OUR DENIAL AND DELUSIONS MAY KILL US

We’re not going to debate climate change, the existence of it. The Earth is getting hotter. And human activity is a major cause, period. We’re not going to give time to the climate deniers. The science is settled, even if political opinion is not. Chuck Todd on Meet the Press, December 31, 2018

“One of the problems that a lot of people like myself, we have very high levels of intelligence, but we’re not necessarily such believers,” President Donald Trump’s reaction to the 1,600 page National Climate Assessment (issued by his administration).

The President isn’t thinking straight. First, I do not experience him as a person who has a very high level of intelligence. He more than overestimates his own skills and abilities as people with fewer talents often do, and he underestimates the talents of others. More competent people underestimate their skills and overestimate the skills of others (Dunning-Kruger effect).

Second, climate change is established science.

Denying climate change is like denying gravity or that cigarettes cause cancer. Or, could Trump and others really believe that climate change is real but deny it publically and fails to take action for other sinister motives? His failure to take strong action to save our planet is a presidential failure of the highest magnitude. He is not crazy; he is bad. The political system must stop him.

The experts and pseudo-experts can argue about when the worst of climate change will happen, how bad will the most horrible impacts be, and can civilization recover but the time for arguing about whether climate change is real or “fake news,” is over.

A delusion is: “…a fixed, false belief that is firmly believed and resists correction by overwhelming evidence and rational argument.” The delusions of Trump followers, inflamed by him, brought Trump the presidency. Those same delusions may kill us.

From Allan Frances, MD in Twilight of American Sanity:

Common delusions in people: Delusions of persecution that lead to blaming others for one’s failures; Delusions of grandiosity (I am highly intelligent); erotomanic delusions: the conviction that a person is loved by all when, in reality, they are ignored or hated.

Society has delusions too:

We don’t have to worry about global warming or environmental pollution because God or technology will save us;

World population can keep growing without causing drastic resource depletion, irreversible global warming, incessant wars, mass migrations; frequent pandemics, and recurring famines;

We don’t have to worry about running out of things because there is always a high-tech fix to get whatever more stuff we will eventually need;

If the rich get richer, the benefits will trickle down to everyone else and the world will be a better place;

The United States has the best health-care system in the world;

The United States can bully other countries into doing whatever we want;

Our country can only be great again if we build walls around it;

Since mankind has been given domination over the earth, our needs are paramount, the survival of other species need not concern us;

It is worth giving away almost all of our privacy in order to gain security, convenience, and valuable research data;

The more guns the better. Guns don’t kill people, people do. An armed population is a safe populace;

The technological revolution can do no wrong.

(Dr. Frances wrote about each delusion and provided evidence of how each is not true)

“Ignorance is not Bliss.” Millions of Americans have a delusional belief system (Thanks in large part to Fox News and conservative talk radio) that does not portray America or the world as it is. Charles Darwin wrote: “It is not the strongest species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the ones most responsive to change.” Trump and his followers want to transform America but try to take us backward and deeper into the world of delusions. That is destruction, not transformation. Believing in the these and other delusions are not sustainable and delusional thinking won’t solve the legitimate issues of Trump followers.

We must undo the societal delusions that made Trump our President.  The first step to healthy change is to see ourselves and our country and our world as it is. Allan Frances: “Rational mind must reassert itself over irrational impulse and wish-fulfilling fantasy.”

We need a spiritual awakening–a moment of metanoia–a shift of mind. Scientist Rupert Sheldrake said, “It is like waking up from a dream. It brings with it a spirit of repentance, seeing in a new way, a change of heart. This conversion is intensified by the sense that the end of an age is at hand.”

And we need to wake up fast. We are already late in attacking climate change and we will suffer from the damage already done. It seems like no one cares until they lose their homes or businesses or lives of loved ones. We need to be visionary and proactive.

We live in daunting times. People who see things clearly feel anger, sorrow, fear, and anxiety. Delusions lead us down the wrong paths. We live under real stress, the maturity of many regresses to earlier times. We fear the genuine transformative change that is required. But, just try to imagine how you will feel when the worst of climate change knocks on your door.

God will not rescue us. Nor will a hero or heroine save us—certainly not our President. We are responsible for our collective fate. The great threats of climate change, population growth, species extinction, resource depletion, and global poverty have called for change for a long time.

Are we ready to make real change? If we are ready, we will get behind a new vision for the renewal first of the United States and then of the world and we will do what is necessary to have a sustainable planet. We don’t need to make America great again; we need to make America good.

Whatever we do, something spectacular is going to happen soon. We will experience an evolutionary bounce or an evolutionary crash.

Our smallest moves may trigger small or vast changes in the world we make and remake together. Trilobites have come and gone; Tyrannosaurus has come and gone. Each tried; each strode uphill; each did its evolutionary best.

Consider that 99.9 percent of all species have come and gone. Be careful. Your own best footstep may unleash the very cascade that carries you away, and neither you nor anyone else can predict which grain will unleash the tiny or the cataclysmic alteration.

Be careful, but keep on walking; you have no choice. Be as wise as you can, yet have the wisdom to admit your global ignorance. We all do the best we can, only to bring forth the conditions of our ultimate extinction, making way for new forms of life and ways to be. If we must eventually fail, what an adventure to be players at all. Stuart Kauffman

REPULSIVE

To destroy the dignity of a human being is evil.

Peter Koestenbaum, author of Leadership: The Inner

Side of Greatness

 

I read M. Scott Peck’s book, People of the Lie in the 1990s.

Donald Trump ran for president in 2016. When I evaluate a presidential candidate, I think first of their character.  A person of character models goodness: caring, empathy, and compassion for all of humanity. A person of character has a strong inner core: deep values and a purpose greater than himself. A visionary, he has a positive, hopeful, sustainable and forward-looking dream for the evolution of America and the planet. A president of character shows us wisdom, bravery, fairness, knowledge, emotional maturity, and transcendence.

If a candidate fails the character test, I eliminate them regardless of party, experience, grievances,  positions on the issues, or likes and dislikes. Nothing can take priority over a candidate’s integrity. In my evaluation of Trump’s character, he received zero points. Therefore, from my perspective, those who voted for Trump simply were not thinking straight.

