A Moment in Time

Some afternoons, I like to take a dip in the pool, and then recline on a lawn chair and mindfully observe the happenings in the back yard. Surprisingly enough, there’s a lot of action taking place, if I simply have eyes to see.

Just the other day, the weather was warm and balmy, and the light breeze that brushed across my face brought to life the wind chimes hanging next to Sheridan’s and my home, catching me by surprise with a lilting melody that emanated from the midst of silence. The sun was gradually falling behind the oak trees that flourish on our property, with a shining corona that contrasted with the dark green of the leaves and the royal blue of the sky. Our dogs, Karma and Buddy, were delighted that I was hanging around with them, and every so often they presented themselves for petting, their bright, innocent eyes filling me with joy.  After rubbing their furry heads, they frolicked and played, taking turns chasing each other around the back yard and barking at the chattering squirrels that taunted them from the trees.

As the evening progressed and the sun sank lower in the sky, I could hear the light, oscillating sounds of cicadas and tree frogs coming from the woods to the south, along with the comforting coos of mourning doves  When I gazed upwards, I saw Mississippi kites circling slowly overhead, looking for prey, prepared to streak downward through the darkening sky at a moment’s notice.  Looking straight ahead, I caught a glimpse of our hummingbird wind chime hanging from a tree branch over the pool, and I became amused when I discovered a blue dragonfly clinging to the string of the chime.  Over the past few weeks, I’ve noticed the same event occurring repeatedly, and I found myself wondering what that those beautiful insects were thinking.  Did they believe that the plastic hummingbird was a giant dragonfly, protecting them from creatures that would do them harm? Was there some sort of romantic attraction? Was the string simply in a convenient place for a siesta? One can only guess, but I smiled as I thought of the possibilities.

My mind started to wander, and I found myself pondering the events of my life, some happy, some sad, though in that hallowed moment, any concerns I had dissolved into the ethers, and I was filled with contentment.  I started to doze in and out, with brief, mellow dreams that moved in and out of my consciousness.  I immersed myself in the restorative milieu of the backyard and let the energy surround me.  I knew that I was healing, inside and out, and I felt grateful. As the Zen Buddhist master Thich Nhat Hanh once said, “Present moment, wonderful moment.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Glow Worm Caves

Glowing Worms New Zealand 10

I’ve added another location to my bucket list, the fascinating Waitomo Caves on the North Island of New Zealand. Enjoy!

 

