Persistent Critical Illness traps patients in ICU

Over at Michigan Radio, I wrote about a new category of illness affecting 5% of patients in the ICU, that consumes 33% of ICU resources. This was, unfortunately, pretty much exactly how my mother spent her final two months of life. I did feel something was badly off the rails when she was taken up to the ICU only for observation after an in-hospital fall and bump on the head. The rolling catastrophe that followed didn’t seem to make any sense. I am very excited to see research looking into this phenomenon, as this particular ordeal is perhaps the worst suffering I’ve ever witnessed or could imagine.

 

Amazing binturong-related breakthrough stuns binturologists worldwide

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Photo credit Jennifer Pack

Since ancient times, humans have wondered why the binturong, a south asian animal also known as a bear cat, smells like popcorn. Other varmints smell like musk, poop, urine, rotting things, or have their own particular brand of funk such as Wet Dog®. The binturong, however, smells distinctly like hot buttered popcorn.

Duke University researchers have now isolated the exact same compound from binturong urine that gives popcorn it’s aroma, 2-acetyl-1-pyrroline. The binturong gets plenty of this stuff on itself when it urinates. The scientists theorize that the purpose of the scent is to let other animals know, “A binturong was here.”

Let’s look at more pictures of binturongs.

Photo credit Mala C

Photo credit Mala C

 

Photo credit Josh More

Photo credit Josh More

New evolutionary mechanism found in primates

Photo credit Bald Wonder

Photo credit Bald Wonder

Researchers at Cornell University in New York and Bar-Ilan University in Israel found a new mechanism for gene mutation based on a family of virus-fighting enzymes called APOBECs. The interesting thing about APOBECs is that they fight viruses sort of the same way viruses fight us–they make changes to the viral genome until the virus gives up and can’t keep attacking anymore.

Some viruses, like HIV and influenza, evade our defenses by mutating themselves. We can keep getting the flu year after year because the virus comes back with just enough changes to its genome that it is unrecognizable to our immune system. The equivalent of a fake mustache and a trench coat is enough of a change to slip past the body’s defenses and make us sick. Again.

APOBECs turn the tables, bombarding the viral genome with more changes than it can handle. Maybe it can still infect and reproduce with a fake mustache and trench coat, but with enough mutations it turns into something that can’t cause illness anymore.

The potential downside is that the mutation attack can become friendly fire, and turn against its own cells, leading to cancer. What the Cornell team learned is that the friendly fire self-mutation attack can create mutations that are passed on to progeny. That means that a defense system meant to disable attacking viruses could also be a force for evolution.

The researchers looked a type of APOBEC specific to primates, called APOBEC3. Because APOBEC3 creates a specific pattern to its mutations, they were able to see thousands of incidences of APOBEC3 in primate genomes, and that activity was over-represented in functional regions.

That means that when APOBEC3 went on a friendly fire frenzy, and attacked a functional region of the primate genome, that change was somehow maintained. Typically, one of three things happens when DNA in a functional region is mutated. First, it could be very, very bad and lead to pretty much immediate death or nonviability of the organism. Those changes are obviously not passed down through the generations. Second, it might make zero difference. Those changes could be passed on, but they tend not to be maintained and conserved in the genome. Last, the change could be advantageous. The presence of many changes by APOBEC3 that have been maintained and passed on through the generations in the primate genome implies that those changes were evolutionarily advantageous.

This really shakes up older theories of how evolution happens. Mutations are supposed to happen at random on a fairly predictable schedule, and species divergence estimates have been based on that assumption.

I reached out to Cornell to ask for more information about the implications of this study, and Postdoctoral Research Associate Aaron Sams explained,

“The typical way of thinking about the timing of divergence is as a ‘molecular clock.’  We think of most mutations as arising individually and randomly over time. If we assume that the process that generates these mutations is essentially random, and we know a rate at which that process generates those random mutations, then we can use the number of mutations that accumulate between two species to estimate the amount of time that has passed since their divergence.”

APOBEC3 is specific to primates, so I asked Aaron if that means primate evolution is different in any way. Like, are primates in some way the influenza among vertebrates? Sams says…maybe.

