Category: Do No Harm


As I’ve done every week for the last eighteen months, I checked the most recent COVID-19 numbers. Compiling COVID statistics for 38 states and 140 counties requires significant effort. First, one has to ensure infection rates, hospitalizations, and deaths are accurately recorded. Next, you must interpret that data and decided what information must be presented to executive management. Management then reviews that information and determines how specific healthcare operations in each location will respond to projected trends. For example, Alaskan healthcare operations, where care is rationed, require a different response than California, where COVID is declining.

However, times are different than a year ago. After a year and a half, your team gains credibility. There is a well-developed cadence to performing these calculations and presenting useful, intelligible information. Then again, eighteen months ago was a different era, when people clamored for information and longed for some respite at home (or working from home). Throw in some false pandemic information, fake medication news, fake vaccine news, fake ‘stolen election’ allegations, and an attempted January 6th insurrection have pushed people to a breaking point. 

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Comedian Steve Martin used to do a routine in which he envisioned his post-death conversation with God.

“Mr. Martin,” the Lord began. “Do you know how many times you took my name in vain?”

Of course, Martin indicated no.

“19,465 times.”

Martin paused, titled his head, and replied, “Jesus Christ.”

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In 1998, two automotive dealership technicians became very competitive in their attempts to date the dealership’s cashier. Each thought they were the better man. During the ensuing months, each unsuccessfully attempted to build their bravado while simultaneously sabotaging the other. Then, one day, each technician received customer vehicles that required testing driving to validate non-related complaints. When each technician noticed the other traveling in the opposite lane, they somehow went directly at each other. (As in head-on.) While each denied responsibility, both stated they expected the other driver to perform evasive maneuvers. Neither did, and both vehicles were destroyed. In theory, if you play the game of ‘chicken’ without credibly committing to staying in the middle of the road, you are likely to lose. The other player is unlikely to swerve. Therefore, either you dodge or crash. Unfortunately, humans love wrecks.

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A little past 6;12 PM, an Information Technology administrator and I exited the westside Chicago hospital. “Care for a drink?” 

I nodded enthusiastically. 

“I warn you; we have to get past some I.E.D.’s.” He wasn’t referencing the military term ‘I.E.D.’ (improvised explosive device). Instead, his version meant snaking our way through anti-vaxxer protests taking a few hospitals by surprise. “They’ll claim free choice,” pointing toward a small but vocal crowd, “but by blocking emergency services, people who require critical life-saving services are blocked from receiving it.” A ‘contradiction of theology,’ he noted. “One of them [unvaccinated and infected] might breathe in your face and ‘BOOM,’ you’re dead.” Some protests get weird.

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I no longer walk a solitary journey. As best as I tried to walk alone toward my final hours, back pain has become my companion. Walking is difficult, and sleep is elusive. So I staggered to my recliner just past midnight of August 1st, 2021, and glanced at newspaper headlines. Remnants of Hurricane Ida, Afghan pullout, Taliban Exult, and Facebook Profit and Pain smothered the New York Times front page. Exhausted, I Leaned into the recliner’s headrest and stared through the window into the horizon. I noted the moonlight glistening over whitewashed tips of gentle waves as they lapped onto the shore. A single overhead street lamp created contrasting highlights of black equally split by spatters of light. Whispering through a blackened void, my thoughts slipped through, “I expected something,” I expected something because I was told ’a new America’ had arrived.

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About thirty-five years ago, during breakfast, my former mother-in-law said she had to run errands throughout the day, culminating with a stop at the pharmacy for some PTA items. Confused by the comment, my ex-wife asked what ‘PTA’ items she was picking up while also noting her mother wasn’t part of the local Parent Teacher Association? “Oh dear, no.” she chuckled. “I am stopping for some ‘Pits, Tits, and Ass’ products.” My ex sat in shock while I rolled in laughter. Three decades later, I found myself doing the same.

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In December, multiple women alleged New York Governor of sexual harassment and or assault. The allegations varied between inappropriate comments, forced kissing and groping. For his part, Cuomo took issued a prerecorded video alleging no misconduct. Strangely, I can look at both Cuomo and the victims compassionately. This view is neither thinking in the light that Cuomo’s actions do not have some form of merit nor are justifiable. (Cuomo’s actions are indefensible). I also don’t take a strict form of religious interpretation by reiterating, “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.” Instead, I look at Cuomo and say, “Cuomo is done. He cannot politically survive.”

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“Excited?” Maria asked as she placed a slice of cake in front of me and sat to my left. “I mean, it’s here. It’s finally here.”  Then, leaning in, “It’s here.”

“Weird. It just feels weird,” I responded while typing ‘execution commands’ on my laptop. I momentarily glanced at the memo taped over the cake, candy, chips, assorted snacks, bottles of sparkling juice, party streamers, ribbons, and helium-filled balloons. 

“COVID Tiger Task Force Deactivation.” the internal memo broadcasted to staffers. The shutdown comes as the pandemic continues. The U.S. will eclipse 610,000 deaths by Summers’ end, while the global death toll currently exceeds 4.1 million. As we approach deactivation, the entire team was focused on ensuring a smooth transition of key members back to normal business operations. Yet, I am unsure what ‘normal’ was anymore.

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There’s a ton of historical NDE experiences, some dating back centuries. Their stories are similar to those told in hundreds of books or websites (including mine). Though details vary across, there are many commonalities, including floating upward, viewing the scene of their death; spending time in a different realm, meeting relatives, feeling God, or something like ‘complete love.’ Once all that occurs, the person is told to return to live another day. For many, the person reports the experience was not a dream but “authentic,” changes profoundly post-NDE, and has a hard time returning into everyday life. 

My recent experience is similar, but not totally. Here’s a recap.

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My body did not experience any significant trauma. There was no earthquake. No carjacking went wrong, nor was I violently assaulted. My condo unit did not collapse, and I was not involved in a car wreck. Neither did I neither fall down the stairs nor overdose. I did not experience a heart attack and didn’t see the ‘light’ during an operation. All I did was fall asleep in a recliner.

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