Tag Archives: Life

Breathing is a Good Thing

A faint sound pierced the cloudy haze.  An echo through a long corridor.

Darkness, but light sort of on the periphery.  A greenish glow that grew brighter at regular intervals.  I wasn’t quite sure what it was.  I didn’t know where I was. 

I smell antiseptics.  Hear voices growing louder.  Shouting!!

Sort of floating.  I wasn’t walking.  I was being dragged.  My legs outstretched behind me.  Feet limp.  I had no control of them.  There was pressure under both of my arms.  I slowly opened my eyes and recognized the green tile floors and walls.  I was in the emergency room at the air base hospital.

Two airmen in uniform each had an arm under one of mine as we burst through the double swinging doors into the treatment area. 

I heard the doctor asking what was going on and one of the airmen yelled, “He passed out in the waiting room!” 

The familiar face of the doctor said, “Oh, he’s ok, he just needs some rest.”

The airman protested, “Well, he doesn’t look so good me.  We picked him up off the floor out there.”

Doctor, “I gave him some medicine.  That’s to be expected.”

The next voice I heard was my mother’s frantically asking what was happening.  She had gone out to the parking lot to bring the car up to the door. 

After we were all dismissed by the doctor, the airmen carried me to the car and put me in the back seat.  A fog enveloped me and I was out.

I woke up eight hours later in my bed at home.  I struggled for breath, coughed, stumbled to the floor and called out for my parents.  I was a nice shade of purple.  Cyanosis.  Not enough oxygen.  Thirty minutes later I as back in the ER, only this time I was being given epinephrine. 

My heart rate picked up.  Lungs cleared.  I could breath after getting the third dose of .3cc.  They followed that with a shot of susphrine, a long-acting form of epinephrine.

These were the meds I should have received on my first visit to the ER, standard treatment for an asthma attack at that time.  But I had unluckily come in when a certain doctor was on duty.  One that believed asthma was a mental illness so he had given me a shot of 50 mg of thorazine, a powerful antipsychotic medication.  A big dose for a 50-pound kid.  And this was exactly the wrong medication to give to a person in respiratory distress because it depresses respirations further.  I would learn later that it was amazing I even woke up after that.

It was time to package me off to home again.  But I’d be back. 

***

1965.  This was a rough year.  Almost 80 trips to the ER – that was one to three times a week, depending on the week.  I knew all of the ER staff by name.  The medical knowledge was limited and the treatments were primitive.  I used to say that if the disease doesn’t kill you, the medicine will.

There were so many things the docs didn’t know or understand about the disease back then.  And they were not of the mindset to listen to their patients either.  Especially a child patient.  No, these docs were educated old-school that they were the keepers of all of the knowledge.  It was a dictatorial approach, not a collaborative one.

A couple of very simple things really threw these guys off balance.  If I had been in respiratory distress for a while and finally got relief from the epi, I would go to sleep.  My body was totally exhausted from having struggled so hard to breathe.   You use all of your chest muscles fighting to inhale and you can’t seem to be able to exhale.  It’s like lifting weights and running at the same time while you’re really just lying in bed. 

They didn’t get it.  Epinephrine doesn’t only dilate your bronchioles, it really kicks up your heart rate.  It’s a stimulant so they expected you to be bouncing off the walls after getting a shot.  More than once, I woke up on an ER gurney being slapped around by doctor screaming “WAKE UP” after the epi finally broke the attack.  A look of panic and fear filled their faces.

Another thing they couldn’t grasp was what absence of wheezing meant.  Wheezing, or air whistling through a constricted airway, was a hallmark symptom of an asthma attack.  But you reach a point where your airway is so constricted that you can’t exchange enough air to produce a wheeze.  The docs know now that this is an ominous sign.  You’re near death.  But back in the day, if they didn’t hear a wheeze, they’d send you home and try to tell you that you weren’t having trouble breathing.

They could have drawn arterial blood gases to measure the oxygen content of your blood, but even that was a new technology at the time, people weren’t skilled with drawing blood from arteries, and most hospitals didn’t have the equipment to analyze such a blood sample. 

Now they have pulse oximeters that give you an instantaneous oxygen saturation reading.  Just clip it on your finger and it compares infrared to red wavelengths of light to tell you how much oxygen is in your blood.  I even have my own at home.   If they had had those then, I’m sure they would have been shocked to see how low your oxygen sat was.

In those days, it was sort of off-the-cuff, hit-or-miss treatment.  So, I was frequently misdiagnosed, given the wrong medication, or overdosed on the right medication.  You name it.  You could die with or without the treatment.  Take your pick. 

An upper respiratory infection could quickly turn to pneumonia, trigger the asthma, and I’d be spending the week in the hospital.  A scary place for a little kid.  Once, when I as in an oxygen tent, a technician walked into the room smoking a cigarette.  Hospitals weren’t smoke-free then.  Patients and staff smoked all the time.

Of course, oxygen is not explosive, but it will rapidly feed a fire.  You don’t bring fire, in any form, near an oxygen tank or tent or mask.  That’s just asking for trouble.  Not to mention that cigarette smoke can cause an asthma attack.  Stupid.  Even as a little kid I knew better. 

