Archive for the 'Life' Category

Are you kidding me?

Ok… I know it has been a long time since I last posted but I am making a conscious effort to start blogging again.  What has got me so fired up?  Idiotic driving!  A few days ago I was making my usual morning trek across the Twin Cities.  As I approached the 494 & 35W junction (one of the busiest in the area) I made the mistake of looking over at the traffic merging and what did I see?  A woman merging into my lane of traffic while she was looking in the mirror applying her hairspray!  ARE YOU KIDDING ME?  Granted I have seen plenty of crazy things on my morning commute, including: drivers eating a bowl of cereal, applying make-up, and reading books and newspapers but this was by far the most reckless in my opinion.  What is this world coming to?  Are we so time starved the we would risk our lives (and the lives of others – me) so we can squeeze in an extra couple of minutes?  Am I crazy or is this just the new normal?

The dangers of “Fight Club”… someone might actually break a spine?

Ok, so it has been some time since I last posted on Broken Spines but it is with good reason.  Just over ten weeks ago I actually broke my spine… I woke up to sure agony.  I thought I had pulled a muscle in my neck/back and waited it out over night.  The next morning the pain was still there and I made an appointment to see my doctor and a chiropractor and a colleagues suggestion.  The chiropractor proceeded to tell me how messed up my neck/back was and gave me an alignment adjustment with no improvement.  My doctor saw me and thought that it was a pulled muscle and prescribed muscle relaxers and Vicodin.  After a week on the drugs, more chiropractic “help” and even acupuncture I was without sleep and still in excruciating pain (so much so that on some nights I honestly would have preferred amputation).  Talking with friends and colleagues I was convinced that I needed to see a specialist.  I called the recommended neck & back specialist the next morning and was told that I needed a referral from my primary doctor and an MRI before the he would see me.  I  called my primary doctor and after some pleading I was able to get an appointment the next day.  My doctor ordered x-rays, did an exam, and agreed to give me the referral and MRI request.  At the scheduling area for the MRI I was told that there was a mobile unit that came to the clinic on Mondays and Thursdays… and of course today was Tuesday – I had to make it clear to the scheduler that Thursday was not soon enough.  Sure enough there was one at a local hospital and their MRI was available that evening.  After the most painful 30 minutes in an MRI machine I get to go home and wait until the next morning for the results.  In the meantime, I called the specialist back and told his staff that I my referral and my MRI – how soon could they get me in?  The answer – three weeks!  I wasn’t going to last three more weeks with this pain and lack of sleep!  I explained that to the scheduler and she suggested that I leave a message with the doctor’s assistant and they would get back to me.  I decided to pull out all of the stops and left the voicemail informing them that my neighbor worked with the specialist, two other neighbors had seen the doctor and one had surgery with him, and that I was in EXCRUCIATING pain.  What do you know… they found room for me within seven days.  The next morning the MRI report was available online and I come to find out that I had herniated a disc in my neck/spine: C6-C7.  I meet with the specialist the next week and after three weeks of the most excruciating pain I have ever felt (even with the aid of the finest narcotics man has made) I was finally prescribed oral steroids (a.k.a. Prednisone).  Within hours the amazing anti-inflammatory medicine in Prednisone had started kicking in and the pain was almost gone.  The only lingering effect was numbness or tingling in my first two fingers of the my left arm.  I proceeded with six weeks of physical therapy which helped strengthen my neck and arm but still left the numbness.  The only problem now was the persistent numbness… my specialist suggested that I did not want it to go beyond 12 weeks or I could risk permanent nerve damage.  Last week was week 10 and I decided to proceed with surgery to remove the herniated portion of the disc that was causing the pressure on the nerve (posterior microdiscectomy)… five days in and still waiting for a final verdict if the numbness has gone away for good.  I’ll keep you posted…

The Third Man… neurological defect or a glitch in The Matrix?

With only 22 hours to spare I just finished our next tome on the existence of the Third Man. Author John Geiger distills the phenomenon of sensing the presence of another being with us during times of stress or panic as not a guardian angel or religious savior but as a neurological defect that enables us to triumph over our immediate appalling situation. He further suggests that we should learn to master this feature of the brain. While interesting, I am not sure I am sold on the “science” behind the idea but I do have a few tangential ideas…

1) Check out the TED video presentation by Oliver Sacks (the neuropsychiatrist who wrote Awakenings) as he describes the lucid hallucinations of visually impaired people and the discovery of the areas of the brain the recognize teeth, facial features and cartoons. Maybe this is just biological brain stimulation and nothing more?

