Saturday, December 29, 2012

Les Miserables: Fantine and M. Madeline

M. Madeleine had Fantine removed to that infirmary which he had established in his own house. He confided her to the sisters, who put her to bed. A burning fever had come on. She passed a part of the night in delirium and raving. At length, however, she fell asleep.
On the morrow, towards midday, Fantine awoke. She heard some one breathing close to her bed; she drew aside the curtain and saw M. Madeleine standing there and looking at something over her head. His gaze was full of pity, anguish, and supplication. She followed its direction, and saw that it was fixed on a crucifix which was nailed to the wall.
Thenceforth, M. Madeleine was transfigured in Fantine's eyes. He seemed to her to be clothed in light. He was absorbed in a sort of prayer. She gazed at him for a long time without daring to interrupt him. At last she said timidly:—
"What are you doing?"
M. Madeleine had been there for an hour. He had been waiting for Fantine to awake. He took her hand, felt of her pulse, and replied:—
"How do you feel?"
"Well, I have slept," she replied; "I think that I am better, It is nothing."
He answered, responding to the first question which she had put to him as though he had just heard it:—
"I was praying to the martyr there on high."
And he added in his own mind, "For the martyr here below."
M. Madeleine had passed the night and the morning in making inquiries. He knew all now. He knew Fantine's history in all its heart-rending details. He went on:—
"You have suffered much, poor mother. Oh! do not complain; you now have the dowry of the elect. It is thus that men are transformed into angels. It is not their fault they do not know how to go to work otherwise. You see this hell from which you have just emerged is the first form of heaven. It was necessary to begin there."
He sighed deeply. But she smiled on him with that sublime smile in which two teeth were lacking.
That same night, Javert wrote a letter. The next morning be posted it himself at the office of M. sur M. It was addressed to Paris, and the superscription ran: To Monsieur Chabouillet, Secretary of Monsieur le Prefet of Police. As the affair in the station-house had been bruited about, the post-mistress and some other persons who saw the letter before it was sent off, and who recognized Javert's handwriting on the cover, thought that he was sending in his resignation.
M. Madeleine made haste to write to the Thenardiers. Fantine owed them one hundred and twenty francs. He sent them three hundred francs, telling them to pay themselves from that sum, and to fetch the child instantly to M. sur M., where her sick mother required her presence.
This dazzled Thenardier. "The devil!" said the man to his wife; "don't let's allow the child to go. This lark is going to turn into a milch cow. I see through it. Some ninny has taken a fancy to the mother."
He replied with a very well drawn-up bill for five hundred and some odd francs. In this memorandum two indisputable items figured up over three hundred francs,—one for the doctor, the other for the apothecary who had attended and physicked Eponine and Azelma through two long illnesses. Cosette, as we have already said, had not been ill. It was only a question of a trifling substitution of names. At the foot of the memorandum Thenardier wrote, Received on account, three hundred francs.
M. Madeleine immediately sent three hundred francs more, and wrote, "Make haste to bring Cosette."
"Christi!" said Thenardier, "let's not give up the child."
In the meantime, Fantine did not recover. She still remained in the infirmary.
The sisters had at first only received and nursed "that woman" with repugnance. Those who have seen the bas-reliefs of Rheims will recall the inflation of the lower lip of the wise virgins as they survey the foolish virgins. The ancient scorn of the vestals for the ambubajae is one of the most profound instincts of feminine dignity; the sisters felt it with the double force contributed by religion. But in a few days Fantine disarmed them. She said all kinds of humble and gentle things, and the mother in her provoked tenderness. One day the sisters heard her say amid her fever: "I have been a sinner; but when I have my child beside me, it will be a sign that God has pardoned me. While I was leading a bad life, I should not have liked to have my Cosette with me; I could not have borne her sad, astonished eyes. It was for her sake that I did evil, and that is why God pardons me. I shall feel the benediction of the good God when Cosette is here. I shall gaze at her; it will do me good to see that innocent creature. She knows nothing at all. She is an angel, you see, my sisters. At that age the wings have not fallen off."

M. Madeleine went to see her twice a day, and each time she asked him:—
"Shall I see my Cosette soon?"
He answered:—
"To-morrow, perhaps. She may arrive at any moment. I am expecting her."
And the mother's pale face grew radiant.
"Oh!" she said, "how happy I am going to be!"
We have just said that she did not recover her health. On the contrary, her condition seemed to become more grave from week to week. That handful of snow applied to her bare skin between her shoulder-blades had brought about a sudden suppression of perspiration, as a consequence of which the malady which had been smouldering within her for many years was violently developed at last. At that time people were beginning to follow the fine Laennec's fine suggestions in the study and treatment of chest maladies. The doctor sounded Fantine's chest and shook his head.
M. Madeleine said to the doctor:—
"Has she not a child which she desires to see?" said the doctor.
"Well! Make haste and get it here!"
M. Madeleine shuddered.
Fantine inquired:—
"What did the doctor say?"
M. Madeleine forced himself to smile.
"He said that your child was to be brought speedily. That that would restore your health."
"Oh!" she rejoined, "he is right! But what do those Thenardiers mean by keeping my Cosette from me! Oh! she is coming. At last I behold happiness close beside me!"
In the meantime Thenardier did not "let go of the child," and gave a hundred insufficient reasons for it. Cosette was not quite well enough to take a journey in the winter. And then, there still remained some petty but pressing debts in the neighborhood, and they were collecting the bills for them, etc., etc.
"I shall send some one to fetch Cosette!" said Father Madeleine. "If necessary, I will go myself."
He wrote the following letter to Fantine's dictation, and made her sign it:—
          You will deliver Cosette to this person.
          You will be paid for all the little things.
          I have the honor to salute you with respect.
In the meantime a serious incident occurred. Carve as we will the mysterious block of which our life is made, the black vein of destiny constantly reappears in it.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Abandoning drug treatment...