https://bit.ly/1JtO7c3

Glow Worms

О Greater Light, we praise Thee for the less;
The eastern light our spires touch at morning,
The light that slants upon our western doors at evening.
The twilight over stagnant pools at batflight,
Moon light and star light, owl and moth light,
Glow-worm glowlight on a grassblade.
О Light Invisible, we worship Thee!
– T. S. Eliot, from O Light Invisible
We are all worms. But I believe that I am a glow-worm.
– Winston Churchill
When Sheridan and I were recently vacationing in Santa Fe, we visited our friends, Larry and Barbie, and over some good red wine and tasty edibles, Larry mentioned that some time ago he had the sublime experience of seeing a glow worm.  I was stunned.  A glow worm?  The only thing I knew about glow worms was the uplifting, toe-tapping song sung by the Mills Brothers that I had heard as a child:
Shine little glow-worm, glimmer, glimmer
Shine little glow-worm, glimmer, glimmer
Lead us lest too far we wander
Love’s sweet voice is calling yonder
Shine little glow-worm, glimmer, glimmer
Hey, there don’t get dimmer, dimmer
Light the path below, above
And lead us on to love!
I hated to confess that I had never seen a glow worm, but Larry’s rather innocent comment planted a seed thought in my mind and kindled a strong desire to gaze at one myself.  After all, who in their life has actually seen a glow worm?
The next day Sheridan and I were having breakfast at a lovely Santa Fe B & B, Ravens Ridge, when I casually asked the proprietors, Judge and Phyllis, “Hey, have you ever seen a glow worm before?”
To my shocked surprise, Judge said, “Why, yes, I saw one just a year or so ago.”
My eyes widened, and I stammered, “Wh . . . Where?”
Pointing, he said, “I saw one crawling on the wall next to the garden area.  It was quite beautiful.”
I couldn’t believe my good fortune; Santa Fe seemed to be in the middle of an veritable glow worm colony.
Later, Sheridan and I left to enjoy our day, but on that night and those that followed, I excused myself and disappeared into the verdant Ravens Ridge garden, a man on a mission, searching high and low for the object of my desire, a glow worm. Alas, in spite of my determined, persistent efforts, not one made an appearance. The last night there, as I sat expectantly on a bench overlooking the garden, I finally realized that finding a glow worm was much like a spiritual experience, in that while one can set the stage for such a sacred event, one cannot force it to occur, rather, such a hallowed moment usually comes on its own volition. I sighed and slowly walked back to our room, disappointed, but hoping that somehow, someway, I would eventually find the elusive glow worm.
Returning home, I did some online research and discovered that in America, a glow worm can be not only the larval stage of the firefly, but also a railroad worm, a member of a bioluminescent beetle family.  If you happen to live down under – Australia or New Zealand – glow worms are not beetles, but rather flies called fungus gnats. One genus, Arachnocampa, lives on the ceilings of caves, where they light up the interior with a soft, almost fluorescent blue light that has all the appearance of a van Gogh-like starry night sky.
At that point, I questioned:  Why does the glow worm capture such interest?  Certainly, not many worms or insects have had songs written about them. One explanation is the bioluminescence itself, which occurs not only in glow worms and fireflies, but also in some forms of marine life, certain fungi and bacteria. While scientists can explain the biochemical basis for this phenomenon, for me, the soft, shining light conjures up mystical, magical and ethereal feelings, thoughts of fairy dust and the elemental kingdom.  Also, for fireflies in particular, I find myself moved by the innocence of such tiny insects, yet, amazingly enough, they wield the seemingly miraculous power to generate light.  Perhaps even more significant, when I gaze at a firefly flitting through the dark night, the pulsing luminescence reminds me of the soul, the radiant spark of God that lies deep within each and every one of us.  I believe this divine part of our being remains pure and holy, and cannot be sullied by our missteps.  In that way, referring to the words of Winston Churchill, we are all glow worms.
Despite the onerous challenge of my search, I plan to steadfastly continue my quest for the glow worm. I expect that in the nights to come, I will be out methodically searching various environs into the wee hours.  So, if you happen to hear someone rummaging around in the bushes outside your home on a pitch-black, new moon night, don’t be too concerned.  It’s likely yours truly, searching for my little bioluminescent friend. When I find her, I will rejoice, and you are likely to hear a piecing scream of uninhibited joy.
Will my eventual discovery be a spiritual experience?
How could it be otherwise?

Bonjour a tous mes amis en France!

I have recently discovered that a good number of those visiting my web site are from France!  I feel delighted and honored, as Paris is one of my favorite cities in the world. The amazing food, the ambiance of walking the city streets or alongside the Seine, the Louvre, the friendly Parisians, the Eiffel Tower and the Musee d’Orsay, all create feelings of joy, contentment and peace. In honor of my friends from France, I have attached a picture that I took in 2015 while visiting the magnificent city of Paris. To all of you:

Vive la France!

Forty Years

 

“The highest reward for a man’s toil is not what he gets for it but what he becomes by it.”

– John Ruskin

On July 1, 2018, when I drive to work at the emergency department, I will have traveled there for forty years. How is that possible? Where has the time gone? It boggles my mind to think of the events of my life that have passed since then.  Even though I’ve lived in several different locations during that period, my trip to the hospital has remained much the same.  Repeatedly, I passed though the intersection where one morning after a night shift, I was broadsided by an intoxicated airman who ran a stop sign.  Other than being knocked silly and having a mild neck injury, I ended up being as fit as a fiddle.  Oddly enough, adjacent to the site of my accident sits a large, sprawling cemetery, and I’m certainly glad the accident didn’t find me needing a place there.  Closer to the hospital, I drove past the location of a bustling weekend flea market, a now-closed tire shop and a series of convenience stores.  Oftentimes, as I mentally prepared for the intensity of my day, I motored past these nondescript spots without paying the least bit of attention to them, steeling myself for the inevitable traumas that I would soon face in the emergency department.  Someday these places will be distant memories, flashes from the past that have no meaning whatsoever.

