Category Archives: things I don't get

The “Eyes” have it; they’ve got Sammy Davis Eyes….an Experience from My Clinical Pastoral Education Residency

Sometimes you gotta wonder about people, especially some religious people.  Of course we can all probably relate to some incident where someone with their religious beliefs led to somewhat unusual situations, funny or tragic situations.  Of course when you work as a the Trauma and Surgery Department Chaplain at a major inner city Level One Trauma Center like Parkland Memorial Hospital the unusual the funny and the tragic can all be wrapped into one or maybe two.  Such an occasion occurred about halfway through my residency year at Parkland in March 1994.

About a quarter into my residency my Clinical Pastoral Care Residency Supervisor moved me from the Internal Medicine service to Trauma, Surgery and Neurosurgery service which included the Trauma and Surgery section of the Emergency Department, before they began their Emergency Medicine Residency and unified the ER.  We saw lots of trauma, back then we had six fully equipped trauma rooms as well as about 50 other beds of various types in the Surgery section of the ER.  The Medicine Section had three fully equipped Cardiac Resuscitation rooms, numerous telemetry beds and about 60 addition beds and rooms of various types and specialties.  When things got sporty as they often did additional beds were used in side halls for patients with minor injuries which sometimes included minor gunshot wounds.  It was often the case that every trauma and cardiac room would be full sometimes with multiple “codes” going on.  We saw about every kind of injury imaginable on the surgery side of the house and in the course of my residency year I dealt with well over 300 deaths in the hospital.  That may sound like a lot but back then Parkland was a 940 bed hospital that was usually running 90-100 percent of capacity and it had eight Intensive Care Units dealing with some of the worst trauma in the US.  The most death calls I dealt with in one night was eight and if I left the hospital dealing with 2 deaths or less I considered it an easy day but I digress….I think I was talking some unusual, funny and tragic situations come together.

Well like I said about halfway through my residency I was hanging out in the Surgery ER about 10 AM on Saint Patrick’s day.  The morning had been busy with the usual bevy of motor vehicle accident victims from the rush hour and had died down.  It was then that the Dallas County EMS brought in a young man on a gurney who was taken to trauma room 6, the one in the back corner directly across from the “Presidential Suite” which was always cordoned off by the Secret Service when the President was in town.

The situation didn’t seem that interesting at first as I did not see the young man’s face but he appeared to be stable and since I was spending time with one of the nurses who had dealt with a patient in pretty bad shape from one of the MVA’s I waited to check things out. About 15 minutes later I wandered down to the trauma room and saw some of the Ophthalmology docs looking at the young man’s face peeking under the gauze 4×4 that covered his left eye and shaking their heads.  When I walked into the room a good number of staff looked at me, some with expressions of horror, and others amusement and still others just weirded out.  So I asked what was going on.  One of the Surgery residents answered and said that the young man had been doing crack cocaine and reading the Bible.  So I said “you mean the “if your eye offends you pluck it out” verse?” And the resident said that’s the one.  I looked at the young man and saw a large black Bible on his chest clasped in his hands. One of the Ophthalmology doctors looked at me and asked “Is that really in the Bible?”  I said “oh yeah, you want to read it?” He said yes and a number of his colleagues nodded in agreement.

Now the young man reminded me of what back in my younger days was referred to as a “stoner” kind of like Sean Penn’s character “Jeff Spicoli” in Fast Times at Ridgemont High. So not having a Bible in my hand just a small Episcopal Armed Forces Prayer Book I went up to him.  I said:

“Mr. Spicoli (the name has been changed to protect the stupid) I’m the Chaplain what happened?”  His answer was classic, “Dude sir, it was like I was reading the Bible and I saw this verse about “my eye offending me” and just knew that I had to take it out.” I said “Dude, you know that some parts of the Bible aren’t supposed to be taken too literally don’t you?”  With his one good eye he looked up at me and said “Like I didn’t have to cut it out?”    I shook my head feeling somewhat compassionate yet amused (a feeling that many who work in ERs and trauma centers can attest to having) and said “No Jeff you didn’t….you weren’t using before you read the Bible were you?”  He then said, “Yeah, like dude, like why not?”  I said “Jeff my friend, God loves you and wants you to read his word but not while you’re doing crack, it tends to mess up your interpretation of it.” To which Jeff replied “Really, yeah dude you might be right.”

