Category Archives: Lungs

As an asthmatic, my lungs are a big part of my life. When I get sick, I may complain about these lungs of mine.

[A-Z] L is for Lungs Of Doom


I’ve dealt with asthma since I was at least two years old, and I don’t remember a time in my life before it. Pretty much every day of my life I’ve taken pills, used inhalers, switched on a nebulizer, or made my way to a doctor’s office burdened with wheezes and coughs and what-not. I was hospitalized a few times in my childhood, but it’s been more than a decade since that’s happened.

The doctors told me that there was some chance I would grow out of my asthma, but that didn’t happen. As I grew older, the allergies and asthma decided to stick around, just for the hell of it. Perhaps they felt they would be left behind. Or something. I don’t know. The point is, I did not grow out of my asthma. On the other hand, I didn’t suffer the aggravation of adult-onset asthma. So that’s something, I guess.

Treatment for asthma has certainly changed over the years. I’m old enough to remember a drug called Marax, which was the front-line drug of choice for years. That was about the same time that adrenalin shots were the go-to choice for acute asthma attacks (my mom has memories of me being super hyped up on adrenalin after late night visits to the emergency room). Then for a long time, Theophylline was the drug of choice for maintenance. I asked several doctors what the mechanism behind Theophylline was, and they all gave me the same answer: No one knew, but it probably had something to do with a chemical called ATP, which lives in your cells and provides energy.

But now we live in an age where inhalers, not pills, are the primary defense against asthma. Sure, I’m still taking Singulair, but it’s a tiny thing compared to the huge horse pills of Theophylline and so on that I subsided on as a kid. But it’s primarily Advair and Spiriva these days, both of which look sort of like hockey pucks, and Albuterol for acute attacks. No more Marax. No more adrenalin shots.

One constant through all this is Prednisone, which is an anti-inflammatory steroid drug that is prescribed for a number of different conditions. Throughout high school and college I took 20 milligrams a day, every day. Now Prednisone has side effects: it makes me cranky and depressed, and it makes my appetite skyrocket. I hate it. Yet even now, I still end up having to take it from time to time. It sucks.

Still, I’m fortunate. I have a good insurance plan that lets me afford the drugs I need to keep breathing, and access to good doctors who know how to treat the asthma. For a long time, I didn’t, and I was using Primatine Mist — NOT a recommended alternative for someone with severe chronic asthma — to treat myself, because it was all I could afford. Those were in the days when I did not have insurance.


Which is why I’m personally all in favor of Obamacare, and utterly appalled at any attempt to defund or repeal it. I have insurance now through where I work, but I know several asthmatics who only have access to doctors and medication BECAUSE of the ACA. Getting rid of it would not only be appalling, but downright immoral, in my opinion.


Anyway. That’s my lungs. That’s my post for today.

This long-winded wheeze brought to you by the A-Z Blogging Challenge. Cough. Cough. Hack. Wheeze. Etc.

Time Sinks

…Being evidence that my blog can indeed consist of more than just Twitter updates.

It’s November, which is always a month full of time sinks for me.  I mean, everyone’s busy during November what with the holidays and Thanksgiving (well, everyone in America who celebrates Thanksgiving at least).   But for about 100,000 people around the world, November is also, of course, National Novel Writing Month, and the pressure of churning out 50,000 words in a single month can get to some people.  I passed the 50K mark yesterday, with 50,007 words total (according to the official NaNoWriMo word count verifier), so technically I’m done with that, even though the story itself is still incomplete.  It’s part two of the novel that I wrote last year, and I realize there’s at least one more part to come.  I’m really hoping, actually, that I can get this third part written in a very short span of time (maybe December through January), so that I can leave Deacon Dread and the Lord of Nightmares behind and get back to work on The Solitude of the Tentacled Space Monster, which has been languishing since late October.  I have ideas for other novels I want to work on in future NaNoWriMo’s, too.

I also chose to be a Municipal Liaison for our area in NaNoWriMo this year, meaning that in addition to writing my own novel I was helping to plan events and gatherings to help other people in Sacramento who are participating get their own novels written as well.  I had a helper in this, which was great, but the point is that NaNoWriMo kept me even busier this November than it usually does.

