Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Most Annoying Dreams

Those who easily become bored with a shrink’s self-analysis or might possibly be disturbed by a bit of the same may be excused now and leave without loss of honor.

“To sleep, perchance to dream – ay, there’s the rub.” In the past few weeks I have come to understand this famous line differently than I believe that The Bard initially intended it to be interpreted. I earlier saw these words as “only” a contemplation of suicidal death, the possibility of an afterlife in which one is conscious, and the ramifications thereof.

Recently, however, I have been considering another, somewhat more concrete and less final interpretation of that question. I cannot be certain that Shakespeare did not have this meaning in mind as well when he penned his famous lines. The depth and breadth of his knowledge and his ability to communicate it in multifaceted ways continue to fascinate me. I doubt that he was addressing my current distress, although he may have also been exploring the subject of disturbed sleep in addition to suicide in his speculation. He certainly did so elsewhere with Lady Macbeth.

Dreams have intrigued me since I was a teen. My understanding matured somewhat as I studied them from various psychological and neuropsychological viewpoints, and I have come to recognize many idiosyncratic elements, symbols, and themes in my own dreams. I virtually always recall my dreams as I wake from them, and if I jot down a note about them, am able to recall them later. When I start to analyze them, I am usually able to find what aspect of myself they relate to, what problem or joy initiated them, what wish they fulfill, or even what I am panicking about in my sleep.

My dreams do not literally guide my life. They most certainly do, however, often reveal to me connections between or among thoughts, acts, plans, concerns, and events of my past, present, and future. (There were eight commas in that sentence. That’s probably too many.) I have almost always been able to relate some part of the dream to waking life and understand at least a small bit more about myself in the process. I certainly do not like some of the things that I discover about myself, but they are most often real bits of information which I need to understand. At times the RNA-DNA transfer process awakens a previously safely buried repression and some unpleasantness results. Sometimes my deepest fears get a poke in the ribs and a panic dream results. Despite my self-taught ability to subdue the feelings released by such dreams immediately upon waking, there are moments of terror which may seem much longer in the dream than they are in real time. Still, upon waking I can turn off the switch.

Recently, my dreams have been worse than usual. How do they get worse than a dream within a dream in which one believes that they are dying and “wakes up” into another dream to find that it is true and tastes the blood in one’s throat? (That one was 45 years ago and I still remember it.) They get worse when seemingly every incident in the dream which is intended to go right does not, the dreamer knows that it will somehow go awry but proceeds anyway, and the dream then morphs into a situation where one is dealing with people in the opposite manner one would choose in waking life. I recognize that this is cryptic to anyone reading this rather than having dreamed or lived it themselves. Examples are my Nolan family driving to the boonies to rescue me, my scraping the side of their new car on a metal highway railing, and then going into a rage when they suggested that I should calm down (I cannot recall ever raising my voice in that manner to them.) Another dream was about flying another person’s expensive RC Cross Country sailplane and crashing it after not wishing to fly it in the first place (I always refused to fly others’ models) and watching them mutely walk away without accepting any apology, payment, or offer to replace it – only emanating disgust with me. A final example was this morning’s episode of the continuing series of the bizarre. I’ll pick up at a point where I was lost and dreaming of standing at the crossing of two dirt paths in a forested wilderness, not knowing what was down three of them but knowing that my Ex was on the known one which I had traveled to reach that point. Despite my distaste for that path, I took it and events spiraled hell-ward more than expected. She and a particularly irritating fundamentalist preacher she had “befriended” not only refused the help I needed, but essentially mocked me for needing it and left without getting medication I believed I needed to prevent a seizure. I surmise that I did not actually scream as I thought I did, because Bittle remained asleep less than two feet from my head when this dream awoke me.

