Wednesday, November 30, 2005

You brought me to the vet. I hate you.

Since David is busy having a blood transfusion, I committed the ultimate act of bravery: taking Hugh to the vet for his shots. Believe you me, I wasn't looking forward to it, especially after all the stories I heard about previous trips to the vet. But I suspected he was having some other problems, so it had to be done.

To make a long story short, we survived. More on this later.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Chemo Today

ADDITION: Tuesday, 11pm

Dave's Logbook: Name, Rank and Medical Report

An Ode to the Lowly Hydrant

Hey! My photo of this hydrant in front of the Rockefeller Center was featured in Utata!

Utata: in front of Rockefeller Center

Funny, that. I shot this hydrant specifically for the Flickr group called The Birdsill Holly Society, and it ends up here.

'The Birdsill Holly Society' is one of my favourite Flickr photo pools; I actively seek out interesting hydrants for it, which guarantees at least a stare or two from passersby. I took this in front of NBC Studios, so it was more like three or four stares.

Three Cheers For Recycling


The other night I successfully completed my first attempt at creating a photo book, and I used recycled materials:
  • cardboard from shipments
  • ribbon from gifts received
  • an old tablecloth dug out of David's junk storage containers
It's amazing how much stuff can be recycled rather than buying things new. At the same time, I can't believe the things that people throw away. Just the other week I saw two perfectly usable ride-on toy cars that kids could still use, sitting on the curb. Every seven days the same neighbours put out no less than FIVE giant rubbish bins on wheels stuffed to the gills. We barely fill two medium-capacity bags between two adults, so how does a family of five manage to accumulate 400% more garbage than we do???

I went to the dollar store yesterday near our house for the first time, and I'm feeling guilty as a result of it. Why?

I found large numbers of items which EASILY cost more than $1 to produce. Dollar stores are everywhere, and how they manage to make a profit is that everything comes from China, where the labour costs next to nothing. I've never been entirely comfortable with the idea of supporting an economy with such an atrocious record of human rights violations, especially one where obviously people are not getting paid a working wage. If they were, we'd be paying more than a dollar for many of those goods on the shelves. I'm not saying most of the inventory is worth much more than that -- the stuff barely holds together after it leaves the store -- but there's still the cost of human labour in addition to machinery, importing, distribution, etc.

It's not that I wish to pay ridiculous sums of money for cheap goods at a big box store rather than a dollar store. Dollar stores have a limited selection of goods, anyway, they're not direct competitors for any one type of store. There will always be a market for cheap goods. But what makes things worse is that because the items are so incredibly cheap, we don't think twice about throwing them away. Then buying more of the same! It's not really the act of buying that I'm railing against, it's the consumption-quick disposal-consumption cycle that gets fed by the steady increase of a wider selection of disposable goods at prices which cannot support fair costs for labour. They may not label themselves as "The Disposable Goods Store", but society views dollar stores that way. Either our desire for quality items (manufactured by people getting paid properly) is diminished, or our consideration for the energy that is required to make a product is superseded by what we're willing to pay for it. In other words, we don't care if Chinese people work for pennies as long as we don't pay more than pennies.

How this relates to me fumbling around with making a photo book from recycled materials is that it took me so long to create the damn thing that I had time to ask myself the following questions:

"How much would I pay for someone to make this for me?"
"How much is the other person worth to me that I would make this for them?"
"How much easier it would be if I just BOUGHT one?!?"
"What can I do to make this easier next time?"
"Do Chinese people ask themselves, 'Why would a Westerner pay for such crap?'"

Monday, November 28, 2005

Because Nothing Says 'Thanksgiving' Like Inflatable Advertising

[photo by gail on the web]

We stayed in the perfect location to see the parade, less than two blocks away. We didn't even have to check out first -- we had enough time to see the parade, have brunch, return to the hotel, then check out. It's a good thing, too, the subways along Broadway looked pretty crowded.

We got showered, dressed, headed down the street and lo and behold -- there was SpongeBob SquarePants floating by! We even managed to make our way to the barriers at West 58th, which was good for my cousin, who's a head shorter than I am, and I'm 5'3" (160cm)! Kids were hoisted onto shoulders, but I couldn't very well do that for Maureen.

The forecast was for rain or snow, but we got neither -- a few drops splattered for less than five minutes, but otherwise the weather held out, with even some sunny periods. The organisers only cancel the parade due to high winds, which can cause the helium-filled balloons to knock over posts into the crowd. I only found out later, via the news on my mobile phone, that towards the end of the parade there was an accident involving a young girl and her older sister, sending them to the hospital with minor injuries.

