She Was Dancing All That Time

Continuing the translation of “articles” to modern blog entries… Article 31 from February 7, 2004.


SO Mom contracts pneumonia early in January, and life goes on hold.

I’ve learned a lot in the last month: “pneumonia” is not so much a disease caused by an agent, like SARS or Alzheimers, as it is a physical condition: buildup of fluid in the lungs which impedes the ability to breathe – often progressively, sometimes fast. Sometimes this condition is caused by a virus, sometimes by a bacteria, and sometimes just by inflammation; but for smokers, people over 45, or those unlucky enough to be both, it can be VERY difficult to fight off.

And then there are the complications. Forget bedsores and rashes, arms scarred from IVs and throats raw from intubation, or even the simple indignity of a nose dried out by the omnipresent oxygen tube; the real fun is still to come.

Pleurisy, another “process”, arises when fluid collects between the lung and the chest wall, making what little breath you CAN draw an agony; it becomes worse when the pneumonia infection leaks in, filling the space with pus. You have to drain that out surgically, in a procedure called a VAT (Video Assisted Thoroscopy) which is far better than cracking the chest wall open but still leaves the patient with tubes draining fluid slowly, slowly, from a hole in their side.

Which opens the door to staph.

Methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aurorae — MRSA or, more poetically, drug-resistant flesh-eating bacteria. A third of us have *some* strain of staph colonizing our bodies peacfully at any given time; but given the right conditions, staph can turn nasty, blooming into an itchy red rash which is ripe to infect others or, worse, slip into a healing wound to cause blood poisoning (septicemia or bacteremia).

But a bacterial infection is not an annoying neighbor named Ted or his ill-behaved dog Spot, to be easily cured by a restraining order or a stiff whack with a newspaper. An infection is an entire *population* of a particular type of bacteria, millions of them, breeding and reproducing according to Darwin’s law of evolution by natural selection.

In the hospital environment, Darwin’s law rewards the toughest individual bugs — the ones who can colonize and survive on the insides of IV tubes or cling tenaciously to an ill-washed hand, the ones that inflame your body with infectious sores so they can spread like wildfire — and the ones who can surivive the typical spectrum of antibiotics that the hospitals typically use.

Hence MRSA — a description of a particularly nasty evolution of staph, typical to populations of individuals in close contact like prisoners, drug addicts, high school wrestlers … and hospitals, where it colonizes health workers and attacks vulnerable patients.

Doctors are aware of this now. They’re careful with the antibiotics they *do* have, using only the ones they need. And they bring in the big guns only rarely in an attempt to keep knowledge of their arsenal from the mindless gene-memories of their bacterial foes. And they try to alert their patients — use all your antibiotics, as prescribed, so that your body isn’t left with a tiny residual population of the most resistant bugs.

Oh, and they wash their hands. A lot.

Staph still slips through, of course; but they stop it, most of the time. But you can’t *count* on them to stop it, unless you or your loved ones take charge of your care. The doctors care about you — really, they do, even the ones you wonder about — but they have ten, twenty, fifty or a hundred patients to consider, and if they see something unusual — a fever, restlessness, unexpected difficulty breathing — that could … just … quite … fit into the normal progress of a disease, they’ll assume the treatment is working and will stay the course.

And of course they have to contend with a vast number of fools, both patients and family, where by fools I mean those people who don’t really want to know what’s going on and don’t really want responsibility for their own health care decisions. So even if you do ask, the doctor is likely to tell you “she’s getting better”.

Only you can know your loved one’s health condition. Only you can see that this fever IS unusual, see that this restlessness IS getting worse, see that she is visibily NOT improving — and it is up to you and your relatives to read up on the condition; to assess that more needs to be done; and to send in your very own IFFM (Infinitely Formidable Family Matriarch, in our family my father’s younger sister) to bust the doctor’s heads and get them to call in the specialists your loved one needs.

So your mother’s getting better. And you do what you can. You HAVE to do for her, but you CAN’T do to much. If you DO too much, you’re likely to wind up in the hospital yourself, puking your guts out because of the stress, doing no-one any good. So you need to get help. But you can’t do everything — not even you and her cousin and the IFFM and all the aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces and nephews can do everything. Even when you have to turn to outside help, they can’t do everything.

