Archive for the ‘Language and medicine’ Category

Rollin’ on the roadway

May 2, 2021

The mobility equipment piles up. I now have a cool cane (with four feet); an indoor walker (fairly recently equipped with a tray for carrying things around the house); and now a big fancy outdoor walker — a Rollator! — that can, in seconds, be turned into a comfortable seat to rest in on the street.

And now a tour of my assistive devices, as they’re called in the trade.


gay therapy

April 13, 2021

An ad in my Facebook feed for a Gay Therapy Center, which briefly gave me pause because of an ambiguity in the Adj + N composite gay therapy. Now, Adj + N composites, like N + N compounds, are notoriously open to multiple understandings, even if we restrict ourselves to general patterns for the semantic relationship between the two parts. In this case, I had a moment of deep unease that gay therapy was to be understood as a treatment composite, parallel to treatment compounds: pain therapy, flu therapy, cancer therapy, etc. ‘therapy to treat condition or disorder X’. Thus viewing homosexuality as a disorder, which would make gay therapy here a synonym of the now-conventional label conversion therapy, for a scheme that proposes to treat homosexuality and cure it.

But, whew, no. The Gay Therapy Center in San Francisco (with a satellite center in Los Angeles) offers “LGBTQ therapy to help LGBTQ people love themselves and each other” — with the composite gay therapy understood as ‘therapy for gay people, to help / benefit gay people’. Indeed, the Facebook ad offered brief videos showing male couples embracing affectionately (other ads have female couples as well). A still from one of these:


TV Day

April 2, 2021

Today’s my TV — Totally Vaccinated — Day, two weeks after I got my second Pfizer COVID-19 shot, the point when, authorities think, the vaccine is fully effective.

So this morning I ventured out in the neighborhood alone, for the first time in 13 months. With a (penguin) face mask, and using a walker (I’m still working on learning to walk again on my own), and only for a block (I still have the dyspnea problem from well before pandemic time — I had to stop two times along the way to catch my breath — and I’m going through a bad osteoarthritis patch, so most of my joints screamed) — but the hell with all that, it felt wonderful, like a fresh start.

I was wearing my GAY AS F🧁CK t-shirt, but it was cool, so the tee was under a flannel shirt. And on that flannel shirt I had proudly pinned my badge:



The fear begins to lift

March 23, 2021

The fear of death, now that I’ve had both shots of the Pfizer vaccine for the COVID-19 virus. And the vaccine will have taken full effect by April 2nd (Good Friday, though either Easter or Passover would have been a better omen), at which time I can feel reasonably comfortable venturing (masked and suitably distanced from others) out into the world, after nearly 13 months in isolation.

The end game involved some waiting in line that was unusually light and easy, as explained in a NYT Magazine Tip “How to Wait in Line”, by Maria Wollan (on-line on 3/16; in print on 3/21).

(NYT illustration by Radio)

Wollan’s subhead:

Distract yourself to pass the time. If you can, embrace the camaraderie of wanting something en masse.


The brain health product

February 15, 2021

Yesterday’s Doonesbury has Mike (Doonesbury) and (his wife) Kim (Rosenthal) listening to a mock Prevagen® commercial in which the dietary supplement is openly hawked as a useless (but expensive) placebo for treating mild forgetfulness (with a digression in the 5th panel on a secret ingredient in it derived from the fabulously memorious jellyfish):



February 4, 2021

Today’s morning name, a little exercise in etymology. From NOAD:

ORIGIN early 20th century: modern Latin, from Greek ana- ‘again’ + phulaxis ‘guarding’.

From Michael Quinion’s Affixes site on ana:


In the bleak midwinter

January 17, 2021

Every year, an emotionally difficult time of the year: Ann Daingerfield Zwicky’s death day is 1/17 (this year a Sunday, today), and my man Jacques Transue’s birthday is 1/22 (a Friday this year). When Ann died, in January 1985, it was in fact extraordinarily cold and bleak in Columbus OH; and then of course Jacques’s birthday was pretty much swallowed up by the aftermaths of Ann’s death (including a memorial service at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, on the Ohio State campus).

This year, I’m in Palo Alto CA, where midwinter is normally wet and cool (though not truly cold), but also green and graced by many winter-blooming flowers. In fact, this year it’s unseasonably dry and what counts as warm for winter here (high temperatures near 70 F., at least for a while), so the edge has been somewhat taken off my midwinter funk over my lost loves.

Into the midst of this have come some touching photos of J in his later years, as he was sliding towards death (which finally came in 2003) — a contrast to the photos of him that I’ve been posting here recently, photos of a strong, vital, handsome younger J.


Flat on his back at the solstice

January 15, 2021

Today’s Wayno/Piraro Bizarro, framed as an instance of the Psychiatrist cartoon meme:

(#1) (If you’re puzzled by the odd symbols in the cartoon — Dan Piraro says there are 6 in this strip — see this Page.)

The patient is lying on the therapeutic couch, but he’s also flat on hs back suffering the affective disorder that comes to many with the winter solstice (Wayno’s title for the cartoon: “Bummer Solstice” — playing on summer solstice).

