Archive for the 'Mortality' Category



AARP, gulp.

A little while back I discussed my reaching Half a Century old in terms of my early papers, and some of the changes to our world in my lifetime. But the Object at Hand today is my legitimately obtained copy of AARP magazine.

A Typical AARP Reader?

I had tossed it aside and apparently my housemate Friedrich picked it up. Now, this seemed eerily evocative of the way youngsters (such as I still feel myself to be) perceive people who read this magazine.

The word “Retired” comprises the ahr  in their acronym. But most people at the AARP age minimum are nowhere near retired. Especially in the early 21st century economy when an American household apparently needs two wage earners till they are seventy to meet basic expenses.

So AARP reaches out to those who are of an age to barely see the light of retirement at the end of the tunnel of their useful life. That is a mere dozen years before one currently can start reclaiming some of his Social Security money. So AARP provides articles on planning for retirement, and investment advice, and more such for we wee ones.

As for me, among those abruptly dropped from the ranks of the median family income earners back when the tech bubble burst, I cannot decide whether I am semi-employed, or semi-retired.

Perhaps I will be able to make that determination before I look like old Friedrich here.

Unsafe Safety Signs

I am a regular bicyclist. I ride to stores, to doctor appointments, to social meetings, and to pretty much any other short commute in clement weather that doesn’t require carrying more than half my weight or volume in cargo. So it generally lightens my heart to see the increasing frequency of bicycle reminders on or around roadways. This bit of road paint, today’s Object at Hand, is on the street near my house.

But the more of these signs I see, the more I am realizing how they actually pose a threat to bikers.

Why? The problem is in the way our minds work. For those who haven’t studied psychology and perception, or neurology, nor read geeky mainstream books such as “Reading in the Brain: The Science and Evolution of a Human Invention“, let me present a couple of things have been proven, that you can research for yourself later:

  • At the primitive levels of our mind, we can only see what we have learned to see.
  • Dissimilar images that evoke a shared idea require more cognitional effort to relate than do similar images. For example, it takes a slower and higher part of the brain to associate the relationship between a penny and a twenty than to recognize two different coins both as valuta.

Given these points, can you see the problem? How about if I show you the driver’s perspective of a bicyclist?

Do you see it, now? This is what almost every bicyclist looks like to a driver. Bikers of both motorized and pedaled two wheelers are always complaining that cars don’t see them.

The problem is that drivers are always shown a particular image of what to expect, and it bears no resemblance to what a bicyclist looks like. It is this basic cognitive problem rather than the relative narrowness of two wheeled vehicles that poses the greatest threat to us. But almost every bicycle warning sign uses the same basic profile image, repeatedly retraining drivers in what to look out for. Here is a sampling from around the world.

Try Googling for bicycle signs, yourself! One motorcyclist friend who has repeatedly been reminded how invisible we are even wears a special shirt to try to draw attention to his invisible presence:

I would like to get a campaign going to make bicycling safer by deploying and requiring signs to look more like this crude mock-up I created. Note how much more like an actual bicyclist it looks, and think about what it tells you to look out for.

For comparison, what sign seems a better warning/reminder of what to look for?

Melanoma: Know More

A couple of weeks ago, I got a diagnosis of melanoma, and posted Melanoma is Sneaky over at Dangerous Intersection. Go there to see a nice video exhorting regular skin check-ups.

I considered several “objects” on which to hang this post. My first thought was of surgical tools or the fancy high-tech, waterproof, breathable membrane bandage that covered the wound for a few days. But I chose to showcase the memento I will forever carry around with me, the scar where the tumor was removed.

But before I show you the image of this silly badge, here’s how my day of surgery went:

Karen talked me out of walking to surgery as we had walked to the preoperative visit. So we drove the few blocks to the hospital and parked there in about half the time walking took. We finally found the right elevator and went up to the third floor to the ambulatory surgery unit. There was no one at the reception desk, but as we proceeded past toward the nurses station, we hear a “Be right there!” A very swishy man bustled over and cheerfully took my detailed information. He was fun and flirtatious. He passed me to another nurse, who weighed me, and brought me to curtained cubicle #12 on the end of the hall.

