Archive for category: Medicinal Properties

The Attack of the Wasps!

31 Jul 2011
July 31, 2011

It wasn’t this bad but it felt like it was.

Last Sunday at 11 a.m. I was attacked by a swarm of wasps. More on that in a minute. But first, what good is a trauma like this if you can’t come out of it with a good story. A good story is the souvenir of traumas –providing you recover.

Two decades ago I was visiting my friends Bob and Ellen in San Francisco when we decided to go camping in Yosemite. I’m a California native but had never been to this national park. Bob and Ellen found this odd, but mostly sad, and they took it upon themselves to fix this. So we traveled from sea level to 11,000 feet in one glorious day. Except, by the time we got to Tuolumne Meadows to begin our hike it was nearing dusk and I was starting to feel a bit queasy. Sunset turned into night. Queasy turned into altitude sickness and we were all so tired we just slung our food over a low branch, rather than follow the strict guidelines for keeping bears at bay.

In the middle of the night we were attacked by said bear. The details of this encounter have become legendary and, much to the chagrin of our friends, have been told and retold a thousand times. Over the years, the details of our attack have diverged. Bob, Ellen, and I all now tell very different stories (the bear was light brown, no, black, no, dark brown). Most importantly, our relationship was forever cemented by this event. But if it wasn’t for me, there wouldn’t have been a story.

The next day, tired and traumatized, we had to move to a new campsite at 6,000 feet so I could recover from the high altitude. There we happened upon friends of Bob’s and Ellen’s. Still in shock, they started to retell their tale: “Guess what? Last night a bear came in to our campsite.” They waited for the expected reaction of horror and sympathy. Yet, there was none. “Oh yeah, that happened to us a while back,” their friends replied. Bob and Ellen were crestfallen. It was time to step in. “Friends,” I said, “you need to know how to tell a good story. You don’t say ‘a bear came into our campsite.’ You say ‘Guess what? We were attacked by a bear!'”

And so, I was attacked by a swarm of wasps. Only this time I really was ATTACKED. Relentlessly.

A couple months ago we reseeded our lawn and after nurturing the new grass it was finally time to mow. It was hot and muggy and I constantly had to wave the gnats away from my face. We never had gnats before. Suddenly, the “gnats” started stinging. As I look back now, everything seemed to happen in slow motion. I remember my surprise at this sudden gnat aggressiveness until it dawned on me. These were no longer small harmless bugs. I didn’t actually see the wasps. Not yet. But I instinctively tried to protect myself as I ran to the front door. Which was locked. I pounded and heard someone scream. Me. Simultaneously, I was both being attacked and completely disembodied.

My youngest daughter sauntered to the door. She had no idea what was happening. As always, her timing could best be described as “teenage leisurely.” But my oldest yelled out to my wife that it sounded like Dad was being mugged. I ran into the house and the wasps came with me. Then I came face-to-face with my savior. My wife had just gotten out of the shower and as I ran screaming into the bathroom she pushed me into the tub and turned on the water. Again, I was operating in two entirely different worlds. I was still being stung but I had the wherewith all to remove my iPhone and wallet before being drenched fully clothed. I told my wife I couldn’t breathe but told her it was because I was just out of breath, not because I was in anaphylactic shock. The adrenaline rush was huge. She got me a kitchen chair so I could sit down in the tub. As she removed my clothes I watched the mound of drowned wasps grow by the drain. She placed my soaked jeans in the sink.

People in shock usually don’t know their in shock. It’s simply their reality at the moment. As I retell this tale it’s pretty clear I was in shock. As I sat in bed, I realized my head was really hurting. The wasps’ stingers had mercilessly banged at my skull. Ice pack in hand, my wife tried to figure out the right dosage of children’s Benadryl we had on hand. I’d never had a systemic reaction to bee stings before but I’d never had so many stings at one time. She calculated six teaspoons. But when I talked to the on call nurse, she thought that probably was an overdose. I survived. With ice pack in one hand, I posted my status to Facebook with the other. I was coming out of shock.

Later I found at least eleven stings but also found out that, unlike bees which sting once and die, wasps can continually pump venom into you over and over. They were angry and vicious. Apparently, the sound of the lawn mower going over their nest in the hole in the ground set them off.

The nurse told me what the next few days would be like. The stings didn’t itch yet but they would start the next day. That would last about 48 hours and then it would start to subside. Luckily, I had time to recover from the actual attack before the untenable itching commenced. It was unbearable. I couldn’t sleep. My only saving grace was that each sting seemed to take its turn at being insufferable. Itching can literally drive you mad. I tried digging my nails into my fingers to offset the itch. It didn’t work. In the relative calm of the middle of the night I contemplated my insanity. The next night I slept with boo boo bunnies we had saved from our children’s childhoods (little plastic ice cubes wrapped up in a plush little rabbit). Ice saved my sanity. And, just as the nurse had predicted, by the third day the itching started to go away.

