Thursday, November 27, 2008

The Carpenter's Gift

From an unexpected craftsman, was created a gift for a person so deserving.

I first met Stanley shortly after I opened my Family Practice office. Like many, he presented with a story of tragedy much too lengthy for his years. I met him soon after he had suffered a stroke, in his early 30’s. My first thoughts revolved around this young age and this awful event that left him a shell of who he once was. It wasn’t until a few years later that I really got to know him.
Like usual, Stanley would present every so many months to allow me to monitor his progress. At first, Stanley’s wife would come back to the exam room with him…similar to a mother with her child. She would answer for him and direct his portion of the interview, expecting me to be impatient with her husband who was now relegated to a childlike existence. After a few visits, he would venture back to the exam room alone as she would wait in the waiting room. It was during these visits that I was able to witness the full extent of the damage that the stroke had caused.
Thankfully the stroke did not effect him physically. Stanley wore a medium build, 70’s style, longer than average, neatly combed brown hair parted on the side. For a thought he reminded me of the Eagles’ Glenn Fry. He walked normally and retained full use of all of his physical attributes. To look at him briefly, like we too often do, you might not notice that something was wrong with Stanley. But when you truly watched him move, you could see a hint of something definitely missing. Stanley had the stature of a grown man but possessed the assurance of a child. He walked with unsure steps and looked with uncertain eyes. I couldn’t help but feel bad for him. How difficult to be functioning at the level of a child trapped in a man’s body.
Talking and listening to Stanley revealed the greatest level of damage. He listened painfully trying to comprehend even the simplest of sentences. He responded even slower. When I would ask him how had he been feeling since we last talked, he struggled with a response. His answers were forced and his vocabulary was limited to short, quick, one word answers. Nothing more. He never smiled and his voice was always monotone devoid of the normal influx that we all possess. Not to be unkind….Stanley had an unhappy animated voice….a voice without joy.
Stanley would seldom make eye contact. It was though he was ashamed. He would often look down at his feet when he did speak and infrequently glance out of the corner of his eye to read your expression. He would sit with a teenagers slumped posture and often sit on his hands while on the exam table. Certainly he realized something was wrong with the way he felt. Certainly he knew something was wrong with Stanley.
It pained me to see him struggle. A simple question and answer session seemed a cruel reminder to both of us…that he was a shell of the man who he once was. After a few office visits I realized that he wasn’t going to get better. This was as good as it was going to get. Stanley was relegated to what I envisioned as an awful existence.

One day he presented a little differently. I can’t say that it was a positive change. It wasn’t. I couldn’t have imagined him looking any more lost that he usually did but….lost he did look. I found myself hanging even more on every forced word. His gait was pressured and his mannerisms suspicious. For the first time, I saw terror in his eyes.
Stanley was experiencing panic attacks. It wasn’t bad enough that he was a prisoner in his own thoughts. Now the clouded visions he lived with, brought with them…uncertainty.
Slowly and painfully he painted the scenes with trembling one word palates. Where, in the past, he found comfort in being alone, he now found fear. He always was uncomfortable around large groups of people. Now this discomfort turned to panic. He found himself trembling with thoughts of the future but haunted with visions of the past. He continued to paint me his picture. I continued to feel uneasy. His voice quivered as if a child describing nightmare after nightmare. Unfortunately, this without the promise of the morning.
I prescribed for him 2 medications. One to take daily that would eventually after several weeks allow the demons to go away. The other medication was to take on a “as needed” basis to hopefully do the same while the other, much less sedating, medicine took effect.
I explained my plan several times to make sure that he understood. I think that he did and assured him that I was just a phone call away. I escorted him into the waiting room hoping to find his wife, but she wasn’t with him. A neighbor had brought him that day. I reached out and shook Stanley’s hand, longer than I had before just to get his attention. I made him promise to call me if he needed me and to come back in 4 weeks. He gave me his one word promise without making eye contact and out the door he went. I swallowed hard and remembered my children’s first day of school.

One month went by. I walked into Stanley’s room nervous. He looked better….not completely better like I always wanted him to be…but better. I sat down on my stool and asked him how he had been. I waited patiently for his answer. So did he. He finally relayed to me that he was feeling better and for this I was glad. He then began telling me about one episode occurred about a week prior. I listened. He described waking up in the middle of the night. It was dark in his room. He felt a wave of panic come over him and immediately began shaking. He began crying. I envisioned a child afraid of the dark staring at the closet door waiting for it to open. I listened more. He stopped talking as if he didn’t know what else to say. I asked him what did he do to make the feeling go away. He thought for a while, looked down at his feet then back to me and paused for what appeared longer than usual even for Stanley.

“I said Jesus.” He told me.
“That’s all….I said Jesus.”

I just sat there waiting for him to say more…but he didn’t. He seemed a little more like himself. He seemed…..lighter. I acknowledged that I was glad that he was able to make the panic go away and then turned the conversation back over to him. He seemed that he wanted to say more but wasn’t. Maybe he couldn’t. We exchanged some small talk and advised him that I was glad that he was feeling better and that he should call me if any of these symptoms came back. I stood up off my stool and reached for the door.

