Monthly Archives: June 2009

The Gifts of PTSD: Insomnia is a Terrible Thing to Waste and the Hidden Value of Hyper-vigilance

068On Board a 53 out near Syria

I’ve been asked by a number of people at work just how I manage to find the time to write the way that I do.  The answer, which I have said to all of them is simple…insomnia, which it turns out is not necessarily a curse, but for me in some ways is a gift.  I find that insomnia really is a terrible thing to waste.  Until I went to Iraq I went to bed at a decent hour every night and seldom did I have problems sleeping.  At the same time my life while busy pursuing work, military and professional education as well as academic degrees was full but not completely fulfilling.  I had always wanted to write on a variety of subjects to include military history, theology, ethics and baseball.  In fact someday I hope to get published.  However back then I was always too distracted to write what I wanted to write.  I could t stay on task for anything other than things that would seemingly directly affect my military career, even my marriage.

081Convoy On Route Michigan

Iraq changed that more than I thought it could.  I got back, fell apart about 90 days after returning home and despite pushing myself harder at work, ministry and academically I was not making it.  Nightmares, dreams, chronic pain and anxiety, stress reactions even in church about crippled me.  About the only place I felt some peace was at the ball park.  Somehow the sight of that great field and the infield diamond settles me. Sleep deprivation became a very real and persistent part of my life.  I guess it was the fact in Iraq that we did most of our travel at night by helicopter, usually CH-46, CH-47 or CH-53’s and had very irregular schedules.  Likewise when we came back to base there was another little issue.  The pad for the Army Medivac Choppers, or “Dustoff” was about 200 yards from my quarters so all night long I was subjected to the constant noise from these aircraft.  If I hear a UH-60 Blackhawk or SH-60 Seahawk at night I still get a startle reaction.  Outgoing artillery fire and occasional fire, explosions and sirens in the adjacent town of Habbinyah were staples of life.  When bored I would stand outside and watch illumination rounds going off the highway just outside our entry control point or wander over near the Shock Surgery Trauma Platoon facility where “Dustoff” was waiting on the pad.  I’m sure that working a number of mass casualty events and seeing our wounded Marines and Soldiers being treated as well as Iraqi civilians including kids had to affect me.  These Americans and Iraqis were out driving the same roads that we would drive on a regular basis and the sight of their shattered bodies went through my mind every time we went on a mission.

As I got deeper into my tour I found that no matter how tired that I was I had great difficulty getting to sleep.   I’m sure this was due to our operational tempo, odd hours, demanding travel, sleeping conditions which varied at every location and occasionally getting shot at.  The most cool of those were when our Army CH-47D talking off from Ramadi , took fire from the ground and proceeded to pop flares, take evasive action while the tail gunner opened fire with his M240 series machine gun.  Since I was sitting two seats from the tail gunner and saw, heard and smelled the gun as it fired I’m pretty sure that it happened.  However, when I called the Army squadron to see what happened they denied that the event happened.  I hear that was not an uncommon occurrence.    So anyway by the mid-point of my tour I was no longer sleeping so I would sit up and play games on my computer, such as chess and Ma-jong.  It is amazing how good you can get at stuff like that through sheer repetition.  It was playing these games that I would wear myself our enough to sleep since I usually did an hour or two of PT during the day or late evening when not on the road.  It is comforting when you are running near the perimeter on a cool Saturday morning and hear explosions and exchanges of automatic weapons fire going off about 2 km to your right.

So now despite my cool concoction of meds I still have difficulty getting to sleep.  In order to sleep I have to wear myself out and when I am done I take my meds and crash.  If I take them before I am exhausted I see little effect and I am not about to start mixing them with the good beer that I enjoy so much.  I do not drink crappy beer thank you.  Maybe it will be time to go back to the doctor when my provider’s relief arrives in August or September.  I probably need to talk to my buddy Elmer the shrink again soon.  Elmer is great but my schedule has not lined up well to see him the past couple of weeks between leave, call schedule and the emergency root canal.  I probably have to go back in on that sooner than my appointment as I still am having some pain and wonder if there is an infection there.

Since I don’t believe in wasting time I have decided to be productive when I can’t sleep.  I started writing as I finished my class requirements for my latest Masters Degree.  I still need to do the comprehensive exams but will wait until September so as not to mess with any home games the Tides have left.  I began writing as a means of both helping me and disciplining myself to write regularly.  I have several book ideas but have never been able to get any off the ground because I could not stay focused.  This website helps me do that and has got me thinking creatively again.  So my answer to how I can find the time to write is simple, if I have 20 or so extra hours in the week late at night that are going to be there no matter what I do, then I shouldn’t waste them.  So my point is that insomnia is a terrible thing to waste.   It could be worse. I know of other vets who can’t sleep either due to war experiences and some have fallen off the deep end with self destructive behaviors at least I am not doing online gambling, porn or other distractions that have helped continue to ravage some of my brothers and sisters who have served in Iraq, Afghanistan and Vietnam.  I have found in a strange way that the chronic insomnia has been a gift which has enabled me to gain insights on life and experience that I had never been able to put down before.  It has forced me to take advantage of time that I would otherwise waste web or channel surfing until I fell asleep.  It is interesting to see what comes out of your computer when you are trying to write while falling asleep.

Here is an example that I found and saved a few weeks ago:  “Manages not only check their the firduk about what they fell than…”

I have no earthly idea what it means or what a “firduk” is or what “manages would “not only check their the firduk” means and I don’t want to find out.  God only knows what it means but it reminds me where a half-asleep Jerry Seinfeld wrote down something that he saw on TV that he thought was funny.  He spent the show trying to see what he wrote and then finally saw what he actually heard.  He discovered that it was not nearly as funny as he thought.

Another gift I have been given with my PTSD is that of hyper-vigilance.  I am much more alert and observant than I ever was.  This is on the road, in crowds or even as I do my job in the hospital.  I have begun to notice the little odd things that are clues to other possibly more significant issues.  This probably has saved my life on the road on several occasions since I returned as I have a much great “feel” for what is going on around me than I have ever had while driving.  There have been at least three times where I “felt” the danger of another vehicle and took evasive action to avoid a collision before I heard or saw it.  Of course the colorful euphemisms which poured out of me on these occasions were quite memorable, I think the best being “You Oedipal Mother F—-r!” when some asshole almost plowed over me in a grocery store parking lot not far from home.

So, despite the inherent problems that PTSD, insomnia and the other maladies I have incurred have caused me, the Deity Herself has also given them to me as a gift.  For which I am strangely grateful. Even a few months back I saw them as a curse, but now they have become a source of blessing.  Like Commander Spock might say to Captain Kirk after observing a human idiosyncrasy “fascinating Captain, fascinating.”

pub1It’s a Gift…Enjoy

I’m back on duty tomorrow for another overnight.  This will be a long week, 3 duty nights out of 5 work days.  Thankfully I will not have duty again for two weeks after Friday.

Peace, Steve+

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Filed under Baseball, Loose thoughts and musings, philosophy, PTSD, star trek

Interns and Residents Graduate while New Ones Arrive; Save #500 for Mariano Rivera and I Know Why the North Koreans are So Belligerent…They Don’t Have Baseball!

Well. I got back to work today and I’m glad to be back.  The trip to DC was really nice.  Having duty the first day back well, what can I say?  Tonight has been very busy but not too sporty yet, although I am wondering as the night has a weird feel, which a resident that I have worked with a lot feels too.  Hopefully we are just paranoid.  I wrote this at my dinner break and thankfully I picked relatively uncomplicated things to write about tonight, I had it done by the time the cardiac response pager went off following some meetings and early rounds and patient visits.  It’s about 2300 and I am just now sitting down to finish this prologue.

Today we graduated our Intern Class.  I have gotten to know a good number of these young physicians during the past year during their ICU rotation as well as when I have been on call throughout the house.  It was a privilege to be at the graduation at the invitation of the class leadership as I had been with them on their Dining Out back in April.  To have one more time with them before they go on to residency, the Fleet Marine Force or Sea Billets as General Medical Officers or Surgeons, as well as those selected to become Flight Surgeons or Diving Medical Officers assigned to Special Operations, Diving or EOD units was really nice.  Having spent a lot of time with many on the ICU I see the toll that the internship places on them and their families.  These young physicians have done well and will serve our Sailors and Marines, as well as Soldiers and Airmen and their families well.  Some will remain to complete residencies of various types and lengths, while those who do not initially get a residency will likely be on the front line of caring for our servicemen and women in harm’s way or on medical and humanitarian missions.  Some will end up with the Marines in Iraq or Afghanistan and others serve as the “Doctor” for a ship or Marine battalion often far from any immediate back up or specialty care.  I wish all of them the best.  We have also had residents leave us for new horizons.  Some will be going on to advanced fellowships while others will serve as staff physicians or surgeons throughout the world.   It has been great working with many of them in their final residency year.

