Until the Last Breath….June 6th, 2013

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I wanted to let everyone who followed his blog know that David passed away June 6th, 2013. He was so thrilled with his blog and the people who followed his writing. I wish he had had more time to write, I loved reading his posts. He is so missed.

Shari

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Why the Knife, Dude?

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The picture is of one of my paintings. It has absolutely nothing to do with this story, but the folks who give you tips on blogging say you need visuals. So there’s a visual. If you can make it relate somehow, that’d be cool!

As you can imagine, 26 years in the Army will leave you with lots of different memories. Some good, some bad, and some just plain weird. This is one of the weird ones. Actually, I have lots of those! This one happened in 1972.

I had been in the Army about six months or so, and I was stationed in Alaska, at Ft. Richardson. I didn’t like it, but I wasn’t in Vietnam, and that was a plus. I lived in the barracks, in an “open bay” type of arrangement, which meant that there were about 50 or so guys like me in a big room. No separation; just a bunch of bunks and lockers. The guy who bunked next to me also happened to work where I did, and we were friends. At least, I thought we were.

One night, I happened to half-way wake up for some reason, and I looked over toward his bunk. What I saw really woke up the other half. There was my bunkmate, sitting on the edge of his bed with a knife in his hand, just staring at me.

I don’t know how big the knife really was, but, at the time, it looked pretty damn big. At first, I wasn’t sure what to do, so I just started talking to him. He didn’t seem very talkative, but we did manage to have a conversation. It wasn’t much of a conversation. He seemed a little on edge, and by this time, so was I. He just kept staring at me. All I could think of was that while some of my buddies were in Nam trying to stay alive in the jungle, I was gonna get stabbed by my bunkmate in Alaska. As we continued talking, I got out of bed and slowly made my way toward the door to the hallway. I made it to the hallway, and started running. I headed downstairs to where the barracks headquarters was (there were always soldiers there who were on duty). So there I was, in my underwear, telling these guys about my bunkmate. I wasn’t about to go back up there, so I just told them where he was. They called the military police, and I just sat down and waited.

An hour or so later, they told me I could go back to bed. They said my bunkmate was no longer there, and not to worry. Ok, I won’t worry, I’ll just go back and fall right to sleep! I never saw that guy again. I have no idea what happened to him. I hope he got help, and I hope he’s happy wherever he is today.

I’m a big Pink Floyd fan, and they did a song that always reminds me of that night in Alaska. The song is called “Careful with that axe, Eugene”.

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What would YOU Do?

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First of all, I feel a lot better than I did a few days ago, although I can tell that certain parts of my lungs are probably shot from whatever kind of infection I had. I don’t know which parts, but I’m sure I’ll miss them. Today I went too long between breathing treatments. I was watching a ball game and just forgot, and when I got up to go to the bathroom, I didn’t make it very far until I realized that I was in trouble. So, one treatment later, I was ok. The gizmo I have to use is a nebulizer, filled with a mixture of albuterol and ipatropium. In addition to that, I use a BiPap, which is a contraption that forces oxygen-enriched air down your lungs. That one can be a little uncomfortable, but it sure works for when you’re breathing shallow, and can’t exhale properly. At that point, your lungs are probably filling up with CO2 instead of O2. Anyway, that’s besides the point, right? The question of this post is, what would you do?

Picture this: You’re walking through an enchanted forest, not far from Hogwarts. All of a sudden you come across a really beautiful tree. Under and around the tree are various dead creatures. One of them is still barely alive, and she tells you that the fruit of this beautiful tree is poisonous. Soon after, she breathes her last breath, and with that last breath, she begs you to cut down the tree and burn it, to preclude any further misery.

So how did you get stuck with being the CEO of The Poisonous Tree Corporation? All you have to do is just walk away and continue on with your journey, and no one will know any different. Except the poor creatures who continue to eat the poisonous fruit. Damn your integrity and damn your compassion! Oh well, how long can it take to chop down and burn a tree? But it is a very beautiful tree. Maybe you can just build a fence around it, and put up a sign warning everyone not to eat the fruit. Yeah, that’s the ticket. That’s what you’ll do. So you build the fence, hang the sign, and then you continue on your journey.

A week or so later, word has spread about this strange tree. Some guy shows up with a bag, puts on some gloves, and collects some of the fruit. After many lab tests, they make a discovery. Turns out there’s some sort of substance in the fruit that can cure disease. Not just one disease, but a number of diseases. Big Pharma being what it is, this discovery will be worth billions of dollars! Not to mention cure millions of people!

