Tuesday, September 9, 2008

It's All In the Family

My brother would make a fabulous reference librarian. The boy can research the hell out of stuff that others don’t dare to tackle, and he finds answers where I cannot find any. Every conversation I have with him is enlightening in some way.

For instance, last week he taught me about dark matter. Maybe at some point in my education eons ago, dark matter came up for one paragraph in a chapter that was briefly discussed on a day when I was out sick, and if it was on the test later on, I got the answer wrong and didn’t care one iota. But I don’t remember learning a damn thing about it up until last week. My bro is completely beside himself with anticipation over the results of the Large Hadron Collider from CERN, that will make history on Wednesday and either answer some huge questions about particles in the universe and its creation, or it will yield nothing at all, and all these geniuses will have to start over with their mind-blowing theories about how it all began. When he tried to explain what this means to science, he had to explain to me the universe’s ingredients: matter, dark matter, and dark energy. Then he started talking about extra dimensions and black holes and I think my brain officially blew up.

As he was describing dark matter to me, I was thinking that this is the scientific equivalent of a god: invisible, powerful, keeping the universe together. When he was done explaining things, he said, “Doesn’t that sound like the Holy Trinity, in a way?” He thinks like me, only so much more so. This precipitated a conversation about how religion just missed the boat when science started answering some of the questions religion always had, and if religion had evolved with mankind, it might not be this splintering, archaic, inhumane concept that is fragmenting the human race instead of bringing it peace and comfort. My bro is an atheist like me, and he is a huge follower of Richard Dawkins, so we have conversations like this often. But how interesting the concept of religion might have been if it could stop trying to shove the old man with the white beard down everyone’s throats, and embrace this dark matter force that is the very definition of what a deity could be if a deity could be.

This was a casual conversation we had on the way to the DMV.

Oh, what a difference it is to have a conversation with my brother, and then walk into the DMV and have a conversation with one of them! I’ll not digress into that nightmare of an experience, but suffice it to say that we walked out empty-handed, cursing the government for being able to make shit up as they go, and leaving the citizens no recourse. Outside the door was a bicycle chained up to pole in the parking lot. The pole was straight up and down, about three feet tall. All any potential thief had to do was lift the bike and the chain up over the top of the pole and take off with it. Seriously, I regretted not having a camera, because that was a Fail Blog shot if ever there was one. I looked at the bike, looked at my brother, and suggested it was an employee’s mode of transport. He agreed. Then we drove home and talked about supernatural forces on earth and the debates over the existence of paranormal phenomena.

Seriously, this is the shit we talk about.

So, when I went to my brother over the weekend about something that I can’t get to the bottom of, I didn’t expect him to come back with help an hour later.

Here’s my dilemma.

I have sarcoidosis, which is a rare immune disorder. I live with my disabled mother, who has fibromyalgia and Sjogren’s Syndrome so severe that it legally blinded her in one eye, and both of these are rare immune disorders. Directly across the street from me, I have a good friend and neighbor who was recently diagnosed with a form of vasculitis that is very rare and not responsive to immune-inhibiting drugs. Two other neighbors are suffering from rare, chronic, debilitating immune disorders, including one who just was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. There are only 9 houses on our cul-de-sac, and five women have rare, chronic immune disorders. They are also the only five women who have lived in these houses for 15 years or more. The remaining neighbors have only lived in their homes for a couple years, and they are all healthy. To me, this is beyond a coincidence, but I have no idea how to get to the bottom of it. Together with my neighbor who has vasculitis, I’ve been trying to figure out how to poll other neighbors without causing a panic or getting doors slammed in my proverbial face, so we can figure out if there are more cases in the surrounding cul-de-sacs and the rest of the subdivision. My intention is to gather more information, but I am unsure how to do so.

My brother was so intrigued by this bizarre cluster of rare and troubling diseases, so he started emailing medical experts and medical attorneys, asking for research facilities that might have the interest and funding to look into this on our behalf.

I never would’ve thought of that!

Sure enough, he came up with a couple of places doing research on the topic of cluster outbreaks of rare diseases. Amazing.

Today I sent emails to two recommendations he gave me, one of which was a very prominent doctor who responded to me directly about an hour later, advising me of the various local agencies to contact as a first line offensive, since he was on the other side of the country, and there are far too many of these clusters of diseases for him and his team to research them all. He was so kind and helpful, and he also suggested I not hesitate to email him with more questions anytime. Doctors who care: how nice to meet this rare beast!

And, promptly I emailed the state agencies, which will likely yield a form letter response in a week or a month, telling me to call their office and leave a message with the cousin of a friend of the mother-in-law of the receptionist of someone who might be capable of helping me. The DMV does not set a good example of how government agencies work for the people.

But still, it’s a starting point.

And it was my brother who got us here.

Dude should be a librarian, I swear.

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