While these young physicians are leaving us, we have some who will remain on as residents here or fellowships.  It will be good to continue to work with and get to know them over the coming years.  Now the fun part, we have a butt load of brand new Interns who are reporting to us as well as some Residents from other institutions or coming back from their tours in the Fleet.  I remember my time at civilian teaching hospitals where I served as a chaplain or did my residency.  Pastoral Care Residencies typically start in September or October which takes them out of the cycle that most residents or interns have in the medical community.  I hope that we will eventually have our program lined up so our new residents report the same time the physician internships and residencies begin and for our residents to have more interaction with them.  I think the latter will happen sooner than the first mentioned with things that we are in the process of instituting.  I really believe that the cross pollination of physician and pastoral care residencies will benefit both specialties as they meet at the intersections of healing, life and death, faith and spirituality.  Tonight when I have been greeting every new physician I see and introducing myself to them.  They come from quite a few interesting places and I hope to get to know them all pretty well.

Last night was a great event.  Yankees ace reliever and “closer deluxe” Mariano Rivera notched his 500th save.  He became the second pitcher to achieve this number as he shut down the New York Mets at Citi Park.  To some this may not seem too much of an accomplishment.  After all, the relief pitcher as a specialty and development of pitchers to serve in different relief roles is a relatively new part of baseball, really only going back to the 1970s.  Of course there were relieves before, but they had a limited role as starters often would pitch complete games.  Satchel Paige was an exception when he came to the Majors from the Negro Leagues spending most of his time in a relief role, and there are a few others but the reliever was in many cases a former starter who didn’t have the juice to pitch complete games later in their careers.  Rivera is a special breed even as a reliever.  He is a closer.  This means that when he comes in he is either trying to save the victory or stave off defeat.  He has to come in at a moment’s notice in any park, weather or situation often to deal with the heart of an opponent’s batting order.  He has the 500 saves and a career 2.29 ERA.  In the World Series he has 9 saves and a 1.16 ERA.  It gets better.  In the League Championship Series that he has pitched in he has 10 saves and a 0.97 ERA and in Division Series he has 15 saves and a 0.38 ERA.  Since the playoffs tend to have the better and more competitive teams in them so these are amazing statistics.  In the playoff he has 8 wins and only one loss.  At age 39 he shows no sign of letting up.

What makes a guy like Mariano so special is first that he is nearly unhittable and his very presence on the mound gives confidence to the Yankees and sends a message to their opponents.  He will if he has any say in the matter save or win that game even if he comes in early with the bases loaded and no outs in the 8th inning.  Rivera is like a really hot ER or ICU team that has to save a life when the situation is at the worst or if not that bad where it could get sporty.  I have always admired relievers who do the job well having had to go into a number of jobs where my predecessor both as a Medical Service Corps Officer in the Army or Navy Chaplain was fired.  That is no fun when you have to go pick up the pieces.  Relievers make their living doing this and Rivera has to be the best reliever who has ever lived.  To top it off he is regarded as a nice guy, a leader and one of baseball’s good guys.  And last but not least Mariano was not a “bonus baby.”  He came up as an undrafted free agent.  Some Trevor Hoffman fans may argue this point but the high intensity playoff game record speaks for itself.  Nobody does it better.  Someday Jonathan Papelbon may do so for the Red Sox, but he has many years to go before he hits 500 saves.  He has the advantage of starting his Major League career as a closer and already has as of the end of 2008 114 saves and a 1.84 ERA.  He is the real deal and hopefully will remain healthy.

Finally a closing thought for the night.  I have wondered for some time just why the North Koreans can be so bellicose and ill tempered.  They are threatening to incinerate us and upset that we have moved missile interceptors to Hawaii, like hello, Hawaii is 4000 miles away from North Korea.  Needless to say the whole bunch of nations in the neighborhood is not real happy with the Dictator named Kim. The Japanese are upping their readiness, the South Koreans sending folks to the border and talking of pre-emption and even the Chicoms and Russians are not real happy.  Some sources are even saying the Nutty North Koreans may launch and ICBM in our general direction around the 4th of July.  That would not be cool.

So like I said, I was wondering about what makes the North Koreans so ill tempered.  It finally came to me last week at Harbor Park when watching the Tides play the Pawtucket Red Sox.  There were scouts from the Korean Professional Baseball league in the stands as well as Japanese scouts and American scouts.  Then it hit me.  Baseball is big in South Korea and they are getting pretty darned good in international competition.  They are so good in fact that they have won the Olympic Gold Medal and finished second in the World Baseball Classic.  In contrast the North Koreans don’t have baseball.  If they had baseball they would be able to work off all that unhealthy stress and hatred, the Yin and Yang would come back into balance.  What if Kim Jung Il had played little league and high school ball?  Who knows he might be a manager in the Korean Leagues taking out all that anger on the umpires when they make a bad call or executing his closers when they fail.  The South Koreans have been blessed by the Deity Herself with Baseball and I do believe that this has to be the difference.  Even Communist Cuba is nowhere near as nutty as North Korea and this too I attribute to Baseball and Fidel having played ball himself.   Maybe we should instead of negotiators send Baseball players, scouts and instructors to North Korea?  It just might work. Look what McDonald’s and Coke did to the former Soviet Union….

Peace, Steve+

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Back form DC Duty Tomorrow

Back from our trip to DC celebrating our 26th anniversary. I have duty tomorrow. Post a couple of pictures into last night’s post. Looks like I am taking a night off from writing anything tonight.

Peace, Steve+washington monument

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Weekend in Washington-Reconnecting with Friends Family, Each Other and an Evening at the West Wing

1091At the Brady Press Room in the West Wing

Our anniversary weekend continues, tonight we have our behind the scenes tour of the White House.  Last night we had a wonderful reunion with my former Commanding Officer Colonel Mike Paulovich and his wife Janet.  Colonel Paulovich and I served together at Marine Security Force Battalion, when it was still called a battalion.  The unit was actually regimental size with subordinate units located in the United State, the Middle East, Guantanamo Bay Cuba and Europe with FAST (Fleet Anti-Terrorism Security Team) Platoons deployed in hot spots world-wide.  The Colonel was a great officer and should have been a Flag Officer.  He retired as the senior Marine Corps Officer and Professor of Ethics at the Naval Academy.  We have remained close over the years and have always had a special connection, to include that of our wives.  During our time together at Security Force Battalion we went through some incredibly difficult personal and professional times.  The battalion lost I think about 11 Marines while we were there due to all sorts of causes so we shared a lot of community grief as we saw our battalion through difficult times.

I never will forget the night that Colonel Paulovich called me on my cell phone saying he needed me.  I was at the ballpark and I knew things were bad for him to be calling me there, he too is a baseball fan and has great respect for the game.  When I got to the battalion I found that he had been involved in giving CPR to a Marine who had just checked into the unit that late that afternoon from an overseas command and had hanged himself within 30 minutes of checking in and getting his room.  That night I was with him and the other Marines who tried to save that young man’s life until about 0300 the next morning.  I was there when the Colonel’s father died and he was there when I found that my father had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. We shared many other difficult times together as well as good times.  We frequently travelled overseas together and I have never had a Commanding Officer any time or any where seek my advice on caring for people, support the ministry of his chaplain and ensure that I got to his Marines no matter where in the world they were.  Even more importantly he allowed me to be his Priest. Some of the places that we travelled together included Bahrain, Japan and Spain and a particularly memorable trip to England and Scotland where our Marines were doing exercises with the British Royal Marines.  We saw each other through good times and bad and it was such a pleasure to fellowship with both him and Janet over dinner and beer at the D.C. Chophouse.   I am so honored to have him as a friend and Judy to be a friend of his wife.

