Category Archives: Philosophy

Symbols mean things

I’m a big supporter for formalism/”New Criticism.”  I always forget who said which, but often, when writers are asked what things in their books “mean,” they say things like, “I wrote a poem, not a puzzle,” (pretty sure that’s TS Eliot) or “If I wanted to write an essay, I’d write an essay.  I wrote a story” (Flannery O’Connor, paraphrased).
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A Patient Reacts to Medical Dramas.

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This is me, 2 months after aortic graft surgery with complications, in 2013.

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A patient in recovery on _House_.

There must be some kind of HIPAA for TV patients because after numerous search combinations I can’t find many pictures of TV patients in recovery from surgery, but we’ve all seen them: awake and talking hours after a complex surgery, with maybe a fake ID or a basic oxygen cannula or a bandage or two.  No blood or other fluids oozing all over the place.

I don’t watch a lot of medical shows.  I like House and I like The Good Doctor and a few others that are more dramas that happen to be about doctors than they are “medical shows.”  Usually, when surgery is depicted on TV, it’s either so graphic it causes me PTSD  or it’s so unrealistically “clean” it’s frustrating.
The season 2 premiere of The Good Doctor features a patient  who needs a “piggyback” heart transplant, a procedure that has been around since 2004.  The episode frustrated me so much I wanted to see if anyone wrote about it, and I discovered a couple YouTube shows where doctors review medical dramas or sitcoms.  Then I looked to see if there was an equivalent series for patients, and there is none. Since I can only speak above a whisper, and since I don’t know how to do all the fancy effects of a YouTube channel, I decided to do it as a blog post.

So, the Good Doctor episode: they’re getting ready for this surgery and discover a massive aortic aneurysm that they somehow never picked up on previous tests.  A dissection would be believable.  But an aneurysm?  Then they refer to a “teflon” graft–aortic grafts are made of Dacron, which contains teflon, but I have never heard a doctor say “teflon” graft.  Then they act like the aortic graft is what’s “risky,” and not this heart procedure.  I have had an aortic “teflon” graft that goes “all the way to my heart” for 22 years.  It’s nothing new.  Also, IRL if they discovered such a potential complication, they would do two separate procedures.  When I had the surgeries in the picture above, they first grafted from my left carotid to my left subclavian.  Then, a week later, they grafted my descending aorta.   Then I had some kind of surgery about once a week for a month and a half.  Were it a  TV show, it would be all done in less than a week, and I’d have left the hospital happy and smiling, instead of barely functional after 3 months.

To wit, medical dramas are their best when major characters are patients and their care is actually shown in a realistic timeline with realistic reactions and complications.

Non-medical shows are just as bad: character has some health crisis and it’s all resolved in an episode or two: no long term scars or broken bones that never quite heal right–unless the storyline is to account for an actor’s real life health issues.

Every time I look in the mirror I see the scars.  If I look at my hands closely enough I can see the scars from various long term IVs from hospitalizations.

You never see that on TV.

Then there was this week’s Good DoctorShaun tells his supervisor, Dr. Melendez, that he thinks the janitor has pancreatic cancer because of acid reflux, jaundice and some other symptom.  Melendez walks by the janitor and agrees.  They do a “full workup,” whatever that means.  In less than a day, they’ve given him all sorts of tests, “on the hospital’s dime,” and sure enough he has cancer, and they do a surgery, and well, in this case he dies but you know the drill.  Either the patient dies and there’s some kind of ethical debate or life lesson for the major characters, or else the patient lives and (see above).

Real life: doctor sees a lump on your foot.  Combined with other symptoms, he thinks it might be cancerous.  He’s pretty sure it’s just a bone spur but wants to be sure.  So he orders an X-Ray.  That doesn’t  settle it, so he orders an MRI.  This whole process takes nearly a month, not a few hours.  MRI thankfully confirms bone spur, but after a month of worry you now have to deal with the fact that your insurance company has denied the MRI.