On my drug abandonment cold turkey experiment, I felt convinced to resume the Verapamil today. Everyone has expressed concern about my blood pressure, and today it was what they characterize as "seriously elevated". I had a long discussion with the Home Health supervision, Jeremy Osmond, and yes it does just happen to be true that he is Donny's son. Anyway, Jeremy convinced me that it would be safer to resume the primary hypertension control drug to keep the blood pressure down. I conceded. I also further reasoned that calcium channel blockers are one of the oldest, most proven of the drugs I had been using. It was not likely to be causing unknown problems.

Verapamil is also used intra-arterially to treat cerebral vasospasms, like the basilar migraine syncope I have experienced. 

I was talking to Jeremy today about my continuing Home Health service, and after he took my blood pressure, finding it to be rather high, we veered off into discussing strokes and after-effects.

For no particular reason, I remembered that at the very end of my first meeting with Dr Digre, we were talking about something to do with migraines and damage to my brain stem, from the strokes. She looked rather pensive and said, kind of as an aside to herself, "...if it WAS a stroke."


The implications of that question did not strike me until long afterwards, and I have never followed up at all.

The question elaborates into, what if the brain damage was not caused by a stroke at all?

Remembering, I recalled that I was confused at one point by the inconsistent results of the cerebral angiogram they performed at the U hospital. They preferred that I stay awake for the catheterization, so we could interact if I felt anything unusual, while they were snaking a long thin wire up my left femoral artery, through my heart, and into my brain.

Seeing nothing unreasonable about their recommendation, I consented. I lay in an unusual bed that was designed to facilitate the procedure. Shaped like a crucifix, so that I lay with arms extended, and with short metal side walls all around me. it was built over a turntable that the operator could rotate to rearrange the position of my body, in order to facilitate directing the catheter to the right place.

I don't know the reason for the peculiar arrangement, and did not think to inquire, as I was lightly sedated at the time.

As the procedure commenced, I heard a great deal of excited chatter coming from the doctors witnessing it. The U is a teaching hospital, so I was not surprised.    I thought maybe they were passing around popcorn, and even imagined I could smell it. The catheter was snaked up into the right position, and a puff of xray opaque dye was injected. An xray exposure at that moment would illuminate the 
vascularization local to that artery, and then they would manipulate again to see the next subsystem. As they proceeded I overheard remarks like, "slick as a whistle!" or, "looks good!". When they neared the brain stem, the area damaged, everyone grew very quiet. No one said anything that I managed to catch for a long while. Appeared to be a somber mood that ruled the crowd from that moment.



Afterwards, the radiologist told me that in the area of the damaged brain stem, they observed a type of vascularization he characterized as "tortuous". This apparently means that the pipes resemble a plumbers nightmare.

Okay, so this is the typical appearance of the whole mess following a stroke. Or is it?

I recollect the diagnosis that Dr Digre made, also included her evaluation of my self-described "shark attacks". It seemed to say something meaningful to her, and her eventual identification was something she called "basilar migraine syncope". Apparently the theory is that periodic convulsions of the basilar artery in the brain stem interrupt blood flow, and results in episodes of spasming of the entire vascular system. This suggestion suddenly seemed very neat to me, since it might explain both the shark attacks and the strokes.

Then I described the first attack features in detail. In the sequence, I was out working with Ricky in the desert, and I was feeling somewhat ill and uneasy all day. I thought I would feel better after some hiking, to get the blood pumping or something, so I took a short hike up the bed of Paradise Creek. It was quite beautiful but surrounded on all sides by the charred remains of a huge wildfire that had destroyed most of the trees on the mountain the year before.

While I was walking up Paradise Creek, Ricky was surveying across from me on the shoulder of Paradise Mountain. We met in the middle, eventually.

We headed back to camp because rain was threatening. Just as we arrived a tremendous storm broke. My tent door was left open, so my bed got soaked. I went to sleep on the wet bed because there was nowhere else to sleep out of the rain, and I spent a restless night tossing and turning while lightning boomed. I still felt uneasy and sick, to which I added cold and wet through the long night.
The next day the sun broke on a landscape devastated by the storm. There were flooded areas in the bottom of every canyon. Ricky and I decided we couldn't work any more, and after breakfast we started packing up.

Our four wheelers and utility trailer were configured such that the bikes fit better crosswise, so we were in the habit of just picking them up bodily and swinging them across the width of the trailer, where they made a very tight fit. Anyway, I'd loaded my own bike like this many times over the past three months, but was unable to do so this time. I tried to lift it, but my right arm was suddenly not strong enough to pick up the machine, and Ricky had to do it. I thought no more about it at the time, but the weakness stuck in my memory.

On the trip home, Ricky had to drive, because I was still feeling too sick. Long drive home, and the trip was disturbing because I felt so ill. We had to travel slowly out of the Paradise Mountain area, because many places the road was washed out in the storm of the night before. We finally got home safely. I don't recall anything unusual about the rest of the day, except that I still felt queasy and sick.

After a nights sleep on a dry bed, I expected to awake feeling better, but I still felt sick when I got up. I thought maybe I would chop some firewood, and maybe the work would do me good.