1094Outside the West Wing

This morning was a relaxing morning except for two things.  First, my tooth started acting up again and started hurting pretty bad.  I doubled up on one of my non-narcotic pain meds and slammed down some 800 mg. Motrin which made the pain bearable through most of the day.  It is starting up again right now so I will be hitting some more Motrin and Ultram this evening.  Then I read the details of our invitation to the White House and realized that we had not brought appropriate attire for Judy.  I looked up women’s clothing nearby and saw a Dress Barn. We started walking, unfortunately not being very familiar with the layout of the city I made a right turn rather than left coming out of the hotel.  After dragging Judy around having followed the advice of several residents and a store keeper we were nowhere near where we needed to be. I realized then that some people are clueless as to the layout of the city that they live in.  These people really had no clue; I’m surprised that they could find their way to their own toilet much less survive in the city.  Heck if I lived here I would know this place by heart within months because I have one of those phonographic memories you know. It was kind of like they were saying “go four blocks and if you pass Freddy the pan handler turn left and the street will be two blocks down” except that Freddy the pan-handler wasn’t on the corner and the street was the opposite direction from where the clueless person said that it was. Finally I knew that I was only torturing Judy by dragging her around.  I hailed a cab and said I need to go to Dress Barn on Connecticut Avenue Northwest.  The guy was great.  He knew where it was; he was friendly and dropped us off at the door.  An hour and $248 later we walked out of the store with a nice outfit and butt-load of other clothes.  Since I had not really gotten her much for the anniversary it was nice to do that for her, after all she tolerates all of my annoying habits and understands how to make sure that I don’t do anything to screw up my career. The ladies that helped us, Frieda and Mary were great.  If all people in retail were as friendly and helpful as these women there would be a lot more coming off the shelves even in the bad economy.

I guess one of the really cool things about this weekend is that we have not tried to fit too much into it.  It used to be that we would plan and schedule so much that although we were “together” there was no time for any kind of intimacy.  We would end up stressed out, tired and resentful of each other.  For once we decided just to be with each other and that has been way cool.  If there is any advice I can offer to couples be they young or old is to get to know each other again by not focusing on things which entertain and take up time but don’t bring you together.  Judy and I are wired differently, we have different interests, but we give each other the freedom to pursue those interests and encourage each other to fulfill our dreams.  At the same time we finally figured out that we have to take time with each other.  It took a quarter century to figure this out but we have finally been able to and the results have been amazing.

This evening we had our private staff guided tour of the West Wing of the White House.  My friend Mark, the Chief of Staff to the National Security Council had to be out doing a Navy Reserve Drill so his assistant Cindy took us around.  It was really cool seeing the Oval Office, the Roosevelt Room and a number of other historic places including the James Brady Press Room.  We were not able to see the Rose Garden on this trip as the President and his family was relaxing out there, but we did see the Presidential First Puppy “Bo” playing on the back lawn.  Hopefully we will get to meet the President on a future trip.  Since we have reason to come up here anyway it would be cool to get to meet him.  Everyone was great to us at the White House and we enjoyed our visit tremendously.

Tonight we went out with Judy’s cousin Becki to a Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant and will meet her again in the morning for breakfast before heading back home.  We stopped by her house which she bought when she moved her for her job with US Department of Fish and Game.  The house was a “fixer-upper” and Becki has been doing this with houses for a good amount of time.  She has already transformed much of the place which frankly looked like hell when she purchased it.  It was good to see her and Tucker her friendly little black cat.  It’s weird having a cat come when you call it, hell our first dog Frieda wouldn’t do that unless she thought it was in HER best interests.

Note: As I was getting ready to post I decided to load my SD card from my camera into my computer to retrieve my photos from the West Wing.  It looks like I have somehow got the damned thing jammed in and I can’t figure out either how to get the pictures off of it or how to get it back out. Since I want to save the card and not damage my computer I will try to figure this out when I am not tired and have some idea of what I might do to solve the problem.  So now the cool pictures inside the Press Room and at the entry reserved for official visitors will have to wait.  Be assured that they are cool and I will post them when I can. Gotta love technology sometimes….

So tomorrow we see Becki again for breakfast and head home.

Peace, Steve+

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Where were You When…? The Death of an Icon and Its Impact in Our Lives

Note: This post is one where I invite readers to share any memories they have of Michael Jackson’s death or other events that involved the deaths of cultural icons as well as significant events that either affected you or made a deep impact on your life or that of people that you know.  I will approve all comments except those identified as spam by WordPress.

The death of Michael Jackson yesterday was one of those events in life that when they occur leave a lasting impression on people. Even people who were not fans of Michael will remember because Michael Jackson was a cultural icon.  When icons die, or tragedies occur they tend to leave a lasting mark.  You can be talking to anyone and if they were alive when one of these events happened and quite a few or most people will be able to tell you exactly where they were and what they were doing at the time of the event.

I am 49 years old, though patently I don’t really look my age, nor do I act it.  Being that I am nearly half a century old it means that I have seen a fair amount of life.  Since I am passionate about life and a keen observer of life, society and culture being a historian as well as member of the Church of Baseball, Harbor Park parish I remember a lot.  I’m told by some that I have one of those phonographic memories.  You know the kind where you get a thought in your head and it keeps going and going round and round at 33 1/3 RPMs.  I will remember this because we had just arrived at the Capital Hilton and were preparing to go out for dinner with Judy’s cousin Becki at Murphy’s of DC to celebrate our anniversary.  I had just checked the news when I heard that Michael had been found down and was in cardiac arrest.  Since I have seen a lot of these cases roll into ERs that I have worked in I knew that Jackson had very little chance of coming out of this alive.  Most news sites were reported that he was getting CPR and had been taken to UCLA Medical Center.  Then I checked the website of Matt Drudge, the Drudge Report following a look at CNN.  I opened the page and Drudge’s trademark old fashioned police siren light was flashing and below it in red was “WEBSITE: JACKSON DEAD!” and had a link to the celebrity gossip site TMZ.  TMZ actually reported the death over an hour prior to most of the networks.  It also turned out that TMZ’s report was pretty accurate.  Later other sites began to announce the news pretty much confirming TMZ’s initial report. I saw the report on CNN as we walked to get a cab to the restaurant with Becki.  It was kind of surreal as Michael Jackson, despite his eccentric actions and nearly continuous controversy surrounding his life, was a larger than life figure.

So events like this get etched on people’s memories like images of the Virgin Mary on grilled cheese sandwiches or pizzas.  These have been reported by the faithful and offered for sale on E-bay so they must be authentic right? They are something that you reallymust  remember. Talking with Judy and Becki at dinner we began to recount where we were at different moments events over the past 30 years or so.   For me the events are often linked to other seemingly inconsequential events going on in my own life. As I have said before we have lived a life  much like the characters in the show Seinfeld so some of these things may not be as funny to you as they are for me.

Some of the things that I remember which stand out include the following events.  If you remember where you were at these events please feel free to comment or add your own in the comments section.  This is one of those rare times when almost everyone has a memory that surfaces because a current event triggers the memory of that particular event.

For me I’m going to first each back to is the assassination of the Reverend Martin Luther King on April 4th 1968.  That was strange because we lived in the little town of Oak Harbor Washington where my dad was stationed.  The town was small and isolated by being on an island.  We saw the news reports that night this time I believe we were watching NBC’s Huntley and Brinkley give the news. This was way before Cable news and so it took a while to get the story out.  As a little kid I was astounded that anyone could kill a minister and I knew that Dr. King was a leader in trying get blacks the same rights that whites enjoyed.  The next day our teacher at Oak Harbor Elementary School, Mrs. Jackson talked about it with us.  This was follow just two months later by the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy following his California Primary election victory.  I remember the news reports the next day and how upset that my parents were about his death.

The next event was Apollo 11 Moon landing, the “One small step for man, one giant step for mankind” moment on July 20th 1969 where Astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed the Lunar Module on the “Sea of Tranquility.”  I was a kid and on summer vacation still living in Oak Harbor.  We were at home watching Walter Cronkite report the event live when it happened.  That was an amazing event.

The next really big thing for me was the Marshall University Football team plane crash in Huntington West Virginia where at 7:35 Pm EST a Southern Airways DC-9 crashed into a hillside just short of the runway killing the team as well as numerous boosters, alumni and Huntington notables.  This was kind of person for us.  I had seen that team practice at the old Fairfield Stadium across the street from my grandparent’s house the previous spring before we returned to California to rejoin my dad after he had found us decent housing.  We were watching the evening news in Long Beach California when the local announcer interrupted the story he was working on and announced the crash.  My mom knew a number of people on the aircraft and was devastated.

