really, really hope the "several hundred thousand" figure referred to the cost of the equipment, not the cost of the test!

3. My sister called this evening to say that my mom had been having trouble breathing and was on her way to the ER via ambulance (she'd called my sister, two floors down in the same house, on her cellphone to ask for help, so the cellphone's doing exactly what we wanted it to). Liz called again about an hour later, when she was in the ER herself, to say that Mom was feeling better, but that her blood pressure was very high (192/93) and that she had "very noisy" lungs; it sounded like Mom would probably be admitted, but the hospital had no beds, so she'd have to stay in the ER. And then Liz called a third time, just now, to say that Mom was doing yet better after breathing treatments, that her pressure was down somewhat although still high, and that she'd be getting chest x-rays and so forth. Liz left to go home and get some sleep; Mom wanted to try to sleep too, and if she's discharged, the hospital will call the house and my brother-in-law will pick her up. But it sounds like she'll be staying at least until morning.

Poor Mom. She's so sick of hospitals and doctors! Liz said she was in good spirits, though, all things considered.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

First Day of School

I taught my classes for the first time today, since I'm on a Monday-Wednesday teaching schedule and Monday was a holiday. They both went well, I think. Some of the newcomers to my fiction workshop looked a little shellshocked, but they'll be fine once we get into the swing of things. And my Tolkien course looks like it's going to be a complete blast. (But then, it always is! I wish I got to teach it more often than every three years.)

One of my students is going to bring me some WD40 for my squeaking office chair, which is very kind of her.

I got several compliments on my shawl, which I wore today; one colleague said that now she's inspired to start knitting herself.

It was a long day, though: up at 6:00 so I could get to the gym at 7:00 and work out before a 9:30 job talk. Then to my office to eat lunch and do various chores before class. Teach from 1-2:15, go back to office, have surprisingly crowded office hours because of students needing to declare majors and minors, teach again from 5:30-6:45. Teaching's pretty physically draining, at least for me, and especially so on the first day, since I'm always trying to race through gobs of bureaucratic details (walking the students through the syllabus and so forth) while also being entertaining enough that they'll want to come back.

We've had a scary series of assaults/abductions near campus, so everybody's being instructed to use the Campus Escort service after dark. My parking lot's a good seven-minute walk from my office, through some fairly deserted parts of campus, so Gary and I thought I should start using the service. The UNR police have been sending out e-mails with a bunch of numbers to call to request an escort; I tried many of them, which didn't work, and finally got the right one and was told I'd have a fifteen-minute wait.

I thought the escort would be one or two people in bright orange vests with walkie-talkies, so I sat inside the building where I could see them come to the front door. I waited, chatted with some grad students, waited some more, drummed my fingers, waited yet some more, and then mentioned to a colleague coming in that I was waiting for an escort. "They're out there!" he told me.

I raced outside and discovered a van, waiting where I couldn't have seen them from inside the building. Turns out that they'd been waiting for ten minutes and were about to chalk me off as a no-show. I felt terrible, but at least I know how the system works now, and I must say that it was nice getting a warm ride to my car. (It will be especially nice when I've been waiting for them out in the cold!)

So I'm home now, full of Gary's excellent dinner, simultaneously wired and exhausted. Tomorrow I can sleep in a little, thank goodness!

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Grand Rounds

This week's edition is up, and I'm pleased to be included.

Happy reading!

Monday, January 21, 2008

Cats Watching Snow

Gary photoshopped one of the pictures I took earlier to give it more contrast and detail; we both think it came out rather well. And it has Harley in it, since he was feeling left out. Enjoy!

Snow Day, with Cats

It's snowing here today, heavily enough that I'd rather not leave the house. After my accident last year, I don't drive in snow unless I absolutely have to. So today will be a rest day from the gym, and I'll work on school stuff at home (which means I'll need to photocopy all my syllabi tomorrow, when the rest of our huge department is trying to do the same thing, but it will all work out somehow; worst-case scenario is that I have to go to Kinko's). I've already gotten some writing and knitting done, so it's been a relaxed day.

I tried to get cute photos of the cats watching the snow, but of course they didn't cooperate. But here's a shot of Bali next to Gary's computer monitor. He's lying on the top of the mouse, which he considers his personal property: if we try to use the mouse while he's lying on it, he attacks our hands. Well, if we don't want him to use it as a toy, I guess we shouldn't call it a mouse!

Bali, by the way, is no longer as fond of carrot peelings as he used to be; his new favorite vegetable is peas. (And yes, he eats them; he doesn't just bat them around.) He's still smitten with peanuts, too. We ran out of peanuts the other day, and Gary tried giving him some pine nuts instead. He ate a few, but clearly would have preferred the old standby.

