Friday, July 25, 2008

Give me sweet music and strife

Cheers to you all, I am off to parts northern to battle the ferocious crepe au chocolate, ride myself crippled, and drink ice wine until each horse has eight legs (5*j suggests that the cure for seeing double is to cover one eye). Updates when I get at a computer, but in the meantime and beyond, take care of one another.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

A life between the covers

Commence official packing mode. This is a stage that would normally be marked by sleeplessness or anxiety dreams about leaving my toothbrush in the Hellespont or some damn thing. Currently, however, I'm taking muscle relaxants for reasons unrelated to travel, and as a result have been sleeping like a dreamless log. Not only that, but fighting off the fog of analgesia leaves me with little oomph to worry too much about the luggaging process. Pack the jeans, don't pack the jeans, whaaaatever.

On an intellectual level, however, it is clear that arriving for a horseback trek sans pants would not be wise, so I've made a list and am carefully checking off items as they go into the monster duffel or my ripstop backpack. (The misfortunes of others have taught me to carry my helmet onto flights rather than putting it and my faith in the checked-bags system, and now I've got a carry-on camping pack large enough to hold the helmet and a change of clothes. Listen well, o wolves: Do explain your intentions to the REI staff before you start cramming one of their boarding helmets into one of their packs to test the sizing, lest they get an understandable wrong impression.) Shirts, shoes, swimsuit, toiletries, Tiger Balm, sunblock, fleece jacket, rain gear, check check check.

The real struggle is choosing solid vacation books. The standard beach reads go far too quickly, the cost of cheesy magazines outweighs their entertainment value, and one vacation with only Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man for refuge was enough to cure me of being over-ambitious. I managed well in Argentina, with Foreign Devils on the Silk Road and Tom Shippey's excellent book on Tolkien's linguistic scholarship (my geek flag flies free and proud), occasionally supplemented with a neighbor's memoirs of life in Patagonia in the 1930s and the estancia's enormous compendium of Jeeves and Wooster stories. I'm trying not to dip too far into the current pile of possible contenders—some Oliver Sacks case studies, Drunken Forest, a few books of French history, a couple of Mary Renault novels—or to bemoan the lack of another Patrick O'Brian series. Maybe it's time to crack a gothic novel or two? It is bliss to be so spoiled for choice.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Frlgh ewrzr mabershtl

The wailing sound you hear, punctuated with muffled oaths? Is the sound of a squintillion Joss Whedon fans trying to wait patiently until they are absolutely certain that all their friends and Buffy/Angel/Firefly-addicted peers have watched Act III of "Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog" and can safely bust out with the spoiler-riddled discussion.

I refuse to ruin the ending for anyone who hasn't watched it (go! go now! the curtain falls at midnight!), but here, to summarize my reaction, the BoingBoing lemur. [ETA: So it's a tarsier. Still.]

Thursday, July 17, 2008

100% pure fluff

Y'all, I have had a right miserable few days, so today's blogging is going to be on the fluffy side. Hate kittens and rainbows and otherwise random happy-making photos? Your tough luck, because I'm going to slap up a few pictures and then go get my Dr. Horrible fix (stand back, everyone, nothing here to see).

Elf! He is, in this picture, trying very hard to catch my camera strap, because it is for playing with rather than holding on to.

More likely this leads to cow pies than a pot of aureous specie. Photographic technique: Pull car to side of road. Aim camera. Wait for semi to pass. Wait for SUV to pass. Refocus camera while grandmother in passenger seat recites the antecedents of the SUV's driver. Click.

What better way to express your piety than working the image of your savior into your mortuary phallic symbol?

Dear Buenos Aires, send me a ticket and I will be back in a flash. Of, um, eight hours, give or take purgatorial transfers in Miami. I miss you.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Why I put up with it

This, mes amis, is Evil Grayson. Shortly after I took this picture, as I was brushing his forelegs, he swung his head down and tried to bite my scalp (again). Fortunately, he misjudged the distance, depth perception being a bugger at that angle, and only slammed his teeth into my hairline, so rather than a bleeding flap of skin and multiple stitches, I have a tiny bruise. Nonetheless, I leapt up and hollered and waved my arms and generally made it clear that this is Not Done in polite society. Privily, I re-resolved to wear my helmet whenever he's nearby. Possibly also kevlar bodywears.

