What to expect when your chest is sawed open

My previous blog, I discussed my impending open-heart surgery and posted it that day. Needless to say, I’ve been indisposed since then and haven’t felt like doing much of anything; but now, two months later, I’m recovering quite well.

I purposely did minimal research prior to my procedure (aortic valve replacement and aortic arch graft). I’ve worked in clinical healthcare for years, and knew enough to know that I didn’t want to know any more than was absolutely necessary. Besides, my wife and my mother did plenty of research and were more than nervous enough for everyone involved (which I guess comes with the titles).

That said, what information I did see was fairly dry and clinical. I thought I’d provide an honest and thorough personal account. So, if you’re facing an open-heart procedure yourself and want to know what to expect, or are just interested in what happens, here’s a walk-through of the things I discovered and/or were surprised about along the journey. Granted, everyone’s experience will vary, and, at 41 and in very good health other than the defective valve, I’m outside the demographic of the average heart patient. Some things, though, are certainly universal.

  • Yes, there’s pain, but… – Not as bad as I thought and not all where I thought it’d be. Coming right out of surgery, of course your chest is painful where your sternum has been sawed, separated, and wired back together. You figure out quickly how to move so as not to aggravate it further. However, your arms almost hurt more at first, especially around the armpits. This is because your arms are spread and pinioned out to the sides during the surgery, to be out of way. This fades and goes away after about a week. The chest pain gets better, but very slowly. I have no idea how long before it goes away. I’m not there yet. Although, now at two months in, I’d call it more “discomfort” than pain.
  • Tubes – You’ll be full of them at first, and most of them come out at about the same time.
    • The breathing tube -I was wheeled into the operating room, told to breathe into the mask and count backwards, and almost immediately I was aware that I was in the CCU and they wanted to take the breathing tube out of my throat (of course, over 12 hours had elapsed between one and the other). I was still pretty out of it, but I knew I really wanted it out. They gave me a countdown and ran water down the tube as they pulled, which caused me to feel a slight moment of panic, but the tube came out and it was over. Your throat’s a little irritated afterward, but not that bad and not for long.
    • Chest tubes – Three of them, inserted under the diaphragm up into the chest cavity to drain out fluids, and stitched into place. The pinkish liquid is collected in a box with a clear front so you can examine it. These tubes are removed right before you leave the CCU. They’re pulled out as quickly as they can be, which is very slowly. It feels exactly like you’d think a tube being slowly pulled out of your chest through a small hole in your abdomen would feel like. Three times.
    • Arterial line – This ran up into my groin inside the left leg, into the femoral artery. Honestly, I never asked specifically what it was for. It’s pulled out right before you leave the CCU. It’s not too bad, but then they put a 10 lb. sandbag on the site to make sure it closes, which stays there for an hour as you lay flat. Laying flat is highly uncomfortable for quite a while after a sternotomy.
    • Foley catheter – So you don’t have to get up to pee. You can figure out where it goes. It came out right before I left the CCU, and the nurse yanked it out like she was trying to start a lawnmower. I’m pretty sure, however, that’s the best way to do it. I’m also pretty sure I involuntarily said some bad words.
    • Central line – This goes into your left shoulder into one of the major veins in the chest. Meds can be administered through it, as well as blood taken. This stays until right before you leave the hospital.
  • They want you up – I was helped to get out of bed and to sit up in a chair before the sun came up my first night in the CCU. When I moved to a regular hospital room, there was someone there within 30 minutes asking if I wanted to walk. I had use a walker and only made it halfway down the hall, but it felt good. It got much easier as the week progressed. I would have walked out of the hospital the last day if they’d let me.
  • You’ll be weak at first – Amazingly so. I was helped out of bed to sit in a chair that first night because I couldn’t have done it otherwise. Walking was hard at first, but it came back quickly. Still, you learn that you can’t pick up jack. That lasts weeks and months. Either you don’t have the strength or it hurts. You can’t drive for several weeks because you don’t have the upper body strength to turn the wheel, plus it hurts at first. Take it slow. It will come.
  • Bodily functions are your enemy – My chest hurt, yes, but I figured out how to move and position myself to minimize the pain. Then I started hiccupping. One nurse stated that it was not uncommon, but they don’t know why some people do it and others don’t. I just knew it was painful. Sneezes are the worst. I sneezed hard about five weeks post-op, and even then it about made my knees buckle. Anything that builds up internal pressure is bad. There’s a reason you’re given stool softeners.
  • Hospital food – Actually not that bad, but I didn’t really want to eat much of the time. However, if you don’t call to order, they call you. I was on the “heart diet” which is low salt and fairly bland.  I lived on veggie omelets, tomato soup, and chicken salad wraps. Aside from the day I was discharged, my favorite day of my hospital stay was when my wonderful wife brought me Starbucks (decaf, of course).
  • It’s downhill after three weeks – The first three weeks are rough. The first was in the hospital. During the next two, at home, there were some issues and subsequent adjustments in medication. My heart started palpitating wildly. I got really weak and dizzy. After an EKG, it was determined it was part of the process of my heart finding its rhythm again as the inflammation decreased. Meds were upped, no more problem. Meanwhile, I gained 14 lbs. in water weight in 6 days. I was bloated like a stuffed sausage. Meds were adjusted, and I peed out about 20 lbs. of water weight in 7 days. Good times.
  • You won’t look good… – The first time I saw myself naked in the mirror after I got home, it was startling. It looked like I’d been in a train wreck. My chest and abdomen were mottled purple and yellow from bruises in various stages. The inside of my left leg, down to my knee, was entirely purple from the arterial line. Aside from the vertical scar from the sternal incision, there are the three small horizontal ones from the chest tubes, and another long one on my right shoulder from the bypass machine, so my brain wouldn’t die while my heart was stopped.
  • …but everyone will tell you that you do. – Most times I’ve seen someone since the surgery, I’m asked, “How are you?” I answer, and then am told, “Well, you look good.” I’m starting to wonder what I’m supposed to look like. Whatever the case, I’m happy for the compliment, and know that it’s probably exactly what I’d say to someone else in the same situation.