So. What would you do? You can turn this around in your mind to portray the tree as a life-changing moment, a personal crisis, or whatever you choose. I know I’ve come across many of these “trees”. I’ve confronted some differently than others. I even ate some of the fruit. I guess there are even more choices than presented here. You can ignore them, confront them, use them, abuse them, build a house, whatever you think works for you.

But the next time, what would you do?

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Help, My Head is Falling!

image Monday night was really rough, as it always is until Monday Night Football returns. But it was a lot worse this time. It was really hard to breathe, I felt hot and shaky, and my head was splitting open. About 4 am, I finally thought to take my temperature, and it read 102.4. I took a couple Tylenol, .5 ml of morphine to calm my breathing, and put on my BiPap machine. It’s a little weird trying to watch CNBC while wearing that contraption, so I just lay there shaking. At the time, I didn’t care about the stock market, anyway. At about 7:30, I woke up my wife. My temp was still over 102, and I felt worse, not better. Help!

So here comes my savior! My wife got me a blanket to stop me shivering, helped me with another dose of morphine, got me fresh water, and then she called the hospice people. I don’t recall exactly what happened at the time, but as it turns out, my nurse, Kathy, was the “early person” or something. So I was lucky. When she arrived, she even had all the medicine I needed! Still had a temp, although down to 101.7, but now I had antibiotics. Kathy and my wife (and our dogs) made me comfy and I then spent the day trying to get better. COPD and lung infections don’t play well together.

So now it’s 12:15 am, Wednesday morning. It’s hard to type on my iPad while wearing my BiPap, but I just feel like blogging, and I’m not tired anyway. If I learned anything, it’s this:

1. I’m stubborn. I suppose I suffer in peace or whatever you’d call it. Also, I didn’t want to wake up my wife, which upsets her because obviously she would rather come to my aid. Now that’s stubborn. Or stupid.

2. It’s really hard to meditate when you feel as bad as I did. It worked for a few minutes, and made it a little better, but I guess I’ll save it for the real deal.

3. If I don’t make it, I’d rather it be right here in my room, in my hospice hospital bed, with my wife at my side. And maybe Pippen on the bed, with Kori looking out the window.

4. My nurse is a great nurse, and my wife is a great wife. I’m lucky. One of these days, the infection will be worse, and I won’t make it. But I’ll still be lucky.

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You Want What?

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You’ve got to be kidding me!?

That’s what I said when I was told that I would be in charge of about a dozen medical students for three weeks of training. I’m relying on my crummy memory about the time and number, but I think that’s about right. Here’s what I’m talking about: there’s this program (I think it’s still going on) called the Health Professional Scholarship Program. In return for a free medical education, these students would serve a certain number of years in the service. Part of their training involved getting a very basic understanding of military life, which included learning military customs, saluting, marching, wearing a gas mask, etc.

And I was chosen/cursed/trusted with this task. I was stationed at Ft. Meade, Maryland. Well, it turned out to be one of those things that I’ll never forget! They were all really friendly, fun to be around, and wereeager to learn. Although at the time I was a Staff Sergeant, I wasn’t trained as a drill instructor, so I was sorta winging it. Together, we made quite a crew. You should have seen them trying to march! Or put on their gas masks. It was quite a scene, and I loved every minute of it. So did they. They learned what they needed, though. I was a stern but fair trainer. At the end of the day, we would go play softball and drink beer. They were great people, and I always wondered if I would ever bump into them in some clinic or hospital somewhere.

At the end of their training, they got to put on their uniform. An Army custom was that the first enlisted soldier they saluted would receive a silver dollar. On their own, they arranged for us all to go to the Post Exchange (PX). They had me stand out front, right outside the doors, and they went inside and got silver dollars (this was 1978). As they came out, I saluted each one of them, and they each placed a silver dollar in my hand.

I wish I could say I still had those coins, but I don’t. I was always short on money then, so I probably bought cigarettes with the money. Still have the memories, though! It would be really cool if somehow, someday, one of those students could read this post. If you are one of those students, I salute you again! But this time, I owe you. I know I didn’t make you a better physician, but you made me a better soldier!

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Hot Trees

image “Hot Trees.”. That’s not really what I titled my painting, but that works, I guess. At the time, I was really into using warm colors and painting trees. And then was “now.” I think I said earlier that “now” is all we have. We’ve already lived our past, and the future is yet to be. That leaves us with our present moment. Now. Unfortunately, we don’t use “now” to our advantage.

There seem to be three ways we look at “now.”. For some of us, now is just a means to an end. We think of what can we do now to accomplish this or that. Or, we think of now as an obstacle in our way. Damn! If only this or that was different, I could do this! Now just becomes something in our way. Lastly, now is the enemy. Whatever now is, it is harmful to our vision of what we want the future to be.

