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Passages: Thoughts on My Last Week at Naval Medical Center Portsmouth

“Andre Dawson has a bruised knee and is listed as day-to-day. Aren’t we all?” Vin Scully

“It’s a mere moment in a man’s life between an All-Star Game and an Old-timers’ Game.” Vin Scully

“The oldest pitcher acquires confidence in his ball club – he doesn’t try to do it all himself.” Burleigh Grimes

Every day is a new opportunity. You can build on yesterday’s success or put its failures behind and start over again. That’s the way life is, with a new game every day, and that’s the way baseball is.”  -Bob Feller

As any of my regular readers know I relate most of life to baseball. For me it resonates more than more than almost any other part of my life.  I think by now with over 29 years in the military that I count as a seasoned veteran who has been dinged up some and had to try to recover from injuries to his body but also to his self confidence and ability to stay in the game. My assignment at Naval Medical Center Portsmouth has been one of those assignments that was a lot like a rehab assignment to get me back in form for an assignment on a new team where I will be the number one starter in the rotation instead of a rehabbing pitcher making spot starts and relief appearances.

Today I finish up most of my administrative out processing from NMCP as I prepare to transfer to Naval Hospital Camp LeJeune. I have been at the command two years and it has been an eventful tour.  During the assignment I was forced to deal with the effects of my tour in Iraq, notably my PTSD and its related physical, psychological and spiritual impacts which included a loss of faith and absence of God that left me for a year and a half a practical agnostic. I also had to deal with the end stages of my father’s struggle with Alzheimer’s disease which culminated in his death in June of this year.  While this was going on I also dealt with a nasty Kidney stone that sidelined me from almost all human activity for over a month, a tooth that had abscessed and had to be replaced by an implant after a root canal failed and various nagging injuries to my shoulders, elbows, a knee and ankle from Iraq.  Most recently I have had to struggle with my hearing, I have something called Auditory Processing Disorder as well as some really annoying Tinnitus, I can hear lots of noise but somehow my brain is not processing it correctly. With all of this in the background and sometimes the foreground I worked and often struggled through the assignment which despite my skills as a critical care chaplain was more difficult than I could imagine.

I compare my time at Portsmouth to a baseball pitcher that goes to a new team but has injuries that he thought were manageable but which were severe enough to take him out of the game and into a rehab mode.  Of course not all teams give older pitchers that chance and that is true more often than not in the military when injuries to an officer are severe enough, especially emotional ones to keep him from functioning at top form.  I was fortunate as Chaplain Tate gave me the chance to heal and looked at my potential rather than my weaknesses when writing up my evaluation reports.  I can say that that is not the norm in much of the military where I probably would have been given reports that would have kept me from being promoted and resulted in me being placed in second tier jobs until I was able to retire.

I was fortunate however because during the assignment I was given time to recuperate and begin to heal.  That has not been easy by far but I am doing well enough now to handle things that would have sent me down the toilet of tears a few months ago. I give a lot of credit to Chaplain Jesse Tate and my therapist Dr. Elmer Maggard, better known as “Elmer the Shrink.”  I couple of retired Navy Chaplains on our staff also were men that helped me through the very rough times; Monsignor Fred Elkin and Reverend Jerry Shields gave me much spiritual support and provided me the opportunity to vent as I needed to during really difficult times.   As I got better and able to handle more responsibility Chaplain Tate started putting more responsibility on me, especially after I was selected for promotion to Commander.  It was like I was done with the rehab work and being put back into the game.  He held me accountable and was like a pitching coach or manager working with me, pushing my limits and making corrections even while encouraging me.  He did this with the purpose of getting me ready for my next assignment where I will be in charge of a staff of 6 personnel.  The past couple of months were high pressure due to all the activities the department was engaged in. These including a retirement, two major conferences and the transition of our Pastoral Care Resident Chaplains as one group finished their residency and a new group went through orientation.  In that time I had to deal with a lot more pressure than I had been exposed to most of my tour. After the last conference ended I realized that I could now function at a high level again and not just in my clinical areas.  I am now sure that I can do well in my new assignment and I am looking forward to the opportunity.

As I leave NMCP I will be leaving a lot of friends in my department as well as the rest of the hospital, especially the staff of our adult, pediatric and neonatal ICUs.  Some of these staff members will continue to serve at NMCP, others are now either deployed in harm’s way, have transferred to other commands or have left the service or retired.  I have to thank them as well because each in their own way has been a part of my recovery.

Most people do not get this kind of opportunity to serve and to heal at my age, rank or time in service. Most are put out to pasture until they can retire.  To quote baseball immortal Lou Gehrig “today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.” As I re-read his farewell speech a lot of it resonated with me even though I’m not to my knowledge dying and he was.  I’m blessed and somewhat lucky and I am grateful for all that I have experienced at NMCP.  I will leave many friends and if I am lucky enough hope to continue my career as a chaplain in Navy Medicine and return to Portsmouth, perhaps to finish my Navy career.  When I depart on Thursday it will be with a grateful heart and I will miss those that I worked with at NMCP. I am fortunate in one respect that my next assignment is a Naval Hospital and that I will know a good number of the staff at it from my time at NMCP or other duty stations.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under Baseball, Military, Pastoral Care, philosophy, PTSD, remembering friends, US Navy

A Sea of Contradictions: My Life and Faith since returning from Iraq

Dinner with my Friend, Major General Sabah in Ramadi

“Many people are looking for an ear that will listen. They do not find it among Christians, because these Christians are talking where they should be listening.But he who can no longer listen to his brother will soon be no longer listening to God, either; he will be doing nothing but prattle in the presence of God, too. This is the beginning of the death of the spiritual life, and in the end there will be nothing left but spiritual chatter and clerical condescension arrayed in pious words… never really speaking to others.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Since I returned from Iraq I have grown weary of Christians that have all the answers and are more interested in promoting their agenda than actually listening or caring for those wounded in spirit from various forms of trauma including war. Since I returned from Iraq and going through what amounted to a crisis in faith, belief and experience of what I felt to be abandonment by God and many Christians.  I have elected to travel down a path that has been of great benefit but has been filled with difficulty and pain as I both walked through the psychological, spiritual and physical effects of my time in Iraq and, the moral injuries that I incurred and the practical ways that these crisis’ have had on my life and relationships.

