Tag Archive: Life Lessons


For most, dying is slow. It’s about the minutia, the ever so quiet, stealthy diminishing ability to perform the ordinary.

Sherri Woodbridge phrased it as a silent thief, slowly robbing one of who they were and been. Through it all, those of us experiencing such dilemmas try to maintain a sense of normalcy. For instance, my left-hand refuses to stop shaking. The shaking doesn’t prevent me from doing anything, just makes everything harder. I can still button my shirt, but not as quickly as a week ago. I can still make a salad some days. I can still sew a button, only if another threads the needle.

It’s all part of change. Everything is impermanent. Of course, we all change. True to form, people change–healthy or otherwise. We fall in love; fall out of love; become addicted, become free. Some choose wisely. Others choose unwisely.

In the song ‘Turn! Turn! Turn!‘ The Byrds highlighted the never-ending cycle.

To everything (turn, turn, turn)

There is a season (turn, turn, turn)

And a time to every purpose, under heaven.

Pete Seeger wrote Turn! Turn! Turn! from Ecclesiastes. Released at the height of the Vietnam war, the song’s plea is for peace and tolerance. The Vietnam war had its season and we are reminded that time, pain, and suffering has a season. Every one of us experiences this never-ending cycle.

The Buddhist compass within me points to impermanence. We arise, change, and disappear. My hand worked fairly great a year ago. Today, not so much. The impermanence of a non-functioning hand is nothing new. Instead of loss, I want to profoundly remember the beauty of what it means to exist. Impermanence is the path, the vehicle, to that appreciation. Over time, in my own soul, nature presents itself and I was able to unlock a deeper meaning of our current challenges.

The loss of hand function would not change who I am in the eyes of another. The frustration rests within in my soul, for my fear is that in my life, my career, may be dependent upon how valuable I am to others. I presume God will let me off the hook of this endless chore of self-improvement, of being that one person recognized by world aa an authority on whatever. I was never an authority. Never will.

Impermanence will allow me to unlock God’s message of humanity. However, that doesn’t mean I won’t miss the ability to zip my pants. Ha. It means I will accept life’s ever-changing cycle, even my own.

No one has an incurable disease until someone tells you they have it. You may have symptoms for weeks, months, or years, but until a doctor sits down with you, looks squarely in the eyes, and says it, you just don’t know about it. Of course all your symptoms could be something else. They could be nothing. Symptoms could be major, could be minor, laughable, painful; all of the above or none of the above.

As mentioned before, I went to the neurologist earlier this year expecting to be expected to be laughed out of the office, similar to years before. However, in a twist of fate, the doctor looked me squarely in the eyes and said, “You have Parkinson’s.”

I never fully processed my initial meeting, never got the chance. No sooner had I received my prognosis, COVID arrived and all hell broke loose – twelve hour a day shifts, bad food, and political leaders refusing to provide any semblance of what they were hired to do, like leadership for one.

There’s always hope that the last neurologist made a mistake and my current neurologist would say. “our bad. Sorry. you are just fine. Go forth and propagate.”  In reality, how many of us really have such luck, as we all die from something. Yet somewhere inside me, there was a little speck of hope that somehow, all this, the Parkinson’s, the tumor, and poor prognosis would be explained away by a bad burrito eaten several years prior. 

No such luck. Within minutes of my telehealth appointment, my neurologist confirmed my plight. 

We had your scans and physical assessment reviewed by another neurologist. And that neurologist confirmed your diagnosis. You have Parkinson’s.”

There was no mention of being years late. There was no, “Sorry dude for being tardy.” None of that. After usual conversation of current symptoms, medicine schedule, and symptom management, we ended on prognosis.

“Basically, we think you will get anywhere from 1 to 3 good years. This will be our ‘golden period.’” 

“Golden Period?’” I thought. Since this has been raging undiagnosed for years, how much of my ‘golden period’ was swallowed by bad burritos? Ah. Maybe I should be grateful. I have more  time remaining than others. Many people experienced diseases which have taken them quickly and way too soon.