This was a private lesson, for reasons involving both weather and social commitments on the regular class night, so it was both useful and exhausting; when the teacher has only one person to focus on, mein Gott can it be rigorous. Pat put us through a warm-up course of bending and circles and more bending and more circles. Then I put Grayson back on the rail, and we worked on my weakest point in dressage, getting the horse on the bit. "The outside rein shouldn't move," Pat kept calling. "Inside leg, inside leg, more inside leg, don't hesitate to touch him with the crop if he doesn't move out under your leg, don't let that outside hand move! Inside hand, squeeze and release, squeeze and release." On and on. Sisyphean labors. My hip was starting to wail with pain. And then, suddenly, there it was: the perfect curve of neck, the forward movement, the sweet contact through the reins. "GOOD!" yelled Pat. "He makes you work for it, but you got him to do it! Look at that!" God bless for a teacher who can be so enthusiastic about students' success. Grayson didn't entirely make it easy; if I let up with my leg for a moment, he would drop out of the frame, but by the end of class we were counterbending through a complicated pattern of semicircles without ever going off the bit. I've been wanting a private lesson for this kind of work for some time now, but I didn't think the results would be so dramatic. Cheerful hurrahs all around.

Also in for some gleeful noises: my new Tipperary sportage helmet, which looks up close like something that has evolved gills and protective camouflage for a very sleek environment. Why St. Croix Saddlery was the only place that carried this model in anything but an extra-small is a mystery, but they did and it was here within four days, so consider this a blogular thumbs-up to them.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Happy retirement

One of the longest-term inhabitants of the barn, Bennie Fluff is widely adored despite not being the prettiest face. He's been the first horse for hundreds of riders and a regular for a lot of the TR kids, all of whom he has reassured with his easy gaits, calm temper, and willingness to cut riders slack. The first time I was supposed to ride him, after years spent riding only intermittently, I got stuck halfway into the saddle and thoroughly discombobulated. Any horse would've been within its rights to move away and give me the hairy eyeball; Bennie waited until I was back on the ground, then set his hooves a little further apart, braced himself, and stood perfectly still until I was safely up. That sort of patience and generosity made him an ideal beginner horse, and even after students advanced they usually felt a debt of gratitude to him, expressed variously as scratches, pats, or treats, all of which he accepted with equanimity.

Tomorrow he starts the long drive north to Vermont, where a retirement farm has been told to expect his arrival. Everyone will miss his muley ears and gentle attitude, but we could hardly hope for a better setting for such a kind critter to spend his last years.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008


Whenever it comes to problems with the hip area, me and mine seem doomed to encounter GPs who have no idea how to deal with physical mechanics. Apparently most general practitioners are all about chem and bio, which is fine and dandy except when the problem is mechanical rather than infectious. Lately it's Seesterperson who's been struck down with sciatica-induced agony, probably related to roller derby's determination to have skaters always going widdershins (step 1 to becoming a goddess of the rink: figure out which way widdershins actually is) in a squatting pose. Her GP and a surprising number of online resources are in fits debating whether it's really sciatica if the pain descends below the knee. Here's my feeling: if the pain is related to the (follow the logic closely here) sciatic nerve, the question of whether or not it goes below the point of the nerve's bifurcation is moot, a semantic debate that has nothing to do with the actual mode of treatment, and you shouldn't hassle your poor patient about the fine points of the definition. You won't end up looking any better, because your first fix won't work, and your patient will be uncomfortable for longer. Also her relatives will think about handing you an "ass/elbow: disambiguation" wiki and then smacking you on the noggin.

