Category Archives: science

Of Blood Pressure Reduction and the Opposite

So we want life. Long life. The cardiologist says low blood pressure is the key to life, life ongoing, possibly everlasting Man, you can’t get enough of the stuff. More is better. So you take the drugs that will lower your blood pressure and you do all the things, You decrease the high and low points of your existence, you temper everything, you lose weight, and you go in obediently to the end of the year to your doctor, and hope that your drugs and exercise and diet have lowered all the excesses of your genetics and your vibrant sins so that maybe… you might live forever with no stroke, no heart attack… with lower blood pressure.

And tell me what does it serve a man that he gain the world and lose his soul?

Think what happens when you attain an orgasm. Do you fancy this is a freebie?…

Nope.

Think what happens in that magic of moment when you are lecturing and you see the spark light in student’s eyes and you know you have infected them with that wonder, that joy of knowledge shared. Think of that instant when the brush in your hand makes the perfect movement and lays down a line of living paint that will vibrate in human brains forever. Consider striking the key on a piano that sounds a timing and an emphasis beyond planning– that alchemy of performance that can never be bettered. Turn upon the stage and speak words in evocative inflection, knowing in that instant that no one ever shall do it just so again. Spring from your computer in the recognition of an equation completed that has never been completed before.

And die.

Because all of these attainments break the placid expectation of what is “good” for us. They give us high blood pressure, and we love it. It kicks our asses. This is a drug beyond regulation or reasoned application.

This may kill us, but it’s why we live.

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Filed under family history, health, medicine, science

On the Road with Students

Last call for the restrooms then faculty, students and tag-alongs piled into the university vans. Our April 2017 Paleogeology field trip to Death Valley was off at last.

4 of crew good

How many years since I went on one of these trips? Too many. I went on one to the Goler Formation when our kid was in elementary school but she’s in graduate school now. Sure, we’d done summer trips to various sites but none had been quite like this, where you set off with a batch of strangers and after three days know each other well enough to be friends, or not….

We found a cottonwood camp site by a dried out arroyo, not a problem since each vehicle had several great jerrycans (bottles these days) of potable water–in fact we carried so much that we dumped several before we set off for home again. I’m sure the cottonwoods enjoyed that. Students had each brought their own tents and sleeping bags, or borrowed from the faculty before we set off. You can see that our own drawtight, a relic from a British arctic expedition, fit right into the landscape. Yes, we do possess something lighter weight and more modern, but in April in the Death Valley desert it can get pretty cold at night and this little friend of ours is a cozy construct.

our tent

My husband and I defined ourselves as camp guards. Outside of the national parks or official national campgrounds, there are of course no stations, no officialdom to protect your possessions, so we pledged to watch over the kit while the students and other faculty went off on site visits. The main purpose of the trip was to give these students a treat– let them camp in the desert and see pre-Cambrian and Cambrian trace fossils and real fossils. Think of burrow traces in mud, and stromatolites, with perhaps occasionally a trilobite in the younger strata.

on a spring evening copy

Wonderful group of students, all obsessed with the mysteries of past life and ecosystems, all willing to recite at the drop of a pen, a list of favorite taxa. I have some familiarity with past life forms, but these kids could describe in passionate detail, creatures I’d never even read about. They were true fans. However I must say that later that night around the little propane ‘firepit’, (the safest source of a bit of warmth and cheer we could manage on a windy night,) the students veered off into realms of the internet, and left the faculty far behind. I noted it with a certain regret, for the other trips I’d been on with department students long years back had students so hungry for more science that they spent the night begging stories and illuminations from the faculty, because they realized that they had a unique opportunity to tap those older brains to their content. Nowhere for the faculty to run away while out camping!

