Thursday, December 29, 2005


As if being diagnosed with bursitis and cancer this year weren't enough, now I have more good news: I'm half deaf.

The hearing loss, which is about 10 percent worse in my left ear, is an indirect result of the cancer surgery two weeks ago. The anesthesia and breathing tube apparently conspired in an effort to give me a sinus infection. That sinus infection has conspired with cleft palate surgery I had as an infant, and now I have fluid in my inner ears and can't hear well at all. To add insult to injury, I had to ask the ear doctor what he had said when he told me I was half-deaf.

In a healthy person, when fluid gathers in the inner ear behind the eardrum, it drains naturally down a part of the ear called a station tube and enters the person's nose, where it's blown out sooner or later. Because my cleft palate required corrective surgery when I was still an infant, the muscles controlling my station tube don't work quite right, and sometimes the tube remains shut, so my ears can't drain. It's a lot like the feeling you get when you're on an airplane and your ears won't pop. (Same principle, different application.)

So the doctor has put me on a new prescription that he hopes will help. If it doesn't, I may need tubes put into my ears for the first time in about 25 years. If it comes to that, with my luck, the doctor will trip and poke me in the eye, leaving me half blind.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

chuck e. cheese

I just took Rachel to a birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese today. I asked her afterward what her favorite part of the party was, and she said, "The part where we were eating cake." (I have to agree -- that was better than the part where we were eating pizza.)

This was, I believe, the first time Rachel has ever been invited to a birthday party anywhere. We arrived just before the birthday boy himself arrived, and for the entire time until it was time to eat, they were inseparable. They ran around the place like a couple of maniacs, and spent most of their time in the skytubes, that oversize Habitrail for children. After pizza and cake, the kids were a little more separable, and Rachel spent most of her time on the rides, including five or six trips on the car where you get your picture taken with Chuck E. Cheese.

I barely knew any of the adults, especially since only three other preschoolers came, and consequently was bored out of my mind most of the party. Mostly I went around with Rachel, giving her tokens to put into the rides and watching her enjoy herself. I did chat with one of the mothers who was there, and she told me how great it was that I was so loving and affectionate with my children, and that she wishes more fathers were like that.

We finally left about two-and-a-half hours after we arrived, went to Target and tried unsuccessfully to exchange one of the two copies of The Simpsons season six that we received for Christmas, and then went home.

And here I am now.

Monday, December 26, 2005

an arachnophile christmas

This was the year Christmas at our house was bitten by a radioactive spider.

Although the day had highlights besides the presents, and even though there were presents that generated more enthusiasm than these, there was no doubt that this year, Spider-man did very well at our household. Virtually everyone received at least one present with everybody's favorite wall-crawler on it.

The big winner was Evangeline, who has been carrying the Spider-man torch high enough for three children her age ever since last Christmas, when I received a handful of Spider-man trade paperbacks. Evangeline's favorite present this year was the "Matilda" movie-and-book combo from her New York aunt and uncle, but she spent the entire day wearing a new Spider-man winter hat and a pair of Spider-man slippers. Other web-spinner gifts included a Spider-man place mat for meals, a pair of Spider-man pajamas, and a Spider-man comic book intended to introduce him to young readers.

Rachel fared less handsomely with the Spider-man gifts -- her fan identity is less known that Evangeline's -- but even she got the place mat and a pair of slippers. Thankfully, the slippers are noticeably different. Evangeline's pair, which Rachel bought for her, incidentally, have little Spider-man heads that poke up and look forward from a vantage point above the toes. Rachel got a more basic pair. They're red, have a web design on them, and say Spider-man, but don't make her look like she has little bobbleheads on her feet.

Even Natasha got into the act. When I took Rachel out Christmas shopping a few weeks ago and she picked out the Spider-man slippers for Evangeline, she also glommed onto the idea of buying a pair for her mother. As I said at the time, it's not exactly the sort of present that Natasha would expect, but it was Rachel's gift, so we bought it. Natasha was a good sport about it, and wore them all day yesterday, even though she got another pair from my parents.

Interestingly, I was the only one not to get anything remotely connected to Spider-man. It appears the good folks down at the Marvel Comics merchandising department are a few years behind the times. They seem to have missed out on the fact that it is now socially acceptable for boys to read comic books, and even grown men occasionally get something out of a superhero now and then.