To use examples, let’s say we’re at work. You’re at a meeting, and you’re trying to Impress the boss. Now is the time to make your big presentation, and use this chance to impress everyone and show them how good you are. “Now” becomes your big moment. That’s not “wrong”, it’s just using now to try and influence the future. The next example would be the obstacle. Let’s say that someone else also has a big presentation. She’s also trying to impress the boss. That’s your obstacle. In this case, she has also become your enemy. Your present moment of “now” has turned into a battle of sorts. At this one moment, this now, you have a means to an end, an obstacle in your way, and, at the same time, an enemy of your plan to impress the big rich dude. So how do you handle it?

We all meet these moments everyday, and all day, because “now” is all you have. Like we said before, time is either gone or not here yet. It’s pretty hard not to do these things, because that’s how most of us think. The present moment is all we have. The smile of a child; a sunset on the beach; the boundless love of a little dog; all these things are what matter. But most of us think of what we do next. Our minds are full of little scenarios as to how we can use the present to affect the future. No one is saying that’s bad. One has to plan, to save money, to provide for your kids, etc., but we all too often forget that the present moment is all we really have. Have you ever thought about how you’d have done things differently if only you had the chance? Well, you did have the chance. I know I did, but I didn’t value that moment in time, that “now”, for what it was really worth.

And when you think about it, it’s worth everything, because that’s all you really have. Value what you have. Don’t spend your time craving something bigger, better, more stylish, etc. Spend your time hugging your kid or your wife. Watch the sunset now, because before you know it, now will be gone.

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Fever and Chills

image This morning I woke up feeling kinda crappy, so I took my temperature, and it was 100. Not a real big deal for some, but for me it can be trouble. Any kind of infection, especially anything associated with my lungs, can really screw up my day. So I took a couple of pain reliever pills and waited it out. An hour or so later, it was down to about 99, and then later on back to normal. I still felt crappy, and
had pretty bad shortness of breath, but after another hour or so, I felt almost normal.

Along with all the other common COPD meds, I’ve spent the last month (year?) or so on a roller coaster of prednisone. Up, down, up, down. It really helps with the inflammation, and I reckon I’m used to the side effects by now. So as I was lying there in bed, my thoughts went from one thing to another, per usual. But this is really going to be a stretch…

While I was in the Army, I was a food inspector. While stationed in Germany, one of my jobs was to inspect beef for sale to the armed services, since the U.S.D.A. didn’t do it overseas. So, like most of you would, my mind skipped from thinking about my lungs to thinking about cow’s lungs! Anyway, it was a cool job. I was fortunate enough to learn some German language, make friends with some of the locals, and, most of all, became very adept at dodging various beef parts. You see, if I rejected a carcass or two, which meant that the slaughterhouse would lose money, I could sometimes find myself in the line of fire from various pieces of bovine anatomy. It wasn’t actually the lungs, but something easier to throw, like maybe a chunk of fat or something; but hey, I’m trying not to gross you out. Having said that, it was a really great job!

By far, my favorite job as a food inspector was when I inspected bacon; that, my friends, was heaven (Unlike being a wine taster, I didn’t spit it out). If I receive enough requests, I’ll tell you about my experiences working in a sausage plant.

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Kori

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First of all, this picture is weird, because it’s two separate pics blended together. I’m not sure what I did or how I did it, but it looks kinda cool, so I’m leaving it this way. The dog on the left is our Shih Tzu, named Kori. The dogs on the right are companion dogs who were visiting the hospital during one of my many stays there.

Kori loves to look out the window. Sometimes I wonder what he sees; I suppose his sense of reality is quite different than ours. Doggy brains don’t discriminate based on race or religion, do they? Well, on second thought, he’d love to go after the mailman, but I’m sure they’d get along after they got to know each other. But when you think about it, nature is pretty cool about all that. Nature doesn’t form strong opinions. There aren’t “ugly” mountains or “tall” trees and “short” trees. Naming and judging stuff is a human trait, and we’re pretty good at it.

I was in the Army back in the early 70s, during the Vietnam war. At the time, I was stationed in Anchorage, Alaska, at Ft. Richardson. When I came back on leave to visit my family, “hippies” at the airport would stare at me and yell anti-war stuff. I felt pretty bad about that, since I wasn’t all that crazy about the war, either. I had a couple of friends who were in Vietnam, and I can guarantee you that they didn’t want to be there. But in the end, all that mattered was how you looked at it.

Kori doesn’t have to worry about any of that. He’s happy as a clam just being a dog. He’s never heard of Vietnam, and he’s never heard of Afghanistan. All he wants in life is to sit in your lap and eat doggy treats. And look out the window…

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