The Tube is Out!

The tube is out, the ventilator is turned off and Ann is now breathing on her own! Praise God!

Words can not adequately express my gratitude to God, the medical staff at Northwestern and all of you who supported us during this very difficult time with encouraging notes and prayers!

The Fool on the Debt-Ceiling Crisis

These past weeks have witnessed much dysfunction in the federal government of the United States. I think that the Motely Fool has a few good points to make about it in their recent posting titled "What You Need to Know About the Debt-Ceiling Crisis". Here are a few excerpts:
  • What is the debt ceiling? It's a self-imposed limit on the Treasury's ability to borrow. Reaching the debt ceiling does not mean the U.S. is bankrupt. Investors around the world are breaking down the doors at the Treasury to lend us money. This is a purely self-inflicted crisis.
  • Importantly, raising the debt ceiling is not merely about making room for future spending. It's about Congress deciding whether it wants to pay for the laws Congress has already passed and is committed to. The ceiling has been raised 87 times since 1945, almost always without fanfare.
  • What happens to the government if the ceiling isn't raised? The Treasury says it will run out of cash on Tuesday. Others think higher-than-expected tax receipts could extend that by a few days. President Obama has indicated he's open to extending the debt ceiling for a few days if more time is needed to hammer out a last-minute deal. If the Treasury does indeed run out of cash, someone won't get paid.
  • What happens to markets if the ceiling isn't raised? That's the trillion-dollar question. In an actual default, there would undoubtedly be some degree of panic, particularly in the banking sector (think September 2008). Banks and money-market funds that rely on Treasury bonds as bedrock assets would be thrown into disarray. The financial system is held together by confidence. Losing it is not something you want to play with. But the odds of default are low. More likely is a credit downgrade.
  • A downgrade wouldn't be catastrophic, but it shouldn't be taken lightly. In general, an AA-rated nation pays more to borrow money than an AAA-rated nation -- interest rates are higher by 0.7%, on average. A rise of that magnitude could hammer the stock market and increase the cost of mortgages, credit cards, and other forms of borrowing. As I wrote this morning, a 0.7% rise in interest rates would add $100 billion a year to federal borrowing costs and could slow economic growth by around 1% a year. As a rule of thumb, that could cost roughly 1 million jobs.
The fools ends by giving this advice to investors: There's never a good time to panic, and decisions made during emotional upheavals are usually regrettable. If you were happy with your portfolio last week, you should be happy with it next week.

Some Things are Hard to Say

Thought that a bit of humor from the Shoebox blog might be an appropriate follow-up to yesterday's post.

And it is not hard to say how much I appreciate all the prayers and the support  that you all have shown me this week. Thank you!

The Challenge of Obstacles

As I walked to the hospital this morning from the hotel my mind was thinking about all of the obstacles we have experienced these past three months. Physical obstacles have caused us to daily take longer routes to the hospital and many health obstacles have been so hard to overcome - my wife is presently overcoming the obstacle of pneumonia.

So I thought that it might do me a bit of good to read, and share with you, a few thoughts from others on the topic of obstacles and the overcoming of them:

The only use of an obstacle is to be overcome. All that an obstacle does with brave men is, not to frighten them, but to challenge them. -Woodrow Wilson

If you can find a path with no obstacles, it probably doesn't lead anywhere. -Frank A. Clark

Most success springs from an obstacle or failure. I became a cartoonist largely because I failed in my goal of becoming a successful executive. -Scott Adams

The greater the obstacle, the more glory in overcoming it. -Moliere

A lot of people give up just before they're about to make it. You know you never know when that next obstacle is going to be the last one. -Chuck Norris

Fear is your greatest obstacle - so question your fear. If it does not serve your greatest life then do not make it your master. -Joy Page

In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. -Jesus

Firsts and Lasts

Saw this at a friends blog and thought I'd share a bit of mindless trivia with you:

  • First job: YMCA Camp Counselor
  • First funeral: A friend's father
  • First piercing: Stabbed myself once in the 70s.
  • First tattoo: Somebody stamped my hand in a nightclub.
  • First credit card: Sears
  • First favorite musician/band: Beatles
  • Last movie watched: Dinner for Schmucks - not even worthy of a review
  • Last beverage drank: Coffee, unless you count water.
  • Last food consumed: Baskin Robbins Pistachio Almond Ice Cream Cone
  • Last phone call: My pastor Scott called me today in the hospital.
  • Last CD played: Chicago's Greatest Hits
  • Last website visited: Facebook
Feel free to add a few of your firsts and lasts in the comment section. If you post something like this on your blog be sure to let me know when you do so that I can check it out.

