Saturday, March 28, 2009

It's not a tumah! Oh, wait...

Okay, it was a tumah after all.

It's been just over a week since the surgery. Nothing like a vacation to make you eager to get back to your job. Those of you who follow me on Twitter kept up somewhat with how much fun the night in the hospital was. I was wide awake in the middle of the night, and the only thing on TV were infomercials (including those seriously offensive ones from Pro Douchebag Kevin Trudeau) and two showings of Crocodile Dundee back to back. I can see how it would have been comforting if I had been terminal.

I just had follow-up visits with Dr. Schmidt (the surgeon/certified smartass) and Dr. Beasley (endochrinologist/sober grandpa). Dr. Schmidt told me about the surgery itself:

The growth on my thyroid was 2.1cm long. ("Is that big?" "Bigger than 1cm. Not as big as 3cm." I am looking forward to seeing the itemized bill to find out how much this hilarity costs me.) It had not spread into my blood vessels (yay) but did mess up five lymph nodes. Or should I say ex-lymph nodes. He said the surgery went well -- I actually figured that, because when I woke up in the hospital and had a question, they told me "Dr. Schmidt is in Las Vegas now."

I can see him... slippping my thyroid into his pocket, dreams of flopping it on a Craps table and growling "let it ride." I had been imagining Dr. Schmidt pulling my thyroid out with some tongs, stepping over to an open giant steel door, shouting "CLEAR!" and throwing it in while a nurse slams the door shut and everyone takes cover. ka-BOOM!

Then I went to see Dr. Beasley to find out what's next. I'd been a little nervous, because I have to go without any thyroid hormone for awhile to get ready for radiation, and I don't know what that's going to do to me.

Turns out likely symptoms are moving slowly, dry skin, and maybe more irritability. I'm going to turn into a Gorn!

This will be me in my breezy Fred Flintstone clothes negotiating with a Priceline representative

Not exactly the superpower I was hoping for, but we'll see what happens after the radiation in a few weeks.

One thing I learned is that surgeons and endochrinologists are natural enemies. To a surgeon, an endo is a timid little shaman that freaks out at the sight of blood and reacts to everything by giving it an ultrasound. And to endochrinologists, if the endochrine system is the Large Hadron Collider, a surgeon is the guy who drove the bulldozer to start digging it out.

So right now, I am able to drive and go back to work. I spend my spare time swallowing pills, mainly calcium supplements (Dr. Schmidt had to remove a couple of parathyoird glands, which regulate the calcium in my system -- the remaining ones should eventually shoulder the load). Also swallowing vitamin D (to help absorb the calcium), something called cytomel (which will help ease me into my Gorn symptoms instead of just falling off a cliff), and Lortab (very nice pain pills which I am weaning myself from now).

I'll be continuing like this for at least the next three weeks. Then I'll go back to Dr. Beasley to check my levels, and see when I'm ready for the radiation. THAT will be fun. I'll have plenty of time to blog about that, since I have to spend a few days isolated from everyone else.

In the meantime, I really am going to share some stuff about the Mexico cruise they THEY don't want you to know abo--... ARRGH! Damn Trudeau commercials...

Friday, March 20, 2009

A view from the trenches

Scene: Hospital room, just after waking up from surgery

Hello, Christian.
This is your throat. I know you were expecting to hear from your neck incision. But I had a breathing tube shoved down me for two hours, so you're going to pay.
"Uh oh."
First, I'm going to fill up with saliva. You must swallow now.
Excellent. Now sneeze.
Things are coming along nicely. Why don't we share a coughing fit? Phlegm is such a hassle, don't you agree?
Are you ready? I have a long evening planned.
"Nurse? Ice chips please."
What are you doing?

[Several hours later]

"Must be pretty numb down there. That's about 8 pounds of ice."
You cannot win!
"Ever seen someone gargle with Chloraseptic? I wonder what that's like."
"Batten down the hatches! Lortab depth charges incoming!"
"That's better. Time for a nap."

Hello, Christian. This is your neck incision. Had a nice day?
"Uh oh..."

Last one, I promise

Bigger scar than I anticipated. The cancer didn't go down without a
fight :)

Thursday, March 19, 2009

I live!

Eat it, papillary carcinoma :)

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Goodbye, Thyroid

Tomorrow is the big day! I hope my cancer has a nice evening, because it's its last. Bastard.

