All posts by Dan


or: The damn thing actually works

At some point while I was writing the last post, my AT&T 3G MicroCell did the completely unexpected, and started working. You might think that this would make me want to go back and tone down my previous tirade.

You’d be deeply, dizzyingly mistaken. To be honest, paying an extra flat fee for better signal quality doesn’t really bother me in principle. No matter how diligent a carrier is in deploying cell towers, there are going to be spots that for whatever reason don’t have a clear line of sight to a tower. (In my case, it probably has as much to do with the greenery outside my windows, which is actually one of the things I like about this place, as it does with anything else. Just a few yards toward the street, and in most spots along the South Bay, I have a reasonable signal.)

The root of my frustration with AT&T regarding the MicroCell is ultimately orthogonal to that, though. Its reliance upon GPS as the means of ensuring that the customer doesn’t use it outside of permitted territory is little short of insane. It’s a solution, as I wrote, of one problem that requires the solution of a needlessly and infuriatingly similar problem — i.e., “we’ll improve your poor 3G signal, provided you have a decent GPS signal.” It makes a unit that would otherwise be a godsend for people whose workspaces are for whatever reason underground, or deep inside a building, useless to them. It’s like selling a fire extinguisher that’s 100% reliable, as long as it’s kept away from flammable materials.

Past that questionable design decision, the thing’s user experience is just dismal. Easily one of the worst I’ve ever had. Don’t let its catchy white surface fool you — the thing is at heart a black box. No way of accessing its status or otherwise debugging it, other than patiently trying to scry the blinkenlights on its face and periodically power-cycling it in hopes that Something Will Change, “this time for sure”.

The support website, like I said, manages to rub salt into wounds by being intrusively irritating. “Hey, welcome customer! You paid us, and we’re still gonna subject you to promotional video.”

The silver lining in all of this is, or at least in my case was, the customer support line. The guy I spoke with was friendly rather than patronizing, and diligent about resolving the issue, to wit that my phone was not talking to the MicroCell even after all of the latter’s lights went solid.

I still don’t know exactly what the issue was, but it seems to have been at the far end — at some point, after multiple rounds of power-cycling both MicroCell and handset, the latter was suddenly able to see and communicate through the former, without my having tweaked a damn thing.

So yes, unless it lets out the magic smoke or otherwise shows signs of flakiness, I’m keeping the MicroCell, and will be closing my Vonage account in the not-too-distant future. No point in having two phones when one now works everywhere you need it to. But man, I hope I never bump into any of the people who designed the thing. I could not be held accountable for my actions.

Infernal Designs

Or: “Learn, guys.”

(With apologies to Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett for stealing one of their lines, John Gruber for borrowing his idea, JerkCity for using one of their character names, readers for putting them through this, and… oh, God. Everyone, for everything. Except AT&T. For anything.)

Satan holds audience in one of his smaller, but still imposing, rooms. He sits on a throne hewn of flint, its lines simple and rectangular, its bulk as intimidating as its dark-gray matte.

Two of his aspiring imps, Atandt and Sissko, approach the throne to present their work, a small white device Atandt holds before him. Atandt smiles unctuously, but then, he always smiles unctuously. One suspects that he’d sleep with that expression, if he ever slept.

Sissko, on the other hand, just stares off into the distance. His hands are constantly moving, half-raised, seeming to trace out abstract shapes. Their styles, however, differ fundamentally: it’s as though the left and right hand are working to completely separate ends. Which they usually are.

Satan: Report.

Atandt clears his throat and begins.

Atandt: It’s a network box. It grants those who pay me $150 the functionality that they thought they were buying when they signed up for a two-year contract in the first place.

Satan: (Nods once, briefly.) And?

Atandt: It’s bound to a strict limit of ten devices, which you have to add through a web interface that connects to my headquarters, giving me insight into your associations.

Satan: (A ghost of a smile flits briefly across his face.) So the arbitrary limits are accompanied by potential violations of privacy. Nice. What else?

Atandt: By default, any voice communication still counts against users’ minutes, even though they’re like as not using bandwidth purchased from a completely independent party to transmit the packets. If they want unlimited minutes, they have to pay me an additional $20 a month.

