Wednesday, May 12, 2010

But At Least He Has Time to Draw and Write

It's Wednesday night, which means tomorrow is garbage day. Garbage pick up - there's something I could cancel, but it would cost about the same to haul the garbage to the dump ourselves, and we'd have to do the heavy lifting, so maybe I'll keep that service.
Anyway, we'll put the garbage out tomorrow. Hope we remember first thing in the morning.
Rick goes to see Dr. Oliver tomorrow. Dr. Oliver is his nephrologist. We like her - she's caring, and compassionate, and encouraging, and a good doctor as well. She knows her kidneys.
Things have not been great on the dialysis front these last few weeks. Rick continues to go to hemodialysis, and tomorrow we'll talk about whether he can go back to doing peritoneal dialysis at home.
It turns out that his compact, wiry little body works against him in peritoneal dialysis. His organs are packed so tightly that they tend to flatten the catheter inside of him and prevent him from draining dialysate as well as he is supposed to, or as is optimal for using this method. Consistent draining is a requirement of the over night cycler, which is looking less and less like an option. He tends to drain eventually - but not immediately. The worst part of that is that he develops edema.
Having to stay with hemodialysis would be a bummer, on the one hand. He has to drive into Seattle three days a week and watch his blood get sucked out, filtered through a machine, and then pumped back into him, and he's tired out by the process. On the other hand, there is the big plus: he gets to stay alive.
This is the trade-off of kidney failure in our time and place. You have to have dialysis or a kidney transplant to survive. Those are the choices.
Rick hopes to return to peritoneal dialysis, anyway. Discussing that is going to be a big part of our meeting with Dr. Oliver tomorrow. That, and his persistent cough.
Stay tuned.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

The Great Vashon Earthworm 1974

Illustration by Rick Tuel. He did the black and white cartoon first, and then our friend Susan Bardwell sent him some watercolor pencils, so he colored it in. Here you have both versions.
"Scientists unearth fabled Palouse worm" said the headline on the front page of Section B of the Seattle Times on April 29. Rick's interest was immediately caught, as was mine.
A few years ago Rick told me the tale of a giant earthworm he ran into back in 1974 while working for Masahiro Mukai, owner of VIPCO. Mr. Mukai and VIPCO put in many water systems and septic systems on Vashon Island, and laid a lot of pipe in the process, between the end of World War II and 1980, when Mr. Mukai retired. In recent years Rick has dug up and repaired pipes and connections he put in back in the 1970s.
In 1974 Rick was a young man who had mastered the art of using a shovel, and one day he encountered a worm. Not just any worm. A HUGE worm. He told me about it a few years ago, and I went online to look up "giant earthworms," which led me to the Palouse earthworm (Driloleirus americanus).
It is indeed fabled - said to be up to three feet long, pink or albino, and emitting a fragrance like lilies. It was common in the Palouse region of Washington state back in the 1890s, and three-foot-long specimens were reported, but not many had been seen in recent decades, and none were more than half that long.
Now we come to "Jodi Johnson-Maynard, a University of Idaho associate professor and a soil ecologist specializing in macroinvertebrates," (who) "continues her years-long pursuit for just this elusive giant white worm with a fresh project for the summer of 2009."(1) That's what it says about her in the Wikipedia article about the Palouse earthworm. There is a whole lot more information about giant worms on the web than there was the first time I looked them up.
It was Ms. Johnson Maynard's graduate student, Shan Xu, and a research support scientist named Karl Umiker who on March 27 of this year discovered a group of earthworms - an adult, a juvenile, and three egg cocoons - which they believe are Palouse earthworms.(2)
The adult has been dissected in the interests of science, first to identify its DNA and then to provide a comparison for future worm identification.
Rest in peace, adult earthworm.
Grad student Xu said she did not sniff to see if the worms smelled like lilies, and they did not spit. She described them as "very gentle."
Well, so that's the latest on the Palouse earthworm, and you can read all about it at Wikipedia.
In response to the Seattle Times story, Rick wrote this letter to the editor of the Times. Let's let him tell his worm story:
"Editor, the Times:
"I was fascinated by the report in April 29th's Northwest section by Sandi Doughton, 'Scientists unearth fabled Palouse worm.' I've lived on Vashon Island since 1971 and have wanted to know more about these giant worms since 1974.
During the summer of that year I was working for a contractor installing a 4-inch water main on the west side of Asta Lane SW close to the island's north end ferry dock.
"We had opened about 75 feet of trench from the intersection with SW 112 street to a depth of 3-1/2 feet, and I was clearing the bottom in preparation for laying in the pipe. The soil was coarse and sandy so I was watching the trench for signs of collapse when I noticed a dimple about the size of a walnut, about six to eight inches below ground level, begin to appear in the sidewall. The dimple became larger as it bulged outward and sand began to fall out of it an into the trench. Shortly, the business end of a chubby earthworm appeared and tentatively began to feel its way out of its tunnel and down the sidewall.
"It took several minutes for it to reach the bottom, a good three feet down, before releasing its anchored tail from its tunnel and dropping to the bottom of the trench in a heap. Lengthwise it looked more like a snake but in every other respect it appeared to be the most enormous earthworm I had ever seen.
"The Palouse earthworm is said to have an aroma of lilies; this worm smelled like cucumber.
"Now nearing retirement, I can say I have opened many a trench and excavation on Vashon Island since that day without ever encountering another such magnificent specimen again."

Rick did remark that he asked Mr. Mukai if he'd ever seen such a worm in his excavations on Vashon, and Mr. Mukai said, "Oh, yeah, I've seen some of those things."
So - the question is: Have YOU ever seen one of those things? We would love to hear from anyone on Vashon or Maury Island who has encountered a giant earthworm. So would Ms. Maynard-Johnson, who, when I emailed her, said she'd like to hear if anyone else has seen a giant worm here.
Contact us at, subject line "Giant Worm" so I can find you in the spam filter, and tell us all about your close encounter with giant worms.
And then if you really want to see some big worms, check out the Australian Giant Gippsland earthworm on Wikipedia - yikes.
(1)Wikipedia article, "Giant Palouse Earthworm"
(2) Seattle Times, "Scientists unearth fabled Palouse worm," April 29., 2010