Doctor show: patient goes to the ER with a cough.  “I think you might be having an [insert “zebra” diagnosis here] because you have all these other symptoms you didn’t mention.”

Real Life: patient goes to the ER with, say, Marfan syndrome, multiple grafts and an abdominal aneurysm, and sharp pain in chest and back. He tells them that it has to be really bad for him to show up at all, that he’s having this pain in spite of high doses of pain medication, anti-gas meds, antacids, etc., and that he just wants a CT and an echo to make sure everything’s functioning properly.  He even tries to hand them a signed ER plan which they hand back to him.

Instead, I sat in the ER waiting room for 5 hours, surrounded by people coughing and hacking, later heard one of the people at the triage desk say, “We have to clear out all these Class C” people and looks up what that means, and found out it’s basically the ER term for hypochondriacs.  While I had been sitting there, they gave me an EKG and chest X-Ray, both of which I know are useless in showing whether anything is dissected or leaking, and both of which were “normal” when I had my actual aortic dissection.

Having arrived around 7 PM, I finally got into room, way in the back, at 11:45.  A nurse came in and I explained why I was there and handed her my sheet.  She looked at it, asked if she could keep it, and I said, “Yes, that’s why I brought multiple copies.”  She said she’d enter it into my chart (I had updated information from another hospital).  [A week later, when I went to see my regular doctor’s office at that hospital for a scheduled test, they did not have the updated information].
She ended her shift, and I went through the same routine with another nurse, and he was impressed I wrote the care plan myself.  The usual sequence of increasingly ranked doctors came in, and the highest ranked one actually seemed to be concerned that they’d made me wait this long. Then he finally ordered the CT which my wife had been assured over the phone around 9 PM that they had already ordered.
It was, of course, “stable,” though I know from experience that “ER stable” could mean a mm or more of growth in my aneurysm, which is the change my surgeon said would make it time for my next surgery.

TV Drama: Person has a dizzy spell.  Someone calls 911.  The hospital admits the patient till they know exactly what caused the dizzy spell.  Wants to know entire history.  House gets mad patient didn’t mention a dizzy spell in 1984, or sends his residents to break into the patient’s house to find information the patient might not have shared.

RL, Different Hospital: I lost my memory briefly.  I have a history of neurological complications of Marfan syndrome, including 2 or more venous ectasias (essentially brain aneurysms but supposedly they won’t burst), and potential dural ectasia and CSF problems but I can’t have the tests to formally diagnose them so when I have symptoms of a CSF leak I just confine myself to bed rest till I feel better.

My whole life I’ve had dizzy spells, loss of feeling in my legs, slurred speech, “migraines,” etc.  Some of that is explained by either or both of those conditions.  Usually, I’ve only gone to the ER when other people were concerned enough to insist on it, like when I’d nearly pass out in the hallway in high school.  I hate ERs because I know the’re pretty much useless.

For the past couple years, I’ve been getting migraines with audio aura, or something like waking dreams. It’s hard to explain, but I would feel woozy then get a sense of deja vu or nostalgia or whatever, feel like I was remembering something but not quite sure, and if I tried to focus on that, it would just get worse and worse, with this cacophony of noise in my head.  Usually, an aspirin or a nap would wipe it out.

In June, I started having such an experience and went back to my room.  My wife sent one of the kids back to check on me and I didn’t know who or where I was (from my perspective, I thought I’d slept for hours and just woken up).  They asked me all sorts of questions.  I  remember the experience but I remember “knowing” but being horribly confused and just unable to get the words to my mouth.

So they called 911.  I took the ambulance to the hospital, and felt better by the time I got there.  They did some meaningless tests, diagnosed me with “migraine,” and sent me home.

A month to the day later, it happened again, only this time I didn’t make it to the bed.  I feel and lost consciousness on the bedroom floor.  My wife had recently done an online CPR class and had the kids watch it with her.  Our 11 year old said, “Dad’s having a seizure!”