I didn't get any good pictures of Harley this time, but here's a beauty shot of Figaro, looking elegant and streamlined. He actually is looking out at the snow, although you can't tell that from this photograph. He remains easily the most photogenic of our cats.

He has to go to the vet for a checkup tomorrow, poor baby. He won't enjoy that at all! But at least he won't have to fast first, the way Harley did before having his teeth cleaned.

Here he is looking silly: Gary calls this shot "helicopter ears." You can tell that he's very annoyed. "You looking at me, huh huh huh? Clicking that stupid little box again? D'you think I have nothing better to do than pose for you all day? I have food to eat! Toys to chase! Snow to watch! Jeeeeez!"

You can see our snowy deck behind him. I'm always amused when people think we get no snow in Reno. This is ski country, folks. We get several good snowfalls a year, often in January just as school's starting.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

One Expensive Cold

Medical staff at the ER where I volunteer -- and elsewhere, I gather -- routinely complain about parents who bring in children with nothing worse than colds. I recently heard a story, though, that may help explain why this happens.

A friend of mine in another state volunteers with the Big Brother/Big Sister program. During a phone conversation this week, she told me that her Little has been sick for the last two months. "She has a cold that just won't go away. She's exhausted all the time, and her schoolwork's suffering. I told the mom she had to do something!"

"Did her mom take her to a doctor?"

"No, she can't: no insurance."

"Aren't there any low-income clinics there?"

"Yeah, she tried that. The earliest appointment they could give her was in March." My friend sighed and said, "So I took her to the doctor and paid for it: $145. We're not supposed to do that. The volunteer contract specifically says we shouldn't do things like that. But I had to: how could I not? As far as I was concerned, my moral duty to that child outweighed the volunteer contract."

It turned out that the Little indeed just had a cold, probably compounded by asthma, for which I gather she's now being treated. But imagine yourself as that mother: your kid's been sick for weeks, and you can't get a doctor's appointment, and in this scenario, there's no helpful, affluent adult around to pick up the tab.

What would you do in that situation? I'd take my kid to the ER, even if I knew I was going to get dirty looks for being there.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Come and See

I got the homily done: yay! Gary thinks this is an unusual take on the subject, and I hope people will at least be interested in a story they haven't heard before. (Thanks, Gary, as always, for editing help!)

Here are the readings.


Today’s readings all link vision, the act of seeing, with other actions. “Kings shall see and stand up,” proclaims Isaiah; the Psalm tells us, “many shall see, and stand in awe.” John continues this theme: “I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.” Jesus tells the two disciples, “Come and see.” Andrew responds by finding his brother, Simon Peter, and seconding John’s testimony: “We have found the Messiah.” In all of these cases, seeing God and God’s work on earth creates a response: either standing in awe and worship, or speaking out to spread the vision. Once we have seen the sacred, we are called to do something about it.

The question of what to do, though, is more difficult, not least because the consequences of our action can be costly. Jesus died for his vision. So did Martin Luther King, Jr., whose life and labors we will honor tomorrow. And if, as Christians, we believe devoutly in resurrection, we would still prefer to postpone our deaths as long as possible.

Dr. King is certainly a shining example of someone who acted in the service of his beliefs. But the question of how to further his legacy -- of what to do in his honor -- may produce conflict, even among people of good faith who believe in his work.

More than ten years ago, I read an essay by Andre Codrescu. It begins, “Memphis in Egypt was the City of Dead Kings, and so it is with Memphis, Tennessee. Our Memphis boasts two dead kings, Elvis, king of rock and roll, and Martin Luther, king of the poor.” Codrescu proceeds to compare the outlandish spectacle of Graceland, Elvis’ famous mansion, with the Lorraine Motel, where Dr. King was assassinated. Graceland, which employs a huge staff, displays shag rug on the ceiling, one to three TV’s in every room, and Elvis’ gun collection. A tour bus arrives every three minutes. Codrescu describes the Lorraine Motel, on the other hand, as “an abandoned shell with a heap of rubble in front:”
The sun beats mercilessly down from the cloudless sky on the abandoned asphalt and cement of downtown Memphis. There is a sign on one of the few doors left among many gaping holes on the second floor, a sign that alerts the passerby that this was Martin Luther King’s room. From the balcony hangs a wreath. This is the spot where King stood when he was shot. A high, wire fence surrounds the desolate ruin. Camped in front in a small tent is Jacqueline Smith, the last tenant of the Lorraine. She has vowed not to move until the city builds a free civil-rights learning and culture center there. But the city, which owns the expensive real estate, envisions a paying “museum of civil rights” . . . with tour buses coming and going every three minutes. No way, says Ms. Smith . . . .