I’m going to jump forward a bit, to the fall of Saigon on April 30th 1975.  This was a bitter day for me.  My dad had fought in Vietnam and I knew kids who had lost their fathers in the war.  I had experienced a Sunday School teach telling me that my dad was a “baby killer” for being in Vietnam in 1972 and I felt that we had let the South Vietnamese down and that it was the fault of those in the media, on the street and in Congress that had ensured that our men died in vain.  I think that was the point that I decided that I was going to enter the military.  I still cannot look at Jane Fonda and some of her fellow travelers without feeling a sense of anger.

Jumping again a few years I remember the fall of the Shah of Iran and the takeover of the US Embassy in Tehran by so called “students” on November 4th 1979.  The takeover which lasted 444 days began in my sophomore year of college.  The humiliation of the country and the poor response of President Jimmy Carter confirmed that I would enter the military after college.  I won’t forget the nightly updates on ABC hosted by Ted Koppel which became the long running show Nightline. I would stay up every night to get the updates.  When the hostages were released this was cause for celebration, but the damage was done.  Of course we saw the pro and anti-Ayatollah  protesters on our university, Northride a big business school responded to a pro-Ayatollah by driving the protestors off campus.  So much for riled up MBA students and Science geeks huh?

When Elvis died on August 16th 1977 I was a getting ready to enter my senior year of high school.  In fact only a week before I had won a copy of a blue vinyl copy of his last album Moody Blue in a local pop radio station give away.  I was on a church high school trip when the news came over the radio.  The man driving the car a real estate agent who was a deacon in the church started to cry, I mean like really cry almost like Middle Eastern mourning kind of crying.  As someone who is less expressive of such emotions being a Romulan at heart I was mildly taken aback, after all it wasn’t like they had dated or anything.  I had seldom seen men cry before and this was some pretty emotional stuff.  My mom had the same kind of reaction I discovered on my way home.  I guess it was the generation thing.  He was the icon of his generation and changed both the style and the performance of music.  It was Elvis that I immediately thought of when I first saw the news of Michael Jackson’s death.  I guess the fact that both were known as the “king”, that both died young and unexpectedly and that Michael was briefly married to Lisa Marie Presley makes their connection a bit stronger than otherwise expected.  I wonder if there will be stories that Michael is really dead or if it was staged to get him some privacy.  I’m sure that conspiracy theorists will be looking into this as both a death and a disappearance.  On a side note I visited Graceland in 1983 on my way to Fort Knox Kentucky and sat in the “pink Jeep.”  Judy had a Tonka pink Jeep when she was a kid.

The attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan on March 20th 1981 stands out.  I was a junior at cal State Northridge and was taking my lunch on the lawn outside of the office where I worked as a peer counselor.  I was getting ready to go to class as I watched to really good looking girls go walking by me talking.  I didn’t notice anything unusual until the past me and continuing to watch I noticed that each had their hand down the back side of the pants of the other one.  I had never seen this before.  Of course having grown up in California I knew homosexual men and I had heard of lesbians but this was the first time that I ever noticed women of that persuasion like doing some affection or foreplay in public.  Since then of course I have had many friendships with both male homosexuals and lesbians but this was one of those moments that sticks out in my mind.  Anyway, as I walked back into the office to grab my books for class the office TV was on announcing the attempted assassination and what I will never forget is watching retired General Alexander Haig as Secretary of State have a news conference where he stated “I’m in control.”  Of course he wasn’t the next in line and though he thought that he was he was not in control, even of himself that that point.  I don’t think that then Vice President George H.W. Bush was very impressed nor were the actuals in the line of succession.  So the shooting of President Reagan is intermixed with my first view of lesbian touching and seeing a General go out of control to be in control.  As Mr. Spock might say to Captain Kirk, “Captain I find this fascinating.”

In January 1985 I was a young company commander in Wiesbaden Germany.  The Space Shuttle Challenger with 7 Astronauts aboard blew up shortly after launch.  It was already the close of the business day in Germany when this happened.  I had the First Sergeant release the soldiers a bit early and set the duty, the Charge of Quarters, the Assistant and the Duty Driver.  I was staying late as always to take care of maintenance management and personnel reports when Specialist Lisa Dailey rushed into my office.  Lisa was the Charge of Quarters or CQ that day.  She knocked on my door and said “Sir the space shuttle just blew up.”  She had been watching it live on the new AFN broadcast of live stateside TV news broadcasts.  If I recall this was the time slot of the Today Show, and yes it was when there was only one AFN broadcast channel.  I looked up from my mountain of reports and said to her, “Specialist Dailey, space shuttles don’t blow up.”  And she said, no sir it just did, I was watching it and it is on TV right now.”  So I got up from my desk and walked at a brisk pace down the hall with my spun up specialist and looked on in horror as I saw a replay of the launch.   I was stunned as like I had told Lisa “space shuttles don’t blow up.”  However this one did and it was sobering.  I should have believed Lisa, she was a great soldier and the last time that I heard from her is doing well working as an RN in Southern California.  I had an eerie reprise of this when the Space Shuttle Columbia blew up on re-entry.  At the time I was waiting for the arrival of General Peter Pace who was to be our guest speaker at the Battle of Hue City Memorial Weekend in Jacksonville FL. He was delayed a couple of hours by an emergency meeting of the Joint Chiefs.

Fast forward a few years to the bombing by Libyan agents of Pam Am flight 103, the Clipper Maid of the Seas over Lockerbie Scotland, on December 21st 1988.  I had left active duty for seminary a couple of months previously and was engaged in a nearly futile job search in oil and real estate busted Texas.  I had completed the share of my morning futility mailing our more resumes, making more calls and picking up more job applications.  As always I would take a football out and punt it as far as I could to relieve the stress.  I had already found out that breaking things that you actually need when being accosted by bill collectors is not good a good way to deal with stress.  In today’s current economy I suggest anyone is such straits pick up a football and punt the crap out of it rather than taking anything out on home appliances, electronics or loved ones.  Eventually things will work out as sucky as they may seem now; the Deity Herself has assured me of this.  Anyway, back to the plane crash.  This really was weird for us because barely two years prior we had flown the same aircraft back from Germany when we were reassigned to the states.  We remembered this because then they showed the photo of the nose and cockpit area we saw the name of the aircraft.  I looked at Judy and said, does the name of that airplane look familiar?  If I recall correctly she said something like “Oh my God” and I said: “Remember back in Frankfurt when I saw the name of the aircraft prior to boarding?” and how “l liked the way Pan Am gave pretty names to its aircraft.”  It was funny because we both vividly recalled waiting for our flight and what we said about the aircraft.  That was totally weird and surreal almost like an X-Files thing as I thought back to details inside of the aircraft and the trip home from Germany.

We were in Fort Worth for the first bombing of the World Trade Center and the destruction of the Branch Davidian Compound outside Waco.  Both times I was at work and watched the events unfold on the televisions of our ministry’s television production department.  The Branch Davidian stand-off and attempted seizure of by Federal Agents used M-751 Combat Engineer Vehicles from my National Guard unit.  The vehicles were not manned by Guardsmen but Federal agents.  Later that summer I saw a couple of the vehicles which still had white paint scratches on them from the Branch Davidian building.   In 1995 I was home getting ready to go to work in Huntington West Virginia when the Murrow Federal Building was destroyed by Timothy McVeigh.

There are quite a few others that I could mention but will finish with the destruction of the World Trade Center twin towers on September 11th 2001.  I had finished a couple of counseling cases and put out some other brush fires as the Chaplain for Headquarters Battalion 2nd Marine Division.  Leaving my office for a belated PT session at the French Creek gym I was closing out my internet explorer.  On the Yahoo home page there was a small news line that said “Aircraft crashes into World Trade Center.” I shrugged and figured that some idiot private pilot had flown his aircraft into is by mistake and when out to my car.  I got in my 2001 Honda CR-V and some guy on the radio was blathering about it being an airliner and then I heard a chilling line that I will never forget. “Oh my God another aircraft has hit the second building.”  I went over to the gym and stood staring in disbelief at one of the TVs with a bunch of Marines and Sailors.  I shook my head, ran back to the office and changed over to my cammies and when to the Battalion Headquarters where we were informed of what the command knew and then set to work taking anti-terror precautions as no one knew what might happen next.  Camp LeJeune became a fortress.  There were checkpoints at key locations throughout the base.  Patrols were set up and we remained in lock-down for almost 4 days.  That is a day that I can never forget, over 3000 Americans and others killed by Islamic extremist terrorists out to ignite a world war.

