Aaaah, My Back

I went to the hospital for a scheduled procedure on my back to help alleviate the pains a herniated disc had been causing. So far, it seems to have helped.

So, I guess because things have been pretty busy at work and at home lately, I haven’t had much of a chance to provide an update on the situation with my back yet (however, I didn’t find some time for a very odd conversation regarding 20th century minimalist plays…). The results of the MRI were, literally, black and white obvious: I have a herniated disc in my lower back. The L5-S disc, which is by the way the one just above that oddball sixth lumbar vertebra of mine (just a coincidence, though, as far as anyone knows). The disc has bulged out to the right enough to press against one of the major nerves for my right leg (the sciatic nerve, it appears). The pressure on this nerve causes the sensation of pain in my right hamstring, from buttock to knee. It’s important to note, just in case you’re hoping to glean some sort of medical information from this, that this pain is very hard to distinguish from an actual hamstring or other leg issue. If your having pain in your leg, you should consider seeing a doctor (I recommend a orthopedic or sports medicine specialist, personally) to determine what the cause is. I know Angela and I were both very surprised.

While the sensation of pain was very real, the fact that my leg has nothing to do with it was a very odd thing to get used to. Even after learning this, I found myself instinctively limping as though it would relieve the pain or even grabbing and massaging my hamstring muscles as though it would make any difference. Now, after having some time to adjust to what is causing it, I find myself distrusting my lying brain and spine. And I don’t mean that to be funny. I have noticed myself actually ignoring sensations in my leg – writing them off as figments of my back simply poking on a nerve.

While I don’t wish to engage in a tangential debate on the topic of intelligent design, I feel pretty strongly that using that description for this section of the human nervous system would be a stretch. As any good process engineer or software designer will tell you, having such an easily corruptible signal or feedback path is a very big design error. You very much do not want your main monitoring system to be so easily misled.

Waiting at St Marys

So, this past Thursday morning, I went to the radiology department of St. Mary’s to have a ESI, or epidural steroid injection. This is a pretty simple procedure but it’s still very cool to me. I was taken into the flouroscope x-ray (similar to this machine) room at the hospital and laid on the movable table. The machine they have is bi-axial so they were able to have real-time imaging of my spine from both the side and rear angles. The doctor, after numbing the area with lidocaine (which felt like getting stuck with a hot poker in my spinal column, just so you know), injected a tracking dye into the area. Once he was able to see the exact path, the steroid then replaces the dye on the needle and is injected along the same pathway. The doctor indicated to me that it wasn’t actually that important that he hit the exact spot, as the steroid would act over a relatively wide area (roughly two vertebrae). About halfway through the procedure though, I began to notice the sensation of pressure in my right upper leg, exactly the same spots where pain was living the past couple of months. I asked the doctor if he had begun injecting the cortisone and, sure enough, he had. As he continued the pressure built up on the nerve until it felt as though my leg had swollen up like a balloon and could burst. But as the fluid moved around, that feeling went away, thank goodness.

They kept me around for twenty minutes or so just to make sure everything was okay. Angela came by to pick me up (they didn’t want me driving, which seems a little silly) and she took me back to work. Since, the pain in my leg does seem to have subsided. It may be part placebo effect, but since the pain wasn’t the result of anything real in my leg, what do I care where the relief comes from? Anyway, as the doctor indicated, this isn’t a cure and is only to provide temporary relief. I’ll have to get more shots, no doubt. Hopefully, though, this will help to push (way) back – or even alleviate all together – the need for surgery.

So, I’m going to see the sports-med doc in after a while and I’ll likely do some physical therapy for my back to help alleviate the pressure. Otherwise, I just have to keep aware of the problem and not do things which will compound it.

Oh, and the first thing on that agenda is to get a new office chair at work.

Five Fun Things: May 18th Edition

I’m trying to make this a weekly thing, but who knows how long it’ll last.

