When I was a boy, I couldn’t understand the God at church. I apparently had to dress up for that God. That God was completely a mystery. Didn’t know where He was…up, down, inside? No one else had a real good explanation where exactly he is either? Didn’t know how to have a relationship except through that lonely, incomprehensible process called prayer. All the answers to life apparently also were in a book. That was the God all the adults introduced us to. No fault to my parents. Bless them. They were still living with that God. It was just not real to me. I couldn’t see or touch or feel heard with that God.
But I came to know a real God that lived just 10 feet from my bed growing up. It was called Outside. There was marvel all round! There were life and death struggles every minute on our 50 acres of land and lake. Streams and woods and lots of dirt. Teeming with discovery, wonder. One day I could be a giant peering into and playing in the world of the very small. When you get your eyeballs inches away from almost anything, it teems! On a dark, winter night I could be lying in the middle of our frozen lake, alone, looking up at the heavens filled with the Milky Way. From out there, now I’m the very small one. I could be out in tornado weather with trees fighting to stand upright, lightning filling the sky or stand in 3 feet of snow and not be able to see 20 feet through the blizzard pelting my face. I could look out my bedroom picture window and see the sun rise then see it set in the evening on the other side of the house at dinner.
Our parents gave us this. God obviously gave us this. But I really don’t think parents, in general, connect these dots. I don’t remember our priests talking or showing us this God in a book. Yet, it is in this most amazing, glorious creation where God lives and breathes and bathes every minute of everyday that this boy took in his first gulps.
Is there a message in this story? My mother without knowing it threw me and my sibs out into that Outside magic kingdom where He/She stands with open arms. Once Outside tho, mom and dad both had to pray to their God we’d come back.
My prayer to all parents, “If ever anyone doubts there is a real God, quick!, take your kids and run for the hills!” and, “May that awe of creation be the prayer of praise and gratitude that starts the conversation.”
One day I awoke to find myself without faith, without hope, without my father.
Since my anniversary post in August some interesting new directions emerged from the deep recesses of my “golly-now-what-?” In May I began renewing a professional life by taking care of a few former patients with the possibility that many patients former and new might get word of all this experience with dying and resurrection and fill my life in ways I couldn’t imagine. Huh. Well. It didn’t happen. I am left to only accept and find more to do.
Rather suddenly and usually in the middle of the night a compelling idea might descend on me to make tennis headbands or be a customs agent for dinner exchanges between middle class Americans and refugees or go be a teacher again! The ‘be a teacher’ idea took hold and since my teaching certificate expired along about say 1979…I’ll be a substitute teacher in the meanwhile. Yeah. That’s a good plan. One of the first people I spoke with was a Dr. who said she enjoyed, the word she used was ‘volunteering’ as a substitute since this for her was pocket change. It’s kinda true. But to me teaching elementary PE back in the mid-70’s was the best job with the biggest joy factor I’ve ever had. Maybe some of that joy I’d hoped for, flexibility to work or not as I felt my health and new found energy would allow, and I could earn actual money again. Last winterI hadn’t ‘earned’ any money when I took a job as an usher at one of our local entertainment/sports arenas a few nights a week at $7.25/hr., it just basically caused my low income housing rent to increase. But it was kinda fun to be out there again. The reactions from the occasional person who knew me when they would see me at the arena was pretty…interesting, let’s say. But it was the only job I could get literally about a year ago following the first stent procedure that started me experiencing ‘normal’ again.
I can most favorably report that the subbing has been engaging and to a limited degree fulfilling as I entered that environment again. I have been averaging 4-5 days a week since the beginning of the school year. And I’ll be coaching a 5-6th grades boys basketball team this winter and well as a little tudoring a few nights a week. It has led me to put in application for teaching positions for 2017. Who knows? The most ideal situation would be to get a part time teaching position and continue to focus on my book. That is what I am doing this winter break.
Regarding the health journey, I just got back from Univ. of Washington on Nov. 22 and the final step of the stenting project. All stents removed and I’m now on my own without artificial props holding the liver duct open. I feel wonderful. There are no guarantees but Dr. Balmadrid is pretty positive in the near term (1-3 years). If it shuts down again, he can start the stenting again for a year. I pray that that won’t be what happens. Gratitude has been my norm and I hope yours as I/we stand in the middle of creation looking for something to do at least a good bit of the time.
Thanks for all you given me and Roni and my daughter. As Sly and the Family Stone used to sing, “We Are Family” and ‘Celebrate, Celebrate”!
Let me know what’s happening in your lives with a blog comment, please. I wish you all the best and most meaningful Christmas and holiday cheer.
This is a letter I wrote to John Martin, MD who’s dedication to his life’s work began saving my life since Feb/2011 through Nov/2014, and continues to care for others like me. No one can see the tears of gratefulness I’ve poured out because of him but their joy have been released into our world of suffering.
I know its been a while and I can only hope that this new email address is correct. If you have any new contact info you would like to send me, I would appreciate it. I hope you, Angela and Owen (an probably by now another child) are all well and thriving.
