This past weekend, I think I sprained my brain.
Kimya evening, Jessie and I loaded up supplies in the back of the Lander and headed off to the Microsoft campus for Puzzle Hunt 12. Coming home for a good night’s sleep before thirty-one hours of puzzle-solving, running all over the facilities, bad food, and sleep deprivation. I competed as part of Grey Goo, the puzzling group that Jason and Mufi more or less founded with Shaterri, Jessie and I. In addition, we had Jeff, Jason’s coworker Garret, Shaterri’s sister Stefanie, Kiefer, Jason’s friend Jack, Jessie’s friend Steven Stair, and an extra MS employee that we recruited through the company puzzling-events mailing list. All told, of the seventy puzzles in the event, we saw fifty, solved about three-quarters of those, and generally had a blast.
I think we also learned a lot about how not to run an event like this.
By the designers’ own admission at the closing ceremonies, Puzzle Hunt 12 was, in fact, Puzzle Hunts 12 and 13 that had been sort of smushed together. The team developing PH12 had been aiming for a straight-up Jeopardy theme, and at the same time the next team in line was working on a horror-themed PH13 at the same time. However, both teams started to stall out very badly, and they collectively made a decision to throw their efforts into a joint project to ensure that some kind of event happened this year, but of course their themes were nigh-incompatible. Determined not to let this stop them, though, they cleverly blended their respective storylines into… okay, no, Jeopardy ruled the first half of the event, and then suddenly upon entering round two we discovered that we had unwittingly assembled some kind of artifact that had broken a mystic seal. Had we gotten through the whole event, we would have discovered that Death had come for our souls.
Now, it’s fair to say that most Hunts have some kind of plot twist; it’s become a fairly conventional plot element in the events run at MS. I joked about an hour into the event that this year’s plot twist was that Alex Trebek was going to kill us all. Little did I know how close to right I was. In fact, PH12 was both PH12 and 13, each half shorter than a conventional hunt but together longer than any previous event.
This alone wouldn’t have been enough to condemn it. I’d have cracked some jokes, sure, but given the necessities I can let the theming slide. No, what really made this event a problem was the fact that, at about 22h00 on Jugya, we ran into what can best be described as a blocking problem. Normally at events like this, there’s some kind of “unlocking” mechanism whereby as a team solves one problem, it gets N more where N is some positive value, until all the puzzles are unlocked. In this one, we got all of the Round One puzzles and its “meta”—a puzzle that requires information from other puzzles to solve—and then were completely unable to move forward to Round Two. We spent between four and eight hours—reports differ based on amount of sleep and degree of time dilation experienced due to temporary insanity—trying to figure out how to solve the big puzzle without making any real headway. This became a serious demotivator to most of the team, and some of our teammates didn’t really recover from it in the morning.
Again, that alone might not have been a killer, but a lot of the puzzles were in some serious need of cluing. Normally when a team receives a puzzle, there’s some indicator as to how to approach it, even if the message doesn’t make any sense or is painfully obtuse. Most of these puzzles had no cluing at all, which meant that by and large we were guessing not only how to solve them, but how to even begin tackling them. This left a lot of us floundering on a number of puzzles, wondering if we were making headway or if we were just chasing red herrings all night.
Now, all this said, I still had a blast, and I’m looking forward to the next one, which if my reckoning is right will be Puzzle Hunt 14. That, however, is months if not a year away, and in the meantime… Team Grey Goo is running on its own event. True, this one won’t be nearly as long or as large, but it’s a step, a much needed and welcome first step. I’m really looking forward to this. It’s coming together beautifully, and I hope everyone that plays in it has as much fun as we’ve all had in putting it together.
This world is spinning around me.
In other news, I think I’ve finally found somebody I can call “family doctor” again in good conscience, and it’s not just because he gives me the drugs I want.
So, as a bit of prelude to this discussion, I would like to remind the home audience that I have been fat my entire life. Overweight. Morbidly obese. I’m not saying this out of any sense to desensitize myself to the words, but as a simple recognition of the truth. Both of my parents are overweight, my mother has crushed vertebrae in her back because of her weight, my father had a quadruple coronary artery bypass graft when he was in his fifties, and overeating has just been a part of my life for years. Plus, I eat when I’m stressed, I horde food, and I’m not particularly active. So, in short, I’m pretty screwed when it comes to my weight, so much so that for most of my life I had essentially given up on ever getting better.
As discussed in the past, as part of my transition I said I would lose the weight, and with the help of Dexatrim and SlimFast, I did. I went from 360 pounds to 209 in a year. Now, I may have gone overboard, but I dieted like I meant it, and I did what needed to be done. I then kept the weight off for six months, taking one Dexatrim a day as an appetite stabilizer. Then the FDA banned PPA, and Dexatrim got reformulated into something that didn’t work for me. Since then, my weight had steadily crept back upwards again, and a few months ago, I topped back up to where I had been before I had started. The scale has been, for a few months now, topping out around 364.
Square One was a great television show, but a lousy place to which to return.
Ever since I’d gotten to Seattle, I’d been looking for someone to help me with my weight. My metabolism is more or less broken and my appetite regulation is next to nil. I could finish off a large pizza and still have a psychological craving for food despite feeling physically bloated and ready to vomit. I’m not happy about it, but those were the facts, and I wanted medical help in dealing with them.
