Archive for the ‘Language and medicine’ Category

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.


The rehab postings

December 5, 2020

A series of postings written up at the Palo Alto Subacute and Rehabilitation Center in Palo Alto CA, where I moved for about two weeks afer some days at Stanford University Hospital, entered in the grip of alcohol poisoning and also alcohol withdrawal syndrome (prominently featuring the tremors of withdrawal, the famous shakes).

It turns out that an assortment of afflictions i had attributed to other causes were actually facets of alcohol poisoning. I have now largely emerged from this fog of disability, severely damaged but in overall shape better than I have been for many years. (I am pushing the positive here, as I strive to recover what I can and work around what I cannot).

The crucial fact is that the shakes have vanished (though I still occasionally shake from the morning cold of my glacial hospital room.) As a result, I can write up more or less legible commentaries on my experiences — subject only to the proviso that my handwriting has always been problematic, especially when I’m in a hurry.

Those commentaries are severey stripped down, almost entirely to plain text, largely without links of any kind, or any sort of interesting formatting; one of my cognitive defects is the disappearance of knowledge about how to achieve these things, though I’ve already been helped to recover some of this knowedge. Here I insert wild cheers of gratitude to the therapists at the rehab center, who are the truly bright point at the place (don’t even ask about the food). They brought me along, fast, from grave disability to facility at many things, and provided me with work-arounds for the more intractable stuff. In addition, I enjoy observing people performing their jobs, and in this case I got to see how the various therapists achieved ther goals — a whole new sphere for me, even as I was the object of their efforts.

I can stand on my own two feet and walk across a room (though for safety’s sake I have promised to use a walker for support). I can learned to assess my new cognitive deficits and find ways of coping with them, in good spirits. All of this is a gift from the rehab center’s therapists, and I am immeasurably grateful. And, yes, they are also very nice and interesting people.

In any case, as I said, this is a bare-bones project. The postings are dated — the dates are of when I wrote them up in my notebook, not when I originally conceived of them. I will present them in still another order, according to my whims of the moment.

Perhaps someday, when I become more secure in my posting abilities, I’ll be able to supply some of the bells and whistles. But for the moment it’s pretty much the barest of demonstrations that I’m Not Dead Yet.

The postings:

— 0. The rehab postings [this posting]), from 12/4

— 1.  Memory gaps, from 12/3

— 2. On the orientation questions, from 12/2

— 3. It’s always 4 a.m., from 12/4

— 4. Pee-shy no more, from 12/2


Every picture tells a story

October 28, 2020

(This posting starts with a homoerotic Daily Jocks ad — nothing close to the line visually or textually, but you might still want to exercise your judgment — moves through Doan’s pills and ends with musician Rod Stewart.)

… but what story? They’re just pictures, after all, subject to many interpretations. Even when the creator’s intentions are clear, there are often two (or more) intended stories for the same picture — typically, one literal and one allusive (consider still lifes with moral messages). In any case, other viewers are free to see stories the creator did not. And sometimes the pictures have no clear interpretation.

Which brings me to the Daily Jocks mailing of 10/26:

(#1) At the gym, two hunks eye each other’s crotches with facial expressions that would be heavy sexual cruises if exchanged face to face

Well, it’s a menswear ad, and comes with no explicit clues as to how it’s to be interpreted — maybe just as a generic homoerotic encounter (certainly homoerotic). But still you wonder: what’s their story? Are they an established couple, shown here appreciating each other’s bodies for the camera? Or did they just come across one another in the gym and are now setting up a trick? Or maybe merely complimenting each other through their gaze and facial expressions, each conveying that he thinks the other is really hot? (Nice body, buddy.)


Annals of remarkable commerce

September 20, 2020

(About anatomical organs and sex between men, totally not suitable for kids or the sexually modest)

On the Naked Sword site yesterday (9/19), this remarkable ad for Fort Troff BOOF CBD suppositories (“It’s like poppers for your ass”):


The croup

September 12, 2020

The One Big Happy strip from 8/21:

Ruthie, faced with the unfamiliar medical term the croup, does her best to assimilate it to what she knows, namely the ordinary-language term for a physical condition, the creeps. But this time, she guesses that croup is a portmanteau, of group and creeps.