Friday, October 21, 2016

Etherean Euphorium

Musical Accompaniment:

This blog took a few days off so that the author could put finishing touches on the demo of Shot of Happiness. Now 'in the can', the tune is ready to hit the charts and make Bruce and the Hip-Replacements a household name.

Before getting down the business of explaining more about Peter Underdog's fascination with all things Ether Dome, there is an amusing story to relate about the recording process. The tune features twin synth solos, played on a Korg Kronos. These solos were recorded last, after all other tracks were done, and during the recording process, those gaps were filled by placeholders consisting of vocal renditions of the synth solos performed by our hero into an SM-58. After the first solo was 'in the can', the producer suggested a shortcut for the second one: use Ableton's 'Convert Melody to MIDI' feature to convert the vocalese solo into MIDI, then feed the resulting MIDI into the Kronos -- done and done! Unfortunately, the results were not quite 'pro quality':

The solo was played the old-fashioned way, put into the same 'can' with the other solo, and now we can get down to business.

The Ether Dome, located in BeanTown, Mass, at the current site of the Mass Production Hospital, was the site of 8,000 surgeries between 1821 and 1868. The first surgery under anesthesia was performed there on October 16, 1846. Here is an actual photograph of the procedure. Notice all the surgical masks.

OK, it's a painting. There is a monument commemorating this event in the Public Garden. The inscription "written in granite", reads:



Pete Mafoosky would never huff ether, even though he would spend more time than the average person in operating theaters, including the one at the former site of the Ether Dome. As an eight-year-old child, he would run around working on his impossible science experiments ("Won't work!" -- his brother Andre), and burning and blowing up shit wearing his Underdog costume that Mom had made him. This costume consisted of handmade dog ears made of felt ("real material dog ears" according to Pete), and a headband to hold said ears on head; a bright red lycra spandex long-sleeve warm-up shirt, to which had been affixed a white "U" (see this blog's favicon, for example); and, finally, a cape. Pete was afraid to wear the cape at first, thinking that it would really give him the power to fly through the sky like his hero. Not to worry though -- the cape's powers of flight had been partially neutralized so that High Flight was not possible.

Pete began to have trouble running around and getting around in general, even assisted by his limited cape power. He also had repeated bouts with pneumonia that would hospitalize him for days at a time. During one hospital stay, one resident, who was a good example of the smartness of young doctors in training, noticed notching on Pete's ribs in a chest X-ray. The resident made the correct diagnosis: Pete's aorta had a bottleneck in it called a "coarctation" which, along with the intercostal arteries downstream, had caused the notching.

It was off to the medical big leagues in BeanTown for Pete and his parents, seeking out Dr. Robert E. Gross at Mass Childrens Medical Center (MCMC). Dr Gross was the first surgeon in the USSA to repair a congenital heart defect, ligating a patent ductus arteriosus in a yoinung female patient in 1938.

When Pete and his parents arrived at MCMC for preadmission processing, they were sent to a waiting room with toys, Legos and train sets. Pete gravitated right past those to the blackboard. His young mathematical mind was fascinated by the MCMC acronym and he was already pretty agile with algebra. He wrote this series of equations on the blackboard:

mcmc = m(mc2) = mE     

After 'intake processing', Pete and his parents were led to a large room with several hospital beds occupied by other child-sized patients. With surgery scheduled for the next morning, there was pre-op testing to be done, along with visits from lab techs, doctors, nurses, and a hockey player.

The hockey player was a mountainous man named Kenn Lodge, a forward for the NHL BeanTown Ursa Majors, who skated on a line with legends Cashman and Esposito. Jerry had called the Ursa Majors media relations office to see if any players were available to visit a young kid who was 'going under the knife'. Lodge was obviously a hockey player because he entered with a hockey stick in hand, signed by the Ursa Majors, including his line-mates, along with Bucyk, Cheevers, Orr, Sanderson, and Ribchimpsky. Lodge stayed for a few minutes, talking hockey, going under the knife, etc. until his shift was over.

The next visitor was one Dr. Asif (as if!), the anesthesiologist. He came to discuss what would happen the next morning when he would come in early to send his young patient to Lala Land. He would not be using any ether, but he said that he would start with nitrous oxide. Noticing the college level chemistry book that Pete had brought with him to research new impossible projects while hospitalized, Dr. Asif decided to give Pete a little pop quiz. "Do you know the formula for nitrous oxide?"

"What is NO2?" he answered Jeopardy style. The host of Jeopardy in those days was still Art Fleming as the Alex Trebek era with the jazzed-up theme song had yet to begin.

Dr. Asif frowned. "Oh, sorry, that's the formula for nitrogen dioxide, a noxious gas. Nitrous oxide is N2O. What parting gifts do we have for him, Johnny?"

Pete was pretty conversant with chemicals having spent many a Friday afternoon at the Science Museum with his Mom staring at a periodic table display complete with actual samples of the elements in their slots. Volatile elements like sodium were in oil, dangerous ones like uranium were absent, and of course, a good old magnesium strip, like the ones Pete and Andre liked to burn in their garage, occupied its proper place. Sadly, our hero missed his shot at a "BRAND NEW CAR" by swapping a "2" and an "O".

The next morning, Dr. Asif showed up early as promised and started to administer the N2O. Dr. Gross performed his wizardry, making a repair that came with a lifetime warranty.

