Sunday, January 31, 2010

The End of the Road

So last night I'm standing on a foot stool in the ICU, bent over this guy whose skin is gray with death, and I'm totally not doing his chest compressions by the book: I'm not counting how many times I push in his sternum either out loud, or to myself. I'm just pumping away while the Canadian charge nurse (who reminds me of my mother so much that instead of an Toronto accent, I keep expecting her to talk with a Hungarian accent like my mom) writes notes on her clipboard, recording every detail of the Code Blue. The red-headed kid in a fleece sweater standing at the foot of the bed is the ER doc. She has abandoned the emergency room patients to respond to the code. I glance sideways at the patient's monitors, marveling at how every time my hands push in his chest, the monitors show how I am causing blood to flow through his body.

The ER doc notices a blood spot on the patient's thigh. It's coming from his groin, but no-where near his reproductive organs or rectum, so I ask out loud, "Did he have a femoral line?" A tiny Filipino nurse (the very reason why I'm the bozo doing chest compressions: something the average American isn't aware of is the fact that you 5'9" 300 pound Anglos are at the mercy of 4'9" inch Filipino nurses who weigh 100 pounds to do your chest compressions when your heart stops) says "Yes, it was removed 24 hours ago."

"Twenty four hours ago, and it's still bleeding?"

No surgical wound, injection site etc should ever bleed 24 hours later.

The ER doc (did I mention that she's the youngest person in the room?) says, "Oh yeah, his liver functions are a disaster--history of hepatitis."

Glancing up from the fresh blood trickling out of the guy's thigh, I look at Lisa, the 6'4" respiratory therapist, and say, "Yeah, that's what happened to my mom, when she had her stroke. She caught hepatitis in the sixties, working as a lab tech, and when she had her stroke in 95, her brain kept bleeding all weekend long. They couldn't stop it."

A chorus of "Oh, shit!" is shouted in response to my story, then the ER doc's voice from the foot of the bed says, "Tweny more of bicarb." The tiny Filipino nurse does as ordered, and the ER doc says, "Stop compressions."

My back is happy to hear her say that; I stand up.

She looks around the room and says, "Time of death is 10:42. Does anybody disagree? Does anybody have any objections?" She looks around the room, and makes eye contact with each one of us, one person at a time. We all agree.

While we filing out of the room, so that a nurse could clean the guy up before they let his wife in to say goodbye, the tiny Filipino nurse says, "He's smiling. Are smiling, John? Are you happy, now?" The guy wasn't smiling, it was a death grimace, with his jaw gone slack, and she wants to turn this into "Oh look, he's going to Heaven to meet Jesus, so he's at peace." I was appalled on so many levels.

That was how the shift ended, in contrast to the beginning of the shift, when I did a STAT portable chest x-ray on a boy who had been born an hour ago, and was breathing funny. I set up the portable next to his incubator, and while I was sliding the cassette underneath him, the naked, pink, fuzzy little guy took in a deep breath, and let out a holler.

I looked at him and said, "You don't need a chest x-ray, you sound great."

We had a baby boom, yesterday: two sets of twins, and the kid that I x-rayed.

And so it goes.

Woke up this morning with a sore throat, feeling like I've been run over by a truck. I'd promised the wife that I'd go up into the mountains with them, so I walked the dog and got dressed while the wife did all the work packing warm clothes, the food, and the kids into the Jeep.

Got up to Wrightwood, and kept going on up the 2 to a part of the San Gabriel Mountains that I love to hike in the summer. They only plow the snow off the road up to Vincent Gap, and if you look at the photo with road signs sticking out of the snow, you'll realize that's Highway 2, buried under several feet of snow, as it is every winter. Yes, this is in Los Angeles County.

Mount Baldy (it's legal name is Mount San Antonio, but most people don't know that) at almost 10,000 feet, is barely in San Bernardino County. We see its south slope every day from our house in Claremont, but it's neat to see it from the north side.