2) What of Will Ferrell’s character in the movie “Stranger Than Fiction” who is an IRS auditor suddenly finds himself the subject of narration only he can hear: narration that begins to affect his entire life, from his work, to his love-interest, to his death.  Maybe we are all just characters in our own book?

3) Perhaps there is a much simpler story… Maybe we are all captives of The Matrix and much like Deja Vu is an example of the The Matrix re-writing code to fix a glitch or bug… the experience of The Third Man is an example of our minds transcending The Matrix to see that we are actually part of “the system?”

Courage comes with practice…

I heard a great story from Theresa MacPhail and her life living with fear and finding courage. Theresa a medical anthropologist at UCal Berkley tells her story of surmounting her fears in “Courage Comes With Practice” – her brother died by when she was four years old, her mother wanted to protect her (the only child now) from every possible danger… she was locked into a “safe” prison. Now she works everyday to push herself into situations that may not be safe but allow her to live. How do we address fear and “find” courage in our lives?

We will miss you Tim! Thank you for your honesty, integrity, and courage.

I know I had posted an article recently about where have all of the good journalists goneTim Russert, NBC News Washington Bureau Chief, was one of those few good journalists left… today we lost a great journalist and an awesome man.  Tim took his responsibility as chief moderator of “Meet the Press” very seriously, he also asked tough but thoughtful questions and did not let his guests slide with generic answers.  In the age of partisan reporting, Tim was at a whole other level – I could not tell you which party he endorsed.

For those of you who have not found the time to read “Wisdom of Our Fathers” it is absolutely essential for every parent – mother or father. 

Thank you Tim for your honesty, integrity, and courage!  You will be missed by us all.

Failure as a tool to understand who we are?

Can we for a second go back to one of my favorite topics… Failure?  J.K. Rowling delivered her commencement address to Harvard last Thursday, entitled “The Fringe Benefits of Failure, and the Importance of Imagination.  (See Video)

In her address, J.K comments that “What I feared most for myself at your age was not poverty, but failure.”  She goes on to state that:

“However, the fact that you are graduating from Harvard suggests that you are not very well-acquainted with failure. You might be driven by a fear of failure quite as much as a desire for success. Indeed, your conception of failure might not be too far from the average person’s idea of success, so high have you already flown academically.

Ultimately, we all have to decide for ourselves what constitutes failure, but the world is quite eager to give you a set of criteria if you let it. So I think it fair to say that by any conventional measure, a mere seven years after my graduation day, I had failed on an epic scale. An exceptionally short-lived marriage had imploded, and I was jobless, a lone parent, and as poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain, without being homeless. The fears my parents had had for me, and that I had had for myself, had both come to pass, and by every usual standard, I was the biggest failure I knew.

Now, I am not going to stand here and tell you that failure is fun. That period of my life was a dark one, and I had no idea that there was going to be what the press has since represented as a kind of fairy tale resolution. I had no idea how far the tunnel extended, and for a long time, any light at the end of it was a hope rather than a reality.

So why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had already been realised, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea. And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.

You might never fail on the scale I did, but some failure in life is inevitable. It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.

Failure gave me an inner security that I had never attained by passing examinations. Failure taught me things about myself that I could have learned no other way. I discovered that I had a strong will, and more discipline than I had suspected; I also found out that I had friends whose value was truly above rubies.

The knowledge that you have emerged wiser and stronger from setbacks means that you are, ever after, secure in your ability to survive. You will never truly know yourself, or the strength of your relationships, until both have been tested by adversity. Such knowledge is a true gift, for all that it is painfully won, and it has been worth more to me than any qualification I ever earned.

Given a time machine or a Time Turner, I would tell my 21-year-old self that personal happiness lies in knowing that life is not a check-list of acquisition or achievement. Your qualifications, your CV, are not your life, though you will meet many people of my age and older who confuse the two. Life is difficult, and complicated, and beyond anyone’s total control, and the humility to know that will enable you to survive its vicissitudes.”

Kudos to J.K. Rowling… and to my hypothesis… in the absence of life or death circumstances, we NEED to celebrate failure… personal failure, work failure, and community failure… because it is only after peering into the abyss that we truly understand who we are.


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