On Monday at work we had some of our pastoral care residents presented their research projects which they had worked on during their residency year.  All were well done but one struck me because of its subject and home much I could relate to it.  The subject was “Writing our Way Home” and dealt with how the use of poetry and narrative could help some combat veterans make sense of their world and deal with the trauma that they have experienced.  After Iraq I began to write, initially because it was therapeutic and helped me to begin to start sorting out what was going on with me. It also helped me, especially when I went public on this site about my experience to get outside of my normally severely introverted self. As I began to write regularly it became a part of my life as I struggled to deal with PTSD as well as  spiritual and emotional crises following my tour in Iraq, alienation on my return as well as various family crisis’s.

The understanding that resonated with me was that our stories, the good and the bad, what we believe to be true and what really is true about ourselves and our experiences is all part of who we are. This is something that I experienced in my own pastoral care residency at Parkland Memorial Hospital in the 1990s when my supervisor challenged be to stop living in the past and begin to imagine a future that was not a prisoner of my past disappointments and failures.  That was a watershed experience for me and as I began to sort through all of the crap that I was dealing with in CPE and family of origins issues I began to realize that I did not need to live my life in a constant repetition of the past.  Now that realization did not always find a place in my life but in a gradual process I began to escape that past and begin to live in the moment with an eye to the future.

Of course Iraq changed that to some degree, in fact to a large degree. What I experienced there and upon my return to the States shook many of my beliefs about the world, faith and life. The images of American Marines wounded by IED attacks, wounded children and destruction of vast areas of cities, towns and villages coupled with having HUMMVs and Helicopters that I traveled on shot at and having rockets fly over my head changed me, especially when I saw how the war was being covered by both the liberal and conservative media which bore little resemblance to my first hand observations. Even worse was the feeling of being isolated and abandoned when I returned home.  I experienced a crisis in faith that left me a practical agnostic even as I desperately prayed for God to show up.  In fact it was psychotherapist that was the first person to even address my spiritual life after I returned.

When Elmer Maggard asked me: “How are you and the big guy?” I could only say “I don’t know I don’t even know if he exists.”  For a priest and chaplain that was a harrowing admission.  I had entered a world of darkness that I did not believe was possible. I would struggle for another year and a half until during Advent of 2009 things began to change and I began to sense the presence of a loving God again.  My faith began to return but I have to say it is not the same as before I went to Iraq.  I still struggle though most of the time I cannot say that I am a practical agnostic as I do have faith and faith which can be considered orthodox but perhaps more negotiable.

You may ask what I mean by this so I will briefly explain.  First I admit that I do not have the answers that I used to think that I had. Likewise I am a lot more apt to say “I don’t know” or “I struggle with that too” when people tell me of their experiences when struggling with faith or even the existence of God.  I refuse to pass judgment on someone’s faith journey or even if they question God’s existence because I have been there and it is not a comfortable place to live.  I am far more willing to walk with someone thorough that valley of doubt or unbelief because I lived in that valley for over a year. As far as who I frame my world, I am far less likely to pin something as “God’s will” or “an attack of the Devil” than I am to recognize that as human beings that we live in a fallen state and that sometimes things just happen. To quote a popular say “Shit Happens.”  In the middle of this I think the real miracle is that God can give us the grace to go through the most difficult times even when we have no faith at all.  I don’t think that is at all heretical because the experience of Jesus on Good Friday and the scriptural accounts as well as the testimony of 2000 years of Christians tells me that this is true. The miracle in my mind is not being “delivered” from crisis or unbelief but through the grace of God making it though the crisis and return to faith, even if that faith takes a different form.

For me the act of writing both about my experience as well as through fiction or history has been therapeutic and forced me out of my comfort zone.  When I began this site and began to tell my story my friend Elmer the Shrink he asked me if I was really sure that I wanted to open up and become vulnerable as I shared the truth as I believed it to be.  I said that I needed to as I thought people needed to know the reality of what many Iraq and Afghanistan veterans were going through.  He told me that what I was doing was risky but let me make the call. 600 posts later, not all of course dealing with what I and other veterans have gone through I can say that it was the right decision.

Our presenter on Monday gave us a few minutes to write something and for me this came quite easily as I was struck by a section of her presentation about how contradictory our life experiences can be. I began to write about those contradictions and will share a bit of that here.

I am a man of faith, a Christian and Priest. I believe but I also doubt and question, in fact there are some times that I feel somewhat agnostic even after the events of last December when faith began to return.  I am much more prone to give the benefit of the doubt to people especially those who struggle with life, faith and even the existence of God. I figure that God is big enough to handle doubt and unbelief while still loving and caring for the person experiencing doubt or unbelief or whose beliefs that may not fit the definition of Christian orthodoxy.

I am a passionate person who is an introvert in an extroverted world both in ministry and the military. I am an intuitive “out of the box” thinker and sometimes rebel.  Yet in spite of this I willingly volunteer to serve the church and the military.  It is interesting because both institutions prize loyalty to the institution, obedience and staying within the lines of prescribed beliefs and traditions.  I believe yet question, I find cause to not agree with what all of my political party or the other political party espouse to the chagrin of the faithful in both parties.

I have learned that there is a healthy tension in this type of life. I do not for the most part follow those that insist that to be a Christian that I must do this and that even though I fully subscribe to the Creeds, the first 7 Ecumenical Councils an Anglican understanding of the Christian faith. Nor do I think that to be to be a “American patriot” that I should vote a certain way, belong to a particular party or follow the agenda of any political party as if it others believe the agenda to be brought down from the mountain by Moses himself.  I have had people on occasion to criticize me for this.  However I cannot allow any political ideology to hold my faith captive, nor can I cast aside the essence of the Christian faith even when I doubt.

One of the things that I find concerning is how it seems to me that many supposedly “conservative” Christians have almost made what I think is a deal with the devil in terms of their political involvement. I think that they are sacrificing a long term witness to short term expedient political alliances with people, particularly “conservative” political talk show host and pundit Glenn Beck that have an antithetical and antagonistic views of historic Christianity.   My concern is more about the faith and witness of the Church than an alliance with someone that appeals to our more base nationalistic ideas than the faith itself.

I have discovered that for the most part I can comfortably live in this tension, in fact I do not think that I was to fall completely to one side or the other be it in faith, social responsibility or politics that my life would be as full as it is, or as some might be thinking now as “full of it as I am.” Whatever… The fact is that I think that as a Christian and as an American that it is okay to live life in balance and with a health appreciation of creative tension.

I have begun to emerge from the darkness of my post Iraq experience and I know that I am still wounded. I know that I still struggle but I now am beginning to see this as a gift.  My faith is not the same as it was, I am not satisfied with simplistic answers or the party lines of people that only care about their agenda especially when they decide that their agenda is God’s will, even if it has nothing to do with the Gospel. I know that sounds kind of snarky to some but I really want to be an authentic Christian not some caricature that is more a picture of the American perversion of the faith than anything found in Scripture or the 2000 year history of the Church.

