Update

I can only say things are GOOD- not “perfect”, whatever that means.

In the morning I often feel “normal”, i.e., how I feel I remember from 6 – plus years ago; I often hit a wall by 5 PM. It is not bad, and getting better as we learn how to adjust my machine…

I must learn, as Sarah says: it is a PROCESS,  perhaps un- ending…

Here is a more objective Libby report:

“Steve had the second part of his surgery in which they run the lead wires under the skin and attach them to the “battery”, which is somewhat like a heart pacemaker. Then the next week we went back and Sarah, our wonderful neurologist, turned the contraption on and did the initial programming. They put an electrode in each side of his brain; each one has 8 locations which can be individually turned on and off, and have different amounts of charge delivered. My mathematically challenged brain can’t conceive of how many different combinatioin possibilities this presents — needless to say, it will take some time to work out the best combination to achieve optimum effectiveness.

“At this point, Steve’s dyskinesia is absent, which is wonderful. He is still having troubles with small motor coordination, leg cramps, a very soft voice (this started right after the first surgery) and sometimes his walking. Every day presents something different … sometimes he feels pretty normal, and then a few hours later he hits some mysterious wall and feels awful for several hours. Luckily Sarah is very responsive and can communicate well… when we send her an email she usually gets back within four hours; and remarkably, when we describe what is happening, she knows how to guide us through changing the settings so we don’t have to make a trip to Albuquerque. With our marginal cars that can be a problem in itself. We go back for another office visit at the end of September — we’re keeping a log of what is happening every day to try to discover if there is some pattern to all the ups and downs. “

Actually, better than that- this was written before my last “tweak”.  I am now over 80%, and getting better…

Why Quammen’s Spillover is worth Your Time

David Quammen’s new book Spillover, on emergent diseases; or more specifically, on emergent zoonoses, came out a few months ago to a series of middling good but somehow lukewarm reviews. I vehemently disagree, but it takes a bit of unfolding. Why do some readers find such a book fascinating while others find it dull?

First: I think any literate biologist will find it fascinating, a journalistic War and Peace with many adventurous protagonists, viruses as antagonists, mysterious hosts (you will learn why so many turn out to be bats, and why the source of the legendary Ebola— which should scare you a lot less than bird flu– probably is).

But you must understand evolution as an organizing principle of all nature to follow it. What is more, Quammen travels round the world, from northern Australia, where a disease you have likely never heard of jumps from fruit bat to horse to veterinarian, to the familiar (to his readers) rain forests of equatorial Africa, home of gorilla and chimp and bonobo, of war and bushmeat, Ebola and Marburg and AIDS. He looks at Lyme disease (not a virus by the way). He visits Bengladesh (who else bothers?) to trap flying foxes while wearing a biohazard suit, and sees a scary combination of a dense population inhabiting a semi- submerged land with poor sanitation as well as a sweet bucolic tropical nation. He goes to southern China, home of the briefly appearing SARS, which I was checked for once on a Mongolian flight from China, and where the proximity of humans, ducks, and pigs may make for the next human pandemic in the form of an unstoppable flu.

You must be patient, because  none of this has a normal narrative line. Quammen is delightfully anecdotal, but unlike in Richard Preston’s entertaining and Stephen King- terrifying The Hot Zone, he is not penning a novelistic thriller that happens to be non- fiction. His aim is to have the reader understand all the origins of the diseases he writes about, that is, their evolutionary roots. He wants you to know what a virus is, and how the main kinds of virus differ, and how they evolve without being “alive”. He wants you to know how and why some kind of outbreak is mathematically virtually inevitable. But nobody “explodes”; in fact, I thought that given his gentle reprimand to Preston over his using that verb re Ebola, the Saturday Wall Street Journal‘s giving the assignment to review the book to him was at least tactless. Preston acquitted himself as a gentleman, giving the book a mostly favorable review, but that unmentioned paragraph hung uncomfortably in the air.

Quammen ends the book by writing vividly about what a unique situation our human biosphere is, merely in its sheer mass and number of ubiquitous large mammals and their congener species. It is a subject I have only seen in science fiction. And then he closes with a description of a plague of tent caterpillars in Bozeman Montana, and what happened to them. If you read that far, and I think even non- science nerds may be captivated by then, you may finally feel your flesh creep.

Two rather biological quotes

From William Hamilton, the eccentric genius whose new biography is on the way, and from our old neighbor David Quammen, who chronicled Bill’s demise from the complications of malaria meds in his Spillover,  review on deck at last…

Hamilton, from volume 3 of his collected works:

“For me it seems that the universe only needs to be beautiful, my ‘science’ no more consistent or less tragic than Antigone’s story or her sculpted head.”

And David’s rejoinder, to a scientist collecting bat samples in Uganda in hopes of finding Marburg and Ebola:

“Wait a minute, lemme get this straight: You’re in a cave in Uganda, surrounded by Marburg and rabies and black forest cobras, wading through a slurry of dead bats, getting hit in the face by live ones like Tippi Hedren in The Birds, and the walls are alive with thirsty ticks, and you can hardly breathe, and you can hardly see, and…you’ve got time to be claustrophic?

More from both these sources coming.

New Rabies

I seem to be visible again.

Dr Gail Goodman and Teddy Moritz sent this biologically fascinating but scary link to a National Geographic story about a mutated version of rabies in the Flagstaff, Arizona area. It apparently originated in bats, which is not unusual, and has manifested in skunks and foxes. What is frightening is that it appears to be transmitted in those two species WITHOUT biting. Could be a serious problem, obviously.

I believe some “Lyssa” virus rabies relatives spread like this in Australasian bats– anyone know?

And I love “often fatal in humans”– yeah, at least two humans in history have survived!

Make sure your pet’s rabies shots are up to date.