T-Shirts that Speak

In the summer I wear a lot of T-Shirts. They seem to fall into three categories: free, cheap and sports. The free ones I have mostly gotten from drug companies - I guess gifts would be included too but I seldom get them as gifts. The cheap ones are from sale racks. The sports T's are either Chiefs or Royals one - and a few of them were free. But most of them do not say anything except for the advertisements. Yet none of them are like the t-shirt pictured here.. except maybe that one Dilbert shirt that I never wear.

Do you wear t-shirts that speak?
Do you have a favorite one?

Toxic Side Effects

In the past few weeks I have become aware of how toxic drugs can be. One of the chemo drugs that my wife has been getting daily (6 doses) is called Cytoxan - I guess you know you are in trouble when "tox" is in the name of the drug. The reasons they used this drug was not to kill off cancer cells but to rid Ann of rogue cells in her immune system. It is amazing how something toxic can be used to assist in the healing process.

On a more personal level I had been experiencing a lot of muscle pains (especially in my legs) for the past month or so. I kept telling myself that it was just because I was not getting enough exercise. On Monday morning I woke up with a new thought - what if Trilipix, my cholesterol drug, was causing my muscles problems. I googled the drug and found that muscle pain was a side effect of it. I have been so much better since I stopped ingesting it.

In retrospect I am thinking about how drugs geared to help us can hurt us even when it is not intentional. I am also wondering if there is a drug that can help me keep my cholesterol levels low without the nasty side effects. I have used all sorts of remedies - red yeast rice gave me muscle pain as well as several statin based drugs. And, in searching the web, I find that this muscle pain sadly a pretty normative experience.

So I was wondering if you can relate to toxic side effects. Any suggestions?

Sun Protection Factors

I walked to the hospital yesterday morning in 80+ degree heat and wondered when the heat wave would break here in Chicago. I think that extreme heat is one of the problems during this time of year. Another problem comes when our skin is overexposed to the sun. Here are a few tips, sent to me by United Healthcare, on protecting our skin from the sun:
  • Use a sunscreen with at least an SPF (Sun Protection Factor) of 15 or higher on all exposed areas of the body, even on cloudy days. Reapply every two hours and after swimming or perspiring.
  • Wear a hat. Shading your face from direct sunlight will not only reduce your chances of sunburn, but could also provide wrinkle-protection!
  • Avoid sunlamps or tanning spas. Although tanning is a protective reaction to exposure to UV light, it does not prevent skin cancer.
I have not had to worry about this kind of exposure this summer but I know that some of you do - especially if you live near the beach or plan to vacation at one. Just consider this my summer public service announcement.. even if it is a month late.

The Problem of Pain

Since the beginning of time people have asked "Why" when they are confronted with pain and suffering in their lives. With that in mind I thought I might share an excerpt from The Problem of Pain, a book written by noted writer and theologian C.S. Lewis.
"Love, in its own nature, demands the perfecting of the beloved; that the mere 'kindness' which tolerates anything except suffering in its object is, in that respect, at the opposite pole from Love. When we fall in love with a woman, do we cease to care whether she is clean or dirty, fair or foul? Do we not rather then first begin to care? Does any woman regard it as a sign of love in a man that he neither knows nor cares how she is looking? Love may, indeed, love the beloved when her beauty is lost: but not because it is lost. Love may forgive all infirmities and love still in spite of them: but Love cannot cease to will their removal."
I love the idea that the love and the will of God involves making us perfect like Him. I wish that it was not so but I think that we would never change except for pain. Pain is designed to bring us all to a place of humility. The helplessness felt often causes us to pray. I believe that this is in part why the Apostle Paul said that he was strong when he was weak.

