I Have A Weird Diagnosis!

Kage Baker used to complain when I got sick. Not the mere fact of my getting sick – I was healthier than she was by a long shot, until she contracted something fatal.  Kage was actually pretty sympathetic to my ailments. She had a lot more ordinary maladies than I ever did.

That was the source of her complaint. When I did get ill, it was often something weird. It was bizarre in this information age of modern medicine, out of proportion to the number of times I fell victim. She said she was so very tired of my coming home with bizarre diagnoses.

It was a fair complaint, and one made both then and since by other friends: usually the ones who have had to support me off Faire sites, or take me to the hospital. I’ve had two monographs written up about me. I don’t think I am as bad as some folks, but I have defied odds, norms and medical opinions several times.

As I’ve mentioned, I was born with a tumour over one eye: but it wasn’t my fault, I was exposed to fallout in utero from an atomic test. (What, is that not normal?) I managed to develop gall stones at age 30 – much too young, according to the literature – as a side effect of dysentery. I caught a weird skin disease from a mulberry tree, and another from contact with titanium tetra chloride. My late right kidney raised repetitive hell for half a century before it was finally evicted, without ever quite failing.

I developed a rare cancer a year after Kage died of an even rarer one. I was diagnosed with a bizarre blood infection called klebsiella – which has since become an iatrogenic plague in hospitals, but that no one at Cedars Sinai had heard when when I caught it. Through all this, my immune system – which I appear to have inherited from ancient Celtic heroes – has functioned to defeat most normal infections. It has to be coshed over the head and shanghaied, apparently, before a doctor can figure out what is wrong with me.

So, I have this pain in my leg. No clots, no blocked veins, no aliens hatching in my blood stream (I did consider that …); no torn muscles, no water on the knee: despite the frivolous opinion of my cardiologist’s assistant. No enemy of mine sticking pins in a dolly somewhere.

No, what I have is: a Baker’s Cyst!

What, you may ask – as I certainly did – is a Baker’s Cyst? Well, it’s a cyst, a kind of organic water balloon filled with synovial fluid from behind the knee-cap. It is caused by standing up a lot, so it was initially named after bakers: who do most of their work standing at a work table. Now, I have not stood up a great deal in several years. In fact, I have been markedly sessile; but prior to that, I used to spend quite a lot of time on  my feet behind a bar, serving beer. So maybe in my case it’s a long-delayed Bartender’s Cyst?

I neither know or care. What I have learned is that it’s common, evidently outside the purview of a cardiologist, well-known to my GP, and easy to treat. I might get cortisone. I might have surgery to remove the cyst entire. Or they might just stick a needle in me and drain the nasty thing.

Who cares? It’s easy and treatable, and soon it will be gone. I’m being referred to an orthopedist, because I guess mucking about in a knee joint requires some skeletal expertise. Until then, I just have to stay off my feet a lot and favour the left leg. I can do that, as they say, standing on my head … if I could stand on my head. Which I can’t. But I can sure as hell stay sitting down.

In all events, I am content, with a diagnosis that is simple to handle. Kage would be rolling her eyes again  (“You have a what?”) but she, too, would be pleased it’s something that can be fixed. Kimberly is pleased, especially since she had to bully me into going today – I was sure my complaint would be dismissed out of hand, and it was raining like hell besides.

But no! My pain is real, there is a cause, it’s not that weird, and it will soon be fixed. And there, Dear Readers, am I happy.

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New Year, New Habits

Kage Baker always felt that an annual resolution to do less of a bad thing was every bit as necessary as resolving to do something virtuous and new.

All Kage ever pledged to accomplish was survival, which she reasoned was broad and simple enough to have a chance of success. What she devoted time and detail and will-power to, was eliminating bad habits.

After all, she reasoned, as you grew in years and dignity, just how many new good habits were left for you to commence? Most people start accumulating habits of all moral hues sometime in adolescence; before then, Kage figured, you were still a child and probably innocent. Or at least ignorant enough to get away with a plea bargain on your more loathsome habits.

