This is the second in a series of interviews with individuals in the life extension and cryonics movement. The first interview was with Cryonics Institute president Ben Best. This interview is with Regina Pancake, Alcor’s Readiness Coordinator.
How did you get involved in cryonics?
My story is not your typical in the details, but in the overall it was a brush with death, which is more common in our membership.
Cryonics was on my radar back in the 80’s when I lived in San Francisco. I had seen it only briefly on a nightly news cast, and I knew someday I’d sign up for such. What better fast forward button could you have, was my theory. It would allow me to fight what seemed, until that moment during the evening news, the inevitable. So sometime after that epiphany, when I moved back to L.A in 1990 and I was then physically close enough to the facility, I took the tour, which was given by Mike Darwin. I then started volunteering for manual labor level projects at the facility on weekends. I’m the kind that dives in and I wanted to know all the people. But signing up was too expensive for me at the time I thought.
What pushed me over the line and into sign-up was a very fateful trip to Mexico in 1991. Four of us went to view the full eclipse of the sun that occurred on July 11th that year. We had a great time, but after we saw what we came to see we were driving back to L.A. the next day when at about the half way point, 50 miles north of Guerrero Negro (600 miles south Tijuana in Baja California) something blew apart on the truck and we had a roll over accident. I’m still not sure to this day what exactly happened. I was in a position facing out the driver’s side back window of the shell, lying on a futon, next to Max More who was also on the trip. As the truck rolled over on its first toss, I went through the window and landed on my feet in a crouching position and stood up in time to watch my truck take two more turns before it came to rest on its wheels, off to the side of the road, now facing southbound, though we had been moving northbound. My landing was a total fluke, no ninja-like qualities here. It was the most surreal experience I think I’ve ever had.
The silence after the truck’s repeated massive collisions with the pavement was like time had stopped in a freeze frame. As I took in the scene of all our belongings strewn across Highway One, Mike Perry (who was another one of the four in the vehicle) was the worst hurt. In the hours that followed after the accident, we had several points where we could have lost him. He had essentially been scalped and his skull was now exposed. The skin from the top of his head had been peeled back to the nape of his neck. Luckily for us all, the fourth person in the vehicle, Karl Martin, who had been driving that shift, had paramedic training and one hell of a first aid kit. He saved Mike from dying in those early minutes.
After many an American stopped to help we were taken by Mexican soldiers to an ambulance and brought to a small clinic some fifty miles south, back at Guerrero Negro. Took me an hour and a half to get through to Alcor because the phone lines were horrible, and being that this was ’91 there were no cell phones to speak of. But once I did get through, it was Mike Darwin who answered the phone. After I had him speak to the only doctor there, I got the phone handed back to me and I’ll never forget Mike Darwin, in a very commanding yet reassuring voice saying, “Don’t you let them touch him! We’ll be there very soon!” Sure enough, 8 minutes later (yes, eight minutes), a rapid extraction team/air ambulance called Flight for Life came through the doors. I cannot tell you how grateful I was at that very moment, to be a part of the society that had such capability!
They then stabilized Mike Perry who had been groggy but conscious now for awhile, and as they wheeled him through the doors and into the waiting ambulance that would take him to the air strip that was less than a mile from us, he sat up on the gurney with what seemed to be his last rally of strength, pointed at me and said in the most pleading voice, “Regina! Sign up with Alcor!” and then he collapsed onto the gurney. I swore to him I would if I made it out of Mexico alive, which was still an open question at the time.
When we got back, I promptly signed up and I got my necklace and bracelet by that October. I refer to this entire story as our “Mexican Odyssey.” After we all had seen doctors in the States the next day, Max called me on the phone to tell me what he had learned had occurred whilst we had been in Mexico. Jerry Leaf had gone down. Alcor nearly had two back-to-back cases.
What is a typical day at Alcor like for you?
I start some of the work at home in the morning, reading any technical reports or ongoing school work for my education in emergency medicine over the first cup of coffee. Then it’s off to the Alcor facility. There are always projects in the works. I try to keep it to only two to three at a time, but I have a prioritized list that stretches a good ways. I come in in the morning, and after I check for messages, return or make phone calls while people are most likely at their desks around the country or other places where I’m looking for products and check with management for any burning issues that might become the priority of the day. All that and not necessarily in that order. Beyond that ritual, I dive into the more physical stuff early. Moving of heavy things, etc. By afternoon I turn my attention to the writing. Returning of emails, fleshing out of inventory lists and Excel sheets galore. Right now, the focus is on retooling of the transport kits. Of the four basic cases that it consists of, I’m on number two.
What is your favorite part of the job?
Talking with the people that are our membership. I love talking to fellow cryonicists. Seeing progress in shades as this place continues to transform. And then there’s building things. Equipment, networks of people, systems of organization. I do enjoy all that.
How is Alcor’s regional stabilization team expansion/growth coming along? What regions are most active / least active? What is your strategy for increasing volunteer participation in underactive regions?
At this point, I’m in retooling mode. I was tasked with that first and then second would be the expansion from our existing six teams to a total of fourteen.
Our six existing teams are: Southern California, Northern California, Nevada, Florida, Massachusetts and the United Kingdom. Of those teams, the most active is the Southern California team with more than ten people on it. They practice once a month. The Florida and Nevada teams are professionals with our Alcor kits. The Florida kit is at Suspended Animation and would be utilized by the professional team there if needed. Nevada is also a professional team that is staged in Laughlin. And when I say “professional” I mean this is their day job. Nevada’s team are EMTs and paramedics of one level or another all in the employ of the major casino there. They get daily practice with their talents just by doing their EMS services for non-cryonicists. Our protocols are similar. Although there is a departure point when they are just beyond the normal EMS processes. They practice our protocols to keep fresh at least once a quarter. If anyone wants to know more, just call me. The number is 480.905.1906. My extension is #100.