The parade itself seemed shorter than I'd expected; for the Mother of All Parades in the U.S. I was expecting something bigger, maybe. I'd never seen the parade on television, even though this marks its 79th year, I'd only heard about it. After all, there is no Macy's in Canada (or any other country, for that matter, apart from U.S. territories such as Puerto Rico and Guam). But it's the most popular parade, probably owing to those huge inflatable balloons that anyone can see, even little people. Most parades just have floats, which are less visible but don't require dozens of handlers.

I brought the Pentax K-1000 and two lenses (50mm and 80-200mm zoom), the Canon A80, three flash cards, and an extra sweater, hoping to get some good crowd shots. Fat chance! I had even less room to move than in Times Square for New Year's -- there was NO WAY I could even move my hand far enough down the barrel to use the zoom, it was that tight. It's a good thing I'm not claustrophobic. Plus, the jostling and cloudy weather weren't conducive to careful film shooting and manual adjustments; it made more sense to use the digicam. I let Maureen move to the barrier for a better view, and I hung back a little, aiming for higher angle photos and using the Canon's vari-angle screen to fake some height. I'm sure the people behind me must've been annoyed every time my arm shot up to take video or a photo, but that's what we short people must do!

Sunday, November 27, 2005

NYC Recap: Hudson Hotel

My cousin who lives in upstate New York is moving to California in a few weeks, so we decided to spend Thanksgiving together in New York City before she left the East Coast and David would have dinner with his mother.

David's health during the week made me reassess the feasibility of this trip, but after monitoring the situation on Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, we decided it was OK for me to go to New York overnight and return as planned on Thursday evening.

I used Hotwire this time to see what hotel deals were available for Midtown. I was expecting higher demand, what with it being the holidays and the annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade and the expected crowds (estimates run in the area of 2.4 million spectators). I'd found some deals in the Upper East Side, but figured I'd gamble on getting in closer to the action along the west side, even though sites such as Hotwire don't divulge the name of the hotel or its exact location until after the purchase is made.

I lucked out this time, getting a hotel less than two blocks off Broadway, a block from Columbus Circle metro station, near Central Park West:

Hudson Hotel
356 West 58th Street

I read hotel reviews on various travel sites, and the number one complaint was how small the rooms are. I don't know if the majority of people just don't do their research or are accustomed to expansive hotel rooms, but New York is high-density living and space is at a premium. It's clearly stated on the website that the rooms are compact:
"Inspired by the romance of ocean travel, and reminiscent of a private cabin on an upscale yacht, Hudson's 1000 guest rooms - most with gorgeous views of the Private Park - have walls richly paneled in imported African wood, flowing white curtains, sleek stainless steel tables, crisp white linens, brass-riveted furniture and Starck's modern take on the classic U.S. Naval chair. Bedside lamps with allegorical images designed by renowned painter Francesco Clemente lend a spirit of dreamlike fantasy to the room."

I'm a long-time hosteller -- I'm used to tight spaces and bunk beds and sharing European-sized bathrooms, but I was curious to see how the Hudson would manage to fit 1,000 hotel rooms in a single building. This I had to see for myself!

The traffic into New York City was, in a word, nuts, but really only towards the Lincoln Tunnel and it was MUCH worse leaving the city. I arrived at Port Authority 45 minutes later than scheduled, but I took an express subway so it was really only two stops to the hotel.

I was warned by Mister M, who'd stayed at the Hudson recently, that the hotel was hard to find because it lacked signage out front, and he wasn't kidding! If you visit their website, a photo of the front entrance will fade in, and there is absolutely no sign whatsoever. At street level there are automatic doors leading towards a set of escalators, which I took a shot of here with my cameraphone. The escalators take you straight up to the lobby, which also has no mention of where you are.

Hudson Hotel
It's like entering an alternative universe, where everyone is aware of their co-ordinates. Everyone, that is, except you.

'Hmmm,' I mused, 'I must be here, then.'

That was when my cousin Maureen rushed to greet me. I was relieved to see her, since she said she would drive... rather brave, I thought. It's the eve of Thanksgiving, and I witnessed the rivers of traffic on the way in. But she said she took the bus instead, so that explains how she beat me to the hotel.