Other than all that, it’s really just a matter of moving when you can, and resting when you don’t feel like moving. Life’s almost back to normal. I’m working out now (very low weights) and building back my strength. I actually lost upper body mass, and my right shoulder is weaker from where it was cut through for the bypass. You couldn’t tell I had heart surgery two months ago, unless you hear me clicking. My heart clicks now due to the mechanical valve. I thought it would bother me, but it doesn’t. In fact, it’s kind of comforting.

 

 

Photo: photo credit: djwtwo <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/40761412@N00/26401286012″>…and It’s Okay</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/”>(license)</a&gt;

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Don’t be still, my beating heart

I was born with a heart defect. The medicalese is bicuspid aortic valve with aortic stenosis. My aortic valve, which controls the flow of blood out of the heart into the aorta, has two flaps instead on the normal three. This causes it to open less wide than it should. The average diameter should be at least  3 cm, and I’ve held steady for most of my life at 2.7. My pediatric cardiologist once referred to it as “trivial,” but of course something I needed to monitor.

I’ve never been restrained or limited in anything I’ve wanted to do. Growing up, I went on countless hiking, caving, climbing, rappelling, and other high adventure activities in the Boy Scouts. I marched across football fields with 40 lbs. of sousaphone on my shoulder, while blowing every bit of air I had through it. I’ve done consistent 5-10 mile runs. I’ve bicycled 100 miles on numerous occasions. Most recently, this past Feb., I earned a 4th degree black belt.

So, when I tried to take a run a couple of months ago and almost blacked out on the side of the road, I just knew it wasn’t my heart. I shortly afterward noticed that I constantly had this weird, out-of-breath feeling. It had to be my lungs. I waited it out a month, giving it time to clear, but it didn’t. So I went to my primary care physician and he started checking out my lungs, eventually finding that they work great.

At the same time I did that, I also checked in with my cardiologist. I hadn’t been in a couple of years due to another medical issue that had popped up and since resolved. I did what I’ve always done – got an Echo with doppler, and then went to my cardiologist a few days later for my visit. So I could check it off my list and figure what was really going on with me, I just needed him to say what he always said…”Looks great, keep watching it, and come back next year.”

Except, that’s not what he said.

The “trivial” 2.7 cm valve is now at 0.7. It has to be replaced, which means, for me, open-heart surgery. I’ve known all my life that there was a possibility upon hitting early middle-age that the valve could go. It’s been this surreal, out-on-the-horizon idea that I’ve never fully appreciated. That’s probably why now, at age 41 when the timing was right and the symptoms were all there, it still took me by surprise.

Maybe I knew and just didn’t want to admit it. Having worked for years in healthcare, I know that it’s everyone’s natural tendency to immediately jump to the worst possible conclusion, so I equivocated and rationalized everything away:

  • Shortness of breath – “Well, I had asthma as a child. It must be coming back.”
  • Left shoulder pain – “I’ve pulled it out of socket three times. It’s always hurt.”
  • Left arm pain – “I must have hurt it in karate.”
  • Chest pain – “Indigestion.”
  • Fatigue – “I work long hours, and I’m not sleeping enough.”
  • Heart skipping beats – “It runs in my family.”

