Friday, August 19, 2016

Where Do We Go From Here, God?



Our pulpit minister passed away yesterday, the entire congregation is in mourning and saddened by the loss. I’m not sure exactly, but he’s been preaching here for about 20 years. We are going to miss him for a long time to come. His funeral is Sunday and then we’ll be faced with searching for a new man. It will probably be a while before we find someone as good. The flock still remembers the loss of another great minister due to a tragic car accident on Christmas Eve many, many years ago. You never really fully recover from something like this, you just have to go on the best you can without them.

Our congregation is facing some major changes in other ways as well. We were a small church in a rural farming community for many years. Due to some dynamic leadership by elders, deacons and ministers, we have grown to be a relatively large and active congregation with many young families who have lots of children. Several things have limited our continued growth in recent years. Being in an out of the way area has been a big factor for a long time. While all roads may lead to Rome, very few roads lead to Mule Town. That’s about to change. Fifty years in the planning stages, a major regional highway is finally being built on our doorstep. One of the few exits is literally in front of our building. The chance that we might become a “mega-church” is a real possibility with the right planning, leadership and God’s blessing. There are many things to consider, one of which is do we really want to be a mega-church?  We currently average around 250 to 300 members, depending on how you count. Even at that size it’s almost impossible to know everyone. As a former deacon, I was sometimes embarrassed when I didn’t know the name of people that had been there for several years. I can’t imagine the confusion of leading a church with hundreds more. Whatever direction we go from here will depend on many factors, but one of the major ones will be who we select to preach from the pulpit. He’s got some gigantic shoes to fill.

I had my regular 3 month office visit with my primary care doctor yesterday and it went very well. My A1C is down to 6.0 and he surprised me by saying that it’s too good. I get to reduce my insulin dosage for the first time in several years. My other vitals looked good as well, I’ve lost weight since my last visit, blood pressure is near normal, I’m doing without supplemental oxygen most of the time and able to get around without a wheelchair for short distances.  I'm also scheduled to resume my long delayed chemotherapy on Monday if all goes well and I don't wind up back in the hospital for some stupid reason. 

 As the popular saying goes, I’ve got cancer but cancer doesn’t have me…at least not yet.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Prequel



I’ve got something serious I want to talk about today, so no humorous stories this time.

Following my most recent hospital stay, I have had some significant improvement in my overall health. I can now get up and move around the house without trailing thirty feet of oxygen tubing behind me and can walk short distances without a wheelchair. The adjustments to my medications and some antibiotics seem to have helped me quite a bit. I realize that this is just a temporary thing and I don’t expect to have this much freedom forever, but for the moment I’m celebrating.

Conversely, while I’m doing better, I have a good friend who is about to pass on. The pulpit minister of my church, a man I have known for many years, lies in a hospice bed. His doctor’s prognosis is that a day or two more is all that he has left. He has cancer also. While I have renal cell, his is myeloma. Both diagnoses are pretty much a death sentence. Neither can be cured at the present time. The only hope is to postpone the inevitable for as long as possible. We are both the same age. He became aware of his cancer some time before mine was rediscovered, but I estimate we’ve both probably been suffering from our respective diseases for about the same amount of time. 

His wife, a professional writer, has been posting progress reports every couple of days on her Facebook page. A fluent and expressive writer, her descriptions of the pain and suffering that they have been going through, the small glimmers of hope, the poignant comments and the encouraging messages from others have been difficult for me to read and often bring anguish and tears. I am about to lose a good friend. This is a man with whom I have shared moments of joy, sorrow, and a joke or two. I’ve helped him with many projects for the church. I’ve seen his family grow up. He has shared many thoughts and anecdotes from the pulpit as well as privately. 

And now he is about to leave us. This post is a hard one to write. I want to express my sympathy without getting too maudlin, yet the heartache is real for myself as well as our entire congregation. And I feel a little bit guilty somehow. Why should he be dying while I am doing better? Life is not fair, I realize that, but it seems so unjust. For a man to be struck down in the prime of his life by something out of his control is just wrong on every level. I’m sad, I’m angry, I want to scream “You’re not playing fair, God!” And yet, in the back of my mind lurks a sobering scripture; “For He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” Nobody said life was fair. Just because you live a good, moral life doesn’t mean you’ll be somehow exempt from suffering. No matter how many people you help, no matter how many good things you do, it is what it is. It’s hard to accept, but you can’t get around the reality that life must eventually come to an end whether you’re ready for it or not. And no amount of good deeds is going to change the outcome.

