Kevin Drum

Friday Cancer Blogging - 24 October 2014

| Fri Oct. 24, 2014 5:27 PM EDT

A few of you have probably cottoned onto the fact that people don't usually spend a week in the hospital for a broken bone, even a backbone. So in the long tradition of releasing bad news on Friday afternoon, here's my first-ever Friday news dump.

When I checked in to the hospital Saturday morning, the first thing they did was take a bunch of X-rays followed by a CT scan. These revealed not just a fractured L3, but a spine and pelvis dotted with lytic lesions that had badly degraded my bones. That's why a mere cough was enough to send me to the ER. It was just the straw that broke an already-weakened camel's back. Later tests showed that I also had lesions in my upper arm, my rib cage, and my skull—which means that my conservative friends are now correct when they call me soft-headed.

The obvious cause of widespread lytic lesions is multiple myeloma, a cancer of blood plasma cells, and further tests have confirmed this. (The painful bedside procedure on Tuesday was a bone marrow biopsy. Bone marrow is where the cancerous plasma cells accumulate.)

I know from experience that a lot of people, especially those who have been through this or know a family member who's been through this, will want to know all the details about the treatment I'm getting. I'll put that below the fold for those who are interested. For the rest of you, here's the short version: I'm young, I'm not displaying either anemia or kidney problems, and treatments have improved a lot over the past decade. So my short-term prognosis is pretty positive. Treatment involves two to three months of fairly mild chemotherapy, which has already started, followed by a bone marrow transplant. My oncologist thinks I have a very good chance of complete remission.

The longer-term prognosis is less positive, and depends a lot on how treatments improve over the next few years. But I figure there's not too much point in worrying about that right now. Better to stay focused on the current regimen and see how I respond to that. Wish me well.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Friday Cat Blogging - 24 October 2014

| Fri Oct. 24, 2014 12:55 PM EDT

We're a little late with catblogging today, but that's not bad under the circumstances—which partly include all those meddling doctors with their tests and pills and questions, but are actually mostly technological. For the most part, the Windows tablet and the new phone have been godsends in the hospital. The Windows tablet, running standard—and fully synced—Firefox, allows me to blog with no trouble, unlike either my iPad or Android tabs. Windows OneDrive gives me access to every picture I've ever taken of the cats. And the hotspot on the phone is fast and reliable, unlike the hospital WiFi system.

Unfortunately, I don't have Photoshop installed, and probably never will since it's now astronomically expensive and available only by subscription. Even the simplest image editing is a trial with only MS Paint to work with, so any post with a picture is sort of torturous to publish.

But I'm a professional, and nothing is too much work for my loyal readers. So here you go. Hopper is the blurry one on the right, grooming a slightly bemused Hilbert, who joined in a few seconds later and turned both cats into blurs.

Final Housekeeping Update

| Fri Oct. 24, 2014 11:09 AM EDT

According to my surgeon, yesterday's kyphoplasty went swimmingly well. I needed to be prepared for normal post-op recovery pain, but once I was through that my back would be in good shape.

Unfortunately, "normal post-op recovery pain" turned out to be hours of excruciating, mind-numbing agony. At one point I was on four separate pain killers and they still weren't doing the job. I finally got a second dose of the most powerful one, and that made things barely tolerable—though at the medium-term expense of my stomach, I suspect.

But that was yesterday. Today I feel OK, and this morning I got out of bed and hobbled around the room without any significant pain So, success!

This is the last post that can fairly be called "housekeeping," but not the end of the story. I'll have more news later.

Yet More Housekeeping

| Thu Oct. 23, 2014 12:00 PM EDT

How much detail do you want about my medical woes? Well, I'm bored, so you're going to get more.

By the time you read this, I should be sedated and ready for a something-plasty, a procedure that injects bone cement into my fractured L3 lumbar vertebra. In other words, I will become a low-grade Wolverine in one teeny-tiny part of my body. According to the doctors, the cement dries instantly and should relieve my back pain almost completely. It sounds too good to be true, and of course it's always possible that I have some other source of back pain in addition to the compression fracture. But this should help a lot.

There is more to this story, and hopefully tomorrow will wrap everything up as all the rest of the test results come back. I'll keep you posted.

On a related subject, I have to say that the Irvine Kaiser hospital is excellent. I have a very nice little single room with good visiting accommodations. It features all the usual annoyances of a hospital, some of which have made me grumpy, but everyone has been very nice and professional. They've made my stay about as nice as it could be under the circumstances.

