The Death of a Classmate

Two winters ago I heard from my brother that someone I’d been close to in high school had died. I hadn’t kept up with anyone from high school, so I wasn’t aware that anything was up. I later heard from other classmates who were reaching out to try to get their heads around losing someone we knew so well a long time ago, and so young.

It was suggested that we all write up some memories and stories and put them together in some format to give as a gift to his parents. That never happened, but I just found some notes that I’d written down while looking for something else, so I thought I’d toss them up here so they don’t get lost. No particular order:

  • going to railroad square cinema (the old one, before it burned) to see a movie that played nowhere else (one of the tournee of animation movies, Wings of Desire, Stop Making Sense, etc.) and going to the Dunkin Donuts on Main St. in Waterville afterwards, hanging out with the regulars, drinking coffee at 11pm with a donut
  • the look on his face when that Augusta cop who’d been woken from his Friday night donut-induced haze and had had to drive over 100 MPH to catch us racing down Western Ave saw that we were just a couple of 15 year old kids
  • sloe gin fizz
  • funyuns
  • “fairly decent”
  • “mortibund”
  • buying a pizza for lunch at Mario’s nearly every day, eating it when it was too hot, always burning the top of his mouth
  • all the concerts
    • Aerosmith in Augusta, my first concert, and the one where BP squeezed a tube of toothpaste hard enough that the top popped off and got all over some guy in front of us
    • Grateful Dead in Augusta and Portland
    • Rush – I don’t remember that show at all due to my choice of mind alteration for the evening but do remember having a great time hanging out eating pizza with some deadheads we hooked up with after the show
  • funky old Saab 93s and 94s with windows that didn’t roll straight up but pivoted at the front, gas gauges that were nonlinear to reflect the actual shape and actual volume of gas in the tank
  • One of those Saabs catching on fire at Cumberland Farms, me laughing at the absurdity of the situation, him pissed that it was happening and more pissed that I was laughing. The carburator had a small leak, so after running for a while there was a risk that the hot engine could ignite the leaked fuel while you were sitting still with the engine off, which is what happened; I noticed that the paint was bubbling on the hood, and he leapt out of the car with his fire extinguisher to put out yet another small fire
  • he didn’t know much about car engines, but he thought the “slant 6″ in his (or his parents’?) Dodge Dart was pretty impressive. We’d bought a Pontiac Ventura because it had become cheaper to buy a cheap car and insure me just for that than to stay on my Mom’s policy after several infractions. It had a v8 350 and I must have mentioned that it was a powerful car (not that I was particularly proud of the car, it wasn’t really mine except on paper) and he, being the competetive person that he was, bragged that a slant 6, due to its configuration was a far better motor than a larger v8. To prove otherwise, I took him and JF for a ride one day after school. I picked him up first, then went to JF’s place, so he was in front and JF in the back. I didn’t have much of a plan for proving the abilities of the car, but I remember stepping hard on the gas a few times to show off the acceleration and it had some serious power. I wasn’t experienced driving a rear wheel drive and ended up fishtailing into a ditch
  • taking the audio engineering course, those 2 new wave guys from camden, trying to run cables to the bathroom to record like the Doors had done
  • rush, talking heads, windham hill artists, led zeppelin, Tangerine Dream

links for 2008-04-12

Guinea Pig, Day 5

Day 5 – 02-02-2007

I just realized I haven’t really described what’s involved in the experiment. Older men naturally have decreased levels of testosterone, just as women tend to have lower estrogen levels. So they’re looking into giving supplements to men with lowered levels, and this study looks at the effect of low levels of testosterone and the effect of supplementing it.

So they inject us every four weeks with Zolodex. This lowers the production of testosterone to the level of a young child (and also stops estrogen production in women) and is currently used by men with prostate cancer as testosterone aggravates it.

Then we’re assigned to one of five groups for testosterone replacement (AndroGel); in addition to a placebo group that gets none, there are four levels of AndroGel from very low to a near-normal amount.

The side effects include “hot flashes, breast enlargement, fatigue, loss of libido, decreased sperm count, and difficulty getting erections”. Less likely side effects include “anemia, mood swings, decrease in the size of the testicles and bone density loss”.

