Archive for November, 2009

Edi-slow and catching up

Sunday, November 22nd, 2009

Me and a bunch of people to whom I am ostensibly (and in some cases, peripherally) related are on an island in South Carolina called Edisto. We’re in a big house on the marsh, and enjoying doing pretty much nothing but eating, sleeping, reading, etc.

You get a feel for the lifestyle here from bumper stickers and t-shirts, saying things like “Slow down — this ain’t the mainland,” and “Edi-slow.” Not that we are by nature intense, type-A kinds of people. But we still like kicking back.

The pace of life here is symbolized by the fact that our internet access (not counting sketchy cellular data service) is dial-up. It works fine for most things, including blog posting, but not including YouTube.

So with my spare time, I’ve posted some stuff I wrote at work, hence the sudden appearance of several new blather.

Enjoy.

Donation and Gratitude

Sunday, November 22nd, 2009

Donation

One day when I was a college student, I wandered into the student center and spontaneously decided to donate blood through the Red Cross. Little did I know that relatively insignificant choice was the beginning of a long personal tradition. From school to church to BellSouth and now AT&T, I’ve been offered regular opportunities to share this mysterious fluid essential to life, and to vampire plots. I’m not sure how much I have donated, but a few years ago I got a little gold pin for donating 8-gallons. 8gal

About the same time I received the pin, my venipuncturist (not kidding) suggested I consider donating platelets. Now, that’s a bit more of a commitment. Whereas a regular blood donation usually happens at work, and only takes about 30 to 45 minutes, in order to donate platelets, I have to drive to the local donor center, and the process itself takes a couple of hours.

It’s different in other ways, too. Where it takes up to 7 weeks to replenish a pint of blood, a platelet donation is replenished in less than a week. (The RC does monitor the overall impact to the donor. My current donation schedule is platelets once a month, and whole blood two or three time a year.)

Whole blood is usually used for replacing blood after an acute event, such as a trauma or during surgery. Platelets are needed on a continuous basis by people with long-term diseases.

Since the product is different, it makes sense that the process is different. While a whole blood donation is simply removed from the body, platelets are retrieved by removing blood, spinning it through a centrifuge, keeping the platelets in a bag, and returning the blood, fortified with some saline, to the donor. It’s a pretty amazing process that works continuously. Typically this rather complex machine, about the size of a washing machine, and just slightly quieter, is connected to the donor in two places, an output and an input. There is also a single-needle system that runs in batches. While it does free up one of your arms, it takes longer.

I’ve done this enough that it has become more or less routine. Just before they hook me up, I connect my ears to my iPod, which I can run with minimal movements of one thumb, start it in Shuffle mode, and prepare to spend the next couple of hours listening to random music, dozing lightly, and squeezing a rubber ball every ten seconds or so.

Gratitude

Now that the process has become somewhat routine, I’ve become aware of strong feelings of gratitude that occur at several points in the donation process. The first is in the "history" stage. To try to maintain a safe supply of blood, the Red Cross quizzes donors about the most personal details of their medical and personal history and habits. It used to be an oral quiz, which was downright embarrassing, not to mention intense. I was dreadfully afraid of misunderstanding a question and unintentionally admitting to some behavior or condition that would not only eliminate me as a donor, but also make me a social pariah. Recently, they changed the process to allow the donor to scroll/stroll through the questions and click the appropriate answers.

Some of the questions concern lifestyle choices (tattoos, body piercings, sexual practices), but many of them list medical procedures (transplant, transfusion) or diseases (cancer, malaria, CJD, unpronounceables I’ve never heard of, and many others I have.) So my first surge of gratitude is that I am able to donate simply because I’m in relatively good health, and because I’ve never felt the impact of any of these procedures, diseases, or lifestyle choices. With every passing year, the odds increase that some unexpected event will remove me from the donor pool, but for now I am grateful.

