It has been cloudy, warm, and wet for a while here in northwest Georgia. We have had very little in the way of actual rain, but sprinkles many days and high humidity every day. I don’t mind this kind of weather. I like the look of the bare, winter trees’ branches in the fog we often have up on the mountain – low clouds, actually, but it seems to us that we are in a fog.

My brother’s potential pancreatic cancer treatment course has branched again. His first chemotherapy had no evident effect. He and his doctor intended to enroll him in one of several clinical trials in his area. However, he had a blood test Tuesday morning, and the results disqualified him from the trial he was aiming for, as well as the other trials. He said his blood showed some anticlotting factors that ruled him out.

The next possibility is targeted therapy. Targeted therapy is aimed at cancer cell metabolism, like typical chemotherapy, but while typical chemotherapy targets characteristics of cancer cells that are shared by other, normal cells in the body, targeted therapy is intended to target characteristics that are specific to certain cancer cells’ metabolisms. Henry said that the targeted therapy he hopes to try is actually for colorectal cancer, but the treatment attacks a gene that colorectal cancer has in common with his particular cancer.

He said this treatment is given orally, which I’m sure he was relieved to hear; he still has problems with his right hand because of extremely sloppy and incompetent attempts to insert an IV into his right arm weeks ago. The American Cancer Society describes a couple of therapies that are given by IV, and one that is given orally. The ACS Web site says, “This drug is used to treat advanced colorectal cancer, typically when other drugs are no longer helpful.” That sounds about right.

Side effects can include fatigue, loss of appetite, irritation of the hands and feet, diarrhea, high blood pressure, weight loss, and abdominal pain.

Some targeted therapies have had decent results in life extension. None are cures.

There is still a possibility that something in Henry’s blood test will exclude him from this treatment. If not, he expects to start the treatment on the first of March.

Lucy’s Trouble

That’s starts with “T” and that rhymes with “P” and that stands for “pee.”

Lucy has been urinating indoors a good bit over the last several months. She wets her bed, as well as Sam and Zeke’s bed. She has peed on a bed we put down in the living room for Sam and Zeke when they decide to keep us company instead of hiding in our bedroom. She also pees on our bathroom rugs. In fact, she has peed right in front of us, with us watching as it happened.

She has had a problem with indoor elimination for a long time. I used to regularly check my mother’s basement for little surprises Lucy had left. We blamed my mother’s hearing problems for that. We assumed that Lucy went to the front door and barked to be let out, like any civilized dog, but my mother couldn’t hear. Then, we thought, Lucy eventually had to answer nature’s call.

At least that’s what we thought back in those days.

Lucy continued that behavior after we took her home in my mother’s last days. That was five years ago. She would occasionally poop in one of the back rooms, but not too often. We were careful to take her out regularly, and she barked at the door if we waited too long.

Some months ago she started peeing inside. We took her to the vet to have her checked, but the vet found nothing wrong. We have been particularly careful over the last months to make sure she goes outside often, to no avail. A few times I have taken her out to reliever herself. Maybe she poops but doesn’t pee. Then, a few minutes later, she pees in her bed or on the other dogs’ pad. It seems to be getting worse.

We had to buy waterproof covers for the pillow she uses as a bed in her crate. Then, because she managed to get the pillow wet through the zipper, we started putting two waterproof covers on. When she wets her bed, we have to wash everything including the waterproof covers. We have two sets, but Monday she managed to wet the second set before the first set was washed.

Here she is with a trash bag serving as a waterproof pillow cover.

The vet said that Lucy’s problem may be behavioral, which will be hard to resolve. Leah and I suspect it might have something to do with old age. We don’t know Lucy’s age, but we think she’s pretty old. We’re pretty sure she’s profoundly hearing impaired. She also may be suffering some early-stage dementia. Who knows?

All we know is that it’s getting to be a big problem. We don’t know what we’re going to do, aside from continuing to change her bed every so often. It’s almost like having a baby, but we know she won’t grow out of it. It’s kind of sad.

After I had finished this post, Leah and I went about our business. Some time around 9 pm, Leah went into the bathroom and found that Lucy had peed on the rug in front of the vanity. We had been in the living room or the kitchen with Lucy in plain sight the whole time; neither one of us saw her go into the bathroom. We have no idea what to do about Lucy.

In which a question is not answered

One day in May 1950, my father and my brother Henry drove to McCall Hospital a few blocks from downtown Rome to pick up my mother and me. McCall Hospital was where I had made my first appearance on Planet Earth on the 18th. I don’t remember that day, but Henry does.

