Scattershot from a Fallen Anarchist
Vol.I, issue 2
A zine for Minneapa 345
from Lydia Nickerson <firstname.lastname@example.org>
3721 Blaisdell Avenue South
Minneapolis, Minnesota 55409
Daily Life Is Where You Spend Most Of Your Time
Work is probably the most peculiar thing we do each day. Politics and economics aside, every work place I have ever been in is surreal. It is a place with calluses in strange places, a peculiarly narrow view of human experience, and idiosyncratic word usage. I have a pretty mundane job; I am a secretary. I work for the Blood and Bone Marrow Transplant Program at the University of Minnesota. (Well, ok, that last is wishful thinking. Fairview Hospitals bought me, just as if I were chattel, along with the rest of the University Hospital, and I now work for Fairview University Medical Center. Round here, we call it the FU merger.)
The patients who are eligible for a bone marrow transplant are terminal. Bone marrow transplant is no oneís first choice of therapy. Oncology is a weird specialty, requiring an odd mix of compassion and callousness. We are also a research institution, which causes an even greater disconnect between peopleís real lives and how the nurses and doctors think about these same people. The most important thing about a patient in my office is their diagnosis. All of this leads to conversations with eerie tones. "Iíve got two CMLs, an ALL, and an aplastic coming in today." "Is that Fanconis eligible for Raymondís study?" "Iíve got no beds, unless that Hodgkins dies." "That AMLís never gonna make it to transplant, sheís got fungus coming out of her face." If only it were the Acute Myelogenous Leukemia that would not make it to transplant, rather than the thirty-six year old woman who has already undergone one bone marrow transplant but has relapsed more than a year later.
The weirdest, though, are the breast cancers. In our vernacular, they are "breasts." This leads to lovely conversations, which only I seem to find humorous. Complaining about new referrals: "This is the fifth breast this week. What is this, a fire sale on breasts?" or "I donít know what it is, we seem to have breasts coming out of the walls." Discussing patients: "I donít know what it is with all these breasts. Theyíre so crabby." When discussing a doctorís appointments for the day: "Jane has three breasts today. I donít know how sheís going to manage them all." Talking about scheduling in the clinic: "We just had two breasts walk in together. I donít know how we can fit them both in." In reference to a doctor whose specialty is multiple myeloma and not breast cancer, "Jane isnít going to be in on the 20th. Do you think George could handle a breast?"
George did, indeed, handle the breast. George is brilliant, but has a bad tendency to scratch his pancakes and pour syrup on his head. Heís also oddly insecure. After the consultation, he came over to the office, apparently with the desire of having my boss (an RN) reassure him that heíd done a good job. She told him that heíd done just fine. George smiled shyly and said, "Well, I thought so, too. I just said Ďbreast cancerí every time I wanted to say Ďmultiple myeloma.í" No one but me thought it was funny. Itís a weird place to work.
Over all, itís a vast improvement over my previous real job, which was a closer at a mortgage company. Here, my bosses are oncology nurses; theyíve seen real trouble and Iím not it. Iím bright but not ambitious, efficient but lazy, an underachiever but responsible; they believe these traits to be assets rather than liabilities. When I worked for the mortgage company, not only was I the weirdest person in the department, I was the weirdest person most of my co-workers had ever met. Since I think of myself as severely whitebread and suburban, this was both irritating and surreal. After ten years in the real estate business, I came away with the firm conviction that the ownership of land is evil. (No, I donít know what to do, instead.) This fairly pedestrian, leftist conviction marked me as a radical. It was far less impressive or weird, however, than the fact I didnít own a television or a car. My distaste for those two household items was far more radical than my political opinions. It was a very weird place to work.
Mind you, being in the Midwest contributed to the jobís extreme oddness. We closed loans in 50 states. I had a mortgage in New Jersey that had been open for 18 months. The goal was to close all loans within 60 days of application. The poor sorry sods whoíd bought the new house found out, upon going to their first scheduled closing, that the builder, developer, and seller (all one entity) did not have clear title to the western-most 50 feet of the property upon which the house was built. It went on and on and on. The builder lied to everyone, the town got tired of the lies and refused to clear the paperwork on this last lot because of those lies, and the loan still could not close. In the mean time, prices has appreciated so that the value of the home was now 50% greater than the sales price, so the builder was trying to force the buyer into breach of contract so that they could resell the house at a significant profit.
