Thursday, April 20, 2017

Breakthroughs

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“Whoomp! (There it is)---Gibson & Glenn

 

When we were kids, things moved slowly.  The elementary school term lasted forever and so did the baseball season.  Once baseball was over, it was an eternity until it started up again.  Same thing for Christmas.  The only thing which did not take forever was the three month Summer break from classes, which flew by in what seemed like a couple of weeks.  Nobody worried about getting old since it took an unimaginable amount of time to get there.

Things didn’t change much when we were kids, and that was okay by us.  We knew what depressing subjects we’d be learning the next year in school and we’d been amply warned by the older kids what horrors awaited from the new nun.   The President was Franklin D. Roosevelt, who had been Chief Executive forever and probably always would be.  The trains ran on time and so did the buses.  Meat and potatoes were on the menu every night, except for fish on Fridays.  In the Summer, our parents would occasionally drive to Glennie’s ice cream stand.  On weekends, there were visits to Canobie Lake or Salisbury Beach, or to visit the relatives in Gloucester or Connecticut.  If we went to the former, Mary Tetoni would be making spaghetti.  They didn’t know about other foods in Gloucester.

When we were kids, everyone got chicken pox and measles and maybe mumps, if you weren’t lucky.  I used to wonder about these disease names.  Where the hell did “chicken pox” come from?  And what the heck is a mump?  The mothers would warn us about whooping cough, another odd one, but nobody ever caught it.  We didn’t worry much about getting all these things because it happened to everyone and nobody died.  We did worry about one thing because our parents never let us forget it, equating the disease with near-death, and advising us of hundreds of ways we might get it: the bone-chilling, body-mangling, life-threatening monster called POLIO.  It even nailed the President.  If Polio could catch up with FDR, everybody was fair game.

Advice, good and silly, was rampant.  “Don’t go in the Spicket River or you’ll get Polio.  Stay out of crowds.  Don’t let flies land on you.  Don’t eat carbohydrates or red licorice.”  Infantile Paralysis—Polio’s respectable monicker---was on the prowl.  And when it struck, you were doomed to permanent paralysis of the limbs, usually the lower ones, and perhaps even the respiratory muscles, resulting in death.  Truth be told, 95% of persons infected with Polio showed no symptoms, up to 8% suffered only fever, fatigue, nausea, headaches, flu-like symptoms, stiffness in the neck and back and pain in the limbs, which usually resolved completely.  But nobody told us about those people.  We just heard about the disasters, of which there were plenty.  And then one day in 1955, out of nowhere, a man named Jonas Salk showed up with a vaccine which wiped Polio right off the map.  It seemed impossible.  It was like the Red Sox had won the pennant.  We were suddenly introduced to a completely new concept.  The Breakthrough.  Fortunately for us, these miracles kept on coming.  Here’s what happened in 2016:

 

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1.  Somewhere, Chubby Checker Is Smiling

Stroke victims who expected to be paralized or wheelchair-bound for the rest of their lives are happily motivatin’ around, thanks to a groundbreaking event at a California university hospital.  Doctors at Stanford found 18 optimistic patients who let them drill holes in their skulls, the better to inject stem cells into the damaged parts of their brains.  All of them, patients whose strokes had occurred between six months and three years previously, made remarkable recoveries.  They’re twisting again, like they did last Summer, or perhaps the Summer before that.  Historically, doctors have believed that the brain will no longer regenerate after six months.

 

2.  We’ve Got The Fever!  We’re Hot!  We Can’t Be Stopped!

At Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, a middle-aged quadriplegic agreed to let doctors place two silicon recording implants in his brain.  Smaller than a postage stamp, they bristle with a hundred hair-sized metal probes that can “listen” as neurons fire off commands.  The Case team, led by Robert Kirsch and Bolu Ajiboye, also slid more than 16 fine electrodes into the muscles of the volunteer’s arm and hand.  In videos of the experiment, the man can be seen slowly raising his arm with the aid of a spring-loaded arm rest and willing his hand to open and close.  He even raises a cup with a straw to his lip.  The Case results, pending publication in a medical journal, are part of a broader effort to use implanted electronics to restore various senses and abilities.  Besides treating paralysis, scientists hope to use so-called neural prosthetics to reverse blindness with chips placed in the eye and maybe restore memories lost to Alzheimer’s disease. 

 

3.  Meet M&M---The World’s First Artificial Pancreas

Here’s some great news: 29.1 million people in the United States have diabetes.  That’s 9.3% of the population, pardner.  And potato chip sales are up.  It looks like a long and a dusty road ahead.  But since a large number of U.S. citizens are determined to eat their way to oblivion, help from the medical community is on the way.  In September of 2016, the finicky old Food and Drug Administration approved the world’s first artificial pancreas for people with type 1 diabetes.  His name is MiniMed 670G and he was created by Medtronic.  You might want to buy some stock.  The device, which was approved for candidates 14 and up, measures a patient’s blood glucose every five minutes using a sensor with a protruding needle which is slipped under the skin to measure insulin levels, while a pump worn on the abdomen delivers insulin as needed.  This setup could dramatically reduce instances of hypoglycemia and greatly improve the quality of life of type 1 diabetics, relieving the need to constantly check blood sugar throughout the day.

Friends and families of pancreatic cancer victims wondered if there might be some good news for them in the bargain.  In a word, no.  Here’s a tip for you: don’t get pancreatic cancer.  The one-year survival rate is 20% and the five-year rate is 7%.  That 7% must be hiding in an oxygen bar in Montana because we haven’t seen any of them.  All of our pancreatic cancer friends die and they don’t take long doing it.  You’d be better off getting blown up by a land mine, they have spare parts for arms, legs and ears.  Nobody’s coming down the street with a boxful of replacement pancreata.  In this case, the term “artificial pancreas” is a little misleading.  However, things may be improving a bit on the pancreatic cancer front.  The folks at MIT and Massachusetts General Hospital are revolutionizing some cancer treatments by making localized drug delivery a reality.  Powerful new drugs are available to treat pancreatic cancer but until now nothing has been done to change the antiquated way they were delivered to patients.  The Massachusetts alliance is embedding drugs into devices that are flexible enough that they can be folded and fit into a catheter, enabling doctors to implant them directly on top of the tumors with minimally invasive surgery.  They are solid enough that once they are positioned atop the tumors, they will act as a cage, physically preventing the tumors from entering other organs and controlling metastasis.  Sounds like a plan.  Next time you see a cancer researcher marching through your local airport, give him a pat on the back and thank him for his service.

 

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Chaitanya (Butch) Karamchedu saving the world, one problem at a time

 

4.  Highschool Kid Ditches Phys Ed, Converts Seawater Into Drinkable Water 

At Jesuit High School in Portland, Oregon, the teachers require that students submit a science project.  Some kids think this is a good opportunity to teach their peers how to construct a still.  Fella named Chaitanya Karamchedu took his seriously.  He decided to come up with an innovative way to convert salt water into the drinkable stuff using polymer.  The basis of this new method contains two observations: (a) 100% of seawater is not fully saturated with salt, ergo there are water bodies within seas and oceans which are very close to being drinkable, and (b) traditional desalination involves understanding of bonding with water molecules, but the key is just the opposite—understanding chemical bonding with salt instead of water.

Jesuit High School biology teacher Dr. Lara Shamieh said “People have been looking at the problem from one viewpoint---how do we break the bonds between salt and water?  Chai came in and thought about it from a completely different angle.”  He focused on the 90% of seawater which is not bonded with salt and introduced a new approach to solving the water crisis.  The process is allegedly cheap and accessible to everyone.  Karamchedu won himself a $10,000 award from the U.S. Agency for International Global Development and another financial prize at MIT’s TechCon Conference, presumably to continue his research.  But Chai the Kid is already branching out into other areas.  “These days he’s thinking about ways of killing cancer cells from the inside out,” reports Shamieh.  “I keep telling him to remember his high school biology teacher when he wins the Nobel Prize.” 

 

5.  Is There An Alzheimer’s Answer?  Give Us A Moment To Think About It.

Oh, that’s right.  Scientists have come up with an antibody drug called---are you ready?---Aducanumab.  We’re not sure but we think it may be named for Dave Aducanumab, who used to play first for the Phillies.  Anyway, the A-drug looks like the real deal.  Patients treated with Aducanumab experienced an almost complete clearance of the amyloid plaques that prevent brain cells from communicating, thus leading to irreversible memory loss and cognitive decline.  After six months of the treatment, patients ceased deteriorating.  If shown to be as effective in larger trials, the first drug to prevent dementia could be available in just a few years.

