Return To The Cosmos… And To Science.
Sunday March 09th 2014, 10:11 pm
Filed under: Family, Knowledge Junkie, Me, Myself, and Reid, NYC

34 years after his hero Carl Sagan first gave the world “Cosmos,” Neil deGrasse Tyson, the director of New York City’s Hayden Planetarium, hosted the first episode of a new “Cosmos” series tonight. It was fantastic.

When I was younger, I had a huge passion for science. This passion was spurred on by shows like “3-2-1 Contact,” “Bill Nye the Science Guy,” and countless reruns of Carl Sagan’s original “Cosmos: A Personal Voyage.” Although the original “Cosmos” series from 1980 was made up of only 13 episodes, they felt like new adventures every time I watched them.

Sagan didn’t just make science unbelievably interesting to me in an easy-to-understand way, he showed why science was such an easy subject to embrace and love. It’s the story of us all, of all that has ever existed, and of all that will ever exist. “We are all made of star-stuff,” as he famously said.

Although the world tragically lost Carl Sagan in 1996, his work lives on. With the invention of YouTube, I watched many of his old television specials in college. Even without the assistance of drugs, I found what he taught to be mind-blowing, just as “Cosmos” had been. I even read a few of the scores of books he wrote and/or edited. Dr. Sagan made science so obvious and so wonderfully magnificent at the same time.

Unfortunately, by the time I was in college, I had been discouraged from being anything more than an amateur scientific observer due to two very specific issues. First, I posses scientifically-proven terrible mathematical genes, a trait shared by the genes of everyone in my family. I probably could have overcome those faulty genes and learned not to fearhate math if not for the second issue. Beginning in the eighth grade, I had an unending series of science teachers and professors who could be ranked from “less-than-inspiring” to “downright-unhappy-with-having-to-teach-science-and-eager-to-take-it-out-on-their-students.”

By the middle of high school, I held little interest in a professional life in the field of one of my greatest passions. By that time, I had enough other things to be passionate about that it didn’t bother me. I went to college in New York City and studied acting and writing and continued with another of my longtime passions, comedy. I even took a class called “The Philosophy of Science” to satisfy one of my science credit requirements without having to do anything too sciencey. And especially not mathy in any way, whatsoever.

In my defense, I did date a wonderful, brilliant scientist for many years. But I also vividly remember being in a pharmacy with her, carrying her biology book, the cashier looking at both of us and, apropos of nothing, correctly stating that she was clearly the scientist. My mouth wasn’t even unconsciously pouring goofy nonsense out at the time. It was just that obvious.

I’d left science behind, though not my curious mind. During my time in New York City, both during college and after it, The Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural history was one of my favorite places to visit. It’s a giant sphere, at the center of which, sits another very large sphere. Throughout the giant, spherical planetarium are dozens of decorated spheres of all different sizes in an exhibit called the “Size Scales of the Universe.” (That’s site’s not all that exciting, but there’s a picture of the inside of the planetarium and some size scale examples, so you have some idea what the hell I’m talking about.)

Each of the smaller spheres represents the size of something when compared to the sphere at the center of the planetarium. For instance, there are models of all the planets in our solar system hanging around the center sphere, to size scale as if the center sphere were the size of the Sun. There are also spheres that represent how big the different parts of atoms would be if the big center sphere were a proton.

Actually, there’s a similar sort of exhibit on the web that you can take a look at to kind of sort of get an idea of what’s in The Hayden Planetarium, The Scale of the Universe, created by Cary Huang. It’s great, but don’t use it as an excuse not to visit the planetarium in all it’s three-dimensional, gigantic, spherical glory. Seriously, I’ll know.

I never cease to be amazed at how the Size Scales of the Universe exhibit made it so easy for me to suddenly comprehend the most massive of size relationships between so many things in our universe, from the very largest macroscopic galaxies to the tiniest microscopic parts of the cells in our bodies. Standing in that room always seems both so obvious and so wonderfully magnificent at the same time. When I’m in there, I’m always reminded of my youthful passion for science and the people that made it so obvious and so wonderfully magnificent, people like Carl Sagan.

I first became aware of Neil deGrasse Tyson not from my many visits to the planetarium of which he is the director, but rather through that other passion of mine I mentioned, comedy. Tyson has appeared numerous times over the years on “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,” and its sister show “The Colbert Report.” I won’t explain what those are, because you should just know. I try never to miss either show, but if there are ever times when I go to extreme lengths not to miss an episode, it’s when Tyson is the guest.

He’s funny and personable and, over the past 15-or-so years, like Bill Nye, he has been an advocate for the absolute necessity of Americans to renew their interest in science. Both on a “wow, that’s neat!” way and a governmental “we’ll put money into this!” way. Every time he appears on one of these shows, I find what he had to say about science absolutely fascinating. I’ve always thought his advocacy for a renewed focus on science in America is extremely important. Science has been getting trampled on in this country for at least half of my life, which I find extremely offensive and, quite honestly, just plain bizarre. How could you not “believe in” science? That’s not even how it works.

I even bumped into Dr. Tyson a few times in New York. I think the longest conversation we ever had was, “Hey, I’m a huge fan of your work!” and him running away yelling, “Thanks! I don’t just do ‘The Daily Show!'” I knew that by the time of that run-in, but I’m sure he got that all the time. I also ran into him once when I had grown a large, gnarly beard for the part I was playing in “Hamlet” (Old Hamlet [The Force ghost of Hamlet’s murdered father, played by James Earl Jones in “The Lion King”]). It was also the middle of the winter and I was wearing a long trenchcoat. I attribute the large beard, the trenchcoat, and my over all largeness to him not making eye contact with me and quickly ushering his children inside the nearest building very quickly.