There’s that whole Thanksgiving thing, too, and I love Thanksgiving.  But since we don’t host Thanksgiving at our house, and since everything I bake always ends up tasting like soap, no matter how closely I stick to the recipe, my role in planning Thanksgiving is calling my parents (if it’s a year at my parents’ house) and asking them what time we should arrive.  That’s pretty much it.  So while I love going to the family for Thanksgiving, it just isn’t that big a time sink for me.  More on Thanksgiving in general in a future entry.

Another big time sink for me this past month has been, I confess, Second Life.  I signed up for an account just before the start of November, just to see what it was like, and was kind of hooked right away.  I decided to create a female avatar for myself for several reasons.  First, I know that even though I enjoy writing about female protagonists, they tend to be pretty passive, which frankly irks me, so I thought that maybe having a female avatar in Second Life would be the closest thing I’d get to having a female me in First Life that I could experiment with (no, not like that, you morally turpitudinous leches!).  I don’t know how accurate the experience has been, though I’m assured that even stating pretty obviously in your profile that you’re married (sort of the Second Life version of wearing a wedding ring) and that you’re not interested in sex of any sort, cyber or otherwise, is no deterrence to the guys who will come up and say something like, "Hey baby, nice breasts, wanna get it on?"  Of course, their language is usually not quite so refined.

Second Life has surprised me, though.  The brand new residents and the ones who are mostly interested in sex and guns mostly hang out in the newbie areas, and I’ve learned to avoid those.  Once you get past those areas you can find some truly remarkable simulations that have been built up by very dedicated people.  I’ve found a recreation of the city of Dublin; a couple of really amazing garden sims (my favorite is the SL Botanical Gardens, which was built by some botanists who wanted to recreate as many real world plants in SL as they could); some impressive music venues; a sim called "October Country" that’s dedicated to Halloween and the works of Ray Bradbury and other horror writers (Lovecraft’s Cthulhu makes a regular appearance); a recreation of the Globe Theater from Shakespeare’s days; and tons more.

Another reason I chose to have a female avatar in Second Life was that I originally thought my chances of meeting people who weren’t interested in just sex and guns would be increased if I made it clear that I wasn’t as well, and my impression was that simply having a male avatar in Second Life was an implicit announcement that you were after such things, no matter how many times you said you weren’t.  I’ve since learned that this isn’t automatically true, but my avatar’s gender had already been assigned, and even though I could change it simply by clicking a radio button in my "Edit Appearance" screen, her name — Zoe Compton — isn’t very unisex.  Besides, I’ve gotten used to her.  Plus, there are a lot more ways to customize your avatar’s appearance and dress it up if it’s female than if it’s male; if your avatar is male, your choices are pretty much limited to looking like a soldier with lots of guns, or a beefed up muscle man, or a hip hop gangster, or a super powerful corporate executive.  And besides, I’m a straight, non-transgendered, non-transvestite guy who enjoys watching "What Not to Wear"; how else am I going to express that side of me that desperately needs to shop for nice clothes?

It should come as no surprise that there are a number of men that play women in Second Life.  A lot of these men are gay (though I don’t see why they don’t just play gay male avatars); a lot of them are transgendered individuals who have no medical options for various reasons in real life, so this is their only way to express it; a sizable number of them are in it for the lesbian sex scenes because they now have a little porn star that they can control themselves on the screen; and, believe it or not, there are quite a few like me who are just in it for the heck of it.

So Second Life really has been a time sink.  In fact, I was falling behind in NaNoWriMo because of Second Life until I discovered that there is a surprisingly large contingent of NaNoWriMo participants who also participate in Second Life.  Hanging out with them, exchanging encouragement and participating in word wars really helped push me, which is why I was able to actually reach 50,000 words.

In case you’re interested, I’ve set up an in-character blog for Zoe.  You can find at it Zoe in Second Life.  I’ve run each entry through the Gender Genie to try to make them sound more genuinely female than male, and I’ve done a pretty decent job of at least fooling that website, though sometimes I end up with sentence constructions and word choices that don’t really make a whole lot of sense and that definitely don’t sound like me.  I’ve gotten several favorable emails about the entry called "Second Life: Not Just About Detachable Penises".

Another big time sink has been my lungs.  I seem to be fighting a permanent upper respiratory infection, and while I don’t focus on my lungs to the point of exclusion even when I’m sucking down on my nebulizer for the fifth time in a day, it sure feels like I have been.  Right now I’m on horse pill antibiotics and more steroids than I’ve taken in years, which means that my biochemicals are all screwed up.  I have not, strangely, gotten that magical side effect from Prednisone where everything in the world sucks including you, but I’m definitely getting the voracious and insatiable appetite which gets very consuming when I sit down to eat, crowding out any thoughts of "Hey, I shouldn’t have this huge hamburger" until, unfortunately, after I’ve alr
eady eaten.