I checked in at the Anonymous Counter of Black-Garbed Reception Staff, and showed my room card to the elevator man. I guess the Hudson skimped on the card-coded elevator system to finance the ultra-trendy elegant-by-day, disco-by-night flooring seen here in my other cameraphone shots:

Hudson HotelHudson Hotel

When we exited the elevator and cruised down the corridors, it really did feel like being on a ship -- the room doors were very close together. I opened our door and immediately started laughing: this is DEFINITELY the smallest hotel room I'd ever seen! But I was impressed with how they designed the room for best use of space.

Hudson Hotel
I would never recommend a standard room for people, say, over 200lbs (91kgs). The bathroom would be too small. There is literally just enough space to open the door -- the sink is directly in front of the door. There is probably less than two feet between the toilet and the wall. The bathtub is more of a glorified shower, but if you're so inclined you could push aside the curtain and put on a show through the plexiglass wall separating the sleeping area and the bathroom. Except there's a tiny desk right below, on the other side of the glass, so it might be a more intimate show than someone, say, sitting at the desk working on a laptop might be prepared for.

The other scenario I don't recommend for a stay at the Hudson Hotel is with luggage. My cousin and I only took overnight bags, which fit fine in the closet but anything larger won't fit under the (child-sized) desk, beside the bed, or underneath it because the beds are low to the floor. There is only enough space around the bed for -- you guessed it -- one pair of legs. Amazingly, they fit a small television, stereo, and hotel bits and bobs in a tall narrow cupboard in one corner of the room beside the desk. Everything you'd find in a standard American hotel room (including an air conditioner behind the headboard!), but much smaller. Not quite Lilliputian, but similar dimensions.

I loved it -- for our purposes, this hotel was great. We didn't need more room than what we had, the bed was comfy and spacious (that's the priority!), and everything was within easy walking distance.

Practically the first item of the evening was to hit the sushi restaurant a few doors down, and it was like manna from heaven... I hadn't eaten sushi since I was in Vancouver, and it was even better and cheaper than my last sushi experience in New York. There were also three 24-hour pharmacies nearby, and I got a good deal on a 5-pack of film at the local CVS. I was so happy to be getting around on public transit, without car dependency, and the best part -- being a pedestrian again.

After a walk around Midtown, we even had dessert and coffee at a little late-night restaurant across the street from the hotel. I really missed being in a city, where the restaurants are open late for nighthawks like me.

For the Record, I'm a Bit of a Grammar Nazi

OK, I confess: this is one of my grammar pet peeves, perhaps the biggest one of all -- the usage of 'and I' versus 'and me'.

It drives me bananas when people take the 'and I' combination too far. For example:

My boss gave him and I tickets to the show.

No! Take out 'him' and see what you get? My boss gave I tickets to the show.

If you don't believe me, how about Here's what they say about it:

Frequently Asked Questions

Which is correct: 'my friend and me' or 'my friend and I'?

That depends on where you and your friend are in the sentence. In colloquial speech 'me' is often used where standard grammar requires 'I', especially when someone else is mentioned too. Sometimes people use 'I' instead of 'me', because they know 'me' is sometimes wrong, but have not understood the principle. (Others resort to 'myself', which can sound rather pompous.)

I am the subject of the sentence, but the object of the sentence is me.
If in doubt, take your friend out of the sentence.

Me and my friend went to a party last night. [Wrong]
I and my friend went to a party last night.

My friend and me went to a party last night. [Wrong]
My friend and I went to a party last night.

The mayor has invited me and my husband.
The mayor has invited I and my husband. [Wrong]

The mayor has invited my husband and me.
The mayor has invited my husband and I. [Wrong]

Incidentally, saying 'my friend and I' instead of 'I and my friend' is not better grammar, it's just being polite.

Whew, it's good to get that off my chest.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Canal Street Chooks and Their Fellow Fowl

Continuing along what appears to be a bird theme, it seems I have a thing for taking photos of chickens trussed up and hung in windows.

I took the photo at left along the south side of Canal Street near Broadway the other day with the Pentax. On a lark, I clicked on the 'chicken' tag and brought up the photo on the right, taken four months ago (from today, actually) in Chinatown in Vancouver with the Canon. I'm sure the psychiatric community has something to say about this.

More Packbawkies

Pentax K-1000

I took this from South Street Seaport, New York City, on Thursday -- Brooklyn Bridge is in the background.

In the previous post I asked for a caption for the open-mouthed gull, and Socar's poem "The Packbawky Anthem" was the first on the list (click on the photo to see the rest of the suggestions/comments -- they're all pretty good!). First posted here.

"We are the voices that herald the dawn,
Throats stretched to welcome the morning's first yawn.
We are the painters of balconies high,
Whitewashing buildings that puncture the sky.
We are the sweepers that tidy the street;
What we can't carry, we'll gratefully eat.
Like us or lump us, when all's done and said
We'll still be going when you lot are dead.

