Saturday, September 23, 2017

More Than You Can Bear?

Although most of my time on the computer is spent reading books and writing reviews,  I do other things occaisionally.

For example, this summer, I found this show on Netflix, called "Last Chance U." My firstborn son recommended it to me a couple of months ago.

Seems there's this little junior college in Scooba, Mississippi that scoops up football players who have gotten in difficulties, great or small,  at big colleges, and stuffs them into a hard-nosed redemptive program. They are tough; they've got an academic counselor who stays on top of their grades and attendance, and she works with the coaches. Evidently, they've had some real success in getting some of these young men to turn around. And, in the process, they've won several national championships.

At the end of one of the segments, they show a scene from a local church. A woman does an interpretive dance to Kirk Franklin's "More Than I Can Bear." It's a beautiful scene, and it's a beautiful song; if you don't know it, look it up; here's a link to a performance . That's not the actual performance filmed for the Netflix program, but you can see how beautiful it is.

The lyrics say:
I've gone through the fire, and been through the flood;
I've been broken into pieces, seen lightning flash from above.
But through it all, I remember that He loved me, and He cares
And He'll never put more on me
Than I can bear  

The dance, and the song, are incredibly beautiful, and have often comforted me when I was in despair.

I just don't know if the message is true.

On the other hand, I do know that THIS is true:

No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it. (I Cor 10:13, NASV)
I understand this, and I am confident that it is true. When temptation comes my way, there will always be a be a way out of it. I am so grateful for this truth, and I have relied on it in plenty of dark times.

My disconnect comes when I try to apply the deliverance promise given in the above verse, which is about temptation, to the experience of pain and grief.

I haven't any idea how many days my heart has been hurt so badly that all I could do is withdraw to my man cave and sit in my chair, but it's a big number. Eventually, when I was strong enough, I would listen to the music of the wounded healers, music like 'More Than I Can Bear' and 'My Life Is In Your Hands' and 'On The Other Side of Through.

And almost every time, before that session of grieving was over, I could join in with the singing, and make the songs MY prayer as well.  Sometimes, that was the only comfort available to me; and it seems to me that the songs made my heart able to receive a bit of healing, and that, combined with my determination to keep my promises, has kept me alive. 

I am so grateful to the writers and performers who have ministered to me in the very worst times of my life. The continue to do so; in fact, at this very moment, I am listening as I write these words.

I don't want to give the wrong impression, here; the pinnacle of my experience is not to sit grieving in my chair. I'm a father/stepfather to 10, and a grandfather to 12, and I am actively involved with my wife in the most important job we will undertake together: that of parents. That is a life-giving, and life-building activity. I can get up in the morning, and go to bed at night, secure in the knowledge that my life means something, that I AM making a contribution that matters.

But, even so,  in the midst of things, along comes something that just kicks the breath right out of me. In fact, since I first started to write this post, a month has gone by, and I've been kicked three times. It's been an incredibly stressful time; I usually don't have so much coming my way. In fact, I'm guessing that I've gone through entire years without having as many challenges. Just a guess, though. I probably have forgotten things.

To return to my question, as I sit here with a keyboard on my lap, close to tears, and listening to the sweet music: is it true? Is the comfort they offer something I can count on? To answer that, I have to define the issue better. What is it, actually, that I think these songs are offering?

What I would LIKE them to guarantee me is this: nothing bad is going to happen to me; failing that, that nothing is going to happen to me that's going to overwhelm me. I'd like to be able to hold on to that like some sort of magical shield, or insurance policy. And I know that in the past, I've had that particular doctrine/approach presented to me.

Of course, it was also presented with conditions: they told me that if I just had enough faith, then no weapon formed against me would prosper, meaning a bad thing couldn't happen. Therefore, when I encountered adversity, I just needed to pray more, harder, longer, louder, differently. And then the bad thing wouldn't happen.

If the bad thing happens anyway, well, it's because I didn't believe enough, didn't pray enough. It's not that the PRINCIPLE is wrong; it's the fault of the supplicant.

And that just doesn't work for me, despite my desire to have bullet-proof armor. It doesn't match with my experience; and it doesn't match with what I know about God.

Not only does this concept leave a trail of broken people in its' wake, it's also explicitly proscribed by Jesus. IMMEDIATELY before the simple words of what we refer to as the Lord's Prayer, He says:
“And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. " (Matthew 6:7, NASB)
Despite the fact that I WANT it to be true, it's naive to think I can pray virtuously enough, or do anything else, to eliminate bad things from my life. True, I can (and have) cut down on the bad stuff that comes my way, by changing my problem behavior. I don't get drunk any more, I don't drive recklessly, I don't smoke. I'm losing weight, and I go for walks.  But even if my behavior was perfect, entropy is going to triumph eventually. I'm 64 years old, and at some point, my organ systems are going to break down.

Beyond that, I love many people, and they don't always make perfect choices. Even if they did, accidents still happen. Illness and injury are out there. And, in the worst case,  there are some bad people in the world who hurt others. And when someone I love hurts, it hurts me.

So, I see that I have to give up this fantasy idea that there is something I can do that will keep all pain away from me. That's not what the words of the song I quoted say, anyway. They say:
He'll never put more on me
Than I can bear  

What does that mean? Is it true?