“I make churches.” Stanley said to me.
Not thinking that I heard him correctly I asked what he had said.
“I make churches.”
“Out of wood….I make churches.”

I sat back down to listen to exactly what he had to say. He, in very few words, described how he cuts plywood into pieces, paints each and every part and then nails the pieces together. He fashioned his hands to show me the general height and width and even slowly described the steeple that he cuts to put on the roof. I couldn’t believe what he was telling me. I faintly imagined a smile growing from the corner of his mouth. But as quickly as it occurred….it faded. I asked Stanley if I could one day see one of his churches and he, quicker than usual, said, “Yes!”

A few weeks went by and I can honestly say that I forgot about Stanley’s little churches….that is, until he came back to my office.

I opened the exam room door and saw Stanley nervously sitting on the exam table. His eyes were dancing between me and the counter on the opposite side of the room. I initially thought that someone else was in the room until I looked in that direction. On the counter sat one of Stanley’s churches. It was taller and narrower than I had expected. The height was about 16” and more narrow than I would have made it. I picked the little church up and Stanley nervously watched as I inspected his creation.
The front of the little church consisted of a tall, narrow archway door with similar style windows mirrored on each side of the door. In each window was a chrome wire running vertically the tall windows’ length. The wire’s ends were bent at 90 degree angles and stuck into drilled holes on the inside surface of the plywood to secure them. On the back wall of the church was a larger hole, approximately 1” in diameter that housed a small light bulb protruding into the church’s interior. The wire and plug were stark white and stood out from the antiqued overall appearance. The walls and roof were all nailed together by what appeared to be small chrome finishing nails and the little church’s external walls were painted a faded green, the roof a faded brown and the inside walls were left unpainted exposing the plywood’s grain. The heads of the nails were not completely straight and the paint failed to stick to them leaving them noticeably exposed and sad to say unnatural looking.
Stanley looked nervously as if I was quietly inspecting his report card for the first 9 weeks of the grading period. He awaited my response. After I cleared out a perfect spot for it on the counter, I sat the little church down. I looked back at Stanley just to see him look away. I knew that this meant the world to him and he was afraid that I might be like all the rest….impatient and uncaring.

I praised the little church…..not artificially…it was genuinely beautiful. I ran my fingers over the edge of the roof and commented on the craftsmanship. I showed him how it sat perfectly on a flat surface without rocking and then envisioned him testing the same multiple times just to assure perfection. And perfection it was!
I almost failed to realize the importance of this moment and thanked him for bringing it in and handed it back to him. But more was required I could tell. I asked him how long it took him to make it and did he make many of the little churches. He slowly shared with me that it takes him about 5 hours to make one church and that he doesn’t want to make too many because then he would be too busy. I chuckled at this comment and surprisingly…so did he. This was the first true outward emotion that I witnessed from all the years of getting to know Stanley. It was great to watch him laugh and I didn’t want him to stop.
I asked him if the little church was for sale and his body language completely changed. He sat upright and I swear I saw him stick his chest out with pride. He nodded yes and said,
”Thirty Dollars.”
I echoed his bounty and pointed out that he spent 5 hours making his little church and that he should ask more. I told him that I was interested and that I would be right back. I exited the room and imagined him jumping off the exam table, dancing to celebrate a sale. A wishful thought. I reentered the room and handed him $40.00. He looked up at me after counting the money and smiled the prideful smile that I had long yearned for. He never said the words, Thank You. He didn’t have to.
Stanley left our office with more purpose in his walk and I realized that at least for a few minutes, I was introduced to the Stanley that I had never known before.
The girls in the office commented on the pretty little church and I proudly cleared a space for it on my bookshelf in the hallway of our office. Everyone could see Stanley’s little church. He was proud of his hard work and I was proud for realizing the opportunity that was placed before me to make a big difference in a young man‘s life with a tiny gesture of kindness.
The story doesn’t end here.
Elizabeth’s chart has taken up residence on my desk.