But now, as I anticipate my upcoming, four decade anniversary in emergency medicine, my thoughts roll back to 1978, when I first began my career.  I was green, very green, and while I thought I knew a lot about medicine, little did I know at that time how much I still had to learn. Fortunately, not only did I have the support and shared wisdom of my physician colleagues, even more critical was the team of experienced nurses who had my back.  While my fellow doctors were helpful in my developing practice, day-to-day I worked much more closely with the nursing staff and ambulance service personnel. As I think back, my memories of them are as distinct as if they were yesterday.  For those of you unfamiliar with those in my past work environment, please forgive my diversion into the olden days and their associated recollections, vivid memories begging to be shared.

First, I must mention Ann, the nurse manager of the emergency department, whose innate, calm disposition kept the chaos in some modicum of order.  I never saw Ann lose her cool, no matter how dicey the situation, though I suspect on occasion she blew a gasket just like the rest of us. How could I forget Frankie, practiced and direct?  I never had to wonder what was on her mind about patients, because she always told me, whether I liked it or not.  Then, there was Carol, the night shift RN, who was more than just a learned nurse, she was a great friend, and I always appreciated her insights when difficult patients walked through the door.  Pam was Carol’s trusty sidekick during the wee hours, a solid, centered caregiver who held it together when things were going bad. Rick was a terrific nurse, great in times of catastrophe, yet he was also the ultimate cynic.  Countless times, when I asked him how he was doing, he raised his eyebrows and sarcastically responded, “Another day in paradise.”  Even now, I grin as I recall the disgusted look on his face. Barbara was one of our most emotionally collected nurses, and even though everything was going to hell in a handbasket, she remained as cool as a cucumber; she was a tough, hardened emergency nurse.  Over the years, she has moved on to more of an administrative role, and she has become one of my close friends and confidantes. Darrell was an EMT (emergency medical technician) who later became an RN.  As good as a nurse as he was, he was an even better volleyball player, and he was one of the stalwarts of the emergency volleyball team.  Besides those previously mentioned, I have fond memories of many others from 1978, including Donna, Norma, Peggy, Cobehy, Dan, Debbie, Maria, Glenda and Carol C.

At that distant time, the corps of paramedics and EMTs on the ambulance service were the finest that could be found anywhere.  The Grand Master of the paramedics was the knowledgeable and oh so wise Harvey.  He was like a walking encyclopedia, one who knew the fine details of Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS) better than most physicians.  When the occasions came for our biennial re-certifications in ACLS, I shuddered when I discovered that Harvey was the one testing me. Under the pressure of his beady-eyed, intense stare, I would break out into a cold sweat, and I prayed to God that I knew the right answers to his incisive questions. Fortunately, after Harvey heard a few correct responses, he usually took it easy on me, for which I was most grateful.  Keith was another one of our superb paramedics, who, after his stint in the ambulance service, later redirected his skills to become the executive vice president of a physician billing service.  I have the highest respect for him and his accomplishments.  Judi was the lone female paramedic at our hospital in those male-dominated years, and she was Ms. Reliable, someone I could always count on to make the right decision in the field.  I want to also give shout-outs to the long-time director, Romeo, also brothers Tony and Jerry, as well as Joe, Sammy and Jeff.  Of course, I could never forget Randy and Andy, players of hot fiddles in a local country and western band. Charlie Daniels was a rank amateur compared to them.

I have chosen in this blog post to honor the memory of two very special nurses. Gail was an RN who I had worked with for a number of years.  She was atypical for an emergency nurse, in that she was generally quiet and soft spoken.  Hidden underneath her gentle manner was a caring and compassionate nurse, one who provided excellent care to those fortunate enough to have her as a provider.  One tragic day, when Gail was forty-nine years old, she contracted flesh-eating bacteria. Despite our heroic efforts, which included surgery and high dose IV antibiotics, she died on July 28, 2003.  In the aftermath, I felt like the wind had been sucked out of my sails, as from the beginning of my emergency career, Gail had always been there, and all of a sudden she wasn’t – an agonizing vacuum had been created. Another who deserves mention is Diana, who I had worked with for some time before she was diagnosed with breast cancer.  Diana was one of the most kind and loving persons I have ever met, and whenever she entered, her beautiful smile lit up the room. Her warmhearted attitude never changed, in spite of the ravages of her disease and the side effects of its treatment. While her body gradually failed, her spirit continued to be effervescent, glowing and kind.  She died on October 28, 1996, at thirty-nine years of age.  I’ll never forget her.

