The Zen of Ostomy

I believe, among other things, that this is a lesson in humility.

When the doctor first mentioned the possibility of an ostomy as part of an upcoming procedure my first reaction was one of embarrassment and shame. It sounded gross. What if it smelled? What would other people say? Why couldn’t it be anything else? The final decision has yet been made on whether an ostomy will even be necessary, or if it will be temporary or permanent, and yet my ego immediately projected all sorts of horrors even on the possibility. So, I had to question my reaction.

And then, gradually, it occurred to me that it could be something else and my thoughts drifted to this: “Where is my gratitude?”

“Why am I not thankful that with amazing medical procedures the doctors are saving my colon and possibly my life by doing this? Why am I not amazed that they can repair a badly damaged part of my body and bypass its usual functioning so that I can continue to live and breathe in this world?” I should be thankful if this allows me to continue this incredible journey. The first lesson was in gratitude. I am thankful.

If a colostomy bag becomes necessary, then I need to wear it like a badge, a reminder that certain things like human waste and death itself are equalizers. It doesn’t matter how many possessions or what positions of power one has in a world where those things are distributed unequally and unfairly. Like the children’s book reminds us, “everyone poops.” Everyone poops. Everyone dies. Everyone has the opportunity for growth in the best and worst of circumstances. Instead of choosing to wallow in self-pity or shame, it is a far better path to choose growth and understanding.

I am humbled by the potential daily reminder that we humans are a grimy, dirty species, both figuratively and literally, that so many things in our lives are waste–not only the food that we cannot process, but the opportunities we fail to take, the relationships we fail to develop out of fear or other strong emotions, the full potential we have in the short time we are here. If this reminds me to do better, then I will make every effort to do better. If the ostomy becomes necessary, then I will accept it and learn from it. If not, then I hope that I have still learned some lessons that I will not forget.

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On the Guilty Verdicts

The fact that a police officer murdering a man in broad daylight was found guilty tells us not that justice is served in this country, but that justice has been absent all along. The guilty verdict of Derek Chauvin is newsworthy and historic because it is an exception, not because it is an example of how well the American justice system works. The litany of African-Americans killed by police and others who have historically escaped justice is so long that no one could recount all of them.

Time and again the killer (s) have gone free. It is a reflection of the systemic racism built into the country that it is assumed when a cop kills a black person the cop will go free while the families and loved ones of the victim are left to wonder where the justice promised to all of us has gone and why it doesn’t apply to them. This also isn’t just about murder; it’s about all the ways that people of color are discriminated against in this country with a blind eye turned toward all of it by the white ruling class.

We have so much work to do. Derek Chauvin’s conviction does not negate the escape from justice of those who killed other loved ones like Breonna Taylor, Oscar Grant, Daunte Wright, Elijah McClain, and countless others we never hear about because charges are never brought when the killings are investigated by other heads of the same hydra and then are ruled as justified.

There is so much work to do. The Chauvin case cannot be the exception. It must be the rare example (so far) of a justice system that works and that ultimately leads to justice in all similar cases. It must lead to a society so deconstructed from systemic racism that the era of similar cases is ended once and for all. Police and others must recognize that they can no longer get away with murder and that the thin blue line of loyalty no longer extends to those who kill or who target any race or class of people.

This is a moment where we can not only look at reforming our justice system, but begin to overhaul an entire society where structural racism has kept us from living up to our a nation. We have not ended police killings of vulnerable citizens, hate groups, or discrimination, but we now have the opportunity to begin to look inward and create long-needed reform in all areas of our society. This is day one. Every day going forward must be day one on the long journey to true and consistent justice for all.

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Thank God for the Insurance I Hate

Resting in a hospital bed in the middle of the night gives one a chance to ponder many things. Due to multiple heart conditions over the years, I have had time to do the standard processing that may come with unexpected illness and the threat of death–the questions like, “What am I doing with my life?” This time, I was presented with the possibility of colon cancer, which has fortunately been all but ruled out, having to wear a colostomy bag for the rest of my life, which is still one of the possibilities, or having to have a surgery that will take care of my issue and let me move on with my life. Whichever it turns out to be, I will be helped by an incredible staff and the amazing developments of modern medicine.

