Monday, April 26, 2010

PONDERING THE IMPONDERABLE

In my 88th year I'm looking back over the span of my life to see what I can now perceive as the pattern set there. I'll view it with as unbiased an approach as is possible, acknowledging the human tendency to exaggerate in either direction.

My beginning acknowledgement is that my life was planned by God. From this starting point I plan to trace this in two critical areas: My ill-formed feet and my limited vision. In setting forth the facts, this will not be an attempt to blame God for my physical limitations but to see how He has used them for my good.

AUTOBIGRAPHY OF MY FEET

From birth, my feet have been the source of much painful suffering. Both feet and legs were turned backwards. The delivering doctor's comment at that time was: "He'll not walk, but he has a bright mind." My parents were not willing to accept this as the end of the story. Instead, they took me at about age one to the Mountain Clinic in Olean, NY. I clearly remember sitting on the operating table and having Dr. Mountain talk to me. He explained to my parents that he knew then of no method to correct the fault but would try to move the bones so they would point ahead as normal feet do. With their consent, he proceeded to attempt it. The follow-up treatment after they were healed was to bathe them in cold water to stimulate circulation. This was painful, as I resisted.

From about age three until five, I endured a succession of casts to further shape my feet along with painful braces to hold me in erect position. Special shoes to force my feet to a more normal direction added to my discomfort. Each of these required a trip to Utica, NY, an auto trip of two hundred miles each way, taken in the old Star car. All of this was done on a pastor's salary, resulting in cuts of living expenses. Never was I made to feel that I was at fault for this.

Moving to the rural parish of East Otto signaled an end to further attempts to change the foot situation. Through country grade school followed by high school my use of my feet was an awkward walking on the sides of them. With no ability in sports, I concentrated my time with reading and study. The reward was making it as valedictorian.

The two years at A. M. Chesbrough Seminary, (now Roberts Wesleyan), repeated the high school experience. The following year at Greenville College in Illinois brought me to my senior year. Mother insisted that in spite of the war, I should finish. I enrolled in the fall of 1942 for my senior year at Houghton College.

One month later, I received my draft notice and departed from campus. It took less than a week for the draft board to decide that my feet were not meant to be those of a soldier. I was given the designation of 4F and returned to college to catch up on what I had missed.

The next forty years, as far as my feet were concerned, held no good news. All continued as was expected with the results of overuse given their condition. Periodically I would attempt once again to discover some new orthopedic means to better my walking, all to no avail. The sabbatical leave to New Zealand in 1979 gave me a vision of what I was missing. The desire to see and experience it like I now observed it to be took possession of my thoughts.

One final attempt to change this brought me to the office of a renowned surgeon in Olean, New York. His devastating opinion was: "From the x-rays, I fully expected to find you in a wheelchair. That will be where you can expect to be very soon and for the rest of your life. I can offer you no hope." Dashed were all of my expectations.

One month later I was in the office of a podiatrist in Hamburg, New York, to have some of the most obvious spots treated. Dr. Graver shocked me by stating, "I know a surgeon that I think might help you. I have worked with him and find he has done some remarkable things. I would be willing to contact him for you."

Less than two weeks later, I was discussing my case with Dr. Cangelosi. His interest in my situation was obvious. After numerous x-rays had been examined, I asked the critical question, "Given the condition originated sixty years back in time, could my feet be rebuilt now to walk reasonably well and be useful again?"

His reply was, "With God's help, I think surgery can make a real difference. Both feet will need to be rebuilt to restore them to their normal function. But I think it can be done."

"What will bring about the change you are contemplating?" I inquired.

"Bones were broken that need to be joined. The tendons in the feet must be properly attached and the foot joints joined to them. It will be like taking apart a puzzle that was not put together right. It will be bringing the entire foot including the nerves relating to the parts to control the action. The nerve actions are critical to making the foot function," the doctor explained. "After both feet are refitted, much therapy will be required to teach you to walk again. But you are motivated to bring this to pass, aren't you?"

"Yes sir. I have been waiting a long time for this," I affirmed.

The date for the surgery was set for May 29, 1980. Suddenly what appeared to be impossible entered the realm of possibility. Dr. Cangelosi, a strong Catholic, had given to me the hope that springs from conviction that God was also involved with the outcome. He chose to begin with the most malformed foot, the left one.
When I regained consciousness following the operation, I became aware that a cast encased the foot and leg to the knee. Walking was accomplished with a pair of crutches. During the month, I would have to await the result. In the meantime, it became necessary for me to drive with one foot to control both the accelerator and the brake. My friend, Dick Pocock, rigged up a hand control to the dimmer switch that was on the floor.

The first foot emerged bearing seven scars. The entire foot was altered so the weight would be spread over the heel and forefoot instead of having all of the weight being borne by just ten percent of the area as had the case been before. With the tendon attached, the foot began to gradually assume a more normal stance.

When my parents arrived to view the situation, their faith was weak. Especially my mother decreed that the second foot should not be touched. This I could not agreed to. What was started must be carried to completion.