I browse through the few but essential clippings and newspaper photos that [she] has laid on a makeshift table. The hot sun is melting the plastic on the cheap frames. Her seemingly hopeless battle with the city has not made her bitter. She sees herself continuing Dr. King’s struggle, her cause no different from her daily chores. Between answering questions, she goes in and out of her tent with a pan of water for her tea.
Codrescu wrote this essay in 1990. In 1991, the city’s National Civil Rights Museum opened its doors to visitors. Jacqueline Smith had seemingly lost her crusade, but she still hasn’t stopped speaking out about her own vision. As far as I’ve been able to tell, she still lives outside the museum, displaying her clippings and photos to anyone who will look. She prints up signs that say things like, “Stop Worshipping the Past, Start Living the Dream,” and "$8 Million for James Earl Ray Exhibition -- $ Zero for the Poor, Needy and Displaced." She has, on occasion, been arrested.

Smith’s website says that her “personal dream has always been to convert the Lorraine Motel into sheltered housing for the poor and displaced, a community centre or facilities for the needy.” She claims that these uses would be far more in keeping with Dr. King’s spirit than the museum itself is, and she urges visitors to boycott it:
The National Civil Rights Museum exists to educate the public about the history of the Civil Rights Movement and to promote Civil Rights issues in a proactive and non-violent manner. Sadly, it fails to live up to these ideals. The truth is that the museum has become a Disney-style tourist attraction, which seems preoccupied with gaining financial success, rather than focusing on the real issues. . . . All in all, the greatest criticism of the Museum is that it dwells heavily on negativity and violence. Surely the underlying signals must portray hope and non-violence.
Smith objects to a high-tech, high-cost laser display showing the path of the bullet that killed King. She objects to displays about the Ku Klux Klan. She also objects to black-tie museum events that honor the wealthy while ignoring the plight of local residents:
Within two minutes walk of the museum you will find the homeless, sleeping in cardboard boxes or out on the street. Their civil rights remain violated. Museum spokespeople pontificate about the fact that civil rights abuses did not end with the death of Dr. King, yet stand by and watch while families within yards of the museum are evicted from their homes.
It’s easy to dismiss Smith as a kook. On her website, she rails against former President Carter because he promised her that he wouldn’t visit the museum, but then did. As a result, she refused to shake his hand when he tried to talk to her again. Yet even Smith’s detractors acknowledge, somewhat uncomfortably, that she has a point. Wouldn’t Dr. King want the financial resources poured into the museum to be spent instead on the poor? How would he wish us to honor him? What would Martin do?

Jesus was a prophet, disturbing the comfortable by reminding them of their responsibility to the downtrodden. As a result, he was often dismissed as a kook, and ultimately crucified. Martin Luther King, Jr. was also a prophet, dismissed and reviled and ultimately killed. And yet there is no doubt that both Jesus and King changed the world. I believe that Jacqueline Smith, too, is a prophet, and I hope she will help create some of the social change she has envisioned, without incurring the terrible price too many of her predecessors have paid.

The controversy about the museum, meanwhile, mirrors controversies within, and between, Christian churches. How are we called to honor Jesus? By standing and adoring him in expensive shrines built to his memory, or by working in grim neighborhoods on behalf of unhappy people? Such issues are at the heart of many of the schisms the church has undergone since its founding, and they are with us still.

The issue here, I think, is balance, finding a both/and answer, rather than an either/or one. The Civil Rights Museum undoubtedly serves a valuable educational function, teaching visitors about the history of discrimination and social justice in this country. People who come and see the museum will, we can only hope, also be spurred to take concrete action for civil rights in the here and now. Remembering the past is an essential part of changing the future. Consider our own eucharistic prayer, in which we remember Jesus’ life and death so that we will be prepared to share his feast and continue his legacy. Each church service ends with this injunction: “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.”

Love and serve. We stand in awe, or kneel in reverence, to love God, but to serve God, we must speak up, speak out, and stubbornly maintain our ground even when we appear to have been defeated. We must be willing to look like Jacqueline Smith, to be dismissed as kooks. And we must, above all, be willing to look, even or especially when the sights we see make us unhappy, when our vision shows us not the glory of God’s kingdom, but the sad places where that kingdom has not yet appeared: abandoned buildings, abandoned people, abandoned dreams. Only when we look will we see, and only when we see will we be shaken into the passionate service our Lord has commanded us to perform.


Sordid Confession

I'm not going to the caucus today.

Yes, I know: this is a shameful dereliction of my duties as a citizen, directly contradictory to everything I say about getting involved in the world, yada yada. I'm still not going.

