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Padre Steve Muses on Turning the Big Five O

“When you are younger you get blamed for crimes you never committed and when you’re older you begin to get credit for virtues you never possessed. It evens itself out.”  Casey Stengel


Fifty years ago today after putting my mother through an entirely brutal day long labor event little Padre Steve entered the world a mould was broken and a journey started.  I have to admit that fifty years is a long time, crap it’s half a century and I am now older than the average life span of men in Cameroon and 18 other countries which means that it probably sucks to be them….if I lived in one of those countries I could say what Casey Stengel said “most of the people my age are dead. You could look it up….” At the same time I’ve still got 25 1/2 years to reach the average life span in the United States.  If this was a baseball game I’d be finishing the bottom of the 6th inning.  The United States ranks 38th in the world on the average life expectancy of a man behind such countries as Cuba of which almost all have universal health care or socialized medicine.  I mean what’s up with that? If I was French, Canadian, German, English or one of these other countries I would have a longer life expectancy?  Hmmm…I do read speak and write German and my friend Gottfried keeps asking us to move there when I retire from the Navy.

One good thing is that I neither look nor act my age. When I was in Iraq my assistant RP2 Nelson Lebron and I were having lunch at the chow hall in Fallujah as we travelled out west at the beginning of our deployment with five other RPs as well as a number of Marines and Corpsmen. He decided to ask them how old they thought that I was.  At the time I was a mere 47.  The young folks at the table guessed anywhere from 32 to 42.  I thought that was rather cool.  I used to enjoy getting “carded” at the grocery store when buying beer but now since many places say that they card anyone who appears to be under 40 the thrill of that is gone.

Jeff and Me

Even so it is cool to have people think that I am younger than I am, I remember once when one of my nephews asked my younger brother if he was older than me.  Jeff did not see the humor in this but I admit he does act more mature than me….he grew up and I didn’t, but when he was a kid dad said that he was 8 going on 40. He was appalled when the Abbess and I went out on toilet paper raids.  I guess someone has to be the adult….better him than me, he has kids, and I don’t. It’s like Satchel Paige said “Age is a case of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it don’t matter.” And since I don’t mind, it don’t matter.

True Love…Me with Judy at Cal State Northridge in 1980 or 1981

Besides looking good for my age my health has returned and I am feeling much better, physically, emotionally and spiritually than I did at 48 or 49 when I was dealing with PTSD, chronic pain and a spiritual crisis.  I had a check up and the doctor was blown away by my lab numbers and vitals.  He said I was in better health than most people that he sees the vast majority of who are a lot younger than me.  The same was true when I was serving at Navy EOD.  I guess that “50” is the new “30” after all, at least for me.  I took one of those “Real Age” tests a while back and it put me in my early 30s.  While I cannot and will not predict the future if all goes well I should be around many years and be pretty healthy doing it.  Heck my paternal grandmother was riding Greyhound buses across country and traveling well into her 80s.  I guess that I have pretty good genetic stock.  Of course since there is a whole lot that I have no control I am very careful not to prognosticate about how long I might live,  as Casey Stengel said “I don’t make predictions, especially about the future” after all the future ain’t what it used to be.”

47th Birthday in Jordan

Now in 50 years I have seen and done a lot and spent my birthday in some unusual places and sometimes in places where it went unrecognized.  Not that this is an issue for me as I normally shy away from such attention because I didn’t do anything to earn it.   Now I do appreciate people thinking of me and wishing me well. Yesterday our enlisted staff in the Pastoral Care office brought me in a cake and a card signed by all the staff.  It was really touching, the black icing on the cake was appropriate. I love working with this young men and women, they are great.  I have celebrated this auspicious occasion here in the states but also in places like Jordan, Germany and South Korea. South Korea was cool because some of the South Korean Chaplains took me out for dinner at a pizza parlor. I have also celebrated it at sea off the coast of the Horn of Africa.

With NJROTC friends aboard USS Gray shortly after 18th Birthday at Pearl Harbor

I think that life should be enjoyed to the fullest. I personally do not know how some people who have a choice chose not to enjoy life and I’m like talking about people with more talent, ability, money and looks than I will ever have, but they are miserable and they quite literally hate life, not only theirs but despise almost everything about the world that they live in.  Others allow themselves to be consumed by causes and events that they have no control of whatsoever.  Quite often these folks are the same folks who hate life in general but not always.

Me with Jeff and Minnesota Twins player Rich Reese

Now as anyone who knows me well can attest I am not one who has any illusions about how difficult life can be, how things can get all messed up and that life can be painful and sometimes tragic.  I understand this because I have gone through some pretty sucky times.  Thus I know for a fact that “there comes a time in every man’s life, and I’ve had plenty of them.”

41st Birthday in Korea with South Korean Marine Chaplains and their Families

I think that in order to live life to the fullest that people need to take what is serious seriously and ease up on most other stuff.  I know that I have only a certain amount of emotional energy and I finally figured out that I don’t need to expend it on things that I can’t control.  I am finally learning that in order to be at peace you cannot constantly be at war or looking for one. Are some things worth fighting for? Certainly, but not every battle is mine to fight.