I've written/stolen a little tribute to my soon-to-be-ex-thyroid gland. It will probably only make sense if you're familiar with the song Goodbye, Stranger by Supertramp. If you don't know it, go to Pandora or or something and listen along.

Goodbye, Thyroid

It's an early morning surgery
Haven't eaten since last night
And I think that we can all agree
Cancer's gonna lose this fight.

Like a mouse and a lawn mower
Like a knish and hungry Jew
Like a flea and a flame thrower
Like a spider and my shoe

Now cancer has a scary rep
It's as gloomy as a tomb
But as soon as I am fully prepped
It's gonna meet its doom

Like a hot dog and a hound dog
Like a Twinkie and a brick
Like a Bama fan at Math Camp
Like a booger and a flick

We're gonna stomp this tumor
Slap it like a mime
Takes more than this to stop me
It shouldn't waste my time

Goodbye, thyroid, it's been fun;
You got cancer, now we're done.
Thought it might be just a cyst.
You betrayed me, now I'm pissed.

Hello, Synthroid's daily dose.
Do your job and we'll stay close.
Suck it, cancer. Kicked your ass.
Picked the wrong guy to harass.
My complaining (Goodbye thyroid)
Must make you sick (It's been fun)
So I'm obtaining (You got cancer)
An ass to kick (Now we're done)

Just a quick cut (Thought it might be)
And a stitch (Just a cyst)
Spanked this thing's butt (You betrayed me)
It's my bitch (And I'm pissed)

So goodbye, thyroid, (Goodbye thyroid)
It's been fun; (It's been fun)
You got cancer, (You got cancer)
Now we're done. (Now we're done)

Now, scars like this are damn sexy
I am stylin' in this gown
And that nurse really does want me,
Although she only frowns

Can I connect to the Net here?
Can I update all my tweeps?
Is the TV signal unclear?
Or is this place too cheap?

Now I will come out healthy
Beaten up, not down
But please don't stand behind me
While I am in this gown.

(Jaunty 70s whistling)
Goodbye, thyroid, it's been fun;
You got cancer, now we're done.
Thought it might be just a cyst.
You betrayed me, now I'm pissed.

Hello, Synthroid's daily dose.
Do your job and we'll stay close.
Suck it, cancer. Kicked your ass.
Picked the wrong guy to harass.
My complaining (Goodbye thyroid)
Must make you sick (It's been fun)
So I'm obtaining (You got cancer)
An ass to kick (Now we're done)

Just a quick cut (Thought it might be)
And a stitch (Just a cyst)
Spanked this thing's butt (You betrayed me)
It's my bitch (And I'm pissed)

Now it's over (Hello, Synthroid's)
Now I'm out (Daily dose)
Heading home (Do your job and)
Later, radiation (We'll stay close)
For now it's over (Suck it, cancer)
Heading home, (Kicked your ass)
Heading home. (Picked the wrong guy)
You put me through a lot (To harass)
So goodbye, thyroid, (Goodbye thyroid)
It's been fun; (It's been fun)
You got cancer, (You got cancer)
Now we're done. (Now we're done)

Now you're leavin',
You had to go

(And fade out with a ba-wigga-bow-bow 70s guitar solo)

Seriously. Supertramp's Breakfast in America album is one of the highlights of the 70s. If you're old enough to drink, you've probably heard at least half the songs on there.

Thanks again for all the support through this, y'all. See you from post-op!

Monday, March 16, 2009

I am Pre-Ready for Surgery!

Went in for my pre-surgical interview this morning. I hope they offer it to me! *fingers crossed*

It wasn't much. Basically a stack of papers I had to sign wherein I surrendered my right to hold them accountable if something goes wrong and they accidentally cut my head off and mount it on a Big Mouth Billy Bass.

But there was also the medical history. Medicalwise, I've lived a fairly dull life. Tonsils out, wisdom teeth surgically removed, braces. The highlight of my medical trauma history has been a bike wreck on my 9th birthday that knocked out a front tooth and eventually led to a Dental Appliance.

One weird moment, though. The one time I got a stern look was when they asked me if I'm on any medication. I'm not, really, but I did take an Advil last night because I had slept funny and had a tender shoulder muscle. Their reaction was OMG PLEASE STOP TAKING ADVIL!

