2/29/2012

Leaving Las Vegas

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 6:30 pm

When Margaret decided to attend this year’s Western States Veterinary Conference in Las Vegas, she asked if I would like to come along. The price they were offering for air fare and hotel was pretty damn good, so what the heck, I decided to tag along, We met up with a couple of friends—a fellow WSU Vet Med graduate and her husband, both friends of ours—and made a week of it, the two docs attending classes while Don and I sampled the fleshpots of Sin City. In the evening we’d all get together and take in some of the night life of the Strip. We got back Friday morning. I pretty much had to jump back into work with both feet right away (even had to borrow an extra foot to cover the spread), hence the tardiness of this entry.

This was my first trip to Vegas, and I came away from it with a number of valuable lessons under my ever-tightening belt:

♠ Even if you can see it from where you are, you can’t get there from here on foot. Again and again, I and my cohorts were fooled by the combination of crisp desert air and the city’s built-in reality-distortion field, meaning that things that seemed just a hop, skip and a jump away by foot turned out to be a long, exhausting, Bataan-style death march from where we started. Adding to this was the collective efforts of the Vegas hospitality industry to make sure that the shortest distance between two points is a bizarre slog through a rat-warren of slot machines, craps tables and Yard-O’-Margarita stands. Protip: if you need to get to another building, take a taxi. If the place you need to get to is on the other side of the same building you’re in, find the nearest exit and go around the outside; you’ll easily shave half the time off your journey, and possibly save a few bucks—or brain cells—in the process. And unless you really need to do business outside of the downtown core, do not bother with a rental car; chances are you will spend more time parking than you would walking.

Casinos and casino resorts are by no means places to “relax”. I came away from my week at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in dire need of a vacation. The hotel itself was lovely; possibly the nicest we’ve ever stayed in.

The view from our hotel window

The Mandalay Bay is an imposing structure of interlocking monoliths of bronzed glass and concrete. It features over 20 restaurants, an embarrassment of  bars, an attached mall, a decent aquarium, spas, pools, theater spaces and countless other diversions. Its largest and most prominent offering, along with that of all the other resorts on the strip, is without a doubt neural attenuation. The place is an absolute riot of blaring sound, flashing lights, gaudy colors, whirling patterns, psychic strip-mining and aesthetic insult. Part carnival, part Pachinko machine, and part focus-group-derived common-sense obliterator. Simply traversing the lobby to the elevators leading to one’s hotel room is an ordeal. It is telling that, despite my having slept upwards of ten or twelve hours a day while staying at the Mandalay Bay, I nonetheless came home and slept twelve to thirteen hours both Saturday and Sunday.  I didn’t really notice until we had been home for half a day and had nothing more obnoxious or overbearing than the occasional phone ring or yowling cat to deal with that my aural pathways were finally, slowly opening back up again, allowing me to hear things that had been heretofore too modest in pitch or amplitude to make it through the brain callus I had rapidly acquired over the previous week: rainfall, for instance, or birdsong, or the sound of my own thoughts.

I’ve never wanted to play a video game less in my life than I do right now; I just spent a hair over a week living in one.

Las Vegas is an awesome place to get fat. Sure, it’s not an original observation, but I can now say from personal experience that Vegas is a food-lover’s paradise. And not just in a schmancy, high-toned, savings-account-hostile way, though that certainly dovetails nicely with our experience there. We tended to eat at the various casino resorts, in medium- to high-end eateries, and didn’t once get away for less than a hundred dollars for 4 people (and that was at Starbucks, ba-doom TSISH!). Fortunately, every meal was worth it, with one possible exception I’ll get into a bit later. Our epicurean adventure included Noodles at the Bellagio, China Grill at the Mandalay Bay, and renown Cooking Channel whore Bobby Flay’s Mesa Grill at Caeser’s Palace, where I just about gorged myself to death on a mind-blowing and gut-busting 22 ounce rib eye, easily one of the top 5 steaks I have ever had in my life. But even for the underpecuniated there are a wealth of places for good eats: Nathan’s Famous, In-N-Out Burger, and just about any other chain you can think of, plus local favorites like Lotus of Siam, Terrible’s and tons of others. In fact, just about the only dining experience one should avoid altogether is the classic “Vegas Buffet”, despite its venerable place in Sin City tourist lore. The buffet at Treasure Island Casino is the very living embodiment of the phrase “Jack of all trades, master of none”; 3 or 4 hectares of the mediocrest food that money can buy.