She walked into my office looking finally her age. She was 61 but up until the radiation and chemotherapy for her breast cancer, she looked to be at least 15 years younger. Her Irish skin revealed what appeared to be sun burnt areas especially on her arms. She wore long sleeves this warm spring day. She adorned a scarf that would have been more fashionable when she was a young girl than today. I dared not to look beneath it. She always took pride in a full head of thick hair. Her eyes were still “sky-bright-Irish-blue”. They did look a little more fatigued than usual though.
Needless to say…I wanted to pick her up and run far away…..far away from the CT scans, the PET scans, the myriad of tests and procedures that aged her to this state….away from the radioactive beams of energy that crash through her body in an attempt to kill the cancer causing a path of destruction of both good and bad….away from the poison that was delivered into a port hanging out of her chest. I desired to possess the healing touch of GOD and deliver her from this evil….but no matter how I tried… the disease progressed.
Along with the physical changes, I noticed obvious emotional changes as well. She smiled less. She looked through weary eyes. Through reports from her husband, she often found herself in bed, sheltered from the outside world anticipating the future….tearful and afraid. She complained of severe fatigue for several days after her treatments, both mental and physical. As the fatigue would wane over the following days, it would then be time for another round of chemo or radiation. Nausea, vomiting, flu-like symptoms, abdominal pain…the entire cycle would then repeat…sore burned skin, mouth ulcers, diarrhea, body aches. The symptoms of the worse case of the flu….over and over again.
What I said earlier…I meant. I often dream of the day that I could shelter my patients from harms way. I would imagine the laughter when we would meet when the cancer was cured. I would pick her up, cradle her in my arms and run far away. I would leap over adversaries, stiff arm potential tacklers and arrive in the land of sunshine…from the land of the storms. There I would allow her to gain back her strength…renew the tattered body and replace it with new. She would feel youth again.
Our office visit this day was typical. She and her husband updated me on the current events since our last meeting and I reviewed the new reports in her chart. I would answer her questions and concerns that were voiced. We both would concentrate on the obvious and hang on every “positive” news obtained…..I would accentuate anything that I could. I would praise her for not losing too much weight. I would seem satisfied with the fact that her most recent imaging scans look promising that the cancer hasn’t spread to new areas. I was glad that the pain was tolerable and that the nausea only lasted a few days after her treatments. I would search for anything positive amidst the destruction.
This might have superficially helped a small amount but the obvious could not be overlooked….Elizabeth had “Stage IV Breast Cancer”. A cure wasn’t impossible but also wasn’t likely.
As I sat on my stool in front of her my thoughts wondered, not in an uncaring way, but in a “how can I help her through this way”. Then I knew exactly what I was to do. I excused myself from the room telling her that I needed to get something.
I blew the dust off of the little church not even looking to see if any was on it. I held it in one hand as I opened the door with the other. I proudly placed Stanley’s church on the counter now in Elizabeth’s room. They both looked at me smiling as I sat back onto my stool and told of the church’s little story.
I told of the carpenter. I told of the carpenter’s craft. I told of the pride that followed when a small gesture of kindness reaped great rewards when I offered to purchase the church. And I then told that I knew that I wanted Stanley’s little church to belong to her.
She smiled and turned her head to admire the little church and appeared honored to be acceptant of such a precious gift. Acceptant she was! She got off of the exam table with a slightly guarded gait and walked over to the counter. She bent down to look into the little churches windows. She looked over the exterior and finally picked it up carefully in her weathered hands.
Everyone in the room, me included, leaned forward just incase she dropped it…but she did not. She ran her hands across the point of the roof and admired every angle. She would look between her husband and I as she would compliment the craftsmanship. I think at exactly that moment….I knew how Stanley felt. As he watched me….I watched her. I felt proud.
She smiled widely a smile that was worth much more than $40.00.

She thanked me for my kindness and said that every time that the little church would light her path, she would pray for Stanley. That surprised me. I was so caught up in thinking of what I could do for Elizabeth that I couldn’t imagine her doing something for someone else.
She and her husband left my office carrying The Carpenter’s Gift.
I realized then, the true gift.
I realized then…the true carpenter.
Stanley, alone, in the black darkness of his night called the name of “Jesus”.
Elizabeth, alone, in the darkness of her night will do the same.
And the gift of “THE CARPENTER” heals all wounds.

I met with Elizabeth today in my office.
Her last PET scan revealed “The CARPENTER’S Gift”…
“There are no signs of cancer“.
An excerpt from: "The Journey Learned" copyright 2008

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Have Truck will Travel

Thought everyone would enjoy a pic of my sons. Like us humans...they enjoy frequent rides to fun places like the park, Petsmart, the "woods", etc. "Sparky" the Boston Terrier "assumes the position" within about 32.8 seconds and usually is sound asleep...he must be an infant by heart. Watson...the one with "the skin for two" will not relax until he has received looks from the car next to him, barked at every auto, child, squirrel or anything else that might be threatening in site. His other duty of course is to slobber all over HIS window. his favorite!!!
Safe travels and Happy Thanksgiving to all!!!
Dr M

Friday, November 21, 2008

Life's Chapters.

A book is divided into many chapters. Pick up any book and what is one of the first things that you do(other than read the last page)? If you are like me, you go to the index and peruse the titles of the chapters. The chapter titles often reveal the "flavor"of the book. The chapters are always distinct and though they build on the previous sections, they often are capable of standing on their own and announce...a piece of the story.
Our lives are no different....filled with chapters. Though there is one subtle difference. Let me explain.
Stop for a moment. (Please do this) Take a piece of paper and look back at your life. Look frontwards or backwards...makes no difference. Write down key turning points in your life...marriage, kids, careers, etc. Write down "Your Chapters".
If you are like me, you can list quite a few in a short period of time. It was easy for me to think of 10 chapters. Then, I thought of another one to insert between the third and fourth. Now I have 11 chapters. But wait. Another exists, and then another. Every chapter tells a piece of who you are.
Now look through your chapters. Were your chapters announced? Were you capable of fingering through the index of your life to see what the next section was to bring. Probably not. Unlike a book, life's chapters often come...unannounced. It isn't until we have lived the chapter, that we then realized, it was one.
Wouldn't it be awesome to know when a new "life chapter" was beginning? Could you then have an effect on it's content? A little tweak here...a little tweak there...take this road and avoid the, laugh and love from the first page to the last.