Satan considers what he’s heard so far with one raised eyebrow. His earlier brief smile has lulled Atandt into a false sense of security.

Satan: Hmm. Go on.

Atandt: Well, that’s pretty much it.

Satan: (eyes narrowing) Excuse me?

Atandt: (caught off-guard) Sir?

With a speed that belies his size, Satan takes to his feet, his eyes glowing the deep orange of late-campfire embers. Smoke wafts ominously from his tightly-clenched left fist.

Satan: You’ve had months to work on this, time to study every major competitor’s submission, and this is the extent of your imagination? (His lips curl as he snarls the end of the question, revealing teeth whose clean perfection does nothing to dull the razor’s edge of their menace.)

Atandt: (stammering) S…sir?

Satan’s eyes glow brightly enough that both Atandt and Sissko are lit like beachgoers facing a sunset. Sissko looks vaguely nonplussed, as usual, but Atandt clearly realizes that the sunset he’s facing could well be his own.

Satan: Give me one reason why I shouldn’t snuff you out of existence right now! Besides force-feeding you rusted razor wire so I can add you to the Penance Abacus!

The thought of the Penance Abacus pales Atandt, his skin fading to an unhealthily dull brick red. He hears a voice from far away, and it takes him a moment to realize it’s his own.

Atandt: (softly, blinking) Our solution to the problem will require the user’s solution of a similar, but not identical, problem.

Satan: (still irate, but intrigued) Explain.

Atandt: (clinging to the loose thread that’s barely keeping him out of the abyss) We’ll insist that the unit can only be used in certain geographic areas. We’ll enforce that by building GPS into it, and requiring GPS confirmation of the unit’s position before enabling it.

Satan pauses thoughtfully for a moment, then sits back down. He tilts his head and purses his lips thoughtfully, idly drumming on the throne’s armrest with the claws of his left hand. Atandt tries not to flinch with every flare of ensuing sparks. Then, to both his and Satan’s surprise, Sissko speaks for the first time.

Sissko: Doesn’t that sort of defeat the purpose of the whole thing? Requiring people who can’t get a solid cell-tower signal to get a clean GPS signal? Anybody with a fast, wired internet connection who’s stuck inside a building without some view of the sky will be screwed. (He realizes that the other two are staring at him the way automotive engineers would contemplate a colleague bemoaning that a proposed engine design would deliver at least 150 miles per gallon.) Oh. Right.

Satan: Is it feasible?

Sissko: Sure. Of course, it’d mean stripping other hardware features down to the bare minimum. (He notes that the other two are staring again.) So, uh, bonus.

Satan: (not yet convinced that Sissko is getting the picture) Describe the interface.

Sissko: Blinking lights on the front?

Satan nods once, prompting Sissko to continue.

Sissko: No built-in HTTP server or support for SNMP. No logging. Basically, no way at all to tell what the heaven is going on or what, if anything, is wrong.

Satan: (nodding more firmly this time) Good.

Atandt: (Now really getting into the spirit of the thing.) We’ll add a vague but long delay to the setup process. Tell users that after they’ve done everything on their end, they’ll have to wait for something on the order of two hours to see if things are working. (Thinks for a moment.) We’ll even instruct them, in the manual, to “relax” while they’re twiddling their thumbs, waiting to see if the blinking lights go solid.

Satan: And in the end, it’ll work?

There is a pregnant pause, at the end of which the three burst out laughing, Atandt so hard that sulphuric-acid tears start glistening in his eyes.

Atandt: (Wiping his cheeks dry.) No. But we’ll provide a technical-support number that they can call. It’ll answer with a completely confusing message that’ll make end-users think they’ve accidentally dialed some internal-service number.

Satan: Won’t there be a website that they can use to sidestep the support line?

Atandt: (Shrugging.) Of course. The support site and the promotional site will be one and the same. People trying to visit the former, in a desperate attempt to get running the hardware they already paid for, will be treated to a video ad that starts automatically, doesn’t have pause or mute buttons, and has a lady with a perky voice delivering the pitch. Not only will they harbor homicidal urges towards her after the third time she’s given her spiel, tops, but links on that page will open new tabs in the foreground, so that desperate attempts to click her away will only hide her in the background while she rambles on.