I was swinging the heavy maul, breaking up big rounds of wood into chunks for firewood size. Suddenly someone hit me on the back of the head with a two by four. Or so it seemed. I even looked around behind me, to see if anyone was there. I fell down from the weakness and pain. Accompanying the tremendous shock of pain, it seemed like I heard a loud boom at that moment, but I knew I hadn't really heard anything, but inside my head.

My legs immediately turned rubbery from the shock, and I started to make my way to sit in the shade before I fell down again.

I made it to sit down on the porch, but staggered like a drunk to get there. My dad was sitting there in the rocking char, and I tried to tell him, my legs are unhinged. My speech was slurred like that of a very drunk man, and I had trouble getting the words out.

My dad called my mom to come out from the house and see if she could tell what was wrong. She figured it was heat stroke, because it was a very hot day, and I had been working very hard.
  I recovered quickly enough, and later that evening drove us all down to Wheelers for a hamburger. I actually felt better than I had most of the day, and I enjoyed a bacon cheeseburger. Stroke food.

The next day I woke up paralyzed all over my right
side. The doctors term for it is "total paresis".  I couldn't talk properly, because the right side of my mouth sagged open and flaccid.   My right arm seemed to stay crooked, as though I was holding it across my midsection, and I could not move my arm at all. My hand would still flex, but very weak and feeble.

Of course the suspicion for stroke was obvious at that point. In spite of feeling terrible, with a little help I made it into the truck, and we went off to the hospital.

 We arrived at the hospital and I immediately was interrogated about everything. I tried to describe the spasm I had experienced. But the ER attendants ignored me.

Next instalment:   Coronary Artery Bypass Grafting

Joy to the World!

Joy to the World!

The people that walked in darkness
have seen a great light:
they that dwell
in the land
of the shadow of death,
upon them hath the light shined.

For unto us a Child is born,
unto us a Son is given,
and the government shall be upon His shoulder;
and His name shall be called
The Mighty God,
The Everlasting Father,
The Prince of Peace.

Of the increase of his government and peace
there shall be no end,
upon the throne of David,
and upon his kingdom,
to order it,
and to establish it
with judgment and with justice
from henceforth even for ever.
The zeal of the LORD of hosts
will perform this.

And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed,
and all flesh shall see it together:
for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Les Miserables: Fantine

Dark thoughts held possession of Fantine's heart

When she saw that she could no longer dress her hair, she began to hate every one about her. She had long shared the universal veneration for Father Madeleine; yet, by dint of repeating to herself that it was he who had discharged her, that he was the cause of her unhappiness, she came to hate him also, and most of all. When she passed the factory in working hours, when the workpeople were at the door, she affected to laugh and sing.

An old workwoman who once saw her laughing and singing in this fashion said, "There's a girl who will come to a bad end."

She took a lover, the first who offered, a man whom she did not love, out of bravado and with rage in her heart. He was a miserable scamp, a sort of mendicant musician, a lazy beggar, who beat her, and who abandoned her as she had taken him, in disgust.

She adored her child.

The lower she descended, the darker everything grew about her, the more radiant shone that little angel at the bottom of her heart. She said, "When I get rich, I will have my Cosette with me;" and she laughed. Her cough did not leave her, and she had sweats on her back.

One day she received from the Thenardiers a letter couched in the following terms: "Cosette is ill with a malady which is going the rounds of the neighborhood. A miliary fever, they call it. Expensive drugs are required. This is ruining us, and we can no longer pay for them. If you do not send us forty francs before the week is out, the little one will be dead."

She burst out laughing, and said to her old neighbor: "Ah! they are good! Forty francs! the idea! That makes two napoleons! Where do they think I am to get them? These peasants are stupid, truly."

Nevertheless she went to a dormer window in the staircase and read the letter once more. Then she descended the stairs and emerged, running and leaping and still laughing.

Some one met her and said to her, "What makes you so gay?"

She replied: "A fine piece of stupidity that some country people have written to me. They demand forty francs of me. So much for you, you peasants!"

As she crossed the square, she saw a great many people collected around a carriage of eccentric shape, upon the top of which stood a man dressed in red, who was holding forth. He was a quack dentist on his rounds, who was offering to the public full sets of teeth, opiates, powders and elixirs.

Fantine mingled in the group, and began to laugh with the rest at the harangue, which contained slang for the populace and jargon for respectable people. The tooth-puller espied the lovely, laughing girl, and suddenly exclaimed: "You have beautiful teeth, you girl there, who are laughing; if you want to sell me your palettes, I will give you a gold napoleon apiece for them."

"What are my palettes?" asked Fantine.

"The palettes," replied the dental professor, "are the front teeth, the two upper ones."

"How horrible!" exclaimed Fantine.

"Two napoleons!" grumbled a toothless old woman who was present. "Here's a lucky girl!"

Fantine fled and stopped her ears that she might not hear the hoarse voice of the man shouting to her: "Reflect, my beauty! two napoleons; they may prove of service. If your heart bids you, come this evening to the inn of the Tillac d'Argent; you will find me there."

Fantine returned home. She was furious, and related the occurrence to her good neighbor Marguerite: "Can you understand such a thing? Is he not an abominable man? How can they allow such people to go about the country! Pull out my two front teeth! Why, I should be horrible! My hair will grow again, but my teeth! Ah! what a monster of a man! I should prefer to throw myself head first on the pavement from the fifth story! He told me that he should be at the Tillac d'Argent this evening."

"And what did he offer?" asked Marguerite.

"Two napoleons."

"That makes forty francs."

"Yes," said Fantine; "that makes forty francs."