I came in to the emergency room on Friday night due to intense abdominal pain and am still here Monday night. It will be at least until Thursday before I get to go home again. And I can’t even imagine how much this would be costing me if I didn’t have insurance through my workplace. It will cost me some, but most of it will be taken care of for me. I keep thinking about how in earlier times they wouldn’t be able to do the miracle surgeries that keep us alive these days and how fortunate we are to live in a society with such advanced medicine.

But I also think of what a horrible system we have in the United States, where having health insurance can be the difference between life and death or the difference between a procedure that can make life easier or not having that procedure at all. Because, like everything else in this country, it comes down to money–who has it, who doesn’t, who has the cost covered in another way and who does not. Even with insurance through work this is going to cost me money that I can’t really afford to spend.

If I didn’t have a job and I didn’t have insurance, I may not have had the luxury of sitting in this hospital room with nurses, doctors, surgeons, cleaning people and others assisting me with my every need. Imagine being homeless in this country, or working three part-time jobs where you don’t qualify for insurance, and then imagine a sudden catastrophic health issue. Some hospitals might turn you away. Others might take you because they have to, but then you would not get the top-quality care that those with money and insurance qualify to receive, and you would owe the hospital for years. There are also those who have minimum coverage who actually end up paying far more out of their own pockets than those insurance plans can cover.

We need to completely redo the system. Insurance companies are gamblers who make money or lose money depending on how much they have to pay or how little they can get away with paying. They create plans that protect them from big losses while paying out as little as possible. They are not there to assist us with our bills. They are there, like everything else in this society, to make money for their shareholders.

The United States is really the only major industrialized country that does not provide universal health care as a basic right. As long as the insurance and medical lobby continues to buy politicians with campaign gifts they are protected from what the majority of Americans really want–public health care for all, without regard for financial standing. Health care should be a right. It is not right to determine who gets good health care and who does not based on how much money they do or do not have.

I will come out of this most recent medical experience a little poorer, but with my health intact. But if I lost my job and could not afford to replace my insurance, I would end up coming out of a similar situation poorer both financially and in health. This happens to people every day in this nation. It is not acceptable that any citizen in this country should face that.

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Emotional Distancing

Apparently I did not know how much fear, stress, and anxiety had built up within me over the last year, but apparently it was there all along. Not only was I socially distancing, but I was also emotionally distancing.

While happy to see people I know and care for getting vaccines over the last several weeks, I still found myself getting envious despite intellectually understanding the process the state has used to determine eligibility. Despite that comprehension of the reality of the situation, though, the emotional side of me didn’t understand why so many people came before me. I was jealous. After all, when we first heard about Covid, all the reporting talked about how older people and those with pre-existing conditions were at the greatest risk for getting Covid and from possibly dying from it. And here I was, in my sixties, a survivor with multiple heart conditions, and I had to wait. And wait. And wait. Despite my attempts to suppress it, the envy raised its ugly head, followed by Catholic guilt for thinking that way. There was even a bit of outright anger for those who seemed to be cheating the system by lying about their occupations to get through sooner. I did not want to jump the line, but I didn’t want to be pushed back by others who were doing just that.

Finally, though, the state announced that those with certain health conditions would qualify at the end of March. However, the list included so many conditions, including high body mass index (BMI), that two million more residents of Wisconsin would qualify all at once. That’s more than a third of the state’s population, all of whom would quality at the same time, and most of whom would be trying to schedule appointments at the same time. Within a week after that announcement, the qualifying date was moved up a week to Monday, March 22.