With help from Russia, Trump squeaked into the presidency via the Electoral College. He lost the popular vote by almost 2.9 million votes.

Since then: lies, chaos, blunders, craziness, scapegoating, criminal investigations, guilty pleas, and decline for America. The dysfunction of the Trump administration smothers us and threatens our existence on our heating planet. The Republican Congress sits by quietly.

I had always thought of evil, when I thought about it at all, as huge events like the Holocaust and people like Adolph Hitler or gruesome and macabre murderers like grave robber Ed Gein, who murdered women and exhumed bodies from graves around Plainfield, Wisconsin in the 1950s.

Peck defined evil as “…the use of power to destroy the spiritual growth of others for the purpose of defending or preserving the integrity of one’s sick self. Evil …is that force, residing either inside or outside of human beings, that seeks to kill life or liveliness. And goodness is its opposite. Goodness is that which promotes life and liveliness.”

Not all hurtful acts are evil. Peck wrote that the consistency of their harmful actions defines evil people. The abusive husband who humiliates his wife day after day for 20 years; the cruel boss who sucks the life from employees year after year; the political demagogue who lies and scapegoats others in speech after speech, year after year, and the blabbermouth talk and television hosts who spread lie after lie to gain followers and sell books.

Peck—one of my favorite writers–wrote about evil in our normal lives and in everyday people: in families, churches, schools, politics, and in our organizations and institutions. His words alarmed me: I, and people I knew and cared about—ordinary people–could be evil, do evil, be part of evil systems and be unaware of evil in and around us.

Evil people diminish others. Evil people exhaust and devalue those around them. They blame others falsely and demonize people to justify the destruction of people’s spirits and make themselves look like upright people.

Scapegoating allows bad people to pretend to be good. Evil people look just like us so we have to pay attention to their acts and behaviors. Roy F. Baumeister, Ph.D. wrote in Evil: Inside Human Violence and Cruelty that evil people intentionally inflict harm on the good and innocent outsider for the pure pleasure of doing so.

When we experience scapegoating, we often feel confused. I call that crazy making. Have you listened to someone talk persuasively about something and felt confused: suddenly up was down, right was wrong, the earth is flat, and climate change is a hoax, and you felt the rug had been pulled out from under your experience of life?

A friend’s advice about crazy making was sound: “Don’t try to make sense of nonsense.” If you decide to confront an evil person, I would add, expect to spend much time doing so and beware: confronting evil will exhaust you and probably hurt and diminish you.

We often feel instant revulsion in the presence of obvious immorality. Tearing others down to elevate himself is our president’s special talent, dastardly as it is. Revulsion makes us want to get away from the person—to escape them. The damage evil people cause means nothing to them: evil people see themselves as the sufferer, justified in their actions.

Malicious folks do not suffer a lack of self-regard; self-absorbed, they have excessive self-esteem (actual accomplishments may be few). Often they do have empathy: they know exactly how to hurt people–usually the powerless. They consider themselves above reproach; they would be appalled to hear that someone considers them evil; they often think of themselves as the victim. Driven by the fear of exposure, they lash out at those who criticize them to avoid seeing themselves accurately. For the scoundrels, the opposition is all bad; their side all good. Hence the title of Peck’s book: they are the People of the Lie who deceive others as they deceive themselves.

Trump lies constantly. The Washington Post reported: “In the first nine months of his presidency, Trump made 1,318 false or misleading claims, an average of five a day. But in the seven weeks leading up the midterm elections, the president made 1,419 false or misleading claims — an average of 30 a day.” Who does he lie to the most? The people who attend his rallies.

The Trump persona is his biggest lie. He is not who he says he is.

My favorite quote from Ernest Becker in The Denial of Death comes to mind: “If everybody lives roughly the same lies about the same things, there is no one to call them liars. They jointly establish their own sanity and call themselves normal”

That’s Trump-land.

Trump and the Republican Party are tearing America apart with amazing speed in their lust for power and money. Our suffering is the correct response: “It’s no measure of health to be well-adjusted to a profoundly sick society” (Jiddu Kriishnamurti). Do not despair. Evil responds to power, in this case, political power. Accountability is on the way.

We must judge and stand against evil people. Many of us try not to judge others, but Peck wrote that the Bible did not require us to never judge but we should judge ourselves (and the groups we belong to) first before we judge others. We must make moral judgments that support life and aliveness. To refuse to make those judgments is to collude with the words and acts we abhor.

Frank Bruni “Michael Cohen Got Wise. Will America?” In the New York Times, December 14, 2018:

Michael Cohen put his chips on, and faith in, someone who didn’t deserve it. He was dazzled. He was entertained. He wanted a patron. He needed a guide. So he disregarded all the warning signs, ignored all the bad stuff. It was so much easier to believe.

At one point or another, haven’t many of us done that?

 Didn’t Americans do that when they turned to Donald Trump in the presidential campaign of 2016?”

 And what he [President Trump] required of America was what he required of Cohen. We had to bury values that should never be buried. In our case that meant condoning Trump’s racism; indulging his corrosive conspiracy theories and self-preserving lies; permitting his demonization of institutions and people and whole countries; interpreting cruelty as candor and provocation as strength. Too many of us assented.

 Cohen told the judge that he had lost his moral compass. The many Republicans who continue to stand by Trump have lost their moral compasses, too. There should be parameters for tribalism and a limit to loyalty, as Cohen says he now understands. Trump is on the far side of that limit.

For every leader, there are at least 10 followers ready to trade the burden and bedlam of independent thought for a playbook that tells them exactly what to do. Some of them find it in religion, others in business, still others in politics.

 And con men like Trump can spot them a mile away. Trump looked at Cohen and correctly saw someone who wasn’t going to be in the fast lane unless hitched to him, and he sensed that Cohen knew it. Trump looked at America and correctly saw an anxious, uncertain populace that was ripe for facile answers, scapegoats and a narrative of unjust victimization. So he pounced. And here we are, in an even more uncertain place, with a sentence yet to be handed down.

 Values do matter.