Of course, reading this list, it’s easy to Monday morning quarterback and ask, “How did he not put it together?” The short answer is that it’s very easy to do when it’s yourself. I’m sure some women reading this are thinking, “That’s just a man for you,” and maybe there’s some validity to that. A hot button issue of mine is that way heart disease in men vs. women is treated, but that’s a separate issue that maybe I’ll get to later, once I’m able to do so. I’ll have about 14 weeks of recovery, so I don’t know what I’ll be able to do, and when. My entire sternum is going to be opened up, as my aorta has to be repaired in addition to the valve. The pressure of the blood coming through the narrowed valve dilated the ascending aorta.

It’s going to be an ordeal, but I’m ready for it. Maybe not so strangely, I’m far more calm and positive about all this than many of my family and friends. There’s a certain serenity that comes with having no other options. Either I do this or I die. Although I haven’t been told expressly, I gather I have probably less than a year, untreated. That doesn’t work for me. I need to be around to assist my son on all those adventures he dreams up, and help him become the man I know he’ll be. I need to be there to support my daughter, scare boys away from her, and eventually walk her down the aisle should one of the little punks actually be worthy of her. I need to grow old with my wife, and to finish out everything we put in motion when I asked her out to my senior Homecoming 24 years ago.

And while I intone that dying is not an option, and it is a very slim possibility, I’m prepared for it nevertheless, and with that also, I am fine. As the hymn goes, “It is well with my soul.” I accept that everything goes according the Lord’s will, and if it’s in His plan that my time here is over, then I know it’s going to be alright. I am not afraid, regardless of the outcome.

I’m timing the release of this blog to coincide with my surgery. As this blog hits, I can’t communicate.  If I need to say anything at this moment, it’s that I’ve been so touched at the outpouring of love and support for me and my family. Sometimes it takes a dark moment for you to see the light all around you. I have complete faith and confidence in my surgeon and the medical staff. I can tell you that I’m doing fine, and there’s nothing to worry about.  Everything’s going according to plan.

 

Photo:
photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/41513150@N00/25744479574″>Heart</a&gt; via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/”>(license)</a&gt;

 

 

 

 

Cycling through cycles

It’s been awhile since I’ve been in front of the keyboard. I’ve had a series of events, planned and unplanned, keep me away; in other words, life happened. Personal obligations, a search for and gaining of employment, my son’s surgery (he’s doing great), and other things have kept me busy and not writing. Also, there’s the fact it’s been gorgeous outside, and I’ve taken every chance I can to get out on my bicycle.

I’ve been donning the lycra bicycle shorts and jerseys and hitting the roads most of my adult life. Actually, most of my life. Growing up, my family lived in the country, and I spent many days out riding the back roads. Then, I strapped a radio to the handlebars and played tunes as I idly pedaled the day away. Today, I have a tiny cyclocomputer that tells me my current speed, average speed, ride time, distance, and all sorts of other numbers – I ride now with definite purpose, keeping those little numbers as high as possible while thinking about things like gears and pedaling cadence.

Of course, I still love being outside on the road, just me and the bike. I think the sense of freedom and adventure that makes you fall in love with the bicycle as a child is what keeps you riding it as an adult. It’s exercise, sure, but it’s also a constant competition. Your time today vs. your time last ride. You vs. a certain climb. You vs. that dog on that one road. Your will to keep riding vs. the desire to quit and go home on a day when it sucks.

And some days, it really does suck, but you just have to push through the bad days to have good days later. For example, I can tell you when I got hooked as an adult. It was about a month after I started riding, and one day the hill that always kicked my butt, didn’t. I’d gotten stronger, lighter, and had figured out how to climb it. I’d conquered it. It was a rush.

I believe that internal competition, the outdoors, and the thrill of speed are what gets bicyclists addicted. That’s a good word for it – addicted – because sometimes it does feel like a sickness. I’ve been on large organized rides like a metric (62 miles) or a century (100 miles) and listened to cyclists talking at the rest stops, happily saying things like, “Can you believe that hill at mile 36? That was so hard! I almost fell over, and I thought my legs were going to blow!” Other cyclists nod in commiseration and agreement. Then we all get back on the bikes and keep going.

Some years I’m strong, other years not so much. Some years I ride a lot, others not. My weight has gone up and down. But I just keep coming back to the bike. I haven’t ridden much over the past couple of years, for various reasons, and it feels great to get back. I trained on a recumbent exercise bike over the winter, concentrating on pedaling in full circles, and now my pedaling is much more efficient. (Confused? Most people, even most cyclists, mash down and apply most of their power on the downstroke. I’ve gotten better at pushing down and pulling up simultaneously.)

What I’m finding now is that I’m running out of roads. I live in Middle Tennessee, where we’ve had tremendous growth over the past few years. You can see it if you go to downtown Nashville, where it’s now a zoo. Construction is everywhere. Masses of people are always out on the sidewalks, every day. I don’t know who they are or where they’re going; maybe they’re all tourists looking for Connie Britton.