She remained thoughtful, and began her work. At the expiration of a quarter of an hour she left her sewing and went to read the Thenardiers' letter once more on the staircase.

On her return, she said to Marguerite, who was at work beside her:—

"What is a miliary fever? Do you know?"

"Yes," answered the old spinster; "it is a disease."

"Does it require many drugs?"

"Oh! terrible drugs."

"How does one get it?"

"It is a malady that one gets without knowing how."

"Then it attacks children?"

"Children in particular."

"Do people die of it?"

"They may," said Marguerite.

Fantine left the room and went to read her letter once more on the staircase.
That evening she went out, and was seen to turn her steps in the direction of the Rue de Paris, where the inns are situated.

The next morning, when Marguerite entered Fantine's room before daylight,—for they always worked together, and in this manner used only one candle for the two,—she found Fantine seated on her bed, pale and frozen. She had not lain down. Her cap had fallen on her knees. Her candle had burned all night, and was almost entirely consumed. Marguerite halted on the threshold, petrified at this tremendous wastefulness, and exclaimed:—

"Lord! the candle is all burned out! Something has happened."

Then she looked at Fantine, who turned toward her her head bereft of its hair.

Fantine had grown ten years older since the preceding night.

"Jesus!" said Marguerite, "what is the matter with you, Fantine?"

"Nothing," replied Fantine. "Quite the contrary. My child will not die of that frightful malady, for lack of succor. I am content."

So saying, she pointed out to the spinster two napoleons which were glittering on the table.

"Ah! Jesus God!" cried Marguerite. "Why, it is a fortune! Where did you get those louis d'or?"

"I got them," replied Fantine.

At the same time she smiled. The candle illuminated her countenance. It was a bloody smile. A reddish saliva soiled the corners of her lips, and she had a black hole in her mouth.

The two teeth had been extracted.

She sent the forty francs to Montfermeil.

After all it was a ruse of the Thenardiers to obtain money. Cosette was not ill.

Fantine threw her mirror out of the window. She had long since quitted her cell on the second floor for an attic with only a latch to fasten it, next the roof; one of those attics whose extremity forms an angle with the floor, and knocks you on the head every instant. The poor occupant can reach the end of his chamber as he can the end of his destiny, only by bending over more and more.

She had no longer a bed; a rag which she called her coverlet, a mattress on the floor, and a seatless chair still remained. A little rosebush which she had, had dried up, forgotten, in one corner. In the other corner was a butter-pot to hold water, which froze in winter, and in which the various levels of the water remained long marked by these circles of ice. She had lost her shame; she lost her coquetry. A final sign. She went out, with dirty caps. Whether from lack of time or from indifference, she no longer mended her linen. As the heels wore out, she dragged her stockings down into her shoes. This was evident from the perpendicular wrinkles. She patched her bodice, which was old and worn out, with scraps of calico which tore at the slightest movement. The people to whom she was indebted made "scenes" and gave her no peace. She found them in the street, she found them again on her staircase. She passed many a night weeping and thinking. Her eyes were very bright, and she felt a steady pain in her shoulder towards the top of the left shoulder-blade. She coughed a great deal. She deeply hated Father Madeleine, but made no complaint. She sewed seventeen hours a day; but a contractor for the work of prisons, who made the prisoners work at a discount, suddenly made prices fall, which reduced the daily earnings of working-women to nine sous. Seventeen hours of toil, and nine sous a day! Her creditors were more pitiless than ever. The second-hand dealer, who had taken back nearly all his furniture, said to her incessantly, "When will you pay me, you hussy?" What did they want of her, good God! She felt that she was being hunted, and something of the wild beast developed in her. About the same time, Thenardier wrote to her that he had waited with decidedly too much amiability and that he must have a hundred francs at once; otherwise he would turn little Cosette out of doors, convalescent as she was from her heavy illness, into the cold and the streets, and that she might do what she liked with herself, and die if she chose.

"A hundred francs," thought Fantine. "But in what trade can one earn a hundred sous a day?"

"Come!" said she, "let us sell what is left."

The unfortunate girl became a woman of the town.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Chronic Migraine story: I am taught...

The doctor who finally helped me with migraines, Dr Digre, told me I have a more "sensitive and easily irritated" brain. Oh, joy. I kinda thought what she meant was that I was easily amused.

What happened before she told me that was that I was confronted with a little black box with blinking LED lights. I was to look at the lights and tell whether I could still see the blinking or steady on at the current rate setting. At some point, depending on the eye to brain interface, the perception of flickering would change into a blur of speed at which point the interpretive brain would change the perception from flicker to steady on.  And blah blah blah, more scientific tricks that had little significance to me, at the time.  Nothing to lose.

The technician giving the test would manipulate the settings on the box and then question me if I could still see the blinking. After recording my answers,  he would switch to box to a different rate. The box selected its rate as a random sequence, in no particular order, varying from high to low and back again across a whole wide spectrum of rates.

As I understood, I was impressed with the testing methodology. Simple and accurate. There was no possible way for the test to be fooled, because the variation of blink rate changed at random unpredictable sequence, controlled by the machine. As the test was conducted, enough samples could easily be taken to virtually eliminate sampling errors. The technician could not even control the blink rate at the current setting, so bias from the technician was impossible. Blink blink blink solid blink solid solid blink blink solid blink blink.

Turns out that individual perception of the highest oscillation rate varies widely. Those people with average flicker rate perception tended to lose the blinking somewhere over 45-50 cycles per second. They rated my perception at among the highest normally measured, more than 90 cycles per second.