I used to have no identifiable issues. And, all the symptoms I do have, l used to be able to successfully mask. That’s no longer the case. Tremors, stiff muscles, and dropping things are common. Nightly hours of insomnia are taxing and l am unsure just how long I can physically work. Lastly, Lord only knows if my tumor has grown or not, for a surgical, post-op follow-up was washed away during COVID’s tsunami.

The ‘golden year(s)?’ What the hell is that? Last March, I was told I would have a couple of good years left. My neurologist is saying if the tumor, or remnants thereof, doesn’t wipe me out by two years, maybe I will get an additional year or two … or … maybe not.

Sigh. Experiences from just a year ago seem so far away. No matter. I remain exhausted and wish for nothing more than one pain-free day.

End of LifeMedical technology has forgotten death’s role and its importance. We have to be something more than extending time. Walking the halls of many hospitals, I found numerous people who want to share memories, exchange wisdom, and settle relationships, establish legacies, make peace with God, and ensure that those who are left behind will be okay.

They want to end their story on their own term. This role is among life’s most important, for both the dying and those left. I think we find more ways to deny patients this role. Over and over, medicine inflicts deep wounds into the end of life and then stands oblivious to the harm.

The tough issue is to recognize that the small fixes provided by technology do not change the larger picture. Therein, we fail to recognize that fixing specific problems may not fix the patient.

I have 14 years of experience as a healthcare consultant. The real sorrow is that we (family and friends) are unable to significantly impact nature’s course. In the end, we can only accept its education. A patient once highlighted his sorrow.

“I woke up this morning I couldn’t stand up. I couldn’t push the pillow up in the bed; couldn’t use a toothbrush; couldn’t pull my pants or socks on; and it’s hard getting to sit up. But the doctor told me I was doing great.”

Society threw medical technology at the man but failed to understand the patient’s biggest fears? How about concerns? What goals were most important? What trade-offs would the patient be willing to make?

For human beings, life is meaningful because it is a story. A story has a sense of a whole, and its arc is determined by the significant moments, the ones where something happens. A seemingly happy life may be empty. A seemingly difficult life may be devoted to a great cause.

All of us have purposes larger than ourselves. Those are the conversations both the living and dying want to have.

What I found in this experience (even in dealing with my own illness) is that a large part of end of life tasks is simply being present, helping one negotiate the overwhelming anxiety—anxiety about death, anxiety about suffering, anxiety about loved ones, anxiety about finances. For my mother, these are real worries (and to some extent, real terrors). No one conversation can address them all. Arriving at an acceptance of dad’s mortality and a clear understanding of personal limits against the possibilities of medicine can and cannot do is a process, not an epiphany.

In my years of working in healthcare, there is no single way to help people through it. There are some general rules: You sit down. You make time. You’re don’t determine whether they want treatment X versus Y. Simply spending time trying to learn what’s most important to those impacted—so that I can provide information and advice on the approach that gives them their best chance of achieving whatever goal(s) they deem critical. This process requires as much listening as talking.

During this time, I have found that if one is talking more than half of the time, then one is talking too much.

Several days after seeing my father, I requested my mother get approval to see a counselor. “Doesn’t matter if you utilize the service. At least you have access to grief counseling should you choose.”

In her HMO, all counseling require preapproval. Accordingly, we made an appointment with her (and my father’s) primary care physician. Of course, the doctor preapproved the request. And while doing so, he mentioned that he’s personally seen several cases where 85 plus year-olds have recovered quite well from stroke. “Took several years,” he nodded. “But it can happen.”

I agree with him. I too, suppose, one can recover from the type of damage my father suffered. The reality is vastly different for 98% of 85 plus stroke patients. They are told, that with physical therapy, they would learn to walk again and return to their life. Most never will.

