Monday, February 16, 2009

Radcon, Pt. the 1st

We arrived on Thursday and had Chinese with long lost pals and new acquaintances.  The thing about small, isolated towns (as opposed to small towns near major cities like my small town) is that lack of competition drags down expectations to the point where service industries don't have to deliver.  The food was really lackluster, but it turned out that it would be one of the better meals I had all weekend.  The company made up for the mediocrity of the cuisine in spades.  David Levine, C.S. Cole, Sara Mueller, Camille Alexa (or was that the night she decided to stay in the room and make sweet love to her computer?) and the wonderful young lady who studied paleontology [edit--Felicity Shoulders! thx Camille] and whose name is escaping me so I'm all aggravated at myself for being crummy with names and at least one other person.  Help meeeeeee .....

If any of you are reading this and concerned about being seen with me in public, let me know and I'll ahem ahem your name on this list.  Ditto with links or lack of links.

Also, bear in mind I'm forgetful, not ungrateful and uncaring so if I miss anyone it's because my brain is more like a food processor than a sponge--though I find the output edible, I'm aware that it doesn't always have much to do with what went into it.

I touched base with Rick Lindsley about some things Reno 2011 bid party and then set about (Thursday is blending into Friday, in case you didn't notice) prepping for my weekend as a panelist.  I had a bowl of oatmeal for breakfast (all by my lonely,) which wasn't as hot as I like (this would be an ongoing theme) but was better than the (shudder) breakfast buffet I tried and failed on Sunday.  

Then it was off to the radiation tour with Jay Ake (this was a typo on the Radcon guest list that we carried forward much of the weekend,) scalettina, casacorona, David Levine and a whole bunch of other really excellent people.  We stopped by the Atomic pub, where I had a huge bowl of atomic potato soup and a nice, fresh salad with atomic dressing.  Although the service was slow, this was the best food I had all weekend.  (Jay and I aren't in the photo.  Notice Radcon Bob just inside the door about to leap through the glass onto Janna and Jen.)
The rooms where they measure radiation in the human body are amazing.  I won't go into too much detail, because that would be a long post, but essentially they have to filter out as much background radiation as possible in order to pick up the most minute amount of radiation inside the body.  They do this through a series of shields that include copper and sections of armored hull from the battleship Indiana, which was put together prior to nuclear testing and therefore had very little radioactivity of its own.  Radiation, once absorbed by the body, doesn't emit much measurable energy, so the equipment they have to use requires amazing sensitivity.  They employ crystals cooled by liquid nitrogen and vacuum sealed with a boron lens over the sensor opening.  If I remember right.  Ahem.  Scans take anywhere from twenty minutes to an hour or more.  We looked at a whole body scan bed, and a more sensitive detector that employed a chair and focused on the chest/lungs area.  Most radiation that is harmful to a person doesn't go through the skin--if it can do that, it just pops out the other side.  Harmful radiation is usually swallowed or breathed, so the lungs are a natural focus.  They also test feces and urine, though it's not expected that much would show up unless it was right after an incident or after a meal of elk/deer/reindeer that have eaten radioactive lichens (which are still radioactive even though there hasn't been testing in the area for many, many years thanks to how they interact with exposed rocks.)

This very sensitive equipment requires careful calibration.  To that end, people have donated their bodies to science.  (Thank you, and thanks to their families from a grateful recipient of modern medicine and other science.)  Half of the bodies must be destructively tested to determine the exact amount of radiation, usually just in the bone part. 
 The amount of radiation they release (and therefore reduce in overall emissions) is tiny over hundreds of years, so they won't need a constant influx of 'fresh' cadavers that have been exposed to radiation during life.  As a side note, it's very difficult to ship radioactive human remains, but since they're so hard to come by and it requires so much time and careful energy by very skilled people to measure and define what they have, it's worth the six or more weeks it takes to get permission to transport them to other facilities all over the world that also have equipment that needs calibration.  This particular piece is half of a gentleman's head (the other half was destructively tested, remember) that is covered by specially developed and also extensively tested plastic that exactly duplicates the rest of a person's head--the other half of the skull, all the brains, muscle, tendons, etc.  The amount of art and science that goes into one of these is remarkable, and sobering.  It's also incredibly valuable, priceless in fact.  I came away from the tour with immense respect for this facility and its workers. 

My one and only panel on Friday was at 6pm, Healing Beyond Medicine with Laurel Anne Hill and Manny Frishburg.  I've paneled with Laurel before and we always have a great time.  I thought it would be this debate with me and Laurel vs. the woo woo but it turned out that Manny had a serious background in medicine and was therefore also a skeptic balanced well with an understanding that there are, as he put it, "more things in heaven and earth, Horatio ..." and science has its limitations.  FYI, I may have spelled Manny's name wrong.  It may be Manny Frishberg.  I perpetuate errors I see in print elsewhere.  Sorry!

Anyway, I added that science can be treated as a religion and that this has its drawbacks.  It also has an ongoing problem with the politics of what gets published and what doesn't.  Believe me, the medical and pharmaceutical industries and associations are not groups of altruistic angels.  I don't think they're entirely untrustworthy, but I firmly believe they shouldn't be in charge of everything that has to do with healing.

I got to hear a whole bunch of research I didn't know about.  The one that fascinated me involved mice who were given malaria.  I haven't looked at the study, or other studies involving prayer, energy healing and such, but I find it fascinating that there's now a physician's handbook that references such studies as well as alternative medicines that is in common circulation and can be found in doctor's offices all over the USA.  I find this heartening.  As much as I love modern medicine, there's a lot more work to be done and a person with a grim diagnosis, be it terminal or chronic, ought to have as many options open to them as possible.  Not only that, but that person ought to be aware that science doesn't have all the answers, that doctors aren't perfect, that medicine isn't perfect, and that the patient has to not only self-advocate but do things to help themselves beyond the doctor's office and keep their doctor informed because some things like herbal remedies do have drug interactions or other effects on the human body that may end up being fatal.  Sometimes you have to choose, and I'll be the first to tell you that 'natural' remedies are complicated substances (pharmaceuticals are controlled and purified or combined purified substances) that may have serious side effects just like pharmaceuticals do.

So we had a consensus/informational panel rather than a debate panel.  I have a bunch of studies to google and a fun book to hunt down, as soon as I remember the title.  (sigh)  

I ran around with C.S., Lizzy Shannon (she is such a kick, I love her!) and John Dalmas much of the night.  John Dalmas partied C.S. and I into the ground.  People kept asking him how he managed to have all kinds of beautiful women escorting him everywhere.  I think it's just what he does.  Though we were exhausted by the time we begged him to turn in, C.S. and I decided to stop by the dance/rave.  I don't know how long I danced, but it was several long songs until they shut the dance down.  It was wonderful to get sweaty and winded, and though my cold was in full swing I felt better for a while.  It was the only dancing I got to do the whole weekend, so I'm glad we made it there.  Laser lights, artificial smoke, good techno (could have been better) and a tireless crowd filled me up with all kinds of energy and joy.  Yay dancing!

I'll blog about Saturday, maybe in pieces because Saturday was a really big day, next time here on Jestablog.


Anonymous said...


...and the wonderful young lady who studied paleontology and whose name is escaping me...

Could that be Felicity?

Kami said...

Yes! Felicity Shoulders! I'll edit the post to include her. Thanks and welcome!!