Strong Women on the Tube

Sometimes commercials for TV shows just cannot get out of my head. Such is the most recent adds for Damages' star Glenn Close. In these TV ads she is portrayed as a tough woman yet I cannot say for sure as I have never seen the show. The commercial reminds me of the many television characters that came across as tough women. Here is a short list:
  • Lucy Ricardo in "I Love Lucy" played by the amazing Lucille Ball in the 50s and 60s. In the middle of all the comedy and slapstick an amazingly strong woman emerged. And make no mistake about it, though Lucy often deferred to Ricky, she was the strong one on the show.
  • Mary Richards in "The Mary Tyler Moore" show played by the wonderfully talented MTM herself in the 60s and 70s. This might have been one of the first shows that accentuated working woman. Though she worked for a man there was little doubt that Mary was a strong woman.
  • Major Margaret "Hot Lips" Houlihan in "M.A.S.H." played by Loretta Swit in the 70s and 80s. I loved the way that Swit played this nurse with sexy humor, tenderness and toughness. The character highlighted the role and courage of nurses in our military in a funny but serious way that had not been done before.
  • Claire Huxtable in "The Cosby Show" played by Phylicia Rashād in the 80s. Clair was representative of tough women who balance careers (she was a lawyer), motherhood and family life. The show was so funny yet the reality of family life was so representative of the times because of the way that it showcased a strong woman.
  • Murphy Brown in "Murphy Brown" played by Candice Bergen in the 80s and 90s. I loved the way that her toughness so often gave way to her gentle side. Her pregnancy caused quite a stir but surfaced an issue so prevalent in culture.
  • Peggy Olson in "Mad Men" played by Katherine Moss since 2007. The character is a bit retro as the setting is in the 60s. Yet Peggy's struggle to be seen as an equal in a male dominated corporate world is timeless. I like the way that she is shown as a very competent, though sometimes struggling, ground breaker in that world.
  • Deputy Chief Brenda Lee Johnson in "The Closer" played by Kyra Sedgwick
  • since 2005. Brenda is such an interesting woman - a multidimensional blend of southern femme fatale, genius detective and tough cop. I think that many people are like that. Maybe that is why the show is so popular?
When I think of these characters I am amazed at how so many of them are characters in situation comedies and not in TV dramas. Maybe that is the message in these characters? Maybe strength is all about what we do in the normal things of everyday life?

Who would you add to the list of strong TV women. What draws you to them?

Body Art

I smiled when I saw this picture in an email today - Chicago has been an interesting time for us.

I am pretty old school when it comes to this stuff but I am beginning to appreciate this form of art a bit more these days. Yet I would probably not get one myself. How about you?

Our Journey to Transplant

Today my wife Ann will received an infusion of the stem cells that were harvested from her body last month. The journey began last November when we saw Dr Richard Burt (Chief of Immunotherapy at Northwestern University) speak at a conference that was web-streamed by the Guthy Jackson charitable foundation. In the video we saw how a man with NMO had some amazing results after a stem cell transplant. Our hearts were lifted and encouraged by this hour long talk. Yet it was hard to envision something like this happening to us.

From there Ann contacted Northwestern and began the process of being accepted into the transplant program. Over the next months she sent her medical records, exchanged emails and talked on the phone with Dr Burt's staff. In March we traveled to Chicago where Ann was evaluated and interviewed. She was accepted into the program pending review and approval from insurance. It seemed to take forever to get approval. She was approved in late April.

In May we again traveled to Chicago where Ann's body was prepared for a harvest of her stem cells. The process involved chemo and Ann lost her hair. After a month in Chicago we returned home for three weeks. Last week we arrived back in the windy city and Ann has been getting daily chemo treatments that are taking down her immune system getting her body ready for a new one. Today is the culmination of our journey.

We both feel that new hope is born for us when Ann gets a new immune system today. The hope involves having a normal immune system that is not at war with her nervous system. The hope is a recovery of some of her bodily functions. The hope is a return to a somewhat normal existence. Will you hope with us? We would appreciate your prayers for Ann today and in the days ahead. And you can keep up with our journey here.

Dance Me to the End of Love

Today I bring you a few thoughts on dying written by Dudley Clendinen, a man who has Lou Gehrig's disease (something he affectionately calls "Lou") and not long to live. Here are a few excerpts from his article titled The Good Short Life:

No, thank you. I hate being a drag. I don’t think I’ll stick around for the back half of Lou.

I think it’s important to say that. We obsess in this country about how to eat and dress and drink, about finding a job and a mate. About having sex and children. About how to live. But we don’t talk about how to die. We act as if facing death weren’t one of life’s greatest, most absorbing thrills and challenges. Believe me, it is. This is not dull. But we have to be able to see doctors and machines, medical and insurance systems, family and friends and religions as informative — not governing — in order to be free.

