Thursday, September 11, 2008

Busulfan Makes My Liver Quiver

You know how some days you've got a phrase or a song stuck in your head, no matter what? Despite tons of Raymond Scott, Red Hot Chili Peppers and, right now, some kickin' bhangra, I have been unable to get this earworm out of my brain: Your hat is stupid!" "My hat is AWESOME!"

Ahem. So, yesterday was the last fludarabine infusion; today, we switched to the more hardcore (which I mistyped as "hardcare," which still works) busulfan. In comparison to the fludarabine's 30-minute infusion, the busulfan takes three hours. Also, it's potentially more damaging to my liver and kidneys, which means I have to take a mess of extra pills on top of my gout-preventing allopurinol to help prevent any damage.

I also have to take in 8 cups of water a day, to help me just pee the damn stuff out. It's all reminiscent of my cyclophoshamide episode, but at least I'm not running to the bathroom three times in ten minutes—my own intake of water, juice, milk and Jell-O is supplemented by the 1.25 liters or so (a little over 5.5 of the 8 cups) of salinated water I get through my IV throughout the day. Oh, I also have to take two Zofran anti-nausea tablets (instead of the fludarabine's one.)

Yesterday I was wiped out from a painkiller I'd taken earlier in the day for my leg, so I'll fill you in now on what's happened since Sunday.

I've met a few more members of the team here. There is, of course, a transplant doctor (not the same hematologist I met with before I was admitted, though he is part of the team) who I've seen just about daily since Tuesday. There's also a social worker here to see to my mental health. (Stop snickering, you people in the back row! And the ones in the front, left and right! And in the balcony!) The pharmacist drops by every day to see how I'm doing.

Yesterday I had my first visit from the dietitian; after an extensive talk about the foods I need in my diet, the possibility of a feeding tube, and foods I'll need to eat more of or avoid when I'm out, we went over my menu choices, including other options on a blue-green sheet of paper she pulled out of nowhere, which includes Jell-O with every meal and tasty high-protein shakes they whip up here. (As a side note, I ate my spare orange Jell-O as I was writing that last sentence. I am telling you, this mini-fridge is awesome.)

The last new person I met was the physiotherapist, who is going to give me exercises to work my arms and legs daily so I at least don't lose any more muscle tone. Until she did her tests I didn't realize how much power I'd lost in my shoulders and biceps. They're like, well, Jell-O. My triceps and wrists are great, but jeez! I'm looking forward to her return on Monday.

The food here is still roughly tied with the stuff I was eating before. The egg rolls I had at lunch were so-so, as was the mushroom cream soup. But man, I demolished the plate of beef & mac, scalloped potatoes and wax beans at dinner, leaving behind a tiny piece of potato I didn't want to bother chasing before I went to town on the carrot and pineapple cake. After those and everything else I didn't even have room for the two digestive cookies I'd saved after lunch.

Prepped for a shower and showed Katie, today's day nurse, how we do it back home. We skipped the Saran-Wrap and I asked her for a blood sample bag, tucked the lines into the exterior pouch (exterior to the bag, that is—it's placed directly on my chest) and taped the whole thing up. After she left I turned on the Red Hot Chili Peppers, left the bathroom door open so I could hear them, and got myself clean. (Leaving the door open is also incentive to dry off pretty quickly and thoroughly.)

Incidentally, while I like all the nurses here so far, Katie is my favourite nurse for the simple reason that she always calls me "kiddo." It's like being in the comics I read and the movies I watched growing up.

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Tuesday, August 19, 2008

It's the Music

Music is a big part of my life, and one of the first things I did as I packed for the hospital last year was fill throw a couple of gigabytes of music onto my PSP. It didn't take long for favourite songs to emerge, based on mood or pain management. Here's a rough idea of my playlist necessities.

Fight Songs
These are the songs I listen to when I have to focus past pain or extreme discomfort. They get my blood pumping, my adrenaline up, and sometimes just plain angry enough to deal. Most of these songs involve some form of protest (sometimes political, sometimes not), or at least an element of flipping the finger at somebody, somewhere.