Nonetheless, she really did try to weed her spiritual garden every year. She perused her habits, determined which ones were detrimental to what else she wanted to do (write, usually) and ruthlessly marked those activities for destruction. The amazing thing was that she so often succeeded – I don’t think most people below the rank of saint or obsessive really win at this game. But by this method, she controlled her intake of television, her bingeing on Monkey Island games, her fondness for a postprandial pitcher of martinis … all of which had committed the inexcusable sin of interfering with her writing.

Mind you, Kage never reduced her intake of chocolate, or addiction to never-ending pairs of white Converse tennis shoes. But she never thought of those as bad habits, anyway. Which is how I ultimately found over a dozen exotic chocolate bars hidden in her desk, and numerous pairs of identical sneakers in her closet. But those items, Kage would have explained, made it easier for her to write.

Anyway, she didn’t put much stock in other people’s opinions of her habits.  This was made easier for her to deal with because  very few people got to know many of her habits, good or ill. Mostly it was friends at Faire. And me. Kage’s family was seldom in the loop – because, really, your family knows too much about your bad habits already – and so tended to inquire solicitously about things Kage had resolved away years ago. Which was fine with her; she believed firmly that a certain level of Need To Know, strictly maintained, enhanced the tranquility of domestic relationships.

This didn’t work with me, of course; but Kage solved that one by including me in her habit-editing program. “You know what you need to do?” she would inquire from time to time, eyes alight with analysis and decision. This usually meant something that I needed to stop doing, and I immediately resolved to do whatever-it-was twice as hard … however, Kage was frequently correct about these little corrective programs; since she died, I’ve actually quit a lot of what she asked me to quit. Smoking. Drinking. (Mostly.) Buying endless crap science fiction books that needed to be stored somewhere – the Kindle has helped that one, not only by supplying better storage, but enabling me to select better books because I now have a wider accessible choice. Or so I tell myself …

(Honestly, can you really claim to have explored all of the Dune universe until you have plunged into the murky pools of Mentats of Dune? Sisterhood of Dune? Sandworms of DuneWhipping Mek? Well, actually, yes – but you see the idea here. It’s not my fault that Frank Herbert’s son Brian inherited his urge to tell a story, but not his ability to do so.)

The point, Dear Readers, is that Kage’s system worked. Every year, survive. Can’t get a thing done if you die; not things that other people will notice. Every year, try to eliminate a few nasty little tics of the soul you may have picked up: not to make yourself feel good, but to enable you to do your work. At the very least, look at the balance you’ve set up in your life, and try to make it function better. Losing that last 30 pounds may not make any real difference – registering to vote, contributing to a charity, learning to make stained glass  might. Give some thought to the trade-off.

Hence my recurring vow to survive, which at this point probably fulfills both halves of this balance. I’ve developed a bad habit of being sick, which I mean to beat. My legs veins proved free of clots, so my cardiologist lost interest when it became apparent I was not about to have another heart attack.  But my left leg still won’t support my weight and hurts quite distractingly; tomorrow, I see my regular doctor find out why. I don’t really care why (although blood clots do have more cachet than Housemaid’s Knee) but I really want this to stop. Ignoring your health is a bad habit, right?

It’s even more of a waste of time than Navigators of Dune.


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Interregnum (Let’s Go Out To The Lobby!)

Kage Baker had bronchitis or influenza every winter, for years, with a horological accuracy. Some years we couldn’t tell quite what she had – it was over-layered by whatever Plague was making the rounds at Dickens Fair, which she also caught. But, sure as the equinoctial precession, by New Year’s she was hacking and wheezing and cocooned in blankets.

It made our annual New Year’s trips to the sea for her to bathe in inspiration and ice-cold waters all the more miraculous.