The other surge of gratitude happens during the actual donation. I have taken to pausing the iPod several times in the middle of the process to focus on, think about, and pray for, the unknown recipients-to-be of my platelets. That inevitably leads to the feeling of gratitude that that particular bell hasn’t yet tolled for me.

I didn’t write this with the Thansgiving holiday in mind, but it certainly seems appropriate.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Prediction

Sunday, November 22nd, 2009

Sunday here was gorgeous, almost unbearably pleasant. It was the kind of day God created for raking leaves. In addition to raking, I spent the afternoon chatting with my neighbor, cutting the grass with my push mower, and thinking (dangerous, I know).

A tragedy occurred in a nearby town a few weeks ago, to a retired couple who lived in a nice house in the same neighborhood where my brother-in-law once lived. She was what we Southerners would call a "home body." Her husband said she didn’t go out much because it was too dangerous. But on this particular day, a small airplane fell out of the sky and crashed into her house, killing the woman, but leaving her husband and dog unharmed, at least physically.

oracle I saw a political cartoon today that implied, like many of them do, that things would be better if other decisions had been made, other votes had been cast, other people had been elected. The fact is, our world and our systems are too complex for our simple theories (or even our complicated ones) to predict how things will turn out. (That brings up an interesting but distracting thought line I may pursue in some future writing, about the existence of vast numbers of better and worse decision outcomes. I think it would also bring in quantum theory.)

Political pundits, financial analysts, and fortune tellers profit by our belief in the predictability of the future. And it certainly give us pleasure to blame the good or bad things that happen on the actions or inactions of those whose philosophies we disagree with. But we should also realize that similar justifications are going on in the other camp.

Of course, we can’t completely abdicate the planning and decision-making process. We will certainly continue to make decisions, not only on our ballots, but also on our calendars, with our credit cards, in our relationships, and even with our TV remotes. We can’t just sit there waiting for a decision, or an airplane, to crash into us.

Wise are those who predict and plan, but wiser still those who realize that they may be wrong.

“Standard” or “Daylight”??

Sunday, November 22nd, 2009

ivory-soapA question from a co-worker this morning reminded me of an un-published soap-bar issue. (A soap bar issue is less important than a soap box issue. People can barely tell you are standing on a soap bar, unless you keep falling off. Which is a distinct possibility.)

I think one should always be able to use the term "Eastern Standard Time" (or whatever time zone you are in), since, whether we are in daylight savings mode or daylight wasting mode, it is still the "standard" time. I think it is a waste of brain cells and energy to figure out whether to type EST or EDT, depending on some politician’s latest brainstorm.

So I propose we always use "EST", unless there is some particular reason, such as writing a user manual about changing clock and calendar settings.

Will anyone join me in this quest? Remember, every soap bar movement starts small. Help me clean up this situation.

Discworld

Sunday, November 22nd, 2009

My niece and her Friend recently introduced me to British author Terry Pratchett, and his Discworld humorous fantasy series. Started in the early 80s, the series includes over 30 books, and I have no idea why it took me so long to hear of them. Think Douglas Adams with witches instead of robots, or Tolkien with more snark.

I may attempt to describe them more later, but I just wanted to quote two passages from Wyrd Sisters, an early book.

Inspiration

Particles of raw inspiration sleet through the universe all the time. Every once in a while, one of them hits a receptive mind, which then invents DNA or the flute sonata form or a way of making light bulbs wear out in half the time. But most of them miss. Most people go through their lives without being hit by even one.

Crowns

From Granny Weatherwax, a wise old witch:

… She sat back, grateful that long-standing tradition didn’t allow the Crafty and the Wise to rule. She remembered what it had felt like to wear the crown, even for a few seconds.

No, things like crowns had a troublesome effect on clever folk; it was best to leave all the reigning to the kind of people whose eyebrows met in the middle when they tried to think. In a funny sort of way, they were much better at it.

If you Read, but are not familiar with Pratchett, you might want to give him a try.