Archive for December, 2020

As many know, I normally make no New Year’s resolution. Over the years, I learned that resolutions are ineffective and often go unbroken. Most resolutions never get past a week. One year I vowed to lose weight. “Don’t eat the ice cream,” my coworker pontificated at a meeting. “Where is it?” I countered. And there you go. Vowed to reduce pizza? Ate it. Declaring an abstinence from coffee found me four hours later laid out on the break room floor wheezing out between gasps to anyone listening that I couldn’t make it unless I received a caffeine fix. This year, I will try for a bolder resolution: walk like James.

To properly understand, you’ll require some context. When I started my current position, the job required a national security clearance. Over the course of several weeks, I carefully completed an SF-86, a one-hundred plus page Questionnaire for National Security Positions that details all previous employment, travel, criminal, financial, martial, personal background, all the times I used a restroom on foreign soil, and any other tales of woe I would to voluntarily disclose before government agents ask, “Hey dumbs**t. What about this incident in 40 years ago in a bookstore in Frog Jump, Tennessee?”

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To New Years

“God,” I sighed. “The office doesn’t return from remote work until April 2021 (if we’re lucky). Why drop off dry cleaning?” I muttered as I pounded the steering wheel. I remind myself of where I am on the road to eternity, especially when my heart gives small instantaneous pains. In seconds, they come and go. Each trigger (event) reminds me there is no end. There is no respite. And that’s the crux; five years post-osteoarthritis diagnosis, nearly two years into a tumor diagnosis, almost a year into Parkinson’s, and barely a couple of weeks into heart disease, I remain cloudy upon what precisely ‘new year’ means.

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Christmas Day +1

A friend texted me, “Merry Christmas. We must get together after the Holidays.” Given the mere fact I haven’t heard from this friend in ion’s, instinctively I know this ‘get together’ would never happen as I returned a non-committal, “Merry Christmas.” I originally titled this post as ‘Last Christmas.’ After I received my friend’s text, I changed it, for I don’t, in fact, really know if, in fact, this is my last Christmas or not. I have been told Christmas 2020 would be my last Christmas, but does anyone know for sure? I mentally affirmed that message as the left side of my chest pained me. Hell, I haven’t even gotten up yet. I reached for the Lisinopril, Hydrochlorothiazide, and a small dose of Inderal. Feel renewed thirty-minutes later, as if nothing occurred, I got up and got moving. Of course I know the damage is still there, but it’s Christmas.

I have no Christmas tree, no decorations, no carols in the snow, no gifts. Like many others this COVID Holiday, I spend Christmas alone. And I wonder. I wondered if I led any form of a good life, a life worth being proud of. And to be honest, I think all of us need to be reminded of all the goodness we have brought forth. Often we get too wrapped up in what we have done wrong- without looking at what we have done right. Like others, I gave much. I cannot say I have given more than many, even up to the greatest sacrifice (life) for another, but I have worth. This Christmas, I think Christ would remind me (us) that I wasn’t (we weren’t) complete losers. I think there is a lot God would claim, “Well done.”

When I was a kid, I used to think that some form of cancer, tumor, or leukemia would nab me and wrest from me. A couple decades of maturity and having worked in healthcare these past fourteen years, there’s an incurable truth that one of six key diseases will kill most ( see Falling Through The Cracks). There’s no denying our lack of power. But I also believe this knowledge, and the knowledge of my own fragility, makes us a better person, a better nation. I believe I (we) am (are) nearer to God and has forced me (us) to see the beauty surrounding me. Thus, as Christmas Day plus one comes and goes, all of the pain has taught me (us) that I’ve (we’ve) come out ahead. Yeah, I (we) am (are) forever altered, as disease does that. But I (we) remain alive. I (we) remain intact.