So many emotions. Next came frustration. On Monday, every provider I tried had nothing available. Every pharmacy and health care site I checked gave me the same answer–no vaccine appointments available at this time. On one pharmacy website I checked–the one that I had seen everyone say worked for them–I got the message “Appointments unavailable.” I checked back a littler later and the header said, “Appointments available,”, so I clicked the schedule button, answered their few questions about qualifying, pressed submit, only to come to a page that said, “No appointments available within 25 miles in the next five days.” This happened seven times throughout the day, not to mention the several dozen other times that I got the message up front that no appointments were available.

I submitted quite a few wait list applications that day and at the end of the day felt utterly defeated. I had been naive enough to think that once I qualified it would be a snap to get an appointment and get in and get the vaccine. I got advice from others on different things to try. I got the number for scheduling appointments for my own health care provider, but when I called, despite now being qualified, they said they were still working on group 1b and they were not scheduling those with health conditions yet until they finished with 1b and they could not say when that would be. I started to think it would be impossible to get the vaccine.

Today, after waiting almost twenty minutes on hold, I talked to a human being–Connie–who was nice and encouraging and was there to help me schedule an appointment. I felt love for her in that moment and I felt empathy for how difficult her job must be right now as I knew after waiting on hold like I did that she must be taking one call after another all day long, every day, without much of a break. But she said she was happy to be able to do it and help people like me. She found an appointment at their east side clinic on April 21 and when she told me I started crying. After a year of social distancing, fear of catching a potentially deadly disease, uncertainty about the future, and all of the other feelings that I may have been suppressing it all came out and tears welled up in my eyes. Relief. A great sense of relief and the lifting of many heavy thoughts and emotions came upon me and I could not hold it back any longer.

The appointment is almost a month from now, but knowing there is an appointment allowed a lot of the anxiety to wash away. I still have my name on a number of waiting lists and many friends have suggested other ways of getting earlier appointments, so if I can do that I will, but I can sense the end is in sight. There are millions of people yet who are not even close to being able to schedule an appointment and I feel for them because I know what it feels like to be in that uncertain state of waiting. We have all been there. We have all been through this ordeal together and it will bind us in some strange way for years to come. I look forward to the day when everyone who wants to and can be vaccinated has done it and we can see each other face to face, touch, and hug without fearing that we may get or give a dangerous virus to each other.

Despite the tangle of emotions of this past year I believe it has also been a valuable lesson for those who take lessons from the way the world moves. I think countless people have reevaluated what is real and what is important in this life and I believe that those of us who survive this pandemic will be better human beings and more loving because of it, despite the fear and anxiety that it may have caused. May we all love each other better as we move forward.

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My body in the water;

miniature geysers erupting

as my body slides deeper,

enveloped in the warmth

that feels like a return to the womb.

Elemental heat,

light flickering,

swaying to the beat of my breath.

On the walls around me

suns and moons,

life’s eternal circles.

I pause, breathe deeply, and exhale,

joining the circle.

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Dear Ron


Dear Ron Johnson,

I read your pathetic excuse of a press release, the one in which you try to make yourself appear morally upstanding about reversing your position on accepting the results of the electoral college, and I must admit I was not impressed. Changing your vote at the last minute after the Capitol was stormed, while defending what you really wanted to do and say is hypocrisy (and a weak attempt at self-preservation) at its best. You have been an apologist for Donald Trump for four years. You stood up for him, defended him for his entire term, and supported him in his lies and false claims about election fraud. You don’t get to suddenly try to stand apart and try to act sorrowful about the attack on the Capitol when you are one of the ones responsible for it happening. You have blood on your hands and a stain on your soul.

I have some nitpicking to do about your press release.

You started it with this: “I refuse to dismiss the legitimate concerns of tens of millions of Americans who have lost faith in our institutions and the fairness of our electoral process.” I ask you–what about the tens of millions who have lost faith in the Republican party and who do have faith in our electoral system? You are so partisan you only see one side of the issue, and based on the responses (and lack of responses) Wisconsin citizens have gotten (or not) from you from phone calls and e-mails, it seems you are perfectly fine with dismissing the legitimate concerns of your constituents, the people you were elected to represent, while kowtowing to conspiracy theorists, QAnon adherents, and miscellaneous other far-right-wing fanatics. You don’t care about any of us unless we stand with you politically, though you were elected to represent all of Wisconsin.

