Friday, December 26, 2008

A Season for Miracles

Two years ago I posted about a Miracle Christmas Bear. This year we have a Miracle Christmas Beagle:

The Miracle Beagle

May all of you be as blessed as us!

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Monday, December 22, 2008


Late last week I received the first of what I'm sure is going to be a long series of statements of account relating to my surgery. I was admitted to the hospital on December 1st, and discharged December 3rd, after spending two nights. This particular statement covers only hospital charges (not the surgeon's bill and who knows what else), and only for December 1st -- the first day of my stay (and the day of my surgery). Just that one day.

So what was my hospital bill -- hospital only, remember -- for that one day?


Seriously??? $49,014.25 for just the hospital's charges for just the first day? (How does anyone get medical care in this country without insurance?)

So Judi and I were in the car -- she was driving, of course -- and I was ranting about this bill:

"$3,521.25 for medication!" I said. "I don't even recall taking any pills. I mean, it's not like I'm on antiretrovirals. What could they have given me that cost that much?"

Judi kept driving.

"The operating room charge is $8,352!," I said. "I was in there for less than ninety minutes. That's a hundred dollars a minute! I realize there's a lot of equipment in an operating room, but how can they justify charging a hundred dollars a minute?"

Judi kept driving.

"$2,900 for anesthesia," I said, "and I'm sure that's not even the bill from the anesthesiologist. That's just the hospital's part. And $3,480 for the recovery room, when I was there for less than an hour? And all I did while I was there was lay there."

Judi kept driving.

"But this is the kicker," I said. "This is the real kicker. More than half the total charges, $25,090, is for 'Medical Supply.' Just unspecified 'Medical Supply.' What 'Medical Supply' could possibly cost twenty-five thousand dollars?"

"That," said Judi, without hesitating and without taking her eyes off the road, "is your knee."


You know, I don't know if $25,000 is a fair price for a device sits inside a human's body for years or maybe decades and functions like a knee, but it so happens that I work for a company that manufactures electronics for commercial airplanes, and so I know what it's like to make a product into which your customer places the faith of his very health and life. Compared with, for example, making cell phones, or cargo shorts, or toasters, it can be a sobering responsibility. It makes you keenly aware (or it should, anyway) of quality and craftsmanship. It also makes your product very, very expensive.

I don't want to detract from the value of your work if you make cell phones, or cargo shorts, or toasters. This nation, including me, couldn't run without you. I just want to take a moment to ponder twenty-five thousand dollars worth of nylon and stainless steel buried in my leg.

And, oh, by the way, you can see that Judi is way smarter than I am.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008


As of today Judi has thirty-one Monarch butterflies in chrysalis, and almost a hundred more caterpillars in protective custody.

Those are just the Monarchs. I don't have the latest on the Black Swallowtails, Polydamus Swallowtails, and various Sulfers.

I'm hoping for the skies to be colorful over Palm Bay, Florida, this Spring.


Sunday, December 07, 2008

A Flux of Form

If you aren't a Nero Wolfe fan, stop reading now. The rest of this post will bore you.

To continue...

You may preserve the life in a flux of form, or preserve the form amid an ebb of life. But you cannot permanently enclose the same life in the same mould.

- Alfred North Whitehead

Last Monday morning, as I sat waiting to be admitted to my local hospital, I started reading Dave Duncan's The Alchemist's Code. On Friday, five days later, I finished it.

For me, this is speed reading. Of course, being in the hospital and then home-bound gave me a lot of time to read, but on the other hand I'm a notoriously slow reader, and in this case I went even slower because after I got home I spent a lot of time checking maps as I read (if you don't understand, you will in a minute). So for me to read this book in five days was the equivalent of anyone else "not being able to put it down."

Obviously, I thought this was a pretty terrific book. And I had previously read the other book in the series, The Alchemist's Apprentice, and I loved that, too, though I don't think it was as nail-biting as this one.

So, you ask, do I recommend that you run out and read Duncan's Apprentice books?