If asked whether I should have chosen a life of tremendous successes with tremendous failures versus the more balanced nine-to-five job, I chose the former. Reflecting all my adventures, I think I would make that choice again. If I don’t, I would never be the person I am today. I think what God taught me these past several months is that a life worth living is one imbued with both success and failure, joy and sorrow, relief and suffering. What God reminds during this holiday is that all of us (me) missed on many occasions was purpose, passion and courage to not to pointlessly hurt one another, to toil in pointless jobs, and to endure a loveless marriage. I ventured forth and explored an unknown world. I took chances and enriched my soul. I loved, I lost. I still love, and still lose. Such is the nature of this world. Yet, ying/yang (love/loss) is the hallmark of a good life and the criteria by which I wish my life to be judged.

God asks us to live enriched lives. Are we willing to be changed? I have nothing against corporate leaders, though I question one man’s worth should he claim he requires 20 million or more a year in compensation. But I believe there are more spiritual lives in the lowly than in Washington, D.C.. An old rabbi was once asked why so few people were finding God. He wisely replied that people are not willing to look that low. Jesus was born in a stable, and is sure sign God is especially concerned for the poorest, the lowliest, the lost, and the neglected.” [From Liberation of Life by Harvey and Lois Seifert – quoted in A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and Other Servants.] Most of us feel lost and neglected. But I know He’s there. He’s there.

Dickens’ story A Christmas Carol is a wonderful classic for all ages. The book has been translated into many movies, each with the director’s own interpretation. To this day, my favorite is ‘Scrooge,’ the musical version. It’s available on YouTube for free. The singing, graphics and music is so eloquently intertwined. Many watch the film and think, ‘You know, I hope that old geezer at the office gets visited. Surely, he needs change.’ Feel free to replace ‘old geezer’ with anyone: Aunt Jane, Mr. Smith, Carl, an ex, soon to be ex, current spouse, father, son, daughter, pet chihuahua, Oscar the cat, that kid (whoever that kid is) or whomever. The lessons are there. Simple to understand, yes? However, look beyond the veneer and viewers should understand Scrooge experienced a ‘life review.’ And this is exactly as life review(s) appear.

Mine was experienced as if I was a third person, as only a third person would see it. I saw myself enacting all those ugly, mean events. Yet I was allowed to experience the pain and harm I caused others. I saw an angry, bitter, manipulative person, often absent of any redeeming sense of honesty.

In life, I somehow thought I could positively impact the world, but many parts were shrouded in deception. Now, arthritis, Parkinson’s, and cardiovascular issues make it likely that I will forever be known as just another dipstick. “How much Love did I show there?” asked one angel. “How would I measure those moments against my life’s mission?” asked another. Like a Dickens character, I saw the evolutionary effect of every deed. The final question, “What happened between Christmas Eve 1978 and now?” pierced forth from a bright white light, as if the ‘Light of Truth’ beamed from an indescribable place and was asked, “W.T.F.?”

There was no one to save me. No way to hide.  No one to blame. There was no public relations firm. No possible way to manipulate anything. No way to justify my actions. The totality of each event was present, head on, as if God ripped off the band aid from an unhealed wound. No, Ms. K. wasn’t there. I could not hide behind any ‘could have,’ should have,’ or ‘would have.’ I stood silently, attesting solely for my actions. And for the first time in 40 years I came clean.

My sin was too much to bear. Looking away, I said, “I simply wanted love.” Throughout my life, for whatever reason, I was never good enough. I became the chameleon. I blended in and became what I thought everyone wanted me to be. Turns out, that wasn’t very effective either. I constantly looked for the one ‘big thing’ that would make me great, “And they would love me (I remember saying in 1994).” ‘They’ (whoever they be) never did. Like so many before, I became just another asshole.

I never loved myself. “If I never loved myself, how could they love me?” one angel poignantly queried. “In life and with God, it is the small acts of love and generosity that make up the world. Every moment may be a life changing moment. any moment may be monumental.” They were saying small moments are just as big as being a spiritual leader. Looking back at my review, I fear that all those things really are me. Am I still that angry, bitter, and manipulative guy? If I continue to hide my illness, is it because I remain angry and bitter? 

God was teaching lessons I needed to learn. When inner and outer join, one no longer has to hide. The part that God Loves and understands is still there. He remains within me. Is a form of agape love that transcends way beyond who I made love to, who I worked for, or successes achieved. In principle, it is living without reward, giving without receiving, and loving unconditionally.