Some day I hope to get my lungs under control.  They told me I would grow out of my asthma.  They lied.  And my doctor and I were discussing airway remodeling last week, a process where a long term asthmatic develops so much scar tissue in their lungs that the airways actually get altered and moved around.  This can show up in X-rays as blotches or white areas around the lungs, particularly near the heart, and it has freaked out at least one emergency room doctor who thought I might have some horrible heart condition until I mentioned the airway remodeling to her.  Of course, the airway remodeling has also left little pockets in my lungs which don’t get a lot of airflow, but do get some, and thus prove wonderful incubators for some of these infections once they show up.  This is why a cold which gives you a sore throat and a cough for a couple of days turns into a Cecil B. DeMille production for me lasting for weeks at a time.  My doctor tells me that I’m doing as much as I can, using top of the line drugs, for my asthma and there isn’t much more we can do without getting into areas of treatment that would simply be too risky and that my insurance probably wouldn’t cover anyway.

And, finally, there’s work.  I still love my job, but I feel like I’m reaching the top end of my skill set.  We’ve spent two years customizing Moodle to work with our department’s business model (because we’re a University governed by traditions of bureaucracy that go back to roughly 1100 BC, changing the software is a lot less painful and complicated than changing our business model), and we recently decided to rebuild our site using a newer version of Moodle.  Unfortunately for me, the internals of Moodle have changed so much since we first started working with it that it’s like learning the product all over again and has proven much more difficult than I had first anticipated.  This is the first time since my first few months with this job that I’ve come across a challenge at work that has really made me question my programming abilities.  It’s a new feeling, and one that I don’t particularly enjoy.  I’ve always been able to hack my way through any challenge at work, and in pretty short order; but this one is just grinding me down.  I know that I will get through it and that I’ll succeed, there’s little doubt in my mind about that; unfortunately, I’m just not going to succeed as soon as I would like to.

So, anyway, that’s where I’ve been this month.  Writing, Second Life, lung joy, and work.  See, I do, indeed, do more than just post to Twitter.

State of the Underpope

The Underpope’s Physical State:  First off, Jennifer and I went and re-upped for Weight Watchers.  Losing weight has always been a challenge for me (as opposed to the cakewalk that it is for everyone else in the world, I’m sure), and I’ve never had much success using rewards to act as incentives for myself; I’d always end up buying the toy I wanted for myself anyway, long before I reached the goal weight I’d set.

This time I decided to go a simpler route, using something that I know would really get me going: books.  Every five pounds, I get a new book.  For my first five-pound loss, I promised myself The Complete Stephen King Universe; and for my first ten-pound loss, Soon I Will Be Invincible, because everyone needs a novel about supervillains and their difficult lives.  As of last week, I’d lost 4.8 pounds; not enough for that first five-pound reward.  This week, I lost six pounds, for a total of ten, so I ended up rewarding myself with both the first two books.  Woo hoo!  Of course, I’ve got a huge pile of shame, and I won’t be able to get to these books for awhile, but what the heck.  Next will be either The Chinatown Death Cloud Peril by Paul Malmont (I’ve been wanting this one for awhile), or Interworld, by Neil Gaiman, because, hell, it’s Neil Gaiman.  But it isn’t published yet, and may not be published by the time I lose another five pounds.

Of course, there’s the video iPod that I get when I break 200 pounds; and the motorcycle I get when I reach my goal weight (whatever that ends up being).

My jeans are getting baggy again, which they hadn’t been for a few weeks, and this is good but also annoying and a setback on my road toward a more polished, professional image.  Even my new slacks (flat-front and not pleated, thanks to all who chimed in on that point) are drooping in the seat a little now.  Honestly, I didn’t expect to lose this much weight this quickly.  I suspect that the process will slow down quite a bit in weeks to come so that it’s not so much a financial burden.

My lungs continue to give me grief.  My pulmonologist gave me samples of Prevacid, on the theory that somtimes gastric reflux can trigger asthma (I wouldn’t have thought so, but it’s common enough so that my doctor has a box full of samples of the stuff, just in case).  I think it might be helping, now that I’ve been taking it for a couple of weeks.