I believe but I struggle. I will listen to other points of view, including those of people that are not Christian. In fact I found that my Iraqi Muslim friends were much easier to dialogue with and have deep and respectful theological discussions with than many American Evangelicals.  For me that was a watershed moment.

But anyway, this post was not meant to be a treatise on anything but is for me more of a reflection of a dialogue that has been going on in me since my return.  The thing is I know other Chaplains that have returned from Iraq or Afghanistan who have experienced the same feelings that I have been working through but do not have a safe place in their churches to heal, and are afforded little time to do self care.  I am concerned for our caregivers that care of veterans like me.  I wonder how many can be real in their faith community without having people run away from them as if they were radioactive, a feeling that many veterans and other trauma victims experience when they attempt to tell their story.

I just hope that I will be able to be there for others who are wounded and suffering as a result of what they experienced in war.

That is all for tonight.  Blessings and peace my friends,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under christian life, iraq,afghanistan, Loose thoughts and musings, Pastoral Care, philosophy, Religion

A Tangled Mass of Emotions: Dad, the Boss, an ICU Death and the All-Star Game

The Big “A” that I knew

I am a mess the past day or so. Not that anything is bad or going wrong it is just that emotionally I am a mess.  As I try to get back into normal life I find emotions brought up by my dad’s death three weeks ago going all over the place.  Today was so strange; it actually began a couple of days ago when I finished the third chapter of my series on “Meeting Jesus and the Team at 7-11” entitled “A Death, a Rain Delay and a Visit from Saint Pete.” Since my dad’s death due to complications from Alzheimer’s disease I have experienced number of things that sent my emotions into overload because they somehow connected with dad and his death.  Over the past couple of days these intense emotional surges, I cannot call them swings because they are not swings, I am not going between depression and elation but rather experiencing strong emotional impulses as things remind me of my dad or of childhood.  I know that I am okay because grief and the emotions that follow the loss of a parent particularly your father if you are the oldest son are guaranteed to mess with you. They are normal, I am a highly trained pastoral caregiver but since I am not a Vulcan but a Romulan with probably a bit of Klingon mixed in the emotional surges that well up from under my normally cold and logical exterior are a real bitch, no wonder the Romulans wage war with such ferocity and the Klingons appear to be in a perpetually foul mood.  But I digress…

The past couple of weeks have been weird because I never know when something is going to trigger emotions that remind me of my dad.  Much of this of course revolves around baseball as it was my dad that taught me to love the game and through the connection between baseball and dad there has been, even when he was no longer himself due to the ravages of Alzheimer’s something that brought a sense of stability and peace to life, even when I was a post-Iraq PTSD mess.

Now I am a mess again as things that I see, hear and experience things that bring me back to dad.  At this moment my excrement is together but I have no idea what or when the next emotional surge will hit and I will be blubbering like I girl, not that there is anything wrong with that.

The past few days are a case in point. I went to Harbor Park on both Saturday and Sunday and had a great time, at the same time I felt like my dad was there. He never came to Norfolk during my time here because of his physical and deteriorating mental state but now since his death it almost feels like he is there with me.  I went to work Monday and had the on-call overnight duty at the Medical Center and was doing pretty well but in the late afternoon I was called for a cardiac arrest of an 81 year old man and off and on throughout the evening was called back as he continued to get worse to take care of his family, a wife of 63 years and a son a couple of years old than me.  I really wanted this man to live but it became apparent as the night wore on that he would not survive the night and his wife asked me to perform the Sacrament of Healing or what some used to refer to as “Last Rights” which I did with she and her son present using the rite form the Book of Common Prayer.  With his condition somewhat stable I went to our call room where I attempted to get a little rest on the bed from hell.   Of course getting to sleep on said bed is difficult at best and since when I am on duty the hyper vigilance factor is real and present it takes a while to get to sleep.  About 0215 my fitful sleep was interrupted by the pager going off and with it the message to come back to the ICU as the patient was dying.  I went back and was with the family when he died and until they left the building about 0315.

The next morning or rather later in the morning, but not much later I was back up and preparing for a meeting across the bay at the VA Medical Center. While I prepared I found out that George Steinbrenner had died.  When I felt the emotions well up in me, especially while I was watching ESPN’s Sports Center and various players, managers and other sports figures were interviewed about the Boss the emotions started coming in waves, funny how that happens.  As I reflect on this I guess it is because in many ways my dad and Steinbrenner were similar, passionate, outspoken, driven but also caring and good fathers who often showed compassion to others but in a private manner. Now my dad was not a fan of Steinbrenner or the Yankees, but the Boss engendered such emotions in people, positive and negative I am not surprised my dad had little regard for the American League after all he was a National League man.  When I heard Derek Jeter, Joe Morgan, Paul O’Neil and so many others talk of their relationship with Steinbrenner I laughed, cried and reflected on dad.  Strange connection but a connection anyway.

Photo Day 1970 with Angels Manager “Lefty” Phillips

Later in the evening I went to Gordon Biersch for a salad, beer and to watch some of the Major League Baseball All-Star game which was being played at the home of the Los Angeles Angels, at one time th California Angels, Anaheim Stadium, the place where more than any my dad taught me a love and respect of the game of Baseball.  As I looked at this cathedral of baseball, now expanded and Disneyfied since I was a child shagging foul balls and collecting autographs I was taken back in time.  I remember the very first game that dad took us to at Anaheim Stadium as it was then known as the “Big A” like it was yesterday, July 4th 1970 the day after Clyde Wright pitched a no-hitter. On this day the Angels did not win, the A’s won 7-4.  I saw the first major league home runs that I can remember seeing in person that night as we sat in the lower level of the right field corner near the foul pole. At that time the bullpen was adjacent to the grandstand and there were no mountains, valleys, palm trees or whatever else is out there, a log ride perhaps, but I digress. Back then there was a warning track and a fence as well as an amazing scoreboard in the shape of a big block “A” with a halo near the top.

That night I saw home runs by Reggie Jackson, Bert Campaneris and Sal Bando for the A’s and Jim Spencer for the Angels.  Jim “Catfish” Hunter got the win and Jim “Mudcat” Grant got the save. Rudy May took the loss for the Angels.  The fact that I saw two future Hall of Fame players in this game was amazing, the winning pitcher, Hunter and Reggie Jackson.  Later in the year I entered a contest and wrote why Jim Spencer was my favorite Angel.  I had met Spencer at an autograph signing event at the local Von’s grocery store and when the contest winners were announced I was a runner up. I got tickets behind home plate and my name announced by legendary sportscaster Dick Enberg on the radio and my name in the Long Beach newspaper that sponsored the contest.  Dad took us probably to 30 or more games that year and I fell in love with the game.