This is not to say that there aren’t lots of fun things to do in Vegas besides eat. Hence the next axiom on my list, and perhaps the least useful in a day-to-day context (at least if you’re lucky):

Despite the ginormous size of its ordinance, a Thompson submachine gun is amazingly easy to control. Don and I spent a delightful yet expensive couple of hours at one of Vegas’ smattering of Class III gun ranges, the Guns & Ammo Garage. For 170 bucks I got the option of firing three different models of my choice; I selected a Heckler & Koch MP-5,  an AK-47 and a classic 40’s-era Thompson submachine gun. All were capable of full-auto fire, which we were allowed to do under the close supervision of a highly-trained babysitter. The MP-5, a 9mm submachine gun that fires from a closed bolt, was very lightweight and almost surgical in its performance (Don had a similar experience with the Uzi he chose). The AK-47 was a royal pain to control, both figuratively and literally. That overpowered 7.62mm bottle brass really dug the thing into my shoulder, and my target grouping looked like a sneeze. But the Tommy Gun: that thing was stunningly easy to keep centered on the target, possibly because the thing weighed about as much as a side-by-side refrigerator/freezer, which really helps to absorb the ol’ recoil. With very little practice it was possible to put a burst of 5 or 6 rounds through a space the size of a playing card. Here’s Don playing with his:


Of course, Washington isn’t a Class III state, so there’s no way for me to get my hands on a full-auto submachine gun….unless of course I were to find a pre-1994 Thompson at a gun show, which would mean it was grandfathered in under Washington State law. And, of course, assuming I found a new place to live, since Margaret would throw me out on my ass. But that thing was so cool….

♠ The Bally “KISS” Pinball Machine is not as cool as I remembered. If you happen to find yourself in Vegas and you have an several hours to spare, I can’t stress enough your desperate, singular need to go see the Las Vegas Pinball Hall of Fame. The first hour-plus will be spent driving—and driving—and driving down Tropicana Avenue, absolutely certain that you have missed it and that the next recognizable thing you will come across on your journey will be the Utah border. Whence finally you get there, you will be treated to a sight rarely seen in these modern times:

Row after row of pinball machines, from the vintage to the completely contemporary. Including my old nemesis:

Ah, how I remembered this particular steed of the pinball stable. It harkened back to the days when I myself wanted to rock and roll all night and party ever-y day….or at least, get baked ever-y day and play pinball right up till the Pali Lanes closed for the night. Sadly, time had not been kind to this machine, which was in all likelihood a lackluster table the day it rolled off the assembly line; certainly in now way on par with contemporaries of its time such as Bally’s Six Million Dollar Man. Still, the experience was more than worth a few bucks’ worth of quarters.

There were other diversions to be enjoyed while we were there; we went to see Cirque du Soleil’s Love, perused the Mandalay Bay’s small but nifty aquarium, and got in more people-watching than is entirely healthy for anyone. Much fun was had by all, and I don’t regret this trip one bit. But that being said, it is awesome to be home.

2/26/2012

Wellman Type I

MargaretMargaret
Filed under: @ 11:59 am

My father has a friend, last name of Wellman, who has created a scale upon which life experiences can be evaluated as regards their appeal. Something that is a Wellman Type I is something that should be done once to have the experience, but that isn’t necessary, or necessarily desirable, to repeat again.

That’s my feeling about Las Vegas.

How does Las Vegas come into it you wonder? And WTF with the prolonged silence followed by a marked lack of capital letters and punctuation,followed by a further prolonged silence?

Well, let me tell you a story.

I work with my hands, no? I work with my hands a LOT. Both in my professional and my personal life.

Around about last spring sometime I noticed that my left hand would start to go all numb and tingly when I was doing surgery. Annoying, but not anything that required an immediate response so I ignored it.
And kept ignoring it until I started dropping instruments from my left hand while doing surgery.
So I sucked it up and went to the hand specialist who, no surprise, told me that I’d developed carpal tunnel syndrome in my left wrist and that I’d need surgery eventually.
Eventually being the operant term. The surgeon said it was up to me to decide when it was bad enough.
And so, comforted in my lack of urgency, I went on ignoring it.

At about the same time Patty and I started talking about a February vacation to go to the Western States Veterinary Conference so we could a. get our continuing education hours taken care of, b. get some down time so far away from our respective offices that we couldn’t be called in for whatever chaos was happening, and c. get some sunshine in the middle of February which is, as most of you know, one of the least sunshine oriented months in Seattle. (Little did we realize that we wouldn’t be exposed to any weather at all for the majority of the trip, but it was a nice thought to begin with.)