So anyway, I’m feeling pretty normal I guess. I’m still a little paranoid, attributing any weird feelings to the experiment. But I have definitely noticed a lowered sex drive. Few or no spontaneous erections (although erections do happen, just not, um, spontaneously …)

I’m tired, but not fatigued. But that’s pretty obviously a result of my absurd work and sleep habits, so I probably won’t see any direct effect of that even if it does happen as a side effect as I’ll just drink a ton of coffee as usual and keep plugging away.

Guinea Pig, Day 2

Day 2 – 01-30-2007

I worked from home so I took a late shower, then forgot to apply the AndroGel. Duh. I need to get into a routine where I apply it right after I get out of the shower. I applied it about an hour afterwards, so it’s not a big deal, but if I’d gone in to work I’d probably have forgotten for real.

No noticeable side effects yet. My legs were sore this morning from the leg press, and there’s a very slight, dull pain in my belly at the Zolodex injection site. Had a headache in the evening, not a bad one, took some Ibuprofen. Of course every little thing seems attributable to being a side effect, but I’m just hypersensitive since it’s the first few days.

Guinea Pig, Day 1

Actually day one would be 12-22-2006, when I went in for an initial interview and blood test. They’re concerned about general health, but vitamin D in particular, so if I’m low but with range they can put me on a supplement, or if I’m very low I can switch to a vitamin D study they’re also running. The tests came back fine (I haven’t seen any results yet, and I’m definitely curios about the cholesteral level) so I scheduled my first appointment for 01-29-2007.

Day 1 – 01-29-2007

I went in for a 9am appointment at the Bone Density Center, was only a couple minutes late (got lost finding the place the first time) Filled out a survey – baseline questions about libido, energy, depression, etc.

Next, the bone scan. Changed into a “johnny”, then lay down under the scanner. It’s a pretty simple process. Basically you just lay very still while the arm moves slowly back and forth. At one point it ran down the center of my body and as it passed overhead I looked into the scanner lens. Then I turned right and noticed the warning that said “do not look directly into the scanner”. Oops. Next, legs up on a block to 90′, scanned just pelvis area. Then the tech twisted my left leg inwards and scanned one last time.

Next the Project Coordinator (PC) brought me to talk with the Doctor. I’m not sure why I was able to do the bone scan but everything else had to wait until the Doctor and I spoke and I signed the consent agreement, but that’s how it works.

He explained the experiment in detail, going over risks, the placebo vs. 4 levels of dose. One risk I hadn’t realized is very unlikely. Taking testosterone replacer can be a problem if I have prostate cancer but don’t know it, as it’s an aggravator (the current use of Zolodex is for prostate cancer treatment). Went over medical history, lots of questions about risk factors, I’m healthy and boring so all set there. Basic physical, checked lymph nodes, listened to deep breath with stethoscope, BP 130/85, took pulse.

The last part was a testicular exam. Not the typical “turn your head and cough”; in this case they’re looking for a baseline size to measure possible shrinkage. To measure this he had a collection of plastic testicles of various sizes from huge (almost as big as a chicken egg) to tiny (a little smaller than a jellybean). Where does one buy such a thing, and what other oddities are in their catalog?

He was careful to mention that if anything goes wrong, they’ll provide treatment, and for any reason I can quit at any time. Also if I believe they’re doing anything illegal or unethical I can call a number he provided, and can also call an independent entity to ask questions. Signed the consent form.

Next to another building to get the Zoladex injection. The nurse took blood and urine sample. She also gave me a Health Care Proxy form. She was clearly biased towards having a proxy/living will and not ending up on a ventilator or something like that.

BP again, this time 115/70, pulse 80. Because the needle is quite large, she used something in a spray can to numb the belly area where the implant goes. It was very cold and numbed the area well. She was a little freaked out by the size of the syringe, saying it was the biggest she’d ever seen. I caught a glimpse, and it was pretty large.

She plunged it in on 3, and it didn’t hurt. The suddenness of the injection surprised me, she used quite a bit of force to get it in. She held a small piece of gauze at the injection site for a while because of the size of the hole.

Then she explained the testosterone, which is actually AndroGel, a soy derivative. I got the syringe style, the other option being two foil packets per day. So I need to keep them refrigerated, and each morning after my shower I extrude the contents of the syringe onto one palm and wipe it on my other arm. It’s got alcohol in it, so they warn against smoking and going near barbecue grills. It dries pretty quickly, but takes 5-6 hours to fully absorb. I applied the first dose and managed to not set myself ablaze.