In my upcoming book, The Pit: Memoir of an Emergency Physician, I will go into great detail about my thoughts on the field of emergency medicine, its inherent issues, and my feelings as my career gradually comes to a close.  But the primary purpose of this post is not to share my revelations, but rather, to take a walk down memory lane and express my deepest appreciation to  those health care professionals with whom I have worked, not only in the beginning, but also those throughout my career. These include doctors, nurses, paramedics, EMTs, physician associates, respiratory therapists, and x-ray and ultrasound technicians.  Over the years, as part of our job, we have all witnessed and shared in an enormous amount of suffering, mostly in our patients, but also in ourselves as we struggled with the trauma of what we have seen and experienced. From the bottom of my heart: Thank you, everyone!  The personal sacrifices you have made to help others are far greater than the general public could ever know.

So, in response to the quote at the beginning of this blog, how has emergency medicine affected me?  What have I become?  While it’s often hard to examine oneself dispassionately, when I look deeply at my start in emergency medicine, and compare that person to what I am now, I smile. Not only have my clinical skills improved, I am much more mellow and easygoing, and certainly more accepting.  That said, I still have a bit of an edge, something every good emergency physician wears like a badge of honor.  Since I began my practice, I couldn’t be more grateful, not only for what my career has done for me, but also for those who have allowed me to serve as their physician.

Would I do it all again?

Undoubtedly.

As Above, So Below

Just recently, I laid down in the back yard, resting and contemplating. I gazed up at the evening sun as it sank behind the trees, heard the birds excitedly twittering and the rustling of leaves as a gentle breeze wafted through them. In the background, our dogs, Karma and Buddy, gnawed contentedly on their rawhide chews. In that idyllic moment, the realization occurred that the wind is much like my breath, the sun is as my heart, and the chatter of birds is akin to my thoughts. I intimately understood, as is said in Genesis, that God created us in His image, and what a blessing that is.

As above, so below.

Sleeping In as a Spiritual Practice

“The early bird gets the worm.”

– Proverb

“Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.”

– Benjamin Franklin

From the beginning of time, a thick, suffocating layer of guilt has been imposed upon anyone who made the unfortunate decision to sleep in.  No matter that you were up late the night before laboring around the house, or that you had worked your fingers to the bone over the preceding weeks at your stressful, screaming meemies job. The overall societal consensus was that if you didn’t spring into action at the crack of dawn, you were assumed to be a lazy, indolent, good-for-nothing – one who preferred to take it easy rather than put in an honest, hard day’s work.  Yes, in the eyes of Benjamin Franklin and his army of over-achievers, simply because you chose to loll in bed, you were destined for ill health, poverty and poor decision making.

With this in mind, just recently I had a very busy schedule, with lots of difficult shifts in the emergency department, and after this flurry of pressured activity, I went to bed, exhausted. When I woke the next morning, I fought off Ben’s admonition and made a conscious choice to stay in bed and relax. Lying there resting, a kaleidoscope of thoughts began to float across my mind, some from times past, others from the present, and some from an anticipated future.  While a number were enjoyable, some were disturbing, others frightening, and some exhilarating.  Whatever their quality, I smiled at them and let them cycle though my consciousness until they lost their power and dissipated.  I closed my eyes, once again fell into a deep slumber and in moments visited Dreamland.  As opposed to late night dreams that are often forgotten, I clearly remembered these subconscious reflections when I woke a short time later.  After examining these dreams, a totally different, unique set of thoughts greeted me, and once again, I dispassionately let them move in and out of my mind.  Much like the classic Clint Eastwood movie, “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly,” they were what they were, and I did not attempt to control or judge them.  A short time later, though, I once again went to sleep, more dreams occurred, and the continuum of thoughts to dreams and dreams to thoughts went on for hours until, refreshed and relaxed, I stretched, rose from bed and engaged the day. Now, as I think about it, in many ways this process was like a deep meditation, and much spiritual work had been accomplished.