Now this was obviously a nice but really messed up kid so I decided not to push him any farther and commented on his Bible.  “That’s a pretty impressive Bible Jeff.” Jeff replied “Yeah I got it like last week or something.” I then asked “Can I look at it with these doctors a second? I promise to give it right back.  When he gave me permission, I gently took the Bible from his hand and walked to the disbelieving (not in God but in what was going on) physicians with it.   Thumbing through the pages I came to Mark 9:47 and let the doctors read it themselves.  They were genuinely shocked and kept looking at Jeff as they read it.  The Ophthalmologist who had asked the initial question looked at me and said “I guess that it wouldn’t be good to read that verse while doing crack.”  I smiled, shook my head and said “No, not a good idea.”   With that I took the Bible back to Jeff and thanked him and he said “anytime dude.”  The docs were getting ready to transport him to surgery so I wished him well and told him that I would pray for him for which he thanked me.  I felt bad for the kid and knew that he would not be on the trauma service after the surgery and when medically ready would be hanging out in the Psych ward.  That was the last time that I saw him and I do hope that he was able to break his addiction and get his life together.

However, the day was still young and I had the overnight 7PM to 7AM on call duty in the evening. The rest of the day into the early evening was progressing rather uneventfully by Parkland standards, just your typical MVA’s, overdoses, cardiac arrests and shootings when Dallas EMS brought an African American lady who appeared to be in her thirties. Her eyes were covered with a bandage so I asked the paramedics what had happened.  One of them said, “Chaplain, you wouldn’t believe this in a million years, the lady’s sisters took her eyes out.”  I said “Took her eyes out?” and he replied “Yeah, like scooped them out, almost surgical precision. She said her sisters drove her from New Orleans to Dallas and along the way took out her eyes because they thought that she was possessed by the Devil.”  My reply was a simple, “Damn, that sucks.” The paramedic continued “Yeah, she kept saying that her sisters said the she had “her father’s eyes” or something like that.”  The conversation continued for a while as the paramedic vented about how idiotic and criminal what happed was and when he went to finish his paperwork and get back to his rig I went in to the trauma room where the lady was being assessed. I got a look at the eye sockets and was quite impressed.  The young man had gouged out his eye and made a mess. The lady’s eye sockets were just a little bloody and hollowed out like nothing had been there. It was rather creepy.  Since she was pretty out of it and not very coherent I backed out of the room, consult with the team and let them know what the paramedic had told me.  The story creeped them out as badly as it did me.  Later I would find out that the sisters had been arrested.  Evidently the lady was a school teacher and she and her sisters were heavily involved in hoodoo a blend of Voodoo and Catholicism. At their trial they claimed that they were “fleeing from the devil.” The victim refused to testify against her sisters but they were convicted of the crime. The link to the New York Times article and one from the UK Independent is here:

http://www.nytimes.com/1994/09/25/us/trial-in-woman-s-blinding-offers-chilling-glimpse-of-hoodoo.html?pagewanted=1

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/hoodoo-hex-on-interstate-20-the-blinding-of-myra-crawford-demonstrates-how-racism-and-fear-of-demons-linger-side-by-side-in-pockets-of-the-old-south-1412753.html

Never before and so far I have not seen a day where I have seen anything that unusual.  It was creepy like a really creepy horror movie and all I can say about that day was that “the eyes have it.” Unlike the Kim Carnes’ song, these folks don’t have “Betty Davis Eyes” but “Sammy Davis Eyes.”

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Surviving Birthdays, My Closet of Anxieties, Rumors of Revolution and Coups and a Losing Streak Ended

anniverary 2009I didn’t mess up the Abbess’s Birthday this Year…Cheers!