I changed into the paper gown, keeping on my shorts and socks as instructed. The gown had many fasteners and ports. I figured out that one wall mounted gadget was a hair dryer-ish gizmo with a hose that could be plugged into one of the several ports built into this disposable gown for warming. Karen went for coffee as I settled into the comfy recliner between layers of pre-warmed blankets. I handled my anxiety at impending surgical assault by falling into a zen-like trance. I happily observed the various light fixtures and gadgets in my cubicle, and the curtain fabrics and hardware. I listened to the layered conversations invisible around me, mapping the people in my visual cortex. I had an hour and a half to wait, and was in no hurry. Karen came back with coffee and occasionally got impatient and fetched nurses to move along the stages of my prep. She has always been a good patient advocate, and has even considered doing that for a living.

Several nurses came in to ask pages of questions that had already been answered. Each department seems to need its own set of answers to the same suite of questions. It’s a pity that medical histories cannot travel with patients from practitioner to practitioner. I find filling out these forms not only tedious, but an insult to the computing technology that could have replaced such iteration a generation ago. I also blame the HIPAA act that seems to do all it can to inhibit the portability of medical information that it was supposed to enhance.

One nurse gave me a set of packaged, heated, antiseptic sponges with a page of detailed instructions on how to use them. Three minutes scrubbing with each and in a particular order on specific areas from neck to toes. I thought this was a silly step. But I had been forewarned by phone the previous night that it was to be done. Afterwards, my hands felt quite sticky and softened.

The surgeon was ready for me while the third iteration of questions was still being administered. They had brought a gurney, but then decided to just wheel me in the throne. I commented that I should have had a crown and scepter to be so royally escorted to the operating room. I did wave to the peons as I was wheeled past. I was having a good time, and as far as I knew  had yet to receive any drugs aside from the antibiotic in my neutral saline IV.

Once in the operating room, I stepped from my throne over to the narrow operating table starkly lit under the triple set of suspended and jointed reflector lights, one with a camera built in. The nurses and resident seemed to be a cheerful team. I tried not to distract them, but wanted to join in. When the first set up an arm table to the side, I pointed out that this would not work. They seemed surprised at my effrontery. But then they saw I was right and rearranged me to have my arm on my belly. I seemed to puzzle them a bit, as I was completely cooperative, alert, cheerful, and knowledgeable. Yes, I was aware of compensating for anxiety; I began studying psychology in 8th grade, got a degree in it, and have been studying related fields ever since.

They gave me a nasal cannula and draped me with green crinkly paper sheets. When they first smoothed it across my face, I suggested that my nose was actually supposed to be convex. After that a hand appeared in my green world occasionally to lift the paper from my nose. But it wasn’t bothering me. I’m not claustrophobic, and was getting cool oxygen in my nose. They started the Lidocaine drip without my noticing. But I quickly got more relaxed.

When the surgeon, Eddy Hsueh, came in, he told me that they were now going to give me the sedative, a truth serum. (Precedex, I believe.) He said that now I would have no secrets.

I said, “I’m on FaceBook; I have no secrets!”

Best laugh of the session. They chuckled and repeated it to each other. One of the nurses later repeated it to Karen when she wheeled me back.

I distinctly felt the first couple of shots of local anesthetic in my arm. I don’t think that I actually passed out at any point, but things were fuzzy while he cut out the initial disk of skin. I tried to “see” from under my green sheet by listening carefully. At one point the tone of the heart monitor seemed to change. I asked about it, and they assured me that it hadn’t. In retrospect, I think I’d gone under briefly and come back without noticing at that point.

I was quite alert as they (surgeon and resident) started stitching. I could feel the pulling, even the vibration of the gentle texture of the stronger sutures pulling through. Dr. Hsueh is a teacher, and was guiding the resident to close. In this case, closing involved pulling the open circle into a line, and then trimming the puckered “dog ears” on each end to allow a smooth closure. I had assumed that the necessary eye-shaped cut would be the initial profile. But apparently they cut out a circle, and then trim the pointy ends after pulling the circle mostly closed. Hsueh was a harsh critic, a perfectionist, who scolded the resident for cutting the end too round, for pulling with the wrong suture (including a pedantic lecture on the physics of force), and for not having good technique in pushing the needle through the skin. I’d never before heard a grown man chewed out for not doing his homework. I was embarrassed for the doctor. But from their point of view, I wasn’t there. All they saw was an arm and green sheets. Often even when people can see me, I manage to be invisible: I see more, this way.