I couldn’t sleep a few nights ago which opened the door to get a cold, go through various crazy symptoms (as this particular body is wont to do) and come out okay again. But tonight I woke up again in the early morning hours to remember that Today, two years ago, I was on a plane coming back from Chicago following the Halloween day I wished I didn’t have with you doing your last and most amazing ERCP! I just read the report on it again. Wow! I am learning to read so much between the lines. In the same moment, I am so, so grateful for what you provided me and hope I never stop staying in that gratefulness. This little note is In Memory of You.
I can only assume that you are not in the loop about my progress anymore. It would be too much to follow all the people you have cared for but I thought I’d just reach out and shout out to you what’s up a bit. Maybe you read it, maybe not but Life is so much about just putting it out there without concern for results…kinda like love.
Quite a journey for both of us. On Nov 28, 2016, Byran Balmadrid takes out the year long stent procedure and I begin to live the great experiment without the props again. The stents have given me one whole year without significant ‘issues’ and I have enjoyed the vitality and learning what it’s like to not have my life go into the tank every few months. I have a certain growing amount of internal ‘freedom’ that informs me to be and give more unconditionally than ever. One of those manifestations is to go back into teaching. I’ve renewed my teaching certificate from 38 yrs ago and have found work substituting almost everyday in our local schools and so love to be with kids and educators again. I still see a few patients at the end of the days just in case God wants to make something more significant out of that someday. I don’t know where else this will lead me but it’s all very good. I am still committed to writing a memoir and have poured a fair amount of work into that very challenging endeavor.
We shared so much through our journeys with out kids. I’ll attach a pic of Clare and me just in case you may be interested. I made it to her high school graduation! Which was perhaps the driving force to make it through all I’ve been through. She is a sophomore in college and really thriving there. I couldn’t be more grateful. Yes, now I am setting more goals for our future that will keep me reaching but peace is already mine and all this is just…extra!
I wish for you the goodness, God can bless on us from time to time keeping us held as in the arms of a great parent watching a child grow. You are a very special soul and I continue to be blessed by your life.
This pic was taken a while back before the stent process was started (everyone says I look much better now) but it has very special meaning to me.
Well isn’t Life so amazing…ly wonderful sometimes. At this point I’m appreciating not being compost.
Hi, I’m still here and all things considered, I am thriving. Just being here is truly mind-blowing miraculous! That being deeply acknowledged, I give you a brief recent update on what has transpired then just launch into a short view on going forward. At this point, there is a dwindling readership as there should be because the roller coaster ride of near death to resurrection is over for now.
One month ago my great G.I. interventionist, Dr. Bryan Balmadrid at Harborview Medical in Seattle performed again one more of a more and more risky ERCP to replace the stents previously placed and expand the duct opening even more. He has great goals of expanding this formerly failing duct system in the hopes of a self-sustaining solution that will be tested beginning at the end of 2016 when all the stents will be removed and my system will be ‘on its own’. In the meanwhile I a am enjoying my stability and growing vigor!
This stability brings with it for me enough certainty to begin moving forward with rebuilding my vigor and developing a ‘resurrected’ life. I say that with a joyful heart not intending to be dramatic or create ……… illusions.
I definitely am immersed in the creative endeavor of writing a memoir of this journey. There is discovery that it is for reasons still unknown but some of which might be described as ‘for other transplant patients, for acknowledging so many caregivers along the way, for attempting to acknowledge the miraculous, for touching on the inspirational, for my own therapy psychically, for the creative challenges’ and other reasons yet to be bumped into.
I have been mulling over whether I could go into doing healthcare work again. The conclusion reached was ‘Yes’. I’m going to show up in my office again. I am and am not really the same person. The Journey has provided much new experience; many new lessons and insights; new perspectives; new drivers and dreams that want to find a way into the lives of others in meaningful ways. I am opening my office this week. What shape it takes on is evolving but I know it will have more depth, more quality, more substance.
The support system around me I think is relieved of the attentions they have provided over these last 6 years…I know I am. People ask me regularly, “How is Roni doing?” We talk pretty regularly and it has become obvious to me and she even acknowledges that she is more ‘on fire’ than ever with her life. More driven, healthier, more fit and more wonderful. I hope that all my caregivers have been touched by that same life giving force because they all surely stepped into it with every thought, word and deed with me along the way.
Since my last post a whole lot of living has happened! I am so grateful. For those who have been following this ride, to feel this good (and I’m not saying I’m perfect) and for this long!…it wouldn’t take very much to push me to tears.
I couldn’t explain so much in any great detail so let me more or less list some highlights. You can comment or call me if you wish more depth.
The stent replacement ERCP last November has been holding up and giving me as good of health and function as I think I can expect which is fantastic all things considered. Still have the hand/arm neuropathy and some smaller issues but this is great! The weather is beginning to turn and I’m on my bike occasionally, playing some very active table tennis, working out more, etc.