Then the title “Tropical Depression”, ordinarily referring to a meterological phenomenon, involving lowered atmospheric pressure (depression) arising in the tropics  (the geographical band surrounding the equator)[*see note after this paragraph]; but here referring to a mental condition (depression, characterized by lowered energy and affect), in this case, specifically, seasonal affective disorder (aka seasonal melancholy) triggered by the short, dark, cold days around the winter solstice — which the patient seems to be counteracting with cultural symbols  associated with the bright, hot, and humid tropics (Hawaii, to be specific): beachcomber hat, lei, coconut drink, ukulele, and Hawaiian beach shorts.

[*Note added 1/17: this account of the tropical in tropical depression is grossly oversimplified. For a more accurate statement — from an actual meteorologist — see Sim Aberson’s comment on this posting.]


Reading my life

December 26, 2020

Writing to friends recently about the course of my life and how to interpret it. It can be read as a litany of pain, loss and tragedy, or alternatively, as an account of great successes and recognitions. Both things are true.


Memory gaps

December 5, 2020

(Originally written up on 12/3 at the rehab center in Palo Alto.)

A striking, and very distressing, effect of my alcohol poisoning is memory gaps. Some afflicting me:

— (Gap 1) the name of the company my caregiver, Kim Darnell, works for: Wells Fargo.

— (Gap 2) The name of the company my daughter, Elizabeth Daingerfeld Zwicky, works for: Yahoo! (The company itself has a different idea about its proper name, but I’m sticking with its older label.)

— (Gap 3) The name of the native language of my neighbor when I was a patient at Stanford Hospital: Punjabi.

— (Gap 4) The name of the long-standing affliction of my joints (causing significant pain in random joints, different ones on different days); in the context of either alcohol poisoning or alcohol-withdrawal syndrome, I don’t know which, magnified to an exquisitely painful condition: osteoarthritis.

— (Gap 5) The name of the governor of California before the current one, Gavin Newsome (whose name has always been firm in my memory): Jerry Brown.

When I was first asked for this name by a doctor probing my awareness of the cultural context surrounding me, I got nothing at all.

Then the last name, Brown, came to me (apparently spontaneously, out of the blue) and was firmly fixed in my memory thereafter, but the man’s first name eluded me, and in the context of a medical institution where I had no means of searching for information, continued to elude me, until this morning, when one of my therapists provided me with Jerry.

Now, in the interim I could automatically retrieve not just the family name Brown, but also the information that this governor’s father was Pat Brown, an earlier governor of California; that the Brown I was after had himself served as governor a while back in a hippie-esque period, when he was sometimes mocked as Governor Moonbeam; that he then went on to serve as mayor of the city of Oakland; and that he then returned to the governorship in a much more serious guise.

That is, I knew a hell of a lot about this man Brown, but could not for the life of me retrieve his first name.

The general pattern is typical of my word-finding difficulties: I am enormously knowledgeable over a wide range of facts, but there are seemingly random gaps in word-finding.

This is not a matter of personal significance to me. It’s true that Jerry Brown’s first name is of no particular importance in my life, but the identity of Kim and Elizabeth’s employers are central in my life, and my grave difficuty in retrieving these names fills me with shame and distress.

It’s as if some malefactor were firing shotgun blasts at my word-hoard, taking down some items willy-nilly.

An additional wrinkle is that some of the gaps are persistent — the items vanish again and again, even after being found. This is strikingly true for Gaps 1-4. I rehearse them thousands of times, but still they vanish.

The key to recovering them is having a mnemonic. For Gap 1, ths is the song “The Wells Fargo Wagon” (“The Wells Fargo wagon is a-comin'”) from the Broadway show and movie The Music Man. For Gap 2, it’s about what the cowboys shout when they see that wagon train a-comin’. For Gap 3, it’s “word play poke” (pun + jab). For Gap 4, it’s “bone joint” (Greek roots osteo– ‘bone’ + arthr– ‘joint (of the body)’).

Other gaps are temporary: once I have recovered or learmed te vagrant item it’s firm in my memory from then on.

Just so for Gap 5, for both parts of the name. Once I had spontaneously retrieved the family name Brown, I had it as automatically available as any familiar name, like Newsome. Then, once I had been told the personal name Jerry, it too became as automatically available as any personal name, like Gavin.


— (Gap 6) the name of the shop on Caifornia Avenue in Palo Alto that provides the closest thing to genuine New York City bagels locally: Izzy’s (full name Izzy’s Brooklyn Bagels).

In talking, with some feeling, about the world of bagels, I could recall the location of the place and remember that it was Joel Wallenberg who brought me to a full appreciation of the place, and even picture its interior, and recall that its name was an affectionate abbreviation of a specifically Jewish man’s name, but Izzy eluded me. Until a friend supplied it for me, and then it became an automatically available local food name, quite unproblematic.

Similarly, for a brief period, it took some work for me to recall the name of the college Kim’s daughter Maggie attends — Emerson (in Boston). But once I’d retrieved it, it was as automatically available to me as any school name — much like the name of the prep school my granddaghter ttends, Northfield Mount Herman (in rural western Massachusetts), NMH for short, which never presented me with any difficulty whatsoever.

A higher-level memory issue. For persistent gaps like 1-4, the menomics provide a device for getting at the problematic item, but of course, the mnemonics themselves must be memorized. They could be subject to the same effects of the malevolent shotgun-wielder as the items they’re aids to.

In my experience, this seems not to happen — presumably because the mnemoncs are ostentatiously playful and so resound rewardingly at a personal level. But the topic deserves a more thoughtful treatment than these facile remarks.