And that’s the point. This is not about one particular disease or even about Death. It’s about Life, when you know there’s not much left. That is the weird blessing of Lou. There is no escape, and nothing much to do. It’s liberating.
Last month, an old friend brought me a recording of the greatest concert he’d ever heard, Leonard Cohen, live, in London, three years ago. It’s powerful, haunting music, by a poet, composer and singer whose life has been as tough and sinewy and loving as an old tree.

The song that transfixed me, words and music, was “Dance Me to the End of Love.” That’s the way I feel about this time. I’m dancing, spinning around, happy in the last rhythms of the life I love. When the music stops — when I can’t tie my bow tie, tell a funny story, walk my dog, talk with Whitney, kiss someone special, or tap out lines like this — I’ll know that Life is over. It’s time to be gone.

The Day My Heart Went Nova

Not much going on today at Northwestern Hospital in Chicago. Ann has been getting chemo all week - number six today. Sunday will be a day of rest and then a brand new immune system will be born on Monday - click the NMO pic on the top of the sidebar for more info.

Also, if you are interested in reading my entry (titled The Day My Heart Went Nova) in the Clarity of Night Fiction Contest you can check it out here. All entries are the writer's interpretation of the image at the left. Hope you are having a great weekend.

Invisible Injuries

This morning I heard a man associated with the Wounded Warrior Project using the term "Invisible Injury". It got me to thinking about how so many wounds are intensely felt but cannot be seen. In a world that fixates on visible wounds it is good to remember the following excerpt from the book, "Surviving and Other Essays."
"What cannot be talked about cannot be put to rest. And if it is not, the wounds will fester from generation to generation."
The book was written by Bruno Bettelheim, a concentration camp survivor who took his pain and became a child psychiatrist. Yet in the end, Mr Bettelheim suffered from depression as he battled the aftermath of his wife's death and the effects of a stroke which impaired his mental abilities and paralyzed part of his body. He was 86 when he committed suicide.

Mr Bettelheim's story is not all that rare - I wish it was. So often wounds that are invisible are ones that are the hardest to heal.. so often healing seems to come for a while and then new wounds surface - even when one knows all the right healing methodologies. For me, the takeaway is our need to develop a compassionate understanding of these kinds of wounds.

Netflix Cashes In

A few years ago my daughter bought me a Netflix subscription for Father's Day. I kept the subscription and have enjoyed getting DVDs in the mail and occasionally view streaming videos - I watched the latest Star Trek video there a few weeks ago.

Yesterday Jessie Becker, Netflix's vice president of marketing, announced that rates are going up again at that juggernaut of all things video. They are splitting their DVD and streaming services and each will cost you $7.99 per month - a total of $15.98 if you have both plans. I read a few of the over one thousand (and counting) comment reactions on Mr Baker's blog post and found this one to be interesting:
Yes, be a good service long enough to run Mom and Pop video stores (and even Blockbuster) into bankruptcy, then once things are looking up, the gloves are off and aimed at the customers.
I had not thought about that aspect of this announcement. I have to admit that the end result here seems to agree with that comment. I know that I have not used my Blockbuster account since I joined Netflix. I guess I am wondering if the new rates have been in the mind of Netflix strategists all along or if they have simply found themselves in a place where they can cash in big time. As for me, I doubt that I will keep the streaming services but I may stay with the DVDs as we generally watch a DVD or two a week.

Do you have a Netflix account? How will you react to this announcement?

Time Quadrants

Have your ever seen this image before? I saw it first in Stephen Covey's class based on his book titled The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. The idea of this matrix is to live in Quadrant II doing things that are important but not urgent.

I regularly need to be reminded of this matrix. I spend way too much time in Quadrant IV. How about you? Can you relate to any quadrant in particular?

Movies with an Agenda

I am always suspicious of movies that have an agenda to persuade me of something. There have been a lot of movies like that - Michael Moore has made a few of them.. Brokeback Mountain seemed to have an agenda. I am not saying that all such movies are bad.. just saying that I am suspicious of such flicks. The latest movie like that is "The Ledge", a movie that purports to have an atheist hero and a Christian villain. Consider what outspoken atheist and film director Matthew Chapman says about his movie:
"My hope was to make an emotional appeal."