That gender imbalance is something they can work on getting straightened out before next Christmas.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

disappointment with narnia

Now that I've seen the new, live-action version of "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe," I better understand what critics like Polly Toynbee have been saying.

Toynbee, writing in The Guardian, is one of a few critics I've read lately who accuses the movie specifically and Narnia in general for supporting a militaristic interpretation of Christianity, viz. Christ as the fierce lion Aslan rather than as a meek lamb. Toynbee specifically linked the movie to the ongoing war in Iraq and suggested it offered a spiritual justification for the presence of coalition forces there.

This entry contains spoilers, so if you haven't seen the movie and intend to, stop reading now.

The movie begins during the London blitz of World War II. Starting here, a few days or weeks before C.S. Lewis' book does, gives moviegoers some context for why the Pevensie children are at Professor Kirke's house in the first place. This is all the more important when you consider how removed children in 21st-century America are from the blitz, especially compared with the English children who were Lewis' immediate audience.

More importantly, though, it provides some important insights into the characters of the Pevensie children, particularly Peter and Edmund. Their father, it appears, is away from home and serving in the British military. It's his absence that makes Peter the bossing sort of older brother that we see elsewhere in the story, and it's Edmund's resentment over Peter's efforts to assume their father's role that leads his act of betrayal later in the story.

But as important as this is for context and character development, it does a lot to bolster claims that the movie provides spiritual justification for Bush's war on terror. For American audiences, particularly here in the shadow of Ground Zero, images of an invading force dropping ordnance on the innocent residents of London can't help but conjure images of 9-11 and the carnage unleashed when the jets flew into the Twin Towers.

Suddenly the horror of World War II is real to us. We don't just understand the fear that drove the children from their homes out to strange houses in the countryside, we feel it ourselves. And of course it's in the idyllic English countryside, where the movie reminds us repeatedly that they have fled to escape World War II, that the Pevensie children are swept up into another battle, in Narnia, between Good and Evil.

The movie reinforces this connection repeatedly. Both Susan and Peter complain that they just fled one war and don't want to enter another. Peter, mindful that he's already assumed his father's role in protecting his siblings, resists assuming his father's role as a combatant, and by the time all is said and done, it's impossible not to see the war the Narnians are fighting against the White Witch and her evil invading forces as a parallel to the one England is fighting with Nazi Germany, nor even to the one the United States is in with the insurgents in Iraq.

That's a connection I've never made in at least four separate occasions when I've read "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe." I realize that's just my experience, and it may not be true for other people who have read Lewis' children's books, but I can't help but feel a little saddened to see the movies making that connection at all.

While the battle between Good and Evil is central to "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe," in the book it's clear that the physical battle is hardly the main event. For the main event, we turn to the events on the Stone Table on the eve of the battle, where Aslan takes Edmund's traitor's death upon himself and so fulfills the requirements of the Deep Magic. It is there that Lewis lingers, and after the Stone Table is broken and Aslan is restored to life, Susan and Lucy celebrate his resurrection, putting flowers in his mane and thrilling at his impossibly glorious resurrection.

The movie shifts this focus away from the spiritual victory and toward the earthly one. The Beavers and other talking beasts of Narnia are more excited over the Pevensies' arrival than they over Aslan's approach, and it's as though they and not he are credited with bringing Narnia its first springtime in a century. Throughout it all is the growing expectation that Peter will lead an army to victory against the White Witch and deliver freedom to Narnia; even as he walks through the White Witch's castle and restores all those she has turned to stone, Aslan urges Susan and Lucy to find every statue they can, since Peter will need all the help that he can get.

Peter's battle against the Witch and her army, in other words, is the climax of the movie, and his ascension to the throne with its siblings is its end. Aslan's sacrifice on the Stone Table is just a step toward that goal. And why not? It is the children who are the stars here, not just of the movie, but of the story the movie tells. The Aslan of film is less than the Aslan of the books. He's big, but he's not larger than life. In fact, you can't help but get the impression that he's been waiting for the Pevensies to arrive, rather than their arrival simply serving as a forerunner of his return.

Still, if the movie fails at transferring some of the nuances of Lewis' book to the silver screen, it surpasses him in character development and turns the Pevensie children into more fully developed people, with pasts and futures that can be seen from the vantage of the present. In her talk with Professor Kirke echoes the voice of an older Susan who is more concerned with popularity and appearance than with Truth; in her resistance to the weight of the Beavers' expectation we can see the future Susan of whom Peter one day will say "My sister the Queen Susan is no longer a friend of Narnia."