I explained all of this to my Head Closer (yes, that really was her title). She said, "Sounds like the town is being pretty skuzzy."
"Nah," I replied. "Itís a skuzzy builder problem. Probably owned by the mob."
My blonde suburban supervisor raised her eyebrows and said, in a tone of complete incomprehension, "The mob?"
"You know, the Mafia. After all, this is New Jersey."
Her tone changed to one of outrage. "The Mafia donít own construction companies."
Now it was my turn to boggle. What do you say to that? What I said was, "In New Jersey? Sure they do. Where did you think the phrase Ďcement overshoesí came from? What about Jimmy Hoffa? I know you watch television."
"Noooo," was her considered response. I had to comfort myself with the reflection that this was, indeed, the Midwest.
Odd though it may seem, I prefer the callousness of the medical professionals to the blindered worldview of the financiers. I understand why the doctors and nurses need emotional distance from their patients. Our one-year survival rate is about 50%. While every one of them would have died without a transplant, losing 50% of your patients is a terrible drain on the emotions. Itís not just the death, either. Thereís a lot of pain and some terrible choices along the way.
We do things that I think are horrible, maybe even evil. We transplant patients who have insurance that can cover it. A transplant here costs about a quarter million dollars. No insurance, no transplant. Itís a blessing to be in Minnesota, which has a tolerably generous medical assistance program. We do transplant a lot of poor patients. But we send people away because they donít have coverage and we transplant patients with coverage who I think might have been better served by a referral to hospice care. Many too many of our choices are based on money or convenience, ignoring the real world that the patient lives in.
Transplant is a crapshoot, and the odds are not in favor of the patient. Me, I deal with it by just doing the paperwork. I donít talk to patients if I can help it. I want them to remain names on three-ringed binders. I donít want to know them, meet them, like them. The first time I saw the face of a patient, I cried for two days. He was a sad, middle-aged white guy, overweight and tired. He looked like a farmer. I didnít speak to him, and he had no idea who I was. I just walked by his room on the unit, and happened to notice both his face and the name on the door. But from that moment, he stopped being a file and became a person. I hated that. I cried again when he died. I canít remember what his diagnosis was, but I do remember his name.
Accounting for the Corpse
Iím just back from Toad Hall, where Ben Yalow and Patrick and Teresa Nielsen Hayden are pitching in to straighten out the finances for Minicon 32. I spent a joyous three hours sorting through mildewed boxes of financial reports from Minicons 25, 26, and 27. Have I mentioned that Iím allergic to mildew? I got there after work. Most of the rest had been at it since two.
When I got to Toad Hall, Ben was reading from the binder of check requests. DDB was comparing the check requests to the entries on the Quicken report, Patrick comparing them to the check register, Laurel Krahn comparing them to the actual cancelled checks, Mark Richards was acting as Brain Trust and translator, and Teresa entering each transaction into the computer. Geri Sullivan and Mike Pins were kibitzing.
After documenting a particularly bizarre disbursement, Teresa said, "It could be worse. Ask me how, Ben."
"Minicon could be doing business with TAFF."
"I wish they were," said Patrick, "Then TAFF might be in the black."
It is painstaking work. Eventually, we should have a tolerably complete picture of the actual expenditures for Minicon 32. Ben refers to it as forensic accounting.
Well, it is that time of year, now isnít it? Mom and I are talking again. This has become about as normal as our not talking. Which, when you think about it, is quite an improvement. The latest flap has been over my domestic situation. Mother wants to come to visit, but canít bring herself to cross the threshold of Blaisdell Polytechnic and be polite to my sweetie and his wife. After a long silence and a couple of letters, we appear to have made a new deal: God for sweeties. The deal is this: Mumma gets to talk about God at will, and in exchange she will cross my threshold, pat my cat, and meet DD-B and Pamela. Probably not Raphael, a confirmed misanthrope who wouldnít like my mother anymore than my mother would like Raphael. Weíll see how this deal works. Mom rattling on and on about Godís Work in her life can be remarkably difficult to take. Itís soÖpointed. However, the deal is honesty for honesty. God is the most important thing in her life, just like Blaisdell Poly is the most important thing in mine.
