Saturday, July 10, 2010

Alan Sullivan RIP

Because of the wonders of the Internet, I lost a friend yesterday. Alan Sullivan was a poet and an editor of poets. His major works were a translation of Beowulf and a new translation of the Psalms of King David. We only met once. One year when I was attending ASH I had dinner with him and with Chaya and PC Venkat in Orlando. Alan lived in Fort Lauderdale and had driven up especially for the occasion. Alan had been diagnosed with CLL in 2005 and like PC he had the dreaded del 11q version.

Alan contacted me (or perhaps I contacted him) about his CLL. We were very different people. He was gay and I am straight, he was a sailor and I gave that up after spending an April afternoon with a wet bottom in the English Channel, and he ended up a Roman Catholic and I am a reformed and evangelical Baptist. Despite this we found that we had a lot in common. It began with the Aubrey/Maturin books of Patrick O’Brian and Tolkien science fiction (especially Dune) and extended into poetry. I was pleased to find a real expert who did not disdain rhyme and rhythm.

Alan wrote a blog under the name seablogger. It is called Fresh Bilge and will remain available through the good offices of what he called his rare readers, though they are not so few in number but rather rarefied in their abilities.

There were many things that he wrote about, like hurricanes and volcanoes that went over my head, but we shared similar political views and I appreciated small chinks of compassion in what might otherwise be thought of as a hard-nosed right-wing carpace. I remember a poem of his which looked at a dark-skinned denizen of the waterfront – was he a kindly school teacher or terrorist.

Alan was not a Christian when I first met him. I told him how I became a Christian. It was at a time when I was in despair because although I did everything right in treating my leukemia patients my reward for getting everything correct was that they died. Life seemed pointless when one of my patients invited me to his church. It took another six months until I went and when I got there I discovered that he had died the previous Thursday. The minister preached a sermon designed to comfort his widow on the raising of Lazarus. At a crucial point he read out these words, “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.”

Then he pointed directly at me and said, “Do you believe this?”

And when everything else had been stripped away I found that I did.

Alan found my testimony moving and indicated that it almost convinced him to become a Christian. I prefer to think of it as one of the links the Holy Spirit used to save him.

And now he is gone. I shall miss his waspish wit, his wide knowledge and his diligent searches of the web. He wrote a poem about CLL which I reproduce here.

Divide and Conquer

The cells divide. The cells that will not die
divide too well and so they multiply.
They kill the host to keep themselves alive.

The blood goes bad. In vain physicians try
to purge the veins with drugs the cells defy.
The cells divide. The cells that will not die

mutate anew. The hardy few survive.
The few recruit the many teeming by.
They kill the host to keep themselves alive.

They colonize the nodes from neck to thigh.
The tumors grow, and scanners never lie.
The cells divide. The cells that will not die

stifle the very organs where they thrive.
Blind, stupid things—their purpose gone awry—
they kill the host to keep themselves alive.

Exploding through the flesh, they multiply,
but immortality eludes them. Why?
The cells divide. The cells that will not die
kill the host to keep themselves alive.

Alan's CLL is also dead. Pray God we find a way to kill the cells before they kill the host.


Brian Koffman said...


So sad. I appreciate you sharing your frustrations with the too little we can do as doctors, your testimony of faith and Alan's poem.

I wish for peace and comfort for you and Alan's loved one. We were both diagnosed in the same year with the same dreaded 11q. I feel blessed to still be here and mourn all those who are not.

We are all in this together.

G-d bless


Jorge said...

I appreciate so much your testimony.You have a wonderful human nature.
God bless you.

Anonymous said...

I found Alan's Seablogger site when I did a Google blog search on CLL. I like reading about other patients and their journeys with CLL. I was a frequent reader and poster. I shared Alan's political viewpoint, and I was happy I found 'Fresh Bilge'. It was the first site I checked every morning; even before Drudge or The Corner at National Review.

I tried to engage him a number of times on the subject of CLL, but he didn't seem interested. The only time he commented (that I can remember) is when I mentioned using niacinamide to boost neutrophil counts.

I was very concerned when his temperature started spiking every day. It went up past 102 at least once. He had terrible abdominal pains as well. It turns out this was a serious problem that finally drove him to the hospital.

I think he might have survived an intestinal perforation (if that is what took his life) if he had followed the advice to contact the doctor, or go to the emergency room if your temperature goes over 100.5 degrees.


Such losses cannot be underestimated. Alan was a very talented man, a great writer and poet, a prolific producer of great posts.

Rest in peace, Alan. What a shame.