Monday, April 30, 2007

De rerum natura

"Everything is interconnected. Magic is just a result that uses connections you don't see. ... Maybe the ultimate magic is enlightenment."

--Zen priest's admonition, as recounted in "Thank You and OK!" by David Chadwick

Let there be music ...

Astor Place

10th Street, East Village

Tompkins Square Park, East Village

... and friendship

Tompkins Square Park

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Bees are busily dying

The mainstream media as usual are paying scant attention to a story with the potential to affect our lives in a catastrophic way: Honeybees across the country are mysteriously dying off.

If this fundamental part of the food chain were to disappear, we would starve.
No more fruit.
No more vegetables.
No more animals that feed upon fruit and vegetables.
No more people.

David Byrne has written a compelling article on this disturbing development in his online journal. It's worth a read.


Wednesday, April 25, 2007

A medical koan, shared many times over

For more than a week, I have been waiting for a surgeon who I consulted at another hospital to give his opinion on the feasibility of surgery. At this point, the surgeon and endocrinologist at my hospital are in favor of an operation, and it is believed that this other surgeon will concur; it seems just a formality.

But I have yet to hear from him. On Tuesday I called his office to inquire about the delay.
I was told there's a major conference of radiologists going on today, at which he will share my case with his colleagues. So, I'll be getting his opinion all right, but it'll be an opinion formed through collaboration with some of the top minds in the field.

Sometimes, waiting isn't so bad.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Power of memory

There's a saying that a person isn't truly dead until his name is forgotten by all who knew him or knew of him. At that point, his spirit is freed from earthly ties and can continue to the next stage on its journey.

But with the Internet, great people and common folk alike can have memories of themselves kept in circulation practically forever through Wikipedia articles, list servers, electronic bulletin boards, census records and other public and private documents, blogs, reminiscences of friends, family and acquaintances and so on.

Why, just the other day I overheard a spirit lamenting being chained to this earthly realm by the power of the microchip.

Friday, April 13, 2007

More hope

One of my surgeons called me today with an assessment of my CT scan. He's recommending surgery that, like the one I had in 2005, will cut through my breastbone. I'm now awaiting a recommendation from a second surgeon, but I'm nearly positive he'll concur. I just have a hunch.

This is a positive development. It certainly beats being told that surgery is impossible.
I'm guessing that the surgeon who is doing the operation will want to do it as soon as possible. (He performed my last surgery. We get along well, and I like him.)
I would like a couple of months to get physically ready for the procedure. In 2005, I was out of the hospital in four or five days, whereas patients who have their sternum sawed in half usually remain hospitalized an average of two weeks.

I was in excellent physical shape then, supplementing my karate with 20-mile walks and regular visits to the gym.
For most of the past year, I've been practicing karate exclusively. So, I'd like to become more fit in a relatively short time so that my recuperation will be speedy.

Mentally and spiritually, I'm no more anxious at the prospect of another surgery (which will be my fifth in five years and sixth overall) than I was before I received the news about a half-hour ago.
I'm actually sort of relieved.

My anxiety will increase as surgery day nears, which is perfectly natural. But things will work out the way they should.
This I know.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

So long, Kurt

It was with great sadness that I learned of the death late Wednesday of author Kurt Vonnegut.
I was introduced to his work as an exchange student nearly 25 years ago at Alsager College (now Manchester Metropolitan University), near Stoke-on-Trent, England.

It was for a class on American literature that we were assigned Vonnegut's "Cat's Cradle." I was more interested in sightseeing and drinking than in this writer about whom I knew nothing and cared even less.
So, I went through the motions of reading the novel and bullshitted my way through an essay we had to write about it.
The results were predictable.
I nearly failed the class, and by all rights I should have.
Vonnegut was easily forgotten, with a little resentment thrown in.

Years later and living in Philadelphia, I went through my bookshelves looking for something to read. I picked up "Cat's Cradle."
This time, I read it.
And reread it.
And I was hooked.

Eventually, I riffed my way through nearly all of Vonnegut's 14 novels. "Cat's Cradle" is my favorite. "Slaughterhouse-Five" is easily No. 2. But really, I like them all.