So those are some of mine.  What about yours?  Feel free to add your posts here and get a discussion of these and other notable events including the death of Michael Jackson going.  It will be interesting to see and I will approve all posts to this article, excepting of course spam posts.

Peace, Steve+

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Always on the Road…Memories of a Marriage Spent Apart Together

anniverary 200926 Years Together: At Murphy’s of DC

The 1980s super-group Journey had a song called Faithfully. It is to this day one of my favorite songs for though it is about the life a travelling musician the lyrics are quite fitting for a military family.

Highway run
Into the midnight sun
Wheels go round and round
You’re on my mind
Restless hearts
Sleep alone tonight
Sendin’ all my love
Along the wire

They say that the road
Ain’t no place to start a family
Right down the line
Its been you and me
And lovin’ a music man
Ain’t always what it’s supposed to be
Oh girl you stand by me
I’m forever yours…faithfully

Circus life
Under the big top world
We all need the clowns
To make us smile
Through space and time
Always another show
Wondering where I am
Lost without you

And being apart ain’t easy
On this love affair
Two strangers learn to fall in love again
I get the joy
Of rediscovering you
Oh girl, you stand by me
Im forever yours…faithfully

Oh, oh, oh, oh
Faithfully, Im still yours
Im forever yours
Ever yours…faithfully

If your read yesterday’s post you know that we have only spent 10 of 26 anniversaries together.  In those years we have often been apart.  In fact a mere 3 ½ weeks after we started dating I left on a 3 month tour with a Christian singing group called the Continental Singers and Orchestra.  Fort those that have heard me sing there is nothing to fear as I was the spotlight tech.  In this position I got to sing along without anyone having to hear me as I trained my Strong Trouperette III spotlight on the various soloists and while in Europe on the whole group.  This continued on multiple occasions after we were married during my military career, periods of 6-9 months were common, once a 15 month separation with a three week period together.  From May of 1996 until August 2003 we spent 43 out of 63 months apart.  This did not include the period of my hospital residency and civilian hospital chaplain jobs working many second shifts and overnights in addition to National Guard and Army Reserve exercises, training, official travel or schools.  Of course this put strain on both of us yet somehow we survived.

It is in the times like these that you find out what you as a couple are made of.  Both of us are somewhat independent spirits and though both natural introverts have strong personalities.  At the same time we both see the world through a somewhat warped prism and both have strong senses of irony which is strange because I take my clothes that need pressing to the cleaners.  I think a lot of what besides the grace of God, which the Deity Herself has seemed to has given both of us a lot of, many times in spite of me.

In the course of our marriage we have lived quite a few places and of course I have been to even more.  We were married in Stockton California, aka “Mudville” of Casey at the Bat fame or more recently the birthplace of the drive by shooting and 2500 square foot two story suburban marijuana farms and the highest home foreclosure rate in the country.  Stockton is a great place to be from and a nice place to visit family.  If the economy wasn’t so sucky and the crime rate so high it would be a really awesome place to live only a couple of hours from the San Francisco and the Northern California coast, the Sierra Nevada Mountains and Lake Tahoe, the California Wine country, Redwood Groves, Yosemite and many historic or natural venues.

That rabbit chase we first set up house in a little town called Eckelhausen Germany in the Saarland when my first unit the 557th Medical Company (Ambulance) was based at a little Kaserne called Neubrücke.  Eckelhausen and Neubrücke  were ideal small bases in West Germany during the Cold War.  We lived off base in a small town overlooking a resort lake called the Böstalsee.  The town was so small that it only had a small Postamt (Post office) and one Gästhaus. The people spoke a strong dialect of German that approximated Appalachian English.  Not long after settling there the unit was moved to Wiesbaden, the state capital of Hessen.  We got our first dog in Wiesbaden, the little Wire Haired Dachshund named Frieda, or sometimes “Dammitt Frieda” or simply “little shit.”  In Wiesbaden The Deity presumed to started meddling in my life and renewing a call to ministry that I knew that I had back before I went on tour with Continentals.  I successfully parried the Deity’s call until we moved to San Antonio Texas when I was the Adjutant of the Academy Brigade of the Academy of Health Sciences.  This was where the Deity really began to rain on my parade and Judy of course was affected as well.  She was supportive of the call to ministry and what we hoped would be the Army Chaplaincy, but really had not signed up for this.  She had in fact signed up to be the wife of a regular active duty officer who would spend 20 or so years in and retire at a comfortable pay grade.  Nope, the Deity had other plans.

Seminary as I hinted in other posts was hell for us.  We lost pretty much everything and it was only the grace of God and the people of God who saw some glimmer of hope in me that we made it through.  Now true, I worked my ass off in school and always at least one job plus the National Guard, often more than one job.  We saw what only can be described as miracles as we fought our way through seminary.  Those are enough themselves for another post.  We did seminary in Fort Worth Texas and lived there and in the Mid-Cities of Hurst-Euless-Bedford.  The entirety of seminary and my hospital residency was spent at the poverty line and we often didn’t know where the next meal, tank of gas or tuition payment would come from.  We then moved to Huntington West Virginia where I was a full time contract hospital Emergency Department Chaplain following my residency.  We thought that Huntington would be the final stop as it was the city and area that my family came from, I being the first born on the West Coast.  That changed in June 1996 when I was mobilized the support the Bosnia Operation.  When that happened my contract was terminated and another minister of the Pastoral Care Department’s Chief was hired.  After the 9 month deployment I went on very little notice for 6 months at Fort Indiantown Gap PA.  This morphed into a civilian position during the transition of the base from the Active Army to the Pennsylvania Army National Guard.  This position was a yearlong and I was able to move Judy up with me.  Following this it was back to unemployment and poverty in Huntington.

That changed in December 1998 when I was offered the chance to become a Navy Chaplain.  Now mind you back in our courtship Judy said that she would not marry me if I joined the Navy, so I did it without consulting her.  Now men this is not a smart move, if I had asked her nicely and explained things she probably would have signed off on it.  However, like an idiot I nearly blew the marriage apart by doing it my way.  I wanted to go back on active duty and the Army told me that I was too senior to go back on active duty.  It was like I declared free agency and was picked up by another team, like going from the American League to the National League.  It was nearly 8 months later that Judy finally relented and moved to Swansboro North Carolina with me.  I really don’t blame her, she had a life and friends in Huntington, in fact far more than me and to move was painful and what I did by not being gentlemanly and asking her was both unfair and stupid.  It is my biggest regret in our marriage. At the same time Judy rapidly adapted to the life of a Navy Chaplain on a Marine Corps base and even at a Chaplain wives meeting helped break into the chapel so that it could be set up for the meeting when a Religious Program Specialist did not show to open it up.  Never underestimate a Navy wife and her best friend and evil twin, though they might contest which one is actually the “evil” twin.

From Swansboro and Camp LeJeune we went to Mayport/Jacksonville Florida where I was chaplain of a guided missile cruiser.  I arrived just prior to deployment and Judy remained in North Carolina until I returned.  This was kind of funny because I was calling the US looking for an apartment from a port call in Croatia.  Making a call I found out that the place I wanted had already been rented.  I can’t remember my exact words when I got this news but be assured that they were a colorful metaphor.  I called Judy totally disappointed on to find it was she who had scored the apartment.  Our stay in Jacksonville was only about 13 months after the deployment ended when we moved to the Hampton Roads area.  It finally looks like we are in the place we will stay after the Navy.

Judy has been with me across country, and a lot of places in Europe to include Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg, France, Spain and the UK. She made it to East Berlin as well as Guantanamo Bay Cuba.  We have met many people and seen many interesting things.  Likewise we have experienced the reality of God’s grace in our lives.

Ours has been strange journey to say the least, but every day I know that it is worth it.  Today we had or 26th wedding anniversary.  We drove to DC.  One of the cool things was that Judy is trying out a pair of new hearing aids, which she hopes that Tricare will purchase when the time comes due.  The hearing aids are remarkable.  For the first time in her life she can hear words in songs played on a radio or stereo.  She can hear conversations going on behind her without having to look and she has heard for the first tie sounds like the letter “S” a pen scratching on paper, rain dripping down a drain spout and the richness of her guitar.  It has been quite an emotional day for her.  She is continuing to notice the nuances of sound and every so often she is overcome with all that she has missed over the years.  One of the things that she is discovering as she hears the lyrics to songs for the first time without having to read them is that I am a hopeless romantic.  A lot of my CDs are compilations of my favorite songs, many of which were picked with Judy in mind.   It was quite an emotional ride for both of us as she really experienced what is that hearing people hear on a daily basis.