Hark as we trumpet the daybreak refrain!
Joyful and ardent, come sun or come rain.
Find us in winter, all poised on one foot,
Huddled together, our anthem to flute.
Find us in springtime, askew on the wall,
Drunken on nectar and ready to fall.
Like us or lump us, when all's done and said
We'll still be squawking when you lot are dead.

And should we, all clumsy, bespatter your brow
With feculent whitewash, don't raise a row--
Though slimy and smelly and dodgy to duck,
Our leavings are rumored to bring you good luck.
Oh, join in our chorus, come join in the song!
Thousands of jubilant birds can't be wrong!
Like us or lump us, when all's done and said
We'll still be singing when you lot are dead."

--Socar J. Myles

Thursday, November 24, 2005

{caption me}

Any suggestions for this squawker in front of the Brooklyn Bridge? (If you're in Flickr, click on the pic and add it there.)

Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Lincoln Tunnel Mayhem

[photo by gail on the web]
Holiday traffic into New York City.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Another Blood Transfusion

Things haven't been going so well lately, but it's never easy to write about it. How do you describe your life when you barely recognise it yourself?

David's been having major gastro-intestinal problems, and today we found out why: low blood counts. Last Wednesday the radiologist ordered some blood tests, and his platelets were reported to be too low to irradiate him that day, also Thursday and Friday. Yesterday they took more blood samples to see if his platelets were up after the radiation break, but they were not. In fact, all his counts dropped over the weekend, which took us by surprise -- why did all three drop? David seemed to be doing alright: good appetite, soreness held mostly in check by the drugs.

I'll let David's post explain further:


Yesterday the clinic requested David to notify them if he had any bleeding, so this morning when his nose started to bleed, we went straight there for more tests. After conferring with the radiologist, David's oncologist ordered a blood transfusion at Moses Taylor Hospital and an x-ray of his leg. This is David's second blood transfusion (his first at Mercy Hospital six weeks ago), the only means (at this stage) to get his counts high enough to continue treatment.

In our impromptu meeting with the oncologist this morning, we discussed the probability that in order to extend David's quantity of life, his quality of life will be compromised. We understand this on an intellectual level, but it doesn't make the situation any easier to accept. How much worse life has to be for David in the shorter term to increases his chances for a longer life is something we simply don't know.

If there's anything I'd like to ask people to do (for us and others in similar situations), it's this: please give blood if you are able. Your local blood bank thanks you, we thank you.

In Canada: Canadian Blood Services | Société canadienne du sang
In the U.S.: American Red Cross

Introducing Rachael Ashe

My friend Rachael (aka goddess_spiral) is a Vancouver-area photographer and digital artist who has recently decided to make a career move back into the field of arts from the relative financial security of working with a property management company. Anyone trying to make a living in the arts will know how daunting a prospect this is, but Rachael's from courageous stock (hi Rachael's mom!) and she's got the talent and wherewithal to pull it off.

So, without further ado, I'd like to make a proper introduction and give her work a plug.

[Photo by goddess_spiral]
Rachael's Blog

Portfolio on Flickr
Photography on Flickr
Profile on Flickr

I love Rachael's portrait work.
Her monochromes are a visual treat.
Through her lens, hands take on new expressions and feet suddenly become more interesting.

Rachael's been a wedding photographer on a boat, shot landscapes in New Zealand, temples in Japan, and graffiti around the world.

We've shot Vancouver after dark together, and share a fondness for red, in its various shades.

She's handy with the Holga, tames the Canonet, shoots cross-processed and even expired film. Check out her Photoshop creations.

Rachael can be reached at rachael [at]

Monday, November 21, 2005


decorated house - garage doors
[photo by gail on the web]
Thank you Boing Boing! Until now, I had no clue what to call these people. You know, the ones who decorate their houses to the point where you can't see the house anymore? HOUSEBLINGERS.

This house is too new to be in our neighbourhood, yes. I took this shot in Allentown (further south near Philadelphia) last December. At night it could be seen from space.

I don't have any nightshots of such houses in our neighbourhood yet, but rest assured, there are some local houseblinger zingers. They're busy buying their turkeys and baking up a storm for American Thanksgiving (this Thursday), but come this weekend, there will be lights!

Sting on

I finally found a home for my video of Sting performing "Roxanne". The video is a bit jumpy at first (what can I say? security evasion), but levels out in the second half.