I am amused by motherís Christmas letter, though. Each of her daughters has an entry. My entry is the shortest, and reads: " Lydia continues to live in Minneapolis and we have limited contact with her. She did come to Washington for the wedding and we are planning a trip to see her soon after the new year begins. Her employment seems to be steady and she tells us she is the happiest she has ever been." Is it just me, or can you, too, hear her doubtful tone of voice?
Comments on Minneapa 344
APA-L: Forgive me for staying away from APA-L for the nonce. This is my second Ďzine ever, and I really donít know if Iím actually fannish enough to be involved in an APA at all. (Ok, so, if my insecurity were a hole in the ground, the Grand Canyon would cease to be a tourist attraction.) While I know most of the contributors in Minneapa, I donít know any of the ones in APA-L, and Iíll need to read it for a bit before I feel like I have anything to say. I do wonder about Alley Oop, though. Obviously, people care about it. Asking why is a lot like asking, "Why do you like the taste of mushrooms?" I do wonder, though. Back to the point. While I suppose Iím fannish enough in my own little fishbowl of Minneapolis, I really donít have a lot of contacts in the wider world of fandom, especially not on the left coast. Joining conversations is, as has been observed, a fine art, and doing so with nary a clue from body language is just a trifle more than I can cope with this Ďzine round.
Dean Gahlon: Tendinitis, eh? Iíve got it in my foot again, I think. At least, the last time I took my feet to the doctor, he said it was tendinitis, and it feels exactly like that again. Bleagh. Stupid question: What does (*) mean? My best guess at the moment is a paragraph mark.
Don Bailey: As far as your plot goes, whatím I, anyway, chopped liver? Seriously, though, now what? There was certainly some interest at the concom meeting, but my own experience was that it took more than just that one presentation to get me to join. Mind you, itís bleeding 1:30 a.m. morning of the collation, and here I am, typing. Iím, um, not good with deadlines. What worked for me was the gentle reminders and nagging from friends. I donít know how to translate this for most of the concom, though. I started with a strong sense of community with the other people in the APA. Part of Miniconís problem is that a lot of the people running the convention donít seem to feel that they are a part of this community. Besides, since I donít know them, my attempt to gently nag them is not likely to have the same effect that Nateís nagging had on me. So, I dunno. As I said earlier, I really wonder if Iím fannish enough to be in an APA. I mean, thatís what all the real fans do. If I feel insecure, imagine what some of the concom with even less exposure to fandom may feel. So, like I donít have any good ideas. Sorry.
ct Don Bailey: Lay off him, will ya, Don? I mean, yeah, so heís desperate for comments. So what? Iím credibly informed that this is a known problem for the first couple of Ďzines in an APA. I do think you could cut him a little slack. After all, youíre the one with the mission to bring in the neos. Geez Louise.
Marty Helgesen: ct Dean Gahlon: I know Iím coming to this late, but how do you tell, after the fact, whether a change in the language is the result of "the genius of the language" (a phrase Iím still unhappy with) or "slovenly thought?" Have you already provided examples and are bored of doing so again? I come down on many different sides of the "language as a living entity" argument. I love the flexibility of English. I am very fond of its many fine distinctions. I also adore its difficult, etymological spelling. Many of the changes I find to be unpleasant are really slovenly grammar or punctuation. I mourn the loss of the serial comma.
ct Fred Patten: Thank you for mentioning the Journal of the Society for the Prevention of Christmas Letters. I shall have to tease the details out of DD-B some day. Mind you, Iíve tried once already and gotten a typically terse non-answer.
Glenn Tenhoff: Donít go. Please donít go. When I got my copy of Minneapa 344 I was shocked to see you listed in the ToC. Delighted, I turned to your Ďzine, and my heart plummeted. "Hello MinneApa! Good-bye MinneApa!" What the hell kind of way is that to start a conversation, anyway? I came to fandom for the sex and the drugs. I was utterly delighted to discover the Rock and Roll. If your first Minicon was Minicon 18, then we are pretty close in time. My first one was somewhere around there. It was many, many years later before I met Geri, though. Youíve been connected to Mnstf for a lot longer than I have. I had this blood-feud-by-proxy, seeÖ