Back in those days teams still had photo days where players would be available on the field for pictures and autographs and on autograph day in 1970 my dad took my brother and I onto a major league ball field for the first time and I was in awe.  The warning track was a red clay and the field was lush green as I looked back in toward home plate I wondered what it would be like to play in such a place.  From that season on the game had a hold on me. Dad and I did not have much in common, my brother I think is actually more like him than me but Dad taught me about the game at the stadium and in our back yard and gave me a gift that connected him to me more than anything else, something that I didn;t realize until much later in life.  I looked at that stadium on television and I saw the field, the main part of the stadium is still so much like it was when dad took us there and as I looked at it and remembered him I was in tears, I had a hard time keeping my emotions in, kind of embarrassing to be in tears at a bar during a baseball game but I was doing my best to hold it in.  Judy told me that I probably needed to talk to Elmer the Shrink about this but he is out of town until next week.  So I’ll wait, everyone deserves time off.

While we were still there and I was working on my second Kölsch style sömmerbrau a friend came up to me. He was a bit lit up having consumed his fair share and maybe more for the night but God used him and in his own way to bring comfort to me in what appeared rather earthy and even ludicrous manner but when he was said and done I felt better.  I think that he will need to serve as a model for some character in the Meeting Jesus and the Team series, I have no idea which figure from the Bible or Church history just yet but I will look around because what he said even though a tad under the influence of decidedly good beer was profound.  God does use people in strange and mysterious ways.

So I will continue I am sure to have emotional surges whenever something reminds me of my dad and I guess in the long run that is a good thing as my friend said it would make me better at what I do, I have now experienced the loss of my dad and am that much closer to the time that I will pass away, a generation has been removed between me and the end of my earthly life. This is something that so many people that I know already deal with.  It allows me to be connected to them in a way that just a few weeks back that I could not be.  It makes me a bit more human and more connected.

Dad, the Boss and the All-Star game at Anaheim Stadium, it is amazing what this concoction of images, memories and feelings can turn me into, a blubbering girl, not that there is anything wrong with that.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under Baseball, faith, Loose thoughts and musings, philosophy, Religion, sports and life

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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Padre Steve’s Highs and Lows of 28 Years Service

Ooops, this should have posted the 25th…all references in the post though it posted today are for the 25th.  The meltdown was the 24th, not my duty night.

Note: I think that I have pretty much recovered from last night’s mini-meltdown, though tired have has a good day working some stuff that is pretty cool that could be a positive thing for Navy and VA Chaplains.  I think success does help mitigate some of the effects of a meltdown.  If today had been crappy and I hadn’t had a good talk with Elmer the Shrink it might have continued.  Now with some sleep I could be cooking with gas even though my house is all electric.

On to the Post:

Soldier Once and YoungEnlisted in National Guard 1982

“So we’re all dogfaces, we’re all very, very different, but there is one thing that we all have in common: we were all stupid enough to enlist in the Army. We’re mutants. There’s something wrong with us, something very, very wrong with us. Something seriously wrong with us – we’re soldiers. But we’re American soldiers! We’ve been kicking ass for 200 years!” Bill Murray as John Winger in “Stripes” 1981

Well sports fans I am at the hospital tonight celebrating 28 years of service in the military. It really doesn’t seem like any more than 27 ½ but who’s counting right? And when I look back at the Army I joined I am reminded of Stripes.

I think that I have pretty much recovered from last night’s mini-meltdown, though tired have has a good day working some stuff that is pretty cool that could be a positive thing for Navy and VA Chaplains.  I think success does help mitigate some of the effects of a meltdown.  If today had been crappy and I hadn’t had a good talk with Elmer the Shrink it might have continued.  Now with some sleep I could be cooking with gas even though my house is all electric.

So 28 years ago today I went down and signed my name on the dotted line.  It was August 25th 1981 two months after the release of the movie Stripes and two months before I saw it with Judy at the $1 movie theater.  On that end of summer day I went down and signed my contract with the Army ROTC program at UCLA with the Chief Lord of Discipline himself, the Captain Bruce Lawson swearing me in.  He had just finished PT and though still in his PT clothes administered the Oath of Enlistment.  It was not much on ceremony but it was a start.  In fact most of my promotions in either the Army of the Navy have not come with much fanfare and I’m actually pretty okay with that so long as I get paid and get to do what I love doing which is being a Priest and getting to serve now as a Navy Chaplain.  So I followed with a trip down to the National Guard Armory on Victory Blvd in Van Nuys to enlist in the National Guard. Since I was not a scholarship student I was allowed to simultaneously enter the Guard.  So the 25th was kind of like a double header for me, I did the oath for the Guard later in the afternoon. It’s like Tommy Lasorda once said: “I love doubleheaders. That way I get to keep my uniform on longer.”

So I went in to Headquarters and Headquarters Battery and met the Company Commander, Captain J.J. Kramer, now a retired Colonel I believe and Major Charles Armagost, the Full Time Unit Administrator and Adjutant.  Wearing his green fatigues the good Major administered the Oath for the California National Guard, which differed from the Federal Oath in that it also included words about obeying the Governor of the State and the Laws of California etc…Following that I was walked down to the supply room where a rather rotund Sergeant began issuing me uniforms and field gear.  I got my first gift of US Military designer clothing and was told to report the Thursday after Labor Day for a “Battery Dark Night.”  So began my rather auspicious career.

I remember being in uniform in those early days without a single ribbon or medal to my name.  I’d look around and see all the guys who had served in Vietnam and some in Korea as well with all kinds of ribbons, medals, unit citations and qualification badges.  I would look at them and once I remarked to Judy that I wish that I would have a lot someday.  She accused me of whining, something that I feel is a mischaracterization of my attitude about not having anything and something that now with a full chest of ribbons, medals and qualification pins that she is not hesitant to remind me of and tell others about.

2LT Dundas 1983Look Mom One Ribbon

So what has transpired in 28 years?  Here are some of the highlights and a few lowlights of the of this adventure.