For maintenance treatment, they prescribed theophylline-based drugs.  I would use a liquid form of this to swallow the other pills ordered.  But theophylline wasn’t cutting it, and good inhalant meds didn’t exist yet.  So when an allergy specialist rotated into that hospital, he started me on steroids.  

It took high daily doses of prednisone to bring my asthma under control, and the docs weren’t aware of the long-term side effects.  They controlled the asthma but they stunted my growth.  Big time.  A bone age study when I was thirteen put my bones at an eight-year-old developmental level. 

The docs told me I’d never get off the steroids, but I weaned myself off and proudly handed a bottle full of pills back to the doctor.  I thought he’d be happy.  Instead he berated me, “I can’t be your mother and make sure you take your medication!” 

Strange. 

Once off those meds, I grew a foot in height in just one year and normalized my weight a bit.  I never approached my father’s or my brother’s heights, but hey, there are advantages to being short 🙂

While I had gotten off the steroids, and as time progressed, the docs kept increasing the dosage of theophylline and added terbutaline, another bronchodilator.  On these meds, my resting heart rate was 120 beats per minute and my hands would shake so violently that I couldn’t even write my own name.  So the wise doctors added three doses of valium a day to take the edge off.  What a mix.

I could tell you a lot of crazy near-death stories from back then, but it might get boring after a while and I don’t want you think I’m whining or feeling sorry for myself.  I’m not.   It’s all just experience.  I have a great appreciation for life. 

And it’s important to realize that healthcare practitioners aren’t gods.  They don’t know it all.  You need to be an active participant in your own healthcare.

I will end with another brief tale, though.  When inhalant drugs were first introduced, there were no hand-held, pocket-sized devices.  You had to own an air compressor and hook that to a plastic or glass nebulizer attachment, mix the solutions for the nebulizer, and then fire up the machine and breath in the mist. 

One of the first inhalant meds they tried in the early 60s was Isoproterenol (Isoprel).  (An incredibly potent heart medication I would be administering to my patients in the ICU as a critical care nurse years later.)  But the cardiac effects were way too strong and they were giving little kids heart attacks.  I remember two different times showing up for the allergy clinic where we got our twice-weekly allergy shots only to find a face missing from the group. 

Two kids I knew died from this medication at an age when I really didn’t have a full concept of what death was yet.  I just knew I never saw them again . . .

***

Postscript: The inhalant drugs would continue their evolution through Isoetharine (Bronkosol), to Metaproterenol (Alupent), to Salbutamol (Albuterol or Ventolin), and with the addition of Beclometasone (Vanceril or Q-Var), a steroid inhaler, things really improved.   My condition stabilized in 1982 with the addition of Beclometasone, and that was the last year, so far, that I’ve been hospitalized with asthma being the cause.  Of course, now we’ve gone even generations further and have such products as Fluticason (Flovent), a long-acting steroid, and Formoterol (Foradil), a long-acting beta-2 agonist that targets the lung more and the heart less.  Progress.

Photo: The big skies of Montana.  No better representation for the air we breathe.  The oxygen were crave.  The ease of living.

Transformation or Illness: How Would We Know?

I picked up a fun book tracing a historical perspective on the advancement of medicine, and it naturally included a section about the Hippocratic Oath (400 B.C.).  Hippocrates was the ancient Greek physician credited as being the father of Western Medicine.  He is famous for dismissing beliefs, more ancient than he was, that advocated the supernatural origin of disease.

The oath, which has frequently been summed up as “first do no harm” is actually quite lengthy.  It has been modified multiple times over the centuries and, as it turns out, was not, most probably, written by Hippocrates.

Another irony is that, while Hippocrates disavowed supernatural origins of disease, the original oath translated from Greek, begins by invoking supernatural beings: “I swear by Apollo the Healer, by Asclepius [God of Medicine], by Hygieia [Goddess of health and cleanliness], by Panacea [Goddess of remedies], and by all the gods and goddesses, making them my witnesses, that I will carry out, according to my ability and judgment, this oath and this indenture.”

The Hippocratic Corpus is a collection of texts associated with Hippocrates’ teachings, only part of which was authored by Hippocrates.  And perhaps in another irony, the Paneth Codex, another medical text that was completed long after Hippocrates had passed, contains some of his writings while using depictions of demons as metaphors for disease.

It seems that it was hard for even the most objective early practitioners of medicine to fully eliminate the supernatural from the corners of their medicine cabinets.  And maybe for good reason.  For the supernatural, once identified and defined, can become quite natural.

So just what is the supernatural and what is natural or normal when it comes to defining illness?

My background and careers are largely based upon science and logical reasoning.  Yet, I’m still willing to keep an open mind and recognize that science and human genius can’t always explain things.  As most people would attest, we’ve seen or experienced things that simply don’t fit neatly into the boxes and shelves of the “normal.”

To say it differently, I believe in the metaphysical realm.  I also believe in mind-body connections and what’s happening in the mind can find ways of manifesting itself in the body.