Another week flew by me and I’m not sure where it went. That’s more the norm than not I suppose. Here’s a few things, in no particular order that have been interesting and enjoyable this week:

  1. Getting to see inside me by having an MRI done. I’ve been learning some about medical imaging in the past few months with baby ultrasounds for Angela as well as x-rays and MRIs for me. It’s all amazing stuff and makes me really appreciate modern medicine and our ability to see what is happening inside us without ever opening us up. Of course, the cost for all this imaging is still high enough to make it as common as I expect it someday will be, so that makes me appreciate having good insurance.
  2. Having a good boss. Okay, he doesn’t read this so don’t assume it’s for his benefit or anything. However, I’ve had some bad jobs before and I’ve been lucky to work for people sense college that allowed me to work in my own style instead of some rigid framework. Work has been insanely hectic for the past couple of months and that’s going to continue for a while in the future. However, my boss never beats me up about it. He’s demanding, but not unreasonable and that’s about the best you can hope for in this kind of work.
  3. Okay, just so you don’t think this is some thanksgiving list, I’ve also been loving three new albums I downloaded this week. Wilco’s Sky Blue Sky is kind of a continuation of A Ghost is Born; some quirky and soft melodies punctuated with some rockin’ moments. Not having listened to Modest Mouse for all that long, I can’t say if We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank is much of a progression for that band since their last album, but I can say I like it a lot. After seeing The Avett Brothers last week, I can see why my friend Chris likes them so much. Their live album on iTunes – Live, Vol. 2 – seems to capture a lot of their live shows and “Pretty Girl From Annapolis” has been stuck in my head for days, now. I need to pick up their new album as well.
  4. I got on a Futurama kick a few days ago and have been watching a number of episodes off of Comedy Central (I only occasionally watched it first run in my pre-TiVo days). It’s best moments are using Fry & Co. to make commentary about modern life (this must have been the inspiration for Idiocracy…). It’s most boring moments to me are showing once again how annoying Dr. Zoidberg is or how crass Bender is.
  5. This weekend is the Lebanese festival in Richmond. Angela went to lunch there with some of her co-workers, as did one of my co-workers, and they said it was great. Angela is going to take me to dinner there this evening. I haven’t enjoyed it just yet, but I know I will!

Members of Congress of Foodstamps

There many Congressional hearings and investigative trips that are expensive and/or pointless. However, this one is neither, in my opinion: four members of Congress have pledged to live for one week on $21 worth of food – the average amount of food stamps people on that program have to spend. Living through what all too many Americans have to go through for food, and for more than just a photo op, is a lesson in both humility and compassion that many of us would have a tough time dealing with. Myself included. You can read the story for yourself, and visit a couple of the blogs regarding their experiences, but I just wanted to publicly thank Rep.s Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), Jo Ann Emerson (R-Mo.), Tim Ryan (D-Ohio), and Janice Schakowsky (D-Ill.) for shedding some attention on America’s hungry and poor by taking on McGovern and Emerson’s “Food Stamp Challenge.”

Rare But Not Of Concern

So, the whole sixth lumbar vertebra has kind of been of interest to me. I did some online searching and found an interesting article which explains the abnormality some:

[A]pproximately 10% of adults, have a congenital anomaly in their lower back. One of the most common anomalies is the presence of a sixth lumbar vertebra. Having one extra lumbar vertebra provides no advantage or disadvantage to the individual and is rarely a cause of back problems… [A]nomalies such as these in the lumbar spine and sacral spine are simply variants of normal bony architecture and are typically of no consequence. In other words, it would be very rare for an abnormality such as a sixth lumbar vertebra or extra bone in the sacrum to cause back problems.

I’ll file this under “I found it on the internet so therefore it must be true.” My doctor indicated that mine wasn’t of concern since everything was all aligned. I didn’t ask what happens if it isn’t as I was afraid what the answer might be.

It would also appear that the correct term for this “L6” bone is Lumbosacral transitional vertebra.