In 1981 it all began and things happened fast, within two weeks of enlisting I was driving an M-151A1 Jeep to Ft Irwin CA as part of battalion advance party and then spending the weekend learning to call in artillery fire. After going through hell and being destroyed and rebuilt by SFC Harry Ball, Drill Sergeant US Army like Richard Gere was in An Officer and a Gentleman I somehow got commissioned in part due to the forbearance of Major Lawson, the former Captain Lawson who has sworn me in.  Judy asks if I had my own “Puget Sound Deb” when she sees the movie with me that winter. However just prior to getting commissioned during my last annual training period at Camp Roberts I led team of Ersatz East German Kommando’s on raids against battalion rear area as the opposing forces.  I was almost run over in may M-151A1 by an M-548 Ammo Carrier during a strafing run coming down hills firing blanks from machine guns like the Rat Patrol and dropping Smoke and CS grenades in the vehicle’s path.  Later we captured the battery Operations Center during a firing mission. None of this made them happy but the Forward Observers and I had a blast.

After I got commissioned I attended the Medical Department Officer Basic Course at Ft Sam Houston TX and suffered for Jesus for 9 weeks in the Riverwalk Marriott hotel in downtown San Antonio. After this I spent 11 glorious weeks at Ft Knox Kentucky which by the way is in a “dry county” or at least it was back then  going through a 6 week course after being bumped by Saudi Arabian exchange officers.

557th comany command 1985Company Commander

From January 1984 through late December 1986 we were stationed with the 557th Medical Company Neubrucke and later Wiesbaden. Was a platoon leader and became company XO when our XO checked into a psych ward before Winter REFORGER. While in the field was promoted but o one realized that fact until we came out of the field in mid- February. In a late night hastily arranged ceremony which I had to drag Judy in from bed to see I was promoted and got my first real medal. In September I became a “relief pitcher” Company Commander when my new CO got fired. I was told “Lieutenant; clean up that Company.” After 7 months, and having to adjudicate close to 50 Article 15’s, and kicking a bunch of drug users out of the Army I was relieved by a Captain and I had my first and last Change of Command ceremony. Became a personnel officer at our group, pissed off the boss and had a miserable last couple months in Germany. However I completed my first row of ribbons made some really good lifelong German friends and learned to drive really fast and really good and developed a fine appreciation of good beer.

In 1987 I attended the Military Personnel Officer Course at Ft Benjamin Harrison which is in Indianapolis and continued on to Fort Sam Houston where I was assigned as the Adjutant for the Academy Brigade, Academy of Health Sciences.  I got promoted right after I got there and since Judy had not arrived I had the world’s best platoon sergeant, SFC Cynthia Carter help pin on my new Captain bars. Judy was quite happy that Cindy got to do this as she really liked her.  My Brigade Commander wondered what was up with that, but it was an honor to have her do the pinning. While there I worked on AIDS/HIV personnel policy and became “CINC AIDS” at the Academy. While there I collected my second Army Achievement Medal and an Army Commendation Medal.

Berlin WallBerlin Wall 1986

In 1988 I left Active Army to attend Seminary and was appointed as an Armor officer in Texas Army National Guard.  I was told by my boss LTC Jim Wigger that I was moving from the “frying pan into the fire as the chaplains were a cutthroat bunch” and that the “Medical Department was not even in the same league as the Chaplains.” When the Division Chaplain found out that a seminarian was getting ready to drive tanks he pitched a fit and had me enter the Chaplain Candidate program.  In seminary I attended  the Chaplain Officer Basic Course at Fort Monmouth NJ. As Deputy Course leader and Company “First Sergeant” pissed off lots of chaplains and seminarians. Thankfully I was backed up by LTC Rich Whaley who saved my ass for the first time and not the last time.  I met my friend Fr Jim Bowman who kept me from doing anything really stupid. In 1992 I graduated from seminary was ordained and become a chaplain and assigned to 111th Engineer Battalion in Abilene. That year I got thrown out of the Chaplain Officer Advanced Course when school changed a policy on Chaplain Candidates awaiting final approval to be chaplains to enter course. After Billy Martin style tantrum Rich Whaley saves my ass a second time.

In 1993 I went back to Chaplain Officer Advanced Course, made amends and did the appropriate penance.  Meet up with Fr Jim Bowman again. In the fall of 1994 finished the final phase of the Chaplain Officer Advance Course.  Happiness is Ft Monmouth in your rear view mirror. In the summer of 1984 I viewed the O.J. Chase live on miniature TV in M-577 Command Track with Lakers playoff game in split screen while at Fort Hood.

In January 1995 I moved to Huntington WV to take a job as a contract ER Chaplain.  I transferred from one former Confederate Unit to another going from the Texas to the Virginia Army National Guard.  In December I was promoted to Major and transferred to the Army Reserve and got rid of the 410 mile one way trip for a drill.

New MajorNew Major December 1995

In July of 1996 I got mobilized and sent to Germany to support Bosnia mission, lose job. While in Germany get to do a lot of cool stuff, got a bunch of medals and though the Chaplains there wanted me to be brought on regular active duty get told I am too senior to transfer to Regular Army. I actually think that the guy who made the decision remembered me from Chaplain School and did not want someone like me in “his” Chaplain Corps. Upon my return from Bosnia support the Reserves assigned to Ft Indiantown Gap PA as Installation Command Chaplain where in September 1998 I got to close down help close down the Federal side of things and transfer chapel and congregation to National Guard care. In October I returned to the reserves like a journeyman ball-player being sent back to AAA from the Majors. In December the Navy offered me a deal to play “in the show” on active duty and I took it, went from being an Army Reserve Major to Navy Lieutenant. My friend Father Fred Elkin was my first detailer and offered me a choice of East Coast or West Coast Marines when I asked for a ship.  We now serve together and get a good laugh about that now. It did turn out to be a good thing for me. One of the cool things about my time in the Navy has been since I have blown myself up enough in the Army and seen others do likewise that I know where the career “land mines” are and how not to step on them. This has been a great benefit to me.  It was like changing from one league to another in the middle of a baseball season.  The old stats don’t count for or against you when you start playing in the new league.

After Navy Chaplain School I was assigned to the 2nd Marine Division at Camp LeJuene NC. From then on my life has been going non-stop.  I was chaplain for 4 different battalions in the Division where Father John Kaul used me as a “relief pitcher” in situations where chaplains had either been fired for doing illegal or immoral things or replacing people who had to move on short notice orders. Did CAX at 29 Palms on multiple occasions and did a deployment to the Far East, Okinawa, Japan and Korea.  Collected more medals got my “old” version Fleet Marine Force Qualification. I was assigned to HQ BN 2nd MARDIV. 9-11 -01 attack happened. A couple of months later I reported to USS HUE CITY CG-66 in Mayport.