May 4, 2005
Wachovia Arena, Wilkes-Barre, PA.

Some Chicago

Chicagotree archway
So I was mucking around in my photo archives searching for Chicago pics, and had a tough time trying to find some decent prints to scan.

Lots of problems: poor composition, crappy exposure, grainier than a Saskatchewan silo. That's what happens when you use a point-and-shoot -- no control over anything. Seems like a big waste of money developing the film, come to think of it. I didn't own a computer until the middle of 2000, so I was scanning these -- from a trip at the end of '99 -- at internet cafés. An even bigger waste of money. (Digital cameras, despite their many shortcomings compared to film, at least let one practice technique without dropping a small fortune in developing costs.)

David and I both love Chicago, and were discussing back in the spring how much it would cost to get there. Our options:
  • Tri-Pacer
  • renting a faster plane
  • commercial airline
  • train
  • driving
The Tri-Pacer only goes around 100mph/160kph and renting a faster plane would cost us a pretty penny (especially with rising fuel costs), so we were tossing around the idea of commercial airlines or Amtrak. At the time, David wanted to save up days off to visit me in Vancouver, so we eventually abandoned the idea. But, we've since revived it for a potential honeymoon plan when David is healthy enough to make the trip (also because I can't leave the U.S. while my spouse visa is pending), so maybe a visit to Chicago will be sooner rather than later. We'll see.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Wisconsin Canopy

It's shots like this that make me hanker for a fisheye lens. (And a Canon 20D.) Click on the pic for a better view of its wonderful detail.

Todd Klassy has superb angled photographs, and his Architecture and Design set beckons me back to a city like Chicago. I love the architecture in Chicago; it's my favourite non-coastal U.S. city. I wonder if I have any decent photos I can scan? *goes to check*

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines

Dave's Logbook: Up There Again

Departing Cherry Ridge (N30), touch-and-go at Avoca (AVP), landing at Wyoming Valley (WBW) -- footage in separate video -- then back to Cherry Ridge.

Music: "Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines" - Ron Goodwin (20th Century Fox single #587)

Flanked by Catholics

Our house
Our house
[photo by AviatorDave]

We flew over our neighbourhood today, and I took some photos of our house with David's camera, which has a 10x zoom and image stabiliser. If you click on the left photo, you'll see notes of which house is ours -- it's on the right side, just to the left of the church parking lot. The photo on the right is zoomed in; the house is just up from the centre point.

What you see here is that we're completely surrounded. "Holy Name of Jesus" church is directly beside us, and if we were Catholic, we could attend every mass less than five minutes after brushing our teeth. The church even owns the vacant lot on the other side of us, and the rectory is beside the church.

Every day at 6 o'clock (pm, thankfully), the fake bells ring from the fake belltower, and the melodic sound of electronic bell recordings waft into our house. The neighbourhood genetic make-up is mostly Italian and Irish, so it makes sense to have a Catholic church to anchor it. It's mighty ironic, though, that we end up living next door... can I have a convenience store instead?

Friday, November 18, 2005

Friday Date Night Movie Blitz


The Friday Date Night Movie Blitz isn't quite going as planned. David jokes that Friday night is our "date night", but I thought since two more Netflix movies arrived this afternoon that it's high time for a Luc Besson blitz.

We've seen one film so far, "The Big Blue"/"Le Grand Bleu" (1988) (Director's Cut), and Rosanna Arquette mostly ruined it for me. She's awful, with the charisma of a rabbit. I wanted to see "The Big Blue" because I like Besson's work, I like Jean Reno, and I miss the ocean terribly. Also, I was on Skype a while back with a friend in Denmark who's a dive master, and he mentioned it.

I never saw it the first time around, but if I did, I probably would have made a supreme teenage effort to see all of Jean-Marc Barr's films. In French AND English, in slow motion.

But I have to say it -- I was disappointed with "Blue". I wanted to see more diving, less Rosanna Arquette. More dolphins, less Rosanna Arquette. Heck, give me more NOSE PLUGS if that means I get less Rosanna Arquette.

The score was middling at best, never great, sometimes just plain rubbish. It was the '80s, but that's not a real excuse. I also have some major linguistic issues with this film, apart from the dialogue stinking worse than the lower deck of a BC Ferry.

But first things first --

-- while David takes more medication and eats a snack, I'll go and purge myself of Rosanna Arquette by putting on "The Professional"/"Leon" (1994), my favourite Luc Besson film. David hasn't seen it, but it's one of the only films I like in this genre, and it has Jean Reno and an incredible performance from a 12-year old Natalie Portman. Alas, no Jean-Marc Barr, but at least it's Arquette-free.