While I was working at a major research hospital, the doctors and nurses frequently described and linked personality types with specific diseases.  And not always in the most positive terms.  A more neutral example might be that “Type A” personalities were more likely to have heart attacks than “Type B” personalities.

Which brings me to today’s pondering.

Is every so called “unnatural” or “abnormal” condition truly an “illness?”  What’s the interplay between mental and physical illness?”  And what if instead of an illness that required treatment, people were really, in some instances, going through an evolution that should be allowed to progress?

And I guess before I dive in too deeply here, I should clarify that I’m not a mental health professional, nor am I a medical doctor.  If you’re needing a medical opinion, consult your primary care physician, and if you wish to learn more about mental health from a real professional, check out the site of my blogging friend Dr. Perry.

That disclaimer aside, most illnesses would fall outside the definition of normal and some seem relatively simple to diagnose and identify their causes.  Some are genetically related and some follow the pathogen-induced pathway.  Sounds simple, you’re born with the genetic makeup that can be expressed as a physical ailment or you encounter a virus or bacterium and you contract a disease.

But many people have “bad genes” or have close encounters with pathogens and they don’t become ill.  Why?  They are usually said to have healthier immune systems.  What makes a healthy immune system?  Besides good nutrition and exercise there are plenty of correlations to good mental health, positive thinking, and being happy to having a healthy immune system and healthy body.

The idea of illness originating in the mind, or from a body being out of balance might coincide more with some Eastern medical practices, while germ theory most follows Western medicine.  Although I will give Western medicine credit for having researched some things like meditation and meridians and finding scientific bases to support traditional Eastern or more holistic approaches to treatment.  And many Western pharmaceutical treatments come directly from old-fashioned herbal remedies from the Shamans of old.

So if one is encountering an illness, or deviation from normal physical or mental health, something not occurring naturally, then, despite Hippocrates’ claims, could there be a “supernatural” cause, and just what would that mean?

The definition of “supernatural” doesn’t only include references to spiritual entities, but it more basically means transcending the laws of nature or being attributable to an invisible agent.  So, before the advent of the microscope, a simple bacterium or a virus would not have been visible in the observable universe and an illness caused by such would have been a supernatural occurrence.  Consequently, depending on the limits of scientific measurement at any point in time, many causes of diseases could, by simple definition, be supernaturally caused.

And when referring to the supernatural, does it have to be an external source?  What about the person’s own spirit?  Can’t a damaged soul be expressed as a physical ailment?

Or maybe an enlightened soul is causing a physical evolution?

My daughter sent me an interesting article the other day called,  “Shamans Believe Mental Illness Is Something Else Entirely.”  The article focused on a West African Shaman of the Dagara people who proposes that some mental ailments, like depression and schizophrenia may actually be a step towards transformation – even meaning the birth of a healer.

The Dagara believe that some of what we in the West call mental illness is really what happens when people encounter, and don’t how to deal with, psychic phenomena and the spiritual world.  In their tradition, these individuals are seen as a bridge between physical and spiritual worlds.

This Shaman is said to have taken an 18-year-old suffering from hallucinations and depression back to his village.  After 8 months of healing rituals this person was acting quite “normal” and returned to U.S. society to earn a degree in Psychology at Harvard.

While this may be an isolated example, it’s an amazing concept to contemplate.  And I’m not saying that such non-traditional approaches would be a panacea for mental health treatments.  I’m just saying there is still more unknown than there is known.

Given our acculturation, if we were undergoing a positive physical, mental, or spiritual transition we might very well be totally confused as to what was happening and think we were ill.  Our doctors might be unable to come up with a definitive diagnosis and resort to traditional treatments or try to repress the evolution.  You might be labeled as being mentally ill, which could, in turn, send you down medical corridors forever obscuring the inner butterfly emerging from the cocoon.

As more advances are made, and as more ways to measure the currently unmeasurable become available, finer distinctions may emerge as to what constitutes good or “normal” health.  For the supernatural may be commonplace and just another source for healthy growth and development.

***

Photo: The book I picked up is titled: “The Medical Book” and it was written by Clifford A. Pickover.  This picture is a portion of a photo used in the book and comes from the Paneth Codex, completed in Bologna in 1326 A.D.   The book begins in the time frame of 10,000 B.C. moving through medical advances until 2008.  Medicine, indeed, has come a long way from bloodletting starting in 1500 B.C., and I believe it still has a long way to go.

I can personally attest to the advances made in the treatment of asthma since the 1960s when many doctors believed that asthma was a mental illness.  I had many a scary trip to the emergency room as a child, and when in full respiratory distress was even administered Thorazine, an antipsychotic medication, and knocked unconscious.  Oh, the many things we’ve been fortunate enough to survive:-)

Hypocrite: I feel compelled to mention that the word “hypocrite” does not originate from “Hippocrates,” even though it sort of sounds like it does.  Hypocrite comes from the Greek word hypokrites, meaning “an actor,” and translating more literally to “an interpreter from underneath” because actors at the time traditionally wore masks.  Figuratively, it meant someone who wears a mask to pretend to be someone they are not.  In early religious texts, its appears as “ypocrite” referring to those acting like they are morally good to deceive others.  Today, of course, we accept the meaning that it’s a person acting contrary to their stated beliefs.  In a loose sense, that could apply to Hippocrates – denouncing supernatural causes of disease while swearing to supernatural beings to practice good medicine 🙂

Update December 1, 2018: I stumbled upon another article today about this same subject and the Dagara. “A Mental Disease by Any Other Name.”