Most of the love I experienced (as I presume most others experience) is conditional. We love (or are loved) based upon what we’ve done, how much we earn, how funny we are, how we treat others. We find it hard to love others just the way we are. The greatest obstacle in path is a fear love may not be returned. We don’t realize that what we seek is in the giving, not in the receiving.

Dickens’ Ghost of Christmas future paints a bleak picture (if the events remain unaltered). My life review presented no such future. I must admit though, death is no stranger to me. He is an old acquaintance, someone who’s been chasing me for thirty or so years. Sometimes when people talk of their fears, I tell them I’ve seen death, and when it happens, God will be there. That’s the love He (God) promises.

After all these lessons, I pass my Christmas present to all who read. Know that God lives within you, just as He lives in the words of this page. I also believe He exists elsewhere, in some other way, not readily seen or touched, but in a way that can be felt. Even in loss and separation, I am clear the spirit of God was me these past several weeks, just as I believe that in my last days, both He (and Ms. K.) will be with me. 

He wants us to know that it doesn’t matter who we are, what we do, how much money we make, or whom we know. We can all love and are loved. And in spite of all the difficulty 2020 has wrought, He wishes we open our hearts to the love around us. If we do, we are unlikely to miss His greatest gift—that love is always present, in all of our wonderful experiences—even in our tragedies. Whatever we call it—love, God, soul—love is alive and tangible. Love is our connection to the divine, to the sacred, to holiness. Love is richness and it is ours for the taking.

This Christmas, accept love and change your life review.

A Life Review

My father is an NDEr’ (someone who experienced a near-death experience). During the summer of 2000, his experience included several perceptions, including bright light, moving through a tunnel, positive emotions, meeting his mother, reaching a point of no return, and an out-of-body experience (OBEs). He did not experience a life review. Afterward, we couldn’t get my father to stop discussing it, as if there was some mission to tell everyone about it. Go into a metaphysical shop, and my father would start talking of his NDE. It didn’t matter if anyone asked; my father often felt the world was a podium, and he was the messenger. He never considered the presumption that others could attribute the experience to anything more than neurology.

One neurobiological hypothesis is that NDEs are by-products of brain disorders. Altered blood gas levels that produce hallucinations, tunnel vision, and bright lights. Others equate an abnormal electrical activity to explain life memory flashbacks. It has also been presumed that medications and neurochemical reactions, in general, could affect the occurrence of NDEs. Then there’s delirium, which is the well-known primary effect of brain dysfunction. As one who has experienced the mystical, I always believed.

I’ve often said that one of the blessings of my illness was the opportunity to feel such incredible love and support from acquaintances, healthcare professionals, and even total strangers. I know intuitively that many people go through their entire lives without ever experiencing the kind of human compassion and love God and others have shown. I was moved to tears by and experienced true humility through the gentleness and kindness shown to me by the many nurses and doctors who helped me through the darkest days of my diagnosis. And I wish I could tell everyone that God sees their contribution, their act(s) of love, and their beauty, even during those days when the patient is experiencing the worst. I hope, during my life review that I can relay these acts of kindness to God. They are essential, for they are the focal point of love’s ministry.

During a recent meditation, I experienced a life review, mine. It was an interesting experience. Over two hours, many acts of utter selfishness were reviewed. I can only describe this review from a third-person perspective, and included awareness of what others were feeling and thinking at the time of my interaction. This previously unknown awareness was both surprising and unexpected. I could feel the good and awful emotions I made them experience. I received a total picture of my life’s truth and that of everyone I affected. I perceived not only what I had done or thought, but even in what way it had influenced others. Of course, I could see truths that I had hidden from loved ones and friends. The ‘poor’ decisions made had more impact than the positive, for all the promises I made to God on Christmas Eve 1978 fell apart during my review.

I wanted to make a meaningful impact on the world. But I did not. While I probably didn’t envision solving poverty, hunger, or cancer, I certainly did not foresee the profound sense of pain I caused others. I don’t believe I’ve adequately “paid it forward.” In those moments, I found myself angry, bitter, and manipulative.

