A personal record of the next twenty or so years

Fragility

Posted by Jim on July 28th, 2013 and filed under General | 1 Comment »

About ten weeks ago, I was sideswiped by a car, and on falling on the road, broke my collarbone and my elbow. Afterwards, while convalescing (translation: while watching TV hopped up on painkillers), I became rather annoyed at those programs that showed their heroes falling significant distances onto hard surfaces and suffering very little (if any) damage. So to writers of the future, I offer up this post — a description of the subjective experience of my own minor accident, combined with what I know of how the human body responds to trauma.

As I said, in my case, I was sideswiped by a car as they were passing me. I didn’t have any dramatic visions of my life passing through my eyes, or even (sorry guys) my family. There simply wasn’t time. What I thought as I realized the accident was occurring was “Oh, this is going to hurt…” I don’t remember the actual impact — I only know they hit either me or my bike because their right-side mirror came off and was skidding across the road. I don’t know whether either of these are typical — I didn’t feel like I was going to die, so maybe that prevented the life review (which apparently does happen to some people), and I haven’t been able to find any information about how often people in accidents block out the exact moment of impact.

The collision with the car probably didn’t break anything. Instead, I lost my balance on my bike and tipped onto my left side, landing on my elbow and my hip. This is where I definitely broke the end of my radius, and my upper arm driving up into my shoulder probably broke my clavicle. From what I was told, both injuries happen a lot with bicyclists, even without a car brushing by them. Add to that, that the clavicle can break from only 7 to 13 pounds of pressure (depending which site you go to), and so clavicle fractures are fairly common. Given how little a distance I fell, you can now understand why those TV shows were annoying me…

However, at this point, I had no idea I had broken anything. I knew I had the breath knocked out of me and had lost some skin sliding along the road, and as I picked myself I was quite shaken, but as I walked around I thought that I had survived relatively unscathed. Again, I believe this is common. My friend who played roller hockey reported a number of times where he’d be seriously injured and not notice it until later. When trauma occurs, endorphins start to flow and that blocks the pain. Adrenaline also kicks in, which gives you energy for the flight or fight response. As for me, I felt a general dull ache all over my body, but I didn’t realize that anything was wrong with my shoulder until the paramedics arrived (thankfully, the driver called 911) and they asked me to raise my arm above my head. Even then, I didn’t feel a lot of pain — it just felt… wrong.

The pain didn’t start to kick in until after all the excitement was over, after the paramedics had left (my wife Mur drove me to urgent care) and the police report was done.  I can safely report that — at least in my case — swearing does help you deal with the pain, as I swore every time the car hit a bump. Once we arrived at urgent care, the adrenaline started to wear off as well, and I started getting the shakes, which made getting the X-rays interesting. However, they only X-rayed my shoulder, so I still had no idea I had a broken elbow until the next day when the orthopedist discovered it.

I had a distal clavicle fracture, which basically means the end of my collarbone was broken off. Because the ligaments were intact, there’s not a lot that’s done for that except to stick your arm in a sling for four weeks, keep it as still as possible, take a ton of painkillers and see if it sets properly. The elbow specialist told me that if it wasn’t for the shoulder, he wouldn’t have even had me in a sling that long. Because my side was also incredibly sore (I thought I might have had some broken ribs, but they healed too fast for that), I had to sleep sitting up for three weeks — initially in a chair, and later in bed with many pillows. The prescription opiates and muscle relaxant certainly helped with that.

As I understand it, my progress was fairly typical, if a bit accelerated. After a bone is broken, blood flows from the marrow and forms a clot, which helps stabilize the break. After about 3-4 weeks, a soft callus forms around the break and stabilizes it further, and allows the blood vessels to reform between the two bone ends. Then a network of calcified bone called the hard callus forms, and that is filled in to heal the bone. Think of a sci-fi sequence where an arm is re-attached and you’ll get the idea, only much, much slower. About a week or so in I could feel the bone ends touching and rubbing against each other; around week 2 I could feel the soft callus forming, and then breaking when I moved the arm a little too much. But it finally held around week 3, and by week 4 I was out of the sling.

It’s surprising how weak an arm can get when you don’t use it all for four weeks. I could barely lift my arm that first week, much less lift heavy objects. I also had to travel, and getting my carry-on into the upper bin was a challenge. Weeks later, a heavy glass door swinging into my left arm was knocking me back. Fortunately, I started physical therapy, so my arm has been getting stronger and stronger. However, I still have some pain and swelling in my elbow, and muscle cramps in my shoulder as I push it. Even now I still have to turn the painkillers occasionally just to sleep. Fortunately, I don’t have an addictive personality, but I could easily see how opiate dependence could turn into a problem. Also, one thing that is never mentioned is that oxycodone and hydrocodone, er, block you up. It’s easy to see why Dr. House and Rush Limbaugh are so grouchy all the time.