She is beginning to write about in on her blog, the Abbey Normal Abbess which is on my links menu.  We would both appreciate your prayers as Tricare eventually makes the decision as to whether she will get them.  Tonight we had dinner with Judy’s cousin Becky who works for the US Department of Fish and Game Law Enforcement at Murphy’s of DC.  While on the way there we heard that Michael Jackson had died quite unexpectedly not long after Farrah Fawcett had passed away from Cancer earlier in the day.  I guess that we will remember this anniversary.

Anyway, it has been a long day.  Judy has passed out a while ago and it is time for me to get some sleep.

Peace and blessings,

Steve+

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The Eve of 26 Years of Marriage

Judy WeddingJudy on our Wedding Day

“Baseball and marriage have much in common. Both are a team effort. You can’t play baseball by yourself. You need others and have to get along with them. Marriage needs a partner. If marriage reaches a point where getting along is not possible, the marriage is over.”  Peter Griffiths in the Daily Herald 1982

Today is our wedding anniversary eve, in fact our 26th anniversary.  It was cool that we got to spend it together; this has not always been the case.  Tonight the Deity Herself smiled upon us as on a beautiful night we watched our Norfolk Tides defeat the Pawtucket Red Socks 4-2.  Tomorrow we start a 4 day road trip to Washington DC to celebrate our anniversary which will be topped off by a behind the scenes tour of the White House on Saturday Night arranged by a friend who I baptized on the way to Iraq, who is now on the National Security Council.   His staff has bent over backward to make this happen and we are blessed.  We will also see my old Commanding Officer from Marine Security Force Battalion, or now as it is called the Security force Regiment and his wife who are coming down from Annapolis to meet us Friday night.

So 26 years, as Jerry Garcia would say it has been a long strange trip.  We met almost five years before we were married at San Joaquin Delta College.  We got to know each other by hanging out between classes with mutual friends.  In fact the things we did were almost like Seinfeld before Seinfeld came on.  It was a relationship initially based on nothing, except that I had a Dorothy Hamill fetish and Judy had short brown hair.  We started dating about 7 months after we met.  We were co-conspirators at the Delta College German club where our German candy and bake sales were legendary, racking up huge profits for the club which enabled us to fund our own field trips to San Francisco and Monterrey.  Our political prowess was also unmatched, as a small club we had few votes in student government which at the time was dominated by a rather large and active ethnic club.  This club was a bit pushy the way it handled itself, so we cobbled together a coalition of the language, science and other kind of “nerdy” clubs, funded our candidate with our sales receipts, even passing our free candy on his campaign materials.  He had an ethnic name and we used it to our advantage, we convinced a lot of people that our friend Tory was one of the other ethnic club’s candidates.  We used his first name “Salvatore” in our advertising.  This caused a split in the voting allowing our stealth candidate from an Asian club to become student body President.  I guess had we had the wherewithal to pursue politics as a couple we might have been quite good, as both of us have pretty good instincts and I happen to be rather analytical and calculating at times.  As it were this was the high point of our political career but our relationship was solidified as we shared in taking German club from a poor club of nerds to a campus economic and political powerhouse of nerds.

Me and Judy DormUs in 1980 at Cal State Northridge

We grew together over the years of our courtship playing off of our mutual twisted sense of humor and our faith.  I followed Judy down to Cal State Northridge and a week after I was commissioned we got married at our home Church, East Side Presbyterian Church in Stockton.  The eve of the wedding my ROTC friends took me out and tried to get me drunk, but I survived.  The wedding itself was on a shoestring as Judy’s dad was out of work and her mom not working and playing well with others.  Everything came together and our wedding looked like it cost a lot more than it did.  We spent the next two weeks together before I went on active duty and Judy finished her last semester of college.  We finally settled in Eckelhausen Germany, a tiny little town in the Saarland in April 1984 and lived in Germany for most of the first three years of our marriage.

Now as to anniversaries that we have spent together and apart; this is what makes 26 pretty special.

Wedding 1Wedding Day 25 June 1983 East Side Presbyterian Church

In 1984 I was in Landstuhl Army Medical Center dehydrated from a 2 week bout of gastroenteritis where I was so sick I was vomiting my anti-nausea medicine.  I had lost almost 20 pounds and my company commander wouldn’t believe that I was sick until I threw up on his desk. It was his fault, I told him I was going to throw up and he told me that I had to stay.  Oh well, that got me a ride in a Mercedes-Benz Ambulance to Landstuhl.  In 1985 and 1986 I was in the field with my company.  We were together in 1987 and 1988 in San Antonio, but from 1989-1997 we did not spend a single anniversary together due to military duties.  We spent 1998 together but missed 1999 and 2000 after I came in the Navy.  We got 2001 one together, but just barely as I returned from deployment a week before it.  We missed 2002 as I was deployed to the Middle East and finally got 2003 together when we renewed our vows in Jacksonville Florida.  2004-2007 we celebrated on the road doing trips to minor league baseball games out of our area in either Pennsylvania or North Carolina.  Last year we were together but I was not doing well having hit bottom with my PTSD about 100 or so days after returning from Iraq.  So with this history in mind you can understand why this is special.  We are 10 for 26 counting tomorrow.  If we were a baseball team our record would be somewhere between the Indians and Nationals on a winning percentage at .386.  However, if we were a hitter we would have a 386 batting average and that is not too shabby.

We have survived poverty and war, separation and tremendously difficult circumstances and we are still hanging on, and doing pretty good as a couple.  We were never able to have children but we have had three really fun dogs, the latest of which, Molly, is looking over my shoulder as I write this now.  We are different in the way that we are wired differently and have some different interests.  We are both introverts with often strong opinions.  But we love each other.  I only came close to having her divorce me once, though murder may have played into her mind a time or two.

So here we are…26 years with a 10 and 16, .386 record.  Even so Judy is the love of my life and we are together.

Take care and blessings,

Peace, Steve+

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Filed under Baseball, Loose thoughts and musings, philosophy, PTSD

Padre Steve gets An Emergency Root Canal and inducted into the Gordon Biersch “Stein Club”

This is for all of those who just love going to the dentist.  I have included links to Steve Martin’s “Dentist Song” from the “Little Shop of Horrors” and Rowan Atkinson as “Mr Bean” going to the dentist for some laughs.

steve martin dentistSteve Martin in Little Shop of Horrors….too much like my own Dr Mengele

I believe that most people have at least one horror story from going to the dentist. Even Judy, the Abby Normal Abbess who loves going to the dentist has one story where she had a tooth drilled and filled without anesthetic when the Army dentist refused to give her a topical.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bOtMizMQ6o

When I was a kid we lived in Oak Harbor Washington. My dad was stationed at the Naval Air Station and as a young grade school kid I got to pay a visit to the local dentist, in fact if I recall the only civilian dentist in town at the time.  Back in those days when a “baby” toot came out the “Tooth Fairy” would leave a quarter or fifty cents under the child’s pillow.  It was a pretty cool deal.  Lose a tooth get money new tooth grows back in.  Unfortunately back then in the days before fluorinated water or great detail education kids got lots of cavities.