 
Link Rot Warning: No one can guarantee how long a link on the Net will last.  The US Supreme Court got into trouble over this.  One of the judges quoted from an Internet site, but after a couple of months the site was no longer there for reference.  I also once went to check out a link promoted on our local TV weather channel only to discover it had been hijacked by a porn site – Yikes!

Catching Up

Yes, It looks like I’m catching up again.  And I’m trying WP’s new editor for this post.  I’m not sure I like though, as I’m having to search for all the functions anew.

It’s weird when a few days slip away and I haven’t posted, but hey, I’ve been busy. 

I was attending seminars and classes the past week.  I have to gain continuing legal education hours if I wish to maintain my license.  Something that’s becoming less important with each passing day. 

It’s a bit strange now.  I’ve been out of actual legal practice for a couple of years and I feel out of place returning to those hallways. 

People have moved on.  People change.  People whom you thought were colleagues no longer acknowledge you.  But then there are some that are still truly a joy to be around.

I’ve changed though too.  Hopefully for the better. 

I was hiking with an old colleague from my RN days last week and we were discussing just how nice it is to be retired.  No more job-related stress.  No more work-related game playing.  It seems all of those frustrations that made us cynical are evaporating. 

We’re becoming happier.  It’s a fun stage of life to be in. 

Well, it’s time to pick a few topics and start hammering on these keyboards.  And to catch up on reading some more of your posts too. 

Cheers 🙂

***

Photo: A historic town in Arkansas, having slipped into economic decay, to be reborn – turned into an artist community.  Plus a little fun with the photo editor, electrifying the scene.  You might say it’s an old town that’s “caught up” with the present.  See, I can always find a pic to match the theme of the post 🙂


Trust Me, I’ll Feel Guilty

As I’m waking up most mornings, I usually enjoy a cup of coffee in front of the computer while scrolling through various social media sites, picking up the news, and marveling over the commentary.  A while back LinkedIn started what it calls its “Daily Rundown” where it features select tidbits of business-related news and solicits comments.  The skew is usually pro-business and pro-employer, although you will also see pieces that are neutral or pro-employee.

The other day they featured an article about some research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology titled “Who is Trustworthy? Predicting Trustworthy Intentions and Behavior.”  The study used several economic games to measure the personality traits that predict if you can trust someone.  And what they discovered was that “guilt-proneness” was a powerful indicator of trustworthiness.

They distinguished “guilt-proneness” from “guilt” by defining it as the tendency to feel guilty about wrongdoing, thereby avoiding that wrongdoing, versus the negative emotion experienced when someone actually commits some transgression.  The gist of the article discussing the research was that if you wanted trustworthy employees, look for people with a high level of guilt-proneness.

The comments that followed ranged from equating guilt to perfectionism, extreme self-awareness, or having a conscience to guilt being a toxic form of shame that destroys self-esteem.  Some spoke of religion using guilt to control people.

One gentleman said, “I don’t do guilt – such a loser’s emotion,” although later he said he was being “tongue in cheek.”  One woman said, “Then employers should hire more young, white men.  For 50 years feminism has portrayed them as being Guilty of Everything.”  Oh dear, no backpedaling from her.

Yes, the commentary can get a bit dicey to say the least.  And it’s important to note how most of us seized on the word “guilt” as opposed to “guilt-proneness,” and seemed to miss the distinction the researchers were trying to make.  I looked at the verb form of the word myself.

Semantics can muddy the waters of any communication.

I’m not sure how an employer would go about measuring guilt-proneness.  In fact, it seems you would have to entice people to do something wrong and then measure their reaction – avoidance or commission.  Which is what the researchers did.  How would you do that objectively in a job interview or in the workplace after hiring someone?

I do know an employer locally that requires applicants to take a personality test.  I think that’s a bit extreme, and having worked for that employer in the past I imagine the purpose of the test is to screen out any non-conformists.  They don’t want to hire anyone who might question authority or their profit motivations.  I think they will end up screening out the most creative and adaptive applicants and end up with a hive of drones, but hey, that’s just my view 🙂  They may measure “trustworthiness” as a completely different concept – “blind loyalty.”

It is an interesting article and context is important.  Like I mentioned, I looked at the verb as in “guilting.”

When I was a practicing RN, I did a literature review of nursing management journals.  Forty articles out of four hundred – 10% – were dedicated to describing methods for employers to take advantage of, or abuse, their staff.  One in particular was titled, “Manipulation, Making the Best of It.”  The article focused totally on using guilt as a means to take advantage of the staff.  Guilt is a powerful motivator for caregivers and management was encouraged to guilt their staff into working additional 12-hour shifts, accepting ridiculous patient loads, floating to units where they did not have expertise, not taking breaks, and even into not getting paid for their work.