Throughout my life I have witnessed GOD's direction and experienced HIS miracles...unfortunately it took me years to listen. Yesterday was no different. I am GOD's eager student and HE has been teaching me to look for each chapter's beginning. Yesterday was one such beginning. As I stood at the top of the staircase I was reminded of this.
We finalized the purchase of our "Lake House"...yet another chapter. Sandi and I feel that this chapter will be full of promise...full of laughter...full of love and the fulfillment to share treasured moments with our friends and family.
I can't wait to see you in our newest chapter.
"See you at the lake!!!"
Dr M

An excerpt from: "The Journey Learned" copyright 2008

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Toasty Toes.

'Tis the time of the year. Here's to all of you out there that, like myself, allow the time to slow down, get warm and hover around something other than the television.
If you haven't a fireplace, find someone who does and invite yourself over. Take some mulled wine and your favorite evening to forever remember will follow...especially if they don't know who you are. :)

Friday, November 14, 2008


Last night I had a bad dream. I dreamt that my wife Sandi was no longer by my side. I awoke with a quickened heart, and hurriedly touched her shoulder while she slept. She continued to sleep. There she still was....beside me. The moon still shone, the stars still twinkled and life was the same today as yesterday.
It was then that I realized that "Last Night" wasn't "Today". I sighed relief...and thanked GOD for her and the many blessings in my life...and Thanking HIM is the theme of the day. I realize that "Today's" theme needs to be my "Everyday's" theme.
I'll work on

Friday, November 7, 2008

Two Students.

A medical school student accompanied me at the bedside of a little lady named Anna tonight. She is 92 years old and more cognitively "with it" than most. The initial discussion was concerning her symptoms of her recently diagnosed Pancreatic Cancer...not quite controlled. A plan of treatment was agreed upon when I then decided to teach my student the "True Art of Medicine".
I put her aged hand in mine and entered her least in part.
She was born in 1916 and was happily married raising 3 children...all now significantly older than I. She spoke of a simple life well worth living and bragged heartily of her children's merits.
I listened to her and frequently caught the site of my student out of the corner of my eye...He listened with youthful ears. Youthful ears like sponges.
I asked Miss Anna what advice she had for the 2 young men that were at her bedside. She initially did not reply as if she was a bit embarassed to take "Center Stage."
A few simple commands she gave.
"Be Yourself." and "Do What You Do Well."
Nothing complicated or rehearsed....just 7 simple words from a little lady reviewing her the end of it.
I think that both students heard clearly her advice.
Thank You Anna.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Flowers Smile.

Board Exams are can now resume!!!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Passions Meet...

I love this time of year not only for the beautiful changing of the seasons but also for...Deer Hunting!!!
A dilemna existed for both last year and this year. Last year I was studying for Family Practice Board exams(PASSED!!!) that we are required to take every 7 years. This year it is my first attempt at Palliative Medicine Boards. There are only a handful a physicians Board Certified in Palliative Medicine and this year is the first that the governing body of the ABMS offered these boards. Of course, each year, the day long tests were in the middle of archery season...FIGURES!!!
The day that I took the above photo with my cellphone was a wonderful day in my blind. The does were bounding....bucks were yet sleeping...a few raccoons and 1 red fox passed my way. Despite these welcomed interuptions I was successful in at least becoming a little more least in theory!
So....Passion meets Passion. I took my studies to the woods.....soon we will see if my preparation was worthy. The exam is 10/29/08....2 days from now....wish me luck!!!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

A Sailor's Salute

The hospital room was bright, much too bright to fall asleep, but this he did, finally.

It was five days prior on a Saturday morning that he presented the Emergency Room with an unremitting pain in his chest.
I was in Tampa attending a Palliative Care conference that week. It was a wonderful conference that helped reinvigorate my passion for “End-of-Life-Care.” Thousands of people congregate annually with the same common passion. It was a beautiful week. A beautiful week, until Saturday morning.