I would be somewhat less than insightful, bordering upon stupid, if I didn’t recognize several obvious and disturbing issues in what little I have written. The dreams are much more detailed and include vivid related imagery and feelings as they occur. Additionally, they do not seem to employ my usual symbol sets or themes. Finally, everyone in the dreams is dead, fictional, or “dead to me.” Several other dreams similar to these have occurred recently and I even believed I might be having a heart attack a few moments after awakening from one. (A tingling feeling in my arms led to that belief as it was originally closely associated to my first panic attack, which at the time I believed to be a heart attack.) Quite likely I was hyperventilating during the dream.

Why are these dreams so frightening to me? They are different than my average nightmare, especially regarding imagery and subject matter. They occur after sufficient sleep and as I am due to wake. They do not “feel” related to occurrences of the day or my major waking concerns. I thought I knew myself fairly well (whether I liked me or not) but these dreams have me questioning that. They almost seem to be imposed from outside rather than being initiated internally. I clearly recognize myself as me in every one and feel that it is me “behaving” in the dreams (as far as I can recall, I have always dreamed in the first person, not as someone watching me or as if I were someone else.) The singularly different aspect is that I have little or no idea why these subjects, these people, or these situations occur now. I shall have to dig a bit deeper, I suppose. Perhaps I am trying to get my own attention by scaring the bejesus out of myself. It certainly would be nice to have a satisfying, wish-fulfillment dream again but they're gone.

Peace, Doc

Copyright © 2009, Thomas A. Blood, Ph.D.

"Eternity is a very long time, especially towards the end." – Stephen Hawking


Sunday, May 24, 2009

May Is Older Americans Month

Harrumph! I guess that all one has to do to qualify for this particular honor is get old. I can do that. I have done that. You've heard the expression, "Wise beyond his years" I assume? That would be a compliment paid to a younger person who displays knowledge, judgment, or common sense usually not attained by a person of such tender years. When I was younger, I took this to be a reasonable and desirable manner of viewing the phenomenon. As I have personally become "beyond my years," I'm not at all certain that I approve of it. At times this concept seems to be holding me to a standard that does not coincide well with the actual aging process.

I shall offer a few examples that would seem to refute this expectation of "Older Americans." You knew I would. Don't pretend otherwise.

  • For fairly obvious reasons there is no equivalent visual statement; "his visual acuity is beyond his years?" I think not! That would imply a group of young, nearsighted, bi- or tri-focal wearing persons who trip over their cats or worse. This is not complimentary. At best it might mean that the young person's cataracts are developing more slowly than anticipated.
  • Nor is there a similar compliment for the sense of smell. Olfactory sensitivity is the quickest adapting of the senses. I have seen it written that "old people smell bad," (not badly.) I do not believe this refers to my ability to perceive scents so much as my ability to produce them. I would not be referred to as an old fart were this the case. This may be a blessing in disguise, however, as I may become flatulent at will and can not notice the odor produced by two large male cats, which has been reported to me to be strong enough to overwhelm an unsuspecting visitor.
  • He can hear beyond his years? No. No compliment there. Cumulative hearing damage and tinnitus from early exposure to eardrum shattering rock music, race engine exhaust collector dumps, and gunfire pretty well negated that. There is an inadvertent exception to this observation, however. I can now listen to Pink Floyd, Eagles, or Beach Boys music as loudly as I wish in the Audio-Technica headphones without much concern about inflicting further damage to myself.
  • Can he taste beyond his years? That would largely depend upon whether or not he has his dentures in, would it not? That would imply a choice between enjoying the taste of food at a social occasion but appearing oblivious to the social graces or submitting to what is expected and eating cardboard "in good taste."
  • Is he able to feel better than he could in his youth? "Aye, there's the rub." I believe that my sense of touch remains approximately the same as it was but there appears to have been a dramatic reduction in the number of willing recipients of that touch as there once were. If we refer to "feel" in terms of emotion rather than sensory ability, the answer is a qualified yes. Rather than the "Sturm und Drang" emotional storms of youth, the feeling of the unpartnered aged male is much more likely to be stable but negative and alone.

Having complained this much one might think I was finished. One would be wrong. I just learned that May is Older American Month. I missed out on a full two-thirds of my allotted complaining time! The alternative, that I knew earlier but forgot, is unacceptable. Adding further indignity to the newsletter were articles such as Fun Facts About the Senior Population and 10 Ways Communities Can Prepare for the Aging Population Boom. At the risk of repeating myself, Harrumph!

