Donations

Sansum Medical Research Institute

I used to work at a non-profit medical research institute. There, we didn’t “earn” a single dollar. Everything was given to us through some version of a donation. So I suppose I shouldn’t be so amazed and slightly mystified to receive the thousands of dollars sent our way for the relief trip to Athens.

True, our costs are estimated to run in the $6-10,000 range, and we’re still around $3,000. So it would be nice to get closer to our goal. But even if all the money stopped tomorrow, this has been a humbling experience. Things went from what seemed like a good idea that aligned well with my interests and lifelong training, to something more important. Quickly.

I’ll explain:

I spent a loooottttaaa time in that building. Still miss those days!

The medical school I attended is located in Israel. Called the Medical School for International Health, the curriculum strongly emphasizes International and cross-cultural medicine. It’s a small school, but is comprised of people who love, love, global, cross-cultural experiences.  I’m one of them. These are “my” people. Aside from my wife and children, to this day, I love nothing more than being somewhere, far, far from my familiar world, surrounded by languages I don’t understand and histories and stories and traditions and beliefs I have yet to learn. Being at MSIH put me in the lives of people who love the same thing. I’m not sure I ever felt more at “home,” and I was approximately 6,940 miles from the suburbs of Colorado Springs, where I grew up.

A refugee relief clinic in Athens, thus, is a natural thing for me. I’m wired for this. It’s what I’d do full-time if I didn’t have obligations to children and student loans. But, as evidenced by my parents’ one single excursion out of the U.S. to visit me in all the years I’ve lived overseas, this international stuff isn’t for everyone. In fact, especially relief and refugee affairs isn’t really for most of ANYone. It’s a briar patch kind of thing: This is what I do. But I don’t expect it’s what you do.

So I am amazed to see that what started off as something I care about, has become something you care about too. To those of you who have sent money, and prayers, and follow this blog, thank you. It’s humbling, and a little disquieting, to know that the work we’re doing isn’t being met with ambivalence around the world.

Indeed, it has been quite the opposite.

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Yesterday O’Clock

Special Forces Sniper
This guy was dead asleep in his underwear exactly 33 seconds ago.

Doing Army stuff is awesome.  Except that it starts so early, the time is best described as “yesterday.” 

It’s not uncommon to hear (through my ears), something along the lines of “Formation at Yesterday O’Clock, soldiers!  Then we head to the range for M-16 qualifying.” 

I assume he means we will be qualifying with the rifles by the light of Orion’s belt, since that will be the major source of target illumination for the next 5 hours.

My particular training class has a group of Army Rangers in it, along with some Special Forces guys too.  They all decided to hang up the guns and take up stethoscopes as P.A.’s and pursue things in life, like hobbies and families.  As you might expect, these guys can handle Yesterday O’Clock better than anyone. 

It’s a bit mystical, really.  In our tent of 30 men, someone starts to stir at the ungodly prescribed hour, and everyone just organically follows suit.  Soon every guy in the tent is methodically working step-wise to primp themselves (Army-style, more on that later) for another dimly lit Army morning. 

Everyone except the 4 Rangers.  They stay there, still as statues, enshrouded in their sleeping bags while the tent becomes a kicked anthill of activity.  The minutes tick by, the spectre of arriving to formation suffusing the humid tent’s air. 

Maybe these Ranger guys so easily stare down scary things like being late to formation because they’ve stared down much scarier things, like death via hot shrapnel.  Whatever.  Fine. But here in our little AMEDD training world, being late to formation is scary.  And being late is easy, because it’s scheduled so freaking early, it’s yesterday o’clock.

As the appointed “time” (more of a philosophical concept, this early in the morning) approaches, a frantic rush ensues.  In desperation, we huff out to stand in our little box of humans, also called “formation.”  And guess who’s standing there, looking sharp and ready to plant a spear in a saber-tooth bear? 

The Rangers.  2 minutes ago these guys were lined up on their cots like 3-toed sloths on an ativan drip.  The rest of us have been running around for 45 minutes. 

“Where you guys been?”  One of them asks, as I run up, wild-eyed and still priffing with my uniform.  “We’ve been here since yesterday.”

Smarching

Sprinkler03
Me, spinning in formation

“1st Platoon!  Atten-SHUN!”

We all throw our shoulders back and stare straight ahead into nothing.  And we don’t move.  Leaders mill about, thinking about things, looking over their retirement accounts, playing Tetris on their phones. 

But we, the little people, just stand there.  Sweating.  Sweat runs in what feels like lightning patterns down my face.  Down my neck.  My back.  My rear…and down my legs.  I stand there taking a sweat-shower.  Spin me around fast enough and I’d fling so much water in every direction I think I could personally ease the drought problem in Texas.

“SMAAAARCH!”

Well, he actually say ‘march,’ but, really, you just can’t call it that.  No nuance.  We aren’t marching.  We’re walking around in 104 degree F heat, with sweat pouring from our bodies on par with your average Bangladeshi monsoon.  So we’re sweating.  With a little marching thrown in. 

It’s smarching.

Officer Basic Training – Day 1 (or, The Subjugation of Befuddlement)

I have left my family in Germany and successfully arrived in tepid San Antonio, TX for 28 days of training to become an officer in the U.S. Army Medical Corps (pronounced ‘core’ not ‘corpse,’ though both work pretty well).