She soothed these yearly failures of her respiratory system with a diet of egg creams, wine coolers, hot toddies and won ton soup. The hot toddies – my recipe –  were mostly Irish whiskey, plus sugar and lemons and just enough hot water to hold them all in solution. The fumes alone could empty sinuses. We found out years later that the wine in the coolers made her happy, but was rich with histamines that actually made her sinuses worse. The cream in her egg creams (no culinary euphemisms for Kage) increased her mucus production. I don’t think the won ton soup had any side effects, but … the Chinese restaurant where we bought it for years left a vat of monosodium glutamate as tall as I was on the sidewalk when they moved out. So who knows?

Kage, though, felt that feeling less – which this regimen certainly guaranteed – was just as good as feeling better. So she went on in relatively soggy content through this yearly routine, letting the side effects distract her until the viri ran their courses. None of it killed her. Maybe she was on to something.

Of course, she was a lot younger then than I am now. And while I was immune for decades to this kind of crap, now I catch influenza despite the flu shots – God knows, without the vaccine I’d probably go full Innsmouth and be a gilled, bug-eyed amphibian by 12th Night. However, I also have a weak heart, a tendency to form blood clots, and diabetes. Almost nothing fun, tasty or even distracting is good for me: in fact, my prescription for Plavix (an anti-platelet medication designed to prevent my blood vessels from coagulating solid) warns me (in italicsI that ingestion of any alcohol will stop my heart, convert my liver to beef jerky and condemn me to the cheap seats in Hell.

I am left with heart-safe decongestants; which are almost as safe for the congestion as they are for my heart. None of those wonderful stoplight-red Sudafed we used to toss back in my youth – man, those were like a simoom in your sinuses, you could clear out a whole weekend of Faire dust with ’em! Now, you have to go to the pharmacist, produce three forms of ID plus your first-born novel, and sign some sort of Federal release form just to get 16 measling pills.

Luckily, there is still absinthe, I mean, NyQuil. And chicken soup. And warm blankets. And my Kindle, on which I am currently writing this blog, snug in my furry slippers and with a purring cat beside me … so I may have the flu, but there is still some comfort in this cold, drippy world.

I titled this entry “Interregnum” because I was gonna say I was sick and take five. Instead, I got all caught up in whingeing and whining and carrying on. And, you know what? I feel better.

Thank you, Dear Readers. Go on out to the lobby, and get yourselves some Junior Mints and Bon Bons.



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Blood Music*

Kage Baker hated medical tests. She did all she could to avoid any sort, and only bowed to the necessity when she developed a fatal disease. And then she was courageous and magnificently authorly; she described the process of intrauterine radiation therapy (yes, Dear Readers, such a horrible thing does exist) as spending the afternoon having a Metro station installed in her vagina … making the tech handling the gantry-mounted automaton that was assaulting Kage laugh so hard that the process was delayed.

Admittedly, she came to the tests late in life, and under considerable duress. I bullied my way into a lot of treatment rooms in order to hold her hand so she could get through them. I even assisted the tech who installed the chemo shunt in her left arm, because I knew how to read an ultrasound.

I knew how to read an ultrasound because my way of coping with tests has always been to get as involved as possible. I’ve been having things injected, inserted, prosthetically attached and/or removed since I was 11 years old – I simply love ultrasounds, because you can see what’s going on: if the tech will cooperate and turn the screen where you can see … I even talked the attending physician into turning the viewer so I could see  it when I had to endure a colonoscopy. (Under Demerol, by the way, that was the weirdest trip I have ever taken.) I am at least privileged to report that my insides are a nice shade of pink.

Anyway, today I had ultrasounds taken of my legs. I have had a weird pain in my left leg, with accompanying tremors and weakness, for about 6 weeks; there’s been no sign of a stroke, and I am sure I’d remember falling down enough to make it hurt so much. My cardiologist, who is of course intimately aware of the clot in my heart that occurred on October 14th, therefore sent me off to find out if I have done something insidious like develop deep vein thrombosis.