- Almost anything by Michael Franti and Spearhead, but to really get me going it's "Rock the Nation," "Yell Fire," or the remix of "Bomb the World" with Sly and Robbie.
- Lo Fidelity Allstars: "Warming Up the Brain Farm" and "Battle Flag"
- Red Hot Chili Peppers: "The Power of Equality." "Can't Stop" isn't actually a fight song, but it's energetic and of course the title is appropriate.
- LL Cool J: "Mama Said Knock You Out" (the definitive "I'm not going to take this crap" song, and the source of my recent "Don't Call It a Comeback" title)
- Artists United Against Apartheid: Remember the feel-good "Sun City"? "Revolutionary Situation," off the same album, is the this-is-why-we-get-up-and-fight track.
- The Pop Will Eat Itself (PWEI): "Bulletproof," as the title implies, is a great "I'm invincible" song, but for a true fight song "Ich Bin Ein Auslander" has a hard-driving beat, and is a stark look at the alarming rise of the extreme right in Europe in the mid-'90s. Sample lyric: "And when they come to ethnically cleanse me/Will you speak out, will you defend me/Or laugh through a glass eye as they rape our lives/Trampled underfoot by the rise of the right." Whenever I listen I think about how this is still going on elsewhere, and still needs to be fought.
- Public Enemy: "Night of the Living Baseheads," "Rightstarter" and "Prophets of Rage." Can't touch 'em.
- Meat Beat Manifesto: "Acid Again." This is only a fight song in my mind; I choreographed a space battle scene to this song years ago.
- Geinoh Yamashirogumi: "Kaneda," the opening track from the movie Akira. (It's played during the motorcycle gangs' fight.) It's all drums and chanting, and it doesn't let you go.
- The Prodigy and PWEI: "Their Law." One of the few lyrics in the song is "F--k 'em, and their law." Clearly an appeal to disenfranchised or alienated youth, but damn you can dance to it.
- Consolidated: "Tool and Die," "Guerillas in the Mist," and "Crackhouse" are some of the most pointed works they ever did on inner-city problems. And, again, you can dance to them.
- Fishbone: "Fight the Youth." Another response to the mid-'90s rise of hate groups.
- Oasis: "F--kin' in the Bushes." Damn, those kids can rock hard.
- Gary Clail's Tackhead Sound System: "What's My Misssion Now?" Classic '80s British industrial, on the subject of America's military spending.

Songs I Listen to at Night
Again, these are the essentials. I notice they're mostly albums, rather than single tracks.

- David Sylvian: Weatherbox and Weatherbox Instrumental. Soothes even the most troubled soul.
- DJ Spooky: Celestial Mechanix: The Blue Series Mastermix. Two CDs worth of mixes that put me into a contemplative state.
- Miles Davis: Kind of Blue.
- Pop WIll Eat Itself: "X, Y and Zee," from the Cure for Sanity album. Upbeat, poppy, only slightly melancholy. Sample lyrics: "This is the time, the time of our lives/Escape in time for the all-time highs/Of love, lust, laughter that make us sweat/Let's simulate sensory amplification/This is PWEIzation/This is this, it's the living end/'Je t'aime!' 'Encore!' 'Je t'aime!'"
- Quincy Jones, Valerie Simpson vocals: "Bridge Over Troubled Water." This is the version I grew up listening to and is, so far as I'm concerned, the best one. One night in February my fever spiked so bad I spent hours clutching ice bags to my body. I listened to a lot of my fight music to focus past the intense cold, but when I played this song in the early morning I just started crying.