Franz Josef Glacier, New Zealand

Franz Josef Glacier, NZ
[photo by gail on the web]
From the archives: January 1993

I'd hitchhiked from Auckland all the way down to Dunedin (near the bottom of the South Island), so to make things easier for myself I arranged lifts with drivers from Queenstown (on the west coast) most of the way back up to Auckland. I left Queenstown with a couple I'd met at the backpackers hostel and got as far as the glaciers.

January is summertime in New Zealand, but with the latitude in the South Island it can still get quite chilly. I didn't have any warm clothing because I'd been living in Australia for more than a year, nor did I have proper "tramping" shoes (as they say in NZ), and until then didn't even own a pair of socks! I had to layer t-shirts underneath the sweatshirt to stay warm, but I learned a glass or two of red wine has the same effect... too bad it doesn't last! (It isn't backpacker-budget-friendly, either.)

I'd written all my travel info down on a map of New Zealand (including people I'd met and shared rides with), but somebody threw it away by accident in Scotland... :(

Oh, what I would give to have that map back! That time in New Zealand was very memorable, with lots of stories and adventure, especially the hitchhiking. As I get older, it becomes more difficult to recall the details. I wrote in a journal, but the map was a visual illustration of the trip, with notes and arrows and colourful punctuation.

I'll scan more NZ photos and post a few stories later. It's too bad all I had with me then was a disposable camera. I didn't buy a camera until I reached Singapore, so I only have a few snapshots. Something tells me I'll have to consult the journal to jog my memory.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Waiting Room Tidbits

Since David has radiation on a daily basis, the waiting room is part of my routine. Sometimes I read, sometimes I watch the "news" (I use that term loosely), sometimes I people-watch out of the corner of my eye.

I've started to rank the various facility waiting rooms by three criteria:
  1. magazine selection
  2. television programs
  3. refreshments
It wouldn't really be fair to include people, would it?

Mercy Hospital is a sad state of affairs on all counts. Every day it's soap operas, the mags all get nicked (leaving real estate listings, ugh), and the vending machine selection is awful -- or broken. Mind you, that's the ER waiting room, the MRI waiting room has more magazines but not much of interest. I would sooner read laundry care labels than flip through Field & Stream again. When David and I perused an issue at the immigration doctor's office in Tannersville, there was an ad for how to build a doghouse out of an oil drum. Am I missing something? Does America have an oil drum oversupply? Our city lacks recycling facilities, but oh wait -- the family dog could use a petroleum-based shelter!

CMC's ER waiting room is pretty standard as ER waiting rooms go -- nerve-wrackingly empty, devoid of anything distracting. The surgery waiting rooms at least have televisions, but there's an annoying central phone that rings endlessly. Everyone looks at each other, but no-one wants to answer it because then everyone stares expectantly at you while you shout out the name of whoever it's for (because it's never for you). It's like a hospital mind game: take a room full of anxious people and put a telephone in the middle. It's 2005 but the phone is a $5 Wal-Mart rotary-dial special -- Bat Phone Red, of course -- with a ring so demanding it jingles the handset. No volume control. Fun for the whole family! (Sometimes kids answer.)

The Hematology and Oncology Clinic, which is housed in the same building as the Radiation Clinic, has a similar waiting room but to a larger scale. Eerily, I have only ever seen "Oprah" and "Ellen" on their screens. We go there all different times of the day, too. How does this happen??? Oprah Winfrey and Ellen Degeneres -- all day, all the time. Bizarre.

The clinic staff reserve nearly all the magazines for the chemotherapy patients who have to sit for hours as the drugs drip into their veins, so I don't complain about the lack of reading material. Not at all. But I still went home the other day to fetch David's book that he left on the counter because One Cannot Live By Magazine Alone.

Each of the chemotherapy stations has its own TV, but the average drug takes 45 minutes to enter the body, after half an hour of anti-nausea drug followed by a half-hour of saline. Nothing on television is that engaging. Before, when David was on combination chemotherapy, he'd fall asleep on the first bag and they'd wake him up hanging the second one. I didn't hang around the waiting room those days, I'd just go home and wait for the call when the final bag was started. I don't have enough patience for Oprah or Ellen.