I love to travel! I enjoy experiencing the local flavors of each new city. I search out the places that many other travelers do not….out of the way diners, shops, stores and restaurants. I make it a point to talk to some of the “locals” and follow their lead to the best places to visit. Saturday morning was to be no different.
When I awoke, I can’t say that I knew something was wrong. I didn’t. All I knew was that I awoke without that good feeling that we all have grown to appreciate. I wasn’t crisp. Suddenly I wasn’t excited about learning a new city. Despite waking up in sunny Florida, I felt as if clouds had moved in. Moved in and dampened every ray of sunshine. It was a feeling that thankfully, I don’t experience often.
The conference wrapped up early Saturday and we found ourselves with the greater part of the day to fill as our plane wasn’t leaving until evening. We found a little antique store in quaint Ybor, a beautiful little reprieve from the business section of Tampa. We found ourselves trailing through the narrow pathways of nicely displayed racks of clothing and accessories from years gone by. I did enjoy the little shop, but not as much as one would expect. From here we walked the less than crowded streets, several blocks to have lunch. Like usual, we searched out a place that the locals frequent….and frequent they did.
The exterior of the Tropicana did not reveal it’s interior. From the outside I didn’t think that there were going to be anyone inside. I was wrong, very wrong. As if walking into a different century, we entered the Tropicana. The little diner was indeed….the hub of activity. Now I realized why the streets weren’t crowded. We were greeted by a hostess with the faintest hint of an accent that I have yet to identify. We then wound through more narrow paths of chattering people toward our table.
An elderly gentleman, undoubtedly a local, adorned atop his weathered face, a sailors hat. Not just any sailors hat, but a real sailors hat. It was inscribed with what appeared to be his last name on the left side top. The name I forgot as quickly as I read it. The name itself wasn’t important. The means in which it was written was. The cap was bleached white and black letters were written very uniformly and neat, all capitalized and not tucked away in a fold, but displayed where all could easily see whose hat this was. I imagined many of these hats aligned on a table or possibly a hat rack. The sailors of years passed would then hurriedly pick out their hat from the many other look-alikes and be on their way. On their way to some….sailor emergency.
It is obvious…I’m not a sailor.

We sat down at our table thankfully in view of our sailor friend. We were shown the lunch menus and placed our orders with our waitress who also possessed the same unfamiliar accent. She appeared irritated that we questioned the contents of some of the items on the menu to help us make our selection. I’m sure it would have been quicker if we would have just yelled out, “Hey Nicky!!! Bring us the usual.” Even though we were obviously from out of town, we managed to sink into our surroundings.
Our sailor friend was truly a joy to watch. It was obvious that everyone knew who he was, of course everyone but us. He spent his time between being poured into an old wooden chair and jumping to his feet to greet what appeared to be every passer-byer.
I wonder if he was disappointed when we didn’t acknowledge him as we passed his table. I hope not, as of course this was not our intent.
He would not only jump to his feet when someone approached him and called out his name. He would jump up and salute them. He would take his weathered hand, press his index finger firmly to one predestinated area on his forehead and then snap it away cleanly. This salute was quick and much more crisp than I would have expected. This salute was a real one. The sailors salute looked different than the civilian salutes that many offered back to him. I wonder how many times in his life he adorned his signature salute. This fact, I guess, reinforced that he had been, and still was at least in heart, a true sailor.
We ate our meal, took in all the sights and sounds and exited the little diner. I avoided walking past our sailor friend because I couldn’t call him by name as everyone one else was. He was busy anyway and did not notice us.
Back out on the sidewalk we quickly noticed, in the distance, someone singing. It was an outdoor festival about a block away. We made our way in the direction of the music and found ourselves perusing the many artisan tables under the perfect Florida weather. There was a perfect breeze and the setting couldn’t have been more…..perfect. A Jimmy Buffet type gentleman was playing guitar and entertaining the little crowd with songs that everyone new. I attempted to overcome my less than joyous demeanor by looking over every booth and every little item. It was here that I received the call.
I heard the chilling tone in my sister’s voice. She and my parents were in the emergency room and my dad was having a heart attack. Not that this wasn’t bad enough, I of course was a thousand miles away. I walked away from the crowd as not to be distracted from one detail and absorbed the severity of my sister‘s phone call. The doctor, a distant colleague of mine, planned to take him immediately into surgery. I discussed hurriedly with the cardiologist my dad’s condition. Personal discussions with physicians come with the territory of being a doctor, a fringe benefit that the public is not privy to.
Of course my dad wouldn’t let anyone do anything until he made sure that I agree. Agree I did.
Immediately after talking to my dad and hanging up the phone, I realized now where that knawing sensation that I awakened with this morning was from. I felt guilty for not knowing that something was wrong. But guilt was not the predominant feeling.