Dundas of the DesertDundas of the Desert 29 Palms 2000-2001

Not long after reporting went on the final work up exercises prior to deployment, deployed to the Horn of Africa, Northern Arabian Gulf, Gulf of Oman and Mediterranean.  Was an advisor for a boarding team in Northern Arabian Gulf and made 75 boardings of detained smugglers.  We almost got to see the Indians and Pakistanis get in a nuclear war, that was a bit sporty and we supported air operations in Afghanistan. After a period in the yards during following deployment as well as work with the great Marines who served in the Battle of Hue City I checked off the ship in October 2003, again collecting more medals and ribbons.

Boarding partyBoarding Party 2002

I went to Norfolk where I was assigned to the Marine Corps Security Force Battalion and my Commanding Officers, Colonel Mike Paulovich and Colonel Donald Rogers sent me about the world to care for our Marines.  Over that time I probably averaged 2 trips a month out of the area, many overseas to Japan, Hawaii, Spain, France, the United Kingdom and Bahrain, others to places far and wide in the Continental United States.  Colonel Paulovich and I probably worked more closely together than any commander that I have ever worked with and we went through many difficult times in that assignment. We are still friends to this day.  One of the cool things is the people that we work with. I was promoted to Lieutenant Commander in April 2006.  This meant that I had spent almost 16 years of my career wearing Captain or Lieutenant bars.  I again collected more ribbons and medals for the time with the Marines and was one of the first Navy Officers to get the Fleet Marine Force Officer Qualification pin while completing Marine Command and Staff College.

Belleau woodBelleau Wood France 2004

I then went to Navy EOD Group Two in Little Creek where I was the first chaplain assigned to EOD.  While there I got to go to Jordan to the Jordanian Army/UN Peace Operations Training Center and to Sicily.  I was snatched up to go to Iraq in July 2007 and served the most meaningful operational deployment of my career serving our Marine, Army, Navy, Air Force and Department of Justice and Homeland Security advisors to the Iraqi Army, Police and Border Forces in Al Anbar Province.  I came back from Iraq with a great case of PTSD, a gift that keeps on giving.  I checked out of EOD in September 2007 again with more medals and ribbons to my current assignment at Naval Medical Center Portsmouth where I get to do what I am passionate about as a Priest and Navy Chaplain serving in a teaching hospital.

My Tom Clancy lookIraq 2008

Looking back it has been a long and strange trip and it is still an ongoing journey.  People ask me how I keep going even with the PTSD and it’s like Tommy Lasorda says “Guys ask me, don’t I get burned out? How can you get burned out doing something you love? I ask you, have you ever got tired of kissing a pretty girl?” Speaking of which now that I am on the way home after 31 or so hours at work I probably need to do with Judy when I see her.

Steve Summer Whites 2008July 2008, Grand Admiral of the Ottoman Navy?

Peace,  Steve+

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Filed under Baseball, History, iraq,afghanistan, Loose thoughts and musings, Military, PTSD

Blowouts…The Days (or years) you want to forget…But Need to Learn From

not a happy camperHow I feel after a blowout

It’s no fun to get blown out in any game or life.  Losing sucks no matter how you try to cushion it by saying, “well we almost won” or “gee if only we had…” or “they got lucky, we should have won.” Blowouts on the other hand leave you little to console yourself with.  You lose and you lose badly.  In baseball this usually means that the other team has shredded your pitching staff and that your defense stinks as fielders make fielding and throwing errors, your pitcher throws wild pitches with men on 3rd and your offense dries up like a West Texas lawn in July.   This happened to the Tides Thursday afternoon as they were ripped by Indianapolis 11-3 and it wasn’t that close.  Starter Andy Mitchell who entered the game at 9-2 gave up 8 runs in 4 innings work.  The Tides hitters didn’t come through after a series of comebacks the previous three games.  This happens in the Major Leagues as well. Back on July 22nd the Athletics beat the Twins 16-1; the 18th the Braves beat the Mets 11-0 and back on the 6th the Phillies beat the Reds 22-1.  Being on the receiving end of such a whacking is painful.  The key is what you do with it.  As teams, organizations and individuals everyone will get beaten up once in a while and it takes character and strength to get back out the next day and give it your best when the temptation is to give in to go through the motions and just hope to make it through.

Blowouts in life can come in many ways, health, finances, work situations and relationships.  Sometimes they are our own doing and the results of our choices.  The times I have had the most problems have often been self inflicted because I couldn’t keep my trap shut when I should have either shut up or found a safe place to vent.  In my years in the military and watching baseball I have seen a lot of this.  Likewise there are people who live on the edge and consistently do things that are known to be illegal or unethical within their organization or sport and eventually get caught.  Unfortunately these are not usually the untalented and unmotivated people whose contribution to their team or work environment is to suck up band width and perfectly good oxygen that others could be using to better effect.  The sad thing is that those who push the envelope are often the most talented who have natural ability as well as well as an almost pathological need to be the best.  One only has to take a look at Pete Rose who though his “sins” were not on the playing field, was things that no Manager should ever do.  His attitude about getting caught was an arrogant display of idiocy which disrespected the game that he contributed so much to and soiled his name and reputation.  I hope that he will find redemption in baseball, but the onus is on him to make things right.   Likewise with the myriad of players from the steroid era whose names and reputations are ruined by playing this kind of game.  I am fortunate in that my outbursts did not cost me my career.  There are some I am sure that think little of me because of some of the things I have blown up about over the years and if I could do them over I would do them differently.  But I can’t go back and change them now; they are a part of the tangled tapestry of my life just above the Mendoza Line.

Tuesday night I had the overnight duty and because we were short staffed due to injuries and people being out the duty pager went off incessantly throughout the day.  It was like a day at Parkland without every call being a code, death or trauma.  By noon I felt like a pitcher who was having every batter get a hit, every time I turned around I was rushing off somewhere else.  It is funny when you have a feeling about how a day is going to go.  By noon I knew that this day would be long and painful, just like a game where the opposition scores early and often.  By early evening I was tired, but the hits kept coming and by now almost all were cases out of my comfort zone.

I am by nature a Critical Care, Trauma and Emergency Medicine type of Chaplain.  I am just wired that way.  I will never be a shrink.  I have people all the time ask me or even suggest to me that I get a degree in Counseling or even a Doctorate in Psychology.  Now I do think that I would be a good diagnostician, but I couldn’t handle what my friends who are shrinks have to deal with on a daily basis, give me carnage and traumatic tragedy any day of the week, but not persistent pitter-patter of psychological problems.