Most of us will be confined to wheelchairs and the rigidity of nursing home life. All privacy and control gone. We will awaken per schedule, bathed, and dressed per schedule, eat per schedule, watch television per schedule, and returned to sleep per schedule. The remainder of the last several years will be filled with a succession of roommates, never chosen, and jammed together like an incarcerated rat.

My father’s only crime? Being old. At one time in his life, my father had possibilities. Now he doesn’t. So, rather than thinking of something new and inventive for our elderly, we ban them from society by shuffling them off to brick corridors guarded by keypad locks and cameras.

I think the only way death becomes meaningful is to see oneself as part of something greater. Maybe there is a greater goal. If you do not find the ‘greater good,’ mortality is a horror show. As my body dies, I look at my father and wonder if I can find comfort in companionship, everyday routines, the taste of good food, the warmth of sunlight. Will I ever become less interested in the latest technology and more interested in simply being? It’s in my father’s frailty that I search my inner being and identify a purpose outside myself that makes living feel meaningful and worthwhile.

All journeys have the same ending–at a place nobody wants to go. Peaceful death during one’s sleep and swift catastrophic illnesses are exceptions. For most, death comes only after long medical struggle with an ultimately unstoppable condition—cancer, dementia, Parkinson’s, organ failure, or the accumulating debilities of age.

I still haven’t told my family of my tumor surgery, or the extensive osteoarthritis in my neck, back, knee, feet and hands. I haven’t said anything of my Parkinson’s diagnosis. I haven’t told them I’m dying.

Yet, I look at my father and outwardly admit I don’t want medicine to eat my flesh. I don’t want endless bouts of multiple chemotherapy regimens, last-ditch surgical procedures, experimental therapies, especially when the ultimate outcome is particularly clear. I would rather move on.

Moving on. That is the conversation we need. How can we gracefully move on from a world that refuses to let us go?

Oftentimes we choose badly. We barter on for the best opportunity to continue whatever morsel of time: strength, mental acuity and a life previously known just several weeks before. It is fantasy mind you. Yet we barter it all, even with the risk of a prolonged and terrible death–which is precisely what most will get.

Technically, the operation this old man received was a success. And two weeks later, the 88-year-old man and his 82-year-old wife, sat in the vascular surgeon’s office to hear the prognosis.

Wow,” said Doctor S. “The stent looks great. The ultrasound shows the artery is wide open.”

The wife smiled. The man grunted.

We’ll see you in two months.”

The stroke was significant, and he never recovered. In skilled nursing, the old man could barely remember why he was there; he spoke his son’s name when shown a picture of his dog; he neither say his wife’s name nor his son’s; and looked frail.

That old man is my father.

As I tried to explain to my mother, he could not be cured. Deep down, she knew there was not a cure. But admitting as much and assisting him was beyond her capability. Maybe, just maybe, that stent operation would produce a ‘miracle.’

Death, of course, is not a failure. It’s normal. Throughout the last decade, I repeatedly told my mother that modern scientific and medical marvels can significantly alter the course of human life. We can now push the final moment of many diseases farther outward. People can live longer than any time in history. In doing so, we hide the deeper reality, that such significant extensions do not come without cost. Eventually, the end makes itself known, whether it be in the lungs, brain, spine, kidneys, or heart. From there, there is no cure.

We left the doctor’s office this past Thursday knowing we’d never see dad at home again. Instinctively, my father knew he would never see his favorite lap companion (his dog) and spend Sunday’s petting while simultaneously watching Tiger Woods try for another victory. And, I wondered in the past few nights whether my mother’s ‘miracle was more for her or for my father. She always believed dad was the outlier, the guy who’d have a major injury at ninety and by ninety-one, climb the Himalayas’. Giving up meant giving up the life they built. Now, could either endure.

How did America become a world where we either have to go down with the ship or cede complete control of our life to live in a nursing home? Television is filled with young doctors performing endless miracles. We perform medical procedures (like stents), pat ourselves on the back and dish off our elderly into some unknown distant nursing home.