It wasn’t bad. The tech was a nice lady, they let Kimberly sit in the room with me, and they warmed the gel they used! Mod cons, man; let me tell you, cold ultrasound gel is a nasty thing to encounter on a winter day. But they wouldn’t turn the monitor where I could see it, so it was boring. There I was, stripped to my panties under a cotton sheet – bad lighting, weird noises; it was like a bad college party, being desultorily groped by a disinterested stranger, staring at the ceiling and playing pareidolia games with the patterns of holes in the acoustic tiles overhead …

I recommend acoustic tile for this kind of thing. Yes, it’s ugly stuff, but those random holes make all sorts of interesting patterns. Mostly cat faces and skulls, due to the spareness of the facial features involved, but also spiderwebs, cosmic threads and knitting stitches. I did see a wonderful skull today, amazingly detailed and clearly Homo sapiens, right down to the loaf-shaped cranial vault and zygomatic structures: of course, I blinked and it was gone, but that’s the way it goes with pareidolia.

Anyway, the only way I had to track the examination of my legs was by sound. The hydrological gurgles and swishes from my femoral arteries was a trifle uneven on the right, but my heart beat skips a beat now and then these days. On the left … man, it was a drum solo by a stoned, disabled spider. Loud, then dim; high pitched, then conga-deep; sometimes, not there at all. Led me to all sorts of speculation, but it’s never any use asking the techs – they look blank and refer you to the radiologist, who won’t talk to you either until the attending physician finds out. Hey, it’s my body. But they don’t care.

There were two strokes of luck. First, when the tech left to let me get dressed, she left the last dozen thumbnails she’d taken on the computer screen – all of the left knee. Second, Kimberly (no mean hand at reading an ultrasound herself) was watching the entire thing. And instead of demanding hysterically, “What’s THAT?!?” at weird structures, she just memorized what she saw and then told me.

So: there is a big black blot behind my knee. On the thumbnails, it was displayed in annotated splendour,  with arrows and measurements and coloured lines. which means it is important. Being there at all means I wasn’t imagining things. Being black means it’s fluid. Being a blot means it’s not a muscle tear. The blood flow sounds make me think there is an obstructed flow in the left leg.

The radiologist is not out of a job, though. I think it looks like a clot, but there are plenty of other things it could be. It could be Housemaid’s Knee, it could by synovitis, it could be a slow bleed that hasn’t solidified into a clot. It could be a fiendish tracking device from a UFO abduction, I guess, giving new meaning to “wet wear”. It could be leaking synovial fluid – after 40 years of Faires, my knees are a disaster. Heck, after 40 years of Faires, it could be beer.

Whatever it is, the tests are now under way, which is a relief. I’m tired of trying to gimp on both legs, and with my dicky heart (isn’t that a wonderful British phrase for  freaking HEART FAILURE?) checking for screw ups in the hydraulics is just common sense. Now I just need to get a lung function study completed, to assure my cardiologist that I don’t have COPD on top of everything else. I’d bet money, even my own, that I do not … but again, that she wants to make sure is a good thing. My shortness of breath has gotten quite annoying.

Anyway, another interesting day pursuing personal knowledge: what portion of my miserable corpus is failing now? On the other hand, the ultrasound was painless, I got to see some of it, and the walk from the parking structure constituted daily exercise: so, I’m ahead on points. Even Kage would not have minded today’s medical excursion.

Good thing I had Kimberly, though. I never knew until these recent years how lonely it is on those cold examining tables on one’s own.

Thank all the gods for sisters. They are more than we poor miserable sinners deserve.



*With respectful acknowledgment to Greg Bear, who wrote the magnificent, award-winning Blood Music. Read it; it’s a grand story.

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Beginning And Meaning To Go On

Kage Baker believed firmly in the adage “Begin as you mean to go on”.