And if Peter falls easily into his role of the bossy oldest child, and Edmund into the role of resentful and overshadowed younger sibling, the movie's Lucy expresses an easily seen childlike faith in the impossible world of Narnia, just as she points to the arrival of Father Christmas as vindication of beliefs held in her own world.

The more I think of the movie, the more disappointment I feel over what Narnia lost in its translation to the big screen. It's not that it's a bad movie, but it never really captures the feel of the book. Most of the pleasure in reading Lewis' book lies in its simple charm. A lot of the charm got lost amid the spectacle and pageantry as the filmmakers turned a G-rated book into a PG-rated movie.

This is not the Narnia that I fell in love with fifteen years ago, nor is it the Narnia I want my children to remember.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

okay, this is amusing

A week or so before the operation, Evangeline and I were making a series of trips around the area to get some chores taken care of, and to let Evangeline buy Rachel a Christmas present. As is often the case, we passed the time talking, telling jokes and singing.

Evangeline is thoroughly sold on the virtues of Bugs Bunny, so it was no surprise when we started signing -- perhaps "warbling" is the better term -- the libretto from "What's Opera, Doc?", the classic Chuck Jones spoof of Wagner's "Niebelungenlied" opera, with Elmer Fudd cast as the mighty hunter with the spear and magic helmet. (Magic helmet?) You know the one.

Well, when we got to the part where Elmer Fudd realized that his true love was the rabbit he had been hunting, and he summoned all those scourges to kill Bugs, culminating in a loud summoning of "smog," Evangeline interrupted with this observation:

"Hey, Daddy, I bet he was calling on the dragon Smaug."

It's good to see that she's been paying attention.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

a thyroid in every pot

I feel lifeless. I'm sleeping about 14 hours a day.

I'm told that might drop to even more reasonable levels as I get past the surgery hump and even as the thyroid medicine gets nailed down better, but my profound lack of energy bothers me, especially since I'm supposed to be watching the girls. It also feels like my energy level is dropping further, not returning.

How long is this going to last?

narnia negativity

Polly Toynbee at British newspaper The Guardian has written a most interesting critique of the new "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" movie.

The movie, which appeared in theaters last Friday, is based on the popular children's book of the same title by C.S. Lewis. The book is especially popular among Christians, who love its allegorical elements, with Aslan representing Christ; the White Witch, Satan; and her castle with stone statues, the grave with all those who died in the time before Christ came and broke the power of death.

I won't be seeing the movie until tomorrow, but still, I got a kick out of reading Toynbee's piece, because it's so laden with irony. The writer, who obviously has a serious grudge not just with Narnia with Christianity, nonetheless deserves high points for spiritual perception. She seems to understand the gospel very well:

Of all the elements of Christianity, the most repugnant is the notion of the Christ who took our sins upon himself and sacrificed his body in agony to save our souls. Did we ask him to? Poor child Edmund, to blame for everything, must bear the full weight of a guilt only Christians know how to inflict, with a twisted knife to the heart. Every one of those thorns, the nuns used to tell my mother, is hammered into Jesus's holy head every day that you don't eat your greens or say your prayers when you are told. So the resurrected Aslan gives Edmund a long, life-changing talking-to high up on the rocks out of our earshot. When the poor boy comes back down with the sacred lion's breath upon him he is transformed unrecognisably into a Stepford brother, well and truly purged.

It's not the first time I've heard such complaints, but I don't get them where the faith is concerned. Jesus is revealed in the book of Revelation as the Lion of Judah, and (paradoxically) as a Lamb. The lion's glory and power is manifest in the Lamb's weakness and humility, but he's still a Lion -- and while he's not militaristic or fascist, I don't think Lewis' Narnia, for all its failings, depicts him as such.

I'm curious to see how well the movie treats the subject matter. I've heard a few people express concerns that it might be too violent, upsetting or scary for the girls in a few parts. I guess we'll find out this weekend.

(Personally, I thought Toynbee's article would have been well served with a headline like "The Chronicles of Narnia: Why I hate God, Christians, Jesus, America, and you.")

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

escape from the planet of the thyroid

I look like someone tried to slit my throat, and missed.