The reality is that most suffer alone. We depend upon nature and chance. Maybe we toss in a few overly quoted scriptures and beg for a miracle. Instead, society knowingly banishes people to Medicare/Medicaid with little options … too poor … too frail … too senile … or too broken down.

I studied my father for one last moment. “Welcome to your future bitch,” life responded.

In theory, every day is a gift. Actor Richard Evans said, “It is often in the darkest skies that we see the brightest stars.” And true to Evans’ words, I have witnessed tremendous kindness and generosity. 

A Buddhist would say our Coronavirus times should remind us of what is essential: Grandparents, fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, and family. More importantly, is there a call to review personal responsibility? While Presidents, CEO’s and our state leaders speak, cite statistics, and map out a post-COVID world, are we morally and ethically making the ‘right’ sacrifices? As we celebrate Memorial Day, would those (the “Greatest Generation”) agree that this generation is sacrificing anything?

I worry we’re not.

Tom Brokaw referred to the “Greatest Generation” as those men and women of the Great Depression, who had watched their parents lose their businesses, farms, jobs, and hopes and went directly into uniform into the military to fight tyranny. Brokaw noted that very stage of their lives, they were part of historical challenges and achievements of a magnitude the world had never before witnessed and credits them with much of the freedom and affluence we experience today.

It wasn’t all good. As many noted, during the early pre-war years against Germany, the government asked more of the public as the nation shifted to an all-out war footing. Like today, defiance of the government’s dictates was not uncommon across ideological boundaries. Just as early appeals to gather scrap metal for munitions production were ignored, today, we find it difficult to social distance and wear a face mask. And just as the Roosevelt administration’s plea for nonstop factory fostered strikes and work stoppages, I can only imagine how a person making more in unemployment than working will become motivated to sacrifice.

While American patriotism and wartime fervor played essential roles in successes, it was active leadership from the Roosevelt administration, especially its rhetoric and propaganda, which secured the buy-in. Today, we have an administration weaponizing division, promoting bogus health prevention (hydroxychloroquine) and refusing to explain what is needed and why.

We have failed to adopt clear, consistent, repeated messaging to encourage Americans in the battle required to slow coronavirus’ spread. I looked at the photos from Osage Beach, Missouri. Osage Beach is in the ‘Lake of The Ozarks.’ I am unsurprised by the crowded bars and disregard for social distancing. Yet, these people will beg medical clinicians to make every effort to save them, while simultaneously professing how innocent they are and how they did nothing wrong. 

The Atlantic summarized my thoughts well.

Some people who carried on with their nonessential weekend outings shared their rationale with reporters. One 40-year-old who went with a friend to their favorite bar on Sunday explained to the Los Angeles Times, “This could be the last bar we go to in a long time.” In Boston, a man in line at a bar with an hour-long wait reasoned to a Boston Globe reporter that, as a pharmacist, he was already going to have a high risk of exposure at work anyway, so “there’s only so much I can do” to avoid the virus. And one compassionate, though still risk-taking, D.C. diner told Washingtonian, “As long as businesses are open and the condition doesn’t worsen, I want to support those folks depending on patrons to make their living.

Writer Joe Pinsker noted, “These are extremely weak justifications for a choice that ultimately puts one’s short-term social enjoyment ahead of the health—and maybe even lives—of countless people who are more vulnerable to the disease. Beyond lacking clear and forceful guidance from President Trump and his administration, … people have failed to apprehend the gravity of the outbreak and the importance of staying in.

What happened to Memorial Day 2020? For first responders, clinicians, and rescue personnel across the country, sorrow will intertwine with pride of service and sacrifice. For those in Osage Beach and others with the same mentality, F••• it. It’s Miller Time.

Unfortunately, I see darker skies on the horizon.

In a world of COVID, we’ve suddenly become confined to small spaces with our spouses, with little to no reprieve. During the ensuing weeks and months, we’ve got to balance work life and personal life, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. 