We now fast forward 19 years. Pete is a graduate student in mathematics at Orange University in Onondaga County, NY. He is learning his first facts about the finitistic dimension conjecture, but has also lost an enormous amount of weight, has heart palpitations, and experiences spectacular geometric visual disturbances. Since the weight loss suggests a thyroid problem of some kind, we now introduce Dr. Daavid Sweeten, the Orange Medical Center neuroendocrinologist who would diagnose Pete's TSH-secreting pituitary macroadenoma -- one of only 55 such cases known in the USSA. The diagnosis was confirmed by an MRI scan.

The treatment of choice is of course surgery, but Dr. Sweeten first wants to try treatment with a newly developed drug called octostatin, which must be refrigerated, and injected like insulin three times daily. The drug is expensive and available only at the hospital pharmacy, but has the potential to either reduce the size of the tumor to nothing, or at least reduce it to something easier for a surgeon to pluck out.

The treatment with octostatin continued through the summer with unspectacular results and surgery was definitely on the horizon. When Dr. Sweeten left for his yearly August vacation on one of the upstate NY 'finger lakes', Dr. Gerhard Frazzledwits, a neurosurgeon at OMC saw his opportunity to make a name for himself (as if his name wasn't already spectacular enough!)

He phoned our hero one morning in his grad student office at the Math Department and told him he would like to try treating Pete's tumor with a stronger dose of octostatin to the tune of 10-fold. He says that Sweeten is being too conservative, and that he is believes this bold attempt could cure the tumor without surgery. Our hero starts feeling that he is being experimented on, but thinks there might be nothing to lose, except "pooping a lot" due to side effects of the medication. Plus, he holds all the cards. "OK Frazzledwits, i'll give it a shot (haha), but you're paying for the fuckin drugs, AND i would like a $60 cash consideration every time i show up at the hospital pharmacy to pick them up." Frazzledwits wasn't crazy about this arrangement, but doubted that he could find one of the other 54 patients to play mad scientist on, so he reluctantly agreed.

Predictably, the Frazzledwits experiment failed (although the $60 thing was, and would continue to be, a success), and our hero was again off to BeanTown to meet Dr. Pierre Noire, head of neurosurgery at Mass Lying-In Hospital, a former maternity hospital, now a full service teaching hospital, that no one ever got around to renaming.

Dr. Noire, a Canadian and a pretty good hockey player in his youth (he detested Kenn Lodge and the Ursa Majors who usually beat up on his Canadiens), was a wizard with the transphenoidal surgical approach, which involved drilling through the patient's sinuses and using an endoscope and microsurgical tools to extract the tumor from just under the base of the brain.

Pete's sister Aymlyss flew in from Golden Gate, CAL, to be with the family during yet another trial by fire. Aymlyss, who was self-named (her real name was not very well known but was thought to be some kind of anagram of 'Aimless'), was on an epic ladder climb to an Executive VP chair at a Big Bank, starting from an ashram, to the bank typing pool, to administrative assistant and so on.

The anesthesiology team for this procedure was a trio of women, led by a geeky anesthesia nerdess. The three of them looked like goddesses in their aquamarine surgical gowns. Our hero went to Lala Land with a smile. As he went under, a piano played a minor chord sequence reminiscent of the theme from The Young and the Restless  and Moonlight Sonata with chords ascending ever higher as the progression continued.

A voice on a loudspeaker said "Welcome to the Etherean Euphorium. Please enter at your own risk." He looked around and saw people reclining in medical type chairs, each accompanied by some kind of infusion pump beeping away, connected by tubing to some kind of arterial line. He wasn't sure if he had wandered into some kind of high tech opium den, or an Ethical Suicide Parlor from Vonnegut's Welcome to the Monkey House. Axl Rose screamed, "Do you know where you are? You're in the Monkey House, baby! You're gonna...."

When he awoke from surgery, he told someone that today's date was Sept. 18, 1989.

Decades later, after the valve surgery at Mass Professional Hospital, our hero was looking through his online hospital records, which included separate entries for each tube, needle, hose, or pin prick carried out during his hospital stay. These entries were all dated 9/13/2016, the date of the surgery. However, there was one record at the end curiously dated 9/18/1989. (Click). It was a pathology report on tumor tissue sent to MPH for analysis by one Dr. Pierre Noire. The report stated that the tumor cells were 'very bizzare in appearance, possibly due to treatment prior to surgery'. Way to go, Dr. Frazzledwits!


Captain Midnight, sits in a dimmed cramped room in a teleport in FLA, surrounded by television monitors displaying various network feeds, test patterns, and snow. He is eating an egg salad sandwich and scanning the skies, as he performs his job, which was to uplink cable shows to communication satellites. One of the monitors displaying snow suddenly came to life with this transmission from the year 2032. It was Jeopardy with host Alex Trebek, who at 92, was still sharp as a tack, and could still call up his sacré bleu accent whenever reading answers involving French words. With flyaway white hair and a painted-on black mustache recalling the Alex of the '80s, he looked like a cross between Albert Einstein and Groucho Marx. It was the Double Jeopardy round, and Mark controlled the board.

"I'll take Anesthesia for $777, Alex."

"The site of 8,000 surgeries between 1821 and 1868, the first surgery under anesthesia was performed here on October 16, 1846."


BZZZT. No answer.

"What is the Ether Dome?" he ruefully told his contestants, feeling sorry for this hole in their collective knowledge. "Mark you still control the board. Select."

"Anesthesia, $999"

"This mathematician/musician/spaceman is fond of writing stories and songs about anesthesia." 



"Who is Peter Underdog?"

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