We drove to the airport to see if we could fly out early. Behind the counter was a dark-haired young lady. I explained the circumstance without burdening her with details and she appeared willing to help. She spoke little, but appeared to busy herself trying to find me a different flight.
I couldn’t see her computer screen, as we were facing each other. I was watching her face throughout the process. She seemed very serious. I also noticed that she was very pregnant, and I wondered if she wasn’t feeling good that day. Any other time I would have tried to engage her in conversation, but now was not the time, apparently for either of us. She searched through what appeared to be hundreds of computer screens that comprised of even more flights and found that I could at least fly out a few hours earlier. For this I was grateful.
As she handed me my updated boarding pass, she looked up and peered with slightly tear filled eyes directly into mine.
“I hope your dad gets better.” She said with hidden emotion.
Those words stopped me in my tracks as if she was speaking a foreign language. She was. Until that moment, I never thought of my dad getting better. I envisioned a tall, thin, weathered old man lying on a cold operating table, helpless. I saw more. As a physician I always see more. I oftentimes see more than I am comfortable seeing, and this was such a time.
I know that I paused, looked deeply back at her and thanked her for helping me. She helped me more than she knew. The young black-haired, soon-to-be mother saw what I couldn’t, my dad getting better.
“I hope your dad gets better.”
That sounds so much more full of hope, full of promise, full of a future. Maybe she was able to see what I couldn’t because she, herself was full of hope. I’m sure that she, expecting the birth of her unborn child, over the past several months, has lived for the unseen promises of hope, faith and love.
I doubt if I ever get the opportunity to thank this young lady and she probably will never read this. But for those 6 words of hope…I am so thankful.

The next hours turned into days. I managed to arrive at the hospital and it is there that I would stay for the next several days. My dad underwent an emergency catherization and they were able to open one vessel temporarily preventing any further immediate heart damage. He subsequently had open heart surgery two days later.
It was two days after his surgery that I learned my greatest lesson.
The hospital room was bright, much too bright to fall asleep, but he did, finally. After watching him suffer not only with the pain of the surgery but also with the fearful agony of the unknown, He finally rested.

I was sitting in a “noisier than should be” chair at the side of his bed slightly closer to the foot of the bed than the head. After the endless days of a body full of pain and fear, my dad finally slept. And I watched him. I looked at every line on his face. I mentally traced the bridge of his nose and brushed the hair from his brow. I felt his weakened breath against my imagined hand. He looked peaceful, restful and most important, without pain. I then watched as his jaw relaxed, his lips parted ever so slightly and he began to breathe slightly deeper. His chest rose symmetrically and without effort. Even his shoulders relaxed which surprised me as I couldn’t tell that they weren’t.
Then I realized….This was the longest that I have ever studied my dad. I’m sure that as a child, like most of us, I watched and learned from my dad. But that was with a child’s perspective. In my adult life, I was too busy. The world moves us all along as if being fast-forwarded. Deadlines to meet, schedules to keep, patients to see.
Not this week. This week I was stopped in my tracks facing a huge dose of reality.
I wanted to reach out and touch him but I was afraid that he would awaken. I wanted to gently lay my hand against his sunken cheek. I don’t ever remember holding my hand to my dad’s face. I have to others….my children, my wife, my sister, mother, even patients. But I never touched my dad’s face. That hurt my feelings.
Out of my defense he would have looked at me as I held his wrinkled face in my hands and felt a little awkward himself. I wonder what the skin on his face felt like.
I imagined it to be cooler that expected, rough from working outside most of his days. I imagined his skin to be moist with perspiration from the recent events. Some of what I imagined my dad’s face to feel like was more difficult to envision. Honest, loyal, worthy, protecting, loving, patient, determined are only a few. There was no shortage in what I felt, holding my hand to my dad’s cheek, even if it were imagined. It felt so reassuring as if to repeat those magical 6 words heard earlier in the week.
“I hope your dad gets better.” And “got better” he did.

Why is it oftentimes difficult to show our loved ones just that… Were we raised from infancy to refrain from the loving touch. Have we been taught to offer the voice of love but hide deeply the physical accompaniment or have we learned this on our own in an attempt to save time and effort. If this is so….it’s not too late…for any of us…myself included.

At the time that I am writing this, my dad is home and recovering from his heart attack and surgery. I still have yet to physically touch his face but continue to watch him and mentally caress smooth, his furrowed brow. I have made great strides and have been met with equally great reward. I have held his hand in mine over the past several days and this has allowed our relationship to deepen.

I challenge you to do the same. I almost lost my chance but by the grace of GOD I, or should I say, we have another opportunity.

And if ever the circumstance presents itself again, I will make it an effort, to take the time to accept the salute from an old sailor.

Excerpt from "The Journey Learned" 2008

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Evening Guest

The above photo I took with my cellphone from my "soon to be" backyard the day we put a bid on our "soon to be" new house. I currently reside in the epitomy of YuppyVille, USA and long to escape the Burbs. I drive by the "Lake House" almost daily...slowly drive away feeling a bit renewed and dream of the day when this new chapter begins.
Expect to have many sunset, fireside evenings with friends and family filled with lighthearted laughter, heartfealt talks and deafening silence....the Heron is invited back as well.

Dr M

Monday, September 29, 2008

Lesson #1: Cats, as a species, are not Southern Baptists.

When I was a young boy, like many other normal American boys, my family was preparing to embark on a journey to a far away place. Most people refer to this as...vacation. To me, with my large, vivid, never-ending imagination, it was much more than that.