Even though I felt terrible today, physically, mentally, and emotionally, and even though I spent most of the day in bed, there was no chance I was going to miss the premiere of the all-new “Cosmos.” This premiere of this sequel to Carl Sagan’s original “Cosmos: A Personal Voyage,” subtitled “A Spacetime Odyssey,” had been on my schedule ever since I read an article about Seth MacFarlane producing it all the way back in some previous year like 2011 or maybe even 2010 (it feels like a few years ago). As soon as commercials for the new show started airing, my parents and I agreed we were all going to watch it together, no matter what.

As I watched, I found myself elated and literally (yes, literally) jumping out of my seat in excitement. I couldn’t stop saying “I’m loving this!” throughout the broadcast, nor could my parents. We only quieted down for fear we’d miss something. Lo-and-behold, this new “Cosmos” hosted by Neil deGrasse Tyson, has reignited a passion for science that I’ve not felt in many years. The chances are almost infinitesimally low that it’ll change my mind and convince me to ever become a professional scientist, but I definitely have a warm place in my heart for science that–while never having gone away–was inflamed tonight.

Dr. Tyson made science seem so obvious and so wonderfully magnificent at the same time. I think Dr. Sagan would be proud.

I can’t wait to keep watching it every week. I highly recommend it. And science. Thank you, Seth MacFarlane, Neil deGrasse Tyson, and all the other people involved in creating this brilliant, new, exciting, educational, network television show.


P.S. And, I guess if you can do it, math is probably not bad to learn as a helpful tool to use for a greater understanding of science. But I wouldn’t know anything about that.

Honoring The Victims of 9/11 In The Wake Of More Violence
Wednesday September 12th 2012, 10:25 pm
Filed under: Liberty!, NYC

Reider’s Note: For this year’s anniversary of 9/11, I didn’t want to link to the account I wrote eleven years ago about that day, as I’ve done many times over the past ten years. I wrote and rewrote this entry several times yesterday, but I felt it was just too lofty. So I decided to scrap it.

I woke up this morning to news of attacks on the American embassies in Egypt and Libya, in which four envoys were slaughtered. In several accounts today, it was said that Chris Stevens, the murdered American Ambassador to Libya, genuinely loved the Middle East, and sought to find common ground with those who detest America.

Loftiness be damned. This is really how I feel.

Eleven years ago, I experienced the worst day of my life. In the days and weeks that followed, I witnessed and felt grief unlike any I had known before. But I also witnessed the greatest of human compassion. For a brief, beautiful blink of an eye, the day-to-day pettiness of division that creeps into so many of our lives was nowhere to be seen nor heard. In the cold, miserable shadow of the loss of thousands of lives, of innocents and of heroes, of ordinary human beings just like you and me, we momentarily achieved something remarkable: we put ourselves aside and joined together.

We have a duty to continue honoring all the victims of that day, from those who perished as a result of a hijacked airplane to those who still suffer terribly from that day’s previously implausible carnage to those who have given their lives in its memory over the intervening years. To do so, we must honor the living. At first glance, differences that serve to alienate us from one another are much easier to see and to accept as the whole picture. By committing ourselves to the much more difficult task of actively seeking out those things we share in common, those things that bind us together as members of the same human race, we prove that we, the survivors, are capable of learning and growing and making ours into a better world.

As long as we exist, there will be unexpected terrors and tragedies. We should not look to define ourselves by how we try to circumvent these inevitable pains and sorrows. Rather, we should work on defining ourselves by how we choose to react to these things. We must fight the many impulses to surrender to cynicism, fear, anger, and contentedness with the world as it is. We must each, individually, grow beyond these seductive primal instincts, and come together in respect and mutual understanding and, yes, even in love–for more than just the fleeting blink of an eye. In doing so, we will prove that the cruel and violent hatred that so often accompanies intolerance, that obscene brutal force that destroyed so many lives on September 11, 2001, and continues to destroy so many lives today, does not control us.

That is how we truly honor the fallen.


Four Years Alive.
Wednesday December 07th 2011, 11:59 pm
Filed under: Better Than The Machine, Denver, Family, Friends, Leukemia, Me, Myself, and Reid, NYC

On the evening of Thursday, December 6, 2007, my mom was driving me home from The Children’s Hospital in Aurora, Colorado. We were discouraged. The whole reason for my flight home had been to get checked out at Children’s by Dr. Glancy’s successor. But I hadn’t fit into the pediatric MRI machine because my shoulders were too wide. They had been able to draw my blood, but that was more of a formality, and very unlikely to tell us anything. Tomorrow, we’d find an adult MRI machine, get me imaged, and hopefully get me into the doctor. It was so frustrating, having come all this way to be seen today, only to be delayed. Especially because we knew the problem: the reoccurring nonspecific benign lesion in the bone of my upper right arm was back again.

For months, I had been trying to get doctors in New York City to x-ray it, to diagnose it, and to treat it, but every orthopedist I went to see thought it sounded too much like cancer. I kept explaining that I had had this thing in my the same exact spot in my right humerus before, and that my orthopedist back home had removed it three times before. During each of the surgeries, pathology had been run on what was taken out of my bone, and each time, it was pretty inconclusive. But one thing had been absolutely certain each time: it was not cancer.

The first operation had been when I was twelve. I had shattered my arm playing basketball. Not because I ran into someone or because I twisted my arm in a weird way while shooting the ball. Evan had lightly tossed me the ball from a few feet away, and that light force had been strong enough to create multiple hairline fractures in my arm. It turned out there was this lesion in my humerus that had been growing from within the marrow, outward, eating the bone until it was paper thin. I remember feeling pain in it years before that, when I was even younger; once when I was reaching for something under a cabinet, and another time when I stretched my arm way over my head. Looking through old x-rays in which my right humerus happened to appear, it looked like the lesion had been growing there for a long time. Or at least as long as my humerus had been sneaking into x-rays of other things like my lungs and my elbow.

