Category: Life Lessons


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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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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