Satan regards Atandt levelly for a moment, briefly wondering if he should worry about the understudy’s seemingly bottomless well of perversity. Then he remembers that he’s the father of lies, and Atandt merely his prodigal son.

Satan: Won’t they try to return it?

Atandt: (Unctuous grin now back to full power.) What, and implicitly admit that I suckered them into buying a half-baked product? Again? Besides, it’s got firmware. As long as you dangle the hope in front of them that a future update might fix their problems, people will bend over for anything.

Satan: Hmm. Good point.

Sissko: Also, we’ll make sure there’s a port for an external GPS antenna. That way, at least some of them will burn just a little more time and money on the acquisition of extra gear that might make things work. So we foster false hope from both the software and hardware ends.

Satan: (leans back in the throne, contemplating them both, impressed despite himself) Well. After a bit of a rough start, you’ve accounted yourselves well. (He waves them off.) Carry on. Oh, and send Sony in on your way out.

Backhanded Gratitude

Or: Fancy meeting you here.

It’s been over a year since I last updated this site, and that, frankly, is pathetic. The problem is that as the delay since your last posting grows, and grows, and grows — even if it seems like you had extenuating circumstances at the time — you feel pressed to make the next one more and more momentous, to warrant finally breaking the longstanding silence.

Fortunately, it turns out that if someone or something sufficiently infuriates you, you will eventually snap, lose your temper, and resort to posting just to give yourself an outlet for your petulant little tirade.

So… thanks, AT&T!

Over Hill and Under Hill

Or: So, just what the hell have you been doing for the last six months, two entire frickin’ seasons, anyway?

Good question. The short form is, “Knitting, physiologically speaking, for a couple of weeks, then going back to work, then adding some ionizing radiation and chemical warfare to the mix just to keep things interesting.”

The slightly longer form goes like this. In the wee hours of the morning on Thursday, June 5th, Stanford contacted me to come in for surgery. This was basically as per plan — we hadn’t known exactly what time I’d be scheduled for.

The process was smooth and efficient: I signed in, went through a little paperwork, changed into the patient’s gown I was handed, and was then prepared for surgery, with a needle here and a needle there. Once everything was in place, my parents were allowed in and we said our pre-surgical goodbyes. I would think that I was still conscious when I left for the surgical chamber proper, but I have no memory of the trip.

The next thing I was aware of was waking in the Intensive Care Unit, sometime late that afternoon. Given that the conversation I’d had with the anesthesiologist and neurosurgeon the day before, I had expected to find myself conversing with the surgical staff while my brain’s left temporal lobe and its surroundings were mapped. My first conscious thought was something along the lines of, “Oh, crap — I slept like an idiot right through the whole thing, and they had to fly, or rather cut, blind. I’ll be lucky if I can still form complete sentences when speaking out loud.”

But no. When the anesthesiologist and neuroscientist stopped by to check up on me, along with my parents, I learned that I’d been a conscious and, difficult though it is to believe, even civil patient. I just happened not to remember any of it. (I suspect that’s why I don’t remember wheeling into the surgery room, either — I’m guessing that I was technically conscious at the time, but that the tapes on which the mental log of the experience was recorded were wiped along with those of the surgery itself.)

Somewhere in all of that, as I tried to assess myself, I had a slightly childish but nonetheless comforting thought: “Whatever else has happened, I have enough mind left that I’ll be able to enjoy WALL•E.” I’d been looking forward to the movie for a while, and fretted that its release would take place three weeks after my surgery. Moreover, I’d made a promise to a friend’s daughter to take her to see it, and I wanted to keep my word.

Physically considering that I’d just had part of my brain removed, and forty small, rigid, steel staples were now embedded in my flesh to help hold the incision shut, I didn’t feel all that bad. True, it was a bit of a struggle to recall, when asked by the staff, just where the hell I was — “Palo… Alto…” — but hey, any job a $300 GPS unit can perform is not one I need to lose sleep over.

My parents, having established that I was conscious and reasonably coherent — I think we briefly exchanged words in German and Spanish, just to verify that I still spoke those — left the hospital to sleep in actual beds. (I was glad of this, having encouraged them to do so prior to my surgery, assuming all went well. I didn’t see the point of their sleeping uncomfortably on-site just to show “solidarity”.)