 

 

THE MAN WHO REMEMBERED MY NAME

I met Harvey in July 2010. Melanie and I had just moved into our new home with our two dogs. We were walking one day when our Labrador Maddy stopped and “took care of business” on the street. I bent over to pick it up and heard a man say, “You are a good neighbor.”

We introduced ourselves, chatted a bit, and headed off on our walk. Harvey, with his wooden walking poles, continued on his twice-daily walk around the mile-long circle we each lived on.

The next time I saw Harvey along our walk, he remembered our names. We were much younger than Harvey and didn’t recall his. Harvey was about 88 years old at the time and I felt astounded that he remembered our names.

We saw Harvey often on our walks. I soon noticed that he always said something nice about us when we met, never complained or bragged, or criticized anyone. Harvey was humble. I came to believe that Harvey was a highly developed man with great maturity. He didn’t talk about his religion, but I could see he was a spiritual person. He didn’t talk about his beliefs; he just lived them.

Harvey had served in World War II, taught biology to middle-school kids for 15 years, but his real work identity came from his work as a naturalist at Gooseberry Falls State Park in Northern Minnesota for 30 years. His son Warren said that for 30 summers Harvey “…blended his love for people, teaching, and nature. Visitors called him ‘Smokey.’”

Harvey stopped to rest along his walks. Several people had put out chairs for him to sit on. As time went on, we noticed the number of chairs for Harvey was growing. We decided to put a chair out in front of our home, too. A few days later, we saw Harvey sitting in the chair. We felt honored.

I told Harvey he was my role model for how to age well, and I paid attention to see how he handled himself. Some days, Harvey sat in our chair early in the morning. Other times he rested later in the afternoon. Sometimes I went out and sat with him, and other times Melanie did.

One sunny summer evening, Harvey and Melanie were talking on the front step. I had just dished up a bowl of ice cream with chocolate sauce on it. I stepped outside with my ice cream and asked Harvey if he liked ice cream.

He said, “I do.”

“Do you like chocolate syrup on it?” I asked.

He said, “I do.”

“Would you like a dish?” I asked. “I could do that,” he said.

“Could you eat this much ice cream?” I asked showing him my bowl. “I could do that,” he said.

I hadn’t started to eat my ice cream so I asked Harvey, “Would you like this bowl?”

He said, “I would.”

I went in and dished up another bowl of ice cream with chocolate sauce and we sat on the porch and talked as we ate our treats.

In October of 2017, Kare 11 News did a feature about Harvey, his life, and his daily walks. A dozen chairs were now out around the neighborhood. Several neighbors spoke of Harvey and the cameraman taped Harvey doing his walk while Harvey told his story. Kare 11 did a great job showing Harvey’s love of the neighborhood and his neighbors’ love of him. The feature leads to several follow-up stories by other media companies (See link below).

I started to call Harvey “Hollywood.”

Pat, Harvey’s wife, had been in a nursing home for several months and Harvey lived alone in the home he and Pat built around 1951. They raised five children who now had their own families.

Pat passed away on March 7, 2018, at age 92. Harvey was now 96 years old.

Melanie and I attended her visitation. I noticed Harvey sitting and taking oxygen. That was new.

Pat’s funeral was the next day. I didn’t know how enlightening it would be.

After a moving funeral service, we retired to a dining room for lunch. After we ate, there was an open microphone and people were invited to share their memories of Pat. For almost an hour, people stood up to speak of Pat’s goodness, good deeds, and her love of family. Some cried; some made us laugh. Person after person: Old friends, neighbors, family young and old told stories of her welcoming nature, sensitivity to others, and stories of how Pat always went out of her way to help and support people of all ages. No stories of status, money, or great accomplishments. Just stories of a woman who lived a life of love and caring for others.

Love filled the room. I realized that Pat was a special woman. I would learn that the children Pat and Harvey raised (Steve, Brian, Laurie, Mary, and Warren) were caring and thoughtful just like their parents.

A week or two later, Harvey called. He was now living in the same nursing home Pat had spent her final months in. I said I would visit.

On May 14, 2018, Melanie and I visited Harvey. We thought “no more than 30 minutes.” Harvey talked about the nursing home: “The food is good, there are lots of activities, and the staff is nice.”

I had suffered some strokes about 5½ months prior and I shared personal stories of my strokes and aftermath with Harvey, including things I wouldn’t share with many others. Harvey told us of the difficulties he had with Pat’s death, including things he might not share with many others.

Two and a half hours later, I said, “I’m tired.” Harvey, at 96 years old, was ready to keep talking.

The sharing of personal stories deepened our bond. Harvey and I agreed that I would visit every Monday at 2:30 pm.

Usually, I went alone, a couple of times Melanie came along. She loved Harvey too, but, she said, “I can see the special relationship you and Harvey enjoy and I don’t want to intrude on that.” A couple of times, Mike, Harvey’s neighbor, visited Harvey with me. Harvey was happy when Mike visited. Our Monday visits lasted about an hour and a half—sometimes longer.

Visiting the nursing home was hard: I felt sad seeing so many residents close to death. I saw the same group of people, day after day, sitting in their wheelchairs that lined the corridors. No one but the staff engaged with them. How lonely they must have felt.

Harvey had a full calendar of activities: Church in the morning, breakfast, and visitors. After lunch, he took a half-hour nap. Some days he played bingo. He got me to play, and I had fun. Other days the local VFW took him to lunch. Once the staff took him fishing. He went to outdoor concerts. On two days a week, he played Bridge at two different locations. One of his children visited each night.

I loved Harvey more every time I was with him. I observed Harvey: He was 24 years older than me. I’m getting old too, and I watched to see how Harvey handled himself, his age, and with others. You see, Harvey was a man who continued to love life, learn new things, and engage with others. That’s how I want to be as I age.

I helped Harvey with his walks every Monday. He would get behind his wheelchair and push it and I would hold a special belt he put on and walked behind him. Harvey always wanted to walk. We’d stop for Harvey to catch his breath and then we would walk again. I noticed on our walks through the corridors of the nursing home, that Harvey knew everyone’s name. I thought, “Darn, how does he do that?” Harvey always introduced me to friends, family, staff, and other residents. And he always introduced me by saying something nice about me.