My wife counted over thirty wasps in the tub but was shocked to find 22 more (some still alive) in my jeans. I was very lucky.

I usually am good to insects. Live and let live, I say. But we had an exterminator to the house on Friday. Those insects met their match. And they paid dearly for their innate aggressiveness. I made him go over the entire lawn, inch by inch. But it may take me a while to get back to mowing. A trauma is a trauma. I was attacked by wasps. I’ve lived to tell this tale. And this is my souvenir.

The Diving Bell and the Brain Tumor

14 Dec 2008
December 14, 2008
Still from the Diving Bell and the Butterfly

From his vantage point: sewing Jean-Dominique Bauby’s eye shut after his stroke. Still from the film The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.

Today is my mother’s birthday: more accurately, the 87th anniversary of her birth. She died in 1971 just days before her fiftieth birthday. Eleven years before she was diagnosed with a benign brain tumor: acoustic neuroma, Clinically speaking, this tumor is “a non-cancerous growth that arises from the 8th or vestibulo-cochlear nerve.” But the effects of her illness and treatment were as toxic as any chemotherapy would have been. At 11 I was too young to be included in the discussions of her disease, prognosis, and treatment. Invasive and targeted, today my memories of her illness are still as imbedded in my brain as her tumor was in hers.

Yesterday, while the rest of the family was out on holiday errands I decided to force myself to watch the Netflix movie that had been sitting next to the TV for months. Next in our queue was The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. While I couldn’t remember the film’s exact synopsis I knew it had something to do with a man locked in his body, unable to respond to the world around him. This certainly wasn’t on my list of comedic films I’d gravitated to recently, hence its longevity on our TV shelf. And as the plot unfolded I was totally unprepared for the striking similarities to my mother’s illness the film would convey. I was shocked at how raw my feelings and emotions were 48 years after the fact. And I was glad I was alone.

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My Tweet Tooth

03 May 2008
May 3, 2008
My Twitter Page

My Root Canal on Twitter

It’s all Melanie‘s fault. In March I received an email from her extolling the virtues of twitter, that micro-blogging, naval-gazing, Web 2.0 service. I knew about twitter but was totally uninterested in subscribing to a service that would allow me (force me!) to post short little “tweets” about what I was doing at the moment. More importantly, why on earth would I want to follow others doing the same? But she persevered.

In her email she said: “You’re receiving this because you’re among those open minded smart people I know who gets that things have changed and we need to understand the future. Right?” Right. And she went on to demonstrate how she was using it in the classroom. Ok, I was intrigued. A former prof, I have always been curious about how to get people interested in new ideas. And, now that I’m a veteran museum professional (ten years last month!) I’m constantly exploring and evangelizing new ways to connect the net to the museum.

So, I opened a twitter account. The artist in me soon found the limitations of the medium interesting: how could I be creative in 140 characters? And, given the flotsam and jetsam of the majority of twitter posts, how could I say something interesting? My posts weren’t numerous and those following my every word were minuscule. Not a problem. I could see the creativity in the endeavor so I continued.

Last week, as I sat in my endodontist’s office waiting to be evaluated for a possible root canal I tweeted: “Waiting to see root canal doc. Of course, my tooth doesn’t hurt today.” Suddenly, I got an email notifying me an endodontist from somewhere in Canada was following me. I asked for a consult in a short 140 character burst. My real doctor laid it out: 90% chance I’d need the procedure within six months. So I scheduled my appointment and suddenly I connected the dots. I saw the potential for something more interesting than drilling into my enamel: I would broadcast my root canal via twitter.

My twitter-based endodontist thought that was a great idea and tweeted my plans to his twitter followers. Suddenly, as I sat waiting for the drilling to begin geeky dentists and endodontists from around the continent were following me. It was a smart mob of dental professionals.

With iPhone in hand I called up both my twitter page and my twitter reply page so I could post a play-by-play and see the tweets of those following me. They were asking me questions as the procedure began. My endodontist didn’t really understand my groundbreaking attempts to use social media to communicate during this medical procedure. But she was a great sport about it. She explained what she was doing and every now and then would stop so I could inform my audience (PDF of my tweets: read from the bottom up).

And, like any conceptual artist worth his weight in ideas I realized the most important thing was to document what I’d done. Just that very morning Rob Pegoraro, the tech writer for the Washington Post had written an article on Twitter. I wrote him and Marc Fisher, another Post writer who had covered my eBay auction back in 1999 (where I auctioned my personal demographics). Marc wrote a piece about my twittered root canal. I’ve posted the transcript of my tweets as well as the replies (PDF) from those who followed along during the procedure.