I also slept, albeit in regularly-interrupted stints — the rules required the nurse on duty to check on me every hour, and “checking on” meant verifying that I could still maintain some semblance of a conversation. Since that seemed preferable to letting me quietly slip into a coma or something similar, I did my best to reply civilly.

My parents returned around 10:00 a.m. the next day, Friday, along with the surgical staff. When the neurosurgeon, Dr. Harsh, indicated that he thought it would be safe to release me that day, my mother initially thought he was joking. It’s hard to blame her, since we’d originally been led to expect that I would spend four or five nights in the hospital. (Mom later expressed her suspicion that my father’s MD probably hadn’t hurt matters, which seems credible enough. Whatever the reason, it was gratifying to hear a member of the ICU staff remark that she’d never seen a patient discharged directly from her department in something like 20 years of service.)

We drove home, and I wrote and posted the previous entry before going to sleep. Of course, sleeping under the circumstances required a bit of arrangement: doing so on my side was out of the question for a little while. Basically, I had to sleep lying… back, rather than down entirely, on a small mound of pillows. Arms at sides, facing the ceiling at something like a fifteen-degree angle. It felt odd at first, but was surprisingly easy to get used to.

Thus ended a long day.

Home Again, Well Ahead Of The Schedule

I’m already home. No, I have no idea how this happened. The original expectation had been that I’d take four days or so to recover following the removal of the tumor from my left temporal, which happened as intended yesterday morning. I apparently was conversational the entire time, as intended, even though I barely remember a damn thing and indeed worried that I’d fallen asleep when I was supposed to be collaborating with the crew.

After the removal itself, I was transferred to the Intensive Care unit, where I spent most of last night sleeping intermittently, frequently checked by nurses to confirm that my eyes, nerves, and general left/right side were all in working order.

This morning the surgeon himself, along with the anesthesiologist, had a look at me and basically decided that I was well enough to leave today. Apparently this happens infrequently enough that the staff of the ICU didn’t really know the procedure for getting out. (They were, like every other single person I’ve met with at Stanford, incredibly friendly the entire time, and did figure it out eventually.)

So now I’m home, and about to go to bed. I may sound reasonably normal in e-mail, but the truth is that at the moment I have to grope around blind for the appropriate term — noun, mainly — some of the time. You don’t notice this when I’m writing, but you’d notice it fairly quickly when speaking to me in person. This should faded over the next couple of days as the area near the removed temporal area reduces back to its usual size. We’ll see how it actually feels when I’m done.

I’m exhausted now, so I’m going to bed. Have fun tonight, whatever you all are doing, and I’ll try to update you soon.

“Feels like a fire down below…”

We interrupt your regularly-scheduled litany of borderline-morbid neurological news for something completely different.

Frank and I were returning from coffee yesterday afternoon, and he was dropping me off at the side entrance to Cisco Building 20, when I noticed something unusual in the enclosed area housing the dumpsters. Through the narrow gap beneath the locked steel gates, bright orange flames danced, licking the air.

“Hey, do you see that?” I asked, pointing. Indeed he did. He slowed the car, and we took enough of a look to verify that, yes indeed, something was on fire in there.

By the time he’d parked the car, it was clear that more was burning than just the bits of cardboard we’d spotted earlier. The flames had spread to the contents of at least one of the dumpsters.

Since there didn’t seem to be an immediate threat of the fire spreading, we decided to call Cisco Security rather than 911. Not having their number in my phone at the time — I certainly do now — I headed to the building’s lobby to call in the alert, then headed back to the side entrance.

The first Security truck arrived promptly, but its occupant didn’t really seem to have much more idea of what to do than we did. “Yep, it’s on fire all right” seemed to be the extent of the immediate response.

This was approximately the point where Frank and I decided be a bit more… hands-on, and headed into the building to grab a fire extinguisher or two. I will cheerfully confess to a certain amount of glee at the prospect, as I had never had a chance to use an actual fire extinguisher against an actual fire before.