Surgery started a little over two hours late, owing to what I presume are standard delays in hospital operating rooms as one procedure after another takes a little more time than was alloted. They thought my request for my thyroid in a jar (or, failing that, a photograph of it) was odd but amusing, but it was not something they could accomodate in any event.

I'm told the actual procedure went smoothly; thankfully, I was asleep for it. I remember being strapped down to an impossibly narrow operating table, and teasing one of the surgical crew that they must get an incredible urge to tickle patients' feet at this point, but not much else. Around this time I was getting lightheaded, so I said, "You put the anesthesia in the IV these days, huh?" The anesthesiologist said yes, and then I was out also immediately.

When I woke up, it was around 10 p.m., and I was in a post-op recovery room. Natasha, who had not been told that I had gone into surgery late, had been waiting for me for almost three hours, and no doubt was even happier to see me than I was to see her, since her brain wasn't still addled by drugs.

They moved me upstairs to my own room around 11 p.m., and Natasha left to get the girls, who had been staying with friends.

The next seven hours were brutal, not just because I was wearing a drafty blue dress, not just because it was getting increasingly uncomfortable to swallow, not just because it was cold and the nurse on duty couldn't find me an extra blanket, and not just because the fellow next to me had his light on all night so I couldn't sleep except in 15- to 20-minute increments. No, it was brutal because I was hooked up to an IV drip potent enough to keep a herd of camel traders hydrated in the desert heat, and I had to keep getting up so I could pee into a bottle, since there was no way I could make it to the bathroom with that stupid IV attached.

Around six o'clock in the morning Friday, I had two visitors. The first drew some more blood, and the second changed the dressing on my throat and removed the drains they had placed there to keep the blood from gathering. If I had been less worn out, I suppose I might have found this second one discomfiting, as it is, I think I fell asleep while he was at work.

Around nine o'clock, I convinced the daytime nurse that I was ready to eat solid food. I ate breakfast, got unplugged from the IV, and around four that afternoon, I finally stopped having to pee every 20 minutes.

My family visited for two hours, starting around four. Rachel, predictably, thought it was a really exciting new experience, and came up to me right away. Evangeline, predictably, was still upset by the whole thing, and waited nearly an hour before she would do more than sneak forlorn looks at me when she thought I wasn't looking.

Much to my surprise, I was discharged from the hospital Friday evening, less than 24 hours after the operation. (I had been told a few times that Saturday evening would be the earliest I would get out, and that Sunday was more likely.)

Since then, it's become less uncomfortable to swallow, and I can honestly say I've taken nothing stronger than Tylenol since I was discharged, even though I was given a prescription for something stronger. It still hurts a little to lean forward and kiss the girls, though, and when I sneezed the other day, it was like I had been kicked by a horse. My worst problem painwise cropped up last night, it's a persistent pain that runs from just below my right shoulder down my right side, in front. I have no idea what's causing it, although I doubt I'm growing a new thyroid. If it persists, I expect I'll go see the doctor and probably find I have some other carcinoma unrelated to my thyroid problems.

More directly related to the thyroid surgery is the fatigue I feel day to day. Generally, I can make it about three or four hours without needing to take a nap. Tonight, I went to bed early, having skipped the late afternoon nap, and probably would have done all right, except Rachel woke me up when she came into bed, and that damnable pain in my right side has kept me from getting back to sleep, since it's worse when I lie flat.

The scar on my throat is about three or four inches long, just about the length of a newborn Oompa Loompa, if I remember correctly. I don't see any stitches, so I guess they used surgical glue to close it up. It's healing pretty nicely, and when it's all done, it'll blend in naturally with the normal lines and creases people have in their necks anyway.

In the meantime, though, like I said, it looks Jack the Ripper had bad aim.

Friday, December 09, 2005

return to the planet of the thyroid

After telling me Thursday night that I would be going home Saturday evening at the earliest, the surgeon had me discharged this evening, Friday. If you were planning to visit me, you may still do so, but I advise against trying to do it at the hospital, as I am not there.

My throat is sore, and it's still a little uncomfortable to swallow (and I have no thyroid), but otherwise I'm OK.

And to my considerable disappointment, not only did they not let me keep the thyroid in a jar, they also did not take me a picture of it. One of the operating crew said a thyroid looks like a blob of used tissue; the surgeon himself said I could find a picture of somebody else's thyroid on the Internet.

I am very tired now, and I am going to bed.