My headaches have returned.  I thought I was done with them years ago.  I need to go back and start reviewing what I did under the neurologist’s guidance: guided mediations, that sort of thing.  I think it’s an allergy thing.

The Underpope’s Creative State.  I am still stalled on The Solitude of the Tentacled Space Monster, partially because I think I’m overwhelmed by the sheer size of the manuscript and how much work needs to be done on it.  My goal is to reach 91,200 words by August 31.  It was going to be 90,000 words, but I miscalculated.  To that end, I set up a public Google spreadsheet to track my progress; you’re welcome to take a look at it, and call me on my progress if I don’t make it.

I used to have four short stories on my site: "Little Fluffy Wiggletoes", "LTM", "writing down some", and "Joe’s Salvation".  I took them down because I’m no longer thrilled with their quality and I’m not sure I want them representing my writing ability.  Well, "Little Fluffy Wiggletoes" was pretty good.  Plus, the stories were getting very little traffic, according to SiteMeter; except for "Little Fluffy Wiggletoes", which was getting hits from Google searches for young girls and sex.  I’m not comfortable with visitors like that visiting my site.  I may put it back up; I’m not sure.

Two recent rejections, which means only one sale this year.  At the moment, I only have three active submissions.  Tomorrow or the day after I’ll put out a couple more, to reach my goal of five active submissions at all times, but at the moment Daikaijuzine needs to take precedence; it’s just about time for my quarterly "Oh crap, the next issue’s supposed to be up in two days!!!" panic.  Fortunately we’re still a two-bit webzine.  I have dreams for Daikaijuzine, though, involving a print version and maybe even a publishing house way in the future, but such projects would require a touch more discipline.

Hm.  And that’s it for today.

In, out, in, out…

Today we’re cleaning up the house, getting it ready to show to prospective buyers.  Our office has been purged of about six years’ worth of detritus, and all my cool toys have been packed away as well as about nine linear feet of bookshelf space and eleven or so linear feet of books.

It just doesn’t feel like home anymore.  It’s too… clean.

Moved lots of stuff to the garage, which is going to be our staging area for the move, of course.  At some point we’ll fill up our garage to the point where we can no longer park both cars in it, but that’s okay.  My car’s pretty trashed anyway.  It can live outside.

So, getting a lot of stuff moved out of the office and computer room and library, ready to move in to a new house (here’s hoping).

In the meantime, in spite of all the moving around and the lifting and the shifting and all the resultant dust and airborne debris, you know what I haven’t had to use?  Neither my nebulizer nor my inhaler.  That’s what.  Air’s moving in and out pretty freely today.  There’s a very slight twinge and tickle deep in my bronchial tubes when I inhale very deeply, but nothing that’s threatening to turn into a wheeze or a hacking cough.

This is a weird feeling.

Oh, in other news

We made an offer on the house that we fell in love with in Sacramento.  We’ve spoken with our realtor and with a financial guy we know through church, both of whom have outstanding reputations in our community, and we don’t think this is premature.  So, let’s hope that this all gets done quickly.

Also, it appears that the most recent round of steroids and antibiotics are actually starting to have an effect on my lungs.  I woke up this morning with a strange feeling; it took a few moments to realize that it was the feeling of air moving in and out of my lungs with scarcely a sound.  No wheezing.  And while I’m still short of breath, having walked all the way from my car to my desk (less than a hundred yards at best — is that not pathetic?), I’m not coughing up my entire respiratory system, and my lungs don’t hurt nearly as much as they have been. Spiffy!

I got a new drug

Today, in the epic battle to bring my asthma under control, I started treatment with Xolair, which I mentioned in my last blog entry.  I had originally thought that the Xolair would kick in immediately and I’d be able to go jogging through a pollen-rich cornfield shouting out, “Come and get me, allergens!” this afternoon, but alas, that is not to be.  Instead, it takes about a month, according to my immunologist, to reduce the bloodstream levels of IgE measurably, and another month or so after that before the asthmatic symptoms noticeably reduce.

Something else I was confused about: apparently there is an increased risk of malignant cancers in people taking Xolair — 0.5% incidence in people taking the treatment, vs. 0.2% in the placebo group.  There’s a part of me which can’t help but worry over the increased odds (because that’s how I am), but intellectually I know that 0.5% chance of getting malignant cancer is still 99.5% chance of not (and anyone who knows more about statistics than I do who knows otherwise, please let me live in my delusion).  And, of course, Xolair is just a couple of shots; nothing at all exciting about it.

