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Chapter 9, Infectious Disease.

2015 May 25
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by Jan

My oldest kid got really sick once, which is something I’ve written about before. He was just a baby, and I was a new mom and I didn’t know anything. So I went to the Internet and looked things up, and I asked the doctors questions — detailed questions, so detailed. Probably too detailed. A friend of mine in med school at the time told me that I was in a vanishingly small percentage of parents who knew the amount, in cc’s, of drainage from their child’s chest tube.

Life traveled onward, as it does, and I find myself 13 years later indexing a series of books intended for medical exam review. Med students buy these books and use them as memorization guides. It’s a popular series. A lot of med students read these books.

I hear these hollow echoes of the past sometimes when I’m scanning pages and pulling entries. Words and terms that I first learned from a doctor in a white coat standing next to my son’s isolette. Pneumothorax. Vancomycin. MRSA. Red man syndrome.

I think sometimes about all of the doctors who have studied books like this, learned the words, said them in corridors or next to bedsides or in exam rooms to patients who are also now learning a new vocabulary. I think about all of the lives, the deaths, the healing and the pain, encompassed by cross references and entries and subentries, dispassionately compiled in the back of a book.

Or maybe not so dispassionately, sometimes.

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A boring entry about my hair.

2014 January 28
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by Jan

I kind of miss the olden days of this blog (actually not even this blog, but my old web journal [it wasn’t a blog, dammit! Blogs weren’t even a thing!], which is gone from the Internet except for a few pages available from the Internet Wayback Machine, and if you think I am going to tell you how to find them, you are so sadly mistaken) when I just talked about random crap that was going on in my life and didn’t feel like every entry had to be a polished gem of sparkling wit or an observation on the human condition or whatever.

Which is my way of saying that I think I’m growing my hair out long for the first time since I was in college. Here’s my thing with hair. Mine is fine and wispy. So when it gets long, all the body gets pulled out of it and it looks thin and flat. So I keep it short. Except that lately it has been looking less thin and flat, possibly because I am getting older and therefore my scalp is less oily. I don’t know. Blow-drying seems to help.

The advantage of long hair is that you can pull it back off your face. I have often contemplated shaving my entire head, because I really, really hate the feeling of hair blowing in my face. But I feel that if I were to shave my head, people would think it was some kind of social commentary thing, and also I bet the feeling of stubble growing on your head is not better than the feeling of hair blowing in your face. Also the maintenance might be kind of high. I imagine you would have to shave it fairly frequently so that the look stayed on “1990s Sinead O’Connor” instead of morphing into “Iceman from Top Gun.” So that doesn’t seem like a great option.

So, I think I’m going to grow it out and see how that goes.

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A very small Christmas post.

2013 December 25
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by Jan

May your day be filled with good cheer, good friends, and good fun, and on this day of celebration may you feel as cherished and loved as I do, though I am certain that can barely be possible.

To the people I love, near and far, and all the rest of us as well, I wish you a joyous, merry Christmas.

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I am not in a good mood.

2013 December 23
by Jan

All of my holiday cheer seems to have evaporated today. I’m sure it will be back. But today, it is gone.

So I am going to tell you about something that is on my last nerve; namely, being told exactly what Christmas is supposed to mean to me and how I am supposed to celebrate it. This applies to every single person who has posted anything including the words, “The real meaning of Christmas is” or “Christmas is supposed to be about” or “We have forgotten that at Christmas you should” or anything to that effect whatsoever at all.

This was prompted by a radio ad that has been playing on heavy rotation on what was formerly my favorite radio station. It’s sponsored by some local church, and it has this long preachy message about, “Christ is the real reason for the season, so don’t get lost in your holiday shopping and forget what it’s really supposed to be about.”

Dear church that sponsored this message and everyone else who keeps parroting it: Shut up. Maybe I like holiday shopping. Maybe I like spending a lot of money on friends and family. Maybe I like getting Chinese food on Christmas Eve. Maybe I like putting up a tree. Maybe I don’t! Maybe I spend Christmas with my family and loved ones. Maybe I spend it at the goddamn bowling alley. These are all valid choices and you don’t get to tell me what a holiday is supposed to mean to me.