Standing on the concrete base of lamppost and bracing ourselves against the enclosure wall, we took turns aiming for the base of the flames and spewing gouts of powdery white extinguishing compound at it. This put out the visible flames, but we could tell that hot spots remained beneath the ashes.

At this point a second Security truck appeared, and its occupant actually unlocked the gates. We had a better shot at the flames now, but had completely discharged our extinguisher. After checking in his truck for another, the second Security guard came up empty, so Frank and I went back into the building for seconds. We handed one of our finds to the guard, who was apparently unfamiliar with the whole “pull pin to enable trigger” concept. A few more blasts of noxious white powder — nearly as suffocating to humans as to the combustive process — and some poking of the embers, and things seemed to be under control. (In the process we noticed that there was in fact a fire extinguisher attached to the inside of the enclosure. Security Guard #2 wasn’t any more aware of it than we had been.)

I had to leave to pick my father up from the airport at this point, so I missed whatever epilogue might have unfolded. While on my way to Terminal 1, though, I made the mistake of licking my lips. Ugh. There was enough powdery residue on my skin to convey a hint of bitterness, unwholesome and deeply synthetic. (That stuff’s probably carcinogenic. Hahahahaha. Carcinogenic! Ahahahahahaha! Ahem.)

This story has two morals. First and most importantly: when something’s on fire, call 911. Do not screw around with half measures. Do not assume that the employees of your private security firm have the training, equipment, or expertise to handle the problem effectively.

The second, less crucial moral has to do with the guy on the third-floor balcony who was jabbering away on his cell phone — and not, from the sound of it, to the fire department — while the contents of the dumpster were blazing merrily away a few dozen yards away from him. I feel a certain measure of satisfaction in the fact that he must have been engulfed in clouds of the asphyxiating powder our amateur efforts at fire suppression unleashed, and I hope it ruined his day. But he served to illustrate an important point: don’t be a self-absorbed little twit if you can help it.

Here endeth the lesson.

Next Steps

Here’s the approximate timetable (for me, anyway) for the rest of this week.

  • Wednesday: Meet with the anesthesiologist and neurologist. Submit to another MRI. (This is an additional reason to keep my head shaved: during the last MRI, they had to adhere little saline-filled discs to my head, to serve as reference points and target markers: since said discs adhere poorly and imprecisely to hair, this required them to shave quarter-sized areas on various points around my scalp. I’m expecting that they’ll want to use such markers again, so I might as well beat them to the shaving punch. There are few things more dorky-looking than a little pseudo-tonsure halfway between your hairline and the whorl where any normal human would start developing a real bald spot.)

  • Thursday: The main event. Put Dan under, open up his skull, bring him back to consciousness under sufficient sedation that he won’t freak out about the existence of the improvised access panel on his head, and probe him with electrodes while asking him various questions in a mixture of languages to map out the temporal lobe. Remove as much of the tumor as is feasible. Put Dan back to sleep and close him up.

  • Friday onward: Recovery. Give the bones a chance to knit, watch for signs of infection, perhaps keep me somewhat centered in a narcotic fog. (I don’t know that I’m getting any really good drugs, but I can hope.)

  • Tuesday of next week, maybe: Meet with the neurosurgeon and neurooncologist to map out further treatment plans. Chemotherapy is pretty much a given, but as I’ve written before, this is not as grim as it sounds. The chemotherapy agents used against brain tumors are supposedly well-tolerated, so the sick-as-a-dog puking-my-guts-out scenario seems distant and unlikely.

    Radiation is the big question mark. It can be effective in helping to kill the tumor cells, but it can also have some undesirable side effects, in particular upon vascularization (read: the distribution and character of blood vessels within the brain). The fact that this particular tumor is fairly superficial, lying close to the junction of brain and skull, means that the radiation won’t have to penetrate much healthy cerebral tissue to be effective. This is good, and may reduce to the potential downside.

    My father’s tentative inclination is to keep radiation in reserve, but he’s quick to add that the state of the art is advancing rapidly, leaving much published research inherently behind the curve. I suspect that this is one of the topics we’ll go most into depth on whenever we do meet with the neurosurgeon and neurooncologist. (Again, there’s no guarantee that it will be next Tuesday. A Tuesday, most likely, because that’s when the two practice together.)