In the surrounding counties, you can see the growth in the new subdivisions. They’re popping up everywhere. Back country roads that I’ve been riding for 15 years are all being crammed with subdivisions with precious names like “Burberry Glen” or “Whittemore”. (I think developers have figured out that they can ramp up the prices of homes just by calling the subdivision something at something else, like “The Reserve at Arbor Glen”, or by putting an “E”, or even a “U”, in a word that doesn’t have one.. for example, “Harbour Pointe”.  But I digress…) The point is, if I get hit by a car, it’s likely that it’s going to be on a road I’ve been riding for well over a decade by someone who just moved here six months ago from Michigan or Pennsylvania.

Most drivers are respectful of bicyclists. Of course, with more cars on the roads, it increases the chances of running into the jerk who wants to see how close he can come to you. (Tennessee, as with most states, has a “3-feet” law). I’ve only had a couple of run-ins, most notably the landscapers who blew through a Yield sign and came within inches of me as I went through a green light in a bike lane, then decided to yell at me about it. We traded pleasantries.

It’s a scary thing, and I know bicyclists who have quit because they didn’t want to deal with cars. A bicyclist was hit this morning in Nashville in a hit-and-run. Do a search for “bicyclist killed” and article after article come up. The worst part about it is that, if you read through them, most of the bicyclists were acting responsibly – riding predictably, lights and reflectors used, out when the traffic was light, many even in a marked bike lane – and someone on their phone or just not paying attention hit them from behind. Even scarier is that most of the drivers in these cases are not really penalized. In an article from a couple of years ago, a reporter asked, “Is it OK to kill cyclists?” and found that the answer was mostly “Yes”.

I get agitated with bicyclists who get out to ride during peak traffic hours on the busiest streets. I used to see a guy routinely cycling on one the main thoughfares in my town during rush hour, weaving in and out of cars and ignoring traffic laws. That’s just asking for trouble, and builds up resentment with drivers towards all cyclists. I’d like to advocate for bike lanes, but, at least here in Middle Tennessee, they seem to be put in with little forethought. They start and stop randomly, and tend to disappear in intersections and other places where a clear delineation is most needed, leaving cyclists and drivers guessing as to what to do. Also, as the examples above and my own experience show, bike lanes don’t really provide safety.

For now, though, I mostly stick to what’s left of the country roads, stay to the right, signal, and ride responsibly. It’s still a rush after all these years, and I’ll do it as long as I can. In fact, I think I’m probably going to go for a ride right now.

 

Photo credit: Brian Kuhl

 

 

What I want to be

I know it’s a bit behind to be discussing resolutions halfway through January, but, hey, life happens. Besides, I wanted a little bit of time to flesh these out. Introspection is hard, and I thought it important to thoroughly self-examine.

The impulse to change one’s self with the new year seems easy to explain. New year, new you. Nowadays, it’s easy to stumble out of the Thanksgiving-Christmas-New Year’s period thinking, “Once things get back to normal, I’m going to make some changes.” Of course, the problem with that is that once things get back to normal, so do we, most of the time, year after year. As the saying goes, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” Making a new year’s resolution goes back as far as the ancient Babylonians, yet history is a series of repetitions.

Maybe we shoot too high. With that in mind, I’ve come up with three resolutions that I can work upon on a daily basis, meaning every moment of every day is a blank slate. Since I was told recently that writing them down increases your likelihood of achieving them, they are:

Get healthier – I list this first only because it’s such a gimmee. Everyone wants to be slimmer and in better shape. I come into 2016 having been previously told that I had an incurable progressive movement disorder. It turned out to be an incorrect diagnosis (understandably), but it’s obviously changed my perspective. While I’m now mostly back to normal, at its worst, I was incapable of standing still without my legs shaking violently. You really don’t realize how many things you do standing until it’s taken away from you.

Now I’m exercising every day, whether I feel like it or not, and thinking about everything I swallow. I feel like I got a reprieve, and I’m going to make the most of it. Our bodies march forward through time into inevitable decline. I intend to go down swinging.


Emulate Jesus
–  Really, this should also be a gimmee, but it’s not, not even for most people that profess faith in him. I’ve been listening to a series of sermons on the apostle Paul, and one thing that’s stuck with me about Paul’s ministry was his refusal to denigrate. Surrounded by pagans and hostile Jews, Paul never sought to convert by tearing others down and telling them how they were wrong, but by patiently explaining the truth of Jesus. Emulating Jesus, he persuaded rather than argued, and showed understanding and compassion for his persecutors.

Lately there seems to a massive lack of patience or understanding for anyone that doesn’t share a similar worldview. Democrat vs. Republican,  Christian vs. Atheist, Conservative vs. Liberal, Muslims vs. everyone else, etc. Maybe it’s always been this way, but I believe it’s worse now than it’s been in my lifetime. We’re all polarized, fed by internet and cable news chosen to reflect and reinforce our beliefs, with little tolerance of anyone who believes differently.