It’s a popular vow this time of year, of course. I know several people who made that their New Year’s resolution last night. It was certainly among Kage’s top personal beliefs. Nonetheless, what Kage always resolved was: I WILL SURVIVE.

I made that same pledge last night; standing on the front porch with a glass of bubbly, watching the faux battle lights of fireworks light up ghostly conflicts all around the edge of the sky. It’s especially heartening to be starting a new year, promising survival, defiant in the face of the continuing mess of our government. And, of course, looking at the ass end of the nightmare that was 2017 …

A few thoughts occurred to me, there in the dim light of distant explosions. Allow me to share a few, Dear Readers

More rhinos and elephants are still dying each year than are being born – all at the hands of human hunters. It takes 2 years to produce a baby rhino or elephant. All it takes to kill one is a few hours out of sight of the few park rangers. That trade is driven by the desire of Saudi princes to possess exotic dagger handles; and the conviction of Asian gentry that elephant tusks and rhino horns will assist their (unnecessary) erections.

On the one hand, these moneyed idiots are now driving the poaching of large antelope, tigers and even the more extravagant lizards. The bones, horns and skins of many surviving mega mammals are now credited with magic, to bolster the sagging manhood of royal drones and businessmen. On the other hand, Saudi princes are being harvested by their own big brothers, and Asian millionaires are discovering Viagra. So there’s some hope there.

Bananas are one of the most eaten fruits in the world. Whole economies depend on them, as well as millions of American lunches and smoothies. Bananas are also grown commercially as a monoculture – the Banana Lords only plant one kind of the curved yellow fruit. And that kind (Cavendish) is being killed world wide by a banana pest. Wave bye bye to that banana – but not to fret, the previous King Banana (the Gros Michel) went exactly the same way decades ago … so we may lose Cavendish bananas, which were replacements in the first place, but we will just change to a new banana. Which may not be curved or yellow. It might be straight or  fat, green or red or blue. Also, a lot of people will go hungrier, but the Banana Lords will be okay. As will your lunch.

However, there is a worse plant holocaust growing in the coffee fields of the world. Luckily, this one is under swift, desperate and concerted study: odds are, my favourite alkaloid will remain available, though the type may change. But global warning is making it more possible to consider backyard production – I may be able to cultivate a couple of coffee trees in my backyard. I have a friend who is trying that ….

But more horrifying still is the potential apocalypse in the gardens of theobromos. Yes, Dear Readers, chocolate in all its varieties is in danger – again, from micro-organisms destroying the plants. See this article:


There is frantic research going on to combat this – chocolate is an enormous industry, and probably ranks as a major religion if you could get its devotees to admit their dependence upon its benefits and charms. Yet even here, I maintain hope – for one thing, there  is a lot of clever and determined work going on to prevent the Food of the Gods from vanishing on the Earth. Also, never underestimate the power of money – Hershey’s, Cadbury, Godiva and all the other confectioners will not go down without a struggle, I am sure.

And, of course, I will always be waiting for a miracle from the Company, at least to save the chocolate plants: Zeus ex machina, if you will. Or any other punny device that will save my choccies.

So I have some little hopes new born, growing earnestly in the Jiffy pots of my soul. They show bright and green this New Year’s Day, even amid the tragedies and multifarious sins of the naughty world. I will continue to hope.

And I will survive.


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“We … belong dead.” (Not As Morbid As It Looks)

Kage Baker liked to watch movies on New Year’s Eve. Partly that was because she also liked to stay at home on the Eve; maybe a really good dinner out, but that early and swift. She went to ground as soon as possible on New Year’s Eve, so as to avoid the street rioting and such.

Nonetheless, she religiously watched the ball drop in Times Square, toasted the New Year on her front porch every year with champagne, and took a midnight walk. In our youth, it was through the dark precipitous streets of the Hollywood Hills, champagne in hand, dodging cars and toasting other revelers on their front porches and balconies. In our  later years, it was always to the beach – only two blocks way when we lived in Pismo, and usually profoundly deserted, too.