Thank you and goodbye, Kurt.
And so it goes.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007


Today, I received the results of my bone density scan and a non-surgical interpretation of my CT scan.
My endocrinologist is completely stumped by the fact that my spine and pelvis are in better shape now, density-wise, than they were when the parathyroid cancer diagnosis was made in 2002. It's counterintuitive, but it's a fact. My forearms, however, have gotten considerably worse over that span.

As for the CT scan, there doesn't appear to be tumor tissue pressing against my aorta, as a previous scan showed. Rather, there is suspicious tissue encroaching on my trachea and a suspicious lymph node in my neck. Thus far, the disease hasn't metastasized to the interior of my heart or lungs, where it often can spread. So, the endocrinologist's opinion -- and remember, she's not a surgeon -- is that these tissues can be gotten at. If that's the case, by no means are we talking cure. Nobody familiar with this cancer would ever make such an optimistic prognosis, especially based upon my record of past surgeries that ultimately proved unsuccessful. But, surgery can buy time.

My unwillingness until very recently to even consider further surgery was based on results of a CT scan more than a year ago that indicated such surgery would carry potentially lethal risks. Now, the situation has changed, and with it my attitude toward the surgical option.

Cancer is an extremely dynamic disease. It changes constantly in the way it mutates, moves and responds. I often think of these changes in a negative context, but these changes also can be for the good. Nothing stays static; everything changes. It's all a big circle.

I'm extremely cautiously optimistic. I'm now waiting to hear the opinions of two eminent surgeons.

Saturday, April 07, 2007


"And you may ask yourself, 'Well, how did I get here?' "

Happy Easter and a belated Happy Passover to those of you who celebrate the holidays!

Preliminary results of my CT scan reveal a mixed bag.
Long story short, they indicate the parathyroid cancer may have metastasized, but to areas that may be surgically accessible. These results, though, are preliminary and this assessment was made by an endocrinologist and a radiologist, not a surgeon.
Meanwhile, I'm awaiting results of a bone density test I had Friday.
Sounds like a soap opera, doesn't it?
I find this whole process absolutely fascinating. I would rather be reading about it in a textbook, though, than experiencing it firsthand.

On a different note, I would like to leave you with a DVD recommendation. If you buy or rent "Kikujiro," I doubt you'll be disappointed. It's a comic tale of adventure and spiritual renewal, and it stars one of my favorite Japanese actors/Renaissance men, Takeshi Kitano (better known as Beat Takeshi).
I have a feeling you'll thank me for this recommendation once you've watched the movie.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Slice of Japan

Japan never strays far from my consciousness and imagination. I haven't lived there in nearly a decade, but its influence upon the core of my being continues to be profound.

Today, I saw this ukiyo-e, or woodblock print, at a local antique store. It's by Utagawa Kuniyoshi, one of the most famous artists in the genre, and was made in the mid-1840s, about a decade before Japan's feudal era ended and before its modern period began.
It claims to depict a scene from Chapter 34 of the "Genji Monogatari," or "Tale of Genji," written about 1,000 years ago and considered by some to be the world's first novel.
If it's a first-edition print, and I'm pretty sure it is, then I got it for a fair price. If it's a later printing, then a fool and his money have gone their separate ways.

But this print has absolutely nothing to do with the "Tale of Genji."
In the 1840s, a law was passed forbidding the depiction of actors and courtesans in artwork. The authorities thought people's morals were being corrupted.
It seems that to get around this, Kuniyoshi wrote a few token lines about Genji -- these appear as a poem in the large rectangular scroll at the top of the print. But the real subject of this print are two famous Kabuki actors (at left, Ichikawa Danjuro VIII, at right, Onoe Tamizo II) in a scene from the play "Kazari ebi Soga no Kadomatsu," which was first performed in 1842, just a couple of years before this print was made.

The ruse was pretty crafty and, obvious as it was, it worked: The government censor's circular seal of approval appears above Kuniyoshi's red one. But how? Those rectangular, pale yellow cartouches alongside each actor state the names of the characters they played: Soga Juro Sukenari, at left, and Kobayashi Asahina. And any educated Japanese would have known these characters don't appear in "Genji."
It goes to show that it's sometimes better to ask forgiveness than permission.