Now by shrinks I mean Psychiatrists, Psychologists, Therapists, Clinical Social Workers and Psychiatric Nurses.  I use the term “Shrink” loosely but with great respect and I do not hesitate to consult with them or refer people to them.  I don’t know how they live in that world.  The maelstrom of mentally mangled humanity that my friends deal with on a daily basis would have me in a rubber room.  Thus when I see patients on medical floors I always read their chart and history because if I am going to go in and visit a patient I prefer to know that they are Borderline, Bi-Polar, Schizophrenic, Paranoid, Clinically Depressed, delusional, suicidal or spermicidal before they suck me into their hellish helix of hopelessness.   Knowing these things allows me to stay in my lane, offer appropriate support and actually care for them within my limitations because I do actually have a lot of compassion for the mentally ill or those suffering from even temporary emotional problems.  Heck I have PTSD and some amount of anxiety so Elmer the shrink has his work cut out.  How can I not feel some amount of compassion for those who have even worse situations?  Now there are those who may have some of these conditions who are also maniacally manipulative or pathologically putrid who are not only mentally ill but somewhat or even majorly malevolent.  These folks get to me, I have little compassion for people who even if they have issues are simply rotten people who get off on inflicting pain, emotional, spiritual or physical on those around them, to include their shrinks.

Tuesday night my blowout continued as person after person presented not only needing to see a shrink but wanting to deal with God and all they got was me.  I was beginning to have some words with the Deity Herself about this but was quickly reminded that she loved them too.  Thus my approach was pastoral, supportive and compassionate working within my limitations to ensure that they got the care that they needed without mucking it up for the ER staff or the shrinks.  So of course I was dealing with delusional Paranoid Schizophrenics and Borderline cases all night long.  By the time I trudged up to the on call room a little after 0400 I was exhausted.  My ICU pals were getting a good laugh at my expense and at least I could see the humor in it all.  The alarm rang far too early and when I made my duty turnover I felt like a starting pitcher who had been run over inning after inning for the entire start.  I hadn’t had a night quite like that since my residency at Parkland.  After the turnover I met with my Department Head for a few minutes and he simply said “Steven, go home.”  Even my normal “I can’t leave I have work to do” way of doing life had to agree.  I knew that I was a spent round.

Coming back after getting run over can be difficult and my next day at work I was rested and had a busy but not terribly stressful day and I was back in my element.  No runs, no hits and no errors and no Paranoid Schizophrenics left on base.

How teams come back is interesting. After the drubbing that the Tides took on Thursday they jumped out to an early 4-0 lead against Indianapolis.  Starter Troy Patton gave up two runs and in the 6th Dennis Safrate came on in relief. Sarfate is down on a rehab assignment for the Orioles and got hit hard by the Indians.  The Indians sent 12 men to the plate and scored 9 runs in the 6th off of Sarfate and Russ Wolfe.   Down 5 runs and looking at another beating the Tides found it within themselves to score 5 runs to tie the game in the bottom of the 7th.  Robby Hammock led off the bottom of the 8th with a double, moved to third on a Carlos Rojas sacrifice bunt and was driven in by a Joey Gathright single for the go ahead and ultimately the winning run.  Josh Perrualt got the win pitching 2.1 innings of scoreless relief retiring 7 of the 8 batters that he faced. Jeff Fiorentino had 2 hits an RBI and score 2 runs, Joey Gathright had three hits and the game winning RBI and Victor Diz had 2 doubles and 3 RBIs to help the Tides to victory.

Coming back takes work, no matter what you do. My life, especially the time in seminary until the time I entered the Navy was like a player or team who had a decade of tough seasons.  When I came in the Navy I was able to turn things around.  For the most part I avoid the things that got me in trouble in those years and I have become a lot more skilled at getting through the bumps that I still face.  Fighting back after my post Iraq PTSD collapse has been difficult but things are getting better and my life is coming back into balance.  Things that were impossible for me to deal with even a few months ago are starting to become manageable.  I am coming back and I think that is the key.  Blowouts are no fun and personally I don’t like them, but I am starting to find the takeaways that I need in order to come back.  Isn’t that the point?

Anyway, tonight the Tides start a 4 game series against the Syracuse Sky Chiefs the AAA affiliate of the Washington Nationals who have a 55-49 record and are in 2nd place in the International League North. The Tides are now 3 and ½ games out of 1st in the South Division and a game behind Gwinnett for the Wild Card.

Peace, Steve+

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Loose Thoughts: Can Somebody Tell Me What Sleep is and Why the Old Crap? Why not New Crap?

bean church 1 Mr Bean Trying to Stay Awake in Church.  I can Really Relate See the video at

http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-7178785146631188901&ei=UthpSvKcCpv-qAOCyJAd&q=mr+bean+in+church&hl=en

Tuesday and Wednesday were days where the old Crap both my own life and others kept rising to the top.  My current and crap, which in reality is my old crap move to the present are my PTSD related issues or maybe it’s the whole damned subscription.  My stuff came up, because as Elmer the Shrink says that they have been suppressed by my brain and get dredged up by stuff that triggers them.  Thus it is kind of involuntary, something that I hate.  I am a deliberate and logical person and I don’t like this stuff coming up and screwing with my life, which right now is pretty busy and stressful.

Tuesday night I had the “privilege” of getting two and a half hours of sleep after a great seminar on Caregiver Operational Stress management and intervention.  I was proud of myself.  I actually got through an entire daylong seminar without an immediate PTSD meltdown during the seminar.  That last three times I have attended classes or seminars dealing with things related to or that touch on my stuff it has been like a old pitcher who has seen better days getting chased from the mound at Yankee Stadium in the first inning giving up 7 runs without recording an out.   Tuesday it was hard but it was like getting a complete game and the win.  This was a big accomplishment for me as I have not been able to do this since before I went to Iraq.  However, the subject matter did kick up a bunch of my stuff from Iraq and getting to sleep was really; I mean really fun….not.   To use the old pitcher metaphor I may have got the win but my arm and body need some time to recover, only instead of the arm and body it is by pea-brain. So Tuesday I didn’t get to bed until 2:30 AM and was back up at 5:00 AM so I could come to work and take the duty for the house in addition to my regular duties.