In the face of that fact is that doing good things is a big part of what being a Christian is all about. Walk in the light, not the darkness. Follow the Golden Rule. Love your neighbor as yourself. Turn the other cheek. We trust that it’s not all in vain, that our faith and hope in that which is unseen will be rewarded when we pass on to the other side of the veil. In the end I believe it’s worth it all, you’ll not convince me otherwise. A lifetime of suffering is but a moment when compared to eternity. By the grace of God we endure and are able to face it without fear. I don’t want to rush it, but when he shows up on the doorstep, I plan to look death in the face and say “Bring it on!” And I do believe that’s how my friend will greet him as well.

Death is not the final chapter of life, it's just the end of the prequel.

Sunday, August 07, 2016

Design Flaw



I heard on the news a few days ago that Starbucks is recalling their stainless steel straws. Really? They sell metal straws to drink their overpriced trendy concoctions with? Whose idea was that? I can imagine the design meeting where that concept was pitched. “You know what would really be deck? Stainless steel straws to go with our iced coconut milk mocha macchiato in our new stainless steel venti cups!” It clearly had to be some hipster with no experience with children whatsoever. Give a kid anything that they can even remotely hurt themselves with and it’s only a matter of time, people.

Friday, August 05, 2016

Oops...



I sometimes feel like I belong in an episode of “Laurel and Hardy.” Maybe one of the scenes where Stan repeatedly bangs Ollie in the head with a piece of lumber or a pipe by accident.

I misplaced my blood pressure cuff a couple of weeks ago and had gotten tired of borrowing my wife’s. I was pretty sure it’s around my desk somewhere, so I decided to look in the back of some of the drawers; they’re pretty deep. One of the drawers is blocked by a piece of furniture and will only open halfway, so I stuck my hand in and started pulling stuff out. I immediately spilled a couple of dozen index cards on the floor which I followed up by dumping an entire box of 60 individual band-aids on the floor as well. Turning in my swivel chair to take a look at where they had fallen, the back of the chair knocked over an oxygen canister and its trolley. Picking up the canister, my elbow knocked over an open jar of dry-roasted peanuts. I still haven’t found the blood pressure cuff and there are 6 drawers to go.

I just returned home Thursday afternoon after another stay in the hospital. This time it was only four days. Last Saturday night I fell asleep in my recliner. Sunday morning my right hip felt like someone had stabbed it with a rusty knife. I could barely stand up. I moved to my swivel chair…bad idea. It hurt too bad to get out of the chair. It took me over an hour to get out of the chair with my wife’s help. Limping to the kitchen, I realized that I was getting light-headed, almost ready to pass out and I felt like I’d been run over. Something was dramatically wrong, but stubborn me refused to let anyone take me to the ER. I was scheduled to have my first chemo treatment in three months the next morning and it had already been delayed at least three times, maybe four, I’ve lost count. In every case, I got sick and ended up in the hospital the day before the chemo and I was not going to let it happen again!

I was light-headed, which usually means my blood sugar level is going low. I checked it and it was normal, but I ate a couple of pieces of hard candy just in case it was dropping. Checking my blood pressure (with my wife’s cuff) I kept getting error messages. When it did give a reading, they were dramatically low. With a heavy sigh, I reluctantly let my wife call the ambulance for a ride to the ER.

I was diagnosed with pneumonia and possibly dehydration. My blood chemistry was seriously gone to pot and I was admitted after the requisite four hour wait on an uncomfortable cot. Four days later, full of steroids and antibiotics, I was released feeling 100% better. I’ve rescheduled my chemo with Dr. Whoosh for three weeks from today. I hope I can make it this time!

Saturday, July 23, 2016

On Second Thought, Don't Do That



A few days after being released from my last hospital stay I had an office visit with a new cardiologist in Gotham City. I haven’t given him a nickname yet, I’ll come up with something after I get to know him a little better. The visit went well and I was satisfied with his understanding of my multiple problems. The following day featured a blood test and an office visit with Dr. Whoosh’s NP, which went well also. I’m now scheduled to resume my frequently postponed chemotherapy on August 1st.

The next afternoon I received a telephone call from one of Dr. Whoosh’s nurses telling me that they had consulted with the new cardiologist and between the two of them had decided to try stopping a couple of my medications due to a high value on my creatinine level on the blood test. Remember that my last hospital visit involved a week of tinkering with my medicines to get me back on my feet. The result of those changes had me feeling much better and I had resumed losing weight. Well, they’re the doctors, so I stopped two of my medications.

Overnight I gained 8.5 pounds and my blood pressure fell into the basement. After playing phone tag with doctors and automated answering machines for a couple of hours, I was told what I sort of knew already. Resume taking the medicines! About 24 hours later, I’m back on track having lost 2.5 of the 8.5 I gained (losing is always harder than gaining). My blood pressure is still a little low but trending upwards towards normal.

Medicine is not an exact science…