Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Canadian Reactor's Shutdown Radiates to Maine and the World

In a potentially tragic manifestation of the old saw, "the thigh bone's connected to the hipbone; the hipbone's connected to the backbone," a local power outage shut down the Chalk River nuclear reactor in Ontario, Canada; the shut down led to a heavy water leak at the world's oldest nuclear research reactor; the leak caused officials to close the plant indefinitely; the closing has obliterated the availability of certain nuclear isotopes used in both diagnosis and cancer treatment throughout the world, even at Damariscotta's Miles Hospital.

Lana Brandt of Boothbay Harbor, who manages the diagnostic radiology department at Miles, described the lack of isotope availability as serious and global for both patients and doctors. She said the 52 year-old Chalk River reactor's shutdown "brings the world to a standstill." She said the plant supplies more than 50 percent of the world's nuclear diagnostic material.

Though cardiac scans can be done with an alternative isotope, anyone who needs a bone scan is simply out of luck, she said, until either Chalk River goes back online or a new source is found. Patients and doctors wanting to check on spreading bone cancer or see other fine details in bones will probably find the wait, "very worrying," said Brandt.

The aged nuclear plant also closed in late 2007 for several weeks and Canadians have scrapped plans to replace it. Brandt said that before the 2007 closing, she had never seen anything like the sudden lack of availability of the atomic tools of her trade in her 30 years in the field.

Locals used to our small regional hospitals not having every single technology often head to larger hospitals in New England for specialized care. In this case, no one can help, said Brandt. "You can't just go down to Maine Med," she said. "We're all in the same boat."

Canadians have been fighting over this plant's safety for years and it continues to inflame. Political intrigue has plagued regulators and politicians since the head of Canadian Nuclear Safety Linda Keen was fired for refusing to sign off on Chalk Rivers' re-opening in 2007. Parliament opened it over regulator's objections citing the world's need for the isotopes.

The current Canadian closing creates particular concern because of the four plants supplying medical isotopes two others closed recently for maintenance. Netherland's HFR reactor, the single remaining open plant supplying about 30 percent of the world's medical isotopes, primarily contracts with countries outside of North America.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

A Bloggy Sort of Gift; a Mother's Big Mistake Redeemed, Maybe

Finslippy, Remains of the Day and Some Pig are my gifts to you, all six of you regular readers. You deserve it. Of course they all write so clearly and humorously, I may never see your IP address 'round here again.

Between Finslippy, Remains of the Day and Some Pig, my Mommy Blog jones gets fixed, I get some great laughs, an education in not sweating the small stuff and some incisive school-based situational humor. I cannot read enough of any of them.


Speaking of Mommy Blogs, when something exciting happens, I occasionally indulge in a little mommyblogging myself. Something exciting happened this weekend, two things actually, one horrible, one wonderful, strangely related. The following post started out as a comment on Some Pig's blog wherein she regrets that her children don't get enough green vegetables. My point to her was that failing to feed children meals of less than perfect nutrition pales next to, say, nearly running over your child.

This past Friday, Eli, newly 8, and I were headed to town after a sick, though apparently not that sick, day home. He had been rediscovering the joy of the Smurfs and Jetsons for too long when he wandered out the door to push the mower (non-motorized)for a bit, making a swath of hay as he went. When I came out I hollered that he needed to bring the mower back up the hill since, a. were were leaving and it looked like rain, and b. our house already looks enough like little Appalachia.

He walked down to get it and I went into the garage to get the car. He must have had the wings of Mercury to get up the hill in the time it took me to s l o w l y roll my aging VW Jetta out. All I know is when I turned my head to see if Eli was back, he was right there, in the window. He had pulled the mower up the hill backwards and suddenly he was in the driveway with his left rubber boot under my right rear tire.

All I could see out the back seat passenger side window was his blond head and turquoise shirt inexplicably close. I'm guessing he was pulling the mower up backwards, hit the car with his back or bottom, spun around and stepped just behind the tire as I was backing out. He hadn't said anything at that point and I could not understand why he wasn't moving out of the way.

Here's the nightmarish part. I don't know what I did next, whether I took my foot off the clutch and continued backing up, thinking I was in first, or whether I pushed the clutch in to change gears. In either case the car went back about another two inches. It felt like a quarter-mile to me, and I'm sure to Eli too, because at that point he sat on the ground. Somehow he communicated, just before he sat down that I should go forward, and that I had not actually driven completely over his foot. So I did. (Manage to go forward, that is.) Quickly. So that my front wheel drive car spat gravel at my beloved little accident victim.