Now I don’t mind having duty, especially at night when I get a chance to round through our hospital wards and spend time with staff, especially the folks in the various ICUs and units that are not part of my daily routine. Yesterday I had a couple of meetings today, a long one in the morning and a couple in the afternoon.  The last meeting was like one of those afternoon classes that I dreaded back in college and seminary;  the kind that I took because I was either working or wanted to sleep late, but which kicked my ass.  One time in seminary the “Z Monster” grabbed me after eating a big burger at lunch before going to class.  That afternoon in Philosophy of Religion the Professor, Dr. Yandall Woodfin, decided to enlighten us with a slide show of various art masterpieces and the religious and or philosophical meanings that could be ascribed to them, I think there were several slide trays of them as this was in the technological dark ages before Power Point poisoning.  I was sitting in the front row, my desk almost under Dr. Woodfin’s nose just slightly to the left of the slide carousel.  The lights were turned low so we could see the pictures better and the temperature was just warm enough in the classroom to  make me even more sleepy.  As all the blood in my body rushed from my brain to my burger locker I began to struggle to stay awake.  It was like Mr. Bean trying to stay awake in church http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-7178785146631188901&ei=UthpSvKcCpv-qAOCyJAd&q=mr+bean+in+church&hl=en I was fighting hard but the “Z Monster” won.  I was doing the “bob, jerk and sleep” for about 20 minutes when finally catastrophe hit.  I flipped my desk; it was a rollover accident without a roll bar, but it was amazing that I did not hurt myself and just how fast I recovered.  I had that desk righted and had my ass back in it before anyone knew what hit them. My fellow students tried to restrain their laughter as the unflappable Dr Woodfin kept the lecture going without missing a beat.  I don’t know if it was years of training or the fact that he was in his “teaching zone” but his focus was amazing as he showed absolutely no distraction by my roll over.

I had similar experiences in other academic and military settings, but while I may have fallen out of my seat I never again flipped a desk.    However today was tough.  I had been pumping myself with caffeine all day long and evidently it was not having the desired effect. I got to the NOD (Nurse of the Day) meeting where the on call people meet with representatives of the nursing units to get an idea what is going on in the hospital at large.  Today I took my seat and the “Z Monster” showed his well disguised face and zapped me.  Pretty soon I was fighting to stay awake.  I was pinching myself, shrugging my shoulders, sucking down my Coke Zero just to stay awake, a couple of times I caught myself about to fall forward in my chair, thankfully I didn’t snore…yes I have done that in meetings or classes too.  When the meeting ended I was more than happy.  I slowly rose from my chair, shook myself out and downed the last of my Coke Zero.  When I got back onto the ICU I got second wind and was good the rest of the evening, made all of my rounds and finally feeling that things were okay for the night trundled off to the chaplain call room to try to sleep.  I got in the bed, pulled the threadbare hospital sheets and too small blankets over me, arranged the flat pillows so they resembled a real pillow turned off the lights and close my eyes.  Unfortunately though my body was toast my brain did not want to turn off, it was like the brain had a mind of its own and was going to keep my body up even though my body was saying “Oh God let me sleep.”  I was so tired that I couldn’t even write myself to sleep like I normally do. Even my entreaties to the Deity Herself seemed to go unanswered, so a laid there, turned on the television and surfed the paltry selection of channels that Mordoc the Preventer of Information contracted to get finally flipping between late night talk show hosts on the major networks other than Conan O’Brien I didn’t know who the majority of these guys were, one of them who followed Conan started kissing the camera in the middle of his monologue.  I rapidly changed channel as that was frightening.  Finally about 2:30, which must be the new 11:30 for me, I drifted off to sleep to be awakened by the 0600 test of our Code Blue response pager.  I did my duty turnover, pumped myself full of caffeine checked on the ICU and PICU, visited some patients, consulted the staff, answered some hot e-mail and calls regarding our incoming Pastoral Care Residents and realized that my body was starting to tell me that I was done.  I trudged down to our main office, sat down with the boss who asked why I was still at work, discussed a couple of issues with him and got sent home where I kissed Judy, pet the dog and threw my ass in bed.  I feel slightly more human now and pray that the sleep I got this afternoon does not mess up going to sleep tonight.

bean church two

While thinking about how my old crap was exhumed by the class, something that Elmer the Shrink says that my brain has been suppressing, I got an e-mail from a pastor who has syndicated opinion column for a number of newspapers here in the USA.  The guy used to write some pretty good stuff that was encouraging, inspiring and occasionally thought provoking.  But something has changed and his articles have become often become almost venomous.  I guess that he’s really angry about something, probably Obama and the Democrats.  I understand that that is his right as a citizen, there are a lot of people unhappy with the President and Congress, my mother is one of them.  I talk to my mother almost daily almost and for eight years she bitched about Bush and the Republicans and now she is bitching about Obama and the Democrats, but she represents herself, she is not a pastor, she holds no church or public office and thus can do whatever she wants.

Anyway this pastor chose to write an article full of anger and poisonous invective, but not at anything happening now.  He chose to dig up old crap with no relevance to the Gospel, or to anything that is happening now.  He chose to write about a doctoral seminar that he attended several years ago. He discussed a situation where a non-US citizen pastor of an American church in a graduate program was criticizing the USA as a major source of the world’s problems.  Now I might take offense if someone did that, I would defend my country and I might depending on the situation confront him during or after the class.  However, this chose to drag this up when it seems totally irrelevant to anything going on now.  I really don’t think that anyone is concerned about how a foreign pastor pissed this minister off years ago. People are scarred spitless of the Commie North Koreans, Iranian nukes, Pakistani nukes, the expanding war in Afghanistan, the price of gas, the economy and a hundred other very real crisis’s.  But this pastor decided to tell how a long time ago he responded in a class to a guy who dared to criticize the USA.  But this wasn’t the worst of it, this guy ended the column with a particularly acidic comment that was like cup of “America Love it or Leave It” with a shot of Drano.  There was no redemptive point to the article; there was no humor, no spiritual lesson, just a very angry and bitter screed about something that happened in a classroom among a bunch of doctoral students which happened four years ago at the height of the insurgency in Iraq.  I did not think that the article was befitting of him and hope that his ministry is not filled with stuff like this as it is poison.  Like Drano it will clean you out, but it will leave you empty inside.  If this were an isolated occurrence with this pastor I would chalk it up to him having a bad day, but he is trending this way and I’m afraid that if he continues to do so he will hurt his church and the broader Christian church by becoming identified more with a political message than his faith.  In fairness I don’t know what caused him to write the article, maybe something triggered him and caused this to kick in.  I do want to be fair to him.  I do plan on discussing the matter with him because I actually do care.

Now I’m sure that there are people who think that I’m full of crap too, and I’m okay with that, because I know that I have issues and rough edges and sometimes push the envelope.  At the same time I do try to find a point of contact in the present and write, even when I am critical of a person or institution.  I do not believe that anyone or any institution is totally bad or good, even people that I disagree with are like broken clocks, they are right twice a day.

I hope to sleep tonight and I hope none of my old Crap or anyone else’s old Crap shows up tonight. Unfortunately Crap tedns to rise to the surface.

Peace, Steve+

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