No Nukes

My family never talks about feelings, and we certainly never talk about plutonium. It’s hard to take something seriously if you can’t see it, smell it, touch it, or feel it. Plutonium is a cosmic trick. The invisible enemy, the merry prankster. Can it hurt you or not? None of us know.

Kristen Iversen’s Full Body Burden: Growing Up in the Nuclear Shadow of Rocky Flats (Crown 2012) is a book about the power of secrets and silence. It’s fusion of memoir and investigative journalism that weaves together Iversen’s less-than-ideal childhood—with an alcoholic father, a melancholic mother, and a suburban neighborhood contaminated by radioactivity in the air, the water, and the soil—with the development of the Rocky Flats Plant near Denver, Colorado. Rocky Flats, open from 1952 to 199, built plutonium triggers for the United States’ ever-growing nuclear stockpile during the Cold War.

Using artifacts, court records, press releases, and interviews, Iverson focuses on the 1-8708838fdahistory, people, and repercussions of Rocky Flats. It’s a compelling read, so much so that I fought to return to as soon as the anesthesia and major pain medication wore off after my elbow surgery even when that meant holding the book open using my left hand and the pillows piled up next to me to keep my arm elevated.

In some ways, I resonate with Iversen’s story. First, there’s the familiar tale of an alcoholic parent. In my case it was my mother, but Iversen’s depiction of her father and the ways the family ignores, hides, and excuses his drinking mirrors much of my experiences with my mother. Second, there is the recklessness of a youth spent in open spaces before cell phones, the internet, and during a time when it wasn’t uncommon for a kid to head out after breakfast and spend the entire day on her own or with friends before hightailing it home before arrival would mean trouble.

Then there are the stories of deformed animals, cancers, birth defects, the poisoned groundwater, the nuclear accidents that sent clouds of radiation over Denver, and the vital health information that was suppressed over the decades. I remember awakening in the 1980s to the destructive power of nuclear waste. I wrote letters, attended protests, marched in the streets, and got arrested at the Nevada test site. And yet while I consider myself fairly-well informed about the history of this country’s flirtation with and full embrace of all things nuclear, much of the history of Rocky Flats was news to me, as it probably was those who lived in those suburbs with their “million-dollar views” of the Rockies who believed all the government assurances that all was well even after the 1957  fire in the manufacturing building melted the radiation sensors and released into the air somewhere between 1.1lb and 92lb of plutonium (estimates of MUF – material unaccounted for – varied), and after the next fire and the next.

Full Body Burden — the title refers to the amount of radioactive material at any time in a human body — is a powerful examination of the dangers of secrecy, and a warning that the secrecies of America’s embrace of all things nuclear continues. Rocky Flats, after decommissioning and a cleanup effort, has been now been declared a wildlife refuge:

Legislation that would have required additional signage informing visitors of what happened here, and why it might still be dangerous, has twice been defeated.

I wonder what other nuclear secrets continue to harm us?

 

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Desert’s Elbow

A week ago today I had ORIF surgery. ORIF stands for Open Reduction Internal Fixation, a surgery that involves a 2 inch incision along the top of the elbow, then positioning the bones where they should go and using screws and pins to hold them in position. Sounds simple enough, and from what the doc reported to me post surgery it was a straight forward surgery. I see him on Monday, and he’ll do new x-rays to see how things look.

And a week after surgery, things do seem to be going pretty well. I am following my doc’s A00029F01borders and doing stretching activities for about 5 minutes every hour, and I am getting a better range of motion every day. Doing the stretching is painful at times, but I am determined to get as much of my elbow’s normal operations back as possible.

All in all the break and post surgery pain has been bearable, but I have to say, that the 3 hours of unmitigated agony I went through when the nerve block wore off was . The doc and nurses today me it would be bad, but I seriously didn’t think I’d survive long enough for the medication to kick in, and frankly didn’t care if I did. I can’t even describe the pain, but I can say that the combined pain of a gall bladder attack and surgery and spine surgery was nothing in comparison. Nothing. I lay in bed and cry and whimper, and moan and groan for hours, even once the medication kicked in and I fell asleep.

I had a good bit of pain the next two days, but by Sunday I was weaning off the pain medication, and have only been taking them at night to sleep. At first the problem was pain and not being able to get comfortable, then even when the pain let up, I couldn’t elevate my arm without causing neck pain. Last night I was sort-a able to sleep on my side, so I was actually comfortable for the first night since I broke my elbow.

elbowHere’s my elbow today: still swollen and bruised, but I think it looks pretty good for a week out of surgery. And, today,  I found myself using my right arm to do stuff without even thinking about it, which I think is a good sign. I think I might try driving around the neighborhood tomorrow. If I could myself out of the house to do something, I think I’d feel even better!

 

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Not a Funny Bone

Classes ended for me on April 27th, and my final class meeting with my favorite class was wonderful. Students worked on their digital portfolios and talked about what they had learned during the semester, what activities they found the most helpful, and what was most challenging about the class. I’d really enjoyed working with this group of 18 18 and 19 year old young men; they were smart, funny, distracted, and even annoying at times, but they did their best to rise to the challenges I presented them with and were willing to challenge me as well. So it seemed perfect that the class period ended with hugs and handshakes and a Starbucks.

So I was thinking about that class and those students rather than the sidewalk as I was walking back to my office. I know the particular sidewalk I was on has uneven areas, but I was too taken up with thoughts of students and teaching to pay much attention to where I was stepping when SPLAT! I was down like Frazier, and I knew I’d broken something as soon as hit. The pain was intense.

I was surrounded by students–thankfully none of mine–who wanted to help me up, call 911, get me water. . . . They were really helpful, but I was pretty shaken up and not sure what to do. I knew I didn’t want to be touched because I wasn’t sure what was broken, so I slowly rolled onto my side and assessed, then rolled onto my back and assessed, and operationgame.jpgthen set up. Although bruised elsewhere, it was clear my right elbow was in bad shape. So, still afraid of being touched, I rolled over to a tree and pulled myself up; by then, one of the students had contacted the health center, and they suggested since I was up, he help me walk there. He did. They took X-rays and gave me the bad news: broken elbow. I needed to see an orthopedist ASAP.

So, Tuesday, May 2nd I saw an orthopedist who confirmed the break but thought more might be going on. He put my arm in a splint (I’d just been in a sling since the fall) and ordered a CT. Friday, May 5th I had the CT done, and that afternoon the ortho called with the news: in addition to the fracture, the elbow is rotated and displaced and surgery is necessary. Of course, I get this news at about 4:40 pm on a Friday, so no one answers when I call the surgeons the ortho recommended.

First thing Monday, May 8th I call one of the surgeon’s offices, and they have emergency appointment time and will see me at 12:30! He sees me, does X-rays of the wrist and my left elbow and wrist to make sure there are no other injuries, and consults the CT. Indeed there is a fracture, rotation and displacement, and he wants to do surgery Thursday! I leave his office stunned and not all that sure this will happen this fast. Tuesday, May 8th, surgeon’s office calls, surgery is scheduled for 12:30 on Thursday. Wednesday, surgery center calls for pre-op interview, and Thursday, he operates. He does what’s called ORIF surgery–Open Reduction Internal Fixation–so they cut an opening on the top of my elbow, then they reposition the bones back to where they should be and then use screws and pins to hold them in position.

And the real pain begins . . .

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Pete’s New Life

As I noted in my previous post, we adopted a 7 yr old male gray tabby to help with overcrowding at the Maricopa Country Animal Care and Control. His previous owners had named him Peanut, but we’re calling him Pete; he seems fine with that.

I was concerned about adding an adult cat to the boys club, but things have gone pretty well. At first, everyone was puffed up and vocalizing fear, anger, surprise, and the boys club provided a few bars of a rather inharmonious “get out of my house,” but by the evening it seemed everyone had found a space where he could contemplate this change in circumstance. There were a few dust-ups during the night, but nothing serious.

Yesterday Pete was moving non-stop. He needed to smell and rub against everything he could reach. Monty and Scooter Pie had decided to ignore him, but Rocky spent a good bit of time stalking him from behind. Every so often, Pete would stop and turn to look at Rocky; Rocky would give Pete a long stare, then move onto something else. Late in the afternoon they engaged in some serious growling and posturing. I think Pete had picked detantup on the fact that Scooter Pie was top cat and not to mess with him, but perhaps thought he could battle Rocky for next in line to the throne. The battle raged through the night, but today we seemed to have arrived at a détente as this picture shows. We’re far from sharing this space in peace, but we’re making progress. I love that Rocky is turning his back on us so we know he’s still not happy with the situation!

Monty is curled up in his favorite hiding spot and working through his feelings. He’s not at all aggressive toward Pete or the other cats, but it’s clear he’s still adjusting.

And then there is Scooter Pie. I suppose once you’re King it’s important not to sweat the piesmall stuff. He’d rather stretch out and place his belly against the shower than to worry about Pete. But when you’re as handsome is he his, it’s easy just to chill.

As for Pete, he’s a lot calmer today and has decided he really likes the cat tree. He spent a lot of time scratching the various posts yesterday, and today he’s chosen one of the houses as his own. He and Rocky may have a few more battles before fully settling in, but I’m confident Pete will soon become a full member of the boys club. I mean, who could resist this face?

pete3pete4pete5

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Meet Pete

News of overcrowding at The Maricopa County Animal Care and Control center has been maricopa_county_animal_careon TV, Radio, and Social Media for days now, and last we decided to adopt an older male cat to help open a spot for another cat and in the hope that no animal would be euthanized because there was no room at the inn. They were waiving all adoption fees in the hope that people would adopt and they could alleviate the overcrowding.