After several hours, I stood at a crossroads, literally and figuratively, the end of one phase and the beginning of another, a decision point where choices must be made. Days later, I remain at that crossroad, trying still to figure out what to do next: be the giver of compassion and love or be that which I was. What God taught (maybe remind) to choose unconditional love now and always, while we are alive. We can always be honest and open about everything. We can be accepting and forgiving so that others can do the same. I know the universe will speak to me and direct me towards the right road.

And that road be? Why toward the ‘Light,’ of course.

Doctors advise you not to diagnose yourself online. You know (we all do it). ‘Google: Forearm pain’ returns 76,200 results. Have fun reading. By the time you’re finished, you’ve concluded that you have hit your forearm against a door, have bone cancer, or you’re a walking terrarium from a spider having laid eggs under the skin. Have a headache? I am sure you have a brain tumor. There are symptom checkers, pill checkers (what is that goofy looking white oval pill with odd numbers), and diagnosis via pictures. Over the years, many symptom checkers emerged, some here, some not. AskMD has a smartphone app, Everyday Health Symptom Checker (Online), Symptify (Online and Smartphone App), Symcat (Online), Isabel Symptom Checker (Online and Smartphone App), (Online), MayoClinic (Online), and so on. In COVID, everything is online, including results.

December 11, I received ‘A New Message in Your HealthVault.’ I figured either my doctor either wished me ‘Happy Holidays,’ ‘Holiday tips for staying healthy,’ or my echocardiogram results became available. The first sentence was ‘This is an auto-generated message,’ meaning that once the echocardiologist completed the reading, she auto-generated everyone’s results, including me. I started reading, line-by-line, ‘normal,’ ‘normal,’ ‘normal,’ ‘normal,’ ‘Cardiomyopathy (an enlargement of the heart due to thick or weak heart muscle).’ “Wait. What?” I murmured. ‘Cardiomyopathy,’ and nothing. No further explanation, no details, no you’re f***ed. Just ‘Cardiomyopathy.’ 

In truth, there is no ‘good’ cardiomyopathy. There are stages though. Stage A, where the patient has pre-heart failure and is at high risk of developing heart failure, to Stage D, which is characterized by structural changes to the heart and is experiencing heart failure symptoms. Stage D means one is f***ed … today. Stage A mitigation are aimed at trying to prevent further damage, whereas Stage D means transplant. 

For me, if the doctor runs a test and finds something suspicious (like cancer). I want to think the physician would call the patient, schedule time, and discuss the results. In a COVID world, to post potentially terminal news via the patient’s portal is probably not a good idea. I went through this once before.

In the 2019 bog post Nuts, I discussed my initial tumor results, as they were posted online. I called it ‘transactional.’ “… tumor in the neck measuring blah, blah, blah … Requires biopsy. Metastatic or secondary tumors may spread from another site … blah, blah, blah.” Every day someone gets news that a loved one has been diagnosed with a terminal disease. The shock can be overwhelming and paralyzing, and we shouldn’t take that lightly. Today, I received another bit of bad news—just how bad remains unclear. Therefore, it’s hard to get all ‘worked up’ until there is clarification. Still, there is an incorrigible part of me that wishes to return the favor.

Imagine the echocardiologist coming in from a lazy weekend and receiving ‘This is an auto-generated message. Your bank account will be frozen.’ Nothing further. No detail, no clarification. The message could be more sly, ‘This is an auto-generated message. Your vehicle brakes will fail sometime in the next two-thousand miles only if driven 646.4 feet above sea level,’ meaning the person has to figure out why the brakes will fail and if any part of the current area is above 646.4 feet about sea level. And lastly, ‘This is an auto-generated message. Anyone who used the toilet paper last Friday must be tested.’ Yet, upon reflecting, this is a shared life. 

Human beings share everything, including birth, aging, illness, death, sorrow, pain, grief, getting what we don’t want, not getting what we want, and losing what we cherish. Even in the darkest early days of the illness, when I didn’t understand, I remembered the first noble truth: suffering. Yes, it’s true that life brings with it a considerable share of unpleasantness and difficulties, but happiness and joy are available, too. Taoist sage Chuang Tzu referred to the world as the realm of the ten thousand joys and the ten thousand sorrows. 

