Skip to main content

A strange fish

When does personality emerge?  In the case of the hero of this blog, it was around 7 weeks gestation, when we chose the nickname, "fish" (asa in Amharic).

At 7 weeks gestation, we're all more or less like fish.

Embryos of various species at early (top row), middle, and late (bottom row) stages of gestation.
Fish on the left; human on the right.  After a drawing by Ernst Haeckel.

Back then, Asa was less than 2 cm (1 inch) tall and weighed about as much as a bean. The nickname gave us a way of thinking about this little thing as a real live individual.

Now, just a couple of days short of 9 months gestation, dozens of people are looking forward to meeting Asa.

And yet there is much that remains unknown:

  • Gender.  Is Asa male or female?  We don't know.  (For the meantime, we'll use 'he' for convenience.)
  • Complexion.  Asa's mother and father happen to differ quite dramatically in skin color.  Grafted from the two of us, Asa may be light or dark, or somewhere in between. Amharic has five categories for skin-color: nech [white], qay [red], yeqay dama [dark red], tayim [burnt], and tiqur [black]. Perhaps he will be, as the Ethiopians say, "the color of burnt fish" (tayim asa masay).  (It's a compliment.)

There is an increasing amount we do know about Asa, though.   For example:

  • He now weighs more than 3kg (6 lb, 7 oz.).  (As substantial as three bags of sugar -- but much dearer!)
  • Although yet to make a sound, he speaks in crude gestures -- jabs of the elbows and knees -- through the medium of his mother's taut belly.  When my hand is resting there and Asa rolls over, it feels like a whale surfacing, turning, and then diving.

A strange fish indeed.

About me and Selam 

Selam is from Ethiopia and I am from England.  Fate brought us together in her country; and now we await Asa's arrival in Atlanta, GA -- home to Selam's mom Kuri and uncle Alex, and to my aunt Sylvia and uncle Rick -- where I am finishing up a PhD in Anthropology.

Asa's mum and dad on their wedding day.

The inspiration for this blog

In addition to Asa, the inspiration for this blog comes from two people:

1.  Anne Ginestier, my aunt, maintained a blog,, that helped her family and her many friends stay up to date during her struggle with cancer over the past year.  Anne died yesterday, January 30, 2011.  She was excited at the prospect of Asa joining the family; this whole thing is something she would have taken joy in.

2.  Seth Fisher, my cousin, started a blog in 2005 in celebration of the arrival of his son Tofu.  Tragically Seth died when Tofu was 20 months old.  The blog was a beautiful monument to his love for his son.  Seth's mom Vicki Sheridan maintains a blog in Seth's memory at

Why "O our Asa" / "Asachen hoy"?

The title of this blog is an adaptation of the first words of the Lord's prayer in Ge'ez (the language used in the liturgy of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church).

"Abbatachen hoy"  means "O our father".
"Asachen hoy" means "O our fish".


  1. Congratulations, Jed, on starting this blog, which is and will be special in many ways. The joy of life, the fullness of living, the ecstasy of relationships do sometime creep through words to shine light upon what we are about. xoxox(as Anne would have said)SGC

  2. He-llooo -- I think you might have something to write about, no?


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Relapse. Birthday.

Wednesday'sExamination Under Anaesthetic yielded some unexpected news.
In Asa's left eye, which had been stable since the end of primary chemo in June, there were 4 or 5 new tumours, and one previously treated tumour that was growing slowly. There were also some new seeds.
In his right eye, moreover, the tumours that had earlier responded well to Melphalan had started to relapse.
These areas are at the front of the eye -- as the doctor put it, "almost where the retina finishes."
And the seeds that were there last time had not responded to the cryotherapy.

Treatment options
When Selam picked Asa up from the recovery room, both of his eyes were red and swollen from cryotherapy.
Cryo is a stop-gap measure: Since too much of it can cause retinal detachment, this approach doesn't hold much promise for controlling the tumour growth in the long term.
The area of tumour activity is also too wide for the more gentle kinds of radiotherapy -- such as radiation delivered through a …

Mixed results

Last Wednesday Asa was put to sleep and underwent an eye exam under anaesthetic. 
The first since the beginning of the new chemo, the exam showed that the drugs have had a "partial effect."

In Asa's left eye, the tumours responded well to the chemo. 
But in the right eye, there's been a slight increase in tumour activity.
And in the left eye there's a cataract developing.
A mixed bag
This was not what we'd hoped to hear.
We had reason to expect that the TVD (topotecan-vincristine-doxorubicin) combination would lead to shrinkage of the tumours in both eyes. 
And the appearance of a cataract -- a clouding of the lens -- at this stage is unusual: puzzling to the doctors as well as us.
While cataracts can be removed through surgery, cutting into the eye when there are active tumours inside is not advisable. So treatment for the cataract itself will have to wait until the tumours are stable.
The main risk in the near future is that the cataract may make it difficult to moni…

Hard questions

One morning recently, when we were trying to get Asa to put on his socks, he asked us, seemingly out of nowhere: “What does it have in it, my right eye?” It was clear he wasn’t in discomfort; it wasn’t that he had a piece of grit in there. He pointed up at his eye with his index finger.
“Well, it’s got jelly in it,” I said. “And a retina, and a lens. And lots of other things we didn’t know about two years ago.” “And what does it have in it, my left eye? Does it have a lens?” “No, your left eye doesn’t have a lens.” “What happened to it, the lens?” “The doctor took it out, because the eye was poorly.” “Was the lens poorly?” “It had gotten --” “Cloudy,” Selam offered. “Yes, it had gotten all cloudy, and you couldn't see well through it. So he took it out.” “Who took it out?”  “The doctor took it out.” “It doesn’t have any lens.” “No. That’s why you have to wear glasses sometimes, so you can see better. And that’s why Mummy patches your right eye sometimes. Because we want you to see as well as …