You can hire a sitter to stay the night with her so she doesn’t pull out her IVs, leaving you to go get a good night’s sleep, but then the sky can fall and the roads turn to deadly sheets of ice and you’re left with the realization you, yes you, are the only one who can stay to help her. But even then, sooner or later, you WILL have to leave her, even if only for a little while, to put food in your belly. And when the roads clear, you’ll have to leave her longer — or you’ll have no job to go back to, and no food to put in your belly even if you want to.

But somehow it all gets done. Someone’s there to stay with her almost every day, to the point that she sometimes asks the nurse to put up a NO VISITORS sign. But even then, you can’t do everything. She will say and do things she would never otherwise do, demanding the impossible, the contradictory, the unbelievable. Her loving friends will leave in tears, distraught because she says they’re not doing enough for her … after they’ve just stayed the whole night watching her to make sure she didn’t pull her IVs out in her sleep.

But it does no good to get upset. Stand up and take it calmly. Comfort the caregivers: remind them that pneumonia and pleurisy and surgery and septicemia are wearing her down, and making her say and do the impossible, the contradictory, the unbelievable. When she recovers, she will be back to normal.

In fact, when she recovers, if she’s lucky, she’ll remember none of it. Don’t be upset when she asks if it’s the first time that you’ve been to see her since she’s been sick, even if you’ve already stayed three weeks at her side. She will get better. She’ll recover from the disease and the drugs and the surgery and tell you about how she remembered going to all those parties.

The … parties, you ask? Oh, yes, she says. Just a few weeks back — when YOU remember a tube stuck down her throat and her tongue dried to sandpaper and her arms restrained to the side of the bed because she kept trying to pull all the tubes out in her sleep — SHE actually came home from the hospital.

While all of YOU waited, breathless, in the ICU waiting room, not knowing whether she was going to live or going to die, SHE had already *gone* home. And she *partied*. She went to her birthday party (six months away) and to her sister-in-law’s birthday party (also six months away) and to a homecoming party thrown by her brother in law — but when she left the party, she left her presents, and could you call the restaurant and see if the presents were still in the lost and found.

You’ll tell her what really happened, and tell her how worried you were; and she’ll
roll her eyes at herself and tell you how she thought she had just gotten back into the hospital, but how she knew that it was just the cocktail of drugs they had her on that was messing with her brain and if she could just get those out of her system, then she’d REALLY get better.

Then the pain and fog will lift and, energized, she’ll tell you to gather her bills, to pay her taxes, and to check out a probate issue that needs to be settled — and at once you can see she’s still sharp as a tack.

And you’ll smile. Because you can see she’s coming back. Because you know she’s going to be OK. But most of all, you’ll smile because you now know that all that time she was writhing in the ICU, she really wasn’t in pain. She was out partying.

And she was dancing all that time.

Centaurs In Space III

Continuing the translation of “articles” to modern blog entries… Part III of Article 30 from December 31, 2003.


Last in the series “Centaurs in Space”, with text drawn from my short story “Death Wish” and images drawn from my sequential adaptation of the same story.

Death Wish
by Dr. Anthony G. Francis, Jr.

…then the remains of the shuttle slammed into the black surface of the asteroid.

Porsche flinched at the impact, then glared as the sparking hulk of the kyore carrier tumbled past the jagged scarp that had caught the shuttle and impacted the far end.

The edges of the black expanse seemed to shiver, and glowing bits of kyore scattered across the far end of the dumbbell like pretty little fireworks…

Centaurs In Space II

Continuing the translation of “articles” to modern blog entries… Part II of Article 30 from December 18, 2003.


Second in the series of “Centaurs in Space”, with text drawn from my short story “Death Wish” and images drawn from my sequential adaptation of the same story.

Death Wish
by Dr. Anthony G. Francis, Jr.

…The mission started well enough: a thousand light years in a trusty B4 shuttle, charting a star factory trailing the shock wave of the Perseus spiral arm. Two days out, and the routine was starting to settle in: dust clouds curdled here, disks of collapsing gas there, and blue supergiants everywhere, burning the candles at both ends.

It looked to be an uneventful jaunt, and she was already getting an itch to see her husband back on the Dragonfire…

Centaurs In Space I

Continuing the translation of “articles” to modern blog entries… Part I of Article 30 from December 10, 2003.