Through spirituality, I’ve learned to set aside fear and the fight to live genuinely. Even in my own chronic and, at times, debilitating illness, I can see a different disease perspective. It’s not about surrendering to death, it’s about accepting the current state of my health and, using it as a life marker, and learning to take the best care of my body and mind. It’s about living gracefully and fully in light of that which will challenge us all.

If none of that works, try humor. Type the following.

This is an auto-generated message. Anyone who used the toilet paper last Friday must be tested.’

Press ‘Send.’

My review of a Canadian Armed Forces report of their effort to assist Ontario long-term care facilities early in the pandemic left me soul searching. There’s a general presumption that the Canadian healthcare COVID response (and therefore, healthcare) may be a solid model for the U.S. to emulate. Some colleagues openly question whether the U.S. should follow that model. In reviewing the Canadian COVID response, I found that, in fact, the U.S. mirrored many aspects of the Canadian response. Unfortunately, much of it was the worst aspects. 

The Canadian Armed Forces published report (Ontario) contains nightmarish scenes; residents abandoned in beds for weeks or force-fed until they choked. Residents with dementia allowed to wander at will through buildings rampant with the virus. At a facility just north of Toronto, residents were “crying for help” for as long as two hours before receiving assistance. Some had not been bathed for weeks, and “significant gross fecal contamination” was the norm.

A warning to readers: The report was difficult to read. Having a father who was in Hospice, there were times I had to walk away. My intent is not to disparage the Canadian medical system. Just like the U.S., there are many wonderful clinicians and facilities. But the report offers critical lessons. More importantly, on a personal level, there was one question I often asked myself repeatedly: ‘Where was God?’ And for the broader audience, ‘For those suffering from dementia, is God there?’ 

When Jesus walked, people didn’t experience dementia or Alzheimer’s as we know it today. They died. In fact, the average life expectancy was 35. Infant mortality was huge. Subtract infant mortality and archaeologists indicate lifespan jumped to 50. In her book “Stone and Dung, Oil and Spit,” author Jodi Magness summarized life in Jesus’ day: It was a “filthy, malodorous and unhealthy” world. A case of the flu, a bad cold, or an abscessed tooth would often kill. That was His world. COVID-19 is ours.

For Christian and non-Christian alike, Jesus is seen as a model of care for the sick. Needless to say, when caring for someone with coronavirus, one should take the necessary precautions in order not to pass on the infection. Phillip Yancey noted that “… for Jesus, the sick or dying person was not the ‘other,’ not one to be blamed, but our brother and sister. When Jesus saw a person in need, the Gospels tell us that his heart was “moved with pity.” As such, Jesus remains a model for how to care during a crisis: a heart moved by sympathy.

As the Apostle Paul wrote, the Spirit of God intercedes (speaks within), sometimes in sighs too deep for words. Could someone with Alzheimer’s experience God at a non-conscious and non-verbal level? Perhaps this is God’s calling to us to cradle and love without expectation of conscious response or reciprocity. As caregivers, sometimes we must provide without hope of return. Bear one another’s burdens, the Bible would say. The response Jesus emulates is to bear the burdens of those we touch (just as He). 

In his book Night, Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel described witnessing the agonizingly slow death of the Dutch Oberkapo’s pipel, a young boy hanged for collaborating against the Nazis.

“Where is God? Where is He?” someone behind me asked.

For more than half an hour [the child in the noose] stayed there, struggling between life and death, dying in slow agony under our eyes. And we had to look him full in the face. He was still alive when I passed in front of him. His tongue was still red, his eyes were not yet glazed.

Behind me, I heard the same man asking: “Where is God now?”

And I heard a voice within me answer him: “Where is He? Here He is—He is hanging here on this gallows. . . .”