Henry was not quite three years old on that day. He says he remembers an image of the hospital, like a snapshot. Kind of like this:

Image from the Georgia Archives at the University of Georgia

This was McCall Hospital near that far, distant point in the past, probably a few years before my debut. My family took me home to a house on Redmond Road on that day. Maybe they stopped by my grandmother’s house on the way home.

McCall hospital was founded about a hundred years ago. I was born there. So was Leah. It operated as a hospital until around 1977, when the Hospital Corporation of America bought it, and then closed it the next year. The building was sold and operated as a boys’ home until 1986. It was sold again and operated as apartments, changing ownership several times until around 2010. It was then sold to the city (purchase price: $69,300, demolition cost bringing total expenditure to $290,000). This is what it looks like now.

Now it’s apartments

It’s a nice building, but it’s not McCall Hospital. That building was demolished. The hospital where I was born is gone now. So is the house my family took me home to, and my grandmother’s house. So are my mother and father. And now, the only person I know who actually remembers all of those places is making a slow goodbye to all that, and to all of us, too.

As I mentioned when I first mentioned my brother’s pancreatic cancer, I feel that I am betraying my brother when I say something like that. But those are the facts, and, as that great philosopher Joe Friday said, all we want are the facts, ma’am.

I went up to Chattanooga where Henry and his wife live on Monday of last week to help him prune some crepe myrtles growing up into the utility lines in front of their house. Henry wasn’t sure at first he would need my help, but after a few minutes of trying to hold an extension pruning saw up over his head, he said maybe he could point and I could cut.

So we worked for a while, and then Henry told me he was going to see his wife’s son Keith at Keith’s studio. Keith is a videographer. Keith and I had essentially the same thought at the same time. When Henry told me of his diagnosis, I said he should start writing his biography. I said that his two sons would appreciate it, just like we would have appreciated it if our father had written about his life. And, I said, if his sons ever have children, they will never know their grandfather, except through something like that. Keith said essentially the same thing, but since he’s a videographer, he wanted to video Henry talking about his life.

And so that’s what Henry did that afternoon, after we drove by McDonald’s so Henry could get a Big Mac. He said that one effect of his chemotherapy was that things that he used to like don’t taste good any more, but a Big Mac was OK.

Keith set up a stool in his studio and trained his video camera on Henry, and let Henry talk, prompting him every once in a while. I watched on a monitor in an adjoining room, only a few feet from Henry and Keith.

Watching and listening to Henry talk, about himself some, but mostly about the people in his life, was moving. We shared a lot of experiences, of course, and I knew most of what had happened to him after he left home for Georgia Tech, but these were Henry’s perceptions of the events, and they were just different enough from mine.

Henry and I were often confused for twins when we were kids, although we never thought we looked that much alike. I have heard of twins who were separated at birth but who did things and made choices that were almost identical over the years. Henry and I were a little bit like that. We have both had facial hair almost since we were able to grow it. Over the years we went from full beards to shaved faces, back to beards, then to goatee and moustache. It seemed like every time I changed my facial hair, I found out that Henry had done much the same at close to the same time. We also seem to think a lot alike, and of the same things at close to the same times. Henry’s older son Thomas had to put his dog Cooper down last week. I texted Henry to get an email address so Leah and I could send our condolences to him. He texted it to me. The next day when I was walking our dogs, I started thinking about Thomas and Cooper and almost immediately Henry texted me to make sure I had Thomas’s email.

I have followed in Henry’s footsteps almost my entire life, never quite making it like he did. He went to Georgia Tech the summer after he graduated from high school. Ten years later he had a PhD. Three years after him, I graduated from high school and followed him to Tech, but within a week I knew it was not for me. Not until 12 years later did I finally go back to grad school at Tech and fool enough people to get my own PhD.

Henry ended up working in the defense industry. Even with a degree in a much different field from Henry, I ended up in the defense industry, too.

Henry went down to the Gulf Coast on his vacation to help people whose homes were damaged or destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. The experiences he had down there convinced him to quit his job and go to work full-time with Presbyterian Disaster Assistance. He told Keith and me he found that the people he went down to help were actually helping him, too. And that experience convinced him to enter seminary school. He said it was the first time he had ever simply jumped without knowing exactly where he would land.

I with I could have been there at the seminary to see his instructors dealing with a PhD scientist older than most of them and probably knowing a hell of a lot more than they did. And Henry can be kind of prickly on occasion. I suppose that’s another trait we share.