I also take issue with your characterization of the F. B. I. as corrupt simply because they conducted a legitimate investigation into Russian election interference. If you were truly concerned about election integrity you would have backed this investigation.

Your comment about the “grossly biased media that has chosen sides and uses its power to interfere in our politics” is both laughable and shockingly naïve. You realize media is plural, right? There are hundreds upon hundreds of media sources in this country. Which powerful media are you referring to here? Fox News? Breitbart? Daily Caller? Drudge Report? Newsmax? OANN? Washington Times? National Review? All of the Sinclair Broadcasting group? All of Rupert Murdoch’s holdings? Or are you only concerned about CNN, the New York Times, Washington Post, and other media that don’t broadcast only right-wing ideology? Do you know your history? Do you know that politicians and their supporters have historically founded newspapers and other media? Why do you think that papers were given names like the Republican Journal, the Democrat, the Independent? The idea of an independent, objective journalism has never been real. All media personnel bring their own personal opinions into what they do. We have always been able to determine whether a newspaper, magazine, radio/TV station is right or left politically and that slant is going to impact their coverage. The best of them strive to be objective, but it is an impossible goal. The bulk of them push their viewpoints and citizens gravitate to the ones that best reflect their own beliefs. So don’t give us your sanctimonious crap about the liberal media when the right-wing media has dominated much of the last several decades and helped to lead us into the divided country we have become.

It would be a waste of time to try to refute all of your ridiculous assertions about election fraud when they are simply a rehashing of the many accusations that have been leveled by Trump and proven false by reporters, researchers, judges, and election officials. To assume that there are scads of dead people voting based on a few who have tried to vote as people who were dead (two in Georgia and one Trump voter in another state that I can recall offhand) is an absurd stretch. To say that people who have moved from a state voted illegally in the state they left is misleading at best. That was brought up in Nevada and it was determined that most of those were military personnel stationed elsewhere who had the right to vote in their home state of Nevada. In Georgia, election officials determined that there were many people who had moved out of state and moved back, but it was not simply to vote. Some of them had been back for years. You talk about “large Democrat-controlled counties waiting until after Republican counties have reported and then dumping their vote totals in the wee hours of the morning” as if this isn’t normal in an election. Because they are large counties, it takes longer to count the votes and larger urban areas tend to be more Democratic-leaning just as smaller more rural areas tend to be more Republican. They are not waiting for the Republican votes and then dumping theirs. And don’t try to pretend you don’t know this. You may be stupid, but you’re not that stupid.

To presume there was widespread election fraud in this past election, or any election, is to presume that there is a larger conspiracy network than any debunked conspiracy theory ever invented. You would have to have poll workers and election officials in every county, politicians in every state, judges in every court, citizens across the country, and more actively participating in the scheme to make it work. For you to believe this, you would have to believe that the majority of the people in your state are not trustworthy and if you don’t trust your own constituents any more than that, it is no wonder that we do not trust you. It is no wonder that we want you to stick to your promise of not running for another term as Senator. We can’t trust you to have our best interests at heart. The equivocation of your press release proves that far more than anything you have presented proves election fraud. Your proof is nothing more than parroting of the right-wing echo chamber and your chosen leader because you can’t think for yourself. You and that echo chamber led directly to the attack on our Capitol. Do us a favor and don’t wait to decide about the next election. Resign now and spare us the next two years.

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On Ron Johnson

Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson has joined several other Republican Senators (currently 11) in announcing that he will vote against the electors from “disputed states” in the 2020 Presidential election. Those disputed states include Johnson’s home state where voters elected Joe Biden by more than 20,000 votes. The difference was confirmed in a partial recount requested by the Trump campaign–of only the two most heavily Democratic and diverse counties in the state, Dane and Milwaukee. State and federal courts have thrown out several lawsuits intended to disenfranchise Wisconsin voters, both for lack of evidence and lack of standing. Johnson is joining these Senators despite stating in the past that he was elected not to advance his own causes but to represent the people of Wisconsin.