Ahem. Got a little spleen on the monitor here, excuse the mess. Anyway, in hopefully distracting conversations over the weekend, Seesterperson and I were talking about Neil Gaiman's professed guilty feelings at how much work it took to build a zeppelin pirate ship that collects lightning bolts, relative to the ease of just writing one into Stardust because it sounded cool. Which of course it does and is, it's hard to argue with that, and the screen ship was worth the work (though if they'd tossed De Niro overboard early on, I would have been better pleased). Not before time, someone's actually come up with music for it. You just know that this is how it sounds inside Cory Doctorow's head whenever he writes about steampunk. Especially the propeller.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Excuse me, rum and WHAT?

Ah, the idiocies of procrastination. I spent much of the holiday weekend hunched over the computer, frantically seeking whereat to lay my head during my three nights in Quebec City. The confluence of the high season, a religious festival, and, oh right, the town's 400th anniversary meant that the pickings were supermodel thin. I finally found two places that could offer me a (charmant) roof, but calling the one that required telephonic reservations struck me down with utter mental paralysis when the receptionist greeted me in French. Contrary to earlier assertions, I do speak enough pidgin francais to make myself understood, but every word of it vanished in fickle Gallic fashion when I heard the crisp sing-song, "Bonjour!" Anecdotal data suggests that the cure for linguistic fumbling is but a nip of dutch courage away, so if my brain doesn't pick up some slack I am going to be cirrhotic by the time I get home.

I finally managed to dig up a review of the ride I'll be taking between sessions in the QC, and holy peepers, the metric system dun betrayed me: 170 km works out to be real distance. My packing list has been hastily revised to include my knee braces, assorted bandages and unguents, a couple-five chemical heat packs, and the full analgesicopeia, all of which have saved my bacon on past trips. That same review led me to anecdotal tales of "caribou," sometimes described as "jus de caribou," which originally (and apocryphally, one suspects) consisted of cheap whiskey and reindeer blood but now is made from rum, maple syrup, and port. Picture it: I'm limping through the customs line, hauling a bag reeking of horse, smoked trout, and Tiger Balm, and malaproppin' en francais all over the place. This oughta be fun.

In ink-removing news, the laser burns are fading and no longer look like hickeys or spider bites. The tattoos themselves are clearer than they've been in years, except that they are now freckle-colored, presumably because the macrophages are jamming in to chew up the inky fragments. Thanks again to everyone who posted comments or sent messages (the lurkers! they support me in e-mail! and in the Annals of Internal Medicine!). May you all get to do something similarly happy-making in the near future.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Ah, America: You are great. But you are weird

Consumer fireworks, yea unto the weensiest sparklers, are illegal in this county. Judging by the current noise level, though, the ban only ups the ante: If you're going to break the law, you want to break it long and loud. Good job, team; just watch the fingers. Happy Fourth!

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Zap, crackle, and pop

One of the crowning indignities of cancer treatment was having to get tattoos. When you're a bald, immunocompromised, vampirically skinny 14-year-old learning to live with a central line and your first surgical scar, let's just say that finding out that you’re also going to be carrying around tattoos for the rest of your life is not something you take particularly gracefully. At least I didn't.

I had been getting goodly doses of chemotherapy for a couple of months and was generally reacting well, which means that although I felt like crap from the hideous bouts of nausea and the occasional opportunistic infection, not to mention the waves of steroid-induced insanity, the cancer was in retreat. But one bit of it had holed up in the equivalent of Verdun and wasn't about to surrender. Medical solution: nuke the site from orbit, it's the only way to be sure.

So far so good. I knew that radiation wasn't exactly a health tonic, and I got lectures on the things that were likely to become problematic, although they were mainly phrased in the anodyne terms of hospital brochures: "discomfort while swallowing" instead of "radiation burns to the esophagus," stuff like that. Still, all fine. "Skilled technicians carefully mark the area and prevent damage to surrounding tissue." Why, how thoughtful. Except that what the brochures failed to mention was that the tools for doing this consisted of (a) sharpie pens and (b) permanent tattoos. I did not take this news well; if memory serves, I threw a fit to do a toddler proud. I was expletiving well going to live through cancer, I yowled, and then by God I was going to shake its dust from my feet and never be reminded of it ever again. Nope, said the skilled technicians. Yer gonna have blue dots.