I don't see with the eyes of God, so I can't look into the hearts of men. But it seems to me that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, devoted his life to make a more equitable world. And I doubt there were many men who had more heartfelt prayers offered up for him than Dr. King. Maybe I'm wrong, but I think that it's not a stretch to call him a good man, one of the best our country has produced. None of that prevented a bullet from ending his life.

Wasn't a .30-06 bullet more than he could bear? If that could happen to him, couldn't I also be overwhelmed?

This is the part where it gets weird.

Up until now, all of the mechanics of this suffering and comfort thing have been right out in the open. There has been something I could see, hear, taste, touch, or smell that was the mechanism by which I was comforted. I discovered that if I just held on, it would get better. I discovered that I could use my own experience with grief to comfort others in their time of grief. 

During probably the worst time of my life, I signed off on my emails, "I am yet holding on," because that was all I had. And through that experience, I came to believe that if I could just keep holding on, it was going to be okay. And that's a Truth, with a capital T. It was a core belief of my life.

Still is. 

But, sometime in the past couple of months, I realized that there MIGHT just be things that I COULDN'T bear up under. Things that oppressed me so strongly, that my body just gave up. Was that...true? Could there be things that could do that to me?

I asked for help.

I went to my pastor, and spelled things out for him. 
(And since I have no secrets from her, I copied my gift-from-God, happily-ever-after trophy wife Vanessa, the elegant, foxy, praying black grandmother of Woodstock, GA on the email. She freaked out. I had to reassure her that I was NOT losing it; I was just looking for some answers. She relented. A bit.)
He gave me a couple of scriptures that he found to be most meaningful when he had to walk with pain that just wouldn't go away. The one that spoke to me the most was this:

I Peter 4:12-13 Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.
And that was very encouraging; it reminded me that when disaster strikes, it's NOT something strange; it happens to all of us. As lonely as it feels, we are NOT alone in our pain. Furthermore, it's almost as if this is an investment in our future.

That's the weird part. For Christians, death is not the end; it's not what happens here that's important. It put me in mind of another verse I have had to call on before:

we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life; [e]indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves so that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead; (II Cor 1: 8b-9, NASB) 
 I found it comforting. It's a bit of a paradox, to find comfort in the idea that I might be given more than I can bear. However, it allows me to know that as long as I keep doing the Next Right Thing, I'm going to win, even if it takes my death to win.

Which should NOT be a surprise, bu the way. We are all going to die. It's definitely NOT an unexpected outcome. The timing may be inconvenient, but it's not a loss.

So, I guess my conclusion is: It may kill me, but I can bear it.

If you ask me to pray for you, I will sincerely pray that you be comforted. I will sincerely pray that you receive strength. I will sincerely pray for wisdom, and guidance.

On the other hand, if you ask Vanessa to pray for you, she will pray for you to be healed.
She accepts all the stuff I just wrote, and she leaves that to me, because that's my job.
Her job? To implore, and seek, and believe.

She is a praying black grandmother.

Peace be on your household.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Minutegirls, by George Phillies

You can read my Amazon review here, and also at the end of this blog.
However, I'd truly like you to consider giving this one some splash, since it's an excellent book from a much under-appreciated author, You can do that by writing a review on Amazon, and by voting 'helpful' on my Amazon review.

I obtained a review copy of the book from the author.

Kudos to the excellent cover art by Cedar Sanderson on this edition; it's a much better representation of the story than earlier versions.

I just checked: I've been writing Amazon book reviews for over three years, total of 472 reviews (not all of those are book reviews, though). Even so, there is one aspect to the process that still seems to be beyond me: I always fail to look at the book description to see how many pages I've committed to.

It's a hold-over from the decades I spent reading dead-tree books. Those, I learned to judge by heft at a very early age. From my very first days, when a thick book seemed forever over my head, to the point sometime in the 7th grade when I grabbed the thickest books in the library first, sometimes without looking at titles, the physical size of the book was communicated by the way it looked, and by the heft in my hand.

It doesn't work that easily with e-books. Certainly, the file size is (for ME) content-free, since I don't even look at it. Even the number of pages doesn't quite give me the same information.

I'm going to have to figure out a way to adapt to this. I'll get on that, just as soon as I can develop a feel for how far 110 kilometers is, or how 32 degrees Centigrade feels, without translating those into miles and Fahrenheit.

Well, this is for sure: this is a BIG book, at 440 pages. For guys like me, who like to read a LOT, that's a good thing. There have been times when I've pulled a book off the shelves by James Michener, Herman Wouk, or Tom Clancy, and given a pleased, relaxed sigh, even before I turned the first page. It DOES have a disadvantage for me, personally, though: I not only read, but review these things. And I confess to feeling a little bit guilty when ANYTHING puts me off my pace of reading and reviewing a book every other day.

It's still a pleasure, though, and for those who are waiting for me to get off my duff and review YOUR book, all I can tell you is: I'm doing the best I can.

