Blog: June 2011

Most of these posts were originally posted somewhere else and link to the originals. While this blog is not set up for comments, the original locations generally are, and I welcome comments there. Sorry for the inconvenience.

Family night at the vet's

Embla: 9 lbs even, temp 101.2, pulse 180. All normal; check bloodwork and BP Septemberish.

Baldur: 8 lbs 7 oz, which is a cause for concern. (He's now half the cat he once was.) At this point I'm feeding him anything he will eat that isn't poison. Tuna seems to be working well. Can someone local with a Costco or Sam's membership help me buy that in bulk?

Temp 99.1, pulse 240 but cranky. All bloodwork except T4 is normal. Vet suggests trying to catch a urine sample.

T4 (hyperthyroid number) is 3.5 despite having increased meds a few months back. We also changed to a different formulation of the drug that the vet thought might work better; since that doesn't seem to be the case and it's more difficult to administer, we're going back to the old version at a higher dose. He will now be getting 15mg/day of methimazole, half in the morning and half in the evening. Even Embla was never that high.

Erik: sigh

6 lbs 5 oz! I thought he was hovering around 7. He is not having appetite problems (worse than usual, I mean), nor is he lethargic. The vet thinks he's a little dehydrated (it's really hard to tell on uber-skinny cats), so he is now getting fluids daily instead of a couple times a week. He does seem to drink a reasonable amount of water, but the vet suggested that a fountain might encourage him more. She also suggested giving him chicken or turkey.

Temp 100.1, pulse 200, definite murmur.

T4 is 0.3, so lower his methimazole to 5mg/day (split), but belay that later. Bilirubin 1.5, which is way high (that's the jaundice number). Also, he is anemic at 20.7% (normal is 28%). She said "non-regenerative anemia", which I think is the less-bad kind. BUN (that's a kidney number) is 51, but she thinks that's a side-effect of the anemia (I think). Creatinine (also kidney number) is normal so she doesn't think we're looking at kidney disease.

Ok, so what could be causing this? She felt something and wondered if it could be gallstones (would she be able to feel that, she wondered?), which we know he has from the last ultrasound two years ago. At that time we consulted a surgeon who didn't think surgery was a good idea. My vet suggested an ultrasound to see what's going on, but when she called today to schedule that the ultrasound doc said, basically, "how would seeing inside him change your behavior?" -- meaning he doesn't think there's anything we could learn that wouldn't end up at the surgery discussion. Kudos to that doctor for saying so instead of just taking my money anyway. Other bloodwork plus long history would seem to rule out malignant tumors; it's always possible that there is a benign tumor, but that's back to surgery.

We started the regularly-pulsed antibiotics the day after the visit (last week), so the vet would like to see him in two weeks at the end of that round. Also, because methimazole can aggravate liver problems, I am to suspend that for those two weeks. His T4 will rise (that's what she wants to check then), so this is not permanent.

The anemia might just be the result of chronic organ disease; five and a half years of liver disease might be catching up with him. I asked: if we can't treat the cause can we treat the symptoms? That is, can we improve his red-blood-cell count to avoid secondary effects from anemia? There is a hormone that I didn't catch the name of that can make the body produce more, but it has serious risks. She also suggested that prednizone could help, but has serious risks. (One of those serious risks is risk of sepsis, which is acutely fatal.) Can she quantify any of that? No. So these are things to note but not yet act on; first we'll see what daily fluids and the med changes do.

Erik seems perfectly happy. He eats, wants attention, snuggles with me, and moves around as much as normal for him. His body has been trying to beat him down for five and a half years and so far he's winning. But he's losing weight and the anemia and jaundice are new factors and balancing meds against each other is an art and not just a science, and he's 18 years old. I think we can carry on like this for a while yet -- God willing Pennsic should be safe -- but I really don't know what the longer term looks like.

An unusual shabbat

I used to think that henceforth I would only ever go to a church service for weddings, funerals, or educational historical recreations. But I failed to consider one other case, and now add ordination to that list. My friend M (who can identify himself if he wants, or not) was ordained this weekend as a Roman Catholic priest, and I was pleased to accept his invitation to the ceremony.

I am in awe of M, who gave up another career to enter the seminary several years ago. I couldn't really see the other three new priests clearly, but I think he was not the only one of that approximate age. I'm not saying it isn't noteworthy to do something like this right out of college, but making a profound change later in life strikes a particular chord with me. So seeing M achieve this, and seeing the joy and solemnity and sacredness all mingled together in the room, was pretty special.

The service was held at St. Paul's, a huge cathedral in Oakland. (It surely seats several thousand, but I couldn't tell more specifically.) They had a diocese choir, which was able to fill the place, and brass and percussion and of course organ. The pulpit is large, and good thing -- I think there were at least 75 people involved in this service (though not all at once, mostly).