Well, clearly I was outvoted on this one, so I cried a little and got my damn tattoos, eensy blue freckles on collarbone, sternum, and stomach. And for a few weeks, I'd go to the hospital every afternoon after school, lie on a table, let the STs line up a light screen with the dots (which were connected with streaks of marker, like a very irritating piece of abstract art), and feel forlorn as everyone scurried out of the room before switching on the reactor. I got a peculiar sunburn in sort of an hourglass pattern down my torso, and I got tired more easily as time went by, but I started to grow back a Sinead-like 'do and at least I wasn't spending hours in the hairball position.

A few weeks in, more scans, and success! The tumor fortress was crumbling! Aaaand then the STs told me that they were recalibrating the area of the radiation, and that I needed another set of tattoos. I threw another fit, but again was outvoted. Well, sez I to the doc in charge, if you're doing more needlework, then you're going to dope me up, because I do not approve of these connect-the-dots shenanigans. Sure, he said, and out came the dye. The Ativan kicked in, I swear, exactly half an hour after the last needle did.

All of this is by way of saying that although you'd have had to be well into my personal space and paying careful attention to notice that the dots were not actually freckles, I have always, always hated them. I learned to live with them, and nobody else has ever said anything about them (especially since most of them were covered about 95 percent of the time), but once in a while the stupid things would infuriate me all over again. I would visualize conversations with a removal tech—"Yes, they're tiny, yes, it's stupid, but I never wanted them, so how much to Buck Rogers them out of existence?"—and vow that one of these days I would give myself that gift.

And today was one of these days, which is why, this evening, I walked into Jinx Proof Tattoos, sat down in a back cubicle with a sweet-looking guy wearing full four-color sleeves and tattoos on all his fingers, and explained what I wanted. He peered at the dots, nodded, looked me in the eye as he went over the variables (unknown inks, variation in immune response, odds of needing more than one treatment), told me the cost and how long it would take, and explained what he would actually do. Most importantly, he neither made me feel silly for asking to get such bitty tattoos removed nor gave me any hint of sales pressure. Well, I didn't have plans for the next twenty minutes, nor would I need to go swimming for the next three weeks. Let's do this thing.

So he escorted me back to the check-in counter, where I filled out paperwork and paid (he vanished to warm up the machinery, and I wrote a tip, wondering whether anyone cheaps out on a guy who'll shortly be doodling on them with an actual laser), and then we trekked back to the small room with the examining table. Shirt off, lie down, put on protective yellow glasses, listen to the sound of the laser humming, oh my God I'm suddenly trying not to hyperventilate or bounce with anxiety. He looks closely at my ribcage dots. "Can't find one?" I joke nervously. "I know they're small." "Nah," he says mildly, "Just making sure I use the right power setting for each one." He sounds so calm that I want to hug him. I settle for exhaling and relaxing my hands. "Okay," he says, pointing, "I'll start with this one. It'll be about two seconds. Ready?" "Ready." "Here we go."

The sound of the laser is a crackling zapping sound, like live wires arcing, and the feeling is first a sharp stinging and then, disconcertingly, exactly what you would expect a laser to feel like as it burrows into your skin. By the time I realize it, though, the first shot's done and he's lining up the next. Getting all five done takes maybe two minutes, including sighting the laser. He peers carefully at his work, smears a bit of ointment on each burn, looks again. "This one's the one that might need another round," he says, pointing at my stomach, where the blue is now surrounded by a reddish splotch like a spider bite. "But let's give it three months; your white cells might clear it with just the single treatment." I put my shirt back on, and he gives me a handful of ointment packs and some last-minute reminders to put on salve, not to swim or take baths, not to scratch the healing areas no matter how itchy they get. I assure him that I'll bite my nails instead, shake his hand, stroll out into the street, and have to force down the urge to whoop with glee and relief.

I wore those tattoos for more than half my life, reminders not so much of illness as of powerlessness, and now they're going to melt, thaw, and resolve themselves into a dew. Nobody on the street knows why I'm smiling or would care at all. The world is good.