Massachusetts is on the other end of the scale. I’ve only got two guys out there. They could stand a beefing up. I’m not blaming anybody here, its just they need more people on that team. Its a tad shy to say the least. How I’ll go about augmenting teams in need would be researching who in our membership would fit the bill, approaching them individually through email first, then phone call if they are so amiable. Also by casting a wide net through advertising for these regions within our own magazine. I think I can get that done. I know the editor. [grin]
Where we would be expanding into with new teams are as follows:
Portland, Oregon (that’s you Aschwin!)
and then three places in Canada, only one of which I’ve got a leader for up there at this time. Christine Gaspar. In Toronto. She’s an ER nurse and cryonicist.
What have you learned since coming to work at Alcor?
Besides how to put up with living in the desert, a lot more about emergency medicine that is for sure. And how non-profits differ from the film industry….in high contrast sometimes. But human nature is fairly similar at its roots everywhere.
How have your experiences at Alcor changed your perception of cryonics? What would you like to tell other cryonicists based on that change of view?
Don’t fall for the “Our Friends from the Future will save us” syndrome. WE are responsible for our own survival and it is up to WE the Living, in the constant “now” to deal with what our pieces of this generational puzzle are. In the film industry there was something similar. During production you’d always hear someone say, “Don’t worry, we’ll fix it in post.” Production people are a somewhat different set from post-production people. Production would assume that the “magic” of Computer Generated Imaging (CGI) would save the day. More than half the time they would be very wrong. This is human nature again, and we are subject to it unless we make a conscious effort to not give into that. And we need to get away from this “just do me” attitude. Less passive, more active cryonicists.
In retrospect, looking back to when you moved to Arizona from California and started working at Alcor, has what you expected the Alcor Experience to be, mostly proven to be the same? If it turned out quite different from what you expected, describe how.
That’s rather hard to quantify. I had mixed feelings about the whole thing. I hate the desert.
I knew what I was getting into though, due to the fact that I was running the team in LA with Peter Voss’s help for about 5+ years. I had started to turn up the focus on our team about halfway through that time period. As I internally acknowledged my own passion for this capability of reversing death and aging, it came into sharper focus. I’d been out to Alcor several times during that. So no real surprises.
If you could change one seemingly impossible thing about Alcor, what would it be?
That we need this whole thing at all. It is, after all, the second worst thing that can happen to you. The first being that you die and melt back into the environment. Other than that, it would be to professionalize the whole place with nothing but well funded medical professionals with a laser like focus as if this was the Manhattan Project. Then I’d just be serving coffee here.
Do you agree that Alcor should allow for more membership involvement in formal decision making?
As Bertrand Russell once said, “The only thing that will redeem mankind is cooperation.” I think we can all appreciate the relevance of that here in our community.
I’m not here to deal with those more puzzling aspects of Alcor’s cryonics culture.
I see both sides on this though. I do think there should be some open door policies. Some mechanisms in the system of our interactions between the triad of staff, board and membership. But on the other hand, you can put too much of your time and energy just defending your positions on whether to turn right or left. Getting cryonicists to agree on anything can be like herding cats. There has to be a balance struck. Cooperation, like our lives depend on it….which it does.
How many people have signed up for cryonics due to your direct influence?
Only one that claims it. Todd Huffman. I went on a hiking trip in Utah with him and a group that John Smart put together in 2003 and had eight hours in the car with him both ways. We had a lot of time to talk this through. Maybe others. I don’t know, I don’t have any hash marks on my desk top if you get my meaning.
What is your vision of the future of cryonics?
In the next few years I want to see us pull off deployment of regional whole body cryopreservation. This will allow us to deal with the issues of logistics that are currently playing against us. We really have a narrow window in which to give a patient a high quality cryopreservation. And every town/city/state has variants of different rules for the transportation of what they, at that point, consider human remains. Regional whole body cryopreservation is the lynchpin to turning that around and having time then playing on our side. Which is what we’re doing with cryonics in the first place. We’re taking that ambulance ride though time rather than through space. Gotta start that ride sooner and closer to where we tend to deanimate. Which is at home near family, if you’re lucky.
Ideally though, what I’d really like to see is that we will be able to reverse it in my lifetime.
What do you consider the biggest difference between working in the movie business and cryonics?
The people in the movie industry are more entertaining. No offense people, but by far there is no other place that attracts so many fevered egos in one place that are so talented and charismatic. Watch the movie “The Player” with Tim Robbins. It completely rings true as to what it is like to a T. The stress levels are through the roof. Ages you fast. The film industry runs at 45 while Alcor runs at 33 and a third. (If you don’t get that reference, count yourself lucky to be that young and Google it up.) That said, one thing I can no longer say as a calming mantra is, “Relax, its only a movie.” Cryonics is slower and more serious.
What are your hobbies and interests?
Science fiction, films of all genres, space advocacy, cats, (I’m destined to be a cat lady the rest of my life), non-linear editing of films and online media content, and transhumanism, among many many others and not necessarily in this order.
What is your ALL TIME favorite movie and why?
Gads! Just one?! Can’t do that. So I’m going to color outside the lines of your question.
Black and White Sci fi hands down is: The Day the Earth Stood Still.
In truly mind bending content: Waking Life.
In Anime: Ghost in the Shell and then there is Blade Runner (director’s cut only).
All these speak to me. If you’ve seen any or all of these and you understand, then you’d know what I’m talking about.
Then there’s Minority Report, Vanilla Sky, Star Trek (pretty much all of them), 12 Monkeys (actually anything from Terry Gilliam)….you get the idea. There is just no way I can say ALL TIME favorite. Too limiting. And as a cryonicist, you know we don’t like those, now do we?