Well... maybe. Or maybe not.

The question is this: Are you a big Nero Wolfe fan? If not, you might not care for these stories. They're mysteries, but set in Venice, Italy, in the late 1500's. And honestly, they aren't especially good mysteries. But they have one big thing going for them: Their detective heroes:

Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin.

Yes, Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin. Of course, they don't have the same names. They are the Maestro Filippo Nostradamus, clairvoyant, astrologer, alchemist, and genius extraordinaire; and his apprentice, Luca Alfeo Zeno (who goes by "Alfeo"), swordsman, man of action, and, um, ladies man.

What? I hear your exclaim. Nero Wolfe isn't an astrologer or alchemist!

No, he isn't. What's more, there are other differences in the details between the great men: Nostradamus dislikes eating, while Wolfe is a gourmand. And while neither likes to leave his comfortably appointed home in the heart of a magnificent and vibrant city, Nostradamus dislikes motion because he is terribly handicapped, while Wolfe's handicap is mental.

But these differences aren't jarring. On the contrary, they make perfect sense. Because the spirit of Nero Wolfe dropped into Sixteenth Century Venice wouldn't be the same as Nero Wolfe in Twentieth Century Manhattan. Instead, as you read these stories, you will know, beyond any doubt, that the spirit of Nero Wolfe poured into Sixteenth Century Venice would be, well, this Filippo Nostradamus. (Not the famous Nostradamus, by the way, but his nephew.)

I call your attention to the words of Alfred North Whitehead, quoted above. He's talking about whether, when one writer uses the characters of another, the new writer can preserve both the life (i.e., the personality, the essence) and the form (the physical apparition and environment) of the original writer's character, and concludes that he cannot: When the new writer preserves the form, the life ebbs, and this is what happens when others write Nero Wolfe pastiches. They preserve the form -- Wolfe, Archie, Fritz, the orchids, the brownstone -- but the characters have no life.

Duncan does not make this mistake: If Whitehead's words, he "preserve(s) the life in a flux of form." Although Nostradamus and Alfeo are in many superficial ways different from Wolfe and Archie, if you know Wolfe and Archie you recognize their "life" instantly. Nostradamus: Commanding, a consummate actor and performance artist, but can be petty and even petulant when he is upstaged, and thoroughly dependent on his man of action, his Alfeo. Alfeo: Competent, resourceful, handsome, the eyes and ears and hands of his master, performer of seemingly impossible assignments, and a wit who can be both sarcastic and wry.

It's more than just the personalities: It's many small interactions between the two, or gestures on the part of one of the other, where you suddenly say, "Yes, that's Wolfe (or Archie, or both of them)!", and the two pairs of spirits spark over the centuries and the continents. If you know Wolfe and Archie, you're always seeing them peek out from behind the faces of Nostradamus and Alfeo. And the stories contain other sly references that Wolfe fans will recognize as well, as when a Venetian official asks Alfeo (as Wolfe often does Archie or Saul), "How long would it take to get from [this address] to [that address]," and Alfeo, the man who knows his town, answers, "If he could quickly flag a gondola, ten minutes. Walking, ten to twenty."

There are no equivalents to the 'teers in the Alchemist stories, and the roles of Stebbins, Cramer, and New York's finest are murkier in the extraordinarily convoluted Venetian governmental system. Nostradamus does posses, however, a gourmet cook, and there's a love interest for Alfeo: A wealthy and independent woman named Violetta ("little violet" -- do we know any other love interests of dashing detectives who are named for flowers?). I am happy to say, though, the Violetta is much, much more deeply developed and much more central to these stories than the underused Lily was in Archie's stories. (Violetta's relationship with Alfeo is also somewhat more explicit that Lily's with Archie, so be forewarned.)

Speaking of the convoluted Venetian government (I was), that brings up the other wonderful thing about these stories:


Venice is, in my opinion, the most wondrous city on Earth, and Duncan does a wonderful job of immersing you not only in the physical city, but in the complex politics and social relationships of the times. (And yes, it was my tourist maps of Venice that I was constantly referring to as I was reading.)