I think a lot of what has helped me is that I am pretty happy with the person that I am and instead of looking to change things about me I just want to do what I do better within my limitations and neither be deluded into believing my own press or that of others about me or to be discouraged by failure or blame.  Satchel Paige said it well “Not to be cheered by praise, not to be grieved by blame, but to know thoroughly one’s own virtues or powers are the characteristics of an excellent man.”

So 50 years, it has been a long time but I feel good about my past and the future.  I am fortunate to have many friends including some that actually like me.  I have been blessed in a lot of ways, sometimes I understand what Lou Gehrig meant when he said I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the Earth.” I am both lucky and blessed. I have a wonderful wife, family, friends, education and experiences that I could not have imagined having when I turned 18.  I have been able to travel about the world see and appreciate people from a multitude of countries, cultures and religions.  I have had the privilege of serving my country in peace and war, and to be a Priest. Despite all the problems we are having I live in a wonderful country and I have what I need. I am blessed beyond belief.

The past couple of days I have received the well wishes of more friends than I can count. Last night I was able to see a Norfolk Admirals hockey game and will be going out with Judy tonight and then to top off the day FEDEX dropped off my season tickets for the Norfolk Tides.  Thus I just want to thank everyone who made this day necessary.

Peace my friends especially to my classmates from Edison High School 1978 who like me are all turning 50 soon or already have.

Blessings,

Padre Steve+

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Oh the Pain…Padre Steve’s Kidney Stone Naming Contest

Getting set to pass the stone

Well I spent a good part of the last night and early this morning with the Abbess visiting my friends in the Naval Medical Center Portsmouth Emergency Room.  I had been in pretty bad pain most of the day and even went with the Abbess to visit a retired chaplain friend and his wife as he has been a patient at our medic al center for the past week.  As we visited I continued to be in pain and when we went home I had the Abbess drop me off at home while she went to Gordon Biersch.  Anyone who knows me knows that I have to be feeling really bad not to go out and have a beer with the Abbess and or Stein Club friends on Saturday night.  The Abbess was convinced when we left the hospital that I would be back but being that I have a rather high threshold for pain compared to most people as well as a typical career military man view of pain and illness I thought that I would feel better and ride it out.  I did not expect a kidney stone and thinking it was something gastric went hope to vegetate and hope that with some chicken soup and some anti-gas meds that it would go away.  Wrong answer padre…

As I sat on the couch trying to get comfortable with pain waxing and waning and Molly doing her best to “will” me into feeling better I continued to feel worse.  The Abbess came home and pronounced that if I was still feeling this way at midnight we were going to the hospital whether I wanted to or not.  At about 11 PM I cried uncle and she drove me to the hospital.  Every freaking bump on the road was misery and when we got to the ER I got out of the car and limped into the ER. I could barely walk and was doubled over in pain, which when the triage nurse asked what level on a scale of 1 to 10 I said 5 to 6 because though it hurt it was not the worst pain that I have ever had which can only be reserved for the “undead tooth of terror.” (See Killing off the Undead Tooth of Terror)

One of the good things about playing on the home field is that people recognize you, of course for some this can be good or bad but thankfully for me it was good as I like the folks down in ER and the only thing that could make my affection for them be greater was if we were a trauma center.  What can I say? I did my residency at Parkland Memorial Hospital as the Trauma and Surgery Department Chaplain and served as an ER Department Chaplain at another regional trauma center.  None the less I know a good number of the staff, especially the ER residents as well as the surgery, internal medicine, psychiatry and other residents who see patients in the ER.  Last night was only different in the fact that I was not making rounds or being called to the ER but was a patient, something that I have little patience at being.

After a relatively short but uncomfortable wait in the waiting room I was taken back to a bay with a curtain as a partition given a gown and put on a monitor which as I observed that my vital signs, despite my pain were very good. My conditioning program is paying off.  I knew the ER attending, the RN and the Hospital Corpsmen that attended to me and other staff members who know me took time to visit.  Dr Ventura told me that he thought that it was likely a kidney stone and both he and the RN asked me about the color of my urine which I compared to a cloudy Keller Beer or Hefe-Weizen. How else can you describe urine when it does not have the clarity or effervescence of a Pilsner? I was sent to get a CT scan which was pretty cool. CT’s have come a long way since my residency, what used to be a 20-30 minute procedure only took about 2-3 minutes and I didn’t even have to take my San Francisco Giants baseball hat off.

So anyway, after being discharged from the ER and saying good bye to all my friends we went up to get the myriad of drugs from our pharmacy including pain meds like Vicodin as well as meds to help the stone pass and other meds.  I think the bag of meds weighed a couple of pounds.  So since the Abbess was really worn out I drove us home which meant that I did not hit the rough spots in the road beacus I know where they are.  After dropping her off and getting a sweet greeting from Molly I went over to our 24 hour super Wal-Mart and picked my way around the stockers to pick up a few things including the Minute Maid Lemonade that the staff told me would help me pass the stone.