In a lot of ways, many marriages will receive a glimpse of life in retirement. Spouses will look from different lenses—one may think the sky is falling, the other believes, “Eh, no big deal.” Jada Pinkett Smith related her experience. Smith, who’s been married to actor Will Smith for 23 years, realized she didn’t know him.

“I gotta be honest. I think one of the things that I’ve realized is that I don’t know Will at all. I feel like there’s a layer that you get to, life gets busy, and you create these stories in your head, and then you hold onto these stories, and that is your idea of your partner; that’s not who your partner is. Will and I are in the process of him taking the time to learn to love himself, me taking the time to learn to love myself, and us building a friendship along the way. Let me tell you, that’s been something, to be married to somebody 20-some odd years and realize I don’t know you and you don’t know me and also realizing there’s an aspect of yourself you don’t know either.”

Building friendships is something all must do.

Just before COVID closing the world, I overheard two men discussing their lives. One man was determined to force his wife of 27 years out of the marriage. He hated everything about her, from sunup to sundown. By his logic, if his wife left, he would not lose his children’s honor, and he could marry a younger wife. He wanted a younger wife. A younger wife will fix everything.

My wife says, ‘I just want everything to be back the way it was in the beginning,’” the first man says. “God. My wife is old. Since her chemo is over, she smells old. Her skin sags and nothing she does is satisfying. She disgusts me.

No one can ever go back to the beginning. It will never be, “… the way it was back in the beginning.” Relationships either evolve or devolve. The problem is we misperceived what our futures will be. 

COVID kind of hits that home.

Final Thought

A couple was dining and celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary. After the meal, the husband presented his wife romantically with a beautiful, ancient gold antique locket on a chain.

Amazingly when his wife opened the locket, a tiny fairy appeared.  

Your forty years of devotion to each other has released me from this locket, and in return, I will grant you both one wish each – anything you want.

Without hesitating, the wife asked, “Please, can I travel to the four corners of the world with my husband, as happy and in love as we’ve always been?

The fairy waved her wand with a flourish, and magically there on the table were two first-class tickets for a round-the-world holiday.

The fairy looked to the husband, “Your turn.

The husband thought for a moment, and said, “Forgive me, but to enjoy that holiday of a lifetime – I yearn for a younger woman – so I wish that my wife be thirty years younger than me.

Shocked, the fairy waved her wand, and the husband became ninety-three.

Last Friday (May 1), MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski read back to Biden his own statement from 2018 about Christine Blasey Ford’s claim that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her more than three decades earlier: 

“For a woman to come forward in the glaring lights of focus nationally, you’ve got to start off with the presumption that at least the essence of what she is talking about is real, whether or not she forgets the facts, whether or not it’s been made worse or better over time.”

In February 2020, Forbes Contributor Karlyn Borysenko wrote:

“If you call a woman a liar, even if you didn’t do [what you’re being accused of], you’re guilty of calling a woman a liar, so there’s no way out. If you don’t deny it, you’re thought to be guilty. If you do deny it, you’ve committed an additional political sin, so it’s a trap. And it feels just horrible…They either assume your guilt, or they assume you shouldn’t be asserting your innocence.”

Ms. Borysenko’s words haunt me; I can’t get past them. In my 2017 blog post, The Monica Lewinsky’s of the World Need Us, I wrote from a perspective of my failures – demons, some I might claim to carry even today. My writing exposes deeper truths. Throughout the years, I’ve taken an extensive personal inventory of the man I’ve become. For quite some time, (my stock) wasn’t pretty. Many years later, I take responsibility for speaking out for listening to those who claim to be victims and holding men accountable for their actions.

For Trump, there is no truth. He has written his own rules for years. The irony of Trump Presidency came while watching conservative religious leaders trip over themselves to support a man, that by all accounts, would likely experience the express elevator to the basement. At the same time, I was excommunicated by the church for having the gall to visit a Buddhist monastery. 