So they finished suturing and started undraping me before they got the bandage on. I started to get up, and they told me to wait as they put some gauze and a clear adhesive patch covering the whole thing. This oxygen-permeable membrane is certainly new since my last surgery, in the early 1980’s. No cumbersome wrap of bandages was necessary

I stepped easily off the operating table and back to the padded throne, and was wheeled back to the cubicle. Karen was retrieved from the waiting room, and we sat for a while, waiting for discharge. I felt like I was sobering up quickly. But I was certainly hazy, and glad that Karen was there to hear the post surgical directives. My arm didn’t hurt at all; the local was very effective.

When they came in with the discharge papers, I was ready to go. I asked to use the restroom, and they let me. We discussed the necessity of the ceremonial wheelchair as I walked, and pirouetted to walk backwards, and then ducked into the restroom. It is good to have dancer reflexes. But they were adamant about wheeling me out. One nurse rolled me down the hall and elevator, and out to the door while Karen got the car. I grew tired of sitting, and the nurse reluctantly let me stand up. She guarded me like a wary physical therapist as I rose, then stayed close to me as I walked out the door, and waited. When Karen arrived, the nurse escorted my to the car door. She was taking no chances. It was about 2:00 as we drove the mile or so to South Grand.

First we picked up my meds at our local pharmacy: A prophylactic antibiotic and Percoset. I rarely use pain pills, and was feeling fine at the time. But I figured that I might use the latter as a sleep aid, at least the first night. We stopped in next door to the pharmacy to chat with our investment banker, and then walked a block to use a coupon for lunch at Qudoba. I was feeling a little dissociated, but not dizzy, nor in pain. It seemed about as traumatic at that point as getting a large filling in a tooth.

Once home, I settled in front of Roku for the remains of the day. Not a movie, just old TV shows like Ally McBeal and Cheers. We don’t have cable or satellite, so Netflix feeds my video addiction. After a few hours, the local anesthetic wore off, and I began to see the wisdom of pain meds. Each time I’d shift, my arm kersploded with a bright flash of unpleasantness. I did resist the oxycodone till bedtime by holding the arm very still as much as possible. Owy. Only woke a few times in the night.

So now, a few days later, I unveil my new dermal embellishment:

Melanoma: 14 stitches for an odd mole

Half a Century

The object at hand is a memento of my first breath, 600 months ago. Shown here are a few distinctive items from a pile my mother had collected and stashed away, and I discovered after her death.

Click to Enlarge

I was born on the day of the Bay of Pigs Invasion. Back then there were no weather satellites, no weather radar, no mobile phones, nor email. “Cable” meant sending a telegram, a less expensive and more reliable alternative than a long distance phone call. A letter cost 4¢ by ground, and air mail was extra. Here are congratulations from Germany, Israel and New York. And I have no idea if this birth certificate would be official enough to satisfy doubters.

The reverse of the Pet Milk stork card is revealing of the era when men were birthday bystanders:

“Congratulations, Dad!
To see your baby, please present this souvenir card at the nursery window.
Hold card against window so nursery nurse can see the name.
Please return card to mother’s bedside.”

But my purpose in this post is to observe some things of interest in the past half century.

Click to Enlarge

I was too young to notice when the first man went into space, but I stayed up late to watch the live broadcast of Armstrong stepping down from the Lunar Module. Billionaires can now buy a ride into space, but few bother. America has apparently passed the baton to Europe, Japan, and China as the rulers of space.

I remember fallout drills, and actually saw “Duck and Cover” in school. Everyone worried about radiation on a daily basis, but hadn’t heard of cholesterol. Guess which one kills 1,000 times as many people as the other?

One of my teachers was so used to the original Pledge of Allegiance that she would occasionally leave out the “Under God” that had recently been inserted in the middle of “One Nation Indivisible” when we did the daily ritual. She also showed us the proper way to stand from when she was in school. See The Changing Recipe of Pleasure Lesion Stew for a surprising picture.