For the first time I cheated over the dinners, and I’d recommend this to any of you going out for a very short trip like this with a sizeable and impatiently hungry group. I pre-cooked. For the first night I had a beef stew, long-simmered well–spiced beef until it was fall-apart tender, plus a load of yesterday’s soft-baked yeast rolls. That with salad, made for fast prep. For the next day I’d made and frozen a load of chicken curry, which with the swift boiling of a load of macaroni made for a good stomach-filler on the brisk second evening.

moon at eve copy

I’m not sure anyone, however tired, slept well that first night. The wind was a noisy companion, gusting and rising and falling almost all the night until dawn. There also came a mouse to our tent, scrabbling hopefully at one corner, so that we gave in and zipped the tent up. We came out of our tents at six thirty and everyone fed on good foods from bagels and muffins to instant oatmeal. Cups of coffee and tea, a scramble to make lunch sandwiches, and then the cry went out for a last visit to the bushes before take-off.

Again, my husband and I had set ourselves as camp guards, so all the kit could be left safely. Besides, husband had a lecture to write for the day after our projected return, and it was a gnarly one. I had paintings to paint, sketches to make, lizards and birds and insects to find, draw and identify.

For us it was an idyllic day. After the lecture was under control, we scrambled about the general area looking over the old mine sites with caution, eyes open for rattlers (I am surprised but we never saw even one, though I did spot some snake tracks in the soft sands of the arroyo.) Old settling ponds, deserted collapsed mine shafts and old slag, what had been the site of a town, and remarkable long views across desert and mountains. Phainopeplas whistled incessantly, and the soft wheep wheep of quail erupted with concern every time they came across us and realized we were alive.

The students and other faculty returned and we warmed up food for the team. Another evening around the propane firepit, less wind this time, then all fell into bed and had that good sleep that one often does the second or third night out.

Morning saw us packing out, but on our way headed out of the region we had a morning site visit to some outcrops that gave us all good views of some trace fossils, and an overview of a Tesla commercial being filmed. I noted that the photographer stopped at one point and took a few frames of us time travellers clambering about the slopes of rock. Maybe he or she was envious.

grand

Long drive home, all arrived safe and weary, but full of conversation. I know our vehicle’s talk covered everything from the ethics of diet and alternative medicine to the depiction of science in film.

I hope to work up a few paintings out of my notebook, and if I do, I shall hope to share them here.

 

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Filed under blog, camping, food, painting, science

An Extra Note: Compostables and Not

Warning– this is a post that includes cleaning, garbage, purity, diapers and a rant. It’s not about Ramsey Canyon and what we saw… I will get to that after the clean up.

We hosted our Earth Sciences Department party yesterday and about seventy people attended. We prepared and cooked racks of ribs, slabs of salmon, fresh breads and vegetarian beans while our guests provided all kinds of vegetable and salad dishes, plus plenty of drinkables. I baked nine pies– apples from our orchard, grapes from our vines for the grape pies, boysenberries from the neighbor’s baked into a pie, and one huge four layer boysenberry filled cake with a cream cheese frosting. I probably should not tell how many packages of cream cheese I peeled for that job!

On such occasions we try to do our bit for sustainability, with designated bins for recyclables, and bins lined with the right type of compostable bag to take the compostable plates and utensils plus food waste, which we will later deliver to the processing center. A separate batch of bins stand ready for the non-compostables– paper napkins and waxed paper goods or whatever plastics people wrapped their contributions in.

So, this is a group of people who have spent their lives being students. Yet despite clear labeling on these bins, every year, the morning after finds me in my much-reused latex gloves sorting the garbage because somehow people can’t read those labels. But this year brought an even more disturbing variant.

I met single-serving squeezable plastic/foil baby food units. All “pure”, “organic” food in plasticized squeeze containers, one serving each. To be precise, plastic-covered foil pouches none of which is recyclable. The plastic lids are very large, and recyclable. I found two of these with their lids deep in our bin labeled ‘Compostables’. If you detect a hint of offense in my tone, you are so correct. I am worried about the parent who chooses to buy pure organic food for his or her baby in such a package. That you might absentmindedly throw it in exactly the wrong container is one of those things that can easily happen by mistake. But you do not choose single serving disposable aluminum and plastic pouches without shelling out a good bit of cash and having some time to select and think. So you want organic purity for your baby? Great. But what’s the impact of this choice? How could this company not have thought further in producing these expensive and wasteful items? Pure, organic and plastic present me with a serious disconnect.