Okay, it wasn't that bad. But they pursed their lips and went into "Speaking to a Child or Other Non-Medical Idiot" mode: "We would appreciate it if you did not take any more Advil before the surgery, or for awhile after. Also do not take aspirin. You may take Tylenol." When I asked why, I got "Advil and aspirin can cause bleeding, which might complicate things during surgery."

I did not know that. I had heard that aspirin is good for heart attack prevention, and I like Advil because it kicks a headache's ass. I didn't know either of them worked as a blood thinner. I think from now on, when I have pain, I'll just scream into a ball gag. (That will probably mess up my Dental Appliance or give me Lyme disease or something. You cannot win.)

Anyway, everyone at the hospital was very nice except for the person who took my blood. ("Give to me left arm now!") Fortunately, the blood thing went quick, because of the Advil.

On the way out, they gave me information about doing a Living Will. It's a good idea, and I've been meaning to do it, but their timing could be a lot better.

Okay, enough surgery stuff. I am going to post crucial info about the cruise later. Be ready!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Sittin' on the dock in L.A.

I hope you can see these rows of containers, each the size of boxcars.
They contain, I think, 300 million iPhones and one lone Wii, ready for

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Tar Pit Burns

At the La Brea tar pits. They unearth an average of 10 fossils per
day, mostly dire wolves. It also smells like brand new pavement.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Alive in LA!

We're kicking around LA today, waiting to board tomorrow. Came across

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Vacationing... So You Don't Have To!

I love my job, but there comes a time when a man/woman/tranny needs to step away from the Intense Tech Writer Grind and commit some serious recreating.

I'm writing this on 3/4/09, and on 3/6/09 I'm flying to L.A. to hang out in Hollywood, pee on the big Scientology building there, and board a cruise ship to Mexico. I'll post the occasional picture or quick anecdote, but my net access will be limited. I may end up just baking in the sun while cruising past some panoramic vista, wishing I could get my hands on a mouse instead of a cold glass of something pineappley.

Although this cruise is sponsored by the JREF, I'm not really going to do any serious critical thinking. And as much as I'm looking forward to seeing my friends, that's not my primary goal either. I'm going because the farther you get out of your normal routine, the greater the chances for hilarious moments.

Last year, for example, we went with the JREF to Alaska, where I got attacked by wild sled dogs. Check out this insane carnivore:

Also, we got stalked by a ferocious grizzly.

Actually, salmon were running through that stream. That bear couldn't have cared less about me. Who knew bears were related to house cats?

Being in a floating resort hotel en route to another U.S. state isn't exactly a paradigm-shifting event, even if we did have to go to Canada first. Going to Mexico is going to be a little more alien, I expect. We'll see.

For true mind-warping, you need to go to the opposite side of the world and drive on the wrong side of the road...

About 3 years ago, I found myself in Cape Town, South Africa. I don't mean I woke up naked in Cape Town tied to a statue of Nelson Mandela and trying to extract my passport from my butt. No, this was what the 9/11 Truther idiots would call a "controlled destination." Maria had gone down there for some client work, and since she was holding them over a barrel, she haggled a ticket for me so we could go on vacation when she was done.

I'd never been to Africa, but Maria had lived in Kenya for a few years. I had spent the last 10 years listening to stories of game parks and free-roaming giraffes (Maria's totem animal, and her reason for preferring tall men). So off we went, Maria navigating and me driving on the left or "improper" side of the road. Our first stop was a game park called Sanbona, a new park that was really meant more for scientists than tourists. We were the only guests there.

It's a 10km (49.7 furlongs) ride off the main road along a bouncy dirt trail. Ideal for our rented Celica. No cell phone signal, no one who loved us knew where we were, and I had no idea who had right of way at a crossroad.

About 6km (1.9x10^-13 parsec) in, I said "do you think we'll see anything on the way to the lodge?"

"No, everything interesting will probably stay off the main road. We'll see things deeper in."

Not three minutes later, we trundle around a bend and there's a damn lion lying in the road. Big fluffy mane and giant head and everything. Just glaring at us with those yellow eyes.


The lion s-l-o-o-o-w-l-y stood up, turned around, gave us one more look, and walked into the tall grass by the side of the road. Two steps in, and he disappeared. Of course, the camera battery was sitting in the charger. This was new, staring Big Toothy Nature right in the eyes. The biggest thing that had ever stared me down before was a deer.