One winter, after an extremely heavy snowfall, my ex was guilted by her employer into trying to go to work.  We lived out in the country and the roads were impassable.   She barely made it out of the driveway when she tried and had to put both of our cars in the ditch to finally absolve her of that boss-instilled guilt.

So while the article focused on how the propensity to feel guilt can be a reflection of the trustworthiness of employees, the question I would ask is if we can trust employers, or anyone else for that matter, not to use guilt as a weapon.  Maybe that’s a better measure of trustworthiness 🙂

***

Photo: I wasn’t sure what pic to choose for this one, but decided this innocent, young buck was a good one.  I was at a distance and made a slight noise to attract its attention.  He warily observed me, not knowing whether he could trust me not to do him harm.  Our eyes met for a spell, after which, he leisurely resumed his grazing.  I guess I somehow communicated that I meant him no malice.

Sirdom

Me: “Hi, how’s it going”

Hiker: “Just great.  Beautiful day.”

Me: “It sure is, absolutely gorgeous.”

Hiker: “Well you have a good day Sir.”

Me: “Thanks, you too.”

A brief interlude as I was passing a fellow hiker on the trail.

“Sir”?

It seems I’ve been hearing this word a lot more lately.  “Excuse me Sir.”  “Hello, how are you doing Sir.”

I kind of want to look behind me to see who is standing there.

And it’s not that it’s bad.  It’s very respectful.  I’m just not used to hearing it, and why now?

This all seemed to start a couple of years ago, right after I turned 60.  Even saying that sounds weird to me, because I sure don’t feel old, or older.  In fact, I don’t think 60 is considered old anymore.  But suddenly people are calling me Sir.

When I think of the word “Sir,” I think of my father.  The Lieutenant Colonel in the Air Force.  I think of esteemed people having earned that title by some trial by fire.  More akin to the titles of professor or doctor or judge.

I find it a bit ironic because it seems like when I was younger, I as always sounding like Rodney Dangerfield – “I don’t get no respect.”  I was working hard to try to earn it.  Still didn’t always get it.  My work was sometimes plagiarized too, so I didn’t get the credit for it.

But now, apparently, just by virtue of having aged, people are very respectful.

I guess I’ve reached “Sirdom.”

It was almost magical.  Happening overnight.  I’m not sure what exactly changed.  I’m retired now so no one is looking up to me for being a professional.  Perhaps it’s the gray in my beard?  That same beard that earns me the extra security checks at the airport 🙂

Of course, somehow, I also ended up on the senior mailing lists so I get offers all the time for some type of age-related service.  Long-term care insurance.  Reverse mortgages.  My favorite was the funeral insurance.  Their tag line being, “This will be the last insurance policy you’ll ever buy.”  Nice.

I think it’s great that we respect our elders.  They have so much offer in the form of wisdom.  And in some ways, it is amazing to see so many circles of the sun.  I just don’t feel like I’m an elder at the council fire.  And I’m not sure I have any wisdom to offer. Yet.

Whether you’re a “Sir,” or a “Mam,” or any variation thereof, I salute the divinity that is within you, and respectfully wish you a wonderful day.

***

Photo:  That’s Sir Me, somewhere in Wyoming.  Jesse, the border collie, belonged to the person whose home I was visiting.  I miss my old buddy, Taz, and I’ll probably get another dog someday myself.  Maybe I’ll name him “Sir.” 🙂

Brain Fog

Brain Fog

I had but seconds to make a decision.  Hold the present course, slow down, and hope.  Maybe pray.  Uncertainty.  Or ditch it and destroy the car and face certain injury.  I held tight to the wheel and figured if this guy was going to take me out, well . . .

*****

I was on my way to an early morning college course.  Zoology.  Great professor at this small community college.  That place seemed to attract them.  Ph.D.’s who were tired of playing the game of publish or perish.  Who just wanted to teach.  And teach smaller numbers of students so they actually had access to them.  Real office hours.  Real time to sit down and answer questions.  Discuss life.  Academic dreams.

One professor, noted for addressing controversial issues head-on and not putting up with bureaucratic BS put it this way, “I taught at the Mecca, the University of —-, until they found out I was there.”  His classes were always full.  Semesters backlogged with lists of eager students.  History taught from a world-view, not the ethnocentric versions taught where institutional and community pressures dictated thought.

I was just trying to get there on this sleepy November morning.  Making the eighteen-mile drive down the back roads.

A country setting had been picked for the construction of this junior college.  A prominent family had donated the land, and their adjoining thoroughbred ranch wrapped around three sides of the campus.  A bucolic scene.  Majestic horses dotting the pastures.  A turn-of-the-century mansion.  Separate quarters, once for slaves, now served as bunkhouses for the farmhands.

Later, a nearby river would be dammed and water recreation would be added to the list of two-year degrees you could earn here.  Seemed odd being so close to the city, but this is the Midwest and cities, even big cities, only spread so far.  Only consumed so much earth before the industrialization bordered open fields.

All I was doing was trying to get there.  No hurry.  No worries.