I am terrible at doing birthdays…mine included.  Unfortunately this can be detrimental in my primary and many other relationships.  In particular I have made my fair share of messes when it comes to birthdays, especially those of Judy.  This began shortly after marriage and there have been a number of times that I regret, especially in choice of gifts.  A large part of this was due to selective hearing on my part in what she wanted and to what she would refer to as the “damage to the brain caused by the male hormone.”  The biggest of the goofs was when in seminary I got her the Bible that I wanted…not smart. I will not add to the fire of my self-immolation here by describing the others.  I can say that like a pitcher has hung one too many curveballs in the center of the plate to good hitters and seeing it go over the fence, the memories flash through my mind beginning in the middle of September until the birthday is successfully negotiated.  It is like making sure that I get the last out before I can rest.

This year went well.  In fact it has been like an extended celebration for her milestone birthday. We brought her college roommate here for 6 days, we had lunch with her friend Diane and dinner at Gordon Biersch together and breakfast today with her friend Pat and her father today.  Saturday evening we will make the close to the week by having a number of people over for dinner and cake.  Even the gifts that I chose were things that she wanted or actually liked.  The key to me successfully negotiating a birthday is to actually listen to what she wants.

We have had a couple of good days of leave and enjoyed our time together.  The cool thing is though she has reached this milestone, she neither looks nor acts her age.  Since I neither look nor act my age most of the time, though I am feeling it more, I think that we are a good match.

closet of anxietiesOpen for Business

At the same time the week has seen my “Closet of Anxieties” open up again.   Part is obviously  PTSD induced and part life induced.  My mom as always has managed to add stress to my life.  My dad continues to slowly circle getting worse in the nursing home.  My German friend wants me to come to Germany in early December but I am nervous about making the flight.   I was able to handle flying much better before Iraq.

left wingers

Finally I am concerned about things going on in the country as some people on the political right are advocating a military coup or violent revolution to overthrow President Obama.  The scary thing as these are not people on the nutty fringe but people more in the mainstream of current conservative thought. What is even more alarming is that a lot of these folks are also prominent Evangelical Christians.  One should never forget that many German “conservative Christian values voters” supported Hitler because they so hated the left. Hitler, like many right wing politicians in this country played to their fear and hatred of the left for their political support.  I’m afraid of the same thing happening here.

A good article about this is found at blogger Polycarp’s site which is linked here: http://thechurchofjesuschrist.us/2009/09/phyllis-schlafly-endorses-bloody-revolution-columnist-plans-for-armed-coup/

bundesarchiv_bild_146-1970-051-65_kapp-putsch_berlinThe Kapp Putsch

To me the political situation is looking more like the Weimar Republic every day and unlike the folks cited in the article I don’t see President Obama as a Nazi or Marxist.  I think that people are playing with fire in suggesting bloody revolutions or military coups.  If either happens there is no going back. They will have to coin a phrase “destroyed the Constitution in order to save it.”  What is scary for me to see a national columnist like John Perry writing in the mainstream conservative news online publication Newsmax.com , suggest a military coup when the military is engaged in two wars.  The military is perhaps the most trusted institution in the country and to look to it in time of war to overthrow the government in a partisan action is madness and even borders on treason.  Even if this Wolfgang Kapp wannabee was able to get some misdirected military leader to pull a Lüttwitz[i] and attempt to seize power.  Such an attempt would be futile and doomed to failure.  Such an attempt could never gain the support of the entire military and would be dependent on many younger soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who do not necessarily support the or are as radical as those pushing this on the political right.  The military is not a reactionary or monolithic institution despite the wishes of some on the right.  When one sees this kind of talk combined with street brawls at political town meetings and people carrying semi-automatic weapons at rallies where the President is speaking one sees a recipe for disaster that could destroy the country. If this continues  and at best poison the political and social atmosphere for decades to come.  I felt the same way when people on the left suggested a military coup against President Bush a couple of years ago.  We have a political process that has worked relatively well for 200 plus years.  Yes we are divided and having problems but nothing is insurmountable if we decide to work and play well with each other.  We have survived as a nation so long precisely because we have had the wisdom to step back from the brink, with the exception of the Civil War and we all know how well that turned out for everyone concerned.

