13 Oct 2013: An Opportunity to Teach

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on October 13, 2013 by spinoza1111

Last week, Dr. Cheung asked me to address three medical students/HKU undergraduates from my hospital bed concerning my cancer journey. HKU’s medical school is on the British model so there is no pre-med; undergrads are on a speeded-up track.

I had no time to prepare a formal outline but did a reasonable job all the same of coverage. I described my feelings of being very fit and healthy person and how they may have contrasted with a smoking habit that lasted until 2000 and a Nicorette/nicotine addiction that held on until 2012. I described managing the terror of the diagnosis result day fairly well through a spiritual practise.

I said that perhaps palliative care sounded less terrifying than it does to many because I had entered the cancer journey at a mostly palliative stage (IV/D1). I also described how highly addictive prescription drugs such as Fentanyl hold for me at this time little attraction since I’d always preferred booze. I do admit their usefulness as pain suppressants as the essence of civilisation which doesn’t allow even the Stranger to writhe in agony in the park (and doesn’t by default code him/her as an addict as a part of its lack of compassion).

It should be noted, however, that I didn’t make the last point in the above passage in my talk.

I thought of  the late Edward Said who lectured on English topics while being hospitalised for leukemia. These activities are very important for me at this time.

13 Oct 2013

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on October 13, 2013 by spinoza1111

First-thing workout at 6:04: 20 minutes included 150 supine movements with weights, walking, 100 midrise steps (steps in stairwell, not lowrise steps in ward), and 50 slow dancing with walking stick (the old soft shoe: acceptable pain accompanied this return to the OSS.)

Notes on  a Pain Episode

For unknown reason, on the last few weekends, especially Sundays, I have had intense bouts of direct and referred pain; I think it was last Sunday when I first crossed “the screaming barrier”, bothering the other patients.

However, today I was able to endure 10/10+ pain in my butt and was able to practise Acceptance instead of “exclaiming”:  for as Lovel admonishes Hastings i’th’old play (Richard III), “Come, come, dispatch; ’tis bootless to exclaim.”

Notes on the Incomprehensible War

Some heroes included Sgt. “Breathless”. The Kid said, gee, Sarge, it hurts to breathe”. Sgt. Breathless. eyes scanning the dark, said, “so don’t breathe.” So the Kid figured that that meant finding a way to breathe at  a low level, more through his skin almost. So the Kid did this, and survived.

There was also Sgt. Rock who kept firing with his ass shot off. When the position, still held by his men and a dead Sgt. Rock, was relieved, the commander of the relief troops collected his leather belt bitten clean thru because the Sarge was busy killing Cheeseballs whilst in pain. This gruesome artifact hangs today in the Incomprehensible Museum.

Screen Shot 2013-10-13 at 5.00.36 PM

12 Oct 2013

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on October 12, 2013 by spinoza1111

20 minutes first thing (5:30 AM): 100 midrise steps in stairwell, walking. Went back to sleep, woke up realising that this is the real deal. Barring a miracle my lifespan may be measured in months, there will be much pain, and I have moved too far away to make it possible for most of my family, with kids and responsibilities of their own, to come see me.

I need to face this steadily. I hope to prolong my life since as my father was, I am “pro-life” in the good sense. I believe in women’s right to choose while I believe Dad was mostly opposed to abortion, but like my Dad I do believe that old people should be allowed to prolong their lives however they can, and like him, I believe that assisted suicide is evil.

It’s wrong in my view to loudly assault women’s rights to autonomy (“if men could get pregnant abortion would be a sacrament”) while throwing white men on the scrap heap in their fifties and blacks in their thirties or much earlier in the case of incarceration rates at insane levels.

I closely identify with my gay friends who have AIDS or are HIV positive:the frustration of their desire to stay alive and flourish. I mean, just when you think you’ve cut yourself a SLICE, the worm turns, you get some crazy spots or sweats and the Doctor says “the news is not good”.  Just when you think you’ve got it all, the big fat quivering SLICE, it’s all gone, the Enlightenment reversed and you find yourself, either in AIDS or what I have, you’re in the Seventeenth Century, a darkling plain of threats and fears.

To be “pro-life” in this sense is to be  pro your own life.


11 Oct 2013

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on October 11, 2013 by spinoza1111

20 Minutes first thing (50 midrise steps), 150 warmup movements, with and without weights.

Sunday’s first agon, was the one in which I first crossed the “screaming barrier” where you bother other patients and have “10 over 10” pain, which breaks the measuring device of your own perception and therefore means that the “actual” pain could be higher than 10/10 having such values as 12/10 (with, possibly, part of the pain being caused by not-knowing if Aristotle is right and we long to know), taught me among other things that I may need these lessons at the endgame.

With possibly a lifespan of months and those months spent in increasing unawareness and no more godlike mobility.