So where is God? Here’s here. He’s here in our dementia. He’s here in our COVID. He’s here in the world. We are His emotional incarnation, we are called to follow His example. Sure, sometimes God does enter and occasionally performs a miracle, and thereby offers strength to those in need. But mainly God relies on us, His agents, to do His work in the world. We are asked to live out the life of Christ in the world, not just to refer back to it or describe it. We are to announce his message, work for justice, pray for mercy . . . and suffer with the sufferers. And when we do this, even those suffering from dementia will know God lives, that the spirit awakens and we can help one find the path homeward.

So, where is God? He’s right here. In our suffering, in empathy, and in love.

20 Years in Prison

Reflecting upon his time in prison, Wesley Snipes said, “Nobody wants to get locked up, although ‘locked up’ is a matter of perspective. There can be people who are out who are in prison mentally and emotionally and worse off than those who are behind bars.” Snipes’ comment is similar to Proverbs 27:3, ‘As you think, so you are.’ Its meaning is simple, whatever the beliefs and thoughts you hold about yourself, they are likely to become reality. Combined thoughts and feelings can embrace you or defeat you. Some thoughts are great, some are fairly simple.

According to research, the average person generates 60,000 thoughts per day.  Multiple that by 365 days, one gets a grand total of 21,900,000 thoughts per year. Thoughts run the gamut. Simon McCarthy-Jones noted 60% of reported thoughts about running a car off the road. 46% were about hurting family members. Other thoughts included fatally pushing a stranger, sex, forcing another adult to have sex, and other desires. In my teens, my thoughts were consumed with thoughts of getting any woman into a horizontal position for an extended period of time. Unfortunately, all those thoughts lacked any proper planning and execution. I once read men think about sex every 7 minutes. I cannot say I do. But that leads me to ask, how the hell does a researcher prove that? On the other hand, after hearing women talk incessantly over the past 3 decades, women seemed to obsess about burning 200 calories to compensate for eating that one piece of chocolate. Once past the failures of my terrible teens’, I turned to guilt, constantly reflecting upon what I did wrong. I reflected upon such events so much that one Priest finally stated, “Jesus died for you. If so, why do you keep crucifying yourself? You’ve become nothing more than a slave to yourself.”

And that’s what I became — 20 years a slave (unto myself). Richard Francis Burton wrote “… that one should conquer himself. Until you do, you are nothing more than a slave.” I agree with Burton’s commentary. Wesley Snipes notes similar themes, that many are mentally and emotionally in jail. We live it, breathe it, and eat it. Mental jail had become so ingrained, I didn’t know how to live without.

The self imposed jail I built cost 20 years of living, the greatest love of my life, and riches far greater than money. Nearing life’s end, I simply want a good name. As Proverbs notes, a good name is more desirable than great riches, it’s better than silver or gold. I was convinced a ‘good name’ could not be had, that I [the intrinsic soul] would forever remain undesirable. 

Two decades is a long time to be stuck in such a cycle, passing blame, fading in and out of other lives, and neglecting to understand the lessons God wanted me to learn. People like me walk the streets everyday, We allow ourselves to become so overwhelmed, that it seems impossible to overcome anything. To bust the cycle, I had to become free and studied how ‘my’ universe worked and I authored the thoughts that strove that imprisoned the soul. My escape was in pen and paper.

I’ve acquired tons of computer equipment, by most advanced piece of technology remains either a fountain pen or a #2 pencil. The latest book of Barack Obama’s political memoirs, A Promised Land, became a best-seller. What is unexpected is that Obama’s 760-page book was written by hand. Maya Angelou did likewise, noting she had written 31 books, essays, plays and lyrics for songs — all on yellow pads. In doing writing, I learned a few things and some timely lessons.

Writing allowed me to express my thoughts, recraft my image, to let go of the past, to focus on the here and now, and helped me choose more empowering thoughts. Second, I stopped growing old. Samuel Ullman noted that nobody grew old merely by living a number of years. We grow old by deserting our ideals. Sure time may wrinkle the skin, but to give up enthusiasm wrinkles the soul. Last, having a false image of what people actually are can harm the health of society. Likewise, having a false image of what your soul is like, will harm you. The negative image of myself was wrong.