"Really, The Ledge is at the beginning of a movement toward more open discussion of atheism and agnosticism."

"There are a lot of us; we are thinking people; we care about many of the same issues as believers, and yet we are rarely heard and widely hated."

"I hope atheists who are still in the closet will take heart from the film and think. I am not alone."
On the positive side Mr Chapman is open about his intentions. Yet I doubt that many will go into the movie theater knowing of his intentions. Even so I would welcome conversations about the movie. Perhaps I will add it to my Netflix DVD queue. Never know when a sincere atheist will want to talk about it with me. What do you think about such movies?

Media Mafia

How many mafioso characters you can name?
Can you name the actors who played them?
Can you spot the actor who appears twice?

GOP: psychological protest or conservative alternative?

I enjoy reading opinion pieces by conservative journalist David Brooks. Recently he wrote, in a piece titled The Mother of All No-Brainers, about how the GOP is getting tremendous concessions from Democrats in the debt limit talks but feels that factions in the GOP will not allow any kind of deal to go through. He describes it this way:
But we can have no confidence that the Republicans will seize this opportunity. That’s because the Republican Party may no longer be a normal party. Over the past few years, it has been infected by a faction that is more of a psychological protest than a practical, governing alternative.
He goes on to describe this faction saying that "The members of this movement:"

  • do not accept the logic of compromise, no matter how sweet the terms.
  • do not accept the legitimacy of scholars and intellectual authorities.
  • talk blandly of default and are willing to stain their nation’s honor.
  • have no economic theory worthy of the name.
  • have taken a small piece of economic policy and turned it into a sacred fixation.
He ends by observing that "Democrats have stopped making concessions" and are "coming to the conclusion that if the Republicans are fanatics then they better be fanatics, too."
I believe in compromise but feel that idea has sadly lost steam in congress as both parties seem to be controlled by fanatics that are not interested in addressing serious problems.

At least some folks are doing better these days ...

Guess how much money this Viacom CEO made in 2010? Guess it is not surprising since the median payout for top executives at 200 big companies last year was $10.8 million. Average American workers took home $752 a week in late 2010, up a mere 0.5 percent from 2009. After inflation, workers were actually making less.

Character Flaws in the Workplace

Not sure how I found this interesting article titled Ten Things That Can Get You Fired.
Some of the things are common sense yet some are subtler. Here is the list:
  1. Get Conveniently Sick
  2. Lie on Your Job Application
  3. Be Disgusting
  4. Stay Anonymous
  5. Never Compromise
  6. Be Ungrateful
  7. Don't Respect the Chain of Command
  8. Spend Time With the Complainers, Non-Performers and Gossips
  9. Never Take Responsibility When Things Go Wrong
  10. Take Credit for Other People's Work
I recommend reading the whole article here. I think they all apply to life in general because these character flaws often affect so much more than our employment. These flaws contribute to the loss of friendships and sometimes even in the demise of marriages.
Ever run across one of these flaws where you work?

235 Years and Counting

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

National Anthem Poll

Saw this poll in Parade magazine today and thought that I might ask you the same question.
I love the "God shed his grace on thee" refrain in that song but think that the current anthem should be retained. What do you think? Should we replace The Star Spangled Banner with America the Beautiful as our anthem?

Journaling John

Many of you know that I have been journaling each day through the words of Christ on my other blog. On Friday I finished Matthew's gospel and yesterday I began writing in a devotional style about the words of Christ in the gospel of John. I invite you to come with me for the ride.


Yes, the dictionary describes this word as one that is connected with sex. But I am thinking more about the kind of voyeurism where people get their kicks from watching rather than doing. Consider that there are many more people who:
  • watch sports than who actually play sports. Even kids soccer games have more adults on the sidelines than the children on the field.
  • listen to sermons in church pews than those who actually talk about spiritual matters. Many adhere to the old adage that it is not polite to discuss religion and politics.
  • criticize governmental leaders than ones who actually vote. It is a sad fact that voting percentages are often low and less than half of the citizenry elects our leaders.
And in cyberspace there are many more voyeurs than there are folks who actually interact. Even on Facebook there are very few, percentage wise, that actually post anything. There is just something safe about being a voyeur. Why do you think that is?