044Jeff Fiorentino in Norfolk

However tonight a final source of anxiety was lifted when the Orioles broke their 13 game losing streak against the Tampa Bay Rays tonight.  O’s lefty Chris Waters, who I have met a number of times in Norfolk got the win and Jeff Fiorentino came up big with a 2 out RBI single that provided what would be the winning run.  It was good news for both players, Waters needed the win just to regain confidence and hopefully get another look by the O’s and other teams.  Fiorentino is now being talked about as having a place on the 2010 Orioles.  He certainly has earned it.  With the win the Orioles go home to the confines of Camden Yards to finish the season against the Blue Jays.

Peace, Padre Steve+

Note: The last time I posted something about faith and politics I had a couple of really nasty and personal comments by those on the right all but calling me a non-Christian and Marxist traitor.  This should be fun.


[i] Wolfgang Kapp was a German politician who worked with disaffected radical elements of the Army to attempt to overthrow the Weimar Republic in 1922.  He gained the support of General von Lüttwitz who commanded the military district around Berlin and used a radicalized Freikorps, the Erhardt Brigade which was slated by the Army for demobilization to attempt to seize control of the government.  The attempt floundered but hindered future cooperation between the Army and the Majority Socialists where the Nazis began their rise to power.

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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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A Healing Community Grieves-Portsmouth Naval Medical Center Experiences Yet another Tragic Death

This week has culminated two months of tragedy at our medical center.  This was another death, and this one was totally senseless.  It followed the unexpected death of Senior Chief Pam Branum while she was deployed on the USNS Comfort doing a humanitarian mission in the Caribbean Sea.  The Comfort was in Panama when she died.  Her death shook our community.  She was loved and respected and her death was unsettling.  Back in April we had lost Ensign Chris Gallagher in a motorcycle crash in Oceanview.  Chris was a fourth year medical student and would have graduated about three weeks after he died.  He was a incredibly sharp and dedicated medical student and would have made a fine physician.  As with Senior Chief he was well liked and respected.  I knew both of them.  I had seen Chris the day before his death in ICU rounds.

This week we lost Hospitalman Third Class Christopher Bailey.  Today in a chapel crowed well beyond it’s maximum capacity we remembered Chris.  It was a moving and emotional service in which his shipmates, friends and even his mother spoke,  I was especially touched by her words about Chris and our healing community.  Chris was a passionate young sailor and dedicated Christian.  He and a friend were looking at his car and discussing their faith when three men came to rob them.  As the men left following the robbery one fired a shot into Chris’s car.  He was hit in the back of the head and died yesterday at Norfolk General.  He donated his organs and seven were used in transplants.  In death he gave live to seven people.  Chris was a Psychiatric Technician.  He worked on our inpatient Psychiatry wards and occasionally in the clinic.  He was loved by those who worked with him.  I work on our SPRINT team which is an interdisciplinary team which goes out to assist in traumatic situations.  As part of that team I work with a lot of really great Psychiatrists, Psychologists, Psychiatric Nurses and Technicians, military and civilian.  Unlike Chris Gallagher and Pam Branum I had only met Chris in passing on duty one evening. So I didn’t know him like the other two, thus this was different than the others for me.