Housekeeping Update

| Wed Oct. 22, 2014 10:58 AM EDT

Just a quick update. Yesterday my doctor decided to do a "little bedside test" to get a better reading on the state of my bones. It was indeed bedside, and it was indeed done with just a local anesthetic, but I guess it wasn't a very powerful one. Hoo boy, did that hurt, and naturally I was a total baby about it. In any case, they want to keep me here for at least another day to make sure I didn't get infected etc. Also, today I get my first monthly dose of some bone-strengthening med whose name escapes me. So it looks like it'll be tomorrow at the earliest before I go home. It depends on how I'm doing and what the doctor gods decree. But I walked 300 feet this morning without too much trouble, so that has to be a positive sign, doesn't it?

When will blogging recommence? I'm not sure. In the meantime, though, enjoy a bonus cat.

Housekeeping Note

| Mon Oct. 20, 2014 8:00 AM EDT

No blogging today, I'm afraid. I've been having lower back problems for several months, and on Friday night it got a lot worse. Saturday morning I couldn't get out of bed, and had to be transported to the ER. It turns out that I had a compression fracture of one of my lumbar bones. I've been in the hospital ever since.

I can walk again, but I'm pretty much bedbound for a while. Beyond that, further tests will tell us what's going on here. Without either oversharing or being coy, there's a chance this could turn out to be pretty serious. We'll know more by the end of the week. In the meantime, blogging will obviously be pretty limited.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Friday Cat Blogging - 17 October 2014

| Fri Oct. 17, 2014 2:15 PM EDT

I don't know about you, but I could stand to have catblogging a little earlier than usual this week. What you see here is one of the many cat TVs now installed in our home. This is the dining room TV. There are also cat TVs in the kitchen and the study. The kitchen TV apparently has most of its good shows at night, and it's not clear what those shows are about. But they are extremely entrancing.

The dining room TV, by contrast, is sort of our workhorse cat TV. They both love it all day long. Needless to say, this is something new for both Hopper and Hilbert, since they spent the first ten months of their lives in a shelter, where cat TV mostly just starred other cats. Who knew there were so many other channels to choose from?

What World Leader Has Done the Most Damage to the Global Economy?

| Fri Oct. 17, 2014 1:57 PM EDT

Who's worse: Amity Shlaes or Angela Merkel? You have to give the nod to Merkel, of course. Unlike Shlaes, who is limited to cheering on horrifically bad ideas that would immiserate millions, Merkel has the power to actually implement horrifically bad ideas that immiserate millions. And she has. So Merkel it is.

Now, if instead the question were how Merkel compares to, say, John Boehner and Paul Ryan, then it would be a tougher choice. I think Merkel would still win, though. When it comes to bullheaded insistence on terrible economic policy, she's hard to top.

WHO Admits That It Failed Utterly In Its Response to Ebola

| Fri Oct. 17, 2014 11:39 AM EDT

The Guardian has a fairly chilling story today about an internal report from the World Health Organization that basically concludes WHO completely botched its response to the Ebola outbreak in Africa:

The UN health agency acknowledged that, at times, even its own bureaucracy was a problem. It noted that the heads of WHO country offices in Africa are “politically motivated appointments” made by the WHO regional director for Africa, Dr Luis Sambo, who does not answer to the agency’s chief in Geneva, Dr Margaret Chan.

....At a meeting of WHO’s network of outbreak experts in June, Dr Bruce Aylward, who is normally in charge of polio eradication, alerted Chan to the serious concerns being raised about WHO’s leadership in west Africa. He wrote an email that some of the agency’s partners including national health agencies and charities believed the agency was “compromising rather than aiding” the response to Ebola and that “none of the news about WHO’s performance is good.”

Five days later, Chan received a six-page letter from the agency’s network of experts, spelling out what they saw as severe shortcomings in WHO’s response to the deadly virus.

Click the link for more details. A couple of weeks ago I was chatting with someone about why everyone was freaking out about Ebola, and I mentioned that distrust of government experts was part of the reason. And that's hardly unreasonable. The CDC has now admitted that its response was slow and inept in many respects, and WHO was apparently just flatly incompetent. So when CDC experts tell us, for example, that stopping flights from west Africa would be counterproductive, is it any wonder that lots of people don't believe them? The truth is that I'm not sure I believe them either. After all, what have they done over the past couple of weeks to earn my trust?

Maybe this is unfair. And I'm hardly here to defend the media's insane, panic-promoting coverage of Ebola. Still, you can't publicly screw up over and over and then act bewildered when the public no longer trusts anything you say.

Chart of the Day: Inflation Is Down, Down, Down

| Fri Oct. 17, 2014 10:33 AM EDT

Sometimes it's worth posting the same chart over and over in order to elbow it firmly into the public consciousness. So here's the inflation chart again. This version comes via Matt O'Brien, and it covers four of the biggest economies in the world. The message is simple: inflation is down everywhere. There are blips from month to month, but ignore them. The big picture couldn't be clearer.

Bottom line: Nobody knows what will happen in the long term, but for now we simply shouldn't be worrying about inflation. We should be worrying about growth and unemployment. Inflation just isn't a problem.