Peace, Doc

Copyright © 2009, Thomas A. Blood, Ph.D.

"When I was younger, I could remember anything, whether it had happened or not; but my faculties are decaying now and soon I shall be so I cannot remember any but the things that never happened. It is sad to go to pieces like this but we all have to do it." - Mark Twain

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Saturday, May 16, 2009

When Keyboards Attack

I am not certain why keyboards do not like me. I am not even sure why my keyboards do not like each other. One thing which I am quite positive about, however, is that I have far more problems with them than can be accounted for by chance. As I write this post, it is being done on a Dell Vostro 2510 which I bought, in part, because it is a business model laptop and this led me to believe that it might be built in a sturdier fashion than the models advertised for the general consumer market. This does not appear to be the case. Apparently, if I can touch it, I am likelier than most to break it.

This upsets me dreadfully. I have long considered myself to be a person who takes good care of tools, electronics, vehicles, and even furniture. I clean and lubricate tools as necessary when I am finished using them. I dust and surface clean, as well as surge and UPS protect my electronic devices. I use furniture oil to treat the surfaces of the wood furniture I own. I have my vehicle regularly serviced and seldom exceed the speed suggestions by more than 40 mph any longer. I just finished modifying a cheap surplus transformer to work with the older, but still quite satisfactory, Koss amplified speakers for use with my PC. They work perfectly. Keyboards, on the other hand, appear to harbor a deep seated hatred for me. This relationship is approaching one of reciprocity. Perhaps there is a Secret Order of Boardhood (SOB) which I have offended and become a sworn enemy without warning and for no discernable reason.

Over the past twelve months I have been victimized by keyboards on no less than five occasions. Before this period, the "forward" key cap in the lower right corner of a HP laptop caught on a shirt sleeve and was lost. Oh well, no big deal. The curse seems to have begun when the "t" key cap fell off the same laptop. Not oh well. I definitely had more use for t's than forwards. After far too long a search, I found a replacement keyboard for the exact make and model, bought it, replaced it, and all was well for several days until the entire computer quit. I learned something. Almost all of two entire series of that line of computer use the same keyboard, regardless of their part number. I do have a very lightly used keyboard and an unused double-life battery for HP Pavilion 5000 series laptops lying around, however, should anyone find themselves in need of such parts.

I began to become more suspicious of a possible keyboard conspiracy when the quad core, 64-bit refurb arrived with what appeared to be a totally unused PC, a wireless mouse which was worn but worked, and a wireless keyboard which refused to respond to anything I tried, including a thorough trouncing. Possibly I should have been more understanding when I saw that the alkaline batteries included in it were guaranteed good through 2001. What the hell, three keyboards down. I bought a Microsoft wireless keyboard and mouse on sale and they work fine on the PC. A little short on range, but OK. I did not yet know about Keyboard Jealousy Syndrome.

Very shortly after putting the Vostro "hot-rod-candy-apple-red-color" laptop into service, the "Microsoft" key cap fell off. I don't believe I did anything to encourage that. I can't even recall ever intentionally pressing it. Perhaps that was the problem. You may recall from past posts that I did not know where that key cap had gone and that theft by cat was my primary working hypothesis. I learned another something. Key caps may be interchangeable between manufacturers. This one was compatible with the deceased donor board's Microsoft cap. I snapped the used cap into position and it again worked as intended. It bothered my aesthetic sensibilities, however, because it was printed in a different style than all the other keys and thus drew my attention, in a negative way, whenever I used the laptop. When I found that the original cap had not been captured by a cat, but rather had simply been lost in the abundant clutter surrounding The Chair, I swapped them and all was well once again.