I must admit, I was afraid to tell my more normal friends and coworkers what I’d done. Groundbreaking as it might have been, this was pretty crazy, even for me (and some of my fellow conceptual artists thought I was nuts). But a little idea art always makes me feel alive (and after a root canal, that’s a nice place to be). This was a demonstration of how social media could forge some interesting relationships. The best art is about just that. I never thought I’d “connect” with dentists from around North America. But my tooth is much better for it.

Related Post: My Previous Root Canal Experience

Update: A permanent home for My Tweet Tooth (getting the title font just right was fun).

Ouch! Oooouch! or Romancing the Stone

09 Dec 2007
December 9, 2007

Nurse… Nuurse… Nuuuurse…

Fellow ER Patient Moaning in Pain

It began as a pressure in my lower back. Instinctively, I knew what it was. I broke out in a cold sweat knowing that over the next few days I would feel what my father and my sister had both felt. Our shared genetic connection: I was about to pass a kidney stone.

I had dodged this bullet before. Three times I had passed a stone with no pain whatsoever. In fact, I didn’t even realize I was passing a stone until it unceremoniously plopped into the toilet. Such was my luck. But that was about to run out.

It was a dull pain that began about 10 am. Focusing on my work, I could ignore it for most of the day. But on the commute home I couldn’t shake it. As a diversion I looked around at my fellow commuters. How many were involved in their own pains? I was able to mask mine, but anticipated walking through my front door when I would finally be able to acknowledge it with a moan. That’s when it seized me.

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The Borg of Blue Cross

21 Nov 2006
November 21, 2006
Top: Blue Cross backlighted ad, Bottom: Detail of the eye

Top: Blue Cross’s backlighted sign campaign in DC’s Metro. Bottom: Detail. Click to see an enlargement of the eye.

In Washington this time of the year when friends stop you on the street to wish you “Good tidings for the season,” they don’t mean the holiday season. They mean the Open Season.

Open Season for Federal workers means it’s time to choose your health plan for the upcoming year. And the competition for our deductible dollars is fierce.

Just as the plethora of nasty political television ads end, health insurance promos begin. And on our daily subway commutes to and from work we are regaled with come-ons for this plan or that both inside the trains and at each station.

At the nexus of our subway system, Metro Center, every backlighted sign on every platform has been bought by Blue Cross/Blue Shield. Each features a different closely cropped headshot next to pertinent information. Every face is smiling and, of course, looks healthy and happy –just the way BC/BS would like us to be in 2007.

But if you look closely at each of their eyes you will notice something strange: a subtle physical abnormality? The light reflection just happens to be the cross and shield of the company’s logo.

Are these the Borg of Blue Cross? Another Photoshop contest from Worth1000? Or is this a subliminal message touting the health insurer’s brand new vision benefit? (This year Federal employees are finally getting vision and dental!)

You can be assured I’ll be looking very closely before I choose my medical provider this year.

Competitive Dentistry

02 Sep 2006
September 2, 2006
Salt Water Taffy Box

A souvenir from my recent vacation decapitated me!

Before beginning the procedure Deb, the dental technician initiated some preliminary chit-chat. “What brings you here today?” she asked. Offering up my porcelain crown I said, “It came off.”

“Crowns don’t just come off,” she replied.

• • •

One of the unspoken rules traditions of a summer beach trip is to bring back a box of salt water taffy for your cube mates. For those sequestered in the office while you were sunbathing it’s a sweet reminder of the pleasures of a leisurely sojourn to the shore (and after your fourth piece the sugar high makes that three hour meeting go so much faster).

While this confection isn’t high on my personal list of favorites (I’m a closeted chocoholic) I always enjoy a good chew. So when I returned to the office after a week in Wildwood, New Jersey a one pound box of James’ Salt Water Taffy accompanied me on my morning commute.

After regaling my coworkers with the salient details of my trip I pulled the box from my backpack. I was rewarded with a collective “Oooo” of anticipation. I had fulfilled my duty and this would be a better-than-normal Monday for all. And as the initiator of our office bliss I took the ceremonial first pick of the box: a light green “cut to fit the mouth” taffy –that’s what it says on the box– that turned out to be mint rather than the lime I had hoped for.

I returned to my desk to read my backlog of emails while rolling the mint slab around my mouth. You have to toss it a bit to soften it up before you start chewing. But as I did suddenly I felt an addition to my little minty morsel: my #19 molar’s porcelain cap. Skillfully retrieving it from my mouth I examined it closely for any damage. The last time this happened it came out in pieces. That was an expensive mistake. But this time I was lucky. It was totally intact. A simple reattachment was all I’d require. I immediately made an appointment with my dentist for the next afternoon.

When I got home that night I carefully removed the crown from its special CD jewel case (it was the only enclosure I could find at my desk). My children were most interested in seeing “the tooth” close up. They were mesmerized by its translucent bluish color (from the metal under casing). But they nixed any notion I had that I was now eligible for the tooth fairy.

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