Now this comment was particularly interesting to me:

You may be interested to find that while the homo sapien is characterized by having five lumbar vertebra but homo erectus (the first of the human skeletons found in Africa, including Lucy and australopithecus africanus skeletons) typically had 6 lumbar vertebra.

Something I was at least able to partially corroborate here. Now, before you decide to start poking fun at me for being less evolved than you, keep in mind that modern great apes have only three or four lumbar vertebrae. It’s all relative.

PA Is For Pennsylvania and Pain

In this post, Jason and Angela spend Mother’s day in Pennsylvania with friends and Jason confirms yet again that he can snooze in adverse conditions.

Oxford, PA

We spent more time hanging out and not so much time taking photos this weekend. However, I did like this clock I noticed in a small town on the drive through rural PA.

Angela and I drove up to PA over the weekend to visit our friends Sally, Chris, and Mason, whom we hadn’t seen since the last time they came to visit Richmond. Our only other trip up to see them was spent sight-seeing around Philadelphia, so this was a much more relaxed visit. By relaxed, I mean that we ran a 5k footrace on Saturday morning. Rather than just any old 5k, this was a one-time event being held on a yet-to-be-opened-to-traffic new bridge on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Even better, this particular bridge was designed by the company Chris works for, Figg Engineering Group (of the Natchez Trace Parkway Arch Bridge, among many other high-profile bridges). The new Susquehanna River Bridge isn’t exactly Figg’s most spectacular design (this is the company whose motto is “Bridges as Art,” mind you) but it is still a large and attractive structure and the view for the entire race was great. Okay, it was a pretty sunny day on large river so even if the view was of Three Mile Island, you could still do a lot worse.

We celebrated mother’s day by all going out to a nice Italian lunch yesterday. Angela’s 3/5 of the way to being a mom, so we figured this was her first un-official holiday for which she could celebrate.

For the past couple of months, I’ve had a pain developing in my right hamstring. Angela and I figured it was due to some uneventful running injury but stretching and yoga didn’t really seem to be doing a lot for it. I finally got around to seeing a sports medicine doctor this morning and as it turns out, it may have nothing to do with my leg at all. I may have some sort of spinal disc issue which is simply sending incorrect signals of leg pain up to my brain (stupid nervous system). Anyway, I had a couple of x-ray images made this morning of my lower spine which didn’t really answer much. However, the doctor did point out that I have an odd sixth bone/lower vertebra at the base of my spine, at my sacrum (I’m hazarding a guess that you only have five lumbar vertebrae). This apparently is not a health concern, just a really odd thing.

MRI Sheets

This is probably going to take a while for the doctor to go through. My spine feels very well documented now.

Anyway, since the x-rays didn’t explain much regarding the soft disc tissue, I went for an MRI this afternoon. MRI’s take longer than an x-ray (a lot longer, as in about 30 minutes), if you didn’t know. Of course, this results in about 100 images as opposed to just a couple. Frankly, I could see how someone who was claustrophobic might get very upset at being in a similar machine. Frankly, I didn’t mind all that much being wrapped tightly in leftover parts form an jet-liner’s interior for that long. It’s loud and cramped, but I ended up falling asleep for almost the whole thing.

I suspect that will remain the most expensive nap of my life for a long time to come.

I feel just fine other than some mild pain in my leg. It’s not like I broke my wrist or have debilitating migraines. I came home this afternoon and mowed the lawn as well as ran a couple of miles on the treadmill (the doctor did ask me to limit running to softer surfaces for now). This is all just so he can get down to the bottom of where pain is coming from and then recommend what to do about it.