The party goers we’d dodged earlier in the evening would be celebrating loudly in beach front restaurants and rental apartments, but we we were almost almost always the only strollers on the beach. Kage would be carrying a crystal champagne flute (which she never dropped!) and I would have a pewter flask of whiskey. We would vow to survive another year, and then Kage would hand me her glass and her shoes and wade into the surf – Kage, who so hated being cold and/or wet, would spread her arms open to the sea and promise her life to her muse if only she could keep writing: she would swear it on her blood’s heat in the cold sea, and take the salt spray on her lips for the confirming kiss of a god.

Then we’d slog damply home. Kage never dying of pneumonia was surely the first miracle of every year.

But she also loved to watch movies, specific movies. I could always kind of understand Amadeus – it has lots of glorious music, parties and whipped cream: good New Year fare. I never quite understood why Kage loved to watch the Bride of Frankenstein then as well, but it was certainly grand viewing. The antics of Dr. Pretorius are always a mad giggle, and the graveyard scenes cannot be beat for either fright or hilarity. (Kage found them very Shakespearean.) Maybe the pathos and doom appealed to her, too; as well as the slow mythic pas de deux wherein Frankenstein and the Monster change places as hero and villain.

She loved Elsa Lanchester’s amazing rejection of her intended mate. She loved the balletic pace and movements of the ending. And she loved the Monster’s last words, raspily declaring “We belong dead!” as he pulls the huge fatal lever while his witless bride hisses furiously.

The Monster Speaks! proclaimed posters of the time – for Kage, what he spoke was the destruction of all the bad things in the year just past. She mourned his (supposed) destruction even as she cheered the end of whatever evil had haunted the previous year: the crumbling Castle Frankenstein, she always felt, was a cinematic version of the Tower from the Tarot’s Major Arcana.

I don’t go out on New Year’s Eve, even now. My family stays happily at home, eating Christmas leftovers and watching telly. Also, cursing the neighborhood idiots who set off fireworks, and comforting our terrified pets. I may step onto the porch to lift a glass of bubbly (not champagne, Sprite Cranberry) and vow once more to survive: if only to spite all the things that seem to want me dead.

But most of all, no matter what we watch, I will be cheering on the Monster in my heart as he kills the old year of 2017. It was a rotten year of nightmare, pain, fury and fear. It belongs dead. I rejoice to see it die. May its evil die with it, including the evil it seeded in my soul – may my next year be one of more peace, more compassion, more love.

Let me die to hate. Let me live in joy. Let the me who reflected any of 2017 perish, to be replaced with literally any other year of my life. I mean to turn the calendar waaay back, Dear Readers. The Monster’s declaration is also a renewal.

May all our demons and sorrows die. And so a Happy New Year’s unto you all.

My hero

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Happy Christmas

Kage Baker loved Christmas.

And for all our many years of devotion to Dickenson Fair and Extreme Christmas – and believe me, the delights and ecstasies are many and enormous – the crown of all the season is Christmas Day with the family.

I’m not a Christian, and Kage’s devotion was eccentric and highly personalized. For her, the main thing was the Young Lord, and the general adoration of the resurrected god.  But today was special. Today is the celebration of love.

I am with my family, replete with oranges and homemade fudge and bagels. Dinner will be prime rib with appropriate extras, and the roast is even now perfuming the house with promises of culinary heaven.  (The cats are walking around with their noses in the air,  sniffing …)

The living room is warm and lit with coloured lights. We are all together. The aether has let me send greetings to all my loved ones who are not here: like you, Dear Readers.

Peace and joy to all. The year has reached its turning point and now we run toward the light. Let’s make it a good run this year, kids; let’s make it to the next level, further up and further in, let’s evolve this time.

Excelsior, and Happy Christmas to you all.

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