“The results of this clinical study make us optimistic that we can potentially make a great step forward in treating the disease,” said Professor Roger Nitsch at the Institute for Regenerative Medicine at the University of Zurich.  “In the high dose group, the amyloid has almost completely disappeared.  The effect size of this drug is unprecedented.”

Not only does the new study suggest a treatment for the disease, but it clearly illustrates that the buildup of amyloid plaque is almost certainly the cause.  Aducanumab is a treatment made up of antibodies, tiny y-shaped proteins that latch on to dangerous substances in the body, acting like flags, showing the immune system what to clear away.  Scientists tested various human immune cells with amyloid in a lab until they found one which produced an antibody which broke up the plaques.  They then cloned it in large numbers for the new therapy, which is given intravenously just once a month.

Now that we’ve got that cleared up, let’s move on to the really important stuff:

 

6.  Is There Hair Yet?

Almost.  Those wily Japanese are cooking up something to relieve the heartbreak of alopecia as we speak.  About time, too.  There are currently 54 million baldies in the United States, men outnumbering women two to one.  If you haven’t noticed any of these 18 million bald women, that’s because their wigs are so much better than ours.

Anyway, the scientists at RIKEN, Japan’s largest research organization, have teamed up with two Japanese companies, Kyocera and Organ Technologies, to develop a cure based on regenerative medicine.  Racing to catch up are the hair scientists at the Sanford-Burham Medical Research Institute in California and Replicel Life Sciences in Canada.  The latter promises hair to one and all by 2018 for a piffling cost of $1000.  Where do I go to get in line?

Hair follicles are the sheaths of cells and tissues that surround the roots of our hair, providing it with nourishment.  With the exception of our skin, hair follicles are the only organ that regenerates repeatedly after birth, thanks to the work of the stem cells associated with them.  Hair will continue to grow out of a follicle for between 3 and 7 years.  The follicle then goes into hibernation and sheds the hair.  After several months, it awakens and the cycle begins again.  Hormones can impact the cycle, as can the immune system and aging.  Until now, if a follicle suffered damage, that was the ball game; no new follicles are produced after birth.

Follicular regenerative medicine, however, works by removing a small patch of skin and hair follicles from the patient’s scalp.  The stem cells active in the follicles are isolated and extracted and then cultivated to increase their number by many orders of magnitude.  These cells are subsequently processed and turned into follicles using RIKEN researcher Takashi Tsuji’s primordium method and then injected or autografted onto the patient’s scalp.  And voila!  Happy days are here again.  Does anyone know if they still sell Wildroot Cream Oil?  Charley?  It’s made with soothing lan-o-lin.

 

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One last lap.  Barbara & Bruce stomping through Iceland, Summer of 2016

 

Requiem For A Heavyweight

Some of you may remember Barbara Reissfelder, who traveled to Iceland last Summer with her husband, Bruce, and brought back pictures.  Barbara is travelling in sunnier climes these days, the unfortunate thing being all of us are now deprived of her company.  Barb passed away Monday night from the complications of acute leukemia, leaving Bruce and the rest of us a shattered mess.  We knew she had a fight on her hands, but a fighter she was and nobody expected an early knockout.  There are people who die, and you shed a tear.  There are other people who die and you feel like you were smacked in the gut by a wrecking ball.  Barbara is one of the latter.

A nicer human being was never created.  Barb had a smile and a kind word for everyone and never had much interest in critiquing people.  She was a regular at our gym, took great care of herself and, until last Summer, looked to be in the peak of health.  I can still see her doing circles around the modest Lifetime Fitness outside track on cool mornings when everyone else was working inside.

Barbara, without being asked, became a dependable Flying Pie copy reader.  She religiously emailed in her corrections and never missed a trick, even if it was just an extra space between words.  She almost apologized for noticing.  “It’s no big thing, but…” she would relate.  Recently, she wrote to tell me I was not making sufficient mistakes and she felt like her job was at risk.  I wish I had made a few extra errors so I could have heard from her more often.

Barbara was a horse enthusiast, emanating from her youth.  She didn’t own any of the critters herself these days, but she followed the careers of all of ours, even once visiting the training center where the yearlings were converted to race horses.  She got excited every year at this time because the Triple Crown races were on the way.  I used to send her video replays of the significant untelevised stakes and she knew all the major contenders.  It wasn’t just the horses, however.  Barbara was an animal lover, even keeping a close watch on Siobhan’s caprines via the Goatcam and commenting on their wellbeing.

When people die, elegists often remark, “The world suffered a great loss today.”  Which is usually bullshit.  Well, the world really did suffer a great loss today and there’s no bullshit about it.  There aren’t enough Barbara Reissfelders around that we won’t greatly miss the departure of a single one.  

Chemo is a bitch.  But despite all her pain, Barbara was determined to hang around, never accepting the possibility of alternate outcomes.  She couldn’t leave Bruce, after all, and what would her friends do without her?  I guess we’ll find out.  Somehow, the world is less fun today, as if someone put a dimmer on the sun.  With all the available sewer rats available, the Cosmic Interrupter had to go and lasso a skylark.

Not that Barbara may not be better off, after all.  Months of agony past and months more to come is not a happy fate.  With a Life Upgrade, the best of risen mortals are rewarded with sunny skies, open fields, new possibilities.  There are no neighborhood restrictions now, Barbara, those colts running wild on the horizon are available to one and all.  Go over and introduce yourself.  They won’t be able to resist you.  After all, nobody else could.

 

That’s all, folks….

bill.killeen094@gmail.com

 

 

 

Thursday, April 13, 2017

120 And Beyond

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“Oh, the places you’ll go!  There is fun to be done!

There are points to be scored!  There are games to be won!”---Dr. Seuss

 

When we were kids, the concept of living to 100 was a non-starter.  Life expectancy in 1945 was a mere 63.8 years, which seemed plenty at the time.  Most of the very old people we knew were decrepit heaps who would be ensconced in nursing homes in these present days of smaller families and less benevolence.  We kids had heard rumors of the Old Folks’ Home and The Crazyhouse but we never knew anyone who was actually shipped off there.  Even Grace Dineen, an unhinged old piano teacher, lived quietly in her raggedy Dorchester Street Castle of 1000 Cats and nobody paid her any mind, even when she posted colorful crayoned signs in her windows warning “Beware of Bitches and Doos.”  The kids just gave Grace a wide berth, although some of us would like to have asked her why she wore those paper bags on her head.  And what the hell were Doos, anyway?

Old Dan Twomey lived at the southern end of Garfield Street, right next to the Monomac Mill.  Dan looked to be about seventy and was an inveterate alcoholic, stumbling down the sidewalk with his cane each morning around ten.  One day, my best friend, Jackie Mercier and I were sitting on my front steps when Dan wobbled by.  Jackie looked at him, sadly.  “I’m not going to get old,” he promised.  “I’m going to get shot down in my plane in the war.”

Mercier, a little slow in school, was not always up on current events.  “You can’t do that, Jackie,” I told him.  “The war is over.  Everybody says there won’t be any more wars.”  My little friend appeared astonished.  “Come on, Billy!” he admonished,  “There’ll ALWAYS be wars.”  Apparently, for Jackie, there were, because he never made it to his 63.8 years, face-planting off a high bulding in his twenties after a failed romance.  I’m not an expert at everything, but I know one thing for sure.  Getting old is better than that.

 

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Resetting The Bar

 

“You know you’re getting old when the candles cost more than the cake.”---Bob Hope

 

It’s been a long ride on the old wagon train and people are bound to get tired.  Some folks opt to dewagon in Dodge, others in Salt Lake City, but I’m taking the thing all the way to Escondido, the final stop.  Who knows how long the trip will take?  There are prophets roaming the Earth today who claim to have the Secret to Forever and others, more modest, who offer a road map to 120.  These Great Plans range from the ridiculous to the sublime.  As everybody knows, it’s always more fun to start with the ridiculous:

Tie me telomeres down, sport, tie me telomeres down.

That’s the plan of Elizabeth Parrish, a mid-fortyish genetic engineering pioneer who may or may not have been the first human being to submit to a procedure aimed at slowing down and eventually stopping some of the body’s aging processes.  Many scientists studying the subject feel that aging is caused when your telomeres---the ends of the chromosomes which contain our genetic material---become too short.  Every time a cell divides into two or more daughter cells, the telomeres decrease in length.  When they get too short, the cells can no longer reproduce, which causes our tissues to degenerate and eventually die.  Ergo, find a way to stop telomere reduction and you can live forever.  Or at least to a piffling 120 years.