Now kidney stones can take anywhere from 3 to 30 days to pass and if they don’t they may have to be removed. Approximately 80 percent of these stones contain calcium, as either calcium oxalate, calcium phosphate or a combination. Another 10 to 15 percent are composed of magnesium ammonium phosphate, s0metimes  known as struvite, while only 5 to 10 percent are uric acid stones. Fewer than 1 percent of stones are cystine.  Now for people like me this is interesting I don’t know too many people who laying on an ER bed think all the technical details of their illness.

Finally home I got to bed just before 0600 and got up just before noon.  Since getting up I have eaten light and drank a lot of fluids, like tons of fluids and since I need to try to capture the stone have a wire mesh coffee filter with a little handle which makes it like a bucket to piss into.  This will of course be consigned to oblivion once the stone is passed as there is no way, even with high tech sterilization gear available that anything that has had urine pass through it will ever be used to filter something that will pass through my lips.  If you remember the Seinfeld where Jerry’s girlfriend’s toothbrush fell in the toilet you will understand completely.

So now I wait.  I have been doing everything that I have been told to do but it seems that the stone has gone into hiding.  I haven’t passed it but it is still in me.  The choice for it is to come out on its own or be blasted into kidney stone oblivion or should either of those measures fail be surgically removed.  I guess with choices like that I would prefer the natural birth even though it stands to be painful.  I do hope and pray that that if this is the case that the stone will come out on the 4mm side and not the 7mm side, otherwise I will be like Kramer in the Seinfeld episode where he passes a kidney stone. I just hope when this happens I am nowhere near anyone whose life is depending on something.   http://www.strimoo.com/video/13214541/kramer-gets-a-kidney-stone-Dailymotion.html

So my challenge now is to figure out what to name this.  My friend Greg who is a Priest and Navy Chaplain says that I need to capture and keep it in case I am ever considered for canonization as a Saint.  However I wonder who the hell would want that kind of relic but realize after visiting various diocesan museums in Europe I know that anything can wind up as a relic.  So my question to my readers is what to name this stone.  I am leading to Adolf since he was a pain to remove during the Second World War.  Friends on Facebook have suggested other names and it will be interesting to see if any consensus builds as to what to name this bad boy.  So feel free to comment here or on my Facebook page as what you think this stone should be named.  Like the undead tooth of terror I will keep you apprised of this health issue as well as try to keep a humorous perspective on this.  Again thanks to all my friends in the ER and blessings to all. Pray for me a sinner.

Peace,

Steve+

Post Script: While in the ER it came to me that the doctor who called me to the ER back in December to administer the last rites to a dying retired military doctor was Eric Inge.  He was a key part of my Christmas miracle and I will not forget him, see

Doubt and Faith: My Crisis in Faith and Why I am Still a Christian an Advent Meditation

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Padre Steve’s Thanksgiving Thoughts

The Abbess: “Steve would you pray for the food?”

Padre Steve: “Dear Lord we pray for this turkey and all of it’s relatives on this Thanksgiving. We ask you to comfort them in their sorrow and give them your peace. Amen.”   Padre Steve’s Thanksgiving prayer from 1992.  I think the last time that we hosted a Thanksgiving dinner.

I am on duty tonight, pretty tired and I have been pretty busy this evening.  Hopefully things will settle down and no one will take any turns for the worse that will cause them or their families to have to mourn on this Thanksgiving 2009.  We have several in pretty bad shape as well as some I know not in hospital who are in pretty dire straits.

But since things have settled down a little I do need on this Thanksgiving Eve pause to give thanks for all of the blessings that I have been given.  I also need to give thanks for  wife who has had to suffer all of my rough edges, refusal to completely grow up, my wanderlust, dreams as well as my obsession with work, academics and yea verily, even baseball.

I am grateful for so many things but most of all the Abbess of the Abby Normal.  This dear soul has put up with me yea these 26 years of marriage and the 31 years that we have known each other.  She has had to deal with a husband who has devoted himself to a military career and vocation as a Priest that has spanned 28 years of that time.  She has endured separations too many to count and a decent number of deployments, unaccompanied tours and temporary duty out of the areas that we have lived.  In the 20 or so months that I have been back from Iraq she has also had to deal with my struggle with PTSD and all the trimmings that go with it.  Likewise she has had to see me grieve my dad, who though still alive only exists in body and does not know me anymore. I am truly thankful for the wife that I am blessed to have.

I think I have tried this dear woman’s patience quite often in our marriage, of course I do not think that she has forgotten the 1992 “Prayer for the Food.”  It is dangerous sometimes to ask me to pray because I might just take you literally, as I did the Abbess back in 1992 who slipped up and instead of asking me to “ask a blessing on the meal” “say grace” or simply “give thanks” but rather asked me to “pray for the food.” Something that I did, and I think that the prayer was actually longer as I remember making eye contact with her during the prayer as she glared daggers at me as the guests either giggled or listened in stunned silence. This will surprise no one who really knows me well.  Tonight as I made my rounds in our cardiac care unit I noticed one of the newer high-tech CPR dummies looking bored in the training/ conference room.  I had to remedy the situation.  Taking the obviously bored and neglected dummy I set him in a high-backed office chair facing the television which happened to be on.  I so arranged him so that a person coming in the room would see the back of the head, which happens to be bald like mine as it was looking at the TV.