Done Been Gone Too Long. Well, friends, it’s been almost 9 months since I’ve updated the site. In that time, I’ve been through crunch time on a major project, bought a new computer, took a road trip from the Stanford Linear Accelerator, through the Pacific Coast Highway, and ultimately to the Grand Canyon, wrote another 10,000 words on my novel, started a new comic book, and been sick twice (once including a trip to the hospital).

Which is still no excuse for not posting. I’m going to try to rectify that soon … until then, let me tide you over with some art. With no further ado or departure from my sterotypical subject matter, I present “Centaurs in Space” … first of a series of 3 sketches for the upcoming comic “Death Wish”.

Death Wish
by Dr. Anthony G. Francis, Jr.

Ten seconds to impact, the centauress leapt out an airlock without a spacesuit…

Starving Art

It amuses me that the last article on this site was on “Dedication”… posted immediately prior to a two-month hiatus in the production of this site.

In that article I challenged David Mamet’s view that only the starving can create art – that the comfortable have crutches to lean on which prevent them from taking the steps to excel. No, I argued, the key to creating art is dedication to the task – achieving a level of focus that enables one to put other tasks aside and complete what really matters.

But it has become clear to me in the intervening months the wisdom in Mamet’s words. I have seen all too many people fail at things they cherished because they were too comfortable. With a nourishing job at hand, I have seen myself and others drawn off by sparkling distractions, curling up with our comfortable movies and plays and dances and parties while the things that we can achieve – and tell each other and ourselves that we want to achieve we want to achieve – fritter away further and further into the distance.

It is as true for professionals as it is for amateurs. Case in point: the world of comics. Three of my favorite comic books – Albedo AnthropomorphicsThe Authority and Planetarywere canceled, or hang on the edge of being canceled, because their creators could keep a schedule. Now, I know some of the reasons behind the delays; and sometimes they are good ones. But in the end, delay after delay in any enterprise leaves fans feeling lost, participants feeling betrayed, and ultimately all concerned must move on to new devices when their interest finally dies.

So perhaps it is true that it is not necessary to be starving to produce great art. But if the author or artist is not so hungry for their art that they are willing to put it above all else, their art will starve, and we are all left poorer by it.

– The Centaur

Dedication

Can only the starving create art?

To David Mamet, a truly accomplished actor must have nothing to fall back upon. In his book on acting True and False, Mamet argues that a career alternative or a convenient inheritance acts as an emotional crutch, without which an actor must stand to face the rigors of their art with the courage necessary to excel at it. This view is not new. Sun Tzu argued centuries earlier in the Art of War that a general should burn the bridges behind his army once they have crossed the river into enemy territory, for there is nothing they cannot accomplish when standing upon death ground.

But is it truly necessary to cut off all your options to be a success? This “death ground” philosophy recognizes the power of commitment: great achievement is almost impossible without it.The philosophy breaks down when it argues that it is necessary to face death to achieve true commitment. Certainly it is not necessary for obsessive-compulsives, who throw themselves into absurd tasks in the face of their survival rather than in service of it.

Archimedes, a man who claimed that, given a long enough lever and a place to stand, he could move the world, is perhaps more famous for running naked down the street after having discovered the principle of displaced volume, and was so obsessed with his work that he was ultimately run through by an invading soldier who became incensed when the scientist ignored him to work on a diagram.

A gruesome end for a committed man, but perhaps these obsessive traits survive because in a more balanced degree they can motivate someone to great achievement. Science fiction writer Larry Niven had inherited money — and thus the luxury to expend ten years of his life perfecting his craft. For Niven, an inheritance was not a crutch but a lever, enabling him to ultimately producing Hugo-award winning stories.

Niven is not alone in dedicating himself to his work to achieve greatness. The director of the Lord of the Rings trilogy quoted a local New Zealand saying that summed up his work ethic: “One job at a time, every job a success.” Victor Hugo had this attitude, sentencing himself to “terms” in his study … years of isolation that produced masterworks like Les Miserables.