Called 911.  I woke up surrounded by EMTs.  They took me to the ER.  Yes, I was having a seizure, spent most of the night in the ER, but they didn’t admit me.  For once, I don’t remember a lot of details about what happened next, but I came home, and the next night my wife woke up to me seizing in my sleep.  She called again.  This time, she insisted they admit me.  The neurologist on duty was a cerebrovascular neurologist I’d seen before about my venous ectasias.  The first neurology resident was OK but the supervising resident insisted I was faking it or something and did some kind of physical assault to show that I wasn’t really having a seizure, ignoring my wife’s pleas for him to stop that he could kill me by the way he was applying pressure to my chest.

After my wife’s pleas, they admitted me.   We told them all the history above, and they said, “Well, that’s probably unrelated.”
After a frustrating weekend, they sent me home.  We didn’t understand at the time why they refused to do an EEG while I was there, but now I understand: the way to diagnose epilepsy is to wait till the patient is *not* in an obvious seizure, and if there’s seizure activity, they know it’s epilepsy and not anything else.  So after a week, I got the EEG.  Another week later, they called and said to come in for the follow up ASAP.  Yes, I had epilepsy.  Yes, they admitted that those audio migraines, dizzy spells, etc., had probably all been partial seizures.

Medical Drama (Again): “Tell us every health problem you’ve ever had.”
RL (office visit): “Don’t tell me all that.  What is the most urgent issue you’re dealing with right now.”

A simple question for those who think Judge Kavanaugh is a Cad

 

I realize one mustn’t expect reason from anyone who thinks it’s OK to murder a baby, but I’d love one of those who insist that Brett Kavanaugh is “guilty” to answer a simple question. In the words of your hero, Hillary Clinton, regarding her murder by negligence of six Americans, “What difference, at this point, does it make?”
Let’s ignore:
1) Christine Blasey Ford’s previous call for people to file false rape allegations against every SCOTUS nominee till Merrick Garland was nominated.
2) Her obvious both personal and political biases against Judge Kavanaugh
3) 6 FBI background checks and previous Senate confirmations when she didn’t come forward
4) The vagueness of her memory.
5) The testimony of all her alleged witnesses that it never happened.
6) The testimony of the men who claimed yesterday that they were the ones Ford misidentified as Kavanaugh (which claims incidentally Sen. Graham rejected).
Let’s say it happened: two teenagers were illegally intoxicated at a “party,” in the early 80s, after the so-called Sexual Revolution when you liberals insisted everyone could have whatever sex they wanted without consequences, in a situation where it is assumed people will fornicate–two of the four (the other two being “drugs” and “rock & roll”) those of us with principles have always avoided such “parties.”
Both teenagers were under 18. In the state of Maryland, the age of consent is 14 so long as there’s not a 5 year age difference (just looked that up), so it would not have been statutory rape. So one drunken teenager allegedly groped another drunken teenager, tied her up, and tried to get her to have sex but then *did not actually rape her*. If the alleged assailant actually broke a law, whether “Just” the drunkenness or some definition of assault, and had been arrested for it at the time, it would have been stricken from his record because he was under 18.
Even if *all* of these accusers are telling the truth, and every one of them has significant holes, no evidence or reliable witnesses, and all are claiming some level of being complicit in the alleged crimes, the behaviors in question are quite sadly very common for people of their age and generation, behaviors that you otherwise condemn Christians for saying are sinful.
After the “high school and college” “party years” end, he goes on to live a life that passes 6 FBI background checks, has a wife and two daughters, is regarded as an upstanding citizen, and has a list of women who either dated him or who have worked with him who insist he was a perfect gentleman, never groped or harassed them, etc.
Does improvement of previous bad or criminal behavior not “count”? I thought liberals believed in rehabilitation.