The death of Pan Branum and Chris Gallagher saddened me because I knew them and liked them.  Chris Bailey’s death angered me because it was so senseless.  Chris was killed for 5 dollars and truthfully, and this may seem un-Christian and anti-life I hope the bloody sonofabitch who did this is hunted down and killed.  That asshole snuffed out the life of a good kid and it really pisses me off.  I’m sure this reaction goes back to my youth because back in 1979 I was held up a gunpoint by two men with Judy, who was and her parents in the parking lot of Arroyo’s Café in Stockton California, the original home of the drive-by-shooting.  This was back in the days that Arroyo’s was on South center Street.  Having a gun to your head when you have no place to run sitting in the back seat of a car puts your life in perspective real quick.  When I heard about Chris and what happened to him I imagined what would have happened to me had the robber pulled the trigger on me.  Anyway I am upset about this because I am sick and tired of seeing young people die senseless and needless deaths. Additionally it angers me because it has hurt my friends on my team.  They are hurting; they are grieving and still trying to care for a nearly full inpatient psychiatric unit.  I hate to see my friends hurting.  I try to be there for them but that will not take away the hurt, pain and loss that they have experienced.  They walk tonight in the valley of the shadow of death.

Theologically and personally I wrestle with this.  I have a hard time finding any redeeming purpose or meaning in such a death.  Chris was killed by a criminal gang of thugs for no reason.  I have a hard time saying “well it’s God’s will” or “God works everything for the good.”  God may have a plan and somehow some way there may be something good that comes from this, but I cannot see it right now.  I’m sure that I am not alone in the way that I feel.  I can only imagine the sense of loss, grief and anger of the people that I work with who knew and loved Chris.  My stuff I can put a finger on, being held up at gunpoint thirty years ago, dealing with huge amounts traumatic death in ERs and ICUs as a chaplain and most of all the PTSD that I came home with as a gift from Iraq.

I stayed in the background of this event helping a bit with seating people, hanging out in back to make sure people were okay and after the service looking after my friends Andy and Casey from the SPRINT team.  Casey and I had done a mission at Camp LeJeune a few months back during a particularly gruesome suicide which came into the hospital ER.  Casey transfers soon but in the mean time we have to get together for a beer some evening or take in a ball game.

The only thing that I can say that may be halfway pastoral at this point is to echo German theologian and martyr Dietrich Bonheoffer who said:

“Nothing can make up for the absence of someone we love. And it would be wrong to try to find a substitute. We must simply hold out and see it through. That sounds very hard at first, but at the same time, it is a great consolation, for the gap — as long as it remains unfilled — preserves the bond between us. It is nonsense to say that God fills the gap: God does not fill it, but on the contrary, keeps it empty, and so helps us to keep alive our former communion with each other, even at the cost of pain.”

I know that all of Chris’s friends, as well as those of Chris Gallagher and Pan Branum will understand this.  There is nothing that can replace them and it is foolish to try to substitute another person, relationship or activity for them.  There is a hole in our hearts and in the collective soul of Portsmouth Naval Medical Center.  This place of healing is hurting and I pray that somehow these things will stop happening.

May God give rest to the soul of Christopher Bailey and all those who sleep in Christ; may his soul, the souls of Chris Gallagher and Pam Branum and all the departed rest in peace and all who grieve for them know the peace of God.

Pray for me a sinner, Steve+

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Things I don’t get-Why do songs from my past get stuck in my head? Also Judge Sotomayor, Savior of Baseball

On Monday Friday of last week I went into work after two days of leave to hang out in the hospital with Judy and then after her release help her out a bit and ensure that she suffered no relapse.  I stopped by the little coffee shop called the Dancing Goat for my 24 ounce cup of Southern Pecan (this shop does not have French Vanilla) coffee with 4 French Vanilla Creamers and 4 packets of Splenda.  While I was there Pat, the lady who runs this shop and ensures that I get my free cups of coffee as I fill up my frequent flier card, had her boom box radio on.  She usually has a station that plays R&B or R&B-Pop crossover classics playing in the background  This particular morning as I was talking to Pat and fixing my coffee the radio station was playing a song from back in my high school days came on the radio.  As I fiddled with my creamers and Splenda I heard Play that Funky Music White Boy by the Ohio players.  I found myself flashing back to my days at Edison High School in Stockton California.  The song got into my head.  The whole day and night since I had the duty I found myself walking down the hallways singing and sometimes dancing to “And they were dancin’ and singin’ and movin’ to the groovin’ and just when it hit me, somebody turned around and started saying: Play that funky music white boy, play that funky music white, play that funky music white boy. Lay down and boogie and play that funky music ‘til you die, ‘til you die.  As I did this I would occasionally draw the attention of staff members or visitors.  I would kind of smile and say: “Sorry I hate it when that happens to me.”  Unfortunately it happens far too regularly and I don’t understand why.  Maybe one of my Psychciatry or Neurology colleagues can provide an answer.  Judy would just tell me that I’m nuts, however this is not a clinical diagnosis, unlike my PTSD.