Yeah, but so what? I didn't get it. Why did they care? I wasn't filled with any great sense of accomplishment to learn that my perception limit was much higher than average. Just a fluke, I guess. I never asked for it, that I know of.

After some more testing methods and questions from the Dr. she explained to me. The reason they want to determine individual blink rate perception is that the design of pieces of our whole system of advanced technology, from fluorescent lights to CRT displays to Game Boys, is based on assumptions and compromises around calculations of the average oscillation rate perception speed. Are you following this so far? In an especially significant choice of design specification, the engineers of fluorescent lighting devices decided that the optimum flicker rate of their light tubes would be based on their measurements of the average individual rate perception. For no particular reason but that somebody had to decide on a rate before they mass manufacture billions of these things.

Well, just my tough luck. I don't match the standard design. When the eye to brain connection encounters flickering rates at speeds near the border of transition from blink to solid, turns out all kinds of unforeseen and heretofore unknown things begin to happen.

For those with more sensitive brains, the oscillation rate so near the limit of perception begins to irritate that individual brain in some unpredictable ways. Some develop eye strain. Some become cranky and irritable for no reason. Some get whopping headaches. And some people develop chronic migraines, subject to variation in cumulative exposure and the occultic prediction of next phase of the moon, and other unknown unknowable and unpredictable factors.

Wow! So that's one plausible explanation for why I have constant headaches. And in spite of the fact that other people all around me are not suffering the same ill effects, I need some protection. Like a bullet proof suit or something. To protect me from a specific vulnerability or weakness that is especially my own.

Dr Digree told me that her researchers had discovered that the sensitive people were especially affected most often by exposure to high intensity fluorescent lighting systems, and CRT display devices of a particular refresh rate lower than around 70 cycles per second.

Damn! I had been working long hours with CRT display devices under high intensity fluorescent lighting systems for more than twenty years!

Okay, so Dr Digre said that in response to the research study, her group had developed filtered glass lenses that would effectively block exposure of the eye brain interface from the bombardment of some of this harmful lighting. The lenses cut out enough of the damaging rays of the right frequency of blinking light to protect sensitive people from the lights harmful effects.


Hallelujah! All it would take is wearing some sort of super glasses, and my problems would disappear! Well, not so simple. For chronic migranes, this eliminated only a few of the common triggers that set off some migrane sufferers anguish. The bright lights of the city are not the only thing that start a migrane so often in certain people. There are plenty of others. Who cares, its worth a try in any case.

Dr Digre wrote me a prescription for the optician, and I went off to get me a new pair of funky looking dark glasses.

I was crestfallen when I started wearing them in places were the risk factor for me was high. But I conducted a few studies of my own, and discovered that wearing the glasses in certain places really did make a difference.

It wasn't a problem just everywhere. My CRTs had been upgraded to higher refresh rates long ago, so the glasses made no difference that I could tell in working for long periods of staring at computer screens. But I discovered to my surprise that the most consistent offensive place was LDS chapels everywhere. All across the world, LDS chapel lighting systems seem to have been built with a cycles per second rate in the critical range. I started wearing the glasses all the time, whenever I spent long periods in the church building. The problem started to show improvement, but not at the end quite yet.

Dr Digre told me that one other problem area her researchers discovered was a very high correlation of migrane sufferers and extremely high blood pressure. She called up my regular doctor, discussed her findings with him, and increased the dosage of calcium channel blocker that I had already been taking to the thereputic range for this problem. I left the doctor's office feeling optimistic about the solution to my problems.

It worked. A week or so later, the headaches began to dwindle in intensity. Pretty soon they faded into the background noise. And I haven't experienced this particular problem since. Happy days!

Next instalment:   Abandoning Drug Treatment

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Letters from my dad 3


I remember the night dad was involved in that big wreck that shattered his hip socket. After Uncle Dean brought mom home to clean up, we went back to see him. When we slowly walked into the dreaded shadows of that darkened room, I saw him all strung up with the traction ropes, and bandages on him just everywhere. I remember mom saying to me, grasping me on the shoulder, in a hushed tragic whisper, "Oh Jim! He's hurt SO bad!"

I'd never seen or heard anything that wounded me so deeply with the feeling of absolute grief and distress, although there have been plenty of times like that since. But I tried not to cry, because for some stupid reason I was supposed to be tough, at the time. I thought mom needed me to lean on. Stupid naive teenager. Turns out she's always been tougher than I could ever hope to be. But that's another story, isn't it?

As that instant passed, I remember the feeling that came over me. It was not really comforting or any silly stuff like that. It was just the KNOWING that dad would be all right. Eventually. And realizing that although he was as broken and in as much pain as a man can be and still be alive, I knew he was going to survive. I knew he would be with us for quite a while yet. I've really never felt anything like it, before or since.

Letters from my dad 2

Today I told mom a story about dad that she says she never knew about him before. A silly sentimental story, perhaps. But I thought it characterized him and how he lived, in a fairly unique way.

When the new chapel was built in Manhattan Beach, Coba
be Brothers Plumbing had the contract for the plumbing of the new building. I was on the building site one day, early in the construction. My dad was there working, but I don't remember helping him that day. I guess I was too little, though I did a lot of plumbers helper kind of work with him later on, on other projects.

Anyway, I just kinda recall that he seemed kind of irritated with me all day. I supposed he was mad about something, because I was a little too stupid to understand what was wrong, and I pretty much stayed away from him all day.

I understood that he was working on a bathroom for the workers all to use, while they were there at the building site. There were lots of other people there working at the time, but I didn't really think too much about it.