I was twelve at the time, in the seventh grade. I went to the Children’s Hospital, and was seen by the head of orthopedics at the time, the great Dr. Gerard Glancy. He ended up operating on that same unspecified, non-cancerous lesion three times: that first time, when I was twelve, then when I was fourteen, and again when I was nineteen. Each time, this thing, whatever it was, had been definitively referred to as “dead.” It was not an active infection of any type, and it definitely wasn’t cancerous. But it kept coming back. It was confusing to everyone involved: to Dr. Glancy, to the pathologists, to my family, and to me. But I guess eventually we just came to accept it as that weird thing I had.

The orthopedists I visited in New York City did not see it that way. To them, my tale was dubious, at best. It sounded like cancer to them. I tried to explain, it wasn’t cancer–it definitely wasn’t cancer–it was an unspecified benign bone lesion, and if they’d just cut it out, I’d really appreciate it. But they didn’t even want to look at it, they didn’t want to x-ray it, they didn’t want to examine me. I was frustrated and upset and tired. I had been trying to deal with this thing since around my birthday at the end of July. Months went by, and the pain in my arm became so intense that it was keeping me awake at night. That pain and lack of sleep, in turn made me constantly fatigued and sore all over.

Early on, I had found myself a new primary care doctor, as my old one had moved out of town since I had last needed to visit him. I think I picked her because her office was within walking distance of my apartment and when I Googled her name, there were no negative reviews on the first page that came up. She always seemed very keen on helping me get well, but she herself very rarely diagnosed or treated any of my problems. It was on her recommendation that I visited many of the orthopedists who tossed me out. To her credit, she did send me to get the only x-ray taken of arm during this entire debacle, though, to her detriment, it was, for some reason, taken at a shady lab, where no one checked to make sure it was useful. Those few doctors that actually agreed to look at the image thought it was too dark and blurry to determine anything. As I was repeatedly turned away from doctors who didn’t want to so much as take the responsibility of even suggesting a different course of action to get help with my arm, my primary care doctor was finally able to treat me for something that had likely come about due to the stress and anxiety of trying to deal with everything: two long bouts with pneumonia.

Just after Thanksgiving, my dad flew Better Than The Machine to Colorado to perform at his 50th birthday party. For the first time in my life, the altitude got to me. I had been away for longer than I’d ever been away before. That made me sad, because I always made fun of people who couldn’t handle the altitude. Just tremendous amounts of fun. Take that, you sea-level dwellers! But now, here I was, exhausted and hurting. My arm was no help. I was trying to drive the group around in a mini-van, but had to turn them over to my sisters a few times because I was so sore. We had a great performance at my dad’s party, but for the first time ever, I had trouble singing “Give A Shit,” our big musical finale. My voice cracked and squeezed, which pissed me off for the rest of the night. I’d sang my heart out to crowds who wanted to rush us off stage before, but I couldn’t sing in front of my dad’s friends. After several days, I returned to New York with the rest of the group.

My arm only got worse. I didn’t really know what to do. One night, I finally walked over to the ER at Columbia Hospital and waited for 9 hours to be examined. The doctor told me to go home and take two Tylenol. I walked outside and called my mom. She told me she had talked to Dr. Glancy and had sent him a copy of the dark, blurry x-ray my doctor had taken. Although he wasn’t actively seeing patients anymore because he was in the process of retiring, Dr. Glancy took a look at the x-ray and thought it looked a bit suspicious. He had been able to see all tiny fractures in my arm when it had first broken all those years ago, and once again, he seemed to be the only one who could see something wrong now. He told my mom that if she flew me home, he’d see to it that someone with a full understanding of our background together would see me as soon as I got into town. It was a very nice offer, and it was tempting, but it seemed sort of ridiculous. I had only been back in New York for a few days–there had to be an easier way of dealing with this than flying back across the country.

The next day, I went with Amy to visit her dad Rick at his office next to Grand Central. We would go by and pick things up from time to time, though less so since we had moved up to Sugar Hill. Amy had been at the ER with me the night before. She sat with me for several hours, until it became apparent that my case was very low on the totem pole. I had told her to go home, because it was getting late and she had work in the morning. I told Rick about this latest futile development in my months long saga and he shook his head. Amy and her family were always very supportive of me. And I always felt like Rick was a guy I could count on to tell it to me straight. He looked at me, and looked at Amy, and he looked down. Very respectfully, very fatherly, sad for me about what I’d had to go through, he said, “Man, this is really bumming me out.”

We left Rick’s office, I called my mom, and told her I needed her to fly me home.

As my mom and I continued home down the highway through rush hour traffic, discussing the problems with the tiny MRI machine at Children’s, my mom’s antiquated cellular telephone rang. I assumed it was my dad, calling to see if we wanted him to pick up something for dinner. I answered, and an unfamiliar voice, with a cowboy twang greeted me.

“Hello?” the voice asked, “Is this Laure Levin’s phone? Is this Reid?”

“Uh, yeah, yes it is,” I said, shrugging at my mom.

“Reid, this is Dr. Travis Heare, from orthopedics. Dr. Glancy–”

“Oh, hello, Doctor!” I responded, enthusiastically, “You heard about the MRI today? I guess my folks talked to you and they said we could coordinate something tomorrow. I’m looking forward to meeting you–”

“Reid,” he interrupted, stern but not unkind. He spoke slowly, slower than his drawl should have caused, “Reid, I’m sorry we haven’t met, and I don’t usually make these sort of phone calls, but we’ve been trying to track you down, and we found this number.”


“Are you at home?”


“Are you going home? On your way?”

“Uhm, well yeah, we were at the hospital for a long time trying to get me into the MRI.”