Now in our town we had I think only one dentist.  Active duty people went to the Navy Dentists on base, but dependants went to civilians.  Back in those days dentistry was one step above being a KGB interrogator.  It was painful, and if perchance you had a dentist with a mean streak it could be really really ugly.  This happened to be the case in our sleepy little town where Dr. Josef Mengele had disguised himself and entered the dentistry field.  Our little Dr. Mengele was a tad bit on the cruel side.  The guy, to use the Steve Martin Little Shop of Horrors dentist terminology “got off on the pain he’s inflict.”  Of course this was in the days before topical anesthetics.  Dr. Mengele would make sure that the gleaming steel syringe was visible all the way into your mouth and drive it in hard.  After inflicting the maximum amount of pain possible he would go away and wait for the anesthetics to wear off.  As they lost their potency he would come back in, pull the start cord on his gas powered drill,…no not really he would start playing with the drills and drill bits in front of my terror stricken eyes waiting for the very moment the anesthetics to wear off to begin to drill, using what I am sure were 1930s vintage drill bits.  As I, and other kids down the hall screamed bloody freaking murder he would drill in hard.  In fact he wouldn’t waste an opportunity.  When we were about to leave town when dad was transferred Dr. Mengele took one last shot and found five “new” cavities.  By the time I was done even the sound of any drill would send chills down my spine and cause my heart to race…this remained the case for well over 20 years and it took several really good guys and gals who served as dentists to help me get ver what was by Junior High School a nearly pathological aversion to dentists.  The turning point was when I was a student at Cal State Northridge back in 180 and had to have an emergency root canal when a nerve abscessed under some of Dr. Mengele’s work.  I went to Dr. Brent Meinhart DDS who happened to have a sign that read “painless dentist” on his door.  I was not impressed and could not believe that this could be the case.  However, the pain that was rocketing through the top of my skull convinced me that even if the good doctor was lying about this painless crap that something needed to be done.  To my surprise and bewilderment the man and his staff worked to make this as painless as possible.  He did such good work that nearly 30 years later the root canal, restoration and crown still amaze other dentists with their quality and longevity.  I have been very lucky in that I have had no new cavities since before high school and only work to repaired badly done fillings from my childhood, many put there by Dr Mengele.

Mr-Bean-DentistMr Bean at the Dentist

Mr. Bean at the Dentist: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=abJyp4bAi0I

So what this, why me, why now?  Right?  Here’s the deal.  A molar of mine began to hurt a few days back.  By yesterday evening it was throbbing like a bass player in an AC/DC concert.  I knew that my streak of great dental health had be hit hard.  Today I went to our dental clinic at the medical center where I spent the next five hours.  A lot of this was because the dentists needed to consult each other as the injury to my tooth was relatively complicated, a fracture ran through it from top to bottom.  The nerve was beginning to abscess and I knew that this could not be good.  During the time where staff was trying to figure out which tooth was the offending one, I issued several blood curdling screams which were heard throughout the department.   After what seemed like unending consults by a number of specialists a root canal was decided upon although one dentist wondered if the tooth was even salvageable.  They went to work, killed the tooth and killed and not a moment too soon after soon.  The dentist who actually did the work as well as the techs discovered during this time that I was the screamer.  Thankfully these works worked very hard to ensure that I was as comfortable as possible during the procedure and were not like old Dr. Mengele at all.   Now I still have a couple more appointments to finish this adventure, but from the experience I had today I know that it will not be as bad as the examination yesterday.  Thankfully the good dentists that worked on me worked hard to make a painful procedure much more bearable.  Dentistry has come a long way since the days of Dr. Mengele.  God bless the folks who worked on me.

Anyway, tonight I was inducted into the Gordon Biersch “Stein Club.”  That is kind of like the local micro brewery hall of fame.  However, that is a story for another day.

Peace, Steve+

Mr. Bean at the Dentist: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=abJyp4bAi0I

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Love Poverty and War…Suffering and Death… Christian Theology meets Reality in the Intersections of Life

“An antique saying has it that a man’s life is incomplete unless or until he has tasted love, poverty, and war.”  Christopher Hitchens

“You have not done Christian Theology until you have dealt with suffering and death” Yandall Woodfin

I deal with life in the intersection where theology has to deal with uncomfortable and often troubling questions.  When I first heard my Philosophy of Religion Professor at Southwestern Baptist make the statement that “you have not done Christian Theology until you have dealt with suffering and death” I was somewhat offended.  This was back in 1989 when I was still somewhat idealistic and believed what really popular preachers on radio and mega-churches said.  Now I can never say that I was completely in agreement with the “name it claim it, grab it stab it, God owes me and will bless me because I did…” pop-theology of the theological lightweights masquerading as teachers, preachers and prophets.  While I did not espouse it the view was prevalent in the churches that I was part of, in fact I choose Southwestern Baptist as a school because it did not tow that party line.  I just never expected my professors across the board in the School of Theology to be as nuanced and balanced as Dr. Woodfin and the others who helped give me my theological formation.

In seminary I developed a very good theological understanding and life hermeneutic that was far closer to Anglicanism or the reformers of the Second Vatican Council.  In fact it was theologians like Hans Kung, Yves Congar and Alistair McGrath as well as Jurgen Moltmann and Wolfhart Pannenberg who helped me in that.  Additionally the writings of Dietrich Bonheoffer, Emil Brunner and Henri Nouwen were influential as I developed my theological and spiritual life.  I was also thrust into the world of the Ante-Nicene Fathers of the Church, spending a semester of Systematic Theology studying and writing about Polycarp of Smyrna.  It was studying these contemporary theologians as well as the Church Fathers that I discovered Christian Theology at the intersection and it was Dr. Woodfin’s remark that caused me to really question the modern “theologians of glory.”  It is plainly obvious that this was in the day before the Baptist Taliban under Mullah Paige Patterson took the place over.  That was the time when it was a world class seminary and not just a pretty good Bible school.

It was the fact that even though I was in seminary life was really sucky.  Nothing went right.  Instead of the obvious “blessing of God” it seemed that we were cursed.  We had lost our home, cars, and were destitute.  I was working two and three jobs while Judy was sick and unable to work.  We lived in a hell hole on the east side of Fort Worth Texas, frequently featured on the TV show COPS.   One night in desperation I called the Terrible Blonde Network (TBN) for prayer.  For my trouble I was told that it was obvious that God was not calling me to ministry otherwise he would be blessing us.  That was a watershed experience and I rejected that idea on the spot.  It made me mad as hell that a well meaning but ignorant volunteer prayer partner would judge me in such a way.  When I went to work later at a TV ministry doing counseling, especially to broken pastors I never forgot that experience.  I realized that what the lady said and what many people that I knew espoused was God-babble bullshit.  The pastors that I talked to every week were suffering, often at the hands of the alleged people of God and even other ministers.  It was obscene.

So anyway, back to the subject of this article…yes I chased a rabbit there and it was intentional.  I had a New Testament Professor whose “rabbits” were often pastoral and theological gems.  That may not be a gem but it was a rabbit worth chasing.

Hitchens, a pretty strident atheist has some pretty good observations about how some religious people including modern Christian icons have been pretty poor examples.  Now he can be biased but his bias is balanced by the Orthodoxy espoused by his brother Peter.  Hitchens’ comment based on the writings of antiquity is quite true.  Until a man or for that matter a woman has experience love, poverty and war their life experience is incomplete.  As a personal testimony, I can say “AMEN!” I know this to be true.  I am married to the love of my life and our marriage has endured suffering, sickness, death, poverty and war.  We have in baseball terminology “hit for the cycle.”  While I have understood this I had never seen it in writing until I saw Hitchens’ book.  The theme of love, poverty and war is rich in ancient writings including the Bible.  It is also thematic in many cultural rituals around the world.  The warrior who loves his family endures poverty; usually famine or plague induced and then goes out to fight invaders.  If they win they come home to their loved ones victors who have protected home and hearth.  It is much like the movie Braveheart where William Wallace leads a campaign against the English who have invaded Scotland.  If they lose, there is the strong possibility that they will be slaughtered and their families enslaved.  The annals of the Punic Wars are rich in this theme as is the life of King David who knows love, poverty based on being a fugitive on more than one occasion and his life as a warrior.

I think this is true in the modern era as well.  Western culture based on consumerism and material wealth has been insulated from the depths of abject poverty, one only need place a poverty and famine stricken resident of almost any third world country who is deposited in a poor American city or town and ask him if he sees poverty.  If he does it will not be material poverty but one where love and community are missing.  If he goes up the street to the well off part of town he may be dazzled by the opulence but appalled by the loneliness of many people.  Western nations following the end of the Second World War and the recovery from it have not known the depths of poverty.  This may be changing now unless we can pull our economy out of the abyss that it seems perched upon, but even still at least so far the last couple of generations in the west have not known poverty as a whole.