I went to the website for this product and they claim that their containers have recyclable lids– well that’s just great! Indeed, they made the lids bigger in order to make them recyclable! Next, they say the production of one of their containers has a smaller environmental footprint than that of a glass bottle– but you often have the option to choose multiple serving sized glass bottles, which could change that equation. More, I am not sure if they are saying that only the original processing to produce a glass jar is more costly and if they have calculated the incalculable recycling in the lifetime of the glass jar? Or do they mean that the environmental cost of recycling the glass is greater than the environmental cost of production for each of their one-use pouches? With foil involved? This, I doubt. I also note that a glass bottle is composed of the third most common element on our planet — silica makes up ~15% of Earth. If the glass ends up back in the soil, it changes none of the chemistry of that soil. Plastics are manufactured materials that do not readily decompose, and have consequences in their smaller particulate form after years of disaggregation, for all animals, including us.

Yes, I understand that caring for a baby is a lot of work. I did it too, cloth diapers (and a diaper service as much as possible because at the end of the equation – sterilizing and washing all your own is more costly to the environment than using a diaper service.) I made baby food at home, except for times we travelled and I had to use bottled baby food. But the bottles and lids of what I bought were all recyclable. The glass meant a stable container with no risk of container molecules separating into the food, even acidic food.

I know a majority of my audience here is not having babies right now, but this isn’t just about baby food. It’s about thinking. I think that what I want to ask is that we try not to have that single serving plastic disposable choice be every day’s choice. No one likes a sermon much, especially when it asks for something, so I’ll return to my soggy gloves and my garbage sort.

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A Different Drug Warning to Consider

      I have a very different, more personal blog post today and what I ask is that you share its information freely with anyone you know who is over forty and gaining a longer list of prescriptions, as we all tend to do with each visit to the doctor or the specialist. Or share with anyone who is a caretaker for the older parent or friend or spouse. There have been other stories out there like this, but this one is mine.
     My best friend went in to his primary physician about a month ago and the doctor was unhappy with many things. One, the fact that his blood oxygen levels had a habit of dipping erratically sometimes for as long as twenty minutes to around 80%. (A person wants to see between 95 and 99% ideally.) Two, his joint aches, listlessness and inability to focus, fatigue, low heart rate– in the 50’s to 60’s when on a fast hike. (He is not a professional athlete.) Sweating bouts, poor circulation in the extremities, etc.
     He had talked with the cardiologist about this, asking if these symptoms could possibly be side effects of his blood pressure medication, but was reassured that it was just about impossible. But his blood test with the primary doctor  came back with a positive ANA which had the primary doctor reaching for a rheumatologist… then the primary said– “drug-induced lupus‘.
     So the lisinopril that my friend was on (at a low dose of 30mg pd) may have caused a range of ‘Lupus-like symptoms’. Possibly even an abruptly present hernia that required him to have surgery recently. (There is much debate about the likelihood of this– do your own research and see if you think it’s possible or not.) The primary physician hit the panic button and took him off the lisinopril three weeks ago. Most of these symptoms have vanished or decreased substantially in these past weeks. I am crossing my fingers it isn’t some kind of reverse placebo effect. The idea that all this difficulty and having alarming symptoms was an  issue with the medication is both infuriating and hopeful.
     One other piece of data– his blood pressure would not under ordinary circumstances be treated– he only rarely hits a systolic of 130, and his regular readings are in the 112-117 range. Diastolic ranges between 60 and 70. It’s because of a heart valve prolapse that they were treating the blood pressure at all.
     Looking back in a word search on lisinopril in my old emails, I find that my father was also on lisinopril– 200mg until the last year of Dad’s life when it was prescribed at 400mg per diem. He may have needed it, with his extremely enlarged heart. Maybe.
     However I recall with dismay an incident about three months after Dad’s two cranial hemorrhages and craniotomies. He caught a norovirus and was hospitalized for forty eight hours, put on an IV, of course. We visited him in the hospital and he was so nearly his old self that I rejoiced that yes, he might really recover his mind from those dreadful cranial surgeries. Dad was joking, lively and insightful. It was amazing. But he came home to us and relapsed. I never saw him like that — never really saw my father again, you might say.
     I went to his primary then, and asked if there were some possibility of an essential salt that had been in his IV, maybe potassium, that had caused this great improvement and return of his mind and spirit. The primary obligingly tried several things, potassium supplements too but none made a difference and we finally stopped trying. There hadn’t been much in that IV you see, other than rehydration. But I didn’t think back then, it might not have been what he was receiving in the hospital but what he wasn’t receiving. While vomiting and having diarrhea he was receiving none of his list of regular medications. I feel very stupid, and I am sorry to think I missed the obvious. Because if we could have chosen between quality of life and length of life, I know how he would have voted. It is possible the problem with his mind wasn’t lisinopril but some other drug or combination, but, man, am I suspicious now, that it would have been a good idea to try some eliminations and see if there was a way to get more of his mind back by stopping a medication or two.
     So please be alert, people, to check the possibilities with elderly parents or yourselves, and keep an eye out for drug induced syndromes and reactions. The lisinopril is a hard one because often patients can take it for months or years before any of these reactions appear. So you have to keep reexamining, and it’s not the only one that can turn on you after being your friend for a while.
     For my friend, right now, this is a good start. I wish we had figured it out earlier, though. I wish I had been smart enough to see the possibility with my father. What a wonderful mind he had. I miss it. I miss him.

