Category: Faith & Doubt


My bones ache. No, it is not muscles. It feels like bones. I first noticed the condition in August. I awoke mid-August and felt an unusual symptom: the bones (tibia and fibula) ached in the lower part of my right leg. I couldn’t classify it as pain. Instead, it was ‘moan.’ Maybe it was ‘moaning.’ Sure, I have sleep disturbances from back pain and sometimes radiculopathy (pinched nerve in the spine), but this was a ‘moan.’

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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 Luck

A few hours ago, I found a box of old pictures. The first picture had to be twenty years old and looked like someone else. “Wow, I’ll never be that person again.” Followed by, “Yeah, that person does not have death shadowing my every movement.” Still, when others are seen enjoying activities without reservation, I do not become overly nostalgic. Sure, I once enjoyed running, playing football, or swimming, but I know those I see will one day be like me, someone for whom the bells have either tolled or will toll.

Admittedly, I have thrived where others have not. (Or, I have thrived up to this point.) I could claim that my ability was due to modern medicine or that I was such a physical specimen that my body was bound to overcome anything thrown at it. But the reality is likely to involve a good dose of luck. I hear this all the time when walking the ICU. If one dies, a lack of luck is blamed. “Ma’am, we did our best, but his luck ran out.” If one survives, ‘luck’ is stated differently, “Ma’am, we’re unsure why he survived, but a lot of things worked in his favor.”

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I’ve seen many a hurricane in my day. First, super Typhoon Pamela (No, not an ex-girlfriend) produced typhoon-force winds for 18 hours and left 80% of the buildings in its wake. Then was Hurricane Andrew (No, not Gov. Cuomo). Hurricane’s Rita and Katrina, whose one-two punch devastated parts of the southern coast. Last was the remnants of Hurricane Sandy. Sandy flooded everything it touched, but mostly the shores of New Jersey and New York. The flooding was so bad that then-Governor Christie won the ‘I just wanna hug you award’ with then-President Barack Obama. Other not-so-large hurricanes spattered in and out of my life, but none produced lasting memories of those previously mentioned. If there’s one thing I regretted the most from my participation, it was thinking that unless I was strong, I was weak.

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“Poignant statement,” I noted.

“Huh?” said my hospital escort (an Emergency Room nurse I’ll call Wanda) while simultaneously perusing the ‘Comm Board.’ The Communications Board (Comm Board), or “whiteboard” as it is informally known, is a communication tool that provides an instant snapshot of the patient. When updating the patient’s family, the care team, and the care team, clinicians use the information.

“Poignant statement,” I repeated while pointing to her clipboard with the words written in red, “Everyone believes in Jesus, but no one wants to meet him today.”

Wanda looked down and momentarily sighed. “When you get here [the COVID ICU], ‘today’ always comes.”

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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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“God,” I whispered, waking in pain. “My intestines are killing me.” I attempted to dig into my stash of Tylenol #3 leftover from a dental procedure years ago. (Yeah, I know some will say they’ve expired. But I don’t believe that one day past expiration, this form of pill says to itself, “I’m expired.”) I was hoping the pain would subside. Instead, it stayed with for hours. The pain originates either in the stomach or where the transverse colon and descending colon connect. This unbearable pain in the upper left abdomen occurs almost nightly, with some nights worse than others. Intuitively, I know my colon has some serious problem (maybe Splenic Flexure Syndrome), but a cure for all my ailments is not feasible at this point in life. As such, the spasmodic cramping, gas, and bloating have become a part of my everyday living. I’ve acclimated to it. I’ve also adjusted to the notion that my body is rejecting life. It’s ironic, as thirty-plus years ago, this acclimation wasn’t always the case.

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Except for Aleve and Tylenol, this past week has been living medication-free. However, the deceptive nature of living with Parkinson’s, Multiple Sclerosis, Arthritis, and tumors percolate inside. If you look at me, you’d be convinced by how I look like the picture of health. However, there have been nights when I cheated on my vow of medication-free. For example, last night, I had to sleep in my recliner for two two-hour periods due to pain by downing a single tablet of Tylenol #3 (300 mg of Acetaminophen and 60 mg of Codeine). I guess medication-free is not medication-free when one has to sneak in 30 mg of Codeine now and then, but when your body gets to this stage of pain, many will do what they have to do.

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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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