The number one reason why I like the radiation clinic waiting room is because they have an espresso machine, conveniently located at the front entrance. I walk in, push three buttons, and voila! This was especially handy when radiation appointments were at the ghastly hour of 07:30. The magazines are rotated between the main reception area and the patients' waiting area, so the selection varies wildly. I end up ferrying myself between the two places, depending on:
  • how chatty the reception ladies are ("HEL-L-L-OOOO MISSUS FIELDING!!!")
  • what's on TV (Oh please no! Not 'The View'! *sob*)
  • if I'm in the mood for trashy tabloid (the section "They're Just Like Us!" in People magazine showing celebrities feeding parking meters or pushing a grocery cart is absurdly comical), or
  • pseudo-journalism (CNN or Fox News).
Thankfully, David's radiation treatments are very short, so no matter how trashy or trivial the entertainment, I'm never subjected to it for long. And I always have my compensatory hot drink. That bought my vote.

Today, though, I flipped through a Time magazine and found this week's cartoons pretty funny. I tried looking for them online, but the online cartoons must be a different set from the published ones. Anyhow, Time's online cartoons can be found here. This week's can be accessed by clicking on the cartoon below.


Oh, one other thing I saw today. I couldn't help but notice this older fellow in the patients' waiting area, wearing a baseball cap that proclaimed loudly "Bass Pro Shop". But the real neon light was his belt, partially obscured by a fold in his protruding belly. The top part said JESUS in big, bold letters. I kid you not. The rest of it... well, I didn't want to go there, you know?

ADDITION: an ulterior motive for me to write is to prompt David to write, and write he did --

Dave's Logbook: The Waiting Game

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Month Three

It's November 16, exactly three months from the day we first met with an oncologist and David started treatment. He was diagnosed with lung cancer on August 12.

Months One and Two were hellish, but the second half of Month Three (November thus far) has been mostly bearable. The current weekly chemotherapy hasn't been as harsh as the drug combination given at the end of September, which wracked David with nausea, dehydration, and anemia and landed him in the hospital for 10 days on our wedding night. It wasn't the doctors' fault -- after all, they're trying to treat the spreading cancer as aggressively as possible, and small-cell lung cancer is the type that grows more rapidly than the other forms (squamous cell, adenocarcinoma, and large cell carcinoma; or collectively known as non-small cell lung cancer to distinguish them from small-cell lung cancer).

Fortunately this time, the doctors were able to calibrate the formulas to allow David some normal mobility while continuing to give doses of radiation and chemotherapy sufficient to keep the spreading under control. They monitor his blood counts closely, since too much radiation can lower David's counts below the point where chemo can be administered safely. However, discontinuing radiation is also dangerous as the tumours grow unchecked, which is what occurred while David was on his first bout of chemotherapy.

Being a much younger patient makes the fine-tuning more problematic, as most small-cell lung cancer therapies are geared to patients who are much older (60+) and whose cells are regenerating at a slower rate. Being younger may sound like an advantage to fighting cancer, but not if it means the cancer has a greater chance to spread.

Before August, I knew very little about cancer, especially lung cancer. But an uncle of mine in the Philippines had died of lung cancer recently without ever having smoked a cigarette in his life, so I knew firsthand that smoking isn't the only cause -- second-hand smoke and chronic exposure to environmental carcinogens such as asbestos and radon are also to blame. But certainly smoking is the most prevalent risk factor: 85-90% of lung cancers are caused by carcinogens in nicotine.

I've compiled some information about small-cell lung cancer from a book given to us at the Hemotology and Oncology Clinic, information which can also be found online at the U.S. National Cancer Institute's website:

100 Questions & Answers About Lung Cancer [Karen Parles, Joan H. Schiller]
U.S. National Cancer Institute []

Lung cancer is responsible for more cancer-related deaths than breast cancer, colon cancer, and prostate cancer combined.

Small cell lung cancer: an aggressive (fast-growing) cancer that usually forms in tissues of the lung and spreads to other parts of the body. The cancer cells look small and oval-shaped when looked at under a microscope. Also called oat cell cancer.

There are only two stages used for small cell lung cancer:

Limited-Stage Small Cell Lung Cancer: cancer is found in one lung, the tissues between the lungs, and nearby lymph nodes only.
Extensive-Stage Small Cell Lung Cancer: cancer has spread outside of the lung in which it began or to other parts of the body.

Treatment of extensive-stage small cell lung cancer may include the following:
  • Chemotherapy.
  • Combination chemotherapy (multiple drugs).
  • Combination chemotherapy with or without radiation therapy to the brain for patients with complete response.
  • Radiation therapy* to the brain, spine, bone, or other parts of the body where the cancer has spread, as palliative therapy to relieve symptoms and improve quality of life.
  • Clinical trials of new chemotherapy treatments.
Note that surgery is generally not an option, as small-cell lung cancer does not respond to surgery at this stage. David has had all of the above therapies except brain radiation and participation in clinical trials.