“I’m going to need you to turn around and come back to the hospital. Are you driving the car? You might want to pull off the road.”

“Yeah, yes–but I’m not driving,” the moment I said this, my mom grew very concerned.

“Okay, well, would you like me to wait a minute?”

I pulled the phone away from my mouth for seconds that I felt I couldn’t spare, I looked at the highway for a minute, I saw no good place to pull over, I looked at my mom, who was looking at the road and at me, I looked back at the road and I said to her, “Pull off at the next exit.” I think she asked why, and I think I just repeated that she needed to pull off.

“No,” I said into the phone, “what’s going on?”

“Reid, you have leukemia,” he said some other things, and I couldn’t hear him. I told my mom to pull the car over, and she was so worried. But I wouldn’t tell her until the car was stopped. I didn’t know how she would react. I didn’t know how I would react, saying those words, seeing what it did to her.

My gaze was locked straight in front of me. Leukemia? “You’ve got to stop the car.”

“I’m looking for a place, there’s nowhere to stop, please just tell me what’s going on!” She was frantic, concerned. She knew something was very wrong. We had pulled off the highway, but were stuck in a sweeping mass of cars going through green lights, forced to turn, nowhere to exit, nowhere to pull off.

Not leukemia, god not leukemia! “Mom, stop the car!” She was tearing up, and so was I.

Dr. Heare was still talking. I interrupted whatever he was saying, “Is there any chance it’s wrong?” No, one of the blood tests I had taken earlier today was irrefutable, the numbers were off the charts. And I was putting myself in serious danger if I did not return to the hospital immediately.

The car came to a halt in a parking lot. “Mom, I have leukemia.” What the hell is leukemia?

* * *

Yesterday, December 6, marked the fourth anniversary of the day I was diagnosed with pre-B cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Although several family members saw reason to celebrate this day during the past couple years, I never felt any good reason to give the day much special recognition. After all, it was the day I found out I had cancer, the day my life was irrevocably changed for the worse, diverted suddenly from the course I’d long been charting to one that wasn’t on any map I’d ever seen or heard of. It was a terrible day, as far as I was concerned.

It’s always seemed like there are so many happier and more meaningful days whose anniversaries we could choose to celebrate. For instance, the day my leukemia went into remission. Or the day I was released from the hospital following all those long months of rehabilitation after nearly dying from hemorrhagic pancreatitis. Or the day I finished cranial radiation. And I looked forward to being able to celebrate the day I finished chemotherapy for years, probably starting just about the moment I received my first chemotherapy infusion. And the truth of the matter is, there’s no reason I can’t celebrate all these things, not to mention many other accomplishments and benchmarks, big and small, achieved and yet-to-be-achieved along the very long and difficult journey of beating leukemia, finishing chemo, and recovering from all of it.

But after four years, I finally understand why December 6, 2007 is so special and what it means to me. It wasn’t the day the problem started, it was the day the problem started to be fixed. It was the day I was given an answer I may not have liked, but it was the answer to the question I had been seeking endlessly for months. And on that day, so many small events and decisions, both in and out of my control, from so many years of my being, came together in a grand confluence that saved my life.

We had finished speaking to Dr. Heare on the phone. We drove back to the hospital and I called my dad and Amy to tell them the troubling news. My mom and my dad and I reentered Children’s that night, dumbstruck. We were met by an oncologist named Dr. Meg Macy, who explained to us exactly what acute lymphoblastic leukemia was: a cancer of the white blood cells that compromises both the immune and circulatory systems. She explained why Children’s–this place I’d ended up because of a long story that began with me playing basketball when I was 12 years old–was the best place for me to be treated for this pediatric cancer. And she explained that my white blood cell count was extraordinarily high–there were hundreds of thousands of the compromised white cells per microliter–putting me at such extremely high risk that there had been a massive effort to make sure I didn’t get home before they got me back to the hospital. The oncologists did not believe even a night could be spared.

If I hadn’t flown in that day, and hadn’t gone straight to Children’s, and hadn’t got my blood tested, and hadn’t had a phone Dr. Heare was able to find the number to, and hadn’t gone straight back to the hospital, it’s quite possible none of those other days I considered to be more happy and meaningful would have ever existed to be celebrated.

That’s part of why December 6 is important. The other part is that, on that night, in the ER at Children’s, my parents and I were joined by close family and friends, who all lent their support. Those who couldn’t be there in person talked to us on the phone. This group only grew as the days and weeks and months passed. I owe the fact that I’m still alive to many, many wonderful people. Too many people to list, and certainly more than I’m even aware of. Their involvement, from well-wishes to visiting me in the hospital to praying for us to sitting with my parents and talking to sending cards to bringing food for the family to keeping me in their thoughts, and all the other infinite ways people supported my family and me, it all stemmed from that day.

They saw me, a small sapling in a hailstorm, and they quickly began planting themselves around me, connecting their root systems to mine, helping my roots to grow strong and robust and to be able to dig deep into the ground. And others heard through any number of means what had happened, and this group branched out and formed beautiful green leaves. From those branches grew many more branches and lots of small twigs, each with its own unique leaves, each feeding into a system that collected energy, strength, and will for me. A gigantic tree of life, planted on a day of sadness, that I will pay respect to and celebrate for the rest of my life.


* * *

This is a comic I happened to read yesterday. It’s from one of my favorite ongoing webcomics, xkcd. It seemed appropriate, if not eerie and entirely improbable that I should have discovered it yesterday. Click on the image for a larger version if you can’t make out all of the words. Or, even if you can read all the words, I still highly recommend clicking anyway and checking out more xkcd (it’s a webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math, and language–it’s got something for everyone).

xkcd: Lanes

9/11, Ten Years Gone, Ten Years Still Here.
Monday September 12th 2011, 8:30 am
Filed under: NYC

(NOTE: for those that don’t know, I lived a few blocks from the World Trade Center on 9/11/01. I wrote about it ten years ago.)