Here's the set-up: in the not-too-distant future, at least one world war gets touched off, and before it's resolved,the United States is an occupied country, with a (somewhat) unified Europe being the primary occupier. Their troops behave very badly, and don't appear to show any remorse for that.
Most of the causes of the war and the following armistice aren't discussed; primarily, this part of the history serves to provide a rationale for the quite functional paranoia that drives diplomatic interactions. In addition, significant technology with war applications was developed by multiple parties to the conflict, and I get the impression that it was the difficulty of continuing the occupation that ended it, not any real change of a problematic policy, on anyone's part.
In particular, defense screens have been developed, and these not only stop kinetic and beam energy, they also serve as as an effective barrier to observation by spies, on either side, of military and commercial developments.
The European Union is dominated by the French as the executive arm, with the Germans serving as an administrative element. Other countries are allowed to contribute unskilled or semi-skilled labor, but certainly are in no position to make or influence policy. The French and Germans appear to regard their forfeit of rulership of all they survey as an aberration, and all of their actions seem to have a return to domination as the primary goal. However, their ideology has massively crippled their ability to wage war or to administer peace, and they cannot even perceive the problem. They have rigidly controlled the economy, and innovation is discouraged. Furthermore, in the interest of producing a worker-friendly society, the work-week is restricted to 32 hours per week, even under emergency conditions. On the other hand, they clearly have had some technological advances over the Americans, and have made contact with non-human races in their space program. Could those two be related, I wonder?
The Americans, meanwhile, have radically transformed their society as a reaction against the atrocities committed during the Occupation. One of the more striking transformations has been in the physical characteristics of women, most likely a direct result on the number of casual rapes committed against the population under the Occupation, when the citizens were treated as chattel. Through undisclosed means, bone density and musculature differences have been eradicated, and the long-standing advantage men had in upper body strength has been eliminated as a factor. Prominent female Resistance leaders during the Occupation established a new set of norms for women warriors, the Minutegirls. The constitute deadly combat troops, and contain nested secret societies, all designed to prevent any future attempt to subjugate the US from being successful.
There are some marvelous other adaptations, as well. For one, anyone in the National Command Structure MUST, by law, be accompanied by a bodyguard, whose job it is to execute their principal if it appears they will violate any of a set of rules stipulated as a part of the new form of government adopted by the US. No secret meetings; no standing army; nothing restricting the right of an individual to keep and bear arms. And the original idea of fleeing from the power of despots remains a fundamental part of American  policy.
Excellent battle action; complex characters; very well thought out societies, with appropriate humor slashes at all the right places: all these combine to make this a good book for a nice, long read.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Peacemaker, by Kevin Ikenberry

Warning: This is exclusively a book review! None of the touchy-feely stuff here!

The slightly shorter Amazon review may be found here.

Today, I'm adding the supplementary blog content at the end of the Amazon review, which follows:

Jessica Francis simply will not accept that she is overmatched. Although her choices haven't been perfect, it's the actions of others that keep dumping adversity on her, and she seems to have been born without the ability to quit.
She's a former mercenary. While she was good at what she did, her incompetent, manipulative husband managed to wreck the company, killing off friends and comrades-in-arms while doing so.
She gets a chance to become the first Human Peacemaker, thus becoming part of the thin team that provides what little galactic security there is. Since Humans are a newcomer to the Galactic Union, they encounter all of the standard prejudice of the old-timers, some of whom have the desire and ability to eliminate the species. Her first mission, in fact, as a Probationary Candidate, is to stop exactly such a project.
She succeeds. And because of her actions, the Earth is not depopulated.
Sorry, that's not good enough.
So, they give her another project, and maybe this time, if she succeeds, she'll get to join the team.
All she has to do is solve the puzzle of three races fighting over turf, when there should BE no problem. It is pathetically obvious that there is at least ONE behind-the-scenes manipulator, because the original set-up should have produced a good environment for the three races, separate from each other, at a nice profit to the merchant-engineers behind the deal. The mission has FAILURE stamped all over it, in glowing letters. But hey, if you don't play the game, you can't win, right?
Somebody in the hierarchy likes her, though, because he arranges for her to have some support. Admittedly, it's in the form of an under-strength mixed unit of armor and CASPERS, composed of raw rookies and redliners, but at least she has a bit of a reaction force.
Except she's not supposed to use it.
And she has one especially hostile individual assigned as her Mediator.
Secrets. Everybody has secrets. And what you don't know probably WILL kill you deader than Fergus' goose.
Expect plenty of action, and the elements of a detective story. It's a great read!
Okay, here is the supplementary material to the Amazon review, and it's a bit dark. As the title of my Amazon review, I used the Lazarus Long quote about the game being rigged, but how you can't win unless you play. There are, however, other options.

You can not play the game. 
You can cheat. 
And you can pull out your trusty Browning Hi Power and blow 15 tiny holes into the serpent trying to suck you into a losing set-up.

Then reload, and make more holes. 

Now, the only reason I can see that Jessica doesn't use that third option is that she really DOESN'T have a 'Quit' function incorporated. This is not a feature; this is a bug. 

For whatever reason, she thinks she can win the game, but all the evidence suggests that isn't the case. It's going to take some significant deus ex machina for her to have a chance, and that's not something you can count on. It makes sense to sacrifice yourself, IF you are standing between your loved home and the war's desolation, but she clearly states in the beginning of the story that the Earth is no more her home than her CASPER unit. Maybe she's just running on automatic, and that's NOT a long-term survival strategy. True, in a stressful situation, you let your training take over, but that's not the way to plan out a campaign.

NONE of these aliens are our friends. None of them respect us; we are, at best, cannon fodder. At worst, we are alien fodder, literally. 

So: when is it time to hoist the black flag, and start slitting throats? Hmmm...I think I might see the Jolly Roger on the horizon!

