Help, Thanks, Wow

Now, it gets heavy — but it’s Thanksgiving, when we do that…


Day to day, I am not an overtly religious person — certainly nothing like “traditional”. On the other hand, I studied with a Reform rabbi and became a Jew after years as an atheist; a Jew in the style of Einstein, who I just lately learned was a Jew in style of Spinoza.

I maintain a very low tolerance for superstition in all of its forms (emspar and I call it “booga-booga”), but I also wouldn’t have taken the course I did, or be who I am, were it not for the inescapable fact that there is Some Thing Bigger Out There. It’s called the Universe. It has no direct relation to, or influence on, us — nevertheless (weak anthropic principle) we happen to live in it, trying to make sense of how it works.

How the Universe works — the Laws of Physics, melech ha’olam — is what Einstein called God, and so do I.

So… listening as I always do to NPR’s Morning Edition, I heard an interview with Anne Lamott, the author of a book about prayer, Help, Thanks, Wow. No need to listen to the full segment: the printed excerpts are good enough. Simplistic, surely — but that’s the point.

God, or Nature, or “Shit Happens”… Formal prayer, or wordless exclamation at the shit happening… What we say, if only silently, boils down to those three, especially when we take the sectarian language out and just blurt. I found the idea early in my Judaic studies; I cannot think of a religious tradition that wouldn’t arrive at the same conclusion.

You don’t lose any atheist cred for exclaiming, either. Shit happens; you react: human nature.


It’s Thanksgiving — in the face of all the shit, why am I still thankful? Most of all for emspar, naturally, but also for you all.

And why am I still “Wow”?

I’m alive; I can see the night sky; I know what’s in it.

Baruch ata, Adonai Elohenu, melech ha’olam, schehechianu, v’kiamanu, v’higianu, l’azman hah zeh.


Carcinoma Angels

Forty-five years ago — yes, 45! — what may still be the most famous anthology of short science fiction was published. It includes “Carcinoma Angels”, a story by Norman Spinrad (synopsis here, and you can read the full text here).

Last Friday, I met my anti-carcinoma angels.

They were gamma rays: high-energy photons aimed at extremely precise 3D coordinates in my brain, where the tumors had been found. Some of them were sent to the occipital lobe, quite near (if not actually in) the visual cortex — and, like the earliest astronauts who reported the phenomenon, I saw them. Fleeting, bright white, amorphous; tracking across my closed-eyed field as the scanner opened and closed its tiny shutters.

Of course, I didn’t really see them… they were cascades of neural stimulation running from deep inside to the retinae. But, where else does the brain know to associate things visual but the eyes? (Hint: reverse the direction of the arrows on that cover illustration.)

Maybe not the most important event in this all-too-self-examined life, but I doubt I will forget it… and in three months, another MRI may reveal that the angels have been successful.


I’ve got rhythm (again)

Brief progress report on the treatment regime:

Yesterday (Tues, 14 Nov) I went in to have the “port” placed (on my starboard side, heh). Came out of the outpatient sedatives in the PACU with an incredibly bruised lump below my right breastbone, and to news that I was in “afibrillation”, my heart rate was spiking through the roof, and they were going to admit me. So they did.

And I spent the night in cardiac care, being extremely well taken care of, on an IV drip which eventually slowed my heart down to normal. Come morning, the cardiologist came by to say I was still “afib”, and might need what I’m calling a “hard reboot”: out, then immediately back in with the help of paddles. But first, they took me off the IV and gave me a big oral dose of the same med. It knocked me back into sinus rhythm without the reboot :)

I also still had the scheduled bone scan today… That turned out to make me a temporary low-dose radioactive source (gamma rays, from technetium), with images collected passively by a scanner. I got to see the  monitor — it was fascinating. On the screen were two cloudy shapes, resembling me from opposite angles facing each other, formed of scintillations, as if I were some distant irregular galaxy mirrored by a gravitational lens.

On another screen, farther away so I couldn’t see details, was a complete reproduction of my skeleton. I said “Put me in a 3D printer!”

Finally got released at about 3 pm (local time). Tomorrow morning I’m still on schedule for more gamma; this time as the receptor, not the source, as they zap the tumors in my head — barring unforeseen circumstances like yesterday’s, that will be an outpatient treatment and I’ll go to work after.

Chemo should start the week after Thanksgiving, and so should… not a return to the old routine, but a new one that makes room for the chemo among the other things.

So it goes.