We got to the lodge and met the naturalist/tour guide.

Him: "Hello, Mr. Walters! How was your drive?"
Me: "Fuh... fuh... fuh..."
Him: "Ummm... and Mrs. Walters?"
Maria: "I think he's trying to say 'fuggin' lion'"
Him: "Oh. Yes, we have a pride here, but he's an extra male, so he goes off on his own."

Great. A sexually repressed loner lion. The Unibomber of the Jungle.

We spent that afternoon and the next morning touring around with a couple of scientists in an open jeep. The guy who met us was an ornithologist, and I think the other was a geologist, but I don't remember. We got adopted by a herd of giraffe, which still makes Maria do a "squeeeeeeee" noise, and saw white rhinos and got circled by a bunch of galloping zebras.

The next day, we leave to head on to our next stop, and we have to bounce along that road again. This time, the camera is ready. Still no cell service. No one else is expected that day. Everyone from the lodge who was leaving had already left. Of course we get a flat tire.

Me: "Hey, remember how that lion became invisible two feet off the road yesterday?"
Maria: "Yup."
Me: "You don't see any tall grass that looks like it could hide a horny lion, do you?"
Maria: "I see nothing BUT tall grass."

So we get out so I can change the tire and Maria can swipe these stinging black flies away and keep watch.

Me: "How will I know if you see the lion?"
Maria: "You'll hear the car door slam and the doors lock."
Me: "... Why would you lock the doors?"
Maria: "I don't know how smart lions are."
Me: "Can I hold the keys?"
Maria: "No."

I learned later that we were never in real danger, since lions hunt at night, and during the day they are content to just snooze unless someone bothers them. I don't know exactly what bothers them, but it must not be the sounds of loosening lug nuts.

We caught this video at our next game park. I've seen a lot of lion movies, but they must water the roaring down. When it really happens, you want nothing more than a barrier between you and them. Something like the Atlantic Ocean would be fine.

Turn up the volume for this one.

Anyway, that was a seriously epic vacation. I don't expect the cruise to be anything like that, but you never know. We are planning to swim with some dolphins in Puerto Vallarta and drive some ATVs around Mazatlan.

"Hi! I am not indigenous to the Baja California penninsula! Perhaps you are thinking of chupacabras?"

Have a great week, everyone! I'll have tons of stories when we get back, even if I have to make them up myself.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Check Out the DNA on that Babe

This is the third in a series of seminal stories from my sordid and nerdy youth. I got the idea from Wil Wheaton and his book The Happiest Days of Our Lives. I'm getting them out now before I return to cancer anecdotes. I hope you enjoy them, because I can only think of one more.

Coming soon: Sexual Harassment at my First Sci-Fi Convention

A couple of times in the course of a normal life, everything crystallizes together in a single perfect moment.

At the beginning of the year, NPR's wonderful Wait, Wait... Don't Tell Me told me about a story where a guy in Scotland came from a New Year's costume party dressed as Thor, the Norse god of lightning. When he walked in, he encountered a burglar, and snapped. Charged the guy, who jumped out a window, leaving his shoes behind. Today, Mr. Torvald Alexander of Edinburgh is still basking in the envy of the rest of the male world.

To quote Wait, Wait host Peter Sagal: "Someone's robbing your apartment, you're six feet tall, and you're dressed as Thor -- sometimes it's just YOUR DAY." If Torvald lives to be 200, he will remember that moment more clearly than anything else in his life. As will the burglar.

Which brings me to one of my own moments...

I was an undergrad at Auburn University. I was still majoring in Computer Sciences, so this would have been sometime around my... third year? Sure.

CompSci folks tend to clump together, like gazelle when they think a tiger is near. Not so much physically clumping, but socially. (The tigers in this analogy are sorority girls.) My own cluster was about six people thick, which was larger than average at a school not known for its nerds. (Don't laugh -- we are known for our astronauts, so eat it, Harvard.)

One Monday morning before class, one of my clustermates, Rick, told me about a fraternity party he had attended that weekend. I don't know how he got invited; I am guessing he helped someone change the light on the frat house porch and just stayed. Anyway, he told me about this amazing girl at the party. He didn't get up the nerve to go talk to her, but she was tall and slim and had long brown hair and laughed a lot. She really cranked poor Rick's tractor. Unfortunately, he didn't get her name. I guess it wasn't written on her clothes where he could see it from a distance. He had high hopes that she would come to the next frat party he got invited to.