Bob the CPR Dummy Watching TV

A person entering from the hallway into the unit would see the profile for the dummy.  This one is kind of cool as it has a shirt and the facial features are more realistic than the old style.  I did let the charge nurse know so he could get a laugh out of anyone who does a double take as they enter the unit bleary eyed at two or three in the morning.  I mentioned my misdeeds to my buddies Cinda and Jennifer over in the PICU who both got a laugh out of it.

Bob Chilling Out

I think the greatest honor that I had on a Thanksgiving  was in 2007 serving in Iraq. I got  a chance to serve the troops and workers in the chow hall at TQ after coming back that afternoon from an aborted mission to Waleed on the Syrian border when our air support mission was cancelled when a host of Congressmen, Senators and dignitaries decided that they needed to visit Iraq leaving us and quite a few others marooned at Al Asad’s air terminal for 4 days as they flew about Iraq in our aircraft.  Thankfully when I knew that we could not get anywhere the west and that we had to return to TQ so we could prepare for our next mission later in the week I got us on a C-130 back to TQ which delivered us home in time for me to help serve at the dinner that night.  I was in charge of the Mac n’ Cheese and the Sweet potatoes.  So since Mac n’  Cheese was not in my typical Thanksgiving dinner growing up I figured that I had to sell it.  So with that in mind as each person came up to where I was I would say “Get your Mac n’ Cheese, an American Classic….8 of 10 customers agree that this is the best Mac n’ Cheese in Iraq.”  The servers from the Gulf Catering Company who were to my right and left, both from the Indian subcontinent somewhere had very limited English but were laughing as I served people and even called people over to my serving station from across the room. When the workers got a chance to come up and eat knowing that they were mainly vegetarians  I would say, “step right up, get your Mac n’ Cheese an American delicacy making American kids fat for years.” I don’t know if they bought the shtick but they did come back for more and most were smiling.

This year because of my duty schedule as well as my comprehensive exams the Abbess has done most of the work, even the turkey which is usually my job. When I go home I will help her with what I can since she has worked hard to get ready for this.  After all, we haven’t hosted one of these since 1992 so I’d better help.

Anyway, it is late and with any luck the Deity Herself will grant me a night’s sleep with no 2 AM pages.

Peace and Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.  Please pray for my fellow Sailors, Marines, Soldiers and Airmen who serve in harm’s way, those who suffer the wounds of war in any form and those in need in the USA as well as around the world.  Despite all of our countries issues we still have so much to be thankful for to live in such a country.

Happy Thanksgiving!

I know that I am grateful and thankful for all the blessings that God has given me and all the people who have been there for me.  God bless you again.  Happy Thanksgiving!

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Quick Thoughts and Thank You’s

steve on top of the rock

Milestone Birthday

Well friends, today is going to be a busy day as I get ready for the final part of the Abbesses’ milestone birthday celebration.  Tonight we are having friends over to celebrate and it should be nice.  Only problem is that I have to do some more housecleaning and then go get all the food.  My original plan for food fell through when Primo Pizza began their move to a new location a couple miles away and are not available this weekend as they get the new restaurant set up.  I’m on “Plan B” which simply means finding food in sufficient quantity and quality for the event.  Good thing that I plan ahead right?

The Pig Flu aka H1N1 is No Joke

Despite what many naysayers are saying the H1N1 is no joke.  I know one patient in our hospital who contracted it and died.  Likewise I know of a hospital chaplain in our area who sings in the same choir as the Abbess who has it and a really good friends’ daughter is currently in hospital after having contracted it and getting pneumonia.  While this may not be like the 1918 outbreak it still has potential to cause a lot of problems and maybe kill a lot of people.  I remember the 1968 outbreak, I was the only one in my family not sick.  That outbreak was quite severe.  Unlike the naysayers and critics of preparation I find the fact that health care workers and others refusing immunizations to be idiotic.  In the 1976 outbreak in Toronto one half of the deaths were health care workers.  When H5N1 the Avian flu hit China it caused significant causalities to health care workers to include some of the top Pulmonary specialists in the country  who wanted to be in the front lines treating the outbreak.  My old Commanding Officer at 3rd Battalion 8th Marines had what he called a “You might be a Dumb Ass if” list which was kind of like Jeff Foxworthy’s “You might be a Red Neck if” list.  I think that not getting immunized, especially if you are a health care worker makes the list. So “You might be a Dumb Ass if you are a Health Care worker who refuses to get immunized against something that has the potential to kill you or make you very sick.”  ‘Nuff siad.

Baseball

The Orioles are keeping Manager Dave Trembley for next year.  I have made a number of posts here and my other sites that I said that I thought that he should go.  After hearing the interview of him after the Orioles drubbing of the Blue Jays last night I do think that it is the right move.  My single argument against him was that he was too nice.  He made the comment that next year he “will drop the hammer” more often and not simply be the nice guy teacher.  I do expect that the young talent on the team will respond to this and that with some good off season acquisitions that the O’s will have a lot better year next year. I’ll do more on this later.