Honestly, though, the one song that always makes me stop what I'm doing comes from Santana's Supernatural: "Put Your Lights On." Aside from the fantastic instrumentation, Everlast's vocals are incredible. It came up randomly when I was alone one night in the hospital in January, and couldn't sleep. These lyrics in particular really spoke to me:

Hey now
All you children
Leave your lights on
Better leave your lights on

'Cause there's a monster
Living under my bed
Whispering in my ear

There's an angel
With her hand on my head
She say I got nothing to fear

There's a darkness
Living deep in my soul
Still got a purpose to serve

So let your light shine
Deep into my home
God don't let me lose my nerve
Don't let me lose my nerve

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Sunday, May 18, 2008

5 Groovy Sites for Free Music Downloads

Short of "free food" and "free beer," "free music" is one of the sweetest phrases you can hear. But getting tunes gratis doesn't have to mean ending up on the RIAA's Most Wanted list. These five sites will let you easily fatten up your music collection with tracks that creators and recording labels are giving away--all in DRM-free, MP3 format. An extra bonus: None of these sites require an e-mail address or any kind of registration.

What's the catch? Well, don't expect to find much top-40 material here; the four major labels are still pretty tight-fisted with their properties. But that's not really much of a catch: Saying good-bye to Mariah Carey and Madonna means saying hello to independent artists (some of whom have been in the business just as long) who will round out your most-played list quite nicely.

1. Venzero Mixtape

Some audio player manufacturers will happily give you music, on the condition that you buy their product first. German company Venzero is a bit more generous, having launched the Venzero Mixtape: a rotating collection of MP3 tracks by "exquisite bands" that anybody can download. Or at least that's the theory. Since launching the Venzero Mixtape, the company has changed the lineup only once. The nine tracks that make up the current mixtape are a pleasure to listen to, however, so even if Venzero never gets around to picking up where it left off, you still come out ahead.

2. Epitonic

My favorite brick-and-mortar record stores--I can call them that because they still have plenty of vinyl--not only offer a wide variety of music but also have staff who can talk intelligently about what they offer. Even when I walk in just to say hi, I usually end up walking out with a new CD and new knowledge.The closest experience to that in the online world is Epitonic, where you don't get just free music--you get free schooling too. The site features extensive writeups on all the featured artists (including links to similar acts), streaming audio, and at least one free MP3 per album.

Unfortunately, Epitonic hasn't really been updated for almost two years. But the site has enough content that you can still spend hours, if not days, exploring new musical avenues.

3. Mush Records

Like other independent music labels, Mush Records has artists who cover a lot of stylistic ground (they describe their range as "electronic instrumental, underground hip-hop, downtempo, abstract hip-hop, experimental, indie-rock, jazz-based grooves, turntablist compositions, electronic pop, saturated folk, left-field, dreamy stuff, more versions of hip-hop, and on and on"). And Mush is not afraid of giving away music and videos for free, since the company expects visitors' interest to be piqued enough for them to spend a few dollars on a CD.Unlike Epitonic, Mush Records separates the areas where you learn about artists from where you download media. On the one hand, it makes music discovery a little less organic. On the other hand, the site's extensive archive of articles written about their artists gives a more textured look at their work. Either way, a collection of 70-plus free tracks is nothing to sneeze at.

4. iSound

If you're a musician, iSound seems like a dream come true: The site provides tools for artists to create their own pages to promote and sell their music online. If you're a music fan, iSound seems like a potential nightmare--you'd expect to have to wade through plenty of questionable material to find one gem.Both of those perceptions are accurate, but what separates iSound from similar online services are three features that let music fans quickly zero in on what they like. First is a search tool that finds bands based on their similarity to three artists you enter; second is a list of the 200 most popular tracks; and third is an icon that tells you if a band has any downloadable MP3s before you click through to their page. Using these tools I easily racked up more hits than misses.

5. The Live Music Archive

The top two reasons I love going to concerts are the feeling of camaraderie (I'm surrounded by people who are into the same music, though I run the risk of a Coke spilling on my shirt) and the chance to hear my favorite songs performed outside of a studio setting, sometimes arranged in new and creative ways. The next best thing to being there is a concert recording, but relatively few bands make recordings available for sale, and many bootlegs are kind of iffy soundwise.Then there are the bands that don't mind exploring the gray area in between. The Live Music Archive features high-quality concert recordings from bands that are cool with noncommercial distribution of their performances. Dip into the extensive roster, and you'll find names like Robyn Hitchcock, Billy Bragg, and the godfathers of sanctioned bootlegs, the Grateful Dead.

[Originally written for PC World.]

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