Friday, August 1, 2008

A Clean Bill of Health

A Clean Bill of Health is almost an oxymoron.

A Clean Bill of Health is a euphemism used to describe a medical evaluation that says you are HEALTHY. Yeah! But many, many people never get to hear such a positive pronouncement from their medical care givers. Of course most people only seek out the advice of a medical professional or neighborhood herbalist when they are already in the state of DIS-ease, and they know they do not have a A Clean Bill of Health.

I say A Clean Bill of Health is an oxymoron, since CLEAN is not what we live in, and HEALTH is what goes missing because we have lost the CLEAN, as we exponentially increase our flow of our culture's excrement into our own nests. One would think that the denser the nests, the denser the amount of waste products. But today, even land without many homes, operated by the machinery of agribusiness, can be equally as polluting, or worse.

The recent floods in the mid-west again reminded us of the deadly chemical legacy the pesticide industry has sold us to have a short-term adequate supply of food and fiber and, now, fuel. Dead zones in the receiving water of this purge reveals the hidden stockpile of poison we have dumped into our farmlands, only now having it washed to the sea, continuing to poison everything along the way.

So just what is the BILL for this UN-CLEAN environment we have created, which has robbed so many of us of our HEALTH? Some damage, like losing a salmon season or a cancerous kidney, is easier to calculate the cost. But the pollution problems we are causing today are so completely linked to the entire web of life on the planet, that we seldom get far enough away from a specific problem to see the systemic problem and its total cost. I'm not sure we have the right metrics to measure the loss of the entire life support system provided by our planet to sustain human life and all the interdependent species that allow our survival.

Simple science demonstrates biological growth dynamics by using a petri dish. Here, a growing "culture" expands exponentially, while the substrate food supply exceeds the demand. At the point that demand exceeds supply, the colony begins to die off exponentially, both from starvation and toxicity of the culture's own waste products.

As a home wine maker, I used to watch this happen when I fed a cultured yeast into a barrel of freshly crushed grape juice. The yeast colony doubled every twenty minutes until the yeast colony was so large that it needed the last half of the sugar in the juice for its next meal, then the die-off would begin. The waste products of this wanton yeast orgy are both carbon dioxide and alcohol. In an uncorked barrel, the carbon dioxide bubbles off to join the other CO2 in the atmosphere, but the alcohol remains in the juice and helps preserve the residual mixture, hopefully through the winter until the next vintage. But as the alcohol concentration increased, it became more toxic to the yeast and increased the rate of die-off of the yeast colony.

All the money we spent getting to the moon in the 60's was for only one reason, that we probably didn't appreciate when we began that great endeavor. Seeing the whole earth from our own moon changed our perception of our planet from terra firma to that of a spaceship/home orbiting and fueled continuously by the sun. But the folks at NASA soon shifted their focus back to what we, as passengers on this spaceship, were doing to our planetary life support system we have taken for granted throughout human history.

Like the yeast culture, human culture is growing exponentially, charging toward that day when we demand more from the earth than she can provide. As our human colonies grow mostly in cities, NASA also examines the impacts of all the cities on the HEALTH of the Planet. As an environmental engineer, my role was to build the portion of the infrastructure dedicated to mitigating the flow of a city's wastes to a degree necessary to protect the HEALTH of the ecosystem and the human population.

James Lovelock says in the Revenge of Gaia, "through our intelligence and communication systems, humans are the nervous system of the planet. Through us, Gaia ( the concept of the living Earth) has seen herself from space and begins to know her place in the universe. We should be the heart and mind of the earth, not its malady."

In a prior posts, I described the merger of the political and the scientific process to determine How CLEAN is CLEAN. The practical determination for a water quality standard depends on where the specific beneficial use of the water occurs. How all this translates to HEALTH is difficult to ascertain. The nexus of exposure to a particular pollutant to a dis-EASE is nearly impossible to prove "beyond a reasonable doubt."
This has protected the generators of most pollutants from liability and damages are seldom awarded to injured parties in such law suits.

Despite heart dis-EASE and cancer being the leading causes of death, medical science spends little effort on prevention. Most of the effort is expended looking for the next miracle pill that will undo the damage caused by who knows what. Michael Pollan, in his latest book, In Defense of Food, exposes the absurdity of trying to achieve HEALTH through a prescribed diet composed of the proper nutrients, instead of eating the whole foods that used to be part of the culture taught by our grandmothers.

I have been diagnosed twice with cancer, once when I was 24, with testicular cancer, and again at age 60, with prostate cancer. Both times, my treatment involved the use of controlled doses of nuclear radiation, in effect destroying the delinquent cancer cells by exposing them to a toxic environment containing lethal amounts of radiation. The first time I was treated with radiation in 1971, the radiation caused extreme nausea for the next twenty-four hours, such that I thought dose was certainly lethal. The medical experts, called oncologists, told me that they would reduce the dosage on my next 14 treatments to avoid the radiation sickness I experienced on the first treatment.

Thirty-seven years later, radiation oncologists are much more sophisticated when using radiation on their cancer patients. My odyssey for selecting the best course of treatment for prostate cancer began with an elevated PSA (Prostate Specific Antigen) level found in a routine blood test. After the level increased again six months later, I consulted a urologist, who took a four-core biopsy that revealed a early stage cancerous growth in my prostate. He recommended that I have 100 radioactive metal seeds implanted in my prostate that would remain in my organ after the radiation had decayed beyond detection.

The first oncologist that I saw recommended the seeds plus external beam radiation to treat any cancer that had extended from my prostate to surrounding organs. The next oncologist I consulted refused to give me any radiation, since I had received radiation 37 years prior and no records existed to define exactly what dose was given. My next stop was at Stanford Cancer Center for further evaluation of these two conflicting attitudes.

There I met Dr. Chris King, an MD and professor at Stanford University Schoolof Medicine. He ordered a 12-core biopsy that revealed a more advanced stage of cancer. He referred me to a clinic in Oakland called California Endocurietherapy (CET) Cancer Center that administers high dose radiation (HDR) brachytherapy directly into the prostate without the need to leave radioactive metal pellets in my prostate gland. These metal seeds seemed too much like getting a load of radioactive buckshot in my crotch, some of which could dislodge and move through my body, with evidence of some migrating into the lungs, while still radioactive. Umm, getting lung cancer from treatment of prostate cancer did not seem like a risk worth taking.

Once I met Dr. Jeffery Demanes at his clinic at the Alta Bates Summit Hospital in Oakland, I decided that his treatment technique was the best treatment option combined with Dr. King's administration of the external beam radiation after completing the HDR Brachytherapy. I was also referred to another urologist, Dr. Andonian, here in San Jose, who would administer hormone reduction therapy and assist with related aspects of my treatment.

On July 29th, I checked into Alta Bates Summit Hospital for my first HDR treatment. I found that this procedure required that I be a very patient patient. After checking in at 8AM, the entire day consisted of many steps of preparation for a 20 minute radiation treatment that I finally received at 6:30 PM, spending most of the day on a gurney, unable to move or turn over without guided assistance from the dedicated CET staff. Three days later I am feeling pretty free of pain or side-effects. This is good since I have to repeat the entire process again next week. After six moths of research and patience, I am finally in the process of trying to get my proclamation of a CLEAN BILL OF HEALTH.

Below is an X-ray of my pubic region with the flex straws inserted into my prostate which guide the radioactive sources directly to the cancer cells. The round thingies at the side of the picture are my two hip prostheses.

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