Thank You

I want to thank all of my readers for your response to this blog.  For those who began with me and those who have become regular readers you know that this is part therapy for my PTSD as well as a place that I can actually wrap my brain around a lot of things that interest me.  Likewise I have made sure on occasion that some of my posts have irritated those on both sides of the ideological spectrum.  This has occasionally made my life interesting as a few folks have insinuated that I am not a Christian or that I am a traitor to the country because I do not swallow their party line.  I have made sure not to delete those comments.

However, many of my readers have known me for years, and somehow still like me, I am as I say on my “about” page all about friendship and when it comes to friendship religion, politics and Dodger fans I can still be friends with those that I may differ with.  That is part of the joy and richness of living for me.  My friends are a diverse group of people who I probably could not have together in the same place without it looking like a recent “town-hall” meeting.

I have many new readers as well, a large number who have found me through Alphainventions.com a very good referral site to get your blog seen in real time.  I have had a number of sites now link me to their site because they first saw me on Alpha Inventions.  Most recent was Mark Dowe whose “Journal from Scotland” is very interesting and the USS Houston site which has linked to me.

To all my readers I thank you for reading and your comments.  If there is a subject that you would like to see me write about sometime let me know, I might just take you up on it.

I do plan on continuing my “Going to War” Series as well as writing about my life with and recovery efforts for my PTSD.  Likewise I will always be giving my “View from 102” on Baseball and other sports subjects, military history, faith in the public square and all the other stuff on my subjects list.

Most of all I thank you for reading, thank you for your kind words, thoughts and prayers and for occasionally challenging me with good questions.  Likewise thanks to those who question my salvation, patriotism or parentage, you all enrich my life.

As always keep me in your prayers, especially for my dad and his Alzheimer’s disease, those that I work with as we deal with life and death every day, those afflicted with the wounds of war both physical, psychological and spiritual and those who serve in Iraq, Afghanistan and around the world in harms way.

Blessings to you all!

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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Filed under alzheimer's disease, Baseball, History, Loose thoughts and musings, Military, Political Commentary, PTSD, things I don't get

PTSD²: Learning to Live Together When Both of You Have PTSD

Judy and Steve[1]_edited-1The Abbess and Me

The Abbess and I have been married 26 years.  We have dealt with PTSD for all of that time. Now we did not always know this was the case, not until she received the diagnosis back in 1989 and even then we did not really appreciate the effect that it was having on her and us.  She has written a wonderful piece over at her place, the Abbey Normal Abbess’s Blog entitled “The Abbess talks about a household with PTSDwhich I have linked here:  http://abbeynormalabbess.wordpress.com/2009/09/18/the-abbess-talks-about-a-household-with-ptsd/

Any regular reader of this website knows that the host, Padre Steve deals with PTSD, a gift that he brought home with him from Iraq.  There are a decent number of articles here that reference my struggles in coming to grips with this, how it affects me and how I am working with Elmer the Shrink to figure this surreal, confusing, illogical and sometimes frightening mess out.

Now before I came home with PTSD and actually figured out what the hell was going on with me and why I was falling apart I had little understanding of what the Abbess was going through.  She suffers from childhood PTSD, abusive father, generally un-protective mother who probably had her own childhood abuse issues going on and a sister who physically abused her.  She also was traumatized when she was between two and three years old when a Doctor removed a cyst from her face without anesthesia, that is one of her earliest memories and for many years caused her to fear going to the doctor.  When we started dating the family was probably in one of their more peaceful states but there were plenty of times where I saw some scary shit going on.  At the same time the Judy that I knew was the confident young college student, gifted artist and President of the Delta College German Club with a vibrant faith.  There were hints back then that she was damaged by her family of origin but I just took it as something that she would simply grow out of.  I had read about PTSD in Vietnam veterans but kind of brushed that aside and had no idea that someone who had not been to war could suffer from PTSD.

After she was diagnosed with childhood PTSD neither of us really knew what to do with it and most of her therapists did not deal with it and instead focused on depression and one even tried to diagnose her and turn her into a sufferer of Dissociative Identity Disorder the diagnosis formerly known as Multiple Personality Disorder.  That was a fiasco brought on by “Christian” therapists who tried to find demons in everything.  Of course if there were demons involved or Satanic ritual abuse that made it easy, you didn’t need to deal with the PTSD or any of the psychological components to what was going on.  I think that these therapists, one of who is now famous for his diagnoses of former NFL star Hershel Walker did great harm to Judy and others in making a psychological diagnosis based on unsupportable “spiritual” causes.  These spiritual “causes” were not based on fact, but rather the therapist’s suppositions which were based on conspiracy theories   usually involving how police worked with satanic groups to conduct satanic rituals and then return the victims to their homes.  If we know what we had known now we would have made a malpractice suit against the therapists and pastoral counselor involved in Judy’s treatment at the time.