In the last five decades organ transplants went from science fiction, to an abomination against God that should be outlawed, to a rare and expensive major surgery, to a fairly common procedure that anyone might expect. Drivers licenses (at least in my state) have a donor form. Mine is signed. Is yours?

As I grew up, vacuum tubes gave way to transistors and then integrated circuits. Several technological inventions in the last half century have changed society. I mean, really altered the ways in which people interact.

  • The Pill made it possible for women to have a career and social life without either a husband or celibacy, so now women are almost half of the workforce. It also changed the point of dating. Girls no longer consider finding a husband their only goal, and mostly not their primary one.
  • The rapidly evolving WWWeb allows people to  interact in many new ways for both business and social purposes. One minor sign: Video phones and teleconferencing are no longer solely toys of millionaires and super-geeks. It is now fairly common for people to work from home.
  • Cell phones mean that no one has to make social plans in advance, nor wait by a phone. The world is un-tethered! And you can’t get away from the office!
  • Between the web and cell phones, privacy is dying. This is inevitable. As new generations grow up with ubiquitous communication, everything they think and do is broadcast and stored. Much like after the Kinsey Reports, as everyone begins to notice how many others share their own private thoughts and behaviors, guilt will recede.
  • The web has also killed the publishing and copyright models of the 16th through 20th centuries, in much the same way that Gutenberg changed the previous setup. Music, text, and video is now cheaper to share than gum. There is still a crying need for editors and librarians, to polish and organize the flood of new and traditional media. This change is ongoing, and we still don’t know how it will settle out. But historians will mark its genesis in my lifetime.
  • Containerization (that was just taking hold in my childhood) now makes goods from the far side of the world price competitive with local products. “Imported” now rarely means rare or posh. And the improved communications infrastructure allows many jobs to be moved around the world to find cheaper labor. It is truly becoming a unified world economy.

Some things have not changed much during my life.

  • Personally owned motor cars are still the major influence in the planning of transportation and towns. Pubic transit infrastructure in most cities has declined as a result. But it shows signs of returning in the next half century as the cost of extracting fuel rises.
  • The price of a gallon of gas is still about half the cost of a movie ticket and about the same as a fast food meal. No change over the ten presidential administrations that I’ve experienced.
  • Men still wear pants, although now women also do, without undue notice.
  • People still mostly work 40 hour weeks, although now it takes two working adults to support most households.
  • People used to get their news from the newspaper with whose editorial slant they least disagreed. Now they get their news from the video and web columnists with whom they almost perfectly agree. Maybe this belongs in the “changed” section. Human nature hasn’t changed, but the media are much better positioned to pander to it.

So a half century gives me some personal perspective from which to view history and humanity. Or at least the illusion that I have it.

For Whom the Shutter Snaps

This post was inspired more by certain recent activities than by my grandfather’s camera itself. But first, the camera: This is the one that I first used to take pictures, around the age of 6. It was also the first camera that my mother learned to use in the early 1930’s. It was quite an effort for me to learn how to handle it, in spite of my mother’s patient tutelage.

The focus ring is calibrated in meters, the standard of measurement in all but three nations. But I was raised in one of those oddball nations, so had to be shown how to pace off meters. My tiny legs could barely span one, but I did learn to focus a camera by pacing before I could estimate by eye.

The external light meter was beyond me; I didn’t originally “get” how to adjust the f-stop and time based on a needle crossing half a dozen scales. But my mother patiently showed me that there really were only a few choices. Five speeds: Latch-open, hold-open, 1/25, 1/50, and 1/100.  The f-stop runs from 6.3 to 32. And keep in mind that film only went up to an ASA of about 100 when my maternal grandfather was using it. One had to hold quite still to get a clear shot in full sunlight.

When I was eight or nine I received a durable, cheap camera that used film cartridges. Then I got a “110” compact camera in the early 1970’s.  By the late 1970’s I switched to my first in a series of SLR’s. I went digital in 2001. But I last used my grandfather’s camera in 1980, just to develop such big film in my own darkroom. Currently I take over 7,000 shots a year, a few hundred of which I might share. Mostly online, as on FaceBook or my travel page.

