Friday, May 29, 2009

Blindsided By Science

I don't know what happened to me and science. When I was a kid I was going to be an astronomer, and there was no reason to think I couldn't do it. I was a math whiz, as my father discovered when I was four years old and could calculate batting averages in my head. I was fascinated by science and attended a year-long National Science Foundation program at a nearby college when I was in high school. I was the captain of the freakin' Math Team in high school. But it turns out that I wasn't that gifted at science, only at playing with numbers. Good thing I work with baseball statistics now. Give me Carl Hubbell, not that telescope guy.

Twice this week, I was reminded of my relative ignorance of science. The first time was Tuesday morning, when I made my usual morning visit to my wife, Linda, at the dialysis center. She goes to dialysis at 6AM, and on Tuesday and Thursday I drop her off and spend a couple of hours at my office, writing blogs or catching up on correspondence. At 8:30, I bring her a cup of coffee so she can wake up (she usually sleeps through the treatment) and go to work. Linda is the poster child of the dialysis department, going from four hours of having her blood circulated and cleansed right over to a full day of work. You can slow her down, but you can't stop her.

Well, she got slowed down Tuesday morning. Just as I walked in, bells were going off, and she was going into atrial fibrillation--that is, her pulse doubled and her heart started pounding with an irregular heartbeat. I stayed with her for a couple of hours until she was admitted to the special care unit. At one point, she had a sharp pain in her jaw for a minute or two. It reminded her that in the middle of the night, she had awakened with sharp pains in both shoulders, a pain which also passed momentarily.

The doctors got her stabilized, and we got the official diagnosis from her cardiologist. He declared, referring to the double shoulder ache, "you had a teensie-weensie heart attack." Whoa there, Doc! Don't get too technical. What could we make of that? I knew this was better than what Damon Runyon would call "slightly dead". It depends on where you put the emphasis. He put more weight on "teensie-weensie," a clinical term I've never heard in a hospital. The atrial fibrillation was essentially a self-administered stress test, which she flunked, confirming the attack. But it was teensie-weensie!

Does that count? Do you put that on your resume? "Yes, doctor, I've had two heart attacks, but one was only teensie-weensie." It's like Arlo Guthrie wondering if he's been sufficiently rehabilitated from littering to join the Army and kill people. If you take a couple of pens home from work, is it a teensie-weensie case of embezzlement? I had a tough time wrapping my head around this concept, but much to my astonishment, I only had to wait another day to experience another example of it.

Wednesday had a much better start than Tuesday. The cardiologist did a heart catheterization which disclosed a blockage in an artery feeding Linda's shoulder. One stent and a little spackle later, she was doing fine. When I left work that afternoon, I went home for a little dinner before joining her to watch the Mets game from her hospital room. At home, I got on the computer for a half-hour, mainly to set my fantasy team lineups, and then had some dinner. When I returned to the computer, there was an ominous message on the screen. At the top it said, "if this is the first time you're getting this message, restart your computer now." I didn't wait to read the rest of the screen, quickly turning the machine off, but I did have time to see the last line: "Begin erasing physical memory."

That's something you never want to see on a computer. I restarted the computer and got nothing. I had a choice of two prompts: F2 or F10. Neither one did me any good. I did get an invitation to "insert boot disk and press any key," but when I inserted my recovery disk, I got the same message. I think I repeated this enough times to press every key on the keyboard, but nothing worked. So I called my geek (try, who said, "that doesn't sound good." He said he might have to see the machine this time (he lives an hour away), unlike the last time around, when I invited a state-of-the-art virus over for the weekend. Before I did that, he suggested that I turn the machine off and let it sit overnight. "Maybe it's just heat," he said. Of course I didn't know what that meant. It was a cool day, and I'd only had the machine on for about 45 minutes. Could the heat have come from the nineteen porn sites? I just didn't know.

So I waited until morning to turn on the computer. Hit the F11 ("start recovery") button, waited a minute, and there was my friendly old computer screen, good as new. Nothing erased, all my files and favorites intact, as if (almost) nothing had happened. A little stent, a little spackle, and good as new. It was, to get technical about it, a teensie-weensie crash. Or, as my friend Tim Wiles put it, "a teensie-weensie hard[drive] attack."

It's Friday morning, Linda is home, and I'm writing this on the computer that scoffed at me two nights ago. I don't understand how computers work in the first place, so naturally I'm in a fog about why it would completely fail to recognize its own hard drive one night and be perfectly fine the next morning. I just hope that whatever knowledge of science I do acquire from this point forward is learned one little teensie-weensie bit at a time. That's plenty for me to handle, thank you.

1 comment:

TJG said...

This is a great post and the first of yours I have read. Being a baseball fan with a couple stents of my own and a fair batting average, I will become a frequent flyer, I suspect. Your style is reminiscient of Bob Greene , the former Chicago Tribune columnist who had all but disappeared after some sordid messiness, not even related to being forced to be a Cubs fan.
Bravo for you..and thanks for your efforts.