The first doctor that I saw told me that surgery was the answer and he wanted to refer me to Swedish Medical for a gastric bypass. I said I wasn’t comfortable with the operation idea, seeing as how reports are starting to trickle in suggesting that weight loss as a result of surgery is temporary and results in nutrition complications later in life. Plus, I have a bad habit of waking up on operating tables, which isn’t any fun for anyone. On top of this, operating on the obese is always risky, which means even for a theoretically simple procedure, there’s still more danger than there would be for someone healthy. Upon voicing my concerns, the doctor essentially said that he wasn’t going to give me drugs and that if I didn’t like the surgery, I could eat less and exercise like everyone else.
When I went to see the second doctor, I went in armed with facts, figures, statistics. Research is starting to show that the “eat less and exercise” argument, which great in theory, simply doesn’t work in practice because the body is too good at screwing itself up. We’ve evolved to gain weight,
not lose it, and I’m a prime example. I’ve seen the studies done that talk about about the set point, and all the other going theories on fat gain and storage. I tried to explain all of this, passionately, to my second doctor, and she said that she might consider pills, maybe, but that first she wanted me to go through the nutritionist and do yet another round of dietary alterations and increased exercise. I tried to explain that I couldn’t do enough exercise to make a dent in my caloric intake as long as I was fighting hunger pangs 24×7 regardless of how much I ate, and she just said that she wasn’t going to do it my way until I’d done it hers, regardless of my insistence that I’d tried her way a hundred times before and failed.
So, when I recently changed over to Capitol Hill Medical on a recommendation from Rachel, I was skeptical, and concerned. The ARNP I was going to see was the third attempt in a year to get some help with my weight. Without wanting to admit it publicly, I was really starting to feel like it was a this-or-nothing proposition. So, on my new-patient visit, I mentioned to him that I was interested in getting some help with weight loss and that I’d had real success with Dexatrim back in the day. He was noncommittal at the time and said he knew bad things about PPA, but he didn’t tell me no; he just disagreed with my choice of medication. I let the matter drop, and that was that.
Now, during last weekend’s Puzzle Hunt, I managed to come down with a urinary tract infection. I know this because I woke up having an intense need to go to the bathroom, and when I did I thought someone had set my crotch on fire. Then, five minutes after I stood up, I had to pee again, but nothing came out. Having had that symptom before, I knew immediately that it was time to call the doctor and get the no-nonsense FUCK-YOU-UTI medication. Then, while I happened to be in the office getting an antibiotic prescription, we talked about some other health goals and he said I needed a Hep-A and Hep-B vaccine, and he asked me if I’d be comfortable with the first set of shots today.
Actually, he more or less said, “unless you tell me no, I’m sticking you with these needles,” but much more politely and with a sense of humor.
So, while he was prepping my shoulders for the injection, I thought I would pop the question. “I mentioned before about wanting some help with weight loss; are you willing to help me?”
He looked up, stuck me with a needle, and asked me if I’d ever tried xenical. Now, xenical—sold over the counter as Alli—blocks the body’s ability to absorb fat, which means not only does it guarantee loose stool for the duration of the prescription, but it also hampers the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins. I don’t need any more help with malnutrition, and I said as much, so Dave asked me if I had any other suggestions.
I asked, “what about sibutramine?”
He whipped out his iPhone, hit some kind of pocket drug reference, and proceeded to read off the list of suggested side effects. At the end of it, he shrugged and said, “that’s everything that’s ever been found on anything anywhere. You want a prescription?”
I blinked. A medical professional, listening to his patient and giving her what she asked for? Sacrilege! We haggled a bit on dosage and such, which is to say he told me he’d start me on the lowest dose and if I needed it we could increase the strength later, and then he made me pinkie-swear that I’d be back in four weeks for my Hep-A booster and a liver-function test. Then he handed me my new drug prescriptions and sent me on my merry way.
I took my first pill last night. This morning, I woke up around 08h00 and figured, “I should have a bagel.” I wasn’t particularly hungry, but I figured it was breakfast time and I should have something to eat. So, I had a jalapeño-cheddar bagel, and I went to work. Around 12h00, I realized that it was lunch time. That was it. No pangs. No hunger. No clawing inside my gut. Just… “hey, it’s normally time when folks eat.” But I wasn’t hungry. I did start getting pretty peckish around 15h00, but two cans of V8 and a can of grapefruit juice were enough to calm my needs until I got home and had a black-bean-and-egg-with-cheese sandwich with Jessie. Then we noshed on Sun Chips, but I got bored of them after a bit while she kept going.
It’s now 23h30, and the worst that I’m feeling is… vaguely peckish. That’s all. It’s like I have a normally-functioning body that knows it got fed and is happy with what it got. I’ve got dry mouth from hell, and my tongue tasted like the floor of a taxi cab this morning when I got up, but those are some pretty small prices to pay for what may be the first steps towards actually going back to what a normal person of my height should weigh.
Maybe this, too, can be another square one.
I was told there’s a miracle for each day that I try.