“That’s a great question, but we don’t really know. It is something that we would like to know though. I am inclined to doubt that this process would lead to faster evolution in primates in general, but it could be possible that APOBECs could drive faster evolution in particular regions of the genome, a single gene or set of genes for instance.
It still isn’t clear to us if the types of mutation clusters that we identified accumulated in bursts, or accumulated more or less gradually. The lead authors of this paper, Yishay Pinto and Orshay Gabay, are working to better understand these types of questions.”
The study was published in Genome Research.

Transitions

First, I want to let you know I did survive the 60 day bikram yoga challenge. It got a bit hairy toward the end because I had a cold for ten days. I toughed out most of the sick days–one class I literally felt so bad I slept the whole class through. I had to take a couple days off to recuperate, so there were a couple of double classes to squeeze in at the end. It was pretty awesome to finish. I felt lucky that I was able to find a 60-day space in my life, somehow, for this to happen. The benefits are kind of intangible. I am slightly better at yoga. I may or may not have added a few months to my life? Hard to say. I did get a free massage and facial at the spa next door and that was really nice.

I’m glad I chose to do it when I did because a family emergency made March Very Complicated. Everything is fine, but it simply would not have worked to do yoga every day. And from that I would say the lesson is whatever you want to do, jump in with both feet and go for it, because there’s really no telling what will happen or change in the future.

Speaking of change! I’m working on transitioning this blog to a more science focused space. I’ve been wanting to do that for quite some time, and as per above realized that there’s no time like the present. Watch this space!

Yoga challenge, somewhere in the middle

Today is day 37 of my 60 day yoga challenge. I already logged 30 classes in 30 days, so I can collect the first level of reward for the challenge–a free facial or massage at the spa next door. If I make it to 60, I get both, plus a free month of unlimited yoga.

Although I intermittently still feel awesome and am seeing a lot of progress in my practice and changes in my body, I would also say this middle part of the challenge is officially a slog. The kind of slog where you’re wearing good rubber boots and at first you’re doing ok, but then you sink in a little too deep and the muddy water goes over your boot, and you have to struggle to pull foot and boot out and continue slogging through the mud while your boots are slowly filling with mud until you finally just take the boots off and continue slogging barefoot. It’s like that.

It’s not easy getting all of those yoga classes in. It’s a drag arranging my day around it, day after day after day. I’m grateful that my schedule is very flexible right now, and that my studio offers many classes, including four 8 PM classes per week. Thank goodness for those 8 PM classes. I would have never made it this far. Usually the monkeys that sabotage my plans all day long are drunk and passed out by 8 PM and I can sneak a late class in.

Physically, I feel like I go through cycles of about 7 to 10 days. To start with, I feel “normal,” and am having a “normal” class and am doing my “normal” poses and doing my best, giving 100% in each one, with some variation for “fuck you” moments and bathroom emergencies. That lasts 2-3 days.

The next phase is totally wiped out. At this point, I’m trying to do my “normal” poses, but am randomly run over by trucks and have pianos dropped on my head. I spend a lot of time sitting or lying on my mat. Sometimes I get up and feebly attempt to rejoin the group. Sometimes I just lie there. On better “wiped out” days, I might still get at least one set of each pose in. On worse days, it’s 45 minutes or more of savasana. This is another 2-3 days.

After “wiped out,” something changes and I become superhuman. I unexpectedly have a great class and start doing new things in my postures. I am more flexible, stronger, and feeling like a rock star. These are the days I see change and progress, and it’s pretty cool. After a couple days, this new level becomes my new “normal,” and the cycle begins again.

Independently, I may feel exhausted or energized after yoga or throughout the next day. No correlation with how I feel in yoga. Likewise, I might go to yoga feeling like crap, with an actual stomach ache or headache, and have an amazing class. OR, I might go in feeling like a superhero and have one of those “run over by a truck” classes. It’s all quite fascinating.

I no longer notice the heat and almost never feel “too hot” in a class. I sweat profusely, and sometimes get dizzy, but nothing like that ever translates to “I’m too hot” in my head. It just doesn’t.