It’s quite a peculiar feeling having a day so ingrained in my memory that I can say where I was, what I was doing, and who was saying what to whom at any given time. It’s almost as if I have a video with more than just picture and sound–with touch, smell, thought, time, emotions and everything else we use to experience reality–in my mind’s library. Although I am able to watch that video anytime, it’s not something I care to watch often. It’s the only such video of its kind in my mind’s library, because there has only ever been one day that so completely burned itself into my memory: September 11, 2001. That day, I witnessed with my own eyes over 600 people die when the second airplane struck the South Tower, I witnessed with my own eyes countless people jumping to their deaths from the upper floors of the burning buildings, and when the North Tower fell, I witnessed with my own eyes the deaths of over one thousand people in an single moment.

Every September 11, no matter how comforted or distracted or engaged I may be, the video starts, and it cannot be stopped until shown in its entirety. No matter what I’m doing outwardly, no matter the activity or the conversation, on some level, I am reliving September 11, 2001 inside. If you ask what I’m hearing, it’s the cacophonous mix of hundreds of every kind of first responder siren imaginable. If you ask what I’m smelling, it’s like a mix of gasoline and hot tar, but I’m not quite sure because I’m breathing in the ashes of office supplies, building parts, and human beings. If you ask what I’m seeing, it’s tall, billowing streams of smoke into a perfect blue sky. But when I look down, all I see is paper. Papers with pie charts, papers for sales pitches, paper from books, lined paper with freshly scribbled incomplete notes, and charred photographs of families, all engulfed in darkness, the sun nowhere to be seen.

Every year since 9/11, I’ve had trouble figuring out the best way for me to observe its anniversary. I’ve rarely been certain about what I’m going to do, despite my best efforts. I’ve spent some anniversaries talking to lots of people who weren’t there about what it was like in downtown New York that day. I’ve written about 9/11 and how far (or not) we’ve come. I’ve been pulled away to things totally unrelated. Don’t get me wrong, I think people should do whatever they feel is appropriate on 9/11–if riding a roller coaster makes you feel like you’re taking it to the terrorists, then good for you! Or, if you don’t really mark the day in any special way, that’s okay, too.

Through the years, I’ve found that what I need is some sort of comforting. For the first anniversary, I worked on a play with friends from school, who had all been downtown on 9/11. Most of them found it comforting, but I really struggled. The second anniversary, I went out of town to see a concert with some friends. It was some nice escapism, and kind of a relief to find out that fun still existed. For the next several years, Amy and I stayed in the apartment on the anniversaries of 9/11, not because we were scared and not just because we were sad, but because it was a shared experience for us. We went through that day together, which linked us together in a sort of tragic way. We were never able to convey our experience to other people in a way that made them understand it like we did. It just defied explanation. But we’d gone through it together, so we didn’t have to work at understanding each other. I think I found that to be the most comforting.

Maybe this is a curse, having to relive those terrible things in my head. I don’t know if it is. But even if it is a curse, it’s also a blessing, because I will never forget that day in New York City. I will never forget the horror, certainly, but nor will I forget the bravery, the selflessness, or the sacrifice of so many that day. I am honored to be able to remember 9/11 so vividly for the heroes, the victims, and their families. They should not, and will not ever be forgotten.


Addiction and Withdrawal (and some other things that’d take away from that dramatic title) (whoops)
Tuesday August 30th 2011, 9:18 pm
Filed under: Friends, Health (Not Cancer), Me, Myself, and Reid, NYC, Sodapopcornculture

FROM THE WRITER, WRITTEN AFTER EVERYTHING ELSE, JUST BECAUSE: I’m sick right now. I have been for what feels like a very long time. Most of August, at least. This is a long entry, because there’s a lot to cover. There’s a lot to say about what’s going on right now. I’m going to try to write shorter entries as soon as possible, in the hopes that I get my groove back. Right now, though, I’m moving even slower than normal due to the aforementioned being sickness. Now, onto things I wrote before now.

* * *

I’m giving up the day rating system because, frankly, I don’t like rating things with numbers. For me, when rating things, the values of numbers feel arbitrary while the values of words feel exact. And to all those equation-huggers out there vilifying me as an anti-numeralist and saying I have some sort of anti-numbers agenda, let me be perfectly clear: this has nothing to do with my anti-math campaign. Just like our traditional Roman alphabet, numbers should be used to rate things on blogs–just not my blog. Look, I love using numbers for all kinds of stuff, like… ranking things! Yeah!

Now let’s see where we left off…

Ah yes, rebound headaches and New York City.

I made it to NYC for the first time in nearly a year!, albeit while having continuous rebound headaches. I spent most of my time in a hotel room, with the lights off and the air conditioner turned way up (up, of course, being the direction one turns an air conditioner so that it will make the temperature go down), just trying hard to sleep. Which was all well and good but, believe it or not, wasn’t the highlight of my trip.

I was able to attend Wes’s bachelor party and join some good friends in celebration. Wes and I grew up together in Colorado, and he moved out to NYC after college. At some point early on in Wes’s life in NYC, Paul Syracuse and I inadvertently matched him up with Paul’s friend Emily, another transplant to NYC. Wes and Emily will be getting married soon in Emily’s homestate of Iowa. Due to the intermixing of these various social networks, I got to celebrate with some friends I grew up with in Colorado and some friends I’d made in NYC. It was really great having guys from these different groups of friends, many of whom are normally so scattered to the four corners of the world, in the same place at the same time. It was nice catching up with people I don’t get to see all that often, and it was fun hanging out with everyone. I was glad I toughed it out for the party. Not the whole party, but for a good chunk of it. Not a big chunk, but definitely a good chunk. Yep, a chunk of the party that lasted exactly as long as I was able to tough it out with migraine-strength headaches. I made it through dinner. But still! It was great.