Those back-country roads traversed rolling hills.  Peak and valley.  Peak and valley.  Traveling west took you to a minor spur of the “big city.”  A transportation hub.  Trucking companies and railroad junctions.  A centralized shipping center to support the major businesses downtown.

Going east, the direction I was driving, was sort of no-man’s land.  Corn fields, soybeans, sorghum, a Christmas Tree farm, road-side vegetable stands.  All skirting the southeastern quadrant, with capillaries of roads leading into the pumping heart of the megalopolis.

It was a common pathway for a lot of us.  Hit the country campus in the morning, left turn into the city for work in the afternoon.  Loop back south for the drive home.

The temperatures had been steadily dropping and precipitation was coming down in its various frozen forms.  Frost blanketing the low-lying fields one morning.  Freezing rain the next – clear coating the barb-wired fences and trees, but still melting on the roads under the pressure of passing cars and trucks.  For now.  Snow was just a week or two away.

But a slight warmup the day before supersaturated the air, and the nightly cool-down had stretched out through the early hours.  The day’s high temperature occurred around 2:00 a.m. and it had slowly been dropping since.  The result – fog.

Thick, dense fog.

It filled those valleys between the hills.  Steady, cloying, impenetrable.  If you were standing on one of those hilltops, you might get the notion that you could simply walk across to the next.  Solid terra firma.  Not.

The distance between these hilltops varied, and I had just crested one, the distance to the next being the shortest in the chain, spanned by this two-lane, undivided highway.  And like eyes penetrating the night and the milky-haze before me, there they were.  Headlights.

But not two — four.

It seems that someone westbound, in their haste, decided to pass the vehicle in front of them and made their break to the opposite lane, my lane, at the top of the hill opposite the one I had just surmounted.  All I could see in the fog were four headlights, two cars nearly side-by-side, racing straight towards me.

I already had one impatient driver tailgating me, unsatisfied with driving the speed limit even in these dangerous conditions, so hitting the brakes was not an option.  There were no shoulders on these roads.  No budget for that, and the surrounding farmers felt they’d already had enough land consumed by imminent domain to lay down these ribbons of gray.

There was no way the person speeding towards me had enough road to clear the distance between the car he was attempting to pass and my car coming from the opposite direction.  And now, my seventeen-year-old, not fully developed brain, had to make a decision or two.

Of course, I immediately slowed, but not so fast as to be rear-ended by the person traveling too close behind me.  And the driver being passed was alert enough to also slow down to try to widen the gap between us.  The idiot trying to pass floored it, engine whining, so now his or her headlights were propelled even faster toward my front bumper.

What to do?

A hard stop equaled a collision from behind, and I still might not avoid the head-on crash.  Swerving left meant a skid in front of two vehicles clogging both lanes, with a third barreling in from behind.  Swerving right, in any degree, meant plunging into a deep ditch.  Certain to destroy my already beat-up Olds, and send me to the hospital or ziploc me in a body bag.  And why?  Because some fool in a hurry didn’t care about anyone else’s safety that’s why.

No, I wasn’t going to ditch it for this guy.  Take the hit so he or she had no consequences.  And even if I ditched it, the other three cars might still merge into a mangled heap.  I kept slowing down, even though the person behind didn’t seem to notice the burning eyes of the car before me bearing down upon us.  The gap ever closing.  The impending explosion of steel against steel.  The shattering of windshields.   I could hear it all in my mind.  Could visualize it.

I waited for it.  Oddly calmly.

It’s a funny thing about time.  How it seems to stretch out in moments like these.  It was like an entire discussion played out in my head figuring out what to do.  A corporate board meeting.  As if I sat down with all of the department heads.  They all gave me their feedback.  Pointed to the graphs and charts.  Drew it out with colored markers on the white board.

I hoped my decision wouldn’t jeopardize anyone else as I laid on the horn.  Everyone involved was surely awake now, as my mind drifted back over this short lifetime of mine.  What had it been worth?

But this heavy situation suddenly became ethereal.  Time slowed to a standstill.  Outside forces seemed to intervene.  As if protective bubbles inflated around all four cars.  The fool somehow threaded the eye of the needle left open by myself and the other oncoming car.  Barely.

A split second.  A flash in time.  Brains in a fog – literally and figuratively.  Preoccupied by frenzied thoughts of work deadlines.  “Got to get there!”  “Got to get the job done!”  A moment where lives could have ended.  Needlessly.  But they didn’t.

Did I make the right decision?  Was there time to do anything else?  I assume we all went our separate directions.  As if nothing had happened.

Ironically, in Zoology, we were studying life cycles.  Eat, sleep, mate and defend.  Predictable unless outside forces act.  Of course, there is more to life than that.  Much more.  Philosophical aspirations.  Collective consciousness.  Spiritual evolution.

Maybe the power of four minds came together to alter the inevitable.  Bending time and physical objects.  A collective manifestation of a new pathway exceeding the laws of physics.

Who can say?

