Category: Faith & Doubt


About The Fog

In the film My Life, Bob Jones begins making videotapes of himself after receiving a terminal diagnosis. In the tapes, he outlines his life, beliefs, and life lessons. However, at one point, Jones whispers to his son, “Dying is a really hard way to learn about life.” The ending scene is touching: At the time of death, he is shown on a metaphysical roller coaster with his hands releasing the railing, raising his arms freely in the air. Metaphorically, he lets go of life and finally enjoys the ride. In a way, the film’s director provides viewers the opportunity to contemplate what in their life requires healing.

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“What Thanksgiving message do you have this year? What do you feel blessed about?” Barbara (my case manager) asked yesterday. 

To be truthful, I had a hard time responding, so I copped out with, “I survived.” Yeah, sure, it’s true, I survived, but was I genuinely thankful for it? Of course, I knew that Barbara knew I struggled to find something positive. I wasn’t ready for the question. I searched my list of quick, snappy comebacks, and nothing fit. I knew how I felt. And the best line I can grasp at this moment comes from the 1994 film Wyatt Earp where Doc Holiday exclaims, “… I wake up every day looking at death, and you know what? He ain’t half bad.” If any statement honed in on my thoughts, that would be it. Still, I kept thinking there has to be a better response than ‘Gee, death looks better.’

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The Return

Sorry, it’s been a while since my last post. Life has been somewhat challenging. In 2019, I was informed of a benign tumor partly in the spine and outside the spine. (Somewhere in-between Intradural and Extradural). So on February 6, 2020, I opted for limited excision of the tumor outside the spine and received a shitload of steroids and limited radiation intended to beat down the remainder. Or, if it weren’t going to get beaten down, maybe, just maybe, the rest would stay in check. 

Twenty months later, I could feel a modestly small lump on my neck. After poking, prodding, massaging, and gliding my fingers over the node, I just knew: The tumor started to regrow. When tumors return, uncertainties return as well. Tumors can grow in any part of the body or regrow in the original place. So, like a traveling’ snowbird,’ mine decided to open residency in the location previously vacated. All of this means that for now, the tumor could be a ‘local recurrence.’

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“It’s unusual for a person at your age,” the radiologist said. Hint. When a clinician claims you’re ‘unusual,’ that version of ‘unusual’ can infer many things, from good, bad, funny, ugly, or any combination thereof. “During your last scan, we detected something that requires a second look. Scans detected a 3-millimeter section under the left ulnar styloid bone. It could be nothing, could be something. Regardless, we’ll need to perform a Cat Scan or MRI, depending on your doctor’s request.”

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Parkinson’s scared me more than cancer. Those words bored through my thinking in late February 2020 and remain persistent now. Unfortunately, nearly every terminal patient who’s taken a stoic stance (remaining in control), there comes the point in time during the disease when you lose control. I remember watching Ted Koppel’s Nightline program when Morris Schwartz (Tuesdays with Morrie) talked to Nightline host Ted Koppel. “Well, Ted, one day soon, someone’s gonna have to wipe my ass. It’s the ultimate sign of dependency. Someone wiping your bottom. But I’m working on it.”

Control. I thought of the word ‘control’ when my Neurologist informed me I moved from Parkinson’s Stage 1 to Parkinson’s Stage 2. In Stage 2, Symptoms start getting worse. Tremor, rigidity, and other movement symptoms affect both sides of the body. One can remain independent, but daily tasks become more difficult. And that’s where I’m at: Life is more difficult, more complicated, and more painful in the ass.

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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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Clinicians inform me that a person with bradykinesia moves, just slowly. I wonder how much of that is true. Some days, I feel as though my fingertips and hands are experiencing small repeated 6.5 earthquakes. If I were James Bond, I would order a Martini, “No need to stir. I can shake it myself.” It’s a form of ‘slow death.’

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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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Nurses spoke of seeing a middle-aged woman who showed up each day, sat at the same table, ate her lunch, sipped some coffee, and left several hours later. After several weeks, speculation centered upon romance – that perhaps a kind doctor struck so profoundly, she returns every day, hoping to meet. Or, may she was hoping to remember. Unless one asked, no one knew the actual reason.

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