“The Weight of Glory” and the Weight of the Church

Probably one of the most bottom-line important pieces of Christian thought outside the Bible was the famous paragraph of C. S. Lewis’s “The Weight of Glory”:

It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare.  All day long we are in some degree helping each other to one or other of these destinations.  It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics.  There are no ordinary people.  You have never talked to a mere mortal.  Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat.  But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.

I get the argument that the kinds of sexual abuse, physical abuse, corruption and cover-ups in the Catholic Church occur in any institution, and are often objectively worse.  For example, as my dear friend Jen Fitz has pointed out, no one is legally obligated to go to Catholic anything, but they are legally obligated to go to public schools (barring the resources for private or home schooling).

However, in an institution which is supposedly founded by God Himself, which supposedly exists to train people up to be Saints, and which supposedly believes every individual is of infinite worth, shouldn’t there be a Higher Standard?

If the Catholic Church is what She claims to be, then just one priest abusing his authority to spiritually or psychologically abuse one person should be a matter of grave horror to every member of the Church–did not Ven John Henry Newman say that it would be better for all the stars to fall than one person ever commit even a venial sin?

If we’re going to compare the Catholic Church, statistically, to other religions, government institutions, or businesses, aren’t we thereby saying that the Catholic Church is just another human institution?

And if the Catholic Church is just another human institution, with networks of predatory behavior, actions like wearing a Crucifix being used as signs of “grooming” by homosexual priests, bishops being reprimanded by the Vatican or dying mysterious deaths for trying to laicize homosexual and pedophile priests, and everything else that people like Fr. Malachi Martin and Fr. James Haley sacrificed their own priesthoods by trying to expose, but now the world believes because the state of Pennsylvania has validated its existence–then if the Church is just another human institution, then that makes the anti-Catholics right, and it’s just a gigantic network of people unwittingly and sometimes wittingly providing various sexual predators, narcissists and/or sociopaths a steady supply of victims and proteges.

But if the Church is the Body of Christ and the Bride of Christ (as well as the Whore of Babylon), then She must be held to a higher standard.  It shouldn’t be about PR.  It shouldn’t be about statistics.  It shouldn’t be about minimal legal requirements.  It should be about saving the immortal souls of the victims and of the guilty.  It should be about fasting and prayer and penance.  It should be about sacrificing wealth and privilege and social status for the sake of souls.

And that applies to just about every issue you can think of: sex abuse, abortion, poverty, people with disabilities.  “Everyone who has two cloaks must share with the one who has none.”  We hear of St. Martin of Tours giving his military cloak to a beggar.  We don’t often hear of him being nearly rejected as a bishop because many priests and bishops didn’t like the fact that he dressed as a beggar.
St. Vincent de Paul is known for his service of the poor later in his life but he originally became a priest because he was born into a very poor family and, at the time, the priesthood was the best avenue for upward mobility.
Bl. Pier Giorgio was known for rarely coming home at the end of the day wearing the same clothes he put on in the morning, or  more than the most basic clothes decency required, because throughout the day he’d give away his clothes to the poor or trade clothes with them.  “Oh, but health.”  Yes, he died at a relatively young age because he gave his life in service to the poor.

In America, we have a “vocations crisis” because young men don’t want to give up their lives of pleasure, or more usually because they learn very quickly–as I did, as one of my childhood best friends did, as my wife’s uncle did–that if you want to pursue holiness the priesthood as it exists in America is not the place to be.
In the Middle East and Africa, by contrast, they have a vocations crisis because so many priests are being martyred.

My wife recently posted a “rant” on Facebook about how the two “ideological camps” of Catholicism are mutually inconsistent about respecting Life and supporting people.  She meant that, whatever our political views, we’re still obligated to help one another when and where we need it, and we should do so in a manner that treats people with respect.  This post was inspired not just by need but by the wonderful example of some local Catholics who’ve recently not only provided us with great material blessings but done so in a manner that was loving and respectful.

Of course, the post degraded into a political argument.