I couldn’t help it.  I was consumed by this Ohio Player’s hit; every time I turned around I was singin’ “play that funky music white boy,,,”  It was wild.  Now I have had this happen with other hits from high school which once I hear them I can’t get them out of my head.  A month or so ago it was the Commodore’s She’s a Brick House, a week ago it was the Top Gun Anthem. A couple weeks before that it was Wild Thing from Major League. I can’t help it, these songs get in my brain and I can’t let go. It sometimes reaches the level absurdity when I find myself singing Mel Brooks movie songs like Blazing Saddles, The Inquisition, Springtime for Hitler and High Anxiety.  I don’t care what song it is, if I heard it back in high school or my first couple of years of college the song will stick and I won’t be able to rid myself of it.  If you haven’t has someone walk in an elevator or come around a corner unexpectedly when you are “movin’ and a groovin,” you really can’t understand.  The problem is it doesn’t have to be this song.  It can be any song.  It is scary and I just don’t get it.

When I was in high school my class was the first to go through high school under the “forced busing” program.  The white guys and gals from the North Side were bussed down to Edison High School on the South Side.  Over the years Edison’s demographics had become overwhelmingly Black, Hispanic and Asian.  When the whites, Hispanics and Asians from the North side showed up it was culture shock, but not in a bad way.  Our class was about 25% each of White, Black, Asian and Hispanic (Mexican.)  We became the “Soul Vikes” and enduring friendships between kids of different races were formed which remain to this day.  I think that our class was a prototype of the new America.  Our 30th reunion was great and I am honored to be a part of the 1978 Soul Vikes.  This experince helped me to come to love and appreciate R&B  and soul.  I may not have rythem or dance, but I love to be Movin’ and a groovin’.”

The fact that I am a proud member of the Soul Vikes of 1978 is not the issue.  The thing that I don’t understand is just how a song that I haven’t heard in years takes over my life, even if only for a day.  To me this is a mystery one of the things that I term: Things that I don’t get.  If you see  me doing this humor me.

Judge Sotomeyor: Savior of Baseball: Back in 1995 Baseball was faced with its most serious crisis.  A player’s walk out that lasted well over 200 days.  The MLB management was content to let things ride and it was getting close to the point of no return.  Americans were rapidly becoming fed up with both the players and the owners, especially the owners.  It was then Judge Sotomayor who stepped in and ended the crisis.  She has been credited by many writers and players with saving the game.  She has come under criticism by many and some like George Will, a baseball historian who I greatly admire take issue with this.  However at the time the players and owners were on a self destructive path that could have destroyed the game.  Baseball, it’s management at leadership among the owners and players union officials is far from perfect, but had they continued on the course that they were on in 1994-1995 it would have killed the game.  Judge Sotomayor’s ruling, which favored the players unions did save the game from itself.  As far as the rest of her record I have only superficially looked at it. She seems to be more liberal than some conservatives would like and more conservative than some liberals would like.  Time will tell what kind of justice she will be should she be approved.  Like any Justice she will be judged on her record.  I do pray if she is confirmed that she will be true to the Constitution, law and people.  Apart from that, as a member of the Church of Baseball, Harbor Park Parish, I will always be thankful for her actions in 1995.