Later in the day, dad got more and more cross, and I could tell he was in a hurry for something to get done. Of course, I was busy myself, playing with my cousins and friends who were running around the building site.

Later still, I happened to be where my dad was working, and I was shocked to see clear evidence that he had wet his pants. I'd never seen anything like that before happen to my dad, and was still in the stage where I had been thoroughly indoctrinated with the idea that wetting your pants in front of other people is shameful. I started making fun of my dad, and asking him was he still a baby, that he wet his pants right so everyone could see it. He seemed to pay no attention to my teasing, and by then it was obvious even to me that he was working so hard, even in a frenzy, trying to get the plumbing work done. Pretty quickly I got the hint that he wasn't going to respond to my teasing, so I left him alone.

He finally got his plumbing work done to his satisfaction, and I saw many other people come and line up for a turn in his newly finished bathroom, a lot of them in a big hurry. It was almost comical to watch, but I still didn't get what was happening. I should have been more perceptive, because much later I realized what was going on.

His assignment that day was simply to get a functioning temporary bathroom installed. He was working as hard as he could, but it took a long time, for some reason much longer than he had expected, and I'm sure he noticed a lot of them sneaking off into the bushes to relieve themselves, as there was not yet a working bathroom available. I can see now, in hindsight, that he cared much more about satisfying the needs of the other workers than he did about taking care of his own needs. He refused to take just five minutes to step off into the trees and relieve himself, even when his own need could no longer be denied. He simply refused to stop until the bathroom was working. He wet his pants rather than take the time off from the work to serve the urgent need of others who were waiting and depending on him.

I thought about this a long time after it happened, and it finally dawned on me that my dad was a plumber who cared about getting the work done more than he cared about his own comfort. A real plumber's story, perhaps, but a real lesson too, about how much my dad cared about other people.

All his life, I saw this lesson magnified and reiterated many times. I guess I'm pretty dull, but I finally came to realize that he really had sacrificed his own interest countless times, to serve others, and to make other people's lives better, even when it cost him. A lot of people thought my dad was only a plumber. I realized he was something far more important, and that has made a lot of difference to me throughout my life.

My dad was a true life superhero, disguised as a plumber.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Remembering the Teton Dam disaster...

On the rock face at Heise Hot Springs

 On belay

I was on an a morning rock-climbing jaunt at Heise Hot Springs when the Teton Dam broke on June 5, 1976.

Growing rupture in earthfill dam swallows Cats

Some time that morning, the as the breach in the Teton dam began to manifest, observers had raised the alarm that the dam was in danger of failing.

A couple of Caterpillar operators had tried to push dirt and rocks into the breach, but were swallowed up by the growing chasm.  The men escaped, but the bulldozers were swept into the gulf and lost forever.

The Teton Dam bursts

On returning from the rock-climbing, we noticed that the Rexburg radio stations were no longer on the air.  We had no inkling of the flood.

As we stopped at a convenience store on the road back, we overheard a number of people telling each other flood stories.  We still had no suspicion about what had taken place while we were out of town that morning.

As we approached Rexburg on the highway, it was a bit of a shock to encounter a farmer wearing bib overalls and hip waders, and wielding a shotgun, standing in the road blocking the way into town.  We tried to explain that we were students at Ricks College, and we lived in Rexburg, but he insisted that the way was covered by the flood, and he would not let us pass.

We turned around and followed the dirt back roads into Rexburg, approaching through fields above the town.  As we came over a rise, it was apparent that the story was no exaggeration.  The vista across the valley was a virtual lake.

 Flooded Rexburg

At the transition to pavement we encountered a massive traffic jam of vehicles, driven by people from Rexburg who had gathered there, fleeing from the flood.

The Ricks College campus is built on the slope overlooking the valley, and was not flooded, but the water spread far and wide through downtown Rexburg and other smaller towns across the valley.

I left off my passengers at the Ricks College student union building, and attempted to travel across the main highway on the west side of town to reach my apartment.  As I approached, the water was beginning to recede.  Crossing the highway in my old Ford pickup, the water just reached up to the middle of the doors.
Flooded highway

That summer I had been staying in a basement apartment in the home of Dr Sam Brewster on the southwest end of town.  We had been working together on an agriculture research project.  I forged through the swirling floodwaters and approached the home, just as the water began to ebb.

Flooded Rexburg home

As I approached the home on the mud-covered roads, everything else appeared to be normal.  But as I drove up, I saw that the driveways and sidewalks were buried deep in the slick silty mud deposited by the flood waters.

I opened the garage door of the house, and went inside to inspect the basement.  The entrance to the basement was completely filled to the top with water.  It looked just like a muddy swimming pool.  I descended a couple of tentative steps down into the water, but to my consternation found it to be freezing cold.  As I stood there knee deep in the water, I could see my breath steaming out in the frigid air.  I quickly retreated.

By this time, most of the flooding around the house had receded, and I made my way through the deep mud into the back yard to see if I could get into my apartment through the basement windows.

All the windows were covered from within by the pool of cold brown muddy water.  I managed to pry one window opened, and out flowed a great surge of muddy water.  Along with the water, a number of my soggy muddy belongings also surged out into the back yard mud, books and clothing and bed sheets, all wadded up in a sodden, muddy mess.

I gave up on trying to salvage anything of my belongings at that moment, and decided to instead begin work on clearing away the slimy mud that was covering the driveway and sidewalks.  I located an old snowshovel in the wreckage of the garage and began attempting to shovel some of the mess out into the street.

Right about that time, Sam Brewster drove up.  He expressed great relief on finding me well, as I had been out of contact since the flood hit.