*****

Strange how the mind works.  I remembered this little flash from the past today because I’ve been experiencing “brain fog.”  Transforming figurative fog into physical fog 🙂  That’s why my mind couldn’t get it together to compose a post for the past few days.  It’s a symptom of a syndrome I’m fighting.  Multiple Chemical Sensitivity.  I will undoubtedly write a piece on it someday.  Imagine it this way.  You find yourself exposed to insecticide and you’re dizzy, with a crushing headache, brain clouded, nauseated and with abdominal pain, you lose the ability to reason and your short-term memory vanishes, fatigue bears down on you.  But you come back to normal once the neurotoxin wears off – your body disarms it through its normal processes, chemical, mechanical, liver, kidneys, etc.  Now imagine that your normal detoxification process is overwhelmed and your body can’t detoxify from the poisons anymore.  And the environment you live in is full of an increasing amount of poisons . . .

Photo: No, I didn’t have a picture of headlights approaching on a foggy morning, but I did have this one of a car approaching at dawn driving through the mountains.  Don’t worry, I was safe.  There was no one else on the road and I actually stopped the car to take this pic.  Although, I have at times been guilty of the one-handed, over-the-shoulder, while driving, cell-phone pics 🙂

“Ws” – If you happen to notice any missing Ws in my posts, please feel free to let me know.  I recently picked up a new keyboard and it seems that I am just not striking it hard enough in the left-hand corner.  Missing letters in my writings include Ws, As, Rs, and Es, but Ws seem to be the worst.  I try to catch them when editing, but sometimes I miss a few – thanks 🙂

 

 

Casting a Net with Language

Lightening + Edard Abbey Quote

***

Photo:  A lightening bolt during a monsoon rain reaches down to the mountains.  Only appearing for an instant, the image was caught by repeatedly opening the shutter.  It took about a hundred shots for the timing to capture that less-than-a-second flash of light.  The difficulty in catching the image seems to parallel the quote.  It can take many casts of a net made of words to catch simple facts in an ocean of information 🙂

Wavelengths

Have you ever noticed how you might be thinking about something, maybe even putting pen to paper to memorialize those thoughts, and then suddenly someone else says something that is exactly what was in your mind?  As if they had reached inside your head and grabbed it.

Or maybe, you had just read something that really intrigued you and suddenly material on that same topic starts popping up everywhere?  A friend recommends a book – same subject.  You see an advertisement for a TV documentary – same subject.  A billboard along the highway – same subject.  A blog post from a friend mirrors that same subject.

Affirmations from the world around us.  We’re on the same wavelength.

And none of this is related to some mainstream news cycle.  Maybe it’s about showing gratitude.  Or demonstrating generosity.  Or learning to smile at the beauty that surrounds us.

This seems to happen all the time, if we’re paying attention, and it happened again just the other day when my blogging friend Searching for Grady posted to her blog.  It’s a piece she calls, “Migratory Spirits” about the twelve virtues.

And it just so happens, I’m reading a book about the twelve virtues called, “The Lakota Way: Stories and Lessons for Living.”  The author, Joseph M. Marshall III, dedicates a chapter to each virtue.  Providing the Sioux word and pronunciation, and then telling some traditional stories to illustrate the concepts.

So we have:

Humility – Unsiiciyapi  (un-shee-ee-cee-yah-pee) to be humble, modest, unpretentious;

Perseverance – Wowacintanka (wo-wah-chin-tan-gah) to persist, strive in spite of difficulties;

Respect – Wawoohola (wah-wo-o-ho-lah) to be considerate, to hold in high esteem;

Honor – Wayuonihan (wah-you-v-knee-han) to have integrity, an honest and upright character;

Love – Cantognake (chan-doe-gnan-key) to place and hold in one’s heart;

Sacrifice – Icicupi (ee-chee-chu-pee) to give of oneself, an offering;

Truth – Wowicake (wo-wee-jah-keh) that which is real, the way the world is;

Compassion – Waunsilapi (wah-un-shee-lah-pee) to care, to sympathize;

Bravery – Woohitike (wo-oh-hee-tee-keh) having or showing courage;

Fortitude – Cantewasake (can-te-wah-sha-keh) strength of heart and mind;

Generosity – Canteyuke (chan-te-you-keh) to give, to share, to have heart;

and,

Wisdom – Woksape (wo-ksa-peh) to understand what is right and true, to use knowledge wisely.

Isn’t it amazing how these ideas seem to travel.  I don’t think it’s solely because of the Internet or modern communications either.  While we might look at these systems as being more dendrites in the collective nervous system, ideas seem to travel with or without exterior electronics.  We are all connected.  We may have just not realized how widespread collective thoughts manifest.

There are no coincidences.

I find it encouraging that at a time when there seems to be more division and hatred spreading like a cancer, that the twelve virtues have emerged.  Perhaps as the antibodies to defeat such infections.

May the thoughts and the actions from the virtues gain lightspeed 🙂

***

Photo: The sun rises over a rock formation in the Badlands.  A universal symbol.  The sun rising, a new day, new beginnings, a fresh start, we’ve embarked on a new journey.  These thoughts arise in everyone’s minds, synchronously, without the need to speak.  Perhaps a look into another’s eyes, the nod of a head.  Just knowing.