So plans got made, reservations and registrations were made, and we were all set to fly to Las Vegas for a week.

Then in December and early January my hand started getting MUCH worse. I couldn’t drive for more than 10 minutes without my fingers getting all tingly. I couldn’t braid my hair without it hurting my hand a lot, and if I tried to do anything with any strength with my two central fingers they’d lock in place for a few seconds which is more than a little bit annoying.

So off I went to the hand specialist again. And, as I recall, I said something like “FIX IT!”.
Actually I was pretty fussed because I needed to have my hand fixed, but I needed it fixed quickly and with minimal down time. It’s not convenient to my office at all to have one of the full time doctors gone for any length of time. To say nothing of the fact that I needed my hand to be back to good function before garden season starts.
So the questions to the surgeon were: how soon can you do it? What’s the down time? and What sort of long term recovery will we be looking at?
And secondarily, how soon after you do the surgery will I be able to fly? My thought there was that if he did the surgery before I went to Vegas for the conference I’d be able to have decent recuperation time away from the office during a period of time for which I was already scheduled out thus meaning that I wouldn’t need any more time away from the office.

The answers were that he could do the surgery pretty much immediately and he had no problem with doing the surgery on Wednesday and me flying to Las Vegas on Saturday so long as I promised to keep my hand splinted, keep my arm in a sling for a couple of days, and to keep the incision dry until the postop recheck.

*A brief interlude for a shout out to Dr. Miyano at Seattle Hand Surgery. I have tremendous respect for MDs who treat me like a doctor and Dr. Miyano not only treats me as a doctor, he treats me as an equal which is a considerably more rare phenomenon for any surgeon to any generalist regardless of the species that they treat. Seriously, if you’re looking for a MD for anything having to do with your limbs from the shoulder to the fingertips, I’d recommend him.*

Anyway, the surgery was scheduled and promptly done. A few comments regarding having the palm of your hand taken apart and put back together again.
1. If you need it done, do it. Postop pain and recovery period are so damn minimal it’s really worthwhile.
2. Hydrocodone is a fun thing. I spent two days (Wednesday and Thursday) stoned out of my gourd asleep in a recliner with a cat on my chest. Blazing Saddles is hysterically funny when I’m sober, it’s funnier stoned, but laughing disturbs the cat.
3. If you’re looking for a salon so you can get your hair professionally washed and trimmed for the first time in decades, it’s best to have it done somewhere that the stylists speak English. I wanted to have my hair braided for the airplane and I couldn’t do it with one hand. So I went to our local Normandy Park hair salon. The stylist, the only person in the building at the time, is Asian of some flavor (Vietnamese or Thai, I think). While she did a lovely job at washing and trimming, I could NOT get across to her that I needed my hair braided. I think she only understood about a quarter of what I was saying anyway and so I left with my hair clean and trimmed, but loose which, when you have to sleep and then get on an airplane with hair like mine, means that you might as well have your head shaved when you get to your destination. Tangled doesn’t even BEGIN to describe what my hair would have ended up like. So we went over to Shawn & Annie’s and Anastasia very kindly braided my hair for me.
4. Flying with your arm in a sling is a pain in the butt, but the sling does provide a nice available pocket.

All that having been said, my hand is markedly better. Not back to “as good as new” yet, but 10 days postop it’s WAY better than it was 10 days pre-op.

So now a few comments about Las Vegas.
I did not like Las Vegas. I found Las Vegas to be overwhelmingly loud, crowded, too bright and flashy, and wicked expensive. We got our hotel and airfare (roundtrip for two adults and six nights at the conference hotel) for $1700. That’s cheap. Meals for two people for six days cost us nearly $1000 and for the most part we were eating at the hotel restaurant. It’s not like we were indulging in Fine Dining every day.
I liked staying at the Mandalay Bay. The hotel was lovely and the service was great. Also, not having to worry about transportation between the hotel and the convention center was fantastic. I could get up and dressed and be at my first lecture in the space of 20 minutes if I felt like skipping breakfast. It was, granted, about a quarter mile walk between our hotel room and the convention center, but since that was the majority of the exercise I got all week, I didn’t mind.
The convention was very much worthwhile. I sat in on some very interesting lectures and got some very good practice tips. I also got 20 plus hours of continuing education time so I won’t have to worry about not having my state-mandated 30 hours when my license comes up in June.
I also love the networking. Talking with vendors and the industry reps every so often is a good thing. I also won some or another drawing for which I entered at the exhibition hall so since, as I recall, I only entered drawings for i-Pads, I think I won an i-Pad. I’m still waiting for contact back from the company who called and left a message on my voice mail on Friday.
The display fountain at the Bellagio was really cool, the Pinball Hall of Fame was FABULOUS (although I’d advise against playing pinball six days after you have wrist surgery), The Mesa Grill was good food, and Cirque du Soleil’s show “The Beatles Love” was fan-freakin’-tastic.