My dad had spent days loading up the truck and camper in preparation for our week long trip to Hawkin's Lake. This was the destination chosen for this years "vacation". There was little room to begin with in our truck camper and by all indications, from the amount of "survival rations" that he had packed into it, we were in for an incredible adventure. We had kerosene lanterns, pots, pans, blankets, chairs, boxes of matches, utensils, etc. It seemed that everything that we owned, we were taking. Of course this meant only one thing....We were certainly never to return.

In an attempt to excite my siblings and I, my dad who's imagination I must have inherited, spun a few tales. He told of the rugged mountains unsurpassable by the many expeditions that had tried. The thickened forests that was home to the largest known land animals that ever inhabited the planet.
"Some say that T-Rex himself still lives in the woods that surrounded the lake."
If you were quiet, very quiet.... you may be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of him and live to tell about it. The lake itself was as deep as the ocean. It surely was full of alligators and sea monsters, thought to have been extinct, unknown to exist today. He told of fish that had been caught the size of full grown adults. Oh, then there were the Indian burial grounds nearby, where in the quiet of the night, one could hear the war chants from ancient tribes that haunt their final battles.

Needless to say...We were all going to die.

So with this train of thought, I began preparing. I said goodbye to my neighborhood friends. I played with my toys that I couldn't take with me and carefully packed the one's that I could. I spent time in my room and memorized how comfortable my bed felt and how nice my freshly washed bedsheets smelled. My pillow....I could take. I would lay in bed listening to the safe sounds of a normal, lower-middle class neighborhood and savored every but of it.

I covered all the bases. I talked to GOD who was my constant companion even at this young age and HE comforted me. Growing up with a strong Southern Baptist foundation.....we were at the church whenever the doors were open. Sunday morning, Sunday evening and in the afternoon for a cover-dish meal when someone could think of a reason to have one. We attended most Wednesday evenings for bible study and filled the rest of the week with thoughts of when we were going back to church.
But things were different now....I payed attention. I replaced the hours of sitting next to my mom on a hard church pew, taking a pencil and filling in the letters in the bulletin that contained circles (ie. a,b,d,e,o,p,q) and replaced this with....sitting next to my mom on a hard church pew and.....listening.
As well as any child could, I hung on every word our transplanted Southern Baptist preacher would shout out. Fire and Brimstone, guilt, honor, tithing, sit in that pew until you butt cheeks hurt or "y'all surely go to Hell!!!" It was difficult to say the least to understand the thick, southern Mississippi draw as he yelled and carried on. He would start out slow at first and I could make out what he was saying quite well at first.
It wasn't until the hand-fans came out, the volume went up and the preacher's jacket came off that I had a problem...and a problem I certainly had. I remember leaning forward on the pew so that my toes would be able to touch the floor as if this extra push would help me understand. It really wasn't my "hearing" that was was my "deciphering". I was able to understand about every fifth some least in part. I just kinda....filled in the rest.

I remember his name....Pastor Dupre Gowan. He was a big man. No, he was a huge man! His voice bellowed off the walls and ceiling, off the ceiling fans and onto the piano and then finally off the wooded pews that filled our little church. Mom never had to worry about me falling asleep for if I did ever begin drifting off....I would jolt awake by one of Pastor Dupre's rant and raves. You see, baptist preachers, especially Southern Baptist preachers, rant and rave. They would get wound up and in between words they would utter completely meaningless sounds. I don't know exactly how to explain other than immediately after exhaling a colorful, multi-influxed number of words that may or may not make sense he would need to inhale. As he would inhale quickly, his vocal cords were not fully disengaged. This would create a sound that I have yet to hear anywhere else in society.
This sound would indeed vary among different preachers but never vary with a single preacher. In other words, one sound would be linked to one preacher...and they all were unique. So unique that we could identify a visiting preacher in the first few minutes of his rant by his sound. Pastor Dupre Gowan's sound was a "HEH!" Let me attempt to demonstrate. It was something like this: (please feel free to insert your favorite southern accent)

"Have you been walking the path of rightiousness...HEH...or are you walking down the dark path of Sin?....HEH. Jesus has been where you are...HEH...Jesus will guide you through...HEH.
Jesus is the only one who can save your eyes on Jesus?...HEH...or are your eyes on the Devil? HEH. Will you put your trust in the world...HEH...or will you put your trust in Jesus? HEH."

Now, before I receive a pulpit full of hate mail....let me clear up a few things. I don't mean to make fun or belittle being raised Southern Baptist. Also I do not want you to think that I am being disrespectful. Pastor Gowan was a wonderful man that meant a considerable amount to me in my younger years. A mental picture I am painting.

Back to the story.
So there I was prior to my death by some awful circumstance that was waiting to befall me on our family vacation. I said goodbye to all my friends and possessions. I cherished the memories of my childhood. I was proud and brave. I left no stone unturned. I was prepared to accept my fate, no matter what it may be.

