Thursday, December 30, 2010

how the years add up

I remember my Dad's aphorism (as probably do most of his former students) that "Math is Beautiful." (Just looked up aphorism, to check that I wasn't choosing the wrong word, this being a diatribe about accuracy and all. It might be that his wasn't an original thought, but he certainly owned the statement.) Anyway, he loved math because there were always correct solutions to problems (unlike life's problems, but that hints at a different story). I think though, that over the years he probably found a lot of students who couldn't find their way to those correct solutions. This is likely why he never stated "Math is Simple."

I'm thinking about math today (which I am no longer very good at, lack of practice) because I'm thinking about counting (which I can still do). Hmm, perhaps more accurately, I'm thinking about arithmetic, because I'm thinking about counting decades as we're coming up to a new one.

inside my head, ouch
It's true! (Yeah, yeah, I hear you: What's truth?) But really, by our calendar, it's a new decade starting on Saturday. I know, I know, most people will disagree, and say that the decade began with 2010. I remember arguing with people about this when we rolled over into the year 2000, and yes, it's generally accepted as the beginning of the new millennium. It seemed the whole world felt that way, because 2000 is such a nice round number. So that became the consensus, and the fact the numbers didn't add up didn't seem to matter. It felt good to have 2000 as the starting point; I try to accept this, but it hurts my head.

(Interesting that the whole world fell into financial difficulties together too, isn't it? Mixing up numbers with emotions seems somehow a miscalculation, something to remember the next time—tomorrow?—the stock market slides.)

So why does this make my head hurt? I mean, it's kind of ad nauseam for members of my family, and I hate being a pain to them; but while they can count, they have succeeded in letting this idea go, if they ever held it. I fear I have more of my curmudgeon father in me than I like to admit... Do I always have to be right? My goodness, this really isn't simple.

But to go on (yes, I do) I think where the confusion comes in, is that calendar years and age years are different. The point is, there is no year zero in our calendar, we went straight to one. I've read that zero wasn't always an accepted concept; perhaps it has something to do with that, the same way that perspective wasn't always understood in art. So do people have a better understanding of art than of numbers? Maybe.

But this beginning with zero means you have to get to the end of 2000 years (that would be to the beginning of 2001) before you slip into the next millennium. The same (and less!) counting applies to decades: starting with the first decade AD—remember, no zero—you start with the year 1, and have to get to the end of the year 10, before you get into the beginning of the next decade at year 11. Therefore, you have to get to the end of 2010 to get to the start of a new decade, 2011, this coming Saturday. Whew, glad I cleared that up.

When we are counting the years in our ages, there is a zero year. We don't 'turn' one until we've completed a whole year. That means that while I am said to be 58-years-old, I am well into my 59th year. On my 59th birthday I will be starting into my 60th year. When I get to be 60, I will be entering my 7th decade. (Geez, that's depressing.)

This way of counting our age is cultural, if I understand it correctly. The Chinese, for one, begin counting their age with one (no zero year) and therefore the significant ages end in 1s. Sixty is no big deal, but 61 is. But China joined in on the celebration over the year 2000, too. I suspect that was just a concession to their customers in the western world (the customer is always right) because their calendar is entirely different; it of course doesn't count from the (guesstimated) before/after of JC at all. As you might have noticed, given they also celebrate another New Year (and we wonder why China is such a rising power).

But numbers are apparently quite a puzzle to most of us. This would explain why the media are so full of stories about personal and public debt loads. Too many of us don't know how to count, how to add and subtract, and that less than zero, in monetary terms, is a problem.

I happen to think that precision matters, and getting your numbers straight can be as important as getting your words straight. Otherwise we're all speaking different languages, and that tends to add up to nothing (nada, zilch) but a lot of confusion, and plenty of misunderstandings.

But so what, eh? Maybe it just makes things more interesting. I don't have to be precisely correct all the time. Really. After all, when I get a Sudoku puzzle wrong, I just toss it. (Of course I notice I'm wrong...) No, no, I mean it. It's almost New Year's, countdown starts soon, and then we'll all be in the same decade no matter how you count it.

So here's wishing you a grand and wonderful New Year, with innumerable decades to come.

Friday, December 24, 2010

this magical night

While time moves swiftly for most of us, I suspect that Santa must be able to slow it down somehow, to pull off the task he has tonight.

I just checked on NORAD's Santa Tracker, and he's getting pretty close to my location. I think I better get to bed soon. 