There are a lot of people out there who will sell you telomere-enhancing products but only one who has bet her life on it.  Or so she says.  This much we know for sure: two years ago, Elizabeth Parrish boarded an airliner for Colombia and visited a facility owned by her new company, BioViva.  There, she either received two different treatments to lengthen her life or she played pinochle in a back room with the muchachos for a couple of days, you decide which.  Allegedly, Patricia first had her white blood cells genetically engineered.  Her telomeres were somehow elongated by 9%.  If the telomere theory of aging is correct and IF Parrish actually undertook the risky treatment and IF her results are as stated, Elizabeth’s immune system has just grown younger by 20 years.  Since she was 44 at the time of the treatment, her immune system should now be 24 years old.  Happy birthday to you, Elizabeth Parrish, here’s a funny hat.

Next, EP’s muscle cells were genetically engineered to produce more follistatin, which is a protein that encourages muscle growth.  This particular treatment has been used successfully before on people who suffered from muscular atrophy, helping them rebuild muscle mass.  Parrish’s muscles could be expected to atrophy less as she ages as a result of that treatment.  Both of these procedures were accomplished in Colombia because the United States has a snippy attitude toward experimentally revamping human bodies.

So, you might ask—what good does this do me?  Well, unlike most modern studies which promise human testing in ten years---after you’ve been firmly embedded at Forest Lawn or scattered to the four winds off the coast of Singapore—you’ll be thrilled to know you might be eligible for the same treatment Elizabeth Parrish may have had right now!  Yessir.  BioViva is taking applications from the general public for body enhancements great and small, beginning at a spiffy $50,000 and offering the whole megillah treatment for a cool million.  You get fries with that, and a rubdown with Moet & Chandon Brut Imperial, by the way.  

To risk it or not to risk it, that is the question.  Along with where to get 50,000 or more dollars.  If you’re 44, you might want to wait for a safer alternative.  If you’re 84, well, how much longer can you afford to wait?  The Final Bus to Eternity may be warming up at the station.

 

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The Metformin Alternative

In the Winter of 2016, a clinical trial called Targeting Ageing With Metformin or TAME was initiated to determine whether this inexpensive diabetes drug is capable of slowing down or stopping degenerative diseases and adverse heart conditions.  The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has allowed trials to take place involving 3000 people in their 70s and 80s who either have or are at risk of having major diseases.  The trial will likely take from five to seven years.  There is, however, enough positive current evidence on the subject to consider embarking on a course of Metformin right now.  And diabetes victims have been taking the drug over sufficiently long periods to establish there are few negative repercussions.  We are personally aware of doctors who are taking Metformin for life-extending purposes and are willing to write prescriptions for certain patients.  I took advantage of this largesse and tried the stuff.  Uh oh.  I was greeted with an unsavory blast of diarrhea, which I rarely encounter, thanks be to the Colon Gods.  My doctor friend suggested cutting the dose.  I suggested an indefinite postponement.  If I’m going to have explosive diarrhea every day, I’d just as soon die now.  But other people may never have the problem.

Professor Gordon Lithgow of the Buck Institute for Research on Ageing in California is one of the TAME advisors.  “If you target an ageing process,” he advises, “and you actually slow down ageing, then you also slow down all the diseases and pathology as well.  That’s revolutionary.  That’s never happened before.  But there’s every reason to believe it’s possible.  The future is taking the biology that we’ve now developed and applying it to humans.”

Researchers have already proved Metformin extends the lives of animals.  Last year, scientists at Cardiff University found that when human patients with diabetes were given the drug they lived longer than others without the condition, even though they should have died eight years earlier on average.  When Belgian researchers tested Metformin on roundworms, the worms aged more slowly and remained healthier longer.

Metformin is the world’s most widely-used diabetes drug.  It has been safely used for 60 years and has very few side effects.  Metformin works by reducing oxidative stress and inflammation.  In the current study, the drug will be aimed at attacking the process of ageing rather than individual diseases.  One of the project members, Professor Stuart Jay Olshansky, says this: “We lower the risk of heart disease, somebody lives long enough to get cancer.  We reduce the risk of cancer, somebody lives long enough to get Alzheimer’s Disease.  So we’re suggesting that the time has arrived to attack them all at once by going after the biological process of ageing.” 

So, would you like to swing on a star?  Carry moonbeams home in a jar?  And be better off than you are?  Or would you rather be a corpse?

 

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Young Blood

 

“I couldn’t sleep a wink for tryin’.  I saw the rising of the sun.”---Doc Pomus

 

Do you know the way to Monterey?  Always a solid stop on the colorful coast of Cali, now there’s one more reason for stopping there.  Jesse Karmazin, the Doogie Howser of Young Blood, has set up camp in the vicinity and he’s stoking the boiler.  The amazin’ Dr. Karmazin, a mere 31, has founded a company called Ambrosia, and has he got a clinical trial for you!  For a piffling $8000, just a trifle more than you’d pay for a hamburger at Fleur Las Vegas, trial participants receive lab tests and a one-time treatment with young plasma.  Volunteers for the trial needn’t be sick or even very old---35 and up will do nicely, thank you.

Karmazin bases his work on a stunning scientific report from 2014, in which old mice were injected with the plasma portion of blood from young mice, improving their memories and the ability to learn.  Decades ago, parabiosis studies, in which the circulation of old and young animals was connected in such a way that their blood mingled, suggested that young blood can rejuvenate old mice.  A recent revival of the unusual approach has shown beneficial effects on muscle, heart, brain and other organs and some researchers are looking at young blood for specific factors that explain these observations.

A UC Berkeley study, however, suggests that young blood does not work by itself.  Inna Conroy, an associate professor in the Department of Bioengineering at Berkeley, states that “It is more accurate to say that there are inhibitors in old blood that we need to target to reverse aging.”  Other researchers have injected old blood into young mice with devastating consequences for the kiddos.

PayPal cofounder Peter Thiel has been called many things in his lively career, one of them being a “wingnut.”  If so, he is one of the few wingnuts extant worth $2.7 billion.  Thiel was also clever enough to be the first investor in Facebook.  Peter, who prefers the title “Life Master,” is now fascinated with Ambrosia’s possibilities and may have already participated, but nobody’s talking.  You’ll know if his voice starts to change and he develops a fondness for Taylor Swift.

The Flying Pie’s friend and sometimes copy-reader, Barbara Reissfelder, has a medical condition which will soon require stem-cell therapy, a scary and life-threatening procedure where her own blood is removed and replaced with that of a 24-year-old donor.  If Dr. Karmazin’s opinions are to be trusted, Barbara, now standing on the brink, may in the long run outlive the rest of us.  In the business, we call that Irony.  Meanwhile, could somebody please book us a room at the Spindrift in Monterey for sometime in August?  On second thought, make that July, or June, even.  There’s no point in tempting the guy with the scythe.

 

That’s almost all, folks….

But not quite.  In Breaking News—which all news has now become—your latest Cataract Report is now available.  Fourteen days post-surgery, Bill’s repaired eye (the right) is in sparkling shape, no longer needing the assistance of glasses.  Trouble is, the left one is still dependent.  Since Bill is occasionally a clever fellow, he thought he had the answer to this dilemma.  Couple days ago, he moseyed on down to his eye doctor and had the right lens removed from his glasses frames.  How could this not work?  Well, we don’t know how but everything is suddenly very wobbly and dizzy-making.  Siobhan, the scientist, speculates that this all may have to do with the Optic Chiasm, which sounds like some outfit fighting the X-Men, or maybe a Persian renaissance man.  Anyway, the glasses are back on the shelf and we’re winging it with one good eye.  It’s an interesting life, post-surgery.  I can look at certain flowers that are blue to the right eye and purple to the left or skies that are gloomy or bright, both at the same time.  And this as you might suspect, is of no little concern.  If worse comes to worse, I may be in danger of becoming a philosopher.  

 

 

 

 

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Tangled Up In Blue

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My old friend Chuck LeMasters, who sees things others don’t see and intuits even more, emailed me prior to my cataract surgery last Thursday.  “You will see like an eagle,” he promised.  “The world is gonna sparkle like a good acid trip.  I think you’re gonna like it.” 

This was good news coming from the Temple of Jonesville.  I haven’t had many acid trips in the last forty years, let alone good ones.  When you’re going in for ocular poking you’ll be happy to get out of there in one piece, never mind floating through the universe on a puffy cloud while Donovan sings The Intergalactic Laxitive.  I can’t see like an eagle yet, but I do have a special bulletin for Chuck.  Whatever happens in the long run may be charming but it won’t hold a candle to Dilation Blue.