If each of us reminded ourselves every day of the infinite worth of every individual we meet, how different would our world be?  What if, as Lewis depicts in _The Great Divorce_ and as the Orthodox teach in the Tollhouse theory of personal judgement, the person I find most annoying, intolerable, disgusting, hateful, ugly or unforgiveable, ends up as a Saint in Heaven, whom I must love in order to get to Heaven?  What if the person I find most admirable, pleasant, enjoyable, beautiful, lovable and tolerable ends up in Hell?  What if someone ends up in Hell because of my sin?

We all sin, of course, but there’s a reason the Church and society distinguish degrees of sin and evil.

And no one who truly respects the infinite worth of every individual could sexually, physically, psychologically or worse, spiritually abuse another person.
No one who truly respects the infinite value of every soul could shrug their shoulders when a homebound or hospital-bound parishioners begs for Sacraments.
No one who truly respects the infinite value of every soul could decline to even make an attempt at helping anyone else in need.
No one who truly respects the infinite worth of every individual could say, “Well, I obeyed the reporting laws as I understood them.”
I could go on, but if you’ve read this far, you get the point.

Each of us, as always, needs to do a better job of acting like we actually believe in God.
If we want to win people to Christ, acting like Christ is the way, not comparing His Church to other earthly institutions.

_The Last Jedi_: _Star Wars_ is finally honest

When I first introduced my kids to Star Wars, I followed up with an explanation of Dualism, Gnosticism, the “Ray of Truth” concept, and authentic versus dangerous forms of spirituality and spiritual gifts.

C. S. Lewis argues against Dualism that  we cannot define “Good” and “Evil” without an external standard to define them.  If “Good” and “Evil” were truly opposite “forces,” they would not balance; they would cancel each other out.  Even if there were two equally powerful “gods,” one good/one evil, to know which was which there would still have to be a “God” to tell us which was which (e.g., the JW idea that Jesus & Satan are brothers).

“Only Sith deal in absolutes,” Obi-Wan tells Anakin in Revenge of the Sith, and that is the fundamental paradox at work in a Dualistic narrative.  The interesting irony is that the more honest Star Wars is about its flawed philosophical underpinnings, the more the fans complain–first the prequels undermined the narrative that the Jedi and the Republic are “good,” a narrative already flawed from Obi-Wan’s lies to Luke.  I think they’re viscerally reacting against the implicit and now explicit rejection of objective standards.

“Good guys, bad guys: made up words.  It’s all a machine,” says “DJ,” the early Han Solo-esque hacker who takes his money and runs.

Dualists and moral relativists always want to have their proverbial cake and eat it, too.  They want “good” and “evil” to be relative terms when it suits them and then appeal to morality or to vague concepts like “hope” and “energy” and “good thoughts” when it’s convenient.

So we’re supposed to support the Jedi because they’re the “guardians of peace and order,” yet the Sith also insist they want peace and order.  From a Thomistic standpoint, and from what we see of the Republic in the films, the Sith make the stronger claim to promoting “peace and order.”  And the “good guys” seem to ambiguate between whether they want “peace and order” or “freedom,” since the two concepts cannot coexist.  Hobbes tells us what “freedom” means: the war of all against all for all.  It’s the “Outer Rim,” ruled by warring gangsters.  The only way anyone can functionally have absolute freedom is to enslave others to some extent.

In the Force religion, as in Modernism and all other permutations of Gnosticism, we hear about “Hope,” and “Freedom” and “Peace,” but we hear no explanation for what these words mean or imply or why they are good things.

We love Star Wars because it seems to be about “good” versus “evil.”  However, in The Last Jedi, we’re told to “let the past die,” to destroy all the books, to look within for wisdom.  This was really the most honest movie in the Star Wars franchise in terms of expressing what we’ve been hearing all along.

Wake up!