Likewise the question of the experience of war for the modern person is one that is not experiential.  War in the west is now fought largely by military professionals while most of the nation’s population lives in the shadow and protection of their military prowess.  At one time with the draft war was experienced by all parts of the population in the west.  Today it is not and with that lack of experience there is a void, men and women have not discovered either how to live for something or die for something bigger than themselves.  One of the things that chafes my hide is when I hear ministers who have never served a day in uniform don a set of BDUs or Dessert Camouflage and preach a sermon on spiritual warfare. Sorry, that is a sham and the big TV guys who have done this should apologize to men and women who have been in combat and in harm’s way.  I once had a bishop in my church, who is no longer in his communion do an article about spiritual warfare trying to apply “principles” of Carl Von Clausewitz about war without ever really reading or understanding Clausewitz.  The treasure of Clausewitz is in his “principles” but in his understanding of the human condition brought about by his Lutheran faith, the Enlightenment and his experience of Prussia’s defeat and occupation by Napoleon followed by her recovery.  I was appalled by what my ex-bishop wrote and embarrassed for the church should any real soldier or military leader pick it up and read it.  Things like these show how little many religious leaders, or for that matter political leaders understand the human condition, life, love and war.

Dr. Woodfin was more right right than about anyone I have ever heard when he that we have not done Christian Theology until we have dealt with suffering and death. When you see innocents killed, children suffering from famine, war and disease.  When you have seen the bodies of young men and women who have died senseless deaths and when you have looked at a mother who has lost a child you begin to understand.  You begin to see the Cross.  An innocent man executed, a guilty man go free.  When you see friends and companions abandon their teacher and friend, a governor who knows a man is innocent be put to a brutal and agonizing death,  and a mother looking up at a cross where her son hangs and cries “My God my God, why have you forsaken me?” When you see these things you have to deal with the reality of where the Christian faith intersects the cold reality of our world.  It is as Alistair McGrath calls it, “life under the cross.”

I dare any of our modern digital era “theologians of glory” to enter this world, but most will not.  In fact they will continue to sell the sad sack of theological excrement that they call the Gospel to adoring crowds who will eventually discover that they have been sold a lie.  Many leave the faith while others take their place looking for “their” promised miracle, “their” blessing and their health, wealth and fortune.  Like the Catholic indulgence sellers of Martin Luther’s era, such “ministers” are blight on the Christian faith and for all of their “success” power and popularity have done more harm to the faith than benefit.  John Tetzel, Luther’s protagonist would tell people when collecting indulgences “A penny in the coffer rings, a soul from Purgatory springs.”  Today’s modern peddlers of pious poop promise “your prosperity grows when into our ministry you sow” or a “vow you make today God is bound to repay.”

Having seen this in real life when people buy the lie and end up devastated when “God” doesn’t come through for them, or when a well meaning but ignorant person tells them some horse shit about how God is not blessing them because….I want to scream.  I once had a pastor in a large evangelical and charismatic church which believed in “signs and wonders” tell the congregation about a conversation that he had with a parishioner who had been in the hospital and not been visited by him or the staff.  The parishioner, who gave a sizable amount of money to the church asked” “How sick do I have to be to get a hospital visit from you?”  The pastor, a nice guy laughed as he recounted his response.  “You don’t want to be that sick.”  The congregation laughed and I about cried as I was immersed in daily tragedy and trauma and Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas.  I knew too many people be abandoned by their pastors in a city consumed with powerful pastors as churches to believe that they were a priority for those suffering.

The truth is that many pastors and for that matter many people want to avoid dealing with suffering and death at any cost. Whole industries are built around the worship of youth and beauty and a culture, including the churches lift their heads to the sky for God’s blessing while avoiding the suffering around them.  There are pastors and parishioners who by the boatload have been thrown from the “Barque of the Church” because they either failed or did not have enough “faith”

Such is not the Gospel nor is it Christian in any way shape or form.  It is no wonder that so many have abandoned the faith when all they see on TV are the modern digital theologians of glory who bask in fame and fortune while adding to the rejection, alienation and despair of those who believed them to actually be telling the truth.

Love, poverty and war, suffering and death, where the Christian faith meets these in the intersection is where new life can begin for it is only through the agony of the Cross that we know the resurrection.

Peace, Steve+

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Duty, Death, Dads, Day Games and Details

I seem to be getting ever more creative in my tiredness.  Today has been and still continues to be pretty busy.  I swapped duty with another Chaplain and have spent the day here at the Medical Center.  It has been busy and at times sporty.  It has also been a day where I have had my own struggles.  This is the first Father’s Day that I have not been able to talk to my dad whose condition  continues to slowly worsen from end stage Alzheimer’s disease at a nursing facility. I have been going strong most of the day with a lull during the afternoon which I was able to take advantage of for some self care.  Tonight between rounds as well as patient and staff care I have not stopped.  It is getting close to midnight, I know we have another coming to the ICU, so I decided to sit down, and write.

I took the duty and no sooner had the chaplain that I relieved left my office the pager went off.  It was a call to go to our Neo-Natal Intensive Care Unit or NICU.  There was a 6 day old baby dying.  I had met mom and grandmother the day after the child was delivered.  She was a beautiful child but had genetic abnormalities that most expected that she would die from shortly after birth.  She was a tough little kid, but finally gave up the ghost today.  I was there and mom asked if I would baptize her, which I did and then commended her to the Lord as she passed away in her mother’s arms. While there I was told about another very sick baby who might not live long.

Sunday duty also entails doing the Protestant worship service if you are not a Roman Catholic Chaplain.   Chaplains do the service from their faith tradition.  Since my church is more on the catholic side of Anglican I use the rite out of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer as we have these on hand at our chaplain and the rite is our provisional liturgy.  I have come to like it over the years.  Our congregation is primarily military retirees and sailors or civilian workers who are on Sunday duty as well as patients who come down.  The service is broadcasted on the closed circuit television system to patient rooms.  Today we had a decent crowd and it was a good service, expect for the time my pager went off in the middle of my homily and I had to dig it out from underneath my Alb, Stole and Chasuble.  My organist took it to the duty RP (Religious Programs Specialist) who contacted the caller while I finished the homily and the Eucharist.

The caller happened to be our Labor and Delivery Unit who needed me to come up and pray with a young mother to be and her parents as she got ready for a C-section.  This went well and I found out later as I rounded this evening that everything went very smooth and that mother and baby are doing fine.  After checking around the hospital I was able to go over to Harbor Park as it is within the 30 minute response time required of our chaplain duty on weekends.  Weekdays we spend the night, weekends staying in house is optional if you live under 30 minutes away.  I live on the cusp of this and on the wrong side of a bridge tunnel so I remain in house during the weekend.

Since I ave my season ticket I went to the ballpark in my cargo shorts and replica Tides orange jersey and black cap which sport’s the Tides away logo.  The Tides as I noted yesterday have been in the “June Swoon.”  Thankfully their closest competitor, the Durham Bulls have been doing even worse.  Today against the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs, the AAA affiliate of the Philadelphia Phillies.  Lehigh Valley had taken the first two games of the series.  Today though was different, the Tides got a lead and held it.  The players seemed both more relaxed and focused than they have been lately.  Troy Patton, Chris Ray, Bob McCrory and Jim Miller combined for the victory, Patton getting the win and Miller getting the save.  Jeff Fiorentino hit his 5th home run as well as a ground rule double and a single scoring all four Tides runs.  Most of the game I spend talking life and baseball with Elliott the usher.

As soon as the game was over I raced back to the hospital changed back into uniform and began rounds.  These were long and extended as there were still a number of staff who needed to discuss the events that have shaken us here the past couple of weeks as well as a number of calls to either take care of staff members or patients.  Most of these have not been simple “will you pray for me” kind of stuff but major life and death, emotional or spiritual crisis involving staff, family and patients.  Thus I am pretty tired but please that I can be around.  We’ll see how the rest of the night goes.  I do hope to catch a bit of sleep.

This was also Father’s Day.  As I said it is the first that I have not been able to talk with my dad since 2002 when deployed to the Persian Gulf and off Pakistan.  I have mentioned my Dad’s Alzheimer’s disease before and he does continue to worsen, but keep hanging in there.  Dealing with the family of a retired Navy Chief in the ICU brought back memories of dad tonight.

And now to details.  I was told that the Navy Times scandal sheet had published an article on Admiral Baker not getting his second star, something that I wrote about in the last section of last night’s post.  The article gives details from the Inspector General report.  The link to the article is here:

http://www.navytimes.com/news/2009/06/navy_chaplain_061909w/

This is a sad time for the Navy Chaplain Corps and for Admiral Baker and his family.  His long and distinguished career has been tainted by what was discovered in the report. Please pray for him and the Chaplain Corps as we navigate these difficult times.

Peace, Steve+

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