Random (but not really)

Thursday, April 30, 2009

State of Mind: Holding Pattern

The title pretty much says it all.

I’m having ups and downs right now, which is good and bad. Nice to have ups, but it makes the crashes harder to deal with when they come. I’m still easily distracted, but I feel like I’m capable of writing coherent sentences if I put my mind to it.

The extra bad TMJ and headache seem to have been a temporary glitch–thank goodness. But I’m still tired, and having trouble with motivation. My OCD is still bad, and I’ve got an unpleasantly high level of paranoia going. And evenings, unless I’m completely distracted, have been rough.

But I’m getting through the days, and sometimes I don’t mind so much being in my own skin.

Written by Michelle at 8:00 am      Comments (6)  Permalink
Categories: Depression  

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Rat Word Association

Saw “The Rat Pack Is Back” Tuesday night. The actors who impersonated Joey Bishop and Dean Martin were the best. The Frank impersonator was my least favorite–I think Paul Buchanan of The Blue Nile sounds more like Sinatra without trying.

But it was a lot of fun.

So in honor of last night’s show, for today’s game of Word Association, we’ll start off with:


Written by Michelle at 8:00 am      Comments (25)  Permalink
Categories: Non-Sequiturs  

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Tasty Tuesday

Brian had a conference last week in Reston, VA. On the way home he took a detour through Baltimore and then through Morgantown.

In Reston he picked up a pound of jumbo lumb crab meat so Grandmom could make crab cakes for us. Yum!

In Baltimore he went to Attman’s Jewish Deli on Lombard Street to pick up three pounds of corned beef, and a pound of turkey pastrami for me. Plus fresh rye bread and pickles.

Grandmom was delighted.

Brian brought corned beef from Baltimore!

Written by Michelle at 8:00 am      Comments (0)  Permalink
Categories: Food,Photos  

Monday, April 27, 2009

Let’s Talk About the Flu

As I mentioned earlier, I’ve been fascinated by the flu since about 1997, when they first discovered the Asian bird flu. The more I learned about the flu, the more fascinated I became. The Great Influenza of 1918 killed more people than died in battle WWI, WWII, the Korean War, or the Vietnam war: 20 to 100 million people world wide (exact numbers are not known due to the nature of the world in 1918, and the number of populations that were decimated by the flu.

So to start off, what is the flu?

The flu is a virus. There is some debate as to whether viruses are living creatures or not, but the important thing to remember about viruses is that they cannot be killed by antibiotics, and the best way to stop the spread of a virus is through inoculation through a vaccine. (Why hasn’t the government put out a flu vaccine? Because it takes about six months to create the flu vaccines that are given to the general population every fall.)

The debate about viruses stems from the fact that they cannot replicate on their own. If you want more viruses, the virus has to invade another cell, take over that cell, and force that cell to do nothing but make more RNA that makes more viruses. Then like the bad guy in a really bad action movie, the virus “blows up” the cell, releasing more viruses, which then continue the cycle.

A flu virus has two important proteins: hemagglutinin (H) and neuraminidase (N). The hemagglutinin protein allows the virus to invade cells. The neuraminidase protein causes the cell to burst after it’s done the virus’ dirty work of creating more viruses.

But that’s not what makes these two proteins so important–what makes them important is that they stick out from the surface of the virus–this means the white blood cells (the body’s defense system) have a chance of recognizing the virus and destroying it before it can kill the host.

Flu strains are named by those proteins. So when scientists talk about the flu, they’ll talk about the H3N2 strain, the H5N1 strain (the Asian bird flu), or in the case of the current virus, the H1N1 strain.

For the curious, H1N1 is the same strain of flu that went through the world in 1918.

So what does all this mean?

As I said previously, the body (and scientists) recognize flu strains by their H and N proteins. When a stain of flu infects your body, if you are healthy, and if your white blood cells recognize that strain of flu (either as a previous invader or because you were immunized) then your body can resist the infection. If you are unhealthy, or if the strain is one that your body cannot recognize, then you get sick. And you remain sick until your body can recognize the invader and fight it off.

Now if we’ve only discovered a handful of flu strains, then why does the flu come around every year, and why do you get sick more than once with the flu?

This is because there are two types of changes the flu virus makes: drift and shift. Just like everything else in the world, viruses are constantly mutating. A small mutation is called a drift. In drift, there is a small change in either the H or the N proteins. This drift means that you can get the flu every year if you’re unlucky. However, your body is able to fight of the infection relatively quickly, because the mutation is small, and thus similar to earlier versions of the flu.