Johnson has rarely represented the wishes and desires of the people of his state. He originally ran as a Tea Party candidate in the one year that those right-wingers gained ground in elections. He was elected during the Tea Party wave in 2010 when barely over 50% of voters went to the polls in Wisconsin. In the campaign he was very vocal in his opposition to Obama’s Affordable Care Act.

He ran for the United States Senate portraying himself as a successful businessman, after marrying into a wealthy family and starting a plastics business with his brother-in-law. The business did grow to become a successful company and Johnson is a very wealthy Senator, unlikely to understand or care about the needs and opinions of the majority of the Badger state. He was recently reported to be worth $39 million, one of the nation’s wealthiest Senators.

A quick search of Johnson online brings up link after link in which the Senator’s positions on various issues show him out of touch with his constituents and with facts. He has long been opposed to same-sex marriage, is rabidly anti-abortion and is one of the most vocal climate change deniers in Congress.

Here are a few other things found in a short search online. There are likely to be dozens of similar stories that would have come up if it had been a lengthier search.

Prior to running for office, Johnson testified to the Wisconsin legislature at the encouragement of a deacon of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay against the Child Victims Act, a bill that would remove the statute of limitations for civil suits of victims of child sex abuse. Currently victims must sue before the age of 35. Most sexual assault agencies understand that it sometimes take decades for child sex abuse victims to come to terms with what happened to them as children.

The opposition to the Child Victims Act was noted in an August, 2020 article in the Daily Kos, which also noted the following nuggets from Johnson: “labeling Social Security ‘a Ponzi scheme‘, saying that the 97% of climate change scientists who say the phenomenon is man-made were ‘crazy’, the real cause of climate change was sunspots, and that Greenland is covered in snow and ice because we’re actually witnessing ‘global cooling‘. In 2013 that Ron Johnson answered criticism from the League of Conservation Voters that he denied climate change by accusing them of waging ‘environmental jihad’ and has compared politicians and activists trying to prevent climate change to Joseph Stalin, Hugo Chavez, and Fidel Castro.”

During a radio interview in the summer of 2015 he used the phrase “idiot inner city kids” in a discussion of school choice. He later said he regretted the use of the word and that he was actually describing how liberals feel about inner city youth. He adamantly supports school choice, which is basically transferring funds from public schools to private charter schools.

In 2016 Johnson made news by stating that teachers could be replaced by Ken Burns’ videos.

In April of 2017 Johnson agreed to a question and answer session with Madison East High School students, probably assuming they would not ask any tough questions. They did pepper him with intelligent and insightful questions, and one of the students recorded the entire session and posted it online. They hammered him on his support of charter schools, his positions on LGBTQ rights, and more. In an October visit to New Berlin High School in October, he told students that healthcare was a privilege–like food and shelter–not a right.

In the summer of 2019, Johnson continued to support Donald Trump and as chair of the Homeland Security Committee did nothing to prevent, stop, or even investigate the migrant detention camps on the southern border.

Through much of 2020, Johnson’s Homeland Security Committee held hearings investigating the Hunter Biden and Burisma conspiracy theories that Trump supporters were trying to use to damage Joe Biden’s campaign for the presidency. In August, he more or less admitted that his hearings would be beneficial to the Trump campaign, essentially acknowledging that he was using his power as chair of the committee to advance the campaign of his party’s candidate. He was referred to at the time as a “useful idiot” for accepting and echoing the same stories as the Russian disinformation campaign.

Like his hero, Donald Trump, Johnson has consistently downplayed the seriousness of Covid-19, noting in the spring of 2020 that shutting down the economy due to the virus would be like shutting down the economy due to traffic deaths. He said that the disease was not a death sentence, except for maybe up to 3.4% of the population. With a population of 328 million, 3.4% would translate to well over 11 million deaths, which would be a devastating number.

