It’s Been A Crazy Week – And Not In A Good Way

ECG-heartIt’s been a crazy few weeks and, unfortunately, not in a good way.

Three weeks ago, I suddenly got a bad neck and back muscle spasm.  It hurt to move, turn my head, sit down, or get up.  I’ve gotten these before.  They usually  appear in stressful situations and disappear in a day or so.  Unfortunately, for whatever reason, the pain continued for an entire week.  Just when I would think it was gone, the pain would return and pain medication only helped a little.  The pain would even spread down my arms. One night, the pain across my body kept me up so late that it triggered a late night panic attack.  Still, as difficult as this was, it was nothing compared to the next event that turned our lives upside down.

Friday June 12th was my mother-in-law’s birthday.  It was also the day when she was retiring.  Needless to say, we went out with B’s parents for a celebratory dinner.  We ordered our food and began talking, but B’s mother kept rubbing her upper chest area – just under her neck.  She explained that her chest hurt bad.  We were worried, but she assured us that she was fine.  B began looking up some symptoms on Google while mom also noted that she felt sweaty.  She thought it was indigestion and took some medication for that, but the pain just got worse.  NHL, sitting next to her, was getting worried (as were the rest of us) and kept rubbing her back and asking if she was alright.

By the time the food came, she was pale and looked like she was going to pass out on her plate.  We finally decided that she needed to go to the hospital.  She tried to argue but we countered that we’d call 911 if she didn’t go immediately.  Besides, we would rather she go to the hospital and have it turn out to be nothing than not go and have it turn out to be something!  My father-in-law exited the booth, followed by NHL, and my mother-in-law slowly exited.  (NHL kept trying to hurry her up so she could quickly get the help that she obviously needed.)  My wife saw them out to their car while I sat at the table with the boys.

With their food served and their grandparents gone, the boys dug in.  B came back but (for obvious reasons) didn’t feel like eating.  I was worried but had the opposite reaction.  When I’m worried, I stress eat.  Even more, I wasn’t sure if we would need to run out of the restaurant so I gobbled my food down quickly.  (Given that I eat quickly to begin with, that’s saying something.)  We got B’s food and her parents’ food wrapped up to go, paid the bill, and hurried to the car.  B went to see her mother in the ER while I took the kids home to get them ready for bed.  That night, B didn’t get in until well after midnight.

The next morning, B went back to the hospital.  By this point, we knew what was going on.  My mother in law had had a heart attack.  It was a mild one, but a mild heart attack is still a heart attack.  We knew that she would be in the hospital for quite a few days as they observed her and ran tests.  Those next days went by like a blur.  B’s brother came into town to visit his mother.  I kept the boys busy while B stayed by her mother’s side.  The boys and I even visited mom in the hospital a few times.  (Since they saw her looking so weak and sick during her heart attack, we knew it would be important for them to see her feeling better even if it was in a hospital bed.)

Finally, after some confirmation that her heart was alright, she was released on Tuesday.  Of course, she’s still going to need to take it easy for a bit, but she’s already doing better.

There are a couple of lessons here.  First of all, Dr. Google can often get a bad rap.  Yes, looking up random symptoms can lead you to hypochondria or make you think you have some disease that you don’t have.  However, it can also help you discover the symptoms of something serious when you would otherwise just write it off as nothing important.  Secondly, heart attack symptoms in men differ from those in women.  The classic "movie heart attack" is a guy clutching his chest, perhaps complaining of pain in his left arm, and then collapsing on the floor.  The real life symptoms of a heart attack can include heartburn/indigestion, sweating, arm pain in either arm, toothache, and even general malaise.  Knowing the real symptoms and getting help quickly can be the difference between life and death.  Finally, never be too proud to seek help or write off your suffering as not important enough to get medical attention.  Time can be a big determining factor in the outcome of heart attacks and many other medical issues.  The quicker you get medical help, the better.