My mom woke me at daylight the morning of our departure. I wondered if she knew the horrors that awaited. She told me to get dressed and hurry to the camper that we would soon be leaving. So this I did. With a melancholy spirit I surveyed our happy Ohio home and headed to the camper. My two brothers and sister, all older than I, were doing the same completely unaware of the doom that awaited.
I walked out our house and sped to the backyard to run my make believe baseball diamond one final time. With head low I solemnly walked toward our camper. I reached down to pet Whiskers, our cat, for one last......

OH LORD!!!! Whiskers!!!! I forgot whiskers!!! How could I have forgotten my bestest friend in all of the world. We ran together. We played for hours. I had even taught her, or she taught me, to play hide and go seek between our row of pine trees! Whiskers!!!
"Can she come with us??" I begged!!!
But then I realized that if she went with us she would surely die. How could I take my best friend in the whole world to a place so horrible? So I grabbed her up and ran into our backyard to quickly say goodbye. She knew. She knew that the end was near. I could tell by the way she looked at me. She rubbed her tail under my nose different than she had before. Her purr was even different. How could I tell my little friend that I would never see her again?
Then I thought of it!

Several weeks prior at Memorial Baptist Church, between a Sunday morning service and a covered-dish dinner, we had a special service. It was called....let me try to remember....Oh yeah....a Baptismal Service. It was where Pastor Gowan and some others who recently accepted Jesus into their hearts so that they wouldn't "die and burn in Hell for all eternity...HEH"...went into the back study, changed out of their church clothes into jeans and T-shirts and entered our baptismal. This baptismal was essentially a large tank the was elevated and behind where the choir sat, behind the pulpit where Pastor Gowan preached. It was there where they were "Saved from eternal Damnation...HEH."
It went something like this: "Did you "brother or sister so-and-so" accept Jesus into your your personal Lord and Savior...HEH?" They then would answer with a fearful look and shake their head acknowledging that they had. Pastor Gowan then dunked them head-first into the water while he cradled them in his big arms and uttered what sounded like...
"And in the Hole Ye Go!!"
Then that was it. They were saved from eternal damnation and would ready to go to heaven.

I wanted this for my Whiskers!! Now I knew that i wasn't a preacher but I certainly didn't have the time to find one. Well, it had rained the last few nights and my dad was putting on a new addition to our house that extended off the side of our house. I spent many hours watching the men work while standing on our back sun porch. The water from off our roof filled a low spot on the side of our porch off the back of the house. It was here where I decided to assure that Whiskers, my best friend in the whole wide world, would someday join me in Heaven.

I picked her up and cradled her in my not so big arms. I carried her up the steps and onto our back porch to the far left wall that overlooked our own private Baptismal. With cat in hand I stretched out my sleeveless, skinny little arms. With my best Pastor Dupre Gowan impersonation I announced for all onlookers to hear:
"Do you Whiskers accept Jesus into your little cat heart...heh."
She looked at me as if she didn't understand the magnitude of the moment. My grip grew tighter as she began to squirm a little as the "Spirit of the Lord began getting a hold of her...heh."
"In Jesus' name...In the Hole Ye Go!!!"
I then released my increasing grip on Whiskers to enable her to be dunked in the muddy puddle Baptismal next to my porch.

This is the exact moment when I learned Lesson #1.

Because Whiskers wasn't a Southern Baptist, or any kind of Baptist as far as that goes....she did realize the "magnitude of that moment". But Whiskers "magnitude" was completely different than mine. Her magnitude consisted of clawing and climbing up anything, ie. naked, skinny arms, to keep her from dropping like a sack of potatoes into that cold, murky rainwater.

Who would have known....cats must be Catholic.

Excerpt from "The Journey Learned" copyright 2008

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Imagine yourself setting foot on a journey. This journey traverses uncharted terrain, much like pictured. You set out alone without preparation, without supplies, without insight of what you may encounter. The time is evening. The forest is dark. Thickened mist rolls over each mountain and slides slowly into the valleys just to crawl heavily up the opposing hillside. Cold, moist air is parted only by the quickened breath of the unknown. The sounds of the forest, some distant, some eerily close, echo off majestic stands of trees that reach through a blanket of looming clouds. A storm is heard off in the distance, the last ray of sunlight succeeds in reaching the leaf covered carpet only to quickly fade away.
You walk up on two trails. One to your left, the other it's mirror image. A pending decision. You stop and kneel in the crossroad. You pick up a hand of soil and allow in to filter through your fingers. No answers here. You look down each path searching for the smallest of clues.
Faintly you see what appears to be a dim light on one of the paths. One second it becomes clearer, other times it disappears behind the cover of the forest. It appears again and looms closer...and brighter. You are able to make out an embodied figure lifting high what appears to be a lantern. The figure moves closer. The darkened path becomes more like day.
A friendly, familiar voice calls you by name. You are found. Your heavy breath becomes light again, as if in the sun. The correct path becomes are saved!

Let us all be like Beacons on a Hillside so that....may not even one, travel alone.
Excerpt from "The Journey Learned" copyright 2008