In August of 2020, he accused Google of gearing their get out the vote promotions to liberals and Democrats, without any evidence to back up the claim.

When Trump’s Attorney General William Barr announced that the Department of Justice had no evidence of widespread election issues, Johnson said that there was no proof that there was no fraud, the opposite of how evidence works. Republicans need to prove there was fraud rather than Democrats having to prove there was no fraud.

In December, he presided over a sham Congressional hearing in which he invited guests to present evidence of voter fraud, including lawyers whose cases were dismissed for lack of evidence. Because dozens of courts had dismissed cases, it appeared he wanted to present the case for massive voter fraud to the public. No evidence had convinced any court and his ridiculous hearing did nothing to provide any convincing evidence either.

Most recently, Johnson insisted that due to budget and debt concerns he could not support $2,000 checks for American citizens suffering from Covid and its effects on the economy. Earlier in the year, he was the one who blocked $1,200 checks in the Covid relief bill (twice). Yet, this is the same man who voted for Republican tax cuts for the wealthy and who was one of the Senators who oversaw the nation’s debt balloon by more than 35% to more than $29 trillion during the four years of the Trump administration. This quote from Mehdi Hasan sums it up: ““I guess Ron Johnson wasn’t so concerned about our children’s future when he voted to spend around $2 trillion on the Trump tax cuts, which by the way increased his own $39 million fortune.”

Ron Johnson does not represent his constituents. He represents Donald Trump. wealthy men and women across the country, big business, and other conservative, right-wing radicals. His politics and personal beliefs are not in line with regular Wisconsin folks. Unfortunately, he is not up for re-election for a couple more years and even though he promised not to become a life-long Senator he is now considering whether to run again in two years. If he does, Wisconsin needs to show him the door. He can go back to selling plastics instead of a right-wing bill of goods.

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New Year’s Prayer

It seemed like virtually everyone in America was eagerly anticipating bringing in the New Year last night. The bulk of the year was taken up with the worst plague in modern history, More than 1.8 million people died worldwide from it and nearly 350,000 in the U.S. alone.

But it wasn’t just coronavirus that made 2020 such a bad year. There were the killings of George Floyd, Jacob Blake, Breonna Taylor, and others that set off protests and counter-protests across the country. There was the continued rise of fascism and overt racism. There was a dysfunctional government led by a narcissistic man whose only interest has ever been himself. There were the continued false accusations of election fraud that worked to undermine our faith in our own institutions. There was a crashed economy that left thousands upon thousands of people unemployed, more homeless and hungry or on the edge of it, and the poor even poorer in the long march of economic disparity. And there was the inability of any individual or the government to do anything about any of it.

So because we tend to believe in hope, we set our sights on the turning of a new year (and in a couple of weeks the turning over of power). Friends and neighbors eagerly longed to say goodbye to the dumpster fire that was 2020, hanging our hopes on the idea that 2021 would turn it all around.

The problem is today is no different than yesterday. While we have a vaccine now, nothing changed overnight. Nothing will change after the inauguration. The virus will still keep killing people worldwide and there are now new strains to worry about. Bad cops will still kill innocent people. The legacy of the Donald Trump presidency will wreak havoc for years to come. There is no magic potion to stop the spread of coronavirus, fascists, conspiracy theorists, greed, and hate.

But we have to start somewhere, and today is as good a day as any. We can hope. We can pray that we have learned some lessons. Perhaps once we are safe from the virus we can avoid returning to a normal that really wasn’t normal. Maybe we can avoid rushing headlong back into our harried and overly busy lives and enjoy the time with our closest loved ones that we were forced to spend time with during quarantine. Perhaps we can continue to stay close with nature with hikes and quiet reflection, and that will help us understand the need to fix our planet. We can take in the reality that Black Lives Matter and work together to make that a meaningful reality. We can begin to fix the brokenness of our lives, our government, and our culture because 2020 gave us the gift of understanding what was broken.

