Feet First

“It is much more important to know what sort of a patient has a disease than what sort of a disease a patient has.” - Sir William Osler

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    Saturday, January 30, 2010
    She Could Cook and Act

    As you may know by now I like to collect cookbooks. I got an early start thanks to reading our local paper, the Los Angeles Times, which for many years (though it's not as good these days) had a wonderful food and cooking section. One of the Times' great strengths was its ability to draw on the L.A. Public Library's wonderfully detailed cookbook collection. It was thanks to the Times that I first read about one of the all-time great celebrity cookbooks, ZaSu Pitts' Candy Hits. Most celebrity cookbooks are mediocre, a here-today-and-gone-tomorrow collection of ordinary recipes with famous people's names attached to them as if by glue. ZaSu Pitts actually was a candymaking enthusiast - and I mean candy cooked the old-fashioned way, with a candy thermometer, the kind where you had to pay attention to "soft crack stage" and "hard crack stage" if you wanted your candy to turn out edible. Her cookbook also contains a fair amount of autobiographical detail, which is especially interesting today: she started her career during the era of silent movies. In a stroke of luck she, an unknown actress, was cast to play Mary Pickford's sister due to their resemblance; she never looked back. She played in Hal Roach comedies for years and then graduated to character roles once sound pictures came in. If you remember her at all you will probably remember her as the spinster aunt in Life With Father (starring William Powell).

    The chapter she wrote on chocolate dipping is both funny and educational, especially when describing her failed first attempt to work with chocolate. Chocolate is a temperamental ingredient to work with and she makes no bones about it (quote: "Chocolate is the devil incarnate.") No cheating with paraffin for her. Her list of ten lessons for mastering chocolate dipping begins as follows: "1. Pray." By a stroke of luck she wound up taking candymaking lessons with the staff of Littlejohn's Candies in the Los Angeles Farmer's Market - the store is still there, and I think of Pitts every time I walk past it.

    I found this interesting piece of trivia on Ms. Pitts from the IMDb website: When the "Thimble Theatre" comic strip became the "Popeye" animated cartoon series, the producers used ZaSu's hand-wringing and nervous speech pattern to characterize the on-screen persona of "Olive Oyl."

    This means that when Shelley Duvall was playing Olive Oyl in the film version of Popeye, she was actually imitating ZaSu Pitts. I wonder if she knew that? What a pleasing irony for Pitts to have her trademark acting style pop up onscreen fifty years later.

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    Thursday, January 28, 2010
    Irritating Overrated Writer Dies; World Continues Spinning on Axis

    You weren't that good, Salinger. I've read his stuff and never really saw the point.

    Though I will say I respected him for never selling "Catcher in the Rye" to Hollywood. He felt film would never do the story justice. Were it me, I would probably have gone along with Zane Grey who I believe is said to have said, "When you sell your story to the movies, take the money, turn your back and walk away," or words to that effect. You've got to do one or the other unless you are one of the very few writers who has enough clout to oversee the film (the only one I can think of offhand is J.K. Rowling).


    Monday, January 25, 2010
    OW OW OW

    I spent all of today in pain, feeling as though construction workers were drilling a hole down through my maxillary sinus and into my upper jaw. Funny thing is, though, I don't feel sick - it just hurts.

    This started a few days ago with pain in my neck. Not my throat; just the front of my neck. I drove V. crazy Friday after work by persistently feeling my neck and remarking how tender it was.

    "Does it hurt when you do this?" she queried.


    "Then DON'T DO IT!"

    Right, right, I know; but easier said than done.

    "I think I'm developing a carotid aneurysm. What do you think?"

    "It's possible," she answered straight faced. I think I went home at that point.

    Over the weekend, ibuprofen helped but the pain kept returning, then it traveled to my middle ear. Today I noticed the sinus pressure. No congestion or runny nose. I got another one of my partners to look in my ear, and she said everything was normal. I combed the office for antibiotic samples; none to be found. (Yes, I know you aren't supposed to self-treat. Shut up.) V. kindly called in a prescription for me tonight and I will pick it up tomorrow.


    Sunday, January 24, 2010

    "24" still brings it. Yes, it's the eighth season and the whole concept is getting old. Yes, the writers recycle plots more than the most earnest environmentalist recycles his garbage. And when I mentioned the show to a friend of mine a few weeks ago he sputtered in righteous indignation: "It's violent! It glorifies torture! It's xenophobic!"

    Yes, yes, and... well, I'd debate that last one, but for the sake of argument let's say yes. I don't care; I love this show. Last weekend, feeling somewhat jaded, I sat down to watch the beginning of Season 8 and got sucked right back in again. Keifer Sutherland just rocks the house as Jack Bauer. The poor guy, after surviving the Neurologic Virus of Death last season and enjoying a little down time with his granddaughter, had a wounded terrorist knock on his door and got pulled back into the mess again within an hour.

    A few thoughts: After viewing the first four hours, I have to say that S8 holds promise for being the best season since S5 - though of course it's early days. Season 6 was, frankly, terrible. S7 was better, silly but fun (the White House was invaded by frogmen swimming up the Potomac River, and Jon Voight chewed the scenery to splinters, plus we got lots of heroic Agent Aaron Pierce who was back from retirement).