From Evening Prayer, Friday Week 3:

2b Consider it all joy, my brothers, when you encounter various trials,*3for you know that the testing* of your faith produces perseverance.4And let perseverance be perfect, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.5But if any of you lacks wisdom,* he should ask God who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and he will be given it.c6But he should ask in faith, not doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed about by the wind.d7For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord,8since he is a man of two minds, unstable in all his ways. (James 1:2-8)

On May 25, the feast of St. Mary Magdalene De Pazzi, OCD, and the feast of the great and “venerable” Englishman St. Bede, Ireland, which St. Patrick prophesied would one day lose the faith but regain it to spread around the world, officially severed itself not just from Catholicism but from basic decency and Natural Law by sentencing millions of children to death by abortion.

About 20 years ago, I had a dream that the Chastisements would begin if Ireland legalized abortion. Prepare your hearts. Repent. Go to Confession. Get baptized if you aren’t. Fast. Pray. Stop blaspheming. Love God with all your hearts, minds and souls. Arm your family with faith, service and sacramentals. This is war. And we’re all soldiers asleep at our posts. Our Lord warns us that when we have done our duties, we should say “I am an unprofitable servant for I have only done my duty.” “You’ve done your duty; nothing more,” said Valjean to Javert.

St. John Bosco had a dream where St. Dominic Savio showed him all the souls he might have helped to bring to Heaven but even his efforts and faith were not strong enough.  One of the saints said that the thing Heaven and Hell have in common is that everyone says “I don’t deserve to be here.”

I for one know I could and should do much more for God.

I spent years reading books on apparitions.  I’ve always been conflicted on the “Three Days of Darkness,” yet it seems to match up not just with the prophecies of so many saints and approved visionaries but of many secular and Protestant ideas (the “zombie apocalypse,” for example).

Any Cradle Catholic who’s paid attention to their grandparents or “pious old Church ladies” has at least heard of it.  The prophecy is that, in a time such as ours, when the world and the Church herself fall into sin and rebellion and division, God will reveal Himself through various signs and plagues like those of Egypt, and one of the first will be three days of complete darkness (volcano? EMP?) when no lights will work except for the light of blessed beeswax candles.  One candle will last the three days and light a home, but it will only burn in the homes of those who are in a presumptive state of grace.  It will be the inverse of the “Rapture” as understood by Protestants: those who are in sin will be confronted by their sin and by demons and die.  Reanimated corpses will torment the godly in their homes, so doors and windows should be locked and covered, and protected with sacramentals.  Though it’s always struck me as a bit superstitious, too many signs are being fulfilled to not at least be prepared in spirit and in sacramentals:
https://www.cukierski.net/collections/spiritual-goods-collection

Want to stop school shootings? Ban contraception

Teenagers would have been considered adults 100 years ago.
Today, our “culture” coddles biological adults and keeps extending childhood. It’s difficult for those brainwashed by the media and public schools to think outside the box, as it were, but Americans live for self-centeredness and “I don’t wanna grow up! I’m a Toys R Us kid!” Thinking.

Thus, teenagers and now twentysomethings are “just kids” when their bodies are telling them to get married and have kids of their own. Artificial birth control severs the connection of sex, marriage and procreation. Then sex, the primordial sacrament, as CS Lewis calls it, becomes supposedly a form of casual recreation, with people denying the deep physical and spiritual bond it creates between persons.

People engage in sexual relationships without the protection of marriage, “break up,” and are left with emotional wounds that get aggravated by the person “moving on”–same with serial divorce and remarriage–and then express that frustration in varying degrees of anger.  

Abortion becomes a back up to failed contraception and, along with the media, teaches kids that human beings can be eliminated if inconvenient to their ambition or pleasure. My father saw this decades ago in his students’ inability to understand why characters in literature felt guilt or trepidation about murder and said it wouldn’t be long before kids were shooting each other in school. All of these consequences were warned about by GK Chesterton, CS Lewis, TS Eliot and Pope Paul VI, among others.