I'm glad I went with the family, but the cold that I have reared its ugly head, and I hit the wall (how's that for a mixed metaphor, Professor Higgins?). We got home, and I dragged myself to work. Knowing that I wouldn't last through the shift, I called the back-up tech, and went home as soon as she got there. Instead of going to bed, I've been watching an awsome movie titled "Frozen River", about a Mohawk woman and a white New Yorker who wind up working as smugglers across the US-Canadian border. I can't recommend this movie enough. It's excellent. Well, off to bed. I better check the medicine cabinet for NyQuil.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

A Day in Hell-sort of

Alarm clock goes off, gotta take the Basset Hound for her morning walk, before we scatter before the wind. Stick to a tight schedule, get all my stuff into the Celica, so that I can take the boy to school. The weather is much nicer, today, but the boy is going to a pajama party in school, today. I decide to turn on the car, and start the heater so that the boy won't be cold. As I turn the key, I remember that I better stop at the gas station to fill up the very empty tank. Also, that back left tire that has been leaking air for a month is low, again. Well, shit, at this point, I better take the boy to school, and then go to the gas station. I chase the boy out of the house and into the Celica. While he is buckling himself in ("I can do it ALL BY MYSELF, Dada!") the Celica's engine sputters and dies. OH MY GOD. I have been driving cars since 1984, and I have never, ever, EVER run out of gas. Only idiots do that, not me. I work in science.

Did I mention that both the wife and I have doctor's appointments this morning, at two distant locations?

The wife says, "Don't worry, I'll call AAA, you take the Tundra (The environmental antithesis of my Celica: she is 5'4" and drives a truck built for sweaty 8 foot tall construction workers, while at 5'9" and 273 lbs I wedge myself into a car designed for vegan Kamikaze pilots). Good plan. Despite the hiccup, the boy gets to school on time, so I stop at the gas station with one of those red plastic gas cans, and my tired middle-aged eyes are assualted by a Cadillac P.O.S. with tape in the windows. What exactly am I supposed to envy, Billy Bob?

Get home, the wife tells me that she called the mechanic, who instructed her in the fine art of re-starting fuel-injected engines. Apparently, the trick is to put in 1 or 2 gallons of gas, turn the key, but do not start the engine. Leave the key like this for 2 minutes. Repeat. After the third repition, start the car. Voila. Apparently, doing this tricks the car into sucking fuel all the way up the fuel line. Excellent. Now I will almost get to my 9:00 doctors appointment on time , with the girl in tow. Remarkably, we get there on time.

Done at the doctor's office (he doesn't think I have what I thought I had, but took a sample, and sent it off to a special lab that will take 6 weeks to tell us what they think). Go pick up the boy, and off we go to the hospital where I work on the weekends, so that I can get re-trained on how to use the hospital's billing system.

Previous weekend, I didn't unclick the 80 year old lady's name on the list when I clicked the 23 year old girl's name, and charged both of them for the same chest x-ray. Once I did it, I couldn't undo it. Of course, when do mistakes like this occur? Ten o'clock at night, when there is no one around to help me fix it. Blondie that I am, I forgot to leave a note for the day crew, when there are clerks who know how to do these things. After the training, I sign papers that inform me that billing errors of this magnitude may lead to castration, after which I will be forced to watch re-runs of Survivor. A fate worse than death. Out in the parking lot, the girl holds my hand as we walk toward the Celica (full gas tank & inflated tires), and I hear these small brown birds making bizarre sounds. What the hell are those? Sparrow-shaped, but their call is unlike any North American bird that I know. I get the Swearoffskis out of the trunk. Bingo. Nutmeg Mannikins. Native to some place in the Pacific Ocean where men wear skirts and walk barefoot. They (the mannikins, not the barefoot islanders) have been spreading along California's rivers, creeks, and lakes. Another non-native introduced species.

Off we go to to Monrovia. First stop will be The Fountain Pen Shop. I don't know why I torture myself in this way. Unlike all of the other "real" fountain pen shops in California or elsehwere, they don't put pictures on their website of new & used pens for sale. The place is owned by a cranky old guy. First time I walked in there a year ago, they were playing Rush Limbaugh at full volume in the shop. In the shop. The pre-requisite Ronald Reagan in a Cowboy Hat portrait smiled down at me. I literally almost turned around and walked out without talking to them. I figured, "Hey, I'm already here. I might as well see what they got." Wound up buying a mid 1950s Parker 51. This was after I convinced the owner's wife or sister ("My mother! My sister! My mother AND my sister!") to stop watching Dr Phil with her back turned to me.