I don’t want to be like that. I can hold firm to my beliefs and still have understanding and compassion for those who don’t believe the same or have the same standards, rather than go for the easy knee-jerk reaction of denigration or derision. I can seek to persuade and build up, rather than argue and tear down.

I believe this is especially important for Christians, some of whom have a habit of ruining Christianity for everyone else. Anyone ever know that “good church person” who looked down their nose at others because they drank, or were divorced, or had non-Christian friends? Jesus met with lepers and tax collectors while the “good church people” of the day rebuked him for it. Would that aforementioned “good church person” have shown kindness to the woman at the well, who had five prior husbands and a live-in lover, as Jesus did, or gossiped about her from afar?

Of course I’m going to fall short. As Paul wrote, “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing” (Romans 7:19 ESV). But that doesn’t mean I can’t try to be better every day.

Make time now – I know every parent hears the constant, “Daddy, come look at this!”, or , “Mommy, come play with me!” just as we’re getting into something that needs to be done. I reply with “In just a minute!” most often. However, sometimes that minute stretches into an hour, and sometimes it never comes.

My kids were babies last week, and today they’re six and nine. Soon they won’t care if I see what they’re doing, or want to play games, or ask me to cuddle and watch TV. Soon they won’t even be here.

Surely whatever I’m doing can wait until later, because a moment with my child today, at this age, will not.

 

Photo:
photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/44124348109@N01/15977313497″>Last Light of 2014 on America, driving into the clouds from above</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>(license)</a&gt;

 

 

 

 

Road Rage

Tis the season! Every Christmas, in this time of joy, peace, and goodwill toward men, we also all get on the roads together in mass numbers to honk, scream, and piss each other off in a last-minute effort to buy gifts to make others happy.

I was out-and-about yesterday in all that, and it got me thinking about the every day driving pet peeves that get exacerbated with a large amount of cars on the roads. So, I took mine, prioritized them, expounded, and came up with this list. Maybe you have others. I’ve probably not thought of something because it hasn’t happened to me recently.

This is my top ten.

10) Wrong way in parking lots – Many parking lots have one-way lanes. Stores don’t try to be tricky about this, either. The direction of travel is denoted by large arrows, and, to the astute, by all the parking spaces slanting in one direction. Still, many drivers just don’t get the concept, leading to near slow-speed head-on collisions as cars try to avoid each other in a cramped lane.
I actually got into an argument with a guy about this once. It was early on a Sunday morning and the parking lot was empty, so I thought it obvious that the driver coming toward me in the wrong direction would move across the empty parking spaces into the proper lane. He didn’t, and circled around to yell at me as I got out of my car for not moving over enough. When I pointed out the direction of travel, he screamed that it didn’t matter and that I should have moved over. I apologized, saying that I didn’t realize he was royalty and got to do whatever he wanted while the rest of us had to follow rules and move out of his way, so I’m not sure why he was still mad when he drove off.

9) Halogen headlights – Yes, I realize how wonderful these things are for the person driving the car. However, if you’re driving toward, or, even worse, in front of a car with these headlights, they’re a nightmare. I’ve pulled over before and let a halogen head-lit car go past me so I could stop squinting at night.

8) Crotch rockets – I like motorcycles, really. I wouldn’t mind having one. That said, there’s something distinctly disconcerting about driving down the interstate, seeing nothing in your rearview, then suddenly hearing a buzzing noise one second before a motorcycle rocks your vehicle passing at 150 mph. There’s a reason state troopers call those guys “organ donors.”

7) Turn-lane zombies– So, traffic’s backed up, and the car in front of you starts to move into the turn lane.  Thirty seconds later, half the car is in the lane. By the time it’s finally putt-putted over and out of the way, you and everyone behind you has missed the green light.

6) Blind parkers – Seriously, it shouldn’t be that hard for anyone with a driver’s license to put a vehicle between two lines, but it really is for some people. On the line, over the line, diagonally…I guess as long as the car’s stopped without hitting something, they consider it a successful park.
An adjunct to this would be the guy with the massive diesel duelie who squeezes it into a space with five inches’ room on either side. Just park out farther and walk, man.

5) Failure to signal – There’s nothing like missing an opportunity to turn out into traffic because the car coming toward you doesn’t indicate that it’s turning onto the road you’re trying to turn from. Or almost getting hit because someone turning left in an intersection doesn’t understand that not signaling is telling you that they’re travelling straight.