I expect that I’ll be discharged from the hospital sometime in the middle of next week, but I don’t know exactly when, and I’m not sure that anyone else does at the moment, either. It will be predicated largely upon how quickly I recover and heal, and whether any complications arise on the way.

I will try to keep folks posted as best I can. This depends a bit on when I regain consciousness, how soon I’m allowed to use my computer, whether I can get any kind of network connection in my hospital room, etc., etc. It may well be that the place to look for the earliest first-hand sign of post-op life is my Twitter feed, since in theory I’ll be able to update that from my iPhone even if I don’t have WiFi. (Of course, lately Twitter has me completely beat when it comes to succumbing unpredictably to seizures, so… no promises.)

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

(Guest-starring Lee Van Cleef as The Man Made of Scalpels.)

I still haven’t received an actual tangible version of the biopsy results — I will apparently have to send a fax requesting them, and will likewise receive a fax in response. This feels oddly archaic, especially in a day and age where I was handed my imaging results on a CD-R the day after they were taken, but never mind that.

I do know, roughly speaking, what they say, having had a chance to discuss them with my surgeon a little over a week back. They’re a bit of a mixed bag in some respects, but overall, things could be a lot worse. Here, then, is a summary of what we know, albeit not in the order promised by the title.

First, the bad: it’s an astrocytoma, rather than an oligodendroglioma. This means that it lacks the chromosomal deletions that would maximize the effectiveness of currently-available chemotherapy. So it goes.

Next, the good: it’s a low-grade astrocytoma — Grade II on a scale where Grade III is ominous and Grade IV is serious stuff indeed — and it is, as far as we know, not malignant.

This brings us to the ugly, of which there are actually a few separate bits.

  1. When it comes to brain tumors, “benign” is a bit of a misnomer. A red herring, even. Nearly all other areas of the body feature membranes to keep things tidy and compartmentalized. This serves to contain, for instance, a benign skin tumor. The brain lacks any such membranes, so while a benign tumor won’t send out little metastatic seedlets to colonize other parts of the brain, it won’t be confined, either. Given enough time, it will grow and crowd healthy tissues — hence the need to control it.

  2. The odds of completely removing and/or killing the astrocytoma are somewhere between slim and none. The best that can be done is to remove as much of it as possible without affecting the function of healthy tissue, and then attacking what’s left with chemotherapy and possibly radiation.

  3. One of the obnoxious habits exhibited by astrocytomas is a tendency to eventually go malignant, even if they didn’t start out that way. It seems to happen to pretty much all of them eventually. (When you start out with a somatic mutation in p53, the gene that’s responsible for keeping other mutations in check, most anything goes after that.)

  4. With all of the preceding is said and done, median survival time for patients with astrocytomas is eight years and change. For those of you whose statistics are rusty, this means that half of those surveyed live longer, and half, well… don’t.

    This may sound grim, but I have every intention of being on the very far side of the bell curve. I have a first-rate medical team, a pathologist father who I trust will keep me from doing anything clinically stupid, and an incredibly warm and supportive group of friends and family who are stumbling over each other to offer their assistance in any way they can. (More on this last point in an upcoming post.)

    Lastly, the science on this stuff is moving quickly. The current arsenal of chemotherapy drugs is quite recent, and if I’m not mistaken, the weapon of choice against oligodendroglioma only appeared on the field something like six years ago. So there’s some basis for hope that the longevity curve will stretch out before me as I walk it.

Upshot: I’m totally banking on being ahead of the lot of you when they start rolling out the military-grade neural interface packages. I’ll have an easily-reopened hole in my head and a little cavity where they can stash the hardware-wetware bridge. You’ll envy me, suckers.

I’m Not Shipping Up To Boston, Either

Recent events in politics and related news have prompted me to reflect on things I do not have in common with Ted Kennedy.

  1. I did not lead a floor fight at the 1980 Democratic Convention.
  2. I have not had a roman à clef written about me by Joyce Carol Oates.

A trifle more seriously, Kennedy has apparently been diagnosed with a malignant glioma in the left parietal lobe of his brain.