This kind of focus is not practical for everyone. Some have lives to fall back upon, and others have lives they cannot abandon. I do not think David Mamet would suggest that someone with an inheritance must give it up to become a great actor — and clearly Victor Hugo did not need to abandon his wife to become a great writer. However, commitment is not just necessary for artists trying to achieve masterworks or soldiers trying to vanquish their enemies; instead, it is necessary for everyone.

For a time, the graduate student must put aside his social life— or fail to finish his thesis. For a time, the programmer must put in the extra hour to root out the last bug — or be drawn into a treadmill of endless maintenance. For a time, the part-time deejay must tune out the requests of his friends — or find that that the club goes dead because the right tracks are not cued to play.

Everyone comes to a point in their lives when the goals that really matter become truly difficult, and where achieving these goals requires focus upon them to the exclusion of all other distractions and enjoyments which arise before them.  No matter how skilled or strong we are, each of us will face a stone too heavy to lift unless we put our other baggage down.

This strength — not the strength to carry the stone, but to put other baggage aside — is dedication, and it is the key to achievement.  Dedication is not a mystic elixir, available only available to the impoverished or the imperiled. It is a fundamental attitude towards life, and it is available to everyone — great and small, rich and poor, facing death or living life.  Some accept this burden, and are rewarded with the things they most truly desire; others turn away, and leave the sour grapes to others.

Not everyone can be a great writer, or a great actor, or even a great plumber — each person must find their own stone to lift . But it is possible for each and every person to face their personal challenge, to stand up to the breach with courage, and to step across the chasm to their own death ground — to that place to stand where they can, with the right lever, move the world.

– The Centaur

It’s good to be alive

Life has felt bleak since 9/11. Is there anything to be thankful for?

Let’s see…

Harry Potter and the Lord of the Rings become movies. Lucy Lawless appears on the X-Files. And Star Trek returns to the air.

Dating. Improv. Visiting Mom. Karate. Debating with friends.

George Bush celebrated for saying things sensible. Naomi Wallace celebrated for saying things unfashionable. Jerry Falwell excoriated for saying things hateful. Jerry Falwell now saying nothing at all.

T’Pol.

Discussing the religious implications of quantum physics with my oldest childhood friend until 3am.

Weblogs. Smalltalk. Programming Perl in UNIX for Windows.

Getting a t-shirt from my favorite restaurant because I am their favorite regular.

The best burrito chain in the city opens right up the street. Cold milk and Halloween candy. Warm sunshine in November.

All in all, sounds pretty good.

What should you be thankful for?

– The Centaur

When good messages go bad

Let’s begin with a bit of technology humor.

Recently, Amazon announced they had saved millions of dollars switching to Linux. Despite the fact that Amazon’s switch was from UNIX and not from Microsoft, the spinmasters from Redmond nonetheless felt the need to leap in and say:

With Linux, customers “end up being in the operating systems business,” managing software updates and security patches while making sure the multitude of software packages don’t conflict with each other…That’s the job of a software vendor like Microsoft.”

Speaking as someone who works in an all-Microsoft shop … HA!

Managing software conflicts and security patches is the life of an all-Microsoft shop. Almost daily, issues of endless Windows 9x*, NT and 2000 patches and conflicts between applications consume valuable time we could be spending making our customers happier.

If managing software conflicts was your job, Bill… we’d fire you.

The sad thing is that by pitching this corporate “spin” relentlessly, Microsoft lost the chance to tout its true advantages. It is the integrated tools, the reams of available software, and (often) speed which lure developers to the Microsoft camp. When a Microsoft shop is working, things really *sing* … even if the duration of that song is often short.

And perhaps that’s the real problem. Microsoft’s advantages are debatable advantages — just as debatable as the advantages of the Macintosh user interface or the Linux open source philosophy. But rather than open an intelligent debate, our friends from Redmond chose to sell their latest Big Lie.

And ended up looking like idiots.

– The Centaur

Welcome

Welcome, Gentle Readers, to my web site.

Tradition demands that a weblog begin with a few pretentious comments about how the grandiose vision behind these few HTML files will empower them to change the world. Therefore, I shall begin by revealing the purpose of these pages:

To celebrate Life.
To communicate my work in art and science.
To exchange ideas, share experiences, learn truths, and stand in faith.

That’s it. Welcome, and enjoy.

– The Centaur

Dr. Anthony G. Francis, Jr.
November 1, 2001.