What once was uncertainty and not being able to predict how the day might be is turning into a schedule that is starting to fill in. I have a part time job as an usher a few evenings a week. Minimum wages suck but I am grateful. Apparently no one would hire me because I was overqualified, my resume didn’t make normal sense for most employers or maybe they were saying to themselves, “why is this type of guy looking for this type of work?” Who knows? But I’ve never had to work not doing my calling for 35+ yrs.
So to shorten this:
*I’ve slowly discovered that I am even more capable of going back to my calling as a doctor and physician again. I’m getting relicensed after dropping it for the last two years! I plan on going back to my office and opening sometime in March. This journey has ‘retooled’ me in ways unpredicted. More on that later.
*My daughter seems to be thriving in college! I’ll see her again at spring break. My step-son has moved back to Boise from years in foreign lands and experiences. It is really fine having him so close again!
*I committed to starting a memoir and signed up for a memoir workshop at our local writer’s literary center, the Log Cabin. Enclosed below is my first attempt at a preface. I’ll take no editing comments but am happy to hear your general like/silence feedback. 🙂
*The next stent replacement procedure is scheduled for March 21 in Seattle. If the current one holds up til then, I’ll be very encouraged about the year ahead!
*My spiritual life and community is and has been enriching on so many levels. Praise the Lord! I’d encourage anyone to read, Love Wins by Rob Bell.
*It has not all been a bed of daisies though. One of my sisters, Pamela, took her life on Dec 31. She has struggled with her life being taken away from her over a very long time and she felt she could not bear anymore suffering. Our other sister, Joni and I went to Florida to take care of her affairs after her body was discovered two weeks later. I don’t choose to go into what it was like for us then. But we believe and trust she is in a much more wonderful state now.
Preface for Memoir
The idea for writing a book didn’t come from me. It came
from many people who witnessed parts of the journey I was on. It
came along somewhere when the stack of medical records reached
several inches deep.
I find myself wondering why I just used the
word ‘deep’? I could have used the word ‘high’ yet ‘deep’ flowed
onto the page without the least hesitation. Maybe it’s because
upon reflection on the times I’m going to share with you, the
essence of deep flowed through every cell of my body for a very,
very long time. Deep took over my body as a disease, broke
through and had it’s way with every part of my life. My mind and
emotions were just along for the ride.
Deep is a simple, straightforward word but right in thinking about this ordeal
I get images of open wells or pits or caverns. Childhood images of darkness and places
that are dangerous where you are not supposed to play.. Curiously eery
places. It’s dark down there. You can’t see the bottom. It’s a long way
down. Feelings of fear and the unknown. When you are on the
edge of a long way down don’t you feel like you are going to fall in? What about
that crazy, exciting feeling of dropping something over the edge?
When I was a boy and later as a man I experienced being in caves, being
on the edge of cliffs. Once in Hawaii on the island of Maui I went up to the
top of Mt. Haleakala, the great former volcano. There is a vast crater at the
top. I’m standing at what seems like the top of the whole world in the middle
of the Pacific Ocean looking down into what was formerly a smoldering
ocean itself of fire and lava. And by the way, just across a short expanse of
water is a real, live, active volcano on the Big Island of Hawaii that I visited
days ago. Hot, creeping lava was coming down the beautiful landscape, over
roads and finally into the ocean! Slowly growing the island by making a new,
black sand beach.
From the top of the world the crater was very deep looking down into it. I heard tell that
there were lava tubes beneath the surface that you could hike to. Not something very
many people do apparently. You have to be committed to want to go there. I heard tell
that there were lava tubes beneath the surface that you could enter. So I hiked in. It
quickly turned into not only a physical but an emotional journey. The further I hiked down
the more the entire world I had ever known disappeared. When I landed on the surface of
the crater it was an imagined moonscape. I couldn’t see living things anymore. I had
never been to a place anything like this. It grew more and more into an emotional
experience. I began my decent into a lava tube. It became dark, very dark, darker than the
darkest dark I ever didn’t see. It is not like the dark of the night without stars with eyes
closed kinda dark. It’s darker! I turned on a headlamp to guide me. It wasn’t easy walking.
As I walked, and one could hardly call it walking, more like scrambling , I could see dark
passages going off in mysterious directions. The tube I was in was big, larger than I
expected. Taller and wider than two or three people standing on shoulders. I went maybe
100 yards in. The distance seemed…forever. It was silent. Silent like the darkness was
dark. The spooky factor dialed up the deeper and further I went…and then I turned off my
headlamp. That’s when I decided to welcome whatever was going to come, take me,
use me at that moment, in that place, deep in mother earth. When I turned off the
light the darkness I spoke about rushed in full tilt followed by the silence. A
p(P)resence engulfed me. I can say the f-word here, ‘fear’… it says it all. I didn’t move. I
don’t know why or how but it wasn’t quiet anymore. First, that sense of fear brought
images and subtle sensations, maybe sounds even, of hell…of fire and boiling lava that
seemed might start flowing any minute from which way, I’d never know.
I wanted to run as fast as I could to get out of there…but that’s irrational, so I sat there
until the intense fear began to subside.
My breath returned. Then the silence returned. I felt I was in a giant womb…but
that part of the story is for later when it’s not deep anymore.