This is similar to what it appears I’ve got, but not quite the same. Going from the most to the least clearly known:

  1. Mine’s in the temporal lobe rather than the parietal.
  2. We don’t know that it’s malignant.
  3. We don’t know that it’s a glioma.

The results of the biopsy should provide the definitive answers on the latter two points. So for the time being at least, I’m in distinguished company, but it’s not very close distinguished company.

That Was The Week That Was

I have just been gently reminded — he said, rubbing his shin and wincing — that it’s been about a week since I’ve posted here. Whoops.

There is, at the moment, not a huge abundance of news to report. On Thursday of last week, my father drove to Stanford and joined the head of Neuropathology there to look at slides of some of the biopsy-sampled cells under an optical microscope. The tentative conclusion is a bit of a mixed bag: it looks, I’m told, like an astrocytoma, but with certain characteristics of oligodendroglioma. The big question remains the same as before: does it feature the co-deletion of chromosomal arms 1p and 19q that are the hallmark of oligodendroglioma, and which presage a higher sensitivity to chemotherapy? Only culturing and genetic analysis will say for sure, and those are still in progress. The current estimate is that I’ll hear something by Monday, May 26th.

In the meantime, I’ve been officially scheduled for surgery on Thursday, June 5th, with another survey MRI and possible additional preliminary work to take place on the 4th.

My father returned to Memphis on Sunday morning, while my sister, who arrived last Thursday evening, proceeded to Orlando on the same day. My mom is still here, and will be staying until late June; my father will be returning shortly before the surgery.

That pretty much covers it as far as hard news is concerned. So… how am I doing?

For the moment, almost eerily well. I’d be lying if I said that the prospect of having a surgeon, however skilled he has already demonstrated himself to be, excise bits of my brain tissue completely failed to trouble my brow. That’s two weeks away, though. The future, as Dick Valentine so sagely observed, is in the future. At this instant, I feel fine. I’ve had no relapses, and the slightly spacy, dissociated feeling apparently produced by the anti-seizure medication has passed as my body has acclimatized to it. More than that, though. I feel focused. Alive. There’s nothing like a reminder that your time on this Earth is finite to reawaken your appreciation for every sight and smell you encounter.

I continue to feel that I’m in the capable hands of experts and professionals. I know it’s fashionable in some circles to regard western medicine and its supposedly impersonal manner with a skeptical eye, but… all I can say is that this has emphatically not been my experience to date. Everyone I’ve dealt with — doctor, intern, nurse, technician, administrative assistant — has been warm, friendly, and accommodating.

Moreover, it’s hard for me not to be impressed by the fact that modern technology has apparently made it possible to poke a hole in my friggin’ skull, proceed to carefully sample my brain tissue with a needle, and have me tromping through the woods with a slight tenderness behind my temple, feeling otherwise none the worse for wear, two days later. If that’s the cold, distant facelessness of western medicine at work, I’ll take that action. I’ll take all you’ve got.

Speaking of modern technology, the small incision above my left ear was not stitched shut, but instead bonded with surgical glue of some kind. It feels great — there’s no nonuniform tension on the skin, and the seal seems to have precluded even mild, superficial infection. The glue appears to be working its way out as the tissue heals: I’m trimming the excess as it does so, and finding that its consistency resembles nothing so much as the gummy adhesive they use to affix removable address labels to magazines before mailing them out.

Lastly, to preclude the question likely to raise itself in the mind of anyone seeing me for the first time in a while: no, they didn’t shave my head. I did that myself, post-surgery, having decided that the small shaved rectangle just above my ear looked stupid. More practically, the biopsy procedure inflicted a few nicks at random points on my scalp: these proceeded to bleed into my hair a bit, and since I couldn’t shampoo for two days post-surgery, I wound up dusting my pillowcase with a light coat of powdered dried blood instead. Yum. Screw that. Best to just be rid of the whole mess. I can at least sponge-bathe a shaven scalp if I have to. (Also, given last week’s record temperatures, this seems quite the opportune time to go with the Lex Luthor look.) I would like to take this opportunity to report that my hair damn near grows faster than my beard. Also, my scalp feels like sharkskin when you rub it against the grain of the hair, which I can’t help but think is kind of cool.