Which exacerbates, does not reconcile the need to know. In Sunday’s agon I was still the observer, trying to store up “impressions” for my “journey” like Flashman’s blasted wife Elspeth in Madagascar or Boswell in Scotland…and making  a dog’s dinner of it, scupper my kidneys, else.

Which exacerbates and does not reconcile my need to be with my son and my granddaughters.

The Chorus begins, softly, with quiet cymbals, at first a confusion of voices and instruments later triumphant…

Pace we slow pace we soft
For ’tis known how well and oft
Philosophy comes a cropper at the solemn time of death

Pace we slow pace we soft
For ’tis known how well and oft
That proud man the cynosure of Nature
Is at Nature’s mercy at the limit beyond the Pillars of Hercules

Pace we slow pace we soft
For as Oedip knew so well
There’s none can tell
Whether beyond this life there’s reassurance
For he who has worn life’s many harsh robes of  ‘durance

10 Oct 2010

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on October 10, 2013 by spinoza1111

Still resting from overdoing “it” on Sunday, worked out once (20 min: physio on rackety row machine) today. Filled with disgust and despair and even an unwilling hatred of my fellow man: why do mainlanders feel they have to waste both towels and water when towels and water are free? The very sound of a mainlander wasting water fills me with horror and distaste.

No workout 7 or 8 Oct because of a keyboard failure that I now work-around using a tedious and painful special procedure, the tedium compounded by mental confusion. My brain swirls in pain caused mostly by family issues and uncharity but also this universal heartlessness of a raging culture of celebrity and money its vortex catching even its professed critics.

7 Oct 2013: I get no kick from cocaine?

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on October 7, 2013 by spinoza1111

No workout at all today for the first no-workout day in months because of last night’s pain which was a multiple of the intensity of the intensity of the night before.  Saturday night’s pain was really bad, and I now know this to be because of my walking workout in which I was secretly and pridefully trying to get back to the Garden (running), for last night’s (Sunday night’s) pain was very intense and easily a ten over ten…perhaps it smashed the barometer.

This was a typical experience in running where when I ignored pain, I’d suffer intensely. The obvious “cure” is not to walk or run at this level of intensity and at this duration at least not for now.

“I bring you suffering: I bring you the release from suffering” – Buddha

The pain was alleviated at last by stilnox and fentanyl which like the smart little guy with the big hammer ten times his size knocked me out. But before that the extraordinary agony (no, don’t italicize it, Chuckles, it ain’t a Greek word) had confronted Saturday night’s prideful claim that I could overcome pain, even tho’ I shied away from that claim, knowing it to be pride, and Pride is “a stick of shitfire with a wick on it”.

But in the agony there was me, a wondering me still, wondering how I could be still there…choral dance in the style of Sophocles:

In the agon there was … me
Dancing amidst the Furies I defied them
But also tempted them to do their worst.
Man proud man must thereby discover his own limits,
For he has said

(Aside, no, “not before he’s dead”, I want no jinglee rhyme this time)

Oh, OK, you can sneak that line in:
But this is noble verse “high and working”, and a combat not of bells,
But of hammers as we strike each other as Hector and Achilles,
Or Palamon and Arcite
In final battle, like the government shutdown.

But my reward for what patience I “shown”, to use the grammar of Pittsburgh Dad who “seen” a tornado in this agon:  was Suffering and then, reciprocal to suffering, this morning’s Buddhist Release from Suffering: “I bring you Suffering” is not just accidentally linked to “I bring you Release”.

It’s a Mystery, as Hemyngs says in “Shakespeare in Love”. Pittsburgh Dad, rather like Homer Simpson, is, qua Dad, the locus of what’s so airily dismissed as patriarchal culture. He seen the storm, he seen Hypolyte being destroyed by the monster I’th’old play (Phèdre). Mother tries to comfort but my Dad told me when I was in the hospital that I needed to be “patient” like a “patient” in a pun of some wisdom tho’ pretty lame.

Since in a chart based on an Excel spreadsheet as a teacher, I discovered some Great Learning as opposed to Trivial Pursuit (“the participle like ‘seen’ or ‘shown’ is always preceded by a helper verb in the ‘have’ family”) I could immediately spot, and more helpfully explain, blunders like that of Pittsburgh Dad. For the student wants Great Learning such as was in my table in which I combined all possibilities of grammar forms in a verb phrase.

I won’t post the table right now because I’m like the mathematician I met at Princeton (damn right I name drop), John Horton Conway who in a seminar at Princeton’s short-lived “John von Neumann Center” (damn right! How do ya like me now!?) Conway said he never liked to search for the paperwork of a proof he’d constructed; it was easier and more fun for him to do the proof again, and, he could spot errors and make improvements! Even as I preferred to rewrite software tools (considered as “lemmas” on the way to a desired theorem) than locate them in a mess or worse use some other person’s idiot idea of the proof unless she was a Knuth, John Nash, Brian Kernighan or Melinda Varian (where Donald Knuth or the three Princeton personalities I mention were excellent sources of software tools and references to tools; John Nash arguably the least “user friendly” but displayed a clear grasp of the notions as early as the early 1950s, which was amazing.)