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We went hunting

Envy us my friends — look at this–

over a pound of morels

Over a pound of morels, Morchella esculenta to be precise. We heard from the kid she’d seen some when out walking with a friend and after grilling her about why she hadn’t collected them, since they were on public property, we headed out. Note, it was after seven o’clock in February so the sun had set. But what are flashlights for? What are mycophiles for? How could we wait?

morels caught surprised in the night

This is what morels look like when taken by surprise in the dark.  We left plenty, and carefully cut the stems above the ground. Some folk say that isn’t necessary, but I would rather have no regrets and this way I can at least know I did my best to leave the mycelia reasonably undisturbed. Maybe we were hobbits in a previous incarnation.

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(I will add the necessary caution about collecting mushrooms for food. I’ve been studying mushrooms as a hobby for over forty years and feel reasonably confident of my ability to identify specimens. I’d say never consume wild mushrooms casually. There’s good reason for all the lore about their deadliness. There are great reasons for the wonderful books out there to aid you in identification of types and species. (I don’t even know any more how many of these I own.) Additionally, some folk have allergies to certain species of mushroom and that’s not always predictable. If any doubt exists, toss the fungi away. It’s not worth a stomach ache or worse.)

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the next book

watch cmyk S

 

Here’s the cover of my next book, a thriller/science fiction yarn set in the university town of Isla Vista, California. Imagine a strong smart young woman in Southern California planning to become a scientist, who notices the gradual disappearance of the local homeless, and a sequence of strange events concerning ducks– which mount to a personally threatening point. Call it science fiction with aliens, in a place where no one is ever supposed to grow old.

I just finished poring through the advance reader copy hunting down typos….My publisher tells me we have a due date of April 2015!

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gifts

Every so often after I’ve spent hours out in the studio painting, there’s a message waiting on the machine when I walk into the study. Hit the button– I hear the tentative young male or female voice on the recording and then a rush of words.

“Professor? You won’t remember me. I took your class…” in years gone by, ten or more, and took the time now, to call. For some reason this is the day for this spate of words, with its embarrassed misspeaks, an offered gratitude.

“Your enthusiasm meant so much. I’ve always remembered how you took that plant and broke its pot on the desk, scattering dirt all over, to prove the point that there was more to a plant underground than on top.”

I’m smiling, listening.

“I have never forgotten how you declared you never expected us to believe everything you said, but that you did expect us to know what you had said. I became a scientist because of your class.”

Some days when I’m listening, he or she says the next wonderful thing.

“I became a teacher because of you.”

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