I did only a few other things whilst in NYC, when my head would allow. Matt Gallo and I saw Will, BTTM’s stage director, performing his sketch comedy play phenomenon, Dystopia Gardens, which was just reviewed by the New York Times. I saw Spider-man with Jason, Reiman, and a surprisingly at capacity-looking audience. And I got some ice cream. By the time I was leaving, my rebound headaches were much less frequent. This in no way stopped them from getting in the way of things I wanted to be doing, but it was certainly a nice feeling knowing they were on their way out.

How would I rate the trip? On the one hand, 1) there were tons of people I didn’t get to see that I would’ve liked to have seen; 2) my hotel was hosting a creepy child beauty pageant (is there any other kind besides creepy?), for which “parents” bred intricate ballroom gowns with little girls inside them, who had been trained to sit, fetch, and bark “America The Beautiful;” and, 3) I was plagued by rebound headaches. On the other hand, Spider-man didn’t fall on me. I therefore consider the trip a success.

After I returned home and took a few days to recover from traveling, I finally began the wean off the one medication, more than any other, that I’d been waiting years to stop taking: methadone. Methadone is popularly known as an anti-addictive drug to help people get off extremely addictive and deadly opiates like heroin. It’s also a very powerful pain-reliever. When I was in the hospital for all those many, many months in 2008, I was put on a tremendous number of pain medications to help with my tremendous amount of pain. Among them, (you guessed it… probably) methadone, which I’ve never completely stopped taking.

That isn’t to say I haven’t tried before. From late July ’08 through January ’09, we successfully weaned me down from 80mg of methadone a day to 10mg a day with no trouble. We proceded to the next step of the wean but had to stop when, for the first time in my life, I experienced withdrawal. My docs talked about various other plans to get me completely off the stuff, but it was decided that chemo was hard enough on me as it was and that I was still experiencing chronic pain, so I couldn’t go off it until I was done with chemo. Over the intervening days and weeks and months, as I learned more about methadone and all of its bad side effects, the more I wanted off of it. Eventually, chemo ended and eventually the doctors in charge of my pain medications came up with a new plan to get me off methadone–this time, without withdrawal. My first day on this new plan, when I took the smallest dose of methadone I’ve taken since January ’09, I was almost as happy as the day I finished chemo.

A few days passed, and the wean was going great. I was having fewer and fewer rebound headaches, but as I said, they were still causing trouble. Like many of my health issues of the past four years, the rebound headaches didn’t have the best timing. They’d pounce on me when there was something I wanted to do, and they were nowhere to be found when there was something I didn’t want to do. At last, they seemed to depart for good, just in time for another pre-wedding celebration: an engagement party for my buddy Loren and his fiance, Laura. They’re great. They’re perfect for each other, and I’m very happy for them. Very happy. That being said, I didn’t know people still had engagement parties, a curiosity which I made a point of asking the happy couple about. They explained that since they are getting married in a year or something, that they were holding… or doing… a sort of a… uhm… I don’t know. I think the whole thing was a brilliant racket to get double the gifts of a normal wedding. Brilliant. Good for you guys! It was a great party, too!

Several days passed. And it started.

Methadone withdrawal. Again. But different this time. Worse. Awful headaches, stomachaches, body pain, sweats, hallucinations, and all sorts of other symptoms. And due to my experience with rebound headaches, I can now only take short acting pain medications eight days a month. There was a about a week before it was clear that I was suffering from withdrawal. And it’s been another week since then. I have no feeling for when it will stop. It’s hard to decide if this day is one of the days I should take a pain reliever, or if I should hold off in case there are worse days ahead when I’ll need it even more. I really don’t want to be in any worse condition than this without some kind of relief.

And, yes, eight days a month. Because I had rebound headaches, that’s my limit on any short acting pain medication, which includes everything from Advil and Tylenol to Percoset and Oxycodone. If I don’t adhere to this for what could be years, I risk triggering the headaches again. And to think, If either of the doctors that put me on 2,400mg of ibuprofen had first asked me if I get many headaches, that would have sent up a red flag. It’s very likely that I wouldn’t have had the rebound headaches and that I wouldn’t have had these restrictions put in place. Rebound headaches are also called medication overuse headaches, and it’s easy to see why when you swallow 2.4 grams of Advil a day continuously for almost two months.

When I’m finally able to tolerate this dose of methadone without signs of withdrawal, I’ll take a breather, and then weaning will continue. I’ll step down to an even lower dose. Withdrawal hurts. It hurts my body and it hurts my mind. Today, I’ve had trouble putting sentences together. Thoughts in my head are all over, but hard to find when I go looking for them. I am, however, finding it particularly easy to hold a conversation with my fan. I’m scared, because I know what going down a dose has done to me this time, and I fear what it will be like next time.

My rebound headaches and my methadone withdrawal share some similarities. The origins of both the headaches and the withdrawal can be traced back to well-intentioned doctors putting me on pain medications for long periods of time (ibuprofen and methadone, respectively). In both cases, I took the medications exactly as directed–to. the. letter. And from each, I wound up with a disease no one can simply go out and catch. Addiction. Addiction, addiction, addiction. I had a healthy respect for addiction’s power before, and a good level of disdain towards it. Now, after spending the better part of a month learning about withdrawal first hand, and knowing I’ll probably be spending at least one more doing the same, my feelings about addiction have all turned to fear.