Emotionally, I’ve been cranky about the yoga, even as I’ve continued to show up or classes. Although it is a bit tiresome to go every day, it’s not really as if I’ve been missing out on life or not getting things done. Rather, I think it’s just a bit of old emotion working its way out through the process. I feel like I’m coming out of it, but for a while, people would tell me how great it was that I was doing all this yoga and how inspiring, and I would have to bite back a “fuck you!” kind of response and try to be all gracious. What’s up with that? I don’t know.

Fortunately, this is where a sunk cost fallacy can be helpful, because as cranky as I have felt about going to class, I’m even crankier about giving up more than halfway through. Fuck that! Grumble grumble grumble.

2016 Confusion report

Confusion is my home science fiction convention. It’s held every year in January in the Detroit area. I went to my first Confusion in 1998. I have not been every year since then. There were a lot of years I missed. I would say I’ve been a very regular attendee since the early 00’s. Something amazing and bewildering that has occurred is that Confusion has become a major literary convention, drawing dozens of authors from all over the country. Editors and agents have begun showing up, too. It’s awesome because it’s great for the convention, and it’s great to have another option for a networking event in the industry.

On the other hand, I’m feeling wistful about the cozy community we used to have. For many years there was a core group of writers attending Confusion, with a rotating writer guest of honor joining the group. There was usually one writer table in the bar, and I always knew where to go when I wanted to decompress from a panel or just get a hug from friends.

Confusion is not like that anymore. There’s no “home base” clump of writers in the bar, and the familiar Michigan faces are spread out among many other writers. That means it’s not that easy to walk into the bar and find “my people,” which is a little sad. On the other hand, that old “writer table” thing was probably overly on the cliquish side, so it’s not all bad that new people have shown up to disrupt the old default rhythms. I also spend a lot more time with fans these days, both because fans are what it’s all about and because so many of them have become friends in my everyday life.

At any rate, I had a great convention and enjoyed reconnecting with old friends and making new. All of the panels I was on seemed to go really well, with great topics and great audience participation. I felt a bit spread thin because there were so many people I wanted to see and so little time to squeeze it all in, but that’s a good problem to have. I am beginning to question my introvert identity. It seems like the reason I used to be so fatigued by social stuff and new people has been due to anxiety–overthinking interactions, worrying too much if I was offending or pleasing or even making an impression. Now that I’ve cleared some internal stuff, I find I don’t spend any energy at all on that old overthinking, and socializing and meeting new people doesn’t drain me like it used to. In fact, I wouldn’t say I find it draining at all. I still enjoy my alone time, and quite times with one or two friends, too, so I am probably more of an ambivert these days and enjoying having the option to meet new people without the need to “recover” after.

Staying up too late and having an inadvisable number of drinks? That still requires recovery time.

tl;dr: Confusion was great, but I now need a new cozy writer relaxacon.

I feel great

I feel fantastic lately, and as far as I can tell, there are three factors at work. 1) My previously unknown asthma is under control. 2) I’m a week into a 60-day bikram yoga challenge. 3) I finally finished a memory in EMDR. All three are connected, I think. Finishing the memory got a lot of negative, self defeating baggage out of the way. The positive cognition we installed was “I am fine as I am.” Simple as that. Doing yoga every day for the past week has helped, but I’m not sure I’d have had the courage to commit to and attend that many classes if I hadn’t finished the memory. I’ve been doing bikram yoga for 5 or 6 years and never got my act together to get this far into a challenge. Lastly, I think the asthma treatment has helped me finally achieve real results and progress with the yoga. In the past, I’ve had trouble staying in poses long enough to push my “edge.” Yoga is all about breathing, so now I’m working with fully functional lungs. There’s also a bit of fear of sensation, pain, or “getting tired” that I no longer deal with, possibly either because of the asthma or the now-processed traumatic memory. (Processing has made me a lot more comfortable with emotions and bodily sensations.) It’s a lot easier to just go to class and do my best in each posture without overthinking or stopping early…well, it’s hard to describe. But it’s great!