Peace,

Steve+

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Things that I Don’t Get-Why do Guys take Their Beer into the Ball Park Restroom?

pub2Engaged in deep thought at a pub-wondering about things that I don’t get

Note: This is the first in a series that I will periodically post here called “Things that I Don’t Get.” Most I’m sure will be light hearted takes on issues that are not of earth shaking importance, but are relevant to me.  When discussing the subject presented here with Elliott my usher buddy he made the comment: “I’ve always wondered that but never heard someone ask the question. Maybe that’s a subject for your website.”  So here it goes.  Elliott this one’s for you!

One thing that always amazes me is that no matter how hard I try there are some things that I just can’t figure out.  Sometimes I have to just scratch my shaved head and say: “What the hell? I just don’t get that.”  I mean really….I don’t know if this happens to you but I face the question often enough that I finally I am going to ask it and others that have stumped me in this forum.

I was attending services at the Church of Baseball, Harbor Park Parish last night and it was the largest crowd of the season. This is a good thing, it means the weather is getting better and I probably won’t be freezing my ass off like Monday.  There is a drawback as it meant that concession lines and those in the in the men’s restroom were long.  There was a common theme that connected the two…beer.  Being a lover of good beer of which there is plenty at Harbor Park, I frequently stand in line to get my beer.  I then will take it to my seat or stand and talk with Chip or Elliott the ushers in section 202 and 102 respectively.  My “pew” is section 102, row B seat 2.  Elliott has my section and really knows the game and is a good guy to boot.  Chip is a retired Navy Chief and before I had my season ticket would often sit up in his section.

Last night after the rent on my beer ran out…face it you can only rent beer for a very short time, I decided that it was time to make a head call.  That is latrine for those of the Army persuasion and Spa for those in the Air Force.  Walking up in the middle of the 5th I went to make my visit and raise a glass to Admiral Nelson.  The line of course was long and as I looked around I saw a familiar sight.  A good number of the guys had their beer in one hand and something else in the other as they stood at the urinal.  Some were refueling and defueling at the same time.  Others left their beer on the top of the urinal.  Now I have seen this before many times and I can’t get around the fact that it completely creeps me out.  I cannot see a good reason for this.  All the seats have cup holders which even the largest beer will fit into and if you leave the beer in the holder it is very unlikely that anyone would steal it or drink from it.  Nonetheless a fairly substantial number of guys won’t do the sanitary thing and insist on taking their beer into the restroom.  I asked Elliott about this and he was equally perplexed.

Now I wonder about this.  Why do this if you have a place to keep your beer?  I wonder sometimes if guys who do this should be issued a Foley catheter for the game.  They could have a Foley station where those who need to need to keep drinking while peeing can do so while seated or even when walking around.  At the end of the game they could go back to the station, have the Foley removed and stagger out to their ride.  Of course there is some pain involved with this.  A conscious man will feel a great amount of pain as a Foley is inserted.  I remember working the ER at Parkland when a member of the local football team which calls itself “America’s Team” ended up after a car crash.  He screamed like a baby when the Foley went in.  The Foley is a bit drastic but it would save the rest of us the pain of watching this spectacle in the rest room.  Another and less painful solution would be to have paid rest room attendants as designated beer holders.  These people would stand outside the rest room at a table with neat little slots for beer.  A guy would come to the door, give the attendant his beer, get a numbered token corresponding to the slot that the beer is placed in.  When done he would pick up his beer and go away…sanitation concerns and beer security ensured.

Now I wonder if women do this too, although I don’t imagine so.  In fact I have it on good authority from the Abbess of the Abbey Normal that indeed that they do not engage in such crudity. This was seconded by one of our female bartenders at Gordon Biersch. I held those of the female persuasion in much higher esteem than guys.  I expect more out of them as being a guy I know that most of us can go from civilized to uncouth in three seconds. Now if I’m wrong and if the female persuasion does this I will be disappointed.  I figure since the Deity Herself created women second that they are the more refined model of the species.  So if this is true don’t tell me.

Have a great rest of this Memorial Day weekend.

Peace, Steve+

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