But don’t let there be any mistake, methadone: I want to kick you for good, more than I want to stop right now and feel better. And believe me, I want to take that little extra dose that I know would make me feel better. I really want to take it. But I won’t. I never asked for you, but you forced me into addiction anyway, and you’ve caused me so much anguish. You may be a big, ferocious beast, methadone, but I’ve fought much bigger and much badder beasts than you. And I’ve slain each and every one of them. No matter what it takes, no matter how long it takes, I’m going to win this. And you will lose.


Tomorrow, I’ll Be In NYC or Be Incensed (or both): My New Battle With Rebound Headaches
Thursday August 11th 2011, 11:59 pm
Filed under: Friends, Health (Not Cancer), NYC

Thursday was a 2.

I have a plane ticket to go to NYC tomorrow (Friday). I’m supposed to go in for a friend’s bachelor party. I know that over the past year, I’ve told a lot of people I’d let them know when I was coming into NYC for the first time since finishing chemo. I want to let you know that I very much intended to make the rounds and tell all of you last week. However, last Wednesday I started having terrible headaches and not feeling well.

On Monday, I saw a doctor, who diagnosed me with medication overuse headaches, also known as rebound headaches. Basically, they work like this: 1) someone with chronic headaches takes too many short acting pain relief medications (examples below), 2) they start to develop medication overuse headaches, which they usually then 3) treat with more of these short acting pain relief medications, creating a bad cycle. Short acting medications usually last from 3-4 hours and can be anything from over-the-counter drugs like Advil and Excedrin to opioids like Hydromorphone (Dilaudid) and Oxycodone (Percoset). And, of course, I’ve taken all four of those at some point, though only three very recently.

When I was on chemo, I couldn’t go on any sort of migraine medication due to all of the bad chemical interactions they’d have with all of the many, many medications I was on. Unfortunately, I’m still on most of these medications (though, slowly getting off of them). At some point, I was told to use Percoset for my migraines. This is not really a fun way to deal with migraines, so it was suggested I try taking Excedrin first, and if that didn’t relieve my symptoms within half-an-hour, take Percoset. This has been going on for quite a while. I don’t take those nearly every day, and I take the Percoset about half the time I take the Excedrin. It seems unlikely that these two, despite the incredibly strange use they’re being used for, are giving me rebound headaches.

The clearly guilty party here wasn’t even prescribed for pain. On June 18, I was diagnosed with having a superficial clot in my lower left arm, caused by an IV put in my hand for the surgery to remove my mediport the week before. The clot grew down, across my wrist, onto the top of my hand. Although a little tiny part remains, most of it is now gone thanks to a very tame blood thinner I was put on: Advil. The ER doctor who diagnosed my clot told me to take four Advil three times a day until my clot went away. This was not a largely questionable thing for him to do, and I don’t blame him for these headaches.

The next week, in fact, I found out that a rotator cuff tendon in my right shoulder was (and still is) torn. The orthopedist had my shoulder injected with steroids to help with the immediate pain. He said my tendon would probably take a year to heal, and to ward off the pain, I should be taking four Advil three times a day. What a great coincidence! Since I was already taking that much, I didn’t even have to think about changing anything.

I have very little doubt that this constant intake of Advil caused my rebound headaches. From what I understand, these kinds of headaches almost only (or only) affect people with underlying chronic headache problems, and neither of the doctors who told me to take Advil knew that I had migraines. Since I was diagnosed on Monday, I’ve stopped taking Advil. That’s just a part of the cure for these headaches, which is to grin and bear the pain from these damn things for approximately two to ten days, without taking any short acting pain relief medications at all. Stopping taking these drugs so quickly usually leads to worse headaches and signs of drug withdrawal. The rebound headaches should subside after that time, but I’ll be extremely limited on when I can take short acting pain relievers ever again, or I may relapse and have to grin and bear this pain again. No thanks!

So that’s where I’m at right now. I’m going to go to sleep, and hopefully when I wake up, my head will stop rebounding and start swishing from the three point line. If not, I can’t say for sure what I’ll do. It seems like it would pretty terrible to travel like this, but on the other hand, friends and New York seem like they’d be pretty terrible to miss, too.


18kg Barbell, Levin In NYC! Is It Me? (It’s Not Me) & Our Sputnik Moment Eating American Pie With The Reds!
Wednesday January 26th 2011, 2:01 am
Filed under: Family, Friends, Leukemia, Liberty!, Music, NYC

I felt up to working out with Diana today, and she was nice enough to add me to her schedule. It was great; I’m definitely working my way back up. I’m using a 40 pound (728 hectogram) barbell now for all the exercises that use a barbell. I’m really glad we were able to workout today because tomorrow I’m getting an infusion of vincristine and taking more methotrexate. That’ll knock me out for a few days, during which time, it will feel like a 40 pound (1,983 megagram) barbell has been dropped on my head. Not from many stories stories up. Probably from a window on the fourth or fifth floor. So it’ll be bad, but it could be worse–my metaphorical building has 27 floors (5,122,011º gigaliters).

My dad is NYC all week for ADL training. They are teaching him to do the job he has been doing since December 1. Don’t worry, I think all the people and things he’s stood up for still count. He’ll be able to stand up for things better than ever when they’re through with him! Which is good because his back has been bothering him lately when he stands up. I mention this not only because it explains why he wasn’t at trivia tonight, but also because I forgot to mention it yesterday when he left… er… I love you, Dad!

We started trivia off shorthanded tonight without my dad, Becca or Jeff. The latter two had other commitments (in state) that delayed their arrivals. When we started (as “Sputnik Moment”) it was Joyce, my mom and I. We did not do great on sports, but we totally nailed those Robert Frost questions. We also missed a question that asked which two political figures’ names are specifically mentioned in Don McLean’s “American Pie.” Later, in the Lightning Round, my mom redeemed us by correctly answering that James Dean is the only other person mentioned by name in the same song (he lent his coat to the Jester for some reason). We didn’t do great the first round, but it turned out no one did great the first round, even our super nice and polite horrible bitter rivals the Reds. When Becca and Jeff arrived at the end of round one, we were in fifth place, but only four points behind the Reds, who led the round with the lowest number of points I can remember anyone ever leading a round with.