I have to put the To-Do note “reconstruct and post the verb phrase grammar chart” on top of the wobbly “stacka stuff I gotta do” hopin’ it don’t collapse (to continue, briefly, in “Pittsburgh Dad” style) but trust me I find such activity fun and even analgesic. For “I get no kick in a plane, flying real high with some guy in the sky is my idea of nothing to do”.

6 Oct 2013

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on October 6, 2013 by spinoza1111

Sunday, 20 minute workout first thing included 150 midrise steps (getting easier) and 300 supine movements with and without weights.

“Some crying for a surgeon”: behind my new iPod shuffle I hear a couple of patients in pain, screaming or just railing against their pain in Chinese dialects. I had quite a siege of pain myself yesterday evening and jolts this morning.

Yesterday I had walked 20 minutes the afternoon prior to the evening siege but I will verify this connection by again walking for 20 minutes today. The pain (de pain!) was classic butt pain with derivative simultaneous nerve pain in the ankle and foot as (in my understanding) the nerves are squished in the butt causing them to misreport pain lower down.

After an interval, drinking the “morphine” (Fentanyl) syrup caused the pain to transform itself into cranial pain at the location where it always has occurred in the last two weeks. Then all pain disappeared.

The butt and cranial pain punched in at 7 over 10 in terms of a subjective level.

This morning I asked for the Fentanyl syrup “boost” after my workout. Now not feeling pain. There’s no “euphoria” associated, for me at any rate, with Fentanyl so I am puzzled to find, on YouTube, drug fiends singing the praises of this drug presumably stolen. It may be that despite my long-term caffeine addiction still extant and my in remission addictions to nicotine and alcohol, I don’t feel pain at the level others feel pain, so I am not euphoric when pain goes away.

But that makes no sense…the cancer pain is intense…for me anyway. Ludwig Wittgenstein, whose late-stage (late-stage philosophical, not medical) writings and speakings on pain may have very indirectly inspired the views of pain held today by the palliative care community, might say that subsequent experience on my part may reveal that my “high end” pain, what is a “ten” for me on a zero..ten scale, my have to be revised, drastically if there comes a time when the pain is more intense at the high end.

However, I have read nothing about “precancer pain”, and I have had what “feels like” intense pain at the site. However, in this intense pain I find my ability to work (read, write, etc.) undiminished and analgesic. Perhaps there are undiscovered rivers of pain (countries? What metaphor would Shakespeare use?).

My falsest love, without intent to, you
Conduct me as yet undiscover’d to
The secret rivers of undeserv’d pain … sod it a couplet should be a quatrain stun me

Intellectualizing? Bullshitting? Moi? No, I want to leave a truthful legacy to Peter and my grandchildren.

A Note on Writing: What the Writer Learns

We learn in writing to be unafraid of contradictions and uncertainty. We can write things down (like Orwell’s Winston Smith writing in his new diary “down with Big Brother”.

We can spot the Hidden: take the seemingly ordinary name “Winston Smith”: why did Orwell select it? Suppose there are no accidents. Winston cigarettes? No, they didn’t exist, in all probability, in 1948, and they were an American cigarette with which Orwell was probably unacquainted at any point in his life.

Switch your attention to “Smith”: what does it make you think of? Right-ho, the every day, the ordinary, Everyman, a default name so ordinary as to be exceptional, but only to the mathematician who thinks that an ordinary (non-prime and odd let us say with further properties, properties I don’t know but a mathematician does) number is “interesting” by virtue of being “ordinary”.

But…that’s precisely the mathematical mind at work, is it not? To Ordinary People, “boring” remains unpacked due to a lowered curiosity. Therefore Orwell, who had no ordinary mind but exhibited quite a feel for the everyday in The Road to Wigan Pier and Keep the Aspidistra  Flying, meant something least-common-denominator with “Smith”.

But what about Winston? Everybody give up?

I suppose that in real classes I shall have to have some sort of prize handy if someone gets it right here.

Of course! Orwell didn’t know the nasty cigarette but he knew, and knew in 1948 that his readers would know,  Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill, KG, OM, CH, TD, DL, FRS, Hon. RA, damn your eyes.

So, “Winston Smith” raises expectations with “Winston” and lets them drop with a thud in “Smith”, in a microcosmic clue to the plot in which Winston Smith raises our expectations, our hopes that he will successfully through friendship with O’Brien reform the Party from within, only to disappoint us, and to Winston’s parallel foolish hope. One thinks (I think) that actually this hope denied is a characteristic experience of our world. As in the case of Obama.