So, I guess we’ll find out in a few months whether this is going to work out or not.

Stay tuned.

Worn Out Lungs

Just about every asthmatic I’ve spoken to over the past couple of months agrees that this past year has been one of the worst.  My pulmonologist/immunologist corroborates that, and says that he’s seen far more urgent flareups this year than normal.

In a way, this is reassuring, because it means that I’m not alone in what appears to be this permanent flareup I’ve had since June.  On the other hand, it really doesn’t alleviate my symptoms.  I haven’t had a good strong breath for weeks, and I’m constantly coughing and wheezing.  I’m pretty fed up with it.  At least I can work from home so I haven’t had to use any sick time.

My doctor’s frustrated as well, because at this point I’m pretty much maxed out on therapeutic drugs.  I’ve got the maximum strength of Advair, I’m taking Singulair, plenty of Albuterol, and Aciphex (a drug used to treat GERD, because sometimes mild GERD can, even if no symptoms are reported, cause an asthmatic flareup).  And yet I’m continuing to wheeze.

There’s one more option on the horizon: Xolair, a relatively new drug developed by Genentech.  Xolair operates by going in and neutralizing Immunoglobulin-E (IGE), a protein which is associated with allergies.  IGE is almost always found in high levels in people suffering from allergies (though the presence of high levels of IGE does not necessarily mean you have severe allergies), and people with low levels of bloodstream IGE very rarely suffer from allergic symptoms (again, a high correlation, not a guarantee).  Despite plenty of research, no real purpose has been found for IGE in the immune system.  Early research indicated that IGE might be important in the body’s immunological response to parasitic infection, or in the early detection of certain kinds of cancer, but more recent research seems to contradict these results (in brief, people with allergies don’t have any lower incidence of cancer or parasitic infections than people without allergies).  My pulmonologist already has about a dozen people on Xolair, and it’s provided substantial improvement without any adverse side effects.  Said improvement is usually very quick, too.

The downside is that because it’s a new therapy, Xolair isn’t covered by many health insurance companies, is extremely expensive (about $15,000/year), and has to be delivered by subcutaneous injection.  Fortunately, my health insurance plan will cover it, provided that the patient has a sufficiently high level of IGE in the bloodstream (and my bloodtest shows a much, much higher level than most people; mine was about 350, while most people have less than 10 — and I’m afraid I have no idea what the unit of measurement is).  And I’m so used to shots that this won’t bother me at all (my mom sometimes jokes that I’ve had so many IV’s due to asthma that I’ve got track marks).

The manufacturer has already approved my taking the drug, so all that has to be done is for my doctor to send the necessary paperwork to my health insurance company.  If all goes well, approval should come within the next couple of days.

Here’s hoping that the Xolair really works.  I’m sick of being unable to breathe.  And I’m seriously worried that my asthma will prevent me from being able to go to Dragon*Con (or at least from having a good time while I’m there).

Carrying On

This cold has pretty much been the ass kicker of me this past week. I’ve been to the doctor twice, and pretty much lived on Albuterol. I was out of work three days last week, and I really wish I could have done that this week as well. Fortunately, though, after a course of antibiotics and Prednisone, I’m starting to feel better again. Not 100%, maybe, but 75% at least. Maybe 80%. My throat is still a little sore, and my voice is still hoarse. Over the past few days, by the end of the day, I’ve been pretty much unable to talk at all.

Prednisone is one of those miracle drugs that pretty much nips an asthma attack in the bud by reducing the inflammation in the bronchial passages. It’s cheap, too; my insurance won’t even cover it because the $10.00 co-pay for a bottle of 30 is more than the cost of the pills themselves. Unfortunately, it has undesirable side effects, even for short-term use: in particular, it gives you a voracious appetite. I think that I could probably finish off three or four double bacon cheeseburgers and still feel like I have room to spare, which is not a good situation for a guy whose doctor has been repeatedly telling him to lose the weight or start taking even more medications.