Fire and Air – Part 3

This will be the final part of my Yellowstone travelog.  The Upper Geyser Basin.

I think the most popular image of Yellowstone that comes to mind is that of Old Faithful.  Because of this, I know I was quite astounded to see all of the other features of the park, each with their own unique beauty.  Some of the other hydrothermal features are so much more colorful.  Just check out the pics of Morning Glory Pond.

I’ll start with a small gallery covering Old Faithful and then have a bit larger one of the remaining features of the Upper Geyser Basin.  Old Faithful is so popular they have built bleachers around it that are packed with people from all over the world for those intervals of 90 to 120 minutes to watch it go off.  Apparently, the geyser’s eruption-timing has become less predictable over the years and the boiling water spout is not as high as it once was – still spectacular nonetheless.

Old Faithful is apparently a juvenile.  It takes a 100 years for a cinder cone to grow by an inch, so some of the geysers are thousands of years older than Old Faithful.

I didn’t record the name of every hot spring, chromatic pool, and geyser, but I did for some of the main ones.  And I included some pics of the Firehole River that runs right through the middle of this geyser basin.  The combination of water, geothermal heat, minerals, sunlight, and bacteria is amazing 🙂

Old Faithful

Remainder of the Upper Geyser Basin

There were other parts of the park that I visited that I didn’t include in this travelog and other parts I still haven’t seen.  Just hitting the main features was a lot.  I’ll have to go back again 🙂

I still have at least one more chapter to write in the “Contrasts” series, but we’ll be in a different location for Chapter 6.

***

 

Who Will Remember?

Personal history.  We have it, or do we?  And for how long?  Or do we want it?  Or is it selectively cataloged in the recesses of our minds . . .

When I fired up the desktop today I was presented with a new crash.  Oddly, the computer would not recognize my profile password, and since no one else uses this computer there was no other profile to try opening.  No way to get inside the machine.

Fortunately, I was able to use my laptop to find a fix.  And with one computer sitting next to the other, I walked through the steps of changing some mysterious line in the registry.  Problem fixed.  Except, I also read that many people had problems with lost data and files after “fixing” the problem.

Mine appear to be intact so I am now backing up files, photos, etc. to an external hard drive.  Everything I can think of.  It looks like this will take all day.

So here I am on the laptop.  Thankful I have it.

What if all the data had been lost?  Bits and pieces are saved on flash drives, SD cards, and that external hard drive.  But for how long?  How long do these devices last before they decay?  And even if intact, if I wasn’t here to access them, who would be able to find my files?  Look at all those digital pics?  Piece together the puzzle that is me?  We store our lives digitally now.

Memories.

We go through life similarly.  We are one in billions, and while I do believe we are all connected, just who can access us?  And what do we want people to know?

Personal history.  It’s baggage we carry.  Some of it might be shiny objects, other bits, dark clouds.  But it is all us.  Who we are.

And how much do we share?  How much is forgotten?  And how much is spun into webs that never existed?  Always prettier than the original version.  Everything symmetrical.  Ordered.  Explained.

Did you ever notice how when you start a new job people want to know about you?  All your details.  Did you ever try and remain secretive?  It drives people crazy.  It’s like they want the goods on you.  Someway to think they have control.  Oh yeah, they know that new guy.  Know what makes her or him tick.  Know how to push their buttons.  Know their strengths and weaknesses.  Where they’ve come from and where they’re going.

Or can they possibly know anything?

Can you really “know” someone else?  Sure we share parts of ourselves.  But not all of our pasts.  All of our thoughts.  All of our feelings.  How could we?

And do we want to be remembered when we’re gone?  If so how?

She was a “good person.”  One line to sum up a lifetime.

I’d like the people I’ve loved to remember me.  But when they’re gone, there will be no record.  Just like the computer was wiped clean.  No data.  We were never here.

Or will we leave some lasting effect?  A ripple through time and space?  Perhaps a few words floating in cyberspace?

I guess we should experience all we can.  Share as much as we dare.  Hope we are loved. And love ferociously.  Because one day, all the data, all that personal history will be gone.  No profile password to magically access it . . .

***

Photo: An old ranch in the middle of a remote spot in the southwest.  The family long deceased.  Given to the state for perpetuity to preserve as a landmark.  A moment in history that loses significance with each passing day.  How long before it returns to dust?  There is no permanence.

 

Fire and Air – Part 1

We had Earth and Water yesterday, so it’s on to Fire and Air – Yellowstone’s geyser basins.  Or at least a couple of them.  Today I’m posting pics from the Norris Geyser Basin, which has, to my understanding, just recently fired back up to full power.  It’s divided into two areas and the boardwalks will keep you moving.

It’s amazing when geothermal energy collides with water and minerals 🙂

Porcelain Basin

Black Basin

***

Earth and Water

As I mentioned yesterday in Contrasts, Chapter 5, I would have to post some additional photo galleries of Yellowstone.  I decided to break them up a bit because I took so many photos and there are just so many diverse areas to see in this park.

Today’s theme is Earth and Water.