This is a fervent wish and a prayer–that we come out from the horrors of the last year to a new understanding of what is wrong in this world and a new commitment to being better world citizens and neighbors, that we will work toward economic and racial equity simply because it is the right thing to do, and that we will do our best to ensure that we are all front-line heroes in the constant struggle for a better and more just world.

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Still Beating

A year ago this afternoon, I was at my desk in the office where I work. I had just taken a sip of a soda and started to feel a bit off. When I stood up I felt a bit dizzy and faint. I asked a co-worker if she could drive me to the emergency room as I wasn’t feeling well (if there’s ever a next time I’ll call an ambulance, but at least I didn’t try driving myself). When I got there, the staff was pretty nonchalant about it until I mentioned I had suffered a heart attack back in 2008. I had also been diagnosed with ischemic cardiomyopathy in late 2018 or early 2019 (which has been gotten under control over the last year due to a drug regimen). After explaining my history, they took me in to check my blood pressure and pulse. When the nurse listened to my heart I could tell by her look that something was definitely wrong.

It turned out that my heart was racing at 240 beats a minute, which is incredibly high (normal resting heart rate is considered to be 60-100 beats per minute; my usual resting heart rate is generally somewhere between 60-70). The fast heart beats had already lasted about 15 minutes by that time. What was happening is called ventricular tachycardia, which is essentially an electrical misfiring in the ventricles. If it continues for more than a few seconds, it can be fatal, so I was already lucky to still be alive at that point. I hadn’t overexerted myself (hard to do in an office setting) or had any recent stress, but tachycardia can be a result of previous heart damage. My heart was functioning on about 60% of its capacity due to damage from the heart attack a decade before.

Once the nurse discovered my heart rate, they immediately moved me up to the front of the line to get in to see a doctor. As I was stepping out of the nurse’s office my partner, Brian, showed up, so he was able to go in with me. They put me on an electrocardiogram immediately and within a short time had decided to give me medication to bring the beating back to normal. It didn’t work. They gave me a higher dose, but it had a minimal effect. They then set me up and shocked my heart after putting me under sedation so I wouldn’t feel it.

Later in the day they decided to do a heart catheterization and determined from that to replace one of my four stents and put in two new ones. It was a weird and long day, but they weren’t done yet.

Three days later, after many more tests and discussions, an ICD (implantable cardioverter defibrillator) was put into my chest. It is a combination pacemaker and defibrillator. The pacemaker makes sure the heart doesn’t beat too slowly and the defibrillator gives a shock if the fast heart beats from tachycardia start up again. Fortunately, that part of the device has not had to engage in the last year. The pacemaker has worked a small percentage of the time, as it is designed to do. I have had no further issues in the last year.

What amazes me is what doctors can do for heart diseases and other diseases that years ago would have been untreatable. Heart disease runs in my family. My father died of a massive heart attack at the age of 41, but I believe he may have survived with the technology we have now. I have outlived him now by more than twenty years. I am incredibly thankful for the doctors, nurses, designers of the ICD, and other professionals who put in countless hours to help ensure that people they don’t know or may never meet will live longer and fuller lives. I am thankful for the support and love of family and friends who have stood by me through several heart issues. And I am thankful every day that I have been given more time to enjoy this amazing thing called life. to laugh and love more, and to wonder in awe about the miracles in the lives we lead.

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The Problem with Monuments

Columbus’ Last Appeal to Queen Isabella, by Larkin Goldsmith Meade, in the California State Capitol. Photo by Callen Harty.

Today is the traditional Columbus Day holiday, which in many places is now being celebrated as Indigenous People’s Day or Native American Day, among other names. For years, Christopher Columbus was celebrated as the person who “discovered” America. The reality is that indigenous people were already settled here long before any Europeans came and Columbus never set foot anywhere on the North American continent. He landed on islands in the Bahamas and explored a bit of the coasts of Central and South America, but never North America. Nevertheless, his voyages opened the door for European colonization of the Americas, so he was considered the one to discover this part of the world from a white Eurocentric view of the world.