When I was at the pulmonologist’s yesterday, I took a spirometry reading; basically, you breathe into a tube which is hooked up to the doctor’s computer, and the machine measures the amount of air flowing in and out of your lungs. For four breaths, you breathe regularly. Then the nurse has you breathe in as deeply as possible, and then force all of the air out of your lungs as hard as you can for a full five seconds. You do this as the nurse counts the seconds off.

I’ve done this all my life. Modern spirometers are fancy devices that plug in to a desktop computer with a regular serial port, but when I was a kid, they were essentially big bellows with a meter attached. So all my life I’ve taken these tests, breathing in and then blowing out as hard as I can for five seconds. Each time I’ve always felt light-headed afterwards, as is to be expected But yesterday, I think I might have actually come close to fainting for the very first time out of the thousands of times that I’ve done this. I remember breathing in; I remember the nurse telling me to blow out as hard and fast as I could; I remember him telling me I had just four seconds left, and listening to him count off those seconds.

And then I remember simply sitting in the chair in the office, shaking almost uncontrollably while my world slowly came back from being black. I remember thinking that it was desperately important that I continue to hold the mouthpiece for the spirometer in my mouth, but I couldn’t because I was shaking so much. The nurse told me, “You can go ahead and put that down, buddy,” and I did so, gratefully. I sat in the chair, shaking for a few more minutes, and managed to say, “I think I almost passed out there.”

“Yeah,” the nurse said, “I think you almost did.”

Strangely, this was probably the best spirometry I’ve ever had. My lungs are taking in more air than they have in months, and handling it better than before. So I should be feeling fine, right? Of course I’m not. I’m still, paradoxically, short of breath and coughing a lot. The doctor told me that this was probably the residual infection left over from the cold; probably a secondary bacterial infection at this point, but possibly viral as well — and if it’s viral, of course, there’s nothing to do but let it run its course. In addition, my lungs, having been affected by asthma all of my life, have become scarred and damaged, and have even become reshaped over the years: a phenomenon called “airway remodeling”. My lungs will never be normal. There are little pockets in there that could possibly get infected and I might not even know it because the air never gets to them. I think that this is fascinating, especially because it provides me with some built in excuses: “Gee, I’d love to help you move your couch to the second floor, but I can’t — you know, that airway remodeling thing, never breathe normally again, etc., cough cough.”

It probably wouldn’t work. My friends have seen me move couches.

Work continues apace. We’ve gotten final word today that we’re going ahead with a major project that we’ve been planning on for a few months now, so things are going to be very interesting around the office for quite awhile as we plan and execute database migrations, code rewrites, platform changes, and so on. The biggest changes will be the ones in our business model and business logic, and we’re going to have to reorient our partners on how we do our business, but in the end, it will all be for the best.

The writing continues as well. I wrote The Outer Darkness for National Novel Writing Month as I had planned, but I am very unhappy with the way it turned out. I think that instead of focusing on this one as my novel for the upcoming year, I’ll bring back The Road to Gilead, the novel I wrote for NaNoWriMo last year, and finish that up. It’s got a good story and a sound plot, I think, as well as some really good characters. I know where some of the weaknesses are as well, but I think I can make something good of it.

And with National Novel Writing Month over, I can focus again on my short stories. I’ve finished receiving crits on “Variations on a Theme” and am in the process of writing the second draft of that story. I’ve also been receiving crits on my most recent, “The Winds of Patwin County”. I was unhappy with this one while I was writing it, but after receiving a couple of crits, I think it’s probably one of my better stories. I already have ideas for the second draft, and one of the crits I received suggested that there might actually be a Serious Theme to that story. I was honestly shocked.

And my Grand Plan for the Terassic Cycle continues unabated. More on that later, perhaps.

So, that’s what’s been going on in my life. How about yours?

Squeaky Floors

This past Sunday, still stuck in Riverside and still feeling kind of sick, I decided to track down the local public library and update my collection of California public library cards (yes, I’m a nerd in some ways… my wife and my mother and all of my co-workers appear to agree). I found myself in the Mission Inn district of downtown Riverside. Turning left on Mission Inn off of Lime, I found myself on a street lined with old stone buildings, and knew that I had to park here in front of the Civic Auditorium. It was too amazing to pass up.

I know that a man alone in a strange town is supposed to get into trouble by tracking down the bars or something like that, but I don’t seem to be very good at that. Instead, I track down museums. And bookstores. And libraries. Even when I was wandering around Ireland and the United Kingdom, I was always drawn to these sights; the bars and taverns in York were cool, but the Cathedral and the bookshops were cooler. I know. I’m a nerd. And when I’m traveling for Benthic Creatures, the same thing happens. Most of my co-workers went off to tour some wineries and go wine-tasting, but I wasn’t up to it. So here I was. In the historic downtown of Riverside, California.