As I ponder my morning of R & R, I believe we are long overdue for a different mindset about sleeping in.  What we sometimes forget, in our driven, goal-oriented Western society, is that a balance is necessary between activity and passivity.  In the East, this is best demonstrated in Taoism, where our dualistic world is represented by the yin and the yang, which together make up an indivisible whole.  Good and bad, light and dark, wisdom and foolishness, day and night, truth and falsehoods, and yes, activity and passivity, all make up the dichotomy that is our Universe.  In other words, you can’t have one aspect without the other.

The long and the short of this is: I vow to let go of the need to be an early bird. No longer will I feel guilty about staying in bed and relaxing, or, in general, taking it easy, for not only will the extra rest do me good, also healthy, sacred healing can take place. I don’t plan to sleep in every day, but when I do so, I will enjoy it to the fullest.  After all, no matter what Benjamin Franklin said, I deserve to sleep in every so often, and have some quiet moments to balance my oftentimes frenzied life.

Sleeping in can be a spiritual practice, don’t you agree?

 

 

Searching for God

I really want to see you
Really want to be with you
Really want to see you, Lord
But it takes so long, my Lord

From “My Sweet Lord,” by George Harrison

Many years ago

I began sitting in meditation

Listening inside

Searching for God

As I focused on my breath

Thoughts danced through my mind

Begging for attention

I slowly inhaled and exhaled

And released these reflections from the past

Yet, unbidden they returned

Over and over again

Unwelcome intruders

Monkey mind

Even now, when I quietly contemplate

Distracting thoughts greet me

Clothed in different garments

Yet sometimes – just sometimes

I am able to gently brush them aside

And move my consciousness deep within myself

To a holy, sacred place

I breathe deeply and abide there

Feeling warm, nurtured and comforted

Much as a baby in his mother’s womb

And I am at peace

Grateful

This morning, I awoke feeling grateful: Grateful to be alive and healthy, for the love of my wife and family, for times I still get to spend with my 88-year-old father, for a cozy home, food in my stomach and dear friends. I feel grateful as I watch our dogs Karma and Buddy chase after balls I throw them, for my work as an author and emergency physician, and for the dedicated nurses, paramedics and EMTs with whom I labor. I’m even appreciative of the day-to-day struggles, ones that help me to learn and grow. While some of these blessings may come and go, life itself is a gift from God,  and I pray I never forget that.

The Leader of the Band

Jerry M. Lavender

The leader of the band is tired and his eyes are growing old
But his blood runs through my instrument and his song is in my soul
My life has been a poor attempt to imitate the man
I’m just a living legacy to the leader of the band

– Dan Fogelberg

In the spring of 1994, I first met Jerry Lavender.  At that difficult time, I was still battered and bruised from a painful divorce that had occurred in the latter part of ’92, and I was in the process of rediscovering myself.  Who am I?  What am I?  Why do I hurt so much?  Intensely introspective, I sought out anything that might make me feel semi-human again, and in the midst of my search, I recalled how much joy I had previously experienced with singing.  I was raised in the Methodist church, and I had sung in the choir from grade school through the summers of my college days.

Several moments stood out to me.  I was but a young boy when my church choir director asked me to sing a solo.  Not one that enjoyed standing up in front of others, at first I resisted, but eventually I came around to her way of thinking.  For some reason, God knows why, I chose not to say a word to my parents and a few weeks later, I stood up in my light blue choir robe and sang “In the Garden” at the Sunday morning church service.  I still remember the shocked looks on my parents’ faces, and how my mother wept throughout the performance.  Another fond memory occurred some years later, when I sang in the adult church choir.  One of my buds in the group was Richard Moody, a white-haired senior who enjoyed singing and laughing at least as much as I did.  A song we particularly liked was the Christian classic, “‘Tis Marvelous and Wonderful,” and one day Richard was over at my home doing handyman work in the garage, and we decided to seize the opportunity.  As I sang tenor, Richard sang bass, and we cut loose with a rousing two-part version of that joyous melody.  After a few stanzas, though, we heard howling, much like that of a wounded, rabid dog, and we discovered my brother Jim had been listening outside and had concluded that he couldn’t take our less-than-melodious rendition anymore.