For one thing, I have too much else to do, like class prep for next week and writing my homily for tomorrow. (Why did I volunteer to preach the Sunday before classes start? What was I thinking?) If I were better organized, I'd have gotten all of that done already, but I'm not.

For another, I genuinely think we have a strong slate of Democrats, and I'd be happy with any of them.

And crowd scenes make my head hurt.

So I'll absolutely vote in November, and I'll follow today's results with great interest. But I'm not going.

Mea culpa.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Back in the Saddle

I went back to the hospital this week, relaxed after my mini-vacation, and it was a good shift. My supervisor had warned me that the ER had been a "zoo" for the last few days, but when I got there, we'd just gone from closed divert (meaning that all hospital beds are full and that we won't accept any ambulances at all, although we still have to treat walk-ins) to critical-care divert (which means that all ICU/CCU beds are full, and that we therefore won't accept any patients who might need to be in one of those units). As a result, things were pretty quiet, to the point where some of the staff were complaining about how slowly their shifts were passing.

I had some good conversations, though, with both patients and staff (including one person, staff from upstairs, who'd gotten sick and become a patient).

A few staff even said, "I haven't seen you for a while!" That always makes me feel good, because it means they've registered my presence in the first place. And the caseworker specifically asked me to talk to an outside social worker about a tricky family situation; I figure that's some sort of vote of confidence, too.

Also, we have new toys to give kids: multi-colored, mega-cute hand-crocheted teddy bears, donated by someone who wanted to be anonymous. Yay for needlecraft! Thank you, anonymous donor. The bears are lovely! I gave one to a terrified and very disoriented adult patient, and it made her laugh and calmed her down.

Over dinner, Gary commented that at my university job, it's very rare for everyone to be together at the same time (although there are some colleagues I see regularly). He said that the ER, among other things, gives me the continuity of seeing more or less the same people at the same time every week, that it helps me feel like part of a cohesive working group. I thought that was very perceptive, although I'm definitely on the fringes of this particular group!

My Very Own Shawl

Last night I finished making a shawl for myself. Here it is! It's the same yarn I used in my sister's shawl, but a different colorway: this one includes green, orange, red and purple, in vibrant shades that don't show up as well as they could here. (If you click on the photo to enlarge it, you'll get a better idea.) The shawl is nice and cozy, and will be just the thing to keep me warm in my slightly chilly office at work.

In other knitting news: I'm waiting for some yarn I ordered so I can finish my mother-in-law's shawl.

Today I started knitting my friend Alex's shawl. It's a different pattern than I've used before, and I'm ambivalent about it, but Gary really loves it, so I'll keep going.

I've also started experimenting with knitting simple lace, like the feather and fan stitch. I'll probably do a shawl or scarf in that, at some point (in fairly heavy, earthy wool, since I'm definitely not a delicate-pastel-doily person).

I gave my nephew a balaclava for his birthday, but never managed to get a picture of him in it. My own balaclava's still unfinished: I have it at work, so I'll work at it a bit at a time when I have a few free minutes.

Have I mentioned that I love knitting?

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Four Nice Things

It's been a day of small but meaningful satisfactions.

1. This morning we had a meeting of the medicine-and-spirituality group at the med school. Last semester, I'd offered to do a presentation on patient metaphors for disease and the implications of those metaphors for treatment (patients who describe their illness as a "battle" may need to be reminded to take "furloughs" by getting enough rest, for instance). One physician on the committee was particularly enthusiastic about this idea. But it turns out that this semester's teaching schedule conflicts with the group's usual presentation time, so I thought I wouldn't be able to do it.

Lo and behold, they had an empty slot in June, after my classes are over, and they were trying to figure out what to put there, and I offered the metaphor presentation again. The response was positive, so I'll be doing it after all. The enthusiastic physician will be working with me, since the idea will have more weight with med students if a recognized clinician's behind it.

2. When I got home, Gary said, "This was waiting for you on the front steps," and handed me a large gift basket. It turned out to be from the folks who run our local Interfaith Hospitality Network. My parish has participated since 2001, first as a host congregation and now as a support congregation, and I've been coordinator or co-coordinator for quite a few of those years. The program director evidently had these lovely gift baskets made up for coordinators, with cards thanking us for our hard work.

Two months ago, I handed over our coordinatorship to two other people at church -- I'd gotten pretty burned out -- so I dithered about taking the basket. But I finally decided that I really have done a lot of work over the past seven years, and that I was entitled to keep it. Our new coordinators can have next year's gift baskets!

The basket includes lavender soap, herbal tea, and . . . chocolate. I was looking longingly at the chocolate, and Gary said, "It's for you. You have to eat it. I won't tell."