As for the rest?
Loud.
Crowded.
Too bright and too persistently bright (seriously, it was like staring at a strobe light for six days).
Too many drunk people. Waaaaayy too many drunk people.
Don’t even _ask_ about the Sirens of Treasure Island show! *shudder*
And $$$expensive$$$.

I’m too much of a hobbit for The Las Vegas Experience to have been much fun.
Andrew, however, had more fun than I did, but since he had the fun and since he has the photos, I’ll leave the rest to him.

2/16/2012

But is it art?

MargaretMargaret
Filed under: @ 6:51 am

prescript:
this is a post i wrote some months ago and have been saving for a time when i didn’t have anything else to write about. well i have other things to write about at this point but because i’m down to one arm again, thus the lack of capital letters, i can’t. when i can use my left hand again i’ll be more current topical. enjoy!

This is another in my series of “trolling through my i-Photo library in search of inspiration for blog posts”.
I find the photo to be very artistic, quite honestly.

Give me some guesses as to what you think is portrayed in the following.

2/5/2012

A brief comment.

MargaretMargaret
Filed under: @ 2:16 pm

Anti-sports fanatic that I am, I have to note that staying home on Superbowl Sunday to clean the house and drink ginger ale and grape juice (this is my high test home made grape juice that is so yummy I could drink it by the gallon, but so tannic that if I don’t dilute it I get fierce headaches. Thus the ginger ale.) without even the radio on, let alone the television provides me with such a not so subtle frisson of pleasure that I have spent the day dusty and grinning.

Anyone wanna come over? The house is clean and there’s plenty of grape juice. 😀

2/3/2012

Here’s my take on it.

MargaretMargaret
Filed under: @ 12:45 pm

This morning the Susan G. Komen Foundation reversed their decision to stop making grants to Planned Parenthood for breast health screening for low income and uninsured women.

Good.

Glad of it.

But the fact that they made the original decision to stop the grants — and would have made good on it if they hadn’t had such an outcry from the public — shows me that they’re not an organization with an awful lot of integrity.

The Komen Foundation was willing to bow to political pressure from the conservative members of congress who have their knickers in a twist about Planned Parenthood regardless of the fact that the Komen Foundation’s grants were made to support breast cancer screening and didn’t have ANYTHING to do with Planned Parenthood’s support of contraception, abortion, or other reproductive counseling. And then the Komen Foundation was willing to bow to pressure from the public and from the rest of congress to reverse their decision.

While I am, as I said, glad that they did reverse the original decision, the fact that they’re willing to flip-flop so readily makes me really think hard about whether or not I want to support them anymore.
And it’s made me sad that I now have to justify my decision that I am still going to walk this summer.

It’s taken me nearly four hours to put down in words what I feel about the whole situation and to explain, to myself if to no one else, what my position is going to be in the upcoming months.

This is what I sent to the Komen Foundation this morning.

Dear Komen Foundation

In the last week I’ve had to think hard about whether or not I am going to participate in this year’s 3-Day. The original decision to stop the grants to Planned Parenthood for breast screening for low income and uninsured women, had it stood, would have kept me from walking. And while I am glad for the fact that the Komen Foundation was willing to reverse the decision the whole episode has left such a bad taste in my mouth that it will keep me from walking again after this year.

Here is the e-mail that I originally had planned to send:

When I first started investigating the Komen Foundation before signing up for my first 3-Day I read about how Nancy Brinker had promised her dying sister to end breast cancer in our lifetime. And I read about how 80 plus percent of the funds raised by 3-Day walkers would go to breast cancer screening and research. I even managed to convince some skeptical donors to sponsor me that year because I was so proud of what the Komen Foundation was doing.
And I walked that year.
This year was to be my fifth breast cancer 3-Day. I was looking forward to it. As stupid as it sounds, I’ve found that walking for three days straight and pounding my feet to pulp is a lot of fun. And I made a promise to my niece who would have been walking for the first time this summer.