With rare exceptions, we can never return to our childhood years, regain that same capacity for wonder, make a hundred new discoveries every day.  Of course Christmas is not the same, the holiday is the exclusive property of young children who believe in a Santa Claus.  It’s no longer possible to be captivated by a new box of shiny crayons.  How do you replicate a first visit to Disneyland, the ocean or Fenway Park?  What can equal the pangs of childhood love, that rhapsodic/terrifying first kiss?  Not much.  That’s why we liked acid.  But every so often, believe it or not, we can return to those thrilling days of yesteryear.  Sometimes it just takes a little surgery.

The day after your cataract is removed, you may step outside wearing dark glasses.  Not that it is recommended, but if a person were to peek outside those glasses on a perfect Spring morning he might be jolted back to childhood.  It’s the sky, you see.  It’s wearing a different color.  No, not its usual Florida Azure, not even the special concoction they brew up in Montana or Idaho, but a brand new  invention, an Electric Blue pigment that pops and sizzles as if someone has left the charger on, a slightly lighter blue, almost neon in its brilliance.  It’s alive, this Dilation Blue, rushing up to its visiting clouds to give them an occasional poke in the ribs before laughing off into the distance.  It may not be there long but it has visited for three days at this writing and hasn’t lost a bit of its vibrancy, not a whit of charisma.

I realize the days with my new friend are numbered.  The eye is slowly but irresistably returning to its former state, more confident and precise, capable of greater discernment, able to leap tall buildings with a single bound.  Soon the Dilation Sky will ebb from view, still alive in all its buoyancy but hidden from the sight of normal beings.  And I will miss it like the child inside me misses the wonder of 1940s radio, my first pungent baseball glove, Kathleen Carroll’s welcoming smile.  But it isn’t done forever, this affair between my special sky and me.  The romance will settle, we’ll go our separate ways for a time, think wistfully about one another now and then.  Perhaps there will even be a phone call or two.  And then, as if no time had passed at all, we’ll be joined together again by the inevitable winds of Fate.  “I’ll be your surgical nurse, Mr. Killeen.  We’re glad to have you back for your second surgery.  And I’ve just got to say, it’s nice to have a patient who is smiling on his way to the operating room.”

 

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D-Day

The Surgery Center of Mid-Florida sits confidently in the middle of a respectable office park just behind the AMF Galaxy West Lanes, one of two bowling alleys located within the environs of metropolitan Ocala.  As we drive by, it occurs to me that after 30 long years of residence here I have never stepped inside the place despite once being an avid kegler.  As an 18-year-old rookie, I learned the bowling trade at the Student Union lanes of Oklahoma State University under the clever tutelage of one Joe Alexander, self-proclaimed “World’s Greatest Bowler” and a member of the OSU team.  In a matter of three months, I raised my average to 180 and once enjoyed a frame finished off with six consecutive strikes.  That was the turning point of my mini-career.

“Anybody who can string together six strikes can have a 200 average,” said Joe.  “But you can’t keep rolling a straight ball.  Lefties have a natural hook (Joe was left-handed, same as me) and you have to release the ball differently, flicking your wrist like so.”  I tried it and dumped the ball into the gutter.  Alexander said it was only a matter of practice.  He was wrong.  Two months later, my average had collapsed to 150.  I went back to my old style to no avail,  finished in the game after less than a year.  In 1969, Laurence J. Peter formulated a management concept called The Peter Principle which stated that candidates for business positions were generally judged on their performance in current roles rather than on abilities relevant to their intended positions and would often be elevated to jobs at which they were incompetent.  The same phenomenon apparently applies to bowling.

The Surgery Center had a sizeable waiting room, easily accomodating the two-dozen or so people inside.  Since several doctors shared the facility, I assumed a few of them were clients of my surgeon, Dr. Seaborn Hunt, and the rest would be tended to by someone else.  I was wrong.  Everybody in the room was a Hunt surgery-to-be, about a dozen prospects when you consider each had to be accompanied by a driver.  We sat around for about a half hour, waiting, which gave Siobhan an opportunity to observe, as is her mien, that the windows needed cleaning.  On that note, I was brought to an examination room and asked what I was there for, a question which arose at each station even after the first nurse marked a large dot over my right eye with a black crayon.  The only way they’re screwing up at this place is if the client makes a large contribution to the effort.  Eventually, I was placed on a table, my eye dilated and shirt opened in order that a few electrodes could be attached to my chest, EKG-style.  Next, a small oxygen apparatus was inserted into my nose, which seemed like a bit of overkill until they slapped a mask over my face, covering everything but the eye to be invaded.  After that, an IV was inserted into the back of my right hand, the better to administer the anesthesia.  Finally, my head was immobilized, clamped down with something called “silk tape.”  Silk tape.  Who knew?  On the other side of the room, behind a large plastic curtain, another candidate was being asked the same questions I had answered earlier.  Assembly-line medicine, but when the surgery takes less than fifteen minutes, why not?  Eventually, Dr. Hunt, mask and all, dropped by to check my eyes, identifying himself to relieve any fears I might have that The Eye-Butcher of Ocala had knocked him out, replaced him and was now in the process of stealing my eyes.  Dr. Hunt said I needed more dilation.

Finally, it was my turn.  The cheery nurse again asked me the same questions that I had already answered 700 times, but hey, there’s nothing like being thorough in eye surgery, right?  I remained awake throughout the event but felt nothing.  Once, Dr. Hunt told me to look directly at the yellow lights that were front and center in my right eye; then, abruptly, it was over.  No pain, no discomfort, no nothing.  Rolling back to the recovery unit, I asked the nurse how it went.  Good, she replied.  I wondered if she ever told anyone it was an unmitigated disaster.  I figured probably not.  That’s why they pay the doctors the big bucks.

 

 Cataract-Surgeries

 

Day II 

First thing the next morning, we were off to see the wizard to measure the previous day’s work.  Dr. Hunt looked in his magic eyeball calculator and reported the lens had seated well, remained centrally located and there was no evidence of infection, the Big Three of next day cataract surgery considerations.  Then he reiterated a few facts of post-surgery life and reinforced some instructions.

When you are researching cataract surgeries, many optimistic internet medical sources will advise you that some people achieve perfect vision the very next day.  Forget it.  “Some people” is not you.  Siobhan’s scientific survey of waiting-room stiffs puts full recovery at one week if you’re lucky.  Hunt’s staff admits 7 days is the average wait before driving privileges are reinstated.  Not that a resourceful old geezer couldn’t close one eye and toddle down the road in his Hot Rod Lincoln just fine.  He just won’t have his little permission slip from Dr. Seaborn Hunt, that’s all.

You are not allowed to do anything which could make your new lens melt, freeze or do the bossa nova.  Anything which will increase your blood pressure is verboten, so put away those pornographic photos of D. Trump and the Russian hookers.  No bending over.  When you go outdoors, use sunglasses in the daytime and regular eyeglasses at night.  Do not, for God’s sake, get any soap in your eyes.  Do not rub your eyes or Dr. Hunt will come over to your house with a big stick and whap you upside the head.  And above all, be sure to wear your snazzy new plastic eye shield while you sleep so the evil night critters can’t get anywhere near your surgery.

The two biggest problems in your new life  are (1) your surgical eye is sore, watery and would prefer to remain closed, and (2) you can’t read books, newspapers or magazines.  One might assume that reading would be possible with the non-surgical eye but one would not be entirely correct.  That eye will get tired in short order.  Internet reading is easier but not great.  The biggest concern is keeping the surgical eye calmed down so it is not constantly sore and runny.  Television is okay, but how much television can you take?  Before long, you become so bored you’re looking forward to accompanying your mate to the yarn store or the rural emporium where they sell goat supplies.  I know, it’s scary.

 

 pirate bill

Photo enhancements by Mary Zappala, Queen of the Darkroom

 

Five Days Post-Surgery

Each day, there is an increment of improvement.  Vision in the surgical eye is now fair-to-good but letters on street signs are still impossible to discern.  It could be that the average cataract-only patient will progress at a faster rate than one who also has astigmatism repair, as I did, but I think a high percentage of people in need of cataract surgery will have astigmatism issues as well.  

Like my hero, Oat Willy, I am plowing Onward, Through The Fog.  Saturday, two days after the knife, Siobhan and I made our annual visit to the local Spring Arts Festival, even though it took longer this year.  Rather than just blast past the aesthetic have-nots, I had to remove my glasses at each tent, dip inside and survey the damage, which was often catastrophic.  We also made our weekly Publix shopping trip without tragedy.  A fellow-shopper caught me kneeling down at the evaporated milk rack (kneel, don’t bend) and he wanted to summon store help until I convinced him I was only blessing the Entenmann’s pastries before they actually entered anyone’s gullet.