Once B’s mother was on the mend, you’d think that our lives could return to normal, but B developed a sinus infection and then an ear infection.  The pain and the antibiotics took their toll on her.  She’s still in pain and having trouble hearing out of one ear, but hopefully she is getting better.

After a month of medical issues, I’m ready for a nice, quiet, boring stretch.  Stay safe, everyone.

NOTE: The "Heart ECG Logo" above is by juliobahar and is available from

Lessons From A Little Rose Bush

little_rose_bushWhen we first moved into our house eleven years ago, there was a tiny rise bush in the front yard.  The poor thing like like it was on its last legs and we figured it wouldn’t be giving us many roses. In fact, calling it a"bush " is being generous.  It was more of a rose stalk.  Every year, we would declare that surely this works be the year that the rose bush died.  Every year, it would look like we were right…  And then a rise would bloom.  There might just one or two roses per year, but there they were declaring to the world that this rose bush wasn’t dead yet.

As we did gardening around the little rose bush, there was a temptation to just put it out of its misery.  We could easily dig it up and replace it with a plant that produced more flowers.  A new plant would have looked much better in that spot.  It would have easily produced more flowers and looked much better.  We never did, though.  I guess I just couldn’t bear to step in and end the little rose bush’s battle for life.  Eleven years on and the rose bush is still clinging to life and producing a rose or two – challenging everyone else’s notion that it should just die off.

There are plenty of moments when the stresses of life threaten to overwhelm me.  I want to just scream and run out of the room.  Other times, my Imposter Syndrome flares up.  I see others doing what I do only much better and it makes me feel like just giving up.  After all, my Imposter Syndrome whispers to me, what’s the point of even trying when so many people are so much better than I am.  Finally, there are instances when the task at hand seems impossible and I just want to quit.

However, I believe there is are some life lessons to be learned from my little rose bush.  It doesn’t matter how hard it is to accomplish your goal.  It doesn’t matter how many people tell you that you can’t do it.  It doesn’t matter if other people seem to be doing it better or not often than you do.  Just keep at it.  Tune out the naysayers who tell you to just give up and push past the obstacles that spring up in your path.  Keep working towards your goals no matter what.

Who knew that one could learn so much from a little rose bush?

Mourning Leonard Nimoy

Leonard_Nimoy_(5774458356)Unless you just beamed back to Earth you know that, last week, Leonard Nimoy passed away at the age of 83.  Nimoy played many roles during his life, but he will be best remembered as Mr. Spock – the half-human/half-Vulcan science officer and first officer serving under Captain Kirk on the USS Enterprise.  As Spock, Leonard played a character who was both apart from humanity and part of it.  Someone who observed human traits from afar and dealt them himself.

I was first introduced to Star Trek in middle school by a friend of mine.  (The same friend who would later help me overcome some severe bullying by talking to the bullies and getting them to stop.)  While I enjoyed both the original series and The Next Generation sequel series, I identified the most with two characters.  In Next Generation, it was Data – the android who couldn’t feel emotions himself but tried his best to understand them.  In the original series, though, I most identified with Spock.  As Scott Kurtz put it: "I was an introverted math obsessed child who felt completely out of place among my friends.  Mister Spock is my spirit animal."  He was having a character in his comic strip describe herself, but he might as well have been describing me.

At the time, I didn’t know anything about Asperger’s Syndrome.  I didn’t know why I was the way I was.  All I knew about Autism was gleaned from the movie Rain Man which meant I thought it meant you talked kind of funny and could count popsicle sticks when they were dropped on the floor.  Still, I knew there was something different about me.  I didn’t "get" social situations like other people seemed to.  I felt both apart from society and drawn to it.  I couldn’t stand the spotlight yet craved to be in it.  It was all too easy to imagine myself as Mister Spock observing the interactions of humans as they went about their daily business, trying to find a logical reason for it all.  Somehow, not being part of it all seemed slightly less painful when I was purposefully acting as an observer.

Yes, Kirk was the man in charge.  Scotty could rig anything to work in half the time he claimed it would take.  Bones was cantankerous but an excellent doctor.  However, it was Mister Spock whom I felt the closest to.  None of that would have been possible had it not been for Leonard Nimoy’s wonderful acting.  He brought lift to a beloved character and embraced it even after Star Trek left the air.

The original Star Trek was always supposed to be an optimistic view of the future.  A beacon of hope.  Leonard Nimoy’s acting certainly helped to give me hope during a dark time.

Farewell, Mr. Nimoy.  You lived long and prospered.  May your memory endure for generations to come via the characters you brought to life.

NOTE: The photo of Leonard Nimoy above is by Gage Skidmore and is released under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

Freedom To Offend; Freedom To Be Offended

file0001964396712_smallThere have been some horrible events in France recently.  In short, in case you’ve been living under a rock without access to Wi-Fi, some gunmen took offense to some cartoons.  They decided that the proper response was to kill the cartoonists – and anyone that stood in their way.  While the world mourns the dead, it has also opened up a very important question:  Is it right to offend people?

I’ve heard from various people, most recently the Pope, who say that you shouldn’t offend other people’s religions.  That those things should be held sacred and not poked fun at.  However, I think being able to ridicule is an integral part of free speech.  Suppose we accepted that you couldn’t belittle religion.  Where is the line drawn?  Can I say that Jesus wasn’t the messiah because I don’t believe he was?  Or am I forced to be quiet because that might offend someone who believes he was?  Can someone who thinks Jesus was the son of God say so or must he remain silent just in case he offends those of us who don’t believe that?

Furthermore, what about scientific advances that move explanations from "God did this" to "here is a detailed scientific explanation as to how this happened"?  Should all research on the beginnings of the Universe be banned because the Big Bang Theory, and all the evidence in favor of it, offends those who think the world was created 10,000 years ago?  Should any fossils be crumbled into powder lest they offend by their age?

As you can see, banning anything that might offend someone’s religious sensibilities turns into a quickly widening circle.  You wind up banning everything.  The only alternative seems to be picking and choosing which religions (and subsets thereof) are "important" enough for protection from offense.  So maybe Catholicism is deemed worthy of protection, but Buddhists are declared fair game.  (Fat jokes in 3… 2… 1…)  This doesn’t seem like an equitable arrangement at all.

So let’s say we allow for people to make materials that offend other religions.  Does this mean we’re not allowed to be offended?  Of course not.  I’ll be the first to admit that I get steamed if people joke about certain things.  If you laugh about how you’re "retarded like an autistic kid" you’re going to get an earful from me (or at least a stern glare).  By all means, get offended when people say things you don’t like.  Just like they have a right to offend, you’ve got a right to be offended.  The key is in how you express your taking offense.

The ideal way to express your offense is with words.  Tell the person just why their action offends you.  If the person is working off of a misconception or is being offensive due to ignorance (for example, perhaps not knowing how offensive a word like "retarded" can be), talking with them can inform them.  If the person knows exactly why they are offending, at the very least you can begin a dialog.  If the person doesn’t care to start a dialog and just wants to offend for the sake of offending, you can at least bring up counter-arguments to other people who might fall under the first two groups.

If words alone don’t work, peaceful actions can.  Organize protests and marches to show the support for your side.  Keep the protests peaceful and your message will come across loud and clear.

The operative word in that last sentence, of course, being "peaceful."  Nothing distracts people from your counter-message like violence.  Attempting to hurt or kill those who offend you is a sure way to lose the argument before you begin.  Yes, you might silence one person, but dozens – if not hundreds – more will take that person’s side  in sympathy.  What’s more, you don’t have the right to threaten and claim it as free speech.  Saying "I’ll kill you if you don’t shut up" is not presenting your side of the issue.  It’s attempting to stifle a person using the threat of violence.  Rightfully so, it’s illegal.

Protecting a person’s right to free speech – including their right to offend – is rarely easy.  There are many times when I wish I could just say "free speech for everyone except this group – they’re too icky."  As a pastor once pointed out, people in Nazi Germany supported taking away certain "undesirable" groups’ freedoms bit by bit because it didn’t affect them.  When their freedoms started to get removed, however, they found nobody willing to speak up in their defense.  Were I ready to sacrifice the freedom of speech of some groups because they’re "icky" or "offensive" or "loony", I’d be setting a dangerous precedent that would more than likely spread to include my own free speech.

My general mantra when it comes to rights comes from Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.:  "The right to swing my fist ends where the other man’s nose begins."  So I can say whatever I like so long as it doesn’t hurt someone else.  Hurt, in this case, meaning causing actual physical harm or egging others on to do physical harm.  Offending people might hurt their feelings, but I doubt anyone is going to claim that we need to be nice to all people all the time.  If your response to my offensive speech is to hurt me, your swung fist has not ended where my nose began (possibly literally).

The Freedom To Offend and The Freedom To Be Offended are two sides of the same coin.  So long as people are peaceful about it, offending and responded to offenses can open up dialogs, clear up misconceptions, or challenge long-held – but perhaps no longer relevant – beliefs.  It can break down and improve upon the status quo.  Taking those away would cost society – and all of us – dearly.

NOTE: The image above, "screaming mouth open" is by EmmiP and is available from MorgueFile.

Chasing the Shiny

DTRave-Cartoon-Computer-and-DesktopWith the new year comes the end of the Chanukah/Christmas gift-giving season.  Now, as things settle down to routine, we begin to see which of the boys’ new acquisitions will get played with often and which will be placed aside after one go-around.  Which will still be used months from now and which won’t be used after a few days have passed.  We also get to see how long these new acquisitions quench the urge to chase the shiny.

My boys love new things.  They are always begging for new apps and games for their tablets, new toys, or to record new TV shows.  They love everything new.  (Well, not everything.  New foods still tend to elicit more "yucks" than "yays".)  This isn’t to say that they don’t like older things.  However, today’s fast-paced world has reached the youngest of kids and they always seem to be looking for what they are getting next.

There are days when I worry that we’re raising a generation that acquires, uses once or twice, and discards in favor of the next new thing.  Unfortunately, our kids aren’t the only ones.  The urge to get the next new thing seems to have worked its way into our society.  How many of us happily trade a device in for the newer model when the older model is only a couple of years old?  How many people will toss out a perfectly working TV set because the new one comes with cool new features?  How many people don’t bother finishing an old game on their smartphone because there’s a new one that everyone is playing?

This might be weird coming from someone who calls himself "TechyDad."  Yes, I’m guilty of "chasing the shiny" too.  Though I can’t afford every piece of new tech, I do drool over them.  Were money no object, my house would be fitted out with the best in new technology and I’d constantly be getting some new acquisitions to satiate me.  I’ve had my share of toys that I bought that I just *had* to have which I didn’t look at a month later.  That gyros wrist exerciser comes to mind.  Similar to this model, it was supposed to help with some carpal tunnel I was suffering from.  Instead, I used it about three times before putting it in a drawer.  I’d take it out to show people as a conversation piece, but that was it.  It was shiny and I had to have it – until I had it at which time I didn’t really care enough to use it.

I don’t want my boys to be afraid of change and of new technology.  To survive in this world, you need to be able to surf the changing currents.  However, I also think it’s important to keep a sense of perspective of where you’ve come from and what other shiny temptations have brought with them.  Being able to spot when the shiny brings helpful changes and when it’s all flash and no substance is key.

Do you find yourself chasing the shiny?  How do you teach your children what shiny is good to pursue and what to avoid?

NOTE: The image above is "Cartoon Computer and Desktop" by DTRave and is available via

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