Harvey asked if I played cards. I said, “No.”

He said, “Want to learn a game called “King’s in the Corner?”

I hadn’t played cards in more than 40 years. I couldn’t say no to Harvey. From then on we played three games of “King’s in the Corner” each Monday. Each week Harvey would say, “I have a deck of cards in my pocket. Want to play a few hands?” I always said, “Yes, I do.”

Harvey was the consummate teacher. He would see moves I could make but was not seeing. That meant I was missing a chance to get rid of a card.

He would say, “Don’t knock yet.” I looked and looked. Sometimes I saw the chance to get rid of a card and if I was having trouble, Harvey would give me more clues until I saw the opportunity to get rid of a card in front of me.

One day Melanie came with me. Harvey asked, “Do you want to play “King’s in the Corner?”

Melanie said, “I haven’t played this game since I was a little kid but I’ll try.”

I dealt the cards. Within five minutes, Melanie won the game. Harvey and I still had almost all of our cards. Harvey was shocked by Melanie’s quick win and joked, “We don’t like card sharks here.”

When I told Harvey we would be moving away from the neighborhood and would be 20 minutes farther away from the nursing home, he asked: “Will you still be able to visit?” I replied, “Same time every Monday.”

At the end of each visit, Harvey expressed his gratitude for my visit, and I expressed my gratitude for our time together.

Harvey began to get out of breath sooner and his walks became shorter. He didn’t say anything about it. I didn’t ask. In mid-August, 2018 Mary, one of Harvey’s daughters, called me and told me Harvey had taken a turn for the worse. She said I should still come the next Monday. She said he had trouble talking so I might need to carry the conversation.

When I arrived at his room, his daughter Laurie sat with Harvey. I met one of Harvey’s granddaughters and her husband. His granddaughter and her husband sang several spiritual songs. Harvey sat in his recliner, closed his eyes, and moved his head back and forth. Harvey wanted a break and I decided it was time for me to go.

I walked up to him in his chair and leaned down close to his ear. I said, “I love you, Harvey.”

That was my last visit with my friend.

Harvey died on what would have been Pat’s 93rd birthday: September 1, 2018

At his funeral, son Warren gave the eulogy and I learned why Harvey always remembered people’s names:

To begin this morning, I’d like to ask you a question: What’s the sweetest word in your ear? My father used to say it was: Your own name. He was someone who firmly believed this, and he gave names careful attention through his life.

 If you think about it, learning someone’s name is an introduction. It’s the first step toward building a relationship or a friendship. Without the name, relationships and friendships tend to be superficial. My dad wasn’t superficial!

 I’m guessing my dad knew almost everyone here BY name. Whether you were his children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, nieces, nephews, cousins, in-laws, outlaws, friends, neighbors, co-workers, students, etc., Harvey made a point of learning your name and using it. Names meant a lot to him because each of you means a lot to him….

 Names are the key to unlocking lasting relationships and friendships. However long or short our lifespan—and my dad lived an impressive 96 years—it is those relationships and friendships—founded on names—that truly define, enrich and beautify our time on earth. My dad taught us all by his example. Be humble enough to take an interest in others. Learn and use their names. Your life, my life, and our world—will be better for it.

 

Daniel Quinn wrote in Ishmael: “The flaw in man is exactly this: that he doesn’t know how he ought to live.”

Pat and Harvey knew how to live and their example taught the people around them who, in turn, were role models for others and that’s how we change the world.

So long Harvey. I’ll always remember your name.

 

See the Kare 11 story about Harvey: His chairs in the neighborhood and an update after his death.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Post Stroke Fatigue

I remain a very loud advocate for the benefits of sleep, sleep, sleep, and more sleep interspersed with periods of learning and cognitive challenge. Jill Bolte Taylor, Ph.D. in My Stroke of Insight.

After the good news that I did not have cancer, we felt deep relief. It was a good feeling after almost three months of fight/flight mode. During those months, I was too stressed to notice the fatigue. I had more important things to occupy my mind.

I soon became aware that I felt exhausted all of the time—mind, body and spirit– even after a good night’s sleep. Rest did not take the fatigue away. Meeting someone for lunch was exhausting to think about. Other than family, I put my social life on hold. I needed my energy focused on my stroke recovery, which can take a year.

Jill Bolte, Ph.D. wrote in My Stroke of Insight:

Occasionally friends came to visit, but GG [Bolte’s mother] recognized that social exchanges used up my energy reserve and left me totally drained….She made the executive decision that getting my mind back was more important than visitation, so she stood as the guard at my door and strictly limited my social time.

Forty to seventy percent of stroke survivors experience this fatigue, and it doesn’t matter if you had a minor or a major stroke. The fatigue can pass over time; for some, the fatigue never goes away.

Working a bit in the yard would leave me spent. I couldn’t read for long, and writing left me worn out. We went to the lake this summer for a week. I felt drained by Wednesday.

The medical world does not know the cause of post-stroke fatigue. Probably it’s a mixture of physical and emotional factors. No specific medications or treatments will eliminate post-stroke fatigue. A healthy lifestyle is most likely the most one can do.

With the help of medications I usually got a good night’s sleep. Still, I remained exhausted. I had to prioritize my days and set goals mindful of my limited energy.

Jill Bolte again:

My energy was limited so we had to pick and choose, very carefully every day, how I would spend my effort. I had to define my priorities for what I wanted to get back the most and not waste energy on other things.

I made long naps (1-2 hours) a normal part of most of my days. Gradually, I am getting better at organizing my time around my energy level and setting my priorities around my overall recovery.

Jill Bolte:

For my recovery, it was critical that we honor the healing power of sleep. I know various methodologies are practiced at rehabilitation facilities around the country, yet I remain a very loud advocate for the benefits of sleep, sleep, sleep, and more sleep….

I’ve mostly made my peace with fatigue. I feel frustrated with it at times but we can adapt to our circumstances. I consider myself fortunate for being retired. I have time, flexibility, and can focus on things beneficial to my recovery. Melanie is a wonderful wife who loves me and supports me. I cannot emphasize how important a supportive spouse is in life and in recovery.