Peace be on your household.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

When Public School Teachers are Stupid Frappen Idiots

The ONLY legitimate reason for civilization is to take care of our kids. 

The side benefits of advanced technology are pleasant. I'm very glad I don't have to spend my entire day trying to hit a squirrel in the head with a rock, or digging up roots so I can have something to eat. 

But my personal comfort is, at best, secondary to the primary mission of taking care of kids, which also means preparing them for the day when they will take up the mission, and allow me to croak without feeling guilty. And that means education.

Admittedly, I am not an impartial observer. Not only am I a parent and grandparent, the bulk of my career was as an educator, first in public and private college administration, then providing direct services to public middle school students. It's one of our family traditions; in addition to being a representative of  the third generation of four generations of US Army veterans, I am also a representative of the third generation of four generations of educators. It matters. My family has invested blood and sweat in military service on three foreign continents, and followed that up with years in classrooms across the state of Georgia. That's how we roll; it's a mission, see?

So, it aggravates me when I find that other people; those who share the mission; those who have  also devoted their lives to educating kids; have to spend their time apologizing for, and fixing problems caused by, a momentously idiotic high school math teacher.

This stuff is all over the internet now; I'm not breaking any confidences.  So far, by Sunday afternoon, 764,488 people have viewed the August 31st classroom incident, which took place inside a school building I can see when I look out of my bedroom window.  Thanks to a camera-phone-quality video, we can see and hear the teacher making two students leave a classroom for wearing a shirt saying "Make America Great Again." And she compounds her error by saying that just as you can't wear a swastika to school, you can't wear that shirt. Because neo-Nazis. 

Now, I routinely ignore this kind of kerfluffle; I can't, THIS TIME, because just after noon today, I got an email from the school district (sent to all Cherokee County parents) which detailed the response of the school and the district, and warning us:

As people across the country are being encouraged by some social media sites to contact the school, we anticipate a potentially high call volume over the next week. If possible, please avoid calling the front office during this time, and instead email the person you are trying to reach; emails are published on the school website 

 Okay, THIS is one of those times that I regret my blog isn't read by 100 million people every day, because what I have to say is important:


They have this covered. If you need to express your outrage, please feel free to do so on your own public forum, or make a comment on one of the Youtube posts of the video.

But leave the school alone. They have this covered.

As it happens, I know the school superintendent, Brian Hightower, and the school principal, Darryl Herring, from my days as a school counselor. Ain't neither of them a wuss; I would happily stand as a guarantee that they will deal with this stuff appropriately.

Now, what I'm gonna say next is both personal and painful for me, so, cut me some slack, okay? And believe me, because I paid a price to say this.

The reason that I KNOW that they will deal with this stuff appropriately is because I have worked for both of them; they both have chewed my butt when they felt it was appropriate, and it was under Darryl Herring's leadership that I accepted the fact that I was no longer able to do my job, and took medical retirement, when the option was to be fired for cause.

It wasn't because I was sleeping with cheerleaders, or anything like that; it was because the pain meds I was on back then had taken away my ability to make good decisions, mostly by taking away my ability to sleep. I never was able to go an entire week without missing at least one night's sleep, and missed as many as three in a row. I was making a bad mistake in trying to keep showing up and doing the job.  Herring made the right decision to push me into retirement, and he made it for the right reason: to keep me from making mistakes with the kids.

No, I don't LIKE the guy. That has nothing to do with the fact that he made the right decision; it has everything to do with the fact that he never had a chance to get to know me when I was functional; and so to him, all I represented was a liability. He was tough, and he made the right call.

He's going to make the right call on this thing, too. Hopefully, there is a redemptive path out of this thing for the momentously idiotic math teacher, but that's not going to be the PRIMARY concern for the administration. I KNOW these people; they have ALWAYS been all about the kids, and they are going to CONTINUE to be all about the kids.

So, to all who have wisdom: leave them alone. Let them do their jobs. Express your concerns elsewhere. That's the best path to taking care of our kids, and that's the only reason we are here.

Peace be on your household.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

The Hardest Part is Being an Alcoholic

Sunday, 8/20/17, just after noon.

Last week, I spent Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday in a local hospital, where I received excellent care and kindness for the extremely painful condition known as 'small bowel obstruction.'

As it happens, I had been hospitalized with the same condition on Easter Weekend in April of 2001. Despite that prior experience, I didn't recognize what was going on with my body for several painful hours; I thought my hiatal hernia was acting up, and I just  needed some antacids.

The antacids did not help.

 Finally, sometime around 3:30 Sunday morning, I realized that what I was feeling was almost exactly what took me to the Emergency Room 16 years ago.