Five Fun Things: Week of May 10th

Here’s a list of Five Fun Things I’ve been enjoying lately, in no significant order (other than No. 1):

  1. Feeling our baby girl kick for the first time last Sunday morning. That was awesome.
  2. Super Paper Mario on the Wii – Not a very hard game, but loads of fun to play and very funny, too.
  3. LostLast night’s episode was proof they haven’t ‘lost’ it. Picking an end date means they’ll have a definite road map for the rest of the show to keep it great, unlike earlier this year when it seemed to be flopping. (Watch it on ABC’s site) Heroes owes a lot to Lost, and has really been building up to a great season finale. Both have been filling the hole left in my heart when Season 3 of BG ended.
  4. Pandora.com – All the recent news about the possibility of losing Internet radio made me realize just how awesome this site is.
  5. Freaks & Geeks from Netflix. I wish I had caught this show when it was first aired, but I don’t think my watching would have saved it for another season.

So what about any of you? Leave a comment or post it on your own site (be sure to ping me, trackback or just leave a link if you do!).

Taking More Pictures Again

Escape

Escape” by Jason Coleman – I’ve recently gotten excited (re-excited?) about photography and learning how to take better pictures. Kevin has a great post and some interesting discussion on his blog about his film vs. digital experimentation. I think, for me, one of the key reason why I only want to shoot in digital, regardless of quality, is the ability to let myself make many mistakes to learn from. Were my camera a film, it would sit mostly on a shelf for fear of taking bad photos. I never had much appreciation for photography until digital allowed me to experiment with it. I never had that feeling with film which no matter how simple the camera, always gave me too great a disconnect between action and feedback to meaningfully learn anything.

2006: Year of the Post-Apocolypse

Apparently, the Apocolypse came sometime before 2006 [Ed: Yes, of course. It was the day John Kerry lost to George Bush. Zing.]. I know this because in the first few months of 2007, I watched three of the most amazing post-apocalypse films I’ve ever seen and they were all from the past year1.

V for Vendetta

The Wachowski brother’s V for Vendetta

The Wachowski brothers haven’t really done much since the first Matrix film, and I’m including the latter 2/3rds of the trilogy in ‘not much’ (and, yes, they were above average sci-fi films but not of the same caliber as the first). However, last year’s V For Vendetta was a stunning political thriller. Science fiction in name only, just as most all great sci-fi is, this film warns about how the difference between a state gripped with fear for its security and a fascist state is really only one of time. The film’s boldness goes well beyond just harsh critiques of modern-day political rhetoric (though the storyline was written in the 80’s). The treatment of the two lead characters: a hero who’s face we are never shown and a lovely heroine who has her head shaved are not common Hollywood treatments (think: shirtless muscle-men and flawless beauties, despite rather harsh circumstances that wouldn’t warrant either).

Science fiction is the home of the dystopia storyline and like the best of them2, this world is terrifying mainly because of it’s similarities to our own rather than its differences. Also, V is a beautiful film and doesn’t beat the audience over the head with either special effects or political statement. However, both are a strong presence in the film. It left me with the both feelings of despair and hope. Despair that people in my country just might be afraid enough to let this sort of thing happen but hope that most of us are smart enough to see through such theater. Also, hope because the story takes place in Britain and Americans aren’t so polite about being bullied from the get-go.

Idiocracy

Mike Judge’s Idiocracy

Mike Judge’s love-it-or-hate-it story doesn’t have atomic bomb wielding terrorists destroying the world we know. Rather, people destroy it by taking a path toward stupidity. We de-evolve into a race of idiots. It’s an apocalypse 500 years in the making.

I personally loved this film, despite the fact that I had an overwhelming sense of depression after watching it. While I laughed at much of the straight-faced humor presented, it was more like the laugh of a person caught in a hopeless situation, giving up on any hope of changing the future and reduced to laugh at the ridiculousness of it. Modern tragic comedy, although I thought that was supposed to have a happy ending (the film does, unless you live in modern times…).

The design of the film wasn’t one of beauty. However, that was essentially the point. Beauty is gone and is replaced not with the gray despair of most dystopias. No, this is much more like the dystopia of Brave New World, where only a few people realize that they have much to unhappy about. Here, in Idiocracy, we have something far worse: advertising. The materialistic tendencies of much of today’s popular culture have collided with mass advertising such that if you can see it, it’s fair game for branding. Further degradation of society comes in virtually ever aspect of life: entertainment, health care, politics, education, the legal system, food, and even speech. We’ve all been in an atmosphere things like initiative, intelligence, and caring were shunned. It was called High School. Imagine a world in which everyone behaves just like the back row of your high school algebra class.