It was not until I was on active duty in the Navy that a therapist began to work with Judy’s PTSD.  Even still with her getting treatment I was still learning how to grapple with all the reactions that I had seen for years because to me they were still not logical.  I am a methodical and logical person and if you know anything about PTSD you quickly find that much of what happens to a person has nothing to do with logic, but what the brain and the nervous system are doing and not how a person is deciding to act at a given point.  So when Judy would startle or have some kind of meltdown I would try to counter with logic.  This to my surprise never worked and I was always left frustrated.  Over the years I became a bit more understanding but still would have trouble with the severe startle reflex as well as the occasional meltdowns which over the past couple of years have gotten to be less severe because of a conscious effort to help her work through her PTSD symptoms and become more aware of what was happening and triggers.

Doonesbury ptsd-pmsPMS -PTSD Judy’s Best friend said to me “You’re a girl now”

Then I went to Iraq and came back with PTSD with all the trimmings.  I think that she started figuring it before me so when I finally crashed on June 16th 2008, I do remember the date well, she was not surprised when I came back and told her that the doctors thought that I had PTSD and were referring me for treatment.  The good thing for me was that they did not refer to the Psychology or Psychiatry clinic but to the Deployment Health Office where I met and began to work with Elmer the Shrink.  My first visit to his office I got a copy of the Doonesbury book dealing with coming home from war and PTSD.  I laughed and cried all the way through the book.  Until I went to Iraq I had never been a big fan of Doonesbury but I really appreciate it now.  Military.com has a link to the Doonesbury at War series which I find quite nice to have.

http://www.military.com/warfighters

I appreciate the help and understanding of people that I work with.  That helps; I don’t have the sense of abandonment and isolation that I experienced the first 8 months that I was back from Iraq.  I think that my medications are getting managed a bit better as well.  One thing that is hard to understand when you first start getting treatment is that you are kind of an experiment in progress as the doctor’s figure out what works and what doesn’t work.  This I think can be very frustrating to people who want “fixed” right now.

doonesbury ptsd onsetSome of my dreams get pretty physical

Before I went to Iraq she was the more observant one of us.  Now I am the more observant. The one value of PTSD that I don’t really want to lose is my awareness of what it happening around me.  It has I’m sure been more help than hindrance getting me out of dangerous situations quickly because in many cases I sense things even before I see or hear them.  As I have pointed out in other posts this has come in handy especially in our nutty Hampton Roads traffic and the “kill or be killed” mindset that you have to have to survive on I-64 or I-264.  While I like the ability to do this the startle response that I have now is really annoying.  We have a phone in our house that the ringer sends me into orbit.  If I am sitting in the living room when it goes off it scares the absolute shit out of me as it does Judy.  It is interesting to see both of us almost jump through our asses when that damned thing goes off. Inevitably it is the damned Rite Aide Pharmacy automated line or a equally damned telemarketer that does this.  Other loud noises get me.  I was driving to work and there was a vintage Chevy Camaro just ahead of me and in the adjacent lane to my right. It was still in that morning twilight when the Camaro started backfiring out of its twin exhaust pipes.  The backfire sounded like a burst of semi automatic weapons fire close up and the flashes from the pipes looked like muzzle flashes.  Other unexpected loud noises get me as does the sound of helicopters, especially at night.  I don’t do crowds well unless they are at a baseball game.  I went to do the invocation yesterday at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard to kick off the annual Combined Federal Campaign.  I was expecting a small rather sedate event.  It was nothing of the sort.  There were at least a couple of hundred people in a relatively small auditorium, a band, reports and photographers, a color guard and drill team from a local ROTC unit even balloons and banners.  The noise and light, many moving pieces gave the event a pep rally feel which drove up my anxiety level pretty bad. I was able to keep from having a panic attack or a meltdown, but it took work not to fall apart especially with the week that I had had and the fact that in the previous 31 hours I had only 3.5 hours of sleep.  I don’t like my outbursts of anger which can border on rage depending on the sense of danger that I feel although some expressions that I have come up with in these events are pretty funny as I question the parentage and oedipal tendencies of some people.  Anxiety, tremors, muscle tension, insomnia and nightmares are no fun either.

I guess for me that the war is not over and I know that if I was to go back I would do just fine. I almost think that another deployment to either Iraq of Afghanistan would help me in some ways. I guess I might get another shot at it as things continue to develop over there.  Personally I think I need it to close the loop and one day when peace comes to Iraq to go back there to visit some of the Iraqis that I got to know while there.

Dundas at HitSomehow I was More Relaxed in Iraq than I am Here

So now I am much more understanding of what Judy has lived with since childhood.  She has been a help to me in understanding my struggle as well and what I have experienced has helped me have a lot more compassion and understanding for her.  The only one without PTSD is our little dog Molly so it does make for interesting living around our little household.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Star Trek the Next Generation: Captain Jean-Luc Picard Deals with PTSD