Eli was screaming and he was obviously in pain, terrified, betrayed, surprised and horrified, but through all that I could hear his angry scream, not his sick, or traumatized scream, and I knew that though we had had a terribly close call, Eli was going to be fine.

We got his boot off and his foot looked a little red. His ankle had gotten skun up where he fell, but he could wiggle his toes and flex his foot. Since Eli was insisting, maybe partly because likes to tell a good story and he was hoping for x-rays, we went to the ER. I have had my share of foot and ankle injuries and I wondered if they would even elect to x-ray him. The lovely P.A., Frank, did not think x-rays were in order.

After an hour and a half of exposing ourselves to the worst germs in Lincoln County, we left, Eli handily operating the wheel chair with a cool ace bandage around his ankle.

Saturday, he revisited the t.v. for most of the day and cheerfully hopped around the house when I had failed to deliver a desired item. Then he agreed to walk a few steps when I told him if he could walk at all we would go swimming.

Long fun swim later, he volunteered to take the Y's swim test, swam a length of the pool and treaded water for two minutes. He had been fretting about this test since Thursday when I told him we were switching pools, there were different rules at the new one, and he would have to pass a test. With the lovely lifeguard Emily's calm assurance, he passed with room to spare. I could not have been prouder of him if he had won an Olympic medal, and he beamed as if he had.

On the way home, he said, "It's like you didn't even run over me, Mom."

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Virgin Worship: an idea for fundamentalists of all ilk

This week, thanks to a Gallup Poll, we learned that for the first time since Gallup began counting, more people self-identify as Pro-Life than Pro-Choice. None of the articles promoting the poll point out that the number of people who think abortion should be illegal under all circumstances--the old measure for the moniker Pro-Life--is still less than a quarter of Americans, and remarkably close to the percentage in 1975 when Roe v. Wade was decided.

What has changed is who uses the term to describe their views. There is little point in debating here why the change happened. The fact that the graph line jumps several percentage points in 2008 piques my interest and makes me wonder what role the reaction of Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and their ilk had to Barack Obama's election to the presidency do with it.

Out-of-wedlock pregnancy (the most likely reason for abortion) has been the primary punishment for women for having sex before her prince arrives. In a Salon article this weekend, Tracy Clark-Flory outlines the wrongheadedness of America's lust for virgins in an interview with Jessica Valenti, author of "The Purity Myth: How America's Obsession with Virginity is Hurting Young Women."

What struck me, though she does not address it, is that when I think of virgin worshipers, the first group that comes to mind is that particular brand of Islamic Fundamentalists willing to give up their sorry lives for 70-some virgins in the afterlife. Are these folks we want to emulate?

And these purity balls and promise rings begin to smack of pedophilia or child porn at some point. And the Jonas Brothers? Ick.

Also, who knew there is no actual medical definition for virginity? According to Valenti:
Virginity is completely culturally constructed, and obviously we each have our own individual understanding of what virginity is, but it's often a really limiting version of sexuality that doesn't include certain types of intimacy that are pretty important.

Read the article. Valenti is incisive about the old double standard and its weird updating. She makes the point that if more men were instilled with concern for women's level of sexual interest, enthusiasm and satisfaction, date rape might contract a bit.

Twittering or Frittering?

Here is what is great about Twitter:

With the help of Firefox's Friendbar, a dull browser frame becomes a personalized crawl, a la CNN, but without the MWG (Missing White Girl) and Crisis of the Week news.

Follow comedians for truth; news reporters for laughs (and sometimes information); philosophers for exercise; curmudgeons for introspection; pundits for head-shaking wonderment; screenwriters for commentary; epidemiologists for thrills; computer geeks for fun; media smartypants for prognostication; and chefs for ideas.

What is not so great about Twitter is its potential for epic time suck. When people link to interesting, funny, informative pages, the swirling vortex of the Interwebs can take over and cocktail hour can become 10:30 p.m. in what seems like seconds.

For instance, Twitter led me to the Gallup Poll people's page on marriage, where I learned that what was once derisively called miscegenation has gone from anathema to no-big-deal in my lifetime and that people get divorced at a much higher rate than they accept divorce as a moral choice.

Clicking a Twitter link sent me to a group of women in Canada who hold potlucks to raise money for the education of Afghani women and girls and makes me want to hold such a party.

During the recent Swine Flu drama, I felt up to date even when conflicting information was flying around the mainstream news stations. It gives me confidence that any future epidemiological excitement will come my way in the same quick and efficient manner.

So, even the downside is hardly a tragedy.

Try it, you might like it.