This time, we walked in (me and the kids) and I looked at the Pelikans. I've been thinking about the M200 Blue Demonstrator. Mother-sister kept her "screw the customer" position, back turned to us, while she watched The Food Network. I guess they really don't want to sell anything here, do they? Holding it in my hand, I see that the blue demonstrator is not as classy-looking as it is in the catalogues they mail me, or on the web sites. The plastic looks inexpensive. Not cheap, not shoddy, but certainly not worth the $88 the various web sites want for it. Standing there in the shop, I look at the sticker on the pen. $110, a mere $22 more than the web-based shops. Hell no. I would pay maybe $45 for this pen, retail. The M400 black-on the other hand-looks exactly like what I expect a high-end Pelikan to look like. It isn't just esthetics, or the M400's gold nib vs the M200's stainless steel nib. The M400 is made of better quality plastic called acrylic resin. I'll have to save up for it.

Okay, I left something out: The day before we went, I emailed the old guy, and asked him to match the other on-line shops' price of at or near $88. I politely explained that I understood that he might have difficulty matching the price if he has a real shop vs the virtual shops on the web, that don't pay rent for their shop space. He never answered. While I was in the shop, I didn't tell him that I'm the guy who wanted a discount. I didn't want him to call me a hippie or a commie, or even worse: a commie hippie.

We leave for the bank. The wife calls and says she has been in the doctor's parking lot (her 2nd appointment, at another location), listening to music so long that she has killed the battery. I ask her "Do you have your AAA card?" She says, "Yes." Okay, good luck.

We drive north on Myrtle, and find that it's been blocked off by cops. Sitting in the car, I use the Swearoffskis to look down the street. SWAT Team carrying assault rifles. Bomb squad truck. Two helicopters hover overhead. The cop in the intersection catches me using the binoculars, and unsnaps his holster. He walks closer, and sees the kids strapped in the back seat. Okay, this guy's just a lookie-loo. He walks back to the patrol car.

"Okay," I think, "I'll just drive around the neighborhood to get to my bank. After a Machiavellian series of right turns, it appears that in fact my bank is being robbed. Great. Today I found out that it wasn't my bank, it was the bank next to my bank. Well, that's a relief.

Okay, let's go up the hill into the base of the mountains, to look for the Painted Redstart at Monrovia Canyon Park. Stop at what I think is the Nature Center (wrong!). No Painted Redstart. Also, no playground for small children, which leads to screams of "Dada you said we could play in the playground!" accompanied by tears streaming down cheeks. We get out of the car, and the kids clamber up two boulders, sticks in hand, where they proclaim, "Ahoy, matey. I'm the pirate captain!" for half an hour while I search fruitlessly for the Painted Redstart. Back in the car, we keep driving uphill, and run across Ranger Rick, who not only is wearing the same radioactive Luminox watch as me, but also the same Buck Knife. He tells me where the nature center really is. I drive forward on a stunningly beautiful road in a steep, wooded canyon with oaks and pines along a mountain stream. This time, I park at the real nature center. At first, there are neither a Painted Redstart, nor the previously reported Hairy Woodpeckers.

Well, this day certainly hasn't turned out as planned. No Pelikan Blue Demonstrator for me, no bank business taken care of, and now, no birds. What's that honking noise? Geese? Nah...can't be. This canyon is way the hell too steep for geese to walk around. The honking gets louder, and I look up. Two hundred fifty Snow Geese fly right overhead, in a drawn-out V formation. Wow, even if I don't see the Hairy Woodpeckers or the Painted Redstart, that was worth it. To see a flock of over 200 Snow Geese in suburban L.A. County is a very big deal. Then I hear a Hairy Woodpecker up-slope. Then I hear another one behind me. And another one. And another one. Two more. One of them poses beautifully on the trunk of a pine tree. Then I hear the Painted Redstart, who works his way down the canyon, cruising right by me.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Embracing Nature and the Homeless - If I'm in a Good Mood