4) Not driving a consistent speed – I really don’t care how fast other cars want to travel, just as long as they keep a consistent speed. I hate having on my cruise control but repeatedly passing the same car. There are subgroups to this category:
Competitive obliviots – I almost made “obliviot” its own category, with obliviot meaning a driver oblivious to the fact that there are other cars on the road; however,  it encompasses too many behaviors. In this case, the competitive obliviots are those who don’t realize how fast they’re going, or even how fast they want to go, until you pass them, at which point they floor it and pass you, or turn into a blindspot ninja.
Blindspot ninja – The competitive obliviot who speeds up but doesn’t pass, preferring instead to hide in your blind spot. So you’re driving along, need to switch lanes, and suddenly there’s the car you thought you’d passed miles ago, forcing you to contend with it.

3) Tailgating – I live off a road with a 30 mph speed limit. Everyone knows the limit, it’s clearly posted, and cops patrol the road frequently, so it shouldn’t come as a shock when people drive 30 mph. Still, there are always drivers that come roaring up and ride far less than a car length behind others. I’ve had cars so close to me that I can’t even see the front of the car in my rearview. There’s no call for it, on that road or any other. Stupid. Just stupid.

2) Rubberneckers – It’s human nature to gawk at tragedy; however, it can be controlled. Wrecks back up traffic in large part because of people staring and driving slowly past. Keep your eyes on the moving lane of traffic and off the wreck…it’s really that simple.

1) Obliviots gunning lights – This is the most infuriating thing. You’re behind a slow-speed obliviot, who has nowhere to go and all day to get there, when the light ahead turns yellow. Naturally, the obliviot, not knowing anyone else is on the road,  floors it and runs the yellow or red light, leaving you stuck at it. You both could have gone had the obliviot been travelling the proper speed, but now you’re trapped at the light as you watch the obliviot drive away.

Photo:
photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/73187183@N02/8144739319″>Post Hurricane Sandy Traffic</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>(license)</a&gt;

Jesus Antennas

I attend a fairly large church, upon which my wife and I decided based mainly for its scripture-centered focus. So, the actual format of the service is secondary to the message, which is good, because I’m distracted every Sunday during the music.

The music is “contemporary”, which means that it’s like a rock concert  – electric guitars, keyboard, bass, and drum set – with a band consisting of male hipsters “straight outta’ Starbucks”, plus one token female on accompanying vocals, all wearing the requisite “non-churchy” apparel. (Would Jesus wear skinny jeans? It’s not a particularly theological question, but it crosses my mind every service.) (The answer is, “It doesn’t matter.”)

The band has about six songs that they rotate from Sunday to Sunday, all of which sound like variations on Coldplay’s “Fix You.” The words are displayed on giant screens on either side of the stage; however, once you’ve figured out which song it is, you don’t really need to look at the lyrics since you sang them two weeks ago. I find myself looking around at people with their hands raised during the music, which I’ve come to call “Jesus antennas.” I’m utterly fascinated by this.

That I can tell, there are five varieties:

– Single antenna – One arm, usually the right, held straight aloft with the hand open

– Rabbit-ears  – Both arms aloft, which could either be seen as two singles, or calling a touchdown, depending upon how badly you’re anticipating the football game that afternoon

– Bob-and-wave – Single antenna, but waved back and forth in time with the music, in conjunction with bobbing the knees to the beat

Orans posture – I knew I had seen this one somewhere. Elbows to the side, with the arms extended upward and outward, palms usually inward. At first glance, I thought it looked like an Eastern prayer position, like there should be incense rising up between the hands, but, upon investigation, it appears to be of very Christian origin, which frankly makes more sense.

– The “Rose” – Arms straight out to the side, usually with the back arched  slightly, chest out, as if the music is washing over them, or they’re in a high wind à la the character Rose from Titanic (“I’m flying, Jack!”). Practitioners of the “Rose” often like to stand in the aisle, probably because they’re worried about getting tangled up with some bob-and-wavers and taking them all down.

I’m obviously having some fun with this, but please don’t interpret that as me belittling or demeaning the practice. I  believe that it’s a genuine expression of worship, and I don’t think that people doing it are trying to be ostentatious or showy. The raised hands captivate me because I’m generally more reserved in public, especially in church, and wouldn’t conceive of doing it myself.

I can’t help but wonder where this originated. I don’t remember it from my childhood, when I attended a similar church with a less “contemporary” service, which made me wonder if that’s not part of it. I’ve noticed that the lone female singer has no instrument to hold, and so has nothing to do with her hands other than hold them up. I understand this, because I’d be a complete Ricky Bobby in that position, and so I pondered initially if maybe it started because people simply imitate those on stage who aren’t sure what to do with their hands.