On July 30, 1981, the right foot received its share of attention. Similar protocols were used to assure a similar outcome. There were no surprises encountered until the third week. One of the stainless steel rods that were driven through my foot to hold the parts in place had been caught on something, causing it to bend internally. When I found that the surgeon was gone for the weekend, I panicked. Relief had to come from somewhere. Betty located my Vicegrips. Lining it up to get a direct pull, I jerked it through my foot. Out came the rod with some relief following almost immediately. However there remained an increasingly sore spot under the cast.

Returning to the clinic on Monday, the surgeon discovered that a break in the plaster had created an abscess on my leg. To reduce the likelihood of blood poison required earlier removal of the cast than was planned. Reluctantly the doctor returned me to the hospital for an extra ten days until the blood poison danger abated.

When I finally arrived home, the moment of truth had arrived. After all that had preceded, my expectations were that I would walk. This was not the reality. I discovered that the nerves had become accustomed to a given pattern that had been altered. This would require retraining to accomplish what I had anticipated. I lay on the living room floor and wept.

A woman skilled in rehabilitation came to the house weekly and guided my efforts to gain control. With the delay caused by the blood poisoning episode plus the much later start, I was not ready to begin classes by striding to the front of the classroom in a controlled manner. Instead, for the first weeks of my classes it was my lot to be pushed to class in a wheelchair.

Dr. Cangelosi had been realistic. Total recovery was long and gradual. But my drive to make it happen was firmly in control. First came walking followed by running as the muscles in my legs grew stronger. By the second summer following surgery, my ability to climb a mountain trail had returned.

As I rather impatiently waited, I knew that the time for a second sabbatical to New Zealand was fast running out. Betty was assured of her place but I was lower on the scale due to my age. Then came President Chamberlain's news. A group of my former students would assist with the project. All of my efforts to walk would be rewarded.

My teaching career ended as planned at age sixty-eight to be followed by extended trips that were botanically oriented. The purchase of the 1989 Winnebago Warrior after retirement made such travel economically feasible.

Then followed our relocation to Warm Beach to occupy Dan's new home until he retired from Compassion, Inc. For fourteen years I vigorously went at the job of bringing the three acres under control while traveling extensively.

Suddenly one evening, as I was listening to my wife Betty reading to me, I was removed from the active scene by an unexpected stroke.

As I slowly began to recover some of my abilities to ponder, my thoughts clustered around the question:

STARTING WITH LITTLE OR NO LIKELIHOOD OF BEING ABLE TO WALK NORMALLY FOR 60 YEARS, WHY WAS I PERMITTED TO HAVE MY FEET RESTORED FOR A PERIOD OF 25 YEARS, ONLY TO END LIFE AS IT HAD BEGUN?

This brings up a second related question:

HOW AM I TO FILL THE TIME STILL REMAINING TO ME IN A MANNER GLORIFYING GOD AND HELPING OTHERS?

KEEPING MY VISION

My early childhood was a time for discovery. As an avid reader I devoured all of the books in the "library" of East Otto District School No. 6A. What was left after the schoolhouse burned to the ground the year I was assigned to third grade was a random selection. Some of the books were for adult readers. My favorite volume, a gift after the book collection was abandoned, was ARLO by Bertha B. and Ernest Cobb.

When I reached fifth grade a traveling school nurse discovered how relatively poor my distance vision was. She recommended that father take me to see an eye doctor. Father chose to take me to Jamestown, over an hour's drive from Brooklyn. Dr. C. A. Hanvey , an optometrist, took a special interest in my case. He even ground the new lenses while we waited. (Lenscrafters finally discovered that "modern method.")

What a change this made in my ability to see everything. It revolutionized my ability to see both the distant scene and the close-up view of things as they really are. Reading became a breeze. But new hazards appeared. That winter I nearly wiped my face on the macadam road with the shattered lenses digging into my face. Miraculously my eyes were spared as Dr. Hanvey ground new lenses and repaired broken frames. This scenario was repeated time after time.

An episode at Gowanda at a later date was similar in its effects. I was racing my bike to see a plane that had landed in a cornfield. Another boy was riding on my handlebars. His weight compressed the "knee action" causing me to depart the bike headfirst, my face digging into the dirt. The glasses were demolished. I had a concussion that necessitated my asking my way home,

Reading became an assumed ability. My way of life as a Certified Public Accountant depended on strict accuracy.as basic to my performance. That same quality continued into my teaching career. Reading became a prime task. All was going as planned until the day came for my regular 1970 eye checkup.

The opthalmologist used the word "glaucoma" as a term to describe the condition of the eye that causes the eyeball to accumulate abnormal pressure. If allowed unchecked it could cause decline in vision and eventually blindness. The doctor immediately assured me that with correct treatment the process could control the pressure within the eye. This result was what I wanted to hear. He sent me home with a set of eye drops to be used daily.

Over the next eight years I was shuttled from one practitioner to another, each time I was assured that with the proper medication the problem could be solved. My left eye proved to be the one that refused to be controlled. When I told the doctor that the following week I would be in Boston for a seminar on Business Ethics, he said he would set up an appointment for me with a specialist there. At the time, Massachusetts Eye and Ear was at the forefront of this research.

