Saturday, August 21, 2010

Season of the Dragonfly

I have lived in the Puget Sound region for almost 20 years. I grew up in southern California on the edge of encroaching suburbia 20 miles east of Los Angeles. Nature was close in a subset of the Puente Hills. The change of seasons was subtle. The rains came in winter turning the hills emerald green then they baked to a soft golden crust in the rainless summer. I knew the names of the plants and animals.

When I first moved to western Washington I did not know any of the signs that marked seasonal transitions. Each year has taught me something new. I have a better understanding of the seasonal signs. I can easily rattle off the names of all the trees growing in the Puget lowland.

Summer here brings many more sunny days than the rest of the country would suspect given the popular myth of gray, rainy Seattle. But our climate here is really a modified Mediterranean climate, with the winter taken to an extreme in rainfall. The summers are generally sunny with moderate temperatures in the high 70s and low 80s (Fahrenheit). The summer days are long at this northern latitude.

Midsummer around my house is Dragonfly season. On sunny days, the largest of dragonflies, the darners patrol the broad open stretches of lawn and garden, catching and devouring smaller insect pray on the wing.

My favorite dragonfly of our garden is the Cardinal Meadowhawk (Sympetrum illotum). It is a brilliant cardinal in color. It usually rests on a conspicuous perch with wings folded downward, a characteristic of the meadowhawks.

 Dragonflies spend the juvenile portion of their life cycle in water as nymphs. Our neighborhood has several small streams that flow from upland areas into Puget Sound, which is only a few hundred feet from our house. These streams are ideal habitat for dragonflies.

Adult dragonflies are the ultimate sky predator, having a head almost entirely covered by a pair of compound eyes and legs that bristle with spikes that form a perfect basket for scooping up smaller flying insect prey.

Dragonflies date back to the Carboniferous period, 300 million years ago, when Meganeuron was cruising the skies with a wing span of 2.5 feet. Imagine seeing that!

The next seasonal transition is the swarming of the Pacific dampwood termite and the corresponding rapid growth of the European garden spider.  This is a sure sign that the coming of fall is close.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Modern Medicine II

I've never had a "doctor" as in "whose your doctor?"  The only time I see a doctor is my annual occupational physical, which I dread.  It's a pretty comprehensive physical that includes blood work, spirometry (blow!), EKG, chest x-ray (which they always manage to screw up), and a hearing (which I fail because I used to listen to rock ... LOUD! ... what?).  Every year it's a different doctor and sometimes it's a female doctor sticking her fingers under my testicles and asking me to cough.  Based on my random sampling, there are no cute female occupational physicians.  The attractive female physicians become OB-GYNs, like the two that delivered my boys.

As requested, I scheduled an appointment with a bona fide "doctor", what you would refer to as a family physician.  He seemed gravely concerned about the clot in my calf and he didn't like the whole aspirin thing I was doing as suggested by the ER dude.  I gathered from our conversation that it sparked some of dialog among the various professionals who I've had the pleasure of seeing over the last week or so.

Conveniently there was an opening at the ultrasound place.  Again, I took my pants off, laid down on a tissue paper-covered table, while an attractive young women rubbed a thingee over my leg and talked into a microphone.  Modern medicine isn't all bad.  The downside was that the clot was still there.

Back I went to my official doctor, who is actually turning out to be an OK guy.  Modern medicine convinced me that the Warfarin blood thinning therapy was the way to go.  It would be for three months until my body figured out that my calf was healed up and needed to back off the clotting alert.

I scheduled an appointment with the blood-thinning clinic where the nice nurse started me on 7.5 mg a day.  I got the prescription filled and headed home.  It was lunch time so I decided to make a tuna melt.  While slicing cheese with a mandolin slicer I sliced my thumb open.  I know it's bad when you look at it once and think maybe it isn't real then look a second time and see all the blood and you know it's real.  So it was back to the clinic with my thumb wrapped in a couple sheets of Brawny paper towels to get my thumb sewn up.

I have now been on the Warfarin diet for almost two weeks.  I go in every few days to have my clotting factor checked.  Normal is a "1" but I need to be between 2 and 3, the ideal range to reduce further clotting but not so thin that my skull fills with blood.  I made a lame chart in Excel which shows my daily Warfarin dose in milligrams (mg) and the measured clotting factor.  I showed my chart to the nurse and she said "You must be a computer expert!"  Geez, it's really quite a lame chart.  I think I'll add a 3-D effect for my next appointment and really blow her mind.