This and the previous three posts told my stroke story. I will work hard to prevent another stroke. I am grateful for no major loss of functions. I had my traumas after my stroke and they humbled me. I choose to see the strokes as a calling to greater development as a person approaching old age.

More to come.

Alcohol, Anxiety & Xanax

Bad anxiety is probably the single most miserable emotional state humans can experience. It is truly a living hell.

Dr. Charles Raison, Psychiatrist, Emory University Medical School.

 

My stroke experiences in 2017/2018 took me back to June 1974:

I was in trouble, and I knew it.

I sat on the edge of the hospital bed and smoked Marlboros—one after another. I was alone in the chilly room. My hands shook. My second night was a lonely Friday night at St. Mary’s Hospital Extended Care Center near the West Bank of the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. The third floor was an adult alcohol treatment center reputed to be one of the toughest and best in the country—a boot camp of human development for broken lives. I normally got drunk on Friday nights. I was cold sober on this June night and I didn’t feel at all like the Marlboro man.

I had just finished the book, I’ll Quit Tomorrow. The book described the dynamics of alcoholism. Each page was a sharp-edged piece of a shattered mirror that reflected my life. I was shaken to my core—until that moment, I did not know I was an alcoholic. I was defenseless: my denial penetrated, and my delusions about my life exposed to me. I saw the impact of alcohol on my life, my work, and my relationships. What I saw hurt. The person I saw was not the person I started out to be.

The father of three young children, a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the University of Minnesota, and a 3-year special agent in the United States Secret Service, I was now 28 years old, unemployed, and broke. I was 6’3” tall and weighed 150 pounds—down 20 pounds from my normal weight. I was alone, scared, and depressed.

I stared at the sterile and indifferent wall across from me. How did I fall into this abyss of despair, addiction, and self-betrayal? Could I find the courage and strength to save myself? Was salvation even possible or had I gone too far? Could I redeem myself? Could I again realize my possibilities?

I could change or die, and the choice was mine alone. My “bottom” wasn’t as low as some, but it was as far down as I wanted to go. I chose life.

Treatment—the most difficult and most spiritual experience of my life— challenged me more than any other event of my life; I had to look at myself honestly under watchful eyes. I was humbled by the experience, and by the power of authentic human connections. I felt anxious although I didn’t know it then. I was determined to rise above this setback in my life.

I left St. Marys with a profound sense of commitment, albeit more than a little shaky. Treatment began my conscious life of self-development and my vow to live my values to the best of my imperfect ability.

My existence depended on an authentic and value-driven life.

As I described in an earlier post, my five strokes were painless with no permanent loss of function. My days in the hospital were easy.

But the next three months (January-March, 2018) were as difficult as or harder than my month at St. Mary’s. As I went through the weeks of TIAs, new spots on my brain and a cancer scare, I felt anxiety and fear that may have been greater than what I felt when I was in treatment almost 44 years ago. I was anxious about dying, the unknown, potential disability, and simply losing myself. And probably many other things.

I had never thought of myself as an anxious person. I was never treated for it.  Sure, in the hours before I gave a speech I wanted to run away. Didn’t everyone feel that way? When I began to talk, I immediately went into my flow mode and I had fun and usually got high marks.

Once, anxious about being confronted, I didn’t go to a post-treatment growth group session long ago at St. Mary’s. But I showed up an hour later and took my lumps. In my last year or two at the Star Tribune, I felt anxious. I feared people with more power than I wanted to neutralize my success. The thing is, they did.

I asked Melanie if she thought I was anxious. She smiled and said if she were to list three top characteristics of mine, anxious would be the first one. Daughters Cari and Becky thought the same. I did worry and sometimes catastrophized outcomes. But I figured that was my job as a leader and consultant: Figure out the future possibilities and put scenarios together to avoid unanticipated and negative outcomes.

Whatever the past, I knew I felt a dark anxiety after the strokes.

My doctor prescribed me Zoloft for depression and low dose (.25 mg) Xanax for anxiety (both common after a stroke). I was proud of my long sobriety and did not want it threatened. I resisted Xanax. I thought of Xanax as a highly addictive drug and I feared going down the path of addiction again. My mind flooded with memories from my 10-year journey into the darkness of alcoholism and my first years of recovery as I faced life without alcohol. I did not want to go through another recovery from addiction.

I felt anxious about taking a drug to reduce my anxiety.

Melanie pushed me to take Xanax anytime I felt anxious. So did my daughters. I considered Xanax to be a worst-case drug so I would tough out the day and only take a Xanax as a last resort. The doctor prescribed up to two tablets (.25 mg) twice a day as needed. I took no more than one tablet a day. After a few weeks of going around and around about how much Xanax to take, my doctor said, “Let me worry about addiction. You will not develop tolerance or addiction taking one .25 mg of Xanax a day.” I never took more than one tablet a day. Many days I took none. Xanax also helped with my hand tremor, worse after the strokes and my moderate voice tremor (called Essential tremors). As the weeks passed, I came full circle from resistance to acceptance of Xanax as a drug that could help me where other drugs had failed, when taken as prescribed.

I’m sure many recovering alcoholics and those who struggle with addiction to other drugs, have had the angst I had felt. My friend, Bruce Nelson, wrote to me and I share a long quote of his so wonderfully written:

I can particularly relate to your mixed emotions over the Xanax. I started my 39th year of sobriety yesterday, and have wrestled a lot with the same dilemma you faced over those decades of recovery. I religiously avoided anything stronger than Advil for 30 years.  

 Then I went through a hip replacement in 2009. I couldn’t tolerate any of the physical therapy I needed to do after the surgery and my doctor persuaded me that opioids would dull the pain so I could do the exercises necessary to get my new metal hip to work with the rest of the body. I was really frightened, but what he said made sense. So I used them for two or three weeks and everything worked just fine. Yeah, I felt a little high from the drugs. But my then 30 years of recovery had also changed me. I wasn’t desperate for an escape or eager to shut down my feelings, like I was back in my active alcoholism days. The opioids served a purpose, and I used them for that purpose and then quit taking them.