That’s too simplistic, however, and it’s more likely that those on stage and in the congregation are raising their hands for the same reasons. Several sources point toward the “Charismatic Movement,” an adoption of Pentecostal-type practices that has been slowly infusing itself into both Protestant and Catholic churches for decades. The movement is traced back to Pastor David Bennett of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Van Nuys, CA, who told his congregation that he had received the Baptism of the Holy Spirit on Easter Sunday, 1960, and changed the church’s style of worship accordingly. From there, it caught on to other churches and denominations and began spreading. By the 1990’s, networks of independent charismatic churches existed. The charismatic churches mostly favor the raised hands and more exuberant worship style of Pentecostal churches while omitting the speaking in tongues.

This is not to say that raising hands in worship is not biblically-based. There are numerous verses in the Bible that advocate the use of hands in different applications of worship – primarily in supplication to and in the blessing of God (incomplete list here). Most are in the Old Testament; however, there are references in the New Testament as well, so the practice continued through the intertestamental period into the time of the early Christians. Paul mentions it specifically in 1 Timothy 2:8, “I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling” (ESV).

Interestingly, I found it noted in several sources that the hand position most familiar to Christians – hands folded or clasped together – is not mentioned in the Bible. Origin theories for it include it being an ancient Jewish custom, the Roman indication of surrender, and a medieval sign of submission, any or all of which could have transferred into what we know today.

So, while it may not be something that everyone does, it appears that those who raise their hands up in worship are actually more correct that not. Which is not to say that everyone should start…regardless of how one worships, the expression should be genuine. If that’s with your hands up during the music, then so be it. My hands will probably be in the pockets of my relaxed fit khakis.

Sources:

Raising hands:

http://www.joyfulheart.com/scholar/hands.htm

http://www.hcna.us/columns/lifted-hands.html

https://www.christiancourier.com/articles/1093-are-christians-required-to-lift-up-holy-hands

http://www.godswordforyou.com/answers/518-lifting-up-of-hands.html

Charismatic Movement:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charismatic_Movement

http://www.gotquestions.org/Charismatic-movement.html

http://www.jeremiahproject.com/prophecy/charis1.html

http://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2013/october/charismatic-renewal-movement.html

http://www.wheaton.edu/ISAE/Defining-Evangelicalism/Pentecostalism

http://www.jimfeeney.org/pentecostalreligionbeliefs.html

Folded Hands:

http://christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/2007/what-is-the-origin-of-praying-hands-folded

http://goedbericht.nl/english/hands-folded-eyes-closed/

http://www.joyfulheart.com/scholar/hands.htm

Photo:

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/82405581@N00/7414729″>Hands</a&gt; via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>(license)</a&gt;

I groupthink, therefore I am a college student.

If you had asked me a few weeks ago, I probably would have told you that “Mizzou” was a character from Harry Potter. For better or worse, I, and anyone else paying attention, now know that it’s the shortened appellation for University of Missouri, where they’ve had weeks of protests, administrative resignations, and poop swastikas (okay, just one)(allegedly). There’ve been hunger strikes, boycotts, football player walk-outs, and allegations of the now-former president hitting a student with his car. In the words of Sci Martin, a top high-school football recruit who announced that he was removing Mizzou from his short list: “Their campus is out of control.”

The spark for all this is reported racial injustice on campus. I have no intention of wading into those waters; instead, my interest is in the stifling of campus free speech in lieu of politically-correct groupthink. Mizzou is just one out of several recent disturbing examples.

My interest in this goes back to my own college days, where I started out at what was ostensibly a Christian college that instead bowed at the alter of political correctness. I transferred, found more of the same, and decided to start railing on it at every opportunity.

I once gave a speech about political correctness on college campuses that had half the class fuming at me. I wrote an op-ed in the campus newspaper regarding the university’s reaction to anti-homosexual graffiti. As a Journalism major, ethics debates were usually me (the lone conservative) vs. everyone else, eventually withering down to just me and another guy: my polar, liberal opposite.

Here’s the thing, though. After my speech, I had several students come up to me, interested, and ask more about its content. After my op-ed (which condemned the graffiti artists and criticized the administration for giving them what they wanted in the form of a blown-out-of-proportion response), I had a journalism classmate approach me and tell me she was a lesbian and that my views on the matter weren’t too far off from hers, which she never would have guessed, and we ended up being friends. And my polar, liberal opposite? We used to eat lunch together, where we’d have very cordial back-and-forth discussions. We never agreed, but we respected each other’s opinions.

The point is that I found that there was always common ground between differing viewpoints with a little discussion, tolerance, and open-mindedness. From what I’m reading, though, any open-mindedness I found in my college days is gone on today’s college campuses, in favor of goose-stepping to a mob-driven PC drumbeat that drowns out any dissention in the ranks.

Take, for example, the case of George Lawlor at Warwick University in Coventry, England. Lawlor posted a blog arguing that anti-rape “consent workshops” were demeaning and unnecessary, as the majority of people “don’t have to be taught not to be a rapist” and that those men who were inclined to rape would not attend the workshop anyway. For this, he’s been physically threated and verbally assaulted by both female and male students (called “rapist”, “misogynist”, “racist”, “classist”) to the point where he is afraid to attend classes, and is worried that his name online will be forever associated with “rapist”.