David was diagnosed extensive-stage on September 13, and the doctors have been trying to get the tumours under control for the past two months. Month Two (mid-Sep to mid-Oct) were some of the roughest days -- David was too weak to do little more than lie in bed. Getting him to the clinic was a major effort. Appetite was zero, it was a battle to make him eat, and he was losing weight at an alarming rate. The side-effects (vomiting, fatigue, pain) were far worse than we'd expected, culminating in low blood counts and hospitalisation October 1. It wasn't until the end of October, once David recovered enough to eat solid food and resume (modified) chemotherapy and radiation, that the downward slide began to slow. Month Two was terrifying, to put it mildly.

Since the end of Month Two, the cancer is looking much more controlled. The areas currently receiving treatment are his neck, left shoulder, and right hip. David's not using a cane anymore, but walking is uncomfortable, and he depends on a raft of painkillers 24 hours a day. Since they're radiating his neck, his voice is hoarse and swallowing is difficult. But at least David has an appetite, and the side-effects aren't as debilitating as they were in Month Two.

A couple of weeks ago I signed us up for a "Healthy Eating for the Holidays" workshop hosted by the radiation clinic's resident nutritionist and Dr. B (David's doctor). It was earlier tonight, and just happened to be scheduled just after David's treatment, so we didn't have to make a special trip to attend.

This is the first cancer-related group meeting we've attended, and I thought it would be worthwhile to hear what we can do to improve David's diet. During the discussion, we also heard what other patients do for fitness, how their diets have changed, and the variety of circumstances that brought us all into one room. People came with their family members, too; caregivers were encouraged to expressed their concerns.

As was expected, the group was mostly older, and also suffering from generational ailments such as arthritis. But we did come away with some tips on getting health care discounts at certain facilities, and this woman told us of a facility where there are onsite physiologists who monitor patients' vitals. Probably of most value to David was being given some pouches of a drink mix that's supposed to rejuvenate muscle, recommended by the nutritionist. It looks like 'Tang' -- orangey, but with an aftertaste, David says. (Although, David's tastebuds are on the fritz these days. I didn't notice any aftertaste.)

After the meeting was adjourned, a bunch of people approached us, showing interest in our situation. One lady who identified with David's problem of gaining weight told me that she lost her husband a month ago. She was there with her son, who was wearing a neck brace -- he said he had back surgery and was discussing the various painkillers with David. It made me wonder if her husband died in an accident, perhaps the same accident that accounted for her son's injuries. What strength she must have, to be going through all this at once. Also, the woman who gave us the fitness centre tip was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Disease in 1997 at the age of 40, but had to endure 18 months of chemo and radiation before she got better.

It was somewhat of a relief to be in a roomful of people who could relate to cancer issues, but truly sobering to consider how quickly and brutally personal circumstances changed to bring us together.

* radiation therapy: the use of high-energy radiation from x-rays, gamma rays, neutrons, and other sources to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. Radiation may come from a machine outside the body (external-beam radiation therapy), or it may come from radioactive material placed in the body near cancer cells (internal radiation therapy, implant radiation, or brachytherapy). Systemic radiation therapy uses a radioactive substance, such as a radiolabeled monoclonal antibody, that circulates throughout the body. Also called radiotherapy.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Nay Aug Park - Saturday

the magnificent red treethe reddest tree I've ever seenopposites attract

Some shots of the magnificent red tree in Nay Aug Park. There's still plenty of colour around here, and I took advantage of favourable conditions last Saturday to drive out to the park and wander around with my camera. I came upon some walking trails which I'll explore further when I've got my winter boots on, and I also found a community greenhouse that appears to have been abandoned for the season. Either the caretakers left town overnight or some ne'er-do-wells took it upon themselves to stamp around the property, because it looks neglected -- broken fences, signs not taken down, that kind of thing. It's a shame, because I'm sure in the summer it was a beautiful splash of flora.

forgotten flowersleft to its own devicesthe garden wall
In related news, I found a local photography group online that meets once a month at a local college. From their website, they look like a well-organised bunch with regular activities. (A healthy treasury, even!) I had a peek at some of the photo galleries, and they're pretty diverse. I'm especially excited about the fact they have their own catalogues published, ongoing projects, and juried exhibitions. I'm looking forward to the learning experience and meeting other photographers. Their next meeting is December 7.