It's only a small bar. Maybe I'll split it with him.

Sigh. Told you I'd fall off that wagon!

3. Gary and I have matching wedding bands, a wide gold Victorian rollpress floral design. They're gorgeous, and we both love them. But Gary doesn't wear his in the house, and a few weeks ago, I noticed that he wasn't wearing it at a social event. I asked why, and he said it had gotten too big. He didn't want another one; we talked about having it resized, but I was nervous about that, because then it might be too small in the summer.

I kept telling myself that the ring is only a symbol, but because it's a symbol that's important to me, the situation kept nagging at me. So finally I said, very sheepishly, "Okay, I know I'm being ridiculous, and I hope you won't be upset with me, but it would really mean a lot to me if you wore a ring. It doesn't have to be fancy at all."

To my infinite relief, he agreed. So I ordered a very simple, plain sterling ring for him, and it came today and seems to fit. It's a little big, but not as big as the other one is.

Thank you for humoring me, Gary! I love you!

4. Longtime readers of this blog may remember that part of my church contretemps some years back involved an extraordinarily painful and ugly falling-out with someone who had been a cherished friend and mentor. After a long time of no contact at all (following vows never to speak to each other again), I sent him a very short "happy birthday" e-mail a few months ago, followed by an equally short "Merry Christmas" e-mail. I didn't get any reply, but I really didn't expect any; I just wanted to let him know that I was thinking kindly of him.

Today, incredibly, I had e-mail from him! He'd forwarded this link to a hilarious blog entry matching GOP candidates with Buffy villains. He included a brief note saying that since he doesn't follow the show, the parody didn't make any sense to him, but he thought Gary and I might get and enjoy it.

I doubt the friendship will ever be what it was -- too much hurt and broken trust on both sides -- but at least we're no longer enemies. It sort of feels like Easter came early this year.

As it turns out, Gary and I had already seen the parody, and loved it, but we did think that for fairness' sake, someone should match the Democratic candidates with Buffy villains, too. The choices are much less obvious, though. The only one I can really come up with is Clinton as the scary psych professor in Season Four, the one who turns out to be the head of the Initiative.

Can anyone think of candidates for the other candidates?

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Insert Your Own Clever Post Title Here

This week's Grand Rounds is up. I didn't contribute, since I didn't feel particularly inspired by the theme ("Briefing the Next U.S. President"); next week's theme is "The Common Cold," which I don't find too scintillating either, but maybe I'll come up with something.

I did a little bit of writing again today. Also a bit of class prep, a bit of reading, a bit of knitting, and fifty minutes split between the elliptical and the treadmill. So it was a balanced day.

Also an expensive one: Fiona Ford needed almost $300 of maintenance, and Harley the Hilarious needed his teeth cleaned. In cats, this means general anesthesia, which is pricy, and in older cats -- he's eight, almost a feline senior citizen -- it also means bloodwork to make sure there are no underlying medical conditions that would increase the risks of the anesthesia. So that came to almost $400. Gaahhhhhhhhh! Thing is, we really like our vets, and the location's ideal: half a mile away.

Dear Next President: While you're working on some form of universal health coverage for the humans in this country, how about helping out their companion animals, too? At least let us claim our pets as dependents!

The good news is that Harley's teeth are now pearly white, and he didn't need any extractions. The bad news is that his kidney values are on the high side of normal: this could have been a normal fluctuation or a result of fasting since last night (we removed all catfood from accessible locations at 8 PM), but we have to bring him back in a month to recheck the bloodwork.

He was very glad to get home this afternoon; he'd been very distressed to have no food this morning. Halfway through my own breakfast, I looked up from my computer and saw him gnawing on my powerbar, poor starving thing.

"Mom! If you won't give me my breakfast, I'll eat yours!"

So it was a tough day for the bank balance. But we need a working car (at least we only have one!), and we decided a long time ago that the cats are part of our family, and that we wouldn't economize on their health any more than we'd economize on our own.

We're in the extremely fortunate position, at least at the moment, of not having to do either. I know that many people do have to economize on healthcare, in ways that hurt them. I know how lucky I am, and I'm grateful.

Hey, Next U.S. President. Are you listening?

Monday, January 14, 2008

Signs of Progress (Maybe)

This weekend, I cleaned my study for the first time since August. (Yes, I know that's shameful, but there you have it.) So it's currently a much better work space, although if my usual pattern holds, it will become a blizzard of paper again very quickly, especially with the semester beginning next week.