If you want to make Christmas be all about Christ, go right ahead. That sounds great to me, and has a fairly sound historical basis, to boot. Want to spend it watching Grey’s Anatomy reruns on Netflix? Also fine! How about spending it having a massive shopping spree on Amazon with the Christmas money you got from your grandma? Go right ahead! It’s your holiday! Spend it how you want! You don’t get to claim that it’s a solely religious holiday when it’s also a federal holiday when most people are off work. Not to mention the secular and/or pagan traditions of celebration at this time of year, which I’m not even going to get into even though it would probably bolster my argument. Because it doesn’t matter what the historical origins are, or what religion you are. You still get to celebrate or not celebrate any way you want to, and in my case that involves not being preached at by people who don’t know me or anything about me but still somehow think that they are in charge of dictating my personal life philosophy about holiday celebrations.

This is the part where you might think that I’m about to apologize for offending anyone who’s religious. And here’s the part where I tell you to take a deep breath and then hold it.

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Didn’t even mention the clown invasion.

2013 December 22
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by Jan

I like homeownership, more or less (sometimes less) but sometimes I miss living in an apartment complex. I was just thinking about the last apartment we lived in before we moved away from Seattle. Two bedrooms, a balcony that looked out over a tree, and a swimming pool. A swimming pool! I used to take Zeke down there when he was a baby and we’d splash around for a while on a summer day. The Russian lady and her mother who lived in the unit below us would always yell at me for not putting a hat on the baby. The first time, I tried to explain to her that it was a sunny day in June and that he did not need a hat, but I soon learned that protesting was useless. Apparently in Russia, all babies must wear hats at all times. But after she was done yelling at me about the hat, she was usually very friendly and would wave to Zeke and say things to him in Russian. (I do not speak enough Russian to know what they were, but I am going to just assume that it was along the lines of, “Hello cute baby. I am desolate that your mother does not care enough about you to give you a hat.”)

The unit next to us was vacant for a while, then occupied by a bunch of stoners who were friendly but not really all there, and then a traveling professor from Finland (Sweden? Norway? Some Scandinavian country) who was being put up there by the UW. A few days after we moved in, we were grilling out dinner out on the balcony, well past dark, and he struck up a conversation with us, wanting to know if this was an American custom, eating late in the summer. We said, no, we are just lazy and plan dinnertime poorly. (Perhaps he thought that this is also an American custom, but if so, he politely did not say anything.)

I remember the stoners came over and knocked on our door once, wanting to know if they could borrow a glass baking dish. Naturally, I was suspicious of what they might need a baking dish for, but they said that they bought some instant pasta thing at the store, and they didn’t realize until they got home that they, like, needed a pan to bake it in. So I loaned them our pan.

They brought the finished result back over to us afterward and asked if we wanted any. It looked and smelled legit, but I passed anyway. Those guys probably needed the sustenance.

It is the only time in my life anyone has actually knocked on my door wanting to borrow some cooking supplies. If the request hadn’t been made by a 20ish guy with filthy dreads and the stench of cannabis wafting around him, it would have felt very sitcom-ish.

If anybody in our current neighborhood smokes pot, they’re a lot more circumspect about it. I like my neighbors, don’t get me wrong; they’re nice, and they don’t let their dogs bark all night long. But sometimes I miss the reliable weirdness of the apartment complex.

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Internet, rum, some other stuff.

2013 December 21
by Jan

Something that happens a lot on the Internet is that you’ll post a comment or a story about some little thing that bugs you — or a big thing that bugs you, maybe — and a lot of people will read it and say, “Hey, yeah, that bugs me too!” but some people will read it and think, oh god, I DO THAT THING, and they will reply with a lengthy defense of why they do that thing and why it is okay for them to do that thing and how you should not think less of them for doing that thing. Or, related to this, you will post about something you like and you will get responses about how people are allergic to that thing and cannot do it, or how they feel that participating in it is tacitly caving in to the patriarchy or whatever.