People have negative thoughts all the time. That’s natural. However, victory is ultimately determined by the outcome of the war on the psychological front, whether one is able to live, to love, and to laugh before the specter of death is significant. 20 years on, I am a freeman, living and reliving the reasons I remain worthy. In my mind, now that I face my last few months/year(s), I choose to live, love and laugh with a light and smile like no other. Do me a favor, pardon yourself.

I described the transient ischemic attack (TIA), arriving like a freight train and departing before dawn (see I Am Dying). Instinctively, I knew this was a warning shot, an enormous detonation. As a former medic, I knew of strokes. I now understand a lot about TIAs but knew nothing relatively several years ago. There are moments when I felt as though I am the only one taking it seriously. Getting medical professionals to understand a patient’s concern can be challenging. A Stroke Association survey concluded 16% of TIA victims didn’t feel taken seriously, and 25% reported that health professionals didn’t realize that they had had a TIA. If a TIA occurs, the patient is likely to be prescribed aspirin, receive a pat on the shoulder, and an escort out the door with a recommendation for a further clinical study. 

Unlike my father, I consider my events with mixed emotions as my cognitive skills and memory were not affected during the October episode. Still, research suggests more TIAs are in my future. Some patients realize they had suffered a TIA when reading medical notes with no clinician confirmation of the diagnosis. My experience was similar, as I read my tumor diagnosis via an online patient visit summary posted 21 months ago. Only when pressed did I confirm ‘prognosis was poor.’

TIAs are hard to diagnose. Symptoms vary. Facial weakness, drooping mouth, arm or leg weakness, speech difficulty, blurred vision, and dizziness can occur. Each TIA tends to be specific to the individual, and not all symptoms arise. Initially, my neurologist kind of dismissed my concern. Should the TIA occur again, ‘… we’ll review.’ However, out of caution (since I kept asking inquisitive questions), ‘we’ll schedule an echocardiogram.’

Upon arrival, the echocardiologist greeted, “You’re here today for an echocardiogram because your doctor diagnosed you experienced a TIA.” “Fantastic,” I quipped. Forty-six days later, it was the echocardiologist who stated the obvious, something I already knew but couldn’t receive confirmation. Undoubtedly someone will ask how I know when everyone else cannot. After completing the medical summary (discussed in the post Lists), my intrinsic gut feeling became clearer. My first TIA occurred in March 2019, with loss of vision, foggy sight. Although I improved throughout the following day, the impact lasted three days. My second TIA occurred in May 2019, with left side facial paralysis and mouth drooping. The effect lasted six days. During the third week in October 2020, my third TIA produced no coordinated functionality in arms or legs, no balance, could not stand, unable to lift myself, foggy. The impact was significant and lasted over six days. Should something in the heart be amiss, an echocardiogram will help detect cardiac sources of stroke or TIAs.

The echocardiologist performed a transthoracic echocardiography (TTE) using an ultrasound imaging technique that allows the heart structures to be seen. A hand-held wand placed on the chest provides pictures of the heart’s valves, chambers, and helps the clinician evaluate the heart’s pumping action. It was a ‘matter of fact’ test procedure. A ‘no biggie’ I’m told. ‘Good I thought. At least I didn’t hear, ‘I’m not used to this version of the software. Do you know what this message [Not Currently Recording] means?’ Results come in a week.

Wait another week? I envision doctors talking after my death, “He was in his usual state of humor — right up until his heart quit. Damn. That’s gotta suck.” But here I am. Two days post test, I am still alive. Still kicking. The Chinese Book of Changes (I Ching) states, ‘Waiting is not mere empty hoping. It has the inner certainty of reaching the goal.’ Goal? I have no plan. At this point in my life, if I had dreams, they were created by comedian George Carlin, “… get up, work eight hours, eat three meals, take one good shit and go back to bed.” The mind hates uncertainty, and living in a state of “not knowing” is intolerable.

To understand how inharmoniousness waiting is, I remember working in the emergency room one night listening to one friend comforting another. “You know, Mike; we give ourselves no credit for taking time to be present. The doctor’s said there’s just a few others ahead of you. How about if we pass the time thinking of things we can do in a week or two?” Horridly, Mike stares as if a flamethrower was pulverizing his friend, “F*** that s***.”