This morning, after knitting over breakfast, I revised two pages of Driving to November. I'd been stalled since June -- even more shameful than the cleaning lapse! -- on a chapter that suffered from major expository lumps: my challenge is to communicate enough information without completely stalling the action. Most of the chapter is a flashback anyway, but I had flashbacks within flashbacks, which was really awkward. So I've gone through and started streamlining. The work didn't feel inspired, but at least I got it done, and if I can maintain a pace of two pages a day (which isn't very much, after all) I should make reasonable progress.

I've also reset my computer wallpaper as this photo from the roadtrip I took with my sister in the summer of 2005. This shot is from the area where the book's set, so I hope it will help me keep working.

And now, on to class prep!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Still More Fun With Meds (Maybe)

I weighed myself after my workout at the gym today, and was distressed to discover that I'm a pound over my all-time high. This could be a side-effect of the meds, which are known for causing weight gain; the last time I weighed this much was the last time I was on meds. Oncoming menopause and a steady diet of my brother-in-law's brownies last week certainly haven't helped!

I should add that I'm still at a healthy weight, and still think I look decent, but I'd be happier if I could lose 5-10 pounds (especially with Kaua'i coming up).

So the new regime is:

* No sweets. Instead, I'll snack on butterless, saltless popcorn, which I enjoy and often eat anyway.

* Half my regular dinner portion. Gary always serves me huge portions, and I routinely inhale them, so I've instructed him to serve me half what he usually does.

* Fifty minutes of daily exercise, rather than forty.

We'll see if this has any effect. I figure that none of it can hurt! And my mood's always better if I stay away from sugar, although I do love the stuff, so I'm sure I'll fall off that wagon (probably sooner than later).

And in other dietary news, we've learned that Bali adores peanuts. He eats several every day. Has anyone heard of a cat eating nuts?

Oh, and: I'll be in Kaua'i for Easter, and I was sad about missing services at home; I arranged to preach on Maundy Thursday, when I knew I'd still be here, since I love to preach during Holy Week. It turns out, though, that there's an Episcopal Church less than a fifth of a mile from where we'll be staying, and given the time difference, I'll probably have no trouble waking up in time for their 6 a.m. Easter Vigil. Perfect!

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Figaro, Champion of Commerce

When I got home from Philly, I learned that Gary had signed us up for the PetSmart Visa card. I think he did this mainly because you can customize the card by putting your pet's (or pets') photo on it, and how cute is that?

So we now both have Visa cards featuring this shot of Figgy, artfully arranged in a horizontal orientation so you can't quite figure out what you're looking at the first time you see it. (Mind you, I don't intend to use the card, except possibly at PetSmart itself, where we buy cat supplies and finch seed in bulk.)

Gosh. What will they think of next?

Catching Up

I'm back home, trying to catch up on things and get ready for school. This morning, Gary looked very sad and said, "My favorite blogger hasn't posted lately," so I thought I should rectify that . . . not, mind you, that I have a tremendous amount to say.

The good news:

We're going to Kauai over spring break! Our friend Katharine got a timeshare from the waitlist.

My friend and former student Inez is going to be at WisCon this year, and she's bringing some yarn for me!

My trip home was uneventful, and everything fit into my luggage fine, and because the TSA folks once again graciously ignored my knitting supplies, I got a bunch done on my mother-in-law's shawl.

The bad news:

Airfare to Kauai is terrifyingly expensive: the cheapest I could find when I did a quick Expedia search last night was $1080 roundtrip from Reno. Cough, cough, choke. We're still going, but I'd rather not spend that much. Does anyone have a lead on less expensive airfare?

I'm still not back at work on the fourth novel.

Because I'm still not back at work on the fourth novel, my psychiatrist has bumped up my meds again, on the theory that either a) the old, low dose wasn't actually doing anything, and a higher dose should give me more motivation, or b) the old, low dose was suppressing my creativity, and a higher dose will make things even worse -- does not blogging count? -- in which case we'll switch me to something else. Ho hum. This actually happened before I left for Philly, but I was too bummed to post about it.

In any case, I now have yet another reason (as if I needed more) to get back to work on the fourth novel: so my very nice shrink will stop fussing with my brain chemistry.

Grrr, arrrgh.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Nice Publishing News

Today my agent told me that we've gotten an offer for the Italian rights to Flying in Place. I'm unlikely to see any great amount of money from this, but it was still a nice bit of news. It's always nice to acquire a new international audience, and it's always fun to see what your work looks like in another language. So far, the only other country in which FliP has been published is Japan, where as far as I can tell, it sank without a trace. (The Japanese edition looks very cool, though.)

So I celebrated by buying yarn: four skeins of James C. Brett marble in colorway MT3. I hope that will be enough to make a shawl, although I won't be able to get to it until March, since there are three projects ahead of it. (I bought a book about knitting socks before I left Reno; Gary shook his head and said, "When are you going to have time for this? You have shawls planned into the next century!") I know I swore I'd never work with acrylic again, but this stuff was so gorgeous that I just had to have it. It was inexpensive, too.