But the impetus behind this post and my main point is, what’s the point? After each parent died, I took it upon myself to wade through pictures of them to create memorial service picture boards and websites (Joseph and Erika). You may have surmised above that my mother was the shutterbug. It was a periodic passion with her. Her darkroom days peaked in the 1950’s, and she finally donated her equipment to a school about 2 years before I seriously got into photography.

So I found boxes of disorganized pictures and partial albums and drawers and carousels of slides to wade through. Most of the pictures were of people I didn’t know, scenes I’d never seen, and other precious mementos without referent for anyone but the original taker. There was an abundance of baby pictures of my brother and me, but few of us siblings as we became individuals.

It was hard to find pictures of my parents doing anything characteristic. Not one shot of my mother cooking or gardening, or my father at the computer or reading. Most vacation pictures were of scenery or specific plants or mushrooms, with some rare shots containing family members. We all scoff at vacationers taking pictures of each other in front of Scenic Outlooks. But it occurs to me that this is the sort of thing I’d have liked to have, after my parents passed. My father climbing Ayers Rock or underground at CERN, or my mother in some ferny forest hunting mushrooms or among the redwoods. Even a snapshot of our family enjoying a typical Sunday brunch at home would be treasured at this point.

Pictures not taken: My father was a whiz with a slipstick and the Addiator. He smoked a pipe for a while, played the harmonica, recorder, guitar, and the pump organ. Before the war took his shoulder, he played the violin; I’d like see that. My mother literally sculpted many an artistic meal, and gardened literally like a pro. Yes, I am using “literally” literally. She climbed trees well into her 50’s, cut down other trees, dug deep flower beds, laid patios, knitted, wove chairs, and refinished furniture. There is not one picture of these activities since I was born.

So my suggestion to those of you who take pictures is, consider for whom the shutter snaps (or the capture encodes if you prefer). Plan for the people who may want to see you or yours in ordinary activities. One never knows what currently mundane thing may later be looked upon with nostalgia.

Dan, his camera by his side and his mustache in the breeze, at Dead Horse Point

Outta Sight

Until recently, I felt that my vision would remain ever reliable. I knew about presbyopia intellectually, but it didn’t feel like it could happen to me. For decades I inwardly laughed at people who complained about my small handwriting and screen fonts.

But one day I realized that I could no longer easily read the dates on pennies. A year or two later, I can barely read a paperback on my lap. Forget about small print on paperwork, like the ingredient lists on food packages. Sure, I easily passed my drivers license eye exam last month. But I can no longer see what’s right in front of my face.

Reading Glasses

So I’ve been collecting dollar store reading glasses. I have them in just about every room in the house. But these are a nuisance to carry out in the world. They are big and easily scratched. Even the “compact” kind are awkward. Either their carry containers are bulky, or their extra hinges prone to tangling.

Panini GlassesThen I found the Panini brand compact folding reading glasses. Self protecting and the size of a pen. Naturally, this convenient inventions cost eighteen times as much as any other pair I owned. But these I easily slip into a pocket and go.

So what happens to any product that I genuinely like? The same thing that happened to many companies whose stock I bought. A year later, they no longer exist! I tried finding a link to share with youse via Google, but every link was a dead end. No matching images, nor stores carry these marvels any more.

This object is now completely out of sight. Unavailable. Can’t lay my hands on another pair when my eyes get worse.

To Tell the Tooth

I am aging. Well, all of us lucky enough to be reading this are. But every once in a while, some object appears to remind us of the process. Here sits an example on the tray beside me in the dentist’s office.

Shells of goldThese two thin shells intricately crafted from a long lasting and organically inert alloy are now installed in the right rear of my bite. “Crowns” they royally proclaim these mundane objects to be.

I am finally old enough that the four sections of some of my molars no longer cohere well enough.  My dentist showed me the evidence on the x-rays and in the mirror. I needed an engineering solution to prevent catastrophic failure of original equipment that was built to last somewhat less then my current number of orbits around the sun.

So I submitted to having some perfectly good (or apparently adequate) tooth ground away to make room for these thin shells. These are expected to keep the rest of those two teeth intact for the next few decades.

But it’s like replacing a tire on the car: You know others will need it soon. At least I am putting my money where my mouth is.