So that’s where things stand, ten weeks later. The arm is getting stronger, but still not at 100%. If I were — say — an action hero, I’d definitely be at a disadvantage. That said, I understand why writers take the shortcuts they do. Nobody wants a hero who can’t lift his or her arm. We don’t want heroes who have trouble sleeping from the pain, or whine because they’ve plateaued in their progress. We want heroes who are tough, and shake off serious injury, and fight on. But it’s not very realistic, and particularly when the protagonist isn’t a superhuman, it still bothers me. So if you do have ordinary people in your stories, remember that the human body is a far more fragile thing than we normally see, and write accordingly. Who knows — you may find that additional realism adds additional drama.

A Better “24″?

Posted by Jim on May 7th, 2011 and filed under Opinion | No Comments »

Lately I’ve been watching the BBC adaptations of “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” and “Smiley’s People” and noting again the difference between the American notion of the spy — act first, shoot from the hip, ask questions later — and the version presented in John le Carre’s books and these adaptations — quiet, investigative and inexorable. It also calls to mind the difference between the Bush administration attitude of torture (yes, torture, not “enhanced interrogations”) as a useful tool in the War on Terror versus what I understand is the more valued method in the intelligence community of tracking down a suitable candidate with information and breaking them through a battle of wits between interrogator and the interrogated.

In particular, I’ve been thinking about this in the context of “24,” and in the context of interesting television. Just to be clear, I haven’t watched the more recent seasons of “24″; I stopped around the beginning of Season 6 partially because of all the torture but mainly because it was getting too ridiculous. A quick scan of Wikipedia shows Jack continuing his torturing ways, at least through Season 7, but to be fair, let’s address this as a criticism of Seasons 1-5.

So imagine this, if you will. Rather than Jack Bauer grabbing a suspect and torturing them (or, say, cutting off someone’s head as an offering to a potential contact), he and his team use the multiple sets of snitches and double agents and embedded agents and what have you that they’ve developed through the years to find a useful contact, bring them in, and then grill them over the course of one or two episodes. After back and forth, sweating the subject, maybe having people in the field or Chloe with her mad computer skilz find a new datum to use in cracking their resolve, you get the vital piece of information you’re looking for and then you return to the action for the big finale against the Big Bad.

Maybe it wouldn’t work generally season-by-season for an action show designed around a 24 hour crisis. But in the context of one season I think that dedicating that much time to basic tradecraft, building the tension, creating a feeling of “Will this work, will we break him in time?” would be quite dramatic. Heck, maybe you could even throw in a torture scene earlier in the season to satisfy the bloodthirsty and get a red herring out of it just to ratchet things up further.

Extended interrogation scenes can be done well on television. “Homicide” and “The Closer” center around them. “Castle” also heavily features interrogations, though not as well done as the previously mentioned series. Babylon 5 and Star Trek have had entire episodes that center around the interrogation of a central character, and these were some of the more gripping episodes in whole series. So I think it could work.

But could Fox have done it with “24″? Maybe, maybe not. From a writing perspective it’s certainly much easier to just torture a guy, get what you need in 15 minutes and then move on with the action. But I think someone should tackle this in a series someday. I would watch it.

 

A Bookshelf For a Princess

Posted by Jim on May 1st, 2011 and filed under General | 1 Comment »

I recently took a social media holiday, ostensibly for Lent despite me no longer being a practicing Catholic. Part of the intent of this was to start doing more in-depth blogging and less micro-blogging, i.e. to produce items of substance rather than throwaways. This did not happen –  not at all.  So Lent being over, I’m trying something new.

In order for me to continue using Twitter and Facebook for a given week, I have to post to one of my blogs that week. My plan was to do a great thoughtful essay on Art and Games and the meaning of it all… but I’m too tired from working all weekend. So instead I’ll present a project I’ve been working on for a while: a bookshelf for my daughter. She has too many books and her current bookshelf is overflowing. While there’s certainly some purging to be done, she really needs a bigger bookshelf.

Bookshelf

(The color isn’t too good here because I didn’t set my camera to incandescent, but it’s supposed to be green, light blue and purple. Color correction doesn’t seem to be doing much for me.)

This is the result of a few weekends of work. It came about because I was looking at buying a bookshelf, but all I could find were either supercheap and flimsy composite shelves, or what to my mind were overly expensive composite shelves, or superexpensive wooden shelves.  So instead I measured a set of composite shelves we already had, went to the hardware store, got some reasonably priced pine boards, and went to work.

It took a weekend to build the shelves themselves (cutting the dadoes by hand was the worst part), and this past weekend Princess Scientist and I painted it (she picked out the colors). She has a grand plan to paint a bookworm in the area behind the books. “As you wish, Princess Scientist,” is all I can say.