In the meantime, my sister bought me a pair of these hilarious Knit Lites, which allow one to knit in the dark; my father kept teasing me about staying up all night to knit, so she thought the flashlight needles would be appropriate.

And in fact, I'd already ordered a NekLight to make it easier to knit in low light conditions, like during movie night. Obsessed? Who, me? But seriously, most of my worst knitting disasters have happened when I was trying to knit in insufficient light, so I'm eager to keep that from happening again.

I'm back at my sister and mother's house now. It was sad saying good-bye to my dad, but I'm glad we had such a good visit, and I hope he'll be in Reno before too long.

Grand Rounds

This week's Grand Rounds is up, and I'm pleased to be included. Head on over for this week's highlights from the medical blogosphere!

Monday, January 07, 2008

Alan and His Seeing-Eye Daughter

My father and I had an excellent adventure today. He's eighty-five, can't walk any distance, and is legally blind from macular degeneration He uses a walker or a wheelchair in his apartment and has an electric scooter to take outside, but he's been afraid to use it because of his vision problems. This means that during the year and a half he's lived in Philadelphia, he's only gotten out of his immediate neighborhood if he took a cab to the VA or if my sister took him somewhere, and they almost always travel by car. My father likes to see things (as well as he can), so he prefers surface travel.

Today we had gorgeous weather here -- sunny, in the sixties -- so we undertook an epic journey: 1.7 miles each way from his apartment at 39th and Market to Rittenhouse Square, a very ritzy part of Philly. I wanted to visit a yarn shop there, and my sister thought it would be fun for Dad to sit in the park for a while. She also told us about a nice seafood restaurant where we could have lunch.

We set out, unsure just how long my father's scooter battery would hold out. The trip thrilled him, especially when we were crossing the river, since he loves water. His scooter goes a maximum of 4.5 miles an hour, faster than I can walk, so he gave me a merry workout as I raced to keep up with him. I tried to stay ahead of him, especially at intersections, so I could show him where the curb ramps were, but I often straggled behind, yelling instructions after him. "Dad, stay left! You're too close to the curb! Dad, watch out! Don't run over the dog! Dad, you're coming to an intersection, and the light's red, and you're headed straight for the high part of the curb! Stop, Dad! Stop!"

Luckily, we got to Rittenhouse Square without mishap. At the yarn store, I bought a needle gauge and a book with a pattern for a dolman-sleeve sweater, my favorite kind. The yarn itself was much too rich for my blood. Dad sat in the park while I located the seafood restaurant and asked if they had a scooter-accessible table; they did, and it was even near a window. I bought him lunch -- also rich for my blood, but how often do I see him? -- and then we set out again.

The trip home was a bit more worrisome, because Dad's battery seemed to be fading, and he couldn't go as fast, and sometimes he stalled and had to start the scooter again. On the one hand, this was good news, because it was easier for me to keep up with him, but I worried that the battery would die and I'd have to push the scooter the rest of the way. At one point, going through a construction site, we took a route we thought was an alternate sidewalk, but that turned out to be blocked by a locked gate at the other end. Because of the battery problem, we didn't want to turn around and retrace our steps, so I found a construction foreman who graciously unlocked the gate for us.

To our great relief, the battery held out all the way back to the apartment, so we're both feeling quite jubilant. Dad really enjoys adventures like his, and I enjoy watching him enjoy himself. I enjoyed the exercise, too, especially since I didn't get to the gym yesterday.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

The Battle of the Butter Churn

Today was very pleasant; I swam for forty-five minutes this morning, knit a lot -- I have ten inches of my mother-in-law's shawl now, although I'll have to buy more yarn since each skein doesn't go as far as I expected (sorry, Gary!) -- and watched two episodes of Torchwood with my sister and brother-in-law. It looks like an interesting show; they were doing some deeper psychological stuff than SF series often do, so I'm inclined to add it to our Netflix queue.

Today's most memorable event, though, was the Battle of the Butter Churn.

My mother wanted to give me her circular knitting needles, since she doesn't knit anymore. (She's given my sister her straight needles.) She keeps all her needlepoint supplies in an antique butter churn, made of wooden slats held together with wooden bands; the whole thing fits together with tongue and groove joins and is held together by tension. No nails or glue.

So when I moved the churn out of its corner to look for the circulars, the bottom fell off. "Oh, that always happens," my mother said, but then the whole thing fell apart, collapsing like a deck of cards. The two of us tried to put it together on the floor, except that neither of us is that flexible anymore, so then we tried to put it back together on the bed, which was too soft a surface. As soon as we got some slats back into place, others would fall again. This went on for twenty minutes, and finally I said, "We need a solid, flat surface."