I went through a similar episode with them in 2011. I had a huge malignant tumor on my chest, between my heart and lungs, on something called the thymus gland. They split my chest open just like they do for open heart surgery and yanked the mass out.  Full recovery after radiation. But I went back on opioids as I recovered from the surgery, with pretty much the same effect as they had after the hip replacement: [I] took them until the pain subsided and then stopped.

My real opioid challenge came in 2014. I slipped on the ice and broke two bones in my back. The pain was incredible, so I went back on the drugs. Unlike surgical pain, the back pain seemed to be without end. It turned out that I also have spinal stenosis, a chronic pain condition. Well, I quit the opioids two months after I fell. The pain had subsided a little but was still bad but I was damned if I was going to take those things for the rest of my life. They were dulling my brain to the point where it was really hard to focus on anything.  

 My primary care physician saw me a month or so after I stopped taking the pain meds. I thought I was doing pretty well, but she said she could see pain all over me, from my face to my movements and even my voice. She was keenly aware of my feelings on opioids. “What would you say if I could give you something that is not a narcotic that would take the pain away?” she asked. I told her masochism wasn’t my thing, and that I would be glad to try whatever she was talking about. She prescribed Tramadol. Amazingly, it did exactly what she said it would do.  Most of my pain was simply gone, and there were absolutely no feelings of being high or in any way mentally dulled.   

 Several months after I started taking it, Tramadol was reclassified as a narcotic and a controlled substance. My doctor swears she didn’t know this was coming! It was a combination of two pressure points, one out of corporate greed and the other well placed. Whatever company markets Codeine put all sorts of heat on the DEA because the non-narcotic status of Tramadol was giving it an unfair competitive advantage. The growing opioid crisis was another source of the change. Apparently there is some low-grade opioid in Tramadol and addicts were taking it in huge doses. I’m still taking it. My lifestyle would be greatly reduced without it. When I don’t take it, I have several hours during the day where the pain overrides everything else. I can’t think, focus or even begin to carry on a conversation. The Tramadol reverses much of the pain and allows me to feel more human.  

 I also keep a very limited supply of Percocet on hand for very special occasions like when I try to insert my 6-foot-8 body into an airline seat or have to go through a CT scan or a two-hour dental procedure. Those kinds of things bring the pain way past the Tramadol level.

 When I started this email, I had no intention of going on this long with my medical stuff. Sorry about that. It’s just that your story about your trepidation over the Xanax really resonated with me, in a way that only those who are in recovery can understand. Taking these drugs can be an agonizing decision.  But in the end, I think we both did the right thing. We both used drugs at one point in our lives to detach from life, to not feel or think or focus. Now we carefully use them to make all of those same functions possible. It’s a careful and delicate balancing act.

 See Bruce’s blog: Let’s Think This Out for some wise, smart and well-researched commentary on our crazy world.

 I’ll end with another quote from Dr. Raison:

“The vast majority of people who take benzodiazepines for extended periods are highly compliant and follow doctors’ orders closely. Indeed, in my experience many anxious patients who would benefit from benzodiazepine treatment are so worried about addiction and other problems that they deny themselves an important potential pathway to well-being. But the other extreme is even more problematic. Although in my experience benzodiazepines do not have the addiction potential of something like opiate pain pills, they can cause significant trouble when abused. Hence the importance of taking exactly as prescribed.”

More to come in future blogs.

 

TIAs, Strokes and Cancer

The world breaks everyone and afterwards many are strong at the broken places. Ernest Hemingway

See my blog post: “I didn’t see it coming.”

Melanie and I were walking around the neighborhood on a Saturday afternoon in mid-January 2018. The four fingers on my left hand went numb. Then my left side, left cheek and left forearm. This wasn’t the first time I had these symptoms since leaving North Memorial Hospital on January 2, 2018.

The first time the symptoms returned happened on January 4, 2018, the second day after my release from the hospital. The fingers on my left hand went numb and our lives changed again.

While in the hospital, the nurses and doctors were adamant: “If you have symptoms, call 911. Time is brain cells.” Should we call 911? I felt resistant. Our insurance company had paid $1,700 to transport me a few miles from Maple Grove hospital to North Memorial hospital on December 29, 2017. I didn’t want to risk my life to save the insurance company money but calling for an ambulance because my fingers went numb for a short time seemed excessive to me.

Melanie called my internist. He counseled us not to go to the ER: “You’ve already been treated for the strokes. The ER can’t do anything. Double your dosage of Lipitor until I see you.” Then my lips went numb. Melanie called the doctor again. He repeated his instructions.

At first, we felt afraid for my life. Some nights I dreamed of numbness on my right side, which would be a new stroke. The dreams were so real; I needed a day to determine the numbness was not real.

One night, I dreamed I was walking down a dark street. Three younger men walked toward me. I knew they would hurt me. I was powerless to stop it. When they got right in front of me, I began to swing at them. I heard a crash and Melanie yelled at me. I woke up and saw I had thrown a punch at the lamp on the bedside table and cleared it of everything.

The transient ischemic attacks (TIAs) continued. I lost trust in my body. I didn’t know how it would react at any time. I was hyper-sensitive to every feeling. I feared TIAs or a stroke when I was away from home. I put my social life on hold, except for family.

After two weeks, my internist said, “What you feel are TIAs. They will not hurt you. You are not having another stroke. I think they will pass in six weeks. Don’t go to the ER unless the symptoms last more than two hours or are on your right side.” We wondered why someone in the Stroke Unit hadn’t warned us before we left the hospital that the symptoms could return. We would have eliminated much fear and anxiety. Then again, maybe they did or my doctor did and I didn’t remember.

We were veteran TIA managers by that Saturday when we were walking. We stopped in a park and sat until the symptoms passed about 45 minutes later and then we walked home.

On the day when I had my last TIA, February 12, 2018, I had my first appointment with the neurologist assigned to me in the hospital. She noticed my moderate voice tremor that had started at age 69–a gift from my father’s genetics.  She asked, “Are you nervous?” I replied: “You don’t know the half of it” and I told her of the weeks of unpredictable TIAs, including the one I had that morning.

The neurologist had blood drawn for many blood tests she wanted. She also wanted another MRI. I had the MRI two days later. The next evening, three days after my last TIA, the neurologist called me at 8:30 pm.

Life was about to change again.