We started in on trying to clean things up.  It was a horrible mess, with all that stinking mud, and we wanted to shovel it off before it started drying.

Anyway, after our initial cleanup effort I went back into town and talked to Doc Lowder, one of the Ricks College professors.  Doc said I could move back into the Delti Phi house where I had been staying earlier.  It was on higher ground and had escaped the flood.  So I had a place to take a bath and sleep.

The next day was Sunday, but I had no clean clothes to wear to church.  All I had was the filthy stuff I had been wearing to clean up the mud.  I went up to the Ricks College gym building, and they had a big collection of donated clothing, so I rummaged through it and found some trousers and a clean shirt to put on.

As I later found out, President Eyring, who was then president of Ricks College, had taken steps to mobilize disaster relief efforts from the Church.  He also opened up the facilities of the Ricks College campus for victims of the flood to take refuge.  The cafeteria began serving meals to flood victims, and continued for several months.

As I recall, we had a very short Church meeting, and the branch president encouraged everyone to go out and do what they could to help the cleanup effort.

Also that Sunday, the phone company had set up a bank of emergency phones on the Ricks campus, and I was able to call my parents in southern California to assure them that I was okay.   They had seen the news about the flood, but were unable to call and find out what was going on, because all the phone service had been discontinued with the flooding.

I asked them to find a pump to send that we could use to drain basements.  They found one right away, and my brother Tom travelled to Rexburg the next day to help us empty out basements all over Rexburg.  We spent the rest of that summer helping to clean up the mess.

Cleaning up a flooded basement in Rexburg

After my brother arrived with the pump, we started working on draining out basements.

Mud-filled basement of Rexburg home

My older brother's wife Valerie was from the Hibbard area northwest of Rexburg, and she asked me to try and drive out to Joe and Erna's place in Hibbard to check on them, since they had no phone service and no way to communicate.

I drove out the highway that heads northwest out of Rexburg toward the Hibbard area, and found part of the road obstructed by houses that had been lifted off their foundation by the flood.

Teton River after flooding

After threading through the houses sitting in the middle of the road road, I approached the crossing of the Teton River.  It had been scoured bare by the surging flood water.  There were no standing trees or vegetation left.  I bounced my pickup through the maze of cobblestones across the bare river channel.  What had been a peaceful quiet flowing small stream of water now seemed to be something like a half mile wide.

After crossing the denuded river bed, I arrived in the Hibbard area and higher ground.  Joe's house appeared to be untouched by the flood - it was high and dry.  As I drove up to the house, Erna was out trying to water her flowers from a watering can, and Joe was in the garage frying up meat on his Coleman stove, because the power had been out there since the flood, and all the food from their freezer was thawing.

Anyway, Joe said they had climbed up onto the roof of the house to watch the flood.  The waters had parted around them, so their little neighborhood was a virtual island.  But they were doing just fine.

Flood cleanup efforts continued.  Dr Brewster's basement was pumped out and the mud scooped up.  We set up a little reclamation station on his driveway, with Wilma running the hose trying to wash off the mud from items we were retrieving from the basement.  Initially we tried putting some of the washable stuff through the washing machine, but the mud proved too much for the laundry, and we abandoned that effort.

Sam's academic book collection was not salvageable.  The Bureau of Reclamation flood relief team recommeded to the people of Rexburg that floodwater contamination was likely to have spoiled all home-canned preserves, so we discarded hundreds of bottles of food that had been so laboriously prepared by Wilma.  There was also tons of food storage wheat that had been in the basement, and was spoiled by the flood waters.  Most all of the children's toys had been in the basement, and were ruined by the muddy water.  Of course all the major furniture was ruined and beyond salvage.

The water in Sam's basement had just lapped at the ceiling in most places, so none of the upstairs part of the house was too damaged.  But all the sheetrock in the basement was ruined by the muddy water, and had to be ripped out.

When we finally had everything cleaned up and torn down to bare studs, there was one final insulting reminder of the flood.  Turns out, the flood had carried silt and gravel into the sewers throughout Rexburg, and the sewage was no longer being carried away.  Enough sewage backed up through the connection to the house that it began flooding out of the plumbing opening for the toilet that had been there.

Raw sewage began gushing out in a stinking geyser, and flooded the basement with several inches of filthy standing water, and other things the sewage brought.  We reported the problem to the city, and they sent a vacuum truck to clean out the local sewer connections in the neighborhood the next day.

As we continued to work on recovering Sam's basement, I eventually had a bit of time to spend ranging around and exploring the area.  I was amazed and dismayed at the devastation.

Junk piled up in the front yard, flooded Rexburg home

Prior to the flood, one of the people I had befriended in the Rexburg area lived on a ranch just northeast of town.  It was a family with all daughters that for some reason had a number of horses that the girls would no longer ride.  I spent a number of weekend afternoons on that ranch, helping exercise the horses for them.

After the flood, I took a trip up to that area to see what had become of them.  It was as if the face of the earth had been scoured clean.  There was no trace left of the ranch house or barns, not even foundations to be seen.  I never found out what happened to those people.

Throughout Rexburg, people had lived in their basements for years.  The floodwaters made a wreck of many homes in just a few hours time.

Rexburg home basement ruins

On the north end of Rexburg, there had been a sawmill on the banks of the Teton River.  Much of the flood damage sustained in that area resulted from sawlogs that drifted on the surge.  Logs were jammed up against the side of home and buildings, and many of them gave way under the pressure of the logs in the current.