So we carried the many pieces of the wooden churn downstairs, and with help from my sister, finally managed to get it reassembled. All in all, getting the thing back into its intended form must have taken forty-five minutes. Talk about rickety contrivances!

"There has to be an easier way to do this," my mother said. "It can't have taken three people all this time to put butter churns together back when they were in everyday use."

The churn is now back in its corner, and I don't plan to touch it again! The good news, though is that I now have many new circular needles of all lengths and gauges: most plastic, some metal.

My mother also gave me a gorgeous piece of lace she hand-crocheted. It used to be a curtain over a window in our old apartment in New Jersey. I don't know what I'll do with it, but it's certainly beautiful.

As for the storm in Nevada: Gary says that he and the house are okay. I have a colleague who lives in Fernley, so I hope that he and his wife and their twin children are safe, and that their house hasn't been destroyed. I also hope that when I get back to Reno, I'm able to unearth my car, which is in a surface lot at the airport.

Meanwhile, it's supposed to get into the sixties in Philadelpia this week.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Fine Trip to Philly

I've arrived safely in the City of Brotherly Love, where my sister's cats have cheerfully attempted to eat both my dinner and my knitting (but they're so cute that it's okay).

The trip was absolutely painless; it couldn't have been more different from my epic journey last April. It hadn't even started raining when I left the house this morning; it was raining when we took off, but the ascent wasn't turbulent. Both flights left on time and arrived early, and on the second flight -- the long one from Phoenix to Philly -- there was an empty seat next to me! I was in the window seat; the young man on the aisle was wearing a Day of the Dead t-shirt, so I told him that my husband loves zombie movies, and that led to a long and lively conversation. It turns out that this young man, David Conway, is a) lead singer and guitarist for a punk-rock band called What Remains, who've released a CD called Destroys All Monsters!, b) a stand-up comic, c) a huge comics fan, and d) a mortgage banker. We talked about Joss Whedon and Heroes and science fiction. It turns out that some of his friends go to UNR. He asked me my name and the names of my books, and said, "It's not every day you're sitting next to a published author on a plane." I asked him the name of his band, and said, "It's not every day you're sitting next to a performing singer on a plane." He explained to me his very cogent theory about the deeper existential meaning of zombie movies. All in all, it was definitely the most enjoyable airplane conversation I've had in ages.

I also got lots of knitting done: finished one Secret Project, photos of which will probably appear here shortly, and started a shawl for Gary's mom, on which I now have four inches. (The shawl's not a secret, since she knows I'm making it.)

At my sister's house, my brother-in-law made a yummy hamburger dinner, followed by an equally yummy ice-cream and fresh-strawberries dessert -- he'd thoughtfully bought soy ice cream for me -- and my sister gave me an absolutely gorgeous yarn-and-bead bowl she made for me, and I chatted with her and my mother and knit some more. After I finish blogging, I'll go to bed, since I got up so early Reno time!

Tomorrow: real bagels with salmon pate for breakfast, and then the gym (not as nice as mine, but a short walk from here, so very convenient).

I hope the rest of the trip goes this well!

Thursday, January 03, 2008

And Away We Go (With Luck)

I've been mostly offline for the past two days because I'm getting ready to fly to Philadelphia tomorrow; part of this meant writing and organizing my annual-evaluation materials, since I'll be out of town on the actual deadline. I got that large project delivered this afternoon, and then came home to start frantic packing. The cats helped, natch.

I'm just hoping I get off the ground tomorrow: we're expecting a huge storm here, with lots of wind and rain tomorrow morning (turning to lots of snow later in the day). I leave at 6:15 a.m., but if the wind's too fierce or the snow comes early, things could get tricky. If I can get out of Reno, I should be fine, since I'm flying through Phoenix rathr than the dreaded Denver or Chicago.

The early departure means that I have to get up at 3:30 a.m., though. Groan.

And so to bed! I'll post as I'm able in Philly, but it's likely to be spotty.

Happy Birthday, JRRT!

My friend Rick Michaelson reminded me that today is JRR Tolkien's birthday. He was born in 1892.

Everyone should celebrate by eating some lembas, admiring a tree, or (best of all!) rereading The Lord of the Rings. I'm sure Tolkien himself would have advocated a good smoke, but I prefer healthier options.

A nice rich birthday cake, on the other hand . . . .

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Happy New Year with Grand Rounds!

This week's edition is up, brought to us all the way from South Africa. Each post has been matched with a great wildlife photo.

Happy reading!