That visit in 2001 had been an awfully chaotic experience. I had important plans for the Easter Sunday Morning service, to be shared with my beloved brothers and sisters at Allen Temple African Methodist Episcopal church, so I resisted going to the ER until I had no other option, and that meant I arrived there in the late afternoon on Saturday.  
Holy Day weekend or not, Saturday night in a major trauma center is THE gathering place for people who exercise their hard-won liberties by ingesting non-standard pharmaceuticals, and/or copious quantities of fermented and/or distilled beverages, and then find it intolerable that neighbors/friends/relatives hold an opinion on any matter which is contrary to theirs.
So, they fight, with whatever is at hand. They use fists, sticks, fish-sticks; knives, guns; lamps, sofas; cats, weasels, ferrets, squirrels; they have also been known to use the occasional  stuffed penguin which sits in peace on top of the television. All of these memorabilia have been painstakingly gathered over a period of  months by someone with an artist's eye and the ability to attend yard sales.
But on Saturday night,  temporarily any of these treasures may receive a  re-classification as a projectile or a blunt object, and are enthusiastically presented in an active discussion, whereby good friends and close relatives express their concern that a Significant Other is mistaken in their opinion.
And then somebody calls the cops. And then they go to the Emergency Room, because it is a Saturday night.
While the Game on Foot is entertaining enough, sometimes, regretfully, they do not live close enough to the intended recipient of their wisdom to immediately have the desired face-to-face negotiations. In these cases, it is necessary to utilize the family vehicle in order to arrange the meeting.
And, in a certain (large) percentage of those using this approach, something interferes with the proper operation of the family vehicle on our community's roads and highways. Sometimes, it is another family vehicle, but just as often it is a tree, a curb, a light pole, construction equipment, or a Waffle House.
And then somebody calls the cops. And they go to the Emergency Room (along with anyone they may have mashed with their family vehicle), because it is a Saturday night.
That was the environment I walked into in 2001, bent over and experiencing the worst pain I'd ever had.  The staff were dealing with inebriated, frequently hostile, occasionally incoherent clientele, bleeding from assorted locations.  Cops and EMTs chatted with each other, attempting to sort out who did what to whom, for later court proceedings.
And meanwhile, I'm sitting on a stretcher in the hall, doubled up in pain, biting on a towel and screaming quietly so as not to disturb anyone. And at some point,  I discovered that the reason that they couldn't give me anything for pain right away was because they had to make sure I wasn't having a heart attack. That particular trip ended in surgery, and a lengthy recovery period, as I had been a very sick young man.


This time, I didn't want to be sitting around for hours in the ER waiting for a doc, or for X-Ray technicians, so I decided to wait until 7:00 before leaving the house. I figured the shift would have changed by the time we got there, and that would cut down on the waiting. Usually, based on my own ANCIENT (1972) experience working in an operating room, early Sunday mornings aren't really busy. I figured it would cut down on the time it would take for me to be seen; and with my prior history, and my distended abdomen as hard as a rock, I figured it might cut down on the time it took to rule out a cardiac event.

 It also meant 12 year old Kenneth and 11 year old Alicia wouldn't have to get up in the middle of the night, and I could let son Jordan and daughter-in-law Courtney sleep a little longer, too, since they were my plan A for childcare.

That might not have been the best decision. By one of those statistical flukes, they had a LOT of psych admits the night before. No idea why; were people getting anxious about the impending eclipse? At any rate, although the waiting room was empty, ALL of the ER rooms were packed, and I got a stretcher in the hall. If I had come in at, say, 4:00 AM, I might have gotten a room. Don't know if it would have made a difference as to my treatment, however.

At any rate, the location of my stretcher didn't bother me. The SINGLE issue of concern was the pain I was experiencing in my belly.

My belly is in pain because some part of my gut has closed, so that nothing can get by. 'Nothing' is literal: no food, no liquid, no air. So, beside everything I had to eat and drink, all the drainage and regular processes are continuing to dump into my gut, and there is nowhere for it to go, so my gut blows up like a balloon. At the time I wrote this, five days later, I was still swollen, and a LITTLE sore; but on Sunday morning, my belly was rock hard, and it looked like the belly of a woman 9 months pregnant. And the pain was such that I could not speak a coherent sentence.

I am no stranger to pain; it's a constant companion. And let me milk that analogy for all it's worth: I am no stranger to cats, either. SugarBelly, my fat black Manx cat, is also a constant companion. So, let's use SugarBelly to represent the pain I usually feel.   Here she is, playing with 18 month old grandson Trey:
See, this isn't so bad. Nice kitty.

But what kind of kitty cat will represent the pain I experienced with the small bowel obstruction?

A Kzin.
With a laser.
"I'm in your guts, monkey boy."

Except not nearly as funny.

I think it was around 10:00 AM before I was finally able to see a doc. Fortunately, I had my medical records with me (another story), and they had access to the prior surgical records, so that helped. They immediately slapped an 'NPO' status on me (meaning I could have nothing by mouth), and put in an IV line, so I could get fluids (I was dehydrated) and eventually, the nurse arrived with the blessed relief in the form of a shot of Dilaudid.

I could feel the goofy bit in my head almost immediately, and I was worried that might be the only effect. The deal with a lot of pain meds is that they really don't take away the pain; they just make you goofy so you don't care about it. However, I was going to have to be a LOT goofier before that would work. Fortunately, though, in a couple of minutes I could feel my belly pain change, first from something near unbearable, to "I swallowed a cactus" , then to a pain like cramps, and finally it eased off into the background and I was back in the world of humans again.

Then, they gave me a nasogastric tube, and started to drain my belly, and eventually, that's what took away most of my distress, and kept it away.

And then, life-threatening crisis resolved,  the docs, nurses, other medics, and Mrs. Jordan, the Haitian angel who arranged her housekeeping duties so she could stop by and pray for us, left us to minister to those in more immediate need of their services. This leaves me with some privacy with my gift-from-God, happily-ever-after, trophy wife Vanessa, the elegant, foxy, praying black grandmother of Woodstock, GA. No, we did not use this as an excuse to make out (hardly at all); I still have a tube up my nose. But we do need to figure out how to work out the details, like taking care of the kids, getting them off to school on Monday, does Vanessa stay with me that night or go home; all that stuff.