This phenomenon leads to Nonstop Caveat Syndrome. You know what I mean. “So tired of holiday music. NOT THAT THERE IS ANYTHING WRONG WITH HOLIDAY MUSIC and also I don’t have a problem with Christmas even though I just said holiday and I know some people really like it, I’m JUST SAYING.” Or “Man, chocolate is the best. I MEAN, UNLESS YOU HAVE A CHOCOLATE ALLERGY, OF COURSE! Or are diabetic! Or were force-fed chocolate in an abusive way as a child! But apart from that!”

I refuse to be one of the Caveat People. I accept that sometimes people will feel defensive about things I say. I sometimes have the same reaction when reading other people’s posts. (Though I try not to be that “hey, what about those of us with chocolate allergies?!” guy, because come on.) But that does not mean I have to slap nineteen warnings onto everything I write, and it does not mean I have to respond to people who are taking things personally that were not meant personally. It is okay to just let that stuff slide on by.

And for people who are tempted or compelled to respond in this way: Look. Think of someone you love. I mean, love. Not just a friend, not just a cool co-worker, I am talking about someone you would throw yourself in front of a bus for. Someone whose absence from your life would leave a gaping, ragged hole.

Does that person ever do things that kind of annoy you?

Of course they do. Because they are human, and one of the things that defines us as humans is that we annoy each other. Sometimes I think that the closer we are to people, the more they annoy us. Distance blurs details.

So if this person that you love so much you would throw yourself in front of a bus for them does things that kinda annoy you sometimes and you still love that person, don’t you think it’s just marginally possible that I might think your choice in food, grammatical construction, or video games is less than optimal but still consider you a good friend?


While you think about that, I’m going to have a hot buttered rum. I don’t need to know if you have a butter allergy or if you made yourself sick on rum your sophomore year of college and now you can’t even look at it. Those are things I don’t need to know. (If you don’t have a butter allergy and if rum doesn’t make you want to hurl, I would highly suggest having a hot buttered rum, because those things are the bomb.)

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On sleeping, avoidance of.

2013 December 19
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by Jan

I got four hours of sleep last night, more or less by choice.

It sounds kind of crazy when I put it that way. But I’m a night person, and I really hate daytime naps. So when I have to get up in the morning, I tend to stay up, even if my night owlishness kept me up until the early morning, the night before. (When you are a night person, your terms for time of day get confused. If I have not slept yet, 4:30 feels like night, even though it is definitely early morning on the rare occasions I have had to set my alarm that early.)

I like night for a lot of reasons, I suppose. My body clock seems to naturally fit into a nighttime schedule for one thing. But also, night is peaceful. Nobody knocks on the door, and nobody calls on the phone. There are not workmen digging a sewer trench in the back yard. There are no school buses beeping in the cul-de-sac while they execute a three-point turn. All of the daily meal preparation is finished, and usually most of the cleaning as well. Children are fed and bathed and clothed in pajamas and tucked into bed. (Whether they sleep or not is their business; at least one of them seems to have inherited my owlish tendencies, but since he keeps quietly to himself reading books in his room, I do not hassle him about it.)

You might think that it’s tough to survive on four hours of sleep per night. It is; that is why I don’t make a habit out of it. But sometimes there is something that catches my interest, and I stay up reading it or watching it or playing it until birds are chirping outside and the sky is gray with dawn. I’m tired the next day, but not too tired, and I’ll go to bed at a normal hour the next night. Probably.

It’s 9:30 pm and I just made myself a double-strong tea, so actually odds are looking good that I’m going to put sleep off for another night. Don’t even bother telling me about all the health benefits of a good, regular night’s sleep. I know. I just can’t give up late nights. It is too good, sitting here in the dark and quiet, obligation-free until morning.

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Am I allowed to say “thankful” even though it’s December now?

2013 December 18
by Jan

I asked a lot of my friends earlier what “smart” meant to them. And apart from a few smart-ass answers, which is to be expected from my friends, they came up with a lot of good stuff. Some themes repeated themselves: Original thought, ability to make connections and have one’s mind changed by new information, ability to solve problems.