His voyages also opened the doors for enslavement of the indigenous peoples and decimation of their population through European diseases. His part in American history is being reconsidered and his legacy is at best problematic. In addition to the problems of disease and his enslavement of other humans, he was accused by his contemporaries of brutal treatment of the native population.

Because of this reassessment of Columbus, some cities and states have started using the traditional holiday as a way to honor Native Americans, who lived on this land long before European settlement and colonization. Statues of Columbus have been removed by some governments and in other cases citizen protestors have forcibly taken them down.

In the last several years, there has been a push to take down statues honoring Confederate leaders who led an insurrection against the United States to protect the institution of slavery. Some governments have voted to remove them and others have again been taken down by citizens. Since the death of George Floyd and the protests against police brutality in the United States, many other Confederate statues and monuments have come down and others, including statues of Union Civil War heroes, Presidents, and other leaders have been toppled or questioned, many of them causing consternation among some members of the majority population.

But those who question why we should honor our founding fathers with statues have reason to question their heroic status. George Washington owned over 300 slaves. Most of the founding fathers were slaveowners. They also created a government in which African-Americans were considered 3/5ths of a person, simply for taxation purposes and voting representation in Congress. They created a nation in which white male landowners held all the power and kept it that way through much of America’s history.

Of course, an argument for continuing to honor them is that they were products of their times, and that is true. But we are products of our times, too, and in our time in the course of history, we don’t believe that slavery is a good thing, we don’t believe that women should have no power, and we don’t believe in honoring those who promoted or supported those beliefs. The same people who argue that monuments honoring historical figures should remain standing because we need them to remember our history were likely the same people who celebrated the toppling of Saddam Hussein’s statue in Baghdad, even though he represented a part of Iraqi history. They were likely the same people who celebrated the destruction of the Berlin Wall or the removal of a statue of Stalin in Budapest during the Hungarian Revolution.

Nothing created by man is permanent and historians and the people are constantly reevaluating history and its heroes. When by modern standards or new politics, those put on pedestals by previous generations are no longer considered heroic, it is likely time to take them down. In some cases they will be replaced with those who more closely resonate with our modern conceptions of what heroes mean, though the likelihood is that at some time in the future, perhaps generations removed, those newer statues will be taken down by even newer thinking.

The problem with monuments is that all of our heroes are human. We all have flaws. While a person may be heroic in one aspect of their life, they may fail miserably in others. Thomas Jefferson was a great thinker and leader of the Revolution, but he also owned slaves. Charles Lindbergh was the first to fly solo across the Atlantic, but he was also an anti-Semitic fascist. Joe Paterno was the winningest coach in NCAA history, but he did nothing to stop an assistant coach from sexually abusing young boys. No person can claim that they have lived a perfect life, that they have not hurt others in some way, whether intentional or not.

The other problem with monuments is that we as human beings cannot always agree on what heroism means. And if we take human heroes out of it and decide to erect only statues honoring great ideals, we also cannot agree on what those are. What is considered an ideal government today may be anathema to tomorrow’s citizens. In addition, what is considered beautiful art by one may be reviled by others. Who gets to decide who is honored and how? The majority? And what happens when they become the minority?

Perhaps the answer is that we should not erect public statues and monuments at all, though it seems as as though it is in our nature to do so. If it is something we feel compelled to do, perhaps we have to work our way to an agreement about who or what deserves honor at the moment. Maybe we can keep some that honor great contributions, but that are problematic, but can also add plaques that give some more context to who they were. Maybe we should agree that it is simply okay for us to remove the monuments which we deem as not aligning with our current agreed upon values, such as statues of Columbus, and then erect monuments which honor our beliefs and morals at this time. Future generations can decide if our choices were right for them.

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The Danger of QAnon

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Hands Up

Hands Up/Don’t Shoot. Photo by Callen Harty.

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