If you love Wolfe and Archie, I think you will enjoy these stories. If you happen to love Venice as well, you just might adore these stories.

Oh, I should mention that these stories are set in a slightly alternative/fantasy universe, where "magic" works, and demons are real, and clairvoyance and Tarot and astrology can work, but these don't play a central role in the stories, and if you can shift your perspective on reality just a little then perhaps you won't mind. I didn't.

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Friday, December 05, 2008

The Eye on the Needle

It's not that I'm afraid of getting stuck by needles. After all, I've donated blood many, many times. No, it's just that I don't like to watch the needles going in. As long as I can look away, it's okay.

Last Monday morning, as I was being prepped for surgery, a man who was short but had the build and body hair of a bear charged in carrying a basket. He explained that he was the anesthesiology technician and (as he grabbed up my hand) would I mind if he stuck a few needles in me?

"No," I said, "but I prefer not to look."

"That's okay," he said, "I prefer not to look too."

Okay, it made me laugh!

Anyway, yesterday the Home Health Care nurse came to my home for her first visit. I signed a bunch of papers, and then it came time for her to give me a shot of something that helps prevent blood clots. I have to get five of these shots while recuperating at home. I already have all the syringes and everything.

"You know," she said, "for the next five days, the only reason I have to come out here is to give you these shots. Your co-pay for these shots is $40.00. Per visit. So that's $200.00 that you can pay... or... you can just give the shots to yourself."

I felt sick to my stomach. Not only watching a needle go in, but actually inserting it into myself? On the other hand, it seemed absurd to pay $200.00 for something I could do easily myself. I mean, am I a self-respecting guy or what? Can I give in to squeamishness and still retain my self-respect?

"I'll give it a try," I said with a dry mouth.

"Then you do it today. I'll show you how," she said, handing me the syringe.

My hand was shaking, but under her instruction I inserted the needle -- it's a simple matter of jabbing it straight into the roll of fat around my stomach -- and pushed the plunger.

I gave myself a shot.


It went pretty well. Today, all on my own, wasn't quite so smooth. I got a little mixed up about exactly how it was supposed to "click" when it was done, and that resulted in my partially removing and reinserting the needle a couple of times. I don't think it did any real harm, but it did leave a fierce-looking bruise.

Tomorrow should go better. Though somehow I think I'll still look away in the future.


Thursday, December 04, 2008

Words that a Total Knee Replacement Call to Mind

I had my right knee replaced on Monday. Yesterday I was discharged from the hospital. I guess I expected this to be a rich source of blogging material, but I've come to realize that none of you are going to care about the gory details of a total knee replacement.

There are, though, two words that have been brought to my mind by this experience, that I would not have expected.

The first is tattoo, in the sense of, "I'm not much into tattoos, especially on me, but if I did get a tattoo, I think it would be the word 'Yes' in a circle just above my right knee:"


The other word is kilt. They teach you how you should use the toilet during recovery: Use the walker to back up to the toilet, sit back until you feel the seat with both hands, lower yourself to the seat. When you're done, put both hands on the seat, push up until you're standing inside the walker, take the walker handles.

But they leave a couple of important steps out of this process. One is dropping your pants before sitting down. No big deal. Easy to do. But the other is how to get your pants back up when you're done. Much bigger deal. Once you're standing back up inside the walker, it's almost impossible to reach all the way down and grab your pants. But if you pull them up to your knees while still sitting down, it's very difficult to keep them from sliding back down as you struggle to push yourself up. Then you're back to where you started.

It makes you realize how much more practical the kilt really is.


Monday, December 01, 2008

Short Hiatus

The northern bro would like all to know that if you don't hear from the southern bro for a while it is because he is scheduled to undergo surgery in about 2 1/2 hours. The procedure is not life threatening - he is having an injured knee replaced - and after the surgery his quality of life will be very much enhanced!

Good luck bro!

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