    Jack just wants to get on a plane to L.A. and get the hell away from CTU. Former FBI agent Renee Walker has gone, to put it bluntly, completely batshit - she cut the thumb off a guy under house arrest so that she could liberate him from his tracking bracelet. The President of Unnamed Middle Eastern Nation is played by Anil Kapoor, the game show host from Slumdog Millionaire, and Cherry Jones is back as the U.S. President (I thought she was great last season). I am hoping that her loyal sidekick Ethan will get to make some time with her now that she is divorced. Chloe the geek genius is still around with the New York branch of CTU and strangely is not completely conversant with their current computer system - I guess this passes for character development on this show.

    As of Hour Four we have the Russian Mafia working with the Mideast President's traitor brother and a plot involving U-235 fuel rods. But who knows where it's going to go from here? Hang on for the ride! And maybe if we're lucky Jack will kill another guy with a fire ax to the chest (as he did in the second hour). We can only hope.


    Saturday, January 23, 2010
    I Dreamt About Bugs

    I realize it signals that you're pretty much scraping the bottom of the barrel when you blog about your dreams, but whatever. My dreams freaked me out so much last night that I simply have to post about them. Bugs, my friends. I dreamt about bugs, all bugs, all the time.

    I don't remember the dream in detail but it took place in a house that was not my own. First I was watching two spiders spin a web, viewing from up close; then for some reason I was (I think) in a basement, watching beetles and grubs digging in the dirt. Ick.

    So I got online and looked up dream interpretation. I mean, what would you do? I was happy to see that bugs don't signify death, or bad luck, or decomposition or what not. Instead, spiders signify that "you may want to stay away from a tempting situation" or perhaps might stand for feminine power. (Awesome!) Beetles indicate "that destructive influences may be at work in your waking life" or that "your values and beliefs may be being compromised." Apparently they do not stand in for John, Paul, George or Ringo. Insects generally mean that there are minor obstacles in one's life that must be overcome, or may be symbolic of precision, alertness and sensitivity.

    Overall this does not sound bad. Perhaps it all means that I need to stay on my diet, or maybe it relates to work. At any rate, it sounds like a healthy challenge rather than something out of Edgar Allan Poe. Let's see what I dream about tonight.


    Monday, January 11, 2010
    Peanut Butter: My New Best Friend

    A peanut butter sandwich, it turns out, is worth 6 points on Weight Watchers (if you use their bread). This has become valuable information.

    If you exercise enough, you get point credits and can eat more. This is also valuable information. I actually got to the gym yesterday for the first time in a long time. I have been frighteningly sedentary and there is really no excuse for this, as I realized doing twenty (not very demanding) minutes on the elliptical machine that my arms were beginning to hurt. Today they are mildly sore. This is ridiculous.

    And now for some medical stuff. My last workday of 2009 ran the gamut from high to low. High: a blessing from a patient of mine who's a priest. He came by to tell me he had to switch medical plans and couldn't stay with me, which made us both sad, but the blessing was his parting gesture. Maybe it'll help me out this year.

    Then later that same day I was evaluating a patient brought in by family for memory loss... did a mini mental status exam, on which the patient didn't score too well. Then I froze as the patient humbly apologized to the other family members "for embarrassing them." Time for Kleenex, and reassurance, and a referral to a neurologist.

    Last week I was confirming a pregnancy and gave the patient her estimated due date. She stared at me and said, "That's the day my mother went into cardiac arrest." I know that joyous events don't erase the memory of tragic ones, but somehow I hope she does give birth on that day.

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    Monday, January 04, 2010
    New Year, New Fridge

    My old refrigerator came with the house when I bought it, which was 15 years ago. It was noisy and didn't have a lot of room and the door didn't seal very well, but I hung on to it longer than I should have - inertia, I guess. Even when I redid the kitchen (ten years ago? well, close, anyway) it was the only appliance I didn't replace, though I probably should have. I did a little browsing in the Sears appliance department about six months ago, decided I'd like a freezer-on-the-bottom model instead of a side-by-side freezer/fridge but took no further action.

    A month ago my fridge rattled noisily through an entire weekend, then suddenly got quiet. Too quiet. The freezer side was still working but the refrigerator side wasn't. Then, ten days ago, I realized that food was thawing in the freezer.

    I hit the Internet running and picked out my new fridge/freezer in less than fifteen minutes. It was delivered yesterday and I am oh, so happy. My new fridge is nearly silent, larger than my old one and will use much less electricity.

    Today I went shopping and filled it with healthy things. The arrival of my new appliance coincides with my determination to eat healthy - oh, let's face it. Lose weight. Yes, I need to lose weight and quite a bit of it. I've joined Weight Watchers online and everything. Luckily I have three friends who also use the WW online program and I have been hitting them up for advice. I'm not going to let the topic of weight loss take over the blog, as I know there is nothing more boring than reading about someone else's diet, but I do plan to put down thoughts and ideas as they occur to me. If nothing else it may keep me on the plan.

    In other news, not much. I hope your holidays were good. Mine were very quiet. I spent Christmas and New Year's with my parents and my aunt. A big family Christmas was out of the question, as my aunt still cannot be around young children (due to their high rate of getting sick). However, she has been out of the hospital for six weeks and has regained about five pounds. Her energy level is much better and her optimism is back. That's the most important thing of all.

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