Today the center on Rio Salado Rd was packed with people adopting dogs and cats. Took me several times around the parking area to find a spot, and there was a line of cars heading in from the road. I got there at about 2:00 went in search of an adult male cat. I met several friendly cats, but I was drawn to a gray tabby who was a head bunter. I found a volunteer, filled out the form and was sent back to where I’d entered the building where I was to draw a number to do the paperwork.

So at about 2:35 I pulled #9; they were calling number 56!! I began talking with the people–standing room only–and learned some had been there since the place opened at 11:00. I knew then that I would be there for awhile. Awhile indeed: I left with my prize at 4:30. It was over a 2 hour wait to just get to the window to do the paperwork!

Having stuck up a conversation with others waiting, we decided to form a cheering section, and cheered mightly as every dog was walked out to his/her new family. It was fun, and it helped pass the time. Soon we were all friends sharing stories of our pets and pets we’d lost and what and why we were adopting. We also started telling people who came in to grab a number before heading back to look at the adoptees because we could see it was going to save them a bit of time.

The number of young woman I’d been talking with for almost 2 hours was called, and she ran up to the counter; she had number 79. She came back and whispered to me “take this number. It will jump you up by about 15.” She handed me the number, smiled, and went off to get her new dog. The number she’d given me was 94. Woo Hoo. So I then asked the woman next to me what her number was; it was 17, so I gave her my #9, and soon people were trading numbers helping others move up in the line. In the meantime, peteI caught the attention of a volunteer and asked if the vaccination and tests I wanted for our new cat might be expedited so I didn’t have to wait for those after having to wait so long already. He went back to check and returned to tell me they would do the tests and vaccines in a few minutes. Score! When they finally called #94, I headed up to the counter, filled out paperwork and paid for a microchip–all other fees were waived because they were hoping to find homes to alleviate the overcrowding.

While I was filling out paperwork, I learned the cat we were adopting was named “Peanut,” and had been turned in by a family who was moving. WTF?? They had this cat for 7 years and then just dumped him at an overcrowded shelter because they were moving! Assholes!! But since he was 7, he likely knew his name, and I wasn’t thrilled about “Peanut.” So while I waited for him to be brought to me, I texted a friend and thought about names that were like “peanut” but cooler. I landed on “Pete.”

Pete wasn’t thrilled about the car ride and burst from his box as soon as I pulled into the garage. So my plan to have him hang out in my office to get acclimated wasn’t going to work. Instead, I decided we’d just dive in since he’d been cleared of any transmittable diseases. I carried him into our bedroom and put him on the bed. He jumped down, there was a momentary stare-off with Rocky and Monty, then he went off exploring his new space. Rocky and Monty stalked him from behind, but he just ignored them. He went to meet Scooter Pie, who just hissed at him, so he turned and jumped onto the cat tree. He’s settling in just fine.

Pictures to follow. His coat is much lighter then in this, his shelter mug shot. He’s a beautiful gray with white around his chest and paws.

 

 

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R.I.P. Earth

Everyday I read about the increasing effects of global warming; now these readings are followed by news of SCROTUS’s decision to roll back yet another important measure enacted to address the causes of climate change, and I am at a loss to understand why people with young children and grandchildren are not marching in the streets and storming the White House. The future of the planet was looking bleak before the election, but now any possibility that we might be able to help the planet recover from the destruction we’ve wrought is just a fantasy.

Even with the protections President Obama put in place, the Earth has been warming and the weather has been growing more extreme.  The Jet Stream in the Northern Hemisphere has undergone some seriously disturbing changes, and now a new study finds it’s likely that the Jet Stream is being significantly altered by human-forced climate change. This change has been responsible for huge weather events such as the Pakistan flooding in 2010, the 2011 Texas heat wave and the recent deluges in California.

27987_L_doomsdayAfter recording breaking temperatures last year, weather and climate extremes have continued in 2017. For example, prolonged and extreme heat hit parts of Australia in January and February. The seas are warmer and the Arctic sea ice saw its lowest maximum cover at the end of winter in records dating back to 1979. The proverbial shit has hit the fan, and soon humans will be as responsible for their own demise as we’ve been for extinction of millions of other species.

And SCROTUS is working to ensure we all die sooner than expected. He’s rolled back fuel efficiency standards for cars and trucks, gutted the EPA, created a budget that will end funding for climate-related scientific programs and just this week signed an executive order rescinding the centerpiece of President Obama’s clean power strategy.  So now, despite the scientific consensus that without swift action the consequences of climate change — rising seas, more devastating droughts, widespread species extinction — are likely to get steadily worse, any chance of real action is as dead as the Barrier Reef.

We’re heading into uncharted territory; and no one knows for certain how much time humankind has left. What we do know, however, is that future generations will suffer greatly. Whereas recent generations wondered about what we wanted to do when we grew up, where we could go to college, and where we might retire, the reality for current generations has little to do with college plans and retirement; they will be occupied by questions such as where they will find fresh water, what food will be available, and what parts of their country and the rest of the world will still be habitable?

Their future will be bleak beyond our comprehension.

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Canine Royalty

Behold, The Princess Pooch on her throne with her orb and her scepter

p_pooch

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