I appreciated that we were able to have an interesting and low-key conversation about this, because smartness as a concept is so loaded in our culture. People are upset because other people don’t think they’re smart, or they get upset because they think smartness is being valued over other traits, or because smartness is being measured incorrectly, or whatever. Some people get attached to the label of “smart” and clutch it to themselves in the manner of a 5-year-old snuggling his security blanket at bedtime, and some people reject it so thoroughly that they try to pretend they’re dumber than they are. It’s a strange, tricky topic to try to talk about, and if you can manage it without someone “casually” throwing out their test scores — or, conversely, pretending they are Captain Dumb of Dumb Mountain, “smart, duh-hur, who me?” — it’s a big win.

Why is this important to me? Not sure, really. I’ve cycled between being a blanket-clutcher and a rejecter at different times in my life. Right now I’m somewhere in-between. I got hit with the “smart” label early on in life, partially due to an innate aptitude for taking standardized tests, and I’ve spent a lot of years coping with the fallout from it, good and bad. (Yes, fallout can be good; ask Spider-Man. [YES, NERDS, I KNOW THAT WAS A RADIOACTIVE SPIDER BITE AND NOT FALLOUT. WORK WITH ME HERE.])

Anyway, after reading everyone else’s responses and churning this over quite a bit, I think I’ve come to the conclusion that the people I think of as “smart” are the people who manage not to bore the shit out of me with inane crap on a daily basis. Usually this is some combination of original thinking, ability to make connections, and all that stuff I said before. But what it boils down to is: does not bore the shit out of me with inane crap.

Which applies to most of the people around me these days, and for that I could not be more thankful.

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A joyful low-pitched noise, specifically.

2013 December 17
by Jan

We went to TubaChristmas last night. No, really, it actually happened this time.

The idea is that anyone who plays a tuba, baritone, euphonium, sousaphone, or other variety of tuba/baritone, shows up around 2 in the afternoon. Everybody gets sheet music for an hour-long set of Christmas tunes, and they practice until the show.

There are a lot of tuba and baritone players around. Here’s a blurry iPhone shot of the performance:

Tuba Christmas

Sadly, you probably cannot make out the inflatable Santa Claus coming out of one guy’s bell, or the festive Christmas tinsel on the sousaphones in the back row. Trust me, it was spectacular.

I was there with all three kids, and all three of them loved it. The sound will punch you right in the chest. Also, there were sing-a-longs, and I will tell you right now that a man who is tired of a tuba sing-a-long is a man who is tired of life.

They had all sorts of tuba players there. High school students, music teachers, professional musicians. People who do it for a living and people who just learned how to play a couple of years ago. Everybody.

I love the symphony, and the ballet, and other such places where you go to see artists who have honed their craft to its absolute peak, who have dedicated their lives to its mastery. But there is also much to be said for simply coming together to make a joyful noise.

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If it’s decorated before New Year’s, I’m calling it a success.

2013 December 14
by Jan

Usually at Christmas, we go to the tree farm and cut down our own tree. This outing takes up half a day and involves lots of bundling up and swearing at the weather. But it is more or less fun, and there is hot cocoa afterwards, so everyone looks forward to it.

This year, it didn’t happen. We told the kids that it was because the first weekend after Thanksgiving was really icy and snowy, and the second weekend after Thanksgiving we had too much other stuff to do, and by that point the trees are all picked over at the tree farm and it’s not worth it.

The truth is that the first weekend after Thanksgiving we were lazy, and the second weekend after Thanksgiving we were lazy, and by that point all the trees are all picked over at the tree farm and it’s not worth it.

So I sent Keith and Zeke out to get a tree from one of those parking lot tree places. They came back with one that looked reasonably okay. Then Keith and I spent most of this afternoon tilting it slightly to the left and slightly to the right and deciding which side was the load-bearing side and whether the whole thing would go ass over teakettle (yes, trees have neither asses nor teakettles; deal with it) if we tried to hang some ornaments on it.

At some point during this entire procedure, I said thoughtfully, “If you think about it, this is a really bizarre ritual.”

Keith looked up from beneath the tree, where he was currently doing something that would probably qualify as gynecology if he were doing it to a person, and said, “You ain’t kiddin’.”

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