Sunday, August 21, 2011

Whole Numbers

Since man first emerged from primordial ooze, he has sought a means by which to impose order on chaos. Chaos has tentacles that reach out and threaten to choke off our peace of mind. So man invented numbers. Numbers are a powerful tool for organizing and understanding our universe. They are characters, symbols to determine quantities that allow us to pick up the pieces and put them back in the right order. With numbers we can tally scores, make predictions, itemize unknowns, determine intelligence, and generate hierarchies and caste systems.

This is all very useful, especially for those who subscribe to the notion that numbers possess a certain immutability. Quotients, formulae, and factors can become almost a religious exercise for the mathematically endowed.

But sometimes numbers can be dehumanizing, like a jungle that threatens to engulf you. Mathematical precision can bully and repulse.

Jittery market numbers are harbingers of gloom. The plunge of the stock exchange sears images on the mind of Crashes Past. Numbers stun our senses as we begin counting our losses to 401K’s. Not long ago, Standard and Poors down-graded our credit rating from a triple A to a double A, which could actually be a good thing if referring to bra size.

We try to metabolize calculations succumbing to gravitational pull: Robert Redford is 75, Tiger’s statistics suck, and Utah is ranked 6th for worst drivers. Actually, that’s good news. I thought we were number one!

(Personal Rant in Progress) On our freeways it takes the courage of an elite Navy Seal just to negotiate a lane change and evade collision in an arena of clearly deranged drivers. Road gladiators with the ethical persuasion of trilobites frequently engage in the charmingly barbaric ritual of settling traffic disputes in Walmart parking lots with fists and screw drivers as weapons of choice. It is a heathen spectacle rivaled only by bench-clearing brawls by basketball teams on good will missions to China. Drivers in an arms race tend to cling to the tried and true Neanderthal code of social etiquette. Not all, but some Utah drivers form the ring on the bathtub of society. Number 6??? That’s actually good news! (End of rant.)

Recently, however, we received some numbers that were humane and most welcome. Dr. Sharma and his entourage entered the exam room last week in synchronized grins. After reviewing Dennis’ latest records, they pronounced him in the top 5% of responders. TOP 5%!! They concurred with Dr. Wolff that he is doing well.

Our first inclination was to shout Opa! and break into our happy dance. But reason prevailed, preventing us from affirming everyone’s suspicions that we are remarkably undisciplined.

But wait. There’s more. Yesterday, the phlebotomists drew barrels of blood from Dennis’ subcutaneous tissue via his umbilical cord, harvesting the liquid in vials topped with caps of blue and purple for his hematic profile. (I think I got that right.) They then sent it all to the Oracle at Huntsman for interpretation. After due diligence and a séance channeling Hippocrates himself, it was determined that Dennis qualified for the whole bag of gemcitabene. THE WHOLE BAG!! Our hearts swelled like yeast, and we began singing “Hey! Yada, yada, yada.” Dennis is now too sexy for his hospital gown. Good labs are always the ultimate fashion accessory.

The chorus of crickets outside our window heralds the start of school on Monday. Autumn will make its debut that day. All six of our flash mob will return to the classroom, and grandmas everywhere will feel a pang of nostalgia. I guess it comes with the territory. Separation is never easy.

Abram is about to enter jr. high. He sprouted his first zit on his nose recently which signaled his official entry into prepubescence. The whole family gathered around to welcome the new eruption and celebrate this rite of passage. We tried to explain to him that those with facial pustules are an elite group, pimples are the litmus test of great character, and all of us are members emeritus of that august congress we call adulthood.

He didn’t buy it. He refused to be persuaded by an avalanche of euphemisms. Gee, I really like that kid!

The start of school also means we’re on a zipline to the holidays, a fact that inevitably triggers the gag reflex. But it is all good.

Just to reiterate our mission statement: We will not retrench, and we continue to refuse to live our lives in fractions. Don’t tell me the odds. We’ve witnessed too many antigravitational maneuvers not to recognize miracles when we see them. We always round up. Right now, we’re all about whole numbers.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Sheiks and Shakespeare

Arriving in Houston is a little like being sucked into the vortex of Hades in the humid season.  Just taxiing down the runway triggered a profusion of ringlets that made me look like a menopausal Shirley Temple.  I’ve often wondered why nausea is the constant companion of unremitting heat.  We were instantly swaddled in doughy, energy-sapping warmth.  We perspired so profusely, we looked like we’d been shellacked.  All my efforts to look glacial and glamorous were sabotaged.  I feared all our facial features would melt into one another like molten lava.  However, time has already accomplished what heat could not, so there was really no further disfigurement.  This was a good thing.

We met with our Oncologist Extraordinaire, Dr. Wolff, to confer about Dennis.  He is singular.  He enters the exam room and immediately launches into a monologue about his most recent adventures.  He had just returned from the desert sands of Qatar.  Apparently an obscenely wealthy sheik had flown Dr. Wolff to his obscenely enormous palace located on the entire land mass between the Tigress and Euphrates.  Talk about staging an intervention.  That’s the ultimate house call.  But it is evidence of the level of esteem Dr. Wolff is held in his area of expertise.  Dennis and I were just happy the sheik hadn’t purchased the good doctor and retained custody.  Flying to Qatar for our appointments would be terribly inconvenient. 

Dr. Wolff is quite pleased with Dennis’ progress, and has modified the chemo regime to be a little more humane.  He assured us this would not compromise the efficacy of the drugs, but would allow for greater tolerance.  Ok.  We can do that.  In fact, Dr. Wolff is trying to persuade Dennis to consider taking a 1-month sabbatical from treatment altogether.  I’m not sure either of us is willing to consider that right now, but it is on the table for discussion.  Each decision demands deliberation.  We were pleased it is an option.  We continue to focus on the possibilities.

As if it were a feral instinct, the urge to live life in the left lane prompted us to drive to Cedar City for the Shakespeare Festival.  This has been an annual tradition since medical school.  It is our cultural sweet spot.  We reunite with old friends and young grandkids to celebrate the creative imagination of a playwright who lived light years before computer-generated special effects.  The strange thing is, the kids were entertained by it all.  Perhaps seeing sword fights and Professor Harold Hill’s marching band with seventy-six trombones live on stage was actually better than 3D.  Go figure.  Everything old is new again.

We had tickets for “Richard III,” but decided to turn them in.  It takes a certain energy reserve to watch the dastardly villainy of “Dicky 3.”  (Talk about disfigurement!) Where Shakespeare is concerned, the “Wars of the Roses” is not exactly a stroll down the garden path.  Besides, we get enough of murder, ambition, fatal curses and colossal ineptitude just watching the nightly news. 

So, reciting our own soliloquys parodying “Richard III”:  “Now is the summer of our discontent…” we waxed hysterical in iambic pentameter and opted out of the historic carnage.  We’ll save the cruel swath of blood for next year when we return to The Globe.

At the moment, our favorite quotes are from Dr. Wolff, the preferred Bard of the moment:  “Based on Dennis’ CT scan, we’re heading in the right direction.”

No poet could have said it better.