Terrifying. Also, genius political and social satire.

Children of Men

Alfonso Cuarón’s Children of Men

Here’s a film that would have made perfect sense and been almost as enjoyable without any sound, in my opinion. While the story was gripping (based loosely on the novel written by P.D. James), it is Cuaron’s visual style that tells so much story. Long, incredibly long, impossibly long shots span minutes of the story creating a sense of drama that is unreal. The sense of being in the story is almost overwhelming at times3. I can’t even quite describe it as documentary style. It’s more like being right in the scenes and not being able to close your eyes to blink for even a moment. It is intense and amazing to watch.

The film is steeped with allegory, particularly Christian stories and themes. The film opened on Christmas Day last year and can easily be described as a modern day tale of Joseph and Mary. However, most people don’t celebrate Christmas with dystopian tales of the possible end of humanity; resulting in the film bombing at the box office. However, the film has gained a great deal of critical acclaim and the DVD release might as well have been its debut, so don’t feel bad if you missed it. It’s also just as well, as you might want to watch it a couple of times just to catch all those amazing long-shot scenes and much of the imagery, both present and implied.

Science fiction is the home of the dystopian story. Through a fabled look at the future, we can make political and social commentary on the present and the past. The disarming nature of science fiction allows us to do so in a way that is non-threatening but also allows us to explore the “what if” scenario without abandon. This is why I love science fiction so much and why the dystopian storyline is my favorite in the that genre. When done right, the ‘magic black box device’ or ‘singular event that changed man’ becomes just a prop to allow the writers, directors, and actors to explore the human condition in a way we can’t do in the here and now. It may seem ironic that the genre that is the home of distant worlds in other galaxies and alien life forms is the one that allows us to most closely examine our home and what it means to be human; that looking off into the future gives us the perfect mirror for today. However, in the great stories in science fiction, that is exactly the point.

Laser blasters, light sabers, slimy bug eyed monsters, and giant robots are just really cool icing on the cake.

  1. We don’t get out to the cinema much these days, so we just wait until everything comes out on DVD and rent it via Netflix. I could write endlessly on why this is better than going to the movies, but that will have to be another post. []
  2. 1984 is probably the most famous of this genre and incidentally, the hero of that tale was portrayed by John Hurt in a film adaptation. Hurt is re-cast as the totalitarian in V, moving from little man to giant head via video screen. []
  3. Unless you are Angela, who has slept through some pretty great films and this was no different. []

United Kingdom Flag History

I had never really given a lot of thought to the design of the "Union Jack" before. The mix of diagonals and crosses in th modern flag is actually the sum of the flags of England, Scotland, and Ireland, as seen here. The Union Flag also shows up in many of the countries still under the Monarchy, such as Australia and New Zealand (not to mention various smaller island nations). It also is in the flags of the State of Hawai’i and was even incorporated into the original American flag (the Grand Union Flag), when we were still an British colony. We dropped the Union Jack in favor of a field of stars whose number would be equal to the number of states in the Union.Several of the Canadian provinces (British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario), though it is notably missing in the Canadian national flag. This may be in part to the fact that several other provinces have flags of Scotland or England in them, and not the Union Flag. We may not be loyal subject of HM the Queen anymore, but at least we still get a long well enough to have her over every now and then.

London Fog

You know that cliché old adage about someone bringing the weather from where their from when they come for a visit? Well, the Queen of England, along with her husband Prince Philip, are in Richmond today to celebrate the 400th Anniversary of the founding of Jamestown, VA. Yesterday in Richmond was about 90° F and sunny. Today is overcast and in the upper 50’s. Honestly, Your Majesty; you’re not really visiting if you bring everything from home with you. I’m just saying.