~We made a pilgrimage to the Central Valley this weekend that we haven't made in years, unwilling to haul to screaming, crying babies that far north on a long drive to the Sacramento area just to see birds. This spring he will turn 5, and she will turn 4, so we piled them and the Bassett Hound into the car, and took off after work on Friday night, arriving at a Motel 6 in Stockton just before midnight.
~~The point of the trip was to get to the Woodbridge Road area to see large flocks of wintering Sandhill Cranes and Tundra Swans, along with whatever birds of prey that care to grace us with their presence. We weren't disappointed.
~~~The weather up there was gloomy all weekend. Cold, foggy, and damp for us wimpy southern Californians. We left the Motel Saturday morning, and headed staright out to Woodbridge Road, where we saw many hundreds of Sandhill Cranes, including the Lesser Sandhill Cranes that fly out of North America every spring to breed in Siberia, only to return to California every winter. Amazing. Sometimes-and this is quite rare-a Eurasian species like Common Crane or Demoiselle Crane might follow the American birds here for the winter, which of course, sends birders all over the U.S. and Canada scrambling to the nearest airport.
~~~~Then, of course, there were the Tundra Swans. I never tire of them. The only thing better than swans is large flocks of swans, and seeing hundreds of them together is astounding.
~~~~~During the course of the day we drove to Cosumnes River Preserve, where the dog had to stay in the car. Despite the cold, we left the windows open several inches, and she slept like a baby while we were gone. Then we headed to Staten Island Road. This Staten Island has nothing to do with the place in New York. Staten Island, California, is a natural island formed by the branches of rivers that form the Sacramento Delta and empty into San Francisco Bay. The whole island is either government or private property, with a dead-end road that is on the other side of the dikes from Woodbridge Road. The thing to do is to be at the end of the either Staten Island Road or Woodbridge Road at sunset, and this year we chose Staten Island Road.
~~~~~~Boy am I sorry that we didn't have the videocamera with us. What you do is you drive out on Staten Island Road an hour before sunset, and park on the side of the road at some randomly chosen spot. Get out of your car, put on a sweater, and stand there drinking hot chocolate from your thermos while flocks of 100 Sandhill Cranes, Snow Geese, Ross' Geese, Canada geese, Greater White-fronted Geese, and Tundra Swans fly over your head, landing in the fields and ponds around you. Literally very 60 seconds another flock of 50 to 150 cranes arrives. Same goes for the swans and geese. As sunset approaches, the cacophony increases. The sound of this many thousands of large birds is just as much-if not more-part of the experience, as the sight.
~~~~~~~To our dismay, both the boy and the girl had fallen asleep as we drove out there, and they missed the whole show. As you look at the hundreds of Tundra Swans in the photo, above, keep in mind that at 14.5 pounds with a 5 foot 6" wingspan, they are small compared to Trumpet and Mute Swans. Look at how small the Northern Shovelers (ducks)are near them. All of those gray blobs flying in the photo, and standing in the grass, are Sandhill Cranes, who are 4 feet tall.
~~~~~~~Once it was too dark to see (but we could still hear swans geese, and cranes landing all around us) we drove into town, and the kids woke up, hungry. We ate bad Americanized Italian food at The Spaghetti Factory (they didn't even have fresh-grated Parmesan cheese!), drove "home" to Motel 6, and collapsed into our beds. Even the dog passed out at the foot of the bed.
~~~~~~~~We woke up this morning, and packed up the car. I was about to leave the wife and kids, who were getting into the car, with the engine running, so that I could go to the lobby to turn in the plastic card keys to our room (those plastic credit-card shaped things that invariably have a picture of a pizza on one side, with the phone number of the local pizza joint). I noticed a tall, skinny young guy walking toward my car, and decided that I was not going to leave my wife & kids unprotected. I waited until the guy got close, and he checked each hotel trashcan for recyclable bottles and cans. I noted that he was much older than I had first believed. Feeling guilty, I hurredly gave him our coke cans from the trip.
~~~~~~~~~Our last stop was in the Panoche Valley Wildlife Area. Beautiful cowboy country with no birds, but incredible vistas of rolling, smooth hills that were once sea floor of the Tethys Sea. This is one of those places where Satan placed dinosaur bones into the ground to trick us into believing in evolution. My friend Jeff's response to that is "Well...if he's that good, I think maybe I wanna be on his side." Panoche Valley is reached via either Little Panoche Road or Panoche Road, both off the 5. The official highway signs for these 2 roads sends people who speak California/Mexican Spanish into tithers, because in Mexican slang i.e. street language, "panoche" which is a coarse, poorly refined brown sugar, means "brown sugar" of the sort they refer to in the Rolling Stones song. Yeah, that kind of brown sugar. Kind of like that English word that starts with a "P" and means either "cat" or...