Some Brief Thoughts about Time

Posted by Jim on August 4th, 2008 and filed under General | No Comments »

The combination of sewer problems, cleaning up the resulting mess in the bathroom, then preparing the bathroom for fix-up, planning and postponement of a vacation and finally a 35th birthday party ate up July. So it goes.

But all of that has made me rather thoughtful about time management. In particular, I’ve been trying to compare my time management now with that of myself 20 years ago. Or to put it another way: how on earth did I do so much stuff when I was in college?
Read the rest of this entry »

Shiny New Sewer Line

Posted by Jim on July 10th, 2008 and filed under General | No Comments »

So this little beastie, plus another two feet of the same, was filling up our sewer line:

Our Friend, The Rootball

When the plumber told us we had a rootball, I was thinking something like what you might find wrapped in burlap, at the end of a sapling at a tree nursery. Apparently when you’re dealing with plumbing, “ball” is a relative term.

So the end result is that we got a completely new sewer line. And a big cut out of our driveway. And a big hole in our yard. Bonus!

New sewer line

Explosions on the Fourth

Posted by Jim on July 4th, 2008 and filed under catblog, General | No Comments »

So last night we went to the Bulls game and got in our fireworks there. And that was for the best, really, because the actual Fourth hasn’t been much to speak about. It started when Mur did some laundry, and the drain water started coming up through the toilet. Well, we shut off the washing machine, got out the plunger and the Liquid Plumber and got to work. After an hour of this, it was draining slowly. We had to run some errands, so we let it sit until we got back (it’s a good thing we didn’t try to run the washing machine then!).

Once we got back, Mur really wanted to start the laundry again, so I reluctantly said okay, assuming that someone would be around to keep an eye on it. I then proceeded to wander away and forget about it. A few minutes later I come downstairs to find water flowing over the top of the toilet and onto the bathroom floor. I quickly shut off the washing machine and headed to the basement, to find Niagara Falls from the water flowing between the floorboards. Fortunately we have an old carpet down there, so all I needed to do is get everything out of the direct path of water and let the carpet soak up the rest. Then Mur called the plumber.

End result: the plumber found a blockage somewhere in our sewer line — where, he’s not sure. Apparently the “kid” has the camera. But it’s looking like a bad one. Hopefully it’s not under our driveway, but it’s not looking good. Until then, our “grey water” (and “night soil”) is flowing out of the cleanout onto our lawn, so at least we can get our business done. But it’s not looking like a fun weekend.

And now here’s a Friday picture of a cat, to take your mind off of all of that:

Kitteh likes scritches!

The Trip North

Posted by Jim on June 30th, 2008 and filed under General | No Comments »

It’s been a busy week and a half.  Mur and I and the Pink Tornado were up in Buffalo visiting my family, and then from there we went to Columbus, OH, to attend the Origins Game Fair and Expo.

One stop we made while in Buffalo was at the Butterfly Conservatory near Queenston, Ontario, where we met this little guy:

IMG_2542

Origins was fun, as usual.  We gave ourselves an extra day there this year, which was good because we were pretty beat that first day.  However, we managed to get in a game of Arkham Horror, a game of Pandemic, and got to try out China Rails (not recommended when you’re introducing people to crayon rails games — better to choose geography they know).

The Arkham Horror group

And the Pink Tornado won the costume contest again. All in all, a good time, but it’s good to be home again.

Maintaining the Purer Self

Posted by Jim on June 23rd, 2008 and filed under General | No Comments »

The narration in this strip from the online comic Ozy and Millie sums up my attitude right now — and the feeling I’m trying to capture with this blog.

Ozy and Millie: Crossroads

I feel that in the last twenty I have lost a good part of my purer self, and so I’ve drifted a bit off of course.  My goal now is to figure out who that self is, and to start living up to the potential I had in the first twenty.

Or maybe it’s just to be “totally unsupervised.”  Whichever is more fun.

Hot, hot, hot

Posted by Jim on June 8th, 2008 and filed under General | No Comments »

It figures that during the first big heat wave of the year, our A/C poops out.  In the grand scheme of things, it’s not that surprising: the first big heat wave is the first time the system gets a serious stress test.  I went out and checked it last night after it cooled down a bit — looks like it’s pumping air from the house but the fan in the outdoor unit isn’t running.  I managed to find a technician that will show up before Thursday so hopefully we can get it fixed today.  Until then, we have a (loud!) window unit in the kitchen, the relative coolness of the basement, and the whole house fan to blow the hot air out at night.  Well, and the community swimming pool.

Friday Cat Blogging

Posted by Jim on June 6th, 2008 and filed under catblog | No Comments »


Mm, good on a hot day

Originally uploaded by jvsquare
This little guy (gal?) showed up outside NVIDIA one day last year. For next few Fridays I’ll be sharing pictures. Given how hot it is, this one seemed appropriate.