This coming Friday, I return to Dr. Hunt’s province to (hopefully) have driving privileges restored.  I have also been deprived of one back-replenishing massage and am relegated to mixing feed rather than mingling with the horses, problems which need to be corrected as soon as possible.  I also need to get back to the gym—I can feel my bones moldering daily from a disastrous lack of weight training.  Assuming my vision is 100%, Dr. Hunt will probably ask if I am ready to have the other eye corrected.  I think I might wait a while, get back on schedule for a few weeks.  But I shouldn’t wait too long.  In the waiting-room before my surgery, there was a mid-seventyish fellow named Charlie who had let his cataracts ride the range a little too long.  One of them broke up into tiny pieces on removal and some of that debris is still in his eye after two follow-up surgeries.  A friend of mine, Torrey Johnson, temporarily lost his vision completely in one eye due to a particularly ornery cataract.  Still, a few short weeks shouldn’t hurt.

With the return of perfect vision, I expect the mind to perform the way it usually does in the face of sudden physical advancement.  The mind grows confident, ready to pursue added activities, new challenges it once considered beyond the pale.  I feel it is important to embrace this gentle shove in the direction of self-improvement, to recognize the benefits of expanded horizons.  Therefore, it is with great pleasure and unrestrained confidence that today I am proud to announce to the sporting public the long-delayed resumption of my promising bowling career. 

Wait a minute---is that a 7-10 split?

 

That’s all, folks….

bill.killeen094@gmail.com    

 

 

 

Tangled Up In Blue

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My old friend Chuck LeMasters, who sees things others don’t see and intuits even more, emailed me prior to my cataract surgery last Thursday.  “You will see like an eagle,” he promised.  “The world is gonna sparkle like a good acid trip.  I think you’re gonna like it.” 

This was good news coming from the Temple of Jonesville.  I haven’t had many acid trips in the last forty years, let alone good ones.  When you’re going in for ocular poking you’ll be happy to get out of there in one piece, never mind floating through the universe on a puffy cloud while Donovan sings The Intergalactic Laxitive.  I can’t see like an eagle yet, but I do have a special bulletin for Chuck.  Whatever happens in the long run may be charming but it won’t hold a candle to Dilation Blue.

With rare exceptions, we can never return to our childhood years, regain that same capacity for wonder, make a hundred new discoveries every day.  Of course Christmas is not the same, the holiday is the exclusive property of young children who believe in a Santa Claus.  It’s no longer possible to be captivated by a new box of shiny crayons.  How do you replicate a first visit to Disneyland, the ocean or Fenway Park?  What can equal the pangs of childhood love, that rhapsodic/terrifying first kiss?  Not much.  That’s why we liked acid.  But every so often, believe it or not, we can return to those thrilling days of yesteryear.  Sometimes it just takes a little surgery.

The day after your cataract is removed, you may step outside wearing dark glasses.  Not that it is recommended, but if a person were to peek outside those glasses on a perfect Spring morning he might be jolted back to childhood.  It’s the sky, you see.  It’s wearing a different color.  No, not its usual Florida Azure, not even the special concoction they brew up in Montana or Idaho, but a brand new  invention, an Electric Blue pigment that pops and sizzles as if someone has left the charger on, a slightly lighter blue, almost neon in its brilliance.  It’s alive, this Dilation Blue, rushing up to its visiting clouds to give them an occasional poke in the ribs before laughing off into the distance.  It may not be there long but it has visited for three days at this writing and hasn’t lost a bit of its vibrancy, not a whit of charisma.

I realize the days with my new friend are numbered.  The eye is slowly but irresistably returning to its former state, more confident and precise, capable of greater discernment, able to leap tall buildings with a single bound.  Soon the Dilation Sky will ebb from view, still alive in all its buoyancy but hidden from the sight of normal beings.  And I will miss it like the child inside me misses the wonder of 1940s radio, my first pungent baseball glove, Kathleen Carroll’s welcoming smile.  But it isn’t done forever, this affair between my special sky and me.  The romance will settle, we’ll go our separate ways for a time, think wistfully about one another now and then.  Perhaps there will even be a phone call or two.  And then, as if no time had passed at all, we’ll be joined together again by the inevitable winds of Fate.  “I’ll be your surgical nurse, Mr. Killeen.  We’re glad to have you back for your second surgery.  And I’ve just got to say, it’s nice to have a patient who is smiling on his way to the operating room.”

 

01-1-Bowling-Alley-Pinsetter

 

D-Day

The Surgery Center of Mid-Florida sits confidently in the middle of a respectable office park just behind the AMF Galaxy West Lanes, one of two bowling alleys located within the environs of metropolitan Ocala.  As we drive by, it occurs to me that after 30 long years of residence here I have never stepped inside the place despite once being an avid kegler.  As an 18-year-old rookie, I learned the bowling trade at the Student Union lanes of Oklahoma State University under the clever tutelage of one Joe Alexander, self-proclaimed “World’s Greatest Bowler” and a member of the OSU team.  In a matter of three months, I raised my average to 180 and once enjoyed a frame finished off with six consecutive strikes.  That was the turning point of my mini-career.

“Anybody who can string together six strikes can have a 200 average,” said Joe.  “But you can’t keep rolling a straight ball.  Lefties have a natural hook (Joe was left-handed, same as me) and you have to release the ball differently, flicking your wrist like so.”  I tried it and dumped the ball into the gutter.  Alexander said it was only a matter of practice.  He was wrong.  Two months later, my average had collapsed to 150.  I went back to my old style to no avail,  finished in the game after less than a year.  In 1969, Laurence J. Peter formulated a management concept called The Peter Principle which stated that candidates for business positions were generally judged on their performance in current roles rather than on abilities relevant to their intended positions and would often be elevated to jobs at which they were incompetent.  The same phenomenon apparently applies to bowling.

The Surgery Center had a sizeable waiting room, easily accomodating the two-dozen or so people inside.  Since several doctors shared the facility, I assumed a few of them were clients of my surgeon, Dr. Seaborn Hunt, and the rest would be tended to by someone else.  I was wrong.  Everybody in the room was a Hunt surgery-to-be, about a dozen prospects when you consider each had to be accompanied by a driver.  We sat around for about a half hour, waiting, which gave Siobhan an opportunity to observe, as is her mien, that the windows needed cleaning.  On that note, I was brought to an examination room and asked what I was there for, a question which arose at each station even after the first nurse marked a large dot over my right eye with a black crayon.  The only way they’re screwing up at this place is if the client makes a large contribution to the effort.  Eventually, I was placed on a table, my eye dilated and shirt opened in order that a few electrodes could be attached to my chest, EKG-style.  Next, a small oxygen apparatus was inserted into my nose, which seemed like a bit of overkill until they slapped a mask over my face, covering everything but the eye to be invaded.  After that, an IV was inserted into the back of my right hand, the better to administer the anesthesia.  Finally, my head was immobilized, clamped down with something called “silk tape.”  Silk tape.  Who knew?  On the other side of the room, behind a large plastic curtain, another candidate was being asked the same questions I had answered earlier.  Assembly-line medicine, but when the surgery takes less than fifteen minutes, why not?  Eventually, Dr. Hunt, mask and all, dropped by to check my eyes, identifying himself to relieve any fears I might have that The Eye-Butcher of Ocala had knocked him out, replaced him and was now in the process of stealing my eyes.  Dr. Hunt said I needed more dilation.

Finally, it was my turn.  The cheery nurse again asked me the same questions that I had already answered 700 times, but hey, there’s nothing like being thorough in eye surgery, right?  I remained awake throughout the event but felt nothing.  Once, Dr. Hunt told me to look directly at the yellow lights that were front and center in my right eye; then, abruptly, it was over.  No pain, no discomfort, no nothing.  Rolling back to the recovery unit, I asked the nurse how it went.  Good, she replied.  I wondered if she ever told anyone it was an unmitigated disaster.  I figured probably not.  That’s why they pay the doctors the big bucks.

 

 Cataract-Surgeries

 

Day II 

First thing the next morning, we were off to see the wizard to measure the previous day’s work.  Dr. Hunt looked in his magic eyeball calculator and reported the lens had seated well, remained centrally located and there was no evidence of infection, the Big Three of next day cataract surgery considerations.  Then he reiterated a few facts of post-surgery life and reinforced some instructions.