And then finally Sunday is over, Monday (also Eclipse Day) is here, and I am left inside my head to figure out what I'm going to do about pain management. 'Inside my head' is not the best and safest location to make decisions about mood-influencing medications.

You see, years ago I forfeited the privilege that normal people have, of access to God's gift  of comfort and relaxation that comes through appropriate use of alcohol. There is plenty of evidence that people with my genetic make-up have problems, but it was my own actions of consistently abusing the privilege, ruthlessly and without relenting, over a period of decades that lead to abstinence as the only solution.  Thanks to some pretty amazing circumstances (another another story), I took my last drink on January 1, 1988. After that date, I gradually and painfully and joyfully developed a way of life that would provide me workable alternatives to the relief and sense of ease and comfort that alcohol regularly brings to the fortunate majority who were less profligate in their actions in their early days.

But, because of my history, I am faced with a dilemma.

You see, the hospital policy will NOT permit me to use my own, less powerful medication. It's Against The Rules! And I AM going to need to have something to manage pain. I have both the residual gut pain I feel from having my intestine blown up like a balloon, as well as my customary ankylosing spondylitis pains, aggravated by having to sleep someplace beside my bed (although the hospital bed wasn't bad at all).

BUT: the only pain med the doc has written for me is Dilaudid, which is a synthetic form of morphine, a heavy duty narcotic. And I can have it as often as every three hours, IF I tell the nurse my pain is 8 or 9 on a 10 point scale.

With the very first doses of pain meds, in the crisis moments in the Emergency Room, and on Monday morning in my hospital room, I didn't have any control over what I was given. I hurt, this is what they had on order, they gave it to me, no discussion. After that first Monday dose, though, I have to come up with a plan, because I'm the only one who understands all the factors in play.

Now, my cunning, baffling, and powerful alcoholic mind tells me: 'Don't be ridiculous! These are guilt-free drugs! You didn't choose this, this chose YOU! Take the drugs, enjoy the high, and you'll never have to deal with this again.'

But another voice tells me: 'You better DON'T! Sure, this set of circumstances isn't likely to repeat itself, but are you really wanting to get high so much that you are going to put your integrity on the line?'

I wasn't sure how it was going to turn out, frankly.

And I decided to manage the issue by seeing just how long I could go without asking for pain relief. Things weren't HORRID; if I had access to my own, less potent pain meds, I would have taken something, but I sure didn't need the Dilaudid to manage what I was experiencing. So I held out, just  until 2; then once I had made it until 2, I decided to see if I could go until 3; then 4, and then 6, and then 8.

And then it was time for my sleep meds. At that point,  I did two things: first, I accepted the pain shot. I had been brave long enough, and it was time for me to catch some relief. Second, I asked the nurse to see if he could get the doc to authorize a less powerful pain med.

And the nurse asked the doc, and the doc authorized something milder; and that's what I took on my last day in the hospital. It's how I got out of the hospital without cherishing the sensations of being utterly dorked on narcotics, and perhaps relapsing later into abusing prescribed pain meds.

I know that my cunning, baffling, and powerful alcoholic mind used to argue me into all sorts of situations in which it was ESSENTIAL that I take a drink. I don't get hooked by that kind of thinking anymore, and I haven't picked up a drink since the last one on January 1, 1988. It's a relatively straightforward transaction: if I don't take the first drink, I can't get drunk.

But, I'm an alcoholic with a chronic pain condition, on daily pain meds since 2005, and the option of life without pain relief isn't open to me. It's been a difficult path to navigate; unlike alcohol, I can't abstain from narcotics.

I know; I've tried. For almost a year, from 2012 - 2013, I was was determined to live without narcotics, and relied instead on meloxicam, a powerful non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug. It worked great for months! But then, I started to experience severe gastric distress, and when the bleeding started, that was the end of my treatment with NSAIDS. Now, I can't even take an aspirin, or ibuprofen, much less the more powerful formulations.

So: how do I maintain my sobriety, and at the same time have access to narcotics?

The solution requires rigorous honesty, with myself and with others, and also strict determination to ONLY take the narcotics for pain, not for emotional relief. I have been completely open about my history with the docs at the pain clinic. I'm subject to frequent and random drug screens. On the single occasion when one of the docs at the clinic demanded it, I went for an addiction screening with a Certified Addiction Counselor (which I paid for, by the way), and was given a clean bill of health. Perhaps most importantly, we have found a weekly patch medication called Butrans, which doesn't goof my head the way that the other narcotics do, and still effectively manages my pain.

I'm at peace with that. If I could live without the meds, I would. Since I can't, I use them as directed. And I spend as much time in self-examination as I need to in order to maintain my peace of mind.

Peace be on your household.

Friday, August 25, 2017

My Wicked Smart, Wicked Talented, Wicked Beautiful Doctors

Dr. Nkechi Mbaezue, my internist. Laureate Medical Group

Dr. Chinenye Iheme, the kids' pediatrician. Woodstock Pediatrics

Dr. Edugie Asemota-Faure, my dentist. RA Dental Studio

This is a TOTAL rip-off of my Facebook post. But, it was a long post, and since I haven't been able to get my head working well enough to write the blog I WANT to write, due to medical issues, I'm re-purposing this, while I work on the REAL post about my visit to the hospital this past weekend.