But I didn't want to tuck in before I got a chance to wish everyone a magical, peaceful, and happy holiday.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

trying for a zen attitude

I find my thinking somewhat scattered these days. It's partially the typically Vancouver weather (sweet rain, not snow) but mostly it's this business of renovating that I've subjected myself too; it is very wearing on the spirit. Here I am, nine days before Christmas, and still waiting for the guys to be finished in my apartment. They were supposed to be done at the end of November, before my surgery, so it's been a challenge to turn around, every day, and see someone's still here.
Xmas bonsai-d.

Now that I'm pretty much healed up from the galling bit of surgery at the beginning of the month, I've been getting through my days, stepping over the rubble in my house, and getting my Xmas shopping done. I bought my Christmas tree last week in a burst of optimism, and it's sitting, rather forlornly, out on my patio, waiting to come in the door. There's no room for it yet, as my handy-man has his tools in heaps in my living room. I did manage to clean up outside (there was quite a bit of spillover) and put up lights, and a few bobbles in the rhododendrons and the baby bonsai tree.  A bit of cheer in the grey gloom outside.

I've been trying to be zen about the whole thing, not letting it get to me as I go through my days. I mean, they might even finish today, except for the little bits that aren't done. I've been doing as much Xmas prep as I can without actually being able to start anything. (Shortbread is on hold till next week, probably just as well.) And I'm frustrated, because writing has been hard, because what I really need, is quiet, and it's not been quiet, to put it mildly. So I'm ready for these fellows, much as they appreciate the work, to be done.

This stress is all self-induced (well, if these guys were a bit more efficient it would help...) and, I have to admit it, petty.  Because in the grand scheme of problems, it's not much. I mean really, what a whiner I am.

I fret about not getting my tree into the house before Santa shows up, and fuss that I can't clean my house. But I can afford to renovate a bathroom to make it even nicer than it was before. And I'm perfectly aware there are a lot of people out there who can't even find a bathroom at all, let alone a warm and dry place to sleep.  

As I make my way around in this seasonal buying spree, I have to step over and around all the street people. They've become a different kind of rubble piled up on our streets, and it's appalling, both that they are there, and that I can step around them. I feel both churlish and overwhelmed, when I pass by the figures huddled in doorways, or standing, hat held out, in front of all the over-stuffed stores. It's all so Dickensian. (Are there no workhouses? Well, I think actually, it's that there are no mental health services, but that's a whole other rant.)

None of these thoughts mean I don't think I'm perfectly entitled to make my home as cosy as I can. I can do the calculations, and know that I'd be joining them on the street, if I were to give a handout to everyone who asked for one. Even if I'd kept my bathroom the way it was, the money would just get sucked away. And I know that just giving things to people keeps them dependent, or at least that's what all the parenting manuals say.

And I do donate. I make monthly donations, and I responded to the earthquake in Haiti, and the flooding in Pakistan, because, well, I'm so lucky. (And I usually cough up when North Shore Rescue calls, too, but that's more selfishly motivated. I want them operating if I ever stumble when I'm mid-Grouse Grind.) But still I feel guilty as I shake my head at the hand's held out.

So. Repeat after me. This is the season to be jolly. Ommm.

Friday, December 3, 2010

stone by stone

I've had very little to do with surgery in my life: tonsils out when I was seven, wisdom teeth when I was about 19, and then my tubes tied, when I realized I had all the children I could possibly take care of. Each of those times was a general anesthetic. When I was seven, they held a cloth over my nose, which stopped my crying, and an instant later I was awake with a very sore throat. With my wisdom teeth, I remember closing my eyes, and opening them, to find myself with, again, a sore mouth. Each of these was a day surgery situation, as was the tubal ligation (cauterizing my tubes, so that all the leftover eggs, from then on, just fell away to oblivion).

On Wednesday this week I had day surgery to have my gall bladder removed. It's quite the process. The hospital has you show up hours early, six in the morning in my case. My sweetheart came with me to hold my hand, and though I thought this wasn't necessary, I was very glad to have him along. He can have quite the calming effect on me, a nice quality. A parade of people came to see me, checking that I still had the same name, address, and birthday. They told me what they were going to do, some of which sounded quite dire. They made me feel coddled and cared for. And then we had to wait, because the doctor was late, until the word went out that he had arrived, and I was led into the operating room, trailing my IV pole. There was a crowd of people in there, some of whom I'd met while waiting, pre-op (and "Elvis is in the building," I said, imagining myself quite the original comedian, and they were kind enough to laugh.)

We were all dressed in hospital chic, but my hair wasn't done up yet, so they stuffed it into a net, which was a good idea; it gets into everything, and I didn't want any strays to drift into my belly. Then I was invited to hop onto the table in the middle of the room. The doctor said hello. At least I think it was him. They had my glasses, so he could have been anyone.

