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!!!