This state of affairs lasted nearly three weeks. Then an event occurred which taught me two things. The first was that inanimate electro-mechanical devices appear able to harbor a dislike or jealousy to the extent that a physical assault results. At this point I wish to make a non-legally binding, nor even necessarily truthful statement to the effect that I did not drop the wireless board onto the laptop's board. Believe what you will, but the laptop was suddenly left with non-functional "y" "h" and "j" keys. I examined, twisted, palpated, snapped, and used bad words, all to no avail. I then did what had to be done in a first responder, triage sort of situation like this. I used duct tape. Clearly, or rather very unclearly, this was not a good solution for me. I couldn't see the letters on the keys.

It is well known in the psychology and learning theory community that new learning is most likely to occur in a "crisis" or in a situation in which previously learned behavior no longer works. Otherwise stated, this may be known as "Necessity is the mother of invention." My great (really, for me at least) discovery was that the tiny, itty-bitty, fragile, scissor action, plastic parts that snap onto and support the key caps while allowing the rubberized contact to make or break the circuit are interchangeable ! What wonders a jeweler's screwdriver and a bit of close-up squinting can reveal! After replacing three of these little doo-dads with their equivalents from the cadaver board, I am once again pacified even though the j key is turned almost one whole degree clockwise.

Peace, Doc

Copyright © 2009, Thomas A. Blood, Ph.D.

"They say one of a baby's first non-verbal forms communication is pointing. Clicking must be somewhere just after that." – Author Unknown

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Thursday, May 14, 2009

Seeking Spiritual Enlightenment

The Way

Path dark and narrow

Bordered closely by cow crap

Direction one way

Peace, Doc

Copyright © 2009, Thomas A. Blood, Ph.D.

"The power of accurate observation is commonly called cynicism by those who have not got it." - George Bernard Shaw (1856 - 1950)

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Thursday, May 07, 2009

Another Electronic Medical Record (EMR/EHR) Data Hack

I have harped on the topics of the potentially disastrous consequences of data loss or theft from medical health database repositories for some time now. I have personally been the victim of such a data loss by the Veteran's Health Administration, which lost all my provider information, financial account and license numbers, social security and business banking numbers, addresses, and all the other personal information to make identity theft a breeze.

Nothing awful happened as a result of this loss. I was given a year's free three bureau credit monitoring subscription by the VHA. It is my personal belief that one of their less experienced employees or interns had simply carried the information for a service provider demographic study offsite on a thumb drive to work on it at home and lost it. Since that time I was again given a free year of credit monitoring when a bank lost a wee bit of data about its customers (around 3 million, as I recall.) I've reported concerns about the National Health Database activity here and elsewhere on other occasions, stating the obvious qualification I would have to make to clients, were I still in active practice and following the privacy and confidentiality rules set forth by the HIPAA act. "I promise that I will keep your health information private and confidential, but there are about 173 other people and agencies out there that may have access to it that I can't vouch for."

A nascent occurrence of that dark vision of the future was announced very recently by many Internet and Traditional Media sources. The web site Office of Inadequate Security (databreaches.net) along with many other sources (I heard just enough of a sentence on CNN to immediately send me into search mode) reported a major health data theft from the Virginia Department of Health Professions. An article in the Richmond Times-Dispatch on 1 May 2009 reported that "Hackers may have gotten to Virginia health professions computers."

It was a little more serious than "may have" if the hacker's ransom demand, reproduced below, is to be believed:

"Thomas Claburn of InformationWeek reports:

An extortion demand posted on WikiLeaks seeks $10 million to return over 8 million patient records and 35 million prescriptions allegedly stolen from Virginia Department of Health Professions.

The note reads: ATTENTION VIRGINIA I have your sh**! In *my* possession, right now, are 8,257,378 patient records and a total of 35,548,087 prescriptions. Also, I made an encrypted backup and deleted the original. Unfortunately for Virginia, their backups seem to have gone missing, too. Uhoh :(

Read more on InformationWeek."

At this point, I will simply leave this example for your contemplation. Consider exactly what identifying information would have been required to be on these records in order for them to be of use to legitimate health care professionals, insurance carriers, Federal and State agencies, pharmacies, data processing centers, and others (including you) who have legitimate access to them. What would be the many possible negative consequences of having these records in the hands of those who do not have our best interests in mind.