Maria’s concerned about getting it on her, due to the side effects I told her about (deepening voice, facial hair, etc.) But there’s little risk as long as we’re careful about the 5-6 hour window.

Next to the dietician. She introduced herself and tried to shake my hand but I reminded her that I had testosterone on my hand. Lots of questions about activity levels and calcium-rich foods. No to most, since most were dairy-based. Yes to rice milk on cereal, green vegetables, tofu. She recommended a 500mg/day supplement to bring me up to 1000mg/day.

Then change into another johnny for height and weight measurement, and hip and waist measurements. I used to be 5’10 1/2, now I’m 5’10. Hmmm.

Next the PC took me to the leg press. I rode an exercise bike for a few minutes to loosen my legs, then to the press. 200lbs for 8 reps. Then 300 for 4. Then 350 for 2, 400 for 2, 445 for 2, stopped when I couldn’t do 500.

Finally to the CT. One last changed into johnny pants. The CT scanned just the midsection of my body like bone density scan, took about 5 minutes.

I’m Going To Be A Guinea Pig

I got a letter a couple of months ago inviting me to participate in a medical study looking at the effect of testosterone on bone density. I’m on a couple of e-mail/mailing lists because a couple years ago after I joined the ACLU I was asked to participate in a discussion with other recent members about why we’d joined, to help them with their recruitment efforts. It paid well, $115 or so (extra for parking, which was cool as I took the T) for a 1-hour discussion, and I definitely was willing to do more of those. I only did one more (a radio station had us take surveys and listen to a few seconds of hundreds of songs to help with their programming) as the sessions are usually during the day.

So the study seems cool. Of course it’s a little scary messing with one’s body, but I think it’s pretty lame to take a “not in my back yard” approach to this sort of thing. It’s a good feeling to help contribute to the body of medical knowledge. Plus, there will be lots of tests (physicals, bone density scans, blood work, cholesteral checks, prostate cancer screening, etc.) and I’ll be able to keep the results. And it pays $1000, which doesn’t suck.

So I thought it would be good to keep some notes on how things go, and where better than here?

MBTA Via Google Maps

Found this looking for something else. It’s a Google Maps mashup that has all of the T stops as markers. It’s particularly cool because the MBTA’s maps are never to scale – they compress them to fit since the system is somewhat spread out. Very clever idea.

Now I Really Like My Commute

Last week was my first week at the new job. I’m finally working in the area, having purchased a condo on the Red Line for the convenience of taking the T to work. I was commuting to Mansfield, and while it was a productive commute, it was a 3-hour round trip.

Now however I’m working in Kendall Square. Four stops on the Red Line. Or, a 4.1 mile bike ride. Pretty cool.

Treo and EV-DO To The Rescue

My Comcast internet connection has sucked for quite a while. The signal is usually pretty fast, with regular significant dips in speed that usually come back after 30 seconds or so, sometimes as long as a couple of minutes. This is usually not a big deal, but once in a while there’s a significant noticeable lag.

For the past couple of weeks though, it’s been extremely slow (<30Kb!) in the mornings for some reason. It always comes back by around 9am, so by the time I'm at work it's ok. But Friday it pretty much died, with download speeds around 6-20Kb. Just like 1994 all over again. I called Comcast but they couldn't send someone out until Monday morning - ugh.

I'd purchased PdaNet for my Treo 650 for when I was travelling, and it worked pretty well. But that version doesn’t work on the 700, so I upgraded to the latest version. I figured that it would be faster than what I was seeing with the cable modem, and probably a lot faster since I have EV-DO. I was pleasantly surprised.

It’s quite fast – 300-500Kb or so – and I’ve been able to do regular internet stuff all weekend. This would have been a bad weekend to have no internet access since I’m working on a Google Maps mashup, and that would have been impossible to work on locally.

Three Days To Go

Midterm election day 2006 is finally only three days away. Should be interesting, if only for all of the vote fraud and Diebold “bugs”. electoral-vote.com is projecting a 51/49 Senate (unfortunately not Lieberman-proof) and a 240/195 House. Several Senate races are very close but it’s clear that the House will be a blowout, regardless of the ability of the Rethuglican party’s willingness to troll the depths of electoral depravity.