She still might. I don't think that party has happened yet.

I don't recall if it was after class that day or sometime the next, but very soon after he told me about her, we were walking out of the computer building together when Rick grabbed my arm.

"Christian!" he hissed. "That's her!" He was pointing across the street at a group of girls talking together.

It wasn't hard to pick out the one he meant. She was tall (noticeably so, compared to the others), thin, with long brown hair.

She was also my younger sister, Laura.

Time stopped. The sun got a bit brighter. A universe of possibilities opened up before me. Somewhere, a dog barked. I picked the best possible option: I pulled out my Thor hammer and charged Rick.

No, really, I said something like "wait here -- I'll go see if she's got time to talk, and then I'll wave you over." He was all for this sort of "warming up" technique.

I hadn't seen Laura in a week or so. Auburn isn't all that big a place, but we moved in different social circles. By that I mean she went to frat parties and I was a computer sciences major. But I came up behind her and got her attention.

It worked better than I could imagine. She turned, saw me, said HEY! and gave me a hug that undoubtedly made Rick jealous. During the hug, I gave Rick the thumbs up and motioned him over, hoping he would remember to watch for traffic.

By the time Rick made it across, Laura's friends had dispersed, and she was saying "are you doing anything this weekend? You should let me make you dinner!"

Me: "This is Rick."
Laura: "Hi Rick!"
Me: "Rick told me he saw you at a party last weekend."
Laura: "Oh yeah! Wasn't that a great party? I have to get to class. Call me about dinner! Nice meeting you, Rick!" And she wandered off.
Me: "Nice job impressing her with your oratory, dumbass."
Rick: "She wants me."

Priceless. For the rest of the week, I was a god to Rick. We had endless conversations like this:

Rick: "Are you going to call her for dinner?"
Me: "Yeah, why not?"
Rick: "Will you find out if she has a boyfriend?"
Me: "I expect so." (She did, and he was a putz, but I figured that was a good exit strategy for after this stopped being fun.)
Rick: "If not, are you gonna ask her out?" (We were all native Alabamians. He might have asked this even if he knew who she was.)
Me: "No, she's not my type. But I'll talk you up if you want."

I wish I had been familiar with Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing back then. The whole situation reminds me of when Don Pedro pretends to be Claudio so he can woo Hero in his place, and Claudio starts freaking out that Don Ped--... never mind. Stay in school.

Word of my godhood spread among our cluster. It was a good week, and I was de facto Cluster Leader for a few days. But that turned out to be my undoing.

One little-known fact about nerd clusters is that your more successful ones have a Token Girl. We need someone to translate in case a sorority girl asks us for directions. It's a tough job, translating "bear north-north-west for roughly 400 yards" into "go to the light and turn left." Our girl was Kristen. Kristen was petite and blonde and could hang with or surpass any of us on the Knowing Obscure Crap scale. She caught wind of this "Christian the Love God" theory and was immediately skeptical. She would have had an easier time with it if I claimed to be Thor.

She was also a friend of my sister's. When Rick and I encountered Laura, for once I was happy Kristen wasn't with us.

But near the end of the week, I was by myself in the cafeteria, and she dropped down across the table from me. "What's going on? When did you become a love god, and why don't any women know about it?" She could say things like that with a straight face without sounding mean, which is why nerd clusters would take a bullet/wedgie for their Token Girls.

Reading between the lines, she was saying "our cluster only has one leader, and she's perky and blonde -- by what right do you usurp power, and why should I not have your head cut off?"

I told her the story much like I'm telling you now. By the end, she was in tears, had nearly slid under the table, and had to leave. I completely understood, and didn't blame her for blowing my cover. I don't know if she told Laura or the cluster first, but I do know that Laura took it better than my suddenly former disciples. They got over it soon, since I was still the one with the hot sister.

Things returned to normal. Kristen regained the near-infinite power you would expect a cluster leader to have. Rick and I had to put up with comments like "Rick, if Christian grew his hair long, would you date him?" Laura had something come up that weekend, so we didn't have dinner.

Two terms later, I gave up on computers and switched to journalism, where the ratios were reversed: I was the leader of a cluster of girls majoring in journalism and public relations. (Eat it again, Harvard.) You can't keep a love god down.