She said, “Don’t get nervous.” That really means, “Get real nervous.”

Melanie’s notes from the conversation:

“The MRI from today shows the old infarcts (strokes) and a few new equivocal infarcts. They are not bright like the other strokes, so it’s hard to put them on a timeline. It could be his heart (atrial fibrillation, or Afib) so she wants him to see a cardiologist pronto for longer-term monitoring. She wants to closely monitor him.

She also wants him to go for labs tomorrow and she is going to check for vasculitis [I didn’t have it] and throw in a few more tests. She is putting that order in tonight so we can go at any time. She reiterated to watch for new symptoms and go to the ER if right side, or can’t walk, etc.”  

I wrote in my journal that night, “Feeling afraid of having another stroke.”

We were at the lab an hour before the lab technician reported to work so I went to a nearby clinic and had the blood drawn there. After several weeks of appointments, I had the heart monitor implanted into my chest. The monitor can track my heart for AFib for up to three years to pick up what would be a rare and almost invisible AFib in my heart rhythms. Should the monitor detect AFib, my blood thinning medication would be changed from a high dose aspirin and Plavix to a drug better for AFib situations. I predict they will not find AFib.

A week later we saw the neurologist again. She said that one of the blood tests had “spiked” and she would refer me to a hematologist for a consultation. The spike could indicate Multiple Myeloma— cancer I had never heard of. She said the odds were 50%-50% that I had it.

“Multiple myeloma is a cancer of plasma cells. Normal plasma cells are found in the bone marrow and are an important part of the immune system. In general, when plasma cells become cancerous and grow out of control, this is called multiple myeloma.” —American Cancer Society.

When the Cancer Center at North Memorial didn’t have the referral after several days, Melanie called the neurologist’s office to ask why the referral hadn’t been made. The referral was made within minutes for two weeks later. The two weeks went by slowly.

On March 16, 2018, we walked into the North Memorial Cancer Center (not a pleasant feeling) for my appointment. The hematologist walked into the examination room.

Were our lives about to change dramatically again?

He said, “You don’t have cancer.” I don’t think he had even looked at the lab results. He explained the spike I had can indicate Multiple Myeloma but a large group of people who have the spike don’t have or ever get cancer. However, about 1% cross over to the cancer group each year so I would have to get blood tests every six months.

We walked out of the hematologist’s office relieved. I don’t mind saying that the previous almost three months had scared me! I had been in “fight/flight” mode 24/7. I felt anxiety like I never had before. Over those months, life had humbled me, humiliated me and shown me once again just how little control I had. I was grateful for the outcomes of those events. I didn’t think of myself as “broken,” but I had some cracks in my body and psyche.

When the stroke process began, I decided to be open and honest about what I felt with my doctors and other caregivers. That decision left me vulnerable as many of my feelings were difficult to share: fear, anger, and anxiety. But I was open and honest, as I felt appropriate, as we went along.

I now had an internist (He was always there for me when I needed him), a neurologist, a cardiologist and a hematologist. I got good medical care from them. As for their bedside manners, not so good with one of them. It is important that we feel comfortable with our doctors. We need to trust them and be open with them about ourselves. If we don’t feel comfortable with a doctor, we should make a change.

I had put my life in Melanie’s hands. I shared every dark emotion with her and scared her at times. She made my appointments and took notes, which was invaluable. She fought for me and she loved me.

As the weeks rolled by, I realized Melanie carried a big burden: me. I hated the patient role. I began to keep some things to myself—but not important things. I tried to help around the house more and let her know I appreciated her. A time or two, I shared that I feared she might not want to be married to me: after all, I was wounded. Melanie destroyed those fears.

My children (Becky, Cari, and Mike) and a daughter-in-law (Aubrey) and I drew closer during these months. They were there for me. Natalie, my step-daughter, was a physician’s assistant in a hospital ER and was always there to answer medical questions and offer support.

Dr. Walter Waldinger, Director of the Harvard Study: A 75-year longitudinal study of adult development, said the research showed him that relationships are critical to a happy, healthy and long life. We need at least one good friend. How do we know a good friend? Waldinger said a good friend is a person who is there for you when the going gets tough. 

I heard from the extended families of my life, neighbors, and acquaintances and colleagues. I appreciated their notes and calls. A couple of people stand out for me. Each highly empathetic and compassionate and able to share themselves with me. They were there for me throughout my ordeals.

Heide was a good and trusted friend before my strokes and our relationship grew and deepened during the difficult months. She wrote smart and insightful emails. She brought food and visited me at home. She practiced a compassionate “tough love” when I needed it. I found I could share any emotions with her and be met with empathy, understanding, and compassion.

A newer friend, Bill, lived halfway across the country and we communicated periodically. Our exchanges were real. Bill shared himself and his life with me, and he helped me.

And, as all who have had tough times of any kind know, some folks disappoint us. As I thought about that, I turned my eyes inward and I remembered all the people in my life over the years who could have used my support. I took my own inventory and what I saw didn’t always make me proud.

Between January 4, 2018, and March 16, 2018,  I had survived 19 TIAs, a possible second stroke and a cancer threat. For the first time in almost three months, I had no outstanding issues or appointments. Maybe now I could focus on my recovery from the strokes.

More to come in future blogs.

 

 

 

 

I Didn’t See it Coming

In 2004, I read “Younger Next Year” by Chris Crowley & Henry S Lodge, M.D. The book’s message was: In your 40’s, you can decide to clean-up the bad habits in your lifestyle: Some 70% of premature death and aging is lifestyle-related, according to Lodge and Crowley. You can watch your health improve and live much longer, without significant decline, until you are in your 80’s or longer and then die quickly. Even at age 60, we can get “functionally younger every year for the next five or ten years,” wrote Crowley and Lodge. I embraced, and still do, the message of the book and recommended it to many people over the years.

Protecting our health became a core value for Melanie and me.

Last fall, I turned 72 years old: I hadn’t had a health problem since kidney stones in my mid-thirties—no surgery required. Throughout my sixties, I wondered when I would get hit with a major health issue. I didn’t think it was probable that I would get out of my 70’s without a significant health problem.