Counselor Deanna Troi: Interesting.
Captain Jean-Luc Picard: Counselor…
Counselor Deanna Troi: I just find it interesting. Captain Jean-Luc Picard, the man who couldn’t be pried out of his seat for a vacation for three years!
Captain Jean-Luc Picard: It’s Earth. It’s home. Do I need another reason?
Counselor Deanna Troi: I don’t know, what do you think?
Captain Jean-Luc Picard: Your help has been invaluable during my recovery, but…look, I’m, uh…I’m better! The injuries are healing.
Counselor Deanna Troi: Those you can see in the mirror.
Captain Jean-Luc Picard: The nightmares have ended. All I need now is a little time to myself.
Counselor Deanna Troi: I agree. In fact, I’m delighted you’re going. It’s just that…the choice of where you’re going could stand some scrutiny.
Captain Jean-Luc Picard: If you wish to believe my going home is a direct result of being held captive by the Borg, be my guest.
Counselor Deanna Troi: Is that what you believe?
Captain Jean-Luc Picard: I hate it when you do that.
Counselor Deanna Troi: Captain, you do need time. You cannot achieve complete recovery so quickly. And it’s perfectly normal after what you’ve been through, to spend a great deal of time trying to find yourself again.
Captain Jean-Luc Picard: And what better place to find oneself than on the streets of one’s home village.
Counselor Deanna Troi: Interesting.

I have always found the Star Trek TNG episode Family quite compelling.  The episode (Season 4 Episode 2) deals with Captain Jean Luc Picard’s return home following his capture and assimilation by the race known as the Borg during The Best of Both World’s Part 1 and II (Season 3 Episode 26 and Season 4 episode 1.)

The story is interesting because it deals with some of the issues that people traumatized in combat deal with as they try to find themselves again.  In the story Captain Picard, in a very typical manner of someone traumatized by combat believes that his injuries are healing.  His counselor, Deanna Troi who serves as the Ship’s “Counselor” challenges him on his belief that he has recovered and his choice of where he wants to go to find himself again.

I saw the episode when I was in Seminary not long after completing the Chaplain Officer Basic Course and then saw it again when I was going through my Clinical Pastoral Education Residency.  It was during that process, one in which I was trying to find and define what “home” was, that it really caught me.  I was Captain Picard, the brother who left home to explore and travel while serving in the military.   My brother Jeff was Picard’s brother Robert.  He is the one who stayed home and minded family business.  The parallels then got me and even more so now.  My Residency Supervisor used this to good effect during that time in dealing with the issues of home, but the post combat and PTSD part was yet to come.

Back in the days of my residency I struggled with another of issues related to being a military brat and having begun a career in the Army.  In a sense I was a nomad.  I had lived a lot of places but none were really home, even where I had spent all of junior and senior high school.  Like Picard my eyes were set on far horizons of exploration and adventure of military life.  My brother Jeff on the other hand like Picard’s brother was content at staying at home, being near our parents, getting established in the school district and taking care of his family.   We both chose our own paths and both were right for us.  I still long for adventure and exploration but have begun to settle down.

When it came to the placement of the PTSD in this picture it was after Iraq that I had a crisis in a number of areas in my life and every time I thought that I was doing better and maybe even “getting well” that there was always something that could trigger the memories, bring back the dreams and keep me from sleep.  I can say that a year and a half after my return from Iraq I am doing better in a lot of ways but still having struggles with anxiety insomnia and hyper-vigilance.  I did find out that there is one thing that does not evoke a startle reflex is a foul ball that comes back against the screen in from of me in Section 102 at the Church of Baseball Harbor Park Parish.  Last night while taking pictures right up against the screen I had several balls that hit within a couple of feet of me, one of which hit my camera and knocked it out of my hand.  Anywhere else loud noise, unexpected crashes, things flying past me sends me into a hyper-alert status.

picard familyPicard Meets His Family after Many Years and Wounds Away

When Picard goes home it is not the confident Starship Captain who returns, but a man unsure of himself and where he fits in life.  His encounter with the Borg has changed him and he contrary to assurances to Counselor Troi is still wounded.  When I returned from Iraq I wondered where I fit, I felt like I had abandoned my advisers in Al Anbar when I returned because my relief had to be sent elsewhere do to circumstances beyond my control.  I did not feel a part of my own unit as nothing was the same when I came back.  I felt weak, useless and at the end of my rope after having completed incredible tour in combat of my then 26 years in the military.  Physically I was falling apart; I had several nagging injuries from Iraq that caused chronic pain.  I was flashing back with every moment, fires burning in the Great Dismal Swamp had turned our air the color of an Iraq sand storm while the smell was like that of the ever present burn pits, both military and Iraqi.  Walking out the door one morning with my neighborhood shrouded in smoke I began to melt down.  That day we had a seminar done by a nationally known speaker dealing with trauma and combat with the associated feelings and emotions.  At the end of the day I was a wreck.  My Unit Doctor, Chris Rogan looked at me and said “Chaplain you don’t look good, are you okay?”  I said “no I’m not, I’m losing it and I’m scared.”  That was the place where I finally began to get help.  It has been about 14 months since I started and it is still a process.  We made a trip home that summer and I did not do well.  It was painful and I had great difficulty both in the travel as well as the visit.  When I hear fellow vets talking about the surreal and often painful times that they experience I can understand.  The fact is that you can be with a hundred friends and family members and be totally alone when you return home because it is something that you cannot really share and that they usually don’t understand.  Once again I have been fortunate.  My little brother actually listens to me and lets me vent when I need to.  Of course dealing with our family’s stuff this is a two way street.

not a happy camperVisiting Home and not Doing Well

In the story Picard is offered a chance to leave Starfleet and go to work on a project under the ocean on Earth.  He is sorely tempted to take it but before he can he has an encounter with his brother who challenges his decision.  They exchange words and Captain Picard feeling picked on starts a fight.  During the fight he breaks down about his experiences sobbing in his brother’s arms.  “His brother then said: So – my brother is a human being after all. This is going to be with you a long time, Jean-Luc. A long time. You’ll have to learn to live with it. You have a simple choice now. Live with it below the sea with Louis, or above the clouds with the Enterprise.”