Of course, that’s the UK. It can’t be that bad in the US, where the 1st amendment instills an inherent tolerance of free speech, right? If only…

– Students at Amherst College in Amherst, MA, recently called for “re-education” for a group that put up posters decrying, ironically, the death of free speech on college campuses in the wake of the Mizzou protests. Stalin would be proud.

– Yale professor Nicholas Christakis was surrounded and berated by a large group of students upset with his wife (also Yale faculty), who sent out an email suggesting that the university need not censor the students’ Halloween costumes. Seriously. For this, the Christakis’s were accused of “not creating a safe place” for students. (The videos of this incident are unreal. At one point, Christakis has to preface his reply to a student with “I’m raising my voice so that others can hear me. I’m not yelling at you.” And the now-infamous “shrieking girl” teeters between shocking and hilarious.)

– Students at Georgia Southern University in Statesboro, GA, threatened and demanded the expulsion of Emily Faz, a senior who criticized the Black Lives Matter group at the Mizzou protests. The furor reached the point that she was asked not to return to work until it died down.

Which brings me back to Mizzou. Again, I’m not aiming to discuss the validity of the claims of racial injustice, primarily because I’m not sure that they actually matter. Assuming that the protesters have 100% verifiably accurate and provable claims, they still lose credibility when they a issue a lengthy list of demands, punch out preachers, and chase away student press. It’s hard to feel sympathetic towards people whose immediate response to the Paris attacks is to complain that it takes attention away from them, or to see a guy doing a hunger strike as a victim when his parents are millionaires.

Instead, they look like petulant bullies.  No debate. No negotiations. Do what we say, or else. And that’s pretty much what the Mizzou administration did…they caved, cut, and ran. As Cal Thomas noted, “To put a twist on a cliche, it isn’t about the inmates taking over the asylum; rather it is about the children taking over the daycare center.”

Where’s this coming from?

Wikipedia’s definition of groupthink starts with “a psychological phenomenon that occurs within a group of people, in which the desire for harmony or conformity in the group results in an irrational or dysfunctional decision-making outcome. Group members try to minimize conflict and reach a consensus decision without critical evaluation of alternative viewpoints, by actively suppressing dissenting viewpoints, and by isolating themselves from outside influences. Loyalty to the group requires individuals to avoid raising controversial issues or alternative solutions, and there is loss of individual creativity, uniqueness and independent thinking.”

That could have been written with the college protestors as a template.

I doubt that there’s any single root cause for all this; rather, it’s probably a conglomeration of factors. Maybe it’s an entire generation raised on “participation awards,” from which they’ve come to feel entitled to reward without putting in meaningful effort.

I hate to bash on social media again (not really), but I’m sure there’s something to a constant real-time flood of information chosen mostly to reflect your world-view, especially in an environment like college campuses today where individual thought is rapidly discouraged. Need today’s marching orders? Whip out the iPhone and check Twitter!

It looks like I broke out my tin-foil hat for the previous paragraph, but students at Yale actually yell at Nicholas Christakis that “it’s not about creating an intellectual space,” but rather scream that he should be creating a “safe space”, as you hear someone in the crowd yelling “Re-Tweet!”

They’re afraid of anything that challenges them to think outside their pre-conceived notions, and react with hysteria when faced with uncomfortable ideas. Copycat protestors at Smith College in Northhampton, MA actually tried to ban media not sympathetic to their cause. What has caused college students to be unable to mentally process and argue with opposing viewpoints? Public education? Years of liberal college indoctrination coming home to roost? I believe there’s no easy answer.

As copycat protests continue to spread, I wonder how colleges – and the country – will reason with this outbreak of unreasonableness. I take comfort in knowing that not all college students think like this, and that the pendulum will surely swing back as this craze dies out. Maybe it will even open dialogues as students start to discuss this madness. Homogeneity, especially of thought, is boring, and it appears that if there’s one thing millennials hate being, it’s bored.

Other articles:

http://dailyfreepress.com/2015/11/19/students-unite-against-racial-inequality-support-mizzou/

http://www.seattletimes.com/opinion/mizzou-yale-and-free-speech/

http://www.kansascity.com/opinion/opn-columns-blogs/yael-t-abouhalkah/article45333150.html

http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/U/US_FREE_SPEECH_COLLEGE_PRESIDENTS?SITE=AP&SECTION=HOME&TEMPLATE=DEFAULT&CTIME=2015-11-22-10-48-11

http://theweek.com/articles/587967/yale-mizzou-death-liberal-toleration

Photo:

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/97041449@N00/784943566″>here we go again…</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/”>(license)</a&gt;