I am not fluent in the high-church Roman Catholic mass (Wikipedia helped some), but this appeared to be most of a mass with a substantial ceremony occupying the center portion. During the ordination ceremony Bishop Zubick (the local bishop) spoke individually (but publicly) to each of the new priests, adding a personal touch that showed that he knows them. (I understand that when he came to Pittsburgh he declined the usual bishoply residence and asked for an apartment at the seminary instead.) Two of the four are returning to their school in Rome for graduate studies in the fall; the other two (including M) begin local assignments in a couple weeks. These assignments were given out during the ceremony; I had assumed that the priests knew in advance where they were being sent, but it turned out they learned when we did. I guess it reinforces that pledge they had each made to serve the church and the bishop no matter what. (It didn't actually say "no matter what", but there were words of some gravity.)

The mechanics of running this service were interesting. It was very smooth, and while most religious services are not on this scale, there's stuff to learn here for people running smaller ones. I'm going to talk about that first, and then I'll go into the geeking (for those who are still reading :-) ).

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Miriam's affliction

On Shabbat we had a discussion about one part of the week's portion, where Miriam and Aharon speak critically about Moshe and Miriam (alone) is punished with tzara'at ("leprosy"). I found that translation hinders rather than helps understanding in this case.

JPS translates Num. 12:1 thus: Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Cushite woman he had married. "He married a Cushite woman!"

All the fluent Hebrew readers objected to this translation, pretty much at the same time, for not making use of the "ki" in the second sentence (among other objections). Further, there is no punctuation in the original torah text, so this is a matter of interpretation, and this particular rendering attributes a motive for the complaint that contradicts midrash. Granted that midrashim often disagree, but we found nothing to really support the idea that their objection is Moshe marrying a foreigner. (The midrash suggests that Miriam was coming to his wife's defense, so "because of" is better rendered as "on account of".)

The translation in the Sapperstein Rashi edition, which is also basically the one used by Nechama Leibowitz, punctuates it differently: And Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Cushite woman whom he had married, for he had married a Cushite woman.

There's still a problem, though. The Hebrew uses the feminine singular verb for "spoke", so if Miriam and Aharon both spoke then the grammar is wrong. They do both speak in the next sentence where they challenge Moshe's sole access to God, and the plural is used there, but not here. I'm not willing to call "editorial error" without first looking for a consistent interpretation.

So all this led me to wonder if we're reading it wrong. I humbly offer the following alternative translation of the Hebrew: [And] Miriam spoke, and Aharon was against Moshe on account of the Cushite woman he had taken [as wife], for he had taken a Cushite woman.

Miriam spoke, and in so doing incited Aharon. Both then went on to criticize Moshe, but Miriam as the instigator bears the punishment. That makes the account make more sense to me, but of course that doesn't mean this is a correct interpretation. Rashi says that Miriam spoke first, but he doesn't explain that further so I can't tell if he interprets it this way. I can, in fact, find no support for my interpretation anywhere in the sources I have to hand -- but nor can I find a problem with it. So I would very much welcome arguments either for or against.

Edit: I posted a question about this on Judaism.StackExchange and got some interesting answers there.

Small world

Our neighborhood had a block party today. (Not all of Squirrel Hill, just a six-block-long stretch on our street plus nearby blocks of side streets.) I'm glad somebody organized this (and a mailing list); we've lived here for over ten years and I still don't know very many of the neighbors, but knocking on doors just to say "hi I'm Monica; who are you?" feels weird.

We were all wearing name tags (name + address), and as a result I met a cousin I didn't know existed. I thought my parents and their descendants were the only members of our family in Pittsburgh, but I was wrong. The person I met, Linda, is the granddaughter of the brother of my great-grandfather. (She doesn't seem to be as old as my parents, but until recently the generations in our family had lots of kids with some spread, so that's not surprising.)

I learned that her mother had visited Bugnara, the small town in Italy that her grandfather and mine are both from, many years ago. She met some relatives then but everybody Linda or her mother would have known there is dead now. A little closer to home, it turns out that after my grandfather died, my grandmother bought Linda's mother's house -- she told me the address and yes, it is the house we went to visit my grandmother in when I was growing up. So if I'm understanding this correctly, we regularly visited the house Linda grew up in.

Linda does not actually live in our neighborhood (though she does live in Pittsburgh); she was there with somebody who does. I'm going to email her the link to the genealogy page that my cousin Terry maintains.

Small world.


Yesterday was Shavuot, the holiday that commemorates the giving of the torah. (Also agricultural stuff; all the festivals are dual-purpose that way.) There is a tradition to stay up all night studying torah; most people don't manage all night (I didn't), but for the third year in a row we had a community-wide study (tikkun leil shavuot) from 10PM to 1AM, and people who wanted more could go to their choice of a few congregations that were continuing.

I do regret the loss of my congregation's tikkun, which was a coordinated program led by my rabbi and usually going until about 2. But I'm glad to have the community-wide one, where rabbis from all over come and teach classes. It gives me a chance to study with people I would never encounter otherwise, and I strive to go to classes taught by people who are new to me. Sure, it's unpredictable, but it's an adventure. :-)

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Natural beauty

The description "midnight solar eclipse" (wait, how does that work?) got me to click through on Astronomy Picture of the Day a couple days ago. Wow, gorgeous!