When you are researching cataract surgeries, many optimistic internet medical sources will advise you that some people achieve perfect vision the very next day.  Forget it.  “Some people” is not you.  Siobhan’s scientific survey of waiting-room stiffs puts full recovery at one week if you’re lucky.  Hunt’s staff admits 7 days is the average wait before driving privileges are reinstated.  Not that a resourceful old geezer couldn’t close one eye and toddle down the road in his Hot Rod Lincoln just fine.  He just won’t have his little permission slip from Dr. Seaborn Hunt, that’s all.

You are not allowed to do anything which could make your new lens melt, freeze or do the bossa nova.  Anything which will increase your blood pressure is verboten, so put away those pornographic photos of D. Trump and the Russian hookers.  No bending over.  When you go outdoors, use sunglasses in the daytime and regular eyeglasses at night.  Do not, for God’s sake, get any soap in your eyes.  Do not rub your eyes or Dr. Hunt will come over to your house with a big stick and whap you upside the head.  And above all, be sure to wear your snazzy new plastic eye shield while you sleep so the evil night critters can’t get anywhere near your surgery.

The two biggest problems in your new life  are (1) your surgical eye is sore, watery and would prefer to remain closed, and (2) you can’t read books, newspapers or magazines.  One might assume that reading would be possible with the non-surgical eye but one would not be entirely correct.  That eye will get tired in short order.  Internet reading is easier but not great.  The biggest concern is keeping the surgical eye calmed down so it is not constantly sore and runny.  Television is okay, but how much television can you take?  Before long, you become so bored you’re looking forward to accompanying your mate to the yarn store or the rural emporium where they sell goat supplies.  I know, it’s scary.

 

 pirate bill

Photo enhancements by Mary Zappala, Queen of the Darkroom

 

Five Days Post-Surgery

Each day, there is an increment of improvement.  Vision in the surgical eye is now fair-to-good but letters on street signs are still impossible to discern.  It could be that the average cataract-only patient will progress at a faster rate than one who also has astigmatism repair, as I did, but I think a high percentage of people in need of cataract surgery will have astigmatism issues as well.  

Like my hero, Oat Willy, I am plowing Onward, Through The Fog.  Saturday, two days after the knife, Siobhan and I made our annual visit to the local Spring Arts Festival, even though it took longer this year.  Rather than just blast past the aesthetic have-nots, I had to remove my glasses at each tent, dip inside and survey the damage, which was often catastrophic.  We also made our weekly Publix shopping trip without tragedy.  A fellow-shopper caught me kneeling down at the evaporated milk rack (kneel, don’t bend) and he wanted to summon store help until I convinced him I was only blessing the Entenman’s pastries before they actually entered anyone’s gullet.

This coming Friday, I return to Dr. Hunt’s province to (hopefully) have driving privileges restored.  I have also been deprived of one back-replenishing massage and am relegated to mixing feed rather than mingling with the horses, problems which need to be corrected as soon as possible.  I also need to get back to the gym—I can feel my bones moldering daily from a disastrous lack of weight training.  Assuming my vision is 100%, Dr. Hunt will probably ask if I am ready to have the other eye corrected.  I think I might wait a while, get back on schedule for a few weeks.  But I shouldn’t wait too long.  In the waiting-room before my surgery, there was a mid-seventyish fellow named Charlie who had let his cataracts ride the range a little too long.  One of them broke up into tiny pieces on removal and some of that debris is still in his eye after two follow-up surgeries.  A friend of mine, Torrey Johnson, temporarily lost his vision completely in one eye due to a particularly ornery cataract.  Still, a few short weeks shouldn’t hurt.

With the return of perfect vision, I expect the mind to perform the way it usually does in the face of sudden physical advancement.  The mind grows confident, ready to pursue added activities, new challenges it once considered beyond the pale.  I feel it is important to embrace this gentle shove in the direction of self-improvement, to recognize the benefits of expanded horizons.  Therefore, it is with great pleasure and unrestrained confidence that today I am proud to announce to the sporting public the long-delayed resumption of my promising bowling career. 

Wait a minute---is that a 7-10 split?

 

That’s all, folks….

bill.killeen094@gmail.com    

 

 

 

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Sympathy For The Cyclops

blog2

 

“Scars are history written on the body”---Kathryn Harrison

 

It wasn’t exactly a surprise, like one of those sudden Florida thunderstorms that pops up out of a clear blue sky every Summer afternoon.  More like the easy rainshowers which slowly float in from the west over the Grand Canyon, politely announcing themselves well in advance and giving everyone time to retreat.

Several years ago, Dr. Michael Lange, an Ocala optometric physician, mentioned that cataracts were slowly developing in both my eyes and would have to be dealt with sooner or later.  Not an unusual phenomenon, said he, testifying that by age 75, half of all Americans are bestowed with the critters, making cataract surgery one of the most common operations in the country.  Long a master of kicking the can down the road (not to mention having a natural aversion to seeing “scalpels” and “eyes” in the same sentence), I decided to wait until the problem got worse.  Like many of you, I am in possession of a very accomodating Let’swaitahile Box, the sad fact being we are required to keep such containers on our Cosmic Conveyor Belts, which insist upon moving them forward at a steady pace until they can no longer be ignored.

Three years ago, I was sitting low in the stands at a Gainesville High School football game and I realized I was having trouble following the quarterback’s handoffs.  Where did the ball go?  Later, at Fenway Park, I lost track of fly balls hit deep to the outfield.  Doctor Lange prescribed stronger eyeglasses but told me the end was nigh, and he was right.  By late in 2016, I was having trouble seeing traffic lights from much of a distance.  Siobhan, of course, questioned the wisdom of carrying on in this manner.  “Well,” I told her, “I figure if there’s a passel of cars sitting there, the light is red.  If nobody’s waiting, it must be green.  I can see the amber ones pretty good.”  Some people, apparently, will do anything to delay cataract surgery.

This year, Dr. Lange sold his practice and moved to The Villages.  The new guy wasn’t nearly as accomodating.  “These cataracts are mature,” he declared.  “You need to do something now.”  Because I am very finicky about men with sharp implements approaching my eyeballs, I got a raft of opinions as to who might best do the job.  Everybody agreed it should be Dr. Seaborn Hunt III, whose grandfather must have been born on a boat.  I went to his roomy offices, met the man, had the examination.  The surgery was set for March 30, which seemed awfully soon, don’t you think?  Nonsense, say all my friends who have either had the operation or know someone who did.  “It’s a breeze.”  Yeah, well, that’s what the captain of the Titanic said, too.

 

blog3

 

Logistical Nightmares

Now, you might think this cataract surgery business is a simple matter.  You go in, the doctor comes out with an instrument which looks like a very small windshield scraper and he peels the sucker right off your eyeball.  Ah, if only it were so.  If you want to know the truth, I’ve been holding out for a spray that would dissolve the cataract and have enough sense to stop dissolving when it got to the eyeball.  I’ve read that they’re working on this very thing in Russia, but I’d feel better if the experimenters were from Sweden, say, or Norway.  Too late for me, in any case.

The first item of business is to have your eyes “measured,” whatever that means.  In the process, I peered into about a dozen different machines.  I particularly liked the one where they gave you a little button to push every time you saw a white light flash on the periphery.  I figured I’d nailed almost all those buggers.  The nurse only allowed me a rating of “pretty good.”  She also told me my eyes were too dry, I’d have to go home, lubricate the hell out of them, and be remeasured.  It worked out better the second time.

About these eyedrops.  Everybody who has had cataract surgery will tell you the eyedrops are the worst part of the experience, which seems a little odd when you consider that knives are going into eyes.  But I will have to admit, the eyedrops are a nuisance.  The surgeon’s office gives you three different types of drops, two are steroids, one an antibiotic.  You must also continue to use your own eyedrops, Systane in my case.  Drops called Bromsite are applied twice a day, Besivance and Lotemax FOUR times, which also applies to the Systane.  Applications of each must be five minutes from the dispensation of the previous drops, so it’s nice that iPhones have timers.  This business goes on for four weeks after the surgery, so bring your lunch.  Oh, and good news—somewhere along the line you start all over again with the second eye.  I called my friend Torrey Johnson to commiserate.  This didn’t work at all.  Torrey was scheduled for hip replacement surgery in two days and the previous night his wife had fallen and broken her hip, reducing my problem to less than a trifle.  I hate it when that happens.