To counter such emotions, I become more aware of my feelings and come into the present moment, where everyday activities still take on a joyful, miraculous quality. If I am mindful or fully present in the here and now, anxiety disappears, and a sense of timelessness takes hold, allowing the best highest qualities, such as kindness and compassion, to emerge. And most of the time, it works. Other days, I want to say, “F*** that s***!”

In 1988, my employer called all the call center representatives into a conference and plopped down a binder full of known product problems. Each known product problem had an associated ‘mitigation’ step to assist the customer. Some included replacement, while others included replacement and compensation. Still, others included payment. Sounded great, until. Until what? Upon reading the fine print, we could only assist the customer if the customer complained. We could not broadcast any manufacturing problem, discuss any form of compensation, or any customer inquiry outside the office. That meant any customer experiencing a known product failure, but did not complain to the manufacturer, received nothing, no compensation, no mitigation. Those who suffered in silence were swept under the corporate rug.

The visceral and brutal nature of corporate sins often gets “cleaned up” by corporate and religious communities alike. Suffering is downplayed publicly, and individual elements, including any agonizing days our customers endured, were buried by silence and a tsunami of the indescribable pain. As a business, we failed to recognize our horror, the inexplicable level of pain inflicted, and the raw violence performed against our customers’ human psyche. Instead, we went to church, held hands, recited the Lord’s prayer, and asked God to forgive our debts just as we forgive our debtors. Yeah. Sure.

Thirty-five years later, God asked me, why was I so willing to sacrifice my ideals upon the throne of business? I am fascinated by God’s question and of the impossibility of inconsistent, rationalized ethics. What did this absolute obedience and faith of humankind offer that made it entirely permissible to sacrifice customers? By questioning my request for forgiveness, God asked a provocative question, “What good is thy faith?” 

Another angle by which to frame this is that God inquired about its aftermath. What did I accomplish? Through a series of acts, I trusted in the invisible plan of now-defunct and unmemorable business leadership. Had I shelved reason and ethics to become ‘employee of the month’ or ‘employee of the year?’ I understand that worse has occurred throughout history and that humanity has endured the wrenching horrors of current and past U.S. leadership. Just as Abraham went to sacrifice Isaac, just as many business colleagues across the county, I sacrificed ethics to obligation.

Truthfully, I have no understanding of why management required such sacrifices thirty-years ago. I failed to ask, and my lack of ‘positional power’ was limited. On the other hand, God gazed into my soul — where I could not see — and knew my secret, even when I couldn’t see it myself. God affirmed I made myself a co-conspirator, either symbolically or with consent: I saw the facts, and I participated in the commitment to secrecy. If I was unwilling to pass judgment on management at the time, then the essential question is, how is my ethical code different today? Should ethics be relative to religious status and hierarchy, or to the extremity of one’s commitment to God? 

When does the end justify means? Where is ‘humanity’ in the reward? Should my profound humility somehow replace the patriarchy of God’s original call? More importantly, What does it mean to be God’s chosen? How do I live accordingly?

Like most of my life’s poor decisions, I will never rid of the most sacred ethical failures. I am blessed that forgiveness is offered via faith. Yet, this fact demands that I now follow spirituality and continually evaluate both faith and obligation. Indeed, my footsteps should not be traced, as my example should provide ample pause. 

If your first response would be to entertain the notion that I was a madman or criminal, or, more likely, that I was tragically deluded in some false image of God’s call, then what of those harmed? What if I misunderstood the will of God? What might have I lost in translation between divine intent and human implementation? 

Final Thought

During the COVID pandemic, we’ve heard politicians weigh the value of human life against economic and stock market viability. We openly discuss hitting the poor the hardest for the sake of chasing profits. Entertaining business without ethics means losing our humanity. We must serve a higher purpose: look after employees, support the community, and strive to make a product that inspires. 

God’s questioning taught that each human life is more significant than gross profit. Of course, a business balance sheet is essential, but human beings are created in the image of God. As such, we must reject suggestions to sacrifice ethical discernment. To do otherwise means human lives become nothing more than check marks on a to-do list rather than sacred. 

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