Shift is a big mutation in the virus. It changes the proteins significantly so that they cannot be recognized by the body. When this happens, the virus becomes deadly, because the body essentially cannot recognize the virus as a familiar invader.

The thing to remember is not to panic and freak out. First and foremost, wash your hands. Thirty seconds with regular soap is what you need to clean your hands. No anti-bacterial soaps, no hand sanitizer. If you’re around someone coughing and sneezing back away quickly and wash your hands. And if YOU feel unwell, do NOT go to work. Do NOT go to school. Do NOT go shopping. Rest and fluids and get to the doctor as soon as you can.

If you have any questions, please ask. I’ll do my best to translate science into plain English.

Recommended reading:
Flu, by Gina Kolata
The Coming Plague by Laurie Garrett
The Great Influenza by John Barry
The CDC’s flu website

(Of the three books, Gina Kolata’s book is probably the most accessible. It’s my personal favorite anyway.)

Written by Michelle at 7:12 pm      Comments (6)  Permalink
Categories: Science, Health & Nature  

One Flu Through

I’ve been fascinated by the flu for years–since 1997 I think, since the bird flu first appeared in Asia. And to be honest, I expected any possible pandemic to come from that direction.

Yet here we are facing a possible swine flu epidemic. Cases are appearing in various spots around the US, so thanks to modern transportation, we have the possibility of a pandemic appearing at a moment’s notice.

Mexico is doing exactly the correct thing, shutting down public events and encouraging people to stay home.

What I have no heard happen yet is a quarantine–but then I have no idea what quarantine laws might exist in Mexico.

There are, however, quarantine laws in the US. Those laws have only been invoked once in recent decades (you all probably remember the case of the guy who had TB who flew to Europe) but are still on the books, and in some states have been updated in recent years.

But I can this epidemic is stopped quickly before such measures need to be considered.

The flu is a fascinating subject, and a subject that should scare people far more than it does. The flu of 1918 killed more people than the Great War.

A flu virus–such as the one in 1918 and possibly like the one were seeing now–becomes dangerous when it starts killing young adults and not just infants and the elderly. From the news reports I’ve heard, that seems to be precisely what this flu is doing, which is what makes the virus so frightening. It seems to have many of the hallmarks of a epidemic or even pandemic flu.


That doesn’t mean you should freak out. Many of the steps you can take are what you should be doing anyway to maintain basic public health:
Wash your hands often and thoroughly. You don’t need sanitizer, washing for 30 seconds is actually more effective than sanitizer.
Cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze. One shouldn’t need to say this, but there are plenty of people out there who lack the sense to do this.
Don’t go out if you’re sick; stay home. Don’t go to work. Don’t go to school. Don’t go out in public. When you are sick and go out in public you are passing your illness onto others-some others who may not have the immune system to defeat whatever you have.

Yes, the flu can be frightening, but it’s also fascinating.

If you’d like to read more about the flu, I highly recommend Flu : The Story of the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918 & the Search for the Virus That Caused It by Gina Kolata. She discusses the history associated with the virus, as well as attempts to uncover what made the virus so deadly.

So don’t panic, but pay attention to the people around you. And listen to the news. If your area is affected, limit your time outside of your house, and most importantly wash your hands frequently.

Written by Michelle at 8:00 am      Comments (4)  Permalink
Categories: Science, Health & Nature  

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Sunday Flower Pr0n

Here are some of the flowers in my yard this week.

Periwinkle (Vinca)

Maple Leaves




Written by Michelle at 2:14 pm      Comments (0)  Permalink
Categories: Flowers,House & Garden,Photos  

Lazy and Rude: A Losing Combination

When I go to the store, I always try to park next to the cart return, and towards the back of the lot. Makes the car easier to find and I get a few extra steps–not to mention the gas saved by not wandering through the lot looking for the “closest space.”

Today, as I was leaving, a woman was loading her groceries into the car directly beside me.

Then she pushes the cart into an empty parking space and leaves it there.

Did I mention that I was parked directly next to the cart return?

How pathetic a human being do you have to be not only to refuse to return your cart, but to do so when it was essentially the same number of steps to put the cart in the return?

Some people.

Written by Michelle at 12:03 pm      Comments (3)  Permalink
Categories: Non-Sequiturs  
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