~~~~~~~~~Interesting how words change meaning over time and space.
~~~~~~~~~~We got home at 8:45 p.m., and while we were hauling stuff out of the car, and into the house, a homeless guy showed up, and started going through our garbage. I politely asked him to stop. He ignored me. I told him that he is on private proprty, and that he couldn't have our trash. He continued to ignore me. I told him that I would call the cops. While I'm telling him all this, the dog is going bananas, barking at him like crazy. I think she picked up on my anger. I turned around, and got my cell phone out of the car. I have Claremont P.D.'s direct line programmed on my phone. I stood in front of the guy, describing him to the police operator. The guy took off like a rocket. I just got really pissed at the guy for ignoring my repeated statements. I could have pretended to not see him, and called the cops without him noticing. They would have nabbed him. The cops showed up in record time, and took off on a wild goose chase after the guy, cruising up & down the neighborhood streets.
~~~~~~~~~~~So here's the $100,000 question: why was I nice to the homeless guy collecting cans this morning, and a rude, angry jerk with another homeless guy tonight?

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

That's Just Wrong!

One cool thing (of many) about working at a university is that we shut down for 10 days every winter. You can't call it what it is--the Christmas break--you have to call it the winter break. I'll take it. At the same time, you can get into Bonelli Regional Park for free, which is handy, since there are usually both Bald and Golden Eagles around, along with some unusual bird worth chasing. The Painted Redstart didn't come back this year, but the El Monte Wood Stork moved from Whittier Narrows to Bonelli, much to my pleasure.
~While meandering in Bonelli, we ran into this poor dog who is half Bassett Hound, half German Shepherd. THAT'S JUST WRONG.
~~Meanwhile, Ed emails me about the White Wagtail at a sewage plant in Santa Maria. Says he's never seen one. I saw the Orange County bird, and the one that Richard Barth found in the L.A. River, so this would be my third California bird since 1992. I've seen zillions of them in Hungary, where if you really need to see a White Wagtail, I suggest you go to the nearest gas station. Make sure you don't step on a wagtail while you're filling your gas tank. THAT'S JUST WRONG.
~~~Nice surprise of the trip was the bonus bird that had eluded me all year: a big-ass Golden Eagle that made the Red-tail Hawks look like circus midgets. At the last park that we stopped at in Santa Maria, we had an adult male Yellow-shafted Flicker that looked perfect, except for one weird optical effect that we couldn't decide was an effect of the sun being so low on the horizon, or diagnostic of being a hybrid: depending on which angle you saw its moustache from, it was either all red, or red with a black border. THAT'S JUST WRONG.
~~~~The best surprise, of course, was what we found while carrying out the Palos Verdes Peninsula Audubon Society's Christmas Bird Count. Our team of 4 guys covering San Pedro--where I grew up--arrived at Cabrillo Beach, and split up into 2 groups. From the far end of the beach, D.E. calls me up, and says, "I have a weird female scoter that I can't identify." I tell him, "Take a picture of it." He says, "I already did." I say, "Well, show it to me when we meet in the middle." When we get together, the kid shows me the photo on the color LCD screen on the back of his 35mm SLR. My knees go weak, and I struggled to keep from passing out: he's showing me a photo of a King Eider. They leave the high Arctic, show up in Southern California about once every 25 years. This bird is probably the only one that I will ever see in my life. I ran all the way to the pier. No need to run; the bird swam back and forth, underneath the pier, offering killer views. Better yet, the bird has been in San Pedro, ever since.
~~~~~A delicious side-effect of this has been that copies of the email that I wrote on my Blackberry while standing on the pier, and staring at the King Eider, keep getting posted to the San Diego birding email list, much to the ire of The Village Idiot. But then again, The Village Idiot--a former Jar Head with a room-temperature IQ that even the Corps finds embarassing, doesn't realize that I am in fact subscribed to the San Diego list. I even post my findings on a regular basis. Semper Fi, schwarzwasser. Or, should I say, "arschmittloch?" THAT'S JUST WRONG.
~~~~~~I used to think that all Marines were bloodthirsty idiots, until I read about the Marine Corp's experience in counterinsurgency, and their previous use of combined tactics in the Phillipines and Central America. On a personal level, I spend my weekends with an ex-Marine who got his Humvee blown out from underneath him in Gulf I, and is now an x-ray tech. Great guy. Smart, compassionate, deep thinker. So it appears that The Village Idiot is the exception, rather than the rule, when it comes to examples of Marine Corps intelligence levels. THAT'S JUST WRONG.