 

blog1

 

The Cost Of Doing Busines

While Medicare and most insurance companies will cover cataract surgery, the patient has another option.  For a fee of $2895 per eye, no pittance, Dr. Seaborn Hunt will provide you with the Waldorf-Astoria Spa treatment.  In this one, you get a superior lens, which allows you to see very well at all distances, not to mention astigmatism repair, which means you will probably no longer need glasses or contacts.  You also get to select one of the giant lollipops from the doctor’s candy bin.  This, of course, is a great boon for people like me who are prone to misplace their glasses half-a-dozen times a day or scarcely have room to carry backups every place they go, which last June included the bottom of the Grand Canyon.  There was absolutely no pressure by the medical staff to buy the more expensive package—they assured me I’d be fine with the basic number and all my friends who have undergone this operation reinforced that claim.  Still, even though I don’t mind wearing glasses and might yet don some form of sunglasses, I liked the idea of not actually needing them.  Everybody remembers that weekend in Pocatello when they smashed their lenses and the mall was closed.  I decided to spring for the Waldorf treatment.

After everything else had been determined and put in place,  we came to The Signing Of The Papers.  Anyone who has ever bought a house is familiar with this ceremony in which four thousand sheets of paper contracts and acknowledgements are signed, stamped, exchanged, perhaps altered, signed again and sent directly to the Great Storage House of Legal Gobbledygook in Kankakee, Illinois, which is now 86 stories high and covers several city blocks.  In these contracts, the client accepts that he is aware of the many dire outcomes which could result from this surgery, including “bleeding, infection, high eye pressure, a swollen or detached retina, droopy eyelid, double vision, displacement of the lens, injury to the cornea, iris, sclera, conjunctivae, pupil function, loss of vision, blindness or loss of an eye.”  And, of course, our old friend, Death.  And that’s not even taking into account the possibility your anesthesia provider is high on Calamus Root and inadvertently doubles your dose.  Naturally, I signed all these papers immediately and without further ado.  Society has trained me to accept that there is nothing a physican can do, short of using barn animals during surgery, which makes him liable for any harm done to me, the poor, woebegone patient.  It’s still better than in other countries where the health provider might accidently shrink your head.

 

blog4

 

We’re Off To The Coxville Zoo

Tomorrow, March 30th is the surgical D-Day.  At eight a.m., Siobhan will whisk me over to the Surgery Center of Mid-Florida near downtown Ocala for the procedure.  At 8:45, the surgical staff will begin The Sharpening of the Knives.  Promptly at nine, Dr. Seaborn Hunt will moor his yacht to the pier and march into the operating room as the stirring strains of Hail To The Chief fill the building.  The clinical staff will then sprinkle holy water shipped directly from Lourdes onto the patient (me).  If I am allowed to choose my favorite music for the procedure (as I am at the University of Florida Dermatology Clinic), I will select either I Can See Clearly Now, The Rain Is Gone or I’m Looking Over A Four-Leaf Clover, but definitely not The Night The Lights Went Out In Georgia.

And then, this: my right eye will be numbed either with eyedrops or with an injection around the eye (guess which one I’m rooting for).  If I’m shrieking in panic, they will give me a medicine to calm me down.  I will be awake, I’m told, during the surgery even though I’m getting anesthesia.  Go figure.  I may see light and movement but I will not see what the doctor is doing to my eye, and a big yippee-ki-yi for that.

The surgeon will enter into the eye via tiny incisions created by a laser or blade near the edge of my cornea, the clear covering on the front of the eye.  He will use these incisions to reach the lens.  Using very small instruments, he will break up the lens with the cataract and remove it.  The new lens is then inserted in its place.  Usually, the surgeon will not need to stitch the incisions closed, and I’m for that one.  A shield will be placed over the eye to protect it while I heal.  The staff will then dispatch me to a recovery room for fifteen minutes to a half-hour.  Possibly champagne will be served but I’m not counting on it.  I will then receive instructions on what I can and cannot do for the following week, which I foresee being not much.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking this is a pretty sly way to get to wear an eyepatch legitimately, and I’m not going to argue the point.  I’m too busy composing pirate songs.

Yo-ho, yo-ho, it’s off to the opthalmic surgeon we go….

We’re bringing a loupe and a Playboy in braille,

For those opthalmic surgeons will now and then fail.

Let’s hope not this time.

 

 

See you later, figuratively at least….

bill.killeen094@gmail.com

    

Thursday, March 23, 2017

March Madness

streamers

 

“I’m not a big fan of patterns.  I like the unexpected.”---James Purefoy

 

Predictability in life is essential.  A man has to know what to expect from his wife, his family, his job, the traffic lights on his way to work.  Society cannot function without a high degree of day-to-day predictability.  The train cannot show up at nine a.m. one day and ten a.m. the next, except in Mexico, where they’ve learned to cope.  We get a hearty sample of what would happen in an unpredictable society a few times each year when horrendous weather conditions ground thousands of airplanes, leaving hordes of people and countless businesses in a state of temporary turmoil.  But predictability can be carried too far.  Daily schedules become entrenched.  Deviations are cause for fretting.  Life becomes rote, a circular pathway to boredom and depression.  We need to shake it up now and then, which is why somebody invented weekends.  At five o’clock each Friday afternoon, the Green Flag is waved from the tower and everyone races off to get crazy for awhile.  Some of them turn to sports.

One of the things we like about sports is their unpredictability.  Despite all logic, impossible results sometimes occur.  Once every five years, Alabama will lose a football game or Tom Brady will be intercepted.  And the champion of all upset possibilities is the annual NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, aka “March Madness,” occurring now at an arena near you.  This multi-faceted affair starts out with almost six dozen college teams contending for glory and winding up with one eventual winner.  In the process of funnelling, unforeseen and unlikely things can happen.  Things like these:

In 1966, the University of Kentucky basketball team was ascendant under legendary coach Adolph Rupp.  Rupp could spot the most talented players in the country a mile away and he cajoled many of them into joining him for tea and crumpets in Lexington.  Well, the white ones, anyway.  Rupp was an admitted racist who, for all his roundball acumen, could not discern the future and he paid a price for his failings.  Don Haskins,  the future Hall of Fame coach at little Texas Western (now the University of Texas at El Paso) had no such inhibitions.  His all-black starting five, heavy underdogs to “Rupp’s Runts,” saw the Confererate flags all over Cole Field House at the University of Maryland where the championship game was played, but they just snickered.  Texas Western, 72-65.

In 1983, North Carolina State had lost 10 regular season games and nobody expected them to reach the Elite Eight, let alone the championship game.  But there they were, under star-crossed coach Jim Valvano, winners of the prestigious ACC Tournament and now advancing in the NCAA past Pepperdine, Virginia and Georgia in tight games.

The top-ranked Houston Cougars—known as Phi Slamma Jamma to their friends---were cocky, and with good reason.  They were led by dunkmeister Akeem Olajuwon, who predicted “The team with the most dunks will win.”  They almost did.  NC State had to overcome a 17-2 Houston run at the start of the second half to tie the game at 52 with two minutes left.  It looked like overtime when the Wolfpack’s Dereck Whittenburg fired up the last shot of regulation and saw it falling far short of the rim, but Lorenzo Charles went up, grabbed the ball and slammed it in with one second left.  North Carolina State 54, Houston 52.  When Valvano, riddled with cancer, made his famous “Don’t ever give up” speech several years later, people listened.  He had walked the walk.

In 1985, Georgetown whacked St. John’s in the Big East Championship game, 92-80, the Hoyas’ second straight league tournament championship.  Villanova, the lowly eight seed in the Southeast Regional, had never cracked the top 20 all year and lost to Georgetown twice in the process.  GT was coached by the legendary John Thompson and led on the court by future NBA superstar Patrick Ewing.  Made no difference.  The Wildcats, playing on April Fool’s Day, led 29-28 at the half and Georgetown kept waiting for the joke to end.  In the second half, Villanova missed only ONE shot from the floor for an unheard-of shooting percent of 78, and this against the best defensive team in the nation.  Some days are diamonds, some days are stones.  Villanova, 66-64.

In 1991, the University of Nevada Las Vegas Runnin’ Rebels were considered unbeatable, even in the briar patch called the NCAA Tournament.  The defending champions had not lost all season and were rarely challenged.  In the semifinals, they were facing Duke, a team they had mortared by 30 points in the previous year’s final, scoring a giddy 103 in the bargain.  The Blue Devils decided to slow the game down.  Good idea.  UNLV was frustrated and unused to close games.  Christian Laettner and Bobby Hurley played brilliantly for Duke and UNLV coach Jerry Tarkanian admitted his team had noone who could handle Laettner inside.  “In last year’s game, we were intimidated,” said Duke’s Thomas Hill.  “This year, we knew what we were facing and we were determined not to back down.”  Duke 79-77.  The following year, Duke repeated.  The Devils’ 104-103 win over Kentucky in the semis is still considered by many to be the greatest college game of all time, Laettner hitting a long jump shot as time expired.