When I thought about dying, I figured that strokes would be involved: My dad had a small stroke at about my age and then another at age 90. He declined a feeding tube and passed away quickly on his own terms—just as Crowley& Lodge wrote. Dad was my model for living and became my model for dying with dignity.

Melanie and I walked five miles almost every day. I worked out with resistance tubes, dumb-bells and stretched my body three times a week. Other than having to manage my sugar consumption, my diet was good. My weight was fine. I didn’t smoke or drink.

On December 21, 2017, I was working in my office. I felt fine. My index and middle fingers on my left hand suddenly went numb. The sensation passed quickly. I Googled “Fingers went numb” and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome came up. I hollered to Melanie, “I think I have Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.” I forgot about it and went back to work.

The next day, three fingers on my left hand went numb along with the left side of my tongue and I couldn’t speak for a moment. These symptoms passed in a minute or so. I called my doctor. He said, “Stop taking a low-dose aspirin and take a full dose aspirin until I tell you not to. If it happens again, go to the ER.” We planned to go to the Fargo area for Melanie’s family Christmas party on Christmas Eve. We considered staying home to be safe but we decided to go and keep our fingers crossed. Other than some anxiety for me, I had no symptoms on the trip.

Back home on December 29th, we sat down for dinner. I said, “Melanie, my fingers on my left hand, my left side, left leg, and left side of my tongue are numb. I could not speak correctly. The symptoms went away in a short time. We talked about going to the ER and I was resistant in case we were wrong. We decided to go and I asked Melanie to call my doctor along the way. He said we were doing the right thing. We went to the Maple Grove Hospital ER. We got right in and the doctor’s and staff went right to work. At first, because the symptoms came and went, they thought my symptoms were TIA’s:

Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA) is a warning sign of a possible stroke and is often called a “miniature stroke.” A TIA is caused by brief stoppage of blood flow to the brain. Symptoms are the same as a stroke but appear for a shorter period of time (from a minute to 24 hours) and then go away. A TIA is basically a stroke with one important difference: blood flow resumes before any serious brain damage occurs. From the North Memorial Hospital Stroke Education Guide.

I had an MRI and an orderly wheeled me back to the emergency room.

I was joking with the nurses and technicians when the ER doctor came in. He sounded kind of gruff: “You did have several strokes (five). You are lucky: you could have had a major stroke. We don’t have a stroke center here so we will send you by ambulance to the stroke center at North Memorial Hospital (Robbinsdale, MN). The ambulance will be here shortly.”

The paramedics rolled me to the ambulance and I felt the minus 15 degrees temperature. The two young men had heard that I was once a Secret Service agent and we joked about that during the drive.

I arrived at the stroke center at about 1:00 am on Saturday, December 30, 2017. I had lots of nursing attention for a while: they took my vitals, drew blood and hooked me up to liquids and blood thinners. About 15-20 staff came in and out of the room each night. I didn’t sleep much—too many interruptions and too much stimulation. I wasn’t scared: the symptoms were gone and I didn’t feel any paralysis or loss of function. I could talk fine. Everyone had treated me with dignity and respect and I enjoyed their care and attention.

Melanie walked in early Saturday followed by grandson Nate and step-daughter Natalie. I was happy to see them.

I passed all the physical and cognitive tests. The neurologist’s assistant came and spend a long time answering our questions. I liked her. Actually, I liked all the diverse staff-members that helped me.

We were told that half of the strokes emanate from the heart. Fifteen percent of them are due to the patient having untreated Atrial Fibrillation: an irregular and often fast heart rate that can increase the risk of strokes and heart disease. Blood clots in the atria (top chamber of the heart), get pumped out of the heart to the brain, blocks a blood vessel and causes a stroke. I wore a heart monitor in the hospital and would wear one on my first week at home to see if AFib was present. If they detected AFib, they would give me different medication but they wouldn’t change my medication (Plavix plus a full-sized aspirin) without the diagnosis of AFib.

I had an echocardiogram W/Bubble Study of the front of my heart to look for defects in my heart where blood could form into clots that could go to the brain and cause strokes. No defects were found.

On Sunday, the doctor told me I would fast and he would get a Transesophageal Echo W/bubble procedure scheduled for later in the day. It didn’t happen: this was the New Year’s Day weekend and staffing was minimal. I would fast again on Monday, Jan.1, 2018. I fasted and again no procedure. Now the procedure would be first thing Tuesday morning so I would fast for the third day in a row. Overnight, my nurse told me the procedure would be early Tuesday morning. As morning approached, something changed: my nurse said I would have the test on Tuesday but maybe not first thing. Shifts changed and I got a new nurse who I had not had before.

She told me the test would not happen on Tuesday. I got mad. I said, “Hold on, you don’t have the history. I have fasted for three days and each time the procedure in Cardiology got canceled. This is not acceptable. This procedure is the only thing holding up my discharge. I’ve been here one or two extra days because the hospital couldn’t get this done over the weekend. Go talk to the doctor and tell him this.”

Melanie and I waited for the nurse to come back and plotted what I would do if the test couldn’t be done that morning.

Twenty minutes later, the nurse came back and said, “The gurney is on the way to take you to Cardiology for the procedure.” The orderly came, I hopped onto the gurney and he wheeled me to Cardiology and into the procedure room. A nurse was waiting and prepped me. I sat in something like a dentist’s chair. I had to gargle Lidocaine for two minutes and then swallow it. Then they would put me to sleep and they would go through my nose and go down my throat into the food pipe to get pictures of the backside of my heart. The examination would show clear pictures of the heart chambers and valves. The doctor came in and asked me a few questions. The next thing I knew I was awake. The procedure had gone fine and no issues were found.

My internist later said to me: “You had the Cadillac of heart examinations.”

Melanie and my daughter Becky and the nurse and two doctors were waiting in my room when I got back. An hour later, Melanie picked me up at the front door and we went home.

I thought the story was over. But it had just begun. More to come in future blog posts.

Stroke Warning Signs from the Mayo Clinic:

  1. Trouble speaking or understanding,
  2. Paralysis or numbness of the face, arm or leg,
  3. Trouble with seeing in one or both eyes,
  4. A headache,
  5. Trouble with walking