The initial impetus for doing the yoga challenge was to give my ankles some much-needed rehab after spraining both Thanksgiving weekend. (I fell down some steps–nothing terribly interesting.) The ankles are indeed improving, and the side effects are unbelievable.

I’m getting a lot done, working more, enjoying my work more, enjoying people more, feeling more social, rapidly losing weight without trying, and, yeah, just feeling pretty good. It’s actually kind of hard to make a blog post about just feeling good. There’s so much less to say about it than when I’m struggling or in a down mood. I guess because low moods lead to rumination which is perfect for really long blog posting.

I’m full of ambition, though. I’ve decided now is the time to reorganize my office. I’ve started a new novel, and I’m approaching it in a much different way than ever before. I would say I’m strongly trending away from the more commercially oriented style I’ve favored in the past. I find myself wanting to explore character much more deeply, and riff on the conventions and tropes of genre fiction. Like in a nearly satirical way. Freelance work is rolling in, after a long dry spell. I’ve heard it said many times that if you sort out your inside stuff, the outside stuff takes care of itself. Is this how it happens? I hope so.

I certainly hope the inside stays sorted, or becomes more sorted. I have another memory package to clear in therapy. The positive cognition I’m going for is “It’s not my fault.” I would say I believe it about 50% right at this moment. What changes will happen in my life when I fully believe this? (And before you ask “What’s not your fault?” …it’s everything. I feel like everything is my fault. All the time. Well, only about half time now.)

“The North Revena Ladies Literary Society” out now in July/Aug Analog

I have another new story in Analog, for the July/Aug 2012 issue, “The North Revena Ladies Literary Society.” It’s about a book club made of spies who save the world with books. This one, too, was liked by Locus:

A whole lot of action thriller and SFnal conspiracy packed surprisingly into a short piece. Nicely sketched characterization, with a slyly humorous tone.

 

It’s a double issue and I share the TOC with pal and fellow MAFIA member Rick Lovett.

[MAFIA = “making appearances frequently in Analog”]

Locus Likes “Titanium Soul”

I’m pleased as punch that Lois Tilton gave Locus’s coveted* “recommended” tag to her review of my story, “Titanium Soul,” in the June issue of Analog. Go check it out.

I remember when I was first publishing in Analog back in 2003-2005, and for some reason Locus wasn’t reviewing every issue of Analog. It’s pretty fuzzy, now, but I think none of my stories got reviewed there, so I’m grateful to Lois Tilton for staying on top of the avalanche of short fiction and keeping the reviews coming, even the ones that aren’t so glowy. No review is ten times worse than a bad review.

I’m also enjoying the positive comments I’ve been getting directly, and discovering via ego surfing on twitter, etc. It’s an amazing feeling when people connect with something I’ve written.

Because of that, I picked up some extra author copies of that issue, and will be taking them with me to Penguicon (where I am not on the program, but will be there in author stealth mode). If you want one, find me and ask for it. It would also be cool if you could use a secret password, like “coldy moldy bananas eggplant,” but it’s optional.

Also, I have another story in the very next issue of Analog, the July/August double issue, which should be coming out in a few weeks. I’ve already received my contributor’s copies. The story is called. “The North Revena Ladies Literary Society.” It’s about a women’s book club, spies, secret agents, books, terrorists, and more.

I can’t believe it’s been almost two weeks since I’ve posted here. I’m trying to think what I’ve been up to, and I’m coming up blank. I think I’ve just been kind of stressed out, but I’ve got about five telepathic blog posts written that you can check out on the telepathic internet at www.insidecatherinesbrain.com. Enjoy!

* Well, coveted by me. External evaluations bring out my inner Hermione Granger

June Analog is here!

 

The June 2012 issue of Analog, with my story “Titanium Soul,” arrived in my mailbox yesterday. It will probably be a month or so before it hits the news stands, but you can get it on Kindle immediately. I haven’t even received my contributor’s copies yet. I didn’t get an interior illustration on the story this time, but I like the cover illustration quite a bit. “Titanium Soul” is one of my favorite stories by me, so it has my endorsement as a story of me, recommended by me, for your enjoyment of me. That is all.