Saturday, February 23, 2013

Knowing All the Things

I recently added Jeopardy to my DVR line-up.  I'd seen it before now and then, and thought it was mildly engaging, but now that I'm recording it every day I'm totally digging it.  Ken watches with me and we play along as best we can.

The most important thing that Jeopardy has taught me is how little I know.  I have a passing acquaintance with history.  Geography leaves me almost completely at a loss.  I can't stand my own ignorance.  I must know!  I want to learn it all!

I've been studying history intermittently for the past couple of years, so that's a work in progress.  I need to study geography almost from scratch.  I have a general idea of the basic shape of the globe (I'm aware of the relative positions and sizes of the continents) and the direction in which one would need to travel to reach various well-known countries (go south to get to Brazil, fly east to visit Ukraine), but that's about the extent of it.  I'm pulling out the maps to try to get on top of all this.

One thing that makes geography difficult is the lack of any consistency or pattern in the arrangements of political borders and place names.  For example, a map of Africa indicates that Algiers is the capital of Algeria, Tunis is the capital of Tunisia, but Niger and Nigeria are separate (but adjacent) countries.

The United States is no better.  You have North and South Dakota, North and South Carolina, but West Virginia is paired with Virginia, not East Virginia.  And of course there is that completely confusing business about Washington state vs. Washington D.C., which isn't technically in any state (I didn't know that until about an hour ago) even though it sure looks to me like it's in Maryland.

Did you know that the capital of Australia is some practically unknown city called Canberra?  I didn't either.  I would have thought it should be Sydney, or Brisbane.  I guess Canada's capital is guilty of the same obscurity.  There isn't anything remarkable about Ottawa other than it being Canada's capital city.  Everyone mostly talks about Toronto and Vancouver.  Sometimes capital cities are overly modest.

I don't suppose I'll be trying out for Jeopardy anytime soon, but I'm going to keep playing along from my couch.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Unexplained Powers of Animals

Happy Family Day, Ontarioans!  Today is a statutory holiday in my home province of Ontario.  I am celebrating Family Day by avoiding all contact with my family.  Just kidding.  Mostly.

Thanks to all of you who left messages of sympathy and good will in response to my pathetic illness posts.  If you have been praying for me and/or sending healthy thoughts my way, it's definitely helping.  That, and the pretty, pink antibiotic pills that I finally started taking on Friday.

I can tell exactly how the antibiotic functions.  It's a marvel of simplicity.  It's actually just a high-powered sedative for all living things.  It has made everything in my body, including the virus, so tired that all we (the virus and I) want to do is lie around and vegetate.  I did manage to rouse myself for some board games with friends this weekend (we all felt that I must be past the infectious stage by now) but I played rather badly.  This time I blame it on the antibiotic.  (I'll have to come up with a new excuse for next time.)

In my more alert moments, I've been keeping myself busy reading a book by Rupert Sheldrake; Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home: and Other Unexplained Powers of Animals.  It was published in 1999, so I thought it might be a bit out of date, but apparently scientists still can't explain in detail the mechanisms of bird migration and/or animal homing instincts, so the book basically still stands.

I was alternately impressed and saddened by reading about experiments testing the abilities of homing pigeons.

"The theory... that the birds remember the twists and turns of the outward journey has been refuted by taking pigeons to an unfamiliar point of release in dark vans, within rotating containers, by devious routes.  When they are released, they fly straight home

"The theory that they rely on familiar landmarks has also been ruled out. ...  [I]n experiments carried out in the 1970's, pigeons were even temporarily blinded by being fitted with frosted glass contact lenses.  They still found their way home over great distances, although they tended to crash into trees or wires very near their loft.  They had to be able to see in order to land properly."

(Poor pigeons!) :-(

"The theory that pigeons smell their home from hundreds of miles away, even when the wind is blowing in the wrong direction, seems extremely implausible.  Nevertheless, it has been tested in a variety of ways.  In most of these experiments, the pigeons could still find their way home even if their nostrils were blocked up with wax, their olfactory nerves severed, or their olfactory mucosa anesthetized."

I would like to take a moment to remember the brave suffering of all the innocent homing pigeons who were trapped for lengthy drives in rotating drums, blinded with contact lenses, and had their sense of smell removed in the name of science.  They got home anyway!  Go pigeons go!

Alright.  Back to vegetating.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

A Bite in the Night

What day is it today...  Wednesday already?  The past week has whirled by in a haze of upper-respiratory sickness.  My crunchy cough, combined with the rainbow of yuck that I've been hacking up, has repeatedly reminded me of a Lucky Charms cereal ad.  However, I assure you that it's not magically delicious.  In fact, if I could only just find where I misplaced my appetite... *squints around* ... I'm sure I had it right here just last week.

As if that wasn't bad enough, I woke up yesterday morning with an itchy knee.  I mean, a really itchy knee.  I pulled up the leg of my pj's, and there, marching across the surface of my skin, was a trail of bright pink, swollen bumps.  I rolled up my other pant leg, and there was one matching bump on my right knee.  Oh no, I thought.  Bug bites.  A bug bit me in bed.  I have bedbugs!  No, no!  I can't deal with this!

I shuffled to the computer and looked up photos of bed bug bites online.  They looked just like my bites, except mine were more swollen and inflamed.  That would be par for the course.  As you all know, I am a sensitive flower, and will overreact to just about any stimulus, given half a chance.

I showed my knees to Ken, who agreed that they did look bitten, however he hypothesized that the culprit may have been a spider.  It is a true fact that we have had spiders in our house.  There was a small one that lived in a web in my bedroom window for a while in the fall.  Spiders don't bother me; I figure they're there to eat the bad bugs, so I would just say hello to it when our paths crossed, and let it do its thing.  I hadn't seen it in a while.  Was it hibernating?   Or had it grown so desperately hungry that it had plunged beneath the bedclothes and burrowed all the way down to my knees for a bloody feast?  I wanted to believe the latter.