But now I can’t.

I don’t remember seeing anything anywhere in Nancy and Susan’s heartwarming story about how Nancy promised to end breast cancer “unless you’re a low-income or uninsured woman who can’t afford breast screening anywhere else than the subsidized screening that is offered at Planned Parenthood”.
I don’t remember seeing the footnote to “Everyone Deserves a Lifetime” that reads “unless you have your mammograms done at Planned Parenthood in which case you’re out of luck”.
I don’t remember hearing the disclaimer at the end of the television ads that state “A woman dies of breast cancer every 74 seconds. The Susan G. Komen Foundation wants to change that.” that mutters at an almost supersonic speed “unless you are a low income woman in which case we don’t care because Planned Parenthood also offers other reproductive health services that we don’t support because someone in Congress doesn’t support them”.

For shame! Shame on you!

By canceling your grants to Planned Parenthood for breast cancer screening you have said to a large number of American women “We don’t care about your breasts. You don’t make enough money to afford your own insurance, or you’re a student, or you’re unemployed. Since you have to go to Planned Parenthood for your breast health care, you don’t matter to us!”

I am a doctor and a scientist. Medicine and science should never, NEVER be at the whim of political pressure.

The Komen Foundation would have gained many thousands more dollars from me and my sponsors over the next years. But your lack of integrity has shown me what sort of organization you really want to be.

And I can’t support that.

Sadly,

Margaret Hammond

But, as I said above, I did decide to walk again this summer.

The nonsense that has gone on over the last week will make it very difficult for me to raise the sponsorship that is required to walk, but I think I can still do it. I will face a lot of pressure from my sponsors, but I’m willing to stand up to that and explain why I am still going to walk.

I’m going to walk for three reasons.
The first being that I made a promise. I said above I made a promise to my niece who will, if things turn out right, be walking for the first time this summer under my chaperonage and my sponsorship. I want to walk with her this summer because she is looking forward to it and because I want her to know what sort of a difference a group of strong, determined women can make in this world. I keep my promises.
The second reason is that I made a promise. One of my cousins died last November of metastatic breast cancer. I made a promise to myself, and I made a promise to her spirit, that this year I’d walk for her. The effort and the pain are my sacrifice to honor her memory. I keep my promises.
The third reason is that I made a promise. When I signed up for my first 3-Day -god, was it really 10 years ago?- I said in my sponsorship letters that I considered myself very lucky. None in my family had had breast cancer and I wanted more girls and young women to grow up in a world like that. While I know now that breast cancer has struck my family and probably will again, I still want more girls and young women to reach their mid-thirties (my age when I did my first 3-Day) without knowing the pain of breast cancer. As it is, I have two young second cousins who will grow up without knowing their mother which is heartbreaking. A friend gave me a copy of Melissa Etheridge’s “I Run For Life” off of “The Road Less Traveled” when I was in training for my third 3-Day. The lyric line “And if you ask me why I am still running/I’ll tell you I run for us all” has been my promise to my sex. I keep my promises. I walk for us all.

So I’ll walk this summer to keep my promises to the tough, brave women to whom I’ve made promises.

But next year all of my charitable efforts, both financial and physical, will go to Planned Parenthood.

Sincerely,

Margaret Hammond

2/2/2012

In Case You Weren’t Aware Of It…..

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 7:56 pm

Michael Bloomberg has graciously offered to match funds on any donation to the national Planned Parenthood fund for providing breast health exams, up to 250 grand. Take a moment to donate if you think this just might be important. Also, why not take a few moments to let Susan G. Komen know how you feel about their chickenshit retreat from a vital women’s health service. And, if you’re feeling really plucky, you might also want to drop Representative Cliff Stearns a line and let him know what a pathetic, transparently dick maneuver his formal investigation of Planned Parenthood really is.

Komen better damn well pull their head out of their ass before long, or they are very likely going to find a good number of people dropping out of the myriad 3 Day events planned for this year, my wife quite possibly among them.

There is no emoticon for what I am feeling right now! 👿

UPDATE: Komen caved; hooray for our side! Going to have to keep an eye on them though….

UPDATE2: In other Susan G. Komen news, how’s this for awesome timing?


All portions of this site are © Andrew Lenzer, all rights reserved, unless otherwise noted.