Planning to drive all night to arrive at the appointment the next morning, I decided to take Betty with me. Thunder and lightning played the accompaniment the whole way across those 400+ miles. The poor eye was weeping copiously during the entire trip. Next I had to battle work bound traffic in a strange environment. Finally I pulled into a parking garage just a block from my destination.

As soon as Dr. Hutchinson saw my condition, he asked my permission to have me act as his example of how to treat an extreme case. He made the arrangements for my case to be an example for the doctors who had traveled from around the world to see this relatively new procedure.

A tiny hole was drilled in the eye and a very small relief valve called a bleb was inserted. That was designed to regulate the flow. The new process was tested over the next few days to be sure it operated as designed. A series of miracles of a different dimension followed to provide a place for Betty to stay. The final one was the drive home. Thank you, Lord.

The success of the bleb worked well for a few years. I was told that in time it would plug up. In 1987 this occurred. I was ready to return to Boston for a repeart
performance when Dr. X offered to do it at Warsaw, He pointed out the savings in travel, hotel, and other costs as well as lost time on the job. Foolishly I decided to follow the path suggested.

He left the knot of a stitch in the eye. The eye became irritated and hemorrhaged as the bleb weakened. Almost immediately sight began to fade in the left eye. The right eye tried to compensate but the damage was done. I would learn to read and do other tasks with one eye.

The move to Warm Beach meant many changes, particularly in the area of Health Care. Eye care was assigned to Physicians Eye Clinic and for several years Betty and I both had cataract removal and other modifications. With insurance switched, we found it more convenient to use Everett Clinic with a specialist in glaucoma.

The pressure in the good eye suddenly began to fall precipitously. The eye needed further surgery so I was sent to Northwest Hospital in Bellevue. Eventually this resulted in a return to a more normal level. At that point I couldn't distinguish the food on my plate without Betty's help. The year 2006 brought the stroke and fresh complications. Learning to eat in a semi-civilized manner was a skill I had to regain. Other phases of getting into a routine took relearning. I soon realized I would have to prove to the physician and the others on my committee that I could do these things on my own if I were to escape this prison.
After three years I'm OUT. My reading sight has returned in my right eye but with some limitations. Every day I ask the question: WHAT DOES THIS DEGREE OF SEEING ENABLE ME TO DO?

It gives me freedom to care for myself, liberating Betty from the everyday tasks that she had graciously done for me.

The ability to run errands or just cruise about campus on my jitney provides me some options.

Return of sight enables me to communicate almost instantly via the computer, replacing handwritten messaging.

Gazing out of my office window at the beautiful flowers is much more rewarding than having someone tell me what they are seeing.

Being able to choose visually what I am wearing is important.

Seeing videotapes is far superior to just listening to them.

As I daily can go to the box to collect my mail, I realize how independent that makes me.

How wonderful it is to me to be enjoying family: children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. Seeing their happy faces adds so much to my pleasure.

So I concentrate on the blessings that are mine even with limited mobility. I can still enjoy the singing and music of others as I participate by listening. .

So I give praise and thanks to God for this marvelous gift of limited sight.

Monday, April 19, 2010

WHAT IS TIME WORTH?

Setting a value on time is a complicated affair. What appears to be a simple arithmetic function can turn into a complex equation with many variables. Let us consider a few of the issues.

Time exchanged for work is one place to begin. It can be observed that free time can be swapped for a given amount of work. But are all units of labor equal? To one person who surrenders his time for wages the cost to him in alternative uses can vary greatly. If the worker would otherwise be idle (doing nothing), should the cost be nothing? Or does having free time have calculable value?

Since I am retired, does that mean my time has no value? Does the freedom to do whatever I choose have worth? Using as a yardstick the alternatives that are mine, I can take this hour today and turn it into a letter to a friend, listening to good music, zooming around the community in my jitney, watching TV, helping a friend or merely sleeping. It appears that the possibilities are infinite. It might seem that the choices are endless to the point where I could squander all my available time just trying to figure out what to do. After considering the host of possibilities, I could find that the opportunity to do any of them has slipped away.

Is the value of time related to the amount of it remaining? Is time more valuable if it is apparently running low? An elderly lady waiting patiently to be seen by a doctor is expected to be content in the delay. The young doctor, with a much longer life expectation, is considered to have more claim on the moments he grants to this person. Is his time more valuable than the lady's if he is headed for the golf course?

I am standing in line for a table at the café when a young man with a party of three steps in front of me claiming attention of the waitress to be taken before ours. A youthful person's wants clearly superceded the needs of an elderly couple. Part of the problem is the general cultural bias with respect to time in preference to youth.

On the other side, I was heartened by the alacrity of several young people who wanted to help me. There are those who are clearly attracted to assist people who are disadvantaged and will go out of the way to assist if given the opportunity. That day I was rewarded with smiles genuinely offered along with the assistance given.

What is the value of time? Is it hours to be squandered with no loss of priceless opportunities? Or are we to redeem the moments that pass so swiftly from our control? Am I using my days in ways that say: Time is a valuable commodity. Life is too short to let it slip past without adequately wringing out its true worth.