The building next to the Civic Auditorium was an art museum, but it, unfortunately, was closed on Sundays. That made me sad, but across the street was a place with the potential to be more interesting: the municipal museum of Riverside, with a special exhibit on the entomology of the area. That, I couldn’t pass up. I went inside, learned all about the plants and animals that are native to Riverside County, saw some of the fossils that have been dug up in this area, some basketwork by some of the Native Americans from this area (amazing… I had never really payed much attention to how tightly woven the grasses can be in a Native American basket, or how intricate the designs could be, and I was enthralled), and learned all about orange growing in the area.

Orange growing is a big thing here in Riverside. A Really Big Thing.

There was an entire exhibit devoted to oranges. How they’re grown. How they’re harvested. How they’re marketed. One wall was exclusively devoted to the history of the Sunkist Growers’ Association. And there was an exhibit of a local historian’s collection of advertising signs for oranges.

You can’t get enough oranges. Or orange marketing.

I also found the library, of course. Most of the county libraries I’ve been to have been much more impressive than the town library where I live, and Riverside’s was no exception. While the library in Modesto had an impressive computer section, Riverside’s library had a very impressive collection of government documents. I browsed through it for awhile, glancing at local soil reports from 1897, naval reports from the Revolutionary War, county census reports from 1922, and so on. Some of the books were in great shape, some were falling apart in my hands. I couldn’t help myself; I spent about an hour just in that one section. Then I spent an hour sitting at one of the study desks, working on a paper for my management theory class.

After the library, I found probably the best part of the Mission Inn district: Downtowne Books. It was one of those cool old bookstores, cooler than anything I’ve seen since Wigtown, Scotland. The shelves were old, stable but bending under the weight of so many books. Hardbound books rested comfortably on the same shelves next to ancient paperbacks. The inventory was so overstocked that books lay in neat rows on the floors at the base of the shelves, and in piles around tables and chairs. The floors were wooden, and creaked under my weight as I explored and browsed for another good hour or so.

I had a good conversation with one of the owners; she told me that she and her sister had bought the bookstore almost on a whim a few months before, and we talked about bookstores we’d been to in other countries. She agreed that she would need to take a trip to Wigtown in Scotland and pass it off as a business expense. I eventually walked out of there with a Spanish text, a copy of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and a copy of The Wind in the Willows for Jennifer.

All in all, a good day.

Of course, it was afternoon by now, and the bronchitis that’s been lurking in my lungs was starting to get to me, so I knew I had to get back to my hotel room to finish my paper. On the way back, I decided to stop at the grocery store and get some food for the upcoming week. The produce section at this store was huge! And dominating over the plums, the apples, and bananas, the carrots, and everything else, were the oranges!

Of course! Oranges! The amazing and glorious oranges of Riverside County, so splendour-filled that they deserved an entire room at the municipal library!

And they were all so… small.

It was like walking into a room filled with piles and piles of orange marbles. Or mothballs. Or gumdrops. I bought some tangelos (my favorite) and took them back to my hotel room. I opened one, began to peel, and found that it was almost all peel; there was barely any fruit inside of the thing at all.

I began to wonder if all the citrus from Riverside was like this. Riverside, so famed for its amazing oranges, seems to be able to produce these marble-sized fruits of nothing but peel.

I picked up my Spanish book and began to browse through it, peeled another tangelo, and enjoyed a small slice of irony.

How Far I Fell, and How Fast

Have I mentioned how strangely eerie it is to find yourself alone in an crowded emergency room in a strange city, having been delivered there by an overly chatty taxi driver (”And here is the part of town is where all the PROSTITUTES are!” he announced at one point, with a strong sense of civic pride, “And the DRUG DEALERS, too!”)? Yeah, it’s pretty weird. And the next morning I called my co-workers to let them know that I wasn’t going to be able to work that day. And for the next three days — Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday — I stayed in my hotel room, pretty much cooped up, sick, and with little human contact.

Thus began my descent into Hell. Well… Purgatory, at least.