Dear friends, I'm wondering who is left in Nigeria to take care of the medical and dental needs of their citizens!

First, our precious Alicia Ann had an appointment with her pediatrician at Woodstock Pediatrics (regular beginning of year stuff; nothing to worry about), and we were expecting to see Dr. Bear, who has been her doc for the past several years. Instead, we meet the lovely and talented Dr. Chinenye Iheme. She is sweet, high energy, instantly established rapport with Alicia, and gave me every impression of being knowledgeable about her work without being distant or off-putting.

Next, on Wednesday, 8/23/17, I met the internist who will be taking my case since Dr. Hight has closed his regular practice. Dr. Nkechi Mbaezue, at Laureate Medical Group in Holly Springs, comes highly recommended, and proved to have a great sense of humor as well as the same professional, teaching aspect I had come to appreciate so much in Dr. Hight, who straightened out the mess that was my medical condition over a period of 12 years or so.

And finally, yesterday I could not postpone having something done about my teeth any longer, so I got an appointment with my dentist since 2007, Dr. Roya Akbar at RA Dental studio. This time, however, she assigned me to work with Dr. Edugie Asemota-Faure, a new member of her group. She promptly spent the next EIGHT hours (not exaggerating) inside my mouth, ripping away broken teeth and fitting me with four temporary crowns. And all the while, she is gently checking on my well-being, letting me know what will happen next, and promising me that she is hurting me no more than necessary. Next week, she gets to extract two or more remaining stumps, and a couple of weeks after that, I get a new plate.

So: my gift-from-God, happily-ever-after trophy wife Vanessa, the elegant, foxy, praying black grandmother of Woodstock, GA, wants to know what I am doing, that in less than one month, my medical professionals have transformed from grumpy middle-aged white men to pleasant Nigerian ladies, doubtless princesses of the blood. To this I have but one response: "I do not know, sweetness, but God Bless America."

Peace be on your household.

Friday, August 18, 2017

The Monster Isn't Who We Thought It Was

Last Saturday, August 12, 2017, I took my family to one of the sweetest, happiest, enduring togetherness moments we have shared in six years of marriage: The John Kay & Steppenwolf Concert at Southern Grounds Amphitheater in Fayetteville, Georgia. To get the back story that brought us there, you can read my blog post of May 20, 2017 here.

We carried some trepidation with us.

For me, the trepidation was centered on one particular song: "The Pusher." Originally penned by Hoyt Axton, the song was recorded by Steppenwolf on their first album in 1967, and hit the big time with its' inclusion, along with "Born To Be Wild," in the 1968 movie "Easy Rider." The song has a strong anti-hard drug message, and is filled with bitter anger, if not hatred, toward the person who sells heroin. That message set it apart; the music has a cyclic rise to a peak, followed by a crash, repeated through the song, and that sets it apart; but the thing that MOST sets it apart, and prevented it from being played on commercial radio, is the inclusion of a prayer. The singer asks God to consign the soul of the pusher to hell, and you can't say that, in that phrase, anywhere but in the pulpit, and in my opinion, you'd be better off not doing it there, either.

Admittedly, the first time I heard the song, I was recovering from a pair of awful, traumatic, devastating drug experiences myself, and I highly endorsed the message. I wanted the people who sold me what I asked for to be punished ultimately. But, I was only 16 years old. Today, at 64, I don't want ANYBODY to suffer damnation; I desire that they repent and be won over to the truth.

And all that, I got to explain to my gift-from-God, happily-ever-after trophy wife Vanessa, the elegant, foxy, praying black grandmother of Woodstock, GA, and our 12 year-old Kenneth, and our 11 year-old Alicia. I told them that the song might be disturbing to them, because it used words that don't belong in polite conversation. I explained that the words were a very powerful curse, but had been degraded to be just rough language, cussing, which was often just used for shock value. It was a good conversation for all of us. We knew the band planned on playing the song as an encore, and we discussed leaving before the encore. The tentative decision, before we got to the venue, was that we would play it by ear. And the kids assured me that this wasn't the first time they had heard those words, and that they didn't find them to be terrifying.

I'm gonna have to work on that. There is nothing more horrible than the loss of a soul to hell, and I hate it that the impact has been cheapened by common use.

So, that was MY trepidation. It was a bit of an issue for Vanessa as well, but we need not have worried. Some practice or statute applied, and Steppenwolf didn't play "The Pusher" for an encore.

However, Vanessa was concerned mostly about the concert itself. See, whereas I spent the late 60's in the middle class suburbs of Macon, GA as a teen, Vanessa at that age was living in rural North Carolina. Dirt road, out house, chickens, tobacco farms. She wasn't a fan of rock and roll. She had heard of the Beatles and Elvis, but she was a follower of the Jackson Five, the Temptations, and other Motown music. She was expecting there to be a lot of screaming and loud, chaotic music. And to add to her lack of comfort, when we get to the venue, all in attendance are elderly white people. Except her. I posted some pictures I took before it got dark; Almost all of the heads that weren't white or gray were bald. LOTS of guys that looked like me, and I am a rare sight in church, the grocery store, etc. Long hair, pulled back in a pony tale, a beard steadily getting whiter. You see, this was the 50th Anniversary Tour for the group: 1967 - 2017. And MOST of the die-hard Steppenwolf fans were won in those early years, so there were a LOT of people there older than me.