Looking at the Biden allegations, I see only caricatures of authoritarian pompousness from everyone. Is the accuser some form of monster: a wasted figure that retreated for nearly thirty-years only to now give up her secret? Were the motivations for potentially destroying Biden’s campaign (or Trump, or Clinton) clear: is it really in the interest of justice? Is the process of scrutiny really to protect the public from an abusive leader? Is so, why did America fail and assert no such strength during the 2016 campaign? And, should an accused resign, is resignation is proof of guilt?

In the wake of the #MeToo movement, it’s hard not to leap to the presumption of guilt once a sexual accusation is made. This is 2020, and in dramatic form, we must always believe. Therefore, the burden of proof is on the defense.

For many victims, the #MeToo movement has transformed an assault into something empowering. And for the most part, such movements have netted positive change. Nonetheless, when such allegations occur, all of us (media included) begin a righteous quest to discover our Truth, not necessarily the real Truth. In the end, without evidence, we become trapped by torrents of opposing viewpoints. 

Herein lay our error. 

If we believe we hold the monopoly of Truth, the truth will die. Reality is neither black nor white. Real allegations occur, and false allegations occur. Who do I believe? What is the Truth of this moment or that moment? Will I ever be able to judge this person? Will I ever be able to put this to rest, with a verdict? Can we get closure?

In the end, while most believe sexual assault is unacceptable, when push comes to shove, there are circumstances we’re willing to tolerate simply because other things matter more. That certainly held for Trump. The same for Clinton. But I hope to god it’s not true of Biden.

Feeling Real

A cousin contacts me only when he needs something. Needs tend to vary. 

“We’re having a family reunion (in three days). Can you fly/drive/hike/skateboard/surf half-way across the country and join us?” Other times, “Hey, we’re celebrating my mother’s 50th/60th/70th birthday? (Usually in three to five days). Can you fly/drive/hitchhike/Greyhound/balloon here?”

After a couple of years of silence, he contacted me via email. 

“Hey, I talked to your mother today. I haven’t heard from you. Just checking in on you to see how you’re doing. Let me know.” 

The first thing I did was call my mother, who confirmed that my cousin called. “He said that since he wasn’t allowed to get his mother out of the nursing home, he wanted to know if I could go out and get a ‘Mother’s Day Card’ and send it to her.’

“So,” I asked. “Why would you break Social Distancing in the middle of an epidemic to get a ‘Mother’s Day Card’ on Wednesday for your 90-year-old sister? I presume he understands Mother’s Day is five days away?”

“Don’t know,” my mother retorted.

I wrote to my cousin, informed I was doing well, even though I am working with frontline clinicians. I was tired, tired of ‘flatline’ monitors, tired of being exhausted, that I was working 12 shifts since March 6th, and that we lost one of our team members to COVID.”

“Hey,” my cousin responded. “Glad you’re ok. By the way, Mother’s Day is upon us. Can you send a Mother’s Day Card to Aunt P.?”

I didn’t respond.

Feeling Real

A family settled down for dinner at a restaurant. The waitress first took the order of the adults, then turned to the seven-year-old. “What will you have?” she asked.

The boy looked around the table timidly and said, “I would like to have a hot dog.”

Before the waitress could write down the order, the mother interrupted. “No hot dogs,” she said, “Get him a steak with mashed potatoes and carrots.”

The waitress ignored her. “Do you want ketchup or mustard on your hot dog?” she asked the boy.

“Ketchup.”

“Coming up in a minute,” said the waitress as she started for the kitchen.

The boy looked at everyone and said, “Know what? She thinks I’m real!”

Conclusion

When others don’t pay attention to our presence we feel as though we are objects to be maintained or avoided or fixed, rather than real human beings to be treated with respect and dignity. On the other hand, when someone listens to us, we feel loved and we feel real.

In the current COVID world, please ensure everyone is loved and feels real.

%d bloggers like this: