A Eulogy To Words

wrial2Sometimes the greatest tragedies come quietly.

Today marks a week since the passing of The Writer’s Almanac, one of the few modern examples of true literary culture edging – just slightly – into the American mainstream.

The Almanac has been around for 24 years. Hosted by its creator, Garrison Keillor, each daily program included vignettes about authors and other noteworthy people whose birthdays or significant events coincided with the date of the particular program. There were also interesting excerpts of important events in history.

The program continued with one or more poems usually chosen and read by Keillor. The show ended with his traditional sign-off, “Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.” The theme music was a version of the Swedish song “Ge mig en dag”, performed by Richard Dworsky on piano.

Keillor has recently been accused of ‘inappropriate conduct’ by a co-worker at Minnesota Public Radio, which has the distribution rights to the show. He has been summarily removed from all his connections to the station, and, among other actions, the Almanac is no more. The details are murky. It isn’t clear what was committed; from crimes against humanity to repugnant boorishness to internecine office politics. But the Almanac is gone. That we know.

This loss is a terrible thing. The Almanac goes quietly, ‘with a whimper,’ but the magnitude of the demise cannot be understated. Thousands of writers, poets especially, saw a small sliver of light fall across their obscure desks because of the Almanac.

Ever heard of Athena Kildegaard? I hadn’t. ‘Till A Mother’s Poem showed up in my email the other day. Same for the poetry of Anne Sexton, Paul Hostovsky, David Romtvedt, Ogden Nash, Janice Moore Fuller, Dorianne Laux and hundreds of others. Each post in the Almanac included links to buy the works of these poets, which I’m sure was a huge benefit to them. Ever tried to sell a poem? Ever tried to keep the heat on in winter with income from your wordcraft? Give it a shot. Have fun.

Another casualty: The Poetry Foundation. Long fighting a valiant Thermopylae-esque battle for the attention of the American public, this beleaguered institution will crumble further into obscurity. Many of those who attempt to live by the spoken or written word will feel the effects of this ignominious end.

wrial4I think of all the people who made their living from the show too: The Almanac was written by Betsy Allister, Joy Biles, Priscilla Kinter, Heather McPherson, and Holly Vanderhaar, the program was engineered and edited by Thomas Scheuzger, Noah Smith, and Sam Hudson. Production assistance was by Kathy Roach and Katrina Cicala. I don’t know any of these people, but I presume they’re now using those fabulous writing skills on their resumes.

This is a blow to the English language itself. The Writer’s Almanac invited Americans to spend time with those who are excellent and exacting in their use of English. This, in turn, pushed those of us with lesser skills to be better with the craft. To avoid sentence fragments, for example. And fight the urge to grow wary when in fact we were weary. Great English avoids misconfusing conjunctions. And doesn’t use nouns to modify verbs (e.g. ‘travel safe’ is, ostensibly, a thing, ‘travel safely’ is a well wish). Great English makes whimsical and witty use of alliterations (you be the judge with that one).

wrial6But to my way of thinking, the greatest effect of the loss of the Almanac is to the American mind. I’ve long been suspicious of just how well the average American thinks, myself included. I’m dubious that we as a people place a high enough standard how and at what point we decide something is True. America today seems to be a land of sports spectacle and activism, neither of which lend themselves to nuanced and charitable thinking. Intellectual certainty abounds. Justice may rarely roll down like water these days, but arrogance about one’s opinions certainly does.

Poetry tends to avoid absolutes. It remains one of the few places where the dress could be blue, or gold, or both…and still be considered valid. And valuable. A poet once told me that a good poem has two completely different meanings, depending on how it is read –  a great poem has three. Poetry demands of us the ability to find both satisfaction and fascination in such unkempt intellectual complexity.

I met my future wife over Faulkner, but things really heated up when Cummings and Frost got involved. To say I owe my marriage, and all the glories that have resulted thereafter, to poetry is both overstatement and understatement. I mean, words…what can they really do for us? No doubt it was actually those relentless brown eyes. Then again, perhaps it was the waves, which did something to the shore that water never did to land before.

It may be that shutting down the Almanac was necessary; the justice of sins come home. Perhaps it is the victim of McCarthyist purges. Either way, the loss is incalculable. The exit of a Today Show anchor or a Hollywood movie producer barely rends the cultural fabric of America. But the loss of The Writer’s Almanac shreds it. All are bereft of so much more than can ever be said. Except, perhaps, by the poets, who are now even more quiet than they were before.

Health Report – Mickey Mouse

Our family just returned from Disneyland Paris.  We had a great time.  As a doctor, however, I just couldn’t ignore the many health problems clearly evident in the thousands of images I saw of the world’s most famous mouse.

Fictional characters on the Hollywood Walk of Fame

I can say with confidence that this will be the first and only time that I publish the health record of a patient without his/her consent.  But then again, I’m not even sure this little rodent was my patient at all.  Furthermore, I can’t vouch for my physical exam of our storied mouse – given his rather cavalier take on the idea of ‘physical’ – but I do believe we should all be alarmed at the probable health status of our big-eared friend.

Of greatest concern is what can only be described as HUGE feet.  Unfortunately, this does not suggest enviable male endowment, as it is sometimes rumored in those with enormous paws.  Rather, these feet are swollen.  A close look at most pictures of this patient suggest that he in fact can’t wear shoes at all, but instead some sort of stretchy slipper.

The illustration shows the major signs and sym...
I Kept Seeing This Instead Of Enjoying Space Mountain

The best explanation for feet this swollen is congestive heart failure.  This is a situation where the heart has pumped against a dysfunctional circulatory vessel pressure for so long that the muscle fibers have becomes stretched out and weak.  Eventually, the heart becomes incapable of pushing blood around the body effectively, causing pooling of fluids in the extremities, especially the feet.  Judging by the thousands of pictures of him, most drawings were likely done after this patient had been on his feet all day.  Let’s face it, an 80 year old mouse can only walk around smiling waving at kids for so long before problems arise.

CHF is progressive (meaning it just gets worse over time).  Elizabeth Taylor just died from this, for example.  Mick could use any of a number of meds to lower his blood pressure, and (arguable, these days) something to strengthen the contractions of whatever functioning heart muscle fibers he still has.  He should also go with low-salt cheese, lean scraps and whatever else a billionaire mouse might eat.

The little guy also has disturbingly white hands.  Leaving aside the perplexing question of how a rodent has human hands (and feet), what we’re probably seeing here is Reynaud’s phenomenon.

In itself, this is a circulatory system peculiarity that is not medically-concerning.  However, it can be very painful.  Mickey appears to be in the early stages of the process.  Likely shortly after his portrait sittings, his hands turned bright blue, then eventually into a deep red.  Throughout the process, he would be in quite a bit of pain.

Of course, I can’t be sure if he isn’t wearing gloves (assuming that garish white color IS his skin, frequent glove use makes sense).  Gloved or not, we still have the problem of clearly HUGE hands, suggesting edema like that described above in his feet.  Assuming, however, that we do in fact have Reynaud’s here, the concern is of an autoimmune disease in the category of lupus.  “Lupus” is a reference to the facial rash often seen in the disease and how it mimics the fur-pattern of the red wolf.  Given that wolves engorge themselves on mice whenever possible, this diagnosis is insult to injury for our poor little entertainer.

Furthermore, lupus typically causes joint and connective tissue pain.  It can lead to heart problems, anemia, serious lung problems including emboli and hemorrhages, kidney damage and neurological problems.  There is no known cure, although the disease can be managed usually to good effect with oral steroids (not of the Lance Armstrong type…we’ll get to that), but the Mickster here clearly needs to get them started.

Mickey Mouse Bus
On The Way to Rehab?

Next, the rotund belly.  This is the physical sign most associated with diabetes and other metabolic diseases (or could be another sign of his CHF).  Termed by doctors as “central obesity,” this malady affects a HUGE proportion of American men, especially.  To our knowledge, little else puts a person more at risk for big metabolic problems.  Mickey lives at Disneyland, where he can expect to eat things like spun sugar, rock candy-encased apples (I presume of the sort that felled Ms. S. White) and shovel-fulls of sweetened popcorn.  So, as a nearly 90 year-old mouse, he can be forgiven the “Gaston Gut,” as it were.  Still, a strict diet is highly recommended.

Another thing:  look carefully, and you’ll realize that Mickey’s head is larger than his entire thorax (body sans legs).  Babies exhibit this phenomenon – watch a toddler reach overhead…only the hands extend beyond the giant head itself – but adults don’t.  Mickey may have been born with something called hydrocephaly that was inexplicably untreated for 80 years.  Maybe he was too busy as a child prodigy mouse, or maybe everyone thought it was “cute.”  He may also be suffering from Cushings, an overabundance of the steroid cortisol.  He has some other physical signs to support that diagnosis too.

Lance Armstrong and John Korioth in the team t...
THESE Guns Don't Come With Serial Numbers

But he also could be doping.  By doping, I specifically mean HGH, or human growth hormone.  Lots of athletes do (or did) it, like Barry Bonds (yep, I passed judgement…don’t care about some goofy trial) and probably Lance Armstrong.  Here a note to Armstrong supporters:  almost EVERY top-5 pro cyclist, and every one of Lance’s main competitors over his winning years, has been busted for doping of some sort.  Except him.  Savvy, not legitimacy, I say.

Anyway, HGH makes you huge, but it can disporportionately affect the bones, especially in the head.  Of note, HGH isn’t bad in itself, per se.  It stimulates muscle growth in a way that can be very helpful to geriatric patients, for example.  And, as with many Hollywood elites, The Mickster shows his age about as much as Dick Clark who looks 40 but was actually personal friends with Moses.  So, I think Mickey can be forgiven for taking a shot or two from the possible fountain of youth.  But, unfortunately, that HUGE noggin gives it away…to me at least.

So, let me say that DisneyLand was a great adventure for our 4 kids.  I, however, kept getting dragged into unnecessary endeavors like rides or shows even as I frantically searched high and low my latest, and sickest, patient.  Sadly, I never had a chance to warn him of his predicament.  So, the onus is now on you, dear SW101 nation.  Find him.  Tell him.  He’s sick.  He needs help.

Next Week: Goofy comes out of the closet and reveals that he has Marfan’s Disease…and everyone pretends to be surprised.

Reader Q, Probable Farewell

Q – I just discovered your blog and have had fun reading it, however, it seems that you have stopped blogging?

A – It’s true. I burned out a little. Well, that’s a simplification. Moving here (to Germany), emerging from survival mode from medical training and settling into a normal life opened up all kinds of new emotions in me that I didn’t anticipate. The most important of these was a distinct realization that I wanted to deepen and widen my relationship with my wife.

So instead of pounding out these blog posts, I’ve been cooking dinner once a week (“Daddy Dinners”) and spending the majority of my nights watching some show or other with my wife by my side as I run my fingers slowly through her hair.

I’m gradually putting together a new blog – “Lover, Daddy, Doctor” – that picks up where SW101 leaves off. But it reflects my new focus in life.  I’d anticipate some humor, occasionally more intensity, less medicine.  I’d even expect the occasional Bible verse to accompany an irrepressible proclivity to pepper my writing with a well-placed swear word (Hey, I’ve come a long way…plus I’ve long bet that God nods to honesty before Christian decorum).

To survive in medical training, you HAVE to make survival and success your number one priority. I would have sworn this wasn’t true for me, but it was. Failure anywhere along the training path is a conscription to a lifetime of insurmountable debt, even poverty. Now that I’ve survived, my genuine priorities have emerged. I love to write, so it’s natural that I would blog about this new direction in my life. But I’m not sure. This is personal. More personal than just the experiences of being a doctor trainee. Maybe the story of one guy’s quest to be a better man is better left to be pondered quietly in the heart.

So, I’m mulling my next “move”. Maybe I’ll just pick up where I left off and start up SW101 again (thanks, everyone of you who wrote in to ask where all the good times went). Maybe I’ll finally finish my book.

Ultimately, I just can’t tell you where I’m going because I myself don’t know.  I DO know that I’ve successfully grilled tuna fillets, invented a mango/pear/mint salad that everyone loved, and I can broil Portabello mushrooms all by myself.  I learned the difference between Goat Cheese and Feta Cheese.  I know where the measuring cups are in the kitchen.  I can tell you every character in Lost (and the top 4 theories about what the freaking show even means).

But what I REALLY know is that my wife looks at me with eyes I haven’t seen for 13 years.  And this stirs my soul in ways that make most of the rest of my life comfortably superfluous.  This blog got caught up in that eternal vortex…

When I know anything more than this, you will too.


“All that I am, all that I ever was, is there in your perfect eyes…they’re all I can see.”  -Chasing Cars, by Snow Patrol

Movie Review – Avatar

I enjoyed myself fully last night as I entered the world of ‘Avatar’, James Cameron’s new sci-fi epic that already handily broke a 1 billion-dollar landmark record of some kind.  I’d watch the show again tonight if I could.  I’d probably watch it every night for a week like my high school buddies did for “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure” once upon a time.

You don’t have to care – or understand – the point of the movie to completely enjoy the stunning visual spectacle presented in wide-screen, 3D wonder.  In fact, I’d advise constraining yourself specifically to the visual effects and skip putting any real thought to the message of the movie.  In essence, just sing along with the song, but don’t think about what the words actually mean.

The story follows an ex-Marine named Jake as he becomes part of a mission to subjugate – or at least translocate – the natives on a strange new planet (a moon actually, but does it matter?).  On the n0t-so-subtly-named Pandora, the “aliens” congregate around an enormous tree set in the middle of a seemingly endless forest.  They stand about 11 feet tall, with blue skin and luminous yellow eyes and they all seem to carry bow and arrows and daggers.  These blue and tall but otherwise disappointingly human-shaped beings generally seem happiest when attending their frequent tribe-wide drum fests – with a terminally simplistic 2/4 beat rhythm that sounds like it might have been pounded out on cool Senegalese drums the Anglo orchestra bought in bulk.

These earthy aliens have a sacred, mystical, spiritual connection to the forest where they live; generally behaving like any nature-loving tribe the Europeans successfully decimated a little over a century ago in North America.  In a complete creative hiatus, at one point nature is even called a “mother”.  Why not a father, or brother, or just skip the nuclear family reference to nature entirely?  The descriptor ‘Mother Earth’ is so unoriginal, it ranks up there with Bless You and Dot Com.

Although 2 hours and something like 40 minutes, you can easily sum up the movie in one phrase: “Dances With Wolves”…but with pterodactyls you can ride.

Basically – Marine makes contact with natives through project financed by aggressive and ethics-challenged Big Business company.  Marine plans on helping his financiers destroy said natives.  Instead, he inadvertently falls in love with natives in general, and one curvaceous native in particular.  He then becomes the enemy of his former bosses, ultimately leading the meek, dumb, dark-skinned simpletons to victory over superior white man.

I haven’t decided if this REALLY tired theme of the White Male swooping down into a primitive race, seeing their genuine good, and then becoming their Great Savior is completely racist.  Some are saying it absolutely is.  I don’t really think that was the intent.  I just think it was lazy writing by a white male who deep-down believes that white men are still the best hope for the world.  That they still run it, ultimately.  But it is possible that white men really don’t have much to offer the world anymore – that we’ve had our time and made our mark.  Maybe it’s time for some non-white, non-men to run the countries, write the laws, own the companies and save fictional worlds.  Maybe the white boy has done about all he can.

Big Business takes a major hit in this movie.  It gets portrayed as the denizen of all Evil in life.  That said, it’s Big Business that has paid for every iota of scientific discovery that has occurred on Pandora.  The science taking place on this moon (and taking place on our earth) is an elevated form of existence, no question, but in both worlds it mostly exists because of Big Business, either directly or through taxes.  Scientists – and artists – need to accept the fact that to live in that enlightened world of thought and wonder and possibility depends on their benefactor’s mundane ability to sell widgets.  Big Business is rarely genuinely evil.  True, figuring out when to inject some profit-endangering humanistic principles into a business plan does takes some skill and is occasionally gotten wrong. But for the most part, if business didn’t make the poet, at least it feeds him.

The actual “avatar” is a living being made to look like the aliens, but controlled by the mind of a human.  The human links to the avatar neurologically, so it can only be controlled by one specific human.  Thus, the human lies in a coffin-like body-pod that connects him/her to their specific avatar.  Upon falling into a coma in the pod, the avatar wakes up and the mind of the comatose human controls it.

Soohh...who gets to clean this thing?

The doc in me couldn’t help but get hung up on this part of the movie.  First, all humans need to sleep.  But since the avatar wakes up as soon as the human “sleeps”, and since controlling the avatar is a conscious process, the human never actually does sleep.  For some evolutionary reason I can’t fathom, REM sleep is the foundation of all life.  This inconvenient fact defies even the mighty pen of James Cameron.  By the end of the movie, after staying awake vicariously with the characters, I felt like I’d been on call in the hospital for days on end (felt like I was back in residency again).

Also, the human lays in this coffin thing for hours and hours.  At the least, he’s gotta pee himself on a regular basis, to say nothing of the inevitable bowel movement here and there.  Plus, the main character’s avatar hooks up with the sexy female alien.  Depicted as the first consummating night of an eternal love bond – thus likely a multicoital affair – envisioning the scene (and smell) inside the pod after this particular night left me a bit squeamish.

As mentioned, the power of this movie is in the visuals.  It is a “looker” many times over.  But the general message is tired, probably slightly racist, and denigrates the U.S. Military (or at least leads the audience to exult in the widespread slaughter of American soldiers/mercenaries).  That said, perhaps our culture really should take the main theme of the story to heart.  After all, we DID decimate the Native American culture, and based on my experiences on the Crow Reservation in Montana, I’d say we continue to.  We’re also strikingly obtuse in our dealings with tribal cultures in the Middle East today.  Listening to people from a different culture – rather than melting them with daisycutters and circling drones – has some merit.

But I do wish the movie had added a little post-modernism into the mix and eschewed the evil-good idea altogether.  It didn’t have to pit the American Axis of Evil (big business + U.S. Army) against a pristine tribal culture practically perfect in every way.  Historic Native American tribes were often duplicitous, aggressive, thieving and hateful (many still are today).  They rarely trusted each other from tribe to tribe and may have been just as irresponsible had one tribe attained the raw power that the U.S. Government currently has.  The Arab tribes we’re tangling with recently have a litany of faults and cobwebby dark corners too.  But they are also a just, priceless, sacred, honorable people.  This dichotomy exists in virtually every race in our world.  Americans seem to hate this complexity in our fiction – it’s easier to hate one thing and love another and then watch them duke it out.

Yeah, YEAH! Die lame-oh Americans! Wait, didn't an American make this movie?

Thus, the conflict in the movie could have been between two parties filled with faults and frailties but ultimately imbued with genuine honor, honesty and a respect for the rights of others.  Standing between them is something they both deeply need and want (trees, mineral ore…whatever).  In life, conflicts almost always boil down to two parties who both have blood on their hands, but both are essentially good, honorable…and in the right.  e.g., Palestine wants the land, Israel wants the land, both have been evil at times, both have been angelically good at times, and each have some form of legitimate claim to the exact space of real estate.  Stick that conundrum in your avatar’s virtual peace pipe and take a deep drag, nature-brother.

Depicting this nuanced world may have weakened the sense of righteous rage as the Army went Operation Flatten Everything.  It may have lessened the gloating release when the Ultimate Bad Guy finally met his ignominious end.  But it would have made a better movie.  It would have made the written story as complex as those fantastic visuals, and created a worthy counterpart to such a sparkling, wondrous vision.

Good Samaritan…Law?

I recently fell victim to a rule here in Germany entitled ‘The Good Samaritan Law.’

The statute irked me even before I suffered under it, because it evokes a sacred parable, but totally misses the enduring message of the story.  Worse, for those not familiar with one of the most important stories in all of Christianity, familiarity with this law will likely make you presume the exact opposite storyline of The Good Samaritan.

You can read the story yourself in any self-respecting Bible containing the book of Luke.  Specifically, Luke chapter 10, verses 25-37.

Incidentally, Luke is my favorite of the Gospels not only because he was a doctor, but also because without him, we wouldn’t really know much about the early church after Jesus died.  Luke wrote Acts along with his Gospel.

Doctors.  Always so thorough.

473px-Rembrandt_Harmensz._van_Rijn_033Anyway, for a brief run-down of the story, a guy gets the smack-down by bandits while traveling by himself on a lonely road.

While laying there – naked, hacking, bleeding and wheezing – 3 different people walk by.  The first two people are the most likely to stop and help him because they’re either from his tribe, or religious-types who might just kinda want to reflect the love of God to the lost and suffering (and involuntarily naked).

However, those guys pass right on by as the man lays suffering in the gutter.  The person who does stop is the sworn enemy of the  beat-up guy:  the Samaritan.  Jews and Samaritans hated each other back then.  So much that cultured Jews wouldn’t even speak the name ‘Samaritan’.  Both groups had all these issues with each other and the way they regarded themselves as El Guapo of God, etc.

So, the story in today’s parlayance would be something along the lines of: a hyper-conservative-to-the-distant-right-of-Pat-Robertson guy stops in a discordant wave of compassion to help a bleeding man with a pink neon sign strapped to his body cyclically buzzing “I’m a proud man-flamer and really, really damn proud of it.  Christians SUUUUCK!”  This would be after Richard Simmons, Barry Manilow, Franc from Father of the Bride, Surge from Beverly Hills Cop and Bruno all sauntered past without so much as a 2nd sideways glance.

THAT’S the story.  The point gets at perhaps Jesus’ most profound and challenging admonition: love your enemy.  Volitionally.  On purpose.  ‘Cause you want to, you chose to, nobody made you.

In the Sermon on the Mount – by my estimation, the greatest oratory in all of human history – Jesus says,

You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.”
But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.
For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others?

Arguably, this idea of extending love beyond your own brethren to everyone – even punks you hate – distinguishes Christianity from all other religions. In my mind, this teaching constitutes both the core of Christianity, and elevates it above the world’s other great religions.

300px-Bloch-SermonOnTheMountLove your neighbor as yourself was espoused by the common religious teaching at the time, thought to be imported from Asia.  Love your brother as yourself is the prominent admonition in Islam.  But love your enemy?  That’s out there.  Was then.  Is today.  Pretty much never successfully followed by Christians, but profound teaching nonetheless.

So, you can see that when I encounter The Good Samaritan used in less-than-exact terms, I get edgy.  That story rests squarely in the central belief system of my life.

And what is the German Good Sam Law?  Simply, that if you see someone in need of aid, you are required to offer any assistance you reasonably can (no road-shoulder femur reductions required if you’re a manager at Staples, for example).

The name of this law probably came from an identically-named law in the States.  However, in the States, the Good Sam law simply protects anyone from getting sued for attempting to be a “Good Samaritan” by helping someone in dire need…and the would-be Sam actually screws it up, or just doesn’t actually help, or only sorta helped but could have done better…or anything else the average creative American might come up with to get themselves a lawsuit against your average kindhearted bonehead.

I don’t mind the name applied to the American law because it’s simply a protection against lawsuits.  It doesn’t reference the parable incorrectly.

The German law is incorrectly named because the whole notion of a Good Samaritan is that their actions are by choice and unexpected.  Furthermore, the Good Sam is helping someone he is supposed to hate.

The German law simply forces you to help anyone, love ’em or hate ’em.  So, the name has been applied lazily, which undermines a story with sacred meaning that shouldn’t be distorted.

Hmph.  Did I get old suddenly?

And how did this law affect me?  Today, while on an exit ramp on the autobahn, we were flagged down by a couple next to their car.  The man waved frantically, wide-eyed, looking like something must have gone terribly wrong.  I would not have pulled over at that point in the U.S.  I would have assumed it was some sort of scam and known that Emergency people could probably handle it.  But this is Germany.  I’m obligated to be a “Good Samaritan” (contradiction in terms…see above).  So I pull over.  The man urgently asks for gas money.

His car is out of gas.

Am I supposed to “help” with this?  Would I be a “Bad Samaritan” in Germany if I didn’t help this guy out?  Worriedly, I pull out 20 Euro and give it to him, furtively casting glances over my shoulder for the “Polezi” and seeing a disembodied officer’s head nod in approval as I hand over the legal tender.

The guy acts instantly relieved and immensely grateful.  He tries to give me his worthless “gold” chain, which we refuse.  I then realize that those 20 Euro cost me about 30 U.S. dollars, plus whatever cost I incurred to get them from the cash machine the day before.  Driving away, I realize that 30 bucks is more than enough to get some gas.  5 would have been fine.  I also wonder why the guy is trying to get money RIGHT THERE, why not wait ’till they got to the gas station, then peddle money?  My cash isn’t going to get him off the should of the road.

I gave more than I could afford, trying to avoid becoming a “Bad Samaritan”, and in truth, I was probably scammed.  In normal life, I virtually never give money to individual people I don’t know because I can’t be sure that what they do with the money will be beneficial.  I’ve long come to accept that giving money to beggars is really about my guilt issues, rather than my genuine desire to help them.

This time, giving that money derived from being afraid that I would go to German jail, forever labeled as a Bad Samaritan.

So, I’m critical of the title of the law.  I also think the whole idea of a law that forces you to help people has lots of ethical and liberty issues with it.

Germany’s great…but they ought to take another look at their law, starting with the name of it.

Just A Map

I don’t want to get saddled with what I’m sure is annoying extra work.  But I’m inclined to volunteer as the point-guy for other incoming clinic staff.  Really, helping newbies does not require an advanced degree; just some advance thought.

Within the first two minutes of stepping on the ground in Baumholder, any new professional should be given 3 simple things: A local cell phone, already charged with minutes and a battery, a list of 5 important phone numbers (boss, clinic, sponsor, hotel manager, inprocessing office)…and a map.

Actually, forget the rest.  Just a map.

Army bases – for the uninitiated – tend to dominate the neighborhood.  It isn’t as if the place just mixes into the typical downtown city neighborhood, “Hmmm, an Indian spice store…Iranian kebabs….electronics store…BAUMHOLDER ARMY GARRISON….a falafel stand.”

No.  The place is HUGE.  You can’t walk across it in less that a few hours.  And my base is considered small.  Really, most active Army bases span square miles.

Buried somewhere in all those acres are things like a bank, a grocery store (that takes good-‘ol US money), a thrift store where we can get cheap books for my 9 year old reading addict, restaurants, libraries (also for the addict), a post office, and about a thousand other things we REALLY need.

But all of it is spread out over 39 square miles and NOBODY knows how to tell you where to go to get what you need.  They just know.  Like monarchs and grey whales and sea turtles and cats who got lost in a cross-country move…they just know.

Thus, one great triumph the other day was finding the “housing office”:

“HI!  Wow!  I’m so proud of myself.  I found your office.”

“We’re all cheering for you.  Ecstasy.”

“I’m looking for a house in the area.”

“Gimme your orders.”

“Ummm…I’m a civilian.”

“Civilian?  We don’t service them.”

*Sigh*  “Seriously?  Everyone told me you were the ones to help me with this little housing-for-6 problem I have.”

“We don’t service civilians.”

“Right.  Heard that.  Thanks for elaborating.  Well, so as to prevent this from becoming a TOTAL loss since I rented a car to get here, maybe you can help me find a map of the base.  It took me 3 days just to find you.”

“A map?”

“Right.  You know, a miniaturized cartographic scale drawing of the place where we currently work?”

“We don’t service civilians.”

“But.  A map.  Just a map.”

“Oooohhhh.  A map.  Hmmmmm.  Let’s see.  Well, you need to go to the LRP office.”

“Never mind what the acronym is.  Where is that?”  (Since we don’t have a map, which could effectively end this conversation)

“You have to cross the river, well actually first go out of the security gate 4, show your ID and travel certificate, then cross the river, but actually that’s after you pass the golf course, then get your – do you have a clearance 9 tool? – well, anyway, then you take the hovercraft to docking station 33, point your serial wand to frequency mmXB22IB, then EJECT! EJECT! EJECT!, traverse the powerlines, and avoid the ordinance field…then you should see the office in the distance if the smog index is below 44.  Once you get to the office, you’ll need to – since you’re a civilian – petition the colonel to write you an exception letter and they should be able to provide you with a microfiche of a Baumholder map…although it will be from 1944 when it was used by the German SS.”

“Thanks so much!  That will be VERY helpful!”

“No problem we don’t service civilians.”

Later, I told someone at the clinic that I got zero help at the housing office.

“They didn’t give you a nice book filled with color pictures of available houses, their locations and the prices?”

“They didn’t seem too happy to ‘service’ civilians, which, frankly, wasn’t exactly my desire either.”

“Ooohhhh, you went to the on-base housing office.”

“Yep.  Said ‘Housing Office’ on the door.  Everybody said, “Go to the ‘housing office’ and all of your wildest dreams will come true.  So, I was just taking a leap of faith on the exactness of the words between what I was told – ‘housing office’ – and what was on the door, which read – if I remember correctly – ‘housing office’.”

“Oh.  You needed to go to the OFF BASE Housing office.”

“Good to know.  Next time I rent a car so I can get around on the base, I’ll try to find that office instead.  Or, in 10 words or less, can you tell me where that office is?”

“Sure.  It’s directly upstairs from the on-base housing office.”


You can laugh about this stuff, or let it drive you crazy.

So far, we’re laughin’.

Dad + Doctor

You might think that medical training would be a great asset to any parent.  Docs are trained in all kinds of cool things like Heimlich maneuvers and laceration suturing.

Heck, if the wife got pregnant again (Nope…don’t even ask) and went into early labor, I bet I could spread out a shower curtain on our living room floor and just take care of everything right there.  Noo problem.  Doctor DAD!

But when does all that stuff actually happen (and do doctors anywhere really suture up their kids by lamplight in the kitchen anymore)?

What does happen to the kids much of the time is some thing or another that COULD BE TERRIBLE.  Everybody, even the cat, knows the incident, or symptom, etc, might be the end of famSW101 as we know it.  What the untrained blissfully don’t know…is JUST HOW TERRIBLE it might be.

So, in essence, the only difference between a doctor-dad and every other non-medical dad, is a stupefying knowledge of all the evil possibilities that could be behind a kid’s latest symptoms.

Headache for a few hours, some fever, woke up disoriented?  What do you think, honey?

Um.  Well.  Probably meningitis.  Have you ever seen a child die of meningitis?  We’ll be lucky if she keeps her limbs.  Could be coupled with flesh-eating bacteria, too.  Hopefully at least some of her face doesn’t rot off.  We may not even recognize her…if she miraculously survives the ordeal.  It’s ok, though.  We’ll still love her.  Help her set up a profile on Matchmaker.com even though she’ll be totally deformed.  Some saint of a man will learn to love her, unconditionally, like we do.

OR, saaay, it could be an absence seizure.  Maybe the first of many.  Maybe she’ll slowly have progressively worsening seizures until some galactically-renouned neurosurgeon implantes a permanent zaptrode into her medulla oblongata and calms the seizures but unfortunatley makes her arms twitch at 0.5 second intervals, often causing her to smack her own face.

“Probably just a cold, dear.  Check her every once in awhile, and keep me posted,” like, every 8-10 minutes would be nice, at least until I get home from work so I can sit at the foot of her bed chewing my nails down to the carpel tunnels until the last moment before I’m due back at work tomorrow.

Since the day I simultaneously got fired and quit my job (aka graduated, but that’s such a boring designation), I have been much more “Daddy” than “Doctor”.  Of course, this mostly has been great.  Lots of “back-ee-ball” with one particular boy.  Trips downtown to fairs and toy stores.  Swimming pools, squirt guns, stories.  You know…Dad-kid stuff.  Some good catch-up after 3 years.

Today, I got to take everyone to gymnastics.  Excellentcool.  I’m always working at this day and hour when not subsisting on the dole.

All 4 kids have their own class.  Each is good at particular things and they ALL have a blast.  10 minutes into it today, however, I see from the Parent Stadium, my 7 year old crying and sitting on the mat.  The instructor picks her up and carries her over to the parent area.

No problem.  She’s one of the more melodramatic.  We’re good.  All good.  Everything’s good.  I’m fine.  I’m FINE!

I saunter up to my crying daughter – James Dean vibe gushing in all directions – and find that she somehow hurt her knee.  Not sure how.  Didn’t bang it…probably.  But it’s so bad, she can’t bend it, walk on it or use her foot.  Instructor gets me some ice and goes back to her class.

Really?  You can’t walk, or bend it at all?  Like, at all?

Turns out she can, in fact, bend her knee…but every time she does, she screams in pain.  The noise she makes should be built into father-specific alarm clocks.  Set that thing to belt out a child’s scream of pain…and you could show up to a tax-code seminar at 4:30 am with a slight twitch and the retention capacity of a SETI cloud-processing computer.

Daughter is crying both because of the pain, and because she doesn’t get to climb the rope – her favorite exercise (because she’s the only one in the family that can do it).  Daddy knows Daughter would never miss rope-climbing.  You could nail-gun her leotard to the balance beam, and that kid would wriggle out of it and happily climb the rope freak-naked if she needed to.  For her, gymnastics is the rope.

And she’s the one who notifies me that she won’t be climbing the rope today.


*Red Flags*

*Cow Bells*

*60’s ‘Nam Choppers overhead*

So the poor crying girl is immediately subjected to a bunch of physical exam tests that really should be reserved for the likes of LaDanian Tomlinson or Landon Donovan.

I try to get her to walk (she bawls).  I check her gait (more bawling).  Tippee-toes.  Squatting.  I look for knee effusions (more crying, sorry sweetie), patellar tracking, joint-line tenderness, patellar grind test (she loved this), Valgus/Varus stress tests, McMurray, Lachman, A/P drawer, pivot shift, Nobel’s, Ober’s, Wilson.

None of this, alas, helped with the tears.

Did she blow out her knee?  ACL maybe?  At 7?  She’ll need a walker by 35! Maybe the PCL.  You can usually walk on those and she’s moving around a bit.  Maybe bursitis, or one of the collaterals.  Compartment syndrome?  Nah.  What about a fracture?  Maybe.  Could be.  Jeez, she’s gonna need pins!  Oh!  Didn’t even think of gastrocnemius tear…poor kid! Or meniscal tear.  What about Plica syndrome…I don’t even remember what the heck that is, but maybe she’s got THAT!

I held her in my lap through the whole lesson.  Then I carried her out to the car afterward.  Once home, wife and I set her up with ice and Motrin (anti-inflammatories).

A few minutes after she settled into her at-home field clinic, she starts crying again.  OH NO!  It’s really starting to hurt.  Something terrible really did happen.  Oh, my beautiful child will never run again, maybe never walk.

“Where does it hurt, sweetheart?  What’s wrong?  Why are you crying?”

“I’m so BORED!”

“You’re bored.”  My eyes droop a bit.  I cross my arms.

“Can I puh-leeze get up now?  I had to sit all through gymnastics too.”

10 minutes later, the kid is throwing her brother’s basketball and chasing moths.  Her knee still hurts, to be sure.  But only a little.  She fully plans on climbing the rope next week.

Residency was tough, yes.

But this is why I’m losing my hair.

Post-Call Warfare

Welcome home, OLD MAN..Mwhahaha

He waits for me.

Before I’ve even stumbled through the door, he scans me…probing for weakness. Huddled in shadows, he watches will all the patience he can command from his 3-year old body.

“Puffy eyes,” he reasons.  “Face a little long.  Weaving a bit.  Probably didn’t sleep last night in the hospital.  Excellent.”

Daddy’s home….may the best boy win.

I collapse on the mattress in our living room.  Placed there for my frequent late nights with the on-call pager, the patterned white expanse invites me in after nearly 25 straight hours of in-hospital work.

But I see him out of the corner of my eye.  The spiky hair, the blue eyes alive with anticipation, the little fingers wrapped around a pleather baseball.  Even a blink is risky.

Laying like a dead man, I pretend (with little effort) to sleep.  But I can’t relax.  Warily, I scan the room with the one eye not buried in a pillow.  He approaches, cat-like, on coiled springs for feet.  He’s nervous.  New to battle, he is.  He has none of the scars and experience an old hand like me carries into conflicts like this.  I’ve got the wisdom, but his energy stores easily transcend the average life-force of at least 2 functioning adults.

The Battlefield...
The Battlefield...

The boy is quite a shot, and he ends our fragile truce with his little baseball.  It slams into the bridge of my nose before I even see it coming.  Then with a shriek of joy mixed with complete and abject terror, he bolts.  Just out of reach on the far side of the mattress, the little perp streaks for the safety of the couch cushions; his legs an adrenaline-charged blur. I lunge, still on my stomach, grasping for quicksilver ankles that leap at just the right moment.  Another shriek of triumph becomes abruptly distant and distorted as a pillow wilts over my head.

Alright you little twerp.  Time to shake hands with DEATH!

I rise up on my knees, breathing fire and rrrowling with menacing finality.  Trapped in the “L” of our sectional couch that has endured too many such battles over the years, the boy realizes his exuberant mistake.  Quickly he tries to jump over the backside of the couch, but the seatback is too tall.  In desperation, he darts for the end of the couch, where the breeze of freedom swirls enticingly.

Now in control, I use his own weapon against him…and whip the pillow – AS HARD AS I CAN – at his little running feet.  If timed well and I hit low, that little kid is gonna flip upside down and land square on the far side of the mattress where I was trying to sleep! On the other hand, I could hit him high and watch in satisfaction as he curls over the pillow and crashes into the armrest.

I hit low.

With a squeal, he tumbles off the couch and onto the mattress – my lair – and I pounce.  Son or no son, the child receives no mercy.  Every tickle-point is fair game.  My cruel fingers send their message of revenge and he writhes beneath me like a possessed rabbit.  Once he gets too adept at protecting his vital ticklish flanks, I pick him up by a single ankle, and he stretches out like an accordion, exposing every protected square inch.

Just as he wriggles away, I smush him into the mattress with my entire body.  For a brief, blessed moment the living room settles into an eerie silence punctuated only be a weird, muffled warble.  But that, of course doesn’t last as his heel jams me in the gut.  I shift slightly.  Instantly he pops up, “GET ME, DAD!  HAHAHAHA!” loud enough to be clearly audible on a jumbo jet tarmac, and vanishes on those feet that never seemed to actually quit moving, even during his brief time as my prisoner of war.

The Armory...one stash, anyway.
The Armory...one cashe, anyway.

The boy vanishes around the back of the couch.  I rush after him, and he in turn squirts around to the mattress side.  We pause.  A kind of silence again, but filled with the deep breathing of two wounded Titans, warily forming their next strategy.

Suddenly a second pillow warps into my head, followed by 2 other balls of differing shapes and sizes.  From the other side of the couch, he pops his head up – fuzzy crown first – laughs hysterically and waits for my return volley of his ammo.  I oblige, he ducks, and an entire can of some sort of reed stand blasts into a thousand pieces behind him.  Slowly, the fuzz returns.  Then a pair of blue eyes, followed by a wide grin which, together with the eyes say silently, “YOU can explain that one to Mom.”

But I’m ready – with balls 2 and 3, and a second pillow I found.  I pelt his accusing smile full-force.  He topples backward onto the mattress, his legs straight up in the air.  I jump up and shower him with balls of every size and make.  Some squish into him, others carrom from his body off into lights, windows, the aquarium (sorry, fish…it’s life and death out here).

He rises, a bit woozy….looking about finished.  I’ve won.

Suddenly, girls stream at me from every direction.  Hair flying, screaming like highland goddesses, 6 hands descend upon me and topple me to the ground with ease.  Balls, pillows, blankets and an occasional doll rain upon me.  I am powerless in the onslaught.

Just before I black out, I see that terrible, terrible boy.  Jumping up and down in irrepressible excitement, he watches his secret weapon conquer his adversary with cruel efficiency.  Who can ever hope to conquer a boy with 3 older sisters?  This kid commands kryptonite, a cloaking device and a bazooka all rolled into one.

Some wars just can’t be won.

Brief History of Mother’s Day

This thing flashes and blinks on the original website.
Ooooo, sparkles...

I’m not a big fan of Mother’s Day…at least not the way America celebrates it.

Same for Father’s Day and Valentine’s Day…and I’m even looking more dubiously on the big guns, like Christmas and Easter.

The way we did it in Israel (where I lived for 3 years during med school), was way better.  A few of us expatriots got together in simple quiet gatherings while the decidedly non-Christian world churned onward all around us.

Little fanfare.  Good friends and family.  Love, not stuff.

I rebel against the materialistic consumerism of the American take on these occasions.  Innately, I resist the implied obligation and communal guilt-pressure that these days somehow manage to impart upon an entire national populace.

American holidays today are so warped and insulated from their original meanings that trying to teach your children something valuable and – dare I even suggest it – remotely spiritual is virtually hopeless.  “Cool, Dad.  A cross.  Blood.  Sounds gross.  But if we act interested, can we do the egg-hunt?”

Occasionally, I brag to people that my wife and I don’t celebrate Mother’s / Father’s / Valentine’s Days.  Members of the American Holiday Axis of Evil, you’re either with them or against them.  We’ve George Bushed 3/10ths of the American Holiday calendar…and we’re proud of it!

It’s a good feeling – like we’re sidestepping this darker side of American culture in our own small way;  our own micro-insurrection against unchecked capitalism.  Abstinence from Valentine’s day is our own personal Toyota Prius of the immutable American celebration gauntlet.

Reflexively it seems, more than one person has lambasted me for being an out-of-touch chauvinistic male whenever I mention – nay whisper – any sort of criticism of Mother’s Day.  I’m clearly nothing more than Al Bundy with a stethoscope.  I denigrate the holiday because I can’t recognize the profoundly harrowing and endlessly sacrificial life led by all mothers.

I do admit that any of the holidays can be meaningful, even in America.  But I’ve found that in a family that tries to celebrate 6 birthdays, an anniversary, numerous other family birthdays, every single major holiday replete with lights, medically-catastrophic foods, lots and lots of material things and a whole bunch of forced smiles for the digital cameras…skipping a contrived holiday or two just should be ok.

Furthermore, I do recognize that motherhood, like fatherhood, like singlehood, like childhood, like professionalhood and laborerhood and mechanichood and office-workerhood and plumberhood…is a tough road.  Life is tough.  For everyone.

But I don’t really want to perpetuate American Materialism in regular recognition of these facts. It just so easily turns into some form of mild victim mentality…and that’s after the M.B.A.’s of society have grudgingly returned my wallet so I can fill it up again in time for the next Great American Event.

Turns out that the founder of modern Mother’s Day, Anna Jarvis, abhorred the materialism that suffused her holiday as well.  I don’t know much about her, but I think I mighta liked her…and once upon a time, probably her holiday too.

Here’s a quick history about Mother’s Day I took directly from The Writer’s Almanac, one of my daily reads:

Today is Mother’s Day. Mother’s Day as we know it — where we celebrate our own mothers, with flowers, gifts, and cards — is relatively new, but annual celebrations to celebrate motherhood are an ancient practice.

The motherhood festivities have historically been in spring, the season of fertility. In ancient Egypt, there were celebrations to honor Isis, the loving mother-goddess, who is often shown in Egyptian art with the baby Horus at her breast, much like Mary and Jesus in later Christian iconography. The cult of the great mother-goddess Cybele began in Turkey and soon moved to Greece and Rome, and she was worshipped in some form for more than a thousand years. Her priestesses led wild celebrations, full of drinking, dancing, music, and all kinds of debauchery.

As the Roman Empire and Europe transitioned to Christianity, the Church set aside the fourth Sunday of Lent as a day to honor motherhood. It was a day to celebrate the Virgin Mary, and for people to honor their “mother church.”

In the 1600s, England declared an official Mothering Day for that fourth Sunday of Lent. It was a time when families were encouraged to get together, and servants or workers were allowed one day off work to go see their mothers, since many working-class families in England worked as servants on separate estates and rarely got to see each other. Mothering Day was also declared an exception to the fasting and penance of Lent, so that families could have a feast together.

When the pilgrims came to America, they stopped celebrating Mothering Day, just as they stopped celebrating most holidays that they thought had become too secular.

Mother’s Day was reintroduced to America in 1870 by Julia Ward Howe, who wanted to set aside a day of protest after the Civil War, in which mothers could come together and protest their sons killing other mothers’ sons.

But the woman who really created Mother’s Day as we know it was Anna Jarvis. Her mother had held Mother’s Friendship Days to reunite families and neighbors separated during the war, and when she died, her daughter, Anna Jarvis, worked to proclaim an official Mother’s Day to honor her mother and celebrate peace. And so on May 10, 1908, the first official Mother’s Day celebrations took place in Grafton, West Virginia, and at a church in Philadelphia. In 1914, Woodrow Wilson designated the second Sunday of May as Mother’s Day.

But Mother’s Day became commercialized very quickly, especially in the floral industry, and Anna Jarvis was furious. She said, “What will you do to route charlatans, bandits, pirates, racketeers, kidnappers, and other termites that would undermine with their greed one of the finest, noblest, and truest movements and celebrations?” But flower sales and card sales continued to grow, and Anna Jarvis died in poverty and without any children of her own.

In the last U.S. Census, there were an estimated 82.8 million mothers in this country, and about 96 percent of American consumers spend money for Mother’s Day.

CDC Officials Upset About Champagne Return Policy

logoATLANTA – Officials at the Center for Disease Control are contesting the return policy of the Korbel Champagne Company in what many here are calling “a classic swindle.”

Effervescently giddy a week ago at the start of the Swine Flu outbreak, senior officials at the organization approved a “full-out partaaay”, says CDC spokesman Greg Thereou.  “But things didn’t work out like we had hoped.”

“Look, the swine flu thing….we were gonna be important again!”  Says Geoff Davis, senior epidemiologist of the Floating Particles and Peanut Dust Unit and lead researcher of viral gene sequence XD449Cd.

building“I was gonna get to make all the bus and cab announcements.”  Interjected another scientist – Dr. Franklin Sumpsen – as he passed by.  He then added wistfully, “Sure beats tracking the sperm count of banana slugs in the Mississippi Delta.”

Amy Forsythe, lead statistician on the Women with Bizarre Sexual Histories Who Also Smoke Crack project, agrees.  “We had a lot going for us this time.  I mean, the SARS scare didn’t pan out at all like we’d hoped.  I think we only got 3 or 4 press conferences out of that before it was all over.

“This time – ”  Amy interrupts herself to hold up a newspaper on her desk, “Look at the London Metro Newspaper..’Swine flu could kill up to 120 MILLION’.  I think they did that all by themselves!  It’s like they were working for us or something.”

Dr. Davis did admit to some involvement the story, “Yeah, well, I photoshopped some surgical masks on a picture of a group of SWAT team guys enacting a raid for a public promo in Tulsa.  Then I put little Mexican flags on their uniforms and sent it to the Metro.  But what’s the big deal?  It could have happened like that.”

bubbly1“We bought 128 cases of Korbel Champagne.”  Said Jody Flannagan, auditer of the Nosocomial Urethral Cath Infections Tracking bureau, and under-secretary of the party planning committee.  She quietly pulled down a giant banner that read:  We’re relevant Again!  Have a drink on us…hell, have two!

“We mostly went with the Brut, but also threw in a smattering of Extra Dry and some Rose too.”  She continued glumly, popping a balloon under her sensible office shoes.  “Now the upper brass have called off the party and Korbel won’t even talk to us.  It’s like we’re dead to them.”

All employees agree that coming back to reality after these heady past few days has been quite a blow.  “It was shaping up to be the most powerful moment of our lives.”  Said Dr. Forsythe, “If we could have nudged our pandemic indicator to ‘Crimson-blast deathblood of innocent millions’ level, we would have enjoyed utter domination of planet United States.”

space-suitA warehouse on the CDC lot is now filled with unused supplies including 48 million square feet of rolled plastic, sterile body suits, goggles, bright blue gloves (“they show up better in the pictures” said Dr. Forsythe) and miles of biohazard taping.  Teams were already prepared to take over airports, schools, bus lines and other places of public congregation.

“True, they only gave us daycares.” Said James Dickson, a tech in the Toe Fungus lab.  “It’s no JFK International..but still.  We would have gotten to do a press-conference or two.  I could have printed up lots of directions and mandates and plans and I’m sure we could have overseen the arrest of some itinerant parents who wouldn’t submit to our authority.”

Sighing sadly, Dickson threw a box of round stickers in the trash that read, “It’s for your own good.  One day you’ll understand.”

“We’re sending an official letter of complaint to the champagne company,” says Dr. Forsythe.  “They should understand that we have no use for the stuff now.  It would be like popping corks at a funeral.”

Then she laughed conspiratorially as a man in a white coat whispered something in her ear.  “Oh, that’s right…on the back of the letter, we’re attaching a sticky note that says we’ll release Vibo0t778-XM2 into their heating vents if they don’t give us our money back!

“That’ll teach ’em to ignore the CDC!”