On my flight over here, I called some in-charge guy from Oh-Hare airport in Chicago to ask him where to go when I arrived last night because I was a day early.
 
***note to friends and family who know anything about me…I showed up EARLY for something I regard as totally stupid.  Note that. Somewhere.  Just get it down for posterity somehwere.  Not just on-time.  Early.  Me.***
 
A guy actually picked up his phone when I called and told me to go to building #596, which is an Army hotel on Ft. Sam Houston. 
 
“Nice,”  I think.  “I’ll be staying there for a month.”  I take a cab from the airport to the hotel.  The cab driver drives away.  I walk up to the counter, am asked for a copy of my orders, then am told that my room is at the Holiday Inn next to the airport.
 
“I was just at the airport.”
 
“Yep.”
 
“I just paid a cab guy to get me out here.”
 
“Yep.”
 
“Thank you, so much, ma’am, for your help.  Can I have my orders back?  And, could you call me a cab…maybe even THAT GUY driving away over there who just dropped me off?”
 
She calls a cab, but not that guy.  It will be a half-hour, she says, until a cab can get here. 
 
Hmmm.  K.
 
Then, feeling Army-saavy, I ask her to COPY the copy of my orders she asked me for, and make me a few extra, AND SHE DOES!  
 
We’ve been told to come here, inexplicably, with 10 copies of the orders telling us to come here.  The need for a billion copies of paper orders is one of the many stipulations that totally befuddles me.  I am actively in the process of subjugating all sense of confusion, befuddlement, and mystification, with mixed results. 
 
But with respect to my orders, I’m making it my personal goal to leave this course with MORE copies of my orders than I arrived with.  If I get back home with more than 10 copies of my orders…I’m taking my wife to dinner or something.
 
Anyway, it’s a nice hotel, and I have to keep reminding myself that I am NOT here for the usual blah-blah conference.  For example, our day starts tomorrow at oh-430…well before the “free” breakfast I’m entitled to.  And some of the classes we’re supposed to take start at 6pm or later.  So, it ain’t a cardiology meeting in Oahu.
 
I’m in SanAntonio, in August, in a heat-wave that is about to break historic records.  So yes, it is butt-hot outside.  And I’m the kind of person who thinks PERFECT weather is overcast, rainy and 65 degrees F.  Seriously.
 
But it turns out that the heat actually doesn’t bother me, so far.  Mostly just feel like I’m back in Beer Sheva, Israel where I went to medical school.  I haven’t been running around in it yet, but so far it hasn’t really phased me.  It’s hot.  Like med school.  Who cares.
 
I met a guy at breakfast this morning who is also in the class.  Cool.  Older.  Knows stuff, like what he “makes” per day and that it’s good to bring a roll of toilet paper when we go “to the field.” 
 
As he sits there describing Army stuff, I wonder what my problem is with details and why I’m so averse to them.  He’s talking about tax-deductions for military pay or something and I’m thinking…”Kyle Orton, he’s really the guy who needs to play for Denver this year”…and…”At some point, this guy is gonna tell me how to get out of deployment AND monthly drilling and when he does, boy, I’ll be RIGHT HERE ready to pay attention…but he just said ‘requisition’ so no need to tune in yet.”
 
His name’s “Ray” and I’m extremely proud of myself that I remembered it.  I came up with “First-day Ray” and now it’s in my head forever. 
 
Ray assures me that since we’re off-post, I won’t be given a roommate.  That was an “on-post” stipulation because it was a barracks environment.  The hotel lady yesterday told me otherwise, saying that I would be getting a roommate and I had not choice in the matter and would not be allowed to pay extra for my own room. 
 
So, the jury’s out on “Ray.”  If my single room survives today…he wins.  Stud.  Fount of knowledge.  I’ll actually like him at that point.  And he won’t be placed in my category of people who talk like they know stuff but who I ignore for your own safety.
 
Having my own room is pretty cool.  I can sit here, for example, completely naked and type my little blog.  I’m NOT, actually.  It’s just that I COULD if I wanted to…which is the whole point. 
 
It’s the Manhattan Effect…the desire of millions of people to live in Manhattan so they can be near museums, shows, galleries and restaruants and theaters even though they won’t patronize even 5% of what’s available to them for the entirety of time they actually there.  It’s just that the CAN go if they want to.
 
‘s called freedom, and I’m rather partial to it. 
 
So, my own room is nice in that way.  Doesn’t sound like I’ll be in it much, though.  Class starts at 430 in the morning, and the last class starts at 7pm.  So it doesn’t really matter who’s in here.
 
And I suppose I won’t type naked anyway. I’m afraid that as the hard drive warms up, a film of sweat will form between the laptop and the actual “lap”, as it were, and the machine will short itself out in an explosion of wicked-blue electricity bolts right into an area that really should have been covered out of respect for my readers, for God’s sake, if not for my own sense of Fallen-Man shame.
 
I do have a sense of pleasant anticipation as the day gets started.  I’m like any average boy who grew up crawling around fields and forests “fighting” Nazi’s and aliens and dragons.  Already I was “ordered” to buy a pocket knife, which definitively makes this better than your average medical seminar. 
 
So as I enter day 1, I can say that if over the next 28 days there’s firing of weapons – of any kind – any choppers, night-vision goggles, topo maps, compasses, smoke, explosions, crawling on elbows and knees, face paint, knives, matches, tents, or at least 11 copies of my orders…this little month away from my family might just be worth it. 

Ode to Geoffrey (the cat)

 

Christopher Smart, by unknown artist. See sour...
Chris Smart - Wrote an Ode to...me.

Today is the birthday of the guy who wrote what is thought to be the best poem ever written about a cat.  T.S. Eliot said of Christopher Smart‘s poem this it is”to all other poems about cats what the Iliad is to poems on war.”

What really interests me about this poem is the NAME of the cat for which the greatest poem in cat-poem history was ever written.  Mine.  Spelled (sort of) like mine.  As I read the masterpiece, to my wonder and surprise, I couldn’t believe how many of the lines of the poem applied exactly to me.  Or…close, anyway.

Here’s a few lines, *AHEM!*

For the English Cats are the best in Europe. (my name is the English spelling)
For he is the cleanest in the use of his forepaws of any quadruped. (I DO wash my hands sometimes)
For the dexterity of his defense is an instance of the love of God to him exceedingly. (every time I do something coordinated, I tell those around me that they have just witnessed how much, clearly, God loves me)
For he is the quickest to his mark of any creature. (don’t MESS with me, man.  I’m too fast for you.  You want some of this?  Huh?  Do ya?)
For he is tenacious of his point. (Yep.  I am.  Just don’t even argue)
For he is a mixture of gravity and waggery. (I don’t know what ‘waggery’ is…but it sounds awesome.  So I’m that.  For sure.)
For he knows that God is his Saviour. (A cat knows this?  MY cat sure doesn’t.)
For there is nothing sweeter than his peace when at rest. (I slept through the Northridge earthquake)
For there is nothing brisker than his life when in motion. (TOO brisk, many would say)
For he is of the Lord’s poor, and so indeed is he called by benevolence perpetually — Poor (look at my debt-income ratio…it ain’t pretty)
For his tongue is exceeding pure so that it has in purity what it wants in music. (I only stick my tongue out at people who might be able to appreciate such purity)
For he is docile and can learn certain things. (I think this line was lifted straight from my 3rd grade report card…sans the “docile” part)
For he can sit up with gravity, which is patience upon approbation. (I don’t know what all those words mean, but sure I’m that too.  I can sit up if I plan it out first)
For he can fetch and carry, which is patience in employment. (wife might agree with the ‘fetch’ and ‘carry’ part).
For he can jump over a stick, which is patience upon proof positive. (a LOW stick)
For he can spraggle upon waggle at the word of command.  (dude, don’t even mess with my spraggle)
For he can jump from an eminence into his master’s bosom.  (if by ‘master’ he means wife…then we’re talkin)

Health Report – Mickey Mouse

Our family just returned from Disneyland Paris.  We had a great time.  As a doctor, however, I just couldn’t ignore the many health problems clearly evident in the thousands of images I saw of the world’s most famous mouse.

Fictional characters on the Hollywood Walk of Fame

I can say with confidence that this will be the first and only time that I publish the health record of a patient without his/her consent.  But then again, I’m not even sure this little rodent was my patient at all.  Furthermore, I can’t vouch for my physical exam of our storied mouse – given his rather cavalier take on the idea of ‘physical’ – but I do believe we should all be alarmed at the probable health status of our big-eared friend.

Of greatest concern is what can only be described as HUGE feet.  Unfortunately, this does not suggest enviable male endowment, as it is sometimes rumored in those with enormous paws.  Rather, these feet are swollen.  A close look at most pictures of this patient suggest that he in fact can’t wear shoes at all, but instead some sort of stretchy slipper.

The illustration shows the major signs and sym...
I Kept Seeing This Instead Of Enjoying Space Mountain

The best explanation for feet this swollen is congestive heart failure.  This is a situation where the heart has pumped against a dysfunctional circulatory vessel pressure for so long that the muscle fibers have becomes stretched out and weak.  Eventually, the heart becomes incapable of pushing blood around the body effectively, causing pooling of fluids in the extremities, especially the feet.  Judging by the thousands of pictures of him, most drawings were likely done after this patient had been on his feet all day.  Let’s face it, an 80 year old mouse can only walk around smiling waving at kids for so long before problems arise.

CHF is progressive (meaning it just gets worse over time).  Elizabeth Taylor just died from this, for example.  Mick could use any of a number of meds to lower his blood pressure, and (arguable, these days) something to strengthen the contractions of whatever functioning heart muscle fibers he still has.  He should also go with low-salt cheese, lean scraps and whatever else a billionaire mouse might eat.

The little guy also has disturbingly white hands.  Leaving aside the perplexing question of how a rodent has human hands (and feet), what we’re probably seeing here is Reynaud’s phenomenon.

In itself, this is a circulatory system peculiarity that is not medically-concerning.  However, it can be very painful.  Mickey appears to be in the early stages of the process.  Likely shortly after his portrait sittings, his hands turned bright blue, then eventually into a deep red.  Throughout the process, he would be in quite a bit of pain.

Of course, I can’t be sure if he isn’t wearing gloves (assuming that garish white color IS his skin, frequent glove use makes sense).  Gloved or not, we still have the problem of clearly HUGE hands, suggesting edema like that described above in his feet.  Assuming, however, that we do in fact have Reynaud’s here, the concern is of an autoimmune disease in the category of lupus.  “Lupus” is a reference to the facial rash often seen in the disease and how it mimics the fur-pattern of the red wolf.  Given that wolves engorge themselves on mice whenever possible, this diagnosis is insult to injury for our poor little entertainer.

Furthermore, lupus typically causes joint and connective tissue pain.  It can lead to heart problems, anemia, serious lung problems including emboli and hemorrhages, kidney damage and neurological problems.  There is no known cure, although the disease can be managed usually to good effect with oral steroids (not of the Lance Armstrong type…we’ll get to that), but the Mickster here clearly needs to get them started.

Mickey Mouse Bus
On The Way to Rehab?

Next, the rotund belly.  This is the physical sign most associated with diabetes and other metabolic diseases (or could be another sign of his CHF).  Termed by doctors as “central obesity,” this malady affects a HUGE proportion of American men, especially.  To our knowledge, little else puts a person more at risk for big metabolic problems.  Mickey lives at Disneyland, where he can expect to eat things like spun sugar, rock candy-encased apples (I presume of the sort that felled Ms. S. White) and shovel-fulls of sweetened popcorn.  So, as a nearly 90 year-old mouse, he can be forgiven the “Gaston Gut,” as it were.  Still, a strict diet is highly recommended.

Another thing:  look carefully, and you’ll realize that Mickey’s head is larger than his entire thorax (body sans legs).  Babies exhibit this phenomenon – watch a toddler reach overhead…only the hands extend beyond the giant head itself – but adults don’t.  Mickey may have been born with something called hydrocephaly that was inexplicably untreated for 80 years.  Maybe he was too busy as a child prodigy mouse, or maybe everyone thought it was “cute.”  He may also be suffering from Cushings, an overabundance of the steroid cortisol.  He has some other physical signs to support that diagnosis too.

Lance Armstrong and John Korioth in the team t...
THESE Guns Don't Come With Serial Numbers

But he also could be doping.  By doping, I specifically mean HGH, or human growth hormone.  Lots of athletes do (or did) it, like Barry Bonds (yep, I passed judgement…don’t care about some goofy trial) and probably Lance Armstrong.  Here a note to Armstrong supporters:  almost EVERY top-5 pro cyclist, and every one of Lance’s main competitors over his winning years, has been busted for doping of some sort.  Except him.  Savvy, not legitimacy, I say.

Anyway, HGH makes you huge, but it can disporportionately affect the bones, especially in the head.  Of note, HGH isn’t bad in itself, per se.  It stimulates muscle growth in a way that can be very helpful to geriatric patients, for example.  And, as with many Hollywood elites, The Mickster shows his age about as much as Dick Clark who looks 40 but was actually personal friends with Moses.  So, I think Mickey can be forgiven for taking a shot or two from the possible fountain of youth.  But, unfortunately, that HUGE noggin gives it away…to me at least.

So, let me say that DisneyLand was a great adventure for our 4 kids.  I, however, kept getting dragged into unnecessary endeavors like rides or shows even as I frantically searched high and low my latest, and sickest, patient.  Sadly, I never had a chance to warn him of his predicament.  So, the onus is now on you, dear SW101 nation.  Find him.  Tell him.  He’s sick.  He needs help.

Next Week: Goofy comes out of the closet and reveals that he has Marfan’s Disease…and everyone pretends to be surprised.

XBox – A Medical Necessity

“Dr. SW101,” Says the curly-haired assistant, “will you sign this memo.”

I don’t look up.  As usual, I don’t read the memo, reaching for the closest pen and signing as fast as possible.  I look up at him, smiling cheerfully.  “What’d I just authorize?”

This is a photo of my Xbox
Image via Wikipedia

 

“Oh, you just told General Forth that the unit has medical need for 6 additional XBoxes.”

I pause, wondering why I’m so morally opposed to all paperwork that I can’t bring myself to even look at paperwork unless I absolutely have to.

“Xbox,”  I say, brows furrowing.  “Do you get ’em at the pharmacy?”

“No!”  He says, cloyingly earnest.  “You’re SO funny, Dr. SW101.  You should write a blog!”

“I do.”  I say, feeling sardonic, looking dour.  I reach for Volume I of Harrison’s Internal Medicine.  I lick a thumb and start flipping through the thousand-page tome.  “Hmmmm, Xbox.  Nope.  Nothing here.”

Assistant waits dutifully, no doubt inwardly rolling his eyes while clutching his well-typed letterheaded memo, with my signature still drying at the bottom.

“OH!  Right.  I’m only in Volume I.  Stupid me.  I should be in Volume II, where the X’s are.”  I pause.  “Just a minute,” I say, reaching for the second book.  A few minutes of earnest searching, “Nooh.  Darn.  I just don’t see anything talking about how XBox is an accepted therapy for anything.  Not even my favorite disease of all time – mitochondrial infectitis.”

“You’re kidding, right?”  He says, now looking worried.  “We can get the Red Cross to buy XBoxes for the unit if you say they’re medically warranted.”

“So, my patients – most of whom have seizure disorders, PTSD and post-combat anxiety – can sit around all day blowing each other up and staring at flickering lights?  Maybe I should prescribe a Rave too, so we can add drugs to the strobe lights.  Or would they be used for the Xbox version of Myst or something?”

Regions of the brain affected by PTSD and stress.
Bzzzt. What I need is some rapidly blinking lights and simulated death right now.

 

Assistant gets all serious, fearing the loss of his beloved memo.  He starts reading some of the Pulitzer Prize material, “Gaming has become a central element to the Soldier’s past time.  When they return from war zones, the lifelike quality of the Xbox combat games approximate the environment they just left.  For many, this represents a “return” to their former lives, thus producing a sense of calm and reassurance.”

“I said that?!”  I exclaim, eyes wide.  “What kind of crap-pile hash was I smokin’ when I wrote that letter?”

“Oh, huh.  Um.  Well, if you didn’t notice…I wrote it.”  Says the assistant, looking dejected.

Short of tearing the letter out of his hands, and no doubt derailing an already fast-moving train with lots of passengers, I know I’m on the hook.

“Ok.  You win.  Xboxes all around!  On me.”

Relief, profusion, gagging urgency and more of that I-want-to-help-soldiers-but-won’t-listen-to-reason earnestness.  “Oh, THANK you!  Man, you have no idea what this will mean to the guys.”

“Can we just agree that you got me to sign yet another of those goofy Army things where you’re not really asking for medical opinion but if I sign the memo about 25 people will have busy stuff to do and somebody somewhere will get something to further the impression that they’re entitled to things that the average American pays for?”

“Um.  Sure.”

“Can we further agree that Xbox is not an accepted medical therapy for anything?

“Yep.”  Confidence growing…clearly the doctor is too weak to actually stop any administrative freight trains now.

“Fine.  You have your memo.”

He turns to leave.  Then turns back, “Oh, and about that memo for the massage chairs…”

But I don’t hear him.  I’ve crawled under my desk, looking for the Lost Thumbtack.  I don’t “find” the thing until I hear my door open and close.  Carefully I look up….he’s standing there, hand on the doorknob.  He’s smiling, one of those serious smiles that makes perfectly clear that nobody’s fooling anybody.  “Find your thumbtack?”

I sigh.  The sound is tired in my ears.  “Yes.  But I just tossed another one down there to go look for later.”  He doesn’t say anything.  “Yeah, the massage chairs.  Bring me the memo.  Until then, take this script-” I scribble onto a piece of paper.

He crossed the room and takes the script from my hand, smiling.

Massage Chair
1, bid.  Do not swallow.

 

Interview with A Virus

SW101: I’m sitting here today with Herpes Simplex Virus, type 2.  It has agreed to answer a few questions for SW101 Nation.  Thanks for joining us today, um, is it…Mr. Simplex?

HSV: “Mr.” Simplex.  Sure.  I’ll go with that.  (rolls eyes, muttering “humans”).

SW101:  Tell me, what do you regard as some of your greatest accomplishments, to date?

Mr. Simplex: We’re awesome, basically.  We like to consider ourselves ubiquitous, yet cosmopolitan.  We are particularly fond of the human idea of “make love, not war.”  mmMM.  Huge for us, that one.

SW101:  Ubiquitous?

Transmission electron micrograph of herpes sim...
Self-Portrait: Mr. Herpes

 

Mr. Simplex:  You got an ulcer on your nether-parts after a groovy night wearing nothing but beer goggles?  Probably us.  Any version of sexually active with any version of human being (we don’t like animals)?  Excellantae!  30% chance we’ll be right there with you.  Me and my posse are hanging out with 30-45 MILLION Americans.  And that just in the, ah, “middle” parts of the human landscape.  We got some cousins who live in the windy North quite happily.  We cross paths from time to time.

SW101:  Wow.  Qute a party.

Simplex: Yep.  And we’re inviting picking up around 300,000 new groupies every year.

SW101:  How’s that?

Simp:  We’re launching out all over the atmosphere much more often than people realize.  Those blistery sores we cause?  Well call ’em “pleasure domes,” referring to what they do for us as well as how our gracious hosts acquired them in the first place.  Anyway, we don’t just blast out from the popping penile blisters.  Usually, we send out early drones before the sore even forms.  We’re terribly proud of this tactic.

SW101:  Soo, when does the ‘party’ end?

Simplex:  That’s the best part.  Pretty much never.

SW101:  Like, never?

Simplex:  Oh sure, we take a break sometimes.  Lots of times, actually.  We hide most of the time.  But once we’re in a body, we don’t really ever leave.

SW101:  What do you hide from?

Simp:  There’s two things we don’t like in this world, and the Great White Army is the main one.

SW101:  Um, you refer to Tsar Ivan III‘s anti-Bolshevik Imperial Russian Army in the 1920’s?

Electron microscopic image of a single human l...
Human Lymphocyte. Non-friend to HSV's everywhere (everywhere it thinks to look, that is)

 

Simp:  What?!  What kind of freak-show wonk are you?  No!  The human immune system.  All the cells in that army are white.  Or clear.  Or something.  Scary, those guys.  They can blow us up, eat us, chew us up, spit out pieces of us so their comrades can eat the rest of us…it’s disgusting, really.  It’s like a bad horror movie.  Ugh!  Look at that picture of the immune cell!  Don’t you have any shame?  I didn’t walk in here holding up pictures of car accidents, or guys who accidentally fell into meat grinders, did I?  Why don’t we just sit around and ponder Charles Manson, and all his fabulous exploits?  Oh, actually, that guy was pretty good for us, as I recall.

Anyway, where was I?  (fans self, leans back weakly).  Oh yes, when it’s up and running full-bore, the human immune system it a giant headache for us.  We try to lay low.  No sense in getting our heads knocked off.  The good news is that it gets stretched pretty thin trying to cover all the problems that come up in those unnecessarily complex organisms of yours.  It’s pretty easy to come out and play once the person is stressed, sick, too hot or cold or with some disease that naturally keeps the White Army back in the barracks, so to speak.

SW101:  So, you hide in the nerves, right?

Mr. Simplex:  (looks left and right conspiratorially) Yep.  Broadly speaking.  This is the secret to our survival, by the way.  Our lair.  Your nerves.

SW101:  And, specifically?

Simplex:  Well, you guys have no hope of actually finding us, so I’ll just go ahead and tell you.  My guys hang out in the roots of the nerves that extend from the sacrum.  S2-5, usually.  In the ganglion.  It’s nice there.  Our version of what you’d call waterfront property, I’d imagine.  Our cousins hang out in similar nerves in the face.

SW101:  You mentioned two things you don’t like, what’s the other?

Simplex:  Condoms.  We hate ’em.

SW101:  That bad, huh?  Your great nemesis?

Simplex:  Well, actually, our relationship to them is a bit complicated.  Maybe like Ariel Sharon vs. Yassir Arafat.

SW101:  Surely you’re referring to the Israeli-Palestinian former leaders…both dead now?

Yasser Arafat at 'From Peacemaking to Peacebui...
Ariel Sharon thinks I'm a punk. I told him the feeling was mutual over tea this afternoon.

 

Simplex:  Dead?  Really?  I don’t think we had anything to do with that.  We try not to kill our hosts…bad for real estate, as you can imagine.  But yeah, them.  They hated each other, but at the same time, they created lots of business for each other too.  Get it?  People don’t like using condoms, for some reason.  But those that do are WAY lax about concerning themselves with us.  Since we don’t just hang out in areas covered by those suffocating, smothering latex udders, we get around pretty well when condoms are in the mix.  People jump into their illicit affairs, thinking they’re safe…and forget to ask anything about us.

So, it’s a love-hate thing.  Overall, condoms are probably pretty good for business.

SW101: So, you hate condoms.  What do you love?

Simples:  Promiscuity.  We’re BFF’s.  Make love, not war, dude.  Preferably, don’t even look down at what you’re doing.

It’s not personal, by the way.  We’re just doing what we are meant to do…which is reproduce.  Everyone who is living with us now should understand that.  It’s one big happy family of organisms doing what they were meant to do…mate, and reproduce.  It’s natural.  When you’re mating…so are we.  All I can say is, sorry for the inconvenience.

It’s Not Just Sex

A good approximation of how sex and intimacy is regarded by the U.S. Armed Forces can be summed up in the phrase I heard recently: “If you needed a wife…we’da issued you one.”

These days, the U.S. Army is perhaps the most chaste and constrained military organization on planet earth.  No drinking on duty, no sex, no pillaging, no cavorting…and go easy on the damn swear words.

Contrast this with the Russian Army, and German, which frequently serves beer with lunch; the harder stuff after dinner.  And numerous armies – no joke – provide prostitutes to their deployed troops.  Effectively, a little mini-platoon comprised of practitioners of the world’s oldest profession gets sent to war zones right along with the soldiers.  No doubt this idea  is regarded by these armies as a Godzillian leap up the ladder of human rights.  In the past, when victorious they just raped the women (and men) of their vanquished quarry.  At times, a veritable sexual bonanza was promised as the leading incentive to engage in vicious battle in the first place.

Members of the U.S. Armed Forces by contrast, seem expected to never have sex of any kind.  If sexual organs didn’t come already attached to the bodies of their troops, I’m rather certain the Army would have confiscated all tissue related to human reproduction – and especially the related pleasures of it – on the first day of basic training, relegating every appendage to iron storage boxes next to the gold bars in Fort Knox.  “You can have your clitoris back after your 20, soldier.  Until then, kill stuff.  And like it.”

I’m a happily-married, loyal-to-death-do-us-part, honest-to-a-fault type of husband who, with the perfectly understandable exceptions of Rachel McAdams and Jennifer Connely, can provide infinite assurances to his wife that she has minimal reason to fear infidelity (in kind, if she ever meets Johnny Depp in a smoky, sultry, bean-baggy, beatnik bar…she has my blessing).  That said, I think the “Hooker Platoon” is a great idea.  Presumably, said professionals are well-paid, in control of their lives, and free of drugs.  Like it or not, humans are sexual beings and they go about obtaining it in a myriad of ways.  Might as well make it safe, fair, protected and consensual, even if questionably moral.

But what about the ones who aren’t deployed?  Or the ones who, by choice, remain celibate as they await – with admirable fidelity – their dear lover back home?  What about the people who have returned from over a year’s deployment, waay beyond ready to re-start a healthy, loving sexual relationship with their spouses?

Unfortunately, many soldiers return from war zones with major emotional and physical damage – and major problems having sex.  PTSD, insomnia, chronic pain, depression and anxiety all affect sexual ability.  And these problems are like cockroaches…if you have one, you probably have others.  Worse, the meds used to treat the above problems often severely inhibit sexual function too.  Am I the only one who sees the Faustian irony in “You can be happy…OR you can have sex.  Not both.  Your choice.”  For many (including me), that choice is an oxymoron…emphasis on moron.

While not always the problem, erectile dysfunction is one of the more common issues I deal with.  Given the ubiquitous commercials displaying medically-enhanced virile men, one would think ED wouldn’t be such a problem.  And it is true…a pill can solve the problem sometimes.  Cool, right?  A nice, easy fix.  The problem is that sex is considered by the Army to be something of a sport.  Golf, but morally suspect and generally distrusted.  As if to clarify their position, one of the more odd policies I’ve seen is the meet-you-1/20th-of-the-way idea of providing 6 pills of Levitra per month for up to 3 months for erectile dysfunction.  6.  For 3 months.  Then…good luck.

But 6 pills?  A month?  I know they’re expensive – something like 10 bucks a pill – but who came up with a number like that?  Was he (or she…or it) ever in a loving, happy sexual relationship?  Had it already donated the entirety of its copulation gear to NORAD for weapons testing?  Turns out the decision comes from the Department of Defense.  Yep.  The guys buying fiber-plated bombers and infra-red rifle sights and inventing bombs that suck your inner organs out through your maxillary sinus, are also the ones who decided that 6 sexual encounters a month should keep the average couple happy.

Truth is, for many of my returning soldiers, sex and intimacy isn’t simply a nice addition to their lives after over a year of living in austerity.  It is life.  This seems to be especially true of the committed, married soldiers I work with.  Their marriage, and the love they share within it, is often the only salve on wounds that cover their bodies and souls.  Imagine falling into the yearning arms of your wife after 15 months alone, after encountering horrors on the battlefield you will never describe, only to have to say you’re sorry, you just aren’t the same as you were…even as a lover.

A patient recently said to me (to paraphrase), “My wife and I LOVE to have sex, doc.  It’s an every day thing, if not two or three times a day.  At least, that’s how it was.  Now we spend most of the time we would have spent in bed – or in the kitchen, or in the microwave, or in the neighbor’s tool shed, or on top of the dresser, or under the aquarium, or in the chimney, or dressed up as Tonto and the short curly-haired lady from Cheers – with a counselor, trying to figure out what’s wrong with me.”

Most (not all) healthy, vital, loving relationships are comprised of sex more than just once a week with an occasional “two-fer” on the weekend.  Especially if one of the partners has been gone for over a year.  If returning injured soldiers have anything to look forward to, for many of them it’s their longsuffering, waiting, pent-up, willing spouse.  Divorce is a catastrophe, especially when it’s between a broken soldier and the person who typically is the last one standing in their corner when the world is running down.  Seems to me that we could forgo a couple of those useless air-to-air combat fighters everyone’s arguing about and use the money to give these soldiers as many nights of intimate bliss as we possibly can.

Movie Review – Avatar

I enjoyed myself fully last night as I entered the world of ‘Avatar’, James Cameron’s new sci-fi epic that already handily broke a 1 billion-dollar landmark record of some kind.  I’d watch the show again tonight if I could.  I’d probably watch it every night for a week like my high school buddies did for “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure” once upon a time.

You don’t have to care – or understand – the point of the movie to completely enjoy the stunning visual spectacle presented in wide-screen, 3D wonder.  In fact, I’d advise constraining yourself specifically to the visual effects and skip putting any real thought to the message of the movie.  In essence, just sing along with the song, but don’t think about what the words actually mean.

The story follows an ex-Marine named Jake as he becomes part of a mission to subjugate – or at least translocate – the natives on a strange new planet (a moon actually, but does it matter?).  On the n0t-so-subtly-named Pandora, the “aliens” congregate around an enormous tree set in the middle of a seemingly endless forest.  They stand about 11 feet tall, with blue skin and luminous yellow eyes and they all seem to carry bow and arrows and daggers.  These blue and tall but otherwise disappointingly human-shaped beings generally seem happiest when attending their frequent tribe-wide drum fests – with a terminally simplistic 2/4 beat rhythm that sounds like it might have been pounded out on cool Senegalese drums the Anglo orchestra bought in bulk.

These earthy aliens have a sacred, mystical, spiritual connection to the forest where they live; generally behaving like any nature-loving tribe the Europeans successfully decimated a little over a century ago in North America.  In a complete creative hiatus, at one point nature is even called a “mother”.  Why not a father, or brother, or just skip the nuclear family reference to nature entirely?  The descriptor ‘Mother Earth’ is so unoriginal, it ranks up there with Bless You and Dot Com.

Although 2 hours and something like 40 minutes, you can easily sum up the movie in one phrase: “Dances With Wolves”…but with pterodactyls you can ride.

Basically – Marine makes contact with natives through project financed by aggressive and ethics-challenged Big Business company.  Marine plans on helping his financiers destroy said natives.  Instead, he inadvertently falls in love with natives in general, and one curvaceous native in particular.  He then becomes the enemy of his former bosses, ultimately leading the meek, dumb, dark-skinned simpletons to victory over superior white man.

I haven’t decided if this REALLY tired theme of the White Male swooping down into a primitive race, seeing their genuine good, and then becoming their Great Savior is completely racist.  Some are saying it absolutely is.  I don’t really think that was the intent.  I just think it was lazy writing by a white male who deep-down believes that white men are still the best hope for the world.  That they still run it, ultimately.  But it is possible that white men really don’t have much to offer the world anymore – that we’ve had our time and made our mark.  Maybe it’s time for some non-white, non-men to run the countries, write the laws, own the companies and save fictional worlds.  Maybe the white boy has done about all he can.

Big Business takes a major hit in this movie.  It gets portrayed as the denizen of all Evil in life.  That said, it’s Big Business that has paid for every iota of scientific discovery that has occurred on Pandora.  The science taking place on this moon (and taking place on our earth) is an elevated form of existence, no question, but in both worlds it mostly exists because of Big Business, either directly or through taxes.  Scientists – and artists – need to accept the fact that to live in that enlightened world of thought and wonder and possibility depends on their benefactor’s mundane ability to sell widgets.  Big Business is rarely genuinely evil.  True, figuring out when to inject some profit-endangering humanistic principles into a business plan does takes some skill and is occasionally gotten wrong. But for the most part, if business didn’t make the poet, at least it feeds him.

The actual “avatar” is a living being made to look like the aliens, but controlled by the mind of a human.  The human links to the avatar neurologically, so it can only be controlled by one specific human.  Thus, the human lies in a coffin-like body-pod that connects him/her to their specific avatar.  Upon falling into a coma in the pod, the avatar wakes up and the mind of the comatose human controls it.

Soohh...who gets to clean this thing?

The doc in me couldn’t help but get hung up on this part of the movie.  First, all humans need to sleep.  But since the avatar wakes up as soon as the human “sleeps”, and since controlling the avatar is a conscious process, the human never actually does sleep.  For some evolutionary reason I can’t fathom, REM sleep is the foundation of all life.  This inconvenient fact defies even the mighty pen of James Cameron.  By the end of the movie, after staying awake vicariously with the characters, I felt like I’d been on call in the hospital for days on end (felt like I was back in residency again).

Also, the human lays in this coffin thing for hours and hours.  At the least, he’s gotta pee himself on a regular basis, to say nothing of the inevitable bowel movement here and there.  Plus, the main character’s avatar hooks up with the sexy female alien.  Depicted as the first consummating night of an eternal love bond – thus likely a multicoital affair – envisioning the scene (and smell) inside the pod after this particular night left me a bit squeamish.

As mentioned, the power of this movie is in the visuals.  It is a “looker” many times over.  But the general message is tired, probably slightly racist, and denigrates the U.S. Military (or at least leads the audience to exult in the widespread slaughter of American soldiers/mercenaries).  That said, perhaps our culture really should take the main theme of the story to heart.  After all, we DID decimate the Native American culture, and based on my experiences on the Crow Reservation in Montana, I’d say we continue to.  We’re also strikingly obtuse in our dealings with tribal cultures in the Middle East today.  Listening to people from a different culture – rather than melting them with daisycutters and circling drones – has some merit.

But I do wish the movie had added a little post-modernism into the mix and eschewed the evil-good idea altogether.  It didn’t have to pit the American Axis of Evil (big business + U.S. Army) against a pristine tribal culture practically perfect in every way.  Historic Native American tribes were often duplicitous, aggressive, thieving and hateful (many still are today).  They rarely trusted each other from tribe to tribe and may have been just as irresponsible had one tribe attained the raw power that the U.S. Government currently has.  The Arab tribes we’re tangling with recently have a litany of faults and cobwebby dark corners too.  But they are also a just, priceless, sacred, honorable people.  This dichotomy exists in virtually every race in our world.  Americans seem to hate this complexity in our fiction – it’s easier to hate one thing and love another and then watch them duke it out.

Yeah, YEAH! Die lame-oh Americans! Wait, didn't an American make this movie?

Thus, the conflict in the movie could have been between two parties filled with faults and frailties but ultimately imbued with genuine honor, honesty and a respect for the rights of others.  Standing between them is something they both deeply need and want (trees, mineral ore…whatever).  In life, conflicts almost always boil down to two parties who both have blood on their hands, but both are essentially good, honorable…and in the right.  e.g., Palestine wants the land, Israel wants the land, both have been evil at times, both have been angelically good at times, and each have some form of legitimate claim to the exact space of real estate.  Stick that conundrum in your avatar’s virtual peace pipe and take a deep drag, nature-brother.

Depicting this nuanced world may have weakened the sense of righteous rage as the Army went Operation Flatten Everything.  It may have lessened the gloating release when the Ultimate Bad Guy finally met his ignominious end.  But it would have made a better movie.  It would have made the written story as complex as those fantastic visuals, and created a worthy counterpart to such a sparkling, wondrous vision.