In a sense that is something that all of us who serve after having been traumatized by the experience of wart have to deal with, the physical as well as the psychological and spiritual wounds.  For me it was the realization that I was human after all and the slow realization that this will be with me a long time.  The choice is how I choose to live my life and where I do so.

In the series and subsequent Star Trek: The Next Generation films Picard is forced to deal with his psychological wounds from the encounter with the Borg culminating in the second of those films Star Trek: First Contact. In it Starfleet Command leave Picard and the Enterprise out of the battle leading to this exchange between Picard and his First Officer which deals with the stigma associated with such an injury.

Cmdr. William Riker: Captain, why we are we out here chasing comets?
Captain Jean-Luc Picard: Let’s just say Starfleet has every confidence in the Enterprise and her crew – they’re just not sure about her Captain. They believe that a man who was once captured and assimilated by the Borg should not be put in a situation where he would face them again. To do so would introduce “an unstable element to a critical situation.”
Cmdr. William Riker: That’s ridiculous. Your experience with the Borg makes you the perfect man to lead this fight.
Captain Jean-Luc Picard: Admiral Hayes disagrees.

The stigma associated with psychological injuries is far greater than that of physical injuries.  The unseen injuries are not as well understood and those who suffer them often are broken down by the system as they try to get help and many simply go underground and self medicate.  Last year two Army Generals opened up about their struggles with PTSD. I was fortunate to have people come alongside of me when I went down hard.  People who did not give up on me and kept faith by caring about me when I was and still get down.

See the article at: http://edition.cnn.com/2009/HEALTH/03/06/generals.ptsd/

Despite this and the efforts of many in the Military to help those with PTSD and other “unseen” injuries, to include medical conditions brought on by exposure to toxins in the combat zone, there is still the stigma.  As the young officer suffering from a rare and eventually fatal pulmonary condition acquired in Iraq as well as yet untreated PTSD “I squarely wish I had lost my legs then than the lung function that I have lost!”

Captain Picard’s story of course is fictional, but it demonstrates to some degree what those who experience the psychological and spiritual wounds of war face when they “come home.”  This stuff doesn’t go away.  Here are some of the comments that I have had from readers who deal with their own or a family members PTSD.

Australian Vietnam Veteran who wrote me said:  “As an Australian Vietnam Veteran with PTSD, I find these articles fascinating. I long wondered why the world had to be such a hostile mongrel place. Then 30 years later I was diagnosed with PTSD and I can now relate to why I have the condition but the world has not changed and medication is of limited use. There are many of us who are still very isolated and have to limit our social contacts. I recently started a Vietnam Veterans group, for members of our small unit, on the web and I found men who were relieved to be part of something and someone they could relate to as they had all but withdrawn from society. Sadly a few of them refuse to take any medication for their medical conditions as they see that as prolonging their miserable existence.”

A family member of a WWII veteran said: “thank you. It’s really needed for women to read articles/memoirs like that. It’s easy to say someone has PTSD, but another to live with and love who has it. I come from a family with rich military history and this is an everyday issue. Never goes away, even after 40 – 60 years.”

A USMC Vietnam Vet that I know wrote: “It’s a bitch at times, and the sleep, or lack of will eventually come, although it will never be a fully restful sleep. The Hyper vigilance seems never to go away. Yes it could be good, but eventually it can be bad…. well do I know both.”

An Army Chaplain from Iraq noted: “I too am a chaplain who felt that he and his assistant were the best equipped to handle the horrors of war – just to find out after being home for about a year just how much I had changed. I was sitting with my daughter in my lap one weekend afternoon when she asked, “Daddy, why don’t you play and laugh with us like you use to before you went to Iraq?” It was the key event that brought everything to a point where I could get help. In the months since there have been good days and definitely bad days – however, my faith remains strong….”

I run into people like this every day in the course at work who deal with this and sometimes it spills over into my stuff.  However I am glad to know that I am not alone.  To those who have helped me since I have be back, Chris, Two Feathers, Limey, Greg, Jesse, Jeff, Elmer, my longsuffering wife the Abbess of the Abbey Normal Judy and my brother Jeff, Colonel P and Janet, the folks I work with, the people at Harbor Park, especially Ray, Charlie and the Vietnam Veterans of America who man the beer stand on the concourse behind home plate and all the others who have come alongside I am grateful.  It is my sincere wish and prayer that all veterans will have such fine people there for them when they hit the wall.

Peace, Steve+

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Filed under iraq,afghanistan, PTSD, star trek