Log damaged homes in Rexburg

Businesses along the highway going north out of Rexburg were destroyed by log and water damage.  The highway paving itself was pretty much gone.  The first time I braved the highway north, it was just a dirt path threaded through logjams and wreckage bulldozed out of the way by a big Caterpillar.

Rexburg gas station on north highway

Some of the Rexburg businesses on the north end of town were farm implement dealers, and they were virtually wiped out.

Wrecked farm machinery north Rexburg

 Most of the little town of Sugar City on the bank of the Teton River was virtually swept away in the flood.  In many areas, bare foundations were left by the flood waters.

Sugar City flood damage

Some time later, the Bureau of Reclamation set up desks in the gym at the Ricks College campus for people to file damage claims.

 People filing damage claims at Ricks gym

Turns out less than a dozen people were killed in the flood, but many hundreds of millions of dollars in property damage were sustained.  Tens of thousands of cattle and horses were killed, along with many other domestic and wild animals in the flooded area.   Estimates are that the Bureau of Reclamation spent $100 million to construct the Teton Dam, then caused up to $2 billion in damages from the flood.

One of the most disturbing images from the flood aftermath that stays with me is a picture in my mind of thousand of animals being buried in a huge mass grave, being covered over with dirt by a massive bulldozer.

A museum was later created in Rexburg to house flood memorabilia.  The museum is housed in the old Rexburg Tabernacle, which survived the flood.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Snail Hollow: The Dark Times

There have been some very dark times, in my life.  I spent quite a bit of time in quiet places, behind locked doors.  People were trying to touch me, to communicate and understand what was wrong.  Which was ever frustrating because I was never sure myself.  Suffice it to say some kind of chronic major mental depression afflicted me.  Anyway, that's what the Doctors quoted from the DSM.  But I suspect that was mostly for insurance billing purposes.  None of them had a clue as to what was going wrong, inside of me.

In one instance I spent several weeks in the psych ward at Lakeview Hospital in West Valley.   At the time I was totally self-absorbed with my own problems.  It was as if looking at the rest of the world all the time through the wrong end of the binoculars.  Everything outside of me was much smaller than life.  I couldn't muster enough interest in the world to even begin to believe it was real.  For some reason I felt hurt and continual pain, not of the physical kind, but agonizing nonetheless, deep in my own soul.  I felt hopeless and numb, and was sure I had nothing better to look forward to.  I was surrounded by darkness.

Several of the counsellors at the hospital spent time working with me.  They attempted to get me to stop being so self-centered, and to begin to see around me again like normal.  One woman gave me old videos to watch, and I was supposed to write my impressions.  I filled a number of notebook pages with my observations about the problems people in the movies encountered in life.  I'm not sure what I was supposed to learn from this exercise, but it occupied a lot of time, of which I had plenty.  The staff nurses were watching me suspiciously, because they had apparently been told that I was so depressed that I was a suicide risk.

Anyway, one night I was trying to read my scriptures, but I didn't like the overhead fluorescents, so I was sitting at one of those little reading desks, like they have in the library.  It had a light of its own, but it turns out to be unplugged, so the reading lamp would not work.

Attempting to plug it in, I was crawling down on the floor.  Need I mention, the room was also equipped with closed circuit camera, to monitor my actions.  The nurses were watching me get down on the floor and fuss with the electrical plug.  They decided I was trying to harm myself.

Right then they decided that immediate intervention was warranted.  One of the nurses slammed the door open and demanded to know just what did I think I was doing.  Mystified, I told her I was plugging in the lamp.  She accused me of trying to kill myself, and told me they had been watching me trying to do it!  I was open-mouthed in disbelief, and unable to respond.

At that time the other nurse returned with an orderly.  He was about seven feet tall and weighing in at about the tonnage of a dump truck.  The nurse repeated the charge that I was attempting suicide, and they were obligated to confine me in a more secure room where I could be more closely monitored.  I felt disinclined to argue with the orderly-truck, so I complied without comment.

They put me in a nicely padded room across from the nursing station, and someone there was watching me all the time.  I sat there on the bed for a while, then decided that I wanted water, so I picked up the big hospital cup that I was using for ice water.  It was empty, so I flipped the lid off onto the bed, and went out the door to get more water.

Apparently the nurses had been watching me closely.  What they said they saw on camera was me emptying the container of ice water onto the bed.  They were immediately incensed that I would mistreat the bed so abusingly and threateningly that they resolved I should no longer have a bed.

This bed was not the type they keep in most hospital rooms.  It was a heavy pedestal made for psych wards, hundreds of pounds in weight, apparently designed to frustrate any insane attempts to move it from its proper position.  Undaunted, they swarmed into the room, ripped off the bedding, and wrestled that platform out of the room.  I would just have to sleep on the floor for mistreating my bed.

At that point they decided I was acting dangerously, and they called the orderly-truck to come back.  He was apparently amused by their hysterics and refused to respond a second time. 

The two nurses were so worried, they  brought out a restraining device to put me in.  It looked something like a cross between a chaise-lounge webbing and a cattle squeeze.  It rolled along on wheels, and they placed it in a strategic location where they could capture me when I ran berserk.

After they impounded my bed for bad behavior, I had no other alternative but to lay on the floor.  I went to sleep eventually, unaware that the nurses were standing vigil outside the door, all night long.

Well, the next morning, the Doctor arrived and was briefed by the frenzied and terrorized nurses.  He watched the video of the surveillance monitor, and laughed at their silliness.  After I had a chance to explain my side of the story, he told the nurses to put back the bed and stop being so paranoid.  He discharged me from the hospital later that day.

Next instalment:  Chronic Migraine