It's a creepy feeling, for a black woman who grew up on a dirt road in North Carolina in the 1960s, to find herself surrounded by a couple of thousand old white people. Not many good memories associated with that kind of experience. And this is the way she was looking, because this was the way she was feeling, at the start of the concert.

Fortunately, things changed for her. Some of that may have been because of my unbridled enthusiasm for the music we heard. The warm-up group, Greg Humphreys Electric Trio, had a lead guitar player who could tear that thing UP!

Most of it, though, was the relaxed hospitality she experienced from the crowd and the venue staff. The staff seemed happy to see us! Lots of smiles, and the lady pouring drinks for Chik-Fil-A seemed genuinely interested in our beautiful children, and where we'd come from. She was one of those sorts you can drag a lawn chair up next to, and chat with while she does her work.

And whatever hesitancy she still had vanished as soon as John Kay and Steppenwolf began to play. She was expecting the audience to be screaming and jumping up and down; I don't know if her last concert experience, at a Jacob Sartorius concert with Alicia last year, had anything to do with that expectation. But THIS audience was well behaved. We stayed in our seats, we sang along with the music, but not obnoxiously so, and NOBODY gave us anything like a nasty look for being a bi-racial couple with mixed race children.

I pointed out to her that a LOT of these people were old hippies; in fact, I told her that ALL the old hippies, except for those who died, and the rest who moved to Asheville, were here at the concert. We got a LOT of things wrong, but we got the racial reconciliation right, and love really IS the answer. It's just that fifty years ago, we really didn't understand much about love. Now? Remains to be seen. But at any rate, there were no hostile vibes coming from the audience, and certainly no hostile vibes coming from the music.

"Monster" is the song that touched me the most. It tells the story of oppressed people coming to America, looking for freedom from kings, and a home of their own. They made mistakes along they way, but America
"just patiently smiled, and bore them a child to be their spirit, and guiding light."

Now, at the time the album 'Monster' was released in 1969, the American scene was pretty grim. For white boys my age, the people who were buying the records, the draft was always hovering in the darkness, waiting to get us, and we were sure we would go to Viet Nam. We had just been through the horror of 1968, with the assassinations and riots on television. Street drugs became available for anyone willing to stroll down Peachtree Street between 7th and 14th in Atlanta, and I'm sure the same was true elsewhere.

And the feeling was: if the cops would just leave us alone, if the draft would just leave us alone, we'd be living in paradise. In all of the underground newspapers (mine was the Great Speckled Bird) there were articles about the Military-Industrial Complex. Cartoons featured a monstrous figure in uniform, eating young civilian men, and excreting soldiers.

It was the Establishment, man. They were trying to put us in a box! If we could just be free, everything would be wonderful!

But two things were happening. On the individual level, more and more people were having new ideas. The first surge of baby boomers were reaching their majority, and many of them had different ideas about life than their parents had.
On the governmental level, executive orders, court decisions, and legislation were eliminating the legal foundation for depriving black citizens access to the vote, schools, jobs, and housing. I believe it started with an Executive Order Harry Truman signed, demanding equality of treatment and opportunity without respect to race. Over a period of a very few years, the main statutory supports of de jure deprivation of civil rights were eliminated. De facto discrimination is a habit that takes longer to change, but the truth is: our society in 2017 is radically different from that of 1947.

And now I have to return to 'Monster' by Steppenwolf. Two quotes, not in order:

"The spirit was freedom and justice"
"Now it's a monster and will not obey"
And to be perfectly clear: my family comes back from a wonderful, unifying, uplifting experience at the concert, and when I (foolishly) look at the news the next day, I see that there has been death and mayhem in the beautiful city of Charlottesville, Virginia, where I spent a lovely couple of days in 1986 touring Mr. Jefferson's University. The Monster has appeared.

And who was the Monster? Not the cops. Not the army.

It was us. Private Citizens. Not the Military-Industrial Complex. Just...people.

In this way, I realized the Monster has reached out its' tentacles and assimilated the more dangerous victim. And we are at this point, in the song:

Yeah, there's a monster on the loose
It's got our heads into the noose
And it just sits there watchin'
The Army never was the Monster; I know that, because I joined the Army in 1972, and went to Germany to become part of the blocking force if ever Red Army decided to roll those tanks across the Fulda Gap. We were just a bunch of guys trying to do our jobs the best we could. No Monster there.

Perhaps, maybe, I don't know, some politicians are under the influence of the Monster. But remember this: it wasn't a politician who drove his car into a crowd. It wasn't a politician who threw tear gas; no politicians marched and chanted and screamed hatred.

Nope. That Monster was composed of Private Citizens.

I do not have a clue about the best way to fight that Monster.

But, here's what I'm going to do: I am going to continue to teach my children and anyone who comes into my house about the difference between wisdom and foolishness. I am going to love my wife, and my kids, and grandkids, and make sure they know it, because I say it, and I do it.

I will avoid known conflict points. If I hear that a demonstration is going to take place, I will not be around when it happens, and neither will my family.

And I will defend myself, and my family, and the innocent, and the weak, from physical aggression by the Monster;  and, I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.

Peace be on your household.