The table, though narrow, had a nice heated pad underneath me, so I felt quite cozy. Then someone swung out an arm on the table, and asked whether the doctor wanted my arm placed... and he interrupted and said, I want her asleep, so bingo I was asleep. I can see that whatever the crowd in the room was up to, it was better they do it without telling me too much.

And then I was waking up. This was different than other times I've had anesthetic, because I was dreaming. It made me quite confused at first, there was such a crowd in my head, but then as I realized where I was, and what I was up to, the crowd drifted out of my head. I was left with a solid sense of deep sadness and worry over two of the people in my life. Typical, I did think, that at a time like this I'd be worrying about someone else.

I also was shivering, my teeth chattering like crazy. This seemed connected to the grief I was feeling, though the nurse attending me said sometimes the anesthetic had this effect. I felt like my body was having an earthquake, my teeth banging together, my arms and legs jumping, and my body shaking. But I didn't feel cold. Also, I was thirstier than I remember ever being. My mouth was stuck together, which made talking hard, even without all the teeth chattering.

After a flurry of activity during which my nurse morphed into someone else, and then back into herself (took a break I came to understand) piling warm blankets on me and slipping some more drugs into me, I gradually got over the feeling of earthquake and the grief slid away from me, and I was just there, awakish. Woozy, though. After a bit, the nurse deemed I was more functional, and I was rolled into another recovery room, where a more harassed nurse was working solo, in charge of getting people on their feet and out the door.

By this time I wanted badly to see my boyfriend, and then there he was. Apparently I'd been out for quite a while, and he was having anxiety attacks himself, something he's not normally prone to. I heard the nurse call my sister, who was to come and drive me home, and I thought what's the rush? I wanted to have a nap. A cup of tea would have been nice too, though not to be. I did get some apple juice out of the nurse, but it seemed kind of grudging. Afraid I'd throw up. Well, wouldn't they rather I tested that out in their presence? Guess not.

So that's where the process kind of breaks down. I felt warmly wrapped up in their cocoon of care until they had what they wanted, that useless gall bladder, and then the care kind of fell off. I could hear the nurse complaining that she was on her own in this part of recovery, which suggested that someone else was supposed to be there. I didn't feel it was really fair to communicate this anxiety to me, but there you go. It's not often, but sometimes, I'd like to be looked after.

Anyway, my sweet fellow went off in search of my sister, because it was obvious I wasn't on my feet yet, and the nurse took the opportunity to hand me my clothes and suggest I put them on. I thought, well, I can probably get my shirt on without falling over, so I took off the gown, and got a look at myself. My chest was painted red, a nice straight line across my breasts, cutting through my nipples, and then down the sides to under my belly button. Four patches indicated where they had been poking instruments inside me. Strangest feeling to think of that room full of people drawing on my body, and then picking things out of me.

I waited for company to come back before I stood up to put my pants on. Definitely felt woozy. Definitely impaired. But the nurse wanted me off that bed and into a recliner, so that's where I was, faster than I wanted. Then I got to wait anyway, because the doctor likes to see his patients before they get tossed out of the hospital, and I get the feeling that the doctors are definitely the ones the place caters too. Like royalty.

So let me think about that. When I came in, everything clicked along like clockwork so the doctor's time wouldn't be wasted, and then stalled while we waited on the doctor. Then when they were done with me, the system was in a hurry to send me away, but stalled while we waited on the doctor (who was not unreasonably, busy). So who's it all set up for?

Ah, but he finally took a break from the operating room to talk to me and another guy who was also waiting for him. That guy didn't look to be in a hurry either. The doctor told me he'd taken out about thirty stones, I imagine one by one before they pulled out the little sack I kept them in. Otherwise the holes in my belly would be bigger. As it is, I don't even have any stitches.

But the doctor said my gall bladder had been packed tight, and that it had likely not been doing anything for me for years. So good riddance, I guess. Stupid gall bladder.

Anyway, then I was dusted off, and handed over to a fellow who wheeled me out to the front door, where I then hobbled into my sister's car, and off we went. We did make a stop on the way home to fill a prescription (I insisted, not wanting to get home without clutching painkillers in my hand). I found a place to sit and wait while my trusty attendants wandered off to buy some other supplies, and then, with the prescription in hand we went home, where I finally got my cup of tea. Ah, tea.

I didn't sleep well Wednesday night, and yesterday was not a great day, but better than I expected. Last night I slept better, and today I feel better still (though still pretty crappy, but hey, I'm impatient). So I see that each day brings me back a bit, and soon I'll be as good as new, minus one apparently disposable body part.

So that's the story. Out they went, stone by stone, and now I heal, ache by ache.