In 1993, the 15th-seeded Santa Clara Broncos, described by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch as “a motley jumble of eggheads, surfers and imports,” were 20-point underdogs against Arizona in the first round of the West Regional in Salt Lake City.  The Broncos, who survived almost being evicted from their hotel were unranked with a 19-11 record.  Unfortunately for Arizona, one of their surfer eggheads was Steve Nash, who later enjoyed great prominence in the National Basketball Association and coaches there still.  Santa Clara 64-61.

 

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Meanwhile, Back in 2017….

It’s been a quiet year for upsets in this year’s tournament, but there have been a few.  On Saturday, the lightly-regarded South Carolina Gamecocks overcame a big first-half lead by Duke, slipping by the Devils, 88-81 before a screaming, jubilant home crowd in Greenville, South Carolina, less than 100 miles from their Columbia campus.  That sounds odd.  Generally, the higher-ranked teams enjoy the comforts of home during the first weekend, so what happened here?

Well, HB2 happened in North Carolina, that’s what.  The so-called “bathroom bill,” which Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski has called “stupid—I’d get rid of it” prompted the NCAA to move a regional slated for Greensboro, North Carolina, out of the state.  The change of venue almost certainly cost Duke the game and came close to taking the University of North Carolina down with it.  The Tarheels barely got by Arkansas with a strong finish in an earlier game.

The television game announcers were not shy about discussing the situation, claiming “what’s important is that everyone feels welcome here.  EVERYONE feels welcome here.”

Maybe basketball fans in North Carolina who can abide losing venues will feel a little differently about being swallowed up by underdogs in the NCAA Tournament.

         

March-Madness-Celebration

 

Bracketology

The music business has its “crossover hits,” tunes so gigantically popular they jump the boundaries of their genre and grab the attention of the rest of the world, which is probably the only reason I ever heard of Tone Loc and The Funky Cold Medina.  This happens in sports, too, with football’s Super Bowl, horseracing’s Kentucky Derby and bicycling’s Tour de France.  For basketball, it’s the NCAA Tournament and The Filling Out of The Brackets.

The sixty-eight tournament teams arrive either by virtue of winning their regular-season league titles, their conference tournaments or selection by an elite committee of basketball afficionados.  There are four “play-in” games in which marginal teams battle for the right to be dismembered by Number One seeds, and then the real fun starts.  The sixty-four remaining teams are pared to sixteen the first weekend, then four the next.  The Final Four butt heads for supremacy a week later.  At the outset of the tournament, the brackets appear—giant diagrams which list all the matches, dates and times of the games and where they will be played.  The mission for those who choose to accept it is to select the winners of every game.  This, of course, has never been done in all the history of Bracketology, nor has anyone ever come close.  This does not stop millions of people from trying, for there are prizes to be won from the likes of ESPN, other television entities, sports radio and even your local BarBQ ranch.  If you are an employee of Warren Buffet, he will award you a hunk of money just for getting the final “Sweet Sixteen” correct.  The exact odds of a perfect score are one in 9.2 quintillion, if you were wondering.  You are more likely to suffer an excruciating bout of yaws, become the next Dalai Lama, find the occupants of a UFO wandering around in your back yard or die from incorrectly using products made for left-handed people than you are to fill out a perfect bracket.

Office pools across the country expect no such miracles.  They grade on the curve and the payoff goes either to the entrant who selects the winner of the most games or who earns the highest number of points, more points being awarded progressively for the later games.  Overall, 40 million Americans will fill out a bracket, which even includes the president.  Well, usually.  This year’s president balked when he was told he would have to use a pen and not a pencil with a big eraser.  Most contestants fill out two brackets, the average bet being $29.  All this business got started in 1977 at a neighborhood beer joint called Jody’s Club Forest in New York’s Staten IslandThe first year, 80 people participated in a $10-an-entry, winner-take-all format.  By 2006, Jody’s had 150,000 entries and the pot reached $1.5 million.  One of the winners had the bad form to report his good fortune on his income tax papers and the IRS went ballistic, racing in to threaten the bar’s owner with prison for tax evasion.  Only a deathbed request by a former Staten Island district attorney kept the beleaguered Jody Haggerty out of jail.  The bar is still around but nobody over there wants to talk about NCAA brackets any more.

 

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Druid Priest Oscar Brock, Master of Predicting the Future.  We think.

 

The Scientific Approach

If all this hodgepodge of teams and games is too much for your tiny brain to decipher but you feel an obligation to your office pool, take heart.  Druid priest Oscar D. Brock of New Orleans offers an Alternate Plan.  He casts ogham sticks to receive the stars’ reading on each of the games.  This usually takes about 2 1/2 hours, but what’s another 2 1/2 hours in meshugenah Jackson Square?

In this ancient practice, Brock holds 24 ogham sticks to his chest with his right hand before tossing them onto a card table.  After landing, the sticks (which are a little larger than toothpicks and include carved Gaelic letters and inscriptions) are observed, with the pile’s left side given prominence.  For each reading, Brock takes the names of the various schools competing and pairs a numeric value to a team’s name and the letters present on the sticks.  The team with the best total wins that game, or so says Oscar.  He admits it’s not an exact science but it is, he assures us, one of the most ancient sciences known to man.  It is only fair to report that Oscar lives in a modest residence and there are no Lamborghinis in his driveway.

Some people use ouija boards, bet the team with the most syllables in its name, choose the better mascot or the school with the happier colors.  This sort of stuff might work for your Aunt Rosie at the race track, where there are only ten or twelve horses in each race, but it stumbles in this cacophony of 68 teams.  Maybe we should go with Jonathan Templin, associate professor of educational psychology at the University of Kansas, where they know a little bit about basketball.  Templin has used his statistical expertise to come up with a model for predicting winners based on a wealth of data accumulated throughout the BB season.  “In statistics,” says the prof, “we’re not just interested in the prediction but how accurate the prediction is.  This model takes uncertainty and predicts how far off it is from the average with the same factors that predict the score.”  In KU’s final game of the regular season against Oklahoma State, Templin’s model predicted a final score of 87-85, Kansas.  The Jayhawks won the game, 90-85.

“The way it works is, essentially, when a team plays at home they get the advantage of scoring a few more points and giving up a few less than their opponents.  Each team has its own version of the home effect.”  Well, that’s just dandy, Professor, but most of the NCAA Tournament games are on neutral ground.  What do we do now?  We use Standard Deviations, says the man.  Poor teams can be as many as 2.23 standard deviations worse than average teams.  Florida was top-rated at the end of the season, followed by Kansas, Gonzaga, Villanova, Maryland, UCLA, Saint Mary’s, Arizona, Louisville and Notre Dame.  That doesn’t mean that they are necessarily the best teams but rather that they are the best at consistently matching their positive offensive and defensive outputs.  In essence, the model blends team strengths with team consistency.  Templin’s method seems to have arrived at most of the best teams and could probably be used with a reasonable degree of success.  When push comes to shove, however, we’re going with those ogham sticks.  As all of us Irishmen know, it never pays to ignore Gaelic inscriptions.

 

Cataract Ranch

The gongs are clanging and that means we’re drawing down to the Big Day when Bill gets his cataract surgery.  The right eye gets sliced into on March 30th, the left at a time to be determined.  The 30th being a Thursday, The Flying Pie will appear on Wednesday next week, always assuming I can still see by then.  The overwhelming variety and schedule of eyedrops may leave me blind by that time or uncomfortably goggle-eyed.  If I have to write with the left eye only, I’m afraid the column could turn out excessively socialistic, not that there’s anything wrong with that.  Anyway, there’s Good News to report.  Dr. Hunt tells me I will absolutely require a shiny new eyepatch to protect the right eye during the night, but just to be on the safe side I might wear it in the daytime, too.  I’m practicing my pirate lingo and looking through eBay’s offerings for a used peg leg (the new ones cost a fortune).  I’m a little concerned that the other pirates won’t take me seriously with a brand new eyepatch so I’m looking for ways to rough it up a little bit, sorta like the tweeners do with their new jeans.  I mean, nobody wants to be the butt of pirate jokes.  So I’ll see you all next Wednesday, figuratively, if not literally.  I’m looking forward to finally being able to read the small print.  Who knows what I’ve gotten myself into over the past few years?

 

 

That’s all, folks….

bill.killeen094@gmail.com