Peace, Doc

Copyright © 2009, Thomas A. Blood, Ph.D.

"Like sex in Victorian England, the reality of Big Business today is our big dirty secret." - Ralph Nader

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Wednesday, May 06, 2009

I Was Lost But Now Am I Found?


An elder now sits

Thinking of past choices made

Questioning many


Unrecoverable now

Haunt his existence

Joys and depths recalled

Youth and vitality gone

Contemplates future

Peace, Doc

Copyright © 2009, Thomas A. Blood, Ph.D.

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Saturday, May 02, 2009

Apartment Inspection - Part II.V

Inspection day at the apartment complex came around again last Friday. It is really more of a regular maintenance routine, but there is usually a suspicious looking assistant manager who accompanies the crew to make certain that I am not running an unapproved meth lab or have not burned down the kitchen without notifying the office in advance. I was fine with the first inspection here because I knew the manager loved cats and I handed her one while the others replaced filters, changed batteries, checked the fire extinguisher, and did the other necessary things.

I got a notice six months ago that I was due for an inspection, but none ever happened. I was therefore not terribly surprised when I got the current notice to see that a single word had been added for this (yearly) inspection. I had cleaned and decluttered a significant amount for the one that didn't happen, so I thought that a good vacuuming, some further decluttering, and closing the door to one room would probably be sufficient. I was not entirely correct. More clutter than I realized had somehow sneaked its way back into the living room and the the kitty cats had blown far more coat than I had kept up with cleaning. I comb it out of their coats as much as they will allow, but cat fur on the carpet is one of those things that I tend not to notice, day to day, as it accumulates in small increments. It is similar in nature to not realizing how much rust grew on the pickup truck over an 18 year period before deciding to trade it in (I donated it to charity instead, and assume that it was flattened and recycled.)

It came as something of a disappointment to find that the vacuum cleaner had closed down some of its services without notice, presumably in an attempt to remain green and be certain that I was getting enough exercise. When I finally got down to what I could use, I found that I had a choice between the crevice tool and an attachment that looks like it might be made to suck change out of a sofa. This left me cleaning every visible carpet and rug in the apartment with an automotive whisk broom made of straw and a dustpan! It really is amazing how much fur can be brushed from even the shortest napped carpet with a stiff brush. I am not permanently damaged (I don't think) but there are six discs in my cervical and lumbo-sacral areas that are less than pleased with me.

I have to say that it does look much better here, especially after taking two huge (small table sized) boxes of clutter to the garbage dumpster or to be recycled. I know that the vacuum sucks powerfully, but I'm going to have to take it apart, clean every piece of it, oil the parts that are supposed to be slithery, and clean or replace the HEPA filter. I am considering a modification of the rotating brush. Possibly cutting off bristles close to anything that is supposed to twist or turn might work. I just didn't have the time (starting as late as I did) to order the parts I needed. The memory of pain fades fairly quickly, so what I also should have done is get a few pictures of myself rolling around on the floor, howling, and holding my back. If I taped one of those to the vacuum, it would serve as a frequent reminder that I really don't want to do this again.

When the team arrived, the apartment looked passable, but I made a concerted effort to keep their attention directed toward what I thought was wrong rather than allow them to come up with anything on their own. "That CO detector needs to be repaired or replaced. It eats a battery in about two days and a green light blinks saying it needs attention." "The refrigerator still isn't working correctly. The freezer only cools to about 30 to 32 degrees." "That drain clogs occasionally when I have done nothing to clog it. It must have a restriction somewhere farther down line." I guess it worked. I'm still here and have not been served with an eviction notice. I doubt that is very likely at this point, anyway. When I moved in, there were no more units available. Now, the parking lot has fewer cars in it and there is a $50 bounty for any resident that recruits a new renter. Then again I may just be trying to convince myself that there is a good side to the economy tanking.

Peace, Doc

Copyright © 2009, Thomas A. Blood, Ph.D.

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