I mean, really I wanted to believe anything but bedbugs.  I have been working hard not to worry about them too much, but the media in Toronto likes to keep us all majorly creeped out.  I have read about their staying power, how they can live for up to six months without a meal, how they have been known to travel inside the spines of hardcover library books, and how dang hard they are to get rid of once they invade your space.  Why me?  Why not me?  Ack!

A couple of hours later, I rolled up my pant legs again to check on my rash.  It was nice to see that the left knee, which had the most bites on it earlier, wasn't swollen anymore, and was starting to change back to a normal colour.  But the right knee, the one that had only one bite on it, was now all bubbled up and cherry red!  What the...

Either I had invisible bugs living on my legs, biting me without me being able to feel it (how terrifying!) or perhaps there was another game afoot.  Perhaps... hives.

I have a history with hives.  Back in 1994 I took a sulfa-based antibiotic and ended up with head-to-toe hives so bad that the doctor thought I might be going into anaphylactic shock.  (I wasn't.)  Ever since then they've popped up to bother me here and there, triggered by a variety of things, but they've always been flat, 2-D itchy patches.  None of this blistery stuff.

But, sure enough, that evening I took another dose of the DM/E cough syrup* I'd relied on to get through the previous day, and within an hour a fresh batch of "bites" had bubbled up on one of my ankles.  Huh.  Alrighty then.  Hives it is!  My offer stands - I definitely prefer this to bedbugs.  Little Miss Side Effects strikes again!

*For the record, I've taken this stuff, this exact brand, plenty of times before with no problem.  I guess there's a first time for everything.

It's a pain in the rear.  I mean, at this point I officially can't tolerate anything more effective than a cough candy to see me through my symptoms.  No cough syrup.  No decongestants.  No NSAIDs.  I've just got to tough it out like they used to do before people invented medicine.  Well, as long as I still get to drink ginger tea I think I'll live.  And I am feeling a lot better today.

Friday, February 8, 2013

I get knocked down, but I get up again.

I'd forgotten how uncomfortable it is to have a fever.

On Wednesday I noticed that my throat felt tight.  Not painful or tickly, just restricted.  Swallowing a spoonful of oatmeal felt weird.  Also, my ears were popping throughout the day.

On Thursday, I woke up feeling like crap.  Achey, tired, and that tightness in my throat had turned into pain.  However, there were a couple of things at work that I absolutely had to take care of.  If I wasn't in imminent danger of death, I had to drag my butt into the office and get things done.

At work, I bundled up in a fleece jacket and wrapped a scarf three times around my neck, but I was still freezing cold.  I sipped a cup of hot tea, which warmed me up for all of 20 minutes, and then I was back to shivering again.  When people asked me "How are you doing today?" I answered bluntly: "Sick."  I was offered Tylenol and Advil to take the edge off my discomfort, but I had to turn it down.  That stuff eats holes in my stomach.

All morning, people kept trying to send me home.  I wish.  I toughed it out, checking in regularly with the people who owed me pieces of the project that had to get sent out before the end of the day.

I took a long lunch, because I had to chew my food a lot before I could swallow each mouthful.

By the time I got to my afternoon can't-miss meeting, I was shivering, my brain was running at half-power, and strange zapping feelings were running through my body, which was kind of distracting.  I managed to run the meeting successfully under these conditions, and I have to say that I'm proud of myself.  The badass manager does not let illness stand in the way of her responsibilities!

Then I got that damn project done and sent.

Then I took a cab home and crumpled into a useless, feverish, groaning mess on the couch.

It was a rough night, but by this morning the fever had gone, and so far (it's evening, and I've spent the day resting at home) it hasn't come back again.  I'm still feeling pretty worn out, and my throat is still kind of sore, but I can safely say that my immune system has the upper hand.  One more good night's sleep and I might even be able to enjoy my weekend.  Rock and roll!

How are all y'all feeling?

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Snug as a Bug in a Rug

As we segue into February, I am grateful for my cozy little home.  With only one wall exposed to the outside, it's not difficult to stay warm in here.

In fact, with the exception of my childhood home, I've always had the good luck of living in warm apartments.  When I shared a basement apartment with my first husband, all the pipes for the radiator  system for the whole building ran through our living room.  We wore T-shirts indoors year-round.

It all seems very luxurious compared to my first, freezing-cold bedroom.  When I did homework at the little white desk in the corner of my room, where two outside walls of the house met, I used to wear two pairs of slippers to keep my toes warm.  One day I reached down to pick up a pen I had dropped and I saw that there was actually ice that had formed on the inside of the wall, in that corner.  I'm not talking about a little scrim of frost, I'm talking an inch-thick, glacier-like chunk.  (Due to the leak that had caused this ice build-up there was also dark mold growing under the ice.  It was pretty disturbing.)

It doesn't hurt that I gained around 20 pounds since last winter.  I can't tell you how much more comfortable I am now that I have some proper personal insulation.  In fact, I've adjusted to the cold so well this year that I have to be careful that I don't overdress.  It's easy to overheat once I work up a good walking pace on my way to work.  Sometimes I have to take my gloves off or flip my hood back for a few minutes to avoid working up a sweat.

I'm thinking that some of that 20 pounds must be brown fat.  Never heard of it?  Brown fat burns calories to produce heat.  It's pretty awesome stuff.  And considering how I'm indulging my omnomvorous nature (in the past 24 hours alone: quiche, muffins, pizza, a Clif bar, French pastries, and dates, as well as fruits and veggies) my brown fat must be working hard or I'd be up another 20 pounds in the last week alone, for sure.

Are you keeping warm this winter?