With this history in mind, I decided to check around and see if I could find a community chorus, and, to my delight, I discovered the Edmond Community Chorale (ECC), a group that met weekly at the campus of the University of Central Oklahoma.  Fighting back my apprehension, I decided to give it a try.

∞∞∞

I’ll never forget the first time I walked into choir practice.  Around fifty to sixty people were in the room, some standing, some sitting as they chatted before the rehearsal began. At the front stood the director, Dr. Lon Dehnert, who warmly greeted me and introduced me to the pianist, Dr. Ron Wallace.  Then Dr. Dehnert led me to the tenor section, where I first met Jerry, a pleasant, balding man in his early sixties with a bright smile and  good-natured way about him.  I liked him immediately, and after a few moments of conversation, the choir began our warm ups and shortly afterward, we were given our music for the semester, the glorious Handel’s Messiah.

And so began our twenty-four year friendship.  Every Tuesday night, during the spring and fall school semesters, we would  meet, converse, and sing our hearts out, with Jerry always seated to my left.  The more I sang with him, the more I realized what a fine tenor he was.  Without fail, he would hit the pitches and rhythms perfectly, and he rarely missed an entrance.  When I was uncertain about how our tenor part went, all I had to do was listen to Jerry, and I was always on solid ground.

∞∞∞

Oh, what glorious music we sang over the years!  Besides Messiah, my personal favorites included Haydn’s Creation, Mozart’s Requiem, Vivaldi’s Gloria and Brahms’ A German Requiem.  With time, my musical skills gradually improved, and my friendship with Jerry deepened. On occasion, he would ask me to join him for a duet at his church, Olivet Baptist, in northwest Oklahoma City.  After a practice or two, we would do a song for his Sunday school class, and while our performances were always well received,  the clear favorite over the years was the bouncy, toe-tapping spiritual by Aaron Copland, “Ching a Ring Chaw.”

Around four years ago, Jerry left ECC, saying that he needed to care for his wife, who had been chronically ill for years.  While I understood his situation, I felt as if my heart had been ripped from my chest, after all, I had heard his voice in my left ear for over two decades.  Last year, when one of our fellow ECC members passed away, Jerry rejoined the choir for a musical tribute at her funeral.  How wonderful it was to be with him again, but little did I know that precious occasion would be the last time I would see him.  My dear friend, Jerry Melvin Lavender, died on February 20, 2018, at eighty-five years of age.

∞∞∞

Now, as I think about Jerry, many warm thoughts come to mind.  While he was a great tenor, he was a better friend.  The Dalai Lama once said, “My religion is kindness,” and Jerry was one of the kindest men I have ever known. Over all those years, I never heard him say a bad word about anyone.  Not only that, in spite of his conservative religious outlook, Jerry often told me how much he enjoyed the spiritually liberal books I had authored. Because he was my friend, not only did he tolerate my perspective, he embraced it, which was a great gift to me.

The world will not be the same without Jerry Lavender.  Once I heard of his death, my eyes welled with tears, yet after a short period of intense grieving, I came to realize how grateful I was that I knew him.  I have no doubt whatsoever that my years spent singing with him helped me to eventually heal from my wounds, and for that, I will forever be indebted to him. Besides, Jerry was a man who loved singing nearly as much as he loved life, so when he left the Chorale to provide for his wife, he made a great personal sacrifice. But that’s the way Jerry was; he always put others before himself.

I oftentimes said that Jerry was the spiritual leader of the tenor section, and no doubt he was also a leader in our ECC “band.” Today, much of what I am musically can be attributed to him, and I am honored to be part of Jerry’s living legacy.

Isaac Newton once said, “If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants.”  Jerry was one such giant, a man whose greatness was measured by living in a humble, giving, accepting and loving manner.

I will miss him greatly.