I’m not much of a television watcher. When I’m at home, I watch exactly two television shows a week with regularity (Buffy the Vampire Slayer and ER, if you must know), and then maybe the occasional sitcom or episode of Enterprise to remind me of how far the franchise has fallen. I guess when I’m at home, it’s easy to find company with the cats or with Jennifer or with nearby friends and family.

But since I’ve been sick in my hotel room all week, my contact with other human beings has been minimal at best. I’ve learned the name of the room service guy (Victor); the maid (Gabriela, and she speaks Portuguese, so I can’t even talk to her); and the front desk clerk (Rochelle). But my interactions with them are limited. I have e-mail conversations with Jennifer and an occasional IM with my mom and other members of my family, but I really like to see faces; I need actual human contact, or I get kind of… weird. Pet cats and pet dogs get weird without regular human contact, and so do I.

And so I started watching a lot of television. Lots.

First thing, I refuse to watch talk shows. They are of absolutely no interest to me; the plots are contrived, the characterization weak and thin, and resolution is almost always lacking. Besides, how often can I take seriously the saga of young girls who dress up as boys and, at their father’s insistence, then try to seduce their mothers? Not often.

But I made some important discoveries about syndicated television in Riverside. On Wednesday, the first day of my confinement, I discovered that The Simpsons is on FOUR TIMES A DAY! Woo hoo! And so I made note of it: “The Simpsons: 5 on UPN affiliate, 6 and 7 on Fox affiliate, and 11 on Fox affilate”. This was heaven-worthy.

I also discovered that TBS shows a long block of recent sitcoms starting at about 11 a.m. or so. I could watch three back-to-back episodes of Roseann, and I did. TBS was showing the last season, and I really wanted to watch the final episode which I had missed when the series was new, the episode where Dan Connor dies (I think). They were almost there… but on Friday, when I was expecting the last episode, they instead showed a repeat from an earlier season. I was so mad, I could have kicked the television and written an angry letter to TBS. What the hell was up with that? It was the biggest disappointment of the week!

Anyway, right after the 90 minutes of Roseanne, there’s a full hour of The Drew Carey show, which I like because I identify on some bizarre level with Drew Carey’s character. When I get sick, I get emotional (I remember being really sick once — I think with my last bout with pneumonia — and watching the episode of The Simpsons where Lisa runs away, and nearly bawling at the scene where Homer goes and tries to play her saxophone because he misses her), and in the episode where Drew loses his girlfiend again, I got kind of bleary-eyed.

“Right,” I said to myself at that point. “Time for some human contact.”

I’d already been to the doctor that day, who listened to my lungs and pronounced me reasonably healthy and worthy of record levels of Prednisone (ugh). Not much chance for conversation with him (”Say, doc, how’s the family?” “No time, this is Riverside, I’ve got two hundred kids with colds and a prostitute with a broken arm to treat!”). The room service guy wouldn’t be on shift until 5. I was at a loss, so I finally settled for writing an e-mail to my co-workers saying that I’d be able to go into work for the Saturday round of mollusk training.

I spoke with one of my co-workers by IM later that evening. “Hey, I have a work release from my doctor saying return to full duty. Do you want that?” “Um… sure. Seems like a shame to let it go to waste, I guess.” (Apparently, work releases are not part of this company’s policy, unlike other places I’ve worked at. Here you just kind of come back to work whenever you feel like it.)

And so yesterday I finally made it back to work. The morning was fine, but I admit I started feeling worn out around noon. I spent the rest of the day mostly sitting and helping the Spanish speaking mollusks with their paperwork, which was fine. When the day was over, we all left.

Of course, it wasn’t until I got back to the hotel that I realized I’d left my full medicine bag back at the training site. Five phone calls, four barnacles, and an hour later I was back in the locked building, getting all of my medicines out, explaining to the barnacles that this was not representative of how Benthic Creatures employees generally behaved. They understood because they knew I’d been sick and kind of out of it, and none of them seemed all that put out (the people here are all very nice).

My co-workers had plans for dinner last night, of course. I wanted to go with them, but by then I was wiped and decided I just wanted to go back to my hotel room, get some room service and chat with Victor, and crash in front of the television some more.

Don’t get me wrong: I did do a lot of reading and a lot of work on Lucien this week. But the television was on most of the time (I even discovered that the TV has a sleep function on it!), and that’s what constituted almost all of my human interaction this past week.

Amazing what a little virus and a little solitary confinement will do to you.