After seminary school, Henry ended up at a very small church in Spring City, Tn, with a group of parishioners who had split from their old church over admission of gay people to the ministry. They, like Henry, were on the right side of that issue. Henry helped the congregation grow, and grow close to each other. He said they are like family.

Henry texted us Thursday to let us know the results of his latest CT scan, the one that we hoped would show shrinkage of the tumors in his liver due to the chemo. It did not. He said he has felt some minor, infrequent pain and is more fatigued than normal. He and his doctor have identified three clinical trials in the Chattanooga area that he would probably qualify for.

It’s possible that one of the new treatments being tested will give Henry some additional time. We look for something to hope for, so we hope for that.

It’s human nature to ask why something like this happens to someone like Henry. We ask the question, but I’m afraid there is no answer. Maybe Henry thinks there is an answer, possibly unknowable to us. He does, after all, still have his faith.

Unfortunately for me, I suppose, that’s one place I could never follow him.

The Peaceable Kingdom 2

Zeke, Sam and Chloe get along pretty well, as I have mentioned before. I can’t say the same for Mollie and Chloe. In the old days, pre-Mollie, Chloe often spent the night inside on our bed, especially in cold weather. Since Mollie came into our lives last July, she has jumped on Chloe every time Chloe comes inside.

Last week we managed to sneak Chloe in and put her on our bed. We closed the bedroom door to keep Mollie out. I went in to check on her later and this is what I found.

Chloe had apparently decided to jump down with the dogs, who share a bed next to ours. I wasn’t sure how that would turn out, since the dogs move around a lot on their bed. But it seemed not to be a problem.

They stayed this way for several hours.

Ten feet of sunlight

We had some pretty cold weather here last week. One morning shortly after sunrise we saw 8F (around -13C). It stayed below freezing all day and then dropped to around 11F by the next morning.

Of course I kept a fire going.

I also kept the blower on to get some of the heat into our bedroom.

We have electric floor heat in both bathrooms, although we turn on the heat in only one of the bathrooms. The heat comes on for a few hours in the morning for Leah and in the evening for me. Some heat is also provided by the usual appliances, like refrigerator and freezer, and a little bit from the television, and even less from things like the bedside clock. But, if I keep the fire going, essentially all of our heat comes from the wood stove.

On a night with a low closer to average, which is around freezing this time of year, we can keep the living room between 70 and 73 all night by stoking the fire before bedtime and then stoking again during the night. If we turn off the blower, the bedroom cools from around 70 down to maybe 68, or possibly even 66.. On nights like we had last week, I have to keep the stove draft almost wide open and add more wood twice during the night to keep a hot-enough fire going until morning.

I underestimated the amount of firewood we needed for the winter, so a couple of weeks ago I went into the woods on our property and cut some more trees that I had marked as dead last summer. We lost nearly all the native dogwoods growing here, so I ended up cutting several decent-sized trees with trunks around five or six inches in diameter.

Seasoned dogwood, at least near the base, is a nice, pretty, pale pink. It’s almost a shame to burn it. In fact, I would never cut a living dogwood just for firewood. They are my favorite understory tree, but even if they were not, they are usually pretty small trees. The ones I cut must have been at least 20 years old to get as big as they did, maybe even older. Since they were already dead and had been standing, drying for so long, and since I needed firewood, I cut them. Dogwood makes good firewood. It’s dense and burns for a long time.

The energy we get from burning wood comes ultimately from the sun. Photosynthesizing plants use energy from the sun to break the molecular bonds of carbon dioxide in the air, producing carbon, which plants use to build the structure of the plant, and oxygen, which is essentially a waste product for plants. And thanks to the plants for pooping out that oxygen, since we couldn’t live without it. (If you haven’t thanked a photosynthesizing plant for giving us their unused oxygen, do so immediately.)

Carbon dioxide is a stable molecule. It requires energy to break the bond that keeps it together. The energy required to break the carbon-oxygen bond is essentially stored in the carbon. Burning the carbon gets that energy back. That makes a tree essentially a storage device for solar energy.

On those very cold nights last week, I fed our fire three times in one night, once before I went to bed, a second time about around 3 am, and a third time around 4 or 5 am. Each time I used three pieces of wood that were about a foot long and five to six inches in diameter. I fed the fire a total of nine pieces of wood, for total of about 10 feet of tree trunk.

That means that it took about 10 feet of stored solar energy to heat our house on that cold night.