In the second round, we only did moderately better, but we came in second place (which paid for all but ¢84 of dinner). I attribute this ranking not necessarily to Becca and/or Jeff adding moderate betterness to our team, but to the questions being hard and everyone else having an even more off night than us. We finished six or seven points behind those awful menacing super friendly Reds. In the all-or-nothing final round (named the “Lightning Round” after Reagan’s Quizmaster General, C. Everett Lightning) we won in the sense that we had more points than anyone else except some other team with the same number of points, and from our shaky start, that was really unexpected and exciting! However, we lost in the sense that the other team won the tie-breaker and thus all of the winnings of beers and pizzas and the recording contract. Oh well, we still had a good time! At least I did.

On the way home, Mom and I sang along to “American Pie.” Except for that one verse where political figures Lenin and Marx were specifically mentioned. We had never heard that verse before, somebody must’ve stuck it in there recently. The Reds. Yeah, sure, that makes sense. A new verse by our mortal enemies, the extremely personable and generous despicable no good, very bad Communist Reds! That’s the ticket!


Now playing: “Weird Al” Yankovic – The Saga Begins
via FoxyTunes

Breaking In My New “Knowledge Junkie” Blog Category: We’re Going To Mars!
Saturday January 22nd 2011, 1:02 am
Filed under: Knowledge Junkie, NYC

I was writing a long entry about how I used to want to be a scientist when I grew up, but I’m not feeling up to writing much more, so that entry will have to wait for another day. The methotrexate I took Wednesday night hit me hard last night and I’ve been feeling progressively worse ever since.

Due to feeling so lousy, I slept a lot and I watched a lot of TV today. My mom and I watched a recent episode of The Daily Show featuring frequent guest Neil deGrasse Tyson, an astrophysicist and the director of The Hayden Planetarium in New York City. The Hayden Planetarium is one of my all-time favorite things in NYC, and Neil deGrasse Tyson is my sole all-time favorite astrophysicist. He’s very enthusiastic about science and about explaining it in a very understandable way for laypeople like me. He’s a funny guy and one of my favorite recurring guests on The Daily Show. Also, I met him once because he lives right by Pace.

Anyhow, Tyson was promoting the new season of his show NOVA scienceNOW. This season is dedicated to “asking the big questions.” All the episodes sound very interesting (e.g. “Can We Live Forever?”), but the first episode of the season, “Can We Make It To Mars?,” really caught my attention. I’ve always been very interested in new discoveries in space, whether they’re about water on Jupiter’s moon Europa or about how the universe was formed. Anything about space, really. Since I was not going to get up from the couch anyway, I watched “Can We Make It To Mars?” on demand. It was awesome.

The episode is all about the amazing new things, from plasma engines to new formfitting space suits, that scientists and engineers are inventing for eventual manned expeditions to Mars. Experts are creating ways to deal with the dangers of such a long mission, such as new shielding to protect a space ship from tiny meteoroids that could rip through anything we’ve previously sent into space. Chemist chefs are working on creating the food explorers to Mars will eat, food that is as lightweight as possible but has to stay good for up to five years. There’s even artificial gravity that works just like in 2001: A Space Odyssey! The coolest thing is that all of this stuff is happening right now–these aren’t far off into the future ideas. It was really good and I highly recommend it to anyone who has any interest in the cosmos! Watch the entire episode online for free at PBS’s website.


Now playing: Red Hot Chili Peppers – Stadium Arcadium
via FoxyTunes

My Tummy Hurts
Friday December 17th 2010, 10:36 pm
Filed under: Family, Leukemia, NYC

A fairly typical Methotrexate Friday. Chemo sickness all day: a combo of bad headaches/migraines, fatigue, low to no energy, body aches and a general feeling of ickiness (a scientific term meaning “crappiness”). On top of that, my abdomen has been hurting a lot in one specific place all day. It’s not where my pancreas is, so I’m not particularly worried. I was also really hot all day, but that could be from the heat in the house.

Mom made a special Shabbos dinner of brisket, a semi-sweet semi-crispy rice dish, green beans in a white sauce (milk?) with crunchy onion on top. It was delicious, but only on the way down.

“Ew gross, why’d he write that?” See, I can read your mind after all. Mind Reider.

I’m not going to post this on Twitter or Facebook because, as I’m on track to posting every day for the next five months, this part of the week isn’t going to change much from week to week. It’ll probably stick to the “methotrexate is kicking my ass from the inside” formula, with an occasional “also this weird other thing hurts.”

And honestly, the entry I wrote earlier today about the Zadroga bill to help dying 9/11 First Responders is much more important to me. So go read that again and call your Republican senators and tell your friends who have Republican senators to do the same thing. Thank you.


Now It’s Time For Us To Help The Heroes of 9/11
Friday December 17th 2010, 4:27 pm
Filed under: NYC

Many 9/11 First Responders are dying because they selflessly worked everyday for up to a year on the World Trade Center site, where toxic chemicals seeped into every part of their bodies. Senate Republicans have been filibustering a bill that would give the Responders money for things like chemotherapy and other life saving medical aid. Why is Jon Stewart of The Daily Show the loudest voice among very few on television covering this? Why is Comedy Central covering this more than the major networks?

Please watch this episode of The Daily Show through at least Stewart’s interview with four First Responders (they’re on after the first commercial break). It had in me in tears.

If you have a Republican senator, please call them and tell them you want them to stop the filibuster and vote ‘yea’ on the Zadroga bill.